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Content, Connections, & Conversions: The B2B Marketer's Powerhouse Trio

In Conversation with Kerry Guard

For this episode of E-Coffee with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed Kerry Guard, CEO of MGK Marketing, a Marketing Agency located in New Orleans, LA. Kerry offers a candid exploration of her podcasting odyssey, delving into the strategic nuances, creative challenges, and profound impacts of using podcasts as a potent marketing instrument. Discover how podcasting has become a catalyst for driving brand visibility, thought leadership, and business success, as Kerry Guard demystifies the art and science of leveraging podcasts as a formidable force for business growth.

Tune in now!

Cold outreach in the B2B space is becoming increasingly ineffective, focus on nurturing relationships and providing value rather than aggressive sales tactics.

Kerry Guard
CEO of MGK Marketing

Hey, hi everyone. Welcome to your show, E-Coffee with Experts. This is your host, Ranmay. Today we have Kerry Guzard, who is the CEO of MKG Marketing with us. Hey, Kerry.

Hi, Ranmay. How’s it going?

All good, yeah. How’s been your week so far?

It’s been good. The sun was out for a few days here in the UK, so I was soaking it in.

Lovely. Kerry, before we move forward, why don’t you talk us through your journey? Let’s get to know the human behind the mic and talk us through your journey. Let us know what MKG marketing is all about, and what you guys specialize in, and we take it from there.

Yeah, I’ll try and make it short because it’s twofold. There’s my journey. Because there’s my journey. I started as a media planner in New York City at Universal McCann on the traditional side. Grps with TV and placements in print right before 2008 when everything switched to digital, which is then when I also switched to digital and worked at Publicis Modem on the General Mills account as an assistant media planner, planning the Yo’Play for General Mills and $10 million account. I worked long at a typical New York grind. I worked crazy hours, but I learned a heck of a lot before I met my now husband and moved to Seattle, where I picked up a job at MEC, which was a digital agency in Seattle, where they worked on the Microsoft account. So I got to break into the B2B. It was an interesting account because Microsoft has its website, microsoft.com. And what they would do is they would run their products and brands across that website. And so we would manage all of that and do all the data. And that’s where I found my love of spreadsheets and data, and haven’t looked back since.

From there, I went to a smaller boutique agency in Seattle called Wong, Doody. I’m not making that up. That was the name of the agency. You have to say they were more of a creative shop that happened to have a media department up to, which was me and my now business partner, Mike Crass. Mike and I would stew in the back office after hours and cook up. If we started an agency, what would this feel like? Because this is it and we’re a side note and we’re working with companies that want to know how much money we made them. But Everything we were doing is awareness we can drive business outcomes. We had a company show up to Wong, doody for a travel company for hotels. You book hotels through their website, and we’re like, Oh, my gosh, we could measure revenue. This is amazing. The agency turned it down because it was small peanuts to them. Mike and I were like, Not small peanuts to us. Let’s go. We asked if we could pitch it. They said yes. We were off and running. We didn’t end up winning that business, but we had to get everything up.

We had an idea of what we wanted to do, which was to work with companies where we could run media, run digital advertising, and measure if we made the money. That is still true today. We’ve pivoted a whole bunch from the traditional digital media planning of RFPing, direct websites, or working with DSPs, and now we’re more into the down-the-funnel PPC side, as well as the SEO, and using those two to make sure that we reach the right audience. It’s interesting about what our journey is. We ended up landing right out of the gate, the box. Com account. It broke us into that tech B2B space, and we just haven’t looked back. Then even, it’s always an evolution of this as an agency, start high level, anything for money. MKG has had three lives. The first life is anything for money. Then as we started making wonderful with our clients and they started moving around, it became clear that we ended up specializing naturally in certain areas. Those two areas ended up being cybersecurity and SaaS. It’s been really interesting because this isn’t your typical B2 be clients because they’re marketing to tough audiences in the practitioner side or CSO side where they don’t want anything to do.

Marketing and sales are a necessary evil in their eyes. It’s like, how do you build that trust for us in the marketing and sales to bring those people in to say, We want to help you do your job better. We’re not here to use fear, uncertainty, and doubt. We want to make sure that we’re the right product for you or not, and using that messaging and showing up where they are and being there when they’re ready to talk rather than cold calling and bothering them, essentially. It’s this wonderful audience, and it’s a wonderful group who want to make a difference in the world. It’s nice to work on products that are trying to make a change and to support them and to feel that fire. That’s where we are. That’s what we do. It’s been a wild ride.

