Monday, September 8, 2014

How to select the right digital agency for your business

Selecting a digital agency that is right for your business is one of the key factors that can help determine your success. So you have your product or service you want to market, ready, and you are all set to go Digital. You know there are many agencies out there with varied expertise and you now have to decide which ones to call for a meeting and then, on what basis to select from them. Chances are your existing offline or traditional agency too, now has a digital arm or sister concern, and for various reasons you may be wanting to talk to them too. But how do you decide which ones to call and how do you go about determining which one is right for your business?

So let's try and put down some simple pointers to help you along the way. Let's start with the basics.  First, before you even start searching for agencies, make sure you know the following - 
  • why you are going digital, 
  • who are you going to target and 
  • what you want to achieve in the long and short term.

Have practical answers to these ready and written down. The reason am saying this here, right at the beginning, is that many a times I see businesses wanting to go digital because - everyone is, or their competitors are, or it's the cool thing to do, or because the youth in their family are all hooked to mobiles and the internet etc. While those are all good reasons to think seriously about digital, that is not the reason to go digital. The reason has to something tangible - increase sales by 'x' times, improve customer retention by 'y' percentage, or improve customer service by 'z' percentage or increase brand awareness to a desired level, or target a new audience, or do research, etc.

That's the reason you will notice in the beginning I said "....One of the key factors that can help determine your success" and not 'The only factor for success'. Know this right at the beginning, as the agency can only help you achieve what you want to, as you know your business, your audience and your goals best. An agency can help you chart the right path, implement and monitor. There is a lot that can be done in Digital. Website, WAP site, SEO, SEM, Display advertising, Affiliate program, Social marketing, Social Advertising, Blogs, Webinars, Podcasts, Mobile marketing, Apps, etc. The product or service is yours, the target audience is yours, and you will need to deliver and retain. The agency can only help you along the way to do some or all of this.

Based on the why, who and what above, you can now decide what expertise you are looking for in the agency. e.g. If its product sales you want to achieve, you may want to look at agencies who have proven strengths in SEO, SEM, Affiliate marketing, Re-targeting etc. Or if its branding then maybe display advertising, social media strengths etc. Yes, most agencies will cover all areas and you may need to do everything but if you have a focus, then you will look at agencies that excel in those parts more than the others. Hence 'right' for your business and not necessarily the 'best' out there overall.

So now you know which agencies to start talking to - who have expertise and proven strengths in the areas you are looking to focus. Get in touch, give them your brief based on the why, who and what above and get them to present.

Now when they come in - what else do you look for and how do you select which one to go with. Here are a few pointers
  • Have they been able to present some sort of a strategy and road map? It would be broad because all they have is your brief, but does it cover all the key areas? Or have they come with a standard template showing their strengths and no strategy tailor made for your business whatsoever.
  • Have they done this or something similar before? And here, you just don't need to go by what they say. You can look up their success with some simple searches and by reaching out to a few people on the Internet itself such as LinkedIn etc. If they are a new agency then what is the knowledge and experience level of the team.
  • Most importantly do they have the right team for you? So what is important here is to meet the people who are going to be handling your business and not just the boss or the account manager. How much experience does this execution team have in the exact areas you want to focus? This is important, and specially so in India where a lot of Digital agencies are relatively new, and while the top honchos may have a wealth of experience, the executing team maybe a bunch of freshers learning at your expense. So make sure the team working on your account has the right experience / credentials required.
  • Next, what tools do they use to implement and monitor. There are free tools with limited features and paid tools that let you do a lot more, and some agencies have developed tools of their own while some newer agencies are still doing most things manually. Know what tools they are using related your focus areas and their level of expertise on the same. Know the features and the limitations of these tools. See the reports from these tools. Does it give you all you need to know to be able to best implement your goals?  Also is their reporting live and will you have access to the same in real time?
  • What systems and processes do they follow? This is important as even with the right tools, a lot of implementation and fine tuning is manual, and there need to be checks and balances within the agency, so that a newbie does not by mistake post something that could be damaging for the brand, or execute a paid campaign without the right targeting and burn your money.
  • And last but not the least, are they in a position to grow with you and have the ability to scale as your business scales?

