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Marketer of The Month Podcast- Driving Growth in the Digital Marketing Landscape – Lessons from the Forerunner of Digital Innovation in the Early 2000s
09/08/2022 Sakshi Gahlawat
19 min read

Hey there! Welcome to the Marketer Of The Month blog! 

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We recently interviewed Aaron Marks for our monthly podcast – ‘Marketer of the Month’! We had some amazing insightful conversations with Aaron and here’s what we discussed – 

1. Starting out as a webmaster in the early 2000s digital marketing scene.

2. Establishing quantifiable goals as a marketing professional.

3. Why building relationships with your target audience should be your top priority.

4. How to establish your organization as an industry authority.

5. The debate around AI being a major force in marketing in the future.

6. Aaron’s thoughts on Apple search campaigns switching to a cost-per-tap (CPT) pricing model.

About our host: 

Dr. Saksham Sharda is the Chief Information Officer at Outgrow.co. He specializes in data collection, analysis, filtering, and transfer by the means of widgets and applets. Interactive, cultural, and trending widgets designed by him have been featured on TrendHunter, Alibaba,  ProductHunt, New York Marketing Association, FactoryBerlin, Digimarcon Silicon Valley, and at The European Affiliate Summit.  

About our guest:

In the early 2000s, when digital marketing was primarily about website design and digital experts were frequently referred to as “webmasters”, Aaron founded his own boutique agency and became a digital marketing expert. Since then, he has worked with numerous organizations and clients of all sizes, demonstrating his steadfast belief in inbound marketing, which involves gaining interest in your product or services rather than pushing them on customers. 

Driving Growth in the Digital Marketing Landscape – Lessons from the Forerunner of Digital Innovation in the Early 2000s

The Intro!

Saksham Sharda: Hi, everyone. Welcome to another episode of outgrows marketer of the month. I’m your host, Dr. Saksham Sharda. I’m the creative director at Outgrow.co And for this month we’re going to interview Aaron Marks who is the founder of Aspire Marketing Group, which is an inbound marketing agency that focuses on companies in the tech and forensics space. Thanks for joining us, Aaron.

Aaron Marks: Hey, thanks for having me.

Don’t have time to read? No problem, just watch the Podcast!

Or you can just listen to it on Spotify!

The Rapid Fire Round!

rapid fire

Saksham Sharda: So Aaron, we’re going to start with the rapid-fire round just to break the ice, you get three passes. In case you don’t want to answer the question, you can just say pass, but try to keep your answers to one word or one sentence only.

Aaron Marks: Okay.

Saksham Sharda: The first one, would you rather be able to speak every language in the world or be able to talk to animals?

Aaron Marks: Every language in the world.

Saksham Sharda: At what age do you want to retire?

Aaron Marks: 60

Saksham Sharda: What’s the type of triangle with two equal sides called again?

Aaron Marks: Isosceles

Saksham Sharda: Yeah, that’s correct. What type of milk do you put in your cereal?

Aaron Marks: Skin

Saksham Sharda: A tomato is a fruit or vegetable?

Aaron Marks: Technically, a fruit.

Saksham Sharda: What would you do if you were stranded on a deserted island with nothing?

Aaron Marks: I’ll pass on that one.

Saksham Sharda: What is something that people often get wrong about you?

Aaron Marks: I’ll go with a little talkative.

Saksham Sharda: When are you the most productive?

Aaron Marks: Late at night.

Saksham Sharda: What’s something you could eat for a week straight?

Aaron Marks: Thai food.

Saksham Sharda: An idea or ideology that you live by?

Aaron Marks: Doing right by the customer.

Saksham Sharda: What advice would you give your younger self?

Aaron Marks: Don’t take everything quite so seriously.

Saksham Sharda: What’s the first thing you notice about someone when you meet them?

Aaron Marks: The way that they communicate.

Saksham Sharda: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever consumed?

Aaron Marks: Maybe bugs, quite a few times.

Saksham Sharda: Bungee jumping or skydiving?

Aaron Marks: Neither.

Saksham Sharda: All right. Well, that was the end of the rapid-fire round.

The Big Questions!

Saksham Sharda: Let’s go on to the long-form questions. The first one is with experience dating back to the early 2000s, would you consider the term webmaster to be the ancient equivalent of a digital project manager or a content editor today?

