Ins And Outs: When Agencies Think Like Clients

Agencies and clients see things in different ways. That home truth is the basis of  Agency Within, an agency founded by Joe Yakuel in 2015. Yakuel comes from the client side, having worked at Quidsi, an Amazon brand, and then at Vitamin Shop, where he helped drive hundreds of millions of dollars in sales.

Agency Within is designed to function as an in-house agency. The firm, which has 100 full-time employees in its Long Island City, NY office, serves such clients as Nike, Diesel, Boss and others.

MediaPost spoke with Yakuel about his business model, and where he sees email going in the future.

MediaPost: You really didn’t have any agency background when you started Agency Within?

Yakuel: I never worked at an agency before. We think like business owners — we don’t see them as clients, but as partners. We want to be treated like an in-house team. 

MP: How would you know what agencies are doing wrong? 



Yaluel: I was inheriting agency relationships and I was surprised by the level of sophistication — there was not a lot of strategic thought. Tactics, yes, but they didn’t understand economics in ways to unlock these things.

There are three pillars of our business. The foundation is a deep understanding of the business and their customer. Typically, we’ll dig deep on that even on the first sales call. Without that, you can’t even start talking about the next layer in an engagement. Then we dig deep on attribution and lifetime value — full-funnel, cross-device attribution. That will drive the actual marketing strategy and execution — you can develop personalized messaging, visuals, video development and landing pages.

MP: How does email figure into this? 

Yakuel: There’s a lot of things people doing that are really smart, and also brands treating email like a revenue center where you can hit send buttons as many times as you want, and revenue will pop out the other side.

We don’t do batch and blast. We’ll give them the tools if they want to, but we look at it through a different lens, almost entirely on the automation side of it -- smart personalized campaigns based on time of day, event cart triggers, back-in-stock, anything transactional.

MP: You mention mobile on your site. Where do email and mobile intersect?

Yakuel: The overwhelming majority of traffic for non-customers is coming in from mobile, and we manage the email acquisition side of the business. We have intent — what we know about people — because we can get smart about how we speak to people, and how and why we ask for information.

A clear exchange of value is important in getting an email address — I’m not asking because I’m a brand and I want it. If you’re sending a 10% off coupon, that’s table stakes if they want it later. But it’s not compelling if they’re getting something that is seemingly ubiquitous. 

MP: How personalized does a brand need to be?

Yakuel: If I’m targeting people over 35 who I know are interested in skiing and I’m bringing them to a page about a hotel in a ski area, it’s different from speaking to a couple that’s 25 and traveling for a romantic getaway. For the couple on the getaway, I might offer free couples massage, or for the skiers, maybe free ski storage with your booking. It’s a fair value exchange. With a blanket 10% off you would lose that.

MP: What else would you advise brands about best practices? 

Yakuel: Best practices is a funny term — if everyone was doing them, you’d remove the word "best." It’s not rocket science, but most brands can do better with things that are a smart strategy for the user.

It’s like the way Google looks at SEO. SEO boils down almost to pure common sense. If a site is a great user experience, it will come with good SEO value. Do what’s good for the user, and don’t make it best for brand then try to make it look like it’s best for the user.

MP: Where do you see email going in the next five or 10 years?

Yakuel: When I look out, it’s not necessarily specific to email — it becomes more about messaging. Email used to be the one way to communicate, but not now: there’s email SMS, browser push notifications, live chat onsite. It’s not going to be about be one or the other.

Consumers will expect you to know about their communications. Sephora should know who I am and what I did across that relationship. If a brand is emailing me, they should know what I did on chat. if I was on chat about replenishment, they shouldn’t send me an send reminding me about replenishment.

Without AI, it’s not possible to do at scale.




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