At this point, every business knows that they need to have a digital presence. But creating an effective digital marketing program that drives results isn’t as easy as designing a website, building in SEO, and collecting a social media following.
Kevin Wilhelm, the author of the new book, Click: Transform Your Business Through Digital Marketing, breaks down what building a successful digital marketing program looks like, and how to successfully bring all the different elements together. He explains the questions they need to ask themselves in order to ensure their digital marketing program is successful.
Digital Marketing Beginnings
Nikki Van Noy: So, Kevin, you’ve been at this for a long time, but tell me what the digital marketing world was like back in the old days of 2008?
Kevin Wilhelm: Wow, that was the old days? Yeah. Ten, eleven years ago, Facebook had just come out and was changing the game. YouTube was in infancy and the digital marketing space really came down to convincing business owners they needed a website, that they should be advertising on Google, which was fairly new. Google was in their preschool ages at that point in terms of advertising. SEO was the wild-wild west and there was a lot of unknown on the horizon and fear from a lot of business owners, rather than excitement, which is where it should have gone.
Nikki Van Noy: That leads into an interesting point, which is how did you get into this in the first place because it wasn’t an emerging field.
Kevin Wilhelm: I was raised by parents that told me, if I go to university, I could be anything I wanted, and I could leave university and make $80,000 a year. That was my expectation. I didn’t even fathom the possibility of making less. So, it’s kind of funny because when I sat in my first job interviews, now that I interview people right at the university, if I’d been looking down at myself in those interview rooms, I must have seemed very arrogant, but I came out with an expectation that I should be making that type of money.
So, I got a lot of doors closed in my face right out of university. I was a little bit discouraged and I saw an ad that said I could work with small to medium-size businesses with their marketing and there was no cap, in terms of compensation. All of that sort of checked the box for me, and I went to the interview. I found out that it was a sales position selling both print and digital media for Canada’s largest media company, which was the Canadian Yellow Pages, which is different than what you would find in the United States.
The Canadian Yellow Pages own that name and so they were really a dominant player–really, the only directory book. They were going through a big transition when I showed up, which happened to be 2008. They were really looking to transform their product offering from simply a book to a suite of digital solutions. For the first couple of years, I did work in sales and I worked with hundreds of business owners and really understood and learned the issues that they faced every day, their outlook on marketing, and just their outlook on business in general.
When the business transitioned, when Yellow Pages transitioned to more of a digital medium, they put together this task force that I was asked to be a part of. The taskforce really was transforming from print to digital, and I joined a sort of an elite group of digital marketing experts with some really tenured, senior people in the organization. I learned a ton.
We were essentially trained to become digital marketing masters. We had amazing guest speakers brought in and we went to boot camps. I learned a lot of my digital marketing skills there because of Yellow Pages’ necessity to transform into that space. From there, I actually was pursuing sales. My passion is marketing and while I was looking at the sales route, I decided I had to take one final look at marketing and see if it was my path forward because I really wanted to stay in marketing.
I applied and actually got the job of running the entire marketing department for a company called BrightPath Early Learning, which is Canada’s largest network of childcare and preschool centers. At the time, they were publicly owned, and it was on the stock market, and so I ran a national brand of marketing.
So, for years I was selling, and then on the other side I was buying, then I understood firsthand what it was like to deal with agencies, to just be pitched SEO, be pitched Google advertising, and why the cost of websites are the way they are.
From all of that, I formed an opinion and decided, “I want to do this myself and I feel like there’s just a better way. There’s a better way of providing agency services.” Some of those frustrations that I felt were that every time I talked to somebody that was selling, they didn’t know my business, they didn’t know my industry, they didn’t really care about me, and their solution was always to buy more product.
I was dedicated to really understanding the client’s industries and their businesses and finding scalable solutions. I really wanted to start predicting ROI. I took about six months and planning out the business before I took the jump and left the job that I was in. I left the company, and I had essentially no clients and no real path forward, but I knew what I wanted to create. I partnered with Bruce, you’re going to see him in the book, who is the owner of a very large home services company in our hometown.
