This article originally published on Forbes AUG 3, 2017 @ 08:30 AM
Most companies start out doing their digital marketing using an in-house team, often on a shoestring budget. The business grows, and you hire more people to handle tasks. Eventually, you start to wonder, could my business grow faster with a real marketing agency?
The answer is almost always yes, with a caveat: You need to be sure to choose the right agency. The wrong marketing team could actually tank your business in a number of ways. Here are the telltale signs of a bad digital marketing agency, and how each type affects your business.
Your business and its needs are unique. Plenty of marketing agencies will pitch you a cookie-cutter approach, and they can be very convincing. But before you sign up to a pitch that doesn’t fit your business model, listen carefully to the pitch and ask detailed questions to understand how exactly the agency’s approach will build your business.
For example, if you’re a local brick-and-mortar retailer or service provider, your marketing needs to be location-specific and depend heavily on mobile strategy. You don’t really need an intensive (and expensive) link building or search engine optimization (SEO) campaign to put you on top of the result pages for general keywords. You need a localized marketing campaign tailored to a small business budget.
A local bakery, for example, with a limited delivery area doesn’t need to rank for “wedding cakes.” Ranking for “San Francisco wedding cakes” would be adequate in getting that company in front of a targeted audience. Conversely, an international chain of specialty stores with an online showroom would have good reason to shoot for more general keywords. Your marketing strategy must consider your product, your location (if applicable) and your customer demographics, and so it must be a specific approach tailored to meet your exact needs.
How a cookie-cutter approach ruins your business: Without pinpoint targeting, marketing is a useless expense. The best case scenario with unfocused marketing is break-even. Worst case, you spend a fortune to do all the wrong things and wind up paying your staff to field queries that make no sense. If you find yourself saying, “No, I’m sorry, we cannot mail a five-tier wedding cake to Australia,” you have picked the wrong marketing company.
Smoke And Mirrors
Far too many marketing agencies sell a familiar brand of snake oil. They dazzle you with industry terms that sound impressive and mean nothing. These agencies often deliver impressive-looking results generated in seconds by automatic programs and make you think they did the work. We at TAG regularly hear horror stories about “marketing consultants” who charge a small fortune only to email their clients a report that the business owner could have generated themselves for a small fee… or for free!
How smoke and mirrors ruin your business: With this shady dealer, you waste valuable time and money to hire a con artist, often to only spend more time trying to figure out what to do with the information they deliver. Most data-based reports today are cheap and automatic. Don’t pay for anything you can get for free. You want a marketing firm that will interpret these reports, build a strategic plan based on the data and follow through with targeted action.
Bad Channel Recommendations
It’s the natural order of things for a marketing agency to specialize in certain channels. There’s nothing wrong with this. Every agency needs to build expertise in specific areas, and resources are limited at first. The problem is that many agencies recommend only what they are good at — rather than what their customer actually needs.
SEO agencies are often the biggest culprits. When a small business is inquiring about SEO, it is SEO they are sold. But SEO alone might be a terrible investment for a small business on a limited marketing budget. A small business is often better served by some form of direct response advertising through Facebook or Google Adwords.
Similarly, many businesses get sold on the novelty of marketing automation. The allure of automating your marketing and not needing to be involved sounds brilliant, right? But if your sales cycle is short or your prospect pool is small, starting with an intensive inbound marketing campaign is likely to be overkill — not to mention expensive. So ask yourself, Do I really need to build out email marketing funnels for 20 audience segments right now? Or would putting that first $500 directly into social media ads serve me much better?
How bad channel selection ruins your business: Online marketing provides business owners an abundance of options, but not every option that exists is a prudent choice for your business. A small business owner should be especially wary of investing in the wrong channels before precious marketing resources are wasted.
Ultimately, you’re hiring an agency to be the public face of your company. They’ll be speaking to your customers and building your brand. Look for one with a proven track record, a solid reputation and ideas tailored to you. Any marketing company representative should be able to ask the right questions, build a workable strategy and explain why the proposal will work in the context of your needs. Don’t bother trying to limit your choice to an industry-specific agency; that could work against you. In marketing, you want fresh and new, not tried and true.
Look for a wide range of skills and enthusiasm for your project. Marketing professionals who really get it will have lots of creative ideas for reaching your targeted audience with effective inbound content. You’ll get the best return on your money when you share what you know with a great marketing company. A rewarding relationship requires trust and open communication.
A creative marketing agency with your best interests at heart can make a huge difference to your bottom line. A bad one can cost you a ton of money, and may even cost you your business. It’s not always easy to tell the difference.