When It’s Time To Look Outside Your Own Walls
You have a well-evolved marketing organization, with an experienced creative team who keeps your brand identity unified, and is very good at managing the daily business of
- Refreshing marketing collateral
- Maintaining your web site
- Pushing out the occasional banner ad
- Designing displays for your tradeshow presence
Now it's time for new, strategic marketing initiatives, and you look around and realize that, while they’re very good, your internal team is fully tasked and just doesn't have the bandwidth or the deep expertise required to dig into new technologies and channels and make them work for your marketing programs...and you don't have the luxury of hiring new headcount this year, or the time to learn dramatically new delivery methods, as your industry quickly changes.
Many companies that find themselves in this position do have budget for consultants and/or agencies.
Why would you hire an agency for your marketing initiatives when you already have your team in place? It often comes down to the simple fact that agencies have very specialized expertise and experience that internal teams don’t. Agencies gather team members who have spent years developing and refining skills that—were you to hire permanent employees—would simply cost your company too much. An agency engagement is a great way to augment your already skilled internal team with specialties that would otherwise be far too costly.
Here are some considerations to help you decide if you should work with an agency as you review your marketing strategy and internal capabilities:
- How are your analytics, and do you use them effectively?
Many marketing teams use analytics to good effect after a program has been launched, to monitor its performance and see where traffic originates. If performance analytics are tied to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) databases, the incoming data from a good marketing campaign can be used to help drive sales from “prospect” to “customer”.
Used after a marketing program launch, analytics also point to the relative performance of various programs, allowing a team to identify and leverage programs that performed well, and either refine or drop programs that did not yield good results. It’s an ongoing effort, and the results can change depending on the market, the message and many other factors. There is much more you could be doing that can bring even more value to your marketing program. In addition to monitoring programs post-launch, analytics should be used before starting a project, even in planning phases to support the decisions you make. For example, analytics can help you determine whether a new delivery method is likely to yield results, rather than relying on guesswork or subjective opinion.. With solid data from the current state both within your company and with marketing trends relevant to your sector, you can leverage the experience of others and streamline your marketing efforts, making them more efficient and effective while reducing risk and cost.
- How well do you test?
As you develop your marketing programs, do you use focus groups and test different approaches, layouts, designs and copy? Do you analyze the results so that you can be sure marketing messages and delivery methods are as effective as they can be? This can be time-consuming during the development process, but the upfront investment almost always provides tangible benefits and avoids lost spending on under-performing marketing. It can be the difference between a campaign being a smashing success and a confusing flop.
For example, using testing and analysis to determine the effectiveness of A vs. B, you can break page elements and content items down into their component parts and analyze results individually to maximize your campaign.
Focusing on the bigger picture can be a challenge, and keeping the details in order is even harder. We have seen online campaigns that were designed to match printed materials but that, when released to the public, resulted in literally no hits at all—none—because someone forgot something as simple as placing a call to action in the design! Agency teams bring both strategic and detail-oriented resources to the projects, making sure that these types of oversights don’t impact your efforts
- Do you write to the medium and audience?
One of the challenges facing many marketing teams is that content developers often come from a journalism or traditional print marketing background—which is a very useful field of expertise when developing printed materials—and much of that expertise translates into online content, but not all.
The psychology and behavior of a reader differs, often dramatically, between print and online media, and even between online delivery mechanisms. A company web site is quite different from a social media platform, and both depart radically from print; the human eye tracks differently; the human brain has formed different habits for the different media; even the fact that you can hold a paper in your hand has an effect on how your brain internalizes its contents!
Leaving aside design and layout, the tone of the content itself often needs to change between delivery mechanisms. While repurposing content is beneficial, and in fact is something you should work to achieve, it needs to be optimized for each platform where it will be used rather than simply being dropped into the new platform as-is.
What works well in print may not work online, and vice versa; is your content development team sensitive to those distinctions?
- Do you know what they’re saying about you?
Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Google. Blogs. Reviews. Everybody is talking, about everything, to everyone, globally. With all of the ways people are communicating with each other, the chances of the conversation turning to your product or service are quite high. You can listen in on those conversations, monitor public sentiment, bolster positive sentiment, respond quickly to negative commentary, and if the response meets with the public’s approval, you can turn the conversation around handily!
Who's talking about you, and where in the world are they? Who is influencing the conversation, and what are they saying? How do you influence the influencers?
The methods for listening to and analyzing these conversations vary, and the ability to respond quickly—even proactively affecting the direction of a conversation—requires time, flexibility, creativity and the ability to influence the opinions expressed on multiple key platforms. That, in turn, is generally dictated by a long and ongoing effort from within your organization to establish credibility and thought leadership, then drawing on that credibility to influence public sentiment.
