Looking for a digital agency? Integrity and business savvy matter the most

Date: December 7, 2018
Author: Kristin Zhivago
Two businessmen celebrating finding the right digital marketing agency

Digital marketing is a lot like trying to put seven cats into a water-filled bathtub at the same time. You might get them in there OK (well, except for some nasty scratches), but getting them to stay put is another matter entirely.

Digital efforts and campaigns are subject to monopolies making life difficult (think Google and Facebook); websites breaking suddenly (think updating a WordPress plugin which disrupts all that custom coding your developer has done); governments imposing new regulations that don’t make sense but have hefty fees for non-compliance (think GDPR); or competitors finding out what you are doing right and one-upping you constantly (which is happening as I type this).

When you’re trying to find a digital marketing agency, it’s important to keep all this chaos in mind, because when bad stuff happens, you need the truth—not a bunch of excuses or a coverup. Most importantly, to make sure you are herding all those cats properly, you need a strategy partner, not just an implementer.

What you really need from a digital marketing agency


Integrity—because stuff happens

When you evaluate digital agencies, you will be shown dashboards, examples of work, examples of performance, and results. The experience of the head of the agency is going to determine what they focus on most; if the owner is a copywriter, it will be content. If the owner comes from an SEO background, you will quickly find yourself deep in the weeds of SEO stats. If the owner comes from a traditional agency background, you will be hearing about brand recognition and awareness.

All fine, but each of these is just one cat. Digital marketing can’t be focused on a single channel or method. I can’t tell you how many clients come to us saying, “We tried [say, SEO] and it didn’t work. Then we tried [say, social] and it didn’t work. Then . . . . “

The truth is, every company has to use a mix of a number of channels to create enough momentum and presence to rise to the top and to beat out its competitors.

There’s another reason you don’t want to be single-channel focused. Stuff happens, and it happens fast.

We have a client who had access to a group of 200,000 like-minded people on Facebook. More than 80% of their leads were coming in through that channel. Shortly after Mark Zuckerberg appeared in front of Congress, that client saw that available audience drop from 200,000 to 20,000—overnight. Overnight. Obviously, we found alternative methods to bring them new customers.

Trends can emerge and die in a matter of weeks, and even one bad review can have a very negative effect. In this example, your digital agency should implement a multi-channel strategy to obtain more positive reviews to overwhelm the negative review (in addition to responding to the negative reviewer in a kind and helpful way).

Digital marketing is filled with intricate, moving parts—and resolving a problem or building on success almost always requires multiple movements.

So you definitely need an agency which is strong in all of the appropriate channels. And you need someone at the top who understands what it takes to make companies grow, not just how to work a single channel.

Getting back to the “stuff happens” scenario. Since it is true that stuff happens, the next question is, “What is this agency going to do when stuff happens?” This is where integrity comes in. Integrity assumes honesty, but you need more than just honesty. They must have the skill and drive to get to the truth of the matter and to start working on it right away. They need the unhesitating desire to include the client in the problem—and the solution. And, they need to have a passionate determination to keep that problem from happening again.

In short, they need to behave openly and responsibly, without fear, so that whatever is broken can be fixed—in a way that prevents a recurrence.

I bring all this up because digital marketing is filled with experts who speak down to their clients and keep their tracks well-covered with “I know so much, and you know so little. Just trust me, it’s all good.” When a client says, “That’s Greek to me,” my instant reaction is to start un-Greeking the subject for the client. Yes, digital marketing can be arcane and filled with acronyms. But that doesn’t mean it is impossible to understand.

Business savvy—because it’s more about revenue than tech

Marketing has been around a long time. And a lot of things haven’t changed that much. You still need to find customers and for them to find you. You need to make it easy for them to understand what you’re selling, why they would want it, and how to buy it. You need to be there after the sale, especially in our age of subscription apps and services. You need to keep your promises and continually improve, so that your reputation stays clean and your word-of-mouth referrals continue to grow.  

What has changed the most are the channels through which we find customers and they find us, and the ways we can help them as they move through their buying process. These channels change constantly and quickly. Which is why you need specialists who focus on each particular channel day in and day out.

You need to know when something has changed, how customers are interacting with the messages and within the channels, how other companies are succeeding, and what you need to do when changes occur.

But it’s not enough to have channel sophistication. You also have to have business sophistication. Your digital marketing services company has to have comprehensive experience helping their clients with these issues:

  • What are you trying to accomplish, and what’s the fastest and most cost-effective way to meet your goals?
  • Who are you up against, and how can you compete against them?
  • How do your customers buy your type of product or service, and what proof do they need before they will buy?
  • What will cause them to avoid you or leave you?
  • What’s the most important problem you can solve for them (in their minds, not yours) and what’s the best way to explain your solution?
  • What opportunities—and built-in conflicts—exist with your business partners?
  • How should you position yourselves to take full advantage of your unique and impressive difference?

You can’t just Google this stuff. Well, yes, of course you could. But the results will be agenda-driven (“Have this problem? Try our solution!”), not necessarily relevant to your specific situation, and seldom providing an appropriate prescription that you can put to work.

A real strategy partner will be your thinking partner, bringing deep personal experience to the table. “Yes, you could do that . . . but then you’d have another problem: You’d be dealing with this.” “That’s a great idea, what if we took this approach with it?”

For every action and decision there are ramifications to consider and possibilities that can be exploited. Experience with these situations can predict the ramifications. Experience solving the problems recognizes the solutions that work—and the ones that don’t.

No matter how digital the world becomes, integrity and strategy still matter. In fact, they matter more, in an age where most interactions are virtual, the channels are rife with fake solutions, and a slick facade can hide a non-trustworthy character.

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