Not just anyone can start a law firm, a health clinic or even an auto-repair shop. The people behind such practices need to have a set of advanced skills and training before they open their doors for business. The same isn’t necessarily true about digital marketing firms, however.
There are countless digital marketing firms operating today, and the barrier to entry is low for starting such firms. Because almost anybody can produce a flashy website and create social media accounts, it’s not always easy to distinguish between high-value marketing firms and newbies.
If you’re planning on hiring a digital marketing firm, here are a few ways to spot the pros from the wannabes.
A High-Caliber Team
A company’s most important asset is its people, and this statement is especially true for digital marketing firms. But what qualifies as “good” for a digital marketing team?
Take a look at a firm’s “About Us” section online. How many people are on the team? Enough to cover a wide range of marketing essentials? Many skills and competencies are, of course, necessary for effective marketing. At a minimum, some of the skills within the firm’s team should include:
- Copywriting and content writing
- Graphic design
- Web design
- Front end and back end website development
- Social media expertise on all major platforms
- Ecommerce if your company sells tangible products
Also, if there are bios for the firm’s team members, look at those as well. If you’re impressed with the individuals working at the firm, then the team as a whole is probably pretty stellar.
An Impressive Portfolio and Happy Clients
There’s no better reflection of a marketing team’s capabilities than their portfolio and the success of their clients. What kinds of companies have hired the digital marketing firm? How long has the firm served each client? What kinds of work has the firm done for their clients?
Many digital marketing firms include lists of their clients on their websites, as well as testimonials and case studies. Besides looking at these testimonials, call some of the clients and ask how satisfied they’ve been with the firm.
Website Skill and Originality
No, you can’t judge a book by its cover. But you can certainly critique a digital marketing firm’s capabilities based on its website. Since an agency’s creativity and talent is often reflected in its own website, study their site carefully to form an overall impression.
Right out of the gate, some things to look for include the ease (or difficulty) you had finding their site. Do they rank well on Google? Also pay attention to other essential web basics: Is the site easy to navigate? Is it attractive? Is it responsive? I.e., is it functional across every device?
Besides these criteria, take a birds-eye view of their site and ask yourself: Did the firm take the time and thought needed to create a truly unique website that proudly presents their talent? Or did they simply tweak a commonly-used web template that reminds you of countless other sites?
If you’re not impressed with a digital marketing firm’s website overall, shop around some more.
Social Media Presence
To be blunt, a digital marketing firm that’s mediocre in the social-media realm shouldn’t be hired. When researching the firm, some questions to keep in mind include:
Does the firm have a blog with relevant, thoughtful posts? And do they blog consistently? Are their blog posts frequently shared and commented on?
Is the firm engaging others across several social media channels? Are they offering tips, or using wit and humor to make people laugh? Do they have a following that looks to the firm as a source of expertise?
After you’ve answered these questions about a digital marketing firm’s online presence, look for their clients online. Find their social accounts and apply the same questions to them.
If you’re looking for a boost in your social media presence, you’ll obviously want to choose a firm with impressive social acumen. So take some time with this step.
Navigating Social Storms
Now that you’ve examined a firm’s social-media presence, you should determine their ability to interact well in today’s volatile social/political climate.
It used to be enough for a brand to play it “safe” and stay out of heated political issues. But today, political discussions trend every day on Twitter and other channels. Consumers often demand that their favorite brands take a stand on the issues rather than remaining silent.
Further, there’s more to the social-media turbulence than the pressure to take a stand. Online trolls, political activists, zealous customers and even the president himself have ways of forcing brands into sudden controversy. Brands who keep quiet during their own controversies are viewed as apathetic.
This is where a competent digital marketing firm can be crucial. The best firms understand the political climate and use the right mix of wit and professionalism to weather storms.
When looking at a digital marketing firm’s clients, keep your eyes open to their engagement with the current volatile environment.
This is one of the most important traits of a high-caliber digital marketing firm. The ability for an agency to perform well under sudden, unpredictable changes should be considered mandatory.
What kinds of changes? To start with, shifts within the client’s market or industry don’t even faze the best digital marketing firms. Also, high-caliber firms expect (and even predict) changes in online trends and social-media channels.
Adaptability is not easy, of course. But that’s why good agencies charge fees that reflect their capabilities. While the best agencies anticipate and adjust, the mediocre ones make excuses as to why they lag behind.
Like experts in other industries, digital marketing practitioners use jargon that’s unique to marketing. Most people aren’t familiar with terms like link juice, interstitial ads, lookalikes, sequential messaging, pixel tags, and many others.
While you certainly want a digital marketing firm to know and use these terms, you also want the firm to explain it to you. Why is all this jargon relevant to your brand? How does it relate to your marketing success?
If you’re working with a digital marketing firm that prefers to be mysterious about their strategies, consider that a red flag.
Another red flag is a lack of good reporting (or even manipulation) from a firm. Watch out for shady practices like inflating good news and understating negative findings.
The best agencies love to explain exactly what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. They also tell you what is working and what needs to be adjusted.
Good marketing firms consult with their clients, determine their needs, and create custom strategies designed to achieve specific goals.
Mediocre firms sometimes use cookie-cutter marketing plans that look similar for every client. One of the biggest problems with this “template” approach is that a significant portion of the marketing budget gets wasted on ineffective tactics.
Effective marketing takes well-thought-out strategies that aim at high ROI. Pre-packaged marketing plans aren’t powered by the creativity and thoughtfulness needed to achieve real results.
Don’t Decide Based on Price!
Many mediocre firms charge low prices to get clients on board. Be leery of prices that are dramatically lower than the norm. Usually, you get what you pay for in the marketing realm.
Selecting a digital marketing firm can be challenging. But it’s an important decision that can lead to a competitive edge – if you choose wisely. So take the time you need to examine a firm, its portfolio and its clients.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.