The sad fact about designers, copywriters and creatives is that we’re not always that good at doing for ourselves what we do so well for our clients.
We’re especially guilty of neglecting our own websites. We procrastinate about improving them - for months or even years - then rush and bang something out that’s full of industry cliches.
(On that note, I heartily recommend you take some time out to explore Blandly, the ‘Blanding Agency’ if you haven’t already - it’s a satirical masterclass in industry cliches. Don’t miss the lunch options!)
Too many agency websites talk about creating ‘experiences.’
Too many freelance copywriters state they’re ‘all about the words’.
Far too many firms say “we do digital’ (when digital is just expected).
Unfortunately, while still true and still important, these things just aren’t meaningful enough to attract clients and they don’t differentiate your business.
And that, my friends, is a bit of a problem in a world where our work is becoming increasingly commodified and the pesky robots are after our jobs.
To attract ideal clients, juicy projects and charge high-end prices you have to act like the meaningful brand that you really are.
To stand out, you have to stand for something.
Many agencies get their clients through word of mouth, so they haven’t had to concern themselves with their positioning.
This quote from Up To The Light’s ‘What Clients Think’ report is pretty revealing on this point:
“In interviews, clients often look at their agency’s website for the first time in a long while. They sometimes comment that the website fails to reflect what they consider to be distinctive and special about the agency. In other words, the website does not capture their actual experience of the agency.”
So what happens if your network changes? If your clients move work in-house? If the leads dry up and you need to find new ways to grow?
You absolutely have to communicate your difference to attract and convert new clients. The problem is, this is almost impossible to do for yourself.
You’re too close to what you do to see it clearly; you tend to overcomplicate things and develop blind spots.
If you’re struggling to articulate why your agency is different, the answers are probably staring you in the face, right now.
The report offers this useful further insight:
“In our interviews, clients tend to talk about agencies in terms of core competencies – ‘They’re weaker strategically, they excel at digital, we go to them when we need real creativity’. In the same way, they prefer agency websites that lead them very quickly to what the agency is best at. This may be a particular service or discipline but it could also be an overarching approach. However one defines it, the agency has to stand for something.”
Start by picking one area you excel at and make that your foundation. You can build your positioning, your messaging and your marketing from there.
To help you along the way, this article will walk you through the 5 basic keys for bottling your brilliance and some simple exercises that will help you articulate why your work matters.
The 5 basic keys to bottling your brilliance
None of these five keys will be new to you, but you’re probably overlooking one or two of them.
As I walk you through each one, try to notice which one jumps out at you and lights you up. That’s a strong clue for how you can start to stand out.
“My one top tip for agencies wanting to come up with a strong message and proposition is to be really clear on their target audience, to narrow it down as much as possible; don’t be a jack of all trades, focus on one sector if possible or one core discipline. When creating your proposition, you should then think of your audience’s core challenge and respond to that”.
Lucy Snell, Agency Growth Academy
We all know it’s so much more effective to niche down and target a particular customer, persona or ‘avatar’. But not so easy to do in practice! Almost everyone enjoys variety and doesn’t want to rule any kind of client or project out completely.
But even if you hate the idea of niching down… you might have a niche without realising it. Think back to your favourite, ideal and most profitable clients - what do they have common?
If you’re struggling here, Lucy Snell’s Agency Game Plan has a brilliant exercise to help you get clear on this.
You can obviously niche right down to an exact persona you work best with. This is fantastic for targeting ideal clients, particularly on Facebook and LinkedIn.
But here’s the good news - you don’t HAVE to niche at all. You can work with everyone but simply niche your marketing instead by targeting a new sector every quarter or use custom landing pages to drive traffic to.
For more on niching, check out my recent video: To Niche or Not to Niche?
As the ‘What Clients Think’ report shows, articulating what you do best is one of the boxes new potential clients want to tick - and quickly.
The trend these days is for more specialist agencies. Let’s face it, it’s hard to be full service in a world that moves this fast.
