Your agency’s website needs to work as hard as you do. It’s job is to be your 24/7 salesperson, but not in a slimy, shiny-suited way. It should just clearly and confidently explain why your agency is the smart choice. In fact, the only choice.
Because in reality, your agency is probably one of five or six agencies open on a client’s browser window. Clients will flick between all of them, trying to get a sense of who you are, what you do, and above all; how you can solve their problems. And they won’t spend as long as you think making their shortlist.
You see, when you put five or six agency websites side by side, they can look pretty similar. Similar words. Similar imagery. Similar claims. Agency websites tend to work in trends. And although most agencies claim to have boundless creativity, not many stray too far from the formula.
For the benefit of this guide, we’ll assume your agency website works like most others. There’ll be a Home page with a hero section, an About page, Services, Work, Approach, Contact and a few variations around this.
Because so many agencies look and sound similar, positioning becomes key. It’s a way of working out who you are, what you offer and how you’re distinct. It helps you occupy a specific place in your ideal client’s mind. And it’s a vital first step towards writing effective website copy.
You see, smart agencies don’t go toe-to-toe with their competitors. They don’t get lost among the shouting voices in a noisy sector. They play in a portion of the market that others aren’t in, and become successful by being different. Think about Volvo as a brand and you think ‘safety’, despite their cars not being ranked that highly for safety. That’s positioning. Or think about designer clothes brands like Balenciaga. Are their clothes worth that much more on material costs to produce? Probably not, but people will pay thousands for a jumper. That’s positioning.
But positioning isn’t just about pushing away from others. By standing apart, you’ll pull in the right kind of clients. You’ll carve out a more loyal following. You’ll be the experts, the authority. And as a result, you’ll repel the tyre-kickers that waste your time on fruitless proposals and dead end conversations.
Positioning is a process that gets you to think first, then write. Ideally you’d create your website around this clear thinking and copy, rather than fitting your copy back into the design. That’s how the best agency website projects work. But where do you start?
The Positioning Session
To kick off, you’ll need to get your key decision makers in a room. Yep, this is always a challenge, but for this process to work you need answers asap. Not three weeks later via eight layers of email up and down the chain.
Book a boardroom and bunker in for a few hours. Coffee. Pastries. Cocaine. Whatever it takes to get people to stay focused and enthusiastic throughout this process. Don’t ruin the room with too much PowerPoint, it can suck the life from any promising get-together.
Reiterate the importance of positioning as a way to make your agency’s new/updated website stand out, not blend into the background. Then it’s into some deep questioning and even deeper thinking, after that coffee of course.
It all starts with the 4 Cs...
Your Calling (Why)
It’s useful to think about the reasons why your agency exists. Of course it’s to make money and live like a rockstar. But beyond that, there must be other reasons for rolling out of bed in the morning.
Get everyone to write down and share at least 3 answers to these questions on post-its:
- What inspires you to go to work each day?
- If your agency shut up shop tomorrow, what would you like to be remembered for?
- How would you like your agency to improve the world?
Afterwards, stick them all up and talk them through. Are there common themes? Does your agency have a common purpose, or a collection of individuals callings? Write down the outcome. This information will feed into your final website, definitely in the copy, possibly in the design.
But beware, there’s a lot of BS around your big ‘Why’ right now. Be authentic and grounded in your answers. You might be on a mission to save the planet, or you might simply love working for yourself and the freedom that affords. Your calling doesn’t have to be lofty, just genuine.
Your Core Services (What)
There are two ends of the agency services spectrum; specialists and generalists. You’ll need to work out where to position yourselves on the scale. There are pros and cons to both:
- Your agency has more services to offer which means you can cast the net wider.
- You can keep more of the work in-house and take more control over the processes.
- You can grow areas of the agency that are successful and shrink those that aren’t.
- You’re up against lots of other agencies who offer similar services.
- Your positioning and messaging has to be a bit more generic.
- Marketing a generalist agency means throwing more out to see what sticks.
- You’re seen as industry experts in one area.
- Your marketing is easier to target and you can go much deeper with your audience.
- You’re more likely to get word-of-mouth referrals, inbound leads and SEO click throughs.
