How to get the best results from your digital marketing agency

(This month’s blog comes from our colleague, Charlotte who ran her own business and engaged marketing agencies prior to working with STO Consulting). I am in the fortunate position, having owned my own business for 3 years prior to being in marketing consulting, that I have been a customer of several digital marketing agencies. So I fully understand what the experience is like from the client’s point of view. The expectations, the optimism, and the feeling of being in safe hands when you are promised business growth and you start planning for a more affluent future.

First, here is an overview of what I concluded:

A common pitfall that I have observed is the issue of digital marketing agencies that are good at creating something attractive, but with no substance.

When I engaged with my first chosen digital marketing agency (on the recommendation of a professional advisor, no less), the results were a lack of communication, little follow up to my enquiries during the design phase, and an end result that was tolerated rather than loved.

A major issue was the business owner not knowing my industry (high-end fashion) and a belief that they already knew what would work for my market, without either seeking to find out or even consulting me on my market knowledge.

Promises, promises

If you left your vehicle with a car cleaning service and were advised your investment will get you a full valet inside and out, then returned to a shiny exterior, but nothing cleaned on the inside, you would know you had been ripped off.

‘Strategic’ marketing

As a business owner, you focus on making sure investments improve performance. One of the most talked about monthly investments today is digital marketing. Digital marketing is one of the fastest and most successful methods of attracting an audience and converting spectators into paying customers. Yet, my last 3 years in business has taught me that many agencies who specialise in digital marketing do not talk about strategy. There is no discussion regarding aligning business objectives with a digital marketing plan, therefore, there is very little understanding of your organisation’s environment, culture and goals.

Upon entering the bridal market, I was rather surprised to hear from a digital marketing adviser that my bridal business should operate like a fashion store, with colour and size options easily distinguishable to a paying customer, despite my aspirations of wanting to create an online experience, not a simple transaction. What was happening here, was that I was being given generic ‘ecommerce’ advice, completely untailored to my actual business.

After a 15 minute meeting with another agency, I learned my ROI would quadruple if I were to spend many thousands per month on paid search, whilst additionally being told ‘SEO’ was a declining technique for attracting organic custom. There was a great deal of misguided information being shared, leaving me completely confused and concerned about where and how my investment was being spent.

There are some good agencies out there though – how to spot them

If you want to distinguish a good marketing agency from a not-so-good one, see how often they call you with updates. This is the simplest way of knowing the worthiness of your investment. Effective marketing ought to result in increased sales, but if it isn’t doing so, you should not have to chase your agency. They will already be on it, with methods to improve the existing plan (if they have one).

Most industry experts will not attempt to discuss any form of ROI without sitting down with you to discuss strategy first. How else will they know what’s possible?

I have since met with some fantastic agencies; both digital and strategy-led. A good sign is their approach to small businesses. Are they keen to engage with you, on the grounds that in time, they know that some of those small companies soon scale up and become long-term, loyal investors.

What to look out for when deciding if an agency is right for you….

  1. Communication is key. Continuously having to chase up information, check progress and query issues is a sign of bad things to come.
  2. It is a good idea to spend some time getting to know the company prior to any kind of commitment, make sure you are comfortable with their company culture and ways of operating before making an investment.
  3. Speak to those who are already clients and especially those who have experienced significant growth because of the company’s marketing support, as opposed to those who were already successful before signing up.
  4. A confident and capable company does not require a lengthy contract to be able to make a difference to your business; the level of support you commit to, should always be decided by you. The last agency I worked with agreed to a zero contract partnership. That way we were able to assess progress on a monthly basis, and each of us could part ways at any time, with no financial commitment.

It is easy to be attracted to a company that poses a shiny exterior and promises ‘quick wins.’ We all hope to find the key ingredient that drives sales beyond our expectations. Nevertheless, the reality is that without a strategy, there is no way of defining a marketing plan to align with business goals, which means you have no way of knowing if you are on the right path.

If you don’t know where you are going; you can’t get lost.

At STO Consulting, we love to talk strategy. If you would like to meet up and get to know us a little better or chat to us about your business strategy, then please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

Many thanks,


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