More than a digital marketing agency - we're community builders

Photo by  Anthony DELANOIX  on  Unsplash

The more I talk to people about what we do, the more I wonder what it is exactly that we do.

In the last couple of months, we've clearly evolved. We're not just a digital marketing agency in Hong Kong anymore, we're so much more than that.

A digital marketing agency is typically one that does content creation, social media marketing, marketing strategy. The bigger ones will also touch on PR/outreach, influencer marketing, SEO/SEM and PPC, maybe even some design work. But we've moved in a different direction - we're starting to help companies find and place talent because that's what they're actually looking for (and we don't want to be the same as everyone else).

However, lately, we've realised that we're more than that. We're not really a digital marketing agency because of the way we approach things. Our job isn't about marketing companies and building an audience (sure we do that as well) - our CORE JOB is to build communities. We build communities and engage them for brands, we just happen to do it through the use of digital marketing (social media marketing, content creation, paid placements, etc.).

We exist to help connect brands with their desired audience. That's what we do, and that's what we do well. While other similar agencies in Hong Kong are trying to sell a service (and trying to grab every available dollar), we're trying to engage an audience in a way that creates true fans - fans that will stick with the brand over time (and continue to buy their products as they come out).

We're not just a digital marketing agency. We're community builders.

Hire full-time or hire an agency?

Photo by  Brooke Lark  on  Unsplash

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

This question doesn't get asked as much as I would like. It seem people automatically assume that hiring a marketing agency is expensive and hiring full-time marketing support is better. But is that really so? *HINT* NO.

Hiring full-time support makes sense when you know specifically what you want, and you need someone to take on only that specific role. For example, if you're an e-commerce platform and you need someone to manage SEO/SEM. However, what tends to happen is that companies hire a digital marketer and expects them to do EVERYTHING under the digital marketing umbrella - this includes social media, content creation, SEO/SEM/PPC, influencer outreach among many other things. Sure these people exist, but they're few and far between (and expensive!). In reality, most digital marketers are specialists in only one (if you're lucky two) of the categories.

On the other hand, with agencies you can tap into their resources. For the same price as hiring one digital marketer (we'll assume they're a social media manager), you can hire an agency that has resources across content creation, data analytics, etc. Most companies are small and don't need full-time help across all the different areas, so hiring an agency makes more sense.

In many cases hiring a full-time digital marketer means that this person is just there to manage all the different agencies that the company is using.

Deciding to hire between a digital marketing agency and a full-time digital marketer really depends on what stage your company is currently in. In most cases you can't go wrong with going with an agency (obviously biased), but like everything there are many different factors affecting the decision.

I spent a bit more time analysing the different situations, and you can read them on MEDIUM.

Wednesday Updates

Things we're thinking about this week:

It doesn't matter how creative you are, how innovative you are or how smart you are - all that really matters is whether you can execute. There's no value in just thinking, you have to do something (and often just start, letting it snowball along the way)

  • Want to start a company? Write a plan and start talking to people 
  • Want to learn about digital marketing? Look for some free courses around you and ask for some book recommendations
  • Want to learn to ride a bike? Rent one and find a friend who can teach you


Differentiate or die - can't repeat this enough. Drives me insane that marketing agencies are all evolving to become identical (offering the exact same services - graphic design, SEO, SEM/PPC). Where's the differentiation? Why don't they practice what they preach? That's why we're staying away from the same old and branching out into recruitment (among other things in the works). Never settle for good enough - we're going to die by that.

The 'Silence' Killer

Photo by  Clem Onojeghuo  on  Unsplash

"If you don't have an opinion, then is there a point of having you in this meeting?"

There's nothing I hate more than people without original thoughts and opinions. The one thing that differentiates us from each other is our ability to think critically and add value through experience, thought and perspective. However, there are people out there who don't have anything to contribute.

While some people feel that they don't want to offend anybody and stay neutral, doing this adds no value (and if you're not adding value, what's the point in involving you at all?). If someone was hired to be an expert in a specific field (let's say digital marketing since we're all about that), then they need to have an opinion about what to do with social or how best to approach PPC for clients. However, if they just 'go with the flow', then we might as well have hired a robot instead. They're a waste of resources.

Read more about why I hate people with no opinions here.

Getting serious about Digital Marketing

Photo by  Clem Onojeghuo  on  Unsplash

Digital is a very strange place — for many people anything that’s essentially non-traditional (think TV ads, print ads, billboards, etc) or done on a device is digital. While sort of true, digital marketing is a huge space and can be broken down into so much more.

Understanding what you’re really looking for in the digital space and hiring specifically for that will put you way ahead of your competition.