Aaron Marks: I think it was both. That’s a really funny question. Because that’s where I started my career was the webmaster title. And then in the mid-early 2000s, that was digital marketing. But yeah, I remember it was a little bit of everything. The webmaster was everything from managing to building websites to writing all the content, it was everything.

Saksham Sharda: And how do you think that role has evolved in the years to come?

Aaron Marks: I really think that it’s probably oversimplifying a bit. But in reality, there were 1 to 3  roles in the digital marketing world at that time, right there. There really wasn’t much diversity to what digital marketing can be. And it’s funny, I was just talking to one of my friends who was a doctor and he obviously, just as I have no idea what he does, he has no idea what I do. And he was just joking. And he was like, how many specialties in digital marketing could there be? And I stopped and thought about it. I was like dozens. So it’s really diversified. And there’s everything from generalized roles to specialized roles. So it’s changed massively, which I think is cool.

Saksham Sharda: And where do you think it is headed towards? Do you think it’s going to become even more and more specialized, where are we heading towards with this job title in general?

Aaron Marks: That’s a great question. I do think that it is kind of the natural evolution as there are more things you can specialize in. And I think that there are things that have grown a lot over the last decade that continue to evolve in different ways, like conversion rate optimization is the one that’s immediately coming to my mind, which is a super specialized role. And there I think, there’s everything these days from people that can wear that hat and others. I consider myself one of those where you can kind of do that within the scope of many other things. And there are people that only specialize in that skill set. I certainly think that’s gonna continue to diversify.

Saksham Sharda: And when it comes to measuring quantifiable goals as a marketing professional, whatever the job title is, how do you like to go about doing these personally? And what rules would you have for these?

Aaron Marks: Yeah, so it’s interesting, I’m a big believer in this idea that everything you do in marketing stems down from your customer understanding, whether you call that buyer personas, whether you call that your ideal customer profiles, your ICPs, I think there’s a lot of overlap, but even how you measure things, I think comes down to who your customer is. And it all starts there. So from a measurement perspective, I think that there are so many ways you can skin that for free, just kind of using that thing. But when you think about, like, how do you measure top-of-funnel success on a website? Is it a traffic-based measurement? Is it a lead-based measurement? Those personas inform that a lot. And the other thing is the two pieces that really determine marketing success. The other thing is understanding the business objectives and aligning marketing objectives to them. So, I think that really changes. There are some metrics that I think you can pretty universally use. But when it really comes to a specific business, how should you measure success? What is the business objective combined with? Who are the personas you’re trying to reach? And I hope that answers that.

Saksham Sharda: And could you give us an example of a customer for whom you came up with, I guess, different, or some kind of quantifiable goals that you can talk about here?

Aaron Marks: So I think a good example is a forensics firm that I work with. In California, they continue to have two different business objectives, which I don’t think are particularly uncommon, but they are measured in different ways. So objective one is your classic, we want more leads, we want everything that drives more leads, we want more demand for what we’re selling, and what they sell is very transactional. Right? So I think an interesting piece of the forensic space is that the customers tend to be very transactional, they come in and they disappear. So how do you one, get more of that transactional stuff happening? But then two, of course, they would love to be a business that people repeat and buy from. So on that kind of let’s generate more leads, let’s generate more demand. Some of the metrics we use for that are, how much traffic are we getting? How are we doing on SEO? In particular, there’s kind of an industry leader that we focused on a lot in that space. And so we’ve benchmarked ourselves a lot against the industry leader saying, “Hey, we know that they’re probably spending 5-10 x what we are, and if we can achieve similar rankings on SEO and the downstream impact of that traffic, that’s a huge start”. And then the other metric we’re using, really to measure that is the conversion rate on their website. So when we started working together, I’m going to estimate that I think it was about one in 200. So about half a percent of their visitors were turning into leads into their system, into their CRM. And that’s not uncommon when a business hasn’t put a lot of thought into that. A lot of thought into how you build an engine on your website that drives leads and converts them into actually being leads in your database, I guess. From, “hey, I’m anonymous and browsing to hey, I’m actually a named person that you can target”. So over time, we’ve brought that up to over 2%. And I think that one measurement of success is, “hey, you’re getting more visitors to the website, and you’re converting four times as many”. That’s a huge change as far as the total universe of prospects that you have. The second half of that is retaining existing customers. And so things that we’re using a measure that ranges from a customer satisfaction metrics, like net promoter score, we brought that in and started measuring that on a regular basis. And using net promoter score to inform “Hey, if you love us, your promoter, let’s make sure that we’re proactively asking you for reviews and asking you for testimonials, referrals, even all that kind of stuff”. So that’s one of those really kind of key metrics that we’ve used to measure customer satisfaction and also just rate of return over a 12-month period, how many of them are returning? And do we have campaigns that are effective, that increase that percentage of people that are coming to do return business, because this really is traditionally a customer base that they’ve seen once every few years? And so everyone pretty much knows that the cost of retaining and getting more business from an existing customer is significantly lower with virtually every business than it is to acquire a new customer. So measuring two different things in two different ways, some traditional measurements and some things that I think we’re pretty new for their business.

