When it comes to marketing firms in Montana, the options can feel a bit overwhelming. Then there’s companies calling themselves marketing tech, then there’s specific PR firms, creative agencies and design firms to choose from. What are the differences? Do you need all? None? We’re here to help you navigate the landscape of digital marketing firms in Montana.
This is how I got my start. You pick up some work writing website copy, designing Google Ad campaigns or helping an entrepreneur articulate their value proposition. Sometimes it’s a specific task like building a five page website or setting up email automations. Other times it’s consistent work like 20 hours a month focused on Google Ads.
Pros: The benefit here is expertise in a specific channel. Hiring an individual that knows search-engine-optimization inside and out is a good example. They can make recommendations on meta-tags, use programs like Screaming Frog to identify opportunities in organic search results and deliver reports from Google Search Console that you didn’t know existed. A local freelancer is in your time-zone, can be at your place of work and you can meet them face-to-face. They can see your business and meet the team.
Drawbacks: Freelancer have over time gained a reputation for being a little unreliable. Need that SSL certificate updated? Sorry, traveling to the Dominican this week. Design drafts stuck in drafts? Sorry, it’s conference week and I’m swamped! Without the power of a team, it can feel like the freelancer is working on an opposite time-zone … and sometimes they are.
Agile Digital Marketing Team (3-6 people):
If you’ve ever seen a pitcher in the major leagues step up to the plate, it’s pretty hilarious. Sure they can throw a 95 mph fastball, but that doesn’t mean they can hit one. That’s what designated hitters are for. Imagine a freelancer as an all-star pitcher. That’s only one piece of the team. Marketing teams with 3-5 people should compliment one another. Analytics, design, strategy, paid search and email. These digital marketing firms move fast and often act as a full-time marketing team for a company that wants to simply outsource these services.
Pros: These teams move fast and work best when each person on the team contributes to your marketing needs. Perhaps your firm has a marketing director responsible for promotion, events and communication. That’s a huge role. These firms are perfect for the marketing director that wants to keep the ball moving forward when their own plate is full. Too often marketing directors are responsible for a couple big events which suck up resources, time and energy. That’s where the agile marketing teams assist in keeping momentum.
Drawbacks: There are times when a freelancer is a better fit. Just need a simple design for a flyer? That’s a freelancer or an UpWork assignment. A rule of thumb to think about when looking for a marketing firm in Montana: you don’t want to be their smallest client, and you don’t want to be their largest. Get a good understanding of the work from the agency. Do they have experience with video? What is their belief on content?
Large Marketing and Creative Agency: 6+ people.
These firms traditionally exist in Montana for some of the larger brands and promotions. These are the marketing firms you might imagine on television: brick walls, glass walled conference room and post-it-notes on brand-boards. They tackle large branding projects spanning months and sometimes years.
Pros: The power of a team is real. With 20+ people, you might have a specific account rep or marketing director responsible for your account. Experience is a plus here with some firms existing for 20+ years or longer. They’ve seen the transition from TV and flyers to digital.
Cons: Whether they’ve adapted to that transition is another story. With 20+ people and brick walls comes a lot of overhead. Overhead that you pay for when you hire them. Sometimes the ideas generated from post-it-note sessions can be million dollar ideas, but who is responsible for executing on them? Your team? Their team? Is that included in the scope?
Programmatic Advertising Firms:
There is a difference between marketing firms and media buying. We wrote an entire article about whether or not programmatic advertising is right for you. These firms can throw a lot of complicated language and fancy acronyms at you quickly. CPMs, DSPs, Third Party Inventory, CTR and CPA. The business model is predicated on the more you spend as a marketing team, the more money they make. Typically charging $25 cost-per-thousand impressions online, these firms charge a specific amount and usually have a minimum ad-buy. This means you might be in for $5,000 a month in advertising. At the end of the month, you get a report showing results.
Pros: The invoicing is actually pretty simple. In the awareness stage, programmatic advertising can be powerful but expensive. These companies experience rapid growth and you’ll have your own account executive helping determine where you’d like to place ads. The targeting capabilities are impressive.
Cons: There are a few. First, the effectiveness of display ads (those ads you see on your local newspaper website) have unbelievably low click-through-rates which corresponds to unbelievably high cost-per-conversion (sales, lead, booking). As Google and Facebook compete for ad-dollars, the targeting capabilities within each platform continue to improve. Google’s custom-intent-audiences, for example, are extremely powerful and cost-per-thousand impressions come in closer to $2.50. Just understand that ad-tech, marketing tech and programmatic advertising firms don’t (or shouldn’t) call themselves marketing agencies.
How to Find a Great Digital Marketing Firm:
Unlike lawyers, doctors, teachers and nurses, the marketing profession doesn’t have a “bar exam” equivalent. Facebook Ads, Google Ads, email marketing, and search-engine-optimization management come with trainings and “onboarding completion certificates” but nothing that couldn’t be achieved on a rainy and disciplined weekend.
