Are Less-Known Digital Agencies Worth Exploring Even If They Are More Expensive? 10 Qualities Every Digital Agency Should Possess
We've all heard the aphorism “it takes money to make money”. Although you can certainly make money without investing heavily, there are instances in all aspects of life that point to the statement’s validity.
In 2011, the Arizona Cardinals signed Larry Fitzgerald to a $120,000,000 contract. Why? Because of the short and long term return. Fitzgerald brought excitement to the fans (the consumers), gave the whole team something to believe in, and provided Arizona with a fighting chance for the title over the next seven seasons. But aside from those immediate perks, the contract brought the organization more money than it spent on an ongoing basis – more season ticket sales, more merchandise sales, more luxury box sales, more interest from younger generations of fans, and a greater attraction for other players to consider Arizona. The return is far superior to the price tag.
When it comes to selecting a digital marketing solutions partner, whether you’re a small one-man-show or a large corporation like Apple, there are a beaucoup of digital agencies out there offering their services. Many of these digital agencies are well-known, reputable and trustworthy; others not quite as branded.
When exploring the options and new avenues that these prospective partners claim will grow your business, decision makers on the client side are a put in a precarious position with the weight of the brand on their shoulders. Their primary objective is to make a decision which will not only deliver spectacular results, but won’t land them out of a job! Keeping a sharp focus on objectives and a tenacious level of inquisitiveness are key and price tags shouldn't come into question until a later stage; initially it’s more about “what can the agency deliver?”
Selecting a digital agency with a widely recognized name and a client roster of well-known brands is probably the safest calculated risk. But what about the other guys out there? Do you consider the lesser-known agencies with a seemingly strong value prop? They're throwing breaking balls on a 3-0 count – completely unexpected and unorthodox; are they worth exploring?
The short answer is yes, it’s absolutely worth looking at a select few who've stood out from the pack. Fundamentally, the best digital agency you can select will be one that drives a higher ROI and can give you a competitive advantage. Sometimes off-brand agencies are actually comprised of extremely bright leaders and are leveraging new technologies that others are not privy to. If your competitors are all using similar techniques, it’s important to adopt those practices, but then press harder to really get an edge, and some of these agencies know how to do just that.
So when vetting out these digital agencies, what should you look for? Here are 10 attributes that you should assess before the sticker price is considered. If you aren't seeing these qualities, red flags should be flying!
1. They are truly a digital agency and they specialize in what you are looking to accomplish (at least 80% of their revenue is from digital)
If you’re an eCommerce retailer, do they have an understanding of ‘what works’ to improve conversions and sell your products online? If you provide home services, do they understand how to hyper-target the right demographics in your geographic footprint? If you’re in higher education, have they successfully lowered CPL/CPA through digital?
2. They can prove their worth
It’s crucial to examine case studies with similar objectives to yours rather than be an agency’s test rat. Ask for live proof also – if the agency is a search company, ask what terms their clients show up for and look at the rankings, ad text, meta data, landing pages, etc.
3. They are willing to provide word-of-mouth validation
Referral business is huge for agencies. As a decision maker, you should have the opportunity to speak directly to a current client of the agency and hear their thoughts. If the agency is doing justice to its clients, there should be no fear in allowing a private client referral conversation. The privacy part of this is everything. I went to look at a new condo last week with my broker and halfway through the tour, the current owner showed up and started rambling off all these upgrades and value points about the home. Sure, I saw some things I would not have seen, but on the opposing end this interference completely turned me off because I couldn't share my concerns and observations freely while he was standing there.
4. They give you a solid understanding of their account team structure
You should know who your daily contact person will be and how many other accounts they are handling as well. Does it seem like they would be allocating the proper resources and attention to your account? Also, talk to the people who will be in the trenches daily – it’s good to get a feel for their expertise as well as if they have a head on their shoulders.
5. They are both certified and qualified
Certifications are one thing, and they do speak volumes, but just because someone has a piece of paper that says they are a PMP (Project Management Professional) or an AdWords expert does not always mean they are qualified. I revert back to #4 – ensure that they have not just a basic, but a very good head on their shoulders along with the qualifications to meet and exceed your needs and objectives.
6. They encourage you to look them up
It’s a social world, so make sure you’re taking advantage of that. It’s a good idea to vet out the company and its employees on LinkedIn, Twitter, G+, even Facebook just to see what folks are up to. Do they seem professional, experienced and dedicated enough to hand over a slice of your budget to?
7. Their website has a relevant blog that’s kept current
Every agency should have a blog today that flaunts their realm of expertise (of course this also promotes their own content marketing abilities). Does their blog seem to be on target with your objectives? Are they talking your language? Do they seem like a source others in the industry would turn to for guidance?
8. They have sophisticated front and back end tools
You should have a solid understanding of the platforms they will be using to execute your programs with. A comprehensive knowledge of their targeting platforms as well as their quantitative and advanced mechanisms for measurement, A/B testing and optimization should be impressive and differentiated.
9. It should not feel like they are over-promising
We've all heard “if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck.” For me, it also has to float, have webbed feet, and a waterproof behind. Look for all the clues – if it seems like they are assuring you of unthinkable results, they likely are. This ties back to my third point – get it from the horse’s mouth.
10. Perhaps the most understated – they should have brilliant ideas!
The digital landscape gets more challenging on a daily basis. The agency you select should not only be abreast of the entire ecosystem, but should shed light on things you haven’t yet thought of that just seem to make sense. Does it sound like these guys are pitching you what’s already being done? Or does it sound like they can implement tactical and strategic approaches that resonate differently and effectively? Are they not only giving you jackpot ideas, but doing it with passion and enthusiasm?
If all of these points are fully explored and validated, then the return has a high propensity to outweigh the investment. A higher price tag is going to prove itself out in the likes of new leads, new customers and ultimately new revenue.
The digital agency selection process is pivotal for marketers and brands. Decision makers are often placing their job, career, and even personal future on the line when it comes to making the right choice. If it seems that a lesser-known agency has more to offer after fully fleshing out these points, I urge you to endeavor with them. There’s a good chance it will be a strong and beneficial partnership that returns your spend in spades.
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