Revving the engine
For a lot of small or mid-sized agencies, the launch of a website is followed by the popping of champagne corks. But for Gauge, it’s just the beginning. “Launch day is really day zero,” Augustine says. “You’ve built your Ferrari. Guess what? Now it’s on the track and it’s time to race it.”
The fuel for the race is a comprehensive online marketing plan that includes pay-per-click advertising, social media marketing, SEO, and, crucially, automated email. “You have to have an effective email strategy in place to compete in the world of e-commerce,” Lubbers says. “If you don’t, you just can’t. It’s table stakes.”
Email is also the one piece of the digital marketing mix that yields immediate results. “An email goes out, and sales come in,” Augustine says. “It’s a lot different from passively waiting through AdWords, pay-per-click, banner ads, or even sharing your content in social media. It’s the one thing where you push a button and money comes out of it.”
So is email the ATM of digital marketing? Not so fast.
A successful email campaign requires writing and designing multiple, highly personalized emails for various audiences. It’s a multi-step process that takes a lot of strategic planning, production, and implementation. But automation eliminates the 3rd step, allowing more time for the critical step that follows it: analysis and improvement of the campaign.
Executed properly, an automated email campaign will glide along on its own power, generating sales and customer insights. And those insights are then used to improve the campaign and generate even more sales. When operating at peak performance, an automated email marketing campaign is a positive feedback loop that produces ever-growing profits.
No “easy” button
Sounds easy, right?
Not quite. Especially for many of Gauge’s clients, which are bootstrapped businesses just like them.
“Except for the large, multibillion-dollar brands, many of the people we work with sort of fell into these professions,” Augustine says. “They come from diverse backgrounds. They likely didn’t study marketing in college. So our role as guides is to put a process in place to allow them to be successful.”
5 tips for ambitious young agencies
Despite launching Gauge just as the economy was beginning to crash in 2007, Daniel Augustine and Mark Lubbers have managed to grow it from a 2-man digital shop to a 20-person team in less than 10 years. Here’s their advice to small agencies who’d like to travel a similar path.
1. Don’t think like a startup.
“We never had a startup mentality,” Lubbers says. “In that sense, we’re really aligned with MailChimp on a business and philosophy level.” Instead of looking for investors, Lubbers advises other agencies to focus on consistently providing value. “That means understanding how to make money through a great product and great service.”
2. Recognize the value of simplicity.
Augustine and Lubbers have learned that complex enterprise software tools aren’t right for their mid- and small-sized clients. “A tool that does everything, but that your client has no idea how to use, is useless,” Augustine says. “Take MailChimp — they understand that email is supposed to be simple. It doesn’t have to have every bell and whistle. It just needs to be reliable. It needs to just work.”
3. Understand what you’re selling.
You may technically sell creative services, e-commerce solutions, strategic branding, or websites. But at the end of the day, you’re really selling something else entirely. “Trust is what we sell,” Lubbers says. “We exist to do great work and build trust. Clients come to us for the trust.”
4. Find a way to prove your value.
Gauge started out making WordPress websites for homebuilders. But the agency gravitated toward e-commerce because it allowed them to really prove value to their clients. “There is never a question of the value you are generating with e-commerce,” Augustine says. “It is easy to track dollars in and dollars out. When we were building WordPress sites, it was more ephemeral.”
5. Be a better mousetrap builder.
Another reason Lubbers and Augustine entered the e-commerce market was because they saw opportunity for innovators. “There has been kind of an e-commerce explosion, and it is very much an open market,” Augustine says. “If you have a better mousetrap, clients will come to you. That’s why it works for us. We like building better mousetraps.”