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The Evolving Digital Landscape in 2020

An Interview with Mitch Tobol

Welcome to E-Coffee with Experts, an interview series where we discuss all things online marketing with the best minds in the business.

In this episode, Dawood chats with Mitch Tobol, Managing Partner, CGT Marketing.

Mitch is a digital marketing knowledge powerhouse.

In this conversation he shares with us his lead generation strategy. He also discusses how to create engaging content, best practices to create editorial calendars, and how to repurpose old content. It’s interesting to hear his thoughts about new and upcoming technologies and how they play out in the digital space.

He shares his thoughts about what a “perfect” digital marketing course could be?

Read this insightful conversation and stay tuned for the next steaming cup of E-coffee.

You don’t dictate to the marketplace anymore. You must engage with the marketplace. I call it interactions, not transactions. Even though you want to transact, you need to interact, and you must interact.

Managing Partner, CGT Marketing
Hello, everyone. How's it going? Today we have with us Mitch Tobol, Managing Partner at CGT Marketing. Thank you for taking out time. It has been hard getting hold of you. But finally, we have you today.Mitch, before we start discussing SEO and marketing, it would be great if you could introduce yourself and your company to our viewers.

I am Mitch Tobol, Managing Partner, CGT Marketing, an advertising and digital marketing agency located in New York. CGT has been around for 11 years. I’ve been in the field of marketing for 30 + years. I’ve been building websites since 1997. I’ve been immersed in social media since 2002 or 2003. I also teach in the evenings at Hofstra University, which is a Long Island-based university. I teach the entrepreneurship program and marketing because I’m a marketing guy.

My company provides everything from full marketing automation services to building a simple website. We even handle traditional print, radio, and TV. We’re marketing holistic which means I don’t really care what services I sell. We are more focused on the business’s objectives. What they want to accomplish and what best marketing tactics will serve? That’s what I recommend.

During the pandemic, how was the shift? Does it increase or decrease as far as radio is concerned?

The pandemic has been like gas on a fire. We have seen the shift from traditional marketing methods and tactics to online digital marketing methods and tactics in the past seven or eight years, I think it’d be fair. Because the pandemic goes like gas on the fire, all of a sudden, we saw numbers just skyrocket in terms of digital usage online, e-commerce sites, social media, even email opens have increased. So, the impact of the pandemic has been significant in terms of my profession and marketing.

Since you teach future business leaders as well, what are your thoughts? I always think that there's a need to have specific digital marketing courses, and I don't see many.

Well, it’s difficult. I do a lot of workshops and training in addition to teaching and someone introduced me as an expert in social media. So I stood up and said, “Well, how can you be an expert in something that’s changing every single day?” The fact that there are no digital marketing courses, per se, specifically doesn’t surprise me because the proper use of them really falls back on some basic marketing fundamentals.

If you can grasp marketing fundamentals, then whatever tactic, whatever channel you’re using, should comply with those fundamentals. It becomes, “Okay, what’s the nature of this channel?” What’s the nature of Snapchat versus TikTok? What’s the nature of Facebook versus LinkedIn? They each have their own feelings about them. The way you present the message, you know, your messages should be different. They each deploy different technology. They each have different audiences and different audience segments and expectations of the audience. So it falls back to marketing fundamentals.

I do teach, and I do give workshops. I have three upcoming workshops in November on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Last year, I did a workshop through the same venue from Facebook. This year, it’s going to be very different- the same channel, but the technology is different.

Facebook has gotten very fussy about what images, what message they allow because they’re on fire. They have a big target on the back for allowing the visitor this information to flow. They’ve changed their back-end, they’ve changed their interface, they’ve changed the way people view their pages. It’s not totally different, but it is quite different this year than it was last year.

How does one create a successful digital footprint for one's business?

Great question. Let me start at the beginning. A digital footprint for business is really everything a business is online, no matter where they are, no matter what they’re doing, everything online.

Creating a great digital footprint is mapping where you are right now. There are a lot of companies that just use email, maybe some LinkedIn, maybe some online directories, maybe some SEO. It is generally compartmentalized, meaning each one is siloed. They’re not working together at all. A really good digital footprint has a strategy for all of these components, so they work well together not separately. If I’m gonna use an analogy, you row the oars in the water, you row faster towards your destination.

Once you’ve mapped out your existing digital footprint, you need to map out where you want to be. Now, where you want to be, should be solely focused on what your target market looks at. Where they go for information? Do they search Google for your stuff? Some companies don’t need SEO because people aren’t searching for them. They’re finding them in different ways, possibly some niche online directories.

