How to Build a Marketing Agency (or anything else)

Combining AI + first principles

Happy Saturday to every unicorn in the galaxy.

Today’s edition is ostensibly about building a marketing agency, but it’s not actually about that.

The purpose is to show you how to find and use the most criticized + valued characteristics in your competitive space to design a winning business from first principles.

Sound good?

Here we go:

I was reading user comments recently about a certain product and was intrigued.

There was a TON of negative feedback.

Lots of pissed off consumers.

Disappointed, misled, dissatisfied.

While at first glance this can be discouraging, what this means is that you have a massive opportunity to improve what you do and make a great product people ultimately want.

There are two types of bad products in startup land:

  1. People don’t want what you’re selling

  2. People don’t like what you’re selling (but they want a solution to the problem)

The former problem can be a death sentence.

The latter is a goldmine of useful bread crumbs that can help you transform a product or business people don’t like into something they love.

If you’re competing in an existing market (who isn’t, really?), there’s a wealth of insight available to you via AI to build a better business.

Today’s growth strategy is Using AI to Build a Better Business 

Growth stage: Any

Difficulty level: Medium

“With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon.”

- Elon Musk

How to Build a Marketing Agency

Let’s pretend we’re building a marketing agency.

The cool thing about marketing agencies is that they’re a proven business model.

We know people want them.

We also know that a lot of them don’t deliver results.

As a result, many people have taken the time to populate the internet with complaints and negative reviews about marketing agencies.

LLMs like ChatGPT have read most of these complaints about marketing agencies and are great at synthesizing themes among vast amounts of information.

So we’re going to use ChatGPT to uncover:

1) What people most commonly dislike about marketing agencies

2) The actual words and phrases that customers use to describe their dissatisfaction

3) The most commonly praised (and likely valued) attributes of effective marketing agencies

4) The actual words and phrases that customers use when describing positive experiences with marketing agencies

With this information, we will be able to design an agency that positions itself in opposition to the most common complaints and delivers on the areas that customers value most.

The beauty of this approach is that you eliminate the guesswork of starting from scratch and perhaps running out of money before figuring out how to run a good agency.

Let’s dive in:


What are the main complaints that customers typically have about marketing agencies they hire?

Common Complaints About Marketing Agencies:

Clients often have a range of complaints about marketing agencies they hire, depending on their unique experiences and expectations. Here are some of the most common complaints:

1. Lack of Transparency and Communication:

  • Clients often complain that they're not kept in the loop about what the agency is doing.

  • Delays in responses or not being upfront about issues or changes in the campaign.

2. Not Delivering on Promises:

  • Over-promising and under-delivering is a major complaint. Clients expect results, especially if they've been given specific KPIs or targets.

3. High Costs and Hidden Fees:

  • Some clients feel that they're not getting value for their money, especially if the ROI on campaigns is not as high as expected.

  • Unexpected charges or unclear billing can lead to dissatisfaction.

4. Lack of Customization:

  • Using a one-size-fits-all approach instead of tailoring strategies to the client’s specific needs and industry can be a major source of contention.

5. Ineffective Strategies:

  • If a campaign doesn’t yield results or if the results aren't aligned with the client's business goals, the agency might be blamed for using ineffective or outdated strategies.

6. Insufficient Reporting and Metrics:

  • Clients want to see data-driven results and understand campaign performance. Lack of regular, clear, and comprehensive reporting can frustrate them.

7. Staff Turnover:

  • If the staff members clients initially met and liked leave the agency or are no longer part of their account, this can lead to a sense of instability or feeling that they're not a priority.

8. Not Understanding the Brand:

  • Failure to capture and convey the client’s brand voice and values can be detrimental to marketing efforts.

9. Slow Implementation:

  • Delays in launching campaigns or making necessary adjustments can make clients feel that the agency is dragging its feet.

10. Lack of Creativity and Innovation:

  • Using the same strategies for every client or not keeping up with industry trends can lead to stale and ineffective campaigns.

11. Lack of Expertise in Specific Areas:

  • If a client hires an agency believing it has expertise in, say, social media, but the results don’t reflect that expertise, complaints will arise.

12. Contractual Disputes:

  • Disagreements over contract terms, especially concerning deliverables, payment schedules, or exit clauses, can lead to dissatisfaction.


What adjectives and phrases are most common among negative reviews or complaints about marketing agencies?

