Just about every operator who I come across has a horror story about working with a marketing agency. This has left them with a bitter taste in their mouth and wary of trusting another to do the job they want them to do.
Believe me, as an agency owner, this makes my job so much harder, but as an Agency owner, a lot of this ‘bad experience’ comes down to how an agency educates its customers and clearly manages expectations. In some instances, it also comes down to out-and-out lying on the part of the agency.
So many agencies out there will offer guarantees and promises they simply can’t keep because it is simply impossible for them to do so. If agencies could guarantee number one on google rankings or x10 increase in bookings then we would all be doing it, but there are so many nuances that make these promises impossible.
In this episode of Tourpreneur, I want to debunk three myths about working with a Marketing Agency and tell you some home truths, some of which you may find surprising.
Some of you may be wondering why I am doing this episode as being the owner of a tourism marketing agency, and as someone who has worked in the industry for over 26 years, you may think this is business suicide.
Personally, I think that what I am about to disclose needs to be said. There is often very little open discussion about using marketing agencies and many tour operators and suppliers are regularly misled about what they can expect when working with an agency.
I want to cut through the bullshit and offer my own perspective on the situation. So let’s start with Myth One…
Quite often an operator will ask, “If I am to invest in your agency, what ROI can I expect?”.
Now, I understand why this would be asked, as you want to be sure your hard earned cash is going to be spent in the right areas, but determining an ROI at the proposal stage is simply impossible.
Well at this stage the agency is yet to research your business, your demographics, your competition, how good your website is, the price of your tours or is and even if there is a market for your experiences. There are too many facets to consider that make up the potential of a ROI. To determine this without months of data and testing of your marketing efforts under their belt makes any mention of an ROI amount at the beginning pointless.
All an agency can do is give you a general figure that is either industry average or based on a similar business they worked with, but it will still not be accurate to your specific business without the necessary data we as an agency needs to conduct.
As long as the agency communicates this to you clearly, then expectations will be met.
For Myth two…
I have been running an agency for a long time and I can confidently say that some operators get a little twitchy around month 3 or 4 of the working relationship if they do not see much traction in terms of rankings, bookings or what lead generation.
Again, I get this as you want to make sure you are getting the ROI you are looking for, but I can confidently say that looking for any of this within the first few months is not going to happen for most cases.
Reason being is when an agency starts working with an operator, the first few months should be reserved for conducting extensive research and development of your business and creating the marketing strategies and materials required to promote your business.
Keyword Research, Competitor Analysis, Improving the website customer journey, writing all the content, creating the videos and materials for all campaigns they have helped you plan, all take time and you need to give an agency the time to do this as it will make your campaigns more successful in the long run.
There is also a test and measure stage of any marketing to see how effective those marketing ideas can be.
An agency should communicate this with you at the beginning so you are not left wondering why after a few months you don’t see much traction. A lot of marketing efforts are long term. SEO for example can take months and years to take hold. If you find after only a few weeks that your are suddenly on page one of Google, I can pretty much guarantee you that they are using black hat SEO methods that will only damage your business in the long run.
To make marketing effective and give you the best possible chance of generating that ROI you crave, then you must give it time.
Yes, paid ads can help you gain traction quicker, but even these need to be properly thought out and researched to give you the best outcome possible.
Now onto Myth Three… the biggest one of them all…
I have seen some other agencies guarantee x10 on your investment and even offer ‘covid-proof’ marketing during the pandemic. This is nothing but a sales tactic to play on your hopes of dreams.
These tactics are created to focus on vulnerable business owners who are desperate to generate revenue and profit because they are probably already in a bad place financially already so will grasp at anything that looks like it could help their business survive.
Guaranteed booking is simply another sales tactic to draw you in but no agency can guarantee bookings.
Well a marketing agency has no control over your sales team, which booking system you may use, or how well you run and manage your own tours. In some instances, a marketing agency has little to do with the purchase journey of your website. Even your marketing budget plays a part. But even with all this, agencies do get the flack when things go wrong and no bookings come in.
A marketing agency’s job is to help promote your business to the right audience, providing your company with more sales opportunities. Agencies like mine are there to provide you with qualified traffic and leads… not sales. As a byproduct of this traffic and leads, yes, you will of course gain sales and bookings from it, which is great, but that is ultimately up to your own sales processes.
A marketing agency can and should help you create processes and materials to make your sales process better, but ultimately it is down to how you interact with your customers.
There are many reasons why a visitor to your website might not convert: the booking platform you use may be slow, clunky or it may not work on mobile properly. You can’t expect to get many bookings if it is hard for your customers to buy from you.
Reviews are also another huge factor. We have had businesses approach us looking for an increase in bookings but their reviews are so bad that no one would consider buying from them. What they really need is a brand reputation management strategy and a business coach to help them improve their customer service. A digital marketing agency can do its best SEO and PPC work on a company like this, but it’s unlikely to become truly successful without high-quality reviews — this is just the way tours and activities work.
What an agency SHOULD guarantee is qualified leads. An agency should provide you with as many targeted leads as your budget allows, giving you more opportunities to close more sales.
Think about how we all used to market our businesses 10-15 years ago. Maybe some still do it now… Doing a huge flyer drop at key locations in the hope that someone passing by is interested in your product at that exact moment. You would be lucky if you get one new customer in every 100. Everyone did it, as it was the only viable option available to us, other than expensive press ads.
This principle is no different than promoting yourself online. The main difference is you can be extremely targeted so that more of the right people see you at the right time. However, these are only drivers for leads as you still need to close the sale after they see your flyer, ad, or blog… and that is down to you.
It is an agency’s job to provide as many of these opportunities as possible so you have more opportunities to make the sale.
Now no one is perfect, not even me or my agency, so sometimes things will not go according to plan but if you are thinking about working with a marketing agency, please do not fall for tactics that are there to do nothing more than play on your hopes and dreams and ultimately take your money.Make sure they are clearly communicating what you can and should expect when working together. Ask them about what research they will do and how long it will take before a campaign is even launched. If they start offering you guarantees or make promises they simply can’t keep, then stay well clear and it will always end in tears.