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Navigating the Digital Marketing Landscape

In conversation with Michael Epps Utley

For this episode of E-coffee with Experts, Dawood Bukhari interviewed Michael Epps Utley, CEO and Founder at GoEpps, a digital marketing agency, located in Nashville, Tennessee.

Michael shares insights on the benefits of niche strategies for agencies, effective budget planning across different marketing channels, challenges and strategies specific to healthcare marketing, and the importance of authentic and valuable content creation.

Watch the episode now for some profound insights!

Every time you move up or no matter where you go, there are always new challenges and new barriers, but the ability to see those with the end in mind is really powerful and very freeing.

Michael Epps Utley
CEO and Founder at GoEpps

Hello everyone. Today we have with us Michael Epps Utley, CEO GoEpps. Hey Michael.

Hey. Good to see you. Thanks for having me on.

Same here, man. Thank you for taking out time excited to have you today. Michael, before we dive deep into questions and, get some knowledge bombs out of you it would be great if you could introduce yourself and the company to our viewers.

Sure thing. I’m Michael Epps Utley. GoEpps is a digital marketing agency. We’re based in Nashville, Tennessee. We have staff all on the eastern seaboard of the US clients all across the USA. We’ve been in business for 12 years. Last year we were one of the regional fastest-growing companies with Ink Magazine.

Not the Ink 5,000 or the Ink 500, but a regional, fast-growing company. So hit about a million in revenue in 2019 and now we’re on track, hopefully this year, trending for 2 million and want to grow it to 10. And we’re just excited about all the new things that are happening in digital marketing.

There’s a lot of change happening right now. As we’re talking Chat GPT is just hit and Bard has just hit and everybody in SEO is trying to figure out what’s going on. But, we’ve been doing this for a while. We got a really good team and a lot of great clients and that’s the company we are.

As an agency. I know, you also niche down a little bit, but as an agency, what do you suggest? Like focusing on a niche or going broad.

I think for an agency you always have sort of a fork in the road that you hit. If someone has some skills, some talent, they can often get stuck in the trap of doing the thing that they’re good at doing.

It could be graphic design, being a programmer, being excited about UX design and those can be traps and I always like to say that I was never held back by having any skill. My skill was always pulling people together to deliver projects and really just operations. But I was never a good enough graphic designer or programmer or a writer or anything to get stuck in any one area. And so that sort of forced me to stay at that general level. And what I was always passionate about was managing digital marketing channels. And so, I think it is good to pick a niche, but what I would do is avoid getting too tightly defined around what you enjoy doing, but focus on one of the big marketing channels or one of the industries a big industry, and so I think going deep in one of those areas is a good thing, but you can do it in a way where you don’t limit. New opportunities and new niches from coming in. And typically what I’ve found is that the most business and the most new clients come from referrals.

So when you go deep in a niche, you tend to get more business in that space anyway. And so there’s a little bit of a natural niche effect that happens. So I think for a lot of people just focus on profitability, focus on growth, and the niche will happen naturally, but when it does, you’ve gotta be ready to say no to projects that don’t fit the momentum that you’re able to build by servicing a particular channel like SEO or paid search, or a particular industry like for US healthcare, which is right, very unique.

Industry in America. And there’s some marketing that happens in healthcare, but, I think founders inevitably face that challenge and I think you just keep the opportunities open, but develop your deeper flywheel of deeper skills with different niches and it’ll all rise to the top over time. It’ll work out.

When a new client comes on board, talking about channels, how do you plan the budgets like SEO versus paid, across different channels?

We do a lot of that during the sales process. For example, yesterday we met with a really great client of ours here in Nashville.

And they’re ready to expand, ready to grow. And so before we start the new program, we have a little bit of an understanding of what they’re trying to accomplish, and they’re looking to us to recommend the right channels. And so we’re saying if we do this, and this adds up to a good program because there are a lot of, with digital marketing, there’s a lot of overlap in tactics.

That’s really important for return on investment. For example, if a company wants to do a content program and an SEO program, those go together. And so those are one and the same thing to a degree. But if they also want social media and content programs. We want to have an integrated content program that’s flowing out to social media.