We became partners because he understood the overwhelming necessity for effective digital marketing, and he just hadn’t found that solution for himself. We were introduced by a mutual friend, we worked really well together, and together we started the agency. He was more of a mentor and a financial partner, and me doing the day-to-day work. He essentially became our first client.
That was January 1st, 2014 and from that, we’ve grown the company to be millions of dollars of recurring revenue over a hundred clients across North America, implementing proven digital marketing solutions in various vertical niches.
Nikki Van Noy: POD marketing is the agency that you founded in 2014 that you were just mentioning. When people come to you when your clients come to you, what are some of their biggest pain points? Where are they really struggling?
Kevin Wilhelm: When they come to us, they typically realize that they have built an effective and successful business, but they realize that their current solution is holding them back for one of a variety of reasons. One is they don’t believe, and they haven’t seen success in marketing, they’ve built a really good business, which has resulted in incredible word of mouth, and so they’ve built a business there, but they’re limited by the number of customers or clients they see. They know there’s more and they know marketing’s going to help them.
Or they have a current solution that isn’t as effective as they would like it to be, and that could look like multiple vendors. So, they have somebody managing their websites, someone managing their SEO’s, and their social media. They end up having to play quarterback and coming up with all the ideas, and then project managing three or four different companies, which ultimately results in the blame game because you if you don’t get the results you’re looking for, everybody’s quick to point the finger at everyone else. That is very frustrating as a business or an entrepreneur, and you don’t have time to deal with that. That was a pain point.
The other one, which I mentioned earlier, is that the marketing team or the marketing people they deal with don’t understand their industry and they don’t understand their particular pain point. They’re spending time training the marketing people to understand their company and their industry in the competitive landscape, which is expensive because you are paying for their time. They’re not going to be as proficient out of the gate, because they just don’t understand, and they’ve never done it before. Those are all of the pain points that I saw.
The last one would be every time I talked about, “I need more leads, I need more customers.” The answer was always, “Spend more money with me.” Instead of, “Let’s be more effective, or how can we just improve the results?” It was always spending more money. That can’t be the solution every time, so add up all of those problems. When I started the agency, I interviewed a lot of entrepreneurs and business owners and friends that were media buyers in marketing, and I asked them about these pain points, and these were the consistent answers that I got.
When I created the agency, I said, “I get to start from scratch here, let’s put together a solution that solves all of these problems at once.”
Nikki Van Noy: How can businesses navigate when you bring in an agency, and they’re inherently not in your industry, is that a problem that can be resolved through an agency? Or can businesses start to bring an in-house element to their digital marketing strategy?
Kevin Wilhelm: It’s a great question and I don’t think it has to be either-or. I think a combination can be there. For me, the industries that I’m in currently, and some are in healthcare, so we have an agency in optometry called Marketing4ECP’s, we’re in dental, and the agency is called SmileShop Marketing. In almost every industry that I know of, there are agencies that are there to understand and deal with the majority of their clients in that industry. You can search out and find agencies in your space that will have efficiencies built up.
However, having internal people give you the responsiveness and the ground floor feedback that you’re missing with an agency that says, “What’s actually happening when the phone rings? Are we able to convert? What type of questions are they asking? What are we seeing, what type of customers and prospects are we seeing?”
That adds a feedback loop back to the marketing agency, and that’s where the real magic happens. When there’s a partnership between both the internal marketing function and the external marketing function because when you hire internally, it’s almost impossible to find the person that’s great at everything. I know we call them unicorns and I truly don’t know if that person exists, that’s an amazing website developer, also understands SEO, a great content writer, and that can also come up with very creative concepts.
Marketing is so diverse. What agencies bring to the table is they offer that specialization in different areas of marketing that you need, rather than a generalist that can do pretty well everywhere.
The Right Message
Nikki Van Noy: How can a company make itself stand out in the digital landscape so that the people they want to find them can actually find them?
Kevin Wilhelm: I love that question. Effective marketing essentially comes down to delivering the right message to the right person at the right moment. And the companies that are doing this effectively are the ones that are winning.
So, what that means is from a strategic standpoint, is really understanding who your target audience is. Not who it is today, but who do you want it to be? Everybody has that customer they deal with, and the customer they want to deal with. So, start building your marketing around the person you want to deal with, and then understand where they spend their time online. Marketing, in general, is about putting the right message in front of them where they are.
