How Smaller Digital Agencies Can Make A Big Impact

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Daniel Doan
Daniel Doan

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Industry titans have often overshadowed the digital marketing landscape, but smaller agencies are quietly revolutionizing the field with agility and innovation.

Small digital agency marketer giving a presentation

With tailored, impactful strategies, these compact teams offer a level of service and adaptability bulky conglomerates can only dream of.

Learn how to run more impactful, measurable marketing campaigns.

In this article, I highlight the distinctive strengths of small digital agencies — specifically their ability to quickly adapt, think outside the box, and deliver personalized results. Businesses looking for a unique, intimate approach to digital marketing would be wise to explore the potential of these nimble agencies.

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What’s considered a small digital agency?

Defining a small digital agency requires understanding its size, client base, and operational scope. Usually, a small digital agency has the following:

  • Small team size: Smaller digital agencies often have teams of about 5 to 50 members. This size balances having enough staff to meet all requirements and creating an environment for quick and efficient client response.
  • Client base: Generally, they handle around 10-30 clients. A small digital agency works with a smaller number of clients to provide each one with personalized solutions.
  • Specialization: These agencies may specialize in social media management, content creation, and SEO, allowing them to provide unique but excellent services.
  • Revenue: The annual revenue of these agencies often does not surpass one million dollars. The agencies instead focus on specific markets to demonstrate their commitment to meeting their clients' needs.
  • Operational scale: Smaller agencies usually operate on a local or regional level. Their small size makes them agile and capable of adapting quickly to local market trends and preferences, providing them with a competitive advantage in their operational areas.

Small digital agencies play a unique role in digital marketing due to their agility to deliver impactful client results despite their size and specialization.

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      Small Marketing Agency Advantages

      The size of an agency often becomes a focus for potential clients. When entrepreneurs start looking for new partners, they typically prioritize the agency's size, automatically assuming that bigger agencies are better at providing services — but this is a huge misconception.

      Small digital agencies have advantages that challenge the belief that bigger is always better. Here are some of the benefits you’ll have working with a small digital agency:

      They’re Nimble

      A small digital agency is agile, one essential aspect of the modern marketing environment. The agencies can make rapid changes similar to those made by swift boats in the fast-moving waters and quickly handle the clients' needs.

      Their adaptability comes from their lean approach: Fewer departments and fewer leaders make decision-making quicker and hence provide ample room for experimentation, changing tracks whenever needed.

      Working efficiently is the other strong thumb rule of small agencies. Their simplified internal processes make them deliver faster with lesser turnaround times. Small agencies have a simpler approach than bigger agencies, where changing something feels like turning a submarine. Extensive bureaucracy and complex hierarchies ensure no delay in the approval and modification of projects.

      Smaller agencies are in the enviable position to recognize change quickly and respond with innovative strategies to keep their clients ahead of a very competitive game.

      They’re Virtual

      A small digital agency often remains agile by embracing virtual or hybrid working models.

      This takes advantage of global talent and perspectives, building multi-talented teams working virtually and bringing together skills worldwide. With this international approach, they can serve clients in different time zones and offer service around the clock.

      Through the virtual work models, these small agencies can conveniently interact with clients, whether within their geographical areas or not, enabling them to have a larger client base while developing better access to new markets.

      Smaller agencies have the ability to appreciate and leverage meaningful cross-cultural nuances. This vastly improves both the impact of their digital marketing campaigns and makes them resonate more with different audiences.

      Accommodates Smaller Budgets

      A small digital agency is a cost-effective choice. Since they don’t require as much staff and often don’t have extravagant office spaces, their prices reflect the lower overhead. Instead, they can focus on funding exceptional customer service and position themselves ahead of the competition in a market where price is not necessarily everything.

      A small digital agency is attractive to businesses running with tight budgets. Whether the company already has an in-house marketing team or it is outsourcing everything, small agencies save businesses on payroll.

      Small business owners, in particular, find this model advantageous. Hiring an entire in-house team would generally exceed what it costs to outsource to an agency. As such, businesses opt for the latter to avoid other costs, such as employee benefits, healthcare, and paid leave. These savings are directly passed along to the client to ensure quality digital marketing services are more affordable than ever.

      More Personalized Experience

      Working with a small digital agency often feels like joining an extended family. These small digital agencies get to know you on a personal level and will be truly invested in your success. This level of engagement and care is hard to come by in larger firms where a client may be one of many.

