June 28, 2022

Unsure About Which Digital Marketing Agency Suits Your Business? This Blog’s for You!

“The best marketing campaign is one that does not look like a campaign!”
This is possibly one of the most famous quotes you have heard about marketing. It was true a hundred years ago, and it remains so in the era of online marketing.
You might have already read a ton of blogs and advisories on selecting a digital marketing agency for your business. There are countless blogs with the same exact headline: “How to choose a digital marketing agency/company for your business!”
Most of them repeat the same points. Some add elements of inspiration when they touch upon certain factors or features you were not expecting. And the problem is that reading them will often leave you with even more confusion than you had started off with!
Which pointers should I take seriously?
Which ones can I safely let go?
Which ones are suited for my business?
These are the most frequent questions that crop up like mushrooms in the minds of small business owners or would-be entrepreneurs.
This post is intended to nip these queries in the bud and help you balance your needs and your wants when it comes to partnering with or hiring a competent digital marketing agency.

Before we begin…

Remember that tying up with the right agency (which suits your business needs like the metaphorical glove) can increase your online presence significantly and will ensure a very attractive ROI.
Tying up with the wrong agency (one that’s a bad fit for your business) can cause irreparable damage to the reputation of your fledgling company online which will ultimately eat away at your bottom-line.
The main challenge in selecting a competent digital marketing agency is the sheer number of firms that provide such services. A lot of them have very little experience in dealing with complex business problems, although it is rather difficult to make out.
These firms are running on the fly; hiring them will be a waste of both your time and money.
These points will help you shortlist a number of professional agencies which you feel will add value to your business. You can then zero in on one of them and start collaborating.

a hand writing digital marketing on aboard

Expert tips on how to choose the best digital marketing agency for your business

1. Understand what you need and make a tentative budget

Knowing exactly what you require is the first step. If you are not aware of what your business demands, you will be unable to communicate them to digital marketing agencies.
Does your website require better SEO and SMM? Does it require better graphic design and a complete makeover of the UI? Do you need to automate some of the services that the business website provides? Most importantly, do you plan to bid for advertisements using Google Ads and similar services for promotional purposes?
These are just some of the services that an end-to-end digital marketing agency provides.
It is also vital that you decide how much money you can spend on hiring a professional and reputable Internet marketing firm. Assuming that your business is still in its infancy, it is crucial that you settle on a budget.
There is (and never will be) any thumb rule on how much such an agency will charge. It’s not like you are purchasing a radiator for your car, right!
Once you have listed down your requirements and set aside a certain sum, you can start looking for a digital marketing agency in right earnest.
But do not skip this self-introspection for your own sake.

2. The credibility of the digital marketing agency is paramount

How do you determine how credible a digital marketing company is?
There are 2 factors you can look at: their portfolio and their experience.
The data on these two factors should be easy to obtain; in fact, most agencies will prominently display them on their websites.
Have a good look at them. You can also perhaps reach out to one or two of their former clients and understand their experience working with the agency. That will provide a much better idea of the ground reality.
All said, remember that the agency’s years of experience will amount to nothing if it’s not relevant. For instance, Agency ‘A’ has had several successful years of providing digital marketing services to B2B businesses.
But your firm focuses primarily on B2C services! That is a bad fit right there.
Likewise, their portfolio might not always convey their expertise across the range of services that digital marketing entails. Ain impressive portfolio is desirable but there are many other factors at work which have been discussed in the next points.

3. Ask for a bespoke strategy- always!

This fantastic and in-depth report by Promethean Research highlights the growth in the number of digital marketing agencies starting from 2018.
What makes choosing an agency a lot more difficult than it was even a decade ago is the sheer number of such firms. Apart from some of the most established names, you will find the report shows an astronomical growth in the number of agencies which inevitably brand themselves the ‘best in the business providing cutting-edge services!’
The rule to follow here is this: unless you are getting a customized plan that will suit the needs of your firm, you are probably being short-changed. A professional marketing agency will always look at every business differently and will have bespoke plans.
It is your right to demand and receive a tailored package which caters exclusively to your business and marketing needs.

