The right agency can drive more qualified traffic to your online properties, increase your website conversions, help you improve your back-end processes, and create long-term winning strategies.
But the wrong agency can suck your budget dry, fill your inbox with excuses, and leave you worse off than you were in the first place.
Especially if you’ve been burned by agencies in the past, you want to make sure you hire the right one.
How can you make sure you choose the agency that fits your brand and your goals?
Over the years, my team has whittled down the key seven questions to ask agencies to determine whether they’re the right partner. A lot of them are questions we ourselves have been asked by our clients.
They’re hugely helpful filters to narrow down your list of fashion and luxury marketing agencies and find the perfect Goldilocks fit.
This is an important question, precisely because it’s often overlooked.
When beginning their search, a lot of brands simply search for “digital marketing agencies”. On the flip side, many agencies label themselves as “full service”.
At first gasp, full service seems like the right fit. You’re looking for someone to help you with digital marketing, after all, and what could be better than a one-stop shop?
Here’s the problem: digital marketing contains hundreds of subspecialties. Conversion optimization (CRO), Facebook ad creation and deployment, search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing, bot marketing, content marketing, etc.
Each and every one of these subspecialties has significant complexities of its own, and requires specific expertise.
For example, let’s take a look at some of the subcategories of conversion optimization. Optimizers need to be expert at qualitative research (including polls, surveys, customer interviews), quantitative research (analytics and technical setup), usability testing, how to find testing ideas, A/B testing, conversion design, persuasive copywriting… the list goes on.
This means that if you’re hiring a “full-service” or “360” digital marketing agency, you’ll very likely be hiring a team of people that’s good at a lot of things, but not great at anything.
Put another way, if you needed heart surgery, would you go to your family practitioner or a cardiac specialist? I’m guessing you’d want the specialist. I know I would.
The same applies to digital marketing. Do you want someone who sort of knows how to do SEO based on blog posts they’ve read, or would you rather have an expert who’s been doing solely SEO work for the past 10 years?
The decision is simple.
To narrow down the agencies you’re considering, decide on your main goal.
If your business is brand-new to digital marketing, then a generalist agency can help you create a strategy.
But if you have an idea of what needs to be done, or you’re looking for help with a specific piece of your digital marketing strategy, then you need to hire specialized agencies.
Around the 1990s, the Ford Motor Company decided to expand into luxury, creating a division called the Premier Automotive Group (PAG). Through this group, it purchased prestigious automotive brands like Jaguar and Aston Martin, plus premium brands like Land Rover and Volvo.
Having grown the Ford brand with great success, Ford thought it would have the same success with PAG. It promptly applied the Ford methodologies for marketing, manufacturing, operations, and management to PAG.
But PAG remained in the red for years. Around 2007, it had to dismantle and sell all of its car brands.
The “Ford methodology” that worked like a dream for Ford’s mass-market brands completely failed when applied to its premium and luxury brands.
The same process has repeated itself throughout marketing history, like when L’Oréal bought Lanvin, but had to sell it a few years later. “Regular,” mass-market or mid-market strategies just don’t work for luxury brands.
And the same is true for agencies.
This is why luxury brands need to work with an agency that specializes in high-end and luxury commerce. This type of agency understands the necessary difference in the approach to the brand image, the customer’s emotion and mindset, and the entire digital marketing strategy.
It’s critical that your agency partner understands the difference between the mass-market and luxury approaches, and that they can offer you specific processes and guidance tailored to the needs of a luxury brand.
At SplitBase, we created a conversion optimization framework specifically for luxury fashion, lifestyle and beauty brands called the High-End Conversion Engine. It’s the only conversion framework in the world handcrafted for high-end brands.
You’ll get a lot of different answers to this question.
Many design agencies will respond that they’ll look at how design elements pair with each other, and that they’ll evaluate and decide to make changes based on their experience.
Other agencies will respond with a list of tactics they may or may not have read in a blog post.
Neither of these is the best answer.
Instead, look for an agency that answers this question by saying they’ll rely on data — both qualitative and quantitative.
Removing, changing, or adding elements to a website can make a huge impact that can be either positive or negative. Without A/B testing, it’s tough to know which way it’s going to go. And without data to inform the strategy, deciding exactly what to test is even tougher.
Design by committee is one of the greatest dangers of a website improvement project, and one common to agency work. The design process should work like this:
Don’t accept any other answers. Look for an agency that proposes a clear research process behind its website changes (something like the Testing Trifecta methodology). We call this data-driven web design.
