Digital Marketing Consultant vs Digital Agency, both are relevant for business

This post is not to convince people against digital ad agencies, instead it is to help business owners make better business decisions.

Back in 2006, when I started my career in Quasar Media (a leading independent digital agency & now a WPP company) , I never thought that I would get an opportunity to work as an independent Digital Marketing Consultant for such a long time.

Over the years, I’ve worked with clients ranging from enterprise companies to absolute bare bones startups. For someone like me who has actually gone through from the mad corridors of digital advertising to the “politically corrected” corporate boardrooms and now a “meandering consultant”, its been a helluva ride.

But this post is not about me, this post is to help you make better decisions while you are choosing the right marketing partner for your business. But lets understand the business problem in a much more holistic manner.

In the last 5 years, there has been a massive increase in the number of marketing channels, marketing technologies are changing at the pace of light and the world is no longer about just generating new customer leads, thanks to social media and mobile ad tech, you can now predict when and from where you would get your next customer. But all of that isn’t that simple either.

Gartners Digital Marketing Transit Map

Gartners Digital Marketing Transit Map

Gartner’s Digital Marketing Transit Map is just an indicator of this increasingly complex world. Needless to say, with newer technologies like artificial intelligence taking over the reins, marketing can become further complex for future organisations.

In this situation, every business must choose the right vendor partner who can help them navigate through this phenomenally complex world of digital marketing.

The decision of choosing between a Digital Marketing Consultant vs Digital Agency is usually based on the size of the organization, but there are still multiple factors that affect this decision:

Digital Marketing Consultant Services

Digital Marketing Consultant Services

For Enterprise Company

If there is one word that defines their business, it is “LARGE”.

For them it is an obvious choice to hire multiple vendors/ agencies to manage their different digital work streams like customer acquisition, brand management, technology development, content marketing, publicity design, customer relationship management and the most critical one, data management. Based on these, an enterprise company usually hires vendors for the following functions:

  • Digital communication design
  • Technology development for different platforms like web, mobile, digital outdoors etc.
  • Digital brand strategy
  • Localisation agency to managed campaigns in different regions
  • PR & Social Media Agency
  • CRM
  • Digital Content Production
  • Customer Data, Analytics & Research Partner
  • Digital Media Agency ( for paid media campaigns like SEM, FB ads, Performance Marketing, Affiliate Marketing)

There are very few cases where an enterprise company hires an independent consultant. Only where the work is project based and highly niche in nature which cannot be provided at the same level expertise by any of the existing vendors in the market, hiring a consultant becomes imminent for the enterprise brand.

For Small Medium Business

This is where it is most difficult to assess your business requirement. Majority of the SMB’s are focussed towards generating more sales and not building their brand. For them, marketing is an expense, which should be avoided as much as possible, and only ROI driven marketing tactics are considered by the business owners with the clear objective to achieve sales.

However, there are multiple segments (based on size, nature of business, employee count, technology, customer base etc.) within the SME space, each of which has a different level of marketing requirements.

