Is your business COVID proof? — Talk Marketing Tuesday 008 — Alex Thomson
Martin: Good afternoon Mr Thomson.
Alex: Good afternoon Mr Henley. How are you?
Martin: I’m well thanks man, how are you?
Alex: I’m very good thank you it’s a pleasure to see you.
Martin: Yeah it’s good to see you too man. So, listen, thanks ever so much for agreeing to spend this time with me. I’ve given you a sense of what this is all about. I’m interested to get different marketing perspectives, my big thing, the theme of everything I’m doing at the moment is why don’t people understand marketing and why don’t they invest in marketing. You know as well as I do this is how you get to be successful in business but people don’t want to do the one thing that they need to do to make that happen which is their marketing. That’s my angle at the moment but it doesn’t have to be your angle, that’s absolutely fine.
Where I’m coming from with you is … I’m getting different people’s perspectives so like I’ve told you Ed was the first person I spoke to; he was working in marketing agencies in the 70s; Jem was working in digital marketing since 1992, before there was a web. I’m thinking of you guys, I know you started your business three-four years ago, you are clearly much younger than the rest of us so I’m thinking of you guys as the young guns and I’m expecting to get a different perspective. How does that sound?
Alex: It’s perfect. I’ll give you a bit of a recap of where I started and where I am today and part of that involves you as you know so. I started, let’s say, my marketing journey in the events industry. My life before being a digital marketeer was as an event organiser, DJ and music producer. I used to do that in the UK, and Amsterdam, and Malta and, for me, social media was my secret weapon, the elder generation of people in music hadn’t quickly adapted to it and because I was there from the days of high five and everything else I was able to communicate quicker with younger crowds and that was my secret weapon.
As a DJ I had the weapon of social media from the very early days which helped me rise up and find that as something interesting. I studied in Amsterdam and got my degree in Audio Production, it must have been seven or eight years ago. I got robbed, essentially, by a venue that took absolutely everything. They had made me pay everything out for three months, that’s all the events, all the expenses and everything, that was sometimes normal in our relationship but then come 01st of January the manager came hugged me and said I’m so sorry and I was like what was this guy doing? It was New Year’s Eve, I had a few drinks, wasn’t paying attention, next morning I went back to get my pay check, the entire place was desserted. Within eight hours they had emptied the place, left, and so I was out of pocket for the three months backwards, that’s usually what you use to live off in the entertainment industry, or in my case, for January, February and March.
That’s when I took a course with this crazy tutor who kept throwing toy soldiers at us. His name was, I think, Martin Henley. I already had a couple of side clients for social media marketing, just on my own. From the course I got the view and realised this is huge and wow, there’s a huge thing here, more than just social media and that’s where it went. I started my business, I met my business partner six years ago and after nine months or so of working together we built Growth Gurus which is the digital marketing agency we run today. So that’s how I went from partying around the world to sitting in an office.
Martin: Okay, cool, right. I had no idea you got robbed, I’m sorry about that man.
Alex: It happens.
Martin: Okay, it does happen. So remind me when you sat the course, it was the DMI course wasn’t it? The Digital Marketing Institute course that we did in Malta, when was that? Must be six or seven years ago? I think maybe 2014, I don’t remember the exact date, 2015.
Alex: Yeah, okay so maybe five or six years ago, that makes sense.
Martin: Okay, how did you end up on the course? You were doing some freelancing already were you?
Alex: Yeah, I was, I already had a few good clients. Good, just for one guy on his own, figuring out social media. I had a few, a couple of good clients, and I really wanted to see how I could expand that service offering since. I had no intention of trying to make my money back in the events industry, feeling a bit burnt from that, it just seemed like a nice way to build a more stable nine to five instead of five to nine life. It had always been an interest of mine. I was born in 1991, in March, and then the internet came out in August 91. So I’m basically three months older than the internet, so we’ve grown together.
Martin: When Facebook came out, you know in, what was it 2007 right, is that when it came out?
Alex: Something like that, I get confused, yeah something like that. I spent so much time on it. I was thinking one day, I really need to figure out how to make some money off this bloody platform because I’ve spent so long on this platform; I need to get some return. That was always my mentality and the moment someone was like oh you’re quite good with that Facebook thing, can it help my business? I was like yeah 500 euros a month please, I’ll show you how to do it. So that that’s how it started but then I realised there’s gonna be a lot more to it which is how I ended up on the course.
Martin: Okay cool, that was a good course wasn’t it? I think that was the second or third course that I ran in Malta. I ended up running like 15 or 16, it was it was mad.
Alex: That was highly recommended.
Martin: Yeah yes I highly recommended it until you left. Yeah, yeah, because then I got feedback from a lot of people, we went but there wasn’t that nutter guy you were talking about, it wasn’t as good. I was like well I’ll stop recommending it. Okay, cool. That was very nice of you. So that answers the question how you’re qualified to talk about marketing. You were marketing yourself previously as a DJ, using social to do that and doing well out of it, then you picked up large events and festivals and stuff like that too. Okay cool, then you picked up a couple of freelance clients, then you thought okay we need to invest more in this and you joined the course and then you started your agency shortly after that. Your agency must be four or five years old now?
Alex: We were five in January. I’m on a little island called Malta for those that are watching, with a population of half a million and 49 marketing agencies. I figured out the top, well at the time there were a bit less, but I had researched the top ten, got an interview at four or five of them, the rest just blatantly turned me down. The ones that gave me an interview said no and then I found this one crazy guy who gave me an offer. I was just looking for some part-time work but I was happy to work full-time, and now, I’m not saying it, but our clients call us one of the top three digital marketing agencies in Malta. So I’m very happy I didn’t get the job and got to build my own digital marketing agency on the island. I’m quite happy with where we’re at.
Martin: Cool, oh that’s really cool. You called your agency Growth Gurus so I’m guessing that you’ve tied yourself in quite closely with the sales side of things, is that right? Well rather than me guess why don’t you just tell me how does the agency operate?
Alex: Sure. We offer quite a variety of services. The usual customer journey with us would start off with your onboarding workshop and then we go into into your strategy. Through the strategy we look at different items, it’s not only the external but also internal. We work with a lot of B2B, that’s quite a large part of what we do, especially being based in Malta. It’s a very service driven country rather than e-commerce, there’s more budget, we find in the B2B side of things, and more opportunity. We do internal workshops, a lot of companies might give us leads but we need more.
There’s the internal CRM side of things and then of course their external digital facade. We offer all branding services and we then do all the web development that’s required, design and development, UX, that sort of that stuff, any form of SEO that’s needed and then we go into the campaigns. What we aim to be, or what we are, is your marketing department that are just remote working for you. We really, really, get good and tight with our clients and we make sure we develop a relationship that’s mutually beneficial but it’s very open, transparent and clear, and everything we do is with the goal of helping your business grow.
If you’re asking us to do things that aren’t going to help your business grow we’re quite happy to tell you no and why, but then we are happy to push you into the direction of this is how it’s going to help you grow. Our ethos, or our core purpose is really to to just help businesses grow whatever that may mean. Sometimes we do recruitment campaigns, those go really well for clients, saves them a lot of costs because we just treat it like a marketing campaign rather than having to pay recruitment fees. Any way we can leverage digital to help a company grow we go for it, it’s not always just about the marketing.