Understanding your audience’s mindset, how they spend their day, and what type of digital mediums they are using. Are they using Spotify, Gmail, are they on Facebook, or Instagram or Snapchat? How are they spending their day? That way, you know how to target them.
You need to understand your geographic market size, and there is a threshold, maybe you’re a pizza delivery place, and your threshold is only where your free delivery goes, or you could be an engineering firm and the world is your market. So, understand your marketplace geographically. Then it comes down to putting together a campaign or creative message that speaks to the pain points. Such as, “If you hire us, your life will be like this,” and really highlighting the positive result of using that product or service and putting it in front of the right person at the right time.
Then tracking how effective these campaigns are and being able to optimize them. So, there’s a lot of noise. I think the word noise is appropriate when certain companies and advertisers just blanket the market without any strategy. They just feel like they have to show my logo and my name over and over again, and they’re going to spend a lot of money doing that. But if you can become very strategic in terms of what you say, how you say it, and to whom, then that’s when marketing works.
Nikki Van Noy: Speaking as a consumer, I know that when I see the same company over and over again and it doesn’t apply to me, I either become blind to it after a while, or I get annoyed by it, which is obviously the opposite of what they’re looking to do.
Kevin Wilhelm: You’re right, there is audience profiling that effective digital marketing should do, and it’s when that person either fits the right demographic or they’re in the buying cycle right now. So, let’s use automobiles as an example, you realize when you’re starting to shop for a new car and you’ve narrowed it down to a particular make and model, you start seeing it everywhere.
It’s not just on the street that you see, you probably start to see it everywhere online as well because automobile manufacturers have big agencies behind them that do great things, and part of it is as soon as you start searching for a particular car–let’s say it’s a four-door sedan–you’re going to start to see four-door sedan ads show up in your Facebook feed and, on the weather network, and on CNN in the side ads.
If you get engaged, you’re going to start seeing a lot with wedding photography and wedding venues. If you’re traveling to Las Vegas, you’re going to start seeing advertising for shows and the restaurants. The better the message fits where you are in your life, the more effective the marketing is, and the more effective and more likely you are to actually click on the ads and start consuming the content.
Nikki Van Noy: Speaking as someone who recently bought a car, I can confirm that is correct and it is effective in that particular instance.
Kevin Wilhelm: It’s actually what you want as a consumer. You’re in the buying cycle, you’re currently enjoying your free time, and you are hoping you don’t miss a particular make or model that you haven’t thought of, you want to make sure that you’re hitting it at the right price, that the service is there, the warranty is there, and you’re actively trying to learn as much as you can. So the people that win the game, the companies, the ones that are delivering the content that you care about, again, in the moment that you are actually researching and the moment you’re thinking about it–that’s when you’re going to start clicking.
The problem is, once you’ve purchased the car, it’s kind of annoying to start seeing those ads, three, six, or nine months after. Because now you’re like, “Okay, I’ve been there, I’ve done that, I don’t need to see it anymore.” They should be thinking about the life cycle of how long it takes somebody to buy a car and then they start pulling those ads back and spending those dollars on other people.
Nikki Van Noy: I think you made a really interesting point in there which is that this phenomenon appears to work offline also. As soon as you start thinking about a certain Honda model, that’s suddenly all you see anywhere. It’s like it’s the only car that exists that you didn’t notice before.
So, it makes sense to me that when you’re in the buying cycle, what’s happening digitally is sort of a reflection of how the human brain already works. It starts to parse through information to what it’s focusing on.
Kevin Wilhelm: Yeah, absolutely. That’s what branding and advertising is all about. It’s implanting your brand with the synonyms that you want your brand to be known for and associated with, without the consumer knowing that. So that when they enter the buying cycle and they see your logo, what they think might be for the first time, but they have actually seen it 20 or 30 times, and they have an emotional attachment to it because of the advertising and messages that they’ve seen.
You want to make sure that it’s done tastefully so that it doesn’t annoy them to the point where they have a negative connotation with your brand.
