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 who will focus on growing your brand and your 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, and particularly those in B2B. With the inexorable rise of new media channels, platforms and devices, consumer attention has been fatally fragmented. In one sense, it’s no wonder that brands hungry for an audience have found themselves dealing 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 who don’t get digital.  But faced with an ever fragmenting list of digital services, they're more and more 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 get the find the right digital partnership?

Seven questions to ask before you to 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 is a series of tactics. They will build you a website, create some email campaigns, do some blogging, they will 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 the challenges they face and the solutions they crave. The creative approach has to be bespoke, because your challenges are bespoke. You need to satisfy yourself your agencies creative and strategy team can deliver on these needs.

3.Are they agile?

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

Agile marketing is an ongoing process of optimisation and iteration. It’s 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 is pulling in the same direction. The agile marketing team is always looking at results and planning to optimise and improve. 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 that focus on data and goals means that they won’t get distracted by the latest digital fad. And they won’t drive you down blind alleys in the search for new leads.

When you’re choosing an agency you need to know how they’re going to report, what metrics they’re going to 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 the platform they use track a prospect’s interaction with your website and content. Will it handle lead scoring. Will it develop workflows that can take visitors seamlessly from SQL to MQL and deeper into the sales funnel? How is blogging social and video content all connected together to keep delivering better and more relevant customer experiences?

6.Are they the right cultural fit?

Clearly, though, all this is going to count for nothing unless you like the people at the agency and the chemistry’s 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. And considering an agency focused on content and design is going to be working so closely with you to capture your tone of voice, understand your proposition and the rest, you should spend time considering 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 to have 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 are, 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 keeping growing your influence and delivering new leads, even as the market shifts around you, and new challenges arise.

Unsung Heroes of Manufacturing Guide

Published by Osian Barnes December 23, 2020
Osian Barnes