If you’re an in-house marketer today, the digital world can be a scary place. But it doesn’t have to be. The basic principles of marketing have not changed. It’s still all about using the right methods at the right time to reach the right people.
Our next guests are the authors of Smarter Marketer, brothers David and James Lawrence. They’re here to talk to us about some of the 11 golden rules that provide actionable insights and powerful tools for in-house marketers challenged with developing effective campaigns that demonstrate their personal value within the organization.
James Lawrence: I think probably two years now in the making, as agency owners, we’ve put a lot of work into writing blogs and writing content and thought leadership—and a lot of that was often very short term. It was responding to things that had happened in the moment, things that Google had changed, things that Facebook had changed. Collectively, we had an aha moment probably about five years ago where we realize that, essentially, it’s impossible to keep up with the speed of change.
By the time that blog articles had been written or a book on digital has been written, that’s pretty much obsolete due to the speed of change.
We started to realize that the only way to approach digital marketing was to actually go back to a lot of the principles, foundations of more traditional marketing, obviously with a slightly different slant on them.
I felt that given we had 20 years’ experience each in digital marketing and growing digital and web-based businesses, the time was right to put some time into putting a book together that essentially codified all that experience, putting to claim language for in-house marketers who struggle with the speed of change and don’t know which sources to trust, which elements of their more traditional training and education are still relevant in those which aren’t.
Traditional vs Digital
Rae Williams: What would you say is the biggest difference between traditional marketing and digital marketing, and what is the future of marketing?
David Lawrence: There’s actually not much difference between digital marketing and marketing, and we certainly think that in the coming years, the differences and even the labels that describe them will collapse completely into marketing.
When we talk to in-house marketers, we see them struggle massively, because they might be experienced and really accomplish with traditional marketing.
I spend far too much time trying to identify the differences and trying to understand too much about the differences—but at the core, we’re still talking about finding the right message, taking it to the right people at the right time, and that’s completely ageless when it comes to marketing.
Rae Williams: What is the main focus or the crux of your book that people can take action on?
James Lawrence: We’ve tried really hard to have the book at a point where it doesn’t become obsolete the moment that it goes to press. We want people to be able to pick it up in five years and one years’ time and for it still to be relevant to them as marketers at that point.
But equally, we don’t want it to be so theoretical that there aren’t practical takeaways from the book. The conclusion of the book, we very much break down the different challenges or problems that an in-house marketer might be having, and then point them towards individual chapters or rules.
It’s definitely the kind of book where if you’re struggling with media budgets, whether online or offline, you can turn to a particular chapter.
If you are having issues with content messaging, there’s a particular chapter you can turn to. We’ve provided really practical ways to develop our persona and buyer personas within the book itself. Because we’re real enough to know that things will change, we’ve created a page where we’ll keep up to date resources that are relevant to in-house marketers.
So, as those resources and tools change over time, we’ll keep that page up to date so that people that have bought the book can check in at those pages and find the latest tools, whether it’s in a year’s time or five years’ time.
Rae Williams: What would you guys say is the biggest challenge that you see facing marketers today?
James Lawrence: I think it’s them knowing where to draw the line between becoming a genuine expert in the day to day in the different digital marketing channels, and where they stay a little bit further back to be more focused on the big picture.
We see them kind of tearing themselves to pieces in these areas. Trying to get too deep into things, realizing it’s impossible to maintain that level of knowledge, but feeling like if they pull back, they think they’re somehow failing.
David Lawrence: Insane amounts of pressure put on them, whether it’s by the management or whether it’s by sales department, so they shift blame around. It is literally impossible to be everything in marketing, but those are the expectations—that in-house marketers should understand everything from Facebook to Google to display to traditional lifeline marketing.
The book is very much about taking a step back from all of this and elevating yourself from it. Get a seat at the table with management and talk in a way that better positions you within your organization.
Rae Williams: What do you see people losing out on or falling apart on when they don’t take this approach?
David Lawrence: I think you run the risk of not seeing the forest for the trees, being down in the weeds, obsessing over vanity metrics, trying to stay on top of things.
The story that opens the book is a real story about a client that came to use quite a marketer, who is explaining that her boss who was managing director of pretty big business down here, putting all of this pressure on her to know insane levels of detail about changes in Google Adwords, called Google Ads now, to the point where the director himself eventually jumped in to Google Ads one night, made a bunch of changes to the account which totally messed with all of the optimization and progress that have been happening within the account.