But then other things like getting into video, can be a little bit more costly. So maybe save that for phase two. So the way that we approach it is we work that out based on what they’re trying to achieve during the sales process, and then we break it up into phases. And that way it’s not overwhelming trying to do everything at once, but the things that we are doing are all tied together and working together to deliver a good return on investment.

So that’s how we do it.

Talking about healthcare, sometimes a third-party factor might influence convergence like healthcare, insurance, and things like that. Healthcare is complicated. How do you plan such situations in your strategy?

The third-party thing is tough.

Here’s where we run into it. We run into it with not just the complexity of healthcare, but how difficult it is to work with internal teams with large, overly complex website architecture and so often we’ll just go outside of the system. They have so much management and complexity that they get a little bit, their wheels start spinning and they don’t move anywhere.

And so sometimes we’ll work outside of it. But then other times we have to just have hard conversations. And like an example of this would be if they have some system for. Creating phone numbers and publishing phone numbers for different departments in the hospital or the company. And then we want to use call tracking on an advertising campaign that’s very troubling to them.

They say, oh, wait a second, our phone number is this. And it’s come on guys. That’s not important. Nobody cares what your phone number is. It doesn’t carry any brand weight. We need the data, we need the analytics. And, that and appointment booking software informs sometimes are very slow to load to webpages.

And so when we’re delivering SEOs, sometimes we have to say, hey, I understand that you’ve got Pardot and you’ve got these forms and you wanna streamline the process, but look at the page speed in Google page speed tool before and after adding these embedded forms. And so sometimes we just have to punt, just take the problem out of the equation, go around it, show the client, here’s how we change things, here’s how it’s working better, and then we’re off to the races.

But it’s hard. There’s a lot of complexity, especially in healthcare with that.

How do you approach a website when you’re doing an audit? Are there any particular things you look at what does that process look like?

We have a little checklist. We maintain and update our own SEO checklist annually, so it’s about 101 different things that we look at.

And so when we go through and evaluate a website for the first time, we have a spreadsheet with a row for each item and then we do an evaluation of each item, a little description, and then we give everything a color code using just a stoplight, metaphor, red, yellow, or green. And so if it’s green, it’s good, nothing is needed. If it’s yellow, it’s an opportunity and if it’s red, it’s broken and it should be addressed as quickly as possible. And so that visual way of communicating with a prospect or a client is very compelling and they understand immediately that their situation is worse than they think it is, but it’s manageable if someone’s responsible to make it better.

So that’s our onboarding process for just thinking about SEO and we have other tools and processes for other channels.

Right? Talking about content, content is anyway so important. And when you talk about healthcare, it becomes so much crucial, like the information you are, sending out and, is it legitimate?

Like how authentic it is, and is it actually connecting with the audience? Is it not? What form of content works best or, with the changing times what content strategy do you normally suggest, particularly for healthcare?

So we appreciate consistency.

So we tell our clients that once we start publishing to the website developing content, we want to do it consistently. So it’s not an option with search engines to do it for a few months and then stop and expect there to be any benefit because generally you might start to see a little traction and then it just starts declining.

So content, of course, stacks up over time. You build a large base of content. It all has to be extremely uniquely valuable to real people. And Chat GPT, Bard, these tools that are coming that are going to allow people to pump out more content in our internal tests, it’s a cake that’s not ready to come out of the oven.

It may be useful for putting together. I don’t know, some set of instructions for putting together a dresser or something, but in terms of having really valuable, unique insight into real subject matter that people are trying to figure out for themselves, it’s just not there yet. So we’re treating all of the AI tools as an assistant tool, but it really doesn’t justify how to start a piece of content or how to make sure that it comes together and so the types of clients that we work with, they have real things to say. They’re innovators in their industries and they’re doing things that are quite unique and exciting. But the AI content really depends on just looking at what everyone else has already said.

