6 Digital Agencies Talk Digital Marketing Channels

At Powered by Search, we don’t sell link-building as an individual service.

During my first week on the team, I overheard our CEO Dev Basu tell this to a lead over the phone. I didn’t get to hear the reason why, but I could pretty much make a guess: because it causes misconceptions about what SEO is and what value it creates. Selling links hearkens back to the ye olde days, when only quantity mattered in a backlink profile. Back then, you could give quotes based on the number of links you made for the client, get those links, and get paid. That trend died a long time ago, but out there are some stragglers that hold on to that concept.

And that got me thinking. Misconceptions in the digital marketing field aren’t limited to SEO, they also exist for social media, branding, email, analytics, etc.

I’ve encountered others that think SEO only involves directory submissions and tons of backlinks, or that you can go viral on social media just by tweeting something that was mildly entertaining stop businesses from truly creating value in these channels. And I’ve encountered beliefs that branding is simply a pretty logo, or that branding exercises aren’t worth the money. To the uninitiated, the marketing field is nothing like they expect.

The online field and digital marketing as a whole have even more misconceptions surrounding it, thanks to how fast it has been developing in the last decade.

It’s important to understand what these channels aren’t suited for, and what they do best. By knowing how to use those channels well, your audience will be less likely to be turned off to your message and instead be more willing to see what you have to offer.

In an email conversation I had with Matt Gratt at BuzzStream about email and cross-channel campaigns, he said something that stood out to me:

“The important part is building relationships – and that can happen over any medium – in person, Twitter, Facebook, G+, carrier pigeon, whatever” -Matt Gratt @ BuzzStream

That quote identifies two major ideas in the marketing field:

  1. In all your marketing activities, your focus should be on building relationships
  2. Relationships can be created anywhere.

It’s important to operate in every channel where your audience is so you can reach out and help foster relationships with your brand. By increasing the number of touch points with your brand and knowing how to use the channels together, you increase your brand’s recognition and interactions with the target audience.  If these channels are coordinated in an integrated way instead of standalone units, then whiz boom bang: you should see exponentially better results than any single-channel strategy.

If you’re working with one, your digital marketing agency shouldn’t be letting you rely on one channel alone. And hopefully, they’re trying to understand what channels you already work in, and how their work can boost your results across the board.

So from that, I reached out to several people with 4-5 questions about a specific field. This blog post is going to be broken down into two parts, each covering a particular area of marketing activity. Below is a quick rundown of who and what was asked. Click on a topic to jump to it!

Channeling Marketing Campaigns

Supporting Marketing Campaigns

Channeling Marketing Campaigns

Search: SEO/SEM

jeremy rivera profile picture

“Show them the value to their profitability with an effective online strategy and pair it with some education on SEO tactics” – Jeremy Rivera at Caddis

Jeremy Rivera is the Senior SEO for Caddis Interactive, a Nashville marketing company focused on connecting your digital presence to your revenue stream.

1. From your experience, what are some common misconceptions prospective clients have about SEO and how can a digital marketing agency address them?

The first obstacle when SEO started to become a real industry from 2000-2010 was simply convincing clients that there was enough opportunity and reward for them to open their business up to a new avenue of marketing. That time has passed, with most business owners now having a basic idea that “I need SEO”. Unfortunately, in the past 3 years there’s been a slew of fly-by-night agencies who cold-called, played on that need and burned the client with bad, ineffective and mispriced services. They’d offer $99 a month service that was promised to take them to new heights, but it just left a bad taste in their mouth especially when you’re doing real research, detailed and effective copy writing that takes a real marketing budget. The best way to overcome this is by creating case studies you can share that highlight the longterm benefit of a strategy online that connects their marketing to their revenue stream. Show them the value to their profitability with an effective online strategy and pair it with some education on SEO tactics to get a long term customer who will trust your calls.

2. Recent events like Google’s move to secured search or the recent Hummingbird update have disruptive effects on SEO. What do you think the future of SEO will look like, and how can SEO continue creating value?