      Because of its size, a small digital agency can give the level of meticulous, personalized attention that is its raison d'être. With fewer clients, each gets the type of focus or dedication that may be absent within a larger company due to volume. A small agency revolves around the client and their needs on the project being worked on at any given time.

      Larger agencies might lack the creativity to solve the problems due to bureaucracy and multiple approvals. Smaller agencies have the strength to think with some creativity and take some risks because of no long-drawn approvals, producing innovation and allowing for more creative, personalized solutions you rarely see from bigger agencies.

      They Deliver Faster

      One standout benefit of a small digital agency is being able to deliver projects almost at breakneck speed. Small agencies usually concentrate on only a few projects simultaneously, so their response time, more often than not, will be unmatched compared to that of larger agencies.

      Small agencies engage in candid, direct discussions with clients to align on business and marketing objectives that help drive campaign and program efficiency by remaining focused on the right objectives. Because they stay focused on results, not bogged down by extra layers of red tape, small agencies generate great results in a reasonable time.

      Larger agencies are often characterized by long communication chains and convoluted processes that make the delivery process challenging.

      Paradoxically, smaller agencies have a better sense of flexibility and agility, allowing them to respond promptly and deliver accordingly. The dedicated teams of these agencies can accomplish mighty tasks within surprisingly short periods. Therefore, every customer is a priority in an attempt to serve business purposes in the best possible manner.

      Small Agency Drawbacks

      While small digital agencies offer many benefits, it is important to see their drawbacks based on size and structure. By knowing these drawbacks, you can make a sensible decision on the marketing company they will partner with plus choose accordingly depending on their business goals.

      • Limited services: Small agencies usually specialize in certain areas, so not many marketing services are offered. Customers may need to deal with numerous such agencies to explore all their marketing needs.
      • Resource constraints: These agencies may face scaling issues while outsourcing such agencies and taking up large projects or multiple big clients at one point in time with small teams.
      • Lesser known brand: Smaller agencies usually lack brand recognition that larger firms are associated with, which may be a deal breaker since most businesses want to associate themselves with well-established names.
      • Local focus: Many small agencies may be directed towards a local or regional approach that potentially limits their experience and efficiency in international marketing strategies.
      • Budget restriction: Although small agencies are effective because they are affordable, unlike large agencies, the budget restriction may create problems for them concerning the accessibility of top-tier tools and technologies that can be afforded only by large agencies.
      • Lesser network opportunities: Smaller agencies may be entitled to fewer network opportunities than the larger ones, which can be much of assistance when seeking industry contacts, collaborations, and resources.
      • Vulnerability to staff changes: Every member has a key role in the small team. The exit of a key person would mean drastic impacts on the agency's capacity and inability to carry on with the progress or plans for the client.

      Often, these pitfalls almost have no bearing on the benefits of partnering with a small digital agency but bring out a more balanced view. Weigh your needs and goals against these factors to move forward with a small digital agency.

      Start improving your digital marketing today using these valuable guides and take the first step toward achieving your business goals.

      Examples of Successful Campaigns

      Winning is not for the major players in this industry alone. The small digital agencies are succeeding, too, with innovative, implementable, cost-effective, and highly customized campaigns.

      They can customize their service and stand on par with the large guys in the business. This often leads to amazing success stories - everything went right for these campaigns. Here are some examples:

      Dream House by Highdive

      Highdive is a small digital agency based in Chicago that specializes in humor and celebrity advertisements to create ads with a punch. They're going for a feeling more like the thrill of a high dive, and their Super Bowl ads that feature stars like Paul Rudd and Bill Murray have become eagerly awaited events.

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      This innovation is demonstrated in the Rocket Homes and the Rocket Mortgage "Dream House" commercial. Starring Anna Kendrick, the advertisement humorously addresses the intricacy of home purchasing that gets a surprise visit from Barbie. It features Barbie's journey to purchase her dream home, comically overruled by adversaries such as Better Offer Betty and Cash Offer Carl. Time-sensitive financing solutions from Rocket Mortgage save the day, ensuring that Barbie emerges successfully.

      Founded in 2016, Highdive leads with care from a team of fewer than 200. The approach has won them recognition, including the Ad Age A-List Standout Award 2023, Small Agency of the Year 2022, and a spot on Fast Company's Most Innovative Companies List 2021.

      Why it works:

      • The humor combined with a familiar cultural icon like Barbie made the text stick in the memory, effectively arousing interest.
      • The includement of celebrities adds more admiration to the message.
      • For the better part of the ad, there is a masterful weaving of Rocket Homes and Mortgage services underpinning home shopping in the context of a product.

