Market specialization is becoming a more prevalent business strategy for marketing agencies. With this strategy, the marketing agency makes a conscious decision to only support the unique marketing requirements of a particular industry or niche. From the client's perspective, they hope they can leverage the experience and key learnings of other similar companies. They feel like they won’t have to be a guinea pig or recreate the wheel. From the agency perspective, it is typically a marketing and branding play. It allows them to fine-tune their positioning as a subject matter expert and thought leader.
Working with a marketing agency that specializes in your industry or niche can be a really good idea or a really bad idea. Like so many decisions businesses make, it depends. What might be a good fit for one company may not be for another. Every business is unique. Every business has different requirements and objectives. Every business needs a unique plan and marketing strategy.
The key to a successful partnership is to enter into these relationships with your eyes wide open, and to ask a lot of questions before you make your final decision. Below are a few questions that can help guide your conversations.
1. How many similar clients does my Account Manager/Lead Consultant support?
This will help you understand how much attention you will be receiving. Heavy workloads may mean that the agency is trying to take advantage of economies of scale. They may look to become more efficient by sharing strategies, tactics, and even messaging and content, across multiple clients. Your business needs to decide how customized of an approach you need and how unique you want to remain.
2. Are any of them my competitors?
It may not be a big deal if you are a plumber in Topeka and your marketing agency is working with other plumbers in Miami, Los Angeles, and Seattle. However, you probably want to know if they’re working with the only other plumber in Topeka. You will want to know that, and I’m sure the other plumber would as well. Will the same agency staff members be supporting both accounts? How will the details of business remain confidential? How do you ensure that the unique differentiators of your business remain that way? Are non-disclosure agreements executed? Are they enough?
3. How will I know if one of my competitors becomes a client?
You may start out being the only plumber in your market that your agency is supporting, but how long will it stay that way? What if your competitor doesn’t ask all of the great questions that you are asking? Is there exclusivity in your contract? Should there be?
4. How do you keep my message and content ideas separate from other clients you are working with?
The development of marketing strategy, tactics, messaging, and content, is usually a group effort. The client may contribute as many ideas as the marketing agency. Those ideas are your intellectual property. Once an idea is in someone’s head, it can be hard to forget or ignore. So, what are the safeguards to keep your great ideas from showing up in another company’s campaign?
5. How do you ensure the unique differentiators that distinguish my brand remain unique to my business?
I guess that even before this question is asked you should first ask if the marketing agency cares about learning and leveraging the characteristics, people, values, and solutions that make up your unique brand. Or do they create and execute “plain vanilla” approach across all of their clients? Your brand is a valuable asset. Make sure you give it appropriate protection.
6. How do you ensure that my marketing data remains my data and isn’t shared with others?
Marketing data is probably the most undervalued asset of most companies. Good marketing data is the lifeblood of future growth. Make sure your marketing data is going to fuel your growth and not your competitor's.
7. Are the content and campaigns you create client-specific, or is it shared and/or repurposed across multiple clients?
Ask your prospective marketing partner for a client list and then review those companies’ websites. Is there any similarity in messaging ideas and content? Is there any duplicate content? If a marketer is creating a piece of content once and leveraging that across multiple company websites, that could be a huge problem. It’s rare, but it does happen. I’ve actually read the same article on multiple company blogs. It was positioned as unique content, but it was clearly duplicated. This causes huge SEO problems. If Google’s algorithm can’t distinguish between two web pages, it will not know how to rank them. So when this occurs, it usually means the pages aren’t ranked at all.
Choosing to partner with a marketing agency is a vital decision to the success of your business, so be sure you are asking the right questions and being proactive when hiring an agency so you don't realize you made the wrong decision down the road.