Sergio Alvarez is a performance marketing expert, digital attribution leader, and CEO and founder of AI Media Group.
The marketing space has seen some of the highest levels of change and disruption in the last decade. It’s an exciting industry to work in, but that also makes it challenging. Whether you’re about to open your first digital marketing agency or have been running your business for a while and are in a rut, there are a few guiding principles that can help you succeed. In addition, for clients entering a marketing agency for the first time, these principles can help identify a solid foundation for that fast-growing relationship.
Building something requires a solid foundation and an endoskeleton. When building a successful marketing agency, these six pillars can support your business:
Pillar 1: the people
You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. Your team needs to be on the same wavelength as you in every way: skill, culture and attitude. Balancing these aspects is the challenge. A highly skilled employee can be valuable, but can also be seen as toxic if their attitudes and culture don’t match your company’s. Therefore, skillsets need to be updated regularly.
Pillar 2: the technology
While people are important, they are not enough to create a successful marketing agency. To achieve your KPIs, the right technology is essential. You may have this technology in-house or you can purchase it, but you will most likely fail if you are not able to properly track campaigns and understand the levers to use. A good marketing agency can always tell you exactly why the numbers are rising or falling – not in vague, unobtrusive terms, but with hard data.
Pillar 3: Clear alignment of goals
From the first meeting with a potential client, a clear alignment of goals should be the foundation of your interactions. Both you and your client need to be crystal clear about what success looks like. By clearly mapping out goals, you can determine in advance whether your desk is right for the job. No matter how many times the goals shift, there must always be one clearly defined ultimate picture of success that transcends all others.
Pillar 4: Transparency and realism
Your agency cannot be the best at everything. Pushing your business into a jack-of-all-trades increases the risk of failure. Understanding your strengths will help you draw up a well-defined plan for each campaign, filling in the gaps with other agencies where necessary. Customers value honesty and are likely to have more confidence in your skills because you can clearly point out where the skill gaps exist.
These skills gaps should be identified in the goal-setting stage of your agency’s engagement with the client. The nature of their ultimate goal should match your company’s strengths, and the smaller factors that will stack up to achieve that goal can then be outsourced as needed. An example is an agency with a creative lean versus an agency with more analytical skills. Each of these types of agencies will better serve different goals and should outsource the areas where they have less expertise.
Pillar 5: Being human
This one should be the easiest of them all, but in my experience it is often overlooked. People buy from people. It may be tempting to try using your skills or great products as your selling point, but other agencies are likely to have the same or similar propositions. What sets you apart is how good you are at building relationships with your customers and what you’re willing to sacrifice to maintain that relationship.
Work-life balance is important, but when you start a new business, there may be a period where you have to decide how much you are willing to sacrifice to make it succeed. Part of that decision is doing what others don’t want to get and keep customers who value leaders who go the extra mile.
Pillar 6: Continuous Innovation
Innovation and the ability to disrupt are essential in marketing, especially in the digital world. You, your team and your agency need to be flexible and ready to turn at any time. Continuous learning and keeping a finger on the pulse of the industry are essential for success. Meeting the customer’s current needs is one thing, but having the ability to meet their future needs is where the value really lies.
Is this the right time?
Now if you’re thinking about starting a marketing agency, you might be looking at the news and the economy. Thinking now is not the right time. But honestly, there’s no right time to start a business. The best time to get your desk up and running is when you choose to do it.
I started my business in 2008, just before the worst economic downturn in nearly 100 years. But I found that starting my business at that time really benefited me in the long run. New businesses are easier to run in changing times than established businesses. Also, in my experience, anything forged in fire is much harder than its fair-weather counterpart.
Build it and they will come
Once you’ve considered the six pillars of a successful marketing agency and convinced yourself that the right time is the right time to start, you need to build something you’ll be proud of. If you are establishing a marketing agency that you would use, it is very likely that the types of clients you can sign up for will align with your values and business goals. This kind of symmetry is invaluable and an undeniable building block on the road to a successful marketing agency.