The rise of digital connectivity was a fact of business life even before the onset of the COVID-19 virus. The introduction of lockdown, and the long-term shifts which the necessity of physical distancing has brought about, mean that digital marketing services will be in demand in the future in a manner which simply hasn’t been seen before. Many of the digitally enabled behaviours we are now seeing accelerated as a result of COVID19 are likely to be with us permanently.
Businesses which might have previously demoted their digital marketing efforts down the priority order, or treated them as a luxurious additional extra to more traditional marketing, are now coming to realise that their future lies in connecting digitally with as many customers and prospective customers as possible.
Of course, most agencies that specialise in providing traditional PR, creative and advertising services have already moved to offer some measure of digital service or capability. Arguably the trick facing into the future post COVID19 will be how to adapt their offering in order to meet new, increased and accelerated demand.
The question is how exactly to scale your marketing agencies digital capacity in such a manner that you’ll be equipped to meet future demand without compromising what has, to date, been your core business.
The first step toward scaling up involves deciding that the right time to take the next step has arrived. Key tell-tale signs include the fact that you’ve started to get enquiries from markets outside your usual target markets and are perhaps even having to turn work away because you don’t have the digital capabilities to take it on.
Or worse, you’ve come to recognise that your existing clients are spending more with more digitally centric or specialist businesses. And then there are those pitches that you may have lost to competitors because they have a wider breadth and more demonstrable digital capability.
You may have even noticed that the interest and uptake of your more traditional offerings has suffered a decline, and in the event your clients don’t perceive your digital expertise highly they might not even be asking you to help their own evolution to digital first.
If things like this are happening and you have the funds needed to invest in scaling up then the time might well have arrived to add enhanced digital capabilities to your portfolio, or to expand upon the digital capabilities you already have in place.
Even without specific funds to invest you may need to consider other approaches that evolve your existing services and capabilities more incrementally, and fast, in the event you are starting to feel like the digital revolution is passing you by. These can include upskilling internally, partnerships and outsourcing.
It’s worth noting that digital is not new news by any stretch to any agency owner. However, we live in exceptional times, and if there is one thing for certain it’s that those that adapt to changing demands and realise new opportunities will be those that thrive into the future.
Arguably paying lip service to digital capability will no longer prove sufficient. The acceleration of digital uptake amongst COVID19 also means that there will be opportunity in helping client businesses accelerate their own digital transformations. To be their supplier of choice, you’ll need to match your services and capabilities to their evolving needs.
Before taking any steps to scale your agency and increase your digital capabilities it’s vital that you know exactly where you stand at the present moment. Analyse your in-house team and the processes you currently work with and ask yourself honestly if you’re ready to deliver more digital marketing services.
There’s a very good chance that you won’t be 100% ready, so an audit of this kind is the perfect opportunity to analyse and record your strengths and weaknesses as they relate to scaling up your digital services. It will highlight the areas in which you need to invest, and create a reference point to look back on when embarking on scaling up. Having a detailed record of your starting point against which to measure your progress will make it easier to see both how far you’ve gone and how much further you need to travel.
Building a complete picture of your strengths and weaknesses will also be massively useful when it comes to planning your marketing, and how exactly you want to position yourself as you pivot towards digital or truly integrated marketing. Above all else, a full audit will tell you if you’re ready to scale up and, if not, exactly what you have to do to get ready.
The danger of not performing an audit of this kind is that you base your digital offering on the basis of two things – what customers are asking for and what your competitors are able to deliver. Vital though these metrics are, if you divorce them from an analysis of your own capabilities you could find yourself offering services, such as web design, content marketing and social media, which you don’t yet have the ability to deliver. This could doom your digital delivery efforts to failure before they’ve properly begun.
Work with all levels of your business to make sure that your employees are fully on board with the pivot toward digital delivery. Simply presenting such a move as a top down ‘revolution’ will leave your team feeling alienated and less able to deliver the change you want to see.
Make sure that every member, in every department – even those not directly impacted by the digital shift – will know exactly how the leads that come in will be delivered in the future, and what new and exciting services the shift toward digital provision will enable your business to provide.
If the shift to digital marks a major departure for your company it can be tempting to separate it from your wider strategy. There are two reasons behind this form of thinking. The first is that the move toward digital is inherently experimental when being performed by an agency which has, in the past, favoured more ‘traditional’ forms of marketing.
The second is a wish to protect the more traditional strengths of an organisation by ring fencing the digital aspect until such time as its success has been clearly demonstrated. This would be a mistake however; if digital scaling up is to be successful then you have to guarantee ‘buy in’ at every level of your business.
This means that even those members of your team who are not directly involved in digital provision should be aware of the digital scaling up taking place, and of what they can do to help make it a success. At the same time, if any members of your team have to refocus their efforts in the direction of digital provision – or if you actually have to take on new employees in order to make it possible to scale your marketing agencies digital capability – then embedding digital capability at the heart of your wider strategy will help to make sure that they feel fully engaged and involved.
Another good reason to fully embed digital strategy in this manner is that no single strand of your marketing agency can be said to operate in a vacuum. Your digital strategy will feed into – and draw from – your traditional marketing efforts at every stage of the work you provide. In other words, although you will be concentrating on your digital strategy in the earliest stages of developing it, your ultimate aim will be for there to be no unique ‘digital strategy’, because digital provision will just become an integral part of your wider strategy.
And necessarily in your client’s minds, digital is part of any customer journey, albeit an increasingly critical one. Thereby, offering digital as a joined up and integrated service area alongside your traditional marketing strengths may well be the answer that your clients are looking for.
