You’ve built a smart advertising, digital, marketing agency. Creative thinking and media planning are hallmarks. You have the right services. Efficient production systems. You are uber digital. You have a smart staff and partners. A service-oriented approach to client management. And, that all important special brand.
OK, once you’ve settled on a clear and compelling brand position and a unique sales proposition (you have these, right?), ask, how will your agency’s messaging stand out from the pack?
I asked Google “how many advertising agencies are there in the U.S.?” The answer...
“There are nearly 14,000 marketing and advertising agencies in the US. Cumulatively, they employ close to 200,000 people. Most of these agencies are unknown.”
It’s a big pack. Your competition is fierce. There are thousands of marketing service providers for your next client to choose from.
How will you stand out? You need to be unignorable.
From Merriam-Webster: Unignorable = “Unable to be ignored.”
Getting to Unignorable
Building out an unignorable agency brand, messaging and voice is a critical element of my agency business development philosophy.
Your agency can run down the business development checklist: inbound marketing—check; outbound account-based marketing—check; a sweet LinkedIn profile; the cool website; a YouTube channel—check; lots of wonderful thought leadership—check.
But if all these attributes are ignorable in a saturated agency-selection environment, you lose.
I discovered the power word unignorable when I took a hard look at Toronto’s agency john st.
From the john st. website:
Our mission is to make our clients’ brands unignorable. We use insight, analytics, intuition and sweat to do it. But we mostly use sweat.
Unignorable is their focus—their expertise. Clients want to be unignorable; john st. delivers.
Unignorable is the agency’s one-word equity. They own it. The clients they want - want it too.
Unignorable is a distinctive battle cry. I haven’t seen one other agency use this word.
Want to see john st. in action? Look at the agency’s YouTube channel—videos that act as john st.’s brand drivers and are unquestionably unignorable. Their “Catvertising” video has 2.4+ million views. MILLION! “Buyral” has 1 million views. Does any other agency have this many video views? No.
john st.’s creative director told me that these videos drove incoming queries from brands like Coke. The Coke question was, “Whoa, who are you guys?”
One more positive result... john st.’s dedication to being unignorable and creating unignorable work for clients was a factor in their being acquired by WPP.
Really Getting to Unignorable
You need to be unignorable to get past being ignored. The world of marketing services is too large and... most agencies sound alike. Oy... and look and feel alike.
Here are just a few of the agency descriptors that clients read every day:
- We are full-service and media neutral
- We are nimble
- Creative expertise
- Brand builders
- Idea People
- Your marketing partner - You come first
- We are experienced: We come from big agencies
- We deliver better service than you will get from a big agency
- We only assign senior people to your account
- We get AI
Do these agency descriptors sound familiar? Too familiar. Just peruse ten agency websites. After number eight can you tell one agency from another?
Six Paths to Being Unignorable
1. Make the decision to break out.
Like, decide to be refreshingly different. Put yourself in a future client’s head. What are their pain points? How could you address them and look like you are a solution provider?
Need a kick in the ass? Go watch Apple’s Think Different TV commercials.
2. Use unignorable personality and tone.
It’s OK to build an unignorable personality and brand voice.
You, your people, your agency persona are the only thing that you own that only you own.
Every advertising agency search consultant I’ve talked to about the agency selection process points to personality, as in interpersonal chemistry, as being a major factor in zeroing in on an agency when so many agencies kinda sound alike.
“I like you” is a powerful decision-making attribute. How will you be liked? Like your expert positioning, being well liked can be managed.
Add some personality to your website. Most agency websites are bereft of personality. Try some video.
3. Understand the intellectual and emotional needs of your market.
Grab them by the mind and heart.
The average CMO barely lasts three years. Help them.
4. Have a must-read and must-listen-to POV.
Must-read means that you are offering your specific market something of undeniable value.
Do the research to understand your target market’s needs. Then create a solutions matrix. It helps that you have found one or more profitable client category niches. Be the niche expert.
Own category-based thought-leadership. Do you have managed brand messaging that positions you as a category expert? Does the industry press know you’re a go-to category leader? An expert who’s always ready to give an educated sound bite.
Consider building and owning your client’s category information hub. Make it a hard to resist resource listicle. Listicles rock.
Act different. Think video. An idea: produce a compelling, hard to resist, man on the street interview series that talks to your future client’s customers. These can be edited to run on your website; YouTube channel; Instagram reels, LinkedIn, and beyond. Oh, yeah, TikTok. Leverage the new AI production tools.
Meet a client’s need head on. Here is a personal thought-leadership example from my blog. I know that my advertising agency client base wants to win awards. Awards are third-party proof of your agency’s expertise that can help you break out.
My website’s list of advertising awards consistently delivers mega traffic to my blog. It is an unignorable list with some how to win guidance tossed in. Agencies cannot ignore this information.
5. Make Sure Your Agency Is findable.
Invisible agencies do not get invited to pitches. Invisible agencies are ignorable.
Are you where people are looking for your type of agency? Let’s say a major health-care client is looking for a health-care marketing specialist just like you. Will they find you in their search? If not, you are invisible.
Invisible does not work well when a potentially hot lead is looking for your agency’s skills and expertise.
Put your client hat on and ask, “Where and how would I find a company like mine?”
Start here. Ask “are we everywhere a client might look?”
Are you on the first page of a relevant Google or Bing or ChatGPT search? A tough objective. If you’re not listed there, audit and activate your SEO plan. Consider testing an ad to get on that first page.
Are you listed in all related marketing services directories? Clutch? Agency Spotter? Winmo? The Manifest? Clients use these directories.
Are you on your regional or national agency club or organization list?
Do the major search consultants know you’re alive? They want to know you—it’s their job. I have a list of all advertising agency search firms on my blog. It gets serious traffic.
Do you attend and speak at marketing and client-industry conferences? Write for industry publications to build out your authority?
Make this an ongoing question: “Are you everywhere a client might look for an agency like yours?”
6. Be funny. Humor works.
I used a Cameo impersonator to create “I love Peter” Trump, Gandhi, and Borat promotional videos for my consultancy. The Borat video was so well done that I’ve had people ask me how I got the real Borat to make the video.
I once thought of having a video of a stand-up comedian riffing on advertising be the first thing a client saw when they hit my agency’s home page. Different in action.
Remember, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of marketing service firms that a marketing client can choose from. Standing out from the pack is critical.
Being ignored is not a good thing.