In a regular blog feature, Andi will sit down and talk strategy with an industry experts, marketers from leading companies and anyone else who sounds interesting. The Strategy Sessions will showcase how different companies approach strategy, how they problem solve and what successes they’ve had by taking a strategic first approach.
To kick off the Strategy Sessions, Andi caught up with Kevin Gibbons from BlueGlass.
BlueGlass, for those who don’t know, are one of the UK’s best SEO and content marketing agencies. Their client work is renowned and respected throughout the industry and Kevin has been at the helm since 2012 as they’ve grown into one of the major players.
Start with Strategy
BlueGlass has a list of clients that make for envious reading, so I’m not sure if it’s reassuring or disappointing that they have similar problems to us when kicking off client projects!
Kevin’s opening line is, “Sometimes a client’s starting point isn’t a strategy”.
“They [clients] have ideas that they’re excited about and want to create some coverage and assume that off the back of that they’re going to improve their SEO performance.”
It’s a problem as old as the marketing agency: an excited client wants to jump straight in to a tactical execution. They usually bring a bag full of cash, a pretty good idea and endless enthusiasm for the project.
Hell, I spent my first five years of marketing doing exactly this. Some ideas were hits (the award winning Men In Black campaign) and some were misses (hopefully no one remembers the Clear The Ropes ticket offer), so I know the thought process.
However, part of the job of a good agency is to challenge clients when they think there is a better way. It’s not being awkward, it’s implied in the remit. After all, why would you be paying an agency if it wasn’t for their expertise?
Kevin has a gloriously simple approach to this. One that, if I’m honest, I’m probably going to steal. He said, “I ask clients what is it they want achieve and what’s the easiest way to do that?”.
The simplicity is the strength of those two questions. And they get right to the heart of the issue of strategy – what is your business trying to achieve?
I rant often at conferences about the need for marketers to retain their credibility by not obfuscating reports with great looking metrics when a campaign has performed like a turd. It seems to me that what Kevin is saying is the same thing, but from the top down, not the bottom up.
The second part of the question is also crucial. As Kevin adds, “you can over complicate everything” and looking for the path of least resistance is a handy skill to have.
It’s obviously important to know what you want to achieve because that makes the measurement of a strategy easier. Having the overarching corporate goal in mind helps you decide which metrics are relevant.
Kevin continues, “the sectors we’ve got most experience in are travel and retail and in those types of sector you can measure what you’re doing really closely. If they’re [the customer] is spending money straight away, it’s easy to see what’s working.”
That feedback loop is an essential element of every strategy. While you’ll pour hours and large chunks of cash into having a strategy developed, using the best brains you can find, it won’t be perfect.
And while a strategy shouldn’t be changed because sales over a few days don’t go as expected, it should be a living document that flexes and evolves as the business and its operating environment changes.
Practice what you preach
Someone shared a quote from Instagram with me which hit home, more so in the last few months as I’ve started out on my Eximo Marketing journey:
“the quickest way to get ahead in life is to act on the advice you give others”.
I spent my working days advising companies on how to be brilliant but always ignored that advice for myself! One thing I really liked about talking to Kevin is that he definitely does act on his own advice. It’s clear that he has a firm understanding of the strategy for BlueGlass and plans mapped out for the coming years.
Kevin explains, “our key aim is to focus. We want to get better at what we do not necessarily bigger.” This objective has come from experience, too. He continues, “some agencies, and we’ve been guilty of this in the past, just want to grow in every direction. But the danger is we lose what we’re good at. We’re happy to protect what we’re good at, learn more about it and get better at it and let someone else take the other stuff.”
In life, we learn more from our parents than anyone else. So I’m often found quoting my mum in meetings and now in blogs. “Stick to yer knitting” was a favourite phrase of hers, which is relevant here. It’s catchier than discussing diversification or market penetration or an Ansoff matrix.
To be clear, it’s not that one strategy is better than another, it’s knowing what’s right for your business. And having been at the helm of BlueGlass for more than five years and in the industry since 2003, Kevin is comfortable that sticking to his knitting is the right path for them as they head into 2018.