How to hire the right digital marketing agency

All articles | Strategy
Published Dec 23, 2020 | Written by Osian Barnes

How do you hire a digital marketing agency to focus on growing your brand and sales? For this job, we don’t need Don Draper, and we definitely don’t need Nathan Barley. What we need is a plan.

The appeal of traditional marketing has waned for brands in the last decade, particularly those in B2B. Consumer attention has been fatally fragmented with the inexorable rise of new media channels, platforms and devices. In one sense, it’s no wonder that brands hungry for an audience have dealt with multiple agencies, chasing the latest Martech sensation or migrating to new channels in search of traction.

Too often, though, these experiments have ended in failure.

What you don’t want

Remember the fictional Shoreditch influencer Nathan Barley - the “Self-facilitating media node”? Charlie Booker’s monstrous creation cycling through Shoreditch on a tiny bike with a Jawbone in each ear and a ludicrous hat? He was one of the Hipster tech creatives “babbling into hand-held twit machines” during the 90s. The ultimate charlatan.

Well, Nathan is alive and well and still selling us services we don’t need on platforms we’ve never heard of - because ‘it’s the future’, and sometimes we just don’t know what else to do.

What you need to ask

Many B2B brands are in need of help with their marketing but have long since turned away from traditional agencies that don’t get digital. But faced with an ever-fragmenting list of digital services, they're increasingly looking for a single agency to manage the load.   

Enter the web agencies, the full-service digital agencies, the inbound marketing agencies and all the boutique outfits in between. They're here to set up a shiny new website and deliver an 'end to end service'.

You might have got yourself a shortlist, but what are the most important questions you need to ask to find the right digital partnership?

Seven questions to ask before you take the plunge

1. Will the agency be a partner or a supplier?

If we’ve run screaming away from Nathan Barley’s nebulous solutions, we don’t want to be trapped in another creative cul-de-sac with an agency that acts like a software vendor. You should expect more from an agency than a rate card and a laundry list of software modules and ‘creative services.’

You need a partnership, accountability and a strategy that reflects a deep understanding of your target audience and a plan to turn them into leads and sales.

2. Will they deliver a customised or ‘cookie-cutter’ strategy?

Too often, agencies deliver a cookie-cutter approach to strategy, a plan that is really just a series of tactics. They will build you a website, create some email campaigns, do some blogging, and do ‘social’

But every brand is different. What you do and how you solve problems for your customers is unique. To target and win right-fit customers and to keep your brand growing, your marketing strategy needs to be tailored to their needs, interests and aspirations.

That means using the channels and platforms where they are active.  speaking to them in a voice they identify with about their challenges and the solutions they crave. The creative approach has to be bespoke because your challenges are bespoke. You must satisfy yourself so your agency's creative and strategy team can meet these needs.

3. Are they agile?

What do we mean by an agile agency? Does it just mean ‘they turn stuff around quickly’? No. Agile marketing responds to the changing needs of the customer and the market. This is where experimentation and creativity come in, as you create new, more exciting, relevant customer journeys. But it's experimentation, always delivered with an eye on results.

Agile marketing is an ongoing process of optimisation and iteration. Its aim is to deliver results that keep getting better. But that requires deep creativity and analytical thinking to get right. It’s flexible enough to absorb and integrate topical creative ideas and the latest digital trends, but its ultimately results-driven and accountable.

In an unpredictable world with constantly updating technology and digital trends, the ability to be agile can mean the difference between success and failure.

4. Are they data-driven?

If your agency is agile, their whole team pulls in the same direction. The agile marketing team always looks at results and plans to optimise and improve. The strategy doesn’t become a monolithic and unchangeable set of tactics but a  customer-led commitment to continual improvement.

When events and data suggest new and exciting content possibilities or require a dramatic pivot in approach, they are ready to respond with tactics that meet the need.

But focusing on data and goals means they won’t get distracted by the latest digital fad. And they won’t drive you down blind alleys searching for new leads.

When choosing an agency, you need to know how they will report, what metrics they will use - and how they will respond to deliver against their stated goals.

5. What does their tech stack look like?

Time to get geeky. Are their tools and reporting fragmented across various platforms? Is it all connected up to deliver against the strategy in a clear and coherent way? Can their platform track a prospect’s interaction with your website and content? Will it handle lead scoring? Will it develop workflows to take visitors seamlessly from MQL to SQL and deeper into the sales funnel? How is blogging social and video content connected to keep delivering better and more relevant customer experiences?

6. Are they the right cultural fit?

Clearly, though, all this will count for nothing unless you like the people at the agency and the chemistry there. As Don Draper says:

“half the time this business comes down to: ‘I don’t like that guy.'”

These days, of course, it's more of a team game. Considering that an agency focused on content and design will work so closely with you to capture your tone of voice and understand your proposition and the rest, you should consider if you can work with them. Meet the team you’ll be working with if you can. And don’t forget to ask for references. If you can, have a conversation with one of their existing clients - and don’t be afraid to ask for a ‘warts and all’ assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.

7. Have they got a plan?

Your marketing agency needs the creative skillset and the tech stack to deliver growth and sales. But it needs to start at a basic level of understanding who your audience is and the ability to tell your story in a way that reaches the right people in an agile and responsive way.

So, above all, look for an agency with a plan for your brand - a strategy that can keep growing your influence and delivering new leads, even as the market shifts around you and new challenges arise.

New call-to-action

Published by Osian Barnes December 23, 2020
Osian Barnes