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Expert Marketing Tips to Boost your Marketing Strategy

An Interview with Shea Park

Matt Fraser interviewed Shea Park, President and Founder of Ad-Spark, for this edition of E coffee with Experts. Shea discussed how digital marketing has changed over the last 25 years and shared several useful tips and strategies to boost your marketing strategy. Watch now for some profound insights.

I do think certifications are great. But then also how much you execute it beyond that certification, how many success clients’ success stories do you have.

Shea Park
President and Founder of Ad-Spark
Hello everyone. Welcome to this episode of E Coffee with Experts. I'm your host, Matt Fraser. On today's show, I have with me, Shea Park. Shea is the president and founder of Ad Spark, a digital marketing consultancy headquartered in Gresham, Oregon. She is a pioneer in the digital marketing space. Often taglined as "Shea was here before Google," and she is a hands-on digital marketing consultant with over 35 years of business and marketing experience. She has worked on over 270 plus client projects, helping them achieve exponential growth in leads, sales and revenue. When not working on marketing campaigns for clients, Shea enjoys playing golf, water skiing, mountain skiing, walking her dogs and spending time with her friends and family. Shea, thank you so much for being here. Welcome to the show. It is a pleasure to have you here.

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here, Matt.

So Shea, how would your university professors describe you as a student?

Too many questions.

You always asked questions?

Yes, I loved college, I was not too fond of high school, but I loved college.

Oh, that's interesting. What was the difference between high school and college?

I studied whatever I wanted. I paid for it in cash. I took whatever I wanted to study.

Yeah, exactly. In high school, you don't get to do that. I didn't care about chemistry, but I still had to study it.

I think I was a challenging student. But I often liked it because I went to small schools and you didn’t have to pay a lot.

Oh, that's awesome.

So, I was pretty engaged in college.

Right on. What would you say is the biggest difference between who you are now and who you were in college?

I talk a lot now, and I was super quiet back then. I was shy and insecure. Nobody would guess it now. People are like, you usually can’t shut up.

It was the same with me, I was really shy and then ended up getting a job in a restaurant. It brought me out of my shell. When I went up to my first table, my hand was shaking on the pen paper, and I was like, what would you like to order? But I got good at it with time. Anyway, that's not about me. It's about you. So, do you think the experience you gained at Edison learning has helped you in your development as an entrepreneur and digital marketer?

Yeah, I’ve been fortunate to work with a client of mine early on and then they were a client of mine again. I’ve been able to work with them a couple of times. I would say that I love education and I loved helping with education companies. I think a lot of agencies didn’t. I would get projects people didn’t want a lot of times and that were really challenging. It was a great ed tech company. I am super loyal to them and help them to the end of the day.

What got you started in digital marketing, what drew you to digital marketing? Could you tell me a little bit about that?

Sure. Absolutely. Kind of like you, we shared a little bit of the restaurant experience there. I had been a director of catering. I was working a stint at Intel, actually. We were running the entire catering sales division, for there were 200 lunches and meetings a day and sitting up all day. I’d overhear meetings with the Rolling Stones, I was always fascinated. But we were the catering director, and I was super attracted to the Internet. And the executives said, whatever you do when I was leaving, get on the Internet, do anything on the Internet. I was like, that’s pretty vague. What are you supposed to do on the Internet? My significant other the time and one had to go down to stand in as an apprentice, as a horse trainer. And you know, you’ve seen Yellowstone with the whole horses and all that. That was pretty much what his dream was, and I knew that we needed to have a steady income because I’d grown up a little bit on a ranch. So, I knew you better get a real job to go along with that because horses eat a lot. I applied and took a job for Paul Bremer, who was one of the really first SEO companies, it was in 1996-1997. Paul Bremer was Claudia Bremer’s son and one of the editors of Click C. So that was a going concern publication back then. So, my very first meeting was with Brian Correa, Valley Click founder. It was my very first Internet meeting, and here I come from the restaurant business, and I’m like really nervous and we’re having lunch and Brian’s like, oh, I was really interested in you because you work for Cisco, so but I think you got it spelled wrong on your resumé. And I was like, oh, no, but with Sysco Foods and he thought it was Cisco system.

