Digital marketing agencies that strive to excel on the bleeding edge of technology face a number of challenges. The traditional challenge of the marketing industry has always been showing return on investment for services rendered. Unfortunately, many unscrupulous marketing teams through the years have promised the world knowing that their efforts would be hard to quantify. The digital age has rectified this to a great extent, with modern tools enabling a greater collection of data to represent marketing efforts and their impact. Organic reach, click-through-rate, bounce rate, time on site, unique opens, SEO rankings and more have added real numbers to marketing initiatives. But challenges remain. These modern measuring sticks are themselves constantly evolving to reflect changes in consumer behaviour, platforms and search algorithms, to name a few. The constant nature of these evolutions has led some marketers to give up the effort of quantification and return to the pre-data days of yore.
Despite the challenge presented by quantifying our efforts, the truth of working in digital marketing as a progressive/push-the-envelope agency is that the failure to acknowledge data is failing your client. As marketers, we have to meet the challenge of our industry’s reputation for casting ROI aside. It is not enough to be self-satisfied with our work, no matter how brilliant we believe our creative masterpieces are. The best way that we can ensure we get it right and deliver the results our clients need is to review as much information about their brand, their performance, and their business objectives as we can before we let pen hit paper on a creative concept. Anything less is doomed to fail those that have entrusted us. Frankly, anything less is selfish.
There are many arguments for the exclusion of data in the marketing conversation, but the analysis of past trends combined with robust predictive analytics is the future of our industry. Ignore data and be left behind.
The brand in today's climate
The internet is getting noisy. Or, it’s always been noisy and is growing ever moreso. As marketers, it can be challenging to hold our agencies to a higher standard. We see content houses pumping out content for brands they've never engaged with. We see SEO firms with two staff and piles of clients whose work is being farmed overseas with no relationship to the brand. These are practices I wholeheartedly oppose from professional, economic and ethical perspectives..
I see the marketing industry moving towards a hybrid data and creative approach that makes memorable experiences for consumers. This approach should establish the brand with aesthetic beauty and strategic communications constructed using data (or, rather, information we have about the past and predictable future interactions that users will have with our brands).
The truth of our industry is that those who will survive and thrive are those who acknowledge that being creative isn't enough. Those same survivors will also know that being data driven is far from enough. A complex marriage of the two is the only way that you are responsibly serving your clients.
Creative meets calculated
A powerful change in the advent of data has been our ability to make calculated marketing decisions. No agency worth their weight would suggest that creative is unimportant. Conversely, the same could be said when it comes to an agency's relationship with data. When we work to develop a concept that will help our client win, it is invaluable to assess the following market points through the lens of data.
We are now privy to a lot of information about how our clients' competitors are performing in their digital strategies, and in some instances, their more traditional marketing efforts. We can assess their performance in search, we can use numerous site evaluation tools to see where their site is falling short, assess our opportunities to gain market share. We can evaluate how interactive they are as a brand, what is sticking and what is not working for them.
When we know who is leading the pack, we can assess those three or four brands for areas where they are winning. What kinds of messages are setting them apart, what questions are they answering, what pain points are they solving? All of this information is what may have once been considered a luxury to have. In 2017 it is an intrinsic element of the marketing process. The information is available to you. Use it.
Questions people are asking
One of the most interesting parts of the marketing planning process is where our clients' ideas about what their prospects need from them meets the actual questions that prospects are asking. How do we know? The search market tells us.
A search engine optimization (SEO) strategy should not feel wooden or cold, it should be what guides the natural flow of content for a company. There are technical elements that are important to note during the construction of a website (architecture, content hierarchy, etc), but there is more to it than that. You are getting a look at what people are asking when they aren't asking you. Use that information to arm your website with content that solves those problems without them having to ask.
Ultimately, your website is your first impression. It needs to be beautiful, it needs to be easy to navigate, but more importantly, it needs to communicate important brand messages that will deliver desired information to people you want to do business with. Your prospect list should grow as a result of a well strategized website.
Performance of your existing marketing
Not only does the market at large have a wealth of information, so does your company. Explore the data that lives inside the company itself. The people you work with answer questions, they know the weak spots in your content strategy without even realizing it. Engage them.
Assess your own metrics accounts and get a feel for how your marketing is being used. Are people getting to your website and immediately going away? Are they getting two pages deep and leaving without engagement? Are there pages on your site that are too far embedded and important content isn't being found? You already have those answers. Look at them, assess the data and make educated decisions about how to prioritize what appears on your website and where as you move through the design process.
Too often we are quick to simplify the design of a site because we are being rigid in our data findings, it needs to be more fluid. Your creative process should come armed with information. Do the homework first, then address the visual. It is too easy to feel like you are sacrificing great design for metrics when you start this process to late. If you begin the process armed with knowledge, you can win.
How this affects what we do
What it ultimately comes down to is how is the client going to benefit from the great work we do. Some clients seek the masterpiece and care little about the opportunity for growth. That is okay, they are not the right client for our agency, but they are someone's client. There are agencies that masterfully apply artistic concepts to creative beautiful websites. Sometimes they perform, and sometimes they don't. The clients I am interested in value the relationship between their marketing budget and their bottom line. They want return on investment and they seek information to help them get there.
Marketing is a budget line item, and we have to justify our value. With the wealth of information that is now available to us it is our responsibility to share that with our clients, to facilitate their growth, enabled with our creative work.