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by Bob Hutchins, Brad Ayres & Ken Ott
Agency Exposed Podcast

The Platform vs The People (Pt 2)... How to Become Unstoppable



We’re back this week with part two of our discussion on “The Platforms vs. The People.” As agency owners, what changes should we make to protect our clients and ourselves from the whims of mega platforms? The key to becoming unstoppable may lie in having a healthy approach to creativity and innovation. Using platforms in your business isn’t bad, it’s GREAT, but you must be aware of your vulnerabilities. Sadly, most businesses have no idea how vulnerable they are. We talk often about the importance of diversification, but today we’re diving deep into the mindset behind change—including what it may mean if you’re resistant to change, and what a healthy experimental mindset could look like for your agency. We’ll tackle questions such as:

  • Is it possible to break your addiction to ROI during times of disruption?
  • How can you make decisions on a small scale that will play out as innovation on a large scale?
  • What on earth can you do when Facebook (or someone else) turns off your account? (Hint: Not much, unfortunately.)

Top 3 Curtain Pulls in this episode:

  1. When it comes to your business, think like a scientist. When we stop thinking like scientists, we lose our willingness to experiment and innovate, and it becomes much more difficult to admit when we are wrong, move towards growth, and do what’s best for our customers.
  2. Be aware. It’s important to remember that platforms (as other businesses) answer to their shareholders, not necessarily their users. Their interests and your interests aren’t necessarily aligned. Does this mean you shouldn’t use them? Of course not! But you must be aware of your dependence on them, and take appropriate action to ensure your stability if there’s a disruption.
  3. Technology changes—and fast. Instead of getting hung up on the platforms and the technology, keep your focus on what will resonate with people 50 years from now.

For more tips, discussion, and behind the scenes:

Resources Mentioned:

About The Guys:

Bob Hutchins: Founder of BuzzPlant, a digital agency that he ran from from 2000-2017. He is also the author of 3 books. More on Bob:

Brad Ayres: Founder of Anthem Republic, an award-winning ad agency. Brad’s knowledge has led some of the biggest brands in the world. Originally from Detroit, Brad is an OG in the ad agency world and has the wisdom and scars to prove it. Currently that knowledge is being applied to his boutique agency. More on Brad:

Ken Ott: Co-Founder and Chief Growth Rebel of Metacake, an Ecommerce Growth Team for some of the world’s most influential brands with a mission to Grow Brands That Matter. Ken is also an author, speaker, and was nominated for an Emmy for his acting on the Metacake Youtube Channel (not really). More on Ken:

Show Notes:

[0:35] The Guys introduce today’s episode, welcoming Ken back from a trip to New York!

[3:26] Brad reviews last week’s episode, talking about the continual changes surrounding platform shifts. His company experienced having one of their client’s Facebook ad accounts shut down, saying that ultimately Facebook admitted it was an accident. They have no real recourse.

[4:49] Ken says that he sees connection between cryptocurrency awareness increasing and platforms being questioned and challenged.

  • He refers to SaaS (software as a service) companies that embody this concept. With many of these companies, you can charge monthly for hugely expensive services, but everyone will be the same and have the same options.
  • Companies have become million-dollar businesses from using one platform (such as Facebook) alone, and all they have to do is simply turn on a feature and accept terms and conditions. In instances like this, it is very easy to lose sight of how little control you have.

[8:25] Ken shares his fears with businesses that he sees. If big platforms like Shopify and Facebook ban you for one reason or another, you really don’t stand a chance.

[9:27] Brad talks about his fears with so many parts of his business that are reliant on the Big Three: Amazon, Facebook, and Google. When we sign terms of service with these corporations and websites, we are allowing them to have the power over many parts of our lives.

[10:55] Brad talks about the biggest challenge he sees: these platforms only have the power that they have because people are using it. If they get into a position where people begin to fall off, these large corporations begin to do pretty wild things to keep their shareholders happy.

[12:32] Bob says that many agencies are ahead of the curve as far as technology, but as those same services become commoditized, the value of an agency’s services decrease. Then what follows is people looking for other options.

