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For this episode of E-coffee with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed Julio Taylor, CEO at Hallam. They discussed the evolving landscape of digital marketing and its enduring reliance on human creativity and critical thinking. During their conversation, Julio emphasized the importance of specialization alongside the cultivation of a broad skill set. This podcast further provides valuable guidance for individuals entering the highly competitive and ever-changing world of digital marketing. Watch the episode now for more insights!
Machines cannot do critical thinking. What they can do is they can do a simulation of what sounds like reality.
Hey, hi, everyone. Welcome to your show, E-Coffee with Experts. This is Ranmay here. Today, we have Julio Taylor, who is the CEO of Hallam with us. Welcome, Julio, to our show.
Thanks for having me.
Great. Before we move forward and pick your brain, Julio, why don’t you talk us through your journey this far and what Hallam is all about? How are you guys different from all the agencies out there? I will take it forward from there.
I’m quite old for a marketer, so the story is very long, so I’ll give you the short version. I’m quite fortunate that I’ve been working in digital pretty much since the beginning of the internet. I started creating online in the 90s. Myself and a couple of friends started to mess around with GeoCities and with building websites, and we thought, This is cool. We never in a million years thought that someone would pay me to do that. At the time, it was just a hobby. Over time, I just learned how to design, build stuff, and experiment with stuff. Really since 1998-ish, when I went to college, I’ve been involved in digital in some way. I studied computer science. I learned how to code. I learned how to design properly, and I started building websites. I worked more or less as a freelancer or employed until about 2007 when I decided to start a new agency, a new business with a friend of mine. Since then we’ve grown and become what we are now, which is an international agency of 70 people with clients all over the world. But I feel like I said at the beginning, I feel very fortunate because I’ve seen the rise of the internet as the viable place in which to make a business from the very beginning.
So that’s taught me a lot along the way, I think. Great.
Great, you mentioned your background in computer science, how it helped, and how your early web development experience has shaped your approach to digital marketing and brand building. Today, or let’s say, building this brand, Hallam.
I think computer science, in hindsight, probably wasn’t the right degree because I’m not that great at science. I’m more of a creative, so I probably should have gone to design school. However, what I will say is computer science is a great degree because it teaches you the first principles of computing. So you understand why things work, not just how they work. So you learn about the concepts, you learn about big principles and big things that remain true forever. So for example, we learned how to build databases using ancient software like FoxPro, and Visual FoxPro, which by the time I used it in the 90s, was already observed. However, the principles of relational database design are still true today. We learned SQL, we learned visual basic and stuff like that. All that stuff served me well because later I learned HTML, CSS, PHP, and all that stuff. It’s great, but sorry, my computer is making noise. I think studying something that teaches your first principle is the same thing with if you go to design school and you learn design, you’re going to learn the fundamentals of design. Those fundamentals are true for a cup of coffee as much as they are for a website.
They are the fundamentals of human interaction, which I think are the vital things, the most important things.
Can you throw some light on some specific technical skills or lessons you would have learned from your Geo City days that do influence your decision-making? CEO at Hallam or in the digital marketing space at large for that matter.
I think this is something that, like I said, I’m like a grandad of digital. But one of the things about having done things back then is you got opportunities to do stuff that young people now wouldn’t be able to get. The internet was a wild place, so you could build anything. We’re talking about the days when I could build a website with basically no skill, and publish it, and it would be only slightly worse than Disney’s website or whatever. All websites were terrible. So you got to experiment and learn and self-teach yourself a lot of stuff. But I think what’s happened is you learn to have a mindset of just trying stuff and experimenting and seeing what happens if you do this or you do that. And I think what happens then is you fail so many times that you learn every time you get something wrong. So you end up with this constant learning journey that I think now everything is so structured. Right now, if you want to learn Web now, go on Coursera, you go whatever, and there’s a regimented, structured way of learning that is that’s how you learn.