  1. For Local Business – the size of the business is extremely small ( like a small travel operator, Builders & Real Estate Agents, SOHO business, local retail, personalised services etc. ) which is not lucrative for any mid-large digital vendor, not just from scale but from monetary standpoint.
    1. Their marketing requirements (briefs) are often vaguely defined and restricted to most commonly used plus tried & tested digital marketing practices like Search optimisation & Adwords Marketing, Social Media Optimisation and Lead Generation.
    2. Most of these businesses get their low cost websites done by some local web design company without much focus on brand hygiene or customer relationship.
    3. Recommendation : Today, there are tremendous opportunities for any local business to grow, what they lack is a clear focus and direction based on the type of their business. Digital Marketing Consultants are best bets for local business as they can help them define their business focus and create a simple roadmap to grow without spending too much money. Its like visiting a private doctor’s clinic for expert’s advice before getting admitted to a hospital.
  2. For Startups – they come in many shapes and forms based on the stage of business , funded vs bootstrapped, tech vs non tech, product based vs service, e-commerce vs non e-commerce. Based on the type of startup, their marketing requirements are also different in nature.
    1. Early stage startups literally bootstrap their marketing expenditure for a long period of time. I’ve seen founders getting their hands dirty with everything in the marketing, right from building the strategy, finding alliances and partners, writing the PR copy, social media campaign, customer support etc.
    2. Startups are also secretive about their core idea till they build enough customer base. They usually hire people for doing specific task in marketing like SEO, Social Media Marketing, Email Marketing etc. (Also read : How to hire for your bootstrapped startup?)
    3. For startups who manage to raise decent amount of funding in Series A/B, prefer to build their own digital marketing team instead of working with ad agencies. I guess most of the startup founders believe that ad agencies would not understand the vision completely. However, the trend is changing, startups are working with digital vendors for specific requirements like content marketing, online video campaigns (Also Read : How beautifully Faballey created their #unfollow campaign)
    4. Recommendation : on one side, early stage startups badly need top quality resources, but they also want to bootstrap it till the time they find gold aka funding source. Building momentum is super crucial for the founders as it allows them to build a strong business case to prospect investors. In this situation, it is highly advisable to hire experienced Freelance Digital Marketing Consultant who’ve been there and done that. The biggest benefit of working with a consultant is that they bring best practices from all perspectives including product management, sales, integrated marketing, customer relationship management etc.
  3. For Small Enterprise – these companies are those who are on a growth trajectory and certainly big enough in terms of their marketing operations, that allows them hire full time digital agencies.
    1. Despite being cash rich, these companies are extremely performance driven and sales focussed. Having said that, they still hire best of the marketing resources from elite B-schools all around the country by offering fat pay packages.
    2. Their requirements are often multi disciplinary, right from the core strategy to building a sustainable marketing plan to finding right partners in every aspect of their business.
    3. Usually these companies are cash rich and are prepared to spend money on brand building as well. The annual revenues are in high 3 digit numbers with double digit YOY growth.
    4. Please note, below recommendation is extremely relevant for Small B2B enterprise companies.
    5. Recommendation: Companies like these should prioritize their annual budgets and resources based on their short, medium & long term goals. While a Freelance Digital Marketing Consultant may not be the right option as (s)he cannot drive scale for their ambitious growth plans but (s)he can certainly come handy to drive certain specific needs like corporate training, creating your website content, creating your corporate blog strategy, building your website SEO & analytics. Digital Agencies are perfectly modeled for this kind of business as they can offer end-to-end services to their clients.

Building Platform Strategy | How to decide between Mobile Website vs Mobile App?

Even after so many years, a lot of people usually get confused between Mobile Website vs Mobile App and most importantly, which one is relevant to your business. The decision however, is actually not that difficult. Just so that you can understand this in a more logical manner, lets go to the bare basics.

What is a Mobile Website?

The mobile web refers to access to the world wide web, i.e. the use of browser-based Internet services, from a handheld mobile device, such as a smartphone or a feature phone, connected to a mobile network or other wireless network. ~ Wikipedia

Statistics have significantly tilted towards mobile adoption globally and there is no doubt that mobile users are exceeding desktop users on the Web. (see below graph)

mobile users beating desktop users

mobile users beating desktop users

After recent algorithm changes made by Google, I don’t think there is any option of not having a responsive website anymore. It even make a lot of business sense considering majority of the content is consumed through mobile browsers and the number is bound to increase at exponential pace in future.

However, do you really need to build a native app for your business?

What is a Native Mobile App?

Native apps are installed through an application store (such as Google Play or Apple’s App Store). They are developed specifically for one platform, and can take full advantage of all the device features ~ Techopedia

According to a report by Flurry Analytics, App usage has sky rocketed in the last 2 years and there is just no comparison with mobile web:

apps dominating mobile web

apps dominating mobile web

Native Mobile App benefits

  1. Offline Mode: Once the browser is closed, mobile website is of little use to anyone. Unless you are a huge brand in your category or your SEO rankings are really good or your social campaign is super rocking. Mobile App, on the hand allows you to download key content on the mobile which can be accessed without internet connection.
  2. Control: Because users have to download and install the app, businesses have more control over their presence on a device than they would with a mobile website, a mobile app can be closed or inactive, but still work in the background to send geo-targeted push notifications and gather data about customer’s preferences and behaviors.
  3. UI/UX: Native apps are build for a specific platform like iOS or Android or Windows and can be installed from respective App store / Play store. Although a lot of people consider this as a drawback since considerable amount of time, effort and resources is required to customize the app in its UI and UX. But the benefits clearly surpass the challenge because it offers tremendous opportunity to the developer to build personalization capabilities for the app users native to respective mobile OS.
  4. Device Features: One of the biggest advantage of the native apps is that they can take full advantage of all the device features — they can use the camera, the GPS, the accelerometer, the compass, the list of contacts, and so on. This is something you can never achieve in browser environment due to massive to-an-fro data processing which is required at the backend.
  5. Experience: For an experience that is well polished, fast response, and simply feels nice to the user, native apps are the go to solution.
    • Generally, web apps include elements from the browser such as the search and navigation bars which clutter the experience. When using a smaller device this means less space for app specific controls.

