We need to address an issue that is prevalent within the traditional marketing agency model. It exists in other industries, too.
The issue: There is an inherent conflict of incentives selling strategy while also selling implementation at the same time.
This isn’t an ethical issue. It’s an alignment of incentives issue:
Clients want to spend the right amount to get the job done, and the implementer wants to earn the most amount possible—usually by doing more stuff.
The problem is based on three premises:
Premise 1: As a business, you will usually require marketing advice and someone to implement it for you.
Premise 2: An agency or consultant who offers advice and implementation is financially incentivized to sell more of the implementation (and therefore increasing revenue for themselves).
Premise 3: A person who offers certain services is financially incentivized to offer those services at the possible exclusion of other services they do not offer, which means you may not get what you really need to get results efficiently.
To be perfectly clear, I’m not calling consultants or agencies unethical. They’re not.
The vast majority are honest and ethical individuals, capable of achieving exceptional results with very real and valuable skills.
But there’s always the background conflict. They want to give you unbiased advice, but there are financial implications around whether you pursue certain marketing initiatives or not. After all, they get paid mostly to implement.
There’s no way around that when you offer both advice and implementation.
How I’m different
I transitioned my agency in 2017 into offering strategic advisory only.
That means I offer the strategic direction of my clients’ marketing for a fixed fee, while also overseeing the implementation and measuring the results.
The key difference is that since my fees are fixed, I don’t get paid any more or less for implementation work.
As a result, I am not motivated to sell you something that will lead to me earning more money. Instead, I make my money by delivering ROI-positive results consistently over time.
Part of my service involves bringing in the right people to implement and putting them into direct relationships with your business. If I get hit by the lottery or you no longer require my services, you retain the implementation team.
Contrast that to an agency, where if you stop working with them, their entire team goes with them, and you need to start from scratch.
Another part of my job is helping your internal team members to perform their marketing-related roles in a more unified and cohesive way through data, guidance, and training.
Why I do it this way
I choose to consult exclusively on strategy for a few reasons.
#1 – I prefer to work with companies as a partner and advocate instead of a supplier who sells something.
#2 – Strategy and implementation oversight are what I do best, so I want to focus more on doing that.
#3 – Companies need it. Badly.
Business owners and executives are currently managing their marketing initiatives—often across multiple implementation partners—trying to determine what is good advice and work product, and what is not.
My job is to vet and oversee everything and to work with businesses to achieve measurable results, no just tactical outcomes.
To put it into perspective, let’s look at a couple of real-world examples.
Real-World Example #1: The Fiduciary
In the financial world, there is a type of financial advisor known as a fiduciary.
Fiduciaries do not gain financially when you choose the products and investments they recommend. Their advice comes at a fixed fee.
In fact, a fiduciary is legally responsible to act in your best interest.
Contrast that to the wealth advisors (who are valuable and also not unethical) who make a commission or take a management fee to watch your investments. There’s an inherent conflict there, even in the well-intentioned.
Real-World Example #2: The Nutritionist
Another analogy is that of a nutritionist. They tell you what to eat, but they don’t make any extra money when you go out to buy the groceries.
They make money by helping you achieve healthy outcomes and by earning your repeat business over time.
Contrast that to a butcher (this is not a knock against butchers either).
If you ask them what to eat, they’re likely going to suggest meat. There’s a conflict there if you’re depending on them for holistic nutritional advice (which you probably aren’t doing anyway).
Fiduciary financial advisors and nutritionists succeed by giving you advice that is as sound and unbiased as possible.
They actively measure the performance of their advice against expectations and provide ongoing iterative guidance on navigating the next steps in the best ways possible.
Back to traditional agencies
Most services provided by agencies are heavily intertwined with the implementation work.
That means they are incentivized to sell you solutions that will at the same time benefit them financially. You’re forced to judge the merits of each decision and determine if their advice is sound and in your best interest.
As the buyer, you are hoping you’re making the best decisions possible given what you’re being told. But unless you’re particularly savvy with this digital marketing stuff, you’re really only guessing.
As a result, you create a semi-arbitrary budget and ask your suppliers to stay within it. Or you assign tasks to them and hope it adds up to the business results you’re seeking.
The model is broken, and that’s part of why I offer marketing advisory services as a standalone service.