Most marketing agencies don’t do much to help their clients’ businesses grow.
Harsh, but true.
Especially when it comes to PPC agencies, the business growth generated is usually relegated to capturing existing demand through the addition of new demand capture channels (i.e. Google Search).
This is not a universal truth, mind you. I’ve seen PPC agencies transform businesses and allow for massive exits, opening new locations, hiring new employees, happy retirements, etc.
A great PPC agency can change the lives of their clients.
This is not usually consistent, though, so I want to share some things that can help you scale your clients consistently and change more lives (including your own).
The Biggest Hurdle To Growth For Your Clients
Most clients are not set up to grow.
eCommerce clients have terrible websites, high shipping costs, no established brand, and they won’t let you optimize their data feed.
Lead gen clients have weak, commoditized offers, bad websites or landing pages, few reviews, no case studies, and no understanding of their market and how they buy.
It’s basically entirely up to you if you want to help them grow, but you’re only offering them paid advertising, which doesn’t help them much beyond capturing existing demand and landing a few new customers here and there.
Sometimes a full-service agency comes in with the potential to make a big difference, but the client isn’t willing to make the changes required to truly grow. And let’s face it, a lot of these agencies don’t know what’s required to actually grow the business in a meaningful way, they just set up their services the same way they do for everyone else.
You could argue that the biggest hurdle to growth for your clients is your limited service offerings, but the real hurdle is the client themselves.
Their business model and inability to change their offer, services, pricing, etc from the norm is a chain keeping them tied down to the level of their competitors or below.
How Do We Scale Accounts Like This?
So what hope do we have if the clients are unable to change? How do we take a normal, commoditized business model to the next level?
- what you can affect,
- how businesses like this grow,
- and how markets seek help from businesses.
If you’re not looking to start and run an entire business for your clients, you just want to offer them PPC services, here’s some practical direction to help you help them:
1. What you can affect
With PPC services, you can affect a surprising amount. If you think about marketing as a tool to build relationships, you can affect everything from “running into the person” and introducing yourself, to getting to know them more, running into them while they’re out, and being the person they reach out to when they need help.
The goal of doing this with PPC is to only start relationships with people you can help and by showing them how valuable you can be to them while gaining their trust and being around them as much as possible.
Order of operations is important here, because normal relationships work a little differently.
In this case, imagine you’re in a coffee shop and someone next to you says they need a plumber. You know a great plumber, so you lean over and say “Hey, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I heard that you’re looking for a plumber. XYZ Plumbing is the best. Super quick, fair pricing, and trustworthy.”
Someone was looking for specific help and you offered it when they were looking. Google Search is perfect for this. Perform keyword research to find keywords with intent to do business, target only those with exact match keywords (maybe phrase and broad if you are adding a lot of phrase match negatives) and write ads promising to solve the problem they have, adding whatever makes your client better or unique.
Rather than just seeking to meet as many people as possible and telling them what you can do for them (desperate vibes), you lean in with a solution whenever you know someone is actively looking for help.
That’s pretty obvious for any PPC agency, so let’s move on to the next point so we can discuss the other parts of forming a relationship.
2. How businesses like this grow
Businesses that don’t stand out as being anything particularly unique don’t have a lot of options for growth. You basically have to harness the power of the mere exposure effect and reticular activation.
The mere exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon that causes us as humans to prefer or trust things that are familiar to us. The more familiar, the more trustworthy.
For businesses that offer a commodity in the same way everyone around them does, their best bet for growth is to be the most recognized, liked, and trusted. The most familiar.
If someone searches “plumber near me” and sees 4 ads and a bunch of organic results, you may think that they’ll pick the one with the most reviews, but if they recognize one of the companies, it instantly has a leg up.
Reviews do play a part in this, though. When you can’t possibly unseat an incumbent through sheer omnipresence, you have to do it by being perceived as bigger, better, and more trusted. Reviews are a very public way of demonstrating that others trust you. If you can be the most recognized AND have the most and best reviews in your service area, people searching for help will choose your search result way more often.
So as much as we want to control growth with more keyword coverage or better bids, once we’ve tapped out the low-hanging fruit in an ad account we tend to see actual growth coming from more branding efforts (non-search campaign types, non-search channels) and requesting reviews after service or purchases.