I love it. Lovely. Quite a journey. Great. Kerry, do you feel cold calling in the B2B space has died? What is your take on it?

From a cold outreach standpoint for emails and phones, I believe that it is dying off, if not already dead. The audience has been really clear my eyes. If you listen to people who’ve done the research like Danny Wolf, or you listen to sales practitioners and their numbers, it’s not there. On top of that, you’re working with an audience that isn’t endless. You’re It’s learning bridges. It’s not a numbers game anymore. You can’t just call as many people as you want as humanly possible and hope that you get to that 1%. It’s not that big of an audience, especially when you’re talking about an industry like cyber. You have to be really intentional with your outreach. Marketing has to pull its weight in surrounding the audience, getting them the information they need, nurturing them through the funnel, and letting the audience decide when they’re ready to talk to sales. I think that’s a better use of sales as time. They get to cultivate relationships with people who are more interested in really learning about the product and its being helpful. I think it’s better from a human connection standpoint, from a number standpoint, and from an, It’s ultimate revenue bottom of the funnel standpoint.

Yeah, that is what I feel as well. Your sales should not be introducing your product or service or your company to your prospect. They should know about it beforehand, be informed about why the meeting is being scheduled and why are you guys meeting, right? Before you do that, versus a sales guy walking in, doing the presentation, making the company understand what they do and all that stuff. It’s quite a valid point there. Talking about agency ownership, Kerry, you have been in the spot for quite some time now, right? Give us the challenges of running your agency. How difficult was it initially when you started? To keep the lights on, as an agency, we take all sorts of businesses initially. Talk us through your journey as an agency owner, how difficult it and has been. I would not say how difficult or easy because I know it is not easy, how difficult it has been so far.

I think there have been moments of difficulty, but overall, I relish the challenge. It has been a challenge. In the early days when it was just Mike and I, the hardest part of being a business owner was knowing when to stop. I still know that I’ve learned that lesson even to this day. But it’s ultimately like that work-life balance of not checking your emails at 10 o’clock before bed and making sure that you put work down for a minute and walk away. I I think that was for us, initially, when we got up and running, it was not being on the clock all the time. I think for us, in retrospect, comparatively, as you get bigger, you just develop different problems. So the early days feel like, Oh, they were a walk in the park. I’m sure it was really hard at the moment. I remember my business partner making 40 cold calls too, and this was back in 2011, 40 some cold calls VMware alone just to try and get a meeting, which he did. He made it happen. We did win the client, and we did work with VMware for quite a while.

The clients that left there and then brought us along to their other companies, that was a huge moment for us. But I remember him just getting up in the morning and just dialing to get somebody on the phone. Those initial new business lands were hard. Then it was I don’t want to say it was easy, but then it was coming to us, like I said. We landed VMware, and then those clients left. They went to other places, and then they brought us along. There was a stint there where you could tie all of our clients. We had eight clients, and you could tie them all back to VMware. It was wild. Like, six years later, all back to VMware. It’s the referral, right? That’s how all agencies generally grow out of the gais the referral piece. We’re still there. It’s still very referral-based for us. We are breaking out of that. I would say that our current hurdle is, Okay, you can’t rely on referrals forever. Where does that new business come from outside of referrals, which is another tough leap to make because it has to be done, again, coming back to that notion of cold outreach not being effective anymore.

It has to come back to building relationships and finding the right folks to build those relationships with and not expecting everything to be a sales call. So even with my podcast, I have so where people show up after my show or days later or even a month later and be like, I still don’t know what you do. I’m like, That’s cool. I’m happy to tell you now. But I’d rather have that authentic conversation of them being curious rather than coming in and being like, This is who we are. Just want to make sure you know it. It’s tough when you’re trying to build that initial relationship to immediately launch into that. I’ve been intentional, I’ve been doing the podcast for four years. At the end of the day, a lot of the people I’ve had on my show, we’ve had a couple of pieces of new business come out of it, which has been wonderful, great people to work with. But at the end of the day, it’s been a referral piece for us. We have wonderful people on, we build these wonderful relationships, and then they’re on the show, they share it, and they go out and they talk about the great experience they had.