So he goes, oh, I thought it was a typo in your resume. And I said you met with me anyway. I thought for sure I wasn’t going to get the job. He was an investor in the company. I visited his office, and he had this office with boxes in a strip mall, two rooms, and one employee. You talk about ADD, you know what I mean, I’m not saying he has it, I have no idea. But he’s just all over. A brilliant guy and so that was my first meeting on the Internet. I didn’t think I got the job because I was like, why are they going to hire somebody with a food background but they did. And I think because they thought maybe I would be good at sales and you know, director of sales and marketing. So, I took the job and worked for Paul, and he learned everything. I read everything 90 hours a month reading. It was the early days of SEO, and I would listen to him on the phone because everything was on the phone, you know, you didn’t have shared meetings. I just soaked it all in, and it was crazy. With the money that was floating on the Internet at the time, it felt really exciting to be part of something so brand new.

So, revolutionary. It has literally changed the world.

Yeah, it was all about clicks. When people say click-through rates. You wouldn’t believe it, and then you’d find out these are incentivized gigs. Kind of like how it’s now.

Yeah, how have you seen it change over there? Like, it's fascinating to be involved in the Internet, going back to 1997. That's like, I don't want to say how many years that is exactly.

That’s a long time. 25 years.

What changes have you seen in these years?

Oh, my gosh. Well, that is a great question. You know, I really feel horrible that I could suspect some changes coming and I don’t know if it’s just because you’re connected to this machine all day long, you’re looking at it, you’re reading, and you’re paying attention. But yeah, I think I really did sense changes. So you think about it, we were faxing IOs. You were flying to meet clients every month. You weren’t having computer meetings. Changes were happening and then Google, of course, changed 200 things a day. So, really the advent was there. Being there before Google and then seeing what Google did, you know that the landscape then was like, there were eight search engines, Lycos, AltaVista, Yahoo! and all. It was evenly spread between all of those. The search rankings and the results were really shared. So, search change banners. The IAB changed things, I made best practices. Canned spam, you know, came about. Regulations, Privacy, and I think standardization really wasn’t the wild west anymore. Some things got standardized. Like, you mentioned a little bit earlier, when we were talking a little bit about the kind of charlatans getting found out, I think that’s changed. There’s less and less of that happening. Clients have gotten smarter.

Yeah, they have. Do you think they've gotten more demanding?

Yes, of course, as they should. They really should, they are also getting more knowledgeable. When you talk to clients now, and they know a bit about data analytics, whereas before, it was like you were a rocket scientist if you knew anything about data.

Yeah, it's amazing.

So what hasn’t changed? I mean, everything’s changed in my mind.

Yeah, it's amazing. I mean, you know, HTML and table websites back then. Google really did change the whole game coming along. And it's interesting how Microsoft misstepped. They laughed at the Internet at their own peril. And now, look, pretty sure Google stock is worth more than Microsoft. And it's interesting how I see companies make missteps like Microsoft made a misstep twice. Number one with the Internet, number two with mobile devices. They used to own 98% of the market share and are almost at 2%. You know, we obviously know that Apple came along, and Steve Jobs was a genius of geniuses. But see, Google came along and did what it did, it's just it's unbelievable. Even to this day, like. Their search engine is still the best search engine. I don't even bother to use any other. I don't even know when the last time I searched for something on Bing. Sometimes in deep research, I may want to find other stuff, but mostly it's googled. It's amazing how SEO has evolved as well. Before, It was just the title tag and the keywords and stuffing and all that stuff. And so, would you agree with this statement that, with time, SEO has gotten harder?

Yes, absolutely. And you think about how many more sites are ranking. I mean, it did not take very long, you could just pepper in several keywords. You didn’t have to have things right. You didn’t even have to have the topic, there had to be no substance. Now it has to have substance, people have to engage with it and take action. I mean, the metrics have changed, but the updates are insane. I mean, you think about all the updates, you know?

Oh, it fascinates me and is even harder to keep up with. Would you say that back in the day, many listeners know I started doing this in 2006 and over my career, I've dabbled in everything because when I was at the car dealership, I had to because I was a one-man show. So, I had to know how to do Google ads, I had to know how to do SEO, I had to know how to do the data side of things to keep my job and so on and so forth. But, like now, I would tell people to focus on becoming really good at one thing. For instance, I know who created the T-shaped marketer. Ryan Day talks about it a lot. So, if someone was wanting to get into digital marketing today, would you give them that advice like to become really focused on one thing and become more of a T- shaped marketer? Like, learning to do SEO or learning to do Google ads or a media buyer or whatever the case may be.

