There’s no doubt about it – marketing as a profession is undergoing massive changes, right now, in real-time. When you’re in the midst of change, it’s hard enough to shift your perceptions, and even harder to alter long-established practices. But in marketing as in anything else, if you want to stay ahead of the curve, you need to acknowledge that things aren’t what they used to be, and then be willing to reset your expectations as well as your plans.
I’ve been a marketing professional for over 20 years, and for the first 17-18 years, the practice of marketing didn’t change much. Companies determined their product (or service) strategy, created marketing materials, attended conferences, hired ad agencies to run ad campaigns and PR agencies to pitch stories to the press. (Gross generalization, I admit, but roughly true). When you hired an agency, you expected the ‘creative types’ to go off, think creatively, and come back with some cool-looking ads or some punchy story ideas to pitch to journalists. The implicit expectation: “just go do it for me, please.”
The new world of search marketing and social media is much 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:
Content Freshness. Your online image is only as fresh as your content. While an outside marketing agency may know lots about your company or product, they’re just not as close as you are to what’s new and interesting about it. You’ll need to keep the content coming, and keep the news fresh. An outside agency can, however, be a terrific brainstorming partner, content management advisor, ghost writer, editor, content optimizer, writing coach, and even blog “personal trainer”. Online marketing is fast evolving into content marketing, and an agency can be a valuable partner in helping your company to make this transition.
The Personal Touch. Social media is all about connecting directly with your customers and prospects, and an authentic voice is critical to establishing trust. It’s therefore a good idea to develop your own company “voice” and to 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 are best suited to your goals and audience, and coach you on how to get started. They can also help you tie your social media strategy to a larger Content Marketing strategy, and measure your effectiveness across the board.
Quick Response. It’s likely your company is being talked about online. Whether it’s online customer reviews, social media discussions, or blog comments, your company name – and hence your online reputation – is out there. If you want a chance to respond, shape your image, or even just track what’s being said, you’ll need to tune in to this chatter. A company representative is once again your best online voice, although a marketing agency can track and measure what’s being said and point you to the trouble spots that need your immediate attention.
Success for a marketer in the current online environment starts with engagement. Engagement is becoming an over-used word, but it’s an apt one nonetheless. If you don’t engage with your customers, you’ll lose their online attention; and for a growing number of consumers, online is where their attention is increasingly focused.
Does this mean 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, solid strategic thinking, and excellence in execution, as good marketing agencies have always provided. But I am suggesting you alter your “just do it for me” expectation. To help you succeed, an Internet Marketing agency needs your deep involvement.
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While there are agencies who’ll encourage you to outsource everything to them, a more effective approach is a partnership.
If you want to portray an authentic online presence, you’ll need to develop your own unique voice in social media, generate unique content on a frequent basis, and respond in a timely manner to your online fans and reviewers. These are big tasks, and an online marketing agency can help – as coach, editor, organizer, strategizer, ghost writer, metrics tracker and analyst, and more. But they can’t “just go do it” without you.