Negative Marketing Agency Feedback

Negative reviews or complaints about marketing agencies often employ a specific set of adjectives and phrases that indicate dissatisfaction. Some of the most common include:

1. Adjectives:

Ineffective: Indicates that the agency's strategies didn't produce the desired results.

Unresponsive: Suggests delays in communication or failure to address concerns.

Overpriced or Expensive: Used when clients feel they're not getting value for money.

Unprofessional: Indicates behavior or practices that aren't in line with industry standards.

Inexperienced: Used when the agency seems to lack knowledge or skills in specific areas.

Vague: Refers to unclear communication or lack of clarity in strategies.

Disorganized: Indicates a lack of proper planning or coordination.

Impersonal: Suggests a one-size-fits-all approach rather than tailored solutions.

Outdated: Used to describe old or ineffective strategies.

2. Phrases:

"Lack of communication": Indicates that the agency didn't keep the client informed.

"Didn't deliver on promises": Means the agency failed to meet set expectations.

"Waste of money/time": Used when clients feel they didn't get an adequate ROI.

"No tangible results": Indicates dissatisfaction with campaign outcomes.

"Hidden fees" or "Unexpected charges": Refers to billing surprises.

"Failed to understand our brand": Suggests a disconnect between the agency's efforts and the client's identity.

"High staff turnover": Indicates instability or constant change in agency contacts.

"Not worth the investment": Another way of saying the ROI was poor.

"Used cookie-cutter strategies": Implies a lack of customization or innovation.


What are the most highly valued attributes of marketing agencies that are written about favorably online?

Attributes of a Successful Marketing Agency

Marketing agencies that receive favorable online reviews and comments often possess attributes that clients find highly valuable. Some of the most appreciated and commonly mentioned attributes include:

  1. Expertise and Knowledge:

    • Clients value agencies that have deep knowledge of the industry, latest trends, and effective marketing strategies.

  2. Transparency:

    • Being clear about processes, costs, and expected outcomes helps build trust with clients.

  3. Clear Communication:

    • Agencies that provide timely updates, answer questions promptly, and are easy to reach tend to be highly valued.

  4. Creativity and Innovation:

    • Unique, out-of-the-box solutions that differentiate brands in the market often get praise.

  5. Tailored Strategies:

    • Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, personalized strategies that cater to the unique needs and goals of the client are appreciated.

  6. Proactive Approach:

    • Agencies that anticipate market shifts, client needs, or potential problems and address them proactively are viewed favorably.

  7. Measurable Results:

    • Delivering tangible outcomes and backing them up with clear data and analytics can lead to positive reviews.

  8. Flexibility:

    • Adapting to feedback, changes in the market, or the client's evolving needs is a trait that's highly regarded.

  9. Ethical Practices:

    • Upholding high standards of honesty and integrity, especially in areas like billing, reporting, and campaign execution, helps build a positive reputation.

  10. Strong Relationship Building:

    • Forming genuine partnerships and understanding the client's business, goals, and challenges can lead to long-term collaboration and positive feedback.

  11. Value for Money:

    • Clients appreciate feeling that they're getting a good ROI and that the agency offers competitive pricing for its services.

  12. Continued Learning and Development:

    • Agencies that stay updated, attend industry conferences, and continually hone their skills show commitment to excellence.

  13. Integrated Services:

    • Offering a holistic suite of services (from content creation to analytics to advertising) provides convenience and synergy for clients.

  14. Reliability and Consistency:

    • Delivering on promises consistently and meeting deadlines are basic yet crucial attributes that earn favor.

  15. Long-term Vision:

    • Thinking beyond immediate campaigns and understanding the broader business landscape, growth trajectory, and vision of the client shows strategic depth.

Prompt 4: 

What adjectives and phrases are most common among positive reviews about marketing agencies?

Positive Marketing Agency Feedback:

Positive reviews about marketing agencies often use a specific set of adjectives and phrases that signify satisfaction and appreciation. Here are some of the most common ones:

1. Adjectives:

Effective: Indicates that the agency's strategies yielded the desired results.

Responsive: Points to timely communication and quick reactions to queries or issues.

Professional: Signifies that the agency adheres to industry standards and exhibits commendable behavior.

Experienced: Denotes that the agency possesses a wealth of knowledge and skills.

Transparent: Shows that the agency is open about processes, outcomes, and charges.

Creative: Indicates innovative and unique solutions.

Dedicated: Reflects the agency's commitment to the client's success.

Adaptable: Demonstrates flexibility and the ability to adjust strategies as needed.