    • Native apps respond more fluidly to user gestures such as swipes and pinches.
  6. Engagement & Loyalty : Native apps allows you build repeat engagement with your customers / audience, you can focus your energies towards creating quality content and deliver powerful experience because you are not worried about your SEO rankings.

Conclusion

Mobile Website vs Mobile App

Mobile Website vs Mobile App

In order to decide if you want to develop a native app, you need to consider the following points:

  • How important speed and performance would be for the product / service you are trying to sell to your customers? e.g. gaming apps which needs huge amount of performance for graphics which is not possible to produce in a browser environment.
  • Does your communication needs engagement through any of the mobile device features? e.g. apps that require camera settings, directory listings that need your map location etc.
  • If you want your web service to be Internet-enabled, i.e. if you believe that there will be constant to-an-fro of data with the server. e.g. e-commerce apps which need continuous internet connection for faster transaction.
  • If you want your app to support multiple mobile platforms and devices and if yes, how many. See your web analytics, may be majority of your audience coming from a particular mobile device. ( Also Read: how to track mobile visitors in GA? )
  • Your budget, vs. the estimated cost of developing your app.
  • If you would like to monetize your app in the future

[poll id=”2″]

Startup Lessons : When to launch your digital startup?

The article was first published in 2009 as a part of Startup Lessons Learned. Author of this article is Eric Ries who is considered to be one of the most powerful individuals in Tech Entrepreneurship space. 

Here’s a common question I get from digital startups, especially in the early stages: when should we launch? My answer is almost always the same: don’t.

First off, what does it mean to launch? Generally, we conflate two unrelated concepts into the term, which is important to clarify right up front.

  1. Announce a new product, start its PR campaign, and engage in buzz marketing activities. (Marketing launch)
  2. Make a new product available to customers in the general public. (Product launch)

In today’s world, there is no reason you have to do these two things at the same time. In fact, in most situations it’s a bad idea for startups to synchronize these events.

Launching is a tactic, not a strategy. In the right situation, it’s a very useful tactic, too. In particular, a marketing launch can help you do three things (courtesy, as is most of my marketing advice, of The Four Steps to the Epiphany):

  1. Drive customers into your sales pipeline. This is the usual reason given for a marketing launch, but for most early stage startups, it’s a failure. That’s because a marketing launch is a one-time event, and rarely translates into renewable audiences. Worse, if you are not geared up to make the best use of those customers when the launch sends them your way, it’s a pretty big waste. And, as we’ll talk about in a moment, you don’t get a second chance.Because this reason is so often used as an excuse, I recommend giving it extra scrutiny. Are you really choosing to engage in marketing in places where your potential customers pay attention? Do your customers really read TechCrunch? If not, do not launch there. Even if you must launch to your customers, avoid the urge to also launch in extra places, just because your PR firm can do it at the same time.
  2. Establish credibility with potential partners. In some businesses, especially in certain industries like traditional enterprise software, you simply cannot bring a new product to market on your own. You need to combine your product with others, and this requires partners like OEM’s or system integrators. A marketing launch can help you get in the door with those partners, if you’re having trouble getting their attention. Again, it’s critical to focus your marketing launch on those publications, venues, and channels that your potential partners are paying attention to. If you don’t know who the partners are, what they pay attention to, or what kind of message they are open to receiving – it’s too early to launch. Do some Customer Development instead.
  3. Help you raise money. If you are having trouble raising money, sometimes a little PR can help. But don’t be too sure. When VC’s and other investors see PR activity, they are going to expect to see significant traction as a result. If you launch and see only mediocre results, it may actually make it harder to raise money. Sometimes, it can be easier to raise money pre-launch, if the launch is not imminent and there is some fear on the part of investors that they might lose the deal when the launch drives awareness of your company to all their peers.

