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When digital marketing goes sour are clients or agencies at fault?


When digital marketing goes sour are clients or agencies at fault?


Salli Jokinen asks: when digital marketing all goes wrong, is it the agency’s fault, or is the client to blame for not understanding what is actually involved to achieve success?

Digital marketing as a holistic discipline is not understood well by many; neither client or agency-side. Business owners and marketers working client-side often still feel insecure when it comes to all things digital, either dismissing the space altogether or alternatively turning to agencies for single-discipline, narrowly-focused digital projects that should ideally form only one section of a more comprehensive digital marketing strategy.

Agencies, in turn, quite frequently fail at managing their clients’ expectations of what is realistically achievable with the agency’s specific internal capabilities. Particularly, specialist agencies do not always demonstrate a broad understanding of the holistic digital marketing landscape and how the various disciplines of digital marketing, as well as digital design and digital branding, work together to deliver real results for their clients.

When agencies deliver only in one specialist area, the coordination of the different digital areas and/or several specialist agencies is left up to the client. In this situation, the client has to be fluent in digital themselves in order to see any digital marketing success, but unfortunately, this is often not the case.

Real-life examples of the siloed digital approach are not difficult to come by; there are several beautiful websites produced each month that show no consideration for conversion optimisation, search engine optimisation or even user experience. This means that these sort of websites have a decreased chance of generating new business, being shown in search results or engaging the target audience.

Worse still, very often, new websites do not have any continuous digital marketing budget allocated for promoting them (and the businesses), which leaves this significant investment sitting in the digital space with next to no visitors or business return.

It is these types of cardinal mistakes that demonstrate how the digital space is a difficult place for both clients and agencies to achieve success together. When the website does not perform, is it the agency’s fault? Or is the client to blame for not understanding what is actually involved to achieve success?

Without playing the blame game, it is safe to say that there is fault both on the agency-side as well as on the client-side. In general, there seem to be discrepancies between what many agencies can deliver, the clients’ expectations of digital marketing, and what a holistic digital marketing approach can actually achieve for a business if executed well.

Agencies contribute to the discrepancy by lacking the necessary holistic digital marketing capabilities; they look at the digital landscape through their own specialist lens and subsequently engage in a siloed approach. They also do not communicate their focus to the client well enough and often fail to educate their clients adequately on where their specific offering fits into the overall marketing funnel.

On the other side of the coin, clients are frequently not informed enough of the digital space and the interactions between intricate networks of moving digital parts. For example, many clients still seem to subscribe to the thinking “if you build it, they will come”, not recognising the differences between the digital space and the physical world.

To make the relationship work for both clients and agencies, agencies need to start educating their clients on how the specific work they conduct is helping the clients achieve their business and marketing goals. Specifically, it is a good idea to inform the client where the agency’s solution sits within the digital marketing landscape and as part of a marketing funnel.

Clients on the other hand need to start learning about the digital landscape proactively and possess at least a basic understanding of the wider digital landscape before jumping on the digital bandwagon.

Whether the decision is to engage an external agency, to develop an internal digital capability or to go with a hybrid of these, it is nearly impossible to experience real success without understanding the landscape first and how the different digital areas fit together.

Quick client checklist for digital marketing success:

  1. gain an understanding of digital marketing and know how all the different digital components contribute to the marketing funnel – there are plenty of online and offline training courses, authoritative digital marketing resources and digital consultants available,
  2. whether going with an agency or hiring an in-house expert, ask them what past successes they have had with digital marketing for their clients or employers and which specific KPIs were achieved,
  3. ask the agency or the in-house candidate how they would achieve your specific business and marketing goals – let them explain where their digital capabilities sit within the marketing funnel and how these would contribute towards your goals,
  4. ask the agency or the in-house candidate what metrics they report on in their digital marketing reports and how do they tie them back to the specific business and marketing goals, and
  5. evaluate their web presence – if they cannot conduct digital marketing for themselves, odds are they cannot do it for anyone else either.


Salli Jokinen is marketing manager at Yoke.



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