Actually both of those changes are only disruptive to SEOs who knew just enough to be dangerous. If you’re living in your clients analytics on a daily basis, then seeing a spike in traffic to a certain landing page is enough of a signal for you to dig into the data and come out with a recommendation that could capture additional traffic. SEO has come back from the dead more times than Aslan, Gandalf and Madonna’s career combined.

3. Since Google is so dominant online, is it wrong to focus solely on SEO/SEM? Why or why not?

Your SEO strategy should line up with your paid online activity, your print advertising and any PR efforts you’re making for your brand. Narrowly focusing on SEO as the only channel of potential traffic could blind you to potentially reaching your audience who may be not be paying as much attention online as they are elsewhere.

4. What are some of the benefits that SEO brings when managing a cross-channel campaign? What are some of the challenges?

The research aspect of SEO should lead you to discoveries about both your brand and your potential audience. This often leads to discovery of sub-niches and markets that you can reach even more effectively offline through outreach, sponsorship or other efforts. Of course, the challenge is making your brand cohesive in its branding visually and through the content created for your site, posts on social media and interactions with the press.

Social Media

Andy Crestodina profile picture

“Twitter is an incredible phone book. You can use it to target very specific people and reach out to them. …and that has nothing to do with cats” – Andy Crestodina at Orbit Media

Andy Crestodina is the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, a web design company in Chicago. You can find Andy on Google+ and Twitter.

1. I’ve heard, and I’m sure you have, “Let’s tweet this, it’ll go viral!” For some reason it never does. Why do you think that is?

For something to go viral, it has to hit a nerve in just the right way. Usually it’s because evokes awe, anxiety or anger. It has to arouse strong emotion. People often say, this will go viral, just because it made them chuckle. That doesn’t really cut it.

Look at the things that actually do go viral, the things we all share like crazy, the things with millions of views. “Funny” isn’t enough. It has to evoke powerful (sometimes mixed) emotions. Some people doubt that viral marketing can ever be planned.

I believe that truly viral activity online is impossible to plan. But many people come close by doing the things that they know will increase the likelihood of sharing. Upworthy uses teams to write headlines. Spartz Media uses algorithms to predict user behaviour and the popularity of topics. But even the successes of these companies aren’t truly viral. None of the top viewed YouTube videos were made by marketers.

2. When I bring up social media in client meetings, grumpy cat always seems to share the same thought bubble. Is it just cats and quotes that get shared? And if so, why would a “serious” business invest in social media?

Here’s how I answer that: everyone agrees that networking is important, right? A big part of social media is online networking. Twitter is an incredible phone book. You can use it to target very specific people and reach out to them. …and that has nothing to do with cats.

Everyone agrees that an updated LinkedIn profile is important for getting a job, right? That’s social media too, and cats are not involved.

Social media is just another way to connect, with anyone on any topic. People used to say that email was silly. 100 years ago, people thought the phone was silly. Hopefully, at this point, everyone has recognized that social media marketing is just another channel for networking and promoting content.

So forget the cats! One other quick note: just because someone uses social media doesn’t mean they know marketing. So handing over your social media accounts to an intern is generally a terrible idea. There’s a huge difference between social media and social media marketing.

3. Brands like McDonalds or HMV get caught in social media nightmares. What are a couple of ways businesses can avoid making these mistakes?

We all make mistakes. The trick is to step up and acknowledge them. Do so swiftly and within the channel where the problem happened, and it’s less likely to spread. I also encourage people to think of every problem as an opportunity. Remember when Domino’s admitted to making terrible pizza? That admission was the first day of a new perception of Dominos. The online mea culpa can be very powerful.

4. In The Periodic Table of Content, you fit social media in with blog posts and all sorts of other promotion. What are some big ways that social media helps other marketing channels?

Yes! The Periodic Table of Content is a guide to re-purposing content, helping marketers get ideas for producing more content quickly. But in general, I believe strongly that any content in any format is an opportunity to get traction in all three main channels: search optimization, social media and email marketing.

Specifically, social media can be used to promote content across the networks (of course) but also, social content can be used to create new content. For example, blog comments and social media posts can often be grown into full posts. Also, testimonials often spontaneously appear in social streams. LinkedIn recommendations can be re-purposed on web pages. Social proof often comes from social media. And social proof can be used as evidence to help turn visitors into leads.

