While demographic research is valuable, it leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Attitudinal segmentation research, on the other hand, gives us crucial insights into how people think about a topic, which gives us the power to understand what’s going on between peoples’ ears.
There’s so much more to an agency owner’s story than their age, gender, role, years in the agency business, or the types of work their agency does. And in our most recent Agency Audit research, none of the above demographic factors were associated with agency resilience and success. That’s to say, becoming an unbeatable agency has more to do with mindset, behaviors, goals, perspectives, and ways of thinking than how long somebody has owned an agency.
In this blog, we’ll share what we learned about agencies in our 2022 Agency Audit study and how you can identify which segment is like your agency, plus how to take your agency from struggling to unbeatable.
Five Agency Segments
Agency owners rated their level of agreement (or disagreement) with about 40 attitudinal statements, such as “I feel optimistic about opportunities for my agency” or “My agency is well-positioned to succeed,” which gives us five agency owner segments that can illuminate the pathway to becoming a successful agency.
Think about your agency as you read through each of their descriptions. Which sounds most familiar? The segment that fits your agency best will give you a starting place from which to improve, grow, and thrive.
“We wrote the book on our view of branding and storytelling. We want to be THE source for providers of complex services who need to share their story in ways that their clients understand them, see the value in them, and respond to them.”
Thought Leaders excel at niching down. They are strongly committed to niche marketing and building a thought leadership reputation.
Their agency is actively developing its thought leadership. And these respondents say their agency has a strong niche positioning that sets it apart from its competitors.
Out of all the segments, they’re most likely to strongly disagree that being a generalist agency is more valuable than having a niche.
You Might Be a Thought Leader If …
Your agency has specialized expertise, and you share that expertise in content, speaking engagements, and other forms of thought leadership; your client base is drawn to your agency because of it.
“With so many people looking for employees, we have to compete with higher salary requests while at the same time seeing clients reduce budgets and expect more from their existing budgets.”
Staffing Strugglers were knocked off their feet by labor fluctuations and challenges in 2022, and they still feel like they can’t keep their heads above water.
These respondents say finding qualified employees is harder than ever, and their agency is considering options to fill roles they’ve never considered before. They have a lot of worries: that their agency can afford the employees it needs to be successful, that salary levels will impact the experience and talent of their workforce, and that their agency can’t get the employees it needs to take advantage of new business opportunities.
Staffing Strugglers say their agency is losing employees to opportunities that can pay more than they can.
You Might Be a Staffing Struggler If …
The staffing challenges of the last few years have impacted your agency significantly, and it feels like a runaway train you’re still on, stopping you from reaching your goals.
“There are 60,000+ ‘agencies’ in the U.S. now. Client loyalty is lost. They’re just trying to find a shop that will do something better (even if just a tiny amount).”
Change Seekers are defined by a sense of overwhelm around attracting and retaining clients and differentiating from competitors.
These respondents say the market for agency services is changing dramatically, and their agency needs to adapt accordingly — or fall behind. They say their clients are more likely to be considering moving to other agencies than they used to be and that attracting new clients is harder than ever.
It’s hard for them to sell clients on strategy, and they say clients don’t want to pay for these services. Change Seekers believe larger agencies have a competitive advantage over smaller ones.
You Might Be a Change Seeker If …
You’re struggling to sell clients on strategy, and you see your clients seeking greener pastures.
“Among our top competitors, there is very little differentiation, unfortunately. If a client is in a situation to choose, they usually choose the agency with a portfolio that includes direct experience in their industry.”
Cobblers’ Kids struggle to prioritize their agency’s marketing over its clients. It’s always a lower priority, and when they dedicate time to it, their efforts are haphazard. They are most likely of the segments to strongly disagree that their agency prioritizes its marketing efforts as if they were a client.
You Might Be a Cobblers’ Kids If …
Your agency’s marketing is last on the list of priorities. It needs more attention and intention; you’re just unsure how to get there.
“We have a collaborative and empathetic approach that allows us to become a trusted partner and an extension of our clients’ marketing teams. We are hyperfocused on driving results from our efforts.”
Loyalty Builders have mastered client attraction and retention by understanding defection triggers, nurturing clients, and consistently reporting on work and performance.
Their agency does a good job of reporting work performed and the performance of initiatives to clients. In addition, these respondents say their agencies have a strong program to ensure clients stay loyal to them.
You Might Be a Loyalty Builder If …
Relationships are your bread and butter. Your clients are loyal, and you have tried and true methods for keeping them that way.
So What Now?
Where did you land? Which segment sounds most like your agency?
The good news is that no matter your segment, there’s a way forward.
For Thought Leaders and Loyalty Builders … You’re the north star for agency operations. You’ve figured out what works and approach your client relationships with confidence.
For the rest of the segments, there are three strategies that our research suggests prove fruitful for agency owners (it’s what Thought Leaders and Loyalty Builders do right):
- Unbeatable agencies tend to build their reputations with thought leadership and niche positioning. This two-pronged approach ensures your agency can offer expertise and specialization, two attributes many agency clients find appealing.
- According to our previous research, agency employees want flexibility and check-ins with senior management. Allowing employees autonomy in their work environment can increase satisfaction and eliminate barriers to meaningful contributions. Plus, one-on-one time can help them feel a sense of belonging. That way, the revolving door stops moving, and your agency can operate from a place of stability.
- Client attraction and retention depend on proof of value, which regular reporting can address. Nurturing relationships hinges on personal connections, and our research shows quality time with agency leadership can do a lot of the heavy lifting — beyond gift baskets or thank you cards; clients want to know who they’re working with.
So What’s Next?
If you want to weather all the storms the marketing world sends your way, you must build resilience. That comes from understanding what’s working — and what’s not — for agency owners like you.
This blog is just a starting point. Find out more about our research results and becoming an unbeatable agency by downloading our executive summary.