Infographic showing various icons

4. Ask pertinent questions at all steps

Assume that you are having a meeting with the representatives of a well-known digital marketing agency. You must ask them several questions related to your business and how they intend to be of help in those scenarios.
For your benefit, some of the key questions are mentioned here.
A. “Tell me something about your previous campaigns. I see you have worked with some businesses which operate in my niche. How did you help them?”
Due to NDAs and confidentiality clauses, you cannot ask for specific details obviously. Let the representatives speak about how they solved problems that arose during their association with your competitor, how they brainstormed solutions, implemented them, and analyzed where they had gone wrong earlier.
A good digital marketing agency will typically provide quantitative answers without reservations. They will also showcase instances where a little experimentation and divergence from common strategizing helped them in the long term.
You are basically looking for transparency.
B. “If I hire your firm, do I have to sign a binding contract?”
There are scores of agencies out there who will ask you to sign a binding contract which might last for a year, maybe more. Watch out for such agencies as this is a huge red flag!
It is, of course, true that it takes some time for the results of a digital marketing campaign to show results. You cannot expect magic! Hence, it is standard industry practice that an Internet marketing firm might ask you to sign a contract for 3-6 months at the most.
But a year’s binding contract is absurd and points to unethical business practices. It also indicates that the agency’s representatives lack faith in their firm’s capabilities.
You would be wise to say no to such agencies and save your resources!
C. “Can I have a brief online meeting with your agency’s experts?”
This is a perfectly legitimate question and is a demand that you should put forth. After all, your business’ digital marketing strategy will be laid down, worked upon, improved, and implemented by a group of skilled professionals.
It is natural that you should meet them at least once and have a brief interaction. It will also give you a rough idea of the type of people who will work on behalf of your firm to ensure better online visibility, more organic and unique traffic to your business website, and ultimately an increased market penetration with superlative ROI!

a view from above of a group of people having a discussion
Getting to know them as individuals will also provide you with an insight into their thought process and will help you make up your mind if these are the professionals you want to associate with.
No competent and transparent digital marketing agency will say no to this query.
Do keep in mind that such a session will lead to better brainstorming sessions and will facilitate both the influx and outflow of ideas from your end to the agency and vice versa.
D. “Will I have a dedicated account manager with whom I can communicate whenever required?”
Having a dedicated account manager (also known as an independent account manager) is absolutely essential because the agency is working on a bespoke strategy designed only for your business.
If the agency says you won’t have a dedicated manager, try not to hire them. This is also a red flag, and a big one at that.
Why?
It might be an indicator that your chosen agency has decided to outsource your account (and all the confidential data) to third-party handlers who will then manage your needs. This is a major breach of contract and is a deal-breaker.
However, if the agency immediately reassures you that you will be provided with a dedicated account manager forthwith, it is a reassuring signal that they take your business as seriously as you do.
An account manager acts as a liaison between the digital branding firm and you. S/he will have a say in several aspects of the way your business’s online branding requirements are handled. And so will you. It ensures that you are taken into confidence whenever a key decision is taken.
In turn, you can ask for progress reports on certain metrics like organic growth of traffic to your website, the number of social media accounts which have interacted with your brand, and so on.
The dedicated account manager provides single-window services and ensures there is no breach or contamination of your data. Your business’s privacy comes first.
Also, remember that digital marketing is like a gigantic machine with several cogs and screws which need to work simultaneously and seamlessly for the entire process to move smoothly. Your dedicated account manager will take your opinion and your answer (on certain issues, a simple ‘yes/no’ works) before foraging ahead, ensuring that your brand’s voice is amplified according to your expectations.
E. “How do you measure ROI? I am interested.”
Since you are investing significant resources in digital marketing, the firm is obliged to let you know of the methods which they use to determine which campaigns are successful and which are not. Different agencies may have varying approaches to the correct valuation of ROI and you must understand the process your preferred company uses.
Understanding Return on Investment or ROI also means that you must take cognizance of a wide array of statistics and numbers which are intrinsic to any business. You must comprehend the series of numbers, graphs, PowerPoint presentations, and briefing sessions provided by the agency.
Should there be any doubt, you have two ways to move ahead. You can either ask your dedicated account manager to explain them to you. Or you can hire a professional business development manager for your firm for starters who has worked with the niche your business covers.
Not providing data on ROI measurement is also a red flag noticeable from a mile away!

Infographic showing four people holding question mark signs
F. “Will I have access to my firm’s marketing data?”
All major agencies which specialize in digital marketing will readily agree. As mentioned earlier, it is your money that is being invested in boosting your business. You have a right to know how it is being spent!
Generally, the process of data sharing is something that is agreed upon when you hire an agency and hand over your reins. It is regarded as a part of the terms and conditions both of you agree upon.
Yet again, your dedicated account manager will have the data ready and available to you.
However, if there is no such transparency forthcoming (and there was nothing on detailed data sharing during initial negotiations), it is better not to hire such an agency. More often than not, these are cookie-cutter digital marketing firms which run fly-by-night businesses!
Digital marketing is no stranger to fraudsters and scandals, not to mention campaigns which fall flat on their faces. This updated study highlights how around 2/3rd of all American businesses have had to face fraudulent online marketing campaigns.
The report unequivocally states:
“We are seeing increasing requests from marketing leaders to help them ensure their campaigns and spend are connecting with the real humans that they want and need to reach. Fraud is a huge industry problem that is negatively impacting companies of all sizes and maturities to the tune of millions of dollars a year.”
Since you are an entrepreneur with a small business, it is imperative that you steer clear of shady agencies.
G. “How do I know whether (and when) the results you are promising will augur fruit?”
This is one of the principal questions which you must put forward. Remember that digital marketers (or any other marketing professional for that matter) promise you a reasonable percentage of growth over both the short-term and long-term in terms of increased brand visibility and recall value.
But if a specific agency promises you absurd figures (“We can help you increase your Social Media following 150 times in a month”), that is bluffing. You have to be wary of such firms which cook up such daydreams.
It is impossible to predict extremely specific results, especially when it comes to the increase of your brand’s visibility on Social Media. There are so many factors at play that no agency can come up with extremely bracketed figures.
Moreover, garnering enormous numbers of followers on all social platforms is not equivalent to increased social presence. What your business requires is an increase in engagements and not merely followers. The two are very different metrics.
It is essential that you remain pragmatic while being realistic at the same time. Digital marketing is not black magic; it takes time for actionable results to come forth.
You can look at how well your nearest competitors are moving ahead with their preferred agencies. Business Intelligence (BI) is also something you can ponder upon.
An end-to-end and experienced digital marketing agency will be circumspect in providing growth figures and percentages. Ad fraud is rampant across industries and has been described as one of the major reasons why many Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) tend to shy away from partnering with such agencies.
The phenomenon is international.

