Choosing The Right Digital Marketing Agency

DIGITAL MARKETING AGENCY. INTRO

Choosing the right digital marketing agency is more important now than it has ever been.  Being completely confident and trusting that you have a knowledgeable partner driving your company’s growth is paramount especially in difficult times.

The digital era has of course contributed to accelerate this, with increased opportunities online for challenging brands to take a share of the market without the need for large marketing resources, but instead looking at alternative ways to cut through and achieve often even better results whether the objective was to engage with their audience, or drive sales and revenue.

Think of brands like Tesla who do not have marketing budgets, but rely on clever tactics and the appeal of doing things differently to move sentiment and gain advocates and favourable word of mouth.

For Tesla, like other successful brands, the key is to create a really well-defined personality and brand identity that aligns with their audience values. So in a time where it is not all about the size of the marketing budgets anymore, how do you succeed?

The answer is simple, choosing the right partners, the ones that will be with you along the journey and will share the same values, mission and vision, and one of those partners will be the media agency. But choosing the right digital marketing agency is not always that simple.

Perhaps it was easier a few years ago when the selection of digital channels available to marketers was considerably limited compared to what is at our disposal nowadays; it is not long ago when the option was really between search (paid and organic), display, email and affiliates.

Today with the growth of social media platforms the opportunities to reach our target audiences are almost countless. Whilst we can and still do run campaigns in search, display, email and affiliates it is equally important that we play in the same space where our audiences are: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, Snapchat, Pinterest, Amazon, TikTok, YouTube etc.

1. LOCAL

Even though communication has now reached a point where there are no barriers in the way and speed with which we can exchange information with tools such as Slack, Zoom and Skype, for example, face-to-face time and closeness still have value to add to such important relationships like the one between client and agency.

The possibility to spend time together where ideas and exchange of feedback can flow in real time, adds on to the need of being agile, proactive and responsive to changes and allows opportunities in the digital landscape. Being local can really help to bring the team together and facilitate the agency truly becoming an extension of the client’s marketing team.

It is what we summarise with the mantra of ‘One Team, One Dream’. In our experience we found that eliminating the physical barriers of an office and bringing the team together with the agency personnel being able to work from the client’s office has immensely helped to glue resources, helped to align the vision and objectives, but also propelled the synergies between client and agency with a two way transfer of knowledge.

2. ALIGNMENT OF VALUES AND VISION

This is something that perhaps most of us take for granted, but in fact it might not be. It is important that both the agency and the client share the same vision, and work towards the same objectives in full transparency.

We’ve seen many occasions where the two parties were not aligned and this created an unnecessary and unproductive tension that inevitably led to poorer results, and ultimately the relationship breaking.

Having the same goal in mind can become a real catalyst and help to keep the focus and energise the team too, in particular in those times that might be a little bit more challenging.

3. TRANSPARENCY

Again something that should always be expected and at the foundation of the relationship between the agency and the client, however this is often not the case.

The reality is that in an environment that is ever more aggressive for most agencies to stay afloat and be competitive, they need to resort to finding alternative ways to be acceptably profitable and keep the business running.

This is a direct consequence of several forces acting at the same time: the exponential growth of costs that agencies incur in (such as office costs, fixed costs or overheads in general), the pressure from clients to drive the cost down and / or get greater value for the services received (this might be in the form of more aggressive commercial deals, expectation for better rates or added value for example), the increased competition from other agencies or even consultancy firms acting in the media and digital space (like Accenture, PWC, EY, just to name a few), the decrease in loyalty towards partner agencies which causes uncertainty, and more.

Whatever the reasons might be these changes have led agencies to either find additional revenue streams (for example applying unreasonable markups to media buying made via programmatic) or create cost efficiencies cutting corners or employing less experienced resources.

This is obviously a big challenge for brands to invest into working with an agency since the lack of transparency can really compromise not only the results of the media investment but also affect the quality of the work delivered, compromising the brand’s perception and engagement with its audience.

4. VALUE

Value for money. That is it. Like any other good or service, working with an agency shouldn’t be driven by the nominal dollar value. The old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ is completely relevant for agencies, and the cheapest solution will rarely grant the expected outcome.

Likewise, the highest price tag might not necessarily mean a guarantee of getting the best quality of work money can buy. In fact, looking under the bonnet, when choosing an agency you should consider what are the factors that determine that price, ask yourself; what are you paying for?

If the answer is a compromise on resource or service level, ask yourself again is that going to allow you to meet your objectives? On the other hand, is the price that you are going to pay inflated and perhaps overpriced by costs that add little to zero value to achieving your objectives and desired results?

Is what you are paying for perhaps tied in with swanky office space in prime locations, agency lunches and drinks?

