As 2018 draws to an end and the holiday shopping season picks up steam, marketers find themselves standing at crossroads yet again. Consumers are growing increasingly aware and doing a lot more research before they buy, regulatory authorities are closely watching what firms do with data, and technology continues to mold buyer behavior at breakneck speed.
No discussion of the future, however, is complete without a contextual look at the fundamentals. Bearing that in mind, I reached out to digital marketing agency owners across four continents for their informed answers to burning questions that every marketer is asking. Every expert featured here has built their agency from the ground-up and is constantly in the thick of things.
Therefore, if you’re a marketer reading this and looking to ways to plan and execute your campaigns better, here’s the most practical advice you’ll find on the internet.
First, the introductions…
Bryan is a marketing professional turned entrepreneur. He founded TrafMarketing after 5+ years of agency marketing experience and earning a Masters’ Degree in Marketing from FSU. He loves discussing all things digital marketing and business development. He’s also an avid Gary Vaynerchuk listener.
Jordan Choo is the Managing Partner at Kogneta, a digital marketing agency that helps franchise brands attract and retain customers using data-driven marketing. Their custom strategies have helped companies like Bin There Dump That, Holliswealth, and Nissan grow by triple digits.
Bartosz leads small, highly specialized team of technical SEO experts at Elephate Agency, where their daily tasks revolve around deep technical optimization of large, international structures. Bartosz believes in paving new ways in the SEO industry through bold campaigns, precise experiments, and case studies. Technical SEO is one of his biggest passions.
James is Managing Director of award-winning digital marketing agency, Digitaloft, which he founded in 2013. They think like SEOs and work like PRs, and have earned coverage on publications like Mashable, The Sun, The Telegraph, and Cosmopolitan for their clients. James is a regular writer on topics such as ecommerce and local SEO, having contributed to the likes of Search Engine Journal.
Jaydip Parikh is the founder of digital agency Tej SolPro. He has more than 15 years of experience in sales and marketing. He has delivered lectures on digital marketing, entrepreneurship, and the impact of social media at top institutes across India. He regularly speaks at various industry conferences and events, both online and offline.
Jim is a top Aussie SEO, Marketing Speaker, and CEO at StewArt Media, which focuses on a combination of SEO, PPC & display advertising, Google Ads, Facebook marketing, and content strategy. His clients include Telstra, National Foods and City of Melbourne. Jim’s first computer was the Spectra Video SV318, circa 1983.
Chris is a Digital Strategy Consultant and Co-Founder of StrategyBeam, which provides specialized content marketing, copywriting and blog management services to small businesses and nonprofits in order to grow their online presence. Chris is passionate about digital marketing, emerging technologies, and nonprofit development.
Sunil is a partner at Nilgiri Social, a small, focused digital agency, where he helps purpose-driven startups and individuals with Digital Marketing & Growth Hacking.
Garrett is CEO & Co-Founder of Directive Consulting, a global B2B search marketing agency specializing in ROI-driven campaigns. Directive’s client list includes some impressive clients such as Cisco, Allstate, Samsung and Tencent. Garrett has spoken at State of Search, Digital Summit, SMX West, MozCon Ignite, and other major digital marketing conferences. His thoughts have been published in digital’s most respected blogs, including Marketing Land, Search Engine Land, Moz, Ahrefs, Search Engine Journal, PPC Hero, Convince and Convert, WordStream, and Salesforce.
Now for the questions…
1) How do you measure the value of digital marketing?
This depends on client goals. Fortunately with digital marketing we can look at ads in a variety of lenses. If your goal is awareness, we can measure reach and how often your company ad is seen. If your goal is immediate revenue, we can track to the penny how much each ad of each campaign contributes. In other words, digital has far less unknown values than other advertising mediums.
I measure marketing in terms of the goals of my clients which is typically leads and/or revenue. The ongoing issue is that I see a ton of clients and even agencies do is measure and report on vanity metrics (i.e. rankings and website traffic). At the end of the day, your clients are paying you to increase revenue and everything else is a secondary metric. By focusing on these north star metrics, you’re able to show the actual value and revenue that you are providing to your client. Another big bonus is that as an agency, it helps with retention as you’re able to directly attribute week after week and month after month, the revenue and ROI that client is benefiting from because of your efforts.
One of the key reasons I started working in digital marketing/SEO space is the ability to measure it precisely. Especially when we compare it to traditional marketing that I always found somehow unclear. I believe that technical SEO is the most predictable form of marketing. Not only we are working within the guidelines that are clear, what I love the most is that our work delivers repeatable and scalable results. Every single time. Our work is worth only as much as we can make for our clients. I guess this is why we aren’t cheap! 😀
Whilst this totally depends upon the channel in question and the overall goals of a campaign; in almost all instances we’re being engaged as marketers for one thing; to earn money for our clients, boss or ourselves.
