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How to Develop a Winning Customer-Centric Marketing Strategy

An Interview with Claire Brunner

For this episode of E coffee with experts, Matt Fraser interviewed Claire Brunner, the partner client development at Enilon. Claire discussed several effective tips for businesses just starting out in digital marketing, and important elements of a successful demand generation strategy. Watch the episode now.

Always be looking forward. There are so many resources out there for learning. Digital Marketing is not an industry where you just sit and rest in.

Claire Brunner
The partner client development at Enilon
Hello everyone. Welcome to this episode of E Coffee with Experts. I'm your host, Matt Fraser. And on today's show, I have with me. Claire is the partner client development at Enilon, a customer-centric digital performance marketing agency headquartered in Greater Dallas, Fort Worth, Texas. She has a bachelor's degree in Business Information Systems and marketing from Texas Christian University. She has over 20 years of experience helping entrepreneurs and business owners get more traffic leads and sales. When not working on marketing campaigns for clients, Claire enjoys spending time with her family and watching her children play soccer and volleyball as team sports. Claire, thank you so much for being here. Welcome to the show.

Thanks for having me, Matt.

No problem. It's a pleasure. Hey, Claire. How would your university professors describe you as a student?

I would like to think that I was very engaged in class. You know, going through the business school, there’s just lots of group projects and then also, there are some really hard classes that you have to take like, I took coding classes and economics. So, sometimes you find yourself utilizing the teacher’s open door time, to go in and try to get some extra help. But I enjoyed my time at school. I danced there as well. So, I was just super involved in the university and within the sports program and stuff, too.

What would you say is the biggest difference between the person you were in university and who you are now?

I mean, you just get so much life experience once you’re out in the real world. And it’s interesting as, over the course of time, we’ve had lots of different team members come in, especially with internships and those right out of school. And I’ve had some that are very assertive as in like I had one girl that I was mentoring and she sat down with me and she goes, I want to be a director in six months. And I’m like, Oh, okay. I was like, you know, you’re really smart and I appreciate all your degrees and all the things you’ve done really quickly in school. But there is just something to be said about experience and the time you need in the field to really learn because you can only get book knowledge. You have to have years doing the job, working with the clients, and just getting into all the situations that you have to learn how to navigate. And so that really is the difference between education and real-world experiences. It’s just you fundamentally need to go through the process of the day-to-day.

Yes absolutely, and not only that, to be a director you should have experience in multiple roles, not just one role. Multiple roles in the sense of doing Google ads or Facebook ads or SEO. Would you agree with that?

I think it really depends on the position that you’re in and the strategy. I do think that having some of those differences more so I think it’s really in the business understanding and in learning how to work with clients and learning all different skills. Because you can be very optimistic like, hey, I’m just going to put this strategy together and it’s going to work well. There are just so many dynamics in business and you have to learn the different scenarios and just kind of be in the day-to-day for a while.

Absolutely. Do you think that the experience you gained at Mason Baronet, if I pronounce that correctly, has helped you in your development as a digital marketer and entrepreneur?

So, I started with Mason Baronet. It was group earning at the time, right out of school. And Mason Baronet is a fabulous branding agency. When I started, I think it was 2003. It was at the time when businesses were all saying I need a website or maybe we had this page of a site and now we need a real site. And, even at the agency, it was a relatively new thing. And coming out of school with an E-business degree, I actually took on most all of the Web projects at the agency because I kind of knew the process. So, it really got me into a lot of projects quickly. Another thing that I took away from Mason Baronet, I have a lot of respect for Holly Mason, she’s just really wonderful working with clients and strategy and she was definitely a good mentor to me there.

That's awesome. What attracted you to want to get involved in digital marketing? Did you specifically go to a Christian University in Texas with the goal of being in the digital marketing industry?

You know, I think at the time, the digital marketing industry was pretty new. There weren’t a ton of just digital agencies if you will. So, when I started school in 1999, I knew I had always loved technology and I’d always loved digital and I always loved marketing. And so that is kind of why I studied both in school because I did see a lot of opportunity in the digital space. It was called e-business at the time. It’s business information systems now and I think I knew I wanted to be in marketing. I didn’t totally know where that was going to take me, but it definitely equipped me for my career.

Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur from a young age? Was it something in your DNA or did you grow into it?

It probably is in my DNA. I like to be able to step in and lead in situations, working within a lot of red tapes doesn’t work very well with me. I guess I can get my hands up a lot, but I like to take risks, I like to take ownership of things, responsibility for things, and to be able to have ideas and to be able to put them in place is a really cool thing. Being on the owner’s side there are definitely pros and cons to it. Some days I’m like, I just want to put my head down and focus on my work and not worry about all the stuff. But there’s definitely a lot of fun and kind of benefits that come with it.

Yeah, absolutely. So, can you tell me about your experience working with Enilon and how did you become a partner?

Yes, I’ll tell you, Enilon is an anagram for online.

That's so cool.

We’ve got to get an animation done that kind of makes that apparent soon but we’re working on that. Once people understand, they’re like, okay, that makes sense now.

The agency started in 2005 and it has always been focused on digital so that’s kind of where the name came from. I started working at the agency in 2010, at the time I had been a marketing director and client side and was really just wanting to focus on digital because it is where I am interested. I love the fast-paced environment. I love that it’s always evolving and things like that. I started as a digital marketing specialist, and when I started, I was the only girl at the agency and it was a pretty heavy development job. We had a lot of back-end developers, and at the time CMS systems weren’t super prevalent. So, like if you want a calendar module on your website, you have to build it. And so I just started and they were wanting to start to add a little bit more marketing to what they do and what they sell. So, that’s really what they hired me for. It was a little bit of a loose job description, which is actually something that I do very well. I just kind of come in and we’ll figure out what we need to get done here.

But, you know, just kind of through the agency realized that there wasn’t a need for client service. So, I stepped into that role and we needed to really rethink how project management was done. So, I hired a really strong project manager and together we built out the project management department, which then allowed me to go back and focus on client services and really look at how our clients were structured, the work that we were doing, project versus retainer. Are we actually working with private fit clients for us? What is the right mix of clients for the agency? So, we went through that whole process, worked through our client service process, and then I had a lot of interest in getting into business development as well because you can have a plan for this is the right type of work for our team. Like, this is where we can be successful, these are the right type of clients. But like if business development isn’t totally in sync with that, then you’re not really making any change, right? Like you have to get the right fit clients coming in. And then the other piece of that is when clients come in, communication is so important so that the client and the team are set up for success. So, I kind of started getting into the business development role and also being within client service. I loved what we were doing, I loved the team, I loved the company and I wanted more responsibility for it. You know, when you’re not an owner, there’s only so much information you can receive about the business. And I just wanted full transparency. I wanted the financials, I wanted everything so that I could like have all my data points to really be working with, to know how to make decisions and help move things forward. So, that’s really kind of the journey and where it came over the course of time. We have four owners of the company, two are really in the day-to-day and two have stepped back at this point. And we’re officially a women-owned business now. So, it’s been a cool ride.

Right on. I know one agency owner, he actually sold his agency to his employee. So, was it just a natural progression that the existing owners saw how valuable you were to offer you part ownership of the company, to take things to the next level?

Yes. I would say I was a little vocal about wanting that and then it just really was about finding the right time for it to work seamlessly with things that were going on within the agency. So, the right time presented itself and then we made it happen.

You mentioned a couple of times in regards to women in the industry and how you were the only woman hired at one time and now it's a women-owned agency, which is great. Do you feel there are any unique challenges women face when working in the digital marketing industry?

I honestly haven’t experienced that but I’m also one that. I’m not very timid either, so I just kind of position myself as if there’s no difference. So, I’ve experienced no difference.

That's awesome.

Yeah.

What would you say to other younger women wanting to get involved in the industry? What advice would you give them?

