An inherent level of intellectual curiosity. A lifelong desire to keep learning means you will seek out opportunities to improve yourself personally and professionally. There is no standing still in digital marketing.
In this interview series called “How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC, & Email to Dramatically Increase Sales”, Authority Magazine talks to marketers, advertisers, brand consultants, & digital marketing gurus who can share practical ideas from their experience about how to effectively leverage the power of digital marketing, PPC, & email.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I came up in the advertising agency world, which led to me opening my own marketing company along the way. I then was drawn back into corporate life working for a series of high growth, entrepreneurial, technology companies in the healthcare and insurance industries. I eventually made my way to Epcon, which is a homebuilding company that is also a franchising company. In addition to our corporate owned communities in Columbus, Charlotte, Raleigh and Indianapolis, we currently have 71 Franchise Builders in 30 states.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Not sure how funny any mistake is at the time. It takes a while to find humor. In the moment, it can feel like the world is ending, but you later gain perspective. I would use the word joy or a sense of accomplishment as the primary emotions that come through. At the beginning, any effort requires a problem-solving mindset. How will we accomplish “X,” and what steps are needed to get us there? A lot of time, effort and thought goes into building the strategy, executing on that strategy and seeing the results. At the end, was “X” accomplished? If yes, I always try to make sure that my team and the vendors I work with take a moment to feel good about achieving a given goal. So many times in our lives we are pushing towards the next thing or dwelling on things that maybe were not as successful as we would have liked. You have to take time to reflect on the positives.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
So many people impact our lives in positive ways. It may not be apparent right away, but you connect the dots as time passes. Parents, family, friends, coaches, employers, co-workers, and casual acquaintances all impact us. You have to be open to what others have to share with you. Sometimes they are examples of what not to do, and other times they are shining examples that you only hope to aspire to. “Success” is also hard to define, because it’s different for everyone. For some it might be financial, others it’s just freedom to do the things they most want to do. My definition of success is constantly evolving, but very much revolves around my wife and kids. Are they happy, are they safe, do we get to spend time together, are they doing well in school and in life?
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Focus is a word that immediately comes to mind. Our company started in 1986 with a focus on improving the lives of people over the age of 55, and providing a better home and community experience than what was available at that time. This market segment has been the focus since the beginning and has never wavered. It began with the Silent Generation and moved into the Baby Boomers, and the product has evolved over time as buyer needs changed. The company started with an attached home design that was perfect for the needs of the Silent Generation buyer, but then pivoted to a detached single-family home as the Baby Boomers entered the market in greater numbers. Gen X is now turning 55, and our company is going through the work now to better understand the Gen X buyer and how our company and products needs to evolve once again. The second part of the answer is research. Epcon has done the work and research to fully understand our buyers. What they want to buy, where they want to live, and how they want live guides our decisions as a business.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I continue to evolve as none of us are a finished product. The areas I work on the most are patience, flexibility and listening skills. Patience grows over time. Understanding that some changes, whether personal, professional or organizational, take time. Flexibility is the ability to adapt as needs or situations change. I am a big proponent of a well thought out strategy or process for achieving goals, but roadblocks and setbacks invariably come along that may alter the best of plans and opportunities may also arise that require you to deviate along the way. Listening skills are critical in any area of life. Many listen to respond rather than listen to comprehend. If we all talked less and listened more, with intent to understand, the world might be a better place.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
In the homebuilding industry, and marketing in general, technology is rapidly evolving. I am lucky to be of Generation X and to have been able to ride the wave of modern technology. Artificial intelligence, 3D printing, robotics, virtual reality, augmented reality — all of these have unlimited ability to positively impact businesses and the lives of our home buyers. What I really enjoy doing is keeping up-to-date (as much as possible) and then test or implement new things as they make sense for my company or our buyers. The ability to show a potential home buyer exactly what a new home will look like, have them go out into an empty field and hold a device up or put on a pair of goggles and tour the home on location, see what the view out their back windows will be, for example, is very powerful.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. As we mentioned in the beginning, sometimes companies that just start exploring with digital marketing tools like PPC campaigns often see disappointing results. In your opinion, what are a few of the biggest mistakes companies make when they first start out with digital marketing? If you can, please share an example for each.
It is very easy to waste time and money on digital marketing. The biggest mistakes center around not allocating the right budget, not establishing the right strategy for what platforms you use and why, and then trying to do it all yourself or working with outside agencies that are not the right fit. In working with either my own clients or the network of Epcon Franchise Builders, I always start with the question of who will be doing the work. I tend to work with specialists that do one thing really well, not generalists. It’s like needing brain surgery. I’d want the brain surgeon that specializes in the procedure that’s needed, not the general practitioner. You get what you pay for, and if you’re working with a great digital marketing resource, results should start good and then get better over time. I’ve heard the stories of agencies that employ set-it-and-forget-it strategies. They are not constantly evaluating results and refining efforts to maximize results. The agency I work with meets with us monthly to review what’s working, what’s not, and how we might need to reallocate funds to improve performance. Just this year the cost of our digital ads on one particular platform went up 50% between January and April, which impacted our performance. We analyzed the situation together, re-allocated funds from one platform that was not as strong of a performer, and then got our results back on track in May. That is the proactive relationship you need with outside vendors to ensure you are achieving the best possible results. My having an agency background I think is very helpful in that regard because I can speak their language and work collaboratively as a result.
If you could break down a very successful digital marketing campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.
As a homebuilder, working from blueprints is a great analogy. Another term may just be to follow a process.
