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Written by Sam Yadegar on Jun 22 , 2021

Expand the reach of your business with the latest and most effective 2021 digital marketing trends.

Here, you’ll find:

  • A breakdown of 7 digital marketing trends
  • Ways to implement these trends into your current strategy
  • Data showing which trends are on the rise
  • How staying in the loop can give you an edge over competitors

Rarely does a month go by without a search engine or social media platform (or both!) announcing a major update. For advertisers, the effects can be slight or sweeping, and they often come without much of a heads up. 

But marketing pros know change is the name of the game when it comes to today’s digital landscape. Trends come and go, but more and more they’re leaning towards things like personalized ads, convenient purchase processes, and authentic, natural-sounding content.

Keywords and audience targeting remain at the core of many search and social ads. But businesses can also layer in new marketing tactics to stand out from the competition.

hawksem: digi marketing 2020

Marketing teams and agencies must account for the ever-changing ways customers access information, communicate, and shop. (Image via Unsplash)

Digital marketing trends and the latest technology

Most online marketing agencies already use insights from analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning to precisely target ads and deliver personalized promotions. Experts recommend combining these strategies with conventional search engine optimization (SEO) methods for best results.

An innovative digital marketing plan might unite a paid search campaign with pay-per-view Facebook video advertising or cross-platform social ads. In today’s business climate, marketing teams and agencies must account for the ever-changing ways customers access information, communicate, and shop. Here are 7 trends we’ve got our eyes on.

1. Look into micro-influencers

You’ve probably heard the term “micro-influencer,” since influencers have remained one of the biggest digital marketing trends of the last few years. If not, here’s the 411.

Micro-influencers are social media influencers with 10,000 or fewer followers (though some consider accounts of up to 30,000 as micro-influencers). They can generally be found on Instagram, though this content can spill over onto other apps as well. 

Brands can partner with influencers for sponsored posts, where the influencer features your product or service in a post (that’s marked as an ad), often in exchange for a fee or free product.

While micro-influencers don’t have the follower counts of more big-time influencers, there are plenty of perks when it comes to working with them. They’re often more affordable than those with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers. And they often have more engaged audiences, too. They also tend to focus on more niche industries than broad lifestyle influencers. 

Search Engine Watch reports that 71% of social media users are more likely to purchase products and services based on social media referrals. Moreover, 90% of people buy from brands they follow on social media, according to Marketing Dive. Depending on your industry, micro-influencers could be key to getting your brand added exposure and a bigger reach without breaking the bank.

2. Hop on the m-commerce train

Speaking of phone apps and Instagram, let’s talk about m-commerce. As you can probably guess, m-commerce stands for mobile commerce (AKA shopping on your smartphone), and it’s a growing trend. By 2022, e-commerce sales from smartphones will reportedly reach more than $432 billion.

Some brands are taking advantage of this rising trend through shoppable social media posts. A new Instagram integration with platforms like Shopify allows e-commerce stores to publish posts with links connected to the items shown in the image. Viewers can simply tap the image and be led straight to a product page to purchase right from their phones.

BigCommerce highlights just some of the benefits m-commerce offers, including:

  • an omni-channel experience
  • huge growth potential
  • better customer experience
  • a variety of payment options

Instagram Checkout, launched in 2019, allows users to purchase from Instagram without even leaving the app, making the transaction more seamless than ever. In mid-2020, Facebook Shops went live. The new feature is billed as a mobile-first shopping experience where businesses can create their own online store within the app.

3. Explore video ads

Video marketing has become one of the most effective ways to reach customers and achieve brand recognition. These videos can be served in places like social platforms, on blogs, as display ads, and on YouTube.

YouTube bumper ads are timed at six seconds and air before video content. These ads are particularly popular and effective for clients with limited video ad production budgets. Depending on available editing resources, you may want to consider using YouTube’s bumper machine. This tool generates brief ads from videos shorter than 90 seconds and has a few simple editing features.

Pay-per-view is available to video advertisers on Facebook. These placements resemble pay-per-click (PPC) search ads. Advertisers don’t pay for views of sponsored results or other search ads that don’t get clicked. A fee is only charged when a viewer watches more than 10 seconds of a video promotion.

Video ads allow you to quickly capture a viewer’s attention, get your message across, and highlight your brand aesthetic. As a bonus, your video doesn’t have to be feature film-quality to be a success as long as you’re targeting your audience effectively.