And it takes six months. When we started, if you’re going to learn something, you just go and do it. No one’s going to teach you how to do it. You just have to do it. There are no books. There are no courses. Just do it. So I think that teaches you a couple of things. One of them is like an entrepreneurial mindset, building stuff. And then the second thing is you fail so many times that you have no option but to learn because you just fail. And I think that’s pretty precious stuff. I think people are doing that again now with NFTs, Web3, things where there is nothing to learn because no one’s figuring it out yet. So the only way to learn is to try it. And yeah, sometimes it doesn’t work. That’s all that always happens with new stuff.
Yeah, absolutely. You’re mentioning that failure and learning are probably actually the cornerstone of any fundamentally strong outline that you want to make of a particular domain or let’s say, it all started with digital marketing, there is nothing to learn apart from the fact that you got to try it out. The internet was there and you got to try it out. But yeah, with these days, the other day I was going through something on the internet again. This gentleman was trying to teach how to make a billion-dollar digital marketing company or an agency. I did some research to realize that he did not own an agency ever. There is so much content on the internet space these days when you’ve got to figure out what you’re following, and what you’re not, and end of the day, it still does not harm in terms of trying a few things out on your own versus just relying on the content that is there.
Yeah, definitely. That’s the other thing. There are so many experts now. So many of which you’re not experts at all. I think that’s the reason why building a brand is so important. Becoming an agency that can prove what they’re talking about is real. I think that’s super, super important because you have a lot of people and even people that are well respected in our industry that are well known and you can see them on social. I’m not going to name any names, but you see them on social, you see them on TikTok and YouTube and they’re saying all the stuff and you look at what they’ve done and they haven’t done a lot. And you think, What’s going on? What’s going on here? They say very obvious things, but there is a lot of conviction. I think that’s true for any industry. It’s true of any industry.
Yeah. Talking about you have been there for so long now, what are the major challenges or let’s say what major shift in the additional marketing landscape has evolved over the last couple of decades like anything? What do you think are those major shifts in the industry which has taken place during your tenure?
I’ll tell you something. I’ll answer the question properly in a second, but I’ll tell you something that I can tell you for sure certain things have never changed. And at every stage of technological development in marketing, there have been these so-called revolutions, right? So when websites first came out everyone’s like No one’s ever going to use the internet for anything useful. Okay, we learned that wasn’t true. And then it’s no one’s ever going to get the credit card out and buy something. That’s ridiculous. And then prove that wasn’t true. And then people say, no one’s ever going to use the internet on a phone. Are you crazy? On a phone? Who’s going to prove that wasn’t true? Social media, same again, and so on. But what hasn’t changed along all those different major points of hype, we’re having the same thing now with AI, right?
The thing that’s never changed is that if you take any marketing activity, any marketing piece, whether it’s a website or a social, and add anything at all, and you pull that thread, far enough, you keep pulling that thread. At the end of that thread, there is a human being holding a device trying to do something. Therefore, the fundamentals of psychology and human interaction and those fundamentals, which are based on the first principles of science, have never changed and they’re never going to change. The marketers who understand that stuff, who think about that, understand brands, they understand strategy, they understand neuroscience, they understand user experience, they’re the ones that succeed and the ones that talk about tools and they talk about hacks and they talk about they’re the ones that disappear and become irrelevant. That’s exactly what’s going to happen now with AI. You see all these AI influencers slash grifters online that are constantly going on about how Google is finished SEO is finished and websites are dead because I’ve got this, It’s not the case. It’s simply not the case, because ultimately that person who can build an AI-powered system that is more human than another one will win the race.
It always comes down to the human ability to connect with other humans. Always. It doesn’t matter what the tool is. It’s irrelevant.
It doesn’t matter.
I think that’s the thing. You learn these things. There is these technological shifts have to happen every 5-10 years is a significant shift. I remember about 10 years ago when there was the mobile when the iPhone was released and then there was the following year or the year after Google introduced the update, the responsive design update. Everybody went crazy about responsive design, and there were arguments. I remember arguing with clients when they were like, clients were saying to me, no one is ever going to buy my product on a mobile phone. It’s not going to happen. So I don’t want a responsive website. I’m not paying for that. And now, 10 years later, those companies either don’t exist or they have a responsive website, but there’s no other outcome to that. So ultimately, what I’m saying is there’s a constant, and that constant is the ability to connect with humans. And if you understand how to do that, you will always succeed in marketing. Whether it’s AI, It doesn’t matter what it is. It’s irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. I believe that.
