How To Choose a Digital Marketing Agency in the “New Normal”, the post pandemic era?

We are amidst a pandemic, originating from a virus that we are yet to understand. Meanwhile, as we put our lives back together. With a majority of us returning to work, we must understand it is not going to be business as usual. Businesses would have to rethink their strategies to function amidst the health threat. Throughout history, major events that shook up the world has had transformational effects on life in general. COVID is no different; it has brought in the ‘New Normal’, influencing us in ways we barely imagined.

Introduction  

With everyone owning a smartphone and with cheap data, internet penetration in India has multiplied. There are about 565 million internet users in India in 2020, this figure is likely to shoot up in the near future. Among these, a large proportion involves daily users with a keen interest in specific platforms. Such large numbers indicate the potential reach of the internet as a marketing channel. With COVID placing restriction on populations, it presents an ideal opportunity for companies to shift from traditional means of marketing to more evolved forms.

According to a Digital Marketing Report released in 2018, three-fourths of the companies are already using digital marketing and SEO in some form. While being aware of new consumer opportunities, increased consumer engagement and possibility of monetisation. Take for example – the FMCG sector, the biggest advertiser in India has started with 10% allocation of its marketing budget on digital marketing.  With COVID, companies are presented with the opportunity to increase their involvement with digital marketing. Even brands with no exposure to marketing through digital means can find answers to questions in this write-up. 

Digital Marketing

Conventional means of marketing was all about broadcasting the message to the maximum possible extent assuming that it reaches the intended audience. Digital marketing, however, takes the guesswork out of the equation to provide clear answers about reach, engagement, and ROI. If you invest in a digital campaign you can target the audience with laser-like focus to reach the audience based on their interests and even their recent purchase activity. This makes digital more practical and effective means to market your product or service.

Furthermore, traditional means of advertising works with the premise of disrupting the audience with a commercial message. While, in digital – the emphasis is on creating valuable, meaningful and informative content that serves the purpose of the audience. In other words, the content provides a solution to a problem faced by the user through a product or service. Technically, it is called Inbound marketing as compared to Outbound marketing (traditional).

The Emerging Shift

Companies have always invested their marketing resources into connecting to the audience at the right place at the right time. Today that means connecting to the audience where they are already spending their time which is online. This offers numerous possibilities with email, video, social media or website based marketing. As a business owner it crucial to embrace some aspects of digital marketing to remain competitive, starting with a website. Your online presence improves brand awareness and engagement to affect a purchase.       

Though, traditional means of marketing is still alive and kicking. It can be a fair assumption that small and medium companies do not really have the resources to compete with big brands in the traditional arena.  You have to invest a substantial amount of resources to succeed. But with digital - there are enough chances to grow organically (zero cost) and through relatively inexpensive options.  When done with a good understanding of the marketing channel, SMB enterprises can give big brands a run for their money.   

All these factors make it particularly attractive for SMBs to invest their resources into a channel that presents value for money.

In-House Marketing versus Hiring an Agency

As a brand owner, you can learn digital marketing and implement the strategies for the benefit of your business. There is enough evidence to support the fact that you remain in control of your marketing activities by creating an in-house team to drive your digital activities online. Having said that, it is imperative that you identify your priorities as a business owner, which is to grow and strengthen your business. Digital marketing will never be your core-activity and it is a sensible choice to outsource it to professionals with better grasp & knowledge on things.

Let us enumerate salient features of getting it done by a professional digital marketing agency:

·         Access to Diverse Team: The business will have access to a team of professionals with a diverse skill sets all working on your account. An agency is able to afford professionals with knowledge and skillsets, as it supports multiple business interests. Building a large marketing team in-house is commercially unviable for an SMB enterprise.

 

·         Uncover Blind Spots:  Remaining with a business day-in and day-out makes you attached to your brand as a business owner. Making you overlook and underestimate emerging opportunities. An agency brings in fresh perspective and ideas to the table to even work on aspects of your business, which you may presently consider a weakness.

 

·         Agencies Remain Updated: The domain of digital marketing is quite dynamic and is always evolving. Remaining on top of developments and trends would mean considerable investment in time and effort. By hiring an agency we are provided with professionals who always remain updated and knowledgeable on the latest in tactics, tools and process in digital marketing.  