Search Engine Optimisation is for organic. We have a philosophy that it should be search engine marketing, which is always a balance between paid and organic. So really allowing the target market for the business to drive where to be, you map out where you are today. You map out where you want to be and then migrate to that full cross omnichannel experience, where everything is working towards the same goal. You carry the same message throughout or adjusting the messages for the channel, but the same basic strategy you’re using throughout.

Talking about content, we all know content is evolving. How does one make sure that he's producing content that resonates well with the target audience?

So this is probably the biggest challenge most business to business companies have, and also B2C is creating content that resonates. So how do you know, it resonates? If there are individuals involved in the sales process. The biggest buzzword now is customer service. How can we scale customer service? Heck, we get customer service. What channel should we use? What operations do we have? Well, customer service is great. The information gleaned from the interaction between the customer and the company is the critical piece to creating content that is relevant, that resonates.

So, very often we take on a client, I speak to all the salespeople and ask them questions that they never thought about. They’re interested in selling. I’m interested in knowing what their target market is asking. What are the common questions I get asked? From that, you can start to create content that answers those questions. Target markets are going to be interested in. They’re asking the salesperson; they see content that has that, then it resonates. That’s magnetic. They are drawn to that content.

Now, I just want to put a little caveat on this. Here in the States, we’re dealing with many things. We have a very divisive election coming. We have COVID, we have Black Lives Matters movement. There’s a lot of demonstrations, a lot of unrest, a lot of divisiveness, a lot of anger.

As a rule, every Monday we have our production meeting here. We discuss the messaging for the week for the clients. Whether or not we should alter it? Whether or not we should message it? Based on what is happening in the marketplace right now at that time.

We know that before COVID our messaging was fairly stable. But, during COVID, and incredible social unrest, and times that are very filled with tension, we as marketers need to be agile. Read the flex and adapt our message for that moment or for that time period. That’s my caveat. When you create content that resonates, you must take into consideration the marketing environment that you’re operating in.

Talking about content, you said talk to salespeople and ask them questions. Now, when you're running paid campaigns and driving traffic to a landing page, right? Your landing page is your sales pitch. So talking to the salespeople or the management of the business, we can get that sales pitch from them. But, still getting it on that one landing page in those five or six falls is the actual art.What is your process of creating that landing page strategy when you are running campaigns and creating pages?

A landing page strategy has to be focused on one thing, which is what are the expectations of the person that’s clicking the ad or content. What are they expecting? Are you advertising or sponsoring a blog post, so they go to a blog? Is it because you want a sale, so they sign up and shop for a sale? Is it because you’re a B2B, so you’re not going to sell them something, but move them down the sales funnel?

So from a strategic standpoint, if I can bring this just for a moment, people sell themselves. They don’t want to talk to a salesperson. So, a company’s website carries a very heavy lift now. It must contain all the information needed for people to move through the sales process. That being said, your landing page is an integral part, so your understanding of what that sponsored or paid content is. Who is it going to? Is it a top of the funnel awareness? Is it middle for desire interest? Is it someone who has been to a shopping cart, but didn’t spend, so you want to get them over the hump and actually become a paid customer? Your knowledge of where they are in the sales process will drive the content for the landing page, so it answers and gives information to that person at the appropriate stage.

When I am creating landing pages, I do look at the top five, six pages ranking for those keywords. People planning ads to see with what you are competing. The thing is you have to be better than the five guys who are running campaigns at the same time.I believe that if you are able to get visitors to fill that CTA in the first three falls, you have done his job, and obviously, the remaining four then to make sure give him more information and get him into the funnel. What you said definitely makes sense.

We did a campaign for a manufacturer, testing, and measuring equipment. They have about 30% penetration of brand awareness for a specific type of equipment, not full brand awareness. The job of the campaign was not only to make people aware of it but to gather interested parties at the top of the funnel. They’re not going to be sales-ready leads; they’re really marketing qualified leads.

We came up with a concept of content that they would be interested in because the topic is very sensitive. Measuring quality and you want to keep quality one high production. People aren’t aware that you could do this level of measurement. So we created content with the company’s engineers that would be of interest to the target market at that stage in the funnel.

If we were just doing something that, “Oh, yeah, we’re just gonna get it out there, It would be half as effective.” Frankly, from my point of view, it’s a waste of money. I hate to waste money like that. There’s no reason to. We just have to approach it very thoughtfully, carefully with knowledge of the target market and where they are in the funnel.

Then, you’re able to create content that resonates and that people respond to; however, you want. You want to CTA phone call, or you want a form filled out or whatever the appropriate responses for that stage and for that type of bleep.