Yeah, I think being truly great and not just mediocre at something and executing well in a niche is absolutely important. And I think there’s room for it because it’s so complicated. There’s this one agency that I love right now. It’s called Rhodes Branding, and they specialize in education, as I did when I first started out. They do education so well and so beautifully, their work is amazing, and they are partnering with schools in education. But K-12, I think it’s not just higher Ed, it’s K-12 space, that space. They’re just a go-to agency for that and what they’re doing is remarkable. So, I think they’re a great example. They’ve grown so fast within manageability; they execute well and you know education always has my heart. It’s just that bleeding heart cause. So, I think hyper-focus is great and be excellent at it.

Yeah, you brought up two things. Number one, be good at one specific area of digital marketing, Number two, choose a niche to go after.

Yep.

So obviously that's important because you just talked about how fast they grew in order to become an expert. I always wondered, like I went to the car dealership to become an expert and worked my way the inside out. Not everybody can do that, but I wonder how other ways exist. And I'm just shooting the wind here, talking with you off the top of my head. It's like if someone wants to specialize in a niche, but they don't have any experience in that niche, what would you do in that case?

I read everything. I mean, you know, if you get good at Googling questions, YouTubing questions, that is the greatest thing about Google’s changes of algorithms. It is you make a sense out of the question, and you just scour. There’s so much generosity online, people share so much knowledge and then books too. How many hours is it, 10000 hours to become an expert? And sometimes they say up to 10000 hours. So just read everything and test yourself. Be a great test pilot, find somebody to do it for as appropriate and make sure you can do it.

Absolutely, and go to industry-specific conferences too. Don't even go as a vendor, go as an attendee.

It’s such an exciting industry. It changes everything. I thought about it. We’re thinking about the historical questions and some of this nostalgia memory lane stuff. But I think today I was hit with the news that was like, I knew this was coming, and this is going to change everything. What an industry to be a part of. One news announcement from Google changed everything.

Yeah, exactly. You know, as someone diagnosed with A.D.D. just a few months ago, I didn't know that I was diagnosed just four months ago. And then, you know, this entire industry, I've always been so fascinated. My brain has always been engaged and stimulated, and I am always learning. It's just like that's what helps. So, do you think that's what excites some people about being in the industry, the challenges and the quest of learning something new?

Yes, absolutely. I have a lot of people I have worked for sitting at a desk and digesting so much and having multiple screens and how many platforms you are answering to and your phone. The actual nature of the position almost breeds ADHD, and your brains become wired and start to get it to where as you may have had tendencies. I’m not going to get on a lecture on medicine here, but most people work for, exhibit science. So, I think that lends it to constantly being fascinated. So, the long answer is yes.

I'm sure. Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur? Were you the typical person who wanted to have a paper out as a kid or lemonade stand? Were there key indicators in your life that you were an entrepreneur?

I think so. I think so. Now that you mentioned it, I don’t think I thought of myself as that. We don’t see ourselves as other people see us. But I was always the kind who didn’t color in the lines. I worked in a concession stand as a very young child; nine years old. For my dad’s softball league, I babysat every weekend. I cleaned taverns with my good family friend in the morning at like 4 a.m., because we used to get up early, I would say just embarking on those things. I had a surf shop deli, you know, in my twenties because I was also like, I got to find a certain way to pay for this.

Yeah. You're hustling.

Yeah, I don’t know, so maybe. But I think I always thought of myself. I wanted an executive position. I wanted to climb the ladder. That’s my career aspiration because I didn’t think I could do it myself until somebody pushed me off the ledge and said, you can do it. Do it.

Can you tell me a little bit more? Like, what was that key moment?

Sure. I think it started by mentioning how my significant other was training horses, and I was working for Paul. I had this idea because I sensed some things changing. And we were media buying. We had a little ad inventory we would sell, and then those clients would move on. We do the SEO, here’s the media buys and then be done, and they’d have like a million more to spend. So, can you spend it? And I kept thinking, yeah, let me go spend it, let me build the media database, essentially like the DSP, and he didn’t want to. So, we had the parting of ways, luckily with his blessing. I said I wanted to get into that media. I wanted my money on that million dollars and to spend it on what made x number of actions. You know, I knew the formula. Talk about Excel formulas. I knew the formula. So, that’s how Ads Spark was born. From going on with one client. I got one client who had a credit card that was rebuilt your credit card. It was like a depository account. It was a subdivision of Chase Manhattan bank. However, that came about. But I had all the inventory avenues to spend $1,000,000 a month and get $15 per application. And so, I started with that one little client and building the biggest network I could to get 100,000 site transactions in a month.