So as mentioned above, we want to go for the low-hanging fruit first (searches with buying intent). Then, we want to blanket our target market with a warm, fuzzy blanket made of valuable content that helps them either solve their problem or helps them make a wise decision about who to visit for help with it.
There are two pieces to that next step:
- Understand the problem you’re solving for your customers
- Understand the questions they have and which ones need to be answered before paying to solve the problem
So to use the plumber example we’ve been using in this issue, suppose a person needs a new hot water heater, but they know nothing about water heaters. They’re likely to start looking for information about the different types of water heaters, which type they should get, how much they cost, how long they last, etc.
If you (I keep saying you, but I really mean your client) have an ad targeting these questions (or dynamic search campaigns targeting high-quality pages full of these questions and answers), you can “introduce yourself” with PPC before your competitors get the chance because they’re only targeting the keywords with buying intent. By moving “up the funnel” to “research” questions, you’re helping the people who are actively suffering from a problem before they understand that problem enough to seek a solution.
By helping them understand the problem and providing valuable, nothing-held-back information, you’re proving that you care enough about them to help whether they pay you or not. This breeds trust and reciprocity that tends to pay you back when they’re ready to solve their problem.
After all, if they type in “tankless hot water heater” and their geo-indicator, and see your ad among the competition, they’re more likely to recognize and trust you as credible experts who helped them.
This is why high-content sites full of thorough service pages are good for more than just SEO. A direct-response landing page may be good for driving leads, but it is NOT good for building relationships and scaling accounts.
The last step to growth for these businesses is the high-volume, visibility channels where you seek to associate your business name and logo with specific ideas in the minds of as many people as possible (Think Coca-cola at Christmas or at the beach). TV, Radio, Billboards, and all of that traditional stuff every digital marketer says is a waste of money. They are a waste of money if used as the primary driver of leads, but they’re great for building awareness and recognition of a brand and delivering a message to a lot of people at once.
With these steps laid out, let’s give a bit more of an explanation of why they’re the steps to help businesses like this grow.
3. How markets seek help from businesses
Avatars and Personas are largely a waste.
The entire point of these marketing tools is to understand the ideal customer, but they are usually made up without any real data backing them or they are too narrow to really resonate with the ideal customer.
The superior alternative, in my not-very-humble opinion, is the problem-centric approach.
Focusing on the problem(s) you solve is a shockingly effective way to make your marketing relevant to everyone in your target market.
Whether you’re serving “C-Suite Susan” or “Janitor Jim”, you can bet they both need help when their hot water stops working. Now the obvious difference between those two examples is price point, but you get the idea.
If a person runs out of hot water, they’re going to have cold showers. They’re going to have a hard time washing dishes effectively. They’re going to have limited options for washing their clothes. Baths are out of the question unless they’re one of those sadist people who like the health benefits of an ice bath (more power to ya).
Male or female, old or young, rich or poor, dog-lover or cat-lover, coffee or tea drinker… the pain experienced by those with this problem of a broken water heater is the same. If they’re searching for help with a broken hot water heater, they want the same thing and it doesn’t matter if they like to exercise or if they’re a couch potato.
So a person seeks help from a business when they have a problem to solve that they can’t immediately and easily solve on their own.
So you could benefit from a persona or avatar if you’re writing content and want to find the tone, for choosing a brand voice, and for all of the work you’ll do to scale past the “low-hanging fruit” stage, but to start you should just know the problem and how it affects those experiencing it.
I do have a framework for this, which I use when coaching agencies on omni-channel strategy. It’s called the Market Journey Path and it shows the path your entire market travels when they experience a problem. (See image below)
A person without a problem, or who is unaware of their problem, is Contented. An event occurs that causes them to actively suffer, and then they have a decision to make. They can either seek a solution or wait to solve the problem.
They may stay in the active Suffering phase for a while, depending on how much information is needed to understand the problem and its implications, and based on the complexity and cost, as well as the number of decision makers, but they will eventually decide to solve it or not solve it.
If they decide to ignore the problem for now, they’re Waiting. They can decide to solve it later, or just live with it until it goes away or they do. If they decide to solve the problem, they’re Buying. They can buy from you, or buy from a competitor (which includes solving it themselves).
When customers buy from you, you can Nurture the working relationship by retaining them for ongoing service or subscriptions, upselling or cross-selling to them, or solving an adjacent problem caused by or related to the first problem you solved.