Should there be a certificate? I think back on my time as a marketing and recruitment associate at Missoula College (then the COT). I remember talking with the nursing faculty about Anatomy and Physiology (A&P). If anyone you know is a nurse, they just shuddered a little bit. Doesn’t matter where they are, they shivered with fear. That’s because it was coined as a “weed out course”. A course meant to thin the herd or aspiring nurses. If that sounds harsh, it is. It should be. Competency is pretty important when it comes to that IV in your arm and if that means the ability to ace A&P, I’m okay with it.
When looking for a Dentist, you’re not first concerned with their certification. You trust that someone somewhere gave them a license to practice dentistry. Then the market decides which dentist is best. For me, that’s which dentist has the best magazine selection in the waiting room. “Whoa, Carnival Ride Rodeo May 2017?!”
Lawyers study for months only to potentially fail the Bar exam. To interview for a job as a teacher in a school district, you need a teaching license. That’s not a controversial topic.
In all of these scenarios, there’s a barrier to entry. Perhaps that’s what makes finding and choosing the right marketing team so difficult. Sometimes you’re making a decision based on experience, but not all experience is created equal. Do you count, for example, 20 years of printing brochures and business cards as marketing experience?
Questions to Ask A Digital Marketing
We put together a quick list of questions to ask your digital marketing firm in Montana, or anywhere for that matter.
What is your process for getting started with someone new?
This helps filter the cookie-cutter approach. The plan should most certainly include understanding and potentially honing the value proposition early and often.
Describe how you think about goals and conversions?
There are media buying companies, and then there are marketers. Understanding the (really vast) differences will help you make an educated decision. When you hear experts talk about media, typically what they’re describing are display ads and large advertising purchases. These are usually priced at a CPM level (cost-per-thousand-impressions). So 1,000 people see an ad online, how much should it cost? To media buyers, the answer is usually around $25. To marketers, 1,000 impressions doesn’t mean much because we like to measure based on conversions. Sales, inquiries, applications, phone calls, and revenue. We think about goals and conversions internally as well as with our clients when we market our website personalization software, GeoFli.
What type of communication can I expect?
This is one of the most important questions to ask a potential online marketing firm in Montana or anywhere. There’s a spectrum of answers here. One includes a monthly dashboard that automates to your inbox. The other end of the pendulum is a digital marketing extension of your existing operations. It depends on what you want to focus on and what your budget can afford. Just make sure you’re not paying high dollar for a monthly PDF (but it’s interactive!) and if you’re looking for more of a team, meet the players on the team.
The last thing to consider when searching for a digital marketing agency in Montana is access. Can you sit across the table from them if you need to? Is that something important to you? We see tremendous value in being able to talk through campaigns, marketing spend and quarterly goals.
Note: You Should be Doing Most of The Talking.
If it seems like the marketing team you’re meeting with is doing a lot of the talking, it’s an early indicator they won’t be great listeners. Marketing is about communicating to the world what your super-power is. How are you different from everyone else doing what you do? What is your value proposition? If a marketing firm isn’t curious enough to dive into your value proposition in the first conversation, the mark has been missed.
What do Montana Digital Marketing Firms Do?
Understand that when condensed, there are roughly 19 different traction channels businesses can use to acquire new customers to their product or service. Sometimes these tasks are performed in-house. Sometimes firms contract one or two of them out. Increasingly, firms are looking at digital marketing as a good opportunity for some expert assistance and coaching on the some of the strategies below. This comes from the book “Traction” by Gabriel Weinberg (a book we keep in our HQ at all times). These include:
Viral Marketing: Share this uber-code, refer a friend, get $200 Visa gift card when a friend signs up. In campaigns I’ve run using the “my friend jumped off a bridge, maybe I should too!” approach, I’m always amazed at how well they perform. Hotmail, while not too prevalent these days, owned the world of electronic mail (yup, I called it that) by a simple viral marketing statement to “share with a friend” at the bottom of every email.
Public Relations: media coverage and publicity. There are firms specializing in this space. You could be on Oprah. You get a conversion! You get a conversion! But it’s tough to track the immediate return on investment and can fall sideways.
Unconventional PR: I always think of Redbull. Certainly jumping from space with a parachute on is unconventional. Did it sell more energy drinks? Probably. Was it really cool to watch? Most definitely yes.
Search Engine Marketing: Google is a search engine … and an advertising platform. Purchasing keywords and display inventory comes with the promise of sales, but it can be illusive. Best practice in our experience is a simple exact match – phrase match – broad match modified system to setting up search campaigns.
Social Ads: Mark Zuckerberg didn’t volunteer his way into that Lake Tahoe Estate. Facebook is a staple in the digital marketers toolbox. Though easy to initially launch, there are becoming more and more toggles and tactics to be aware of to efficiently target your budget and measure return-on-ad-spend.