That's unreal.

That’s how we started.

That's amazing.

There was no looking back. Yeah, I never got it.

You burned the bridge. What do you think is one of the key aspects of being a successful entrepreneur? You mentioned one of them, burning the bridge like there's no going back.

You know, I think that one of the biggest things for me was to keep swinging, keep making sure I added value. I was always adding value to have buy-in and context at the sea level and collaboration with not just the decision makers but to continually see that your contribution is adding value and growth and being part of those data metrics. I always say that if my clients were happy and they were growing, we would be fine. I never really thought so much about just the goal and keeping the goal and staying continually on top of the new trends. Yeah, not just trends, but what was changing and making sure that everything we did added to growth. And it did, we keep clients for 5 to 7 years.

It's amazing.

Turnover. So, we’re humbled by that.

That's awesome because I know the churn rate in the automotive industry for Google as it's every six months.

I don’t know the absolute secret formula, but making sure your clients are happy is a big one.

So, you mentioned something key a couple of times here, adding value and being able to prove that you've added value with data. What are some of the ways you've been able to accomplish that? If I could be specific, for instance, I had to cover stuff when I was in my position to develop the KPIs that I knew were crucial to me doing my job. For instance, I had to separate between sales and marketing. I quickly realized that I could do my job to 110% and that the sales department could drop the ball and not do their job, making me look bad. If I didn't have that dividing line of how many phone calls were generated, how many web leads were generated, how many chat sessions, how many websites traffic, what the quality of that traffic and so on and so forth. But what were the ways, maybe there are a couple of different ones like data analytics. But when you were at that table in those conversations, what were some of the ways that you could provide and prove that value was brought to the table by the work you were doing?

Making sure that your plan, your road map, your execution tracks, all of those goals and KPIs are set and setting the baseline, where they are at the beginning. You know, sometimes everyone’s still in a hurry to get on board, and they forget to do that diligence, is where you are right now.

Sure.

And where are we going? And then, as you get there and climb it up, make sure somebody or yourself. I always like to be the deliverable person because I promised it. So, even if we have a team doing it, you know we’re seeing it. But watching those trends and making sure before your deliverable of report is due, you’re looking at those trends and saying, are we starting to get there? Then you can report this month, week over week, month over month, year over year. Reports can be so fancy, and you can wow them with graphs and charts and all these things. And an executive at a pharmaceutical company said to me, these numbers are great, but it doesn’t do me a darn good if you don’t tell me the trend of where we were and what it’s like.

Oh my gosh, that is a nugget right there. If I had the button, I would like to push the applause button. Yeah. You got to have something to compare it to. That's how I was able to do it. I was eventually doing month-over-month and year-over-year data analysis. In my journey, I learned front-end marketing and what I mean by front-end marketing is driving all the traffic with Google ads and SEO and Facebook ads and so on. But I didn't understand as much about data until after the fact. So, after I learned how to drive traffic and things like that. In hindsight, sometimes I wish that I had gone back and maybe learned a little bit more about data first. I know a gentleman who has a website he blogs about talking about how you need to know data. Otherwise, how can you know what's happening if you don't understand the data? So, do you think people should start learning how to understand data further ahead in their digital marketing career, or they should figure out traffic and let somebody else handle the data?

Well, I think you’re on to something. Understanding data is foreign to some people, it might as well be talking in a foreign language. So, sometimes you fall into things naturally. It was just made to do it. You feel comfortable. I fell into it; I took a test to find out where my genius level was. Mine was in pattern recognition. Who knows? I didn’t even know if I didn’t know that early on, I would have probably got it in stocks or something like that. So, data becomes natural for me. Sometimes I have to slow down and help my clients and whoever I’m working with understand because it comes so naturally. For some people, it doesn’t come naturally. So, I think you have to find what story the data tell and tell a complete story. There are piles and piles of data, but how does the data measure up to what is wanted, what’s the goal, what do we need to do from these dollars spent? and then find the data that supports that because you cannot drown in data. If you could afford to have a data expert on a team or get a consultation with somebody for 3 to 6 months to learn it. Everybody’s data appetite is different and what they need for data is very different. So, understanding the data is important. I wish they taught it. Maybe they are going to start teaching it. Some colleges have approached me to teach a data analytics course. Google also has a great analytics course. If you’re not into Google, then Udemy also has five or six really good data analytics courses, and you can take some of the YouTube videos and learn a lot. But find not drowning anyone in data. But how does the data tell the story to the people that it needs to be told? That gets to the board, and we did our job.

