The Marketing Agency of 2020: A New Paradigm Is Around the Corner

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The Marketing Agency of 2020 A New Paradigm Is Around the Corner

As the next decade approaches, the relationship between marketing agencies and their clients is evolving. On the surface, the goals of marketing agencies and their clients are the same: to attract more leads, customers and sales for the client. But when you look past shared good intentions and see how the traditional agency-client relationship operates, you’ll see that what incentivizes them is often at odds.

Let’s take a look at what savvy marketing directors and business owners need to consider as they evaluate their current agency providers and seek to maximize their marketing investment in 2020 and beyond.

The Old Paradigm: We’re In This Together … Mostly

In the current model, marketing agencies are contracted to do X amount of work per month, or to complete a project-based contract such as a new website or product launch. The model is deliverables-focused. Why? Because an agency has to know what they’re producing and how much they’re getting paid for it in order to manage costs and logistics.

Clients, on the other hand, are results-focused. They’re less concerned with how many blog posts or emails or social posts their agency produced this month and more focused on how many leads and sales they got from their investment.

After all, the whole point of marketing is to drive sales. For the client, marketing key performance indicators (KPIs) are leads and conversions. So ideally, from the client perspective, an agency should be compensated based on KPI results that prove the investment with the agency was worthwhile. And in a way, that’s what’s happening already, since a client isn’t going to renew their contract if they’re not seeing results.

Agencies know this, and they want to get results for their clients, both so they can keep the contract and because they take pride in their work. But there are a few challenges that make it difficult to realistically hold agencies fully accountable for KPI results.

Challenge #1: Factors beyond the control of the agency can influence results.

The fact is not all the factors that result in leads and conversions can be controlled by the agency. In most cases, the client has in-house marketing staff that is also partially responsible for meeting KPIs. There might be other agencies or contractors who also make contributions. Most marketers are too busy implementing projects to do the work of tracking who gets credit for what. Market fluctuations independent of the agency or the client also influence results.

There’s always a certain amount of risk in business: You come up with a great idea, you try it, and then you find out if it works … or doesn’t. And sometimes it doesn’t, despite the best intentions and hard work of everyone involved.

While agencies can promise to put their best effort into a project, they can’t guarantee it will have the desired result. This leads agencies to be focused on the thing they know they can guarantee: deliverables.

Because of this reality, it’s important that clients and agencies talk openly about what is and is not in the control of the agency, and the client.

Challenge #2: Results can take time to manifest.

Especially in today’s content-saturated marketplace, both online and offline, it can take months or even years to break through the noise and show up consistently enough to gain the trust of consumers. Oftentimes, clients will jump ship before campaigns have had enough time to gain traction. On the other hand, some companies keep doing the same thing over and over, hoping to see results that never come.

So clients and agencies need to begin their conversations not just by setting goals, but also by having a candid discussion about:

  1. How long a campaign will be given to achieve results
  2. How much money the client is really willing to invest in a project (it almost always takes longer and costs more than you think it will).

There are usually many more great ideas than there are resources to implement them, so clearly defining the top priorities is essential for managing budget and expectations. Investing in a few assets and giving them adequate time to produce results is usually a superior tactic compared to trying to do everything right away.

Challenge #3: Innovation is risky.

Clients want agencies to be innovative and come to them with out-of-the-box ideas … but those types of ideas are risky and don’t always work. If an agency’s compensation is tied to results, then it isn’t necessarily in the agency’s best interests to take risks. This happens with in-house marketing teams as well. By default, everyone is incentivized to play it safe. This also reinforces an emphasis on deliverables.

If clients want their agency to come to them with innovative ideas, it’s important to talk up front about how the risk will be handled, keeping in mind that both parties have to maintain profitability.

It’s also wise to have a process in place for vetting and prioritizing innovative ideas, and making sure there is a balanced mix of tried-and-true strategies with new strategies being implemented.

The New Paradigm: Fully Aligned Marketing Agency and Client Interests

Strong Agency-Client Relationships Thrive On 4 Principles - Eminent SEOTo overcome these challenges and become truly aligned, marketing agencies and their clients need to focus on improving communication and expectations in four key areas:

1. Realistic Expectations Regarding Results-Based Performance Metrics and Goals

As mentioned previously, it’s important at the beginning of an agency-client relationship to:

  1. Clearly define the client’s KPI goals
  2. Discuss realistic timelines and budgets to achieve those goals
  3. Clearly identify who has control over what (and which factors are out of both the client and agency’s control)
  4. Make sure the correct metrics are being measured

It’s important to discuss which metrics will be tracked, what information can be gleaned from those numbers, and ensure that those metrics directly influence or result from the big picture marketing goals. Just because a metric is available does not necessarily mean it is valuable.

2. Monthly Budgets with Flexible Deliverables

There are some tasks that need to be done regularly each month, and there are times when flexibility is needed to capitalize on timely opportunities. At Eminent SEO, we often see opportunities we can take advantage of on behalf of our clients, but sometimes it’s not in the budget.

For this reason, we’ve begun working up front with clients to establish flexible budgets that can be used for a default deliverable, such as weekly blog posts, but which can also be channeled (in whole or part) into another area if a better use for that budget presents itself. For clients with limited budgets, the entire budget may be flexible, each month focusing on the next priority in the queue, starting with the low-hanging fruit.

This allows us to pivot quickly based on sound strategy, take full advantage of the creativity of our team, and keep everyone alert for opportunities to make the most of our client’s marketing dollars.

3. Collaboration and Mutual Respect for Multiple Perspectives

In-house marketing staff members are experts on the company brand and immersed in the day-to-day reality of their industry. This gives them an insider perspective, yet it can also make it difficult for them to see their organization the way others do. Agencies provide a valuable outside perspective that can help identify opportunities to hone messages and marketing activities.