One of the main challenges facing any agency keen to expand on their digital offering is the sheer scale and number of services which fall under the umbrella term ‘digital’. Are you talking about ecommerce? Automation? Facebook ads? Will your clients be expecting you to have expertise in data analytics or emerging tech such as AI?
Following the audit of your existing services you need to ask yourself which of these you have the expertise and capabilities to deliver. Attempting too much will leave you in danger of spreading your services too thinly and overpromising to clients who then face inevitable disappointment.
Ignoring emerging technologies, on the other hand, could put you in a position in which you’re not offering digital services which your clients are aware of and competitors are making use of. The key to finding the successful balance lies in creating partnerships with experts across the range of digital disciplines, leaving you in the enviable position of being able to grow, shrink and fine tune your digital offering as and when demand calls for it.
Your field of expertise lies in delivering marketing for your clients. For most agencies those clients will typically come from across a wide range of sectors. It follows as a matter of course, then, that you’ll be delivering digital services for clients in sectors of which you little if any expert digital knowledge.
The key to working around this potential problem lies in knowing when to outsource delivery to people with expert knowledge. This could apply equally to the particular fields within which your clients work as it does to aspects of marketing such as B2B or eCommerce.
During the initial stages of scaling up you may hesitate to involve ‘outsiders’ in the delivery of your services, but the all-important aspect is the effectiveness of that delivery as far as the end user is concerned. By working with carefully chosen experts in the right digital disciplines you’ll be expanding the range of expertise you can offer to your clients at the same time as deepening the experience of your in-house teams. Working temporarily with outside expertise of this kind will also help you to decide exactly when you need to take on permanent expert employees, and thus grow your agency and its capabilities.
One of the things which clients expect when working with digital marketing agencies is a degree of speed and simplicity. After all, one of the great promises held out by any switch to digital over more traditional ways of working is that the digital solution will be more convenient and will deliver faster results.
You therefore need to organise your agency in such a way that every client experiences this kind of ease and simplicity from the moment they get in touch with you. This means making client onboarding as simple as possible. As soon as a client makes initial contact, streamline the onboarding process using digital toolsets such as your CRM and collaboration software. Of course, ensure human contact is retained and relationships are built by connecting them with a primary point of contact who is digitally literate and empowered to drive their success.
Every interaction between your agency and a customer is not only a chance to demonstrate your value but also a chance for the delivery process to be slowed down a little. Regular maintenance tasks and other repetitive manual processes can quickly highlight how the time and expertise of your employees can be distracted from the business of scaling up your digital offering.
The answer to this problem is to automate as many of the processes as possible. The more your business scales up, the greater the number of processes will become, and a failure to embrace automation where suitable will inevitably lead to members of your team devoting far too much of their time to mundane administrative matters rather than flexing their creative and marketing muscles.
The shift toward a focus on offering digital services will naturally call for a whole new range of skills. The question you have to ask yourself (and this is where the audit mentioned earlier in this piece will play such a vital role) is whether these demands can be met by hiring new employees, training up existing employees or outsourcing particular activities to external providers.
The right approach to take will likely involve balancing all of these approaches, since constantly expanding the size of your team will leave you in a vulnerable position if demand ever falls off temporarily. At the same time, fostering strong working relationships with specialist suppliers able to deliver to the standards expected by your clients will put you in the position of being able to quickly and simply scale up and down as and when demand rises and falls.
Following on from the previous tip, if you’re keen to scale your marketing agencies digital capability then you should be willing to embrace outsourcing. As a smaller agency working in more traditional areas you may have used the in-house nature of your offering as one of your selling points.
The same kind of continuity of service, consistency and high levels of excellence can still continue to be delivered when outsourcing, however, as long as you outsource to the right people. Look to experts in matters such as web design, with a strong track record of delivering results and a team which has been carefully put together to provide the widest possible range of expertise.
Just as importantly, outsource to agencies that are willing and indeed eager to work with you in a genuine spirit of partnership. In other words, when you outsource aspects of website development or your digital services, you’re not simply hiving off a part of a job and handing it to an external body. On the contrary, you are taking on board the expertise of the outside agency as if the members of their team were becoming, for as long as it takes, members of your own team.
As well as ensuring continuity of service and access to the latest thinking, technology and skill sets in the digital arena, you’ll also be working in a way which keeps your costs as low as possible.
Whatever key performance indicators (KPI) you’ve worked with in the past, you’ll have to revise them once your focus has shifted toward offering more digital capability. Once again, this is an area in which it can pay to work with external experts, who will be well versed on the kind of metrics needed to ascertain the value – for example – of a particular social media approach.
Measuring Return on Investment (ROI) accurately will prove valuable in two ways. It will enable you to accurately track just how well your own shift toward digital marketing is going, and it will furnish you with the kind of facts and figures, not to mention a set of criteria, to be able to present to would be clients in the future.
As stated at the start of this article, scaling up digital provision is one which every marketing agency is already aware is likely to be mandatory for future success. No matter how wedded you might be to the traditional way of delivering your services, and no matter how impressive the results might have been in the past, the digital tide is impossible to deny.
More than anything else, this is because it is being driven by consumer demand. The consumers in question aren’t merely the businesses that will come to you for your marketing expertise, they are the consumers of those businesses. These consumers have grown up with digital interaction feeling as natural as breathing, and will expect the people they buy goods and services from to reflect that ubiquity. If you can’t help your clients to do this then you can be certain that your rival agencies will be only too happy to do so.