Those are the potential goals of a marketing launch, but those are not its only effects. It also has causes other tectonic shifts that many digital startup founders don’t consider:

  1. A marketing launch establishes your positioning. If you don’t know what the right positioning is for your company, do not launch. Figuring this out takes time, and few entrepreneurs have the patience to wait it out, because the business plan does such a good job of explaining what customers are going to think. The problem is that customers don’t read your business plan.When you launch with the wrong positioning, you have to spend extra effort and money later cleaning it up. For example, we did some early press (in Wired, no less) for IMVU that called us the next generation of IM and compared us positively to AOL. At the time, we thought that was great. Now, I look back and cringe. Being compared to AOL isn’t so great these days, and IM is considered a pretty weak form of socializing. When we finally launched for real, we had to compensate for that early blunder.Of course, we didn’t realize it was a blunder at all. We were actually really proud of the positive coverage. In fact, at that time we were auditing Steve Blank’s class at Haas, since he was an early investor. Since we hadn’t shown him much in the way of progress recently, we actually brought in the article to show off. I won’t recount what happened next (although your can hear us recount it in audio). Suffice to say I can trace my understanding of what it means to launch to that day. We’re lucky we had a mentor on board who could call us on the bad strategy before it was too late. Most startups aren’t so fortunate.
  2. You have to know your business model. Most startups launch before they’ve figured out what business they’re in. Pay attention to your fundamental driver of growth. If the product needs to be tweaked just a little bit in order to convert users into customers, you want to figure that out before the launch. If the viral coefficient is 0.9, keep iterating until it’s 1.1 before you launch. And if your product doesn’t retain customers, what’s the point of driving a bunch of them to use it? Spend your time with renewable sources of customers and iterate.
  3. You never get a second chance to launch. Unlike a lot of other startup activities, PR is not one where you can try it, iterate, learn, and try again. It’s a one-way event, so you’d better get it right. Remember the story about IMVU’s early encounter with Wired? When we finally did launch the company, even though our product had grown and changed significantly, Wired didn’t cover it.

I wrote a little bit about the epic launch we had at a previous startup in my post Achieving a failure. We really did it well, with a great PR firm and great coverage. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN, the works. But it turned into a crushing defeat, because we couldn’t capitalize on all that attention. The product didn’t convert well enough, the mainstream customers we were driving weren’t ready for the concept, and the event fed expectations about how successful the product was going to be that turned out to be hyper-inflated.

Worse, we tricked ourselves into thinking that what the press said about our success was actually true. And even worse, we’d cranked up the burn rate in order to be ready to handle all those millions of mainstream customers we anticipated. When they failed to materialize, the company was in big trouble.

Why do startups synchronize marketing launch and product launch? I think it has mostly to do with psychology.

  1. Investors push for it. Many investors have a desire to see their companies lauded publicly. This actually makes a lot of sense, if you see the world from their point of view. Third-party validation is one of the few forms of feedback they have available to them. Most investors in startups have a 3, 5 or even 10 year horizon for liquidity. That means they don’t really know if they made a good investment for a very long time. Seeing the press talk about what a great investor they are is a great form of feedback. As a bonus, it gives them something to show their partners and LP’s.This trend is so strong, this is actually a question I recommend to screen potential investors: “How do you know it’s time to launch the company?” See if their answer is about tactics or strategy.
  2. Founders push for it. Who doesn’t want to see their name in print? Investors aren’t the only ones with ego invested in the company. In some ways, founders are even worse. How do they know they are making progress? They spend so much of their time trying to convince everyone around them that their idea is great and the company is doing well: employees, investors, partners, friends, family, significant others – it’s a long list. But when they go to sleep at night, who’s there to convince them that they are making progress? My experience is that many founders actually have a deep anxiety that maybe they are not succeeding. Sure, they are keeping everyone busy, but are they really working on the right things? A marketing launch is a temporary salve for these kinds of worries. Plus, it gives you something you can send home to mom (hi, mom!). Unfortunately, it’s not a long-term solution, so it can become a bit of an addiction and, therefore, a huge distraction.
  3. There is also fear of the accidental launch. Companies that are thinking strategically sometimes reason like this: “if we do a product launch, members of the public will see our early product. They’ll form their own opinions, maybe see our wrong positioning, and maybe talk to members of the press. By the time we’re ready for a marketing launch, it will be too late. Better to launch now and get ahead of the story, or stay in closed beta until we’re ready.”In most situations, this fear is misplaced. Here was our experience at IMVU, which I have seen replicated at many other consumer internet startups. We did alienate and mis-position to our early customers. Luckily, if your product isn’t good enough to have traction, you simply cannot alienate very many customers – because you can’t get them engaged with the product. When you finally do get traction, the millions who see the right positioning will dwarf the few who saw the wrong one. And you can get an astronomical amount of traction before anyone will write about your company of their own accord. IMVU was a top-1000 website in the world, with millions of customers and making millions of dollars without getting any significant press coverage.In fact, we often felt frustrated when new startups with a fraction of our success got terrific write-ups in Silicon Valley-centric venues. We had to resist the urge to launch just to make that frustration stop. And, more often than not, we’d watch those companies flame out and die while we continued to grow steadily every month. If we’d wasted energy chasing their PR coverage, we’d probably have died too.