[15:43] Ken adds that this cycle is what is currently happening—a principle of cyclical nature that makes itself evident everywhere in life. The pattern of developing new technology then purging to make room for advances is part of that cycle.

[17:33] Ken says that cryptocurrency for investment is yet another example of diversification

[18:15] Brad says that he's seen the industry go through phases. Today, we are technologists. Most of the work that we’re doing is IT, learning technical systems to get the best result. Having that technical background is incredibly valuable now, but he predicts that eventually AI will take over.

[20:48] Brad asks: “How can we prepare for this?” He suggests going to clients and ensuring you have a seat at the table. To do this, make sure you’re doing more than technical commodity work and that you’re helping lead strategy.

[22:26] Bob talks about his love/hate relationship with technology and clients. He always advises his clients to not become hung up on technology, because it comes and goes. Instead, he says that we should focus on human stories, human connection, and human ideas.

[25:51] Ken says that one of his biggest business strategies is to not attach yourself to a technology or platform that will come and go.

[27:41] Ken talks about the challenge of major platforms that can shut you down. Those platforms have gotten into their position because the platforms have the most users as well as the most convenience to offer. There is less perceived competition in comparison.

[28:58] Ken predicts that businesses will be forced to become more self-reliant and be more aware of what could go wrong.

[30:50] Bob talks about how a lot of clients are hiring them for vision and understanding of where the industry is going.

[32:20] Ken says that although these platforms can be great and hugely helpful, there is a tipping point between what is best for their customers and what is best for their shareholders. It’s inevitable, and so it’s a great idea to have a backup plan and/or a fallback. For example, if you rely on Shopify, consider hosting your own site instead.

[35:05] Brad talks about how the power to challenge these businesses is truly available to the people—Reddit and Robinhood are a further example of this relationship.

  • There is a trend towards decentralization, starting with financial institutions. There is a sense of distrust toward these big established platforms and a push towards decentralizing their power.

[37:35] Bob says that the challenge for him is learning how to think, and then applying those strategies so that you don’t succumb to the power of the platforms. He suggests a book called Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant. He’s an organizational psychologist who helps businesses figure out how to think about their brand and long-term goals.

  • His theory is a four-fold approach. We either think like a preacher, a politician, a prosecutor, or a scientist. The premise is that business leaders need to think more like a scientist than anything else—experiments are required in order to be successful, and you constantly reserve the right to be wrong.

[41:41] Bob says that when we stop thinking like scientists as business owners, we lose the willingness to experiment, to admit being wrong, and we will find it more difficult to move towards growth and do what’s best for our customers.

[42:26] Ken wonders what the switch is that moves business owners from that role of scientist more towards a preacher. What makes them begin to believe that they have everything figured out? Often it’s simply success. When you become successful, it’s easy to stop innovating and say you have things figured out.

[43:52] Brad asks Bob and Ken if their clients understand that some experimentation with failure is part of the process of finding success. Are they open to this?

[45:00] Ken says that there is a lot of resistance to that mindset, and a lot of things can play into that resistance. It can be hard to rationalize experimentation within an organization that is larger or older, and there is an addiction to immediate ROI that needs to be broken. It’s pretty rare that a client comes forward and says that they want to experiment and be intentional about it.

[47:45] Bob says that we could be seeing a renaissance of agency creativity and agency values. He also suggests a couple of methods for playing against that resistance that many clients will have against experimentation.

  • Ask your clients “If this main platform goes away, how can we duplicate the same result through other methods? How can we get this same result through a different strategy or channel/platform?”
  • When you find something good that you believe to be true, how is it also not true? For example, you may think that Tesla makes the best electric car. But then assume you believe the opposite, and look for ways that Tesla is NOT the best electric car in the industry. What are some ways that other companies have made this product better?

[51:01] Ken reflects on Bob’s advice. He says that in real life, you have things like fire drills where you go through the worst case scenario and decide what your plan of action will be. In business, people aren't doing that as much.

  • If your life or business relies on something, it’s only logical to think through those scenarios. Your business is WORTH asking yourself these questions.
  • The more prepared you are, the less anxiety-inducing change can be!


Episode 60

Season 1

by Bob Hutchins, Brad Ayres & Ken Ott