Digital Debate: Should I hire an industry specialized digital marketing agency?

Nov 5, 2016 | Marketing Strategy, Sitecore | 0 comments

As HCIC 2016 approaches, I began to think about this very popular healthcare-targeted digital marketing conference. Meeting others in the same industry can provide a wealth of knowledge and ideas for marketers. But is choosing a digital marketing agency that “specializes” in your vertical the right choice?

I’ve been working in healthcare digital marketing now for about 3 years and I have to say overall I love it. I feel a connection to my organization unlike I’ve experienced in the past, and while I don’t provide direct care to patients, I support and work with those that do.

I feel like I’m making a difference to my organization and to my community.

I’ve also learned a TON over the past 3 years as well. All industries and verticals are different – from healthcare to traditional retail, to manufacturing or B2B professional services, each field has its nuances that those in the other fields just might not experience nor understand.

But when hiring a digital marketing agency, is it better to hire a firm with a ton of experience in your industry? Or are fresh perspectives and outside-the-box thinking more important? There is no single answer to this question, so I wanted to dig into it a little deeper.

Agency Specialization – Pros and Cons

I’ve worked with agencies that both had an industry-specific perspective and history, and with those that didn’t. I’ve also worked for an agency that had (somewhat) of a specialization as well. In my experience, specialization is a double-edged sword for a client. With specialization comes the good and the bad. Here are a few thoughts on each:

Agency Specialization – The Good

Agencies that specialize in your vertical have likely encountered similar situations and scenarios that you will encounter. This can be a huge benefit, especially in digital marketing and when an organization is undergoing a marketing transformation from more traditional channels into digital marketing.

As brands, we lean on our agency partners for their technology expertise. We often don’t know what the “right” decisions are when it comes to our technology stack, or our marketing mix, or even our budgets at times. We need someone there to guide us through those decisions, and if that “someone” has done it before, and experienced success, then there’s a higher liklihood that we will also be successful.

The technology decisions we make along the way will not only define our path, but can also be a serious determining factor of long-term success or failure of our efforts.

Choose the right technology that you’re able to implement on time and on budget and you’ll be more likely to succeed. Choose the wrong technology and you risk getting stuck in a quagmire of digital transformation that can take years to dig your way out of.

Another significant advantage of specialized digital agencies is their knowledge of your customer. While there can be some geographic differences, it’s fairly safe to make some generalizations about customers in a given industry. Your specialized agency partner should already know what “makes them tick” and what is important or not important to the customer. While your technology stack provides the backbone to your digital marketing efforts, it’s the content that determines if your efforts are meaningful to the customer or not.

Good, experienced digital agencies can help short-cut the path to your brand becomming meaningful and relevant to your customers.

Daniel Ruyter - Sitecore Marketing & Technology Pro

Sitecore Marketing Pro

I’m passionate about marketing and love the Sitecore platform and all the capabilities it provides. Learn more about me and my history with Sitecore and don’t hesitate to reach out to talk about Sitecore, digital marketing or any number of topics anytime!

Agency Specialization – The Bad

There’s a downside to working with agencies that specialize in a vertical as well. Many times, brands engage with agencies because of the new perspectives and fresh ideas they bring to the table. Sometimes, when you work with an agency that is deeply entrenched in a specific vertical, you can actually experience something similar to the “but we’ve always done it this way” mentality.

When an agency finds success with a similar past client, it makes sense that they would try to repeat that success with future clients. Now, that doesn’t have to mean they’ll re-use website designs or carbon copy digital campaign tactics.

But it also may mean exactly that.

It can also mean that assumptions are made by the agency and corners are cut. What worked for one brand will work for all. Thought leadership and innovation may take a back seat to time to market and profitability in some cases. There can be a fine line between experience and stagnation – that’s the case for employees and agencies alike.

What’s more important that agency industry experience?

There are two key factors that I’ve found to be more important in the agency-brand dynamic than the prior experience the agency has.

The Agency’s Ability to Innovate Matters

All agencies will tell you that they’re cutting edge, and I genuinely think most feel they are. But innovation is relative, and something that can be difficult to determine, let alone measure. At times, you can see design innovation. You can experience UX innovation in the digital tools they build. You can also see and experience content marketing innovation as well – there are always new and different ways to present and consume information. From a brand’s perspective, I recommend you scrutenize the agency’s past work, and not just the work they show you, either. Try to dig up other projects that they may not be as proud of by looking them up on LinkedIn, or by searching for them on the web. Their past success (or failure) is often a very good indicator of their future with you.

Agency Technology Expertise Matters

Technology experience and expertise of a digital agency really is the most important factor to me. Many in-house marketers know their core audience groups. What they may lack is knowledge of technologies and toolsets, like Sitecore, a CRM or other advanced digital marketing tools. I would always recommend choosing an agency that’s deployed environments and technology stacks similar to the ones you intend to deploy. The vertical matters less than the stack in many cases, and it’s often easier to find someone with expertise of an audience than it is to find solid technology partners that can build you a strong foundation for your digital marketing future.

The Story Behind the Photo

Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children - Critical Care Transport

The featured image on this post was taken at the emergency room entrance to the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando. The photo is of one of their critical care transport vehicles. These vehicles and their crews tirelessly criss-cross the state transporting pediatric patients to and from this award-winning hospital.

Arnold Palmer Hospital - Orlando

What are your most important digital marketing agency qualities?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and your experience with digital marketing agencies. What matters most to you when it comes to choosing a digital partner? Do you think agencies that specialize in an industry are better, worse or the same than those that don’t? Please leave a comment below or feel free to contact me with your thoughts.