Episode 57 – Don’t follow the digital marketing crowd

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Episode 57 – Don’t follow the digital marketing crowd

a hand raising out of flowers in a field | Don’t follow the digital marketing crowd | Sideways8

My guest on the show today is Raj Choudhury. (Chowdry) Raj manages and inspires the teams that produce stellar work every day at BrightWave, the leading email marketing agency that elevates eCRM and cross-channel programs. Raj brings over 20 years of entrepreneurial agency experience to the BrightWave team. He co-founded Spunlogic in 1998, leading it to become one of the largest privately held digital agencies in Atlanta. It was acquired in 2008 by Halyard Capital to form Engauge. That agency was acquired with its 275 employees in 2013 by Publicis Groupe and then merged internally with Moxie, creating the largest digital agency in the Southeast. Additionally, Raj participates as a board member and advisor for a number of non-profit groups, including Everybody Wins! Atlanta and the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership (ABLP).

Highlights from this Conversation

    1. What has worked well for you?
      1. Email is working well.
      2. Multi-channel approach, one channel helps another
      3. Email is a huge ROI driver
      4. Have to look at marketing from a broader picture
      5. Create content at scale, create good content in an efficient way
    2. What hasn’t worked well that we can learn from?
      1. Display ads – because our behavior tends to be to tune it out
      2. Facebook – pay to play environment
      3. If everyone was doing it before, stop doing it now
      4. Don’t follow the digital marketing crowd



    1. Don’t go after the shiny object
  1. What are you excited about?
    1. Technology changing our world
    2. Products and tools to micro-target and create scale and content for those micro-targets
      1. Don’t measure yourself against old standards
      2. Micro-targeting over blast mentality

Interview Transcript

Adam: [00:00:07] Hi, and welcome to the Good People, Good Marketing podcast, a podcast about digital marketing and how to make it better so that good people and good organizations can have good marketing as well. I’m your host, Adam Walker, co-founder of Sideways8, a digital marketing agency and 48in48 a nonprofit dedicated to hosting events that build forty-eight websites for forty-eight nonprofits in forty-eight hours.


[00:00:30] My guest today is my friend Raj Choudhury.  Raj manages the team at BrightWave a leading email marketing agency that elevates ECRM and cross-channel programs. Raj brings to the table over twenty years of entrepreneurial experience with first co-founding Spun Logic in 1998, which went on to be sold and become one of the largest privately held agencies in Atlanta. Then they became engaged and then they were acquired again by a publicist group in 2013 to become Moxie, which was the largest digital agency in the entire southeast. Additionally, Raj participates as a board member and adviser on a number of nonprofit groups, including Everybody Wins, Atlanta and the Atlanta Beltline Partnership. Raj, it’s really a pleasure to have you on the podcast. I’m excited to chat with you.


Raj: [00:01:22] Great, great to be here, Adam.


Adam: [00:01:23] Yeah, well thanks, man. It’s always good to spend time with you and I always appreciate the insights you have and now I can capture those insights and we can share them with a larger group of people, so this should be a lot of fun.


Raj: [00:01:37] Absolutely, yeah.


Adam: [00:01:38] Alright, well let’s dive on in, man. So related to digital marketing, can you tell me something that you’re seeing that’s working well?


Raj: [00:01:47] Yeah, obviously I’m perhaps biased being on the email side these days, but certainly email is working extremely well, but that’s not to say that from a channel perspective that’s the only channel, so from my perspective from a digital marketing perspective and if you go broader, what works really well in overall marketing is basically a holistic approach into kind of a multi-channel approach. So where you can see one channel helping another channel and seeing left across or performance across and so forth. As it relates to the world that I live in today with BrightWave, it’s very focused on utilizing the data you know, if you will and using that to create relevance and create targeting and creating the right kind of messaging techniques. And in my world right now, email’s probably one of the largest ROI drivers for that because you really do know everything you’ve already been contacted by the customer. The customer is actually wanting to engage with you and we have enough data today to actually be meaningful to our customers as opposed to our brand kind of just blasting out our aspects out there. So I still even if I deal with a single channel I always take a multi-channel approach because I know historically when you deal with marketing you have to look at it from a broader picture. You can’t look at it from a single channel or a single tactic as a whole. If you do you’re really leaving a lot on the table. I’ve said the other aspect of things is that what’s working well, specifically in the digital world, is ability to create content at scale, right?


[00:03:48] You know, Adam, I think you and I are old enough to know that digital marketing has evolved greatly and our ability to actually create and automate content at a high scale has become even more efficient and that really brings relevancy back into the end customer. At the end of the day, we only want to put something in front of our clients, in front of our prospects, in front of our brand that advocates whatever it may be, that’s going to be timely and relevant. Everything else is noise and unfortunately, you got channels like Display that although there’s a lot of good targeting with ad units, those have become by and large ineffective because often times it’s hard to tie in the relevant type of content to the end person who’s seeing that. Now there is good targeting you can get much more granular these days, but the technology that exists today has really allowed us to basically create a lot of unique content in a fairly efficient way, whereas, before it was extremely labor intensive to actually create good creative, good content out there, so I think that’s working really well. Brands and nonprofits and so forth who are actually taking content and content matrix season strategies seriously as part of their overall digital marketing efforts will actually yield very, very good results.

