Over on the Nebo blog Kevin Howarth is doing a series of interviews that feature marketing thought leaders both locally and nationally. Kevin was gracious to ask me to participate and we had a fun conversation about interactive marketing. Kevin’s interview, with much better graphics than FoG, is being republished here with permission.
What do you feel is the most important aspect of how interactive marketing has developed over the last few years?
Interactive marketing has transitioned from command and control to a more user-generated focus. For any online marketer to be successful, they have to embrace user-generated content and online communities. That means empowering communities to help them spread the word about a company’s products and services. This kind of focus has led to a heavier emphasis on customer service. If you don’t have happy customers, then they’re not going to talk about you. Or they’re going to say bad things. The vast majority of good marketers understand that they are no longer 100% in control. Five years ago, people really didn’t understand this lack of control but I think they understand it now.
How is search and interactive marketing impacting how companies start up their businesses today?
It’s where they start. When a company begins, all they have are themselves and some word of mouth elements. An online presence via social is the least expensive way to amplify what you’re trying to do. SEO and SEM are obviously very important as core aspects to any technology company’s marketing. For example, at Half Off Depot we’ve seen that the way local merchants used to go to market has gone away. The Yellow Pages, local magazines and newspapers are gone or in steep decline, and merchants need a way to market online. We help them with the online piece so that they stay in front of their customers face-to-face.
Companies also have to figure out where “home” resides. Home might be their webpage, or it might be a Facebook page. Either way, companies really have to integrate social from the start while building this “home” presence. Website design has really started to emerge as a competitive advantage. For example,Fab.com is a beautifully designed site, and they actually used design to demonstrate how they’re going to be different from competitors. I don’t think people talk enough about the importance of good design or take into consideration how it can really impact the customer experience. In turn, customer experience can impact word of mouth and viral marketing.
What’s your current assessment of the Atlanta marketing community?
In my opinion, Atlanta is very strong from a technology marketing perspective. But we do a bad job letting the world know about it. We have established well-known companies like MailChimp and WhatCounts, and there are a number of email service providers like Silverpop. There are also quite a few companies starting to play in the social space, and we still have a strong cluster of traditional interactive marketing companies. Atlanta marketers have such deep domain knowledge of interactive marketing that it’s inevitable that they’re starting to apply that knowledge into different verticals and new emerging areas. At its core though, Atlanta is best at B2B. Even the more well-known consumer-focused companies have a heavy B2B bent, and a lot of Atlanta’s marketing companies direct their energies toward that demand.
You’ve mentioned social quite a few times. Why is social so important in today’s marketing climate?
The opportunity for social is understated. Everything is eventually going to be that way. Today, my teenage children cannot imagine a world without the Internet, and they are part of a demographic completely immersed in social. I think marketing is eventually going to become all social, and social is going to be one of the primary marketing drivers as other traditional mediums continue to fragment.
And how does mobile play into the mix?
Social is big, but mobile is the future. Anything that you wanted to do on a computer five years ago, you can now do on a three by six inch device. Today, I think it’s still a little bit difficult to do ecommerce on a mobile device, but that’s quickly going away. Behaviorally, people are not afraid to buy things on a device. It’s just hard to do sometimes because of the initial set up and ease of use, but that’s all going to get solved. For example, Square is making it easier for phones to accept credit cards, and local Atlanta startups such asWhisper Communications are also emerging into this space to help make B2B mobile transactions easier and more secure.
What are your thoughts about how marketing measurement has changed over the years?
If you look at one of the primary drivers of why interactive marketing is growing so quickly, it’s because people are spending more and more time online. That’s half of the equation. The other half is that interactive marketing is much more efficient than traditional marketing from a structural perspective. Not only is it less expensive online versus offline, but you can very accurately measure the effectiveness of what you’re doing in real dollars and cents. More and more companies are demanding that kind of measurement, and I see that trend continuing as audiences fragment and spend more time online.
How does content strategy fall into the marketing mix?
Content is king again, but it’s not necessarily because the content is truly unique. It’s because it will drive traffic to your site. You need good, strong, consistent, and deep content in order to effectively drive traffic. You’ve got to give people the content they want, in the format they want, at the price they’re willing to pay, and when they want it. There are many different variables, but the people who are successful at putting those things together are really good at getting people to buy their products and services.
What marketing trends do you feel will have the most impact in 2012?
Marketing spend will continue to follow people. People are spending much more time on the Internet than they did in the past, and marketing dollars have yet to completely follow that trend. Marketing dollars will continue to go where the people go. Right now, people are on social and I see that trend continuing for the foreseeable future until the next “social” emerges. I often talk about how there were the PC wars, the browser wars, the search engine wars, and the social wars. We had winners in each one of those categories. I don’t know what the next war is. But there is going to be something that pops up that’s truly disruptive and that no one’s really thought about. Consumers will interact with technologies in ways that we can’t even think about right now.