Email Marketing: teach an old dog new tricks like automation, triggered retargeting email and growing your email list through other traction channels. Email can be extremely effective and you have complete control over the content. For example, Facebook can’t update an algorithm that removes 5,000 emails from your subscriber list. Your email list is your email list. Ask us about how to show messages to your email subscribers and friends of your email subscribers.
Google has 200 ranking factors. There are people that study all of them and dream about them. Literally there is a periodic table of ranking factors! We believe it’s important to be updated on new algorithms, but ultimately great content (maybe like this article) will rank. Provide real value and think about user intent. That has withstood the test of time … at least the last few years or so.
This is a strategy that has evolved since Gabriel Weinberg wrote Traction. I would also include Q&A sites like Quara, Facebook Groups and Influencer marketing in this category. Ultimately, targeting blogs includes defining a really clear persona, and spending time getting in front of them digitally. People go on the internet for education or entertainment. How can you help educate your target audience on your product in a non-spammy way. Sometimes it’s guest posting or contributing value to a Facebook Group.
If digital marketing was the royal family, content marketing would king. Yes, content is indeed king. Today, the bar is high: video, podcasts, articles, photo: there’s a lot to keep track of. Producing content in-house can be an extremely effective way to communicate to specific personas. For example, if you’re a sporting goods store, you could write articles about lacrosse and you could write articles about women’s soccer. Then you could promote those articles specifically to those demographics.
One of our favorite traction channels because it’s one of the least used. Think about a time when you’ve downloaded an interactive how-to guide or submitted a mortgage calculator. In exchange for something of value, maybe they collected your email address or phone number. Sometimes called Engineering as marketing. We’ve built calculators, degree finders and choose-your-own-adventure style business finders for companies that want something better than a “subscribe to our email” form. And example of marketing as engineering might be the subscription box calculator we build for Big Sky Fulfillment.
Montana is full of great marketers
The Kauffman Index has ranked Montana the No. 1 state for startup activity for four straight years. So what do entrepreneurs have to do with sales and digital marketing? Everything. Entrepreneurs inherently see opportunity where others might have missed. They understand their key demographics, personas, and target market even if sometimes those aren’t the words they use. They market and brand their product. Just here in Missoula, the examples of world-class marketing is everywhere. From the music scene retargeting live-performance aficionados to software companies like Submittable and OnX building global brands acquiring customers all over the world.
What Marketing Firm is Right For You:
Fortunately, the state of Missoula marketing is strong. If you’re looking for a Missoula or a Montana marketing agency, digital or traditional, it’s important to keep in mind a couple things.
If you’re just getting started, it might mean you don’t need a marketing firm at all, you need some hustle! Paul Graham of Y-Combinator recommends businesses starting out going from zero customers to one customer, from one to ten and ten to 100 do things that don’t scale. What does that mean: do things that don’t scale. We take that a step further: do things that don’t scale until you reach product market fit. Basically you should look at growing your business without marketing dollars and instead recruit customers that would make zero sense if you had 500 customers. For example, the AirBnB team sold cereal at the Democratic National Convention in 2008: Obama O’s to help fund their growing startup. Stripe recruited users early by physically showing up and installing the system at your business, sitting in your chair behind your cash register.
Product Market Fit
When you’re ready to sit down with a Montana marketing agency, if you’re a growing business, we recommend making sure you’ve achieved product market fit. We think of that based on Casey Winters from GrubHub, Pinterest and now Graylock Partners when he says “you’ve reached product market fit if your customers would be pissed you went away.”
If you aren’t there yet, keep doing things that don’t scale. Talk to customers.
When Hiring a Montana Marketing Agency is right for you:
We find the most successful companies that bring on an agency have a marketing team in place with some expertise in specific traction channels but not all. Specialists in areas like Google Ads, reporting, search-engine-optimization and content can be really difficult to find. It can also be difficult to find them 40 hours of work with such a narrow skill-set. Find a marketing firm with a track-record of managing large accounts. I sometimes advise individuals looking to hire a marketing agency in Montana that you don’t want to be the firm’s largest client and you don’t want to be the firm’s smallest client.
Montana Marketing Analytics Graduates:
While there is a lot of creativity that goes into marketing, the trend toward marketing as a science continues to increase. Data analytics, website conversion tracking, page-rank algorithms and impression share are just the tip of the marketing metric iceberg. With Masters in Business Analytics and digital marketing certificates being awarded by the University of Montana, the caliber of students graduating with proficiency not only in designing a beautiful marketing handout, but graduating with the ability to perform regression analysis on Montana tourism data is rapidly increasing. Find a firm with these skill sets under the umbrella and it will serve you well.
Digital Marketing Coaching:
Unsure still if hiring a Montana digital marketing agency is right for you? Consider taking some simple courses online. They’re free and they’ll arm you with the knowledge to either tackle steps 1-3 yourself, or at least ask the right questions of a potential freelancer or marketing agency. Here are a few of our favorites:
Have questions about digital marketing? Contact us today. We’ll fire up the video-conference and do a lot of listening. Jumping into digital marketing can be a little frightening. We’re here to help.