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The Ever-Evolving World of Digital Marketing

In conversation with Jeff Ferguson

For this episode of E-coffee with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed Jeff Ferguson, CEO of Amplitude Digital, a full-service digital media advertising agency located in Los Angeles, California. Jeff discussed his journey in digital marketing, highlighting significant industry changes such as the rise of websites, search engines, social media, mobile technology, programmatic advertising, and AI.

Watch the episode now for some profound insights!

In digital marketing, new technology keeps emerging, giving us new toys to play with. It’s an industry that never stops innovating.

Jeff Ferguson
CEO of Amplitude Digital,

Hey, hi everyone. This is Ranmay here on your show Coffee With Experts. Today we have Jeff Ferguson with us who is the CEO of Amplitude Digital and needs no introduction. Welcome, Jeff to our show tonight.

Pleasure to be here.

Super. Jeff, before we move forward, I would like to throw some light on your career, distinguished career rather, and more about Amplitude Digital, and then we’ll take it forward and listen to your insights about how the digital landscape has evolved over the years.

Sounds amazing.

Yeah. I request you to introduce yourself a bit more and about Amplitude Digital as well.

Sure thing. Yeah, I’ve it’s funny, I’ve been doing this for like about 25 years now. Over 25 years at this point. And yeah, I started back in 1995 I originally came out of undergrad with degrees in computer science and communications and originally wanted to be a copywriter but fell into digital marketing.

But Kinda originally went down this path of the corporate side of the world and started at a kind of a little company, but originally then went into some of the more famous companies that were on my resumes, like Hilton Hotels Corporation and Kimberly Clark and Napster.

And Experion and lower my bills and things like that. And after a while, I decided that corporate life wasn’t my scene and decided to become a consultant. And started a little consultant firm that was called Fang. And that was back in 2010.

And originally that was mostly based on doing audits for a lot of companies like eHarmony and a few others that were out there. And a lot of times the audits that we’re doing, they were, this was for SEO and paid search and a few of the things that were out there and a lot of time always used to joke that lot of times I’d turn those audits in and people would get fired.

Sometimes via the internal team, it’d be the agency, whatever. It’s. And the people I was working for would turn around and say oh, would you like to take this on? And I’d say, I’m, I’m not in a place to do that. I, I’m not an agency and I’m just a person.

And I had one of my clients was a friend of mine that was over at the company Just Fab and John, who’s still obviously a very good friend of mine now. And he had suggested hard that, basically said you really should think about it because it’s recurring revenue and it’d be a, a good place, a good direction for you going forward.

And so I took him up on it and he offered me that opportunity for that one. And so we staffed up and Fang developed into an actual agency. And we grew it from there taking on more and more clients and became the agency that I had wished that I could have hired back when I was working on the corporate side of things, the transparent one.

That handled things from a very consumer journey type of way of doing things. And I did that for about a decade. And then in 2020, it was about 2019, 2020. I was getting a lot of early offers to buy Fang from different companies and but I wasn’t completely ready and we weren’t as large as a lot of those companies thought we were.

But I, I could see that light, I could see that was a possibility to it. But one of my other partner agencies that I was working with, which is Amplitude had talked about a merger for a while there. So in 2020, we merged with Amplitude Digital and obviously, everybody knows what else happened in 2020, which was right when the pandemic hit.

So like after all the work of actually coming up with a merger, we. We did it right at that timeframe and we couldn’t even celebrate. We had to do all our celebrations over Zoom calls and we’re, toasting each other over Zoom calls and things like that. Yeah. And it was it turned out to be a good thing for us that we merged because it made us a lot more solid and we were able to work together and all those combined clients and everything.

And so we made for a good team during all of that. And Now here we are all these years later and we’ve like moved on like past that. Two of the business partners that were part of Amplitude have actually since left. And I’ve gone back to de being solo over at Amplitude, which is why I’ve got the title back again of being CEO of the company.