- Your potential market is smaller and more limited.
- You’re all in on one industry, and if it’s not right you’ll spend time and money pivoting.
- Your client list and workload will be all in one area, so less variety.
A useful exercise is to write down every service you offer on a board. Then rank them in order, with your most profitable and enjoyable at the top and the least at the bottom. This forces you to think about the work you do that really lights you up, and the work you all secretly dread.
And because this is all part of your positioning, you need to consider which of your services set you apart from your competitors. It’s quite unlikely you offer something truly unique, but maybe the way you offer them could be. For example, could you package your services up to make them more commoditised? Could you offer in-house training as part of a service? Could you move to consultancy alongside creative?
From a positioning, messaging and copywriting perspective, specialists are easier to market than generalists. It’s much easier to establish authority and reach your ideal clients. Okay, generalists have more opportunity, but they need more resources to cut through. The decision however is yours. Discuss it. Make it. Commit.
Your Culture (How)
Now, it’s important to make sure this discussion doesn’t take you down the rabbit hole. It’s a slightly slippery topic. Your company culture starts with your core values. These are the fundamental beliefs your business is built around. Hopefully you have some already. If not, buckle up.
Defining your core values can be like nailing jelly to a wall. Here’s a few ideas to get you started:
Is there someone at the agency who embodies everything good about it? If so, quiz them about what they believe to be important in how you work.
What are the unbreakable rules by which you run your agency? Discussing these will get you closer to the belief behind them.
Think of a few times when it all went tits up. What were the key things you learned about your agency as a result?
When it’s all working effortlessly, take a minute to think about why. Is it something about your people, process or client that just feels fundamentally right?
You should eventually get to a handful of core values. These are useful to inform your website copy and your tone of voice. For example, if you believe in the value of transparency at every stage then your website copy needs to showcase the good and the bad. Or if you believe in the power of creativity, your copy will need to be crafted and clever to give off that sense.
Your culture may also take in your agency’s unique approach, philosophy and personality. These are worth discussing and defining too as they can be used as part of your website messaging. More on this later.
Your Clients (Who for)
This is a big boy. In order for your website to turn visitors into valued clients, you have to build a picture of who you’re speaking to. And not just in a general demographic way, but in detail about their problems, their assumptions, their behaviours, even their emotional state. The more you know, the more effective your messaging and copy will be. But how do you find out?
The easiest way to identify your ideal clients is to speak to the ones you already have. Interview them and, ideally, record it, if not send questionnaires. These clients have the exact words you need to attract and convert other ideal clients. Find out why they chose you, what they like, what they don’t, where they found you, and where you can find more of them.
If you have user data, now’s a great time to use it. Collect anything meaningful about the kind of people you like to work with. Identify common characteristics and trends. And if you don’t have the data, consider running a campaign to gather it.
The next step is to create an ideal client avatar using your knowledge of your ideal clients. There are tons of free ebooks and websites dedicated to mapping out their characteristics. Sit down and build a detailed picture of them; their likes, dislikes, motivations, challenges, favourites websites, food, films, hobbies and anything else. Flesh them out. Make them real. Make a few if needed.
This avatar of your ideal client will help you craft more effective copy. Because your website needs to speaks to this one specific person, not a broad market segment. This is key. Don’t skip it.
Now you’ve done some deep discovery work, it’s common to pull together your answers to the above 4 Cs into one statement. There’s a common structure to it that can be adapted. It goes something like this:
For [your target market] who [target market need], [your brand name] provides [main benefit that differentiates your offering from competitors] because [reason why target market should believe your differentiation statement.]
So for us at Treacle, it’d look like this:
For creative, digital and design agencies who want to land bigger clients, Treacle provides positioning, messaging and copywriting for some of the UK’s most respected names.
Make sure yours reads in a human way. If it’s too wordy or stilted then it’s worth shuffling the phrasing around until it sounds like something you’d actually say. This statement is the culmination of all your deep thinking. It may not look like much but it’s vital to make sure everyone’s on the same page about your core business.
Now you’ve clarified your positioning, it’s time to craft some of this into meaningful messaging for your new website, and beyond.
So eyes peeled for Part 2.