Martin: Okay, cool. Who are your clients typically, are they based in Malta or are they overseas?
Alex: We started off thinking Malta was going to be too small and there was already so much competition so we started off with a lot of Canadian and American clients because of the networks that we had. As time went by and those networks diminished, because we weren’t so close with those people anymore, we focused a lot more on more European clients. Now I’d say it’s about 50/50. Three or four years ago we had fifty percent of our clients abroad and fifty percent in Malta. Now what we find is that we have a lot of clients who are set up in Malta just because it’s quite beneficial if you’re a foreigner to set up your your company in Malta because of favourable taxes and things. We get a lot of clients that we get to work with who have their headquarters in Malta but their main production or offices elsewhere. It’s really a mix but it’s it’s generally like 50/50 from Maltese to foreign owned companies.
Martin: Okay, cool. So it’s B2B clients. Is there a particular sort of B2B clients that that you’re attracting, that you’re working with, are there similar industries or …
Alex: It would be nice to have a niche that we are focused on but being in Malta they need to be quite spread. At the moment we’re 80% B2B and 20% B2C. On the B2B side of things it’s usually around the tech or gaming side of things. We also have quite a few training companies, academies. Some large-scale clients, we’ve worked with Burger King, Pizza Hut, PWC, the whole myriad of different companies from different corners of the globe and services.
Martin:Okay, so you’re not niching then, you know that that’s bad, you know that you should be niching. I’ve never believed in it myself. I don’t care. I position myself and whoever finds me finds me, that’s the way I felt about it. I don’t particularly need to know about their industry, they can know about their industry, I know about the marketing and together we make it happen so that’s what I always did. How do you go about winning your clients, what does your marketing look like?
Alex: Smiling really, just walking around smiling and then people come. No. We use all the different digital channels available. We do very well on Google PPC locally, we’ve got quite a quite a good budget for that; then we do Facebook and Linkedin. We spend more on Google and use that quite a lot for prospecting. We find warm leads coming to us and then spend a lot on the remarketing through Facebook and the audience network.
For ourselves we don’t use it as much. We do programmatic display advertising for our clients, on the B2C side we use that quite a bit. We also network a lot. It’s been a bit tougher now but we we have quite a social team and not like social media, actually just very social with people and so we’ve built quite a good network that also refer us leads. We don’t rely on it but as we do good work that grows. I’d say it’s a mix of consistent brand awareness campaigns going out on LinkedIn and Facebook and quite heavy bidding on Google and then Re-marketing through Facebook and its audience network.
We suck at email so we don’t really do any email shit. A lot of networking events, when we’re allowed to, now more moving towards online events. We also did a ton of live shows, we did 40 of them, that really created a lot of brand awareness. We did between 20 minutes and half hour talks with anyone we could find who would listen or talk to us and we did it live with industry professionals. We did about 40 of them over two or three months and that really, really helped share our name in a time of darkness; you know when everyone was super confused, which was between May and July, mainly for more what is going on, we really capitalised on trying to shine a light by just finding industry professionals and asking them, hey would you talk about how AI could help or how this could help, or how music could help, or how comedy could help and really just got a wide spread of people. Just trying everything we can online all the time, there isn’t one winning formula that we stick to, it’s just try.
Martin: Okay, cool. I think that’s definitely the case so that answers the question, does it already, what it is that you do for your clients. Do you you try everything for them and you persist with what works is that the approach?
Alex: No. For ourselves we do that and we experiment a lot on ourselves. With our clients we’re a lot more diligent in the strategy and the research because we don’t want to waste any of their time or budget. We use ourselves and some clients that are happy with that approach to really try absolutely everything, see what sticks and and not be too fast exploring a new platform, like, okay, how are we going to make TikTok relevant for a B2B marketing agency we decided, even though we tried it out, it just didn’t seem like where we wanted to spend our time. We know what we can do and what we like, using our skill sets for our clients.
We usually spend quite a long time, two to four weeks is a long time, really researching and developing the strategy with them to make sure that it works in line with their resources. We don’t try to position ourselves as the agency that do everything for you, we’re the agency that will set up your structures, consult you and then even help you recruit the people to take over the basic tasks like social media posting, community management, even if they want their own graphic designers, so that we get to focus on the big picture stuff. We really love running and executing all of the campaigns so it varies, but each different client has their own specific strategy. At the moment we stick to the top dogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, bit of Twitter, programmatic display, SEO, PPC, content marketing, the normal bits and bobs.
Martin: The normal bits and bobs, certainly they are the mainstays. This is something that I’m interested to speak to you about because you are, how old are you, you’re 29 now are you? You were born in 91, yeah, yeah you’re 29. You have, like you say you’ve grown up with the the internet, so the internet’s always been available, or the internet has been available since you were three weeks old and since you were old enough to know what it was, you were using social media in your teens. I’m interested to know how you feel about that. the question is how do you feel about marketing? I’m getting a sense that you’re pretty excited about marketing.
Alex: I love it, I really do. I really enjoy it right now personally, because I’ve been doing it for so long. The company comes before my own personal interest, now its a lot more in the operations of the company and how it functions and really just focusing on optimising our internal services. My position is the CPS, Chief Problem Solver, whatever problems there are, bring them on, that makes me happy. I love also solving our clients problems. For the marketing itself I am now much more interested in having our heads of departments give us a presentation, like Wow, here’s the newest and coolest ways you could do marketing and then let’s try it with clients x y and z. I would say I love watching my team do awesome marketing. I personally have taken a bit of a step back from the actual execution to more focus on making sure our business is as optimised as possible.
Martin: Okay, cool. What is it that excites you about marketing? Is it the new and exciting opportunities or is it seeing success for your customers and for yourself? What is it that excites you about that?
Alex: I really like, my favorite customers are …. There’s two types. There’s the ones that really just need that digital transformation, they’re not sure what to expect, they need that hand-holding process to go from, we’ve got a really terrible website and we can’t spell SEO to everything’s working, they’re seeing it, they’re feeling it, and just going on that journey of growth. These are usually really old school, everything functions, and then being able to translate that into digital. I love that part of it.
The other side of it is companies that are more advanced, they’ve had so many different ideas and maybe over done their marketing department, so that they just have an absolute mess. We then get to go in and sort that out and structure it.
What really excites me is how it’s a service you provide, it has clear structures, but there’s always room for the artistic element in it. Whereas I don’t think you’d say the same about like IT Networking, maybe being a Lawyer is slightly, slightly artistic but Accountancy definitely isn’t. I love that marketing is a mixture of data-driven structures infused with creativity. You get to meet a whole wide variety of different people and help them reach their goals.
Yes. I think it’s a very Maltese perspective to think of lawyers as being creative but accountants not. I think that’s that’s a Maltese way. What I found in Malta was that everybody is complaining about other people breaking the law but no one’s allowed to say anything when they break the law themselves, personally I think that’s a Maltese perspective. For people who don’t know about Malta, like you say it’s a population of around half a million, it’s an island, it’s an hour by boat off the south of Sicily. Malta really punches above its weight in some spheres, there’s some really successful …. I’m thinking of Hotjar and there was another, internationally known digital marketing tool that I only recently found out was Maltese. I was surprised, I see their ads every day, it’s with an A. I can’t believe I’m not remembering it right now but I know, it’s an orange logo, I can visualise it I just can’t remember the name. There’s only 500 thousand of you man you should know, it must be your cousin who runs it.
