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How to Choose an eCommerce Marketing Agency for Growth

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Ivanna Shepetyuk
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If you are engaged in eСommerce and plan to expand your business, you need a marketing strategy customized for this, as well as an agency that will develop and put it into practice. From the article you will learn how to choose a marketing agency specializing in eCommerce and growth strategies, where to look for it and what things to pay attention to.

Step 1: Goals, Tasks and Budget

SMART eCommerce Marketing Agency

Criteria of marketing goals by the SMART method. Source of the image

Marketing goals. Before you start searching for an agency, you need to formulate your marketing goals for yourself - these are the goals that you plan to achieve through advertising and marketing. Usually this is a business benefit (expansion of sales, access to a new market, growth of income and profits) or an increase in some specific indicators (subscribers to social networks, brand recognition or positive references in the media).

Define marketing goals using a SMART technique:

  1. S The more specific the goal is, the better, as this increases the likelihood of achieving it. In our case, this is business growth, for example, profit growth or gaining leadership in a chosen niche.
  2. M The goal must be measurable, that is, it must be expressed in specific numbers or parameters. For example, increasing profits by 50%, increasing conversions from 3 to 8%, or bypassing the market leader in terms of sales.
  3. A The set goals should be within your power, that is, they must take into account the size of your budget, product quality, market conditions and other conditions. For example, you can increase sales of goods from 10 to 1 million units in a couple of months, if you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising, if you don’t have that much money, then you can’t do this.
  4. R The goal should be relevant, meet the needs of your business and contribute to its development. For example, the goal of "becoming the most famous company" does not always lead to sales growth, while the goal of "increasing the number of subscribers and conversion" will give the desired result.
  5. T The goal should be limited in execution time. This makes the implementation of the marketing plan more controlled. Example: 20% profit growth by the end of the third quarter of this year or publication of 20 selling posts next month.
Marketing tasks. After determining the marketing goals, they need to be divided into specific actions (tasks), the implementation of which will ultimately lead to the goals set. You do not have to do this (this is the work of the agency), but you should study the general principle in order to understand how everything works.

Let's say you want to increase sales using social networks. That is, you need an increase in subscribers, for example, on Instagram to 100 thousand and their conversion into 50 sales every month. To do this, you need to perform such tasks:

  • We will post Instagram posts 10 times a week: 3 long information posts, 5 entertaining posts and 2 with direct or hidden advertising. Run PPC advertising and conduct a split test to find the option of the advertising post (call) with the highest conversion. To do this, you need to draw up a content plan and find artists.

If you want to increase sales by attracting customers from competitors, then this can be done as follows:

Marketing budget. There are two ways to calculate an estimated budget. The first assumes that you will spend on marketing a share of your income: 20-35% of income at the start or to launch a new product and 10-20% for an already running business. The specific value depends on the size of your advertising campaign and niche. For example, in retail, are usually spent more than 20% on advertising, in the financial sector - 12%, and medicine - 2.6%.

advertising eCommerce Marketing Agency

How much does an average business spend on marketing and advertising. Source of the image
The second method involves adding up the approximate cost of marketing tasks. If you take the example with 10 posts on Instagram as a basis, it will look like this:
  • (3 long posts × $ 50 per post × 4 weeks) + (5 entertainment posts × $ 20 × 4 weeks) + (2 advertising posts × $ 20 × 4 weeks) + $ 200 for split testing + PPC ($ 5 per day × 30 days) = $ 1,510 in the first month and $ 1,310 per month thereafter.

5 dollars a day - the minimum cost of advertising on Facebook and Instagram. If you need advertising on Google or other services (designer, targetologist, SEO), then the budget can increase by 50-100%.

Step 2: Types and specialization of agencies

All marketing agencies can be conditionally divided by their specialization, direction within the specialization and size. In terms of specialization, agencies are divided into those who engage in traditional advertising (television, radio, outdoor advertising, print media) and those who promote goods and services on the Internet - digital marketing agencies and boutiques. For eCommerce, in most cases it is better to choose the last option.