4. Consider chatbots

As a digital marketing trend, chatbots have come a long way — particularly when it comes to AI and personalization. Not only can chatbots provide 24-hour customer support, but they can help answer common customer Qs, freeing up your human employees for other tasks.

Forbes highlights how chatbots have skyrocketed in popularity during the last few years. And, with advancing AI technology, chatbots can become “smarter” as they gather more data. 

Depending on the chatbot software you go with, you can create a variety of scenarios that may help prospects and clients find what they’re looking for, from contact information to knowledge-base articles.

the home depot AR app

The Home Depot’s AR app

5. Get familiar with augmented reality (AR) 

AR shopping is another trend to watch out for in 2021 and beyond. Since more and more consumers are choosing online shopping, this type of technology allows customers to try on products virtually before they buy them. 

All users have to do is upload a photo or simply point an app at their faces. Zenni Optical lets you see how you’d look in certain styles of glasses, while Maybelline lets you virtually try on a variety of makeup shades.

AR marketing involves creating AR brand experiences to increase brand awareness. One great example: The Home Depot’s AR app that, according to the brand, “helps you see products in your space in a few easy steps.”

6. Privacy-first laws dictate marketing tactics

As our recent privacy webinar points out, privacy changes are a big conversation happening in 2021. Google has initiated its third-party cookie phase-out, while Apple’s new iOS update features a pop-up that lets users opt out of app tracking. 

Meanwhile, GDPR, California Consumer Privacy Act, and Brazilian General Data Protection Act are making it harder and harder for marketers to gather the much-needed data about their target audiences.

These changes shouldn’t come as a shock to marketers, as they’ve been brewing for a while. However, there are strategy changes that can help lessen the blow. These include:

  • Making use of all the targeting tools at your disposal
  • Leveraging workarounds when possible
  • Restructuring your retargeting audiences
  • Focusing on acquiring new leads through prospecting campaigns
  • Continuing to invest in SEO, which is less affected by these changes
woman in front of camera in library

Companies with campaigns that highlight social initiatives or somehow “give back” may see more success than those that focus solely on sales. (Image via Unsplash)

7. Sincerity and sustainability are priorities

We’ve talked before about how leading with authenticity is key to gaining your audience’s trust. We’ve also shared data about how more consumers look for brands that align with their values. It’s not enough just to have a quality product or service: people want to partner with companies that stand for something.

Even though sustainability isn’t a new trend, it’s as popular as ever in 2021. Consumers are worried about their impact on the environment, giving marketers a tool to use when driving purchasing decisions.

These days, companies with campaigns that highlight social initiatives or somehow “give back” may see more success than those that focus solely on sales.

The takeaway

Much like Google beta releases, some digital marketing trends fall by the wayside, while others prove to have staying power.

By staying in the loop and testing out the latest marketing trends (which they make sense for your business, industry, and budget), you can show your audience that you’re paying attention to what’s on the horizon.  

This post has been updated and was originally published in August 2019.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on Apr 27 , 2021

A digital marketing agency can take your in-house team to the next level — here’s how.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How agencies improve in-house marketing teams
  • The added benefits agencies bring with them
  • Ways agencies can foster cross-team collaboration
  • How agencies can help your programs improve faster

Whether you’re a one-person marketing master or have dozens of colleagues on your team, managing a digital marketing program is a multi-faceted job. From paid search campaigns and optimization to content creation and everything in between, it can feel like you’re balancing several plates at once.

That’s where partnering with an agency comes in. A digital marketing agency can help you keep those plates balanced. Not only that, but they can juggle other aspects you hadn’t even thought about. 

Here are 7 main ways agencies and in-house marketing teams can come together to produce results greater than the sum of their parts.

1. A broader view of your program

There’s a lot to be said for seeing both the forest and the trees. Seeing the big picture without letting details slip through the cracks is an underrated skill. Many marketing agencies know this well. 

One of the biggest benefits of partnering with an agency is how it offers a broader view of your program as a whole, including its strengths and weaknesses.

It makes sense: when you’re part of an in-house marketing team, it’s easy to get caught up in your day-to-day digital marketing efforts. Agencies offer an outsider perspective and can address blind spots you didn’t know existed.