This is what I do whenever I meet Maltese people, I will say that I know somebody you know and they don’t believe me and then I go on Facebook and we’ve got 300 shared connections or something.
Martin: So, tiny population, really interesting attitude to the law, really successful in terms of what you’re doing, really punching above your weight in terms of some technological type stuff, the gaming industry does really well there, lots of the big gaming companies are all based in Malta; so yeah, Malta is an interesting place. How is it selling to Maltese people?
Alex: Could you define the question, selling?
Martin: Well I’ve only ever had a couple of Maltese customers and I haven’t found it to be the … I think Maltese people are quite challenging buyers let’s put it that way.
Alex: Yeah they question a lot. There’s two types of of customers I think, I’m going to generalise, I’m not really thinking this through, just for anyone watching I have to speak and then rationalise while while I’m speaking I don’t have the ability to think before I say, so I need to be careful but I’m not very good at that. I think that, unlike foreigners that live in mother direct these people. You have the ones that think they know what they want but are looking to be guided, those are the ones that you can really develop a relationship for, when they know that they don’t know what they need.
Then you have the ones that think they know it all and it’s like, oh yeah just make a graphic put it on facebook have it done tomorrow, I’ll give you 50 euros for it. It’s like well, it doesn’t exactly work that way, it could, but you’re not going to get any results, so you really need to balance it out. Either try to educate the ones that think they know it all, or what they don’t know they don’t know and take them on that path or just cut losses and focus on the ones that are actually looking to develop their relationship. I’d say there’s two very polarising sides and that that often comes with the Maltese culture where we can be very welcoming or we can be very like no, we know it.
Yes and I think that’s not particularly a Maltese thing. I think there are those two kinds of clients. I think that’s almost universal. There’s something weird goes on when people come to buy marketing I think, I just think there is something weird that goes on and what I’ve always found is you turn up, or they invite you into their business because they don’t know anything and then you blow their minds and leave them hugely excited; by the time you go back for the second visit they’ve Googled everything and they know everything and they just want you to do this and to do that and to do something else. It does seem to me that that’s particular to marketing and not necessarily particular to Malta.
Yeah I do think Maltese people have a very particular character that’s you know … I really like it but it can be quite challenging. I suppose because you’re in such a small market, you are essentially half a million population, that’s not even as big as most cities in the uk for example, so that’s interesting.
Martin: You feel great about marketing, you are okay with this new technology stuff. I had a conversation with Jem and Jem was telling me how exciting it is, and how the internet evolves all the time, but it doesn’t seem to me that there’s really been an evolution since …the last thing was probably mobile apps and that was probably eight years ago. We have seen new social medias, now we’ve got Twitch, and there was TikTok, and before that there was Snapchat and all these things but it doesn’t seem to me like it’s evolving at pace. I’m not as close to it as I used to be but it doesn’t seem to me that there’s too much going on in the way of groundbreaking technology these days.
Alex: I think it just depends. I’m a very process driven person so the technology for me is just one of the tools you’re going to use. In the end, what I really believe all marketing is about is that you have a message, you need to get that message to the right people at the right time and ideally on the right platform. According to the different tools that you use, if you’re going for kids of course Snapchat and TikTok is going to be awesome is my presumption. I think the major revolution really was was social media and yes app marketing. I think the changes are really the nuance changes like what will be in a year, two years when there won’t be pixels anymore, so you can’t buy third-party data anymore, how does that impact really large companies who who really depend on it. I think right now a lot of the evolution on it is, since GDPR, these more legal changes that impact how we use the tools that we have at our disposal rather than what new tools there are.
Like you’re saying I don’t, maybe I’m not aware of it, but I haven’t seen any crazy, amazing major changes where I’ve gone wow we should really add in that that to our whole arsenal. Especially being on the b2b side of things we have the opportunity to wait a bit, we tried being the early adopters all the time and really what that brings is an uneducated client base, a lot of costs a lot of RFD and not always a return on investment. On the B2B side of things move slower, we get to capitalise on Linkedin, and Facebook and Google which have been around for decades at this point.
We watched technology evolve and I was very excited about VR and AR and I really thought that was going to come in. As soon as Facebook purchased Oculus I got all the sets and kits and everything. To this day I still have them in the boxes, in storage, after four years waiting for them to become the forefront of marketing, which they never really did, or maybe not in my world.
Martin: Yes, okay. So that’s interesting so and it seems to me thats the real challenge. It’s really good to hear you saying landing the right message on the right people and then you said the right platform. I always say the right time because that’s something I quote in my training and I think that’s that’s exactly the case. How do you feel about these platforms? It seems to me that the changes, one of the things I think, that stops people marketing …. well I think there’s two major things. There’s the jargon; marketing people are speaking junk, no-one knows what they’re talking about, so there’s the jargon that makes it really inaccessible. The second thing, I think, is these big platforms and the fact that they’re changing all the time and not necessarily in a useful way.
Google decides they want to change something on the UI and it changes globally, there’s no feedback, there’s no recourse, there’s no nothing. For example, when I was speaking to Jim on this channel he was saying that he does all these things. Jim is a printer in the uk and he’s always been at the forefront of all of the marketing. He rinsed SEO back in 2005 and 2006, before that he was rinsed PPC, then he rinsed social media. He gets into these things and rinses them but then he says the issue is that once you’ve set it up, if you’re one business, if you’re an agency you might be doing this all the time, but if you’re one business you set it up it runs for six months and you go back to look at it and it doesn’t look the way it did anymore and you have to relearn it all over again. It seems to me that one of the big challenges of marketing is the fact that these companies are changing things all the time, not necessarily for a good reason and that for me seems to be one of the challenges. How do you guys cope with that?
Alex: One thing before I answer that is you know the platform is going to optimise when it delivers the message to be at the right time. That’s why I now say to the right platform, the right message, the right people, on the right platform, instead of the right time. That’s been my little nuanced change because there’s no such thing as organic social anymore, except on maybe TikTok or Snapchat, but it’s not where where our agencies focus is. Because we do everything through paid media it’s we’re optimising when the message is going to be delivered to you based on your persona. We used you saying for a long time internally until one day we changed it from time to platform because we realised the platform would sort out the time for us.
Martin: Right so are saying you don’t have to worry about the time; the right people; the right message on the right people but you don’t have to worry about the time anymore because it’s the platform that does it for you?
Alex: To a certain degree, yeah. I’m speaking mainly from a Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram point of view, on Facebook and Instagram being on business manager. You aren’t going to need to worry about the time to a certain degree as it’s optimising. It knows each individual so well that it’s going to optimise it to serve the right ad so advertisers want to spend more. That’s why I really think it’s more about the right platform now. If it’s going to be B2B then make sure you’re focusing on LinkedIn, using its tools, and then once you’ve got them to your landing page you use Facebook and Instagram for consistent brand awareness and re-marketing to remind them of your initial core offering. Each of those tools is going to have its own algorithms, and functions, and optimises how it gets that message to your audience. I really believe you need a mix of platforms but certainly the right message, right people. Craft your message well, find out who your targets are, make sure your message is really suited to them and then optimise it for the platform that you’re trying to hit them on.
