Why a Customer-First Agency Model is Now More Important Than Ever

Insights | 04/03/2021 | Written by David Angus

Originally posted on Curated Medium.

“My long-term wish is that the situation will lead to industry-wide reflection”.

At a time where customer-led strategy is more important than ever, Curated’s Strategy Director David sat down to answer some questions around why he’s been pushing for this change for quite some time, and what the current global climate has done to push things forward.

What did your 2020 roadmap for Curated look like prior to Coronavirus?

Around 6 to 12 months ago we decided to change our business strategy. We moved away from a traditional agency approach, offering a bit of everything and focusing on our core strategic offering — gap analysis — supported by our newly developed master framework: the 7Cs (more on that in a minute). This came after an internal review of what our value proposition was to the market.

Gap analysis has, over time, developed to be more than just a way of writing content. It has morphed into a way of garnering better insight into our customers’ motivations and behaviours, as well as making better marketing and business decisions.

We were already in mid-pivot and the majority of the business plan was focused on a few core components:

  • Adding value to the product we had on offer and giving more reference to macro environment changes and customer analysis
  • Bringing more efficiency into our processes, with data being central to that
  • Bringing the customer to the forefront of all our activity
  • Honing our strategic frameworks

In a nutshell, the roadmap was focused on completing our pivot by the end of the year.

From a strategy point of view, what direction did you see this going in for the business, before COVID-19?

Ultimately, it’s all about repositioning. Over my 10 years working in marketing roles, half of those in a delivery role, I’ve noticed commoditisation sneaking into the industry, based on best practice supplier or agency guidelines. An almost robotic nature of advertising, rather than innovative marketing. When reviewing the agency environment, I noticed a lot of channel-first mentality within the industry.

So why the change? I could see advertising beginning to supersede the principles of marketing. With a channel-first mentality creeping into the industry, we had fallen into the trap. We needed to become customer-first and not channel-first. Essentially, our new approach harnesses science and art. We use a data-led approach (both quantitative and qualitative), then utilise our strategy consultants to help interpret and deliver the findings based on the market we find ourselves in. This also allowed us to hone our USP and put our full focus on our gap analysis product and improve the value this gives to clients, because it actually becomes a tool to influence wider business decision making. It isn’t just a tool to acquire new customers, but to aid retention and give frictionless customer experiences.

How has COVID-19 changed this, if at all?

Thankfully, our philosophy is built around agility and being open to change with the macro environment. There is no end-point to strategy, it is ever changing.

It also allowed us to fast-forward our assurance service into the market. Based on the key elements of our gap analysis offering, assurance is a support tool to our brands to keep on top of changes in fast-paced environments. Although a more reactive approach, it is part of the long-term business strategy, identifying changes in the market, quicker. It is built on a couple of classic marketing and business frameworks, namely PESTLE and the OODA loop. Understanding the market need and acting quicker than your competition.

Our assurance service was born out of a change in attitudes and perceptions to the agency retainer model. We feel this allows us to support our clients on short to long term goals and objectives.

“There are very few times in the year that you get the opportunity for space and time to reflect and plan”

Has the current situation sped up the process of pivoting the company? And, if so, would you say that’s been one positive to come out of the situation?

It is obviously an unprecedented situation that we are currently going through, but there are very few times in the year that you get the opportunity for space and time to reflect and plan.

We recognised quite early on that we were going to enter a lockdown scenario, so we ensured that we have focused a percentage of people’s time on the development and enhancement of our offering and the way this is conveyed across our website and social channels. 

By June, we envisage that the majority of the work will be complete or in flight, allowing for us to move forward quickly once we enter some form of normality.

Positivity is key to our mentality and we have used that mentality to power us through the last few weeks.

Explaining the 7Cs

The 7Cs was born of being customer-first in nature. Your understanding of your target customer is paramount, followed by the message or content you deliver. Then, and only then, can your channels be effective at driving your commercial value. However, like any fast-moving environment, there are factors at play that can cause friction, namely competitor behaviour, contextual changes, or the need to configure your offer based on a number of factors.

Ultimately, the framework is born of the need to offer our customers frictionless experiences. You are never going to be able to fully eradicate friction, however, the 7Cs approach looks to diminish this across as many factors as possible.

(You can see David explain more about the 7Cs in his talk at Figaro Digital’s Paid Search, Display, and SEO Seminar in February of this year.)

What can this framework do to help us navigate business during this pandemic?

There has never been more of a need to be customer centric than within the current climate. Some businesses will naturally be performing better than others, however, if retention and advocacy of your customers isn’t top of your list at the moment, then you are missing a trick. The game will have changed for many brands, with retention at the top of the list in terms of goals. This is where a framework such as the 7Cs really shines through. It takes all these factors into consideration, not only enabling better marketing decisions, but long-term business decisions.

What’s your post-pandemic view? How will strategic thinking change, not only for Curated, but for businesses and agencies more widely?

Who can say what we have coming around the corner? Before the pandemic, I was hoping to see a break up of some of the monopolisation caused by the old-school supplier agency model, however now, this may not be the case. One thing we are likely to see is movement in mergers and acquisitions as agencies attempt to consolidate. Beyond this there is likely to be movement in recruitment as the market stabilises, hopefully bringing fresh ideas into businesses. Also, the ability to work or operate from anywhere has become apparent. Although I believe there is the need for a base for any agency or consultancy, there will be more flexibility in business operations in the long-term.

I believe our repositioning leaves us in a good position to ride out the storm. We are there as a consultative partner to our clients, a conduit to multiple agency partners and not looking to compete against the traditional agency offering. My long-term wish is that the situation will lead to industry-wide reflection, promoting a customer-first focus and putting marketing before advertising. If we can use the pandemic as a force for change, then we are on the right track to repairing some of the negative perceptions of the industry that we operate in.

If you want to learn more about Curated’s approach to strategy, or to reach out to David directly, you can get in touch here.

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