Step 1: Strategy. Ask yourself what is the reason you’re looking to do digital advertising. Are you looking to drive people to a website, to take an action, to engage with content you’ve produced, or just to be aware that you exist? Also, identify your target audience. It can be different depending on your answer to the first questions.
Step 2: Tactics. Identify what platforms you need to use to reach your target audience. A prime example of this is in how we focus our digital advertising at Epcon. Our franchising company is B2B, so digital advertising on search platforms is very important. Our target audience is existing business owners, existing homebuilders or land developers to be exact. They are searching for solutions to their business challenges, so we want to be on the search platforms when they are searching for solutions. Our homebuilding company is B2C, so it requires a mix of both search platforms and social media platforms. Also, make sure you are allocating the right budget to your overall marketing efforts, and then again allocating enough budget to the specific digital marketing efforts.
Step 3: Execution. Working with the right internal or external resource to get things done. Launch the campaigns, and see what happens. This is where I think it is crucial to use specialists who are well trained and experienced instead of trying to hire an intern or someone else who doesn’t have the specific knowledge necessary to succeed.
Step 4: Measurement. How did the campaigns do? Are you tracking the right metrics according to your strategy and goals?
Step 5: Analysis. What changes should you make to improve performance? What outside factors may have been involved?
Step 6: Refinement. Make the changes based on your evaluation and go again. Rinse and repeat until you start to achieve highly efficient and scalable campaigns. I like to say you should fail fast and fail often, so that you can get the best results.
Let’s talk about Pay Per Click Marketing (PPC) for a bit. In your opinion which PPC platform produces the best results to increase sales?
The Google platforms remain very strong in this area — not only for general search, but also on YouTube. LinkedIn has been much better lately for our B2B efforts, and Facebook and Instagram are very strong for our B2C efforts. But you can never sit back and just expect everything to remain the same. You have to stay on top of new platforms and technologies. The privacy changes underway are going to have an impact on all businesses, especially on the companies that are not staying on top of what’s going on behind the scenes. First-party data will be critical going forward to ensure you can maintain your ability to reach your targeted audiences.
Can you please share 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful PPC campaign?
Allocate the right budget. Establish a strategy and then constantly evaluate it with real metrics. It’s important to measure results so you can compare and see what is working and what isn’t. Keep learning, and make sure you are always looking to see where you can optimize your PPC efforts. What worked even three months ago might not work now.
Let’s now talk about email marketing for a bit. In your opinion, what are the 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful email marketing campaign that increases sales?
When it comes to email, you have to know that inboxes are flooded. People are not waiting for unsolicited emails from companies they’ve never heard of. Email is most effective when you are combining it within an omni-channel marketing efforts. A combination of an email, direct mail, a digital ad campaign and some personal outreach is when the results start to happen. You then have to make sure your message is relevant to the recipient and is easy to understand. I get emails all the time that use language that leaves me asking what the company that sent it to me actually does. Their messages tell me about their company, but they do not tell me why I should care. Email is cheap and easy to do, but really hard to do well.
What are the other digital marketing tools that you are passionate about? If you can, can you share with our readers what they are and how to best leverage them?
In the homebuilding space we employ a number of digital marketing tools like Matterport tours, virtual reality and augmented reality, and we are currently working on an AI tool that will work on our website as well as in our home models. It will help answer questions for home buyers when they most need it, which is when they are researching or making a final buying decision. The future of the homebuilding industry is unfolding very rapidly. It is exciting to be a part of it at such an important time. I’ve worked for technology companies in the past, and I think that allows me to keep pace with the changes that are happening better than someone that may not have been exposed in the same way.
Here is the main question of our series. Can you please tell us the 5 things you need to create a highly successful career as a digital marketer? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- A desire to fail fast and often. That’s how you learn and build efficiencies over time. If it isn’t working, try something different. Do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.
- The willingness to seek out and work with really smart, talented professionals. Digital marketing is evolving rapidly. If you don’t do it full time, it’s hard to keep up with the rapid pace of change. Outsource and delegate to people that do it every day, but keep up-to-date so you can have relevant conversations. Constantly build your network, and be willing to take meetings with vendors you don’t currently work with to learn what they do.
- An aptitude for analytics. The truth is in the numbers, you just have to know how to find it. Sometimes the true story is not readily apparent, and you have to learn how to find the connections in the data.
- An inherent level of intellectual curiosity. A lifelong desire to keep learning means you will seek out opportunities to improve yourself personally and professionally. There is no standing still in digital marketing.
- An understanding that digital is not all there is. Traditional marketing still has its place and can be very effective. It’s just a matter of dialing in over time the right mix of traditional and digital marketing that leads to the best results.
What books, podcasts, videos or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
There are a lot of really smart people in the marketing profession and around the homebuilding industry. I listen to several podcasts such as Focus 3 with Tim Kight, Marketing Profs, New Construction Marketing Podcast, Sales & Marketing Power Hour, Builder Marketing Podcast, Market Proof Marketing, and many others. I also do my best to attend conferences such as the International Builders’ Show, TecHome Builder Summits, HMX Summit, Content Marketing World, and the Franchise Development & Marketing Conference. There are so many quality podcasts and conferences, it is hard to attend them all, so you have to pick and choose from year to year. I typically listen to podcasts on the treadmill. It’s a great time to focus and absorb what is being presented.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Affordability and attainability remain elusive for a large segment of the housing market. A national, collective effort will be required to tackle this issue. There are a number of evolving projects in this area, and connecting the dots may help lead to larger change. I was previously in the healthcare IT space, and universal health records was a movement that began with great fanfare, but never fully took off due to competitive conflicts between health care systems.
How can our readers further follow your work?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
This article is published on Medium.