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Why You Should Hire An Agency

And how to find (the right) one

If you’re a marketing director, there’s a good chance you barely have the time to read this blog – but we promise it is worth a couple minutes of your time.

Assuming you have very little free time as you push hard every day to meet challenging goals and just keep up with everything on your plate, you may have considered whether or not to outsource to an Agency. From our admittedly biased perspective, it really is worth it for you to go this direction. Here are a couple of reasons why you should hire an agency (feel free to copy and paste any of this in your email to the CEO):

Creative Skill – Agencies attract the best creative minds. That is where the talented professionals really want to be, so if you’re looking for someone to produce top-notch creative executions (ads, fliers, websites, apps, e-blasts, mailers, billboards, packaging, etc.), you want to look at an agency. The creative output agencies produce is generally developed as a team, so you also get a multitude of professional perspectives on your creative challenge.

Fresh Perspective – When you stare at the same thing day in and day out, you can sometimes miss nuances and details. You become comfortable with these quirks and take minor flaws as the status quo. You are also dealing with internal corporate politics that can sometimes make breakthrough ideas a challenge to come up with, let alone present to higher-ups. A third party can bring new and different ideas to the table and sometimes the delivery of challenging or controversial notions or even just new thinking is better received coming from an outsider.

Latest Thinking – When you work for a single company, you eat, sleep, and breathe a single brand. This focus allows you to dive deep into the brand and the issues specific to your product and industry. Agencies, however, work across numerous categories for many clients. They represent lots of brands and are constantly challenged to come up with new and different solutions for those brands. So an agency is more connected to the pulse of marketing, the trends in the industry, and the latest and greatest thinking and techniques.

Professional Problem Solvers – If you’re lucky, you have a capable, handpicked group of experts working for you on your marketing team. Even if you do have the dream team, marketing professionals tend to be specialists in a single area. Agency teams, however, have a wider range of resources and perspectives they can draw upon, and people who work at agencies are specifically trained to identify and solve problems for clients.

Capacity – You probably can’t afford (nor do you need) a full time designer, copywriter, PR agent, marketing strategist, digital analyst, media planner/buyer, or web developer. You might have needs for one or more of each of these at any given time, and then at other times not need any of these services. An agency already employs these types of resources, and can expand the resources being applied to your account easily, scaling up and down as your needs dictate. Maximum flexibility for you to get the job done.

If you’re still reading, you’re picking up what we’re putting down so far, and you’re looking into hiring an agency. So on to the “how to find (the right) one” part.

The definition of “the right” agency is going to change depending on your specific needs, but a few things to look for (and look out for):
• Don’t just hire your cousin. Everyone knows someone who works at an agency, it seems, but resist the urge to just hire someone’s friend.

• You want a strategic partner. The best agencies have strategy at their core. It’s not worth your time to work with an agency that doesn’t put a focus on this area.

• Get one that will be proactive. You don’t need another order taker. You need someone who will offer ideas. The best way to get this is to ask for a strategic retainer – money set aside solely for living the brand and feeding you ideas.

• Look at their work. Agencies worth their salt will have a portfolio on their website. And when you meet with them, ask to see their book.

• How do they treat their own brand? You can tell a lot about an agency by the way they treat their own brand. How is their website? What’s their social media game like? Do they write a blog? These are hints at how they will treat your brand.

• What services do they offer? Most agencies will tell you they are full service, but you should clarify what specifically they offer. They might use a partner for some stuff, which is fine and often seamless, but you should ask.

• Who’s going to work on your account? At big agencies, principals are high profile and have connections – they often shoulder the biz dev role and bring clients in, then hand off to a more junior account executive. That’s not necessarily a problem, but you should know (and meet) who your day to day contact will be to make sure you mesh well with them.

• Start with a small job. This one is important. Your best bet is to work on a smaller job with the agency – this lets you work out the kinks in the relationship, see how they work, and make sure the personalities are going to create a good end product. A small (paid) engagement is also good on the agency side and beats a (unpaid) pitch any day of the week. That’s called a win-win.

That’s about it in a nutshell. Hiring an agency can up your marketing game exponentially, and following our simple rules will help to ensure you get a good fit.

Now get back to work!

Mission, Vision, And Values – Classics For A Good Reason

Why these classic elements of brand strategy are still legitimate

Over the years, we’ve seen many attempts to reinvent the classic Mission, Vision, Values (M/V/V) paradigm, but usually what we find is a semantic rather than substantive modification.

The problem with changing M/V/V is that these are core concepts for a brand and nothing else really captures their meaning quite so well. In other words, you can’t really have a well-defined brand without a Mission, a Vision, and Values, so the best you can really do is to rename the same concepts.

But what’s the point in that?

Semantics aside, the attempted reconcepting of M/V/V ends up at best as more of a side-show distraction, taking away from the important work that needs to be done. At worst, the new model tries to change the M/V/V paradigm and loses some essential element – so you end up with a less valuable end product.

M/V/V is simply the most elegant breakdown of what a brand stands for. Mission defines what you do. Values define how you do it. And Vision states why your brand matters and where it is going. These three elements give you your what, your how, and your why – absolutely vital definitions for a purpose driven brand.

Why reinvent something unnecessarily? Instead, focus on doing the hard work of crafting a solid Mission, meaningful Values, and a Vision that inspires and empowers your team to succeed.

