Laura Silver is the CEO of Blue Door Agency in Toronto.
For many business owners, marketing can seem overwhelming, with more questions than answers. Where do we start? How much money should we spend? Should we hire an agency or keep things internal? How do we know if we are getting a return on our investment? The thought alone can be exhausting.
For a startup, competing priorities also make it easy to put marketing on the back burner and revisit at some point in the future. However, the most critical time to invest in marketing is in the early days, when you are working on building brand awareness and acquiring new customers. Here are some recommendations to get you started, including choosing the right agency for your business.
1. Determine an annual marketing budget.
The very first step is to determine what you are comfortable spending on marketing each year. Some people say that your annual marketing budget should be a percentage of your sales; however, it is wise to list your marketing needs first.
Every business has different goals, so start with what needs to be done first (e.g. an e-commerce website, a new logo, etc.). Also try to think about possible costs that may not be obvious. For example, website development may also require dollars for monthly website hosting. Once you’ve determined an annual budget that’s affordable for your business, you’ll be better equipped to inform your new agency.
2. Choose the right agency partner for you.
Now that your budget has been determined, you can start researching marketing agencies or consultants. A simple Google search can help you find suitable local marketing stores. Check out their websites, testimonials, or employee reviews to make sure you find the best partner before reaching out for a discovery call.
Choosing the right partner to run your marketing is the most critical part and cannot be rushed, skipped or taken lightly. You want to find an agency that ticks a few key boxes, including strong client retention, deep industry expertise, and an active senior leadership team.
You also want to find a partner who can provide multiple marketing resources to provide a fully integrated strategy. This means that the agency ideally has the capabilities to perform for you in many streams: digital, public relations, advertising and creative design. When an agency owns all these pieces, you get a streamlined, organized and accountable team.
Finally, find an agency that is as committed to results as you are. Ask them about their measurement plan and how they will achieve the set goals.
3. Don’t try to do everything.
Once you’ve selected your agency, don’t feel like you have to do everything right away. While a fully integrated campaign across all channels is critical, don’t try to do everything at once. It can be very expensive and can even work against you. Hopefully you’ve found an agency partner who understands proof of concept and knows that you need to test and retest to find out what works for your brand or organization.
Begin strategy development to identify your core audience, competitors, value proposition, and marketing platforms. From there, ask your agency to help you prioritize a few pieces. This could be a hyper-targeted digital ad campaign or a small influencer campaign. Remember, baby steps. Learn what works and then scale on the proven results.
4. Invest in a monitoring/measurement platform.
You cannot improve what you cannot measure. There are many solid monitoring and measurement plans that can support you in tracking goals, and this should be implemented early in the process. Your agency should be able to provide you with in-house tools to track campaign success week after week or month after month. Take the time to establish the KPIs early in the marketing process and really try to understand how close (or far) you are.
5. Be selective and strategic with your marketing platforms.
The best marketing tools change regularly, with new digital tools appearing every day. There is no question that it is important to stay on top of trends, but it is also important to follow the course of a strategy. Identify where your target audience lives (Instagram? TikTok? Facebook?) and develop a strategy tailored to them. Think about how your ad will perform on those platforms and whether these platforms really align with your goals as a business.
6. Don’t give up.
Everyone wants overnight results, but the key is to invest in the long term with sound strategy, compelling creative and relevant messages. In time, the results will come. Marketing is a marathon and requires an investment of time (and money), but it also requires discipline to stay on track, be consistent, and give campaigns the time they need to deliver fruitful results.
Marketing should never be an afterthought, especially in the early stages of a company’s growth. The right marketing partner can help you determine how to get started, what to spend, and what to expect from your investment.