Imagine the inevitable Future of Marketing with 50 billion connected devices! How will marketing change and what role will brands and consumer play?
In our previous interviews on the future of marketing, we touched on topics such as Marketing Fundamentals, Personal Branding, Content Brands, Customer Brands, Creativity, Big Data, Customer Experience, Thought Leadership, the Future of Search, the Science of Marketing and many more…
Today’s interview is with Lee Odden (@LeeOdden). Lee is the author of Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing. He is also a speaker, blogger, consultant and the CEO of TopRank Online Marketing, a digital marketing and online PR agency that specializes in a 360 degree approach to growing new business and enriching both brand and community engagement online.
1. How did you get your start in the industry?
This goes waaaay back in the archives of my memory. In 1997 I started working for a company that sold websites specialized for certain vertical markets. There I was able to sell and create more robust websites which required some marketing to drive traffic. Thus began my foray into search engine optimization.
In 2001 I joined with Susan Misukanis to start a digital PR and marketing agency. TopRank started as a product/service that we offered in conjunction with public relations services. The TopRank part of the business eventually grew in popularity and revenue to the point that we renamed the company to TopRank Online Marketing.
With the agency I began as a contractor, then became an employee, then partner and a few years after took on the CEO role. All along that journey, the importance of content and integrating optimization with publicity played a key role in being able to win clients like McKesson, a $100 billion healthcare technology company, CA, HP, Radian6, Marketo, StrongMail and many others. It’s refreshing to see the explosive popularity of the marketing approach and tactics that we’ve been evangelizing for over 10 years.
2. What is the biggest challenge facing your industry?
I guess “my industry” means the digital marketing consulting industry.
I think there are a lot of inherent challenges in the marketing field, but one that I see affecting quite a few agencies and their clients is the squeeze by search engines like Google and social media platforms like Facebook to reduce the ability to achieve marketing goals organically. The alternative of course, is to advertise.
Search engines monetize based on ads run next to organic results and a lot of that content comes from companies. But increasingly, Google rates the best content as non-commercial and that moves companies down in favor of sites like Wikipedia and in some cases, some of Google’s own content.
Additionally, the masking of referring keyword data makes it increasingly difficult to use tried and true content optimization tactics to improve marketing performance of pages. When you can’t tell which keyword phrase sent an organic search visitor to your site, how can you modify content to optimize discovery, engagement and conversion? There are workarounds for this, but the fact remains that the only way to get search phrase referring data is if you are an advertiser.
For the social media squeeze, look no further than Facebook where brand fan page messages only reach a fraction of the people that have opted-in to see those messages. Unless of course you pay to promote your Facebook updates.
I think there will always be ways to create valuable content and experiences for customers without buying advertising, but the rules of that game are changing fast and more agencies are being forced by necessity to enter the search and social media advertising game. This challenge can be overcome, but for many digital marketing agencies that have relied on SEO and organic social media, it can be a difficult transition.
3. What is the method to your blogging success? What inspires your blogs?
TopRank’s Online Marketing Blog has been publishing for over 9 years and that’s a lot of time to experiment. The method to our blogging success is to balance content created specifically to attract and engage the audiences we’re after with personality and self expression of our writers. Fortunately we have a great group of marketing smarties at our agency who can contribute from time to time, plus Miranda Miller has been a huge help this year.
An editorial calendar identifies specific topics we know are in demand by the kinds of companies who would hire our marketing consulting agency. That plan also offers flexibility to create opportunistic content from a major industry change to newsjacking to an unplanned interview with a top industry marketing executive.
Optimization as defined in my book, Optimize, is a continuous effort to improve performance. That’s what we’re doing with the blog: optimizing our performance topically to meet the information needs of our readers and at the same time, inspiring new business inquiries, requests for interviews by the media, speaking gigs and employment inquiries.
We layer our content plan to allow for short posts with practical examples that are customized for the vertical markets where our prospects are to longer form opinion and thought leadership posts that resonate with senior executives and industry media.
We look at data and we use intuition based on 12 years of working in the industry and actively participating at conferences and on social networks. We have over 300,000 connections on our networks and that inspires a lot of great ideas.
4. What do you think is the future of social media?
If you want to play, you need to bring your game on the social web. Social media is dynamic in terms of the technologies being developed and in terms of consumer behaviors.
According to a study by Ericsson, by 2020 there will be over 50 billion connected devices. All of those devices from smartphones to tablets to watches will empower consumers to create, collaborate, publish, interact and transact anytime, anywhere. The future of social media is ubiquity in information access, collective wisdom and how people connect with each other. Let’s just hope all that connectivity doesn’t replace the kinds of connections that matter most – in real life.
5. What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?
First, make a commitment and identify your goals. What do you want to accomplish? Be ambitious or keep it modest, but make a commitment and stick to it.
Identify a “home base” whether it’s a blog, a video channel or some other social network account. Focus on that home base first and develop a profile.
At the same time, pay attention to what others that you look up to are doing. What are they publishing? How do they interact? Learn from observing and experimentation on your own.
At first you may have no engagement, no reactions, comments or re-shares. That’s ok. I didn’t have comments on my blog for months! If I let that discourage me, I would never have seen our business grow the way it has.
6. Where can we find you on the web?
Now it’s your turn: Let me know what you think in the comments below. And please follow along on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ or Subscribe to the B2B Marketing Insider Blog for regular updates.