That’s been a really interesting piece that was lovely and unexpected. But that’s really where that intentional marketing needs to come in to get away from that referral, which is where we’ve lived for so long. I’d say as an agency owner, that’s been It was the hardest part. It was hard to get that first few pieces of business, and then we rode the referral for a while, and now it’s making that new leap.

Lovely. I was coming to that. How do you see podcasts as a sales or marketing engine for any brand? What is your take on it? Since you have been doing it for four years now, and you have had your successes as you spoke about, what do you feel in general about podcasts as a sales machinery or a marketing strategy?

I think it’s phenomenal. You do need some stars to align. I don’t know that it’s for every company and every person necessarily. You do need a couple of things. One is you need to have an audience that even wants to be on a podcast. You need a person who can be a great host, who’s a bit outgoing, who can be curious, who can ask questions. It took me a while to learn that. I knew podcasting was going to be a great vehicle, but I didn’t know how to be a host. I would say the first year was a lot of sitting in an uncomfortable place of just making sure I could get comfortable in the moment of asking the right questions. That was hard. Now I don’t do a whole lot of prep for my shows. I just get on and have fun. But there was a learning curve there. Having a great host who can cultivate that and lean into it is something else that’s necessary to have a good show. Then there’s a whole production piece that you don’t even see come in. You’re like, Oh, I’m going to start a podcast, and it’s going to be great.

Then you realize you have to download it and edit it.

Then look at it and add the intro and outro and all of the things.

It’s a heavy upfront lift. But the magic of it is a few things. One is you get to build amazing relationships with your ultimate audience, and you get to know what’s on their minds. I feel like I’m on the cutting edge. I feel very comfortable in saying things like cold outreach is dying or dead because I’ve listened to enough shows and had enough people on who are experiencing this firsthand. It’s been wonderful in keeping me on the cutting edge from a digital marketing standpoint, knowing what’s important to my audience, knowing what they’re leading into. ABN was another one. I was talking about ABN years before it took off. I had Latany Continent on my show in 2019 where she was like, Ungate everything. I was like, This is blasphemy, Latany. What are you doing to me? But now it’s becoming a normal thing to do thanks to the technology. But I was on the cutting edge of being able to have some of those tough conversations. The third thing it does is it’s just endless content, right? Especially now with the available technology, you can create clips, and you can have a transcript.

Now you’re having your show on eight platforms that feed back into your website. It’s social media content for days. We have so much content now that we’re able to group shows and put them through AI to come up with an idea of what the trends are and what people are saying about a certain topic. When you can stick with it, it just has endless possibilities. But standing it up, it’s a lift. Sticking with it is a commitment.

Absolutely. Great, Kerry, because this is a burning question in terms of how podcasts can benefit from it. I see a lot of business owners trying to do that. But like you mentioned, you have to understand your niche, the space that you are in, and what guests you want to invite on your show so that it, end of the day, provides value to the space, and to the audiences that you’re catering to. Then you can think of the next steps. It makes a lot of sense there. Great. Given the competitive nature of space that you are in the tech space, how do you approach developing a strategy that works and is successful? I would like to believe I would know that, in the space that you are in, you have a lot of competition, a lot of agencies who are good at what they do. They would have their clients fighting for the top charts there. How do you fight off that competition to ensure your clients are staying ahead of the curve?

For us, that’s the beauty of being niche. There isn’t a lot of competition in the cybersecurity space. There are a lot of agencies that do cybersecurity, but they also do a lot of other things. They do finance and a bunch of other. They’ll even put CPG, again, in line with the industries that they serve. CPG versus cybersecurity, are two very different approaches that you need there. Again, I think it comes back to really knowing the industry and knowing the audience. I keep coming back to the audience because it’s so key in understanding how to build that value. At the end of the day, SEO is really about the value that you’re bringing to your end users of what they’re searching for, what questions they have, how you can show up and answer those questions as reliably, how you can let Google know that you’re a master in the space and building that foundation through the technical aspect of it so that you’re rising, you’re helping your whole website rise to the top and then showing up for those very in particular keywords. At the end of the day, the click-through rate is what matters. You can show up from an impression standpoint all day long, but if it’s not the value that they’re looking for, it’s not answering the question that they have, then what is it all for?

I think for us, it’s coming down to knowing what the end user is after and meeting them where they are.

