How to Choose the Right Digital Marketing Agency

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How to Choose the Right Digital Marketing Agency

Whether you’re hiring your first digital marketing agency or switching agencies, finding the right marketing partner can be an overwhelming process. No matter the size of your company, hiring an agency is a very important business decision that requires a lot of thought and research because the digital marketing space is perpetually changing. You want to be able to trust your marketing to an agency that grows as your business grows, and evolves as the industry evolves. You want to ensure your new digital marketing agency is delivering a return on your investment, not throwing it away on outdated methods.

At the onset of the research process, companies seeking a new agency should have a detailed knowledge of their own business goals, needs, and challenges, the types of specialized marketing agencies, and how they're positioned to help satisfy the needs of niche clients. And finally, companies should enter this process with a detailed, insightful list of questions for themselves, their teams, and the agencies they’re vetting. Let’s dig in. Below, we walk through the ultimate guide companies need to choose the right marketing agency.

What is a Digital Marketing Agency?

A very brief, byte-sized history

How old is digital marketing, anyway? The term first appeared in the 1990s with the birth of Web 1.0 and search engines, such as Yahoo! and Google. In 1993, the first banner ad went live, and a year later, a number of new internet technologies arrived, validating just how effective digital marketing methods could be. What followed were new agencies that focused on digital marketing in addition to traditional marketing.

Traditional versus digital marketing agencies

What separates digital from traditional marketing agencies are the mediums that they work with. “Traditional” ad agencies work in marketing mediums such as magazines, newspapers, radio, billboards, and television. Digital agencies, on the other hand, work in digital mediums, such as social media, websites, digital advertising, email, and video. Broadly speaking, traditional ad agencies often focus on metrics like reach, impressions, and other brand advertising measurements; digital agencies tend to focus on metrics like sales, conversions, leads, and return on ad spend (ROAS), which have direct correlation to revenue.  

Why hire a digital marketing agency?

Aside from the fact that digital marketing has become a necessity to effectively compete in today’s saturated business markets, there are a number of circumstances under which a business should strongly consider hiring a digital marketing agency.

Many companies that were founded before the advent of the internet have struggled to hold their own and maintain their bottom lines while utilizing traditional marketing alone. For these businesses with zero presence in digital spaces, the right agency will be able to “start from scratch” and create a comprehensive digital marketing strategy from the ground up.

While many B2B businesses have some semblance of a digital presence — such as websites, social media, or even digital advertising — many lack the marketing expertise to properly capitalize on these efforts. A skilled digital marketing agency can optimize websites with search engine optimization (SEO), employ successful social media marketing techniques, and help expand reach as well as brand awareness by improving existing marketing materials.

After a long enough period of time, many companies that handle their own marketing endeavors find these complex digital marketing efforts have become unmanageable for their current staff. Hiring an external digital marketing agency can take the stress and responsibility out of the hands of employees who are at capacity with other responsibilities. Once a part of your team, they’re positioned to evaluate your current marketing strategies and improve or enhance them to drive optimal results.

On the other hand, many organizations that are already working with a digital marketing agency may find that — after allocating significant funds — they’re not seeing the return on investment (ROI) they anticipated. When that happens, they might seek a different type of digital marketing agency, one that’s better suited to the company’s unique needs and can deliver a greater ROI.

What are the different types of digital marketing agencies?

There are a variety of digital marketing agencies, and understanding their differences, strengths, and weaknesses can be an essential step in selecting the right digital agency for your organization. Below are just a few ways to think about the different types of agencies to choose from.

B2C agencies

Business to Consumer (B2C) digital marketing agencies focus on businesses — including e-commerce companies or retailers — that sell products directly to consumers. As such, these agencies often specialize in the particular needs of companies that deal directly with consumers and offer services including local search engine optimization or building e-commerce websites with “shopping carts” and product descriptions. B2C businesses can greatly benefit from hiring a B2C digital marketing agency because the marketers will be well-versed in the techniques, trends and challenges of their specific organization and can apply successful solutions.