Whereas an in-house marketer, you don’t want to be down in the weeds. You want to be strategically driven. You want to know enough about different topics that you know, whether it’s an in-house or agency partner that’s working in those channels—enough to keep them honest, but you definitely need to be looking at things that are more top level so you can actually talk about growing organizations and not be in a position where you’re reactive to chaos and organization. You need to be looking at things in a quarterly, annual cycle.
Be able to have the buy in of senior stakeholders.
James Lawrence: One of the things we then see from these marketers who often quite experienced and really comfortable with the TV campaigns I used to run on the radio campaigns and the print campaigns, when they start to struggle with digital at the same depth, they reach out to us to get some advice about sort of person they can employ in house to take over a lot of these day to day responsibilities.
Invariably, what they’re describing is what we refer to as a marketing unicorn—someone who can do everything, someone who can execute brilliantly across every channel. Understand how the channels fit together and understand how those channels can move towards the big marketing goals.
These people don’t exist. If you can find someone close to it, they’re even quite rare. We’ve had a lot of in-house marketing teams go through this cycle of thinking one person to fit into their problems and then typically ends with a lot more frustration for those marketers.
Rae Williams: What kind of value are we supposed to be communicating?
David Lawrence: There’s a real temptation for marketers, for sales representatives to basically look at how much it costs to deliver a product or service, to load 10% or 20% margin onto that product or service and basically say that’s the price.
When we try to get clients to totally reverse that and very much think about the product or service that you’re offering.
What value does it represent to your particular customer or segments of your customers? And we talk about it in the book, some people out there who have large amounts of money around, you are willing to pay $15 for a black T shirt, others will spend $400 on essentially the same thing. There are people with loads of money that will just never fly business class or first class, because for them, the 400% or 600% increase doesn’t represent value.
In the book, we talk about, and it was based upon actual client campaign. For this particular client, that would really try to tap into the corporate hotel market for a particular location of theirs, but none of the wording on their ads or on their actual hotel landing pages spoke to what a corporate traveler would actually be interested in, which was about having super-fast internet, having a desk in every room, having access to the finance channels on the TV within that particular location.
If you’re reaching out to a family market, then having a desk and having a desk and having cable, finance TV doesn’t provide any real value. If you’re speaking to a corporate traveler, then those things do actually provide value and allow you to charge a premium. For us, it’s all about understanding who your customers are and understanding the value to drive from your particular offering.
Skipping Single Channel Strategies
Rae Williams: Another chapter that caught my attention is, “Whatever the question, a single channel is never the answer.” What do you mean by that?
James Lawrence: Yeah, there’s a real temptation for in-house marketers, often as a response to the serious budget constraints. They often operate under to find the one best performing channel and to invest all their money into that. We see a lot of clients come to us because of the downsides of that approach, and it falls apart in a couple of ways.
Channels in the digital environment are controlled by a really small number of companies. So, if you put all your money into Google Ads and an algorithm changes or particular policy of manufacture product or service changes, then you can literally lose your market overnight.
We had an example of a woman who had a really successful business built around her Facebook group. It was a huge product, hundreds of thousands of people in her community, and literally overnight, Facebook made the decision that her content wasn’t appropriate, and they simply blocked her, entirely.
Her entire business died overnight, and there was nothing she could do about it. We also see clients who focus on individual channels, forgetting that customers in the real world do their research across all kinds of devices and across all kinds of channels, often across a fair bit of time.
If you’re putting all your money into, say, a paid social on Facebook, you’re going to be missing out on the people who see you in Facebook but then browse other websites where you then might be potentially missing out, on seeing Google display ads or might be missing out on seeing your ad if they were to do a search for competitors in Google.
So, absolutely regardless of budgetary constraints—and we understand that they’re real. Marketers have to make sure they understand where their prospects are, and they have to understand the risks that they’re taking if they don’t appear in front of their prospects in those channels or if those channels suddenly do something that harms their campaign overall.
Using Data Wisely
Rae Williams: What are the data limitations that people need to be looking for, and how does that affect the overall product?