 

·         Scalable Workforce: Depending on workload, you cannot scale-up and down your workforce in an in-house team. With an outside agency, they are quite acclimatised to shifting workloads from one account to another based on the degree of effort needed. Such flexibility can be distinctly beneficial in cases of seasonal spikes in your business when more hands are needed to support your marketing efforts.

 

·         Costs Involved: When there is an in-house team, you will be required to pay individual salaries apart from the costs of marketing. An outside agency comes in with their own set of pricing strategies, you will be able to choose from a monthly, yearly or a set price for a specific campaign. You can plan ahead of time, how you want to start engaging with an agency. You even have rope-in multiple agencies to become attuned to the performance of different agencies. Once your conviction improves, you make an informed decision on engaging an agency/ agencies to oversee your digital campaigns.

 

The Initial Groundwork

Once you are prepared to hire an agency for digital marketing, you will be introduced to a range of agencies both big and small. To understand their vocabulary, it is beneficial that you understand the basic terms and terminologies related to digital marketing. There is an abundance of literature on digital marketing online, go with resources that break down the process into simple terms. Based on secondary research online, finalise and shortlist a few agencies you find appealing in terms of how they present themselves online.

Next, carry out a search on their digital presence. It could be their website, social profile, or content in the form of blogs, articles, testimonies, and reviews. Although, you might not encounter all the elements during your search – stick with the content that is logical, well structured and has a purpose behind it. Do not get carried away by glossy websites with fancy branding because everyone pitches as being the best, but you have to take that final call. Especially if you are inclined to an agency that is not based out of your city or town. Makes sense if you search for additional resources that answer questions about previous campaigns and clients.

Ask the Right Questions

While you may be particular about an agency, it pays dividends to ask the right questions, before you approach an agency. Knowing your marketing needs ahead of an agency meeting would certainly help to arrive at the best solutions for your business. Start with these:

·         What services does the company offer? Website design? SEO? Email marketing?

 

·         If you have an in-house marketing team. What are the gaps that need fulfilment?

 

·         Ask questions on how they execute their digital marketing campaigns for their own brand? Blogs, social media accounts, SEO

 

·         What are their Key performance indicators (KPIs)? Stay clear of metrics that only have vanity-value, such as ‘likes’ with no impact on sales. You could ask about these

 

o   Number of visitors to their site:  It can have a direct co-relation to conversions

o   Time spent on site: It signals high relevance and interest for the content.

o   Traffic Sources: Gives you insights on where your web traffic is coming from. It could be from search, social media platforms or a guest article on another website. Each of these will help you optimize your online strategies.

o   Bounce Rate: How soon visitors are leaving the site. High bounce rate is indicative about pressing improvements on site.

o   Cost per Click: It is the cost you incur while advertising with paid ads. High CPC indicates a good level of success

o   Click through Rate (CTR): Measures the number of times, your ad has been clicked compared to the number of impressions (watched by users). A good index to measure the performance of the ad copy.

Services Offered by Standard Digital Agencies

By know, you may have a good idea on the terms, terminologies and the technical jargon that is thrown around in digital marketing. Finally, you may end with a big or a small agency, it doesn’t matter. As long as they deliver the goods, you can be assured of having made a good decision. Going forward, let’s just understand the kind of services any competent digital agency would generally offer:

·         Content Marketing: The gist of the process is all about creating and distributing content through online channels to get maximum outreach. Ideally, the audience engages with your content to arrive at a purchase decision. Blog creation, SEO writing, infographic creation, and social media promotion all come under this umbrella.

 

·         Google Ads (Adwords):  People search for solutions on Google if your product is a solution to a specific problem you can leverage the search ranking on Google. Paid ads on Google ie Google Ads and they help drive lucrative traffic to your website.

 

·         Search Engine Optimization (SEO): You can climb high on Google ranking by producing relevant content that aligns with people’s needs. You can either pay (Ad Words) or can grow your ranking organically on Google search through SEO.  It is especially crucial for conversions on the website.

 

·         Facebook Advertising: A massive user base means a high potential for marketing on Facebook platform. You can target a specific audience on the platform based on their location, gender, education level, interests and even major life events (new house graduation, birth in the family).