First and foremost, the value has to come from experience and the ability of the agency team to drive your growth, revenue and help take your organisation to the next level.

5. THE RIGHT SIZE AGENCY

At first glance this might sound like the least important item on the list, but it can have a huge effect on the service levels you recieve, for example, you want to ensure that you do not feel like you are a small fish in a big pond.

There is nothing worse than feeling like you are not getting the response and attention you deserve or the service level you pay for just because the agency has other clients that due to their larger size (read ‘larger agency fees’) are deemed to be more important and as such, always come first.

Choosing the right digital agency will be the one that makes you feel you are always important and well looked after. They appreciate working and partnering with your brand and value your business.

If you feel your business is not valued as it should then certainly consider to move it somewhere else: there is no lack of alternatives and the fact they might be smaller in size doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to deliver great work and service levels.

Don’t underestimate the smaller agencies; because they need to overcome challenges bigger agencies don’t face, they can often punch above their weight! 

One way to ensure you get what you need is to ask your prospective agency for a list of Service Level Agreements (SLA’s). This way you know your email requests will be answered within 24 hours for example.

6. FLEXIBLE AND AGILE TO SUIT THE BRAND’S NEEDS

Being nimble and agile is an essential requirement for agencies and brands that aspire to be successful in today’s digital marketing.

Long past are the days where it was possible to make long term plans (2-5 year marketing plans, for example). In today’s world it all happens in real time and only those that can be dynamic, nimble and take advantage of the opportunities as they arise have the chance to succeed.

Consumers are in control and determine if and how to engage with content pushed by brands. They choose where and when and by which means, for example, which device.

What this really means for brands and agencies is that analysis of data in real time is pivotal to understand the landscape and sentiment and seize the opportunity. From that, define the strategic approach for that window of opportunity and then deploy that into campaign execution.

Test different scenarios, analyse the results and use the learnings and insights to refine the approach and execution accordingly.

All this wouldn’t be possible or at least very difficult if the client / agency operational framework was limited by long processes and slow ways of working, dictated by a cumbersome structure, allowing it to only be reactive at best.

7. THINGS TO AVOID

Cutting corners – avoid agencies that will resort to cutting corners because they sold themselves too cheap with low-cost commercials to beat the competition or deliver better perceived value; whatever the reason might be, cutting corners will never help to drive quality work and good results or accomplish targets and objectives.

Inexperienced resource – avoid agencies that will employ resources on your account that are too junior. The most likely outcome will be that they will need to spend their time on your campaigns learning the job, whilst unfortunately, you see little value. We all need to gain experience and start from somewhere but junior resources should never be left to just manage accounts from the get go. You could not expect them to be able to drive your marketing strategy and proactively lead your digital advertising campaigns. Not their fault, for sure, but certainly not the reason why you have decided to hire an agency. 

Too busy with more important clients / accounts – steer away from agencies that don’t have enough time for you, or for which you are not at the top of their list / important to them. Instead look for an agency that matches your ambitions and is keen to work with you and commit to your goal like it was their own.

Too expensive – opposite to agencies that are too cheap to be true, you should also avoid those that are too expensive for what they deliver. You should be looking for value for money and pay the right price for the experience on your account and services provided. You do not want to be compensating for the numerous expenses agencies incur but that add zero value to you and your bottom line, such as fancy lunches, parties and entertainment in general, travel costs, luxurious offices, etc. In addition be aware of the real time and work that is effectively spent on your campaigns, or are you paying for low efficiency of the staff on your account?

8. HAVE FUN

Finally and arguably not the most important point, but ideally your agency of choice should also be great to work with!

The chemistry between client and agency team is important, and considering that big objectives and targets can only be achieved if all parties are working in unison you need to get on with each other, enjoy the relationship and try to have some fun too.

It is likely that you will be spending a considerable amount of time together so you might as well enjoy it. Consider team bonding sessions, these don’t have to be big events where you need to splash the cash. It could be a small offsite session to facilitate the team glueing together and help establish key relationships. It is a necessary small investment that we can guarantee will pay off later on.

They are also great occasions to celebrate wins too; it is important to acknowledge group achievements, these will help to sustain and boost the team’s motivation and act as a springboard to launch towards new and greater objectives and targets in the future.

SUMMARY / CONCLUSIONS

Having gone through some of the key points you need to consider when using or looking for a new agency partner, we hope it helps to focus your mind and clarify what your agency checklist should look like or include.

Maybe not all of these points are crucial for you but you should ask for and expect to get transparency, managed expectations and value for money, those points have to be a given.

Ultimately, success working together is not determined by luck but instead accomplished with experience, resilience, hard work and accepting and taking learnings from failure too.

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