Over the many moons of helping agencies nail their positioning, we’ve noticed a lot of patterns. But unlike Jim Carrey’s number obsessions in The Number 23 (bonus points if you get that reference), these patterns actually exist.
And one big pattern we noticed is so big that we’ve actually created a new agency positioning workshop from the ground up with it in mind.
The best part is that it’s so simple that even the dumbest amongst us could use it to position an agency. Even Roland.
Brace yourself. Here goes…
Every agency can be positioned around a problem and solution.
What’s your problem?
Agencies exist to solve problems. When you think about it, that’s just common sense. Most even solve multiple problems at once.
But smart agencies know that you can’t position around all of them. That would be way too many messages to juggle. You’d overwhelm prospects, lose clarity, and basically turn your site into a boring academic essay. So yeah, you have to choose.
As it turns out, problems come in 3 different levels, each with a wider scope than the last.
First up are the problems you solve for your clients. These will be the most common type of problem and generally the first ones that’ll come to mind. The focus is on what you do for your clients.
An SEO agency, for example, would quite quickly realise the problem they solve for their clients is a lack of organic traffic.
The second type of problem is industry-wide. These require a little more thinking about but are still applicable to a lot of agencies. Here the focus is more on improving on what competitors are doing, or responding to some kind of external factor that impacts what you do.
An example could be a paid ads agency up against the industry threat of going cookieless and rendering some types of campaign impossible.
Finally, we have societal problems. These tend to be national, or even global, in scale and won’t always apply to every agency. In this case the focus is on a large-scale problem that will likely impact a lot of people in potentially different ways.
A common example we see is an agency that sees the myriad of environmental problems and wants to do something about it.
Each of these levels is a valid problem to position your agency around, but of course some will be better suited to you than others. It’s also worth bearing in mind that a client-level problem is likely to be less differentiated, whereas a societal level problem is likely to be less of a hook for clients.
The other consideration is that the more wide-reaching and aspirational the problem you’re trying to solve is, the more likely you are to galvanise your team around it and recruit the right kind of people to your team.
When it comes to choosing one problem to position around, be sure to take into account how unique it is, how ownable it is, how much clients care, and how authentic it actually is to your agency.
Oh, and just because the perfect balance on that graph suggests you should pick an industry-problem, that doesn’t mean you should. That graph’s a general rule of thumb but isn’t always the case.
Unleash your inner Columbo
Alright Lieutenant, we have a problem here. Now it’s up to you to solve it.
Let’s face it, if your site opens with you describing a problem in great detail you’re going to turn off practically every prospect that lands there. Except those weird few who prefer problems to solutions - but you really don’t want them as clients anyway.
So, as you might have gathered, the real key to your agency’s positioning isn’t the problem you choose, but your solution to the problem.
That’s what people are really buying into.
A lot of problems will have multiple solutions so your job here is to either consolidate them into one overarching solution or simply prioritise which solution to put front and centre. Again, your agency positioning needs to be centred around one problem and solution or else you risk diluting your messaging and confusing prospects.
Let’s circle back round to the earlier examples and show how it might work…
This one is simple enough. The agency is positioning around a key problem that it can solve for clients. It isn’t the most unique but it’s definitely speaking directly to what prospects will be concerned about.
To improve this you could delve deeper into your SEO services, pulling out aspects of what you do that are more unique or ownable. Generally the more specific you can be the better.
Problem: Cookies are being phased out so paid ads don’t work.
Solution: Our paid ads can still help, our patented tech solution eliminates needs for cookies
As you can see, there are two aspects of this agency’s solution. One is that they still offer a helpful service, the other is a more industry-facing solution. In this case, the tech solution would be the front-runner in terms of positioning. It’s much more unique and ownable but still benefits clients.
That’s not to say that you should ignore the other solutions; they’ll still come into play as sub-messages throughout your site and other marketing materials. But prioritising your agency positioning is key to making it clear and compelling for your potential clients.
Problem: The world is burning.
Solution: Bike scheme, B-corp certification, paperless, litter-picking days, recycled tech
Here the solutions are wide-ranging, but they can all be consolidated together into a general sense of being environmentally friendly. The best option here is to bring them all together into that one solution and then go into more individual solutions as and when it makes sense.
In fact, having agency positioning that can turn into a messaging hierarchy like this is often the strongest approach. It gives you much more flexibility without diluting the core essence of your positioning.
Oh, and one more thing
So that’s how you position your agency. Find a problem and solution combo that helps you stand for something, stand up against competitors, and stand out from the crowd.
Remember to keep sense checking it against the four important questions:
Do other agencies say the same thing?
Could other agencies say the same thing?
Do clients actually care about it?
How much do we live this through?
And you’ll be well on your way to positioning your agency like a pro. Or at least like us. So semi-pro at best.