Content marketing is a pretty broad term. While some firms put a lot of emphasis on the “marketing” side of the equation, others may be strictly content production houses.

So how do you make sure that your agency — or the agency that you’re thinking of hiring — is worth the money? You start by knowing exactly what to look for.

The best measures of success for content marketing aren’t always intuitive. Only 42% of B2B marketers consider themselves successful at content marketing

Being able to judge whether your content marketing agency and the content they’re creating for your business is checking off the right boxes is critical — both in terms of meeting your goals and hitting the sweet spot with your ROI. Read on as we discuss the things that matter when you’re evaluating an agency’s performance and the utility they could bring to your content strategy.

Why Content Marketing Matters Now More Than Ever

Peter Drucker — a famous management consultant — once said, “Because its sole purpose is to create a customer, a business has two principal functions: innovation and marketing.” Over the years, the first function has become the mainstay for many brands, and now, the market is awash with innovative products, solutions, services, technologies, etc. 

The saturation has certainly made marketing more important than ever before. Innovation alone isn’t going to make your product or service stand out from the crowd. It requires a clever dose of marketing to take it to potential customers’ doorstep and convince them to buy. That’s the only way to generate real revenue.

Content marketing, in particular, is now the lifeblood of many businesses in the midst of the tilting industry. Beyond driving traffic, generating leads, and maintaining audience awareness, it reassures your audience during times of uncertainty. 

For example, it’s a great channel to show customers how your business is responding to COVID-19 threats. Moreover, in the digital era, user privacy is increasingly becoming the top-most concern for customers. Industry behemoths such as Apple and Google are jumping the cookieless technology bandwagon. Content marketing is an excellent channel to keep customers informed on steps you’re taking to enhance their digital privacy. 

Beyond that, content marketing enables you to tell your brand story the exact way you want it told. Remember: The digital landscape leaves a lot of room for misinformation. To cut back on that and ensure the story being written about your company is accurate, you need to take the reins and spearhead your story through content marketing. 

Qualities of a Reputable Content Marketing Agency

1. Transparency

A good content marketing agency will have no problem illustrating its value. Any agency that you hire should be willing and able to answer questions that you have about their performance, including things like:

  • What is your approach to content marketing?
  • How is your approach different from your competitors?
  • What are some examples of your biggest successes?
  • Have there been any big failures? If so, what are you doing differently now?
  • What kind of ROI can your clients expect?
  • What do you see as our biggest content challenges? What about the biggest content opportunities?

Questions like these are designed to go deeper than standard interview queries, though there are some overlaps. Because here’s the thing: every content marketing agency is going to pitch themselves as your best option. It’s your job during the vetting process to really dig into the key points and draw your own conclusions about how the agency measures up.

2. Proven Track Record

Beyond transparency, the agency needs to show real results. That’s the only way you know they’re going to help you achieve your content marketing goals

  • Has the agency worked with similar businesses on similar projects?
  • What did they do right that led to the client seeing the desired results?
  • What did they do wrong, and how did they handle the whole situation to foolproof the client’s investment?
  • What were the results like? Increasing traffic, leads, or brand awareness? The result should be supported by real numbers. 

A good agency should have no problem responding to these questions. It would be better if the agency could show the progress they have made in fine-tuning its standard operating procedures. The content marketing industry is ever-changing, and if an agency is still stuck with techniques of yesteryears, it’s a red flag.  

3. Strong References

Once you get the agency’s side of the story, time to listen to the client’s testaments. The content marketing agency you hire shouldn’t be shy about sharing their references — nor should you be shy about calling them. It’s not uncommon for agencies and their clients to have differing accounts about how the relationship and campaign went, and you’re going to want both sides of the story to make an informed hiring decision.

Some questions to ask the references that you’re provided include:

  • What was your experience like?
  • Would you say that [agency name] provided a valuable service?
  •  Are you still working with them? If not, why?
  • Would you recommend we hire [agency name]? Why or why not?

Call more than one reference if you can, focusing on businesses that are similar to your own in size. It requires some legwork on your end but considering that the investment you’re going to be putting into your content isn’t a small one, it’s worth taking the time.

4. Access Cutting-Edge Technology

Assuming the client’s and agency’s stories align, you need to get an inside story about the tools the agency uses. There are two sides to the agency’s software stack. First is the technology it uses to get clients’ projects done, from keyword research tools to content distribution

Second are the tools the agency uses to conduct research (about its processes) and review its performance to determine the most effective strategies for each client’s industry. 

  • What does the agency’s software stack entail? Which keyword research, email marketing, project management, scheduling tools, etc., does it use: free or premium? 
  • Does the agency use cutting-edge reporting tools to gain real-time insights about your projects?
  • What marketing automation tools and strategies does it put into action to maximize efficiency?
  • What client engagement technique does it employ? Video marketing or gamification?

5. A Versatile Workforce

Beyond technology, successful agencies have a great team of experts in different fields. It’s always wise to check the “about us” section to see the team that keeps the agency thriving. You want an agency that’s staffed with experts in web design, programming, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO, sales, analytics, and other content marketing fields.

6. Good Data

Any content marketing agency that you work with needs to know their way around the data, so find out what their strategy is for tracking and analyzing the data around your campaign. Do they use an automated marketing platform? Google Analytics? Some other all-encompassing analytics dashboard? Good data is tantamount to good content marketing — without the former, it’s going to be very difficult to know how the latter is doing.

Don’t settle for an agency that doesn’t have a comprehensive approach to data. Old-school tactics are no match for today’s content marketing environment, and you never want the success or failure of your campaign to be based on guesswork.

A good way to evaluate an agency’s relationship with data: ask them for some. Request clear numbers on the performance of one or more campaigns (these can be anonymized) and see what metrics are tracked and how.

7. Values Great Communication

Open and honest communication is key to the success of any relationship. A good content marketing agency keeps an open line of communication. It keeps you on top of things such as the project status and the results you’re reaping. 

You’ll know whether the agency is great at communication from your first engagement. Notice how the contact person listens to you as you enquire about their services. If the agent is attentive and responds to questions in a comprehensive manner, it’s a good sign. Moreover, a good agency will circle back and solicit feedback after every milestone. 

8. Makes Notable Industry Contributions

A good agency strives to make the industry a better place for everyone. They deliver commendable results when working on clients’ projects. At the same time, they make contributions that benefit everyone in their industry, not just their clients.

The reputable agencies we know delve (especially those that have been in the industry for a long time) into research to better understand the industry and trends that are shaping it. They know how the industry is changing and are well-prepared to deal with the contingencies. 

Moreover, they don’t keep the things they’ve learned to themselves. Instead, they share the knowledge with industry partakers in the form of industry research reports, eBooks, white papers, and thought leadership pieces.