So don’t combine your product launch with a marketing launch. Instead, do your product launch first. Don’t chicken out and do a closed beta; get real customers in through real renewable channels. Start with a five-dollar-a-day SEM campaign. Iterate as fast and for as long as you can. Don’t scale. Don’t marketing launch.

How do you know you’re ready for marketing launch?

  • When you have a strategy for the launch, which means knowing why you’re doing it. Make sure it’s solving a problem you actually have, and not one that you think you might have some day.
  • Know what the success metrics are for the launch. If you know what the strategy is, you’ll know how to tell it was a success. Write it down ahead of time, and hold yourself accountable for hitting those objectives.
  • Know what your fundamental driver of growth is. Make sure the math for your model makes sense. That way, you’ll be able to predict the future. When customers come in from your marketing launch, you’ll know exactly what they are going to do and how that benefits your business.
  • Know where, when, and how to launch. If you know what your strategy is, and you know your target well (customers, partners, investors) you will also know where they are paying attention, and what messages they are able to absorb. Hold yourself and your PR agency accountable for developing a high level of understanding of these questions ahead of time.

One last suggestions. Think about the psychological motivations that are driving you to want to launch earlier than makes sense for your company. See if there’s anything you can do to address those underlying needs that does make sense. For example, if your employees are feeling frustrated that they don’t get much third-party validation for their work, use a board of advisers to fill that role. Bring in people that they (and you) respect to evaluate your progress and make suggestions. In my experience, this has provided an effective boost to morale and also helpful guidance.

How to become a Digital Marketing Consultant?

Digital Marketing is a funny profession.

Want to know why I am saying this?

Because it is difficult to give credit to people for their work.

For example, you really don’t know what is the contribution of a digital strategist. At times it is just a presentation. I mean what is he supposed to deliver?

Creating presentations can’t be qualified as doing work. Right?

Deep down insight, most of the clients believe that it is the guy who is executing the campaigns hands-on is actually the real hero.

Nothing wrong in that assumption.

Digital marketing consultant is an altogether different animal.

It is normal for you to ask, how do I know about this?

So let me tell you, twice in the last ten years, I left my “stable job” and opted for full time consulting career digital marketing

Quite frankly, I had little clue about what digital marketing consulting is.  

I’ve been a hustler throughout my decade long career. Hence, consulting for me was not about making money but to give myself a chance to think differently.

Here are few suggestions from my side if you are planning to leave your cushy job for doing freelance digital consulting. 

Identify your core Digital marketing skills

 

Ideally it should not be more than 2-3 skills that’ll get you some quick projects.  

In sales they call it as “low hanging fruits” and easy to sell services which are no brainer for any client.

You can’t start your consulting in India with just strategy as your key focus.

Strategy is always considered as a default skill. Very few client pays to a freelance marketing consultant for strategy. They don’t!

However, exceptions might be there. 

A digital marketing consultant should always have a specialised skill at the back of his hand like

  • Social media management
  • SEO
  • SEM
  • Analytics
  • Content Writing
  • Video Editing
  • Software Programming

The biggest benefit of having these skills is that you can sell them like a product because the output is measurable and the scope of work can be defined much easily.  

Blogging is no longer optional

 

Continuous creation of content to establish your skills, knowledge and thought process is absolutely vital in a world which is dominated by mediocre people and companies.

I’ve seen people who were absolutely brilliant in their jobs, but when they started their own marketing consulting practice, they had to re-establish their thought leadership and skills in the market.

Fortunately, you have the benefit of blogs and social media which is an awesome “free publicity” tool for anyone who wants to build their credentials in the market.

Today, clients discover you in two ways, either through the personal referrals or through social media.

I agree that relationships matters in almost every type of consulting but in case of Digital Marketing, you need to build a strong knowledge portfolio for which there is no better tactic than blogging.

TAKE EARLY RISKS

 

It looks fancy to put a logo of any Fortune 500 company in your sales kit, but for most of the marketing consultants it is a pipe dream.

Most importantly, it is painful and less rewarding to pick up projects for big brands as they are extremely demanding and often force you bend backwards during the project.