Adding social proof is one of those web design tips based on brain science. Conformity and herd behavior are powerful motivators…

5. When creating a cross-channel campaign, have you ever seen social as a wasted or over-investment when mixed with other channels?

It happens all the time. Social media can be very time consuming, and many marketers spend hours and hours on social websites. This time often doesn’t translate into traffic, subscribers or leads. Many of these marketers would get better results creating something new. Take a break from Facebook for a few days and make a video. Turn off twitter for a few hours and write a post giving your best advice.

Content marketers need to balance their time between creating content, promoting content and measuring/analyzing results. Everyone will have their own mix, but for me, it’s something like 60% – 30% – 10%. If you watch your time and find yourself spending more time browsing Facebook or Tweeting with friends more than creating something useful, consider revising your approach.


Matt Gratt Profile Picture

“Every outreach email you send should be heavily personalized – not just the name of the person, but with unique details about them too.” – Matt Gratt at BuzzStream

Matt Gratt is the Growth Lead at BuzzStream, the CRM for link building and content promotion. He lives in Austin, Texas. Read more from him about link development and content marketing on the BuzzStream blog, or follow him on Twitter.

1. BuzzStream encourages personalized messages rather than bulk email. How can this improve results from email marketing? How does this change how businesses think of email?

All email should be personalized to the maximum extent it can be – either programatically (think Amazon product recommendation emails) or personally.

From our vantage point, we’ve seen blasting lists with non-personalized press releases is dramatically less effective than personalized outreach to influencers.

Every outreach email you send should be heavily personalized – not just the name of the person, but with unique details about them too. Bloggers and journalists are besieged by copy and paste emails. As Seth Godin says, “I don’t want email from you. I don’t want junk mail from you. I want me-mail.”

We like to say outreach emails should be personalized, positioned, and persuasive.

Personalized – Show your recipient why you’re emailing them – and that your message is customized for them. How does it align with their personal and professional interests? Can you show them you’re familiar with their work, and aren’t sending a group email blast?

Positioned – Why is your offer a good fit with the influencer’s audience? What value will their audience get from it? How will it help the influencer accomplish their goals?

Persuasive – Why, given the sheer amount of requests they receive on a daily basis, should the influencer take action on your outreach? Is it time-limited? Scarce? Endorsed by authority? Use Robert Cialdini’s persuasive triggers to make your message more compelling.

2. At Powered by Search we use email for marketing (thanks for signing up to our newsletter!) and outreach (if I scratch your back, can you scratch mine?). Do you have any favourite resources to recommend for one, the other or both?

Lots of great stuff has been written about both direct marketing emails and marketing outreach emails:

Outreach – All of these help with the hardest part of email outreach – writing messages that get their recipients to take action. Follow these tips and you’ll improve your success rate considerably.

Email Marketing – Email marketing has many complex, interacting elements – list maintenance, copywriting, deliverability, production, and more. These guides help you sort through all of the details to get to the things that really matter in the success of your email initiatives.

3. Even though there is (or at least was) a lot of buzz regarding social media leading to the demise of email marketing, how do those two channels actually synergize together?

I think the whole ‘social media is killing email’ discussion is kind of funny – after all, who sends more lifecycle and transactional emails than social media companies?

Social is a great channel and we love it, but the competition and noise out there is tremendous. Additionally, it doesn’t take much analysis to see social platform companies are increasingly charging brands for visibility, so email is a channel you have a much greater degree of control over as a marketer. (For example, Circle of Moms moved their audience from Facebook to email, and it was a massive win for them, enabling their survival, growth, and eventual acquisition.)

Email is excellent at driving sharing on social – if you share great content with your email audience, that can jumpstart sharing on social networks. And vice versa, people that find your site via social networks can sign up for emails, building a relationship that social media platform companies can’t charge you for.

