Practice: The Only Effective Antidote to Sucking

May 22, 2013
Digital marketing agencies must learn new ways to produce value for clients.

Q: Why do most agencies suck at digital marketing?

A: Because it’s freakin’ hard.

I don’t mean the kind of hard that means we have to learn some new skills, while we certainly do. I don’t mean the kind of hard that means you have to suffer some unsightly bruises along the journey, though we certainly must.

I’m talking about the kind of hard that means that, no matter from whence we came (none of us—traditional ad agencies or web development shops—were doing most of this stuff more than five years ago, after all), we have to grind through months and years of learning entirely new ways of producing value for our clients, combining that with what we already know into a business model that mixes activities as different as tuning the performance of a database query and extracting the next insight hidden deep within a Google Analytics report; all to guarantee results for our client and a margin for the agency.

To consider ourselves mature (and believe me, there are many days I would struggle to claim maturity on behalf of Digett), we have to develop and master quite a diversity of processes both new and old. For us at Digett the most difficult aspect has been mastering not any particular skill, but what I refer to now as the “flow,” which I first read about in a context outside of economics in Robin Sloan’s “Stock and Flow” post.

Examining stock and flow

Digett was, for many years, focused on the business of “stock.” That is, we worked on projects that had an identifiable beginning and end, and which generally resulted in delivery of a “thing,” usually a website. It was not uncommon to go months or years without talking to a client for whom we’d designed a website. We had little time to care, since we were busy working on, you guessed it, the next website!

Over the years, though, we saw a lot of great work suffer the ravages of time and neglect. We realized that if we wanted clients to get more from a website, they may very well need help.

Since mid-2011 Digett has been studying, retooling, and slowly but surely gaining the proficiencies required to leverage a website through development and ongoing execution of a sound digital marketing strategy. We already knew how to build a great website, or so we thought, although it’s probably worth pointing out that once we really started playing the marketing game, our understanding of what makes for a great website has shifted. But that’s another blog post.

The heart of Digett’s own challenge

The hard part for us—I mean the real genesis of most of our failures—has been the systematization and internalization of this “flow.” How do we embed, for example, the highly repetitive activities of social media posting, monitoring, and engagement into our daily workflow?

Maybe if we could stop there it would seem simple enough. But into this flow we must weave 360-degree analysis, looking under a seemingly infinite supply of rocks to discover insights that might make it possible to drive another percentage point of traffic.

And there’s more. I mean, increasing traffic can be a good thing, but we’re not leveraging its value if we’re not also improving conversion rates. How can we drive just a few more buyers, or subscribers, or inquiries? How do we then wrap all of this up with a bow in the form of meaningful reporting back to our clients? We want to keep getting paid, right? Well then we better be prepared to demonstrate a little ROI.

It can be overwhelming, frankly. Probably as overwhelming as the intense study of dance was for Kellie. But hey, if you want to take a lesson from Dancing With the Stars, take some comfort in knowing that practice makes...well...better. With a fast-moving target like the world of digital marketing, I think better is a pretty damn good goal.

[Image: One Way Stock]

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