Otherwise, you might fall into the trap of making changes that you, your team, or your agency “think” will improve your website — while those same changes hurt your conversions.
Here are the two biggest red flags you might encounter when you ask this question:
First, if the agency will be working on your website’s design or messaging, or on any other pieces of your marketing, but says they won’t do any type of customer research… run.
It’s incredibly important to be able to understand your visitors’ needs, wants, objections, doubts, and questions so you can effectively communicate with them — and convert them into customers.
Doing customer research also enables you to nail down the “Voice of Customer,” AKA the words and phrases that your customers use to talk about your products, your brand, and your industry. Don’t overlook the importance of this insight. Voice of customer research alone helped us grow the sales of a high-end deodorant company by up to 21%.
The second red flag is if the agencies tell you they “create customer personas” based on discussions between their team and yours. Customer personas are incredibly useful — but only if they’re fully data-driven. Personas devised internally, without actually speaking to customers, will lead to potentially harmful guesses, opinions, and assumptions.
The correct response to this question:
The agency you choose should tell you they’ll do qualitative surveys, polls, and usability testing. They’ll analyze your support and chat logs, and even interview your customers in order to understand them better. If you have retail stores, they should even visit your stores and talk to your employees! This is the only way to truly understand the emotions and “triggers” that make your customers buy from you.
The answer to this question should be crystal-clear. If an agency doesn’t have a clear, documented process of their sales growth methodology, or if you feel like they’re making it up, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
The first step of every agency’s process should be to listen to your goals. After all, nothing else matter if they don’t know exactly what you’re looking to achieve!
For instance, if you want to increase your ecommerce sales, your agency should be able to help you determine whether you need to increase website conversions or invest more in ads before prescribing a marketing solution.
If an agency says they don’t have a process because every client’s situation is different, hang up. At the end of the day, every project may be different, but the best luxury marketing agencies have standard procedures they follow in order to be able to achieve repeatable success. Note that having a process does not mean simply copy-pasting a project for one client to another, and processes shouldn’t limit ideas and creativity, either.
At SplitBase, we created the Testing Trifecta process: our methodology for increasing the conversions of high-end ecommerce sites. The process doesn’t tell us what tests to run, or exactly what to change on a website to grow sales; that being said, it tells us which research tools to use, and when to use each during a project’s timeline.
Internally, having a process means we have checklists to make sure A/B tests are coded and launched properly. Which means our projects run smoothly.
When a client hires us, they get a proven method to increase website conversions — not some made-up strategy concocted during our first conversation.
Stay away from agencies without processes and methodologies. The success rate of their projects will vary widely, and it could mean the flow of their operations is mediocre at best.
Many agencies decide to work exclusively with certain tools. This is often the case with A/B testing tools, wherein some agencies will force their clients to change to their preferred platform, for the agency’s best interests.
Unfortunately, this can be a significant inconvenience for a client if they’re already set up and using a tool of their own. Although a tool change can facilitate an agency’s work, more often than not, agencies want to switch their clients to their partner platform(s) in order to get a commission.
Another problem with this approach is that the agency may end up choosing the tool that’s best for the agency, instead of what’s best for the client.
For example, not every company running A/B tests needs a fully loaded version of Optimizely X or Adobe Test & Target (which comes with a sizeable price tag).
Your agency should be your partner in finding the best technology, without being biased by commissions they might receive. So look for an agency that understands what you need from them, and that is happy to work with multiple different tools (like the ones you already use).
This is the question we get most often when talking with new clients. And although we fully understand that all companies want to make sure they’re investing their money wisely, you should run away from any agency that guarantees results.
That might sound counterintuitive, but the reality is that no performance marketing agency in the world can predict the success of its work. None of us have a crystal ball.
There are easily hundreds of factors that can impact the results of a conversion optimization, PPC, or SEO project. Many of these factors are not — and cannot — be controlled by a marketing agency.
Imagine what happens if an ecommerce company receives the majority of its traffic and sales from Google… but then the next month, Google changes its algorithm. The company’s search engine rankings drop significantly. The quality of traffic diminishes. This will undoubtedly impact the conversion rate, the bounce rate, revenue per user, and sales. And none of it will be the agency’s fault.
Outside factors like market demand, negative press, even politics, can also impact the success of a digital marketing project. These are simply out of an agency’s control — and no agency worth its salt would say otherwise.
When it comes to your brand, it’s important to hire a partner that understand your audience, how you want to grow, and what you need your brand to communicate.
And more than that, it’s key to find an agency with a field-tested methodology. Use these questions to better understand the expertise and approach of any agency you consider.
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