Supporting Marketing Campaigns


Josh Mcinerney profile picture

“Fonts, text, colours, imagery mean zilch without a proper foundation to build on.” – Josh McInerney at Modu Design Communications

Josh McInerney is Creative Director and partner at Modu Design Communications, an award winning branding and identity agency. Josh has earned numerous awards and recognized as one of the Top 5 Creative People Working in Canada by Astral Media and Marketing Magazine. You can contact Josh at joshworks@modudesign.ca or follow him on Twitter.

1. From your experience at Modu Design Communications, what are some characteristics of a good UX ? what are some characteristics of a bad UX?

For me good UX design stems from a firm understanding of your core target audience and what they are expecting when visiting your website or mobile platform.

Your design shouldn’t be focused on just “Hey, we have easy navigation.” but “what are the key goals I need to achieve in order for this to be a success for my audience”. You’re not designing this UX for just anyone. You’re designing this for your key customers so you better know who they are (and where they are).

Good UX takes into consideration the details of who that core user and then gives them what they need in order to have a memorable experience whether it be through awareness of responsive design, W3C accessibility standards or, most importantly, properly written content. Poor UX design ignores the end user and tries to say everything to everybody and in the end, says nothing at all.

2. Web design constantly goes through new trends, like parallax scrolling or fixed header bars. How has the notion of ‘good UI/UX’ changed after going through these trends?

As users become more web savvy and sophisticated along with the technology that builds it, more creativity and boundaries in UX can be pushed.

With a strong understanding of your audience and your brand you can harness these new trends to your advantage. I don’t’ feel that the notion of good UX has really changed at all with these new trends in digital. If your brand message is clear and you know your target user, you’ll be able to harness these new UX trends and keep your core customers engaged and better yet, attract new ones. New innovations and design trends will always be coming but you have remember in the back of your mind who you’re really building for. If you put too much emphasis on technical bells or design whistles and not on things like a purposeful experience you’re missing the boat.

A good rule of thumb is designing with a mobile first mentality. It makes you think about the most important content for your audience at the beginning and the most simplistic way to translate it. Translating a mobile UX into a desktop layout is much easier than shoehorning a desktop design into a mobile screen size.

3. When talking to prospective clients, are there any notable misconceptions about UI/UX that come up? how do you address them?

The first misconception I’ve seen with UX is that people believe all the important content needs to be on the home page, front and centre. It’s the equivalent of going to a cocktail party and right after being introduced you blab on nonstop about your business.

I look at the homepage as a simple conversation starter. One to get the user to want to engage more with the site and explore more. Give them a taste of your service or product, a hint of your brand character but don’t hit them over the head with reams of business jargon and big gaudy On Sale Now buttons. The home page should pique the viewers curiosity. Once they’re curious, they’ll engage deeper with your site and seek further content.

The second is misconception is with mobile devices. The adoption of responsive design by businesses is happening too slowly in my opinion. Clients need to change their desktop only mindset and create their responsive counterpart.

A great user experience needs to spread out and get into the hands of a growing mobile world. If your mobile presence is just your desktop designed website where you have to pinch and zoom 10 times to get a contact number, it’s infuriating to your end user. I usually address this with clients by simply saying, “How often do you use your mobile phone to find information about a service or product?” “ OMG! All the time!” Exactly.

4. When developing a UI/UX for a client, how can a well defined marketing strategy help improve the process?

For Modu, proper content planning is the key for any successful project.

Figuring out what the information hierarchy is and how it is written is the first step for a successful user experience. Helping our clients filter out and edit their content makes their messaging simpler, more focused and therefore, easier to create a meaningful user experience. Fonts, text, colours, imagery mean zilch without a proper foundation to build on.

Modu uses a detailed process to help our clients sharpen their message hierarchy to make sure we’re not just throwing “design spaghetti” at a wall hoping to see what sticks (because it never does stick). Now this process does take more time but clients see the benefit and are willing to put in the extra time to do it right the first time. By locking this process at the beginning we’re able to create achievable timelines, hit our clients goals and objectives and create a high quality product at the end. Win Win.

5. In what ways can a well-developed UX support a cross-channel campaign? How can a bad UX sabotage it?

All digital messaging goes cross-channeling these days. Desktop, phone, tablet, social all need to be taken into consideration to create a consistent UX.