B2B agencies

Business to Business (B2B) digital marketing agencies focus on companies — such as manufacturers or Software as a Service (SaaS) businesses — that sell their products to other companies. B2B agencies tend to be up-to-date on all B2B technologies and methods and can apply them directly to comprehensive marketing strategies, allowing B2B clients to compete effectively against other organizations in their space. Here’s an example. A majority of B2B companies tend not to sell their products on their websites. Instead, their primary goal is to use the website to generate leads that a sales team will contact in order to provide a service demo or a sales consultation. As such, they can benefit greatly from hiring a B2B digital marketing agency, which is well-versed in creating high-converting demo pages and downloadable content.

Specialized agencies

Some agencies only focus on and specialize in one type of content or narrow part of marketing, such as:

  • Video production
  • Written content, including e-books, blogs, and case studies
  • Social media management
  • Search engine optimization
  • Digital advertising (or performance marketing)
  • Website design and development

Companies that only need to augment their strategy with one piece of the digital marketing puzzle can benefit greatly from hiring an agency that specializes in a specific type of content or service, as it allows them to work with experts who focus exclusively on their area of need.

Industry-specialized agencies

Similarly, there are agencies that specialize in one or a handful of industries. Working with an agency such as this offers a number of unique benefits:

  • These types of agencies keep up with trends and technologies specific to their industries of interest and deftly apply them to your digital marketing strategies
  • They’re already industry experts and don’t waste their clients’ time learning about a topic or field 
  • They stay informed about long-standing or up-and-coming competitors in your space, ensuring you’re one step ahead of the competition
  • They aren’t distracted or overwhelmed by clients in a wide range of industries, resulting in fewer opportunities for confusion and mistakes

Big agencies

Complex, larger companies may themselves prefer the advantages of big agencies over their smaller counterparts. Here, size equates to resources. And these agencies tend to have a greater bandwidth and can provide more attention and people-power to their clients, ensuring even the most complicated tasks are managed. Likewise, they may be better equipped with greater and more diverse tools and software to tackle any number of tasks. Finally, where there are more people, there is a greater pool of talented staff to work with. At larger agencies, clients may be assigned a dedicated project manager, for example, who can oversee every facet of a project. But on the other hand, these agencies can also have laundry lists of clients to attend to, meaning they may have less time to provide one-on-one attention to your organization. Big agencies can also have minimum requirements for clients that they take on, so they will not be the right fit for everyone.

Small agencies

There’s an unfortunate misconception that size means success. And in that way, a “small” agency is seen to be unsuccessful. But that’s not always the case, and some agencies may choose to remain small in size as a way to create an intimate company culture or to preserve the integrity of their work. But more than that, smaller agencies offer a variety of advantages over their larger competitors. Smaller agencies tend to have more time to dedicate to their clients, giving them an exclusive, “boutique” feel, which can simply be a preference or value of some clients. Likewise, greater attention can lead to better, more customized projects.  However, these types of agencies may not be equipped with a team with diverse skills or the most advanced tools at their disposal. 

What questions should you ask when hiring a digital marketing agency?

When reviewing potential digital marketing agencies to hire, you’ll want to ask yourself, your team, and the agencies themselves some important questions that can help determine if they’re the perfect fit.

Questions for yourself and your team

Who are my customers?

Depending on the kinds of customers you have — B2B, B2C, local, global, etc. — your company will benefit from working with a particular kind of agency that specializes in your and your customers’ needs.

Do I need or want to start with only one area of digital marketing?

If your budget will only allow your business to start with one area of digital marketing, such as digital advertising or email marketing, or if you’d rather take things slow regardless of your budget, your company could benefit from hiring a digital marketing agency that specializes in one kind of content or one area of digital marketing. While you can feel confident this kind of agency will be experts in the area you’re looking for, long-term this may not be feasible or cost-effective. If you arrive at a point where your organization is working with several different agencies for several different digital marketing services, it may make sense to transition to a full-service agency with a more comprehensive suite of digital marketing offerings.