If you are starting new as a digital marketing consultant in India, you should always aim at small business customers first as they’ll value your work a lot more than big corporations.

Fortunately, there are plenty of aspiring startup entrepreneurs around who are looking for all kind of support, right from building the website, writing their content, preparing investor pack, managing their digital marketing and lead generation, setting up their email marketing & CRM.

You would find a great connect with the early stage startups as they are sailing in the same boat as you are.

Specialist vs Generalist

 

It all depends upon what you are trying to pitch.

It is not so much of a problem if you have a tangible skill set like coding / designing / search marketing / SEO / affiliate marketing etc.

But if you are a digital generalist, then it can become a huge problem for you during client meetings.

Clients often have this habit of creating an open ended project scope which would kill you once you start working on the project.

It is absolutely vital to define the scope of the project till the last word.

Make sure you’ve taken the client through the process of execution with clearly defined expectations, timelines and deliverables.

COSTING YOUR CONSULTING OFFERING

 

Needless to say that Indian clients do not pay enough to marketing consultants.

You really need to spend over a decade to build your quality stamp and may be eventually, put a “non negotiable” tag on yourself.

The problem is that when it comes to digital marketing in India, everyone consider themselves “an expert” so very few people would value the services of a consultant.

Often, the term consultant is associated with “low cost services”. This is one of the major reason as to why some of the best professionals work on projects from outside India when there is plenty of work available in India.

And the worst part is the payment cycles. India is the worst possible place for an individual to start his consulting practice because payments here take forever to land in your account.

Unless your work is indispensable to the client’s success or the organisation is extremely ethical, you would never be able to get your payments on time.

Lets do a quick recap on the top marketing consulting priorities:

  1. Identify your core skills
  2. Build your thought leadership through blogs
  3. Try winning small customers and startups
  4. Define your scope of services
  5. Pricing your marketing consulting services

6 stages of Digital Startup business

If you are reading this post, I can assume that you have an idea and you are on your way to build your startup or else you have a deep desire to build one. Don’t worry, you are not alone in your journey. Building startups seems to be the only thing on the mind of every professional.

For a long time, the venture capital world has often correlated the ability to build a successful startup with the age & experience of individuals. Not anymore.  According to a Harvard Business Review report, the average age at founding (a startup) was just over 31, and the median was 30.

 

Startup Founder Age of VC Backed Companies

Startup Founder Age of VC Backed Companies

However, age has nothing to do with the stages of startup but interestingly it can increase or decrease the duration of your pre-startup period.

Now if you search on the Google, you would find different views & opinions about the stages of startup business. Frankly speaking, none of them is incorrect. But the one which has simplified it considerably is created by StartupCommons (see below):

 

Startup Development Phases & Lifecycle

Startup Development Phases & Lifecycle

Key stages of digital startup

Stage I : Ideation

In this stage, the startup founder(s) builds, sharpens, polishes their “potential scalable product or service idea” for a big enough “target market“. There is no need for any team or resources at this stage of startup. A significant amount of time goes into the market research, collecting data about primary & secondary audience. The end outcome is a very simplified 30,000 feet business plan document that defines all the key variables about your business in a nutshell. Most importantly, at the end of this stage you should know, who would pay for your product & service & why?

Also read: How to write a business plan document by Sequoia Capital

Stage II : Concept Development

Once you are convinced about your core startup idea, the next stage is to find your core team of people whom you would want to be part of your journey. A lot of startups (especially tech startups where founders are programmers and core architects) want to keep their idea within the closed room till they get the venture fund. Usually it delays the project considerably as they end up doing a lot of non specialised tasks by themselves.

In the concept development phase, you should start creating your actual business plan with estimated financials  of budgets, possible revenue and key company milestones for the next 2-3 years. Identifying your core team and involving them in the ideation process is absolutely critical as this would set the stage for actual business roll-out.

Stage III : Commitment

This is the stage when the founders actually start building the MVP or Minimum Viable Product for the users to test their business idea. According to Techopedia:

A minimum viable product (MVP) is a development technique in which a new product or website is developed with sufficient features to satisfy early adopters. The final, complete set of features is only designed and developed after considering feedback from the product’s initial users.

In case of services business MVP, it needs to build the tools for service delivery like wireframe of CRM for customer lifecycle management and how it would be linked with an online customer acquisition and final service delivery.

