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5 Common Mistakes Made When Engaging Digital Marketing Agencies

When getting into digital marketing, a business needs to know exactly what it’s getting itself into. Doing so means you can avoid getting burned, getting hurt, and most importantly, avoid wasting your resources. 

There are very real, and very common problems that we see among most of the businesses of every size that we meet these days as a digital marketing agency in Singapore. 


Here are five of the most common problems that you need to understand so that you can hit the ground running with eyes wide open. (Click on a problem to consider it in detail.)


Problem No. 1: Data Ownership

Problem No. 2: Strategy vs Ad Hoc

Problem No. 3: Single Platform Dependency

Problem No. 4: Budgetary Imbalance

Problem No. 5: Transparency


Problem No. 1: Data Ownership

Many of the clients we’ve seen are held hostage by their incumbent agencies, which allow them to run their different campaigns on agency-owned accounts, instead of accounts that belong to the clients. 

We suspect a lot of clients do this out of sheer convenience, simply because they don’t want to be bothered with owning accounts and would much rather just pay the agency fee and be done with it. Large companies, especially, tend to do this for financial or administrative reasons.

But from a marketing perspective, it’s the client’s data on each marketing platform account that is so much more important than any convenience. Even if you should spend so much money on a platform, you’ll find a lot of insights and data that could be extracted to help you improve your campaigns, and to understand your audience.

Switching between agencies without owning the accounts on the different platforms means leaving all this behind, because more often than not, the data stays with the agency

The data isn’t the only thing you lose, however. You throw away the time spent on acquiring that data, as well as whatever you’ve spent on running campaigns on the agency’s account. 

You’ll also lose the opportunity to understand the different metrics that would affect the outcome of your campaigns, as well as the ability to reference and cross check against past performance which can help you improve current and future campaigns

Not owning your accounts on digital marketing platforms is therefore one of the biggest drawbacks that could actually affect the overall performance of your campaigns in the longer term.


Solution No. 1:  Always insist on owning your accounts and having access to them.


Problem No. 2: Strategy vs Ad Hoc

Running marketing campaigns on a tactical or ad hoc basis instead of having a strategic approach to your marketing overall stems from being pressured to perform or show results. Many campaigns are often run out of desperation rather than according to a carefully thought-out marketing plan. 

A lot of the time, these campaigns are based on what happens to be “trending” at the moment. Right now, everyone’s talking about Instagram so everyone goes and markets there. There was also a time everyone flocked to Google Ads because it had been the only real option for most businesses.

But in today's context and based on today's audience—their behaviour and media consumption— people need to be reached across devices, platforms and websites. There need to be multiple options for them to discover a brand, or to find out more about a particular issue or problem that they're trying to solve. 

The problem is that some clients run very short-term campaigns (say a three-month campaign) and then assess an agency based on them. More often than not, they end up going from agency to agency, every three months, expecting them to perform miracles. 

This is a very myopic, and consequently very dangerous way to market, because fundamental issues like longer term objectives and the outcome are not properly taken into consideration. Some of the fundamentals that get end up getting skipped include creating a buyer persona and conducting past campaign audits. 

Campaigns that are run just to meet short-term goals end up compromising on strategy, when strategy is precisely what you need to stand out among the increasing numbers of businesses—your competitors—that are using digital to market. This means that any advantage, every inch of ground you can gain can go a long way.


Solution No. 2:  Sit down with an agency and the relevant stakeholders, and start early with a “short” strategic six- to 12-month digital marketing plan, as well as a long-term two to three-year plan. This plan should outline the desired outcome as well as align with the client’s business objectives.


Problem No. 3: Single Platform Dependency

People’s platform dependency often depends on the era they grew up in. Younger people tend to very much rely on Instagram and Snapchat, while slightly older folks will probably be more Facebook-dependent. If you go a little further back, you have those who started out just using Yahoo, long before Google came around. 

Over in China, the go-to platforms would be WeChat, Weibo or their Twitter analog, and Youku Tudou which is their equivalent of YouTube.

These things that people become familiar with, along with whatever happens to be flavour of the season, are what they come to rely on for their marketing. 

So there are people who will rely solely on SEO to rank their website, and neglect all the other platforms or marketing channels in the name of cost-cutting. While this may used to work for them (maybe about 10 years ago), ranking well is no longer sufficient in today's context.

Because you have audiences that spend a lot of time not just on search, but on certain websites, social media platforms, and probably even email, forums, and other communication channels like WhatsApp and Messenger.

