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For this episode of Ecoffee with Experts, we have Larry Gurreri, founder and CEO of Sosemo, an award-winning strategic media planning, buying, and campaign management agency. Matt Fraser got Larry to decode his strategy to increase visibility by 50%, efficiently allocate budget, and drive results for clients. Watch now.
The best thing about SEO is that if you are willing to put in work, you can compete with or outrank the biggest brands out there.
Glad to be here.
It’s become a big part of our culture here at Sosemo. A few years ago, they were filming right in front of our office, The Post which had Tom Hanks. It was a Spielberg production. And we were interested in what was going on outside our office, and we called the number on the lot, and basically, we found out what they were filming, and I volunteered to be an extra. I let the folks know that we would shut down our office and would love to be on that production. And they took a few of us. And since then I’ve been listed with a casting agency. And whenever they’re looking for somebody with longer hair, it’s like the 70s and 80s films I’m called. So I was in the Joker. I was in the Irishman and it’s become a big part of our culture.
Like eight days on the set of The Joker. That was one of the clown-face protesters. It was a lot of fun.
There are a lot of reasons for starting Sosemo. I had been at a larger agency just before then. And in all honesty, I was kind of burnt out on just being stretched across so many different businesses and having four different bosses. So I was just looking to recalibrate. I was interested in something a little bit more intimate. And I dabbled with starting an app-based company. Along the way, my old colleagues were reaching out to me to see if I’d be interested in some freelance work. And at first, I was just focused on my app, but at some point, I took on some freelance business. I realized that I had to decide between trying to raise funding for the app business or dialing up an agency quickly. It was unquestionable that there was a lot of demand for specialized marketing services. So I went with the agency, and there is the story.
Getting off the ground was a bit of a challenge. I didn’t do a whole lot early on. A lot of my old colleagues were reaching out to me and looking for freelance work, which essentially just kind of spun into an agency. I reached out to my network a little bit, but it was just about doing really good work. And that just led to additional business. Nowadays, it’s about getting talent. And talent is hard to come by. We do pretty much everything that we can to add to the culture, add to benefits, and so forth to attract the best talent that we can.
Every year we do an annual town hall meeting, we share a lot of those figures and marketing is one of the bigger areas with the shortage of labor. So it was like that before all this happened with the pandemic. I always had to do everything possible to make this an attractive place for people to want to work.
I never shortchanged benefits, we do a lot. Our benefits are very, very good. Essentially, we have the best benefits that we could offer. And there’s a lot culturally that we do as well. You mentioned the movies within the film festivals. Even during the pandemic, we rented a movie theater and had a virtual screening at the New York Film Festival. And it’s kind of funny, the firm that owns that movie studio has become a partner of ours. It was a movie production company in New York City, and I got to talk to the owner, he had been telling me about the movies he’s directed and Hathaway and so forth. So we partnered with them now. We’re promoting their latest film. It’s something that we’re interested in. We have baseball games and all kinds of team-building activities. All that stuff’s really important to us.
That’s a big part of it. There are a lot of other things. We’ve got several different bonuses that I think are very innovative. We have this called variable added comp, which is a unique bonus structure that essentially I think distinguishes us. Last year with how busy and overcapacity we were, our team was earning overtime, which I thought was pretty critical. I think the agency that wasn’t doing that had a lot more issues delivering.
I was starting a company and I was trying to find a name that was available on GoDaddy for that with three syllables. And there wasn’t much so I spent probably days just kind of combing through the different options. So I came up with the word Sosemo which is essentially an acronym for Social Search in mobile. If you look at the bracket around our logo, that’s intended to communicate that we have an integrated approach across those channels.
Lots of meetup posts these days, for sure. Yep.
For me, it’s about personal connections. It’s about getting to know my clients and getting to know my co-workers and just kind of caring about buddies and helping them to succeed. So for me, it’s just personal connections.
Yeah. Health is a specialty. When you talk to health care marketers, they are people that don’t specialize, so it is a very unique specialty there.
I mean, it’s tough. We have our interview screening questions. It’s just about being passionate and coming across that way, that you have done some research on our clients and us. So that’s really what matters. It doesn’t take much to research a company and research their clients, to have a meaningful conversation with an employer. But it’s funny that most people don’t. Most people submit their resumes and that’s about it. They give you a very generic cover letter and hope for the best.
It evolves, that’s for sure. There are a lot of things here that have become baked over the years. But we had to work at it. I still have individual lunch meetings with everybody on our team. And one of the questions I’ve always asked is what else can we do to make us a better workplace? How can we have more fun? And at this point, I’m not getting a lot of new answers. So as I said we’ve got a pretty big culture. So I think it’s something that you work at, but I think it does kind of stabilize over time.
