Most agencies had to navigate significant hurdles over the last two years. They’ve wrestled with the idea they may never meet clients face to face again and cultivated a remote-first workforce. They’ve also had to shift their focus to respond to the pandemic and economic downturn, and tune into the sociopolitical issues of our time.
Amid reinvention, many founders have discovered a need to change their agency positioning to better endure a fast-changing world. More than half of all U.S. and Canadian-based businesses have redefined their brand and positioning strategy since the start of COVID-19 era, according to research by UpCity.
It’s not enough to add a Ukrainian or LGBTQ+ color palette on your logo and call it a day. Now more than ever, there’s a pressing need to shift from a static brand identity that withstands the test of time to a responsive brand identity that gets with the times. Here’s how you can position your agency in a shifting client landscape.
What is agency positioning and why does it matter?
An agency’s position is where it sits in relation to other agencies in a marketplace, or in the eyes of prospective customers. It’s a bit different from branding, because branding refers to the elements that compose your agency; that’s an agency’s logo, tagline, offering, social assets, and so forth. Positioning compares and contrasts an agency’s brand with others.
Strong positioning helps agencies develop their unique selling proposition, stand out among competitors and reinforce the specific value they bring to clients. To form one, aim to be customer-centric and delve deeper than a slogan or catchphrase. Strong USPs are bold yet accurate, capturing a company’s essence by reflecting their clients’ core values.
How to better position your agency to win more clients
A unique selling proposition can help agencies tackle change head on to stay contemporary and score new projects. In the face of global change, brands might look to change their messaging or visual identities, but they should never sway from their core beliefs. How to prepare for change:
1. Double down on your agency’s values
There are nearly 27,000 web design businesses in the U.S., according to market research company IBISWorld. This number has declined by about 3% every year since 2012 as client needs change and creative expertise shifts in-house. We’re seeing a rush towards specialization, catering to specific types of clients with specific needs.
To thrive, it’s important to differentiate your agency’s key offerings and expertise from competitors (and that includes other agencies and in-house creative teams).
Define exactly what the agency does, who it’s targeting, and why it’s the best one for a given project. Have a strong branding statement that makes it clear, in one sentence, what the agency does. Example: “We develop B2B websites focused on driving leads and increasing conversions.” Highlight your specializations and market expertise, and be sure to showcase the agency’s best work in a public-facing portfolio. A tried-and-true method to tighten your positioning and make more money: offer fewer services.
2. Conduct competitive research to find white spaces
Your competition says a lot about you. When done well, competitive research arms you with insights about your competitor’s positioning, and offers a roadmap for adjusting your own. Regularly investigating what others are doing (and how they do it) can help you correct your marketing, messaging and branding initiatives to close more deals and keep your current clients happy. Here’s how to conduct competitive research to determine your ideal positioning:
A. Identify your competitors: Competition comes in many forms, some of which you may not expect, such as other agencies, influencers encouraging prospective clients to build their own sites, and linking tools that offer alternatives to websites altogether. Look out for any brand that stands to take your (prospective) customers.
B. Audit your competitor’s brands: Identify their messaging, reputation, customer persona, visual identity, channel efficacy, key differentiators and overall user experience. Once you complete this process, you’ll have a better understanding of how your competitors position themselves, as well as how your own agency compares and contrasts with theirs.
C. Gauge market perceptions: In addition to their branding, you also want to get a sense of how they’re perceived within their industry. Check review sites and blog comments.
D. Determine your positioning: Now that you understand how your competitors present themselves, you can start to define your own positioning strategy. Specifically, consider if you want to take on a product, service, process, niche or values-based positioning. As an aside, pricing is generally not an effective positioning strategy because it doesn’t serve to differentiate your brand.
The more extensive your competitive research is, the greater clarity you’ll have in determining a position that differentiates your brand. Look to make a promise with your messaging, and always focus on benefits instead of features. Consider some of the most famous brand taglines as examples of competitive, differentiated positioning:
Think different (Apple)
Just Do It. (Nike)
Eat Fresh (Subway)
The happiest place on Earth (Disneyland)
America runs on Dunkin’ (Dunkin' Donuts)
Lets go places (Toyota)
Belong anywhere (Airbnb)
3. Design modular brand infrastructures for different customer segments
Agency positioning is constant, but you can still shift a few things to work with different customers. Pricing, glocalization and different communications channels are all prime examples of how agencies often cater to multiple types of clients without changing their overall position.
According to an Optimum Small Business Brief, segmenting email marketing campaigns result in 23% higher open rates and 49% higher click-through rates. This is the power of positioning across different customer segments.
To segment your clientele, look at your agency’s range of customers and identify common themes among them. Segment B2C clients based on geography, demographics, psychographics and behavior, or B2B clients by priority, needs and value.
New clients who have been with your agency for the last three months are now prime for upselling. Clients switching over from another agency may require a complete strategic overhaul. Longstanding, loyal clients can provide references and testimonials to score new work.
Your approach to each segment depends on each of their unique contexts, so be sure the differences between them are substantial enough to warrant segmentation. List out the segments you’ve identified, and prioritize them by profit potential, the resources required for each and your ability to leave a positive impact. Read more in our guide to customer segmentation.
The best positioning usually maintains the same brand image across different customer segments. It’s how Real Madrid, the brand, means the same thing for its soccer teams, basketball franchise and esports squads; or how Lego inspires the same creative play with its toys as it does in its video games and engineering kits.
You can achieve this by developing a dynamic brand identity that morphs its visual brand elements to keep up with a fast-paced market without compromising the brand’s core values or symbolism.
Some ways you can dynamize your agency’s branding for stronger positioning across your various customer segments:
Assemble a toolkit of parts: logo mark, typography system, color palette, icon/photo/illustration guides, and your value-based methodology.
Define what stays static, and what is subject to change. Anchor the brand with legacy attributes, and be flexible with just a few of the parts (not all of them).
Identify your methodology: dynamic elements within fixed containers, patterns vs abstractions, generative content, personalization.
As an example, Copenhagen-based TodayStudio recently crafted a fluid visual identity framework for their clients, Open Platform, an architectural firm which was founded with the intent of creating a space for expressing oneself and enlightening others through architecture, politics and art. To reflect this in their branding, TodayStudio created a flexible identity framework that acted as a container for future creative expressions birthed by Open Platform.
Examples of agencies helping their clients succeed with dynamic branding include Ogilvy and Coca-Cola’s Share a Bottle campaign, and marketing agency Landor & Fitch’s reimagining of Melbourne’s visual identity as a dynamic system.
Agency positioning examples
Wix Partner Lovage Inc. features minty, plant-filled branding to attract business owners and innovators in healthcare & ESG. Their portfolio includes client lists in waste solutions, clinical health and investment banks, among others.
Ambizy fashions itself for high-end clients and features a toned-back branding that puts its portfolio work front and center.
NYC-based DA Creative takes to the skies with a bold red palette and an airplane theme on its homepage to suggest the agency can help its clients’ brands take off all the same. This Wix Partner counts brands like Netflix, Sony Music and Tattly as clients.
Looking towards an ever-changing client landscape
The most enduring agencies strike a balance between reinvention and maintaining their legacy; that is, they mean something distinctive to each of their segments, but they channel their USP in everything they do. To reposition your agency in a dynamic client landscape, differentiate your brand and customer segments, without compromising your core values.