For that reason, the end goal of any campaign has to be revenue.
We know, however, that channels such as SEO can take 12+ months to show a strong ROI so it’s important to focus on a range of KPIs to measure success and determine value.
I refer to these as ‘hard metrics’ and ‘soft metrics.’
Hard metrics are those which are the end goals; money in the bank or at least leads and enquiries earned. Soft metrics are those which contribute towards meeting the hard goals; traffic increases, SERP increases, increased conversion rate – essentially those indicators that a campaign is providing value and is working towards meeting the hard metrics.
The success of digital marketing is measured by one single thing: The goal of the campaign. Many of my marketer friends will debate between vanity metrics, actionable metrics, revenue, and so on. But we focus on KPIs that we have already agreed with the client before beginning the campaign. These are metrics that will eventually bring business value to the client, be it in terms of brand advocacy or sales.
We work primarily on ecommerce sites. Our key metric is revenue growth. We deliver traffic and make it convert and grow, though online and offline activities.
I measure the value of digital marketing with direct attribution of sales. This is pretty easy for channels like PPC, paid social, and remarketing, but this can be tough for some channels like SEO. In these cases, you can track the performance of pages, keywords, and Assisted Conversions to understand the impact of your efforts for the bottom line. You can also judge the performance of Digital Marketing based on the needs of customers and goals, but overall most product/service clients want to know how much money they are making for their investment.
We have two different ways to measure digital marketing efforts. One is we directly assign it with sales and numbers, and we calculate the ROI. The other way is that we also believe some efforts yield fruit in the long run, so we don’t assign any sales or numbers to those efforts, but we do measure numbers on the distribution efforts of the content.
We measure the value of digital marketing through the amount and quality of opportunities, deals, and revenue we help create for our B2B and enterprise clients.
2) Do brands need to be more human? How can they project their authenticity online?
Brands should be as human as possible but, at the same time not alienating their audience and brand. The perfect example of this is what Wendy’s and White Castle has been doing with their Twitter account to appeal to the younger generation.
Being real and human is what I strongly believe in. I observe that people are sick and tired of watching stock photography full of fake smiles and teams looking at charts in a bright lit rooms. In my experience, showing flaws, sharing your personal problems or challenges gets more engagements and builds an audience that is rooting for you. We are wired to be compassionate and seeing flaws of others is helping us like them. This includes brands, businesses and celebrities.
People buy from people. They always have done and they always will do and, as marketers, it’s our responsibility to understand this and to help our clients to portray personality.
My core focus is content marketing and one of the areas we’ve been working with clients on over the past 12 months is putting personality into their content.
To create content with personality, you simply need to understand who your audience are. What do they care about aside from your own product or service? What’s their average age? Location? Where do they ‘hang out’ online? The more you know about your ideal customer the better you can produce content with personality which, in itself, demonstrates authenticity.
Yes, brands need to be very, very human. In fact, they need to be indistinguishable from humans if they want to build a “relationship” with customers. No brand is perfect, and developing a personality enables them to connect with their customers better. Feel free to show your strengths, weaknesses, frustrations, opinions, and associations. It’s easier to build authority when you voice your opinion louder.
I love to give the example of one of the most respected companies in the digital marketing industry – Moz – and how it was built on the strength of its “human face” Rand Fishkin. Even agencies and B2B firms can give a human face to their brands.
What do your customers want? Be the best version of that. Rather than be more human, be more genuine. I think the level of cynicism amongst the average consumer is such that they see through corporate attempts of trying to “connect.”
People buy from people, not companies. The more that businesses can make their brands hit a personal appeal the better. Not only does this approach reduce obstacles, and brands can do this by engaging social media marketing, improved Customer Journey development, and personalized content.
Yes. In the current state, brands need to be human. But there are tools now which makes you be human without being a human. Meaning, you can now even automate the feeling of human touch when you’re engaging with prospects or customers online. Brands can get their authenticity online only through their past and existing customers. They’re their biggest asset. Also, word of mouth marketing is the best and has the highest value. That’s why influencer marketing is such a big thing now.
Brands need to be more human when it’s what the customer expects. Airlines – definitely more human. Enterprise security – less human. Context and expectations matter.
3) What are your tips for educating clients who focus on pushing their products vs engaging audiences?