And we’re back to that. We’re, we’ve got a nice, stable, healthy list of clients. In addition to running Amplitude, I’m also an adjunct professor at UCLA where I teach advanced digital marketing and SEO classes. The SEO class was one that I helped developed for them.

It was their first one for them. Now it’s one that they’ve got access to other teachers. And if that’s not busy enough while I helped, we launched a record store last year back in July. My partner Ellen and I launched a little record store here in Burbank.

That was like a pandemic project that we wanted to do. And she runs that most of the time. I kind of stepped in during the weekends, but I built all the cabinets and it was based on my hobby of record collecting, but it’s something that she was really into as well. And we just actually went through and had our first successful, really big record store day last weekend.

And it was, we had a line around the block and all kinds of crazy Taylor Swift fans and things like that. So yeah, that’s I guess the long version of that one. Quite a journey, I must say.

You have been there, seen that done that, right? Yeah. Yeah. What do you think have been the most significant changes in the industry or, advancements in digital advertising or marketing, that you have witnessed during this journey of yours?

Yeah, it’s crazy. When I think about it there’s been so many big like big changes that have come up about it. And when I was thinking about this like that things appeared. Because it’s you gotta remember like when in 95, like what kind of really started it off was like, there was the fact that there were websites now and that came around. There were websites just about, just a little bit before that. And then the fact that there were websites and the 95 was tracked. The fact that, hot Wired had a banner ad on it. And that was yeah. That was really, you could mark that as, as kinda like the beginning, the almost like the true beginning of digital marketing.

For Yeah. But then from there, from within my career that most far you’ve got kinda like the rise of search engines, right? Which, so you’ve got Google and 98, but you’ve got all those other search engines that were around that you’ve got the advent of social media, which was the mid-two thousand.

You’ve got this gargantuan jump in social media, right? Which is now just everywhere. Everywhere, right? Where you’ve got this entire civilization around as to where you’ve got more people with mobile phones than you do portable drinking water around the world.

It’s where I find that crazy is that when I was in college I worked at a Radio Shack, which is like, that radio shacks don’t even exist anymore. But when I was a Radio Shack, I used to sell mobile phones, right? So it was something where they were just first getting established and they were those really brick, big brick kind of mobile phones are the type that used to have like in sacks or the kinds that like they had to be like plugged into your car.

And so I mean that technology is coming to advance to where now they’re just computers. They’re just full-blown computers that are just around you all the time. So that’s, the fact that has become so important is crazy. Programmatic advertising is staggering, around it. I’d, I guess I’d have to throw data-driven advertising in there, which is a little hard to comprehend as far as where it ruins, but it’s certainly part of the puzzle. And then, yeah. Just when you think what else, like what else could there be?

You’ve got AI and machine learning. Getting interesting, now and it’s something where you know probably just before the pandemic I had been speaking on machine learning at different conferences because Google was pushing rank brain out on folks. And that was just like its new introduction and you were also seeing a lot of machine learning, getting involved in paid search advertising with some of its tricks and stuff like that. But it wasn’t. The hype machine is now with ChatGPT and with Bard and everything else.

So it wasn’t as crazy as it is now. Right now, like regular people are into it and now you’ve got everything else to it. I was able to like dust that you know, that presentation off and pull a lot of those slides back off and say these are all suddenly useful again because they had all these great compilations of machine learning and the difference between that and AI and a bunch of other things.

And I could trot those out in front of my students again and said, Hey, look, this is all useful, and I have to update a bunch of the stuff and show that and have these, all these great. Discussions with my students and my and my clients and all these kind of stuff. But I gotta tell you that’s the kind of stuff that I love about being in this business, man.

I’d it’s like that it never stops. It never stops evolving, right? And I, and my, my best friend, he works in traditional media and I’ve always made fun of the fact that it’s like, Hey, look you’ve still got the same. The same toys to play with. That never changes.