Would my company benefit from an industry-specific agency?

If you work in an industry that is niche, competitive or difficult for most agencies to grasp quickly, your company could benefit from working with a digital marketing agency that specializes in your field. Under these conditions, companies need to differentiate themselves. Partnering with an agency with marketers who have a keen, expert awareness of your industry may be the competitive edge your company needs.

Does my business need a lot of individualized attention?

There are several circumstances that would justify working with a small marketing agency, one that is better positioned to provide close attention to your needs. Whether you’re eyeing a complex advertising project or looking for a dedicated project manager to oversee your project, partnering with an agency that offers one-on-one attention is likely to be a priority as you vet marketing partners — a perk that may be off limits at larger agencies.

Questions to ask digital marketing agencies

Has your agency worked with clients in my industry before?

If your agency is unique or niche, your business will be able to take advantage of an agency that has worked with a number of clients in your industry. Agencies that have experience with businesses in your field should also be able to provide evidence of success with similar clients, such as case studies or industry personas. 

How does your agency conduct meetings? Face-to-face or virtually?

At a business level, perhaps the biggest change to emerge from the recent pandemic is the rapid acceleration of the work-from-home movement. While remote work was and is still largely the norm, a handful of businesses have transitioned back to in-person meetings. Gauge your own comfort with in-person versus remote meetings, and pose this question to agencies you’re auditioning. Perhaps you enjoy the convenience of remote meetings or desire the connection that face-to-face meetings offer. Either way, be sure to find the right partner for yourself.

Does your agency have any specialties or certifications?

Digital marketing agencies with specialties and certifications may be favorable for a business’s primary marketing focus. 

  • If design elements like branding and logos are a marketing priority, a company may want to seek out an agency with Adobe certifications
  • If search and data are high priorities, a Google Analytics or Google Search certified agency may be preferable
  • If inbound marketing and sales are priorities, a business may want to work with a HubSpot certified digital marketing agency or an agency certified in the technology tools your company already has or intends to purchase (like Marketo or Salesforce)

Would my company get a dedicated project manager?

Depending on the type and scope of the digital marketing work your company needs, you might expect there to be a member of the agency that is the “owner” and designated contact for your business. While this can often be the case, be sure to ask as it is not necessarily guaranteed.

How does your agency handle a time zone difference?

What happens if you find the perfect agency to partner with but they are located in a different time zone? Whether the time difference is three hours (the difference between New York and California) or five hours (New York and London), consider how this may affect conducting business. Companies that work in different time zones will not align with your own, personal nine-to-five workday, reducing the number of available working hours. Of course, this may not be an issue for some businesses, who value the work provided by that specific agency more than the advantages of aligning business hours. If that's the case, the remedy is usually to double down on communication efforts to better align everyone within your company and your partner agency. Ask the agency what methods they have in place for streamlining communication and sticking to deadlines when working with a company in another time zone.

What are your agency’s values?

Along with judging a digital marketing agency’s ability to successfully market your business, many companies also lean toward working with agencies whose culture and values align closely with their own. Some examples of these values can include a commitment to diversity, an emphasis on professional development, or even creating a fun and friendly company environment. Many agencies may go out of their way to highlight their company values, but asking is a great way to start this important conversation. 

Get started

While the process of hiring or switching digital marketing agencies can be intimidating, don’t get discouraged or settle for an agency that isn’t the right fit. With the right strategy in place, any business can find the perfect digital marketing agency for their unique needs. 

When the time comes to release an RFP in search of a digital marketing agency for your company, download our Request for Proposals (RFP) template to get started or contact us to start a conversation!

Posted In: B2B
Megan Dunne

Megan Dunne

Megan creates content and messaging strategy and writes copy that resonates with our clients’ target audiences. She specializes in writing for digital, social and emerging tech platforms, with proven success creating content for large scale social campaigns. Most recently Megan was a Senior Copywriter at VaynerMedia in NYC where she supported some of the agency’s major B2B accounts.