Future-Proof Your Marketing Agency with the Fortification & Innovation Framework
Let’s dive into the pool of reports that have been surfacing recently – those revolving around AI, the economy, and how this roller coaster of a world may impact your marketing agency, then we’ll shift gears and put your agency under a microscope.
My goal is simple, to spark a lightbulb moment, where you say, “Ah, these are crucial, foundational aspects of my business that I’ve been overlooking.”
Your customer avatar, your customer journey, your niche… all those buzzwords you’ve heard until you’re blue in the face (but might not have really acted on quite yet).
The “development” of your small business was optional until recently. You could ignore trends, delay updating your services, and maybe even “step away” from operations before… but NOT ANYMORE.
Things are changing FAST, and if you don’t get your business on track, you’re going to miss out. Not only could your services (and therefore your business) become irrelevant if you fail to consider how new technologies, marketing practices, and methods are changing, you’re going to do something even worse… YOU WILL MISS A MASSIVE OPPORTUNITY.
The rapid progression of AI and societal change means one thing: all businesses are facing the same lack of experience and also have access to new technology. The next Google, Facebook, TikTok, etc. are going to launch over the next
It’s time to crush that resistance to change, and the action starts here, right now.
What’s the Matter With the Way Things Have Been?
Let’s take a moment to gauge your feelings about the internet so far.
Is the internet a dreamy utopia where you can find everything you need, with all of the fun and answers just a click away?
Or is it more like stumbling into an IKEA store, utterly lost, drifting aimlessly from bedrooms to kitchens, only to end up shelling out an unexpected $5k for a living room set you didn’t intend to buy?
That sums up the internet so far – a wild, chaotic IKEA… a poorly structured labyrinth of information.
The tool we’ve been given to navigate this labyrinth is a search engine, biased and inefficient, a Frankenstein monster of our own creation. My theory is that this mess of a situation paved the way for social media to rise and shine.
As search has gotten increasingly unhelpful, we resorted to building individual networks to connect with others (Facebook, TikTok, Youtube, etc.), but due to the nature of these networks, it doesn’t satisfy what we really want… easy access to easy answers.
The internet has, until now, been a digital wild west. Full of freedom and opportunity, but so chaotic that it’s tough to make progress.
In the midst of this chaos, AI seems like the answer to our original dream of the internet. Imagine logging on, typing a question, receiving a concise answer, and smoothly moving onto the next thing on your list.
Sounds like a dream, right? Instead, we’ve been stuck in an endless loop, spending hours, sometimes a whole day, hunting for that elusive piece of information. This was not the plan.
The plan was, “Hey machine, fetch me the stuff I’m looking for,” and the machine promptly delivering. Instead, but again, what we got was a virtual IKEA store.
But fret not! Change isn’t a monster, change is progress.
The internet, as we know it, has been somewhat dull and mediocre, merely the first step in the evolution of new technology.
What the Heck Is Happening Right Now?
Needless to say, the future promises much more CHANGE, and you need to be prepared to leverage it to the fullest.
Are you worried about recession, war, or the economy in general? Most of you probably are, and rightly so given the topsy-turvy state of affairs.
Hold onto your hats, folks, because we’re about to dive into a wild world of change that could make your head spin.
Recession, War, & Economy Fears
The US inflation rate is tap dancing at 4.93% (in May 2023), a subtle decline from last month’s 4.98% and a healthy decline from last year’s 8.26%. To put that into context, the long term average inflation rate is around 3.28%.
Basically, the cost of everything is high and getting higher, and boy, is that going to pinch when it comes to netting those customers for your business.
Worse, especially for marketers and businesses reliant on expendable income, is the Consumer Price Index (CPI). March 2023 saw a jaw-dropping spike in the consumer price index to nearly 10.1%.
We haven’t seen anything like this since the eighties, perhaps. This figure does exclude food and energy costs, and in a way, that makes it all the more striking. We’re now looking at a significant disposable income that marketers, like us, are vying for.