The only thing it changes about what you deal with is like the TV shows that are on, like that or the, maybe the radio shows or the, the print magazines or, whatever it is. But my stuff like new technology is coming out all the time and these are these, I get new toys, so it seems got to get new toys every six months to play with or whatever it is.

And that I’m, constantly out there having to learn, having to play with whatever it is. And so it’s always the things and the people that I see around that in my business that get frustrated by that kind of throw their hands up and it’s oh man, it’s always a new thing.

And I go man that’s what makes it great in my opinion. It’s I love it. I love it all the time.

Great. Great. And talking about PPC what are the most important elements of a successful PPC campaign is ad copy. And, apart from that, what do you feel are the best writing, effective writing practices that not only, attract clicks, but also drive conversations which you know, you would’ve experienced thus far?

Yeah. So one of the things I think people miss when it comes to ad copy and things like that when it comes to PC is not paying attention to where the keywords that they’re associating with that ad copy are where they are in the consumer journey. It’s yeah.

They’re, it’s one of the things where. A lot of times they are they’re just kinda like writing to write like they’re just basically looking at everything is bottom of the funnel all the time. And it’s easy to do that with paid search, right? Because, paid search, for the most part, those ads, are very bottom of the funnel driven, but not everything is right.

It’s one of the things where. You, it’s really rare that you’re gonna get anything that is truly upper funnel, right There are rarely any ads in Google ads that are about awareness or, whatever it is. But you can’t have stuff that is, is solidly in consideration, right?

You can and so you’ve got consideration and you’ve got purchases that are built into the stuff, and those are very. Two different moods, right? That you’re playing in these things. And if you’re throwing the same type of language at people for those two different moods, you’re gonna throw people off, right?

So if you’re talking, if you’re talking about a purchase to the consideration set, like you, you’re gonna, you’re gonna spook ’em. You’re gonna run ’em off, whatever is, and that’s the difference, right? So you really have to it’s one of the things where you gotta focus on your USP in different ways.

At that level. You gotta focus on the emotional triggers. At different levels, right? That’s, it’s different languages on this one. You get a test in different ways at those type of different levels. It’s the user experience is different roles, like which pages you’re driving ’em to at that level of different levels.

Like at the consideration side of things it might be a landing page that has got options on it, right? But at the purchase side of things, right? It’s laser-focused, it’s probably just one page, right? It’s just basically, no, it’s this page, right? It’s one product probably by that point, right?

You really have to know where that person is in that journey and that copy is gonna make all the difference in the world, right? And like that’s, that’s the whole reason, why ad groups are there and why you need to split these things up into those smaller groups and really split ’em up.

And these days it’s it’s even easier. It’s even more fun. Yeah. Now that you’ve got those dynamic ads with all those different headlines and all those kind of things to it, so take advantage of that, you can test even more. You can do a lot more with those descriptions but.

Do split those things up. Do make sure that you’re paying attention to stuff and do make sure that you’ve got it all splitted up, but’s. Otherwise you’re, like I said, you could really spook an audience if you’re not paying attention, that kind of stuff.

Great. And you did mention about programmatic media during the conversation with so much of data and available at the disposal and targeting capabilities, which can be, which average is top notch these days, how do you feel companies can effectively leverage programmatic media to reach the target audience, while still maintaining the brand safety and, avoiding ad fraud?

Yeah. It’s funny programmatic’s one of my favorite things in the world, right? Yeah. I think it’s one of the things where we can’t sell it to our clients enough, and it’s but it still feel it’s underutilized. By so many different brands out there.

And it really can run the gamut along the consumer journey, right? You’ve and especially in a time like now, right? You’ve got so many people that are worried about the economy getting you shaky and things like that, and where a lot of times people are immediately gonna do crazy things like cut that upper funnel.

Which they shouldn’t do, right? It’s the worst thing in the world to do when the economy gets shaky is to cut the upper funnel. But the upper funnel is one of the things where it’s really solid, right? There are all kinds of great options that programmatic, displays the easy one displays the oldest one that you can get programmatic.

