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8 Agencies Spill Their 2023 Lessons

8 Agencies Spill Their 2023 Lessons

The year 2023 has come and gone, and boyyy was it a doozy! 

With consumers feeling the pinch of inflation and spending slowing rather than growing, both brands and agencies had to spend marketing dollars wisely. It was a year for evaluating changing trends and busting out creative ways to reach your ideal customers, and many companies experienced growth during these (I have to say it) unprecedented times. 

Now that we’re in a fresh, shiny, 2024 - it’s time for agencies to reflect on what they learned and how they plan to move forward in the ever-evolving landscape of digital marketing. We spoke with eight top agencies and asked them to share their experience from the year 2023, as well as the lessons they took away from the challenging year. 

Whether it’s a tip from an industry giant or up-and-coming creative teams, these insights are sure to provide valuable knowledge for any agency looking to up their game in 2024. 

Ready for the knowledge download? Read on! 

Lesson 1: Be Creative With Performance Creative Content Formats

A key lesson learned at Levitate Foundry this year was the fusion between static ads featuring distinct offers and user-generated content (UGC) videos for advertising, both grabbing attention and stealing the limelight. 

The winning formula? Simplicity meshed with the authenticity of user-generated content, proving to be a knockout combo. 

Moreover, we witnessed a major shift as brands embraced organic and paid social domination tactics, capitalizing on platforms like Instagram, Facebook and TikTok Shop, ultimately experiencing a seismic surge in revenue. The adoption of live sale content on these dynamic platforms notably paid off, amplifying their success to new heights.

Lesson 2: Stay Agile, and Throw “The Plan” in the Trash

In 2023, at Within, we learned that the most successful brands are those that not only execute against the fundamentals, but are also committed to staying agile and adapting to changing consumer conditions. What sets them apart is their willingness to deviate from "The Plan" when necessary.

This year has brought major changes to the marketing industry, starting with the explosion of AI and a continued emphasis on omni-channel strategies for media and measurement. Additionally, there's been a noticeable shift away from past digital-escape trends with a growing desire for real-world authenticity and a heightened focus on relatable UGC (check out if you're still trying to crack that nut). Adaptability and a commitment to continuous learning are essential qualities for navigating and succeeding in this environment — not only for our agency but also for the success of our clients. 

Lesson 3: Total Impact Attribution = Better Return on the Same Ad Spend

What ad platform gives me the best return on my ad spend? That’s one of the questions we answer using Triple Whale.

The next question is: How do I read the Triple Whale data to make the best decisions?

In the Smart Marketer Agency, we run millions of Meta ads monthly. We monitor ad platform attribution models, Triple Whale, and the backend data in Shopify to make decisions.

Recently, we had a client for whom the Triple Attribution model showed a 2x-3x ROAS for Google ads while spending around $4k-$5k per day. As a short test, they turned off all their Google ads. What happened? The volume of new customers barely dropped.

How can this be?

We changed the attribution model to Total Impact and noticed that the Meta ads ROAS was much higher than the Google ads ROAS.

We concluded that Meta ads do much more than what’s captured by click-based attribution. It certainly increased the Google ROAS when using Triple Attribution for this client.

The client dropped Google ad spend and increased Meta ad spend to get a better return on ads. By using Total Impact attribution and closely monitoring the backend numbers in Shopify, we get the best return for our clients by reallocating ad spend. We still use Triple Attribution for day-to-day media buying decisions.

Lesson 4: The Fall of UGC & The Importance of Viral Ad Content To Reduce CPMs

On social media, we want ads that look as organic and native to the platform as possible, making TikTok ads look like organic TikTok videos, and the same deal for Instagram. This was where the idea of user-generated content (UGC) was born. 

But, traditional UGC has now become so mainstream that users can spot an ad a mile away. It turns them off, and we’ve seen the performance of traditional UGC ads drop hard over 2023.

So, my team at Blue Finn thought: if there are organic videos that get millions of views for free, why don’t we make our ads look as close to a viral organic video as possible?

It sounds so simple, but once we moved away from traditional UGC ads and began intensely studying organic viral videos and taking those viral concepts to our ads, we saw huge increases in results.

We recently halved the CPM from $70 to $35 in one of our accounts whilst keeping other metrics the same and doubled our ROAS from implementing this.

It looks like Meta is encouraging highly engaging organic style ads by providing cheaper CPMs, which is a very exciting lever for growth for brands in 2024.

