The Ultimate Question For Digital Marketers

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Here’s the thing about Digital Marketing, New Media and Social Media: if you’re only in it for yourself, not much great stuff can happen.

On a personal note, I’ve been hearing a lot of backchannel comments about people questioning why I do what I do and my motives behind it (be it the Blog, speaking, writing a book, newspaper columns, etc…). While it’s nice that all of this work helps to build both my company (Twist Image) and my own personal brand, the real truth is that if we’re not all learning, sharing and growing, there simply won’t be much of an industry. The problem is that Digital Marketing and Social Media are both still, relatively, new. Most brands are uneducated and it’s easy for the charlatans (the self-anointed gurus, experts and wizards) to sell a bill of goods that they can’t deliver on.

There is a way to quickly identify if a Digital Marketing agency is legitimate.

The ultimate question to ask them is this:

"If you were me, what would you do with the marketing budget?"

If the answer back is, "shift everything you’re doing to digital because the traditional channels and mass media are dead," that agency or consultant is probably not right for you. Many New Media and Digital Marketing shops think that everything begins and ends online. The truth is that it might, it might not or it might be a mixture of the two. A real Digital Marketing shop will take the time to better understand what you’re doing, what’s working, what is not working and how these digital platforms can either help you be more efficient and effective, or how they can add value to what is already working. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again:

Everything starts with the overall goals of the business and the strategy you pull out of it.

Everything is "with" not "instead of." 

The other sign that your consultant or agency is more snake oil salesperson than anything else revolves around "horses." Do they actually have the skills and capacity to deliver a sound strategy deck that includes a technical and resource analysis of how the work is going to get done, how much it will cost and how long it will take? Do they actually have the horses to deliver on that project? There is way too much hyperbole online. "Consultants" pointing fingers and using metrics like how many people are following them on Twitter, or how many comments they get on their Blog as an indicator of how successful they can be for their clients.

It’s a myth, but companies and brands are falling for it.

Just because an individual or company can grow their own personal community, it does not mean they have the skills, capabilities, resources and experience to create, engage and optimize a program for someone else. The two are mutually exclusive. As the industry grows and matures it will be increasingly easier to sort the wheat from the chaff, but until that time comes, be leery of those who do not have the infrastructure and experience to deliver on what is a pretty rudimentary first step to get your brand growing.

What are some of the other questions you should ask of your Digital Marketing partner?


  1. So true. It’s no different in communications and PR where we’ll often advise clients to use an integrated approach depending on a company’s objectives and the best way of reaching their audience(s). Someone once said to me “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” and it stuck.
    Not that long ago, when I was on the client side, a supplier noted the volume of traffic to his company president’s blog as a means of obtaining legitimacy. Seemed quite odd to me and the others in the room, particularly since we weren’t looking to them for social media expertise.

  2. Try asking how they feel about the state of traditionnal media companies. If the answer looks like “too bad for them for not embracing New media earlier” follow up by asking what they would have done while not loosing revenue. Should be fun 😉

  3. I’d really like to know how much these “metrics” are actually tied to success? For example, how has the sales trend changed since they set up blogs and effective sites and marketing schemes for companies?
    One of the things that turns metrics from information into so much snow up a client’s skirt, is not backing up the statistics with useful data. It’s all well and good to say Feedburner caught so many thousands of subscribers, but to these directly translate into that many dollars of revenue that was NOT there before? And, even if they do, where’s the rest of the market (who likely didn’t set up blogs the same day) going?
    Back up your junk, people. Seriously.
    If I’m meeting with a new marketer, I want them to ask me questions, not tell me stories. In every situation I’ve dealt with so far, they’re there to help me do my job better, not replace my involvement with my company’s image.
    There’s a gap here. Marketers are here to sell ME, not themselves.

  4. I fully agree with the idea of learning and sharing, so we can grow as Industry. Of course each one of us have our agency’s business to take care of and it’s valid to combine efforts.
    Fortunately we have approached new clients that want to make sure they can trust us as their digital marketing agency and another key question has been: How can I learn from you as digital marketing agency and at the same time you can learn from my business so we become real business partners?

  5. Great post, Mitch!
    “Everything starts with the overall goals of the business and the strategy you pull out of it.” That should be on page one of every advertising/marketing school text-book.
    As for thet question: ask the social media marketing whizz-kid for a concrete metric by which to measure the success of the campaign. If he comes back with “hits”, “followers” or “friends”, move on…

  6. I think part of the problem is that we even have agencies that present themselves as purely ‘digital agencies’. “With not instead of” should be a mantra for marketers.
    If something is working for you, don’t drop it because it doesn’t fit with a digital marketers obsession with shiny new objects.
    By integrating traditional and digital marketing it’s possible to be much more effective. One of my clients is using digital methods in conjunction with their traditional media (national press) advertising to be able to get real numbers back on what works and what doesn’t. Without a knowledge of how to operate in both spheres that wouldn’t have been put together.
    Anyone who uses the metric of “look how many followers I have on Twitter” as an indication of how well they can do for their client is delusional. I set up a test twitter account, tweeting out automated messages, 2 days ago. It has over 50 followers right now, all because I set it to auto-follow and I’m not vetting any of the followers – I did this to see how big you could grow something if you gave no thought to quality. Numbers mean very little when it’s that easy to inflate them. My own personal account took much longer to get to that point – I don’t auto-follow and I vetted my followers at the start to exclude obvious bots and the ‘make $$$$ on Twitter with my system’ MLM brigade.
    The best reason to hire someone is on the basis of past successes – “What have you done for your other clients lately?” is a great follow-up question.

  7. Its not about Twitter or any other new media service that comes to market..its about common sense and ethics. Somehow those two don’t combine very well for most peoples strategies, heck its easier being a car salesman than an actual solution provider.

  8. The first thing I would ask for is a reference followed by how long the team has been with them. Nothing worse than starting a project with one person only to get a new one half way through.

  9. Hey Mitch,
    First of all regarding all the comments ‘why you do what you do’… keep doing it as you definitely add to the community and help all of us learn in the marketing space whether it be digital or traditional.
    Now to what companies should be asking their digital partners. The marketer should of foremost done research on your business and target market but your job is to ask them “We are interested in bringing social media tools in our marketing mix but is this right for our business/product/service and are there any similar case studies?”
    Many businesses are hearing all the hype on the news about social media and then just ask whatever marketer they find – “We need a ‘twitter’ strategy because everyone is doing it” At this moment, it is the marketers job to tell the client how it is… Twitter or other social media tools are not right for every business.
    We need to do our best and serve the interest of our client first. The client will have more respect for you and will refer business in the future anyways.
    Alex “fiduciary” Ikonn

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