When designing with these channels in mind you create a more cohesive experience for the user. A great parallax design concept on your website might not translate your message well on a smartphone or that beautifully laid out homepage design might not work well on most web browsers. These are tiny things that can be easily overlooked and cause big problems for your user. But when thought out, that coherence of message and experience across all channels creates a deeper understanding and connection with the user.

The cost of bad UX can cut deep. A good article by Michael Hagel mentions that over 40% of people will share their bad online experiences with others, and 62% of people will base their future purchases on their past experiences.


Khalid Mokhtarzada profile picture

“Having a strong [brand] core helps align both leadership and team. It makes a statement to the world who you are and where you’re going. ” – Kal Mokhtarzada at Pixel Dreams

Kal’s passion is culture, branding and design. He is a: Father. Husband. Brother. Son. Trekkie Trekker. Partner. Founder. Futurepreneur. Designer. Artist. Fighter for truth & justice. Part-time vegan. Global citizen. Pixel Dreams is a creative agency with a love for culture, branding, and design. Their team of multi-disciplinary design thinkers are passionate, curious, authentic, and driven by purpose.

1. From your experience, what are some of the misconceptions prospective clients have about branding and how can a digital marketing agency address them?

The first major misconception is the term branding. Some believe it’s designing your logo and visual identity. More advanced marketers believe its crafting the personality, character, and perception created by the brand. Branding in its simplest term is the effort to create and maximize your brand.

So, the bigger question is: What is a brand? In Douglas Holt’s book, How Brands Become Icons, he breaks down branding in four categories. Viral, Emotional, Mind-share, and Culture. At Pixel Dreams, we opt to maximize a company’s cultural branding – which has the greatest ROI over the long years.

The second misconception about branding is the ROI it provides. Clients sometimes want to understand what the ROI is (which is fair) in terms of numbers. Unlike other marketing strategies like advertising both online and off, the true value of branding can only be realized throughout the years.

Using Pixel Dreams as a case study, our branding efforts in 2009 still impacts us today, generating buzz and revenue. I would be the first to tell you, I had no idea that our efforts towards our branding would generate so much and for so long.

2. In your presentation at InboundCon, you included a quote which said that a brand’s core ideology is not created but found. What advice can you give those who are struggling to discover their brand vision or don’t know where to start?

Eckhart Tolle speaks about knowing thyself, and to begin, you must first know what you are not. The stripping away of things that you are not, helps one discover what is, the remaining essence of self. You cannot create your brand vision – as it’s really already there deep inside. You must discover, or for some, recover the vision. Jim Collins, author of Great By Choice, Good to Great, and Built to Last, articulates best how to discover your brand vision. It’s a combination of your core ideology and your envisioned future.

3. Pixel Dreams’ philosophy illustrates communication channels as the outermost layer of a brand. How does the core of a brand influence what channels are used? How does it influence the way they are used?

It usually doesn’t. A brand’s channels of communication can change without the need to change the core. In fact, many things can change about a brand and its strategies without changing the core. The core is the eternal, all other things are in flux. A brand needs to select its choice of communication channels based on its goals and objectives, marketing budget, and market condition.

4. When developing your brand assets, what are some of the criteria you use to pick which kinds are suitable for a brand?

The great thing about assets is that you invest once but obtain great value over the years. Therefore, the more brand assets are developed, the better. Obviously, you want to prioritize and stay within a client’s marketing budget. For B2B clients, assets like business cards, proposal decks, email signatures, are more common. For B2C clients it varies quite a bit. You really have to ask what will give the client the biggest bang for their dollar.

5. In what ways can a strong brand support a cross-channel campaign? How can a soft brand (i.e. one with a poorly defined core) sabotage it?

Having a strong brand provide a multiplier effect on your campaign investment. Trustability, refinement of your visual identity, and great customer perception of a brand help close the deal, ultimately increasing conversion. The same campaign for a weaker brand will yield lesser results.

Another benefit to having a strong brand is its associative powers. Stronger brands enjoy loyalty, fanfare, and ambassadorship, even though it chooses to disqualify, and even upset large portions of a market. Think A&F. Weaker brands just blend in into oblivion.

