‘Agencies are failing to solve actual business problems?’ No kidding!

In order to fully benefit their clients, agencies need to start solving actual business problems rather than simply doing some "fancy photoshopping", writes agency director Tyson Carr.

At the recent Mumbrella360 conference, a panel of former big brand marketers warned agencies that they might be nailing briefs but they are failing to solve actual business problems. To that, I say: no kidding. The truth of the matter is most traditional above-the-line agencies haven’t a clue how to solve challenges that encompass departments within their client’s businesses beyond the marketing team. 

Traditional agencies are set up to market to consumers, plain and simple. But business challenges go far beyond that to include a range of audiences from internal stakeholders to B2B audiences and even shareholders. In a lot of cases, traditional agencies don’t have the experience or expertise to work with these types of audiences because they’ve never done so. The reality is, audiences beyond the consumer have a very different involvement or investment in the business than a consumer does so, obviously, they need to be treated differently.

The sad thing is, agencies have the skills to nail all sorts of issues clients are facing. The industry is abuzz with the value of strategy, creativity and data and how they all work together to solve marketing challenges. I’d argue strategy, creativity and data are not tools exclusively available to marketing departments. An approach that uses strategy and creativity informed by analytics is effectively the same no matter what department a problem stems from.

The CMO’s responsibility

The onus doesn’t fall entirely on agencies – the CMO also plays a role. It’s up to them to acknowledge when something is a wider business problem rather than a pure marketing challenge.

As if the job of CMO wasn’t already complex enough, I can only imagine the can of worms they’re dealing with when they discover the challenge that lies ahead can’t merely be solved with marketing. You can’t blame them for putting it in to the too hard basket or falling back on traditional agencies as a default.

Jenny Williams, Luke Dunkerley, Paul Bennett and Julia Varigiu on the panel

The ideal situation is an organisation that has empowered the CMO who is willing to take a collective approach, to rally the heads of department to try and tackle the problem together instead of in a silo. If an organisation is not equipped to do that, the CMO will need to work with the general manager or the managing director of the business to figure out the root of the issue then convince the leadership team that brand is the responsibility of the business, not just marketing. Yes, this is a lot of work, but it is a long-term investment that will pay generous dividends for all departments.

The automotive business challenge

Take the example of a business challenge the automotive industry is currently facing: the decline in walk-ins to the dealership. From the outset, it’s something that appears to be a marketing problem, that the marketing channels aren’t working hard enough to drive people into the dealership. But when you look into the issue further, there are far more complex problems at play.

The reason people aren’t walking into dealerships is because the dealership experience is intimidating and often cold. Most dealers market multiple automotive brands and they often run each franchise exactly the same. The brand proposition becomes diluted across these different brands as the customer experience is treated exactly the same whether they’re selling a Nissan, a Renault, a Ford or a Mazda.

Again, at face value, this looks like it could be a marketing challenge but in order to truly solve this issue for one of those automotive brands, you need to look further upstream. The solution will need to work through the training department of the sales force to ensure the people on the ground are living and breathing the brand each time a customer walks into the dealership.

Then, once someone is within the life cycle of purchasing a new vehicle, the brand needs to ensure it is capitalising on customer loyalty. A number of departments are involved with that cycle from the service department to the network development team, sales and aftersales teams.

When it comes to challenges of this nature, whether it’s the agency or the CMO, it requires someone to be humble and say: “We could try and stick with marketing, but until the business problem is fixed, the marketing won’t be effective.”

Marketing can polish a turd but if it’s a genuine business problem, all a traditional agency can do is some fancy photoshopping and secure a good media placement. Until they’re empowered to work throughout their client’s organisations, all they will ever be equipped to do is solve briefs instead of business challenges.

Tyson Carr is the director of full service brand experience agency Neonormal.


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