SIC 2014 Recap & Takeaways

SIC 2014 Cover ImageOn October 15-16th I had the opportunity to attend the Seattle Interactive Conference for the second year in a row. Some of the best and brightest minds from the digital marketing and design industries came together for a two day conference jam packed with great speakers and great parties. With so many speakers giving presentations simultaneously, it was hard deciding which sessions to attend. Below I break down my three favorite sessions from the conference with LOTS of takeaways.

How Digital Marketers Use Data and Marketing Technologies to Optimize the Customer Experience

This session was a bucket full of awesome. It was basically three mini-sessions, with presentations from Travis Wright, James Niehaus, and Barbara Pamplin. The biggest takeaway from the whole thing was that you should own your data, and use it to create customized experiences. Marketers tend to think in terms of B2B or B2C, but we need to start thinking in terms of H2H (human to human). We hear so much about big data, but we need to instead think in terms of user profiles. This enables customized, one to one marketing across all channels.

Data tends to exist within silos. You’ve got your web analytics data over here, your PPC data over there, your social data in another place… so, the “holy grail” of marketing is to integrate all of your data so that you deliver a coordinated experience across all channels. Your customers don’t experience different channels within a brand… they just experience a brand. It’s not multi-channel, it’s omni-channel. Heavy stuff dude. This is the kind of thing that really gets my brain smoking.

Don’t buy pre-made marketing clouds, build your own

So how to do you create a great customer experience? You’ve got to own your data! And you need to build your own marketing system out of individual best of breed technologies. Both Wright and Niehaus advise against pre-built “walled gardens” like Adobe or Salesforce.

The ecosystem of marketing technology is huge, and it’s getting bigger every day. Here’s a sample:

Marketing technology landscape

947 of the companies that provide software for marketers.

There are several big companies, like Google, Salesforce, and Adobe that are buying up a bunch of different solutions. They are doing this to compete, not to innovate. These solutions leave many marketing technologies unsupported. So if you really want to be awesome, you need to build your own marketing cloud consisting of best of breed solutions. This way you have flexibility.

(Here’s a link to some pretty sweet marketing resources that Travis shared.)

Another simple, but important takeaway came from Barbara Pamplin of Microsoft. If you are an agency, don’t overwhelm your clients with new initiatives and ideas. Sometimes you need to take a crawl-walk-run approach. Especially when you’re dealing with a large, conservative organization. I’ve been guilty of getting overly excited about an idea, when I really should have thought it through more. Refer to Ian Lurie’s presentation below for more advice on thinking through your ideas strategically before you bring them to your client.

SEO for Ecommerce

Adam Audette of RKG basically tried to fit a university course into a 50 minute presentation. He got through about 1/8th of it, but it was chock full of gold. And lucky us, he posted his deck to SlideShare, which is conveniently embedded here (214 slides!)

So he talks about technical SEO work for ecommerce, and he got into the on-page and content work just a little bit. There’s not a whole lot to say about it except that the content is excellent and very actionable if you are doing SEO for ecommerce. A couple of key takeaways: Don’t do a giant SEO audit with a laundry list of issues. DO create a list of top priorities, with their predicted impact.
Man, Audette needs to make this into a book. By the way, he will be speaking at Searchfest in Portland, OR this February. I overheard someone say that you can get a $75 discount if you use the promo code “SIC” in the checkout.

One Trick Ponies Get Shot (Strategy for Services Companies)

This was my favorite session of the whole conference. Ian Lurie has boiled down his 20 years of experience running an agency to some very succinct principles. The biggest takeaway: as time goes by, your tactics look more and more like a commodity in the eyes of your customer. So if your business model is based on a tactic (like SEO), you are setting yourself up to get fired. At first your client loves you. There is so much room for improvement, so many easy wins. You look like a rock star! But over time the law of diminishing returns sets in. The client starts requesting an hourly breakdown of your work for the month, and then comes the email that says “we need to talk”. Ouch!

The problem is that you are selling a tactic. The client isn’t buying a tactic. She’s buying an outcome. So make the outcome the product!

So the question becomes “what is strategy?” Strategy is not just changing the name of your SEO report. Strategy is not a goal. Strategy is not a plan. Strategy is an approach. Strategy tests, explains, and adjusts tactics in terms of an outcome.  Strategy drives good decision making. If everyone in your agency understands the underlying strategy, they will be able to make good decisions on the fly without constantly having to ask a “boss” what to do next.

The four components of strategy

According to Lurie, there are four components of strategy:

  1. Set goals
  2. Find parameters
  3. Use the feedback loop
  4. Deliberate repetition

Your goal (or goals) is a measurable outcome that defines success. If you reach this goal, it means you were successful. Maybe the goal is to increase revenue by $1,000,000. This is an outcome that the customer cares about!

Your parameters are your constraints, opportunities, and metrics.

  • Your constraints could be time and money, like “we have one year and we have a budget of $500,000”.
  • Your opportunities are things you notice that could have a big impact. Maybe the client has terrible site design. Maybe their SEO is crap. Maybe they’re not utilizing PPC. These are opportunities for improvement. You should make a list of these opportunities.
  • Your metrics are things like number of leads, customer lifetime value, and conversion rate. You can do calculations to predict the economic impact if certain things happen… for instance, you might say “if we can increase conversion rate by just .5%, we can reach our goal (if everything else stays the same). These kinds of calculations can help you narrow down your list of opportunities to those with the best chance to enable you to meet your goals.

