When did marketing become so obsessed with transacting? 10 years ago I finished my degree in Marketing and Advertising Communications with a strong sense that building a brand was a REALLY good idea - OK, it’s an intangible asset on the balance sheet (and extremely hard to quantify), but the big brands in this world have proven that brand equity pays dividends.

After watching Gary Vaynerchuk’s keynote from Icon 2016 it’s made me reflect on this very question. In his opening address he boldly claimed that the people in the room are transactors, not marketers and brand builders. If you get the time to watch the video in full (and you should, it’s worth your time and attention) you’ll see how right he was. I too am guilty of becoming a transactor in my approach, when really, after being inspired by his talk I want to be a brand builder. And this is why…


Transactors are focused on conversion. They’re focused on the here and now, and are concerned with immediate ROI.

Funnily enough I started my career in marketing as a digital campaign analyst, it was all about the numbers, the immediate return on investment, for a major travel company. I loved it. Being a numbers person, the world of PPC satisfied my black and white / right and wrong approach to life; it offered almost instant gratification; and evidence that what I was doing was working (which pleased my clients, but also provided me with my own CV proof that I could do my job).

In pitches and client meetings to this day, I’ve been proud to talk about being a “direct response marketer”, offering the reassurance that in the short term I will be able to help companies succeed in digital.

A transaction mindset keeps the business (and individual) in the present and relies on the tried and true methods working every time, forever. But as Gary highlights, this is defensive and in our fast moving world, it will set us up to fail in the long run.

In pre-internet days setting up a business (was apparently, as I’ve never done it myself) extremely hard work - it took a lot of grit and determination for a business to succeed. Now, I kind of agree with Gary, that some businesses can be set-up fairly swiftly and not require the “hard graft” of years gone by. I don’t intend to generalise all business start-ups, nor overlook those that are slogging away even now to get their ventures up and running, but you’ve got to admit that many businesses currently exist from pretty low investments (in both time and money) and are making a living (at least for now).

The danger of short-termism

I recently wrote a piece about content marketing which referenced businesses I’ve worked with who have failed to stick at it long enough to build their brand, and realise their potential before shutting down. I know financial investment is a major factor in staying the course, but I wonder if they were just too short-term in their approach (and hadn’t done their exploration thoroughly enough)?

So OK, Adwords is working for you now (gosh it’s helped me build my career for the last 10 years), but one day (and possibly not too far away) the Adwords gravy train will come to an end, and any business (or marketer) who relies on it for an income will suffer. The way I see it, being a transactor means you avoid thinking about this eventuality; you stick the course; you’re content right now and the money is rolling in. Doing this all day every day for the rest of your business’ days would be perfect, but come on, it’s not going to be the reality is it?

Some people at Adido are extremely forward thinking. There are some great debates in the office about the future with AI, bots, drones, and such like, and at the moment it baffles me. I’m slowly getting there with my enthusiasm for things like Google Cardboard (and saw a cool thing with Spotlight Stories only yesterday), but I’m not immediately passionate about them. As a digital strategist, I should be, I want to be, but right now I’m still a transactor. I don’t know how my “here and now” of doing things is going to work in this new world.

Whilst the world for a transactor has been well documented, it’s what we (nearly all) read and write about most of the time, what about the world of a brand builder? What’s that like?

Brand builders

This is the chord which really struck with me and will hopefully be the start of my transition from being a transactor to becoming a brand builder:

HOW you make your money matters more than how much you make

Being a brand builder means that you’re patient, you inevitably want to be proud of the success you have and the way in which you’ve achieved it. A brand is not a commodity, it can adapt to changes, it can evolve and improve, and it can add value. Value which OK, may not equate to currency today, but it will stand the test of time and reap rewards in the long run.

When I first joined Adido five years ago I hadn’t done any organic marketing. These were the days when quantity of links were the most important trigger for ranking well in search engines, and how the world of SEO worked didn’t sit very well with me. If you were a practitioner at that time hopefully you’ll agree that you did what you had to, but looking back it wasn’t something to be proud of.

Now we’re in an era where quality and value of content and interaction are more important. I’m in a world where I’m more comfortable with how things are done and why, and in many cases I’m proud of the work that is produced.