HawkSEM blog: How Working with an Agency Improves Your In-House Team

Partnering with an agency often means you have access to a whole additional team of marketing pros. (Image via Unsplash)

2. Combined years of marketing industry experience

Add up the years of experience your team members have. By working with an agency, you can instantly double or even triple that number — pretty appealing, right? 

Partnering with an agency often means you have access to a whole additional team of marketing pros. Depending on the company, some of your account managers may have worked in the industry for several years in different roles across various industries to boot. 

By combining your knowledgeable team with another set of marketing experts, you’ve got that much more experience that will no doubt come in handy, especially when changes arise and tough decisions need to be made.

3. Insider access to the top platforms

Oftentimes, agencies have developed partnerships with professionals at different platforms, from Google and Bing to Facebook, LinkedIn, and more. 

Not only do these partnerships help potentially expedite issues when troubleshooting or connecting with customer service reps, but they can also keep you ahead of the game when it comes to platform updates and news. 

And since agencies generally have higher management status with the likes of search engine brands, they can often get access to beta testing before other companies. This means they’re sometimes testing out new automation and algorithms that could help your business down the road.

4. Less time spent experimenting and testing

You should always be honing your digital marketing strategy. Not only does that take time, but it involves brainstorming, testing, data gathering, and analyzing, among other tasks.

An agency can benefit your in-house team because they’ve been there. Depending on how many clients they’ve worked with, they’ve likely got the experience that will help fine-tune and iterate your program faster. 

What this means for you: less time spent on what isn’t working, and more time on what is. 

5. Keeping an eye on your competitors

Remember that tunnel vision we talked about? While you may not want to admit it, it’s easy for this to happen when it comes to your competitors, too. It’s understandable: you’re trying to make things happen for your company, so you don’t want to spend too much time looking at others.

But knowing what your competitors are up to helps you stay in the game and, more importantly, not fall behind. A good agency can keep an eye on your competition, from the keywords they’re bidding on and the content they’re creating to approaches you could adopt in your own way for success.

HawkSEM blog: How Working with an Agency Improves Your In-House Team

Whereas a consultant is often one person, agencies may have 3-4 people working on your account. (Image by Unsplash)

6. A new set of resources

If your business is trying to decide whether to partner with a consultant or an agency, resources are another big differentiator. Whereas a consultant is often one person, agencies may have 3-4 people working on your account.

Agencies often come with experts in fields like search engine optimization and search engine marketing. But many also have on-staff developers, graphic designers, and content writers you can also leverage. Think of it more like a one-stop shop vs. a one-person show.

7. Connecting marketing to other teams

Your marketing team isn’t the only group that stands to benefit from an agency partnership. It can also help align other departments in your organization, resulting in better communication and a more streamlined process overall.

By implementing lead scoring, for example, an agency can create a more unified relationship between sales and marketing by putting more emphasis on the quality of a conversion. Or by putting cleaner data into your CRM, you can give your e-commerce or fulfillment teams a better understanding of order volumes to prepare for in the future.  

The takeaway

Partnering with a marketing agency doesn’t mean your in-house team has failed or isn’t up to snuff. Actually, the opposite is true. 

By adding the additional layer of knowledge, insight, and hands-on action that agencies provide, you can see a significant boost in how your current SEM and SEO programs perform. 

HawkSEM would love to be that game-changing agency for you — want to know more? Let’s chat.

This article has been updated and was originally published in October 2019.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on May 6 , 2020

As with any partnership, finding the right SEM agency for your brand takes patience and preparation.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Key questions to ask potential agencies
  • How to determine which one is right for your business
  • Ways to align expectations and communication
  • Red flags to look out for during the process

Whether you’re just starting out with search engine marketing (SEM) or have a successful program that’s just too much to manage on your own, partnering with an agency can be a great solution. But that doesn’t mean the process is simple.

As a marketer, you know how important search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, and similar marketing tactics are, and doing these things properly can mean huge growth for your business. But SEM is a specific niche within digital marketing, and bringing in experts who know their stuff is key to achieving the growth you desire. 

So, how do you know what to look for in an SEM agency? Let’s break it down.

HawkSEM: Find the right SEM agency

Create a shortlist of agencies that seem to align with your goals and have experience in your particular industry. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Clearly define your goals

The first thing you need to do is create some clear, actionable goals you’d like to reach. When you begin working with an agency, they’ll want to get a clear picture of what you’d like to achieve through SEM. Having this information ready to go from the start will ensure you’re prepared, on the same page, and can hit the ground running.