The feedback loop is basically a framework for evaluating ideas. This was my favorite part of the presentation.

decision feedback loop

Ian Lurie’s decision feedback loop


You take each tactic and idea and put it through this loop. Can we do it in a year and with a budget of $500k? If not, then toss it. But if it does pass this test, then you have to ask “what’s the primary impact?” Will it increase SEO traffic by 50%? Increase conversion rate by .5%? Will these metrics enable you to reach your goals? If so, marvelous! Then you look at the secondary impact, and the cost.

Then you have deliberate repetition. Schedule regular meetings to make sure that the outcome remains the focus, and to come up with new ideas. And then schedule regular check-ins to pitch your ideas (which have survived the feedback loop) to the customer.

Wow, that’s a lot. The SlideShare is embedded below. And Lurie wrote a book about this, called One Trick Pony, if you’re interested.

The Paradox of Exceptional Marketing

Rand Fishkin at Seattle Interactive Conference 2014Boy is Rand Fishkin a good speaker. You can tell that he’s a guy that likes to make connections between seemingly disparate things. And he’s got mad presentation skills.

It’s obvious that he’s been watching Cosmos. He tied marketing together with the Fermi Paradox.

Stay with me here…

In the Fermi Paradox, there is a thing called The Great Filter. This is a stage in evolution which civilizations throughout the universe cannot pass, except by freak accident. This explains why we have not heard from intelligent civilizations (despite the fact that there should be at least 100,000 intelligent civilizations in our galaxy alone, statistically speaking). And this is just like… marketing!

There are so many voices out there screaming for our attention. How do we break through the great filter? How do we become the signal, and not the noise?


Marketing’s 6 Great Filters: Audience, Message, Cost, Serendipity, Competitive Advantage, and Flywheel

Here are some ways to break through the great filter:

If you have great customers today, find a way to identify and target their clones.

Figure out who your best customers are. Look at all the data on them. Find people who are just like them. There are many different techniques you could use to do this (for instance Facebook Lookalike Audiences). That could make a whole different post.

Know what your audience does before they search for you or your solution

Let’s say you’re an executive coach. Before your customer searches for something like “executive coaches Portland”, they’ll probably search for a lot of other things. Maybe they’ll search “how to achieve work/ life balance”. Maybe they search for “how to create a positive culture in your business”. If you can reach these people here, you are ahead of the game. The search results should be less competitive, and you’re building your brand ahead of time!

Even a small element of virality is worth repeated investment and testing

If you can think of a way to get your audience to spread the word about you, then test it. Viral marketing can be extremely powerful. Look at “Ello”. Remember Ello? It was like the new big thing a week or two ago. So, how did this tiny little thing gain so much traction? One of the ways was through the use of a “by invitation only” setup. People were all over social media looking for and offering invites. Another example is Dropbox. You get free storage space when your friend signs up using your referral link.

Early adoption gives unfair advantage

If you are among the first people to write about a new subject, you can become the authority. Rand talked about how Mark Traphagen was the first to publish a guide to Ello. Then, when anyone would write about Ello they would link to him. This enabled him to build up his authority in Google. He now dominates the first page of Google for Ello related queries like “ello user guide”.

If you’re among the first to advertise on a platform like Twitter or Facebook, the competition is low. You can get results for a very low price as compared to mature platforms like AdWords.

Notice things that resonate offline (in conversations, etc.) and create content about it online

If you’re observant in your conversations with clients and colleagues, you may notice that you keep hearing certain things over and over again that haven’t been covered online. This is a great opportunity to create helpful content that will get links, and will bring exposure to your brand.

This post could get really long… so here are the other key takeaways:

        • Apply what you learn about conversion optimization in paid advertising to your inbound marketing efforts. Seems obvious, but many companies ignore this.
        • Consistency of message is important. Consistency of format is boring. Don’t be afraid to update the way your content looks. You don’t have to make everything look the same for the sake of consistency.
        • Powerful messages are simple. See if you can explain exactly what you do in a sentence.
        • It is easier to promote a cause or mission than it is to promote yourself or your company.
        • Spend early in unpaid channels. Build your competence here, and then apply what you learn to paid channels.
        • Measure acquisition channels by CLTV (customer life time value). Not just conversion rate. Maybe your conversion rate through PPC is lower than through SEO. Does that mean you should double down on SEO and ease up on PPC? Not if your PPC leads have a much higher CLTV. You should do the math and base your decisions on actual revenue.
        • Create systems which qualify your leads automatically, if possible. Having sales people manually qualify each lead is a drain on resources, unless you have a very low lead volume.
        • Do the stuff that’s not exactly quantifiable to create serendipity. Go to dinners and events. Have coffee with people. Volunteer and network. All of these points of contact create more opportunities for serendipity. And the fact that these things aren’t measurable keeps much of your competition from doing it. This gives you a competitive advantage.
        • Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. Press your strengths. Don’t get complacent.
        • Competition is not the biggest thing that’s holding you back. Don’t use that as an excuse.
        • Get the flywheel rolling!

Here’s the SlideShare from Rand’s presentation:


SIC 2014 was SICK!

Seattle Interactive Conference was a blast. There was such a wide variety of topics, from high level strategic thinking down to the very tactical. It’s always refreshing and inspirational to talk to industry colleagues and to hear talks from industry thought leaders. Next conference: Searchfest 2015!

Posted in Marketing.

Brent Baltzer is a digital marketing expert & is the founder of Baltzer Marketing - a digital marketing agency for law firms.

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