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Four questions every CMO should ask their digital marketing agency

by Andrew Miller   |   Oct 15, 2015

Getting more from your digital marketing efforts—more valuable, more persuasive results, and greater transparency—requires knowing which questions to ask your agency, and which answers to demand. For CMOs, these answers are the difference between defending qualitative results versus proving quantitative ones to the rest of the C-Suite.

And achieving the latter starts by asking your agency these four questions:

1. How are you helping us reach our quarterly business goals?

Site visitors are not a business goal, nor are clicks, form fills, or any other data point. Just because there are more visitors or more case study downloads doesn’t mean a digital marketing campaign is successful.

So how should you measure success? By connecting data to broader business goals. If your quarterly marketing strategy is focused on qualified lead generation, why is your digital marketing agency harping on an increase in blog traffic? If you’re trying to build brand awareness, how come your content marketing campaign targets low-volume keywords?

Digital marketing strategies should be developed collaboratively between CMOs and the agencies they hire. Every conversation should start with your near-term and long-term business goals, and the role you expect the digital channel to play in reaching them.

Aligning these goals and establishing expectations for future digital marketing results leads to more targeted agency efforts and creates a better framework for agency accountability. Otherwise, you’re left with an agency that measures success by framing past results in the context of contemporary goals. Rather than squeezing historical data into current accountability demands, shape future digital marketing decisions with a proactive conversation.

2. Are your services competing with other digital marketing efforts?

For many CMOs, this is a question they’ve never considered, mainly because it requires a nuanced understanding of how individual digital marketing services interact. Here’s an example of why it’s a critical question:

You hire SEO Company Y and PPC Company X. Both are leading industry experts. As SEO Company Y makes progress and works your key pages up the organic charts, more users see and click the organic listing. Meanwhile, PPC Company X endures a drop in leads because the clicks they once purchased now flow through organic channels. Their response? Increase bids on branded terms to balloon visibility and win more clicks—clicks you could get for free. (SEO leads, by the way, are down again, and you’re beginning to question its value.)

Transparency and efficiency are sacrificed in siloed services, which incentivize conflict rather than collaboration between digital channels. After all, if we sell only Search Engine Optimization (SEO), we will recommend SEO. If we sell only Pay-Per-Click (PPC) services, we will recommend PPC. Selling one piece of the digital marketing puzzle creates friction between agencies and clients because, at one point or another, achieving overarching client goals will work against the self-interest of an agency, as each is held accountable for its individual contribution.

Digital marketing has crossed a threshold where expertise requires collaboration. For us, the answer has been integrated digital marketing—cross-service teams of analysts that collaborate to ensure that services build on, not compete with, one another—as well as close client relationships that establish our role within the larger marketing mix.

3. How are you helping me communicate results?

The biannual CMO Survey, conducted by Duke University, reveals that the two greatest concerns CMOs have about digital marketing are the ability to provide quantitative results to stakeholders and evaluation by objective marketing data.

For example, while 92% of CMOs report that they’re using more data, and 58% report greater pressure to deliver accountable results, some 87% report no known or only a qualitative impact from social media marketing. And in the age of analytics, qualitative impact means no impact. Even if data is true, that doesn’t mean it’s persuasive, especially for CMO reports to the C-Suite.

Further, we know that not every digital marketing metric will be positive in every report. Digital marketing requires experimentation, with success and failure. Your digital marketing agency should empower you to communicate results that validate your digital marketing investment.

This starts by measuring digital marketing success based on company-wide goals and ensuring all digital marketing arms row in the same direction, but it extends further: Persuasive digital marketing results draw a straight line from analyst actions to bottom-line growth. They allow CMOs to win a bigger budget for what works, stop spend for what doesn’t, and win C-Suite buy-in for both.

4. Does your work strengthen our brand?

Traditional media agencies operate at the strategy end of the strategy–services spectrum. They shape brands and drive awareness. Digital marketing started at the opposite pole, with a utilitarian focus on elevating the quantitative achievements of service offerings.

This came at the expense of integrating digital marketing services into a more holistic marketing strategy. For a while, more traffic and clicks were good enough, no matter how you got them, even if that meant adding unnatural, keyword-dense copy to your homepage, or cranking out two derivative, hastily written blog posts each month.

But search engines have gotten smarter, and digital marketing services should not neglect or diminish a brand through search-engine-centric optimization and content development. Keyword research that identifies a pile of high-volume, low-competition keywords is not a content marketing strategy.

So how does brand development aid digital marketing efforts? Branded searches are legal monopolies protected from virtually any change to search engine algorithms. They are the most sustainable and valuable source of leads and customers for any business. Moreover, a user clicking a branded PPC ad also costs less than a non-branded click from the same user—increasing branded query volume saves PPC budgets.

All these are questions we encourage clients to ask us, and they inform our agency’s development, from creation of a forward-looking, on-demand client dashboard to our commitment to keeping analysts in direct, regular contact with CMOs and other decision makers.

portrait of Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller

Andrew co-founded Workshop Digital in 2015 and serves as the Director of Client Services. He oversees our client relationships and ensures our SEO and PPC teams have everything they need to provide amazing results. After growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta during the 1980s, he decided it was time for a change of scenery and moved north to attend The University of Richmond. Armed with dual degrees in Computer Science and Spanish, it made perfect sense to seek another course change and begin a career in advertising and marketing at The Martin Agency and later, CarMax, before venturing out on his own in 2007. Andrew collects hobbies and devotes his time to his family, training for triathlons, and trying to grow vegetables in an expanding backyard garden.