And synthesizing it into a summary. And that’s not helpful. And in my own tests of some of the new tools or the new tool, that is available right now as we’re recording this, chat GPT. Some of what it’s coming back with is gibberish. So if you do a test, like, how do I create a dropdown menu in a cell in a Google sheet?

It’s a very common-sense question. Google’s documentation of its own products has always lagged about six months behind. They tend to be reactive to customer pain and use that to prioritize their documentation, but if anybody thinks they’re gonna use. Chat GPT to fix Google’s product documentation.

They’re not, because what comes back is a mix of instructions for Excel and Google Sheets. And so this stuff is just, it looks right, it feels right, it’s not right. It stinks, it’s bad and it’s not going to be as helpful as everyone thinks. And it’s not gonna kill SEO, SEO’s here to stay because it’s built into how the internet works.

No, absolutely. And talking about, people thinking of using these tools for content and that tool, like from a marketing or an SEO point of view, we have a partner. They do a lot of content and I just love their strategy where what they do is for every blog page, this is not even like a service page for every blog page that they create for their client.

They actually take a 5 to 10-minute interview with their client. Tell them that topic and that, that client tells them about like the way they do it or, like their insights, which is actually, like their uniqueness. And then they use that information to create the actual blog piece.

Obviously. Now they’re also using those video snippets and, embedding that in the blog to kinda enrich it. But you’re absolutely right. Now these things cannot, are not possible through the tool. And how much difference does this small activity of just taking a five-minute interview of the client itself to make because you know that content will actually talk to their audience and talk about things that are just unique to them?

That’s right. And so that’s how we do it. And so often, and what’s good for agency owners or people who are producing a lot of content is when you get a client subject matter expert on the phone, you can sometimes do six outlines in an hour. And SEO even for GoEpps, with our content, I have a writer who helps me write, but we talk about what you wanna talk about.

What do you wanna say? And so we get that information and get it out there. But I don’t have to put my fingers on the keyboard to generate that much material. But so far, I’m sure the AI tools will get better, but for right now, they’re not in any way going to provide real insights and cutting edge.

And so thinking about an editorial schedule, I would say another powerful concept for us is the editorial schedule, planning out. What are the seasons of the year? What are we gonna talk about in each season? What are the big events of the year? What are the big trade shows that we’re going to, what do we want people to see as we, get ready to set meetings at trade shows?

And, real intimate, personal, innovative content, takes time and effort to develop, and that costs money and time. And, you’re right though. It’s those little phone interviews, that’s the insight, the uniqueness, and that’s the spark that makes the whole thing matter.

Absolutely.

We’re talking mainly about healthcare today. How we all know that the personal touch is so important, but now as an agency, if you are, doing it for your clients on scale, how do you ensure that or how do you take care of that problem while scaling?

Significant amounts of training and process of all the staff?

So we use a system called Traction.

Oh, I love it. We follow it. We did it. So basically we had to do it twice. The first time we did it ourselves, like we read it ourselves and we ended up creating our own versions of traction. And then the second time we asked a friend to do it for us because we thought it could be fine.

It’s an external person. We will listen to him and, we’ll follow his instructions. But it just changed our system altogether.

It had that impact on us. Before we implemented traction, the economy was rough, COVID was happening, and everyone was cautious. Things you could just feel the US and the global economy all slowing down at one time and we decided we’re not gonna go down like that.

We’re not done. We’re ready to fight and figure this out. And so in implementing traction, suddenly we had a 10-year goal and we had a three-year goal, and we worked down from there to develop our quarterly goals. And so once we built those financial goals, those revenue goals, those margin goals, we just applied that to everyone’s jobs.

And decided this is the standard we have to meet. And it’s hard. It’s, I’m losing my voice because I’ve been handling five incoming sales leads a week for big campaigns, and, we’re like a hamster on a wheel right now handling all the incoming new business. And that’s good, but it’s exhausting.

But it’s all because of how we implemented traction and starting with the results in mind and working backward. Something else that we do is we have our own. I would not call it an intranet site. Back in the day when there were servers and offices, you would often have internal documentation on an intranet site.