According to you, What are the best practices for creating an editorial calendar?

I hit on something that we have altered over the past six months. We used to create content calendars for at least one month if not two. Now we only go two weeks out. That’s it.

What I found is that in the second half of the month, the two weeks, everything changes. It’s like we’re doing extra work for nothing. We’re spending the client’s money for what? Two weeks out is fine. Sometimes we go three if it’s stable content and now we’re pushing a window a little bit. But, I recommend no more than two right now.

How do you calculate the ROI of your content marketing campaigns?I think this is something where a lot of marketers and agencies struggle.

So, ROI? That’s a really big question. Let’s unpack that a little bit. So for Return on Investment, you have to be clear about what your expectations for marketing are. Is it a sales qualified lead? Is that your investment? Is it an actual sale that has a net profit to it? If it’s a lead for a salesperson, what is a lead for a salesperson’s worth? There’s $1 volume associated with that. So, that’s first is defining exactly what your expectations are, what you want?

I’ve met with a company. They said, “Well, we want ROI. We want a marketing ROI.” I said, “What are you looking for?” They are like increased sales. I was like, “Okay, no problem. Here’s 20 bucks. I’m done.” Well, no. I said, “Okay, let’s have a good conversation.” Where are sales coming from? Are they new? Are they increasing share wallet from existing? Are they brand new customers? Is it penetrating new marketplaces, expanding existing marketplaces? These are conversations that need to be had before you can figure out a structure for ROI. Once you have done that, you have to look at attribution models.

Where are you going to attribute that return on investment to? Is it going to be a first-touch model? Someone comes in contact with a company many times as multi touches. It could be an email. It could be a Facebook post; it can be a LinkedIn sponsored ad. It could be looking on Google for search. There are multiple places where someone’s going to touch the company. So, where are you attributing that return on investment? Is it the last touch? Is it the first touch? Is it a U shape? There are several attribution models. That has to be decided on so that it is fair and equitable. Then, you can proceed ahead and calculate ROI.

Once you’ve defined that beforehand, then you can move along that access to be able to define, making sure that you’re actually making money.

What are your thoughts on refreshing an old page versus creating new content?

I think it’s fine. Reusing content you’ve done before and if it’s relevant, is perfectly fine. Content is evergreen. It’s really never gonna get old. Refresh it, update it. It saves time and money. I’m all for that. Content that can be reused.

Very often, we go over the past six months. For instance, of social media campaigns, we review the past six months’ policy of what worked really well and pull content that we believe is evergreen. We can use it again and again. It pulled well, it worked well, it’s still relevant today. Let’s take a new spin, let’s get a new image, a new graphic, or write the copy somehow. Absolutely, reusing good content is a winning strategy.

I normally tell my clients that whenever you are writing a blog post or creating content, you should actually have a review date for each piece of content.

I think it’s a great idea to put a date for review. It’s got to be far enough in advance. People come in contact with the company’s content a lot. Don’t say, “Oh, wait a minute, I’ve seen this before.” I don’t know what that is. From the studies I’ve seen, it averages where people need at least six touches before they recognize something. So, factor that into.

How do you see the role of AI in digital?

Right now, AI is making inroads in terms of bots that you see for live chat. They’re making inroads in customer service. They screen customer service to be able to channel it to the appropriate person. AI is involved in email marketing as fake people, but people often don’t know it is fake. AI is used to do the initial stages of lead gathering and interest gathering. There’s AI in terms of analysis.

IBM Watson’s came out, I think it was three years ago. They open up their data ports to be able to crunch data to see who’s doing what. What could be the next expected sale? Amazon is investing heavily in AI; everybody is investing in it. Machine learning and AI, there’s something about it. I don’t think it will ever totally overtake marketing, in my opinion.

Marketing is not a science, it’s a craft. Elements of it are scientific, the data is scientific, the analysis of it can be scientific, but the creation of ideas isn’t. You create a buyer persona. It’s based on actual demographics, psychographics, buyer intent, and educated speculation. I don’t know if AI is up to that yet. Eventually, it will be. Who knows? That would be pretty wild. There’s an element to marketing, which is still a craft. Although everybody wants it to be a science. There have been some excellent insights using data. So, AI is on the horizon. It’s being used now and it’s slowly making its way into our society. There’s no question about it.

Have you been using chatbots? How have the results been? What are your thoughts on it?

