How to Select a Digital Strategy Agency
A lot of fuss is being made these days about a company's digital marketing strategy. Often the primary people being engaged are traditional advertising or marketing agencies - which I think is a mistake. Digital strategy is not simply an add-on to a traditional ad buy - it's not a microsite or a Facebook page, but instead should be treated as it's own market with it's own particular nuances. Like all service sectors it's important to find a firm that is honest and committed to great customer service, but there are also other specific things to look for:
- Digital Executives
- Facebook, Twitter (& YouTube)
- SEO Fundamentals
- Technology Bias, but not Dogma
- In-house Development
1. Digital Executives
Leadership comes from the top, and creation of a digital culture is no exception. Hiring decisions, promotion - everything that you care about - comes from the top. If you care about stepping into the digital world, look for a company where the leadership is actively blogging, tweeting and is a member of Facebook.
2. Facebook, Twitter (& YouTube)
Some channels are way too important to ignore. Facebook, Twitter & YouTube (if video is important to you) are absolutely critical. Other services/sites are great to be informed about but they are much less important. There are geographic exceptions to this. For example, if you are looking to enter into Asia - Ushi (Ushi.cn) is an important one to know about.
3. SEO & SEM Fundamentals
No planning conversation about a website should skim over or ignore Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and it's premium sister Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Entry into a website is not via the home page the majority of time. For our site, less then 10% of our visitors actually arrived first thing on the home page - this means they were driven to the site via an ad or an organic search result.
4. Technology Bias, but not Dogma
You don't want an agency that is technology agnostic. What this means, is that they don't do any programming, so they'll simply find a contractor to do it - often someone they have never worked with before. You want someone who will recommend specific technologies (plural) depending on the needs of your campaign.
For example at Metal Toad we're big fans of Drupal development, but if a project comes along that is primarily ecommerce Magento may often be a better choice.
5. In-House Development
This may be controversial, but I think that it is critical to have either in-house developers or a strong established partnership with a development shop. There is too much value won or lost, based on how closely the strategy and creative work is paired with development. This is particularly poignant when leveraging an established framework; it cannot be ignored or development costs and timelines will be doubled or tripled.
In the digital world, if you're not looking to the future, you're being left behind. Be sure to ask your agency what kind of research and development they are doing in the space, what conferences they are attending and (importantly) how that information is being filtered back to the people actually doing the work.