Which brings me to the ecommerce sector. We just launched a report recently called the Hawk AI Ecommerce Report.
If you’re still thinking that ecommerce is on a skyrocketing trajectory post-2020 pandemic, hate to break it to you, but that’s not the case. Growth has tapered off.
The average order value has leaped 31% year over year, even as overall sessions dipped by 5%. I can almost hear you scoff, “5%, that’s peanuts!” Hold on.
In a realm where constant growth is king, a 5% dip in eyeballs looking at products is no laughing matter. It’s like a crack in the dam.
So, the past year wasn’t e-commerce’s finest hour. But hey, let’s focus on the positives, like the soaring average order value. There were also some intriguing trends, like a 78% hike in the ‘buy now, pay later’ option during Black Friday.
Now, let’s dig deeper into the data. Strap in, folks, because we’re about to embark on a rollercoaster ride through the year-on-year changes in the consumer price index since the disco era of the seventies.
AI Taking Over
Sure, AI has been on the scene for a while, but what we’re witnessing now is the starting of its “coming of age.” It’s like the awkward teenager morphing into a supermodel.
And this is just the beginning, because once your average Joe and Jane start using this tech, it’s game on. Commercial interests are pricking up their ears and eyeing that 100 million users figure like a juicy steak.
AI makes creating new apps, especially simple ones, almost free. Back in the mid-2000’s I wanted to develop a fitness application and was told that it would cost $500,000 for a non-working mockup. Today, I could probably develop the whole thing for free, and that’s exactly what many entrepreneurs are doing.
How many apps? Hard to say! New ones are coming out daily. If you want an idea of how many, check out TheresanAIforThat.com. As of this articles’s publish date, they have 4,434 indexed AI apps used for 1,242 tasks.
Information Tech War
Then there’s the battle of the tech giants, who are in a mad dash to revamp, reinvent, and reimagine their platforms to keep up with AI’s blazing trail. Remember when Instagram flipped its focus to Reels, only to switch back to photos when that didn’t pan out as they’d hoped?
You know what’s really intriguing? We’re watching TECH GURUS make these seismic decisions, not your average consumer.
It’s as if the tech nerds have hijacked the driver’s seat, pressing buttons and yanking levers without asking the passengers where they want to go. Despite having the funds to do extensive surveys, they’re barreling full steam ahead.
So, here we are, standing at the precipice of the great information tech war. It’s a new battlefield, with tech giants scurrying to mimic the success of TikTok and AI applications like ChatGPT, a frontier so vast and unsettling it’s causing Google to break into a cold sweat. Because, if AI continues its meteoric rise, SEO’s value could crumble like a cookie.
When it comes to content creation, the game is changing.
While Google still dotes on keywords like a doting parent, AI is taking a different approach. It’s an evolution, my friends. A revolution, if you will, where we shift from the creator dictating the content narrative to the user wielding the power.
The current model of content production is like putting the cart before the horse. It’s all creator-centric when it should be focusing on the user. Now, you might argue that keywords stem from user queries, but let’s be honest, it’s like trying to piece together a puzzle with half the pieces missing.
So what’s the deal with AI and why is Chat GPT all the rage?
Well, instead of playing favorites like Google, who’d boost Bob from down the street because his keyword game is strong, ChatGPT levels the playing field. It takes a massive fixed data set, learns from it, finds patterns, and then churns out an answer that’s an average of all the answers it has analyzed.
So when folks say AI is biased, I chuckle.
Sure, it has its inclinations, but it’s no more skewed than Bob penning an article with the sole aim of lightening your wallet. That’s the harsh reality of the internet, which loops back to my earlier point – the internet, as we know it, is flawed.