There was one made of me. Yes.
Well, going to the Yankees games is important to us. And there are bobblehead days at Yankee Stadium where you get some kind of unique bobblehead. There are not that many. There are only 20,000 bobbleheads and Yankee Stadium, is a lot bigger. So we always go and get the June BeanSuite on bobblehead day, because there’s a special entrance where we can go in and get out. We make sure everybody gets their bobbleheads. So I think everybody’s got the bobbleheads. And I think they know that I’m proud of them and I always care about bobblehead day. So they had that made, I think on Amazon somehow. It was a national boss’s day, they gave that to me.
I’ve been doing SEO for about 20 years now. So it’s a fairly level playing field. If you are willing to put in the work, I do feel that you can compete or outrank the biggest brands out there. So that would be why I like SEO.
I mean, we’ve got our unique philosophies here. Regarding all the channels that we work in. I would say that more content and more keywords are always better. I feel like that’s a common belief that we don’t necessarily agree with.
I don’t think it is.
I think generally, like most marketers their approach to SEO is to have a content strategy. So like producing more and more content, and just kind of stuffing more and more keywords in that content is their approach. That feels more like throwing darts at a dartboard and just kind of hoping for the best results. We have a more strategic approach to that.
Let me talk a little bit about our approach. So there’s something that we call a keyword listening study. And that’s the intelligence that we use to inform our SEO optimization recommendations. So surely they think about it. Everybody knows about Google’s algorithms and what they have and how complex they are. In layman’s terms, I think about the search engine algorithms because the engines will set aside a limited number of points for key locations on a web page. So, for example, let’s just say the title of a page. Google will say, okay, there are 10 points for all keywords in the title. If you decide to put 10 keywords in the title, each keyword would get one point. Alternatively, you could have one keyword in the title, and that one keyword would get all 10 points. So to me, the main aspect of SEO is that you can either go after a shortlist of very competitive keywords or a longer list of less competitive keywords. So for us, the way we do that is we do this keyword listening study where we essentially map keywords along the consumer journey, and then we’ll look for search volume and marry that up against the competition. And our goal then is to find highly searched keywords that have less competition, and therefore, it’s like good shelf space that we can own by developing and optimizing content. So for me, it’s about quality over quantity. We try to make sure that whatever content we’re producing actually has really good odds of ranking in the search results. And that’s how we do it. And I mean, I’ve seen tremendous results from this. I’ve been using this strategy for many years. We see anything from like 30, 40, 50% increase in visibility when we implement the strategy.
Well, it ties back to our health experience if you want to know. So when you work in pharmaceutical marketing, there’s a process called, it’s got a lot of different names, but essentially, it’s meant legal review. So everything that is going to be on the market has to go through a very detailed review process. So one of the unique things about working in healthcare, specifically pharma, is that whatever you put in the market will stick there for a while. You don’t have the opportunity to tweak content over time. So I think in many industries, the approach to SEO is to put something out there and tweak it based on analytics. In healthcare, we don’t have that opportunity as much because everything needs to be rerouted through med-legal. So when we produce content, we need to make sure that it will perform out of the gate. So years ago, when I was starting in pharmaceutical marketing, what we realized was that we had to do the upfront planning and analysis to make sure that that content was going to perform because once it was on the market, we were kind of stuck with it for several months. So as it turns out, I feel like it is the better approach to be more proactive about your optimizations than reactive based on analytics. So it does come from the health speciality.
Yeah, we have all those tools.
We’re a boutique agency. I feel like we’ve got an approach to every channel that we work with. So definitely, paid search is one of the core channels we work with. For us, it’s about, again, upfront planning, similar to SEO, but we do a comprehensive inventory assessment. And strategic budget allocation recommendation is the key to our special sauce when it comes to paid search.
I’d love to talk through that. I think the biggest mistake that I see is paid search, and there are certain mistakes that I see in other channels. From a paid search perspective, what we see is that the mistake is to create a massive campaign, essentially, and just let the engine decide how to spend your budget. So I like to say that Google will spend your budget as efficiently as possible for Google, not your business? So for me, it’s about really taking In steps to kind of control how the spending occurs. So the way that we do that is essentially, map keywords along the consumer journey. We will have different keyword groupings. And then we’ll use their planning tool, and will use the planning tool to forecast different share voice levels at different price points. So for us that would include taking some of the high volume, expensive terms, and putting them in a different keyword bucket as well as different groupings of all the more granular terms and they probably perform better. And then, ultimately, we’ll have conversations with the clients and try to understand their goals. And base our decisions on the goals, but also the hidden value that we see. And while they have a plan, it’s like it looks like a mini media plan specifically for paid search. We may say something like, we may set budgets that are like 30%, Share of Voice on the high volume, expensive terms, and then try and shoot for 100%, on the more granular terms. So, for me, it’s about being aware of different SOV levels and of controlling the spending out of the gate.
