Without "no" there is no strategy

[Posted by Steven Noble]

Most interactive agencies owe their success to their tenacity, not strategy.

The cornerstone of strategy is focus, and that involves knowing how to say "no". For example:

  • "We only bid for integrated marketing campaigns, as our main strength is our diverse workforce which allows us to work across marketing disciplines"
  • "Our priority is winning simple, repeatable, web development projects because that allows us to be the cheapest local vendor in this market"
  • "We've walked away from most government and B2B work, because our business is built on creativity and consumer marketers are willing to pay for it"

Offering anything to anyone can be a strategy  — but only if you turn every service into a product, drive inefficiency out of every process, and say "no" to personal service. That doesn't sound like many interactive agencies to me.

For most agencies, the first step towards creating a strategy is forcing themselves to decide where they'll say "no" — which market opportunities they won't chase — and relentlessly focusing on the rest.



re: Without "no" there is no strategy

Stephen, very interesting comments on interactive agency strategy. Could you please expand on your point about saying no to personal service. This seems to be exactly what many clients want from us! Cheers, Anna

re: Without "no" there is no strategy

@Anna: Exactly. The classic example of successfully selling everyone everything would be a low-cost department store, where the range is good, the prices are even better, but you've got to find it and pack it yourself. Some of these stores are very profitable businesses, because they've mastered that kind of strategy.However, there are good reasons why this doesn't sound like many interactive agencies. You don't want clients finding and packing your services themselves.I was basically just saying "in the greater world of business, there is another legitimate box in a strategy map, but usually it's not a box you're gonna tick".

re: Without "no" there is no strategy

God, I love the way you think!I've applied exactly this approach to my own business and have had phenomenal results. There is nothing that raises your stature as a specialist more than walking away from work that is "beneath" you or outside the scope of your primary objective as a company.We get so caught up in the fear of where the next contract is going to come from, that we often throw out our mission statement (and our integrity) in favor of a safe route to financial goals.The trouble in doing this, though, is that we aren't considering the long-range impact to our financial growth. And in so doing, we run the risk of being seen as a middling player who will take any project, rather than an exclusive provider of premium services that not everyone gets to work with. We also do nothing to further the cause of what we believe in and allow our clients (or bosses) to run rough shod over the ideals of integrated marketing that we espouse.A great analogy for this is the database marketing realm. For years many DB Marketers would sell the whole analytics solution and then just settle for the blind mailer that the client was willing to do. In the process, it took years longer than it should have to evolve DB marketing into the refined targeting machine it is today for many companies.Anyway, off my soapbox again. Excellent post.Bob

re: Without "no" there is no strategy

@Bob: Glad to see it worked for you. Turning down work is hard, but not as hard as pitching for work where you don't have a clear strategic advantage.