Martin: Okay. So two things. The first thing is we just glazed over the fact that there is no social social media marketing anymore it’s all paid now, so everything you do is paid?
Alex: From our side, yeah, pretty much. We do post to Instagram. Let’s say 90 percent of our service offering is paid. For some clients, like there was one client who did a great job with her name Sarah Young, she’s a wedding planner in Malta. She’s been doing it for about nine years and when she started working with us we had the mix of paid and organic. Our goal was to make her a celebrity in the international wedding planner world and within, it’s not a short time, after a year of hitting the right people, mainly focused on hashtags and leveraging how Instagram works, we got her recognised by some of them. She got offered to do a Ted talk, and then she was offered to do some events and then, as of last year she was flying around with the top 10 wedding planners in the world and doing conferences and all that stuff. It worked organically but there was a very clear purpose, there was a very clear target audience, which are the people we crafted the message for — look how awesome Sarah Young is, she’s worked with all of these people, this is what she can pull off, she’s a magician in wedding organisation. We knew the right audience and the platform to hit them on because we had done our homework.
So yeah, it does work, but even on the organic side of things it was about the platform for us rather than the time.
Martin: Okay, so that was an organic campaign that worked. I haven’t been marketing myself in the last five or six years. I’ve gone on with a few clients and I haven’t really had to explore this so very much. It shouldn’t be a shock. I was probably telling you this in 2015, you’re going to have to pay for everything but that’s actually the case now, 90% of what you do is paying for advertising? So essentially you are an ad buying agency for your clients or part of what you do is about buying ads? Okay, I just need to take stock of that now.
Alex: That’s my experience even influencers. Yeah, the same with influencers. These people build up on social followers but you’re gonna pay them to show off the product … like hey, sorry I’ve been playing with this pen, and I’m selling this pen, I’m an influencer. Obviously that’s not what they say or how it works but you’re still buying the attention, you’re going to pay them the 4 or 500 euros for the post or story, whatever they’re gonna do. It’s really the same thing. Even if you try to call that organic it’s not because you’re buying it. I would count organic as my brand creating some content, putting it out there and not spending on it. If you’re paying other people to advertise your content then I also count that as media buying, it’s just another way to hit an audience.
Martin: Okay. I suppose the whole thing, the benefit always, of paying for the advertising is that it is super trackable you can see exactly what you’ve spent and exactly what the return is. Are you getting involved on that level with your clients? Are you talking to them about cost of customer acquisition and lifetime values and those kinds of things?
Alex: Yeah, entirely. We go as far as, we do our own mystery shopping, we’ll pretend to be clients, we’ll get proposals from our clients and say look, this is how you need to optimise the sales process because you can’t just be sending, not even a PDF, the actual editable Powerpoint without any form of customisation and expect that to sell. This is what your competitors are doing. We really try to be your growth partners from all aspects of it. The digital tools are the key focus on our our sell point but there’s a lot of added work that we will do to to help you optimise it. Sometimes we could just leave the ads running because their ads are as good as they need to be and then really focus on how you follow up with your emails, how you treat your first interaction with the clients. Just sending them something generic doesn’t work, offer them a call to let them know you’re available. There’s a lot of things that a lot of maybe people watching this would take as as common sense because we’re in marketing, but not what companies always think of. We try to give them the holistic view of how it all works, it’s not just on us, we’re a part of it, yes, in terms of the return investment.
Martin: I suppose I’m lucky that I stopped offering services essentially, other than to clients which were always going to go on. I stopped before it became a pay-to-play situation. We used to run Facebook ads, it was a complete joy, before it got crazy expensive and crazy complicated. We’ve done paid PPC forever, so I’m familiar with those things. The only time, there was once when I used LinkedIn as an advertising platform to market one of my courses, my personal courses. They charged me £17 a click, it was only on for half a day thankfully because they would have bankrupted me. They were charging me £17 a click, they claimed 17 clicks or something so it was up at 340 pounds and only two of those turned up on my website and they were each there for like a second. Where I’m coming from, I definitely, definitely, definitely have a distrust of, certainly LinkedIn, but all of them. I don’t trust what it is they say they’re going to deliver. It feels to me like part of the reason that it’s so confusing is that people have that much less transparency, they can’t see what’s actually going on so they stay hooked in. That’s my feeling about it. Am I just being a cynical old prick or is there actually some value to be had?
Clearly, because you’re running your business like this there clearly is.
Alex: It’s both sides you know. I think that more and more the the platforms are getting complicated. Before I was a wiz at Facebook, I could do anything I wanted and literally after six months of not using it I went back to set up a campaign, because my head of campaigns wasn’t available, I said yeah I’ll take it over but it was majorly different. It’s still the same in principle, just like a couple of years back.
Linkedin, it used to be, still is, quite a bit more expensive than Facebook, I’m not sure if it’s gotten slightly cheaper or Facebook’s getting more expensive. We really have identified what you’d want to use each one for, they do have their own purposes. It really is about making sure you’re on top of of your max bid, to make sure that you’re not letting the platform choose for you, because yeah, then they are going to try and bankrupt you. What we found is if you do a bit of homework beforehand and then set things up we’re always going to save on budget and get a better job.
Obviously you don’t want to try and experiment, really just take it small, and bit by bit, to really find out what they’re going to charge us for a click and then working backwards. Saying okay. what if we put half a billion do we get any results? There’s a lot of more of this, I’d call it like minor testing so we actually cost the problem. We run a discovery campaign which is really just discovering how much these platforms are going to charge us to hit our audiences, then we check that with our clients and we say look, it’s going to cost, on LinkedIn, 50 euros a click for these people to go to the website, is that worth it to you? Sometimes they say yes and sometimes they say no.
So there’s a lot more feedback and transparency between us and the client. Before we positioned ourselves as us and our tools where you were doing you a favour. Now it’s us and the client contemplating how we use the tool. I feel that’s been our major shift as an agency, on the mindset. If you hire a carpenter he’s going to come with his sandpaper and his saw and you’re just going accept whatever tools he comes with. Whereas now, us and the client choose the tools we will use to get the job done based on the cost. They’re going to be involved.
Martin: Okay, cool. The other thing about that then is, what was the other thing there was something else I wanted to say. Okay. So there’s two aspects to all of these channels now so you can do Facebook advertising, you can do Facebook Messenger marketing, you can do LinkedIn advertising you can do LinkedIn connection, whatever, whatever they call it now.
Alex: Yeah, In-mail.
Martin: Yes. So for me the advertising is only ever display advertising, so actually getting clicks, that is pretty torturous and the messenger side has always been much more responsive. How are you finding that? Are you running both of those sides? Is one side more effective than the other?
Alex: So what we love about Facebook and LinkedIn, I sound like such a fanboy when I say that, what we love is their audience networks which is not particularly the ads. Not just on Facebook itself but on all of the inventory that Facebook owns across all the different platforms. I’m an avid user of the app called Flipboard and I use Flipboard. Basically you customise, choose what you’re interested in and instead of scrolling through Facebook you scroll through Flipboard and you just see news and content that you really enjoy. I really like that tool and often on it then I see our own clients ads coming on Flipboard articles because they’re being purchased through Facebook’s audience network and the same for LinkedIn.