After all, if you don’t thoroughly understand your own business’s goals, then you might not be able to get the most out of the relationship you want to form with the agency. 

Think about your current SEM strategies, and ask yourself or your team questions such as:

  • What parts have been successful, and what parts haven’t been working so well?
  • Do you want to improve your ability to drive organic traffic from qualified keywords on search engines like Google? 
  • Do you want to increase your return on investment from online marketing as a whole or just PPC ads? 
  • Would you like to improve your ROI while increasing certain metrics or KPIs by a certain percentage?

These goals can be improved by making them even more specific. 

2. Do your research

It’s not enough to just pick the first SEM agency that comes up in a Google search. Instead, create a shortlist of agencies that seem to align with your goals and have experience in your particular industry. 

From there, you can dive deeply into any information you can find out about the company. Check out their website, read reviews and customer testimonials, look at examples from their portfolio, and see if they offer any references you can contact. Being able to chat with past clients can offer insight into the way the agency functions and what you can expect when working with them. 

Other things to look for include how many years of experience they have, case studies, and sample reports. If any bad reviews exist online, did the review receive a response? No agency is perfect, but they should be able to use less-than-perfect customer experiences as a learning tool. 

In this research, you should also be able to find out if they’ve worked with companies in your industry before. This is key, because if they have, then they’ll already have a bit of background and knowledge of what worked best for other businesses in your field. 

Successful SEM and PPC advertising strategies can differ widely between industries, so it’s a bonus if an agency has a lot of experience with companies similar to yours. The learning curve will be shorter and you’ll be able to see results quickly when you work with people who already know a lot about your industry. 

3. See how well you “click”

You want to form a long-lasting, productive relationship with the SEM agency you choose. That’s why it’s important that you feel a connection right from the start. Take time to interview each of the agencies on your shortlist. Ask questions about their process, learn about the team you’d be working with, and see if their values and mentality match with yours.  

This is also a great time to look for transparency. If you feel like they’re withholding any information or shying away from certain questions or topics, this might be a red flag that they may not be completely upfront or honest. 

Regardless of how they answer your questions, if something doesn’t feel right, go with your gut. The agency should be happy to tell you about their process, totally clear about pricing, and eager to point you to references who can give you even more insight. 

Remember: Search engine marketing is an ongoing process. You’re looking for an agency that you trust from the first time you interact with them. You’ll likely be working together for a long time, and you want to feel comfortable handing over your account or platform information. 

Does it seem like they’re communicative, friendly, and willing to listen to your input? You can also ask how often they plan to conduct meetings, phone calls or check-ins, and how open they are to revising strategies that don’t seem to be working well. 

HawkSEM: Find the right SEM agency

The more information you can get from the agency, the more sure you can be of your final decision. (Image via Rawpixel)

4. Discuss deliverables

Another important question: How will the agency show you that their efforts are paying off? Lots of the metrics they’ll be dealing with are easy to track and measure, so find out how often they’ll be providing you with reports and what these reports will include. 

You can ask for the prospective agency to provide a sample report. You can also ask questions like:

  • How does your agency measure things like brand awareness? 
  • How does your agency weigh traffic coming from different sources? 
  • What attribution models does your agency use?
  • Does your agency use different attribution models in different circumstances? 
  • How do you measure ROI?

Communication and regular reporting are important for establishing a strong two-way relationship, so don’t be afraid to ask direct questions and expect direct answers.

5. Break down the specifics

By now, you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of which agency you’d like to work with, but there are few things to hash out before you make a final decision. For one, be sure that the agency’s services are within your budget. 

Successful SEM isn’t a one-off “set it and forget it” project. Ask how they handle ongoing maintenance of your strategies. Will you be working with an account manager or communicating with an entire team? Ask how many employees they have and where they’re based. How much experience do the team members who will be handling your project have? The more information you can get from the agency, the more sure you can be of your final decision.

The takeaway

Hiring an SEM agency can help you take your digital marketing strategy to the next level, and choosing the right agency can make all the difference. 

By following these steps, you can feel confident that you’ve got the tools you need to make the right choice.

Looking for an SEM agency that checks all these boxes and more? You’ve come to the right place.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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