Having a strong core helps align both leadership and team. It makes a statement to the world who you are and where you’re going. It also helps decision making to become smoother and more consistent. Ultimately, a poor core will result in fragmented efforts, disorganization, inconsistencies in communication, and lack of direction. All things that can cripple an organization.


Jon Henshaw profile picture

“… we try to break it down into its simplest components and then package that data into something that’s insightful” – Jon Henshaw at Raven Tools

Jon Henshaw is the co-founder of Raven Tools, an online marketing management and reporting platform for agencies and in-house marketing departments. Raven is trusted by thousands of online marketers for SEO, social media, PPC and analytics.

1. There’s a magazine on the coffee table here that’s titled, “How Big Data Lies to You.” I feel like every marketer feels a bit like that, looking at data from organic and paid search, social media, email, crosses between offline and online marketing–it gets to be too much. How do you and Raven make sense of it?

Big Data can mean a lot of things. For example, the type of data that Nielsen processes is probably closer to the truest definition of Big Data. However, Big Data is now being attributed to any series of datasets that can be unwieldy and difficult to cross reference.

Running with that definition, the first thing that comes to mind is our Site Auditor. Crawling sites and then parsing individual components into meaningful, actionable data can be tricky. That’s especially true when you’re trying to cross-reference thousands of pages and different record types against each other. While that’s a technical challenge, we try to break it down into its simplest components and then package that data into something that’s insightful. For example, we organize and summarize problem areas using terminology that webmasters can understand and then take action on.

Another example of where we combine a lot of data into something that’s simplified is with our “Custom Score” tool (aka CustomRank). We allow our users to create their own site analysis tool based the data points that matter most to them. They can pick and choose from authority and ranking metrics, social metrics and site performance metrics. Then Raven automatically creates a site score based on their preferences. It’s Big Data empowerment ; )

2. Raven gets to work with a lot of clients in different industries. What’s your experience in helping clients deal with tracking cross-channel marketing campaigns?

We’ve found that most agencies like to segment their marketing efforts when it comes to reporting. For example, they might be doing link building, social marketing and email campaigns, but they generally report on them individually. Whenever possible, we combine multiple datasets to help our users report on how well a particular campaign performed.

In the case of email campaigns, we combine data from the ESP (like MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, Contant Contact, EMMA or Aweber) with traffic and conversion results from Google Analytics. That way they can report on both user behavior and how well it converted.

3. What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen clients (or Raven internally) make in analyzing data?

I can’t really speak for our customers, but I can certainly speak for Raven. Other than silly bugs that we try to quickly squash, I think the biggest mistake we’ve made has been not providing enough reporting options, especially with Google Analytics. We’re currently in the process of correcting that. For example, we’ll be launching a new custom chart tool soon that will allow users to create a custom analytics view based on the metrics, dimensions and advanced segments of their choice.

4. Are there any channels that are especially difficult to implement analytics for? Why?

I think the problem everyone has is conversion attribution. This is especially true if a company is using multiple channels, including ones that are offline (print, telephone, conference sponsorships, etc…). Until Google Analytics can figure out how to track and analyze ALL THE THINGS, we’re going to continue to mainly focus on core channels, like social, organic, email, and paid traffic and conversions.

So what are some of your favourite cross channel campaigns you’ve seen or managed as a marketer or at a digital marketing agency? What are some of the worst misconceptions that you’ve run into about your area of practice? Let us know in the comments below!

If you want to learn more about how Digital Marketing can benefit your business, have a Free 30 minute consultation with us.

Tagged with: Analytics, Andy Crestodina, Branding, cross-channel marketing, Digital Marketing, digital marketing agencies, email, Jeremy Rivera, Jon Henshaw, Josh McInerney, Khalid Mokhtarzada, Matt Gratt, seo, Social Media, UX

About Jemar Ugale

Jemar is a SEO and Inbound Marketing Assistant at Powered by Search. When he isn't working, he's probably at Starbucks. Connect with him on Twitter and Google+.