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Be exceptional at one thing

It’s tempting to say you’re wonderful at everything. Human nature dictates it: we’re hardwired to compete for scarce resources with other humans. That manifests itself in literal competition, or, more often in the modern world, through status (historically higher status equalled greater access to food, shelter, warmth. Perhaps things haven’t changed so much over the millennia….)

This week the rather lovely Dom Burch (we love a Yorkshireman here) wrote an interesting piece for the Drum about a trend for senior marketers to strike out alone, creating informal networks of highly specialised micro agencies, with mutual referrals.

Now this struck a chord with us. Dom’s onto something. But we think there are three separate trends here, which are slightly being conflated.

  1. Micro (1/2 man band) marketing agencies staffed by senior people

  2. Specialist rather than generalist provision of marketing services

  3. Referrals between experienced marketers

Going full circle to our avaristic human natures, 1) and 3) would seem surprising. Why would you not want to be the boss of lots of people, and keep every shred of work to yourself? Well, although ‘flexible working’ and ‘work life balance’ have been trumpeted in IT and HR press for (literally) decades, it has now come to significant fruition. Combined with an ever more intense lifestyle for senior marketers (the golf course and corner office are distant dreams glimpsed only through Don Draper), the conditions are ripe to have a satisfying material quality of life, combined with a different type of professional status, through one’s own micro-agency. Likewise referrals, which are, in a way, a blanket of mutual security, and are classic examples of the behavioural concept of reciprocity in action (i.e. not as altruistic as they first appear).

In some cases this will also lead to 2) – a shift towards more specialist services. Sometimes because of principle, but often logistics: there are some marketing services which simply need large teams (constant content programmes, or media buying). Micro agencies cannot provide some of those services.

But, combining all these trends into one risks confusing them with a slightly different trend, which we see, and are personally part of.

That is of a push to specialism because being exceptional at something matters. Not ‘quite good’ at lots of things (which is still an achievement), but really, really exceptional at something. One of our favourite businesses, Hiut Denim, has proven one can buck the conventional wisdom of denim retail with this philosophy.  We bring it to digital interactions – we believe by being really focussed on supporting organisations and individuals to make these more meaningful, we can achieve a disproportionate impact with those who are creating what comes next.

There are lots of other things we are good at it, but to fundamentally change the way people think, create and execute digital engagements we have to be great at that one thing, above all else. It’s about the deep experience of serious social media marketing. That means bringing together skillsets, mindsets and talent in ways which haven’t occurred so far, to build models of real human behaviour, premised on large-scale social data, but grounded in the reality of how digital and social customer, marketing and comms programmes really work.

That doesn’t have to mean small. Our ambition is to be as big as required to change the way digital engagement operates.

Original perspectives like Dom’s matter to a better understanding of the marketing services landscape – and his analysis is in many ways spot on. But micro doesn’t always equal specialist, and human nature can sometimes lead to people making decisions which appear (at face value) counter-intuitive.

We have one question we come back to with the team, daily: Is this exceptional consultancy, which contributes to building what comes next?


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