““The only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”
— Mark Zuckerberg, founder, Facebook
While it has been a joy and a pleasure to participate in the growth and development of DirectiveGroup over the last ten years, I have experienced it as one of those strange time warps in which time seems to have sped by and at the same time to have crept by very slowly. It is incredible to believe it has been so many years since we launched DirectiveGroup (née DirectiveGroup). I’ve been asked and lately have been pondering: what has really changed and what has not changed in the last 10 years? And … that question has set me to thinking.
Changes in the Digital Environment
Well, for one thing, digital marketing is almost unrecognizable from the form in which it existed when we started our digital marketing agency. Options have proliferated and at the same time, platforms have become – as a whole – much more complicated.
Not long after we started, for instance, Google made a major push to sell their platform directly to the companies we were targeting to serve as a digital agency. It was a short-lived effort that appeared to have died a decisive death over the next eighteen months or so … mainly for the same reason many MarTech companies are suffering with as they attempt to implement directly with their target clients… which is that is that there is a wide gulf between implementation and optimization. To get software installed is not to use it to its fullest and deepest potential. And if you are a software vendor or a publisher, you really need people to get their money’s worth out of your products… at a minimum.
Another change is the proliferation of digital tactics options, which is something I really appreciate, particularly given that some of the major players use auction-based pricing. Even if multiple players use an auction-pricing model, the fact that there are options help moderate what otherwise would be an extremely unbalanced situation. Also, this breadth of options is also something that makes agencies increasingly relevant as companies seek to maximize both their exposure, even to micro-segments, and their ROI. We help companies find and optimize options that otherwise may not have been possible.
The downside is that with the proliferation of options, we have been pushed further away from the nirvana we digital marketers had been seeking, one in which we had full data visibility into the performance of our tactics such that we’d finally be able to invest solely in what worked. Definitely moving in a different direction. And since DirectiveGroup always been a data-driven agency, many of our adaptations have come about from our own attempts to improve our understanding of our clients’ complete performance data for more effective competitive positioning.
For this reason, we have shifted our focus in a way that was a bit of a deviation from the expansion path of previous years. Whereas in the past, our service offerings grew by broadening our set of digital tactics. In recent years, however, we have shifted to include in our service offerings a small portfolio of MarTech solutions, and in particular, we have become an AI Martech solutions provider. This change initially had to do with our own needs for continued improved performance, which requires both data visualization and some of the AI elements such as machine learning, to help accelerate learning at a speed just not possible for humans.
Changes in Our Offerings
Our original motivation for adoption of AI MarTech was to help our clients achieve their objectives very decisively vis-à-vis their competitors. We found that certain AI elements, particularly around machine learning that yielded predictive and prescriptive recommendations, could offer some additional significant advantages. And early adopters can take big gains. So we started implementing AI MarTech solutions to overcome major problems faced by our clients, such as gaining a full understanding of digital attribution and content consumption paths to conversion, as well as real time optimization across multiple paid advertising platforms.
In deepening our work in this area, we have also discovered that many CMOs of mid-size companies ($40M – $1B) are really struggling with the number of MarTech solutions they have, and the depth of their usage. It turns out even though Marketing leaders are not IT managers, they find themselves needing to implement technology solutions – a lot of them. Not only are many of these tools not fully utilized, they are actually siloed so their data are isolated from contributing to the CMO’s ability to understand the big picture. We saw this and realized that this is not a good thing!
Add to this the fact that many SaaS and software companies who’ve developed these tools are not deeply versed in business strategy or marketing, so the ability of these software companies to help translate business goals to meaningful metrics is very limited. Right away, this constrains attainment of the full value of the MarTech tool. Then when you consider that AI MarTech tools have a learning component that will evolve over several months, if the software company has come and gone, you realize there will be no one available to help the CMOs fully optimize these AI MarTech products, that is to fully use the data that are produced. Finally, most marketing organizations are lean, lean, lean, so there are not a lot of extra people hanging around to figure these tools out.
This is precisely where DirectiveGroup now adds a ton of value, as it definitely makes sense to bring in fractional expertise to assist with AI MarTech implementations and optimizations. As a digital agency, we get it: not just the business goals, but we also understand what metrics and KPIs are relevant for platforms and tactics. We get right in there and work side-by-side with our clients’ teams, working through all aspects of maximizing value from AI MarTech tools. We supply fractional expertise, we train teams, we create date repositories accessed by data visualization tools … and when it is time, we go.
These additions to our set of capabilities make a lot of sense to us and to our clients. And for us, it moves us decisively toward our ‘why’ – to help companies become industry leaders such that they are the first and only option in the mind of their customers.
Changes in Our Company
Interestingly enough, the one constituent that has not had seismic changes has been our organization. Sure, we’ve refined our vision and we’ve developed our touchstone ‘why’ statement over the years. This comes from witnessing ourselves, getting to know who we are, what we are good at, and of the type of clients who appreciate our boutique offerings. I see this as a natural evolution as we look for clearer and cleaner expression of ourselves and of the services that are of greatest benefit to the clients we serve.
I really love our why statement, as it has become a rubric for evaluating our fit for a client and a client’s fit for us. We know, for instance, by applying our why, when I client doesn’t seek the same sort of agency relationship that we offer, and we know from that whether a client will be satisfied or dissatisfied with the working relationship, over and above our performance results. From my point of view, it is better for everyone involved to avoid mismatches rather than suffer the effects of a poor relationships.
[[call out: our why statement]]
In terms of our company’s internal environment, I am still on a quest to fully manifest a meaningful work environment, a vison I’d developed as an undergrad studying the sociology of work. Meaningfulness means that DirectiveGroup is a place at which our employees want to work at and to be involved in a very engaged way, one in which they shape our future and participate in the fruits of what they are part of creating. We who are investing our time and energy to this endeavor believe that it not only adds value to the lives of the individuals who work here, but it transfers in tangible and measurable ways to clients, in the form of the highest level of excellence in performance, to become a true win-win-win.
It is my hope that the next ten years not only shows an increasingly strong progression in value of our service offerings, but that it also shows a refinement of our expression of a meaningful work environment that moves as a flywheel that gains increasing momentum and strength. I will definitely update you on our progress in 2028.