How to Know if a Content Marketing Agency is Worth the Investment?

While at a conference this week speaking in Minnesota, I was asked by an attendee, "we know we should be doing more content marketing, but all of the bids we have gotten are really expensive.  How do we know if the work they are proposing is worth the cost?"  With my background beginning in sales, I forget at times how marketing has made a significant transition from art to science.  In sales, all success is measured by metrics.  Conversion rates and traffic are daily conversations.  However for my marketing friends, data-driven marketing is a newer concept. 

So what was my answer?  Choosing an agency to partner with for your content marketing strategy requires three areas of expertise:  data driven strategy and a full understanding of the buyer's journey from start to finish (this means understanding how marketing AND sales affect the buyer's journey).  Here are three instant red-flags when speaking to agencies:

1) They focus on quickly deploying tactics instead of first identifying the strategy.  Be cautious of agencies that are ready to hit the ground running with your marketing budget that haven't thoroughly researched your baseline metrics, your customers and your goals.  Justifying additional marketing expenses begins with knowing what it is you want to accomplish.  Remember, it's easy for an agency to spend YOUR money.  Unfortunately, many agencies that haven't adopted an inbound methodology tend to quickly start throwing tactics at the wall to see what sticks.  While you may see some results from their newly implemented tactics, how do you know that you achieved the greatest results for your investment if there isn't first an underlying strategy driving all tactics? 

2) Data isn't driving everything they do.   Data-driven agencies understand the value in adjusting strategy on an ongoing basis based on the analytical information each tactic is generating.  If reporting only happens when you request it- that's a huge red flag.  Data driven companies that focus on showing you ongoing return on investment will communicate up front their intention to share reporting with you at least monthly, and what the reporting means for their approach. 

3)  They believe that increasing the budget increases the results, not strategy.  While there is a time and a place for PPC or social media advertising, advertising should work with your content strategy seamlessly, not be the solution when the content marketing strategy isn't working. 

Investing in content marketing can be a scary venture.  However, partnering with an agency that uses customer insight, data and a solid foundational strategy will ensure that you can track performance of your new marketing initiatives every step of the way. 

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