There’s no question about it: Marketing as a profession is undergoing massive changes, right now, in real time. When you are in the midst of change, it is quite difficult to change your perceptions and even more difficult to alter long-established practices. But in marketing like anything else, if you want to stay ahead of the curve, you have to acknowledge that things are not what they used to be, and then be willing to reset your expectations and plans.
I have been a marketer for over 20 years, and for the first 17-18 years, the practice of marketing did not change much. Companies determined their product (or service) strategy, created marketing materials, attended conferences, hired advertising agencies to run advertising campaigns, and public relations agencies to present stories to the press. (Great generalization, I admit, but more or less true). When he hired an agency, he expected the ‘creative guys’ to go away, think creatively, and come back with some engaging advertisements or some powerful story ideas to present to journalists. The implicit expectation: “do it for me, please.”
The new world of search marketing and social media is very different. If your job is to market your company’s products, you can’t expect an agency to “just do it” for you. Why not? There are 3 main reasons, as I see it:
Freshness of content. Your online image is as fresh as your content. While an outside marketing agency may know a lot about your business or product, they are simply not as close to what’s new and exciting as you are. You will need the content to continue and the news to be up to date. However, an outside agency can be an excellent brainstorming partner, content management advisor, ghostwriter, editor, content optimizer, copywriting coach, and even blogging “personal trainer.” Online marketing is rapidly evolving into content marketing, and an agency can be a valuable partner in helping your business make this transition.
The personal touch. Social media is about connecting directly with your customers and prospects, and an authentic voice is critical to establishing trust. Therefore, it is a good idea to develop the “voice” of your own company and build a credible presence on social media. An outside agency can be a key partner in helping you set goals for your social media strategy, understand the different social media channels and which ones best suit your goals and audience, and advise you on how to get started. They can also help you link your social media strategy to a broader content marketing strategy and measure its effectiveness across the board.
Fast answer. Your business is likely to be discussed online. Whether it’s online customer reviews, social media discussions, or blog comments, your business name, and therefore your online reputation, is out there. If you want a chance to reply, shape your image, or even just track what’s being said, you’ll need to tune in to this talk. A company representative is once again your best voice online, although a marketing agency can track and measure what is being said and point you to the trouble spots that need your immediate attention.
The success of a marketer in today’s online environment begins with commitment. Compromise is becoming an overused word, but it’s fitting nonetheless. If you don’t interact with your customers, you will lose their attention online; And for a growing number of consumers, online is where their attention is increasingly focused.
Does this mean that you shouldn’t hire a marketing agency? No, that’s certainly not what I’m suggesting (disclosure: I AM a marketing agency). And you should still expect creative ideas, sound strategic thinking, and excellence in execution, as good marketing agencies have always provided. But I suggest you modify your “do it for me” expectation. To help you be successful, an internet marketing agency needs your deep involvement. While there are agencies that will encourage you to outsource everything to them, a more effective approach is a partnership.
If you want to represent an authentic online presence, you will need to develop your own unique voice on social media, generate unique content frequently, and respond in a timely manner to your fans and online reviewers. These are important tasks, and an online marketing agency can help: as a coach, editor, organizer, strategist, ghostwriter, tracker, and metrics analyst, and more. But they can’t “just go do it” without you.