TopRank Online Marketing
Lee Odden

Digital Marketing Growth Opportunity is Knocking: Are You Answering?

By Lee Odden     Online Marketing

opportunity knocks for our online marketing agencySince 2001 our “practice what we preach”, digital marketing and PR agency at TopRank has experienced growth every year. Like many frugal and efficiency focused businesses, we’ve been conservative about business operations, taking on zero debt and running pretty lean.

All of our marketing (and most PR) is inbound. We do not employ dedicated sales people or spend on advertising. This approach has kept us small but extremely efficient with exceptional project management, account management and consulting capabilities that exceed those of agencies many times our size.

Staying healthy during lean economic times is smart, but growth is in our future.  Our focus on moving TopRank Online Marketing even further forward as a leading digital marketing agency also offers insights of use for companies. Here are 7 considerations:

Smarter Creativity – Evolving technology and the proliferation of resources about how to succeed on the social web has really leveled the playing field for smart marketers. Or at least the perception of it. With so many companies simply parroting the success of others that pioneer and pave the way, it’s important to distinguish your brand.

Deep customer insight, brand stories that position a unique selling proposition and an increase in visual marketing tactics are not enough. Data informed creative execution is essential, from clever content and visual marketing to the packaging of information used internally and with client or constituent communications.

Smarter creativity means using the optimized approach to digital marketing: A continuous process of hypothesis, testing and refinement resulting in more meaningful and productive creative execution.

Innovation & Evolution of Services - The best investment in marketing a company can make is in it’s products or services.

The most amazing social media efforts, publicity or SEO are simply not as effective with a mediocre product offering.  An exceptional product/service plus intelligent, clever creative is the baseline standard for effective digital marketing and PR in 2013 and onward.

In the agency world it seems like most fall to the extremes. Either they live on the edge of innovation, so much so that they are offering services with absolutely no idea if they will be effective. (But they are trendy). Or they seem to be stuck with a legacy mindset, relying only on what has worked for so many years and being reluctant to dig into new technology and trends.

Somewhere in the middle is the right fit for delivering services that will produce results and at the same time, keep innovation at the forefront. As they say, if you’re not growing, you’re dying and we have a LOT of growing to do.

Continuous Optimization of Knowledge & Processes – As I alluded to above, the Optimize approach to digital marketing and PR calls for continuous refinement. That means processes that support continuous innovation and evolution of the services mix based on feedback mechanisms, KPIs and performance.

An audit of current processes and team skills will reveal opportunities to improve through training and support of ideation, implementation and evaluation of those innovations. Continuous optimization leads to a superior experience for customers as they discover your brand, consume the useful content you’re publishing and to take action.

Master Data, Analytics & Platforms - The importance of data (not just big data) and analytics to inform business and marketing decisions is paramount. As I talk to other online marketers, SEOs and those who call themselves “social media experts” and “content marketing experts”, I am amazed at how much pure speculation is put forth as tested and proven best practices.

I was on an Integrated Marketing keynote panel at a search conference a few months ago and a SEO panelist from a HUGE marketing automation company insisted that data doesn’t matter, while a political marketer for the Obama campaign told a story of how data informed tactics led to record numbers. The spectrum of positions is startling and the importance of tapping into data sources to make smart decisions is essential.

If you don’t know how or see it as difficult, then maybe you’re not willing to do what it takes to succeed. Because your competition IS making those investments in resources and expertise.

Whether it’s as simple as Google Analytics, Radian6 or insights from platforms like Marketo and HubSpot, marketing software platforms and the data they report on are the most fundamental areas for investment and mastery to succeed.

Invest in Software & Systems to Scale – Speaking of software, it’s impossible to scale digital marketing and PR efforts without leveraging a SaaS marketing software platform. There are specific types of course, from marketing automation to social media marketing management services. Picking the right platform will require some investigation into understanding your own needs, the features offered by the platform and the support (internal or external) you’ll need to implement, operate and scale.

You’ll start to see more marketing software reviews here on Online Marketing Blog in the future to help companies make some of those decisions.

Superior Talent Acquisition - This is one of the biggest challenges companies and agencies face as they try to compete in a progressive and fast changing digital world. Finding the right talent is extremely difficult in certain markets. However, companies must dedicate themselves to figuring out what key skills are needed to build more effective digital teams. My first investment would be in content production, then social strategy/community management followed by SEO, analytics and online PR.  Figure out where these resources exist internally and where they don’t, recruit.

When it comes to digital marketing and PR talent, a few key questions companies and agencies need to answer include:

  • What skills are transferrable form other industries? 
  • What training can be provided to fill in the gaps? 
  • How can you really tell when self anointed marketing experts and brandividuals can actually do the things they profess and create business value? 

Avoid being fooled by active social media or industry participation as an indicator of actual subject matter expertise and consulting skills. There’s a big difference between someone that can tweet, write and speak and someone that can solve difficult business and marketing problems. Ignore this distinction and you’ll waste time, money and tarnish your own reputation through a sub-standard (and often public) customer experience.

Accelerate Thought Leadership - Leadership internally is as important as external thought leadership. Today’s digital workforce doesn’t want to be managed. They want to be inspired and be a part of something great. The two tie in together of course and helping internal subject matter experts (especially those who are client facing or public) develop their own thought leadership visibility can accelerate the footprint of the overall brand.

There are many approaches to industry thought leadership and credibility, but it takes superior creative, data, and innovative insight to create a competitive advantage. The good news is, all the tools needed are more readily available now than ever from data collection, to analysis and visualization to means of distribution and promotion.

Thank you to our clients and community for being so supportive of TopRank and this Online Marketing Blog over the years. We’ve been fortunate to work with some amazing companies from Marketo and Radian6 when they were start-ups to large companies like HP, McKesson and BT.

We’ve contributed a lot to the industry through sharing of knowledge and drawing attention to others doing the same. By continuing that approach and the focus areas above, I think the agency you see in a year will be significantly different in the best way possible. There’s no reason the same wouldn’t be true for companies investing more significantly in digital marketing and PR won’t also experience the same.


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