Cartoon showing a man stealing money from another man
Agencies that provide full transparency on all these issues are the ones you must shortlist and then eliminate those which are quoting prices you cannot afford.
It is one of the easiest ways to determine which agency will be ideal for your business’s various needs.

5. Determine how technically proficient the agency is

SEO, SMM, and digital marketing in general are extremely dynamic and undergo changes almost every month. It is thus essential to determine if the digital marketing firm you are partnering with is proficient enough to handle these ever-changing scenarios.
The ‘perform or perish’ axiom applies to digital marketing agencies and the best firms know it well.
How do you make out how abreast of current trends an online marketing firm is?
You ask them questions pertaining to the latest changes in buyer behavior, rankings, CTR, and other technical aspects. Of course, you won’t know these subjects in their entirety; it is recommended that you send an employee who has been looking after these aspects and who will be able to pose relevant questions.
For example, on 9th June 2022, Google announced that it had finally rolled out a major upgrade of its ranking algorithm.

Screenshot of Twitter feed showing Google’s latest announcement
Immediately, hundreds of site owners and online businesses noticed a sharp drop in their ranks. The most badly impacted websites were affiliate marketing sites which earned commissions by redirecting their readers to Amazon, Alibaba, Shopify, and several other giants.
Ask your dedicated account manager if s/he is aware of these developments. Furthermore, what are their plans to deal with such uncertainties in the near future? These technical aspects are handled capably by your account manager. If not, there will be an escalation and another agency representative will take care of your doubts.
If you feel that the company has successfully managed to provide satisfactory and precise answers to these technically challenging doubts, go ahead and tie up with them!

6. Give some time to your chosen agency; a fair chance

Like your own business, a professional and proficient digital marketing agency also needs some time to come up with customized strategies, planning and brainstorming, implementing them across the board, analyzing what’s working and where lacunae remain, and so on. These are complicated and interlinked processes which will take some time before you actually see some positive developments.

Loudspeaker image
After all, you are working with people! It’s only fair that you give them a fighting chance to prove their capabilities.
Do not fall into the following two traps:

    • Expecting instantaneous and tangible results: Many SME owners believe that hiring a reputed digital marketing firm guarantees instant results, and positive ones at that! That is simply not true. Most online marketing campaigns will require 3-6 months (or more) to show demonstrable insights and to gather momentum for growth.
      Should you come across any agency that claims otherwise, ignore them. This is subterfuge at its worst.
    • Hiring a professional agency does not always break the bank: It is completely understandable that you lack the amount of financial heft that you would like to have to take some of the biggest digital marketing agencies on board. That said, most such agencies have several different packages that are priced competitively. You can avail of them if they suit your business and your objectives.

The competitiveness of the niche you operate in is another factor which decides the amount of money you will have to part with. As an entrepreneur, you will doubtless understand that these are perfectly legitimate expenses.
Still, if you have tied up with a service provider which charges a lot and has very little to show over the 3-6 months they require, it is better to sever ties with them and seek out a better digital marketing firm.
The element of trial and error is omnipresent in this business too!

Wrapping up

Till now, we have focused on the technicalities and the dos and don’ts of selecting an Internet marketing agency for your business.
Let’s end on what is commonly known in business circles as the ‘beer test.’
Before you select one agency from your shortlist, ask yourself exactly what you want from this professional relationship.
Do you believe in relationships that last for longer terms and where you end up connecting with the agency’s people at our most elemental level- that of fellow human beings who have similar approaches to life and work?
Do you think your chosen agency’s values align with your business’s? Most crucially, are they fun to work with?
Would you take your dedicated account manager or the owners of the agency for a round of beer after work?
If the answers to all of these questions are in the affirmative, perhaps you have found an agency that will work for and with you for mutual growth!
In the end, relationships matter. Good personality fits are essential for better communication and unspoken understanding.
Find that agency and you will leave your competitors behind!

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