Marketing agencies, their client companies and the vendors that serve them often discover that they’re inventors.
Not just coming up with the most brilliant campaigns but also creating digital tools that either 1) automate some of the challenges of their jobs… or 2) make it easier for customers to buy the products that those challenging jobs are all about in the first place.
Examples might include things like a niche-industry project-management tool (task boards, calendaring, file sharing, etc.). Or a virtual design tool that let’s shoppers “try before they buy” (envisioning a virtual paint color on a wall or clothing items grouped together as a complete outfit).
It’s intellectual property. Not only is it potentially worth a lot of money. But it is an agency’s number one revenue growth opportunity today, something typically untapped1. That’s according to Legal + Creative, a law practice specializing in intellectual property, copyright and marketing.
Building Enterprise Value
All of us are often too close to our own ideas to see them as unique, or how insightful our perspectives and understandings are. Particularly, this is highly relevant to agencies that are focused on a niche. That niche might require specific processes. Processes that can enhance the enterprise value of an agency… delivering better products and services, winning more clients, doing it in less time.
Consider an illustrated example. Something like the rental of heavy-duty construction equipment transferring in and out of a dealership… multiple units of the same type, multiple times a day. Some renters clean it properly; some don’t. Some items get damaged; some do not. Some are over the limit on usage hours, some are not.
It’s too much for employees to keep track of and it all looks alike.
So a SaaS tool is developed that documents what shape the exact piece of equipment is in when it goes out, what it’s like when it comes back, and does that ongoing over time. It includes unique identifier fields and checklists, maintenance schedules, and a camera app that records video, and a cache of other documentation.
There are reports that can then be generated and certain people can access certain reports or certain portions of them and some cannot. On the surface, might seem mundane… or, hasn’t that been done before?
But now there is a unique solution for a unique niche that doesn’t require “retro-fitting”. Case in point, let’s assume there already were tools that might’ve been able to do that type of thing, but they were developed to work for everyone… everyone in the car-rental industry, for example.
Then, as everyone else who is similar yet not-in-the-rental-car-industry discovers, the workarounds that need to be developed are time consuming to create, to explain and to use. And then those workarounds might be varied so each employee develops a unique way to interpret that, which creates inconsistency. So a training program is developed to avoid those problems.
And then the software company gets sold or the software otherwise gets changed and all of those customized solutions are now gone. Wasted. Start over.
Or, one can do the alternative… develop a unique tool to specifically serve that niche. As in, “This is my business, this is my tool, my intelligence. No one else can claim it as theirs. I have earned the opportunity to make money because of it and possibly be further compensated for it. To build the enterprise value of my agency.”
So in turn, maybe the heavy-equipment developer finds that go-kart rental companies can also use it with some minor modifications, and the party-furniture leasing warehouse can, too. And so on. It has now become a valuable piece of intellectual property, or IP, that the developer or agency owner can make money on as it uses it and also make money on as it re-sells it.
The agency has created an ecosphere.
Building Intellectual Property Protection
IP products that will truly find success as commercial tools are those that solve for specific problems. The Quiet Logistics case study is an example. And an example of how to protect it.
However, possibly in contrast to that robot example, marketing agencies and their clients and vendors will very typically find IP success in systematizing their processes. The way they do project management (in a niche industry) is a good example.
In other words, SaaS.
But there are qualifiers because everyone manages projects. So, that’s not unique. Swapping photos or instructions or feedback back and forth through a server isn’t enough.
Instead, think of a new tool that solves a unique problem, is customized to an industry, and everything about its development and usage has supporting documentation. The entire package is akin to a user’s manual for that IP.
That documentation can include, but is not limited to, things like a) how it functions, b) what the user story is and c) what comprises the acceptance criteria (pre-established performance standards).
Now, let’s do a little deeper dive into the documentation requirement for IP… it’s important….
Think of how a SaaS product might generate a certain, unique type of report for a client. Like a report about the status, condition and history of an item in dealer stock, such as the rental equipment example we outlined at the top of this article.
The developer that is creating the tool that generates that report is going to ask these types of questions: What is that report supposed to contain (checklists, pictures, numbers, opinions, facts, etc.)? How is it to be used, what is its purpose, and how is it to be downloaded or accessed? Who can see it? Can some users see it in part and others in full? Can it be edited and how and by whom?
Those types of questions (and answers). And the developer logs all of this back and forth and Q&A.
The key to it all.
There’s a date-and-time stamp to all of those exchanges and decisions, and a rationale and thought process that is in writing. It is trackable and accessible and tangible. The tool has real depth and a full user story. Performance standards.
That type of documentation. That contributes to it being valid IP.
And then IP clauses in contracts are necessary for protecting it (referring back to the need for legal consultation mentioned previously).
A Few Other Examples
In today’s article, we’ve noted some hypothetical examples of what IP might look like for some particular company. Maybe it’s a niche industry’s specific type of fully customized product history software. Or maybe it’s a type of project management SaaS that, among other things, generates confidential and semi-confidential reports for a client. We’ll conclude here with a short-list of examples and a note on development…
Some Common Types Of Marketing Agency IP:
- Proprietary project management tools
- The secret sauce to content management
- Subject-and audience-specific training and education seminars
- Unique calculators for business logarithms
- Particular industry research processes
- Customized reporting methodologies
The list goes on
An Agency’s IP Tool:
- Better serves the end client better
- Builds enterprise value
- Creates greater consistency and efficiency
- Makes agency resources more effective
- Prevents IP from walking out the door with departing employees (The Great Resignation isn’t just a buzzword)
Outsourcing Is More Than Web Development
Remember, unique is a keyword to IP consideration. But unique also means it’s not off-the-shelf and needs to be produced. Customized. Takes talent and time. But the outcome can be invaluable in nurturing a marketing agency’s enterprise value.
Good outsourcing partners can handle this. They’ve probably already developed their own form of this intellectual property for their specific level of project management inherent in a complex, pan-continental business. And they can do it for agencies and their clients. In fact, a partner that doesn’t have this capability is something to beware of… check out our related article, When to Pull the Plug.
About 15 years ago Forbes interviewed 95 CEOs and asked them to name one thing they wished would be invented and one of the responses was: A Household Chores Robot3
Now that may seem a little mundane for a chief executive’s wish-list. After all, Roomba, the robotic vacuum “maid”, was already on the market.
However, Nest, the learning “thermostat adjuster” was still not here yet and neither was Ring, the doorbell “butler”. Miko 3, the kid’s in-home “tutor” showed up in 2019 (preceded by Miko 2 several years earlier). Cleansebot, a disinfecting “janitor” showed up in 2018 (we could go on).
Anyway, there are multiple ways to consider the CEO’s suggestion, including: It’s mundane. Or instead, thinking of it as “I hadn’t thought of that yet”… and then inventing and patenting and making a fortune on Nest and Ring and Miko and Cleansebot.
Is there something that marketing agencies do that they may take for granted but really makes a difference in how they do business? And if so, are they maximizing as well as protecting that intellectual property for themselves or their clients?
- Toerek, S., “Intellectual Property: Why Your Marketing Agency Should Take a Closer Look,” LegalAndCreative.com, https://www.legalandcreative.com/2017/02/intellectual-property-for-agencies/, data pulled Aug 7, 20226.
- Simons, R., and Kindred, N., “Quiet Logistics (A),” Harvard Business School Case Study, https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/item.aspx?num=48127, revised Jun 2015.
- Eaves, E., “In Pictures: 15 Things We Wish Someone Would Invent, Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/2007/05/23/inventions-we-want-tech-cx_07rev_ee_0524inventions_slide.html?sh=7631f3305171, May 24, 2007