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.

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