So when it comes to display I personally prefer their audience networks but then of course you do use the actual platforms. I think people have really strong brand blindness, you know ad blindness. Facebook, it’s so easy to scroll past you just you’re just trained at seeing ads. When it comes to messenger bots, yes Facebook is awesome for it. When LinkedIn comes into question we prefer to use third party parts, I hope I don’t get into trouble for that but theres tools like Meet Alfred or ProspectIn. What they do is they automate your LinkedIn bot strategy, so it would feel, like hey martin — you know it’d be really customised — Hey Martin, how are you? you’re working in that industry, we work in it too, let’s connect, and then you’d press connect and then be like oh thank you so much for connecting with me, and then it’s like hey could I get your opinion on something, you’d be like yes of course, and all of that will be automated but it’s feeling like it’s customised because our bots can pick and choose from your profile to make it seem like we actually care about you. Once you’ve said yes, I’d love to give you your my opinion, it’s like well we have this service for you that might do you good, what’s your opinion on it.
We find that to be more effective than InMail, because InMail is, if you’re popping up on the side and it says this is an ad basically, whereas using the bots you know you just pay for the service fee of the bot so it’s cheaper than ad spend and it feels more personalised. You can do things like tell it to go and follow a person and then after you know three days ask them for a connection, send them a customised message like a day later, saying oh thank you so much for connecting so that’s quite handy. There are add-on tools that make the the bot experience or the messenger experience a lot more fun on the marketing side and feel like less of an ad to the customer side.
Martin: Yes, okay. So less advertising more out reach and engagement. Even if you’re using software to do that, it’s more targeted, reaching out, engaging, moving to a conversation on the left-hand side, okay that makes sense. I didn’t know about, you know it’s probably frightening what I don’t know about where these platforms have got to. When I listen to you it sounds to me like the agency is delivering a really valuable service because if you were running your one set of campaigns for your one business you wouldn’t be on it enough to be able to keep up with the technology; and secondly you wouldn’t have the time to actually stand on it and make sure that you are getting the value you need to and that the campaigns are evolving in the way that they need to. It seems to me, if you’re doing that stuff then you absolutely need to have a marketing agency in your corner helping you with that. The other thing that you touched on that I’m interested in is this idea of ad blindness and how, I don’t suppose you’re marketing necessarily to a youth market so you may not know this, but how young people are so good at not engaging with advertising at all. What’s your experience of, what do you know about that, or how do you feel about that?
Alex: Personally, so let’s take it, I’m going to count myself as a young person I turn 30 next month. I personally hate ads, it’s ironic but my business partner Josh is like, you’ve got your ad blocker on, of course you’re not going to be able to see anything. I’ve invested in the best ad blockers I could find, I’ve tried out a bunch of them, I’ve settled on AdGuard, it’s amazing. Once I’m home I turn on AdGuard and I don’t see a single ad anywhere. I complain about them so much my girlfriends brought me the full YouTube subscription so I stopped complaining about YouTube ads. It’s ironic but after working in ads for so long you just see the system, as a marketer I see the system because I know how to access them.
As kids, like my two-year-old cousin’s son just knows how to use an Ipad immediately, I think that they evolve and they immediately see those ads, for me it’s trained through the business I think, they just know immediately that’s an ad, I’m not paying attention to it, they might get burnt once or twice, you know, they they want that instant gratification so they click on it and then it takes them somewhere where they fill something out then they end up in their emails and all of a sudden kids are more like what the hell am I doing, my emails I don’t you, so I think there’s different drop-off points for brand awareness. I still think it’s hugely effective with young kids, I mean, we don’t advertise anything to young kids so I wouldn’t really know, but the younger generation it’s still hugely effective to use social media, to to advertise to them.
I don’t want to ramble on on this stuff because I don’t have any data or any hardcore experiences to back it up, except my own, where I know for myself or my team, from a marketing perspective, we’ve evolved to stop seeing ads and then we applaud each other when one of us shares a good ad of someone else. It’s like, oh wow, that’s a really cool, clever ad. I think to shut myself up but to end it on one sentence would be having good clever content that’s either valuable or edutainment, like educating, like kickstarter was really doing that for a while; I think that’s the best way to get someones interest and then to get them to convert you just need to bomb them on all channels, no matter what age.
Martin: Okay, all right. So that’s interesting, a friend of mine has a two-year-old and it’s amazing he doesn’t talk yet but he spends a lot of time on YouTube, or YouTube Kids, or YouTube probably and he’s like hammering, he knows as soon as the ad comes on, and he’s hammering that button, he doesn’t know how long five seconds is but he’s hammering it so he won’t be seeing that ad for a second longer than he needs to. It just feels to me like one of the things that has gone on in the digital marketing era is that people have become so exposed to advertising and so resistant to advertising in all of its forms.
You’re right, you need to make it entertaining, and educational, and promotional, that’s the only way through. It does strike me that people are particularly, have become increasingly resistant to advertising. If I speak to young people they they tell me they hate it, they absolutely hate it. Whereas previously, the deal was, before the internet we understood that a certain percentage of the magazine had to be advertising because the magazine had to be paid for. At the beginning of the internet we understood that advertising had to be there because everything was coming at us for free, I don’t know if that’s changed dramatically since, I think it has changed dramatically since the internet. I think people are more resistant because they’ve been so exposed to so much advertising.
Okay, I want to come back to the other thing that you were saying before; right person, right message, right time — you’re now saying right platform but actually the platforms also want to choose the person for you so why are you not saying right platform right message right platform?
Alex: Because you need to choose the people. The first thing you’re going to do, if I’m gonna sell KYC services, know your customer, which is, on the compliance side of things. Then I have to figure out who’s interested in this very niche KYC thing that I am selling. Am I selling a tool, am I selling a service and for that I know that it’s going to be a Compliance Officer or the Product Manager of a company that is trying to take the protection. So where are, who are those people, and I really need to dive into those personas and understand what is going to work for them. If they’re a Product Officer it’s one form of message if they’re the Compliance Officer it’s another. One’s more going to be about save time etc, the other one is we’re going to do all the hard work for you so you don’t have to study and get your degree in compliance et cetera.
From there we need to know where are these people most likely to hang out and that’s going to be whether it’s LinkedIn or is it email or is it you know native content advertising on blogs that they might frequent to learn. That’s why I’m saying it’s a platform, then I’m trusting that the platform is going to understand the personas we’ve created and the message we’ve crafted to optimise itself. We’re going to be optimising it and check out that its okay from all of these time frames. I don’t think we optimise that much for time, we’re more looking at device, and creative, and message. It might just be how our audience, or our agency works, but once organic social media was dead we noticed that, even our content scheduling tools they used to have optimise the post at the right time and I was like yeah look at this awesome feature and that isn’t celebrated or even that obvious anymore. Now just like post it and pay for it.
That’s why I say the people really come first and it’s really what we focus , really knowing that audience. I think it also touches on what you said earlier about advertising and the ads, I think there’s so many people who need to be much more specific on what they’re good at and be better at it than everyone. Being a jack of all trades and a master of none doesn’t serve as well as it used to before. Now, if you are very, very good at something and you focus on it then you should want to pay other people to do the jobs that they are very good at instead of trying to do it all. I’m referencing this in terms of where you were saying you know before we were used to paying, we were happy to see ads, like a percentage of a magazine, television, because we knew the stations and magazines had to be paid for. That’s when we were given the content and and we were buying that content but now the product is us, it’s our data, we are the stock. That’s why we’re so pissed off at seeing ads because we are the stock that they’re selling, and we’re also being shown ads. We’re the stock and we’re the ones paying, so it’s a bit of a different relationship to when you accept that there’s ads in a magazine that you got for free because now it’s not free, now it’s your personal data that’s being sold. Whereas in the magazine it wasn’t and I think that has caused a huge shift in why people hate ads so much because they know that their data has been sold.