I see it all the time. It’s pretty obvious to spot. You look at these campaigns, and you see that 90% of the budget is being spent on free terms.
That’s the biggest one if you don’t have the intelligence. And what I mean by that is the research that you’ve done to know how to spend your capital, it’s not going to work out for you.
I’m not too much in a lot of campaigns. So we’re not taking over too many campaigns and restructuring.
We analysed an existing campaign for a Fortune 100 client one time. We’ve done this for many former companies as well, where we’ve kind of come in, audited an existing campaign, identified exactly what we just talked about, basically exhausting the entire budget, going through the process of coming up with an inventory assessment, and a more strategic recommendation for the budget. We had one particular very large campaign that we did this analysis for, and ultimately, we executed it, and it had like a 4x increase in all metrics. So it’s led to substantially more business for us.
We love seeing our clients succeed, but also, I can say that for a lot of the brands that we work with, we work in health care, it’s not working on T-shirts or bumper stickers. A lot of times, we’re helping to improve people’s lives. In some cases, with some of the brands that we work with, we are helping to extend people’s lives. So there’s a lot of satisfaction working in healthcare for that.
I mean, ultimately, we facilitate conversations between patients and doctors.
I like paid social. I think there’s still a lot of inventory out there. It’s lower cost and certainly one of the areas that we’re working in. We have a similar artisan approach to paid search into SEO, where we’ll do an inventory assessment, and kind of strategize the budget allocation across campaigns. And that’s what delivers results for us.
You’re right, it’s a little bit different. Instead of keywords, you’re looking at basically user affinities. So for us to do it, your first step is you have to flush out the different target audiences. I think if there is a listening tool that you have use it. That’s what we use to flush out what the personas look like and to identify them. From there, we’ll use the planning tools within the various platforms of Facebook or LinkedIn, or what have you, by the audience sizes. And then based on sizes, we determine the budget needed for a certain amount of ad frequency that we would consider ideal. So for us, when I mentioned how Google will spend your budget as efficiently for Google, the same kind of thing with LinkedIn, but instead of just spending it on clicks, they spend it on ad frequency. So for us, it is a point of diminishing return with AD frequency. It’s not productive to keep showing the ad over and over and over and over and over again, to the same audience. It can be counterproductive. So for us, it’s about setting the budget, that’s high enough that you’re getting enough ad frequency to break through, but not so much that it’s counterproductive and you’re adding to apathy. So strategy, and then making sure that you kind of rebalance your budget over time.
These are the core channels that I think most clients should be running campaigns on. Long programmatic is the other one that we do a lot of. But for me, it’s all about frequency. We’re a media buying agency, so it’s about having the right amount of touchpoints and ad frequency across channels to break through and drive the actions you want.
I would say that most of our clients work with us for all these channels, and we have 90% retention with clients. So I would say that they’re all pretty much successful.
I don’t know if I would exclude 100%. I think you can certainly dial back in certain areas. We do this a lot. And we try to get the coverage that you need. I use all three of the channels, but, we may dial back in certain areas. So first, dial back from the awareness of upper-funnel terms and just focus on the branded terms, or we might use social for more awareness and so forth.
There’s art and science there. For me, we do a couple of different things. First off, having that inventory assessment helps. So we know basically, how much coverage is available or how much inventory at what cost is available that helps guide our recommendations. And then the second part is just kind of understanding the client goals and kind of where the product is in its lifecycle. If it’s a brand new product then we’re focusing on awareness. We may try and put a higher percentage towards awareness media. If it’s a product, that’s been a while, we might be just focused on a kind of lower funnel acquisition media. So we take that all into consideration when coming up with a budget allocation. I mean, for me, one of the key takeaways, I think that’s important for clients and this is something that I often have this conversation with regards to budget is that if you don’t have the budget to have enough frequency for a nationwide campaign. I think it’s better to geo-target. I think it’s better to go deep in a specific Geo, and have a frequency to break through and drive the actions that you want, versus spreading the campaign too thin nationwide. So that’s something that we often discuss.
I wouldn’t say the majority of our clients, but for a new product launch, it makes sense.
I think you did a great job.
You can go to sosemo.com or add me on LinkedIn. I’ll connect with anybody.
Movie Production. Love it.
Actually, movie promotion. It’s something we are starting to do more of.
I would have to say the Godfather. Casa Blanca would be number two.
I am not a huge Disney fan but can I say Ron Konobly.
Steak Tartare. I love it.
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