I’m glad you mentioned AI and automation as the lead part. How do you see the role of human creativity evolving in the industry? And how, as a company, you strike the balance between automation and human touch.
I think AI will make admin faster. I can now use AI. I use it all the time. Every single day I use it. And I was writing a job description, and I said, write a job description with these things for this type of role. And I just did it. And then I took it and I edited it a bit and it was good enough. That saved me 30 minutes. But I still had to think of the job, think of the things that I wanted in there, direct AI. And the same applies to if you’re using it for content writing or image generation. I was recording another podcast recently, and we were talking about this exact topic. We were saying if you give me a really good camera, you put me in a busy street of New York, and you ask me to take a beautiful shot, a portrait shot of a person that could win an award with a great camera, I would probably do a very average job. If you give the same camera to a professional photographer in the same street with the same subjects and the same lighting and the same camera, the professional photographer does a great job, really great job.
And we’ll create an amazing picture because the difference with the same skills, we have the same tools. The difference is his skill, his ability, and the photographer’s ability to see the image. And with AI it’s going to be similar. We all have the same tools. We can all access GPT, and we can type the same things, but we can discern and to be able to figure out what’s good and what’s bad and have the vision to instruct it to do something great. That’s the difference. It’s the same with instruments, musical instruments, guitars, this guitar, my guitar is expensive. That’s a really expensive guitar. You put that in my hands or you put it in the hands of a fantastic guitar player, it’s a completely different outcome. Why are we talking about the guitar? It’s not the guitar, it’s the guitar player that makes the difference. I think with AI it’s a very similar conversation. People are talking about AI as if it’s going to replace the thing that already makes us successful, which is the ability to use it to create a better outcome. What I do share with you is there are a lot of tasks that are currently low-value tasks that are not unique, that are repeatable.
They will be replaced. I’m sure they will. Of course, they will. Makes sense. But that’s not the same as replacing a strategist or a creative or scientist or something like that. It just won’t be the case.
Yeah, I also give this example to my team quite related to the one that you mentioned. Is that of a PlayStation or an Xbox? Let’s say you are playing FIFA, and you still have Ronaldo or Messi on your team, but an expert player using the abilities of that particular player would be different from what a normal person would do with the same remote in their hands. It’s not about the player on the screen, it’s about the person who is handling the remotes because their creativity is there. What they do with that is very important versus having the same set of teams at their disposal.
Yeah, for sure. That’s the thing. I think it’s, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a very valid argument that there are entire sections of the industries that are at risk. I know they are. And including in marketing, We were talking about link building earlier. It’s so obvious, that’s one of the first things that would become automated. When you’re talking about sending emails and responding- Outreaches, yeah. Yeah, it’s likely to become automated. But then therefore what will happen is that won’t be valuable anymore, so then we have to find something else valuable that requires humans to be involved. That’s one of the reasons why I believe Google is putting less and less importance on the number of links and more importance on their quality because they understand that it’s something that can be automated and therefore it’s losing its relevance in terms of the great big mix of marketing that needs to happen.
Yeah, absolutely. In terms of content as well, while Chat-GPT and the other ones out there can give you a whole lot of content, it gives you a head start for sure. If you have, let’s say, a report or something you submitted at 4:00 PM, you got reminded about it at 2:30, you need a Head Start. You need 10 facts to be there. You just type it on the platform and gives you information you cross-verified and just submit it and stuff like that. But let’s say you’re doing content for a website which end of the day has to be consumed by a human to make that decision about either buying or not buying the product or the service, then obviously you have to have that storytelling and that emotional question triggered that decision making element in your consumer’s mind. Because while AI is there, the purchase is happening in the mind and the heart of a real human. That can never be substituted by any platform. That’s what we preach internally with our content folks. It’s just that whoever uses the platform and becomes more tech-savvy versus what they were earlier, at least the way we look at it at this moment, is likely going to end up at more high-paying jobs than what they are today versus the thought of their job being at risk.