Adam: [00:05:20] Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I love that. You’re creating content and scale, good content in an efficient way. That’s really, really good. Okay, so next question then related to digital marketing, can you tell me what’s not working well that we can learn from?


Raj: [00:05:34] Sure, I kind of mentioned displays not working very well these days and that’s just really because our behavior as kind of digital nomads if you will, has created an ability for us to tune that out. That doesn’t say that display shouldn’t still happen. I think display is still an important aspect of our overall digital advertising and marketing campaign because it still creates some level of brand advocacy and so forth. But by and large, there’s a lot of channels that were working and that we spend a lot of time on that are not working. As an example, Facebook organic content is no longer working and we’ve known this for a couple of years now. Yet you still see a lot of people spending a lot of money and time on that. Facebook to the extent is really a pay to play type environment, right, and the content creation around that still matters 100%, but organically thinking that many followers are going to somehow get you lifted up in the feed is unrealistic anymore, so those are not working. I would say if it was a mainstream aspect a while ago, stop for a moment. There’s unique aspects. The fantastic thing about digital in general is that there’s always something new that’s being created or some new method of getting to our end customers, if you will and whatever those purposes may be, maybe it’s acquisition, maybe it’s retention, maybe it’s brand advocacy or storytelling or whatever it is. So there’s always new things, so don’t follow the crowd and instead look for those kind of unique opportunities. I’d say the other aspect is that digital allows us really a very unique environment to operate within, which is that we can stand up campaigns and we can test our different new technologies and different new channels in a fairly cheap manner and so our ability to test and be okay with testing and be okay with the failures is one of the biggest advantages we have as digital marketers. And often times it’s surprising how many brands don’t take advantage of that. It’s a low-cost entry way to get in and test something and prove it out and guess what, all the numbers are there for you to prove ROI. So don’t underestimate trying to find the white space where no one else is trying something or trying new stuff. There is no downside. There’s the downside of certainly time and effort, but it’s much less than other types of larger marketing initiatives you can do whether it’s physical marketing or print and advertising TV and so forth.


Adam: [00:08:44] Yeah, you’re totally right. I mean if the giant billboard campaign fails miserably you’ve invested a whole lot of money, time and effort into it, but if a digital campaign fails I mean you can try something and fail within a few days and move onto the next thing having spent virtually no money at all and very little time.


Raj: [00:08:57] Yeah, absolutely and I’d say one of the aspects about digital marketing is that I do think often times of what hasn’t worked well is when just you go after the shiny object just from a tactical standpoint, right? Often times we think about tactics within search or tactics within email or tactics within Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or whatever, but you have to always bring it back to the fundamentals of marketing. And the fundamentals are basically storytelling, relevance and brand positioning. Often times it’s surprising how many times I see campaigns that are not really leveraging on the branding positioning of an organization, right, when that should be the forefront thought in the overall strategy and the tactic is basically within how you’re using the channel to basically emphasize an overall marketing position. So always take a step back and think about the fundamentals of marketing, what are they? They don’t change between digital and traditional and direct and PR and so forth. It starts with basically a strong brand, a strong positioning, and the story you’re trying to tell within that, that’s relevant and makes sense to the end customer you’re trying to get to.


Adam: [00:10:30] Absolutely, love that, love that. Okay, so then last question related to digital marketing, tell me something you’re excited about.


Raj: [00:10:38] Yes so I mean I’m obviously a big follower of technology, right, how technology is really changing our world. My fundamentals and how I think about it is that data is the core and the value we drive is the decisioning we can make and then the delivery, whether it’s email or search or website or Facebook or whatever is just the delivery method that’s really become a commodity if you will. So what I’m truly excited about is the amount of products and tools out there that are allowing us to basically micro-segment, micro-target, and also create scale and content for that. And I almost challenge our entire industry in saying that we’ve been too complacent in standard metrics. So often times, I’m sure you have this Adam as well, what is average click-through rate that I should be looking at? What is the average open rate I should be looking at? What is the average conversion rate I should be looking at? And we measure ourselves against these standards, which are frankly old standards. One of my colleagues recently had a great saying, he said, we’re super excited when we have a thirty or 40% open rate on an email campaign as an example and it’s like that’s fantastic. You’d be jazzed if you had that, right? But, he said, the fundamental question is that if we’re seeing a thirty to 40% open rate that means sixty to 70% of people we’re sending this to, don’t care, right? Should we not be caring about that? And …


Adam: [00:12:26] Right, yeah, that’s true. I mean if they were truly engaged why isn’t it 90%, 80%?