There can be exceptions only if your target audience is not used to buying your products online. This may be the case if you enter an emerging market with low Internet coverage (Africa, South Asia and partly South America). In such places, it’s better not to neglect traditional advertising.

Internet eCommerce Marketing Agency

Percentage of population using the Internet in 2017. Source: ourworldindata.org

In addition, agencies can provide comprehensive services (i.e., work with all channels) or specialize in a certain direction, for example, SEO, SMM, content marketing, paid advertising or video content in the case of digital marketing. Since we need a marketing company to grow our business, it is better to opt for integrated promotion agencies.

Such companies can be relatively large - from 20 employees or small - about 5 employees (they are also called boutiques). Again, since we need an agency for growth, it is best to choose a company with a large number of employees. In this case, we will be sure that with an increase in the scale of the advertising campaign, the agency will cope with the increased load.

Step 3: Search for Potential Candidates

Where to look for. Having decided on the type of agency and budget, you can proceed to a direct search for the contractor. This is best done in two steps. First we filter out those who are not suitable for specialization, size and budget, after which we analyze in detail the suitable options in order to choose the best one in terms of price / quality combination. You can search for artists in the following ways:
  1. Referrals. First of all, you need to ask colleagues, partners, friends or relatives if they have worked with marketing agencies. If the answer is “Yes” and they are satisfied with the results, then you should ask for company contacts.
  2. Search engines. In Google, Yandex, Baidu, Yahoo or Bing, enter the query "marketing agency" + eCommerce "+" region ". The region is important because the local agency is most likely more familiar with the features and characteristics of your region. For example, what kind of social network, platform and messenger do they use, what words does the target audience say or is there something in the local advertising laws that must be taken into account in your case.
  3. Web listings of companies. Marketing agencies specializing in eCommerce can be found on GoodFirms, AgencyList, and Clutch. This is a more useful source than search engines, since there is usually a brief description of the company, as well as ratings, reviews and a list of completed projects. You can also search for an agency on Craigslist, OLX, and other online bulletin boards.
  4. Agency ratings. You can also search for artists on The Drum Recommends and The manifest sites or on the list of marketing award winners: AME Awards, MarCom Awards, The Effie Awards, Muse Creative Awards, AVA Digital Awards, Cynopsis Digital Model D Awards and others. Most importantly, remember that not all rewards are equally valuable. Most of these rewards mean nothing (fake rewards can be found in the listing THE PENGUIN AWARDS).
  5. Social networks. Every eCommerce marketing agency must have a Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter page, as well as WeChat, QQ, and Qzone if they work in Southeast Asia.
Who to look for. During the initial selection of candidates, you need to pay attention to the legal status, portfolio with a list of successful projects, the availability of information about staff and owners, as well as experience in eCommerce. For convenience, compile a table in Excel to mark in it all the found candidates.

table eCommerce Marketing Agency

The table is needed to systematize information, and also not to waste time re-checking previously verified companies. You are unlikely to find out the cost of services without a call (unless very approximate), therefore it is better not to take this factor into account at this stage.

Step 4: Analyzing Portfolios and Reviews

Portfolio. If you want to know what a marketing agency can do for your business, then the best way to do this is to see what they have done for other customers. Therefore, a portfolio with an extensive list of use cases is the first thing you should pay attention to when analyzing a potential candidate.

