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Engage an E-Commerce Marketing Partner or Do It In-House?

December 31, 2020

A Framework for Making this Critical Decision

You’re at a stage where your revenue has plateaued. Or your return on your ad spend has not met your goals. Or each increase in marketing spend is met with diminishing returns.

You feel the time is right for some help, either by hiring a dedicated marketing employee or an outside marketing partner.

But which?

Do It In-House?

First, have a good hard look at how your company stacks up in this area today. And how knowledgeable you are in putting an e-commerce marketing strategy and plan together.

If you have a dedicated person or team already in place, you may just need to supplement it with additional resources. Before doing so, it may be a good idea to seek some outside help to analyze your results to date; the campaigns you’re running; the competitive environment; your in-house experience with the marketing platforms you’re using; and your marketing budget.

If you don’t have a proven marketing person or team in place, and you are not confident with your abilities in the marketing area, consider looking outside for assistance.

Having an e-commerce marketing partner on board with in-depth experience with the leading marketing platforms you’ll be using can give you a definite leg up. But it’s rare to find this breadth of marketing expertise in one person. If one can be found, such a dedicated hire will be very costly. This makes it unlikely that small and mid-sized merchants could afford the expense of an experienced dedicated all-round expert in-house.

The option of hiring someone who hasn’t been in the e-commerce marketing space and letting them learn on your dime isn’t a particularly good one. We’ve seen too many times that the learning curve is long and the experience is not broad enough. And, as a result, money is squandered on under-performing campaigns with negative returns on ad spend.

Do You Hire an Agency?

An agency brings the breadth of experience gained from running a variety of campaigns for a variety of customers in a broad mix of product categories. And on a variety of marketing platforms (Google, Facebook, Instagram, etc.), each with multiple campaign options (e.g., for Google: Shopping, Search, Display, and Video), with some of these having sub-campaign options (e.g., for Google Shopping: Shopping ads, Shopping Actions, and Surfaces across Google).

Hiring an agency should translate into more immediate results and less experimenting on your dime. And on a practical level, it can also be less expensive in the long run than hiring an accomplished marketer in-house when you consider wages, benefits, vacations, and office equipment & supplies. As well, going with an agency also reduces the risk that a direct hire won’t work out or your marketing needs change over time.

“We often find that our clients will have a marketing generalist in-house who is in charge of managing social media and monthly email campaigns but rely on us for the more technical aspects like paid media management and email marketing automations.”

Objectivity

As well as their experience, agencies bring an independent objective view on making the hard choices that will have to be made for your company to ultimately succeed. As store owners we have an emotional investment in our business and our products that often gets in the way not only of how we think a campaign should be tailored but also when we should kill or modify it. “Let’s give it another week” is something we’ve all done to our detriment.

With an agency running your marketing, it changes your own vantage point. When you’re not emotionally invested in the campaigns, you bring a different perspective when it comes to looking critically at results and next steps. 

Deeper Knowledge and Perspectives

Because agencies work with a cross-section of clients, they tend to have a much deeper knowledge and understanding of the major marketing platforms in use today and current industry trends and developments. Plus, they bring the experience of what works for different types of campaigns and clients. For small and mid-size businesses, gaining this knowledge and perspective that an agency has will be a long and arduous journey.

Specialized Tools

Using an agency to develop and execute your ecommerce marketing strategy can give you a leg up on your competition because you gain access to the newest techniques, tools, and resources.

Agencies share tools they use across their client base, tools for example such as campaign and user attribution across different ad platforms. Typically, these tools are not readily available to the smaller and mid-size merchants who have limited technology budgets. And agencies are already experts at using them, removing one more thing you’d have to fund and learn in-house.

Staffing Flexibility

Look at each functional area. If writing, for example, is not a strong in-house skill, engage a part-time writer who can bring your products to life; write titles and descriptions and incorporate long tail keywords that are SEO friendly; use keywords in your copy that potential customers will be using when doing searches; and develop the copy for your email newsletters. High quality product images are most important but is another area that can easily be contracted out.

Marketing technologies are constantly changing. With in-house team members, a change in strategy, a new technology, or an emphasis on a certain channel may mean you have to re-train existing or hire new team members with those skill sets. This can be messy, tough, and time-wasting. An agency lets you capitalize on their experience and their continuous internal education programs. And on their team of experts across the marketing spectrum.

Partnership

Look for a balance of retainer and commission model to align an agency’s success with your own goals.

With an e-commerce store, it’s pretty straight-forward to set objectives on which to base part of the agency’s compensation. We’ve seen structures where the agency earns a percentage of revenue or additional compensation for increasing your return on ad spend.

Buyer Beware

Here’s some things to keep in mind in looking for an agency:

Avoid those with little or no experience in e-commerce marketing. Keep in mind that as e-commerce companies your marketing needs are very different from many companies doing digital marketing. Many of the most effective marketing platforms, marketing strategies, and online tools used by e-commerce are unique. Look at the agency’s client list to see how aligned their experience is with your needs.

Avoid agencies with limited resources. And ones with exaggerated claims of their expertise (e.g., web development, search engine marketing, e-commerce marketing, product packaging, branding and design, event marketing, social media marketing, email marketing …).

Watch out for overpromising (e.g., we can get you $x guaranteed, x clicks guaranteed, etc.). Or “we can get you on the first page of the search results”. We had one tout that they could get us on the first page … when users searched for our company name! Duh!

How much of your time is it going to take to manage the agency relationship? How are they planning to communicate and report back to you? Are they in a timezone that allows for ready communication during the day (e.g., a time difference) of 3 hours or less. Ask to see a typical reporting schedule and their typical client reports.When interviewing agencies, ask about their successes and failures, and the key reasons that campaigns run for business like yours have either over- or under-performed. Ask what you should budget for a campaign, and what return on ad spend you should expect their campaign(s) to generate. Also, ask for examples of campaigns they have run for e-commerce merchants, so you can assess their marketing experience in this very specialized area.

Summary

Building a company is a balancing act. Often the day-to-day issues – the inevitable internal growing pains; customer service demands; inventory and shipping challenges – all demand urgent attention. The execution of marketing and advertising programs which have a longer horizon can be pushed aside “until tomorrow”.

Most new merchants have a limited window to establish a successful business. And limited funds. So, it may seem counterintuitive to hire an outside firm, but the reality is that spending the money early could well be the most effective use of the funds you have (by reducing what could become serious mistakes) and give you a better chance of long term success

The take-away: for many e-commerce merchants hiring an agency will be less costly in the long run than hiring the talent to do it internally, as well as reducing the risk that your ad dollars will not generate the returns you are expecting.

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Ready to scale your revenue? Have you completed the checklists and ticked all or most of the boxes in Optimize Your Shopify Store for Marketing Success.

Also check out AdAmplify’s Managed Marketing Services for an overview of some of the marketing programs we offer.

 

Who Are We?

The principals of AdAmplify have been in the e-commerce and online marketing business since 1997. Our clients over the past 23 years have included large corporations and small, from brick & mortar to pure-play online retailers.

What did we learn from this experience? From building custom sites to marketplace platforms for large companies worldwide, we honed our skills building enterprise systems. From our thousands of small businesses, we learned to deliver nimble applications that delivered results within their budgets. Our work with small and mid-sized businesses has fostered our passion for helping smaller companies grow.

For 23 years we’ve been committed to helping businesses effectively grow new and incremental revenue.

As well as offering marketing and consulting services to Shopify merchants, we are building the next generation of marketing apps with a focus on increasing top-line results and reducing costs.

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