Saksham Sharda: But do you think that the primary goal should be to establish relationships with your target audience? And if yes, how would you advise upcoming marketers to master this step?

Aaron Marks: Yeah, I think I’ve actually been in roles. And I think that one of the biggest risks of marketing is to be in a role where you just start making assumptions about your customers. Before I started Aspire two years ago, give or take just a little bit. I spent the prior decade or so in the house, and I had in-house rules that were extremely customer-facing. And I had in-house rules, where basically it was a corporation, and it didn’t have that touch. And I absolutely think one of the most important things for a marketer to do is to make sure that they feel close to the customer. That all starts with doing buyer persona work, but the problem was buyer persona work is that it can’t just be based on in-house knowledge, right? There has to be that element of getting out, actually talking to customers, or at least actually talking to customers in this day and age getting out I mean what we’re doing here, essentially, but making decisions without understanding your customers is best case, probably not going to be as successful and most likely is setting you up to fail pretty significantly. And obviously, as a marketer, that’s never a place you want to be in.

Saksham Sharda: And so how does one go about even trying to establish that organization as an industry authority in this field of marketing?

Aaron Marks: There’s an approach that I’ve been using quite a lot and actually going through with a client right now, so in a position to speak about this pretty fresh-mindedly. Again, it all starts with understanding the customers and what this particular client is doing. He has an existing customer base, but this guy actually reached out to me. He’s in the FinTech space and said, I don’t understand my customers at all. And first of all amazing that he’s comfortable letting go and admitting that because most people aren’t. But he reached out to me, he’s like, I don’t even know how to market or sell to these people because they don’t even know where to begin. So we are actually doing customer interviews and using those customer interviews, to become like you said, a thought leader in your space. Once you’ve done those customer interviews, the big things you want to take away when you’re building personas, and building ICPs from that are, what are their biggest challenges? What are their biggest goals? In the context of what you yourself because obviously, you think about any B2B professional, they have a lot of different goals and objectives, but in the context of what you can solve, what are their problems? And how do you uniquely solve them? And how do you message that, once you understand the challenges and the problems and how uniquely solve them, you can turn to a platform like SEMrush, which we use a lot, there are plenty of others out there that are really strong as well, Moz, Ahrefs, all really strong platforms in their own right, but you can turn to them? And you can say, Okay, now that I understand their goals, their challenges, and how we solve them. What are some things that this person might search for on Google to address this problem? So the first step is to say, here are some of those keywords that are commonly searched when people are symptomatic with that problem. And once you have that information, then you can start to say what types of content we should create based on these challenges. We call that process of aligning content to SEO research and people’s needs content mapping, which I didn’t certainly come up with. That’s, I think, a HubSpot terminology who always loves anything that HubSpot comes up with. And so, this is at the top of the funnel, what types of content are needed, the middle and the bottom of the funnel? What do we have? So you do that gap analysis and then you should have an understanding of what needs to be created. Fairly simplified look at that, but that’s how I always have approached this throughout my career.

Saksham Sharda: And so what are the limitations of these two? Do you think tools are the go-to strategy for everything?