There’s so much opportunity within the digital marketing space, and there are so many opportunities to just constantly learn, from all the different things like online programs and certifications and content and all this kind of stuff so you can plug yourself in. The fact that the majority of businesses are remote now, our business is also 100% remote. So, balancing your career and family, it’s very suitable for that, and I think if you like to constantly be challenged and constantly learn and you really want to use that part of your brain. Like, I pick my kids up from school every day, I’m there when they’re presenting whatever they’re presenting at school and being able to kind of make all that happen. I think digital marketing is a good industry for that.

Do you think post-secondary education is essential before entering the industry?

No, I don’t. I would say the only thing that I would consider is like, I’ve always wanted to get my master’s but I’ve never done it. I have been interested in it largely because I would like to be an adjunct professor one day. And aside from that, though, there are certain things like I would say, if you’re a project manager, getting your PMP is helpful. There are certain certifications that align with some of the specific things. We deal a lot in working with business strategies because we don’t just execute digital tactics, we really get in on the strategic side of what we’re doing and really in the business. So, having your MBA, I think, and having that advanced level of business understanding can always provide value, but I don’t necessarily think it’s critical.

So, if someone was wanting to get involved in digital marketing and came to you, how should I get started? What would your advice be to them on the first thing they should do?

Well, I mean, I would go to Google, Meta and I would just get some of the certifications real quick like I’m blueprint certified. Having some of that on your resume is very attractive and then depending on where you are, there are usually a lot of internship options to kind of just get started and get involved so you can start to learn it.

So, getting certification and applying for internships would be one thing to do, which makes a lot of sense. Are there specific ways to find internships that you know of? Are there directories that people go to for internships, or is it just searching for different companies and looking for opportunities in the air?

That’s an interesting question. I don’t know if I’m old school in the fact but I mean, it’s usually like within whatever city you’re in. You kind of know the agencies in your area, now that so many are remote, the location probably doesn’t matter as much. So, I do know there is there’s websites like Question and things like that that do agency listings. But I think it’s also good to check out the agencies on social media to see the content they’re writing about and get a feel for the agency a little bit. Do some research, maybe on the owners. There’s definitely some online stuff you can do. I still think it’s better if you happen to find an agency that’s local to you or at least has some people there, then you have the opportunity to have some one-on-one in person, which I do think is so valuable.

Oh, absolutely. You also mentioned that your agency is fully remote. Was it always that way, or did the pandemic accelerate that?

We opened up remote working in 2018, I believe it was. And we did it because it was just kind of a trend within the industry anyway. But, you know, as a small company you look to see everything that you can do and offer your employees. We were starting to do things like, when people had their annual review, and you have like, here’s all the things we are going to do for you for this next year. Thank you for working so hard and being awesome. And one of the things we started giving people was like, you are going to work from home day, and we had all these people that had like one day a week they could work from home, like as part of their arrangement. But we as a company weren’t structured for it. We were very much in the office. So, what happened would be that someone would just pick whatever day they wanted to be home because it works for their schedule the best. And then there’d be a meeting, we’d all huddle in the conference room, and we’re like, Wait, where so and so? And they’re like, Oh, she’s home today. And we’re like, oh, and then you got to get the conference on. Operationally we were not set up for it, but it was something that was really in high demand within our team and in the industry in general. So, we decided to test it, and we kind of rolled it out as a beta for everyone. To be like we’re wanting to give this a shot, we’re going just kind of to see how it works for everybody and we opened it up and then nobody came back in the office. I would say I did and one of our developers did as well. And we were the last man standing in the office. I like being with people. It’s the transition. I don’t know. I might have taken it the hardest, even though I was so fully supportive of it. So, we started it a while ago, and when COVID hit and everything shut down. We already had it all.

Wow. What were some of the biggest challenges that you had to overcome in going fully remote technology, like communication between team members and how did you solve those problems?