You need to provide value without expectation in some capacity to have long term success. Yes, some people are already in their decision phase of their buying process, and your product may immediately fit that. But, if you can provide value to an audience first, then your ads (especially when reaching this audience) will yield more weight in terms of being valued by them.
Since Facebook and other social media networks are focused on connecting with your family friends, I like to compare product pushing social media profiles vs engaging audiences with having a dinner with them (your customer’s family and friends).
Meaning, if you got invited to a dinner that one of your customer’s is hosting that is primarily made up of their friends and family, would all you only talk about how amazing your products/services are and why they should buy from you? Or would you have a conversation with them and get to know them?
This has always been a challenge. I think that the problem that you are referring to (clients often not being eager to invest in engaging the audience) comes from the issue I mentioned above. Business owners are very often somehow discouraged to spend more towards something they can’t measure. Audience engagement, brand building, PR investments are often words used to sell bad or ineffective marketing. Pushing products will always be a key goal for our clients. This is why they are running an online business. The only way to convince our clients to focus on building audiences is when they can see how it will affect their sales.
We actually have a lot of good examples of how we sell campaigns that engage audiences without any need to educate clients. As a technical SEO and content marketing agency – a lot of our efforts go around creating viral content for our clients. This content is a pure definition of how you should be engaging audiences. Fun fact is that this content is getting a lot of links. Once brands see results of our previous campaigns (including rewards for e.g. best SEO campaign in UK), we don’t need to educate them too much.
So if there is one tip I can give you, it is that if you want to sell content that is engaging the audience – just like in case of technical SEO – show repeatable outstanding results. This is the simplest “hack” that will educate your clients.
My #1 tip here is to ensure you understand your (or your clients) audience and, once again, it really comes down to the channel.
As consumers, we want to make our own decisions on purchases and enquiries and it’s important to educate clients around this. We don’t typically want to be sold to; rather educated as to why a product or service is the best fit for our needs.
Case studies always help to educate clients; demonstrating past successes where a focus on, let’s say, educating and engaging audiences has driven outstanding results and financial returns.
Clients are often, quite rightly, very emotionally tied into their products and for that reason, usually just need to understand why placing an emphasis on engagement is often superior to the direct sales method.
I take a huge risk and tell my clients that their product is NOT so great. Why would a customer want to buy their product? Buying a product is an emotional decision, not a logical one. To understand that, they need to know the difference between sales and marketing.
When clients push their products, what they are doing is sales, not marketing. If I sense that they don’t realize the core difference, I turn into a business consultant and encourage them to hire a leader or team with the right background, experience or qualification in marketing. This is the age of inbound marketing and lifetime brand-customer relationships. Without fundamental understanding of push-pull dynamics and customer engagement, it is impossible for any organization to build a scalable marketing strategy.
Grow your brand from day 1. What is your promise? You need to be first in the mind of the consumer, not first to market. Who are your main buyer personas? Where are they online? Can you build your brand with them by offering solutions?
Do not rely on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, eBay, Amazon or Google audiences. They can be quickly taken away. Rely on your brand. The customer must seek you out. If the platforms don’t facilitate this, they fail.
The approach clients should take for education depends on the industry, competition, and goals. For example, consultants need to establish themselves as thought leads so they will need to do a lot of blogging, whitepapers, and PR. Product businesses will want to focus on broader appeal through comparison charts, and other content to show problem-solving. The approach and tactics of education will vary based on the goals of the client, their industry, and target audience.
If you’re pushing a product, it’s not a great product. If a product solves problems for users, helps them, makes their life easier, then it sells itself. You just have to find ways to get people on top of the funnel, which is engaging more and more audiences.
Life and marketing are about timing. There’s a time to engage and there’s a time to promote your product/services. Once you learn to match what you pitch to what someone is looking for or trying to accomplish than everyone wins.
4) Can you share any interesting (and applicable in the short term) use cases of AI in marketing?
Major ad platforms are progressively rolling out AI in forms algorithmic ad delivery optimizations. For instance, if you have enough good data (aka statistically relevant and accurate data) in Google Ads, and your goal is to generate conversions, Google can analyze your data and the behaviors of people who made your conversions. Using this data, Google will favor your ad delivery toward people with similar traits and behaviors to increase your conversion volume for the same dollars spent.
You can use algorithm such as TF-IDF, LSI and even Google’s own Natural Language API to understand the topics and keywords that existing content is ranking for and then incorporating them into the content that you create. Why is this important? Rather than guessing what related keywords and topics we should be writing about for a keyword, we can reverse engineer what is already working rather than having to go through a steep learning curve.