I mean, I’m the guy that’s sending you those ads but that’s the reality of it.
Martin: Okay, cool. So I’m really interested to have this conversation because I watched the Social Dilemma and I think its like the nicotine industry. When they put these “this is going to kill you” messages on the packets it didn’t stop people smoking because they knew it was going to kill them already, that’s part of the reason that they’re doing it in the first place. I feel like the industry was quite pleased with that because it’s putting out the message — look how clever we are now. I know because I’ve done enough Facebook, LinkedIn all of these kinds of marketings to know, and because I experience.
I spoke to a friend of mine and he was like “oh but YouTube’s so clever,” they’re landing the right message. What they’re telling us in the Social Dilemma is not only are they able to target the right people but also they’re conducting their moods to put them in the mood to buy, do you know what I mean? It’s just a nonsense for me, it’s a nonsense. Now when I’m watching YouTube, I don’t pay them ten dollars a month, because I’d be paying, god knows how many hundreds of dollars I’d be paying out if I gave everyone who wanted it ten dollars, so I do see the ads and I skip it after five seconds, I’m not hammering it because I know when five seconds is. What I know is that it’s the advertiser who’s doing the targeting and setting the messages and they are typically so lazy as to make it completely ineffective. For example, now an ad comes up and it’s particularly irrelevant then I will screenshot it and send it to my mate and say look how clever YouTube are today. I think the last one I sent was a couple of weeks ago and they were trying to sell me Japanese or Chinese manufactured industrial floor cleaning equipment. Not even the floor cleaner, they wanted to sell me like the polish thing and there’s nothing, I’ve never done anything on YouTube to suggest that I am in the market for a Japanese floor polishing machine, it’s machinery.
So this is what interests me with it. Sorry, I’m on a rant now, but the issue is that drives the cost up for everyone. Idiots in the market, spending stuff, spending money that isn’t relevant.
So this comes around to spending money on stuff that isn’t relevant, it drives up the cost for those of us who are selling that relevant thing and Facebook support that drive because they say look we can identify your audience, we can put your message together and we can land it on them at the right time so just give us a check and we’ll do it all for you when the basics isn’t done. You’re saying you are doing that work, understanding who the targets are we, understanding what the messages are, we just trust the networks to land the message at the right time. I’m speaking too much, but I’ve got to be in my bonnet about this.
No, no, no, continue. It froze for a second so I’m glad you had continued speaking and didn’t ask me a question, I just sat there in silence.
Alex: Yeah, there’s no right or wrong answers in this. It’s really just like do you smoke or do you advertise on Facebook or on YouTube. If you stop smoking you’ll probably survive longer and if you advertise on Facebook and YouTube you’ll probably survive longer, but it’s still, you know, it’s tough. I think there’s a lot of value in it, otherwise we wouldn’t do it.
Martin: I do look forward to the next evolutionary change, how Facebook or LinkedIn does it.
I don’t have a problem with LinkedIn. I think LinkedIn really is what it says on the tin, this is an industry platform, it’s a network for professionals, market your professionality, hire people through it, I like the way that it’s done.
Whereas Facebook, I think, lost people. It started off being the social network and then became the ad network and I think that’s why a lot of people are moving towards and favouring LinkedIn these days. Although it’s more expensive; because it’s more expensive, people are a lot more picky with what they’re going to advertise, so it’s a higher quality of ads most of the time, and they’re a lot more relevant, if you’re on the business side of things. For e-commerce I wouldn’t say it’s particularly useful, but this in-app advertising is wonderful.
Alex: Google have such a great suite of tools that, YouTube and Google PPC; I love search advertising. I really think you have the opportunity to hit people at the right time, with the right message. At this point, if you did happen to search how do I clean my basketball court then yes you should have seen that industrial floor cleaner YouTube ad, but if you weren’t googling how to clean up an ice rink or a basketball court, or whatever, factory floor that you may or may not currently own then then you shouldn’t have been seeing that.
Martin: I know and this is what it comes down to. Because I’m having this conversation with you, and I wasn’t expecting to be this emotional; I just feel like I’m here saying everything was so good in the old days and everything’s gone to shit. It’s probably just the nature of the opportunity has changed. between 2005 and 2014, when I was driving The Effective Marketing Company we were spoiled because we had search engine optimisation and it was only two three years old at that point; email marketing was four or five years old then; social media turned up and it was brand new; and they had no idea how to make money off it and we really did really well out of it for our clients. So we were spoiled, I think, in that time. I don’t know if I’m just being a bit old and cynical, everything must be shit now because I’m not doing it anymore.
Alex: I don’t think that’s what you’re saying. I think what you’re saying is that, more what I’m hearing is that people should be much more careful with what they’re doing. I think there are a lot of people that think they can just put out any ad on any platform, that’s certainly the case with a lot of clients who pick up how you’re advertising on Facebook; how do you set up your ad account, the Business Manager they’re like no what’s that so are you just pressing boost post on the front end, yes that’s what we do, so you’re just pressing boost post on the front end of course you’re gonna hit any Tom, Dick and Harry with your message and nobody’s gonna care. If you carefully target it then it’s gonna make sense.
More what I’m hearing you complaining about, which is what I complain about, is that we have these tools to be able to sniper target our ads do we don’t walk around shooting a shotgun in the air and pissing everyone off. Just get your message in front of the right people on the platform that they want to see it, at the time that’s suitable for them because they’re searching for whatever it is and just make sure it makes sense. Everyone else is just wasting their own time, their clients money, or their own money and the consumer’s time. If you keep advertising Japanese cleaning equipment to you, you’re just going to hate Japanese cleaning equipment because it’s in your face, you’re also doing your client or your own brand a disservice because because you’re showing the wrong people the wrong ads and it’s just annoying them, so you’re decreasing the value of their brand. I agree with you, people should be super diligent and just really focus on their actual targets.
Martin: Right. I’m happy, I think you’re exactly right. I’m just a miserable old you know what, I am just miserable and old. I think you’re absolutely right. I think advertisers have to be super diligent, it is marketeer’s fault and it is marketing agency’s fault that they don’t bother to do the hard yards on their targeting and it is the platform’s fault because they continue to take the money. We joke that Google just want search results to be relevant, and supposedly you get a discount if you are relevant, but I’ve never actually seen that in practice. I think it’s partly shit marketers fault and partly the shit platform’s fault but you’re right the way through this is just to be that much more diligent and make sure you’re doing the hard work to make sure that you are doing it right. It is just annoying. I suppose you hope that people who are just spunking a lot of money won’t be in the market long enough to damage it long term.