Here’s how we do it:

Start with Mission. This is actually the easiest element to define. It is a statement of what your company does. We prefer to use Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle and try to start Mission statements by describing the “why” first, followed by the how and the what. You may be getting confused with all the why, how, and what’s floating around here, but they are all layers. Trust me. So your mission will look something like this:

We’re a company that exists to achieve some end goal. In order to achieve that goal, we use specific processes to make a special kind of widget.

In order to do this, we probe very deeply into a company’s DNA and pull out what’s really behind what they do. We want to unambiguously categorize the company as a reference point, but also make the mission about more than just making a widget. Lots of people make all sorts of widgets – it is the motive behind that widget-making that is important.

Next step is Values. I know we tend to say Mission, Vision, Values, but really the proper order is to do the values second as you need to understand the values to get the vision right.

We prefer a collection of Value statements rather than a list of value words. Value words tend to be generic and, ultimately, meaningless. Instead, we always recommend creating 3-6 statements that can dig down into specific concepts. For example, if a company is focused on creating clean food free of artificial ingredients, they can craft a statement that defines that as a value, which is much more meaningful than using the word “Honest” or “Pure” or something along those lines. If desired, sub statements can also be composed to dig even deeper into each of the statements. So the Values look something lie this:

The last step is to craft your vision statement, which I will address in the next blog.

The work to craft substantial M/V/V is not easy. It takes a lot of thought and consideration, and you have to ponder the past, present, and future of the company simultaneously. But if you put in the work, the results are a very clear representation of what your brand is, what it stands for, and how it will impact the world. We would argue that knowing these things is a necessity to setting and achieving appropriate strategic goals. Without them, your brand is simply flailing about in the dark.

Wheat, Hops, Barley, and Just a Little Bit of Magic

Is your brewery brand all it can be?

There is an ongoing renaissance across this great country – a food renaissance, where we are moving away from tasteless, mass produced, homogeneous food and going back to artisanal, crafted products that are made with a lot more attention to what is going into them.

And beer. Glorious craft beer!

Probably one of the best examples of unshackling from industrial moors, craft beers are blowing up across the country, everywhere where there are beer-drinking people, which is, as it turns out, everywhere. Backwards baseball cap wearing bros are still going to throw down cases of Natty Lite, but for the rest of us, craft beer lets us explore the ever-expanding selection of seats on the bus to flavortown.

But since this is a marketing blog and not a food blog, I’ll get to the point. Let’s chalk it up to overly rapid growth in an expansive market, but when we recently did an audit of numerous craft beer brands, we found a surprising lack of definition. We expected brands that are all about unique flavor profiles to be dripping with personality, but, in truth, it was difficult to discern anything resembling cohesion.

So we wanted to ask all of you out there who are responsible for the marketing of a craft beer brand – is your brewery brand all it can be?

To help you out, we’ll point out the top five areas where we saw particular deficiencies. This is neither universal nor exhaustive, but it should give you an idea of where you can put in some work. For a deeper dive, see our blog about the game of 20 questions.

1) What’s your why? It is a simple question that many brands miss, but for some reason it seemed even more lacking with a lot of craft beer brands. Most of them we looked at were beer for the sake of beer, but it is important to define what is driving you to make great beer. This creates the seed of an emotional connection that can be played on later, and at the end of the day, when the dust settles, it separates you from all the other craft breweries.

2) Core values. A bit of an extension of your “why,” these are the principles that drive your company. The people who tend to drink craft beer often look for common values with the brands they consume (it’s part of that renaissance thing we were talking about). Defining and communicating what you’re all about as a brewery is an important way to weed out the people who are ultimately not going to enjoy your products.

3) Regional personality. Interestingly, the personalities of breweries tracks with the general personality of the region it is from (check out our trend report on regional breweries). There are two things you can do with that – first, you might want to think about fitting in. Midwestern breweries, for example, talk about work ethic and earning their credentials the hard way. That is probably important to Midwestern beer drinkers – so bake it into your brand if you’re in the Midwest. But on the other hand, you might want to intentionally violate the regional personality, to give customers something different – it could be the thing that sets you apart from everyone else. Just be careful about how far you go.

4) Visual identity/expression. This was possibly one of the most egregious issues we saw in our audit – a complete disconnect between brand identity and the visual expression of that identity. It didn’t help that many brands were undefined, but many just plainly missed easy opportunities to make visual connections. If you beers are all, for example, named after superheroes, then there is an easy visual thread that should exist throughout your materials – not just on your can art, but everywhere. And that can dictate the personality outside of visuals as well. And as an aside, consider shelf visibility when you’re designing those cans. People can’t buy what they can’t find.

5) Point of difference. One area we audited was Indianapolis. Fun fact, there are over 100 craft breweries within 1 hour of the city. While that is probably about the highest density in the U.S., there is a really good chance your brewery has a lot of competition. And with many of the big dogs getting into craft styles, it’s getting hard to stand out. So you need to think long and hard about what makes your beer different that the 2 or 20 other breweries within driving distance. Why is someone going to come drink your beer over any of his or her other choices? You simply must figure that out and capitalize on it.

As with other brands, breweries need to be conscious about the identity they are putting out there. We’ve said it before, but you’re projecting a brand whether you like it or not. With so much going on with a craft beer, there’s ample fodder to be distinct. Don’t just be a generic craft brewery – the expansion can’t go on indefinitely, so consolidation is coming. Make sure you’re one of the breweries that stands out and lasts.