Building Better Client-Agency Relationships Starts with Building a Better Agency Model

The CMO Club recently surveyed 106 chief marketing officers to see how they viewed the existing agency model and asked them what changes they’d like to see in the traditional client-agency relationship. Their findings really got me thinking about the best approach marketing agencies can take to serve our clients in a rapidly evolving media landscape. Is it the full-service agency of record (AOR) model? The specialized shop model? Somewhere in between?

Personally, I think it varies for each client based on the brand’s needs, the competitive landscape of their vertical, the rapid evolution of the media environment and a host of other variables that would take too long to list.

That’s why I think the best approach is for agencies to work on being flexible enough to leverage the strengths of both the full-service and specialty agency models, avoid the weaknesses of each and remain pliable enough to adapt when needed.

So, how can agencies take on this best-of-both-worlds approach? I have few ideas based on personal experience but I’ll dive into that more in a bit. First, let’s set the table for this conversation by looking at some of the key findings from The CMO Club’s study.

Nearly half of the respondents (47 percent) use the AOR model which includes the 25 percent of brands who use a single AOR and some independent agencies, plus the 22 percent of brands who just use an AOR.

The big agency model was by far the most popular. And, while 55 percent of all respondents said they’re moderately satisfied with their current agency model, only 14 percent said they are highly satisfied. Moderate satisfaction is simply not good enough. Agencies shouldn’t have a “Cs get degrees” mentality about serving our clients.

When asked what’s the most challenging aspect of changing agencies, more than half of respondents said it’s “investing in educating new agencies” and more than a third said “finding/vetting new agencies is time-consuming.”

Neither of these answers should come as a surprise. For agencies, getting to know a brand intimately is essential in producing successful campaigns, but it takes time. And, as any brand or agency who has gone through an RFP can tell you, the process can take months and significant resource time before a decision is made.

For the AOR model, 55 percent of respondents cited a “lack of innovation” as a source of dissatisfaction and 35 percent indicated that their “capabilities are too narrow.”

When an AOR can’t meet the demands of their clients, those brands turn to one or more smaller agencies. According to the study, brands use “independent shops to get better, personalized service, increase the value of their marketing dollars and garner the creativity needed to break through the clutter.”

I’d agree with the study’s authors that this may be swapping out one problem for another – working with different agencies has the benefit of individual expertise, but it also makes it a lot more difficult to align various marketing efforts.

When asked about the benefits of small or mid-size agencies, 44 percent of respondents said “better-personalized service” and 40 percent said “more specialized knowledge.”

This makes sense, as smaller agencies usually focus on a few core marketing services. This makes it easier to become experts in those areas and coordinate efforts between teams.

How to capture the best of both worlds

The findings of this study were interesting, but not all that surprising. Here at Mindstream Media Group, we’ve been noticing the shifting needs of brands for some time and have taken major steps to evolve our capabilities and account management style to adapt to the changing environment.

To strike a balance between full-service and specialty agency, we took two major steps and a lot of incremental ones. Our first big change happened more than two years ago when we joined the Eastport Holdings’ family of agencies. Being a part of a large holdings company has given us access to 16 sister agencies with a variety of specialties to complement our own offerings.

This integration has been a huge plus for our agency. Now, when a brand approaches us with a need that’s outside of our wheelhouse, it’s not a problem. We just reach out to the appropriate agency within Eastport and get to work. It’s also great for our clients because they keep a single point of contact at Mindstream who can coordinate efforts between the agencies.

The second big change was more gradual. Since we joined Eastport, we’ve steadily combined forces with new Mindstream offices across the country from San Diego to New York City. Each of these teams brings different but compatible talents and capabilities that allow us to provide a full suite of digital and traditional marketing services.

Our new extended family allows us to handle any of our client’s advertising and marketing needs like a big agency could. However, as a single agency, Mindstream Media Group still functions like a smaller shop. And, like other small-to-medium sized agencies, our teams are made up of experts dedicated to specific marketing services. The only difference is, we have a lot of those teams now.

Benefits of a blended agency model

This blended agency model is very effective at solving two major issues from CMO Club’s study:

  1. The AOR model leads to a lack of innovation and a capability set that’s too narrow.
  2. The multiple-agency model leads to complications with managing relationships across partners.

Our model allows us to resolve the first issue by acting like a specialty shop – agile and dedicated enough to deliver innovative campaign strategies and customized content. At the same time, our expanded capabilities allow us to handle a variety of marketing services. Which means our clients enjoy a single point of contact and more holistic marketing strategies. It also means that, like a full-service agency, we have access to all the resources, technology and expertise we’d need to meet any client request.

Closing thoughts

I’m not trying to claim that we’ve found the perfect agency model. In this industry, that’s impossible. Change happens too quickly and each brand is too unique. The strategies that are perfect this minute are outdated the next. A system that works perfectly for one brand is anathema to another.