I’ll give you a for instance. This really annoyed me, this annoyed me to the point where I phoned Google up to complain about it, that’s how stupid this is. You can’t speak to anybody, you can’t speak to anyone ever. In the data, the Google Ads report you can restructure the columns, one of the columns was always average ranking on PPC. This is okay, I would use that information to inform what I was going to bid. If I was on average ranking at 1.6 in a month and I wanted to be ranking in position number one then I would increase the bid slightly and I would see what happens over time. They took that metric away. All you are buying is the ranking, that’s what you’re buying in PPC advertising and they took it away. I phoned them up and had an argument with somebody who’s making, I don’t know, six dollars an hour in India and asked why is this gone and he said the information is on the Keyword Planner Tool. The Keyword Planner gives you a top of page recommended bid but I know that’s always been 30% higher than you would actually have to spend to get there. Because, of course, they are running the auction and they’re taking the money so of course they’re going to suggest to everyone that they spend 30% more than it actually costs. There’s nobody, I can’t find anyone, I’ve looked, nobody’s talking about this. That’s the thing you’re paying for and they’re not telling you what value you’re getting. Why are people still continuing to advertise?
Alex: I think the main reason is that eighty percent of people who are using it can’t be bothered, can’t be bothered to do the hard work, to work out what’s going on for themselves and the 20% who are are probably just finding another way to bypass this situation. This is what I mean, that is the one thing that you’re buying, where you’re ranking, that is the one thing that you’re bidding on and they don’t tell you the effect of your bid. That seems to me to be criminal. I’m sure I regaled you with all the times I got ripped off by these platforms, my customers got ripped off by these platforms, in the course. It just seems to me to be irresponsible.
I don’t know. I think I agree, what you’re saying is right. This is why I initially said, and I still stick to that; we do a lot of homework before we run an ad. For example now to run PPC ads we don’t just trust the suggested bid, if they are the auctioneer and they are the seller obviously it’s a rigged system. We use tools like Spyfu, we use Semrush and we use Hrefs, we have to pay a whole load of money for third-party tools to see the average data compare it to Google’s and then say okay this is the direction we’re going to be going in for PPC and what we should be bidding at and then we run the tests and we see the results that come back. After running a couple of campaigns on fixed daily spends we then bid a bit higher and we say okay when we bid a bit higher we’ve got this many, cross reference this cost per click with this many impressions, this many leads compared with when we bid lower. Was there a big enough value? Was there a big enough change to warrant keeping paying at a higher price or bringing it down. That’s really it.
Right now, I think really what it is is that you just have to use other tools to judge how you’re going to use Google. Before you just trust in google and since they took away so many useful metrics, although they have given other metrics elsewhere, you just use other tools to help you suss out what’s right and what’s wrong. But I’m not going to pretend that there’s one side to it, I don’t know what’s morally right from their side, what’s right for them from a business side. I still think Google’s a wonderful company with wonderful tools and everything it’s done. I can’t imagine a world without Google, it’s quite a weird concept. How would I find anything to watch? I am a bit of an internet geek.
Martin: Okay, that’s cool. I am thinking now, when I’m talking to you, that my recommendation was always put in the hard yards, don’t trust these platforms, put in the hard yards. I think I’m just a little bit bitter now that the hard yards that I was talking about five years ago are even harder yards now, but the message isn’t necessarily the same. I’ve started marketing The Effective Marketing Company again and I am going to do all of these things and I’m interested to see how it goes. I think that’s just my position was that I always tell people do the hard yards, don’t trust Google, they want your money and now I think you’re right, it’s just those hard yards have got that little bit harder.
Okay, okay, is there anything else you want to say about what it is you offer and the way you go about doing it is there anything else you want to talk about before I get on to this weird situation that we find ourselves in now?
Alex: No, no, I let my team do the marketing for us I’m just here to chat to you and see what insights I can provide.
Okay, cool. So, the world finds itself in this unbelievable situation; people are being forced out of business. I’ll tell you what my context is for this is I did a talk in 2009 when you were about eight, uh you were about 18.
Martin: For the last global recession when everyone was shitting themselves about what was going on. I used to do really barnstorming, motivational, you know, driving the message talks at that time. What I did is I went through all of the press, so it was basically what is all the fuss? What is the fuss actually about? What can we do about our situation? I went through the headlines and I’m told them this has been coming for 18 months, they’ve been banging on about the recession at that point we had been in recession officially a month or two. It’s no wonder this came about — so here’s all the fuss, what is the fuss all about? Lots of big businesses were really getting smacked, the number of small businesses closing was up 120% which meant that 220 businesses per day were going out of business as opposed to the 50 that were going out of business per day previously. When you look at that globally, there’s four million businesses in the UK, so actually it was still 0.003%. So effectively we’d have to sustain that for a year for one percent of the small businesses in the UK to go out of business. Then, obviously, what do we do about it is effective marketing.
The issue now is that there’s whole industries being forced to close their doors, the hospitality, the services industry, tourism, large education — they’re not allowed to be open. It seems to me like this is a very different prospect now. It might be that I’m just that much older and that much more scared than I used to be but it seems to me that this is a much more frightening situation. So what is your recommendation to people who, are because it seems to me that people might have time on their hands, so it makes perfect sense they look at their marketing what is your advice for people who are in this situation? How are you talking to your clients about what’s going on currently?
Alex: Sure, that’s a really great question. One thing we’ve done with our clients is try to help them evaluate whether their business model is, let’s say, COVID proof. We do a workshop or two to understand if for example you’re not allowed to have people all together again, what if you can’t have an office, how does your business work? What we’ve really spent a long time on is helping our clients evaluate you know just how their companies function, what the actual value they deliver is and really just focusing on why they exist as a company, trying to forget how they’ve been doing it.
Right, so I’m sure you know the cynic circle? You’ve got what you do, how you do, why you do it. We’re really, really this year and last year, 2020, focused on on the why and the value that you’re delivering and why are people doing it. Then we were looking at the how and saying okay just because you were doing it in in the ways you were doing it before, is there another way to do it which is maybe more COVID proof which doesn’t need your team to be together? If you’re a small team, and you’re in the same office and one of you gets gets the virus, like in our case, you know then you’re gonna fall apart. Can you still deliver the same value that you were delivering before but doing it in a different format? Once we’ve covered that ground is where we can help. Obviously, if you’re a client, I’m hoping to help you out of it. I’m also instructing people, or advising people, to try and figure out how many free ways they can market. If people are, like you said, bored at home or were bored at home. I think now more people are finding their feet. What I really really have been pushing is this video marketing, exactly what you’re doing. Just set up live shows, go live, get yourself out there, don’t be afraid to break the mould. Even if you haven’t done it before just get out there and talk about what’s interesting to you and see what feedback you get and just help people understand it.
Just like Netflix. Facebook’s goal in my eyes is to compete with Netflix, it doesn’t care about LinkedIn or Twitter or any of that, it wants your consistent attention like Netflix has. The more eyeballs it has the more money it makes, it stands to make more money because you see more ads, you click on them, you interact with them. Whereas Netflix offers itself and its content as subscription based so it just needs to convince you to pay me that eleven or nine dollars or whatever next month. With that in mind, if you go out and create content, even if you think you look terrible on camera, nobody’s ever going to remember. The purpose is that you need to keep getting out there. Start off with three ways you put your message out there until you find a way that’s comfortable and that sticks. Once you’ve figured out, okay this works, I’m happy to go on YouTube maybe you can stay home and record it and edit it, that takes a bit longer. Maybe you’re more like us, where time never feels like it’s on our side, so we rather put out a very raw video of Josh and I just talking to each other or interviewing someone. That works for us. We just put it out and once we had done enough of those then we started investing paid media into it to then see the jump. What happens when it goes from organic to slightly paid, we tried 50 euros, 100 euros, a thousand euros, what happens? Then you start seeing the impact that comes back.