I’m 50:50 with chatbots right now. There are so many that I think are used totally inappropriately and it breeds frustration on the user’s part. Someone who wants to talk to a live person almost can’t get through the maze of decisions that a chatbot has. I think chatbots have their place because they can do a wonderful job of screening people and push them in the right direction. But, if you overdo it, if you over program it to do too much, you’ll find people caught in this chatbot thing, and it’s a bad user experience.

In my opinion, chatbots have a place. They’re excellent because we all need to scale and chatbots are a way to scale. Facebook has been using a chatbot for years. You can design an automated response with some and it leaves a direct message. It’s a basic component of setting up a page. It has a place right now. I think where we go from here, I’m sure it’ll become more intelligent or easier to program. But, you have to be very careful with it.

As I said earlier, the pandemic has some gas on fire using digital. The environment of using digital is so instantaneous. It’s like a knee jerk reaction. Click here, click there, and I’m off the site. So the user experience is a priority.

Every site we build, we review it from just a UX standpoint without any preconceived notions. We give it to someone in the office who has no idea what it is. They use it, tell us what you think. Just on a basic level, just to test it. Any negative online experience could lose us a sale, a potential lead. So I’m vary of chatbots. I like them to a point. I think they facilitate scaling customer service. But it can lead to a negative user experience, which I don’t want.

I think at the end of the day, it's all about the user experience. If I want to talk to an actual person, I will get frustrated if I get stuck in that chatbot loop and never come back to that site again. I understand for a business as big as Facebook, chatbots can help them to a level.When chatbots started, businesses had those frequently asked questions. If it's any of those, you have the answer, that's fine; if not, then, talk to us. That being very transparent and still not getting the user experience got damaged.

Yeah, I agree. You have to be wary of it and very conscious and careful of it. Before using a chatbot, you need to test. If you’re going to engage in that technology, you need to test that technology. That’s really important.

As an agency, what is your go-to lead-gen strategy?

Are we talking about business to business or B2C? So the B2B lead-gen strategy relies on what are called standard B2B channels, which are LinkedIn and email, sometimes, even Facebook. It depends on the target market. I’m not a fan of the forms through the social channels. I much prefer to bring them to the website.

When I said before, how the website does the heavy lifting, that’s your selling environment. I would rather have a form on the landing page in my selling environment than have a form through LinkedIn. No offense to LinkedIn. It’s a great channel, has some great technology and continuing to improve it. But I want that form filled out on the website. So my lead-gen strategy is one of continual repetition, touching the target market not a lot but at a steady pace with content that is relevant.

I find that people self-select. Content should be a variety, not only curated, but it should be original. We go with a 60 30 10 rule, which is 60% original, 30% curated and 10% promotional. You gotta be promotional people, expect you to sell stuff. We try to lean on 60% original content and 30% curated because sometimes we find that people click on and are interested by curated content.

We sent out even from my company. We sent out some curating content a month ago and got a great response. We got a couple of calls, “Hey, how are you doing? Yeah, great email.” So that was a direct result. But, that was a direct result of prospects that we have been communicating for an extended period of time.

You know, we start out the conversation today. You and I, discussing what’s happening in the marketplace. From a marketing standpoint, it appears that people are starting to put their heads above the sand and want to know what to do. You can’t sell ice to an Eskimo, right? Even if you could, you don’t want to because, to me, that’s ethically wrong. You sell stuff to people who can use it. If it fits, it fits. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. It’s okay. People seem to be more receptive and marketing. We’ll see what happens over the next few weeks.

Mitch, as a marketer, what has been the biggest challenge you have come across?

Challenge has been getting a client to understand they don’t own their brand anymore. They don’t. Everybody feels, “Oh, it’s my brand.” Well, you don’t own it anymore. What do you mean?

Look, we live in a time where people could turn off and on messages. They don’t need to see graphics, they don’t need to see ads. They have caller ID on their phone. They could turn you off and on; it’s up to them. They have all the power. They can tell 50 million people about your product or brand in a heartbeat. So they control your brand, you don’t.

I would say over the last few years, the biggest challenge to me is getting that across in a way that the owners of companies and brands understand that. Once they understand that, then they understand that the golden market strategies will encompass that and be way more successful. You don’t dictate to the marketplace anymore. You must engage with the marketplace. I call it interactions, not transactions. Even though you want to transact, you need to interact, and you must interact. As a matter of fact, that’s the title of my book I’m writing.

That's great. I'll make sure that I make a good quote card out of it so that you can use it for your book tomorrow.Thank you so much, Mitch. I know we're short on time. I will definitely try catching up with you sometime again. I really appreciate the time you took out today and it was great chatting with you.

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