Clients look to agencies to help them navigate the noisy world of digital marketing. The last thing they need is an agency who only adds to that noise.
Yet many agencies are doing their clients a disservice by veiling their expertise in overly technical language, complicated models and intricate process diagrams.
I have personal experience of this, having moved from digital agency to client-side in the charity sector and back again. I’ve seen agencies make digital marketing appear inaccessible, an elusive universe that only they can access. This is likely the result of wanting to sound like the leading experts in their field, or more cynically, because of concerns around work increasingly being taken in-house.
And because this is so widespread, clients accept it as part of the territory.
The result is that everyone loses. Agencies miss out on a chance to show the fundamental value that digital can bring to a business or organisation. This makes it easier for clients to fall back on superficial quick-fixes rather than put effective long-term solutions in place.
An underlying simplicity
Digital marketing is a complex world. New technologies, new platforms and an incredibly fast-moving landscape mean that businesses have to grapple with many components, and this can appear bewildering. No wonder then, that the need for ‘simplicity’ is the number one issue highlighted by in-house marketers in a 2018 cross-sector survey from AAR Group.
The good news is that digital marketing is inherently simple. Yes, it has many components, and each has its own unique set of rules, but many core principles can be applied from one platform, channel or technology to the next.
Targeting the most appropriate people requires the same thoughtful and evidence-based selection whether through an email, paid search or social media campaign.
Choosing genuinely useful metrics to measure performance is as important in a brand awareness campaign as it is when the focus is on website visits or sales.
Finding the balance between reach and return-on-investment requires the same careful allocation of budget in a small display campaign as across a multi-channel digital strategy.
The language we use also matters. Too often in an agency, we ask our clients to decipher what we are saying, and then consider the meaning behind our words.
Agencies need to rethink how they speak about digital marketing and avoid using terminology that is far removed from the real world. Words such as ‘users’, ‘decks’ and ‘journeys’ sound natural in an agency setting but can be completely meaningless in someone else’s office. Let’s talk about ‘people’, ‘presentations’ and ‘experience’ instead.
Agencies shouldn’t work at arms length
Agencies offer incredible levels of both broad, cross-channel knowledge and deep, channel-specific expertise. But this doesn’t justify arrogance. They can best showcase their talents by playing a central role in developing client’s capabilities, and if they really want to be listened to, they must do this in the most succinct and straightforward way possible.
Agencies must consider mentorship as a core duty in working with any client. They should give at least some measure of success to how they have developed their client’s understanding of digital marketing, so in-house marketers can ultimately take greater ownership of their digital strategy.
If agencies get this right, and do it consistently, then they have the chance to be seen as an invaluable strategic partner, earning the right to work with clients to overcome some of their most significant challenges.
Joanna Harrod is strategist at Signal