Why AI is Growing Right Now (and Why It’s Here to Stay)
Switching gears now, let’s gab about AI adoption. We’re seeing a steady uptick here with about 35% of global companies harnessing AI in their operations. Now, I know, most folks’ minds jump straight to Chat GPT, but AI’s tendrils extend much further.
Consider the likes of TikTok, Starbucks, and other bigwigs. Ever used the Starbucks app? It’s a masterpiece of design rooted in machine learning – understanding how people interact with information, discover products they desire, and even related items they might fancy. This intricate dance of relational data is all orchestrated by AI, and it’s been this way for some time.
Nike and other industry titans have been riding the AI wave for a while now.
This 35% isn’t a passing trend; it’s a new industry standard. Interestingly, the data suggests larger companies are 100% more likely than their smaller counterparts to have AI up and running in their operations.
The message here is crystal clear – the big players are in the AI game to stay.
Small businesses, to stay in the race, have got to be nimble and swift to adopt these changes. If you’re stuck in the slow lane, you’ll not only be left in the dust by the corporate giants but also by the fresh-out-of-college Joes, who’ve grasped AI’s potential and are now moulding their marketing knowledge base around it.
Consider this, while we’re scrambling to retrofit AI into your existing frameworks, there’s a whole new generation coming up that knows nothing else.
Now, don’t get ahead of yourselves. I recently interviewed forty twenty-somethings for a new role. Not a single one had tried AI. They’ve heard of it, sure, but their understanding is largely surface-level. This presents an enormous opportunity for established players to tap into the AI potential because the rookies, surprisingly, aren’t fully clued in yet.
AI & the Job Market
An interesting tidbit, one in four companies are turning to AI because of labor or skills shortages.
The job market is a tough nut to crack. Companies, particularly the big ones, are starting to question whether they need new hires or if they can simply reallocate tasks.
Let’s debunk this misconception that AI is a job thief. It’s not.
What AI does is streamline specific tasks and processes, some of which were once part of someone’s job description. Suddenly, email monitoring or data analysis isn’t a full-time position; it’s an automated task, courtesy of AI.
This doesn’t mean you’re axing jobs. Rather, you’re ramping up efficiency.
Here’s the golden ticket – we always say you should aim to be 10x more productive with AI. As marketers, you have the expertise and AI offers the tools. The result? Your abilities are amplified.
We’re not talking mass job losses here. We’re talking about enhanced productivity and speed, reducing the need for extra hires and solving issues with unmotivated employees, which, believe me, can be a headache.
As marketers, it’s natural to be concerned about our roles, but we do have a creative function, and that makes a difference. The top five jobs at risk of automation aren’t ours. They’re IT professionals, data engineers, developers, data scientists, and customer service professionals.
I’ll provide a link to IBM’s 2022 State of AI report for more details.
So while we should be aware, let’s dial back the worry a notch.
In terms of labor and skill shortages, many are quick to condemn AI adoption, arguing it deprives people of job opportunities. Often, these critics (which can be referred to as Luddites), oppose new tech due to various pressures unrelated to the work at hand. We need to take a moment and remember what’s most important here – our customers.
Our primary focus shouldn’t be our employees, business partners, or investors. It should be our users. There’s been debate about whether Google should index AI-created content or human-produced content, but the truth is, good content is good content. Period.
From a customer-centric perspective, they don’t care about your internal issues. They care about receiving a great product or service.
As businesses, we need to stop obsessing over our internal operations and start considering our users more.
Your priority should be delivering the best content for your audience, rather than worrying about who’s producing it. Of course, ethical considerations matter, but they should not overshadow the primary goal – customer satisfaction.
What does that imply if you’re aiming to scale?
Well, stellar customer service is mandatory. The user experience has to be outstanding. The product – whatever you’re selling, has to be top-notch. Plus, customers need to be sold on your brand. The days when you could sell a product, move on to the next customer and repeat, are long gone.
This shift has already begun on the product front because Amazon’s model has forced us in that direction. It led us to commoditizing products we don’t care much about to get them as cheaply as possible.
