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Essential Questions to Ask Your Digital Marketing Partner During COVID-19

by Andrew Miller   |   Jul 17, 2020

Marketers should expect an agile, evolving response to COVID-19 from their digital agency partners. These are not cookie-cutter times and cookie-cutter solutions won’t work. Your playbook should be as unique as your business and the conditions in your industry.

That said, nobody can predict what the future holds, so every comeback plan has to be open ended to avoid missing opportunities or mistiming the market.

The following questions are designed to encourage a dialogue with your digital marketing partner to ensure that goals are aligned and expectations are properly set on both sides. The only wrong answer to these questions is, "We don’t have a plan," or "We don’t know." There’s no excuse for not talking about these things early and often.

Here at Workshop Digital, we initiated these conversations with our clients in early March. It’s almost laughable to think that we were originally planning for a two-to-four week shift in strategies. Now that it has been more than four months, the conversations are still ongoing and our planning has paid off. We keep open lines of communication with our clients about what they see in their business and what they need to remain in business in some cases.

These longer-term partnerships are strengthened when we work together to get through difficult times.

How is your team doing? How are you doing?

Start with empathy. Of course we care about the people on our team and our partners’ teams. People that don't feel safe or secure can't do their best work. Are their team members stressed about their job security or work/life balance? Or are they coping well and adjusting to a new work environment without missing a beat? You may not get a direct answer, but it can help you understand where they’re coming from and talk through how they will be able to support your business.

Which trends are you seeing at large and in our industry? How does this impact our strategies?

Using Google trends, analytics data, and competitive research, what conclusions can be drawn on the impact of COVID-19? How much of it is causation versus correlation? As we often say, past performance does not guarantee future results. But rapid change brings new opportunities and new threats.

Our team dove into changing digital consumer behaviors in this post and created a video about using Google Trends to understand changes in search behavior.

Do we need to shift strategies or tactics to support new goals? Do our Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) still matter?

Make sure to share any new goals or revised performance targets with your agency partner. Even if the answer is “we don’t know yet,” be open with them about what you need so they can plan ahead and prepare accordingly. In many cases, you may decide to change your focus to a new set of metrics (KPIs) that matter more in the near term. For example, sales lead volume may matter less in the short term if you choose to focus on creating awareness and gaining market share while costs are down and competitors are hibernating.

We wrote another post with a list of common questions we have heard from our clients recently.

How are my competitors responding? Are we being reactive or proactive in our response?

We can’t assume that your competitors are going to behave rationally or predictably. Keep a close eye on their activities to see if they are pushing more aggressively to game share or pulling back to conserve funds. It’s a very volatile time so things could change quickly as your competition figures out their own playbook. It’s important to keep your finger on the pulse and report back any changes in their status.

What are the options for our partnership if things get worse before they get better?

Nobody likes surprises especially when it comes to contracts or revenue. If you think you might need leniency or flexibility in your payment structure or contract terms, it’s better to ask about options than surprise your partner with little notice. Chances are, you can work out a mutually agreeable solution if everybody has a chance to plan together.

Conversely, how can we capitalize on new opportunities?

Some industries are booming right now. Look for the silver linings and opportunities that may present in the short term. Don't be afraid to challenge assumptions about your target audiences, offers, or messaging. This could come in the form of additional budgets, diverting budget from unproductive channels, or using this period to test and iterate quickly.

What information do you need from us to adjust your strategies? If you could ask us anything? What would you ask?

For some reason, agencies don’t always ask questions they really want to get answers to. Sometimes they don’t know the right questions to ask. In other cases, the communication channels are not as open or transparent as they could be. By giving your digital partner an opening and offering up whatever information you can share, you will give them more insight in to your business and help them deliver solution that meets your needs as they are today.

Here are five questions digital marketing agencies can ask their clients to become better partners.

What does a comeback plan look like? What triggers or thresholds should we look for to know when to implement?

There will be more uncertainty before we return to a normal, predictable pattern. It may look different than it was before so we should start planning for the course corrections sooner rather than later. Your agency partner should have a plan to return to normal operations when the time is right. You can refine the plan as details emerge and timing may remain TBD but at least everybody will be on the same page of the playbook. Defining the triggers or conditions for a comeback plan should make everybody feel better about what comes next.

Do we need to adjust our messaging so we don’t appear tone deaf and still support our customers and our business needs?

Consumer expectations are changing quickly as we adapt to life with social distancing, masks, and uncertainty about finances, school, work, and other anchors in our lives. It is absolutely necessary to acknowledge this in your website and advertising.

Avoid assumptions that people are going to be comfortable returning to the status quo anytime soon. Your agency partner should help you navigate these waters based on what they see and what is working across other industries.

Change is hard but failure is harder

Planning for these changes requires agencies and clients to open the lines of communication and make an effort to get on the same page.

portrait of Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller

Andrew is a data-driven marketer, speaker, and problem solver. He co-founded Workshop Digital in 2015 and as the VP of Strategy he devotes his time to developing new tools and strategies to help Workshop Digital’s teams and clients achieve their goals. Andrew regularly speaks to marketing and professional audiences with an authentic, passionate message to raise their collective marketing intelligence.

Andrew collects hobbies and devotes his time to his family, competing in triathlons, amateur gardening, and mentoring Richmond youth as a member of the Junior Achievement of Central Virginia board of directors.