What is the difference between a digital consultant and digital agency?

In word, Strategy!

Before you talk to an agency or even if you need to review your current agency, it’s important to take a step back. What are your business goals (specifically online)? You should have a written digital plan before diving into marketing tactics. I am not saying that agencies are bad; they are different than consultants. Agencies’ strengths are implementation. Having a plan first—developed with the help of a digital consultant—helps you identify and hire the right agency for your needs. The digital consultant will also examine your sales process and other internal processes. A lot of companies’ websites do not match their sales processes, making it difficult to achieve business goals effectively.


The digital consultant vs. digital agency when it comes to execution

A Digital consultant will work within your company’s framework. Agencies work on the client’s behalf to execute the project. The digital consultant will work with your team and any outsourced agency or independent contractor. With the digital consultant managing communications between development, marketing, content creators, and even departments such as customer service, you can better plan and optimize for higher conversion rates and maintain consistent messaging across channels.

Outside the box

Agencies tend to work best when you match your business goal to the correct agency. With that said, since you want an agency to execute your plan, you still need to think outside the box. While executing SEO, PPC, new website pages, or even social media marketing, you need to have out-of-the-box ideas to stand out from your competitors. Consider some of the big out-of-the-box thinkers, like rideshare companies (including Uber and Lyft), Airbnb, and others. You will see that they grabbed a large market share from established companies and industries. Overnight, Airbnb and Uber made a large dent in a competitive marketplace. Look also at Chewy; they hit the pet industry with a healthy impact. The common denominator: out-of-the-box thinking (also called sideways thinking). Sometimes the most effective out-of-the-box strategies are borrowed from other industries or business models. Nonprofits, for instance, can benefit from the consumer retail industry. Adding membership point programs and other incentives when volunteering or donating can effectively increase loyalty and enhance engagement.

Digital consultants look outside your industry or market to find ideas to help your company grab market share. Agencies will typically only execute the task given. Technical projects like web development tend to be tunnel-vision tasks, which is a good thing. But, you need to have a clear scope and specification for them, and a clearly defined plan will help you build a digital presence that will gi e you results. A digital consultant will examine other businesses for ideas that can help your business, both outside and within your niche (competitive analysis).

Competitive analysis

Some agencies will do some competitive analysis. Unfortunately, they do not get deep enough in the weeds beyond even what is outlined above. Backlink analysis is one important digital consulting strategy that will show where your competition is getting traffic.

A digital consultant also compares your organic search and PPC advertising to your competitor(s), overlaying both to find the areas you’re not playing in but they are. They look at the trends of specific keywords and the competitiveness and the difficulty of obtaining those rankings against your competitor. They find where your company can be the big fish in the little pond instead of being the little fish going head to head in the big pond, resulting in a lower cost-per-click and higher conversion rates. 

KPIs (key performance indicators)

Agencies may go for the end goal: the lead or sale. But many things need to be measured before that. For instance, let’s say you are an assisted living facility. One area that needs to be measured is your sales process. An agency that has its strength in PPC  gives you a lead-generation paid advertising campaign, measuring the click through with a conversion. The PPC campaign conversion is not the only area that needs to be measured. You need to measure the touch points prior. Depending on who you ask, businesses need anywhere from 6.2 to 10.5 touch points to win a customer. Think of it as a basketball game: the dunk gets the points but there are a lot of players that have to touch the ball first. Let’s apply this to the assisted living example.  

Question 1: How many showings do you need to close a deal? 

Showings need to be measured. If showings are down, odds are there is a problem that is going to affect the conversion of new residents.

Question 2: How many calls or contact interactions does it take to get the showing?

This question helps define more KPIs: a content plan, offline callbacks, downloadable PDFs, or even an email campaign, for example, which brings us up to seven KPIs already. See how all these KPIs support the end goal in question 1? Now we can identify how we are falling short in the end game. 

Let’s take this one step further. The client is the senior, but not necessarily the decisionmaker when it comes to purchasing or renting the unit. So now you need content for the buyer’s journey, and you’re going to have different buyers with different personas. 

Question 3: Who are the decision makers, or (at least) who is starting the sales cycle for your assisted living home?

It can be the daughter-in-law or the children of the senior. Plus you may have multiple scenarios:

  • All the family members live in the same geographic area
  • The senior is in your area, but the other family members are not
  • The family is in your geographic area, and the senior is not.

All of these will need different content because they have different concerns. Different downloadable PDFs are needed for sales support. The KPIs are growing.

The result of working with the digital consultant may show that your current agency is a bad match. Or maybe they should only be used for a part of your plan. Whether you are currently executing or not, you need to evaluate your plan monthly. I asked companies if they get a report from their agency. Most said yes. Then I asked if they read the reports. The majority said no. When I asked the ones who did read the report, most of them did not understand what they were reading. Digital consultants can interpret these report and define what is needed to increase your conversion rates, the success of your KPIs and identify where your sales funnel is falling short. Hopefully, you found this information informative. Please contact BH Lewis digital consulting with any questions or areas where you may need help. 

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