Now, the focus is on people committing to brands and quality products. No more tolerating being on hold with an offshore call center for hours and still not having your issue resolved. Those days are done.
So picture insurance commercials – except they weren’t lying, you know? I find insurance commercials amusing because they promise the world but do virtually nothing, or worse, they fight you when something goes wrong.
That’s how traditional marketing has been. That needs to change now.
We’re moving towards a time where we deliver, not just promise. So again, expect significant changes in the marketing industry. Things will be different, and there may be fewer of us, as we become ten times more effective – keep that stat in mind. If your competitor was ten times more effective, would you stand a chance? Not really.
Your competition may no longer be a big agency. It could just be a lone individual who has figured out how to automate everything seamlessly. This will lead to unified marketing because it will be generated by a single individual.
We’ve all heard tales about a guy working out of his basement for a year, building a company from the ground up and then becoming a millionaire, posting pictures of Lamborghinis in Dubai or something. Have you ever wondered how that works? It works because everything originates from one person – it’s cohesive, whether it’s high-quality or not. It all feels like a personal brand rather than a product of a committee.
That’s how most companies are – built by committee. It leads to a lot of compromises and blandness, and it disconnects you from your customer avatar. It results in a bland, default campaign. And anyone can create default campaigns now.
For instance, with the help of ChatGPT, you can have a month’s worth of social media content without breaking a sweat.
The era of achieving great success by following a systematic approach is over too. Now, you need a system (which many companies lack) in addition to excellent execution and delivery.
AI is the Latest Case of Creative Destruction
The process of the new taking over the old is known as creative destruction. Essentially, it’s the process of continuous internal revolution within the economic structure, constantly breaking down the old and creating the new.
This phenomenon isn’t new – it’s been part of our history. For instance, let’s go back a bit. Remember when disposable film cameras were a thing? You know, the little plastic and cardboard ones you’d get at weddings, click away mindlessly, giving you a bunch of sub-par pictures, costing you a small fortune to develop.
That era has been replaced by the era of digital photography. With a digital camera, you popped in an SD card, and voila, instant content. Remember the decline of Polaroid? Polariod sales essentially got obliterated, overtaken by digital photography.
That’s creative destruction in action.
Our task, then, is to navigate this constant change, ensuring that we are always on the cutting edge, always adapting, always prepared for what comes next.
In doing so, we ensure our survival and growth in this ever-evolving landscape.
Let’s draw parallels to another example, the decline of manual stock trading and the rise of online trading. It mirrors the way digital marketing took over offline marketing.
I set up my online stock trading account back in high school, and I can’t picture doing it any other way. I spoke to from a trader that they’d pay a hefty fee to place their processor just a foot closer to the data line, buying them an infinitesimal edge in time. Can’t even imagine operating in that industry without such capabilities.
Let’s talk about the decline of traditional retail stores and the rise of e-commerce, an area that exploded during the pandemic.
Stores had to shutter all over the country as people were locked indoors, finding that they had more time and disposable income since they weren’t splurging on trips. They turned to e-commerce. Even though some physical stores are reopening, ecommerce isn’t going anywhere. It’s the future.
Then, we have the decline of physical media and the rise of streaming. Remember when strolling the aisles of the DVD store on a Friday night was a treat, and the excitement of finding an unexpected gem? That was a “thing,” replaced now by the advent of streaming, which effectively obliterated Blockbuster and all other DVD shops.
Now, let’s glance at the decline of traditional newspapers and the rise of online news. When was the last time you actually looked at a physical newspaper? Can’t remember, can you? And even in the checkout aisle, you’re more likely to be scrolling on your phone.
This process of ‘creative destruction’ that we’re going through, it’s cyclical. We’re on one cycle right now, but the key question is, will you make it to the next one?
