Should Marketing Partners Have Experience in Your Industry?

Many companies seek marketing partners who have experience working within their industry. This approach makes good sense on the surface. It’s more comfortable upfront working with a partner that understands your business. In fact, it’s commonplace for industry knowledge to be a requirement within a request for proposal. However, the topic of experience raises an interesting question; should industry knowledge be a requirement when seeking marketing partners? 

Olive & Company will look at the advantages of having—and not having—industry knowledge. We’ll also offer advice on finding the right marketing partner for your project and business. 

The Pros of Industry Knowledge

Potential marketing partners who know an industry’s terminology, players, nuances, and motivations can be immediate assets to your organization. Industries like healthcare can be layered in mandatory legal regulations. Others, such as law firms, commonly prefer working with partners who have extensive legal knowledge. 

Why is this?

Having industry-specific experience delivers multiple benefits. Let’s look at some of the advantages and learn what industry experience adds to a marketing project. 

Reduces Onboarding Time

Establishing a marketing partnership involves some level of onboarding. Your new agency needs to learn about you, your products/service, current strategy, goals, competitors, marketplace, and more. If they have worked within your industry, they likely know much of this already. Having strategized against your offering, they might even know your weaknesses better than you.

Better Allocates Budget 

Less time spent onboarding means less money invested in getting new partners up to speed. That leaves more dollars available for project work or media buys. Hiring an experienced partner can also reduce the need for research expenditures. While expertise is not a sure-fire replacement for research, it can be a workaround when budgets won’t accommodate it. 

Avoids Easy Mistakes

An experienced partner knows what you can and can’t do in regards to marketing. For example, law firms can’t promise you’ll win in court, nor can pharmaceutical companies claim a drug will make you live to be 105 years old. 

Understands the Audiences

When a potential marketing partner has worked within an industry, they know the challenges, needs, and motivations for the various audiences. Perhaps they have even been a part of a persona and journey mapping project. This can provide invaluable, research-based insight into the audience. 

Knows the Trusted Sources

Not all sources of information are equal. Each industry has its “go-to” sources that are considered credible. These sources could include trade shows, publications, conferences, opinion leaders, websites, or something else. Having worked within an industry means a potential marketing partner knows which place is best, and where to allocate efforts to achieve the desired result.

Experience With What Works

There are many ways to market a product or service. Companies need to focus their efforts. A potential partner who has worked within an industry tends to know which materials are sought by the audiences. Having experience also means understanding what those materials need to say, do, or achieve. It’s not enough to have the right vehicle; you also need the appropriate content. A partner with industry experience should be able to provide that. 

The Advantages of Not Having Industry Knowledge

Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet was known as a team of rivals. They strongly disliked each other, but Lincoln benefited from their unique perspectives. 

Olive doesn’t recommend working with people you dislike; however, striving for unique perspectives is sound advice. Marketing partners with less experience working in a specific category are likely to see your organization, industry, and customer in a new light. This fresh perspective can be an invaluable asset. 

Let’s consider other ways a marketing partner that lacks industry experience could benefit your organization. 

Less Group Think

It’s not difficult to reach an agreement when everyone thinks the same way. These shared opinions are the result of everyone bringing the same context and mindset to a conversation. While this approach holds some merit, it can lead to repeating the same actions. Brands suffer when everyone’s first instinct is to nod in agreement. They will benefit more when teams discuss the merits of contrasting ideas and explore new solutions.

More Questions

A marketing partner lacking deep industry experience will ask one question more than any other, “why?” This question is among the most powerful that can be posed during a meeting. It doesn’t imply an idea is wrong; it seeks to understand why that thinking is correct. When a new partner questions you, it’s to understand your knowledge, perceptions, and choices. It’s a check rather than a challenge. A new partner’s role is to ask many questions to determine why things are what they are. By understanding how you arrived at a position, they can better help lead you toward the next target. 

Fresh Solutions

When an organization tackles the same challenges year after year, it often uses the same tactics. This approach brings a comforting sense of predictability with no need to justify new ideas. However, relying upon old thinking might not deliver the best results.

A new partner will likely propose alternative solutions. Ideally, ideas that produce superior results or other benefits. Not every idea will work better. Some will fail, but a company rarely grows by doing the same thing. Partnering with a fresh perspective can also bring new life to old tactics. Maybe the current strategy is spot on, but the execution has become stale. Rather than standing out, everyone has become content to fit in. A new partner can bring a new face to existing approaches. Doing so will help your messages get noticed and create a stronger position in the market.

New Understandings

Working with a new marketing partner may inspire a company to conduct new research. New knowledge and understanding are always going to be beneficial. Sometimes a new partner will also want to ask questions that were never considered before. No budget for new research? That’s okay. A new partner might look at existing information and see it in a different way. They may extract an idea, data point, or opportunity others missed. This new understanding from previous data can have as much value as conducting new research.

Work With The Best

What’s better? A partner that knows your industry, or a partner that understands your targeted medium? You want both, but it’s not always an option. Digital strategy, brand work, and web development are specialized skills. So the question becomes this; what’s more difficult to accomplish? Is it easier to make a new partner an expert on your organization or make them an expert in digital marketing?

Finding the Right Level of Industry Experience for Your Project 

Experience is an important consideration, but maybe it shouldn’t be the first point of evaluation. When selecting a new marketing partner, begin with their personality. How well an agency meshes with your team and culture is essential. A comfortable fit goes a long way in determining how much your partner and team will accomplish together. 

Experience is an important consideration, but maybe it shouldn’t be the first point of evaluation.

Next, make sure the group is experienced with your type of project. Look for similarities not only in the medium (i.e., digital advertising), but also in the specific application (i.e., geotargeting). Consider this. Not all digital projects use the same strategy and knowledge. If you need a website to generate sales calls, an agency who specializes in e-commerce sites may not meet the objective. 

With the right personality and skill set established, now you can bring up the topic of experience. As you’ve read, there are sound reasons for working with an experienced marketing partner. There are also compelling reasons to work with industry outsiders. Your answer will depend on your situation. Good questions you’ll want to consider when making your choice include:

  • What are your needs, and are they complex?
  • How regulated or challenging is your industry to understand?
  • What would be required to bring an inexperienced partner up to speed?

Ultimately, you’ll realize the most significant benefits of working with the most talented people. Leading digital agencies rarely build bad websites. However, a marketing partner with deep industry knowledge may or may not be able to optimize digital campaign performance. So choosing on experience alone can be much more of a gamble. 

What are your thoughts on industry experience? We’d love to hear them. Have questions about our perspectives? Let’s connect. Olive & Company is a smart choice for organizations that value analysis, strategy, creativity, and an agile approach that delivers value. Whether we know your industry or not, we’re proven performers that know how to achieve marketing goals. 

Dave Hruby

Dave Hruby

Dave Hruby is brand strategist, writer, thinker, maker, and doer that challenges the status quo, shares wisdom freely, and happily asks tough questions to arrive at better than expected outcomes.