I think the best approach is just to make sure you have the right mindset – stay flexible and agile, remain dedicated to customer services, allow technology to make your life easier and, most importantly, embrace change.

Looking for a marketing agency with the capabilities of the big firms and the personal touch of a specialty shop?

Contact Mindstream Media Group today.

5 Ways Your Brand Can Use Content Marketing to Connect with Smart Speaker Users

Welcome to the second post in our series on how brands can reach smart speaker owners. In the first post, we provided some background on smart speakers and voice search in general. In this post, we’ll start diving into specific strategies brands can employ to connect with smart speaker users. 

An increasing number of smart speaker owners and the rising popularity of voice search have made it crucial for brands to implement strategies to reach these growing audiences. This will require a comprehensive digital marketing approach involving content creation, search engine optimization (SEO), paid advertising, app/skill development and more.

Consumers and smart speaker devices are in a honeymoon phase of sorts, still trying to define the relationship and how best to use the device. In general, smart speaker owners want the devices to automate tasks, help them find information and make their lives easier. As that relationship evolves, brands like yours will need to keep up with how consumers are using smart speakers.

Related – Check out our latest infographic to learn more about how smart speaker owners are using their devices

For now, when consumers do turn to smart speakers to learn about products and services, it’s important that your brand is there to provide the information they need. To accomplish this, let’s look at five strategies to create content for smart speaker audiences.

No. 1: Create the type of content that users want

Some of the most popular ways consumers use smart speakers don’t really present much of an opportunity for brands. Activities like playing music, setting timers and checking the weather aren’t really suited for most brands to create content that connects with users. However, there’s a variety of information smart speaker owners have said they would like to receive from brands.

What smart speaker owners would like from brands

What smart speaker owners would like to receive from brands

Source: Google

No. 2: Create content that matches the way users interact with smart speakers

Going a step further, it’s important not just to deliver the type of content smart speakers users want, brands also need to provide that content in the right tone and voice. By that, I don’t mean swapping out the tranquil rhythm of Alexa’s standard voice with the aggressively-loud pitch of Gordon Ramsay or the awkwardly-suggestive tone of Rebel Wilson; I mean creating content that matches how users interact with smart speakers.

Users tend to interact differently with smart speakers than other digital devices like smartphones and computers. According to Google, 53 percent of people who own a voice-activated speaker said it feels natural speaking to it, with 41 percent saying it feels like talking to a friend or another person.

When consumers use voice search on any device, natural interaction remains the norm. Almost 70 percent of requests to the Google Assistant – which runs on Google Home, smartphones, cars and other devices – are expressed in natural language, not the typical keywords people would use when typing out a search.

This leads to a style of communication that is more natural, conversational and informal – which impacts how digital assistants determine voice search results. A study analyzed 10,000 Google Home searches and found that the average search result was content written at a ninth-grade reading level.

So, if you’re creating content designed to reach smart speaker users, don’t be afraid to be more colloquial, use more rudimentary verbiage and definitely avoid using words like colloquial and rudimentary.

Related – How Multi-Location Brands Can Optimize for Voice Search

No. 3: Create more audio content

When creating content for smart speaker devices, brands should remember the inherent role these devices play – speakers. One way your brand can provide audio content is by starting a branded podcast. Talk about general interest topics that are germane to your industry and provide consumers the information they need to make purchase decisions related to your products and services.

Smart speaker owners

Smart Speaker audiences are consuming more audio content

No. 4: Create high-quality content

This should really go without saying, but if your brand wants to reach smart speaker owners and persuade them to become customers, it’s important that the content you put out is high-quality, relevant and engaging. This is especially true if your brand is looking to rank in the top spot in voice searches (which is crucial given there’s only one result).

Let’s go back to that study mentioned above that analyzed Google Home searches. The study found that the average domain rating of a voice search result was an impressive 76.8 and higher domain ratings are associated with a higher likelihood of ranking well in search results.

Domain rating is determined, in part, by how many quality incoming links a website has from other sites, and links are considered to be one of the most important (if not the most important) factor in search engine rankings.

Search engines see incoming links as votes of confidence for a website since other site owners must think the content is interesting and/or authoritative or they wouldn’t link to it. So, publishing high-quality content increases the chances of getting other sites to link to your pages which leads to higher rankings in search results.

Great content also generates social engagement. While Google has said that social signals don’t factor into their rankings, there’s definitely a strong correlation between the social engagement of a content piece and its performance in voice search results. This correlation is evident by the average number of Facebook and Twitter shares of voice search results. (For comparison, half the content on the web gets two Facebook shares or less.)