The 3 Basic Tiers of Digital Marketing (Channel Expertise)

Forced to break down 3 distinct groups separated by channel, we would have the following (there’s more but we won’t include it for now — this is more to break down the bigger picture). These are individual groups broken down by relation, but each item itself is it’s own field:

1 — SEO, Content Marketing and Social Media

2 — CRM, Paid Ads (display + PPC)

3 — PR, Community, Events

Within each group is a huge speciality in itself (the same way you would consider ATL advertising from BTL advertising). While most marketers will have a good general understanding of each of these areas, it’s very unlikely that marketers are expert in more than 3 distinct areas (for example — social media, paid ads and content marketing).

The trickiest part is that from a non-marketer’s perspective, they all just blend together and are treated as the same thing. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While it’s understandable that small companies won’t be able to hire more than one person to handle marketing (let alone just digital marketing), it’s complete madness to assume that the one person is going to be able to handle it all (like assuming HR and sales is handled by one person and expecting that person to be a superstar in both). But that happens all the time, where companies tell their marketing staff to handle their social media, CRM, content, SEO and all their events as well (and add more things when the need arises).

Depending on what your company does and why it’s investing in marketing, it’s important to have the right people in place to maximise the effectiveness (essentially the return on investment). For example, if you sell a product that relies heavily on word of mouth and the target audience is young adults, you would definitely want someone that is an expert in social media and building communities. A particularly talented individual might have skills in paid ads and CRM as well, but if you’re serious about marketing you should hire another person for those roles.

Imagine the difference between going to a restaurant and going to a buffet — vastly different experiences and expectations given the value you’re getting, but depending on what you’re looking for, could be ideal. It’s the same situation here.

Most typically you’ll find individuals who are channel experts and able to excel in their particular field. But there’s a lot more — largely because digital marketing is still relatively new and constantly evolving (think social media which didn’t really exist 10 years ago).

But wait, there’s more to Digital Marketing! (Marketing Add-On Skills)

Within the tiers/channels mentioned above there are ADDITIONAL skills that are required to truly excel at digital marketing. These skills are essential to fully maximise results, but usually aren’t a given when hiring talent (because let’s be honest, something needs to be used to separate the average from the good or the great). These skills include:

  • Strategy & Planning
  • Data & Analytics
  • Funnel Marketing
  • Research
  • Design & UX
  • A/B Testing
  • Storytelling
  • Partnerships
  • Branding/Positioning

Again while it’s possible for marketers to have a general understanding for each of the above skills, it’s unlikely that any one person is an expert in any more than 3 (and even then it’s a stretch). The more skills you have, the more you’re able to add value to the work that you’re doing. And yes, these are all considered just digital marketing skills.

The biggest issue companies have with marketing is expecting too much from an individual (or a small team). If management is under the impression that everything falls under digital marketing and that it’s just one thing (and that is quite often the case), the person in charge is almost always set up to fail.

Companies need to realise that there are many individual factors/assets that make digital marketing work effectively. Yes, it’s possible for people to acquire skills over time, but it’s unrealistic to assume that everything that fits under the digital marketing umbrella falls onto one person.

But all is not lost.

When companies finally realise the issue (and they will), they will start assigning tasks to relevant people (rather than everything to one) and hopefully even bring on more resources. Whether it’s more headcount or bringing on a few different agencies, it’s possible to slowly expand and make an impact in the desired space.

If companies are serious about making a dent in the digital world, they need the right structure and systems in place. For some companies this means hiring 4–5 people just to fill out the digital marketing team.

Further notes on Digital Marketing success (how to select the right people or agencies).

When it comes to getting something out of your marketing (because isn’t that the goal?), it’s important to understand what you’re trying to achieve. Without first doing this, you’re otherwise going to be wasting your time (and the reason many people ultimately think that digital marketing doesn’t work).

With a strategy in place, you can go on and select people that are capable of helping you reach your goal. In general, you want experts in a maximum of 2 or 3 things and have them work on these ONLY. Sure, you can get a generalist, but you’re only going to be able to scratch the surface of success. Better to get someone that can knock the project out of the park.

One of the issues that people face is that they don’t know what questions to ask a potential candidate. This is understandable when you realise that most people/companies group digital marketing as one thing, but it becomes a disaster when it comes to getting the right people to fill the right role.

If you know what role you’re trying to fill, you can start asking the right questions (and very channel specific questions). You want the candidate to be able to share experience that fit, and their ideas of how to make the specific area work for your company. Bonus points if they’re able to demonstrate a strong understanding/utilisation of the additional skills (listed above) that can bring their work to another level.

It’s the same when working with agencies. However, you have to realise that agencies are typically in it for the money — they’re going to say that they can do everything under the sun (they’ll figure out how to solve the problem once you sign the quotation). In most cases, it’s best to ask questions that you believe are outside of their capabilities and see how they answer them — if they’re honest, you’re more likely to have an agency that are truly experts in the one field you truly need them for.

Be aware of what you’re trying to achieve and hire accordingly. There are many talented people out there, but you need to take the time and effort to make sure the right people are doing the right things. Digital marketing gets a bad rap, and it’s often because people don’t know what’s realistic. But if you’re able to fully understand what’s happening and work with the issues, you’re going to easily come out on top.