Sounds crazy, right? I mean, the reason any brand or business engages a marketing agency is to build awareness, drive sales and grow market share. So how could an agency possibly deliver the exact opposite? How could they actually inhibit sales or deter growth?
1. Lack of expertise
2. Lack of resources
3. Or both
Agencies come in all shapes and sizes, and the one thing they do better than anything else is sell themselves. Most talk a great game. They tell you how wonderful and talented they are. They preach how they can take your company to the next level. And their stripped-down value proposition generally boils down to this: you give us money, and we will help you achieve miraculous success.
Last week I bumped into an old high school friend (a small business owner trying to grow his company) who said that he was frustrated with his agency. “Eight months ago,” he said, “they told me they were going to ‘refresh’ my brand and overhaul my current website and build a new optimized site. They said it would drive leads and bring me lots of qualified prospects that would convert to sales.”
Guess what actually happened? The agency did indeed overhaul his brand, and they did build him a very basic website. That took about four months. And since the launch, he said the agency has all but disappeared. They have done nothing since the launch to drive awareness or push traffic—despite the fact that he is on an ongoing monthly retainer with them to do just that. They have offered no strategy, no advice and no game plan as to how he can generate leads; they certainly haven’t shown him any relevant data or analytics that tracks performance. In fact, the only numbers my friend has noticed in the four months since his site was launched is that “unique visits are down compared to the old site, and our sales are down from where they were last year. What should I do?”
Hold Your Agency Accountable
It’s not enough to rebrand your company and build a new website, even if its built according to best practices. That is actually just the beginning—the starting point from which the agency really starts to “earn their keep.” Once the site launches the agency should be running full out with an ongoing Inbound Strategy & Content Marketing Plan designed to attract and draw customers to you. Make no mistake: your customers are out there. It’s the agency’s job to get them to your site. The following are three key areas you need to consider before selecting a marketing or interactive company.
1) INBOUND 101
Building a new website or overhauling your old one does not guarantee success. Far from it, actually. No matter how strategic or functional or dynamic or impressive your new site is, it does you no good if people can’t find it. Developing an effective Inbound Strategy that will “get you found” found by customers is critical—whether you are B2B, B2C, Retail, you name it. There are many ways to achieve this, and they all center around creating helpful, relevant content for your customers and delivering it through efficient channels or platforms that they are receptive to. Examples of this type of Inbound content are Blogs, Social Media Posts (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, etc.), White Papers, Articles, Videos, Infographics, Case Studies, Webinars and on and on. The thing to remember is that you are need to provide useful, highly relevant information to customers that addresses their particular pain, desire, need or question. Just as important, you are providing them with clear calls-to-action that make it easy for them to take the next step in the sales process.
RED FLAGS: Beware of any agency who doesn’t lay out a clear Content Marketing Plan that will begin once your new website is developed. Also, be leery of any firm who is unwilling or unable to dig deep with you strategically, asking hard questions on the front end of a project that force you to define your point of difference and value proposition to customers. It’s not enough for an agency to understand what you do, they need to understand who you are—because that gets at your brand essence, and that’s what separates you from the pack and makes you unique in the eyes of the customer.
2) ONGOING CONTENT
The operative word here is ongoing, as in continuous. Once you have effectively drawn qualified prospects and/or customers to your site, you have begun a conversation that is designed to be everlasting. You can’t simply turn on the stream of information and then shut it off. If you do, if you are erratic in the consistency or quality of information you deliver, those customers will leave—or at least stop coming to your site. Much like a personal relationship, your relationship and interaction with customers is an evolving process. There is a very tangible life cycle to each and every customer; and they are all at different stages. You need to feel their pain, when they have it. You need to understand their needs, as soon as they arise, or even before they arise. Otherwise, your company will be unable to provide real solutions at every particular point during the sales cycle: from the minute they seek you out…to the engagement process…and then to the actual conversion. And contrary to some schools of thought, the process does not end with the sale; it accelerates. Once you have a customer on the hook, once they have purchased, the task is to continue the dialog, and to make sure their experience is positive, or gain insight as to how it might even be better. From there, your goal is to satisfy and delight your customers with anticipatory service, continued relevant information, and authentic gestures of appreciation so that they ultimately will become advocates on your behalf.
RED FLAGS: Be very aware of an agency that doesn’t think or talk about your long-term goals. Agencies have a way of swooping in, demanding a bunch of money on the front end to cover the intensive “build phase,” and then they disappear. Typically, agencies like this will lay out a three- to six-month period of work that abruptly stops. The assumption being that you’ll have everything you need after that time period, so you can simply sit back and count your money as the sales flood in. The reality is just the opposite: the agency should work just as hard or harder after you go live to ensure qualified prospects are finding you and entering a very nurturing sales process.
3) THE SEO FACTOR
It used to be that brands had to be wary of agencies that didn’t fully grasp Search Engine Optimization or Search Engine Marketing—the challenge was to separate the charlatans from those who were legit and delivered effective, results-driven data to support both their paid and organic search recommendations. Today, you still have to be wary; however, the biggest concern now is to be on the lookout for agencies that overpromise with SEO, especially as the rules of the game are shifting. Why? Because Google has systematically implemented key changes to their algorithms to prevent companies from manipulating search engines. Instead, they want them speaking directly to actual customers. Also, with the recent Hummingbird Algorithm, Google has all but made keyword search obsolete—having literally encrypted all such data for SEO practitioners. Again, this is all in an effort on Google’s part to ensure that brands are giving their living-breathing customers the type useful information they are wanting/needing/craving, and NOT trying to “write for search engines” in order to improve page rank and better results. Those days are over…and likely aren’t coming back. So the function of SEO should be to optimize customer-facing content that has been created for actual prospects and customers. It should support and inform the customer experience and the story the brand is telling as it relates to real customer needs and expectations.
RED FLAGS: SEO is not a science. It is an art. And the canvas is forever shifting, thanks to Google, who has declared war on the legion of opportunists and charlatans who employ black-hat tactics such as duplicate content, keyword stuffing, and devilish link-building schemes. So keep be on the lookout for any SEO company that promises cheap, quick, easy solutions. We’d all like to believe that’s how it works, but reality is quite different—especially in light of Google’s recent algorithm updates. Also, make sure whomever you work with is Google-certified, follows best practices, and most of all, is transparent. Any vendor who is unwilling to “show you the guts” of his or her research, data and methodology is probably up to something shady, or at least ineffective.
Be smart. Be wary. Be inquisitive. Ask strategic, long-term questions to make sure you have the right team or agency to help your company build brand awareness, drive leads and ultimately gain market share. There are a number of legitimate, highly skilled agencies around who not only know what they are doing, but have your best interest in mind. But there are many more who do not. Every brand needs to, in the words of Yeats, “cast a cold eye” on every agency being interviewed before signing a partnership. Consider well the three areas discussed above—Inbound Marketing, Content Strategy, SEO Plan—so you can spot any of the aforementioned Red Flags. By digging deeper and asking the right questions, you should be able to identify an agency partner that is right for you and, like a good marriage, will continue happily ever after.
How about some feedback?
The information above, of course, are my thoughts and opinions based on real-world client/agency experience. What I’d really like is to hear your perspective. If you get a sec, give me some feedback or comments. It’s all just part of the evolving flow of information……