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The New Anything/Anyone Goes Competitive Landscape For Content Marketing Firms
Recently, I was chatting with the CEO of one of the leading digital agencies. Talk turned to competitors, and I asked what firms his firm found itself bidding against most frequently.
Usual-suspect names cropped up (Digitas, Sapient Nitro). But so did PwC, a name that would have never cropped up in the same discussion five years ago.
Neither would Cap Gemini, or other old-school consulting firms. But they’re increasingly common today. Even IBM is an agency now!
Who Ya Gonna Call?
Recently we, at the research-based advisory firm I work for, were in the consideration set for a project and asked to submit a proposal. Some of the other organizations the client was considering for the project included an independent content marketing agency, a holding-company owned PR firm, and one of the world’s largest advertising agencies.
Who ya gonna call? These days, clients honestly seem to have no idea. Strategy? Execution? Advertising? Social media? Content? Digital experiences?
This new up-for-grabs state of the competitive landscape is a byproduct of converged media. When advertising marries content marketing and becomes native advertising, or social media merges with media buys, or user-generated content and community become essential to an owned-media presence, then who’s driving? Who’s riding shotgun?
Not long ago, I asked close to 70 very high-level marketers, most at Fortune 100 companies, where they outsourced content marketing responsibilities. Did they engage ad agencies, PR agencies, social media agencies, the new breed or storytelling agencies, the custom content divisions of media companies, or “other” to handle content creation?
Interestingly, their answers were spread entirely equally across the board (with one very notable exception: every single one of them said they would not entrust content duties to a social media shop).
A Tough And Transitional Time
This is a tough and transitional time for clients and agencies alike. More and more, we’re seeing clients who are asking for execution before strategy. Who are uncertain of desired outcomes. Who often look to agency partners with one field of expertise to assist them in areas in which they have little or no experience. Who remain looped in an RFP process that lasts much longer than expected because they’re uncertain which type of candidates to vet.
Then, they find themselves making apples-to-oranges comparisons when they receive responses from a wide variety of candidates, ranging from agencies to consultancies to PR, search and social media firms.
Marketing professionals, too, are challenged to respond to RFPs from prospects unsure of what they want or need, much less who might be qualified to supply it. Arguably, there’s been an education gap in needs vs. wants for as long as there’s been digital marketing, but never more so than now.
In the meantime, RFP processes are too often leading nowhere — or alternately, all over the map, as clients so often learn how much they don’t know from the process. (Often, they learn that they’re asking the wrong service of the wrong provider!)
This will shake out. Agencies are aligning and partnering (you do the strategy, we’ll do the execution). Clients will gradually gain a deeper understanding of what types of organizations have expertise in which types of work.
But at present, it’s a competitive free-for-all out there, a world in which it’s hard to understand who — or what — you’re up against.
Image courtesy of Altimeter Group
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