To achieve this I’ve explored my creativity more, I’ve challenged why things are done, I’ve adopted new techniques and ways of thinking, and I’ve kept the audience front and centre - do they want what I’m about to suggest/produce? But once again, I can’t rest on my laurels, doing it this way won’t bring me success forever.

Nothing comes easy. invest in your future

Brand builders constantly test and refine, they aren’t afraid of changing their minds and overruling earlier decisions, nor are they afraid to fail. The key to success is putting in the effort. I thought, probably like many other people in the audience, if I’m to do this how do I fit it all in? There are so many other social platforms to try, avenues to explore for conversing and sales opportunities to close

Gary’s simple answer was: Work MORE. If you work 8 hour days, work 10, if you do 10 already, work 12 etc… Not being an entrepreneur myself, and reliant on someone else paying my wages, it can seem all too easy to complain that “I don’t get paid to do more” but in the grand scheme of things who really loses out? You or your employer?

I have always been a believer in “you get as much out, as you put in.” Thankfully my transition to becoming a brand builder may be easier than many as I’m already a grafter. I don’t clock watch; I enjoy my job (most of the time); and I don’t mind putting in the extra hours. I’m rewarded in many different ways, and whilst my current lifestyle permits me to simply extend my hours without complaint, when the time comes to juggle more things I will heed Gary’s advice and think about ceasing certain activities if they’re not working as effectively vs. the time spent doing them.

What do you value?

Here comes another great quote from the man himself:

Unfortunately most people value currency over legacy

Yes we need money to live, but in the end what do we value most? Our time and attention are two of the most precious things in the world, and whilst businesses seek profits, in this day and age you want to feel good about the company you work for/own and you should want to only reward those who are worthy of your time and attention (whether that’s by handing over cash, sharing what they do, or being friends with them).

Unlike the defensive stance of transactors, brand builders are offensive players. They are willing to shift some time and effort into areas which may not be highly lucrative now, but could be in the future. The 70:20:10 rule would work well in this instance.

  • 70% of time/money spent on the here and now, the tried and tested (to keep the business afloat);
  • 20% on venturing into newer spaces which have been known to work for others but you’ve yet to try;
  • 10% of time/money invested in exploring totally new avenues to build for the future. That 10% may also have to involve the extra time you need to commit to making it happen - going above and beyond the finite budget you have available.

I’m an attacking midfielder on the hockey pitch, so this offence mindset may again come in handy - here’s hoping, as I’m going to need all the impetus I have to make that leap across the transaction/brand boundary.

Adding value or just a tick box exercise?

Finally, there was a comment made about “are you adding value, or just checking a box that “you’re doing it”?” Too many people jump on a bandwagon just to be seen to be getting involved, and the minute that the value-add is required a monetary exchange is required. Whilst the value is what could drive your profits, does it always have to come with a price-tag in the immediate exchange?

I’m quite proud of the fact that for the last four years Adido has hosted its own annual conference and has NEVER charged people to attend. At a considerable cost to the agency, there have been some high profile speakers as well as talented people from the Adido team presenting world-class seminars and keynotes. Comparable events in the area, of which I have attended, have all charged to help with the running costs and yet we never have. We are debating now whether this should change, but having listened to Gary V I’m firmly on the “keep free” camp. It’s one of the reasons I love working at the company - it’s not greedy.

A final thought

Whilst I never intended this exploration into transactor vs. brand builder to touch-upon the comings and goings at Adido quite so much, it has been a big part of my career history and some of the people in the business have inspired me to do bigger and better things, so it wouldn’t be right to exclude it (for fear of sounding overtly promotional of the agency). I am truly writing from my perspective here (in response to Gary V’s keynote) in the pursuit of adding (free) value to those willing to read & listen, but I feel confident that at least some of my words will resonate with the team and how we (will) do things.

I have now firmly started my journey of exploration into new perspectives, you may (or may not) have read, shared, agreed with some of my recent posts, but looking ahead in light of this 1hr30 minute keynote video I truly believe it’s an exciting time for those of us that are willing to adopt a brand builders mindset. It won’t be an easy transition (remember it may be harder, but it’ll be worth it), but more thoughts and shared perspectives coming in due course.

Feel free to tweet me things to inspire me further (@digikherrin).

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Meet the author ...

Kherrin Wade

Strategy Director

Kherrin works with clients to develop effective marketing strategies, whether that's introducing brands to digital for the first time or pushing the boundaries with more ...