Here's what you need to look at in your portfolio:

  1. Is there any experience with eCommerce, in which niche.
  2. What customers are used to dealing with: marketing goals, size, industry, product, region, target audience, marketing channels.
  3. How detailed are the use cases: baseline conditions, marketing goals and objectives, metrics, channels, tools, involved employees.
  4. Are there customer contacts in the portfolio, their reviews and comments.
  5. The scale of advertising campaigns, projects, actions.
  6. Cost of services provided.
Reviews and comments. The second thing you need to pay attention to is the evaluation of the agency’s work by its customers. Good reviews can usually be found on the company's website and on pages on social networks. You should pay attention to them if the company and the position of the author are indicated there. In addition, reviews can also be found on:
  1. AgencyList, GoodFirms, Glassdoor, Clutch and other online listings where companies are looking for customers, partners and contractors.
  2. Fairygodboss, Glassdoor, Vault, CareerBliss, JobAdvisor, WorkAdvisor and other sites where employees provide feedback on employers.
  3. In groups on LinkedIn, Facebook and other social networks where users discuss marketing and everything related to it. Sometimes in such groups you can find a detailed analysis of various marketing agencies.
In addition, you can find the contacts of the agency’s clients and call them personally to learn first-hand about the experience of working with the company you are interested in. Usually people are willing to make contact and talk about everything except cost.

Website, blog, page in social networks. It will be very strange if a good marketing agency has a bad site and low activity on social networks and a blog. Therefore, when studying a candidate, pay attention to these elements:

  1. If the site and blog adapted for various platforms and devices.
  2. How well the site looks, how fast it works.
  3. How regular are blog posts and social media posts (normal if 1-3 posts per week, and bad if 1-3 posts per month).
  4. How popular are articles and posts on social networks (number of views, reposts, likes, comments).
Research and public activity. It will be a big plus if the company is engaged in intra-industry research and surveys, participates in exhibitions, seminars and conferences, and also creates training courses on Coursera, Udacity, Udemy and other eLearning platforms.

Step 5: Call and In-person Meeting

The last step in finding the best marketing agency with an eCommerce specialization that will help you grow your business is a personal call and meeting. They usually use WhatsApp, Slack, Skype, Viber, Hangouts or another service with the possibility of video calling, because this way you can get more information about the person you are talking to and the company (appearance, facial expressions, condition and layout of the room, number of employees, equipment, etc.).

What to ask during the first call:

  1. Experience in general, in eCommerce and specifically in your area.
  2. What is the algorithm of cooperation? Schedule, language of communication, employees involved, the presence of a project manager.
  3. Who is the agency staff. What scale they can handle without problems. If it is possible to expand the staff if necessary.
  4. What marketing tools and metrics does the agency use.
  5. How is the execution of the contract and other legal issues is carried out.
  6. The cost of agency services - now and with the increase in the scale of work, the connection of new channels and the involvement of additional specialists.
  7. If the company does a free audit of the project (website, online store, social network, blog). How much time does it take and how deeply does the agency study potential customers.
If you have employees, friends or relatives who are familiar with eCommerce marketing, then it will be a big plus if you connect them to this conversation. If there are no such people, order several free audits from top companies (it is not necessary to hire them after this). So you get a comprehensive assessment of your business, and you can also compare the results of audits of market leaders with those that suit you by budget, direction, region.

Checklist of Agency Search

  1. Decide on your marketing goals, objectives and budget.
  2. Decide on the type of agency, its specialization and size.
  3. Make a long list of potential performers using search engines, referrals, social networks, listings and ratings.
  4. Examine the portfolio of candidates, filtering out all those who have no experience in the right niche, well-described use cases, contacts and information about the team.
  5. Examine company reviews on listings and reviews, and also see what industry media writes about companies, forums and social media groups. Trust only reviews whose authenticity can be verified.
  6. Speak personally with each worthy candidate about experience, algorithm of work, cost of services, metrics, increasing the scale of the campaign.
  7. Make a contract and write in it mandatory access to metrics and administrator rights to all your resources. Actions in case of violation and / or termination of the contract.


How to Choose an eCommerce Marketing Agency for Growth key takeaways:

#1. Step 1: Goals, Tasks and Budget
#2. Step 2: Types and specialization of agencies
#3. Step 3: Search for Potential Candidates
#4. Step 4: Analyzing Portfolios and Reviews
#5. Step 5: Call and In-person Meeting
#6. Checklist of Agency Search

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Ivanna Shepetyuk
Author of the post
Merehead is a leading marketing agency. Talk to our experts.

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