Think MMA not TKO: the case for Mixed Mentality Agencies

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo

Matt Cox, Mixed Strategy Lead at SYZYGY, believes that agencies can't be complacent - but nor can brands keep on top of every trend. Looking at the most recent Bellwether report, he says the agency USP is like being a mixed martial artist - multi-faceted but also specialist.

Thanks to the most recent Bellwether, we could also all learn a bit more from Bellator. 

The latest analysis of marketers’ budget intentions reassured many in agency-land - budgets were revised as up for the first time in a while, welcomed as a turn of the tide. But this sets to one side the rise in in-housing, and the fact that the Barometer delineates in ATL/BTL terms, when most brand challenges are multifaceted. 

Adland strategies have been turned on their head. Branding and comms planned in isolation no longer deliver the knockout headshots of old. It’s rare to find media plans or consumers who focus on one single media channel. There’s a world of choice, and nuance which we need to consider. Strategies which can adapt and draw on a number of different skillsets really land a message. Which brings me on to Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), and Bellator (in case you were wondering, one of the MMA promotions). 

There are more ways to win than by sticking rigidly to one single ruleset. It’s the agencies which will be able to draw on a breadth of skillsets that will deliver the goods for clients and consumers who are both increasingly taking the control of their media mix into their own hands. 

As a strategic community and the experts in mixed approaches, agencies have to be the voice of authority on what combinations will and won’t work. For forward-thinking agencies, the lines between different strategic combinations will continue to blur. To futureproof, we don’t need to be ring-fenced, or caged in.

We need to be embracing a mix of different techniques to create a clearing among the homogenous, right in the middle of the arena. The best strategy is never a single linear path, so here are three areas which agencies training up for the future can look to boost their own Mixed Mentality Agency skills.

1. Big picture thinking

Mixed Mentality Agencies should stop looking for one single impactful knockout and see the full body of potential. It forces bigger picture thinking, rather than ‘TV script first’ or other old economy planning bad habits.

You can reframe the brief, unlock new value streams, test prototypes, and approach a challenge from a whole new perspective. The combinations are endless when you take a step back and survey the entire body of possibilities, which will in turn maximise value. 

2. Agility

Mixed Mentality Agencies can deliver a five-round technical exchange, or a five-second flying knee. Either way, you need to be ready for anything to come your way in the marketing arena, and to switch strategy at a moment’s notice.

If you think inside the parameters of a single set of rules, whether that’s discipline or channel, your perspective will always be somewhat limited. It will also overlook the chaos which can reside in the real world. The best outcomes often result from unexpected detours. If you’re not willing to take on those challenges, you’ll miss out on more valuable potential outcomes.   

3. Incrementality

Developing MMA skills is incremental. You can no longer roll out standard crowd pleaser moves. Strategic isolation avoids seeing opportunities in the collision of different connections of ideas, which always gives better results.

Every win comes from a continuous fight - a feint here, a hip movement there - until you’ve amassed the knowledge to meet the challenge at hand and overcome it. You can then plan future paths to victory based on the data and experiences you’ve collected as a whole, to solve more unique puzzles - whether the strategy is delivering a once in a lifetime haymaker, or a varied sequence of moves.

Knowing they can draw on a range of mentalities and experience to deliver for clients is how multiskilled agencies will stay ahead. They avoid pigeonholing - either themselves, or by clients who only see them as a tool to deliver one sort of success. To be a lean, multiskilled agency machine you need to be working in a team across multi-disciplinary problems, which allow you - and require you - to blur skills lines. Even recognising where you can’t take something on solo, project-based work with other similar businesses can help you learn and help the client by creating the right combination of skills. 

At SYZYGY we frame this mixed approach as being ‘digital architects’: we believe in the power of data, and that holistic digital architecture should be the basis for future facing brands.

Getting this ground game right by making the most of data insight also allows brands to dictate the stakes and location when defeating a problem. From there, brands and their partners are enabled to work together to reach their customers in the best possible way. In the words of MMA champ Tony Ferguson: “Creativity is chaos, and you can’t get it off a production line.” In a constantly changing media and consumer landscape, it’s the adaptable brands and their partners who can stay fighting fit.