A Success Story
Nikki Van Noy: Do you have a favorite story, a company you’ve worked for with POD Marketing who was struggling in some way with their digital marketing program and came out of the experience thriving?
Kevin Wilhelm: Well, the one I like to tell the most often because I have been with them the longest, is our first client and also my partner’s business, which is why I can share a little bit more about his business than I can of others. That is the story of Action Furnace. This is your typical small to medium size business but without the typical owner mindset.
The reason that I highlight them is that the results that I can share with you are not purely because of the agency strategy. It is also because of the mindset of the owner and that’s why we have been able to see such great results.
When we started working with this company, they were successful. When people come to us, they typically are successful and they were utilizing many different forms of digital advertising, trying everything that they could.
When we put in a strategic approach bringing all of these services under one roof, having their SEO department talking to their social media, talking to their website, talking to paid ads, and having strategy sessions with all these people together, we re-launched the website with the consumer in mind, which fed off of the type of ads that we were running on Google, that fed off of the advertising and the messaging, that fed off the type of content that we created for SEO and social media.
When you add all of that together, we see a company that was originally a little bit gun-shy to spend a ton of money on digital marketing and instead had a lot more in traditional. When they started to see the results, 10 times ROI for every dollar they put in digital, they started to really open up their budget. They’ve actually moved to an unlimited budget model because they know that for every dollar they put into Google Search, for instance, they are seeing a minimum 10 times return on that money. So, they continue to run ads as long as they have availability to service.
We have seen this company grow from $9 million a year when we started working with them, to over $20 million in a period of just over four years. When you look at the growth of the company that’s 30 plus years old and see that they grew by over a 100% because they have the mindset of being willing to invest, and willing to try new things, and allowing their agency partner to put in particular strategies that are founded in proof–that is when you start seeing a formula really work. That is probably the most successful case that we have seen.
Many times, we see people that have never advertised at all on digital advertising. They have been either a yellow page’s customer, or they have done radio only or done direct mail only. When they start to implement digital strategies, they’re amazed at the type of feedback that they can get, and that people are actually seeing their ads and clicking on them.
Phone calls can be recorded, and leads can be trapped. They start to see the journey that their customers are taking in interacting with all of their marketing, and all of their digital media and that gives them the confidence to keep reinvesting. Because of that, they start to witness exponential growth.
The Science of Marketing
Nikki Van Noy: The thing that I really appreciate hearing about you talk is because there is a creative aspect to marketing, it seems like it could be easy to focus on that and sort of shoot blindly, but what you’re describing is that there is actually a lot of science to it. It seems like an extremely organized process that you can follow to make it more of a science that this wild art.
Kevin Wilhelm: I think you nailed that. When we started the company, the tagline that we launched with on week one was, “The science of marketing and the power of collaboration.” Digital marketing really allows you to understand the scientific approach to marketing because it really becomes a math equation. If I generate X number of impressions, which is how many times an ad is served, that will result in so many people seeing the ad and clicking on it, and going to my website, which will result in so many people calling me, which will result in so many people becoming my customer, spending X dollars. Those dollars that are generated when compared to how much I spent for those initial impressions, builds your whole return on marketing investment.
There is a scientific approach and then you can start manipulating certain areas. You make the website more effective, so it converts at a higher rate. You try to bring the cost of your clicks down. All of those sorts of things you can manipulate. However, the other side, which is what marketing is all about, is telling your story more effectively than your competitors. I think if you take it a step back, it is actually defining what your story is, what makes you unique? So many people that I ask, and I say, “What do you do that is different?” They struggle answering questions about what makes them different than their competitors.
Our job is to try to pull out of them why customers choose them and why they come back. Why are they choosing you again, and why do they refer you? Focusing in on those answers because if new customers are choosing you, and they are referring you, there is a good chance that there are other people out there that would value the same reasons. Good marketing is about finding those people and then telling that story in an effective way.
Nikki Van Noy: For listeners who are feeling motivated right now, what one thing they can do as soon as they stop listening to this podcast, outside of buying the book, to start to incorporate some of this into their own business.