Average social shares for voice search result pages

No. 5: Create long-form, in-depth content

For years, a common SEO strategy was to create individual pages for each topic in hopes of ranking for keywords that were exclusive to that subject. However, this practice may not be the most effective at reaching voice searchers.

To understand why, let’s go back to that Google Home search study. The researchers of that study found the average word count of a Google voice search result is more than 2,300 words. On top of that, the study concluded that using specific keywords in a page’s title tag had very little influence on search rankings.

So, what does all of this mean?

For voice search results, this means it may be more effective to create webpages that cover multiple subjects and satisfy a variety of potential queries. The study presented a reasonable explanation for this reverse in SEO best practices:

Approximately 20 percent of all mobile searches are now voice searches (and according to Comscore, 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches by 2020). With so many voice searches, it’s impossible for Google to find a page dedicated to every query. Instead, Google explores the entire page for the best match for that particular voice search.

Luckily, brands don’t have to recreate the wheel to develop more comprehensive pages. In fact, a lot of websites already host pages that accomplish this goal – FAQ pages. For Google Home searches, 2.7 percent of results were FAQ pages. That might not sound like a lot, but it’s almost double the percentage of FAQ results in desktop searches.

Search results that are FAQ pages

FAQ pages as search results


FAQ pages answer a variety of specific questions making it very easy for search engines to understand the page’s content and present responses via voice search results. Also, FAQs are a great way to offer quick answers while also linking out to other pages on your site to provide more in-depth information. So, if your brand has already created a lot of hyper-specific pages, don’t toss them in the trash. Instead, just link to them from more comprehensive pages. That way, you’ll be covered for voice search and standard search results.

Want to create great content pieces to improve your brand’s performance in voice search results? Contact Mindstream Media Group to learn how our Content Marketing solution can help.

Subscribe to our blog for upcoming posts on strategies for reaching smart speaker users.

The 7 Sins of Local Digital Marketing

If you own a small business, you know at least one thing about local digital marketing: return is king. You probably don’t have loose piles of money laying around just waiting to be thrown at every opportunity that gets pedaled through your door in anticipation that something will stick. You likely don’t have the luxury of a full-time, in-house marketing team devoted to bringing you more business. And you definitely don’t have the time to hold the hands of each marketing vendor partner or self-teach every aspect of the ever-evolving digital marketing industry.

For many in your position, marketing is an afterthought, something that gets dealt with only once the concrete parts of your business are well attended to. It’s natural, then, that the walled garden of marketing professionals is full of folks upset about your lack of attention to, or understanding of, your marketing campaigns. We love what we do and we want you to love it too.

While I’d advocate that you absolutely should prioritize the workings of your business, please don’t take that to mean marketing your business is not your responsibility. It’s a critical part of your company’s health and I’ll tell you that, after years of working with local business owners, the ones that maintain success and achieve their growth goals are the ones that strike the right balance when it comes to marketing. They internalize that return is king and that they get out what they put in.

To better describe what that balance entails, let’s review what I call the seven sins of local digital marketing. By the end, you should have a good picture of what a wholesome marketing partnership looks like, what role you play in the big picture of things and, in the spirit of Ben Franklin’s thirteen virtues, something to reflect on each month, each quarter, each year to identify where you’re doing well and where you need to improve.

No. 1: Micromanaging

I’ll be honest, I’m mostly putting this one in here for my fellow marketers. Throughout our careers, we’ve all been subjected to the client that wants complete and utter control over every aspect of their digital campaigns. They either ignore or actively shun the opinions of anyone else, and then when they go against professional marketing advice and the campaign fails, they have no one to blame but themselves (although, that rarely stops them from blaming their vendor partners anyway.)

In short, trust the people you pay to be smarter than you when it comes to digital marketing. Listen to their input, be open to being persuaded by intelligent ideas, then stand firm in your choice knowing that at the end of the day it’s your marketing budget and you’ve made an educated decision on how to best use it.

No. 2: Apathy

Now, take everything I just said and put it aside for a moment. Another common pitfall on the road to return is assuming that you, the client, have no part in the marketing process once you hire an agency. The truth is, you’re a critical component in our ability to do our jobs as marketers.

While your marketing partner likely knows your industry well, nobody knows your specific business more than you do. Often times we work with franchisees who are still actively providing the product or service they’re in the business of doing. They roll up their sleeves and press the flesh with their customers. Don’t underestimate how helpful it is for us as marketers to get your customers’ feedback, it allows us to create and optimize campaigns as a true extension of your business. It helps us promote the brand in ways that connect the best and drive the leads that convert the best. It’s what separates authentic advertising from cheap gimmicks.

No. 3: Parsimoniousness

Don’t pinch pennies and don’t have a death grip on how your overall marketing budget is allocated. The key here is to understand, not to entirely control, where you’re spending marketing dollars.