- What are you doing in the rapidly changing social media space?
Related to the idea of influencing the conversation, social media platforms can be an incredibly powerful way to establish thought leadership and to engage in direct dialogues with your audience—prospects, customers, observers, anyone who might have an interest in your organization’s activities. As access to and use of these services becomes more and more widespread, your ability to stand out becomes more and more difficult—unless you know how to use them to capture the eyes and minds of the people you want as your customers, and the people who influence their opinions.
The rules change every day! What worked when Facebook was new doesn’t work now, and what works now may not work next week. People’s use changes, and with it, their expectations. Sales language doesn’t work; instead successful organizations use social media platforms to engage in conversations with the people using these platforms in order to cultivate interest, influence and establish thought leadership.
Is it just another web site? Do you engage your audiences in the social media spaces, have conversations or simply use it as another online platform?Social media demands that we leave our language and approaches behind – don’t push messages or press releases, but rather listen, respond and ask questions – just as if you had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with a prospect. The big difference is, the whole world is able to listen in!
How do you engage your audience, and do you keep them engaged? Are you using innovative ways to develop new audiences? Are you using audience segmentation to its fullest extent?
In the online space, audience segmentation is even more critical than it is for print, for many more reasons. As with different print media, each segment you address online needs to be approached in different ways, through different channels. Are you prepared to serve specialized content to those segments? Change tone? Keep your core message while tailoring the language to each segment? Can you exercise the full value of targeted messaging? Much of it can be automated, but still requires a great deal of careful planning up front, and detailed ongoing monitoring and adjustment.
- Are you taking advantage of user group targeting with a closing loop?
The use of analytics has become commonplace in most marketing organizations, as we’ve said. To a greater or lesser degree, companies look at performance data to see how effective—or not—campaigns have been.
Even still, there is much territory that remains largely unexplored, often because the data is passively reported; and if a campaign underperformed, the organization shrugs and moves on to the next campaign without really examining or understanding the reasons for poor performance.
Or if the groups acts on the data, it’s often as such a broad level that it becomes a matter of “cutting off your nose to spite your face”—for example, dropping a particular publication because it consistently does badly.
But what if it’s not the publication’s fault, but the campaign’s? Dropping it may result in the loss of significant potential business simply because there was not clear governance around critical review.
If a group has formed a solid overall strategy, part of the design should include the ability to examine performance and either respond on the fly or apply specific measurable changes to future campaigns, integrating lessons learned in a process of continual improvement.
Does your team have the specialized expertise, not to mention the bandwidth, to do deep and accurate performance analysis post-launch to help streamline future marketing efforts? Knowing where and how to focus your marketing efforts can save you a surprising amount of time, effort and (perhaps most importantly) money.
Don’t waste your efforts! Marketing campaigns can be incredibly costly; efforts costing millions can fall flat if the marketing team does not use analytics from previous campaigns to study user activity and adjust the campaign initiative accordingly. Know what you’re getting into!
In addition to campaign performance monitoring, integrating the resulting data with internal CRM and analyzing those results can provide important information about new and returning customers, how they engage, from what source(s), their relative value, and much more. Combining knowledge from these data sources, it’s possible to then design campaigns that serve up content tailored specifically for different source audiences.
This can be a daunting task, involving research into your target audiences, how they engage with your source sites even before they reach you, how they travel through your online properties once they do reach you, how you can respond to them at various points in their travels, and what it takes to convert those audiences to closed sales.
Data integrity is a critical aspect of a company’s sales and marketing efforts; getting disparate systems to share data, and then responding to that data effectively, is a difficult task but well worth it when it can help you focus marketing efforts on the highest quality customers and prospects.
Conclusion – Why Working with an Agency Makes Sense
Any one of the areas we’ve discussed can be daunting for an already fully tasked team, and taken as a whole, may be overwhelming.
Some companies have implemented various combinations of these programs; however, few companies have the internal resources—in terms of either funding or personnel—to implement all of them, without also calling on one or more outside agencies with the specialized expertise and flexible resources to help carry them out. To hire the equivalent full-time staff would be prohibitively expensive, to do the continual research is time consuming, so most develop relationships with agencies they can call on a per-project basis.
And why is the ongoing relationship important? Because while your company is and always will be the subject matter experts in your particular area, you need an agency or agencies to develop close familiarity with your process, help you build your strategy, design programs that fit that strategy, all while maintaining the agency’s subject matter expertise: what works well in the market.
In the final analysis, developing a strategic relationship with an agency is a prudent business decision. You manage risk and gain expertise while developing a partner with ‘skin in the game’. When considering an agency, look beyond your immediate goals and seek a partner that wants to create a relationship with you and your team and work together to create mutual success.