David Lawrence: It’s a great question Rae. It is really interesting. We’ve been in digital marketing for more than a decade now working with clients, and if we go back to the beginning and even back to probably five years ago, we would have been the first people to say that one of the huge advantage of digital marketing is just how brilliant the data is and how much insight it gives people into the effectiveness of their spend. There is certainly some truth to that.
There’s brilliant data that can really help—but we see more often than not people trying to make decisions based on limited data, inaccurate data…
We had a really stark example, it is quite a few years ago, and I don’t think this mistake would be made today, but it was a client of ours that had a series of real-world retail stores. They were doing quite good business with us through Google Ads and Google display campaigns.
But they noticed that the traffic they were buying on mobile devices wasn’t resulting in any sales on their website and so they asked us to decrease the budget as low as we possibly could. We did that under some protest, but what they discovered pretty quickly, thankfully with the mobile traffic, was people are actually out on the road looking for a physical store where they can buy furniture from. So, by killing the traffic on that channel, they effectively killed off their store traffic, and it really cost them a lot of money.
We also see lots of examples where people look at more conversions—our goals or our activity in platforms like Google analytics, and they don’t take into account the quality versus quantity type issue.
So, it could be very difficult if you are a B2B company or company with a long sales cycle to perfectly attribute the final revenue that you may get from the actual actions that we’re taking online. We see a lot of clients making some pretty costly decisions there when it comes to trimming marketing budgets that they want to be able to attribute to sale.
But they find out eventually that by turning off marketing in these areas their overall sales drop maybe three, six, nine months’ time.
James Lawrence: The latest data from Google suggests that in the retail car space, car manufacturing, I think it’s over 900 interactions before going into a dealership and buying a car. First of all you’ve got more than one person typically involved in the buying decision. A husband and wife, two partners, whatever it might be. You are looking at searches in terms of manufacturers, review sites, watching reviews on YouTube, potentially display ads following you around.
You then are looking at who your closest dealer is, playing dealers off across each other, price comparison websites, and although reporting analytics is getting better in terms of attribution and multi device, where you’ve got some on route searching on desktop, on their mobile, on their tablet, it is virtually impossible to ever close the loop on that.
So, I think as Dave touched on 10 years ago it was a lot more linear. It was more linear, where you’d spend a $100,000 on buying Google ads.
You’d get 50,000 visitors, you’d make 5,000 sales. You knew what that was worth. In a lot of environments, particularly in B2B environments where you might have a panel of 10 people making decision on an expensive piece of software, it’s very, very difficult to make your decisions based purely on your Google analytics or reporting that you are getting from LinkedIn or Facebook.
Rae Williams: Do each of you have a topic that you love to take on?
James Lawrence: Yeah, my favorite one is “nothing is more important than the message.” We find this a lot with in-house marketers, and pretty much anyone that has a solid say in a digital marketing campaign.
Once upon a time, traditional marketing was very message and offer driven. People understood that they had to understand the people that was communicating with them and get that message out in a way that people would care.
But in digital marketing, it was originally a very technical pursuit that got lost somewhere along the line. We find a lot of campaigns are absolutely fantastic to a technical point of view—they are executed brilliantly, and they can even be very appealing from a visual point of view, but when you really strip the campaign down, you realize that the message just doesn’t appeal to the people that’s been talking to. There is no compelling offer.
There is no clear call to action.
So often, when a campaign comes to us and it’s been struggling, we go straight to that. We look into the message and we look into the offers that they are making as part of the campaign, and we find that it’s weak. So, I find that is the place we get the biggest uptick with campaigns that people have been running and have many more than several.
David Lawrence: I think my baby is chapter one, “digital marketing is just marketing.” I think it is so easy for agency-side marketers, for in-house marketers to get lost in the speed of change, how quickly Facebook is changing, how quickly Google is changing, how quickly buyer journeys are changing, that it is impossible for anyone to stay on top of everything. As a result of that, I think courage for our clients and our staff to focus on the overriding principles and the foundational work.
I think we are all smart enough to then slot in the technical changes, which we need to stay on top of course, but you need to do it with a solid foundation.
The opening to that chapter is a real world story where we had an account manager a few years ago walk across the agency floor. He came up to me and said, “This is insane,” and started talking about these quotes from this book all about split-testing ads, reducing the costs of ads, understanding the cost of headlines in writing ads.