Aaron Marks: I love that question. Because I think most people are very content to either say marketing as a science, or marketing as an art. It’s both, and depending on what you’re doing that day, and what area of marketing you’re specifically working in, that blends changes. So there’s a lot of science and what I just described, the challenge that I see Junior marketers working, struggle with, especially in the first few years when I started my business and needed help. The first team members I could afford to bring on were junior team members to support me. And I think the biggest challenge and where the art comes in is, it’s not just “hey, scientifically we know that”. Let’s say I don’t know financial solutions thinking about this FinTech, like financial solutions for finance professionals. That’s the very bottom of the funnel and intense search. So I’m just kind of spitballing a little bit here. But we know that this gets a lot of search volume. That’s great. What you need the art for is understanding, is this something this person would actually search for? How relevant is it to them? You know, all of those things. And the second piece of this is everyone says content in 2022. But the differentiator is, Are you actually creating, helpful, useful content? Are you really creating things that are useful? Are you just basically repeating what everybody else is saying? Because if you’re doing that, you don’t have enough unique value. So to me, the success isn’t just, “hey, here’s all the scientific stuff”, but really understanding, are we creating the right stuff? Does this actually make sense in the context of a deep customer understanding? This is why marketing can’t just have a shallow customer understanding because it’s easy, than to just trust all the data and not challenge it intuitively. And making sure then that you’re really creating awesome, impactful helpful content to enable that buyer.

Saksham Sharda: So in your opinion then, marketing is not something that artificial intelligence would take over? Because we already have software that has like in a copy.ai, where you can just generate copies and mass and like, do you think that is something, that is the future of marketing?

Aaron Marks: In general I’ll take the short-term and the long-term view in answering that. Let’s do that short-term. No, I’ve tried these technologies. I’ve even tried to just improve my copy with it. And I’ve struggled a lot, very familiar with a couple of those because I actually view them. And I don’t know that they’re there yet. I think in the short term, I’m less concerned than I probably was even a few years ago about the threat that AI brings to the marketing trade. All of these copy-based things just seem to you my sense, as they read pretty artificially. On the flip side in the long term is a really interesting question. And I think that we could probably talk for 20 minutes about that and speculate, but in the interest of time, my sense is, I think we have no idea today what AI is capable of, or at least I certainly don’t as a layperson. But I imagine that AI is going to be a VC firm that I worked with a lot and I really like it as I imagined AI is going to be an end and not an ‘or’ for marketers for the foreseeable future. I don’t see it replacing people’s jobs but I do see the copywriting stuff, maybe you need some refinement in my experience but even when you think about, again big HubSpot platform where HubSpot gold partners, so we work with them a lot. HubSpot is starting to build AI into their platform, for example, to help you identify how your sales team is performing calls, for example, or another one is machine learning that uses instead of using traditional lead scoring machine learning to predict how likely contact is to close into a deal. I do think that’s really valuable, but again I think that’s the end that helps us do our jobs. I don’t think that’s an order where we need to feel threatened by that technology. At least I don’t right now.

Saksham Sharda: Okay, so putting that aside, let’s come to things that have actually happened which are different. What are your thoughts on the Apple search campaign switching to a cost-per-tap, CBT pricing model?

Aaron Marks: A cost-per-tap model, so it’s interesting. I think that there’s a lot of change in what’s happening and I struggle with Apple changing something, Google’s changing something, let’s kind of sit here and complain about it. Because I think that’s something we do. I think the reality as marketers is that, unfortunately, we live in a world where the Apples and Googles of this world dominate things, and we ultimately have to roll with the punches. So I’m not one to sit here and complain too much about changes, there are a lot of them in the way that pay-per-click models and other models are changing. I think that it’s more about just rolling with the punches.

Saksham Sharda: Okay. Well, the last question for the interview is what would you be doing in your life if not this?

Aaron Marks: It’s a great question. I’m an avid traveler, and I have been very fortunate over the last year to spend more than half of that time outside of the United States. In an ideal world, that will continue. But I think that in an alternative universe where I wasn’t doing this, hopefully, I’d be in a position to travel. I am so passionate about that, so passionate about the different experiences that I’ve had, and understanding the broader world by being able to travel. And I would do it while I’m doing this work, but I would hope that if I were not doing marketing, I love what I’m doing. So I hope that I would be in a position then to just comfortably travel and not have to worry about anything.

Saksham Sharda: That sounds like a brilliant answer. All right.

Let’s Conclude! 

Saksham Sharda:  Well, thanks everyone for joining us for this month’s episode of Outgrows’s Marketer of the Month. That was Aaron Marks, the founder of Aspire marketing group. Thanks for joining us, Aaron.

Aaron Marks: Thanks for having me.

Saksham Sharda: Check out their website for more details, and we’ll see you once again next month with another marketer of the month.

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