Should marketing agencies specialise by skill or target market?

Editor’s note: This post comes from our Constant Contact UK office. You can view all the posts from our UK team here. Or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

When you first start out as an agency or consultancy it’s not uncommon to just offer what you know best: your specialism. But the reality in digital marketing is that, while many consultants start out as specialists in one particular field, they later grow into generalists as their skills broaden and clients demand more services.

During our Growing your digital marketing agency: what services should you offer? webinar, Lilach Bullock of Comms Axis, reflected on her experience of this:

“When we started the agency, we were all about social media. Now, we’re  much more about the content side of things. The world of digital marketing is changing so much. We have to adapt and evolve with it.”

New agencies and consultants often find that having a specialism enables them to cut through the white noise of competition, while seasoned digital marketers who specialise are able to rely on their depth of knowledge to win and retain clients.

Specialising gives you a better chance of becoming an expert in your (perhaps quite narrow) field, which can also enable you to focus your time better and charge higher fees.

It also produces challenges. In a fast moving industry it’s quite possible that your skills will become obsolete. For example, Facebook App developers were in huge demand in 2012, when the social network would only allow competitions using third party applications.

A year later, by permitting competitions to take place on the Timeline, Facebook effectively killed off this aspect of app development – an important revenue stream for many marketing agencies. For the unprepared, this was a devastating blow.

Should marketing agencies specialise by skill or target market?

While many agencies and consultants decide to specialise by only offering specific services, others specialise by customer type – focusing their services on, for example, small businesses, retailers or business to business (B2B) companies.

In our webinar, Luke Brynley-Jones, CEO of Our Social Times, explained that most consultants, at least initially, specialise by limiting the services they offer according to their own skills. By staying within their comfort zone new consultants and agencies give themselves the best chance of success and avoid the inherent risk in diversifying too quickly.

Of course, most small businesses are also specialists in terms of their geographical reach. Even if you’re offering quite a broad range of services, unless you’re based in a large city, your competition will be limited to similar agencies that operate within the surrounding area.

This might encourage you to broaden your service offering, but according to Lilach Bullock of Comms Axis, targeting customers within a defined locality is yet another reason to consider specialising your services:

“Being niche makes a massive difference when you’re small and helps with your marketing. This is especially relevant if you’re locally focused.”

While many marketers claim to offer a wide range of services, most now realise that standing out in the UK digital marketing industry requires some degree of specialisation, be it by location, services, customer type (for example, B2C or B2B), sector or size.

Finding your niche has become intrinsic to getting noticed, but the definition of ‘niche’ is contested. Speaking in our webinar, Tamsin Fox-Davies of Constant Contact takes a narrow view.

“I would say that SME and B2B are not target markets, they are still too broad. I would describe a niche as, for example, working with professional services firms or accountants. That is a market specialism in my book”.

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