In the episode:
01:09 – A whole spectrum of agencies. There’s the big, the small, and the middling.
03:13 – How do you know you’ve got a good one? Here are some points for assessment.
06:10 – The things that are worth benchmarking. It pays to measure the right metrics.
09:37 – These are the clues to look for. They’ll tell you you’ve found THE ONE.
11:56 – The agreement you can typically expect. Before you sign on the dotted line…
16:06 – Beware these known red flags. Run away when you detect these – far away.
19:07 – What you get with Social Wave. What makes them a good marketing agency?
21:56 – The businesses Kan gets the best results for. These make their best fit customers.
A lot of marketing agencies, to put it unambiguously, suck. And for something as important as marketing, you want someone good in your corner.
Kan Huang runs a reputable agency, Social Wave, and he’s heard enough from clients to realize many of them don’t know a good agency from bad. So in this appearance, he’s looking to unearth the truths and bust some myths.
A whole spectrum of agencies
James coaches business owners, and he knows, when you get to a certain size, you need to hand stuff off. This is where they typically go agency-shopping.
And there’s a range of types to choose from, says Kan. On one end there’s the one-person show with an offshore team doing the execution. At the opposite side of the market are the well-known agencies – big brands, big reputations – all locally staffed. And with these, you may find yourself under the care of someone quite junior.
Agencies like Kan’s sit somewhere in the middle. Offshore team handle the predictable work, while strategy is the domain of local staff members, who keep a finger on the pulse of clients and their businesses.
How do you know you’ve got a good agency?
Say you’ve already got a marketing agency, says James. What kind of scorecard would tell you if you’re being looked after?
There’s different facets, says Kan. The first thing he’d ask, taking someone on, is if they’ve actually worked on a business like yours. Because every industry, every vertical, every type of business has a different way that they need to market themselves.
So it’s really important to assess an agency based on their track record, who they’ve actually delivered results for, and how they’ve done that. And if an agency is good at what they do, they generally can explain very clearly whether or not they can actually help you. If they say they need to know more and will get back to you, that’s a kind of red flag.
“Marketing can be a bit of a black box.”
If you’re working with an existing agency, consider what James and Kan talked about in a previous episode: are you measuring the right things? Because marketing can be a bit of a black box, making it easy to pull the wool over a client’s eyes.
Kan had a client, for instance, whose previous agency handled their SEO. It turned out they were focusing only on keywords for which they got good results, but which didn’t really deliver revenue.
Another client was asking an agency questions about their marketing strategy. They were put off with the statement, That’s our secret sauce, you don’t need to know about that. Another red flag.
Fundamentally, says Kan, can you trust these guys? Meaning, do you have a good feeling about working with them? Are you confident in what they do? Have they positioned themselves with expertise?
Ask if they’ve worked with a business like yours. Or if you know someone who’s worked with them, ask what the experience was like. Some agencies, obviously, will claim an NDA. But many are transparent, and like case studies, and have permission to disclose who their clients are.
The things that are worth benchmarking
Let’s talk about the sort of things you could track, says James. What would be the right metrics?
Now asking that, he knows there are various kinds of agencies, and the KPIs may differ for a copywriting service versus a video marketing or SEO service.
That’s where it’s important to understand, says Kan, whether a strategy is right for you. An SEO agency will obviously, if they can help you, sell you SEO; an ads agency will sell you ads. Some are more broad-ranged like Kan’s, which specializes in video marketing and content. Understanding, again, if the agency has experience working with your type of business will help you gauge if they’re a right fit.
As far as metrics, it depends on the actual strategy. Agencies tend to focus sometimes on traffic, impressions, leads, clicks, and all that sort of stuff. But does that translate over to revenue? To Kan’s mind, the only important metric is, what revenue growth has their marketing activity driven for their clients? And how did they do it?
But is that the only thing someone might hire an agency for, asks James? Some might be after brand perception, or to win prizes or just to get more followers or shares, crazy as it sounds.
“Start with the end in mind and work backwards.”
Well, it all goes back to your objective and whether an agency can drive that, says Kan. Not all agencies are suitable for what you need. And so really, you kind of have to start with the end in mind and work backwards. Understand if an agency specializes in those results, and ideally get them to show examples and case studies where they’ve done it for someone else.
These are the clues to look for
So once you’ve decided they’re your agency, and you’ve started onboarding, what do you want to see, asks James? How they integrate with your business? Who they deal with? What system they use? How often they report? Their methodology of course correction?
Scope of work is definitely an important aspect, says Kan. A big problem in agencies is scope creep, which is, when agencies reach a certain size, they’re very reluctant to do anything beyond what you’ve agreed on.
So if three videos and one inbox response a week is the deal, that’s it. And if you need a more hands-on approach, then perhaps that sort of agency is not for you.
At Social Wave, before the client even signs the dotted line, they need to be confident in what Kan’s team does. They need to answer all questions and any gaps in knowledge the client needs to understand as to what’s involved in the process.
