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Digital Marketing Agencies: Expectations vs Reality

What are the expectations vs reality of digital marketing agencies? What about advertising vs reality? What's the difference? We reveal the differences.

Jared Prazen
Jared Prazen

Mar 25, 2019

It’s no secret that digital marketing has had a significant influence on humanity over the last twenty years. And with the invention of social media, it seems that person-to-person interaction over a digital interface will only continue to grow. We see frequent debates and points of view about social media vs reality, and social media vs real life. Advertisers, consequentially, have had to up their game in terms of strategy, creativity, and technical knowledge. Customer expectations vs reality can result in starkly-different meanings.

So, what if you are considering a digital agency for hire? What are the expectations vs reality when it comes to working with a digital marketing agency? The information may surprise you–especially if you’re looking to hire one to manage your paid media. We’ve identified five expectations that businesses typically have when hiring a digital agency–and what you should expect in reality.

1) Expectation: Digital Marketing Generates Much Better ROI

Reality: Only When You Really Know What You’re Doing

Every business that hires a digital agency–even the businesses who come to us after they realize agencies aren’t what they really need–does so thinking digital marketing immediately makes them more profitable. Hence, we often encourage our customers and prospects to inquire about their expectations vs reality of paid media. Funny enough, what seems to be a universal truth is that digital marketing is very expensive. Even more so, it is difficult to succeed in digital marketing.

And it’s not just our customers’ opinions. Research shows that most digital agencies command much lower margins with their tactics than they’d have you know. In fact, 46% of paid search marketers report poor-to-average ROIs; and, 67% of display marketers report poor-to-average ROIs for their channel. The truth is that it’s hard for digital marketers to succeed and bring you the results they promise. In order to succeed with digital marketing, you need to have granular, structured data to help you build a strategy that drives your business goals.

2) Expectation: It’s Best to Let Your Agency “Set It and Forget It”; Let Google/Bing Do The Work

Reality: Digital Marketing Platforms Don’t Automate Your Unique Campaigns and Aren’t Inherently Built for Success

Let’s be real: digital media is complex. In fact, it’s so complex that you can’t wrap your head around it–nor do you have the time do so. That’s why you think you need to hire a digital marketing agency in the first place, right? You’ll pay them to do all the work. In fact, they promise you that it’s easy and you’ll start seeing immediate results; they simply “set it and forget it.” And, after a couple of weeks, they check on your progress and make any “necessary changes.”

Sound familiar? Or, perhaps you’ve worked with an agency (or currently are) and have heard these promises only to realize they’re all-for-not and your money didn’t go as far as they’d said. This is because, in order to be great at digital marketing, you need to be able to constantly check each bit of minutia to fully understand how your campaigns are performing. There are potentially hundreds of millions of data points you have to ensure are working together. That is something your digital marketing team doesn’t always reveal–and, is thus, a defining moment for expectations vs reality.

3) Expectation: Your Paid Media Will Be Profitable Almost Instantly

Reality: Only If You Set Up Your Campaigns Correctly In Conjunction with Actionable, Historical Data

Even Google, with their fantastic free training for Ads, talk about the importance of setting up your campaigns correctly, with the right goals in mind. But everyone (including Google) underplays the difficulty and amount of work that actually goes into running successful paid media campaigns. Of course, you need to create relevant ads for your target market; you need to test and re-test; you should add re-targeting (the list goes on). And you have to constantly monitor these parts of your campaign and every possible variable: bid adjustments, all modifiers, device, audience, and so much more.

Full-disclosure: none of the above is bad advice, it’s very accurate. However, what digital agencies can’t and don’t talk about is the importance of having a full-funnel automation and optimization mar-tech platform. When you allow a powerful A.I. platform to organize and streamline your data, it knows exactly how to set up your paid media campaigns for any platform.

4) Expectation: Expanding Brand Awareness = Conversion Increase

Reality: Only If You’re Optimizing for Conversions

For quite some time, many digital marketers have believed in a “spray-and-pray” approach to using display marketing tactics. Basically, if you cast the widest net, you’ll catch the most fish out of anybody, right? This logic seems to make sense at first. But what current best practices teach us is that brand awareness doesn’t really mean anything unless you a) know your best-fit audience and b) drive them to convert.

In reality, casting a wide net with display is really expensive. And if you don’t have the right cost-of-sales, cost-per-acquisition, or return on ad spend metrics set up, you run a major risk of not hitting your ROI. Bottom line: do your homework. Cast a good-size net to your ideal potential customers. And stop at nothing to reel them in and make them convert.

5) Expectation: “Let’s Try This for a Month And See Where We End Up” = No Risk

Reality: You Should Never “Test Drive” Digital Marketing

It takes time, strategy, dedication, and going back to the drawing board multiple times to achieve real results. And while it might make sense to run time-sensitive paid media campaigns, you should give campaigns at least a month and a half (we recommend three or more) to perform. It might seem like a good idea to “test” for a given time, but in reality, you should “test” your campaigns at least weekly.

Try optimizing for success by targeting more audience similar to those who converted. Additionally, tweak your bids, your modifiers, and devices. You can also learn a lot from your Google Analytics and try to glean what your web tracking shows about how your paid media is functioning. Are people bouncing from your site after clicking an ad? It’s possible the ad is not relevant–or they’re the wrong type of audience. Hence, you need to ensure your expectations vs reality are in alignment.


Digital marketing agencies definitely do a good job of telling you how great they are and what to expect. But, of course, they are: they’re marketers! The expectations vs reality don’t always match up. Bottom line, you need to learn a bit more about how digital marketing really works before you sign any dotted lines. It’s crucial to make sure you have transparent conversions about your goals and what your company needs before arbitrarily launching an expensive campaign.

Better yet, you should try the power of A.I. and automation. Finch has operationalized what makes paid media so complex: all the minutia and manual changes you need to be cognizant of in order to succeed. Our algorithms work with your unique data to ensure your individual business goals are met.

Try a complimentary audit today. In less than 24 hours, you’ll see exactly where automation can improve your game.  

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