What Every Startup Needs to Know Before Choosing a Digital Agency
As someone who has been fortunate enough to be a part both the Startup and Digital Agency world, it pains me to witness the many recurring mistakes that are happening by bringing these two worlds together. The Agency wants the business and the Startup wants the best and smartest people to “grow their baby”. It all sounds like a “no-brainer’ right? Well, this perfect situation can sometimes be clouded by one of the most bastardized words in the client-agency relationship – Expectations. In this post, I will highlight some of the misconceptions that could, at the very least, help the next Startup as they prepare to show their product/service to the world.
Understanding the Digital Agency Game:
Don’t get me wrong. There are many highly reputable Marketing Agencies in the world that do not fit this description. On the other hand, there are some other Agencies that work on a different playing field that is not financially supportive of Startups. Most agencies take a 15% commission of Ad Spend regardless of performance or the companies financial situation. These agencies often provide a “Production Line” level level of service that question the actual time spend which leads to the overall client performance. Beware of agencies that promise GOLD and deliver pennies.
What Startups really need from an Agency:
- 100% transparency of where and how their money is being spent.
- Daily Direct communication with the Strategist/Marketer.
- Less than 24 hour turn-around times for typical updates.
- Level of ongoing Education on how the digital advertising world works.
Big Agency Regurgitation
I have witnessed many horror stories over the years from prospects/clients from either a performance or client relationship with a previous agency. The one thing that all of them had in common was the lack of achievable expectations. Situations such as poor communication, lackluster performance and just an overall bad experience have not only left a bitter taste in their mouth but also question the entire agency experience. Moreover, this feeling of being “burned” has motivated their thinking to bring the marketing “in-house” as the only alternative to reaching success. This is not a good thing….
As a big fan of conferences, they often open your eyes to a whole new world of innovation, prosperity and vision for business owners and that’s a great thing. However, it can sometimes backfire to the point of confusion and anxiety of what to focus on first. It is very easy for Entrepreneurs to get “over-excited” about the latest bells and whistles in software, automation and analytics. They are told that once they have these tools in their toolbox, they can turn their business into a fortune 100 company instantly.
Unfortunately, a reality check is needed to bring everyone down from this “high” and re-focus on the core issue at hand which is identifying, engaging and converting with their core audiences within a sensible budget. Remember, investing in Shiny Objects make you vulnerable, not successful.
The Misunderstanding of Monetization
In some instances, both advertisers as well as agencies, often tend to forget about tracking every interaction point and that little oversight can be a huuuge mistake (channeling the Trump-isms). This assumed “low-hanging” fruit for tracking things other than traditional eCommerce/Lead Gen Forms such as (below) can completely skew overall performance and future optimization which could be devastating to startups as they hunger for continual growth.
- Contact Forms
- Email Newsletter Signups
- Live Chats
- Phone Calls
- Pageviews of a particular page can lead to
Mistrust of the Case Study
Case Studies are a great source for understanding the successes of a particular experience that allow the reader to adapt to new ideas and strategies. However, you need to be careful not put to put too much emphasis on the successes of these studies because of the substantiated factors which often lead inaccuracy. Here are some examples:
- Geography (Some of these studies reference a specific GEO area and not the wider population)
- Singular view and opinion. Often, these studies are done by a small group of people which may have biased opinions based on data collected.
- Case Studies are often used as a “Toot your own horn” strategy to generate more business. (Google is pretty good at that)
Don’t Bet the Farm
I can understand the anxieties of Startups where they want to launch their business with a big bang. However, spending too much too fast (especially in the PPC marketing world) can completely ruin their chances for steady sustainable growth. It’s imperative to start testing “right out of the gate” as well as identifying the quick wins and losses. Moreover, you will need to develop strategies to generate relevent traffic and awareness through alternative methods such as Social Media, SEO and quite frankly “word of mouth”. To prove this theory, just a take a look at these screenshots from SpyFu’s Monthly Trend function.
Outside Opinion Overload
Yes, it’s important to get as much feedback as possible when launching a new company. However, getting advice from people who think they know certain aspects of online marketing because they read an article or attended a conference, can be a slippery slope. Taking advice and/or criticism from someone “on the outside” that completely contradicts the vision of both your business partners and hired experts can be harmful to the business. This 3rd party opinion is often made without any understanding of what it takes to implement as well as its expected outcome. Whether it’s strategies about Landing Pages, Brand vs. Non-Brand, or even simple things such as Promotions and Offers can have a negative effect on revenue if not discussed by everyone on the team.
Solution: Soak up all of the feedback you can get, discuss with your team and agree to label these new ideas as “TEST” Campaigns and analyze the heck out of them.
Forecast Projection Failures
How many times have you seen someone simply create excel formulas which magically forecast the future of online marketing revenue based on a single monetary amount. (For example, if we increase our budget from $10,000 to $100,000 we will generate an additional $1 million dollars.) Yeah, I wish that were all true. However, that is not the case. The math may sound great to a Venture Capitalist/Investor, but it’s just not realistic.
- Take in account the following scenarios:
- Market Saturation Levels
- Seasonality Highs/Lows
- Potential Technical issues
- Search Engine Algorithm changes
- Increased Competitor landscape
“Off the Mark” Target Audiences
Hate to say this, but I have witnessed startup companies that thought they new their audiences and it wasn’t until they over-spent their PPC dollars and countless Landing Page A/B test to come to that realization. Selling a product or service requires more than just a few hours of typical market research. When it comes to online marketing, either hire a PPC Consultant or purchase PPC Competitive Research Software such as SpyFu.com to see some of these invaluable competitor information:
- Monthly Budget Trends
- PPC and SEO Keywords
- Top Text Ads
- Their own PPC and SEO Competitors
- Review monthly and seasonality trends
- Compare up to (3) three competitors and see which terms they are all bidding on.
Here’s an example:
Whether you are building a Startup company or growing an existing one, the agency experience should be a positive one. However, dealing with the “dog eat dog” agency world when it comes to trust, expectations and continual growth is unfortunate and should never happen. I hope this blog post, at the very least, has provided some insight into preventing these situations as well as learning from them. Finding the right agency partner is just as important as finding the right target audience.