An MVP is one of the most important stages in any startup business. Not just it allows the founders to calibrate their efforts & product idea, it is the stage when you can start marketing about your product/service to prospect angel investors (not VCs).  The commitment stage is also critical to define the roles of the founding team & the shareholding pattern for the first 2-3 years of business.

Most of the early stage hiring happens during this stage of startup. The team size are thin and the founders literally bootstrap it to the maximum by doing multiple roles.

Also read: How to hire for bootstrap startup?

Stage IV : Validation

‘Validation’ or ‘proof of concept’ is one of those stages of startup business where they have to live with a great degree of vulnerability, both from inside & outside. In the validation stage, founding team has to show maximum value for all stakeholders, starting from its current customers, its employees to current angel (if any) & potential investors.

In many ways, this stage decides the fate of your business idea, and hence it gives the maximum stress to the startup owners.

On one side, the founders are struggling to find the right product strategy & brand positioning that would allow them to attract potential Series A/B venture investment, and on the other side, there is a continuous pressure to show some running profits and ensure customer delight. Incidentally, most of the startups lose their plot during this stage of business.

 

Also read: Worldwide Failed Startup Trends

Stage V : Scaling Up

This stage usually start after you’ve received your Series A investment and now you are looking to scale the length & breadth of your business operations. A significant amount of time goes into hiring resources, marketing your product in the target markets to key audience, building a strong word of mouth PR, and accelerating your quarter on quarter revenues.

Stage VI : Growth

This stage is actually subject to how your business idea has performed. Once you’ve achieved a critical mass of customers, you enter the growth stage in which you can diversify your business through possible acquisitions of smaller companies or you can enter newer markets by raising more venture fund. Fundamentally, there is no fixed time duration to this stage as most of the startups want to remain in the startup mode for a long time.

5 ways to get startup funding for your digital agency

If you are an avid follower of the startup news, you might have noticed that most of the startup funding is landing in the tech startup space, that too largely in the mobile apps & e-commerce category. Have you ever wondered why the startup advertising agencies are not in the investment radar.

Why is it that the most innovative or profitable ones (agencies) get acquired, while the rest struggle to make their mark for a very long time?

If you are an owner of a digital agency startup, here are few things you must build in your business plan in order to secure startup funding for your business:

1. Productize your offering

There is a general assumption that agencies are service based companies (which is not incorrect) and their revenue model is fragile. The competition is so intense that you have keep searching for leads all the time. Payment cycles are long and ‘client loyalty’ is limited due to which advertising agency is considered (or perceived) as low cashflow business.

In order to change this perception, you need create a unique product of your service which has a tangible aspect to it. One way you can do it through technology i.e. by building custom proprietary solutions targeting a specific need (like lead generation, customer engagement, user behavior, customer satisfaction) in a particular industry.

Once you do the above, it would lend measurability to your business model. You can actually predict a certain revenue based on the target audience you have made that solution for.

2. How to showcase your solution to an investor?

Every investor wants to see a practical and profitable business application of your service/product. Do your research on different brands across industries, make an attempt to understand their brands and business challenges. In the agency world, this is called working back to the creative brief. Figure out why your solution or service best-suited to help a particular client.

Show examples & case studies to your investor as to how you transformed it for a particular client.

3. Demonstrate Measurement and Support Capabilities

Make sure you have a sophisticated measurement and accountability system embedded into your technology. Analytics are essential components of the agency business, so be sure to address the topic in your presentation. Also mention your team, however small, in your pitch. Even though you may be a small startup, you have to reassure that you and your team will be able to see any project through to the end.

4. Scalability is critical

One of the key criteria of evaluating any business model is to see how quickly it can scale in time. Every agency is currently dealing with this issue of scalability, especially because they have not embraced the technology to the fullest. Most of the processes (especially around Project management, client relationship, resource management), can be automated through various digital tools available on the cloud. These technologies allow you to get more done with limited number of resources at 1/10th of the operating cost.

Once you have a strong business case, the investor would be interested in knowing how you would scale up the revenue & systems to handle hundreds & thousands of clients? That’s why your investor pitch needs to have scalability in its DNA.

5. Demonstrate multiple business opportunities and revenue models

The investor is also interested to see the vision behind your business. Are you thinking ahead of your time and your competitors? Do you have the team who can produce cutting edge solutions based on past, present & upcoming platforms?

A single business model can never succeed and is too risky to put investor’s money. Having said that you must showcase your plan of action around every revenue model that your company would touch in the next 5 years.

What are places where you are trying to generate first mover advantage for yourself? How will you accelerate existing revenue models? What are the new audience segments you would try to penetrate where existing market hasn’t ventured out?