We have a website. It’s just a subdomain of goepps.com, but we use that as a login. Everyone has to log in. But we maintain that as our SOPs, our standard operating procedures. And every Monday morning if we have some issue, we’re discussing the issue and we’re always taking it back to what do we have?

And our standard operating procedures, and I call it easy, it’s named after Easy Company from the group that fought World War II from Normandy all the way to Berlin. So easy is the tool that we built to manage ourselves. And we use that as a standard that everyone can see. It’s not something that’s hidden in someone’s desk.

It’s a website and everyone’s an admin. So if anyone is making changes to how they’re doing things in their area, they’re also responsible to go update the documentation. And so that separates us a little bit from any issues with staff turnover or any confusion. Leadership management is all on the same page.

And that’s represented an extraordinary move forward in consistency and coherence and creating institutional knowledge. Because now when we do something well, we can always say how could we do that in a more scalable way. How could we do that for 50 people, not just this one client who’s asking?

And we always go too easy and make sure that we built out our process to do that. And so that’s how we draw a line in the sand and insist that our services become more scalable.

And it’s so much important for an agency that wants to scale, like creating SOPs from day one, a lot of people do this mistake where they say, okay, fine, let me master something and then I’ll create an SOP.

And that day never comes, you can always improvise your documentation, but start documenting things from day one. You know that that’s so much important when you’re scaling.

And the thing that’s been interesting, is we’re going through a process now where we’re updating all of our planning around our offer development and our pricing and our fulfillment.

We’re going through a refresh of that. We used to do this about once every two years. Now we’re doing it about every six months because change is happening faster. But one of the things that we’re finding is that the most important thing we can do from where we are today is not always to have more documentation, but to always seek to simplify and centralize and streamline.

And so there’s a vertical and a horizontal nature to documentation. You can have a lot of topics from top to bottom or a lot of layers of information, but if you don’t have alignment, horizontally throughout the company, and I would even say on a third axis, with each staff member all the way to their compensation, you’re not really ready to get everyone motivated equally.

And so that’s the process we’re going through right now and we’re getting everything aligned in these three axes and it’s very powerful and very exciting.

Reviews are very important for any business, including healthcare. Like how do you use any tools or techniques to ensure that your clients get regular reviews?

We do use a number of tools, but mainly it’s getting a flow of email addresses from the provider, the healthcare provider that can be very difficult for them. We have to send up processes and make sure that data are going to stay secure, and a lot of times we end up using very low-tech tools, sometimes just MailChimp to send emails.

But creating that engagement, there are a number of healthcare reviews, and management tools that are very popular and, we’ve used some of the different tools. I’m not in the middle of deciding what to use for each campaign. But, sometimes the low-tech process is just as good because sometimes we’re dealing with very small B2B types of healthcare companies, and so sometimes it’s not, we do a patient acquisition, but sometimes what we’re doing is just going out to five people.

And so in that case, it’s a very carefully crafted email that is streamlined so that they get the unique URL, one click, hit the star. Add your text and sometimes we’ll even do a phone call before that email goes out. So in, in many cases, low-tech can be better. But, there are a lot of tools out there for reputation management, for real large-scale healthcare networks.

I don’t know. I can’t. There’s a list, but Doc and a handful of others. But we’ve tended to do a lot of B2B, but for our patient acquisition, it’s just a matter of getting the data, getting it set up in the system, and pumping it out.

For a business where multiple locations, how do you plan location-specific pages, while also ensuring you’re not creating doorway pages or spammy pages?

We do something I call the slice and dice. We build a spreadsheet with all of the pages that we want to create, and we develop chunks of unique content for the first paragraph and for the images and unique alt text and title just all the meta content for the page, so making sure all those pieces are unique. And then about 50% of the body content can be replicated, and so that streamlines the production of planning a large batch of pages. And then we just make sure that they’re all helpful and relevant and useful.

Just follow, eat, and if each of those pages is actually useful. It’s not spam. And so offering a particular service in a particular market and having information about who the local sales rep is for that service to be offered in that market and a form to make contact and a little something about the area and what makes this company unique, that’s all useful.