What I’m saying here is always think about your audience, think about the value that you want to drive to them and try and find three ways to get it to them. I know we’ve been talking earlier that organic isn’t really there, just find three ways to get your message out that’s comfortable for you. You could try TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn. Writing articles, writing blogs, maybe writing columns for blogs or magazines that you like. Just practice, and then once you’re really happy with the way that you are producing the content and it feels natural to you then start putting some money into it to actually get it somewhere. You’re always going to be able to share your content with your family and friends, have everyone in your company share it and you’re going to get that little bit of a network outreach. You can experiment organically, we could call it and once you’ve figured out what works put some money behind it. That’s what I would really suggest. Really focus on the value that you’re driving before anything else. If you’re a hotel don’t try and go and push out oh we’re out there come stay with us, what’s the value? The value is that you offer a staycation. Try and talk with those locally around you, how can you best communicate with them? Can you offer them just a break for a weekend from their home which is affordable that keeps your stuff being paid? Could you offer, if you’ve already got all the products anyway, and they’re gonna go bad, crazy buffets just at least to make back some money on the stock that’s going to go bad and to some cash flow going.
It really is; what’s the value? How can we repackage it? and and then capitalise on it. That’s really what we’ve been pushing for others. What we’ve been very lucky with, and I think a big part of it, has to do with our brand name being Growth Gurus. We’ve had so many amazing startups come to us with really cool ideas and then thanks to having a bit of a name we also can then apply for government grants on behalf of our clients. We do that quite a bit. There’s an e-commerce grant in Malta where you can get up to 10,000 Euros you can get 50% of it back, so you can get up to 5,000. You’re sponsored by the government, or subsidised by the government for your e-commerce site. They subsidise up to 75% of the training that we offer.
We’ve also understood as an agency from day one. When this hit I told the team, guys our marketing revenue is going to go down so we’re going to bring it back up by being consultants and trainers and they’re like what? But right now, I called it a year ago, and it’s on the rise, where our government now pays for 75% of the courses that we offer. We’re not accredited or anything, we’re a digital marketing agency. We have specific courses where we go to your company, ask for access to your Google ads, your Facebook ads, LinkedIn ads — study them and then train your team to utilise them better. That enables more companies to employ more people and then also do a better job and it keeps us on the consultancy and trainer role. We had to do the same thing because branding was never going to die websites are never going to die but marketing was definitely going to be in-house for large companies. For smaller companies we try to focus on training or really large companies with teams. Employers now have a much better choice over the market because employees just need jobs so they’re snapping up people for half the salaries they would have before but then they need training. So there’s a mix of of everything you can do.
Martin: Okay so that sounds like what my response was in 2009. We had a queue of people around the building and that dried up but everyone was going to need to carry on doing it so we we became a training person, a training company. Then it became, like you met me when I was a lecturer with the Digital Marketing Institute.
Okay, so that makes absolutely perfect sense. How many of your businesses, how many of your clients, did you have to tell — you’re just not COVID proof, you’re going away? That was a hard question.
We would ask questions, we would ask questions and then they would come to that realisation themselves. It’s like hey guys, you’re trying to push this but if this doesn’t work is there more money for continued advertising? If they’re like no this has to work, well we don’t we don’t take on clients who are gonna; if a client comes to us as their last hope we go nope. It cannot be like that, we’re not taking your mortgage or your rent money or whatever, you’re coming to us with your specific marketing budget or your startup loan or whatever it is and you’re telling us I have money to invest in experimental digital marketing. I’m not coming to you with everything I have left to make me a success we have had a couple of those clients and we gave it our absolute all. They would have been small one two three man companies and we really enjoyed helping them and we had enough good paying customers to subsidise them, so, you know, what goes around comes around. We help some small companies, especially in fitness and well-being, and then big companies came off the back of it saying wow, you did a really cool job for them.
So we never told any company COVID is going to squash you, it just did.
Martin: Yes. Okay. I think you’re absolutely right and I think that has to be the message. That was my message in 2009, that has to be the message now, it has to be. This goes to what I think marketing is. Marketing is essentially about seeing opportunities and finding ways to to realise those opportunities. I don’t know if you know, there’s a book called Somebody Moved my Cheese, or something, something about moving cheese which is about this. We live in a world of change and you have to adapt. Obviously the change we’ve seen in the last 12 months is monumental but still you have to adapt. I think that’s actually what a good marketer is someone who can assess the situation, identify the opportunities and realise those opportunities.
I’m really pleased that I played some part in motivating you to start a marketing agency man it seems to me like you’re doing a thoroughly responsible job.
Alex: Thank you so much. It was always a pleasure to be in the courses with you and I appreciated that we had kept in touch.
I always looked after you
It’s a great pleasure for me to be to be talking to you here and and hopefully sharing some wisdom with other people but yeah you were definitely an inspiration in my former years and getting to where we are today. From all of Growth Gurus we thank you.
Martin: Thanks man, that’s really cool. All right, so unless there’s something else you particularly wanted to say I think we got to the end. Was there something else you particularly wanted to say?
Alex: I think that everyone just really needs to help everyone else out. I think that we’re in a time where the more you help and the more you share, and communicate, just as openly as you can and not to keep things for what you’re gonna get, you might not see the immediate return but just keep like being loud, and proud, and out there about whatever it is you’re doing and it will come back. Those that are worried, or scared, or feel like a failure should not be, there are people that are going to have their fears come come to reality. If you go out there and say hey, I’m failing help me, there’s people who are building businesses around failing companies.
I think there’s a lot of minds have to shift to go, my weakness can now be my strength because the whole world is now seeing what was a strength is now a weakness. What do we you know? Get your thought analysis and turn it on its head and go oh cool my weakness could now be my strength and vice versa.
I think if people do that you’ll be in a much better place, you know. So just don’t be afraid of what you perceive to be a weakness, put it out there and it might come back with something positive. Find like-minded individuals who also have that weakness and you’re going to fix it together.
Yes, what a lovely positive message. Thank you man. It’s true isn’t it, they say that these situations create more millionaires than than any other curve on the on the economic performance. Recessions create more millionaires than any other time. I think you’re right, you have to stay focused, you have to stay positive and I think that one of the things is you have to be in the market talking to people, that’s how you know what’s going on. I probably haven’t been which is why I’m allowing them to scare me more than they should.
I was just agreeing with your sentiment. I don’t think there’s any, I mean there’s a lot to be afraid of, but when it comes to online there’s nothing we need to be afraid of. There’s always going to be someone who knows more and always someone who knows less. Someone’s going to help you, and you’re going to help someone, that’s just really the way it’s going to go. You know, no one’s ever going to know it all that’s pretty much it.
Martin: Yes cool. Man, I have thoroughly enjoyed this, thank you so much.
Alex: Thank you, it’s been a real pleasure.
Martin: It’s been an absolute pleasure, I will catch up with you again soon.
Alex: Definitely, looking forward to it, bye Martin.
Martin: Cheers man thanks.