There’s a big education component. Great agencies tend to educate their clients, because again, a lot of clients see marketing as a bit of a black box, or they have a misconception about what marketing actually is, and what the strategy is. Kan thinks a lot of business owners think of marketing as sales and sales as marketing vice versa, when they’re actually two quite different things.
“Great agencies tend to educate their clients.”
So it’s important to get an agency who can actually teach you what their methodology and their strategy is, and they actually take care of the deployment of the strategy themselves. And then, of course, through the onboarding process, ensure that they give you a really clear idea about where your responsibilities lie, like what you need to be doing, what they need to be doing, how you’re going to be communicating, and how often.
The agreement you can typically expect
James is interested: what sort of agreement or arrangement would someone typically expect to have with an agency? Is it a formal contract? Is it for a long time? Is it a rolling month-to-month basis? Is it a test work? Is it just to get an audit done to see if there’s a good fit? He imagines there’s a few options.
“Marketing is one of those interesting areas where you can’t necessarily guarantee the results.”
There are, Kan affirms. His own agency started with a minimum six-month engagement for their clients. But over time, they realized most people don’t want to make that commitment without knowing exactly what they’re getting on the inside, because marketing is one of those interesting areas where you can’t necessarily guarantee the results. What you can say is the likelihood of delivering results, based on past experience, means that you are confident you can do it.
So they do things month to month. There are agencies that do things week to week, or just on an ad hoc basis, without even an engagement or agreement letter. So Kan’s agency is somewhere in the middle, where there’s some level of accountability on both sides. They have a section in their agreement that basically is like a side-by-side table where it says on one side, here’s our responsibility to you, and what we promise to do. And then on the other side is, vice versa, you are the client, this is your responsibility to us.
That could be feedback when they fail to perform, or timely approval to execute the strategies they agree on.
So their clients sign a simple three- or four-page agreement. Some agencies don’t require a signature – they accept an email as acceptance to go ahead. Others have a simple one-pager. It varies.
Beware these known red flags
James want to challenge Kan by asking for a list of the warning signs, the ways you can gauge if you’re dealing with a bad agency.
1. Who’s going to be taking care of your account? Is it someone who’s junior, or is it going to be the director of the agency?
2. Have they had experience in your field? If they especialize in e-commerce and you’re a law firm, how can they apply a past strategy to your business?
3. Lack of social proof or track record. Do they have case studies or examples of results they’ve been able to deliver?
4. Whether or not they will actually tell you what their methodology is; the transparency.
5. Whether or not they can execute.
6. How often you’ll be able to speak to someone. Is it once a month, or is it regular? What’s the turnaround time for communication? How can they guarantee how fast they’ll get back to you?
7. If things go wrong, who do you speak to if you need to escalate higher? Who’s your key contact?
8. What is their client retention like? How long do their customers stick around? And for those who have left, what were the reasons?
What you get with Social Wave
Now James wants to talk about Social Wave, as an example of the things you can expect from a good agency.
1. A good agency, says Kan, will tell you what you need, not what you want. You don’t tell a doctor what to prescribe you, the doctor decides what they prescribe you. Social Wave does things in a diagnostic manner. If a client says they need a strategy, they ask why they need it, what are the details, how did they reach that conclusion? They start with why, work backwards from there, and understand the objectives.
2. Understand specialization in strategy and industry. Kan and co. specialize in service-based businesses – coaches, consultants, accountants, lawyers, and the like. And they have a track record and can demonstrate that they’ve delivered results for their clients.
3. They’re holistic. They’re not just focused on SEO or videos or podcasts or what have you. They spend a lot of time understanding how the entire marketing machine works, the sum of all parts when it comes together, what effect it has.
4. They have the ability to be really integrated into a business. They have regular dialogue with their clients – messages, Slack groups, WhatsApp, emails, and so forth. They almost see themselves as a bolt-on part of the business into their client’s marketing team.
A lot of Kan’s clients see him as an extension of their marketing team. When they have marketing issues not necessarily within the scope of what Social Wave does, Kan provides whatever guidance he can to get them on the right track. Because he believes if a client is succeeding, he and his team are succeeding; if the client grows, they grow. That should be the ultimate goal of all agencies.
The businesses Kan gets the best results for
Kan and his team service both really big companies and some smaller ones. Who generally is a good fit customer for them?
Most of their clients, says Kan, are actually small business owners. Most of them cannot afford an in-house marketing person full-time, or they’ve hired someone in house who could only do one or two things really, really well, and they’re looking for an agency that can do a bit more.
For what you pay Social Wave, you generally can cover a very broad spectrum of skill sets and strategies, and also thinking. So most of their clients don’t have the time but have some budget to spend towards marketing that can be done in a very automated and hands-off kind of way.
If you’re looking for a consultation, Kan and his team offer a free strategy session. The contact details are at socialwave.com.au.
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