But these days through programmatic you can get things like connected television which is, like buying television, it’s amazing things. You can get streaming audio that way. Yeah. You can get billboards, and digital billboards through programmatic that is mind-blowing stuff that you’re buying outside media, like out of home, through programmatic.

That is this mind-blowing kind of stuff, and it’s through a programmatic platform. The, so you’ve got some of the, you know what, if you think about it is like three of the, the oldest forms of traditional media now that you’ve got access through programmatically with all the superpowers of targeting that we’ve got through digital, right?

So you’ve got television, you’ve got outta home. And you’ve got, the effectively radio with streaming audio, right? Through all that target, right? And then you’ve got this bonus ability, right? If you’re using the right platform partner, like we use, we’re big fans of using Stack Adapt.

But if you, I know if you use Trade Decks Desk or some of these other ones, they’ve got abilities to it where they’ve got these cool. Remarketing tricks that they can actually use things, and I hate to use ’em, call ’em tricks, but it’s a trick where they got these great remarketing things where you can actually tie back to it to where since those other types of platforms like connected television, like billboards stream and audio don’t have a click component to it where they can’t buy in that moment, to where you can remarket on a platform where they can. You can prove out that those platforms actually worked out so you can finally prove out that roi, right? And that’s, that’ll make all the difference in the world. So in those days where people are gonna go and they like, Hey, look, if I can’t I, if I can’t measure it, I, I’m not gonna use it.

You can measure it and you can prove that out, and you can prove that ROI out. So use the heck out of that thing, right? So that’s the finally that tie for that upper funnel thing that people have been longing for years. Finally, like what people are belonging for you that’s finally there.

And then, take this down for, consumer for consideration and purchase. That’s all there. You get plenty of stuff for native. It’s fun. Along those lines, you’ve got all those other kind of platforms that are down. And then the stuff that we really like to get into on programmatic obviously there’s the classic remarketing stuff where, you can follow people around if they put something in their basket and they don’t buy that’s easy.

That, that feels like that’s been done. If you’re not doing that feels like an easy thing. But, the type of remarketing we like to remind people of. Is if you’ve got existing customers, right? It’s one of the things where post-purchase is something where most marketers forget that, Hey, look, if you’ve already got a customer, it is cheaper to hold onto a customer and get them to come back and to get another one.

And. That is one of those things where like they, it’s funny, they teach you that in school and some reason it feels like that when people get out in the world, they immediately forget that lesson. And it’s usually because their bosses knocking ’em over their head constantly, like getting new business, new growth, new business, fresh, whatever, it’s new customers, customer, whatever like that.

And they forget to take care of their existing customers over against. But meanwhile their churn is going off the charts. What it is. And me I learned about churn the hard way back when I was working at Napster and when, I did some consulting for a couple of dating services over the years and a couple other ones.

Like I goes, you gotta pay attention to your churn, otherwise you bleed to death. Why, why you’re, why you’re trying to get new customers, whatever it is. And you’re spending all your money doing that. We’ve worked for a couple of the food box companies, food delivery companies and things like that.

You gotta take care of those ones as well. So we’ve had some really good fun things where we’ve uploaded their customer lists into the services and do, did custom match with programmatic with social media with. All these different services where we’re chasing ’em down, reminded them to, come back again, pick their meals to, yeah.

About specials, about all kinds of stuff, and we’re closing that loop up and we’re getting ’em to come back on over again. And it could be, it could be things like the food delivery where it’s kinda Hey, pick your meals for the next week and keep ’em back. And we’re getting ’em to do it over and over again.

But the other ones we’ve done. It could be anything about make sure and re-up for the next step in your subscription. Or it could be customer onboarding. Customer onboarding is the one we learned at Napster, which is makes you, and we did that for Sony Pictures television for one of their streaming products.

We did a bunch of other ones where it’s like, Hey, look, you don’t teach these people how to use this product. They won’t know how to use the product and they will stop using it. They just won’t give up and they’ll will, they’ll move on. And they’ll notice that monthly charge on their credit card and they’ll split after a while.

