It’s not the economy. It’s the creative, stupid.

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Think about what it would be like if you started from scratch. If there was no such thing as advertising agencies. No preconceived notions.

You have a big entrepreneurial idea. You figure you could  start a business that solves problems for companies by executing efforts that reach new customers and motivates them to buy something. You’d integrate other efforts with those efforts that would retain existing customers, too. And probably a few reputation-building efforts thrown in to make sure stuff like the company’s social license to operate is in good order, and that various stakeholders feel good about their investment in the company.

If you were to start from scratch, you’d probably do a bunch of research to figure out what companies’ pain points are, what they’d expect, and what they’d be willing to pay for it.

My guess is you’d find companies with pretty basic needs. Get us lots of customers, make our existing ones so happy that they buy again while telling others to come to us, and give our other stakeholders a good feeling about their investment in us.

I’m guessing you’d also find plenty of companies willing to pay handsomely for that, so long as you can prove what it is you’re doing actually works. My guess is that your research would conclusively demonstrate that any investment a company makes must demonstrate a return, and the investment made in your activities would be no different. Management and stakeholders wouldn’t have it any other way.

I had coffee a few days ago with a good guy who started a marketing firm with pretty much this approach. His isn’t a creative background: it’s an analytical one (though he understands the creative function very well). Research and results first. Demonstrate we can measure and prove what’s working and what isn’t. Creative follows the data. If it isn’t working, we’ll change it because we’ll actually know if its working. We don’t guess.

Assuming he makes good on his promises, it sounds like the way to go. Well, turns out that early on in his business he lost all kinds of work because prospective clients were blown away by the creative presentations from other firms. Happens all the time, he says. Ya gotta wow ’em with creative—play to their ego by putting their brand in flashy lights—and you’ll get the gig. Data and results? Yawn.

So like a smart business guy he’s re-tooled his approach and delivers great creative first, and doesn’t even talk about his unique and differentiated measurement tools until after a client asks.

He’s seen at least 50% growth in revenues over the past three years since changing his approach.

Does that raise anyone else’s eyebrows? That no matter how hard companies cry foul at their agencies for not proving their worth, they really aren’t demanding it from them in the first place?

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