In the digital space, it’s important to remain flexible and listen to what the data is telling you, particularly in a pull-medium like paid search. You may want to promote one service over another, but if people aren’t searching for your priority service nearly as much as your secondary one, you need to be open to the idea of devoting more budget to the one that’s working, the one that’s driving leads, even if it’s not the most important service for you.

Similarly, don’t take budget away from higher-funnel channels like programmatic display or paid social just because they’re driving a higher cost-per-lead or hitting lower conversion rates. They play an important role in the larger marketing ecosystem for your business and ignoring one medium will likely negatively impact another. Find the balance in your budget and understand it well enough to know why it’s the right choice.

No. 4: Fixation

Testing the unknown is critical, so try to be comfortable with straying outside of where you are now. Take off the blinders every once in a while. It’s how digital marketers feel out the blind spots and find hidden gems. It’s also why you should be aware of where you’re not spending marketing dollars.

That doesn’t mean throw money at everything and see what works, but it does mean taking well-calculated risks in a controlled environment. And, it means purposefully passing up on some marketing ideas so that others can flourish. Make budgeting decisions with intent, then follow up on your tests to evaluate your next steps.

No. 5: Abstraction

If it’s been a month or more since you last talked to your digital marketing partner about the details of your campaign, it’s time to pick up the phone. See what trends are developing in the campaign, ask about where you could improve your budgeting, check in on what your competitors are doing, make sure your digital advertising lines up with the brand you want to communicate.

Again, don’t micromanage, but have a dialogue, even if only a brief one, to make sure you understand the effort that’s going into your digital program and the return you’re getting as a result. Find ways to better track your successes and pitfalls so you can paint a better picture, or better yet, so your marketing partner can paint a better picture for you.

No. 6: Monotony

If it’s been a year or more since you had a real conversation about your broader digital marketing strategy, it’s definitely time to pick up the phone. Take a step back. Ask larger questions about what’s working and why, discuss emerging trends or new marketing services, brainstorm ways to better tailor your marketing to your ideal customers. It’s also a great way to take stock on the value of your digital marketing. Be candid with yourself about what it provides your business, even if that means having a frank understanding that your digital marketing isn’t doing much.

Related article: 17 Questions to Ask When You Think It’s Time to Replace Your Paid Search Agency

At the end of the day, digital marketing is built on service, and that service is founded on the success of our clients. A good marketing provider will understand that a well thought out, short-term loss in marketing budget in the larger interest of bottom-line client success often leads to robust, long-term partnerships that provide sustained revenue for both sides. Take the time to develop that symbiotic relationship; it’s the underpinning of the marketing balance.

No. 7: Mysticism

The truth is, digital marketing is a lot less magical and a lot more modest than people outside of our industry typically imagine. It’s evolving, it’s exciting and it can be extremely rewarding in many ways. But, at the end of the day, our job is to communicate to people. That’s it. To do that as best we can, great marketers listen to their instincts and their clients. They observe the results of various client relationships and the performance of campaigns. They understand a brand’s value and customer experiences. They empathize with people and they learn something new every day.

Even though you may not be a marketing expert, you are a person. You are somebody’s customer as much as you are the one serving your own customers. Work each day to take something from your career, something from your life, and build on it. You’ll be surprised how far you can grow.

[Infographic]: Smart Speakers: The Rise of the Machines

Smart speakers have steadily increased in popularity in recent years making these devices a prime opportunity for brands to connect with consumers. To make this connection, it’s important for brands to understand how people are using smart speakers.

Download our free infographic to learn:

  • How many people are using smart speakers
  • How people are using their smart speakers to carry out daily tasks
  • How people are using their smart speakers to shop for products and services

This infographic is a part of our series on how brands can connect with consumers through smart speakers.

Subscribe to our blog for more strategies on how to optimize your brand’s presence to reach smart speaker users.

Infographic sources:

  • eMarketer, “Voice-Enabled Technology StatPack: Current Forecasts for Digital Assistants and Speakers,” August 2017
  • Google/Peerless Insights, “Voice-Activated Speakers: People’s Lives are Changing,” August 2017
  • MarketWatch via Adobe Analytics, January 2018
  • NPR and Edison Research, “The Smart Audio Report,” December 2017

[APRIL 2018] TL;DR Roundup – Obligatory Facebook Update, YouTube TrueView Ads and Programmatic Ad Spending Updates

Welcome to the TL;DR Roundup, Mindstream Media Group’s recap of the biggest stories in digital media, marketing and advertising. We know there’s too much going on to read everything, so we break down the most important stories for you. Continue reading “[APRIL 2018] TL;DR Roundup – Obligatory Facebook Update, YouTube TrueView Ads and Programmatic Ad Spending Updates”