Prepare Your Agency For the Future: Fortification & Innovation Assessment Framework
To navigate these tides of change and chaos, I propose a strategy of fortification and innovation. The marketing frameworks we’ve taught to hundreds of thousands of marketers (like the Customer Value Journey, Customer Avatar, and Core Message Canvas) still work.
They’ve worked for countless people and companies, and they’ve generated billions in revenue (over $100 million directly for DigitalMarketer). Even so, they need to be fortified so they can be even more effective using the latest technology, in this case, AI. That’s why we launched the AI-Powered Marketer Accelerator.
Similarly, you need to do the same thing with your customers by fortifying what works, and innovating improvements.
Are you prepared for the new market? If you don’t score 15 or above on either the Fortification or Innovation questions… you aren’t ready.
Click Here to download the spreadsheet.
Rate your business from 1 to 5 on the following questions (1 = Not Defined, 5 = Well Defined)
|Fortification Questions||Your Score|
|How well-defined is your customer avatar?|
|How well-defined is your niche?|
|How well-defined are your products & services?|
|How detailed is your primary Customer Value Journey?|
|How detailed is your conversion process?|
|Total Fortification Score|
How well-defined is your customer avatar?
Step one is understanding your customer. This is the foundation we’re building on.
So, the first question is, who’s your client? Can you define that client? Rate the clarity of your client definition from one to five.
Can you visualize them? Picture Sally, the yoga enthusiast with four children who somehow finds time to attend all their matches, manages a myriad of tasks and all she desires is the perfect phone case to capture her life moments.
I’m chasing after the emotional connection here. I’m not interested in the mundane demographic data like a married, suburban mother between 35 to 45. That’s old news. I crave something juicy, something impactful for advertising.
Can you craft an advertisement, a tantalizing, effective ad using just that customer avatar?
Because if you can’t, you’ve got a hazy, nebulous understanding of your customer rather than a clear customer avatar.
How well-defined is your niche?
Moving on, question number two, what’s your niche? We’ve had endless discussions on niches. I’m quite fond of the phrase ‘niche it to rich it’. So, what’s your niche?
Can anyone take one look at your business and instantly discern your niche? If no one, even those familiar with your work, can pinpoint your niche, then you likely don’t have a defined niche. Evaluate yourself on your niche clarity. On a scale of one to five, how well-defined is your niche?
How well-defined are your products & services?
Next question, what’s your product or service? You might think it’s evident, but believe me, I’ve dealt with countless companies that were clueless about what they’re selling.
They might know their product or service catalog but fail to succinctly define it. Like with any offering, apply the 80/20 rule. If you can’t discern where 80% of your revenue is originating from, you likely have a poorly defined product or service.
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How detailed is your primary Customer Value Journey?
Next up, what’s your customer value journey? It’s not about educating them on marketing, it’s about illustrating the complexity of the process. Marketing isn’t just putting up billboards or Facebook ads, it’s a comprehensive, consistent plan. If your approach isn’t cohesive and consistent, you don’t have a customer value journey, rather a collection of tasks you perform for clients. And is that contributing to their growth? Or is it just ensuring your next paycheck?
So evaluate your core customer value journey on a scale of one to five. You should ideally have these customer value journeys segmented by product or product line. If you don’t, then you lack customer value.
How detailed is your conversion process?
And finally, what’s your conversion process? Can you describe it? Is it meeting Joe at a local business event, following up, running a discovery session, and signing him as a client? If you don’t have a conversion process, then you don’t really have a business, you’re merely interviewing for a job with random people, hoping that they hire you. Not much of a business model, is it?
You likely do have a conversion process, it just hasn’t been formalized yet. So, rate how formal and defined your conversion process is, on a scale of one to five.
Rate your business from 1 to 5 on the following questions (1 = Not Defined, 5 = Well Defined)
|Innovation Questions||Your Score|
|How customized are your solutions for each customer?|
|How expensive are your customers to acquire?|
|How well are you using AI to augment/improve your speed & processes?|
|How much content are you creating?|
|How well are you expanding your private following?|
|Total Innovation Score|
How customized are your solutions for each customer?