But as long as every page is a good page, you can’t have too many of them. But you do have to plan that out in a spreadsheet, not in a WordPress interface.

What are your thoughts on podcasts as a marketing strategy?

It’s worked for us. It’s been very. Effective, we get leads from it. It’s also for us, a valuable sales nurture piece.

When people are getting to know us, we can use our own podcast as an example of the type of content we do and how we publish it. And one of the reasons that we do podcasting for ourselves is to gain all the links. And so being able to demonstrate that live with something and then flip in to show the data where, because I don’t wanna reveal client data on every prospect phone call. That would have to be with permission or because it was a referral from someone and they’ve opened their books to that person. So having my own playground of positive results to show is really important to me when I’m talking to a prospect. And so we use it a lot for that, but it’s also a lead generator.

And I would say that the way you’re doing it is brilliant. We’re rebooting our podcast to be in this format. We think the two talking heads. The format is really good and it lets us talk to anybody in the world instead of in a physical location. And so we’re ramping up a new podcast this year using the format that you’re using because we think it’s so good.

But we’ve gotten leads from it. And it’s also a big support tool for staying in front of people and staying top of mind during the sales process.

What is that one big takeaway or tip that you would want to give our audience from this interview?

I think if there are entrepreneurs listening there’s a really good video, his series on YouTube is called “The Spirited Man”, and I can’t remember his name, but he’s a very creative individual who makes videos about overly complicated solutions, to things that are not problems. So he had a Toyota Land Cruiser and his wife had a Toyota Land Cruiser side by side.

They had slightly different logos on the front of the vehicle, and he decided that he liked hers better. So he manufactured a logo for his Toyota and installed it and changed the front of the vehicle. But he has a great video on the veteran artist. The novice or the beginner artist and the veteran artist have had barriers they’ve overcome, and when they get to that point that they’re successful, those barriers are seen in a positive way, not a negative way, but the novice artist seizes the wall, and it’s just a wall. It’s just a barrier. And so as an entrepreneur, you have to get into that mindset of every barrier is just another thing to be grateful for once you succeed, once you win. And when we hit a million dollars in revenue in 2019, I felt like my brain turned around in my head. It was so shocking. I couldn’t believe how successful we had become. And that was really exciting. And about 24 hours later, I said, let’s go to 10 million, and it’s just the entrepreneurial spirit.

And so I think for entrepreneurs out there, I found that video to be very helpful and very life-giving, because every time you move up or no matter where you go, they’re always new challenges, new barriers, but the ability to see those with the end in mind, it’s really powerful and very freeing.

Michael, thank you for sharing that. It’s good advice. But before, we let you go. We like to play a quick rapid-fire round of three to five questions, just to know you better and, end it casually. Are you ready? Yes. Let’s go. Perfect. Describe your style in one word.

Rigid directive. Hard to be around.

If a movie was made in your life, what genre would it be?

Gen X, BMX, skateboard, motorcycle action adventure.

Favorite superhero?

I love the new Marvel stuff and I would say that I would go with Captain America. I’m a true believer. I believe in goodness and I believe in people, and I believe in becoming more than we are.

One subject you would like to learn more about?

Oh, economics. I think after a period of time with GoEpps, I’m thinking about going back to school. I’d like to get an MBA in economics. I’m really interested in the history of economics, right?

Are you a morning person or a night person?

I’m a night person who has decided to be a morning person. I work out from six to 8:00 AM every day, and I’ve biked about 800 miles so far. This year we’re recording this on February 9th, so I was a night person, but now I’m a morning person

And that’s amazing.

Will and determination.

That’s amazing. Congratulations because I am a night person and I have been trying to change this for a long time now. But hopefully, I will someday

Find someone who can help you tap into the parts of your brain that remove the emotion from committing to something and then just don’t miss a day. Get your feet on the floor every day and it’ll happen.

Yep. Thank you so much for that.

Michael, it has been lovely speaking to you. I know we are short on time, but thank you so much for taking our time and it was fun having you.

Excellent. It was a lot of fun and great questions and really thanks for having us on.

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