Raj: [00:12:30] Exactly and so somehow in the mixture of these kind of stats and we have so much analytics available to us, we’ve gone away from understanding. He’s right, absolutely we should be striving, what happened to that 70% and you know what, we have the ability to basically micro-target to the individual. We have the ability to know when someone’s actually going to find a piece of content and offer something meaningful at the right time, but yet we still have a blast mentality out there and as an industry, we still have to challenge. Then I go back to fundamentals and marketing like old school marketing those are the fundamentals and for me, that’s what I’m excited about. I’m excited about the amount of data and the amount of decisioning ability with products that are pushing through, you know AI engines, machine learning and so forth to allow us to micro-segment that data and naturally find the right kind of audience who actually going to be receptive to the right type of content so we can have numbers that are meaningful instead of wasting dollars or filling our inboxes with a bunch of crap, frankly.


Adam: [00:13:51] Yeah, I love that, I love that. Wow, I mean I love the idea of micro-targeting over blast mentality, that’s the note that I took there and I think that’s really, really smart. Well, Raj, let me see if I can recap our conversation here and give a little summary and then you can tell me if you have anything to add to it. So related to digital marketing for what has worked well you said obviously email’s working well. It’s what you do so I was very much expecting that response, but more specifically a multi-channel approach is still working well, so it can’t be only email. It’s going to be email and something else, but email is a huge ROI driver. Also, you mentioned having to look at marketing from a broader picture, so we can’t get pigeonholed into one type of tool or one type of service or one type of thing, we have to look at it from a broader picture. And then lastly, creating content at scale to create great content and in an efficient manner because we’re able to create content that’s higher quality, more quickly than we’ve ever been able to before and for really a more demanding audience than ever before as well. For number two,  related to digital marketing, what’s not working well that we can learn from? You said display ads because our behavior tends to be to tune them out, which I totally agree with. Facebook is a pay to play environment so just getting a big following on Facebook isn’t really doing any good because you really got to boost posts or do all kinds of other advertising to pay for in order to really make that work.


[00:15:158] And you mentioned this as well, which I thought was really great, you said don’t follow the digital marketing crowd. So if everyone was recently doing it, that probably is not the thing to be doing at this moment. There’s probably something else beyond that that we can be doing and looking at and so I think we’ve got to kind of keep our eyes on the horizon and determine what is coming down the pipeline at us that we can look at and we can jump onto to try to get ahead of that crowd. And you said obviously don’t get caught up on the shiny objects, with digital marketers it’s really easy you get caught up in the newest technology, the newest tools, but don’t get caught up on the shiny objects.


[00:15:49] And then last for number three related to digital marketing, what are you excited about? You said technology that’s changing our world and in particular products and tools that micro-target and create scale and content for those micro-targeted in those micro groups and so you mentioned don’t measure yourself against old standards, so like a click-through rate, what does that even really mean? If it’s just a click-through rate of everyone versus a click-through rate of your particular micro-target and so micro-targeting over a blast mentality is what’s really important there. So did I miss anything from that recap?


Raj: [00:16:24] No, I think you did a fantastic job with the recap, absolutely. Perhaps I would add one element to your first question. Obviously, I’m going to talk about email, but I’d be hard pressed for you to find another channel that has a higher ROI and, and I’ll give you my take on why I think that is. I think the reason for that is that that’s the channel where you’re closest to the data, literally closest to the data. You know exactly who they are, you know their transactional behaviors, you know when they like to hear from you and when they don’t want to hear from you. You have every single piece of data and you can augment that data with other channels as well to give you even higher insights and also use that insight to influence other channels as well.

Adam: [00:17:17] Yeah, absolutely.


Raj: [00:17:18] And often times we think about it to singular as a single channel. That’s why I go back to like it works well when you bring all channels together and think about an overall channel, if you will an orchestration, right, architecture.


Adam: [00:17:32] Right, I love that, yeah and I totally agree I think email provides a lot more data than people even realize. There’s just so much more to see.


Raj: [00:17:41] Yeah, there’s a kind of, maybe a joke in my industry, right, is that you can just blast out email and it works. In other words, you can be shitty at what you do in email and it still works.


Adam: [00:18:00] Right, yeah that’s true. [Inaudible 00:18:00] you’re not going anywhere.


Raj: [00:18:05] Yeah, but unfortunately that’s the issue with email is that because it’s so easy and because it still performs, there’s a lot of crappy emails out there.


Adam: [00:18:16] Yeah, it’s true, it’s true, yeah.


Raj: [00:18:16] And so I mean we strive certainly to kind of refine that down to what really was meaningful to the customer, not what’s meaningful to the brand.


Adam: [00:18:23] Wow, that’s great. Well, Raj, man this has been really, really helpful, really informative. I really appreciate your insights and would love to have you back on another time.


Raj: [00:18:32] Great, appreciate it.


Adam: [00:18:33] Thanks.


Raj: [00:18:34] Thanks, Adam.


Adam: [00:18:39] Thanks for listening to the Good People, Good Marketing podcast. To get more resources about digital marketing, make sure to go to goodpeoplegoodmarketing.com where you can find more podcasts, blogs, and other fun resources. Also, if you want to find me your host, you can find me on Twitter @AJWalker and on my blog at adamjwalker.com where I blog about leadership, productivity, habit building in the craziness of having five kids. Thanks, and tune in next time.


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