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Disruptive Strategy and the Inbound Marketing Agency

By John McTigueDec 20, 2011

I am reading with great interest Paul Roetzer's (from PR2020) recently published book "The Marketing Agency Blueprint". In the book Paul discusses a variety of topics, mostly centered around the challenges facing small marketing agencies as they embrace digital marketing and attempt to grab market share from larger agencies. This "disruptive" strategy is one we at Kuno Creative have been developing for our own business plan during the past three years. Having come from a more traditional marketing and Web strategy, we have transformed ourselves into an inbound marketing agency. Here's a glimpse at our current strategy and where we think it will take us in the next few years.

inbound marketing has made us the 800 lb gorilla

Where We Were

Just three years ago we were a pretty typical, but aggressive small marketing agency focused on long term marketing strategy backed by marketing campaigns. We had a number of legacy clients with whom we either had monthly retainers or agreements to manage their campaigns and obtain approvals prior to spending. Our new business was mostly web design on a project-by-project basis. We were pretty local, with the majority of our clients in the greater Cleveland, Ohio area. We did very little marketing for ourselves, depending instead upon our reputation and word-of-mouth referrals. Despite a few hiccups along the way, we were doing pretty well and growing organically. Then came a perfect storm of converging events and trends:

  • The real estate collapse and Great Recesssion of 2008
  • The rapid transformation from commerce to e-commerce
  • The rapid onset of what Paul calls "selective consumers" who choose to do online research and get referrals from friends online prior to purchase
  • The rapid rise of SaaS and other low-cost Internet-based services

The impact of these trends on our business was sudden and dramatic. We were forced to rethink everything we do and how we do it. Clearly our market and scope of services was too limited and didn't address the changing demands of the new digital marketplace. Our skill sets were old school, and our knowledge base in new media marketing was equally limited. Time for a call to action.

Where We Are

Starting in 2009, we got busy looking for alternatives to the traditional marketing agency models. We found inbound marketing and HubSpot through Google searches and started a pilot program to see if we could start marketing ourselves via inbound marketing. We started blogging regularly and participating in social networks. We redesigned our website with a new focus on digital services and decided to deploy it on the HubSpot platform. Low and behold, our efforts started to pay off with increasing brand awareness and the classic inbound marketing metrics, traffic and leads. More to the point, we started getting inquiries from across the U.S. and even some international leads.

In the summer of 2009, we became one of the first Certified HubSpot Partners and launched our first "do inbound marketing for me" services. Since then, we have grown our services portfolio to include content marketing, social media marketing, SEO, lead generation and advanced marketing analytics. We still do web design, but now it's more of a chapter 1 to a larger book of inbound marketing services. We still do a lot of marketing strategy, but it has evolved from one-off marketing campaigns to sustainable growth of online presence and lead generation. We still do brochures and direct mail, but only when it makes sense to support the brand of our clients and contribute to long-term growth. We now have clients across the U.S., Canada, Europe and even New Zealand. Our new business is almost exclusively inbound marketing and web design in advance of inbound marketing. We are growing and becoming far more proficient at the new digital strategies and tactics.

How Are We Disruptive?

In Paul's book, he emphasizes the capture of new markets with disruptive pricing models and efficiency to drive profits. So far at least, that's not our direction. Our disruption comes from introducing marketing effectiveness and ROI to industries and companies that have never heard of inbound marketing. We agree with Paul's recommendation to steer clear of hourly billing and present clear value-based services and pricing. This is not an easy transition, especially for larger agencies with a lot of legacy clients or small agencies struggling to make ends meet. How do you win profitable retainers when you are used to executing projects? Our strategy is to figure out strategies and outcomes, then price them based on our experience (some of it painful) and knowledge of what it takes to "get found online and generate leads". We are disruptive because we are moving fast into mobile marketing and specific high-tech verticals such as SaaS and B2B2C. We are disruptive because we don't hedge on communicating what we do, what you can expect and how much it costs. We are disruptive because we wear our passion on our sleeves and are actively searching for the best possible clients for our processes, people and passion.

We look forward to a lively discussion with our clients and with other agencies as they evolve into inbound marketing agencies. We would love to start here with your comments.

Photo Credit: viralbus

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The Author

John McTigue

With over 30 years of business and marketing experience, John loves to blog about ideas and trends that challenge inbound marketers and sales and marketing executives. John has a unique way of blending truth with sarcasm and passion with wit. You can connect with John via LinkedIn, Twitter and Google Plus.
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