Businesses that successfully employ a consistent cross-channel marketing strategy (especially in B2B marketing) enjoy a 14.6 percent year-over-year increase in annual revenue and a 13 percent annual improvement in customer retention rates, according to Aberdeen Group. When choosing a firm to represent your business, which is one of the most important decisions to be made, the first question you’ll ask is: “Should we hire a digital firm or a fully integrated agency?”
The answer? It depends. Both groups can get you to the finish line, but one may be a better ride. Let’s start with a little history, shall we?
THE EARLY DIGITAL AGENCY REVOLUTION
The first breed of digital agencies emerged in the mid-1990s,. Most were website design shops that built ecommerce sites and offered typical website support services. At the time, traditional, integrated agencies were slow to embrace the web as a marketing platform, which allowed these digital shops to begin expanding services to include basic online marketing and advertising services.
This caused a bit of a divide, which was enhanced as many big brands moved away from one agency handling all their marketing needs to a variety of agencies sharing the work. They might have employed a broadcast media agency, a digital firm, an experiential agency, a branding firm, and a PR firm…and on and on.
By the early 2000s, digital marketing and advertising firms began to morph. They hired strategy and branding executives to determine how to best extend client brands and online advertising campaigns. They hired account managers and executives with the hopes of penetrating accounts and providing more value than just digital.
Following that, these digital agencies started participating in the re-allocation of the traditional budgets that were once reserved for integrated agencies. The digital agencies were beginning to look more and more like traditional, fully integrated firms. This spelled doom for the integrated agency…or so people thought.
A SHIFT BACK TO INTEGRATED AGENCIES
I remember reading a survey about six or seven years ago by a major marketing association of Fortune 500 CMOs. The big brands in this group had decided the concept of employing digital agencies (also referred to as best of breed agencies) wasn’t working, and they began looking to move their companies back to an integrated approach.
The general consensus seemed to be that they felt one agency was needed to create and integrate their strategy and apply it across all channels. That same agency should own the brand.
According to Forbes, 38 percent of businesses say too many systems are a top technology challenge to developing a single customer view, and 37 percent attribute it to siloed data.
Around this same time (2008/2009), we began to see major agencies purchase or merge with digital shops. Integrated agencies that did not merge or acquire typically built out a solid digital function.
Digital agencies did the same type of thing by starting to build out their own traditional functions outside of digital.
Signal states that one in two marketers report that fragmented technologies impede their ability to create a consistent experience for consumers across the web, mobile, and other channels.
Today, the lines have blurred between a digital agency and a fully integrated firm. A quality fully integrated agency does all the things a digital agency can, but also offers the ability to work across many platforms and extend the brand into print, trade-show environments, traditional PR and a variety of other mediums for which a digital agency may need to partner with outside vendors.
On the other side of that coin, digital firms may have a few extra tricks up their sleeves when it comes to functionality, web design and some online marketing techniques, and they may be the first to embrace new technologies.
As I mentioned above: Both groups can get you to the finish line, but one may be a better ride.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT B2B MARKETING AGENCY TYPE FOR YOUR BUSINESS
B2B companies have three possible choices for their brands:
- An integrated agency that does both B2B and B2C
- A digital agency
- A fully integrated B2B only agency
Let’s take a look at some tips that will help you decide which type of agency is the right one for you.
CONSIDER A DIGITAL AGENCY IF…
- You are primarily selling products or services through the web. If your company sells parts, basic software, tools, and/or other products and services primarily through an ecommerce site, the best choice may be a digital agency that will drive online marketing strategy and tactical implementation.
- You are selling lower cost items that require a shorter sales cycle, meaning you don’t have to navigate multiple channels; you can go straight to the individuals who are the final decision-makers. Short sales cycles and going straight to the business buyer can usually be handled by a digital agency through digital touch points.
- Your goal is to generate a high number of leads with non-C-suite executives – connections that can be closed with a lower level inside salesperson (typically in a call center setting). Driving leads digitally is the most cost effective way to do it; there’s no need for sophisticated tools and touch points to nurture and close the business.
- You’re a start-up and need to set up your web presence, generate brand awareness quickly and drive basic leads.
CONSIDER AN INTEGRATED AGENCY IF…
- Your sales cycle is longer (six months or more). Marketing touch points here are outside of the traditional digital techniques.
- You are selling through multiple channels (i.e., your own sales force, a value-added reseller channel, a distribution channel, or any combination of channels) an integrated agency will be your best bet.
- You are selling to the C-suite, VP or Director level with a higher cost point. In these situations you’re most likely supporting a sales force that needs a variety of sales tools to nurture leads, gain traction and close new business.
- Your product or service requires a high level of customized and technical content to be created and cross-purposed. A full service agency is able to not only develop technical content, but can truly integrate PR, social media, appointment setting, experiential, commercials/video, and other marketing types across all channels without client coaching.
B2B agencies understand that in the B2B space, content must have more depth and less fluff to engage users and drive leads. Many business to community agencies say they perform quality B2B work, but sometimes it turns out they don’t always have a full grasp on the subject and typically fall back on B2C techniques to try to solve B2B problems. A B2C company that positions itself as competent in the B2B space needs to be fully vetted – they are few and far between.
There are very few quality, sizable B2B-only digital agencies that offer the full spectrum of digital, content and website build just for the B2B market.
Choosing the lead agency in your stable of marketing providers is one of the most important decisions a company will make. Use these tips to choose wisely!
For more guidance from the pros, download our in-depth Checklist for Transitioning to a New Marketing Agency below.