Lesson 5: Devil is in the (Deprecation) Details

2023 has been a transformative year with the introduction of Shopify's checkout extensibility. This upgrade, a shift from the traditional checkout.liquid, offers an app-based, customizable checkout experience that's both upgrade-safe and high-converting. 

This changeover is a prime example of how platform deprecations can significantly disrupt existing workflows for Shopify Plus merchants, as several merchants leverage checkout.liquid for their checkout customizations today and, if not prepared, may have a broken checkout when August 2024 rolls around. 

As a Shopify Plus development agency, Pivot closely monitors updates so that we can help our clients navigate these changes effectively and proactively - by assisting our clients with planning their project roadmaps strategically for the upcoming year. Our approach involves a thorough assessment and strategic mapping of our clients' existing customizations to the functionalities offered by the new checkout extensibility.

Our ability to quickly adapt to platform changes is invaluable and ensures that our clients' websites remain functional, efficient, and competitive in an ever-evolving digital landscape.

Lesson 6: Using First Principle Thinking and Placing Less Trust Directly in Platform Data

What an exciting year for digital marketers with major AI innovations, new media formats, and an uncertain US economic outlook. Here are Elk's top learnings from 2023:

1. First Principle Thinking & Digital Marketing

The digital world is innovating at light speed, and utilizing the First Principles of Thinking allows us to explore new approaches and strategies without falling into analysis paralysis. By deconstructing and rethinking each component of the marketing funnel, we can innovate in ways that challenge the status quo to develop more efficient strategies.

2. Trust No Platform’s Attribution: That means Google, Facebook, Klaviyo

We can no longer trust any platform’s attribution modeling. Triple Whale has allowed us to cut through the platform-based data to allocate capital to initiatives that are driving each client’s desired KPIs. What is your NCPA?

3. Focus on Initiatives with Exponential Returns

One-time fixes that can generate exponential returns are rare but prioritize them.  Shopify site speed optimization is an exponential ROI initiative. To speed up our clients’ stores we’ve implemented Blink Vitals, which tackles Google’s Core Web Vitals and Shopify’s inherent site speed challenges; generating higher conversion rates, SEO growth, maximizing ad spend, and revenue growth.  

Last thought: 2024 is here, update those copyrights!

Lesson 7: Embracing AI Capabilities in Business 

Embrace AI to transform agency operations—Echelonn's narrative highlights the power of this shift. Initially grappling with time-consuming tasks such as fulfillment, copywriting, and client onboarding, our integration of AI into every facet of operations has been a game-changer, yielding significant advantages for both clients and the agency. In an era where AI resistance can lead to obsolescence, embracing it has propelled our systems and revenues to new heights. Our evolution from manual procedures to AI-enabled streamlined processes is remarkable, reducing task completion time from an hour to a swift 30 seconds. At our Google Ads agency, the innovation doesn't end there. We employ AI to develop persuasive ad copy, and have set up Google Ad account rules that allow AI to send Slack notifications based on KPI fluctuations. This approach significantly boosts our efficiency and responsiveness. Moreover, our story is just the beginning. The future is undoubtedly owned by those who adeptly harness technology to optimize their potential. As we continue to explore AI's vast possibilities, we pave the way for groundbreaking advancements in the digital marketing realm, setting new standards for success and innovation.

Lesson 8: The Power of No

The success of any marketing campaign hinges on aligning so many different variables across creative, offer, targeting, landing page experience & unit economics. In most cases, it's pretty easy to spot where the holes in the funnel are, but some business owners/marketing managers simply will not accept that. It's only natural. However, at Lightbulb we believe that it’s completely necessary to be brutally honest with your clients if you’re serious about scaling the business. 

Do not waste your time or energy on people who refuse to accept hard data when it is presented to them. They are a cancer to your growth and also their own. The promise of short term cash may be tempting, especially if you are just starting out, but I promise you that it is not worth the inevitable headaches that you and your team will suffer in the long term.

You can only help people that want to be helped. If you begin to feel railroaded into a strategy that wouldn’t be in the best interests of the business hiring you, be brave enough to say no. There's usually a dream client just around the corner waiting to take their place.


2023 presented its fair share of challenges for brands and agencies alike. 

With a sluggish economy and shifting consumer behaviors, marketing efforts required careful consideration. 

However, amidst the uncertainties, companies were able to adapt and find success by embracing creativity and staying attuned to changing trends. As we step into a new year, it is crucial for agencies to reflect on the lessons learned and leverage the knowledge gained to navigate the ever-changing world of marketing. 

By incorporating insights from industry leaders and emerging talents, agencies can elevate their game and thrive in 2024. 

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