And it’s, it’s like you gotta, again, that’s like the, this old school concept of the consumer journey. It, there’s a reason they teach you stuff in school and it’s more than just the classic tactics of just. Hey look, we’re just gonna do Google ads, we’re gonna that, that consumer journey has a purpose in life.

And if you don’t plan for that whole journey you’re just missing out because you gotta use all these pieces.

Yeah, absolutely. And then, Jeff, before we wrap this up, I cannot let you go without asking this burning topic of AI content and ChatGPT, right? So what is your take on it?

AI content the way it has. Hit us like, the storm that we all are in right now. Wh where do you think it is heading and when you know, the scare that it has left on the content writers and other industry people, how do you think all of this evolving over a period of time?

So it’s funny, I’m excited by it, it’s funny, to a certain point. I use a lot of those tools to help me with my research to a point. It’s, it’s one of the things where, use, but verify is become the mantra for these types of things.

It’s as I. I write for publication with, for search engine journal and a few other ones. And I never put anything out without actually, checking in with, I’ll have my editors, fact check and stuff, whatever it is.

But you just never know if these systems are gonna hallucinate on you and whatever it is. And. And I I have found it very useful to kinda help in some instances to get past the like the terror of the blank page when you’re starting off with something new and or sometimes to help.

With inspiration of new ideas for something what it is. We’ve certainly used it around the office for certain things, for some of our keyword research work and just, all kinds of stuff. I can certainly see the power of that, on, on the content side of it.

When it comes to the idea of, letting these systems just. blindly write, like an entire piece of content for you. Forget it. That’s not what these systems are for, right? It’s, and they shouldn’t be. Because it’s because, these systems are pulling from other places and and and they like I said, they need to be fact-checked.

They need to be looked at. Their systems aren’t always up to date. ChatGPT is, limited up to, I think it’s September, 2021. Like Bard is the first one to tell you that it is, that, my best friend and I have had these funny things where Bard is sometimes incapable of realizing that certain people have died in conversations.

So you’re like, so it’s. It’s one of the things where it’s not completely there yet, so you can’t let it do all the things, whatever it is, but it’s, it, there’s certain things where it’s not giving proper credit for certain things. So you could get yourself in a lot of trouble.

On stuff and when you should be quoting somebody and not, like it’s, so is, there’s a lot to this kind of stuff. But that said, there’s a lot of power to it. There’s been plenty of times where, there’s been things that I’ve written where I’ve fed it back into it and said, Hey, great.

Break that up into a series of tweets for me. And I’m going that’s. That’s the greatest thing ever because I hated doing that. Or maybe, and make sure you threw some emoticons in there and things like that because, that just saved me a bunch of time. So it’s like I, I can see the power of this stuff.

I we’ve done some other stuff recently. We’ve been playing around even just for the record store where we’ve, done searches for it and, Hey, show me some recommendations for speakers that go with a, a record player with a built-in preamp. And then, said now do it for, ones that are, less than $150.

And my partners looked over my shoulder and she said that’s way better than what Google’s doing. As far as this. And I go, yeah, that’s, and I go that’s why both Google and Bing are terrified. Of this thing. I said, look, they’re both throwing a bunch of money at it for a reason.

And the next 18 months, if not less are gonna be amazing times for us again. Again, it’s gonna happen. So like it’s, so it’s we’re it’s all gonna be very cool. Yeah. I just hope we’re ready for it and I hope, we don’t trip over ourselves in the process of doing this.

Yeah. Yeah, exciting times ahead. Great. So Jeff, it, it has been wonderful speaking with you and understanding your perspective on digital marketing and how the landscape has evolved and I’m sure our audiences would’ve benefited a lot listening to your insights, which you have shared with us.

And thank you so much for taking our time for this podcast and it was lovely speaking with you. My pleasure. Thank you, Jeff.

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