 

·          Video Advertising: With improving internet speed, the video has become a prominent marketing vehicle. YouTube sees massive engagement from the audience to make it a great platform for marketing with good ROI. Ads can be delivered to specific audience demographics with targeting options such as online behaviour and more.

 

·         Mobile Marketing: It is estimated that 50% of mobile searches end in a purchase. This number is amplified when it is local search, with close to 78% of all mobile searches end in an offline purchase. Mobile YouTube Ads, in-app advertising, campaigns persuading mobile app installs are the options on mobile marketing.

 

·         Email Marketing: The email marketing medium still outperforms other online marketing strategies, with an ROI of 1:38 – making it a reliable option. Agencies normally provide email list building & maintenance, audience segmentation, and automated email services.

 

These strategies are meant to produce results, and your site has to produce enough conversions to affect the bottom line. Besides sales, you can monitor indices such as time spent on-site and intended actions performed by visitors. If these indices are performing well, then you can conclude that conversions will happen in due time. This means your website is well-optimized with design, layout, UI & UX, web copy and other elements to boost your lead generation. A receptive agency will now help the client with conversion path analysis, and collecting data from website visitors.     

Do they Deliver on what their Promise?

 The exponential growth of digital marketing in the last few years has meant new agencies mushrooming every day, promising the best possible service. In the worst possible scenario, you end up with an agency that keeps charging you without any tangible results. Also, agencies should not go overboard promising conversions and sales as there are a host of factors that affect ROI. In case low-quality agencies approach you, you can screen them out by broadly following this line of questioning:

·         Ask about the bouquet of services they offer? The more versatile an agency, the better equipped it is at handling client requirements. Marketing takes a collaboration of disciplines to bring results. Hence, it is critical that an agency has an array of proficiencies at its disposal.

·         What will be their content strategy for a client? Their answer should entail marketing objectives, understanding the audience by segments, consistent consultations with company stakeholders to evolve topics and keywords and ends with a roll-out plan with emphasis on diverse media types (example: videos & pdfs links in articles).

·         How do you develop audience personas? There should be stress on collaboration between the agency and the company. Some agencies promise to develop personas without any inputs and it should be the proverbial red flag.

·         How do they decide on social media channels? If the answer is a resounding ‘yes’ to all things on social media means they are yet to learn the process of engaging appropriate channels according to each business type.

·         How would they report on progress? Will they give access to the analytics board or provide you detailed spreadsheet demonstrating project milestones? Set clear expectations for the agency and ensure your feedback is solicited and collected.

Pricing Mechanisms

Now that you have decided on hiring an agency, it is important that you pick an agency that goes with competitive pricing according to industry standards. Stay clear of agencies that quote you low prices – chances of low-quality output is not unheard of. When there isn’t much incentive in going the extra mile, these agencies will do the bare minimum to keep the show going. On the other hand, agencies that quote higher – provide standard services to treat their clients generously. Avoid cutting corners when the future of your business is at stake

Agencies offer different pricing mechanisms ranging from packaged pricing to a recurring revenue model. Select based on your how you want to incorporate digital marketing into your overall business strategy.  If you want to go incrementally – then there are agencies that could quote you a customized figure based on your immediate needs.    

Final Thoughts:

One of the most important take-away for a business owner before engaging an outside agency is to have the patience to see visible results. Some of the most successful companies have to put in consistent effort over the course of many years to see visible results. Remain mindful of the fact that it is not easy to create highly engaging content or have deep insights into your customer’s behaviour. These are the experts you have hired, who understand the process better than you. And, have found success with the same process and the same set of parameters. In turn, you have to trust the process and the agency to deliver while you remain collaborative.  

Since the article began with the mention of the new normal, it is essential that we treat the COVID-19 phase as an opportunity. We have enough evidence to support the fact that digital marketing is better targeted, and aligns coherently with client needs. You can tweak strategies in real-time to make quick adjustments to your digital campaigns which are simply not possible with conventional marketing. There ample instances to prove that brands even purely brick-and-mortar outfits are keen on incorporating digital marketing to further their campaign needs. It was just a matter of time before it happened, the ‘New Normal’ has brought us an opportunity to replace old ways of thinking with more effective means to grow your business.


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