6. Brand your startup agency

There is no doubt that digital is the hottest proposition at the moment. Every company is re-looking at their business models to match the growing requirements of the digital world. In this case, it is absolutely vital for a digital startup agency to build their startup philosophy in order to create a differential.

A smart investor would definitely like to see how good is the social media of the company who claims to bring the next big disruption in the space. Is your website behaving like a notice board (bored) or your achievements or if it is designed to share valuable insights & trigger conversations?

Also read: 25 ways to Brand your startup

Beware! Do not consider creating a fancy parallax website as thought leadership. Disruptive strategy does not require show off. Sometimes, it is doing all the right things in a clinical manner that makes a huge impact.

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Facebook Fan Acquisition has become irrelevant In Social Media?

The above presentation would come as a slap on the face to many “Social Media Gurus” (especially here in India). The beautiful part about this presentation is that all the points mentioned in this presentation are sheer common sense and does not comply with any ” marketing strategy template”.

I would like to quote a very famous statement made by Rene Descartes,

“Common sense is the most widely shared commodity in the world, for every man is convinced that he is well supplied with it.”

Since the days of orkut (and now Facebook, twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and many more), marketers have forced themselves to believe that ‘the money is where the audience is‘. By the way, that is not entirely incorrect. However, the very idea of a brand engaging with the audience is highly over rated & misnomered (BTW, did I say anything bad about the digital or social media agencies yet? Hell no! 🙂 )

How many times, as social media marketers, we genuinely think about the sales or business objectives of the company ahead our present marketing objectives? Often the approach used by the agencies is based on a common template which created for all the clients. This leaves little room for debate around how should the business objective be linked to the social media strategy.

It is becoming increasingly programmatic and how,

Step 1: A marketing manager creates a social media brief.

Step 2: He gives it to the agency.

Step 3: Who (the social media agency) comes up with a plan.

Step 4. Agency waits for an approval.

Step 5. The agency executes the campaign.

Step 6. The final report (with weekly, monthly likes, followers, retweets) is shared.

Step 7. Invoice reaches the client’s desk.

Step 8. Mission accomplished.

Sorry for being so dramatic. No offence to any digital or interactive agency. I think there are quite a lot of media companies with some fascinating talent who are trying their best to do great work in the space.

Also read: The Good, Bad & Hilarious world of Social Media

But lets come back to the main point.

Do brands really need to get over obsessed about the term engagement? I know most of you may not agree with me on this point, but it is practically impossible for audience to engage with so many brands. Facebook defines engagement rate as the percentage of people who saw a post that liked, shared, clicked or commented on it.

But is that engagement worth spending your precious time, money & resources?

In his article “5 Tips for a Better Facebook Brand Strategy in 2015“, Peter  Stringer-Vice President, Digital Media at Boston Celtics wrote about the Facebook’s definition of audience engagement:

But the first two of those (metrics) are basically worthless. Post likes are meaningless. OK, not completely, as a post’s likes do impact its organic reach, but realistically, a like is a one-second long, one-click engagement. How valuable is that? Do you remember the last post you liked on any platform?

facebook-engagement-is-not-the-only-metric

One of the biggest misunderstandings about Facebook likes is the assumption that once a person “likes” your page, they are going to keep coming back for more. A “like” on a page doesn’t guarantee that they will ever come back to that page and participate or even read any updates. According to an AdAge article , only one percent of fans on the biggest brand pages actually engage with the brand at all

Top reasons why people unsubscribe from facebook pages

Most of facebook likes are just casual observers or lurkers. This leads to a one-sided conversation led by the brand, or frankly no conversation at all. One of the major reasons.

The whole idea of increasing the number of likes and treating it as a mantra for social engagement success is absolutely B*ST. I am saying this because unfortunately this is how most of the social media professionals are talking these days. Needless to say, when so many people say the same thing, clients (most of them) believe it to be true. But is it really true?

According to a research published by a Denmark firm, Komfo:

Engagement is not the only social media marketing KPI, reach & fan penetration is another critical element in this puzzle. According their findings, smaller communities perform better (see below) on Facebook both when it comes to fan reach and engagement.

Facebook community page engagement metrics

Facebook community page engagement metrics

You can read their complete findings here.

No wonder, social platforms, notably Facebook, are starting to shift away from the airy talk of “brand engagement” and instead offer more nuts-and-bolts ad offerings. Engagement.

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PS: opinion expressed in this post are strictly personal.