      Make It Better by Lerma/

      Lerma/, a small digital agency with a fierce take, defines their tagline as “Go Where Others Won‘t.” With less than 150 people on staff that’s friendly and multicultural, they are experts at executing brave and comedy-infused campaigns.

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      Their creativity is perfectly exemplified in their Super Bowl 2023's Avocados From Mexico ad "Make It Better." This advertisement cleverly re-conceptualizes apples as the forbidden fruit, juxtaposing against avocados as that which makes things better off or happier. Starring the ever-charismatic Anna Farris, the ad is set in Big Avocado, a bountiful world of joy and excitement.

      Since 2015, Avocados From Mexico has partnered with Lerma/, which significantly elevated the brand's positioning, recording a 40% jump in customer preference, a 23% rise in brand consideration, and tripling brand awareness. Their success has claimed them the Ad Age Small Agency of the Year - Gold in various employee categories for two years, adding to big results year after year.

      Why it works:

      • The creative twist on a theme people are familiar with grabs attention because it is wholly original.
      • Injecting humor and a celebrity like Anna Farris benefited the ad and got more eyes to it.
      • Lerma's plan and advertisement execution were spot-on, as shown in the metrics and engagement.

      We Get All Of It by Quality Meats

      Quality Meats, a small digital agency with a team of under 10, showcased its deep understanding of sports fandom through the 'We Get All Of It' campaign for Marquee Sports Network. Addressing the skepticism of Chicago Cubs fans towards the new network, Quality Meats hit a home run.

      Small Digital Agency Example: Quality Meats

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      Quality Meats launched a storyline that struck the hearts of the Cubs followers throughout 2020. The campaign showcased Marquee Sports Network as an old Cub affiliate before it relayed games to their fans. It summed up what it means to be a Cubs fan — the deep involvement, the wild ride of emotions from highs and lows, and anything in between. It positioned Marquee Sports Network as one that gets fans with the same passion.

      If the Ad Agency Small Agency of the Year - Silver attraction wasn‘t enough for Quality Meats, Marquee Sports Network submitted a nomination for the Chicago/Midwest Regional Emmy Awards in the ’Outstanding Achievement for Sports Promotion.' More important than the recognition alone, they captured the imaginations of Cubs support, and it shows that empathy and authenticity can be just as potent as any other marketing tool.

      Why it works:

      • The ad resonated with the Cubs fans making it highly relatable.
      • It reaped a strong rebranding effect upon Marquee Sports Network that related directly to loyalty and identification with the new network.
      • The Cubs community gave recognition and praise that helped the ad get more eyes on it outside of the community.

      Sandwich Loves Slack by Sandwich

      Sandwich, a small digital agency, has an unconventional origin story.

      Initially formed to create an app in 2009, they discovered their true calling in video production after their promotional video eclipsed the app in popularity. With fewer than 50 employees, they've carved a niche in producing high-quality, often remotely shot videos.

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      Their 2014 'Sandwich Loves Slack‘ ad is a testament to their creative prowess. At a time when Slack was not widely recognized, Sandwich crafted a B2B ad that broke the mold of traditional product videos. Its mockumentary style, reminiscent of ’The Office,' brings humor and relatability to the forefront.

      The video told the story of the Sandwich team‘s journey from initial caution to complete enthusiasm — humorously and pointedly showcasing Slack’s capabilities and benefits. This approach resonated with audiences, earning almost 3 million YouTube views and clinching the 2015 Shorty Award in the ‘Best in B2B’ category.

      A follow-up ad, produced remotely during the pandemic, cleverly demonstrates the team‘s continued reliance on Slack for remote work, reinforcing the product’s utility and the agency's adaptability.

      Why it works:

      • As a mockumentary-style ad, this at least has entertainment values that can hold the viewer's interest.
      • In real-use scenarios, communicates effectively what Slack is and its benefits.
      • Humorous, relatable content that broadens the appeal past the traditional narrow B2B audiences.

      Unlock Digital Marketing Success with Small Agency Insights

      When you boil it down, small digital agencies pack a mean punch - they're agile and creative, serving up personalized strategies at discount rates.

      With fewer clients and overhead costs, these tight-knit teams operate like a family, moving swiftly to concoct innovative solutions and deliver results at breakneck speeds, as seen through standout campaigns.

      So for any business seeking an adaptable marketing partner that understands your needs, thinks outside the box, and pulls more than their weight in outcomes, small shops prove mighty despite their size, offering end-to-end service fit for today's nimble digital landscape.

      Editor's note: This article was originally published in March 2010 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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