Why is learning and discovery something agencies do?
The Greek philosopher Socrates said “the only true wisdom is to know you know nothing,” which was then appropriated by his student, Plato, who probably went and had t-shirts made, because being a philosopher has never really paid very well.
By Socrates’ measure, we must all be as wise as philosophers, because most people don’t know more than they know, even if they don’t know it.
Centuries later, Plato’s t-shirt slogan has since been replaced with more nerdtastic, sciency observations like “the Dunning-Kruger effect,” which basically states that stupid people are too stupid to know that they’re stupid.
For agencies like DAMN GOOD, it’s really important to avoid Dunning and Krugering clients, so we make it our business to learn as much as we can about them and their businesses.
In advertising and marketing, we call this process “discovery” because it sounds a lot cooler than “learning.” We research. We ask questions. We listen to the answers, and then ask more questions, leaning the heck out of everything we can about our clients’ businesses, their markets, competitors, aspirations, and brand.
The idea is to form a solid understanding of where they are in the marketplace so that we can figure out how to get them where they want to go. The simple truth is that, without doing the diligence of discovery, all an agency can do is pretend they know everything.
Isn’t being an expert part of an agency’s job?
Of course, expertise is what helps convince clients that your agency is the right choice to help them. But as marketers, our expertise is in, well…marketing. Just like our clients’ expertise is in whatever the hell they do. If they thought that they needed someone who had expertise in their enterprise, they’d keep their projects in-house.
The agency’s role is to bring their marketing/advertising/branding expertise to bear in crafting marketing/advertising/branding solutions for their clients. If we had expertise in baking, then we’d be probably advising bakers on how to make their dough rise.
Generally, clients understand this. But those who aren’t accustomed to working with agencies will often experience some confusion over discovery and how it works.
Oftentimes, clients may assume that marketing is its own thing, and doesn’t need to conform to the standards of their industry or enterprise. But – ** spoiler alert ** – it absolutely does and always will.
It’s like expecting a chef to be able to prepare anything from American soul food to Asian fare, simply because they are a chef. Pro tip: If you want a really good lo mein, you should definitely seek out a chef who’s adept with a Chinese menu.
As a matter of fact, this is essentially what many clients do. They hunt for agencies that specialize in their particular industry.
The scourge of specialization
DAMN GOOD doesn’t, but many agencies limit their practice to a specific industry. This helps them find clients who believe that industry experience is an advantage, even when it isn’t.
The truth is that specialization may be beneficial for the agency because it helps funnel prospective clients to them and minimizes the discovery they need to perform, but it’s often not much of an advantage to the client in the long run.
The reason is simple: By declaring its expertise in an industry or niche, an agency presents itself as an authority to a field of competing brands. Clients have to close their eyes and pretend that the “expert” advice specialty agencies offer one brand hasn’t been offered to every other brand that they serve. And that may be every competitor in the entire industry.
Even worse, specializing in a particular industry may blind the agency to the ways the industry is evolving. If an agency is selling the same solution over and over, it’s only a matter of time before those solutions fall behind the curve of industry trends.
This leads to industry uniformity, making it difficult for consumers to distinguish between different brands because they all market themselves the same way. If you’ve ever wondered why so many brands of _______ seem so similar, this is often why (although it’s not the only reason).
We call this a “sea of sameness” because it’s a lot like being adrift in the ocean with the same view no matter what direction you look. And it’s about as much fun to navigate as well.
However, the biggest issue clients will find with hiring a specialized agency is that they don’t add much – if any – perspective to the client’s enterprise. Think of it as the “forest for the trees” problem: Confined within their narrow industry, client businesses usually become so familiar with their customers, markets, and competitors, that they lack the perspective to escape them.
View from the outside
Occasionally, DAMN GOOD will be engaged by companies that have their own, fully-staffed in-house agencies. Why? Because those businesses are looking to move the needle, not concede to the status quo. They recognize that they cannot exact change for their enterprise by doing the same things over and over, so they look to our agency to freshen their internal perspective.
This third-party, industry-agnostic viewpoint actually proves quite valuable to companies that find their business or marketing to be stagnant, or are at a loss for new ideas. It’s also useful for ensuring that the agency creates solutions that are customized to their businesses and industries.
Here’s an example of how this works in the real world taken from DAMN GOOD’s agency experience:
A large niche company that is one of the clear leaders in its industry brought in DAMN GOOD to develop a new enterprise-wide marketing campaign. Despite having no experience in the industry niche, this task was given to our agency rather than the robust, 15-man in-house art department because executive management felt it needed a fresh approach.
The DAMN GOOD team worked with client’s art department team leaders to power through discovery of all of the brand’s legacy marketing efforts, as well as those of its leading competitors. Because the agency was not “too close to” the brand’s product offerings and competitive landscape, we were able to position them differently and help generate leads and increase brand awareness.
Three years after the project’s conclusion, the client returned to ask DAMN GOOD to do it all over again.
Speaking of conclusions…
If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably already forgotten where this article began – with discovery.
Every enterprise is unique. Each has its own individual challenges and goals. Agencies like DAMN GOOD perform in-depth discovery to build comprehensive understandings of them and their industries so that we can craft effective, bespoke solutions that are tailored precisely to their needs.
If your agency isn’t engaging in robust research and discovery before beginning your project, then you owe it to yourself to discover why not.