The immediate, already-in-use application of AI in marketing is for chatbots. As machine learning gets better at analyzing data and natural language processing, chatbots are solving a lot of problems in customer service, as well as bringing in better qualified leads for companies.
When marketers can combine information from different channels and feed it into a chatbot, it has more readymade answers to customers’ questions. The more answers it gives, the better it gets at having conversations. This forms a virtuous cycle and rapidly improves the quality of customer service.
In the short term and low barrier of entry into AI for marketers can be done through PPC marketing. Google offers several AI powered bidding strategies and ad placement. For long-term success, marketers can use content tools to find ways to create better content based on how people are interacting with brands in specific industries. There are so many great applications of AI for digital marketers that it blows my mind – and as a content marketer I look forward to how AI assistance will help me improve performance for clients.
Facebook Ads is the best use case. They want advertisers to put more money in ads, so they’re using AI to help optimize the ads. Once your ads are optimized, you see results and thus you put more money.
Google Ads is going to see quite a bit of disruption at the ad management level as AI can and will improve bid management, optimization, and A/B testing.
5) What are your 3 bold predictions in digital marketing for 2019?
1. The ability to shop via voice will grow and likely come from smarter integrations from online platforms to home devices.
2. Streaming TV (Hulu, etc.) ad purchases will increase significantly because that’s where people’s attention is moving compared to cable.
3. We’ll see more daily documentation of businesses life/process on our social media apps (example: Gary Vaynerchuk’s Daily V).
1. I see the democratization of AI in the world of marketing. Reason being, in the past, only larger companies who had big budgets to spend on computing power and data scientists, and who had large amounts of data be able to execute on AI in the marketing space. Now smaller companies are able to launch and leverage thanks to companies such as SalesForce, Hubspot and Granify offering AI products.
2. Voice search will start to become transactional. Though Amazon’s Alexa already has these capabilities, the advent of Google Duplex will truly bring transactional capabilities to voice devices for the masses. Ensuring that your business is ready for this revolution is key to succeeding in a AI centric consumer world.
3. AR and VR will continue to establish themselves in the marketing world. With smartphone manufacturers such as Apple natively embedding AR capabilities into their devices, it is only a matter of time before companies start to adopt it on a large scale.
2. Marketing is going to become more and more technical. It will require more tools, data and tech to be effective.
3. Valuable content and great stories are going to be more and more wanted and expensive. I think we are past the moment when brands realized that they can’t exist without stories that engage their audience. Finding a unique and bold language is extremely hard, but I don’t think it was ever this effective. Just have a look at Wendy’s Twitter account and how “simple” they are building heavily engaged audience.
1. Google will continue to reward high quality content; something which we’ve seen since the Medic update. Brands will need to continue to invest in creating the best content in their industry which, in itself, will raise the bar higher for what we deem “high quality.”
2. As marketers, we’ll face a continued battle against Google making changes to the SERPs to reduce above the fold visibility of organic results. From flights to local ads, organic search will continue to evolve and present new challenges.
3. We’ll see Google’s link-based ranking factors evolve further than we have done in 2018, further rewarding those who are earning links from highly authoritative and relevant sources. Single links from the right sources will have more of an impact and we’ll continue to see many links having little impact upon rankings; those not deemed relevant enough.
1. The acceptance of chatbots will grow. Granted, they won’t be able to answer all questions, but consumers will find bots a better alternative to listening to elevator music while their calls are put on hold.
2. Companies will need to work harder to make sense of data customer data. While regulations are making it tougher to collect data, the large number of tools used will hinder accuracy.
3. Search will move wider into platforms different from traditional search engines, including voice assistants, apps and niche websites.
1. More streaming ad opportunities for the lounge room that will more effective than broadcast TV.
2. A bigger move to individuals concealing their data from marketers.
3. Further regulatory clampdowns on ad content and targeting globally.
1. Voice will be a big winner in 2019.
2. Interactive video billboards will be installed in local businesses.
3. Influencer Marketing will overtake other paid advertising channels.
1. Videos are the future in content marketing.
2. If your personal/brand influence is not authentic, it’s going to die soon.
3. If you don’t study your customers’ behavior while making any marketing strategy, it’s not gonna work.
1. Spend continues to pivot from field marketing into digital.
2. Generalist/full-service agencies will continue to lose clients to specialists and in-house teams
3. Display and top of funnel marketing will lose traction/funding as people get better at attribution.
Onwards to 2019!
What are your thoughts on the state and future of digital marketing? How do you deal with your clients, educate them, and provide value to them? To what extent do you automate your campaigns? What are your predictions and assertions for 2019? Please voice yourself in the comments!