Close collaboration between the agency, the client’s in-house team and any outside contractors is essential in order to achieve success without tripping over one another and working at cross purposes.

Within an agency, there should be team members who are experts in the client’s brand and voice, so that the client doesn’t have to expend resources redoing work submitted by the agency. At Eminent SEO, we have our writers, designers and strategists assigned to cross-functional teams that specialize in messaging and production for each client we serve.

4. Balance of Risk-Taking and Safe Marketing Methods

Do you want your agency to manage your day-to-day marketing activities, implement innovative new campaigns, or both?

Clients who answer this question up front and communicate it to their agency will see better results from their agency because it sets clear expectations. Consider the following:

  1. Manage day-to-day marketing activities – Success is measured by high-quality work delivered consistently on schedule, using techniques that are already known to be effective.
  2. Drive innovation – Success is measured by finding new tactics that get results, with the understanding that there will be more failures than successes, but that successful new tactics can be amplified over time by moving investment into those areas.
  3. Both maintenance and innovation – Separating agency activity into separate budgets for routine work and innovative work allows for more accurate tracking and expectations of ROI.

Together at Last

It’s natural for a client to expect its marketing agency to be accountable for results. By shifting to a more collaborative approach in setting expectations, and working with an agency like Eminent SEO that takes this same collaborative approach, clients are more likely to see the results they’re looking for, including:

  • Agency efforts aligned with client’s business goals
  • Clear expectations for all involved
  • More effective use of marketing budget
  • Results-oriented reporting
  • Increased innovation
  • Faster response to market opportunities
  • Stronger working relationship

Read more about price-structure flexibility and six other traits of an evolving marketing agency:

More on the Marketing Agency of the Future

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Team Eminent SEO

Eminent SEO provides strategic SEO campaigns with measurable results along with expert website design, development, pay per click, content and social media and organic website marketing. 800.871.4130.

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About Team Eminent SEO

Eminent SEO provides strategic SEO campaigns with measurable results along with expert website design, development, pay per click, content and social media and organic website marketing. 800.871.4130.

15 thoughts on “The Marketing Agency of 2020: A New Paradigm Is Around the Corner

  1. Avatar for Team Eminent SEOAlice Trellakis

    Great article! It’s important for a marketing agency and their clients to have two-way communication and respect above all. I think it helps doing business and closing sales much smoother and definitely builds up brand authority.

    1. Avatar for Team Eminent SEOSara Korn

      Thanks Alice. Yes, clear communication is so important. It helps you understand where the other party is coming from so you can create win-win situations that prevent conflicts before they happen.

  2. Avatar for Team Eminent SEORachel Thompson

    Thanks for sharing this. Mutual respect is so important so a customer should feel like they’re being taken care of. Setting realistic goals is also a great idea, because companies can sometimes set vague ones that are difficult to achieve with an action plan. Will definitely be following your advice!

    1. Avatar for Team Eminent SEOSara Korn

      You’re right Rachel, mutual respect is really critical. In marketing and sales there are always ups and downs, always the need to experiment, and if one party doesn’t respect the other, any instance of low performance can be used to call off the working relationship, in which case, what was the point of working together in the first place? It takes time for campaigns to work, so both parties need to be in a long-term professional relationship.

  3. Avatar for Team Eminent SEOlauren

    It is true that the company can only control so much. Sometimes great ideas just don’t work, and that’s okay to admit. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Avatar for Team Eminent SEOSara Korn

      I agree Lauren. No one likes taking the heat when a great idea flops, but it has to be done. Accepting that there are ups and downs in business is the key to longevity.

  4. Avatar for Team Eminent SEOLauren

    People always do want to go risky. But that is not always the best option. Other companies use the same types of commercials and tactics because that’s what works. It works for a reason, and it’s best sometimes to stay in the box.

  5. Avatar for Team Eminent SEOTop Rating SEO

    Love all the work you have put into this article. I think that clear expectations have to be set from the very beginning in a client relationship. For example: If the client is expecting to rank right away for major keywords for a brand new site and this expectation isn’t addressed right at the beginning, this is likely to cause a major conflict between client and SEO Agency, if the Agency cannot deliver on the client’s expectation.

    1. Avatar for Team Eminent SEOSara Korn

      Absolutely, clients aren’t always experts in SEO, so it’s up to the agency to be clear up front about realistic expectations. Both the client and the agency will benefit in the long run. I think sometimes people are afraid to do this at the beginning because they don’t want to risk losing the client. But if a client has unrealistic expectations, you’re going to lose them sooner or later anyway. Save yourself the headache and focus on nurturing long-term clients, that’s my opinion.

      1. Avatar for Team Eminent SEOChris Weatherall

        Setting those realistic expectations become more difficult when dealing with niches that are traditionally old school like HVAC and lawyers. Setting expectations never went smoother for me than when I had a server database building client.

  6. Avatar for Team Eminent SEOPhilip Redmond

    Great article i thoroughly agree with what you are saying, having a good business to client relationship is a key part to the success of any business arrangement and will ultimately lead to much more work down the road

  7. Avatar for Team Eminent SEOAnnalise Cain

    I’ve found that transparency in goals and methods are essential no matter what kind of project you’re working on. The best collaborations I’ve had, we’ve been clear on expectations from the beginning, and communicative when those expectations shifted.

  8. Avatar for Team Eminent SEOKevin William

    Very much informative article. With this approach, work will be transparent and by working together the possibilities of achieving the better results is far more easier. Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work.

    1. Avatar for Team Eminent SEOTeam Eminent SEO Post author

      Thank you for reading and for your multiple votes of approval, Kevin. We’re definitely excited to see how we grow and evolve as an agency and how our working relationships with clients will evolve as well!


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