This doesn’t mean you have to jump onto every single platform, but you do have to be able to map out a typical customer journey that is unique to your brand. You can then devise a strategy to reach out and target the right groups of people. So at any point in time, you are not reliant on a single platform. 

What’s wrong with relying on a single platform? The thing is, when you rely on organic search alone, there'll be terms that you're just not going to be able to rank for. You're going to miss an opportunity every time someone can't find you. To rectify this, you’ll need to have paid search

Search is always at the tail end of the customer journey because a lot of the time, brands are being discovered on social, websites or even on email (in those banners you see). It's all about awareness, which is crucial to driving the entire feedback loop and your targeting along the customer journey. 


Solution No. 3: Have a more strategic approach to all the different digital marketing channels, and understanding how each platform can work with the others to achieve your objectives. 


Problem No. 4: Budgetary Imbalance

There's a lot of unrealistic expectation in terms of the performance businesses expect just because they think that digital media is a lot cheaper than traditional media. These expectations generally stem from this comparison, which becomes irrelevant when the use of digital media is taken on its own terms. 

Say, for example in terms of cost that digital media is a Benz and traditional media is a Lambo. While a Mercedes CLS-class may cost less than a Lamborghini Aventador which costs USD421,145, you would still have to shell out USD70,195 for that Mercedes.

Digital marketing may have come at “compact car” rates some five, ten years ago, but you can expect to have to pay luxury car rates today. In fact, digital media is becoming more and more expensive, as more businesses jump on the bandwagon.

We understand, of course, that businesses need to understand the cost component of digital marketing from a business perspective, which in turn, needs to consider that the

media cost is not the only factor affecting overall cost. There’s also the agency fee, which accounts for the people driving the marketing campaigns. 

So even if digital marketing does cost comparatively less than traditional methods, the fact remains that the people in digital agencies are the ones doing the monitoring, optimising, editing, and adjusting that have to be done consistently on an ongoing basis. 

To make sure a campaign performs as well as it should, it takes people—and not just any people, but specialists—to rewrite copy, redesign images, adjust expenditure as needed. Digital media costs only cover the cost of using a platform or channel—the ad campaigns won’t create, place or run themselves.

This means to consider the media cost and neglect the agency fee is to set yourself up for disappointment. Businesses that do this usually end up realising that their campaigns need to run a lot longer than they may have thought at first, and that the income coming in from the campaigns isn’t enough. 

Businesses need to invest in know-how that will empower them to mine their own data to know their target audiences inside out. And to do this, they need to build a real and lasting relationship with an agency that can help them in the long run. 

They also need to understand that there is a testing phase, which can take several months, before enough data can be gathered to assure successful results. Once the data has determined that your creatives are resonating with your audience, and an optimal conversion rate is reached, you can then scale up your campaign spend.


Solution No. 4: Understand that in order to execute a successful campaign, there is a corresponding cost that needs to be paid. As in all other things, you get what you pay for, and the experience and expertise needed for successful digital marketing doesn’t come cheap.


Problem No. 5: Transparency

Having insight and knowledge of the people behind your campaigns will help you understand and ensure the longevity of your digital marketing efforts to a much greater extent. When you don’t know who these people are, you don’t know how much experience or what kind of expertise, if any, they have.

It often happens that agencies heap clients upon their staff, which leads to overwork and stress. This in turn results in a dip in the quality of their work and job satisfaction, all of which contributes to a bad outcome for clients. 

An agency could be charging very reasonable rates, but if the people in it are handling nine or ten other clients apart from you, it begs the question of just how much attention your business is going to get. Take note, of course, that most agencies aren’t obliged to share such information with you.

But if you don't have at least some understanding or visibility of how experienced an agency is, or what kind of track record it has, then how can you be assured that your business will be well taken care of? If you should learn that the people at an agency have very little experience, it just wouldn’t make sense to expect stellar performance.

So there needs to be a lot of demonstrated ability, which businesses have the right to ask for when choosing an agency. Businesses mustn’t be blindsided by cost or shortsighted when they should be looking at what the cost covers and focusing on the long term.

Neither should businesses take rates at face value—whether an agency’s rates are exorbitant or economical, you need to really and truly know the value of what you’re paying for. 

This is why digital marketing agencies have to become more and more transparent about the work that's being done and the track record that it has. Testimonials are great and everything, but a lot of testimonials are often dated and may no longer be true. 

At the end of the day, trust between client and agency needs to be earned and developed, and this can only take place with true transparency.


Solution No. 5: Ask your prospective agencies for updated information that allows you to make a real comparison.


Need somebody to talk things over about choosing an agency? We’re right here, and we’re always up for coffee. All you have to do is click.


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