In the agency business, clients look to us, naturally enough, for advice on what’s working in the marketplace, on the assumption that an agency’s collective experience, providing it aligns with a client’s market or product category, can bring real world insight to bear against important decisions relating to topics like strategy, content or creative.
That assumption is not misplaced. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that any one consultant or thought leader or agency (even ours!) has all the answers, or that marketing operates within a finite universe of ideas, and that success is simply a matter of learning which of those ideas applies best to any given situation.
I confess that I occasionally cringe when clients ask questions like:
“Which of these designs has worked best for other companies in our space?”
“What nurture strategies are working right now that we should be using?”
Though I understand the spirit in which those questions are asked, they imply that marketing is never original, but simply a constant rehashing and optimization of what’s gone before.
Our firm designs and executes dozens of campaigns, programs, and creative assets every month, and we operate in a fairly tight sphere of expertise (B2B demand generation). Though each and every one of those deliverables is informed and cross-pollinated by the success (or failure) of work for every other client, I would like to believe that they are just as much a work product customized for a particular client’s objective, target audience, and offer. It’s not as if agencies like ours have a tool bag of ideas, and our task is simply to choose which of those ideas will work best for a given campaign.
Furthermore, best practices – even those proven time and time again – are not absolutes. There is no rule in marketing that works 100% of the time. For every “law” in marketing there is at least one person, one company, one campaign that went against the grain and succeeded anyway. Also, things change. Consumer behavior changes. Technology changes. What was a best practice or a winning campaign 5 years ago might not work today.
As marketers, if all we ever do is copy or replicate what others have already “proven,” we’ll always be behind the curve. Don’t allow history to trump originality. Take risks. By all means look to your agency for experience and expertise. But don’t be afraid of ideas that fall outside the box. Aspire to be the one that people copy, the company of which others say: we should do that.