I have only listed a handful of basic but important points above. There are more areas to look at and look into, but if you get the above few right, then chances are, you are on the right track, and the rest will come to you automatically as you engage with them during the selection process. So get started and if you have any questions please feel free to comment below and ask. If you have already been through the process and have some pointers that could help others, please do share.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Digital marketing - Change is the only constant

As technology changes and evolves, it enables better interactivity, more personal conversations, better targeting, deeper analytics, and more. While that is happening, newer digital channels and marketing avenues emerge, and so do ways of doing what we did yesterday, even better. Existing platforms are constantly changing their algorithms and rules, as they add features and functionality, and even newer platforms that are engaging people better or focusing on a niche are coming up.

With the proliferation of digital devices and platforms, newer potential customers are now reachable, while existing ones are becoming more fickle, have shorter attention spans, and are becoming more demanding. Push is giving way to pull and marketing is getting more and more real time, continuous and even more interesting.

To succeed, Digital Marketers need to simultaneously know, learn, adapt and evolve - constantly. While email still works, more and more opens are happening from the mobile, websites have to be responsive so that they can be easily viewed from any device, landing pages have to keep in mind the ease of filling forms from a handheld device and conversations are happening more and more on newer mobile messaging platforms .

Analytics now has to track engagement and user flow based on device and OS along with time of day, their social interactions and the increasing number of channels they use. As traditional advertising majors acquire or build digital expertise, companies & brands too are looking for truly integrated use of offline and online in their campaigns. So offline marketers have to grasp digital and vice versa.

Yes, these are challenging and yet exciting times for Marketers. Challenging because they have to constantly learn and adapt to the new while improving on what they already know and exciting because with new developments in technology they can now do their jobs even better and deliver better results.

As all this happens the most common mistake a Digital Marketer can make, is to give more and more attention to the new, while repeating what worked earlier on the old. Also as we get more and more analytics based, we tend to at times forget the basics and the human element in it all. So let us jot down some essentials a Digital marketer should remind himself/herself everyday to ensure success.

First we should constantly remind ourselves the 3 key things that make Digital so unique.
  • It's Interactive
  • It's Measurable
  • It's Constantly evolving

Second - know your consumer or your target audience. Yes this too changes, as newer devices and technology and engagement channels are bringing a whole new audience to the fore that we may have not considered earlier. While free mobile messengers rule the urban audience, SMS and that too in local language (very important from the Indian perspective) is being used more and more by the rural audience. While channels such as Play Store or iTunes or YouTube are used by the young upwardly mobile from tier 1 & 2 cities to access content via WiFi or 3G,computer to mobile via cable or Bluetooth enabled device to device sharing of videos and audio is a rage among people in smaller towns and cities.

Third is to have a definite strategy and to rethink on the same at least every quarter. Use analytics to gauge the effectiveness of your strategy and then fine tune, modify, change, test and start again.

And finally always remember to be human in your interactions. Whether you are using email or SMS or a Video or a text ad or banner or building an affiliate program, don't forget that while technology handles the back end, its humans you are reaching out to. And humans like to interact with humans, buy and sell from humans and share and listen to humans. While automated messages and email responses and SMS replies and voice messages still have their use, it always works better if the customer or target audience knows there is a person at the other end. Automate the process, automate the analytics, automate the back end, but keep your messages and interactions as human as possible. Engage, listen and respond. People will listen to you more, tell you more, engage with you more, buy from you more, give you genuine feedback if you have an automated back end but a human front end.

While we are focusing on the online here, the same holds true for all marketers. And Clients or Companies or Brands. While the basics remain the same, a lot else has changed and is changing constantly. We need constant ideation, knowledge of what's new & re-definition of our target audience and our strategy. We need to constantly upgrade our skills, our teams, our systems and processes and then change again.