AI’s level of personalization and its ability to generate immense amounts of content instantaneously means your customers will increasingly expect comprehensive, cohesive, and customized solutions.
If you’re not delivering these, they’ll seek out those who can. As I’ve mentioned before, you need to consolidate what you’re currently doing before you can innovate. You can’t possibly innovate in these areas if you don’t have them clearly defined to begin with.
Customers are going to become increasingly expensive to acquire, which means customer retention will become absolutely crucial.
How well are you taking care of your clients? Is it an afterthought or a constant priority? This needs to be at the forefront of your strategy – how to acquire and retain customers.
Next, you’re expected to exhibit your core competency in every facet of your business. This is why I always insist on expanding content marketing.
Your content is essentially a public display of your competence. When I commit to a brand, I undertake extensive research. I devour everything they’ve published, check all their social platforms, sign up for newsletters. If I find any inconsistencies, I likely won’t engage.
While this might sound eccentric now, it’ll soon become commonplace, as customers will have access to transformative experiences. They’ll find brands that ‘fix’ things for them and they’ll never consider leaving. So, brace yourself and be ready for the AI revolution in marketing!
How expensive are your customers to acquire?
The acquisition of your customers is escalating in expense, necessitating that customer retention takes center stage in your strategy.
Do you lavish attention on your clients or do you scatter that attention sporadically? This isn’t about generating monthly progress reports as an afterthought. It’s about constant engagement. Think about how you sign up your customers and how you ensure their allegiance.
Time to face the music – your core competency needs to be glaringly visible across your entire business. This is why I’ve always been an ardent advocate of content marketing. You see, your content is your public avatar, your professional facade. When I decide to commit to a brand, I run a comprehensive background check – I pore over every piece of content they’ve put out, scour their social channels, subscribe to their newsletters. If I detect inconsistencies, I’m out of there.
Now, this may sound a bit extreme in the current scenario, but trust me, it’s a trend that’s picking up steam. Why? Because consumers are being exposed to these transformative brand experiences. Once they get a taste of a brand that ‘fixes’ things for them, they’ll stick with it. So, picture this – a thousand fiercely loyal customers hooked to your brand. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?
However, to earn that loyalty, you need to ensure that your content rings true to your brand. This is a significant issue I have with brands outsourcing their content creation. If you aren’t the one crafting the content, it lacks authenticity. If a customer reads an article attributed to you but you didn’t write it and then they approach you with questions based on it, how does that reflect on you? Not favorably, I assure you. You need to create your content and answer every question your customer could potentially have.
You’re also expected to anticipate questions they may not even know to ask yet. If you aren’t providing the answers, they’ll seek them elsewhere. So, it’s paramount that you invest in your content creation, possibly even leveraging AI-generated content.
How well are you expanding your private following?
With the uncertainties in search algorithms, it’s critical to develop your private following. A consistent newsletter is a good place to start. It gives you a platform to roll out content regularly and nurture your audience privately.
This idea came to me when I saw brands that relied heavily on Facebook for their marketing get banned. You need to secure your audience independently, away from the vagaries of social media.
How well are you using AI to augment/improve your speed & processes?
Now, let’s touch upon the application of AI in marketing. The core uses include personalization, predictive analytics, chatbots, image recognition, voice search optimization, content creation, lead generation, A/B testing, and sentiment analysis.
It all circles back to data crunching and content creation. However, don’t assume AI-created content absolves you of your responsibility. It’s still your duty to bring a unique style to every piece of content, across all platforms and mediums.
So, let’s tackle some pressing questions. How customized are your solutions for each customer? Are they templated or do they address unique needs? Next, how costly is customer acquisition for you currently, compared to last year? And, how well are you utilizing AI to enhance your speed and processes?
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