It depends on how you accept technology because it’s there to stay for sure.
Yeah, I agree. Yeah? I agree with that.
Great. Yeah, Julio. Finally, as a leader in the industry, what advice would you give to aspiring digital marketers and entrepreneurs looking to make the mark in the competitive world of digital marketing and advertising, which has evolved, if not day or week, but at least every month?
There are two answers to that, and they are contradictory, but hear me out. I think the first thing is you need to decide as to whether you need to specialize and you need to focus either on extreme human skills, consultative, strategic, creative, skills that are in tune with human ability, or you need to become a technical expert or data science or something that is at the end. So that can’t be completely replaced by automation. If you sit in the middle where you can do a little bit of everything, then I think you are at risk, especially if you’re doing jobs that are not in one of the two extremes of either human ability or very deep technical ability. I think if you sit somewhere in between, you’re going to be in a problem. So I think becoming an expert at either of those things is very valuable from a human standpoint. The second piece of advice, I think, which contradicts the first one, but doesn’t really, is the industry needs skilled generalists who know how the whole thing works, how the whole thing works together.
And that’s not the same thing as being a little bit of everything. It means being able to sit above it and being able to see the entire landscape and to be able to design or to create strategies and be able to understand how the whole thing works. That includes AI, it includes creative, it includes data, and all these different parts, right? I think that’s a skill that’s been lost because marketers have become SEOs, they’ve become paid media people, they’ve become developers or whatever. But we don’t have that many people that are, I would say elite generalists who know at a high level how everything works. And in that level, we’re thinking about critical thinking skills, and we’re thinking about strategic thinking abilities and those things that are incredibly difficult to replace by a machine. And we know that machines are not capable right now, of critical thought. They’re capable of simulating critical thought, but they can’t do it. So I saw yesterday, I watched a video. There was a guy that asked GPT and said, If I have three towels, they take three hours to dry when you hang them, how long would it take me to dry nine towels?
And GPT said nine towels will take three times more than three towels. So, therefore, drying nine towels will take nine hours. And obviously, that’s not true, right? Because if you have provided that the line is long enough nine towels will take the same amount of time as three towels. That’s critical thinking, right? That’s critical thinking. Machines cannot do critical thinking. What they can do is they can do a simulation of what sounds like reality. Therefore, if your skill set and your job are critical thinking, then you will succeed. Because there’s always going to be a gap. There’s always going to be a space for people who know how to think. Because they’re either going to be doing stuff the machines can’t do, or they’ll be teaching the machines, or they’ll be building the machines. But if you’re good at optimizing something that has a predefined outcome, you’re likely not going to have a job in the next 10 years. That’s my advice, I think. Either become a critical-thinking elite generalist or become a specialist in something like becoming an incredible designer, a creative, or an incredible data scientist. When somebody understands philosophy or statistics or something very deep, don’t become somebody who can just do something that can be predictable because that’s unlikely to survive, I think.
Lovely, Julio. Thank you so much for those insights. But yeah, before we let you go, I would like to play a quick rapid-fire with you. I hope you can get a game for it.
I’m ready. Let’s do it.
Great. Your last Google search.
I was searching for the location of a hairdresser nearby, which I never went to. You can see.
All right. Let’s say we were to make a movie on you. What genre would it be?
I think it would be a biography about struggle and hard work.
That’s nice. All right. Your favorite sport?
Soccer. Oh, wonderful. You would have related to that, Ronaldo and Messi example for that part of then.
Yeah. Lovely. Okay, we’ll not grill you any further. The last question. What did you do with your first paycheck?
On my first paycheck from digital marketing, I bought a guitar amplifier.
that I have till this day
Any one of these that we have in your background?
No, it’s in storage. It’s a big Marshall guitar amplifier. The first thing I bought with my first paycheck from Digital for building a website.
Okay. You said Amplifier. All right, perfect. Good. Yeah, you did. It was lovely hosting you. I’m sure our audiences would have benefited a lot from the insights that you shared and Julio thank you so much for taking our time and doing this. Thank you for having me.
Thank you for having me.
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