Every marketing company claims to have “the answer.” But, solutions to marketing problems aren’t simple 2+2=4 answers.
Solutions to marketing problems are like learning acting: Sanford Meisner, one of the greatest acting teachers of the 20th century, would sometimes expel students from his class, not because they were bad actors and didn’t have a chance in the field, but because he knew he wasn’t the right teacher for them.
Not every agency is right for every company.
Solutions to marketing problems are also a lot like purchasing a suit: There’s a world of difference between the look of a suit worn right off the rack and one tailored to an individual’s measurements.
The best solutions involve having a framework that is adapted to a company’s specific needs.
Yet, most marketing agencies do neither: Almost every company I’ve worked with has binders of studies that are cookie-cutter in approach from agencies that claimed they were the ones that could help them. These studies often have clever “custom-tailored” names that describe different target groups that the companies never end up incorporating into their corporate language. I often wonder how much time was wasted in naming the groups rather than solving the problems that the company needed solving.
Finding an approach that works
So, what qualities should a marketing agency have:
First, they should establish a foundation you can build a unique house on for your customers instead of already-finished houses where the only options are different floors, windows, and doors. You need an approach, a belief system: solving marketing problems without having a preconceived notion about what the answer should be or what form it should take.
Second, they should understand your organization’s world. Is their approach something that your organization can actually use? Sometimes, the nature of an organization and its beliefs, right or wrong, about how an organization should work may preclude their type of solution. Don’t be afraid to tell them no.
Third, given your organization’s approach, what possible forms can your agency’s solution take? They need to provide the results in a way your organization is comfortable playing in.
Finally, the best solution usually isn’t the first. The best solutions are created over time: make sure whatever agency you hire is someone you want to work with over the long-term.
Leaving room for doubt
Marketers would do well to model themselves after scientists and listen to one of the greatest mind of the 20th century, the Nobel-prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman:
“The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty, and this experience is of very great importance, I think. When a scientist doesn’t know the answer to a problem, he is ignorant. When he has a hunch as to what the result is, he is uncertain. And when he is pretty darned sure of what the result is going to be, he is in some doubt. We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognize the ignorance and leave room for doubt. Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty—some most unsure, some nearly sure, none absolutely certain”
All four criteria for developing effective marketing solutions could really be reduced to this: never be sure that one answer is the only answer, or even the right one; don’t be afraid to doubt yourself; don’t be afraid to move away from the tried and “true”; and never lose your curiosity.
Business doesn’t operate in a bubble and the solutions will need to change over time. Finding a solid foundation that works inside your organization will give you a place to start from that, with ingenuity and hard work, will always assist in leading you where you need to go.
Remain curious: don’t settle for the answer of today. Settle for the search of tomorrow’s solution. Let your foundation be your guide, without letting it determine your destination.