Kevin Wilhelm: The first thing that should happen is building goals, and understanding what success looks like from a marketing standpoint in your business. I recommend looking three years out. Where do you want to sales to be, where do you want your profits to be, what is your revenue, what products are you selling? What is your profit margin? Then writing that on paper.
Then backtracking one year from today. What do you have to achieve in the next year in order to be on track to hit your three-year target? Then backtrack again and what do you have to do in the next three months? That sort of mindset, that thinking, will start to help. I tell everybody that your website is the most important thing, and digitally it probably is. However, you may have the world’s most effective website and so, I wouldn’t start there.
It is really coming back to–what do I want to accomplish in three years? What do I have to do in one year to hit that? And then what do I need to do in the next 90 days to make sure that I am on pace for all of this? Whether it is hiring the right marketing team, making sure that we understand the story that we need to tell, or just getting on Google ads and investing in this and see where that could take you.
So that path is going to be a little different for everybody. That is outlined in the book. It is creating that marketing plan and saying, “Where do I need to start, and then, what are the steps in order to get there?”
Nikki Van Noy: Great, another thing that really strikes me about what you are talking about here is that it is very industry agnostic.
Kevin Wilhelm: Yes, this is the business approach. This could be applied to your finance department, your HR department, and it really is more of a strategic approach in business that just happens to be in marketing. When you put this in your own business from a 10,000-foot view, and you apply it to all of your divisions, we are talking about marketing specifically, and that is where you are putting in sales targets, profit margins, product mix, and backdating it from there. It is definitely not industry specific. It is more business specific.
Is There a Better Way?
Nikki Van Noy: All right Kevin, is there anything we haven’t gotten to that we want to make sure listeners are in the loop with?
Kevin Wilhelm: If you are listening to this podcast, you are probably already on your way to achieving success, because the business owners, the entrepreneurs, and marketers that are complacent, the ones that have given up and believe that things happen to them, they are the ones that are not spending time investing themselves, and looking for business books such as Click that are going to help you grow your marketing.
My advice really is to keep an open mind to the idea of, “Is there a better way to do things?” As digital marketing changes so quickly, the philosophy of implementing and trying new things, tracking if it works, and then reinvesting and reallocating the funds that actually work, and reinvesting into the profitable avenues, that sort of theory will always be the way that marketing should be done. So, I highly recommend business owners and marketers to stay very amiable and very open to change. Be willing to try new things and have feedback loops in place to make sure you know what is working and what is not working.
Nikki Van Noy: And my last very important question for you, on the back cover of your book, you have a picture of a high top with the word click in it.
Kevin Wilhelm: Yeah.
Nikki Van Noy: What is that about?
Kevin Wilhelm: So, I took a family vacation to Victoria, BC, and for anyone that has not been to Vancouver Island, it is one of the most beautiful places in the entire world. So, I’m with my family, and we’re walking by a store and it had a little A-frame sign that said, “World’s Largest Collection of Converse Shoes.” I said, “Okay, prove it.” We walked in and there were hundreds–I mean, my daughter walked out with a high top of a watermelon design, I don’t know why but that’s what she wanted.
There were hundreds, and then on one wall, there’s a wall that says custom kicks. I go, “Okay, perfect.” I created a sort of a wall of fame in my office. Inside my office, when we work with a new client locally, we will design them a pair of Chuck Taylor Converse shoes. We will mail them a pair for them to wear, we’ll mail them the right shoe to put up in their office and the left shoe goes on my wall, as sort of a wall of fame.
So, when you come into my office, you can see all the clients that we work with. When we designed the book, I knew this had to go on the wall because it’s something that I’m very proud of, and so it has a place on my wall.
Nikki Van Noy: Okay, that’s really freaking cool. I mean, that’s the great marketing right there, I’m sold.
Kevin Wilhelm: Yeah, when customers open up their pair, what do they always do? They will always take a picture of it on Instagram. They share it with their network, which are typically other business owners, and they’ll always tag us thanking us for the gifts. So, it does work.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah, these are very cool looking shoes, listeners can’t see them right now, but it is worth looking at the book or the book cover specifically for that. Is this an actual pair of the shoes that you use?
Kevin Wilhelm: Yes, they are–I have two pairs, one that I wear, and one that sits on my wall in my office.