You know, it is something that we’re constantly still working on. Your team has to be super accountable for their work because everybody has to have flexibility. We as an agency are super flexible with how people work, and we still operate off a central time zone as of right now, trying to be available for your team from 8:30 to 5:30. But we have a do not disturb in the afternoon, so there are no meetings, and it’s super flexible there. Like if you have to be out, block your calendar, and communicate with your team. We are continuing to move towards more asynchronous with just a lot of incorporating, a lot of just video communication, and even between the team. Even though they’re all US based, we have team members that travel internationally, and that’s fine, and it works. You know, we really need to be, they just need to be able to be available.

Is there a certain eco structure that has worked best for your agency? Like some people use G-suite, some people use Google workspace, and some people prefer Microsoft's ecosystem.

We use Google Drive for everything, we use Slack and we do have like a project management system where we can just keep track of all the official project information. We also use zoom video, so we have like a package of tools that we use depending on the communication need.

All right. So, your agency specifically focuses on demand generation. What is your definition of demand generation?

So, I think demand generation is for holistic getting out in front and creating demand for your business, being able to capture the demand and then being able to grow it. And I believe that demand generation throughout the past few years, as it’s become essentially a buzzword if you will, and it’s a focus for companies. I don’t necessarily think it’s been implemented correctly in most cases. I believe businesses aren’t necessarily experiencing the generation side of it. And we believe it’s because some of the fundamental pieces of what a true demand gen program should include are missing in a lot of situations.

What are some of those biggest pieces that are missing that you see?

So one of the things is just flat out in the front, like creating the demand for your business, that piece is missing. It’s getting into understanding who your ideal customer profile is and having the right conversations upfront before they’re even interested in the market. And there’s so much focus on talking to the people who are in the market. There’s intent data or the in-market audiences or all these are all these things that we do. They’re so smart, and they use great technology. But if that’s where our focus is, then we’re too late to the party.

I agree with you.

But also this has been driven because there’s so much focus within, like the Google Analytics data and the quantitative data, it’s driving everybody there. And so we have to realize that just because Google Analytics says that this person converted from paid search or they converted from organic, it doesn’t mean that that’s actually what sold them in the first place. You know, it could be this webinar you did that was in partnership with this thing. It could be this event that you attended, or it could be the podcast that you put out. You could have had these conversations up here, and those top programs have been getting killed because you can’t map them in Google Analytics. So, it’s starting to take a step back and think about marketing fundamentals with the customer journey, you know, and make sure that where people are consuming the information and where they’re learning and forming their opinions isn’t always trackable and in Google Analytics. And so it’s making sure that we’re looking at the whole journey and the whole program of what is this demand generation and we have the right things in place. Then the other thing is that the KPIs that come from the executive level don’t always support the growth of the business.

That's very interesting.

And that is also something that I believe is going to be shifting within marketing over the next few years just kind of this addition of working in qualitative data, understanding the things that you should be tracking. Because there’s so much focus on lead generation, but often, you know, a lead could be a white paper download. Well, that doesn’t mean somebody is ready to buy.

No, it doesn't.

Please don’t call them. So, marketing is being judged often on their success by how many people downloaded this thing when we need to be looking at the bigger picture. That’s kind of when we talk about to create, capture, grow, that’s really where we’re coming from. It’s just kind of recognizing this shift that’s happening in marketing in regards to strategy and attribution and making sure that we’re helping clients have the full program in place that can help them grow.

One of the things I heard you say was that one of the mistakes people are making is, number one, not developing a customer persona. They're not targeting exactly who their ideal customer is or a client in that regard. Would you say that that's a mistake that you see, not knowing who your exact customer is, and then not targeting them early enough to build a relationship with them, to be able to sell to them eventually?

I would say it’s not understanding that customer, and you know, it’s usually a woman 45 to 60 that lives in this type of home. Like you might know that about them, but you don’t understand them enough to know what is influencing their buying and why they’re making the decisions that they make. One of our focuses is also really getting into working with our clients, to understand their customers better and have those conversations with customers and people that work closely with them, which helps drive the whole strategy. And then being able to communicate with them early enough before zoom info has determined that they should be, that they should show up in the intent data or Google has seen them in the market before that happens. Being able to have a conversation that might cause trigger moments for them.

Yeah.