Talking about just putting yourself in the shoes of your buyer and making sure that the copy was worth their time. It is really important for marketers to understand psychology, the importance of testing campaigns, which is such a something that either way was still very digitally driven.
Then he showed me what year the book was published, and it was in 1923. It just shows that as much as things have changed tremendously in the way that marketers can reach prospects is so different to what it was even 15 years ago, all of these principles have been around for a long time.
If you can put yourself in a position where you are absorbing the really good stuff and we do reference five to ten books that we love that were all written before the internet started, I think if you can get yourself across those and put you in a really good position to succeed in this digital world.
Rae Williams: What is your favorite outlet for digital marketing these days?
James Lawrence: I would probably be biased, but back when I was a uni student I was running Google Adwords, I actually was running paid search before Google Ads was in Australia. I still essentially just advocate that every business in Australia should be using Google Ads, the extent to which you use it. Obviously, it differs tremendously, but I still think it is incredible that there’s nothing more intent driven than Google Ads.
Where people have self-selected, they are going to Google, they have searched for something related to your product or service, and you get to determine how much you are willing to pay to push that person into your website or to give you a call. It is a number’s game. It brings in the creativity of messaging, all the fun advertising marketing stuff of good landing pages. I think for me it is just a no brainer to run it, and it’s just kind of my bias there.
David Lawrence: I’m going to be a little bit difficult. I think for me, if I’m being completely commercial, my favorite channel is the one that’s going to make money for a particular client.
I think most in-house marketers will have a favorite channel and hopefully our favorite channel is the one that’s given them the most success for their clients, but we find that often, when people come in with the favorite channel, that’s a really bad place to start.
That often means they skip those really important research steps and the really important strategy steps that they jump straight to something. We had a brilliant example of this a couple of years ago. We had a client that was in the education space, and we’re launching a new course which was going to be aimed at young people and we put together a strategy for them about the digital channels that we thought would be really effective.
Our suggestions got vetoed by the board and decided to pour my hundred percent of the project into radio. Obviously, radio was their favorite channel, and they were going to go and work and listen to it, enjoying the ads. We thought that would be a pretty bad idea with young people not really listening to radio as much as they used to, possibly not at all in many cases, and that was exactly what happened. They made the mistake of going with their favorite channel.
We’ve discovered that it absolutely wasn’t their favorite channel of their key persona. And they had to come back and run a digital campaign, which was fantastic. But yeah, I like to start with really non sentimental research on the start of campaigns.
A Challenge from David and James Lawrence
Rae Williams: If you had to issue a challenge to future marketers, people reading your book, just people in the industry, clients—what would that challenge be?
David Lawrence: For me, it comes back to one of them, it comes back to one of the core values we have in the agency. We have got a value of “go get it done,” which is that we’re finding digital marketing where there’s so many pressures and so many temptations and there’s so many shiny, new objects that they want to find the one thing that’s likely to work the most. They’re doing everything you can to make it happen.
What I would encourage listeners to do is to grab the book or work through resources that they already rely on and find one thing to dedicate time to.
James Lawrence: For me, it’s actually rule number two in the book, which is “understand your customer before you market to them.” Probably no exaggeration, maybe 90% of clients that would come to us have not got adequate buyer personas in place. And that’s not just trying to work out gender skew and geography and age—it’s actually understanding what the drivers are, what the motivations are, what are the absolute deal killers, in the mind of the perfect customer.
So many marketers kind of work within a vacuum, they don’t work very well with the sales team within the organization. They don’t actually understand the real world application of their product or service, particularly if it’s in a more technical space, but you need to understand who you’re actually trying to reach and how you’re trying to move them.
If we don’t do that, then you’re basically just throwing what’s on top edge, what’s on the screen, and hoping that the numbers fall your way.
Typically, if you spend the time to truly understand your customer, truly understand their challenges and their pain points, it makes it a lot easier to run successful campaigns.
Rae Williams: How can people contact you if they’re interested in learning more?
David Lawrence: Yeah, rocketagency.com.au. More than happy to have a chat with people have things in the book that they’re not particularly doing well—agency support in terms of how to run effective digital marketing campaigns.
Always happy to have a chat, always happy to give feedback and advice, whether or not someone does come on board to be a client or not. Typically, we have a saying here that if we can’t help someone, we want to be able to direct them to someone that can. Yeah, reaching out through the website is definitely the best way.