Bear with me if you will, and take a trip back down memory lane to elementary school during recess as a big group of children get together to play a team game. For me it was kickball.
All the kids would get together, line up, and two team captains would take turns picking teammates until there were no more left. There were politics involved, of course. The best kickers would generally be divided up at the very beginning of the draft, followed by good friends, and finally whoever remained depending on whatever arbitrary picking logic children use for these things.
This worked well for elementary school kickball; the best kickers could kick home runs consistently, which made for high-scoring games and much less focus on the rest of the team. The winning teams were the ones that focused on scoring high and just happened to catch enough balls to swap innings often.
But, this is the game played at its most basic level. What happens as things get more difficult? For that matter, consider if the teams get to play together for more than one game, for month, or even over the course of a year?
Of course, there are other sports that are less likely to favor the all-star kickers or individual performers. For example, in soccer or ice hockey it’s much harder to score on average, so the best scorers have less of an impact on the game compared to the average teammate. Teamwork starts becoming a key component of winning. It becomes critical for teams to be more consistent, set up more chances to score, and deny their opponents the chance to do the same.
Coming back to digital marketing (at long last) – I think there are a lot of parallels to the elementary schoolyard days. When companies are first selecting agency "teammates," they look for the ones who have the best home run record. It’s not a bad metric. You need a partner that can "score" for you successfully and consistently, otherwise there’s no way you’ll walk away with any points. Selecting a team of high-scoring teammates is not a bad choice when the game is simple, as well. If the digital marketing game is like schoolyard kickball, you can get away with picking a bunch of solo kicking stars.
The problem is that marketer/agency partnerships last a lot longer than just one game – typically at least a year and ideally a lot more than that. And the digital marketing "game" isn’t like kickball anymore; it’s closer to soccer, hockey, or basketball. Content strategy needs to play nicely with SEO, while SEO should play nicely with PPC, display, and email. Social needs to play well with everyone. It’s the only way for the team to consistently score together.
As digital marketing grows in maturity, this becomes more important. Google and other search engines are refining their algorithms, making them more holistic evaluations of a website. Site speed and security factoring into ranking are great examples of the need for your tech team to play well with the search marketers.
There are natural benefits to having different channels working together for common goals. A good piece of content can be promoted socially, on search (paid and organic), and through display – plus, have an email campaign around it. Quality content shared through a variety of channels all working together often has far better engagement rates, view times, and subsequent shares. In other words, the content performs well across ALL of your channels. Its impact and performance continue to improve as more channels are added to the mix.
As another example, coordinated product launches or redesigns test everyone’s ability to work as a team. In these projects, the total should add to more than the sum of all parts; it’s much more beneficial to have partners working together than trying to launch projects separately.
Working at a global search and content marketing agency, I can definitely say that some agency partners are solo players, while some are far better playing as a team than others. We have to work with them all the time! However, it’s rare to see brand marketers actually selecting agency partners based on their teamwork capabilities.
Indeed, it’s a difficult thing to narrow down when picking a partner. Virtually all agencies will all say they are good team players! You can ask around among your existing "teammates" and see what they have to say, but ultimately it may come to a little bit of detective work, asking for case studies and testing potential partners out with team projects.
The exact method will be different for different teams – but the importance is the same. Unless you’re playing schoolyard kickball, pick partners who can play with others, not just score on their own.