And if you’re the one that causes that trigger moment, then you win. So, it’s about understanding. And there’s a kind of a strategic approach that I have, and I’ve been kind of studying about it. It’s just a little bit newer to me, but it’s about the jobs to be done in theory. I think it’s kind of fascinating, and that helps you going through that process, helps you not just understand your customer, but actually, the whole market that you’re working at and who you really can be serving and who your competition is.

That's amazing. During my time at the dealership, all they cared about was acquiring new business and people who were in market car shoppers at that time. And sure, that's great. But I was trying to do what you're saying. Got so much pushback from it, of developing who is it we're trying to sell to? Who is it we're trying to get in the door? And I even asked for a breakdown of who the target customer was on each specific model of vehicle. And even the manufacturer, I don't publicly say who the manufacturer is but they couldn't provide me with that information. I think it was one of the pitfalls of totally outsourcing all of their marketing. They outsourced with this prestigious firm from Madison Avenue or whatever. And they didn't have that data. It just blew my mind away. I was like, well, how are you writing your Google ads? How are you writing social media posts? If we don't know who they are and what we need to say to them and what their motivations are, it just makes things so much easier. I wanted to target existing customers to find out who they were using that data and thank goodness they'd been in business for ten years to be able to actually look at that data, although no one had ever done it before. So, the things you're saying are just very validating to me.

I wasn’t crazy. I was on to something there.

Yeah, exactly. And that's all they cared about as far as attribution goes. You're talking about attribution and then just because someone fills out a piece of a download doesn't mean they're marketing qualified leads. In regards to attribution, what do you think can be done for better attribution? For instance, I have Dan McGraw coming on the show today, and he owns UTM.io, which is a UTM management platform for team management. It's a bloody brilliant platform. And so, he's taught me a lot about that, and I had to implement that into my position. The point I'm trying to make is like, I've met and talked to many marketing professionals who don't use UTM as much or even as they should. It kind of blows my mind away. My friend's daughter graduated from college and is a marketing director or whatever in an organization and doesn't even know what UTMs are. But there's another attribution, so is that a key to proper attribution using those as a foundation and what are your thoughts on how attribution can be better quantitated, to lead to the business?

From a quantitative data standpoint, the UTM parameters are very important. You want to know, you know, where people’s interactions and engagements are coming from at the point of which they’re like on your website and taking various actions on there and without the UTM parameters, you won’t know that. The only thing is you have to understand that you can’t make full, complete decisions just by looking at that because you’re missing a piece of the puzzle. So, that’s where the challenge comes in. And so, try to find ways to implement qualitative data to help round out what you’re learning from Google Analytics or your other data platforms so that you can try to have a better picture. One of the things that we see a lot on contact forms, for instance, on websites, is adding the required text field of how did you hear about us? This seems kind of very old school, and you’re like, why would I put that, because clearly, I have analytics on here. I can see that they came from Page Search, and I know what keyword drove that but having that text field on the form allows them to elaborate, for example, hey, I talked to this person or Hey, I’ve been following you on LinkedIn or Hey, I read this thing, whatever. But if you own a store or something like finding ways to get the qualitative feedback to marry and help balance the quantitative can help you have a better story and understand what’s going on with your marketing so that you don’t kill the things that are driving the people.

Absolutely. It's just, they may come in a Google ad, but they're following you on LinkedIn. They may be there in their mind what they did.

Yeah, and that ad is important because you don’t want them to search you and then your competitors bidding on your name, and they all of a sudden go to your competitor, and they get confused like you want to be optimized, and they’re when they’re ready to contact you. But that isn’t probably the thing that sent them down the path.

Absolutely. You were talking about a marketing lead, like someone who downloaded a white paper. What part do you think marketing automation will play in the future or is it playing right now in regard to CRMs? So, like, you know, Salesforce or my preferred platform is Groundhog, a WordPress marketing automation CRM plugin. In regards to moving people through the funnel and continuing to add points to that lead to move them from a marketing-qualified lead to a sales-qualified lead.