Lovely. You migrated from working with Microsoft managing social campaigns to leading your agency. What sparked that entrepreneurial leap? Did you feel that any lessons learned at Microsoft had in your journey as an agency owner? I’m sure it did.

Oh, yeah. At Microsoft, I was managing digital ads campaigns across Microsoft.com. I wasn’t managing any social. That’s a whole different beast that I had not yet dabbled with. Even now, I would consider myself a dabbler in society. It’s not a core competency of mine. I’ve gotten to know LinkedIn pretty well, but I’m still figuring. But the big thing that I learned at Microsoft and that I took with me is the data aspect. I would be exporting these monster outputs from Atlas, dating myself there. Atlas was Microsoft’s product for ad management, and we would have just reams of data. This was before you had a data warehouse, so it would end up in these giant Excel sheets, and I had to figure out how to create dashboards to read the data in a time when it was raw. We didn’t have a Looker Studio. We didn’t have fancy platforms like Impravado where you could connect everything from the back-end and then just use Looker Studio and make it pretty and then read data. I had to create that from scratch. Living in the data created a love for me of knowing that was the magic.

That’s all I’m going to do. What did it do? I still have that today. I’ve been sitting with my team, unpacking a current client, and I’m exporting. They’re like, Kerry, there’s a dashboard over here. I’m like, I know, but I need the raw data. I need to pivot it, and I need to work with it, and I need to go down the rabbit holes, and I need full control of it that I just can’t get in a fancy dashboard. I think that having that core competency and building MKG from a place of business outcomes and Measurable Media, which was our tagline for the longest time, Measurable Media is what set us apart for a very long time. Even to this day, I think leaning in as an agency owner, as a business owner, being able to speak to my clients in that capacity of knowing that they have leadership that they have to answer to in how much revenue they’re driving. I understand that to my core, both as an agency owner, and as a business owner, and having lived in data for most of my career. I would say that’s how that bridge happened.

Lovely. Great, Kari. But I would like you to give us the top three tips or some bits of advice for those who are trying to make a mark in the digital marketing space or let’s say, trying to start their entrepreneurial journey or trying to start their agency. Since you have been there, you migrated from a typical corporate setup to starting your agency, doing well nowadays. What a bit of advice would mean a lot. Give us those tips that might have been helpful for you.

As an agency owner, understand As early, as soon as humanly possible, what finance is. From revenue to your expenses to your profit margin. Then Pay close attention to that profit margin. Because at the end of the day, you can be making all the money in all of the land, but if your expenses are outpacing your revenue, then you’re growing broke. This is not an upside-down world you want to live in. I may be speaking from experience. So understand how finance works and figure out how to keep your expenses in line with your revenue. So you get an 18 to 25% profit margin. That’s on the high end. That’s like Really good. So if you’re hitting those numbers, hats off to you all. That’s the sweet spot. If you can do that early on and then stick with it, you’re going to be in good shape. And know what cash flow is. Know how to work your contract so that you’re getting paid in a way that you can pay your people and not get caught off with having to burn cash to do that. I would say, I wish I had understood finance sooner, and those would be the things that I wish I had known.

I know now.

Good idea, Kerry. Lovely. Let’s play a quick rapid I’ll fire then now.

Oh, gosh. Okay.

All right. Your last Google search.

My last Google search. Does Google Drive count? No, I’m just kidding. I use Search for Everything. I use it in email, I use it in Drive. My last Google search. I feel like I should look it up. Oh, I know what it was. I heard that Ryan Gosling did a Can Enough performance at the Oscars, and I just had to see it. That was the last thing I could do.

All right. It’s excellent. Lovely. Your celebrity crush?

Ryan Gosling, of course. That’s why I had to go watch the Knauff video. Oh, I lost sound. I lost you. Hold on. Is that me?

Hello?

Oh, there you are.

Okay. All right. Where do we find you on Friday evenings?

Friday evenings. Recently on my sofa with a glass of wine, watching something terrible, probably a blast from the past, like a Gilmore Girls or an episode of Friends or Decompression Time. Kids are in bed, work is done. I Got said down.

Lovely. Great. Yeah. I’ll not grill you any further Kerry, you’ve been a sport. Thank you so much for taking your time and doing this with us. Appreciate it.

Thank you. Good to meet you, Ranmay. Thank you for having me.

Great. Thank you.

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