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How to Choose a Competent Digital Marketing Agency

Ming Yeung
By Ming Yeung on August 1st, 2012

Intern, and currently a year 1 student at NUS Business School. Loves online marketing, as it gave him streams of income previously unthinkable. Other than digital marketing, he is also a avid traveller, soccer fanatic, and a voracious reader.

in Online Marketing | 1 Comment

Assuming that you have decided to hire a digital marketing agency over forming an in house team, the next step is knowing how to choose a competent agency.

Sounds simple really but it isn't as straightforward as it seems, if you aren't familiar with the ins and outs of the industry.

This industry comprises several specialised areas that combine data driven analytics with more tradtional creative marketing and messaging.As such, it's difficult to choose a proficient agency and evaluate its competency.

What's more, this industry is FILLED with claims, all sorts of wild claims to get your attention.

What Are You Looking For?

First, you must identify your objectives clearly, or you will only be wasting your time searching in the dark, blindly.

For instance, what is the aim of online advertising for your site? Is it ROI driven or just to create positive awareness of your site?

Many will say both, but generally, one will dominate your line of thoughts.

Similarly, agencies have different inclinations as well, even though they may claim to be proficient in both, so choose carefully!

Once you are clear of your own objectives, you can then consider the following 7 points in determining a competent agency to hire.

1. Depth of Expertise

Different agencies have different focuses and different skills sets, and in recent years, many have been focusing on search engine marketing exclusively.

The better agencies are those who have staff dedicated to various specific areas of expertise and who have the experience to back them up.

Do refer to the agency's clientele, case studies and the kind of work they have done.

Are they done in industries similar to yours? B2B? B2C? Is their portfolio extensive?

Some points of note:

  • Sometimes, take the claims and testimonials with a pinch of salt. Rather, focus on how they strategize and implement solutions and constantly make improvements
  • Agencies are only as creative as their client's marketing goals

Most importantly, never assume a large agency knows it all. Often, they don't.

If possible, try to meet their experts and talk to them.

And be especially careful when you engage with offline agencies who are repositioning themselves as an online solutions provider. i.e. they are on a steep learning curve.

2. Intelligence

This can be best identified through personal interaction, e.g. during sales presentations

How does the agency present and answer your queries? Do they understand your business and industry? Do they reflect creative and critical thinking?

And is the agency able to fill you in on the big picture of a proper online marketing strategy/campaign?

One suggestion is to get someone in the know to accompany you for sales talk/presentation. It can potentially save you tons of money and time.

3. Technology

The online space changes fast, and it is imperative for agencies to be able to harness the latest technology and adapt swiftly to the key trends of the industry.

This is what keeps you one step ahead of your competition.

And with the right technology, agencies can save time and effort significantly, spend more time working with you, and better optmise your online campaigns.

Taking search engine marketing as an example, there are agencies that still use spreadsheets and a lot of manual work in updating and optimising your bid campaigns.

Not that their work is bad, but there are more efficient ways of doing things (e.g. setting alogrithms for automatic 24/7 bid optimisation) and as an advertiser, these are some of the questions you must ask of your agencies.

if you find agencies which create their own custom software, this is a bonus, but ensure that you verify their claims.

4. Transparency

Honesty is the best policy, is and always will be.

Is the agency you are looking at willing to share information and expertise? In the case of your SEM campaign, do you know your ACTUAL cost-per-click?

A lack of transparency could easily mean that the agency does not know what it is doing or that it is simply not doing enough.

5. Your Ability to Retain Control

Is the agency willing to allow you to retain control of your online marketing campaigns?

If it is, it indicates a willingness to work with you, to guide you, and this could be a key consideration for some companies.

6. Access to Support

 

There are a few aspects to this.

Firstly, as mentioned above, it's important to have experienced staff with expertise. But are they available to handle your campaign? One quick way to check is per campaign, how many people are directly supporting your campaign?

Secondly, it's crucial to know how much time the agency is willing to set aside for your needs. Most would say "a lot of time", but the key is getting them to commit to a tangible and realistic figure.

Finally, does the agency share with you likely scenarios where things may go wrong and their contingency plans? Or maybe their past experiences?

This is important because your online business/website runs 24/7 and things can go wrong any time. For those with complicated marketing campaigns, this should be a key consideration.

7. Does The Agency Practise What It Preach?

How many times have you come across SEO agencies who rank low in the search engines?

Ironic isn't it? (side note: try searching for "online marketing agency singapore"!)

And this is not mentioning web design agencies with average site design themselves.

Look especially closely at an agency's digital strategy, it can reveal tons.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, you get what you pay for, and I would really recommend quality as your primary consideration before price, because the difference in price can be easily recouped with a competent agency. 

Do watch out for agencies which make big claims, or very general claims like a "great platform" and those who don't demonstrate an understanding of your business' KPIs and your industry.

But the simplest advice is this: look for smart people married with good technology.

If you agree, do give us a try.

Soma Singapore Case Study


One Response to “How to Choose a Competent Digital Marketing Agency”

  1. Jereme Wong says:

    On pt 4 – Transparency… I’m amazed that most clients who are working with their SEM agencies DO NOT know their actual cost data, nor how much is their agency charging them for their service fees.

    Typically, for any SEM vendor to provide their services, there MUST be a service fees. (Assumption here is no provider will do free work unless you are the media platform.) Before you engage any SEM agency, ask upfront what is their service fees.

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