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The digital marketing leap

Business, Marketing | June 1, 2016 | By:

Asking the right questions before choosing a digital marketing partner can save you time and money.

There was a time when digital marketing could casually be left to employees who were interested in dabbling in online options. Now, however, digital marketing has grown up. Every business needs a plan that genuinely integrates traditional marketing efforts with website development, search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), email marketing and website analytics.

Digital marketing has become critical because the Internet is where businesses and consumers shop when they need products, services or information. The numbers tell the story:

  • More than 88 percent of U.S. consumers use the Internet, according to
  • Approximately 75 percent of U.S. mobile phone users access the Internet via their phones, according to Statista Inc.
  • In 2015, U.S. online sales topped $300 billion for the first time, according to internetRetailer®.

Laying the groundwork

Companies’ hesitation in getting involved with digital marketing can be related to time, money or fear of the unknown. There is no shame in owning up to those reasons. As a digital marketing professional, those are the top reasons I encounter when a company wants to consider adding digital efforts to the organizational marketing plans.

I want to save you money. I also want you to be in the know and confident when you are ready to take the leap into the digital marketing world. Being prepared will help you with the daunting task of hiring an agency or contract professional to develop your digital marketing plan.

Asking questions and doing some research can build your confidence and help you feel prepared to make good marketing decisions for your business. Ask these questions when interviewing a potential digital marketing partner:

What is the specialization of the agency or contractor? In your search, you will encounter agencies and individuals who are alleged experts in multiple disciplines of digital marketing. I am one of those people. I am an expert at SEO, SEM, social media, email marketing and website analytics. However, I do not design or build websites. I know my limitations. Some will not share what their limitations are, and that should be a red flag. There are legitimate digital marketing agencies who do have dedicated teams for various disciplines. There are also digital marketing agencies and freelance contractors who are specialized in one discipline. The company or contractor you choose should be qualified to meet your particular digital marketing needs.

How long has the agency been doing digital marketing work? Look for someone who has honed his or her craft, becoming an expert through years of experience. Most business owners prefer to work with someone who has five or more years of experience. You will pay for that experience, but it’s important to trust that the work will be done right.

Does the agency or contractor have experience within your industry? Often, digital marketers believe that the same tactics and strategy that worked for Client A in one industry will work for Client B in a completely different industry. This is rarely the case. Same-industry experience is certainly nice to have, but is not essential, depending on your business needs.

Is there a portfolio of past work to examine? Reviewing past work is important. Most agencies and contractors will gladly show and discuss their best work. Those who do not, or cite confidentiality issues, may be telling the truth. It is usually possible to demonstrate past work that still protects sensitive details of the project. Ask when the work took place: Great work done in 2010 is less meaningful than work done in late 2015. Digital marketing practices change on a near daily basis. What worked then is unlikely to work for your company now.

What expectations does the agency or contractor have of your company? This question will likely put them on the spot. Smart agencies and contractors know the traits of good clients—and of frustrating clients. Knowing what is expected of you will help you be a better partner—and that will lead to more successful digital marketing efforts. If there are few or no expectations set by the agency or contractor, all they may care about is billing you for hours.

How will you track results? Ultimately, everything in marketing comes down to results. You want more of something—like sales or customers—than you had before you began doing digital marketing. There are many conversion points to track, including soft metrics such as likes, shares, retweets, comments and various page metrics in website analytics. The more interesting conversion points relate to leads and sales; these include email addresses, user profile data, downloads of white papers, business quotes, applications and purchases. Which metrics you track will depend on your business objectives.

How does the contractor keep up with digital marketing trends? This is one of the most common questions asked of me when I interview for a new role. There are numerous resources available to help digital marketers follow trends. You’ll want to hire a digital marketer who can name industry leaders; in turn, you can research those recommended resources, websites and profiles. Your research will validate what you are learning in the digital marketing world. Ask your colleagues, in-house and outside your company, whom they consider to be leaders in digital marketing. Through these efforts you’ll learn about digital marketing and become more comfortable with the technical terms. Quality digital marketers prefer to work with clients who have at least a basic knowledge of the work that is being done for them.

Who will be your account manager or main contacts? You need a good working relationship with whomever is named as your main contact, whether it is one person or several. You’ll spend a lot of time working with that person or team. Getting to know that person or group is a must during the search for a partner. You never want to find yourself dreading a call or meeting with your digital marketing partner.

How quick are response times? When you have questions, you want answers. In my career, a slow response to a request is often worse than an underperforming campaign. If someone does not respond in a prompt manner, it can be a sign that your partner does not know how to fulfill your request—or that you rank lower among their client base. You may not be their largest client in terms of contract size, but you do deserve equal respect in the form of timely communication.

May we speak with your references? Anyone who has no references should not be considered for the job. An experienced digital marketing expert will be glad to refer you to people who can vouch for his or her successful projects. When you talk to the references, ask what the digital marketer did, why it was important and would that company work with that expert again. You can expect to hear all positives, but listen closely for nuance and tone.

Asking these questions can help you learn key strengths of your potential digital marketing partner—and some possible weaknesses. Be confident about your vision and communicate what you want. And trust your instincts when making the hiring decision. You make business decisions every day, and digital marketing needs to be one more aspect that’s integrated into the whole of your operation.

Jason Douglas is a digital marketing professional, and was a speaker on social media tactics at
IFAI Expo 2015. Connect with Jason on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

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