This journey occurs for each problem they experience, so any one company may have several of these paths mapped out.
Each stage has different goals and different channels or campaign types are used for each (see image below).
Again, you start with the low-hanging fruit here. People newly suffering from the problem are not likely to have enough information to choose a solution provider, especially if there are many solutions available for solving said problem.
So if you have customers and you want to grow without acquiring new customers, you focus on the Nurture phase. If you want new customers, focus on the Buying phase. If you want the next low-hanging fruit, focus on overcoming the objections of those in the Waiting phase who did the research, but chose not to buy for whatever reason. Next would be those newly Suffering from the problem who don’t know the solutions, solution providers, or even whether they should solve the problem now or not. Lastly, focus on making those Contented people (who could eventually suffer from the problem you solve) aware of the problem, how to recognize it, and what to do about it when it pops up.
Start with Search and similar demand-capture channels where there is demand (Buying phase with buying keywords, Waiting and Suffering with research keywords).
Follow up with display, video, and Meta remarketing, as well as email marketing to Nurture relationships with existing customers. Start with non-paid to 1st party lists before paying to tell these people you can help them with other things.
Expand to video, display, demand gen, meta, and other non-search channels for the Waiting and remarketing alongside “cold” audience targeting. Messaging should focus on overcoming objections (i.e. explaining how the price to buy isn’t as bad as the cost of not buying, etc). When possible, target people who have searched for your research-based keywords or generic problem-related searches that don’t carry buying intent, or target those with buying intent that have not bought.
Next, scale to research-based search keywords and organic blog, social, and video content. Target those who just found out that they have a problem and have them self-select by calling out their newfound pain and offering information (i.e. “Hot Water Not Working? Try This First”). Actually give them the information, rather than click-baiting them into a disappointing sales page, but season liberally with low-pressure CTAs. Videos aren’t a bad idea, but if you teach them how to solve the problem (i.e. installing a water heater), front load the video with a message about how it can be a pain and give them an idea of how much you would charge to fix it for them if they wanted to avoid the hassle. Some will have more fortitude than money, others will have the money and won’t want to mess with it. If you’re the first person to help them here and your content is actually helpful, they’re more likely to associate the problem with your solution, even if they don’t buy right away.
Lastly, the mass-media kind of stuff the Cola companies, car companies, and other giants are doing is the final frontier. Just remind everyone you exist and why, associate yourself with something relevant so their mind has a trigger on which to activate memories of your imagery, and you’re in the clear.
So to bring us back down to earth from all of the lofty scaling talk, the truth is that you’re going to have trouble accomplishing all of this scaling if your clients have weak or commoditized offers that don’t stand out.
There is a lot of talk these days (thanks, Hormozi) about irresistible offers and, despite the content and frameworks, it can be hard to figure out how to translate that to a plumbing company or your local bank’s checking account.
The fact of the matter is that most companies aren’t going to be sexy, aren’t going to have irresistible offers, and aren’t going to scale to the moon with direct response funnels. They’re going to be the same as all of their competitors in their local area, they’re going to sell stuff on a generic Shopify site that costs the same as all of the other stores selling the same stuff from Alibaba.
For all of the normal clients out there, we need to know what to do when their search accounts are tapped out and have been flat (minus seasonal market flux) for the last two years. That’s where this issue of the Agency Overhaul Newsletter comes in.
My hope is that you now know the importance of branding for local businesses and that you know channels and goals to focus on when you’re scaling a client’s account. The way you can target based on where someone is on their journey through experiencing a problem, and how to guide them further toward solving that problem.
This issue was more of a beast than I had anticipated (silly me), and I didn’t even cover national campaigns or B2B. I barely mentioned eComm, which is admittedly quite different. There’s only so much I can fit into one newsletter issue, and I applaud you if you read this far with what I did add.
I can’t always promise that I’ll write concise newsletters, or even that I’ll write newsletters that cover topics exhaustively.
I CAN promise, however, that I’ll always try to solve problems in my newsletters that you, an agency owner may be experiencing so that you can take action and see results without ever having to work with me.
If what you’re dealing with is more complex and more specific than what I’m addressing, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll see how I can help more directly. I never charge for the first consultation and if I can solve it in 30 minutes, there’s no reason to pay for my services and you walk away happy.
Here’s a YouTube video of an interview I did on scaling ad accounts. It’s similar content and more comprehensive.