I don’t think they’re going to sell. I mean, to jump to the end of that story, I don’t think their sales qualified lead until they legit raise their hand and say, I want to talk to somebody. Because if you talk about the edge and the automation and the scoring, so just because I’ve been on your site ten times now in the past week, it doesn’t like I’m still probably going to be turned off a bit if you call me because it’s creepy. Salesforce does it to me all the time, and they’re like, I saw you on our website, and you were looking at this screen, and I’m like, I’m just doing research. I don’t want to talk to you. So, to answer your question, I am still working through forming my opinion on this and watching it and thinking about it. I do believe that there is still an opportunity for nurturing communications. And I believe that there’s still a great place for email as it stands with sharing your latest content, and keeping people informed because people often say, I like the content that you have going on on your site and I don’t want to miss it. Please email me when you send them out. I believe that’s a great place for email. I do believe we are moving away from all of the downloads eventually and making the content more available for people and focusing on building trust, building communities in a way that’s free for them. So, I believe that that is where things are moving. I believe we’re moving away from the download mentality, and we’re not there yet it depends on what type of company you are in and if you work in an enterprise business right now and all of your marketing is centered around that. So, that shift is not coming fast. But I believe the bite-size, then making the content available, the being an expert really just being present constantly be that in social and on your site with education is really where marketing is in allowing people to learn to trust you, to feel like they know you and to do all these things. And then when they’re ready, you know, they will contact you. You don’t need all of those emails from a sales perspective because, I mean, you can go to zoom tempo and download those people’s emails for this team. But I don’t know if there is a shift in this whole thing that’s happening, and it’ll be interesting to see where it all lands, but some new strategies are being tested now.

I guess my thought process was that I've developed campaigns and funnels marketing automation where there's a free download. Then I take them out of that campaign and enroll them in a different funnel campaign, that's the free consultation campaign and automatically add tags and remove tags and apply things to nurture that lead to get them into a consultation. And, literally, the funnel does end, you know, with an email that says, hey, you know, if it's not the right time. And then, it enrolls them in the monthly newsletter campaign where they'll be nurtured. But yeah, you're right. I wouldn't send them. Just because they're on the darn site doesn't mean you call them. In my opinion, it's premature. You can consistently use those events to add points and key interests of knowing what they're looking at. But until they make it, they should be in control of when they want to talk to you, but be also given the avenue of being able to be in a medium, if you will be able to book that opportunity for themselves to book a consultation. And the mistake I see people making is using systems that aren't integrated. If it doesn't integrate with your CRM and talk to it. Then it's a broken funnel, in my opinion, and I could be wrong. Maybe there are ways to connect it with Zapier and do all that. I have no idea because I always use something that's an all-in-one solution. So yeah, it's interesting to see what's going to happen in that regard. You know, there's so much that was unpacked. I forgot the other questions I was going to ask you.

It’s loaded. It’s always an exciting time to be in digital because it’s always changing.

Yeah, absolutely. Hey, what's one big takeaway you want our listeners to get from this episode?

You know, I think it’s just that it’s from a digital marketing perspective, it’s like always be looking forward. There are so many resources out there for learning. There are so many great podcasts, there is LinkedIn and different certifications. It’s not an industry where you just sit and rest in. Here you’re constantly challenging yourselves to move forward. That’s what we’ve done with our company. I feel like we’re always assessing ourselves, like every six months. Just to help our clients move forward and stay ahead, you know, as well. So, that’s probably the biggest take away from us. We’re seeing a lot of shifts in the demand generation space itself, which is why we’ve rolled out our Create Capture Grow program and working with clients.

That's awesome. Thank you so much for coming to the show. It's been an absolute pleasure having you here. How can our listeners connect with you online if they choose to do so?

You can connect with me on LinkedIn. My name is Claire Brunner, and you can find me on our website Enilon.com.

And for those of you who don’t know, it's an acronym for online.

An anagram.

Anagram for online. Again, it’s been a pleasure having you here. Thank you so much. We will make sure to put that information in the show notes.

That’s awesome. Thank you, Matt. I enjoyed it.

Yeah, right on.

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