Navigating the world of digital marketing is a daunting task for most business owners whose time is already spread thin. Many need a trustworthy and competent digital partner to manage their online marketing needs. The increase in the number of digital agencies in recent years has made choosing the right one a difficult task. It doesn’t help that many of these agencies have little experience and are learning on the fly.
Choosing the right digital partner is crucial to your bottom line. The wrong one can quickly drain your budget and negatively impact your branding. So, here is my recommended strategy for finding a digital marketing agency that can help your business grow.
Understand your needs and your budget.
The first step in the process is understanding your needs. The better you can describe your business needs in terms of website, search engine optimization (SEO), advertising, social media and graphic design, the better your conversations will be with prospective digital agencies.
You should also understand your budget and what you are willing to spend. There is no set price -- you are not buying a radiator for your car. A good marketer should be able to work with any reasonable budget and set your expectations accordingly. For instance, a restaurant is going to have a large amount of social media work and not much advertising, while a plumbing business typically has a high spend on advertising and low social media needs.
Understanding your needs and budget is the first step in choosing the right digital marketing agency.
Demand full transparency.
Lack of transparency is the most basic and also the most overlooked red flag. Review an agency’s website and, if you don’t see an address, bios and a client list, then this agency is likely not worth your time. If an agency looks like it is hiding something, then it probably is. It’s that simple. For example, there are many offshore agencies making big promises with cheap rates.
Most of our clients come to us immediately after a bad experience, and more often than not, there is little information on the websites of their previous agencies. Full transparency should be the first criterion when choosing the right digital agency for your business.
Credibility is important.
Be sure to determine the agency’s credibility and experience. Read through client testimonials on its website and review sites like Clutch, Expertise and even Yelp. Do the testimonials seem authentic?
Ask for client references, including one from an account that did not go so well. All agencies have had engagements that did not go so well, and it’s important to get an idea of how they dealt with them in addition to recommendations from the good ones. Call these references instead of sending an email -- you will be surprised by how much more information you can obtain from a phone call.
Finally, does the agency have a decent website? Does the website appear high in search results, indicating its SEO acumen? Are its social media pages properly maintained and with quality content?
Industry experience can be misleading.
Does the agency have experience in your industry? If it does, then ask about those engagements, what went well and what was challenging. If it does not, this is not a red flag. Instead, ask how it approaches a new industry.
We have seen many industry-specific agencies go with a cookie-cutter approach, and we often see this in remnants of code and content indicating use for other businesses. Many times, a fresh set of eyes and a new approach is needed to unlock a stagnant marketing strategy. A good marketer can evaluate a client’s industry, online presence and competitors and devise an effective strategy.
Consider the client, agency and technical sides.
Most marketers talk about the client and agency sides. You are either on one side or the other. But there is a third side that is often overlooked and often the most important: the technical side.
Understanding website development technologies is critical to any marketing strategy. The website is your mothership and must be built and hosted properly. Ask your potential account manager what sides of this triad they have had past working experiences. If their career has taken them to all three, jackpot! They most likely have a well-rounded view of digital marketing.
Account managers that have had experience working on both the client and agency sides have an advantage in developing digital strategies because of their operational experience. Thinking outside the box is very important in digital marketing and innovative ideas often derive from operational experiences.
Give Them The Beer Test
Once you have shortened your list to only the legitimate contenders, ask yourself what you really want from this relationship. Everybody wants something a little different from their agency relationship. Marketing is supposed to be fun for business owners who are doing all the mundane operational tasks needed to run their business. So, choose an agency that aligns with your personality and availability and is also fun to work with.
I was once hired as a chief information officer for a billion dollar organization, and I asked my boss why I was chosen over some heavy hitters in the industry, as I was relatively young. He told me, “I like to hire people with a degree in mathematics and who also pass my beer test.” When I asked what that meant, he said, “At the end of the day, I ask myself if I want to have a beer with this person.” I told him I have been told that before :)
The point here is a good one and it’s transferable to the client-agency relationship. From my perspective, the most important factors in choosing a digital marketing partner are 1) can they do the job, and 2) do you like working with them? In the end, that’s all that matters.
Thanks For Reading!