Do you need a digital marketing rescue?
Do you need a digital marketing rescue?
Has your project timeline slipped more than once? Are your campaigns falling flat and not delivering? Are your click-through rates far short of promised or expected? Do you have increased traffic but fewer conversions? Do you go to bed each night stressed about how the next day's analytics will look?
The good news is, you are not alone. The bad news is, you are not alone. Unfortunately, far too many companies enter into contracts with agencies where both companies often have the best of intentions and somewhere along the way, the train starts falling off the rails as deadlines are missed or metrics never materialize. You grow increasingly frustrated and make shorter and still shorter term decisions to get some measurable deliverables in the hopes of getting some good out of the bad.
Once you begin grasping for short term wins to salvage what you can from your project, you are absolutely in need of a rescue and you should quickly consider adding an objective agency with experience rescuing projects as quickly as possible. If your project has not yet started or if your ongoing project is falling behind but still has the runway left to recover, the following best practices can help you get your project off the ground on time.
All expectations are not equal
This is by far the number one mistake most people make with a digital marketing project. You and your team sit down and create the list of deliverables and expectations you need out of the project. It doesn’t matter if this is a complete re-write/re-launch of the website or a critical campaign, the expectations are put in writing and signed in blood by all those in attendance. You mention that it is critical for all deliverable deadlines to be met in order to have a successful campaign and that the executive committee is expecting results. Everyone agrees, though many don’t feel it’s feasible but are afraid to say it, and you march out of the meeting looking for the agency who will deliver your brilliant plan.
It’s about this time you get the bids from each agency and realize the closest one to your budget is still significantly higher than you planned. You call the 3 lowest bidders and twist and squeeze and make a concession or two on your end and finally choose the vendor who says they can deliver all of your expectations for 20% less than they originally said they could do the work for. At this point, you have two ways to take this. You could assume you are a master negotiator that simply got the upper hand. You could also take this opportunity to see the gigantic red flag of risk waving in front of you. If you take the route where you are a master negotiator, you won’t stop to ask yourself how can they do it for so much less all of sudden? You might even assume they were just priced too high and all is fine.
Unfortunately, there are agencies who worry that telling a client no will cost them a sale. Rather than be honest and explain where your expectations are causing increased cost, they simply agree to any conditions to get the work with the hope they will figure out how to deliver before the due date and within budget. In order to avoid this most common pitfall, your expectations should be scored. List each feature and score it with a simple value of 1, 2 or 3. Items scored with a 1 will be considered MVP (meaning required to have a Minimum Viable Product). Think about LinkedIn. Could LinkedIn function without user profiles? Of course not. Therefore, a functioning User Profile/Authentication feature would be MVP if you were creating LinkedIn. Items scored with 2 mean precisely that the project can launch and have success without these items. Items scored with 3 fall below items scored with 2 in order of importance or value to the goal. Example: If User Profile/Authentication is a 1 and Internal Messaging is a 2 (nice to have but the site could work by funneling blind emails back and forth between user email inboxes) then the ability to change the color scheme of the dashboard would absolutely be a 3. Of course this feature may increase user adoption and therefore increase users and revenue. Still, it is not as important as User Profiles or Internal Messaging.
Once you’ve scored your features, you now have the makings of an RFP that will help you get more accurate quotes from agencies and will help everyone understand what the MVP is. This will reduce ambiguity and assumptions and will solve most of the expectation vs bid troubles you have. When you set your expectations before your budget, you’ll be less likely to compromise and this is the danger zone of assumptions and false promises.
You cannot direct what you do not own
This is your project. Own it. Yes, you have a team of people who work for you. Yes, each of them has responsibilities on the project. That said, you own the project if you are ultimately responsible for its success or failure. However, owning the project does not mean micro-managing the project. Therefore, while empowering your team and the agency you are working with to be bold and assertive, also demand that the reporting you see is accurate, meaningful and succinct. You do not have time to read a 50-page weekly status report.
Many agencies know this and still create these reports with the intent of overloading you, so you will begin to take the approach of just trusting them. This is not ownership of the project and you should demand succinct status reports that quickly allow you to take action on any item falling outside an acceptable range. The value of a succinct status report can make the difference in your ability to own the project or the projecting owning you. You can always follow up to request more detail on a specific area that appears to be troubled.
Your plan will quickly get bloated, bent and ugly without focus. As the project progresses details become more clear and often, requirements open the door for potential complexity. One example was a client who was deeply interested in personalization of the website. The initial scope of the project was to create a campaign that personalized products shown in the right rail to a user based on products the user explicitly browsed on previous visits. The plan was to the compare the new analytics with the personalized right rail to the old, non-personalized analytics and determine if an increase did exist after this personalization. The project was to coincide with the company’s annual sale where they typically earned 60% of annual revenue during the sale event.
So far all was good. The scope was very clear and the metrics to compare were clear as well. During the project, someone attended a seminar on the extreme upside to personalization based on purchase history vs. browse history. Suddenly, it became imperative that the project be “tweaked” to display products based on purchase history rather than browse history. Sounds like a simple change right? Not so fast. The purchase history was not available inside the content management system (CMS) but instead it was stored in the ERP system and required a custom integration to the ERP system to get this purchase history. The customer was completely sold on the new approach.
In this case, the new approach was absolutely the better approach, however, it was not the original project. At this point, we explained to the client that delivering the new scope by the same deadline was a very high risk. Since the client had a mandate from executive management that no new features be added to the site during the sales event window, the client had to choose between the low risk original scope that still provided value over the current site or the high risk new scope that everyone agreed would have even higher conversions but would be exceed the original budget. We recommended the client stay with the original scope because the value of the original scope had not changed. At the end of the day, a 5% increase in conversions from implementing the original project plan was better than a 0% increase by failing to deliver the new scope. Prioritizing the original scope resulted in an actual conversion rate increase of 4% which still easily paid for the next project to implement the enhanced functionality.
In summary, several small, well understood and well executed projects are almost always superior and often cheaper than one large project. Stay focused and work hard to prevent scope creep.
Keep it simple
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication – Leonardo da Vinci
With each project, complexities lurk around every corner. While integrations are a part of almost every project, the very word integration should engender caution. We have seen projects with as few as one integration and as many as a staggering 32 integrations. Each integration comes with its own risks. The primary concern with any integration is extended time to complete and fully test an integration, especially when dependencies on external development teams exist. Another risk with each integration is potentially introducing fragility into the final product as you do not have control over the source of the integration with many integrations now being done across the internet.
An evaluation of each integration should be performed to keep the integration as close to out-of-the-box as possible to reduce the complexity to the highest degree possible. A risk assessment should accompany a business value statement for each integration to ensure the value outweighs the added risk.
While each project is different, the requirements for success are universal. If you are struggling with a current project or are looking for a new implementation partner, reach out today.