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Read this before you hire a digital marketing agency.

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Proper marketing is done when a business conducts research, outlines a strategy and executes tactics. The proper marketing framework is Research X Strategy X Tactics. 

Proper marketing is consistently delivering results. 

Most small business owners feel marketing is a waste of money or super risky and expensive. 

Marketing can be all those things, especially when research and strategy take a back seat. To not fault of our own, we business owners tend to get caught up in everyday operations. Suddenly, we realize the need to drive traffic or acquire customers…right now!

Time is too precious, and research and strategy can be even more costly. We hastily make decisions based on our bias and what feels right. We need to get something to the market. The less friction the better. The symptom of these challenges is the demand for digital marketing firms. 

Most digital firms conduct strategy. They conduct digital strategy. The problem illustrated above does not need a digital strategy but rather a strategy as a whole. A system that delivers results. Any solutions offered to you by a digital agency will contain a biased toward “digital.” When hiring a digital agency, we neglect significant bias forces at play.

For example, if you have an awareness problem (most small businesses do), a digital agency will immediately consider their tool kit; Youtube ads, Google ads, display ads, and Social media. Each has subgroups, but these are the heavy hitters for simplicity’s sake.

From there, you begin developing ads and messages. Unfortunately, the main message should have been decided upon based on research and your strategic decisions. The agency will offer you to pay for some A/B testing, and every one of these ads requires a call to action. You will do your best, but it becomes a guessing game. Most money is wasted.

Call-to-action campaigns are needed in every marketing campaign; however, they should only be given 40% of the budget. 60% of the ad budget should cover brand-building activities that do not have a call to action. These campaigns contain emotional messaging to increase your brand’s perception in the marketplace positively.

Furthermore, to increase small business awareness, brand-building is the lever to pull to have an effect. 

What provides more significant impact on the overall growth of your business is choosing what not to do. In the small business world, choosing who you want to serve, positioning yourself against your competitors and substitutes, and coming up with a single objective that isn’t about communication.

What is digital marketing now?

Billboards are primarily digital. TV has become subscription-based, which is now on digital platforms. Radio is now audio. The digital world and the one we live in regarding marketing are increasingly interchangeable. There really isn’t a distinction unless you have completed your research and strategy work.

What are digital firms suitable for?

Great digital firms are fantastic at sales activation campaigns. You need to target a specific group and hit them hard with relevant messages.

We recommend most of our clients conduct sales activation activities. Often through a digital channel with a call to action and excellent targeting capabilities. 

The best digital firms can look at your strategy as a whole and offer suggestions for channels to use for brand building and sales activation. Pairing flyers and YouTube ads/online videos has been a killer mix for one of our clients.

Other Considerations

Most digital firms will offer website strategy and development. Social media management. Logo re-design or other graphics. All things in themselves are great, but when you walk into one of these shops, be prepared to be sold on all things digital, even if it doesn’t make strategic sense.

Small business owners need to hire a firm that can handle the digital side of things but offer a system to deliver results consistently. The best way to do that is by following the Research X Strategy X Tactics framework. 

The Marketing System abides by this framework offering additional foundational blocks for small business owners. For example, we have deliberately included “website” as part of the overall marketing plan for all clients because it’s one of the few advantages small businesses have over more prominent brands. The ability to pivot in this arena has its advantages.

If hiring a digital agency whose name is a channel, be prepared for bias. Consider hiring a specialist in the other two buckets. You will require to know your stuff and be the glue that holds everything together. 

But how can you do that? We already know everyday operations tend to consume you. 

Consider hiring a firm that understands the framework. A firm that understands it’s not about a campaign but instead delivering results repeatedly for years. Hire a firm that is media and channel-agnostic. Your business depends on it.

Sources and Ideas:

What’s not effective in marketing:

Effectiveness in the digital age:

Mark Ritson: Digital Marketing is redundant:

Digital Marketer:

Mark Ritson: Tactics without strategy is dumbing down our discipline:

Les Binet and Peter Field discuss brand marketing in the age of hyper-targeted messaging:

How to calculate your mass media budget:

How Brands Grow: Part 1—The Double Jeopardy Law Explained:

Three ingredients for effective marketing: 1) Emotional Resonance:

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