Opinion

What digital marketing agencies get wrong

Aaron Peters, managing director of Sprout Media, reveals the pitfalls so many markets fall into
By
Aaron Peters
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When I began my own ecommerce business, I, as many small business owners do, enlisted the help of a digital marketing agency in hopes of growing the business. This was my first introduction into the world of digital marketing, and the experience was not an entirely positive one. In fact, I realised fairly quickly that I could do a better job myself.

Fast forward to today, and having launched my own marketing agency, I’m lucky to have perspectives from both sides of the fence, both as a marketer and a client. I’ve experienced firsthand the dissatisfaction that arises when clients and agencies don’t gel, and some of the common frustrations experienced by business owners when working with an agency.

Does this mean I think agencies don’t know what they’re doing? Definitely not. Digital marketing is a dynamic and often quite technical area, and marketers working in agencies have a huge wealth of experience in what they do – what they don’t always get right, however, is how they build relationships with the businesses that work with them.

Trust and transparency

Digital marketing agencies have a bit of a reputation for pushing their most profitable services onto clients without taking the time to properly consider what is best for the business.

As a business owner myself, I’ve seen how marketing activity, when done right, feeds directly into the success of the business, and the vast majority of digital agencies do have the best interests of their clients at heart. However, failing to establish this trust through transparency early on in the agency/client relationship can cause major roadblocks further down the line, with one of the worst of these being suspicion from the client.

This can seriously hamper marketing efforts, with clients viewing marketing recommendations with suspicion and mistrust, causing strategies to stagnate and making it very difficult for agencies to move things forward. It’s the job of agencies to establish this transparency from the get-go, ensuring clients understand how and why marketing budget is being spent as it is, as it’s these relationships that tend to be the most fruitful for both agencies and clients long-term.

Trend-hopping

While it’s certainly a marketer’s role to stay up to date with the emerging trends and technology in the industry, a tendency to indiscriminately jump on the latest marketing fad and push it on to clients is a real problem in the industry.

The issue revolves around noise. Businesses are often inundated with conflicting opinions, trends and ideas over where their marketing budget is best spent. When they come to an agency, they’re looking for expertise to help them cut through that noise, and identify what will work for them. Marketing strategies should be coming from a real understanding of the business you’re working with – where they currently are, what they want to achieve, and the intricacies of the sector they’re operating in. Developing this understanding, though requiring a time investment, is always worth it as it helps to inform the tactics, trends and activities that will have a real impact on reaching the client’s marketing aims.

Taking a current trend in marketing, whether it’s personalisation, short-form video, or anything else, and trying to apply it to every client you work with is ultimately self-defeating. Marketing is not a one-size-fits-all activity, and will always require a real understanding of the business if it’s to succeed.

Communication

The need for agencies and clients to communicate might seem like an obvious point, but it’s surprising how often communication issues are the heart of bad client experience.

Marketing is a technical field, with a whole host of associated jargon. It’s easy for many marketers to take this for granted and forget that many clients will be coming in with zero knowledge or technical background. This results in clients who are suspicious or resistant to certain marketing activities simply because they don’t understand them or how they will impact their bottom line. This is why it’s so important for agencies to ensure they’re clearly communicating their aims, strategies and activities to clients, whether it’s through formal reporting and analysis, or simply regular contact.

This final point does wax both ways, with many businesses recruiting an agency to their marketing, and then assuming it will be a mostly hands-off activity. While many marketers are experts in their field, they’re simply never going to have the same understanding of a business as those working within it. Especially at the start of the client/agency relationship, or when new strategies and activities are being employed, the best clients are those that approach their marketing as a collaborative activity between them and their agency.

Final thoughts

As with any business relationship, clients want to work with marketing agencies who can be taken at their word. Spending time cultivating a genuine and positive relationship with your clients isn’t just good for achieving their marketing aims and building a partnership with them, but it’s also central to your entire reputation and the reputation of the industry as a whole.

Written by
Aaron Peters