Maybe your strength is UX, product development, branding, SEO, content marketing?
Maybe you work mostly in FMCG, technology, public sector or healthcare?
For example, I tend to work best helping creative and innovative B2B service businesses bottle their brilliance.
Again, if you’re struggling to narrow down on what you do best, think back to the projects where you felt most in the zone.
But while what you do is important, don’t take your eyes off the fact that what clients really buy is the results of your work, not how you get them there.
In other words, the WHERE:
- What’s the ultimate destination your clients are really aiming for?
- What transformation are they seeking?
- What should their life look like after they’ve worked with you?
How you work and your approach to working with clients is one of the most difficult things to articulate but can often be the reason clients choose to work with you.
Some agencies are deliberately small and collaborative, some are more casual while others rely heavily on processes. Some are driven by creativity, others are more scientific.
How you work is often driven by your values, which we’ll come on to later.
For now, think about how you do what you do:
- How do you like working with clients?
- How do you make their job easier?
- What proven processes or frameworks do you follow?
- What’s unique about your approach?
For more on how you work, check out my recent video: T’aint what you do, it’s the way that you do it.
4. WHY NOT
“When it comes to differentiating your agency, don’t focus on your service, focus more on your higher purpose and I mean your personal mission. Mission first, product second”
Think about your favourite brands, thought leaders and artists, chances are they have strong opinions and they aren’t afraid to share them.
People buy your why and your mission, however, they also buy what you’re NOT and what you actively fight against.
Interestingly, the ‘What Clients Think’ report found that 68% of winning pitch presentations went against the brief in some way.
Turns out, clients love it when you have the confidence to point out pitfalls in the brief, to question and to challenge them.
Positioning your agency around what you stand against or a common enemy you share with your clients is a strong way to differentiate yourself and become more memorable.
Read more about finding your WHY NOT here.
93% of clients believe that the personal chemistry with the people at their agency is ‘good’ or ‘very good.’
Some of the most successful business people I know got that way through making friends with their clients.
Work is fun when you work with brilliant people. I know they say ‘love what you do’ but that’s impossible to achieve all of the time so you may as well like your colleagues and partners…so it’s better to be yourself and attract like-minded clients who you can enjoy a collaborative relationship with.
Shameless flattery ahead, but the reason I work with agencies is because, as a general rule, I get on well with the kind of people who start agencies.
Ultimately, this comes down to the fact that we all work best with people who share our values.
Understanding and expressing your values is a pivotal piece of bottling your brilliance, because it informs your tone-of-voice, how you work and who you work with.
Check out this handy values exercise I created to help you pin down yours.
PUT IT TOGETHER IN A CORE MESSAGE
Once you’ve worked through all these elements, see which speaks to you loudest or engages you the most. This is going to be an important way your agency can stand out.
When you have your five key elements, in an ideal world you’ll bring them all together into a statement that says what you do, who you do it for, why you do it and how. All expressed in a way that reflects your personality and values.
Unfortunately, this can be much harder than it sounds. Messaging has the word ‘mess’ in it for a good reason. It’s rarely ever done - it naturally evolves and needs revisiting regularly.
However you choose to approach it, the most important thing is that YOU believe in your own brilliance and message. Because if you don’t believe in it, nobody else will either.
Do you find it hard to articulate why your business is different and why it matters?
It’s not easy, is it?
Ironic when it’s what you do for a living.
Why is it so easy to do for your clients but impossible to do for yourself?
You just end up going around in circles, unsure if why YOU think you’re different actually matters to anyone else.
If this sounds like you ☝️☝️☝️ then I’ve got something that you may be interested in.
I can help you bottle your brilliance with a creative messaging workshop and positioning strategy.
It is designed to help you surface a message you alone can own and to articulate in a sentence your ideal clients will connect with and act on.
I only work on one strategy per month and this is priced at £2,500.00
Drop me an email to learn more.