Insightful: Suggests deep understanding and the ability to provide valuable recommendations.

Efficient: Indicates that the agency maximizes resources and time to produce results.

2. Phrases:

"Went above and beyond": Indicates that the agency exceeded expectations.

"Easy to work with": Points to smooth collaborations and interactions.

"Delivered on promises": Signifies that the agency met or exceeded the agreed-upon objectives.

"Value for money": Indicates satisfaction with the ROI.

"Understood our brand": Reflects alignment between the agency's efforts and the client's identity.

"Tailored solutions": Denotes personalized and client-specific strategies.

"Impressive results": Shows that the agency's work had a significant positive impact.

"Transparent communication": Highlights open and clear interactions.

"Long-term partnership": Reflects trust and a desire for continued collaboration.

"Stayed ahead of trends": Indicates the agency's commitment to innovation and staying updated.


Now suppose I want to build a marketing agency from first principles, taking into account what we've seen produces the most favorable responses and unfavorable criticism. 

How should I proceed?

Building a Marketing Agency from First Principles

Building a marketing agency from first principles involves identifying fundamental truths about what clients value most and what leads to success, and then reasoning up from those foundational points.

Given the feedback and attributes we've discussed, here's a step-by-step guide to establishing a high-quality marketing agency:

1. Determine Your Niche:

Identify areas of expertise based on your strengths and market demand. It could be a specific industry, marketing channel, or demographic you wish to serve.

2. Prioritize Transparency:

Be clear and upfront about pricing, processes, expected outcomes, and any other pertinent information. This will foster trust right from the beginning.

3. Set Up Clear Communication Channels:

Offer multiple ways for clients to reach out, whether through email, phone, or instant messaging. Ensure swift response times and maintain regular check-ins or updates.

4. Invest in Continuous Learning:

Given the dynamic nature of marketing, stay updated with the latest trends, tools, and technologies. Encourage team members to attend workshops, webinars, and conferences.

5. Tailor Your Strategies:

Avoid a cookie-cutter approach. Spend time understanding each client's unique needs and build customized strategies.

6. Emphasize Measurable Results:

Implement data-driven strategies and provide comprehensive reports. Clients should clearly see the value and results you're bringing.

7. Build a Dedicated Team:

Hire professionals who are not only skilled but also passionate and committed. Cultivate a culture of excellence, collaboration, and continuous improvement.

8. Adopt Ethical Practices:

Uphold honesty and integrity in all dealings. This includes honest reporting, transparent billing, and ethical campaign strategies.

9. Implement Feedback Loops:

Regularly seek feedback from clients and make necessary adjustments. Celebrate successes and learn from criticisms.

10. Diversify Services (if possible):

While starting with a niche is recommended, consider gradually expanding your service offerings to cater to broader client needs.

11. Embrace Technology:

Utilize the latest tools and platforms to streamline operations, enhance service delivery, and improve results.

12. Position Your Brand Clearly:

Clearly define and communicate your agency's values, mission, and unique selling proposition. This helps in attracting the right clients and building long-term relationships.

13. Build Strong Relationships:

Engage with clients beyond mere transactions. Understand their vision, challenges, and long-term goals. Position your agency as a true partner rather than just a service provider.

14. Stay Adaptable:

The marketing landscape can change rapidly. Be prepared to pivot strategies, explore new channels, and adjust to evolving client needs.

15. Financial Prudence:

Ensure clear billing practices, offer competitive pricing, and maintain good financial health. This not only builds trust with clients but also ensures your agency can weather economic fluctuations.

Finally, continuously revisit and refine these principles as the agency grows and as the marketing landscape evolves. Building a marketing agency from first principles requires patience, dedication, and a relentless focus on delivering value.

That’s pretty good stuff.

In a matter of minutes, using only a handful of prompts, we’ve summarized the entire internet’s worth of feedback around marketing agencies.

Doubters may ask - “How do we know this is true?”

The real answer is that we don’t.

But it’s a damn good place to start.

This exercise works for any product or service that has been written about online.

Ask ChatGPT what people love about it and hate about it.

Position your business as the antidote to what people hate about X.

Use their own language to show you understand them.

There are a lot of things that LLMs can’t (yet) do well, but if you want to build a marketing agency (or anything else), ChatGPT is a good place to start.

✨ That’s it for today!

I hope this helps you in your growth journey.


PS - if you enjoy my writing, please tell a friend. Thank you. 🙏 

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