Absolutely. You just mentioned courses. How important is it to get certification as a digital marketer?

I don’t like it. I used to think the experience was great, and sure I could say I walked into a room with 25 years of experience and 35 years of experience in the business, and that should be enough. But I got certified, and then I think I got educated in everything with analytics. Then I recently did other certifications, and I think it’s great to have a stamp right now. You know, Google Ads certification is tough because people say it’s a joke. You can Google the questions and answers. But if you truly want to do a good job to stay up there, they’re introducing a new course now because, of course, they’re changing everything. So, I do think certifications are great and just to be able to say I’ve done it. But then also how much you execute it beyond that certification that you know, how many success client’s stories do you have?

Yeah, absolutely. An indirect mentor of mine, Dan Kennedy, talked about the way you differentiate yourself as a consultant or whether it's a mortgage professional or some marketer or whatever the case may be. A certification so that you can charge more because you have a USP, a unique selling proposition, and the advantage of being able to differentiate yourself from other consultants by not only having that experience, obviously, and maybe some credentials behind your name from a college university, but also certification. For instance, I myself am working towards getting my OMCP, online marketing certified professionals’ certification, and you choose one channel, one area of marketing that you get certified in, not seven or eight. And it's equivalent to a uniform; it's equivalent to a university degree because you don't just take a test like you can look up the answers on Google. If you have like 5000 hours of proven time shown in regards to the area of expertise that you're wanting to get certified in and the test is proctored, you can't cheat. You have to take it through a zoom call like this.

Are you finding it’s really current? Like, are you finding that it’s updated?

No, it's not, you know, it's very current. It's OMCP.org.

Maybe I’ll go teach.

You probably should and you probably could. So, switching directions, though, you also mentioned another thing, data analytics and google analytics. Now, Google has made a huge change by going from GA3 to GA4 or whatever you want to call it. Excuse my French, I'll be blunt, the amount of bitching and complaining, myself included, people, are doing on LinkedIn. It seems like everybody hates it. A lot of people are finding it very challenging, they think that Google has adopted it too soon, that their sun shining, sun setting, universal analytics too soon, like July 2023, that they released it in kind of beta, a lot of people feel that. What are your thoughts on GA4?

Well, I love that you shared how everyone’s feeling about it and bantering around and talking about it. And to me, it’s like a lot of change and it’s really uncomfortable. When you become an expert at something to have that rug ripped out from underneath you and to have the new rug look very different, it’s like you’re blind and you feel like you’re doing Braille in there. The first time I logged in, I was like, where is everything? It’s hidden. So, the cookieless shift is something that you are going to have to embrace it. You think about the lack of change is the tracking issue that Google Analytics is one of the things I feel for Google itself is Google Analytics is not telling the whole story now. So GA4 is actually trying to tell more of the story, going with the cookie-less parts. I think people need to get into that. I think there are advantages, there are some built- ins. I’m glad I was one of those but I am also like, well, Google is here to stay. And I tested at Google for 20 years. I’d love to break up with Google but can we really stay away from it? I think there’s a learning curve, there are a lot of blogs. And I would love to give people some shout-outs. If you’re going to embrace GA4, just take this year to learn it like we did and take a little bit at a time. Bite-sized meals and chomps and I think that there’s a gentleman that created a channel, it’s called Loves Data and it’s a YouTube channel.

I know who he is. Yeah, I know exactly who you are talking about.

Well, his accent is wonderful because you just want to listen to that British accent all the time. But you know, he really embraced it and he started putting out some great things showing the positives, the advantages and disadvantages of it. So, I recommend Loves Data and you know, you can go and research some alternatives or this is making it true because people aren’t happy. This is making a business opportunity for about eight different alternative analytic companies.

That's very interesting. Number one, it's Benjamin Mangold, Loves Data guy. He's great, I don't know him personally, but I'm probably going to get him on the show, now that you brought it up. And it's very interesting how you could become an expert on universal ethics. And then all of a sudden Google has like totally changed the game, and it's almost leveled the playing field for everybody. It got everybody starting at square one, a game where nobody really thought that that would be the case. And we could talk about cookie or cookie-less marketing. Maybe we'll have you on for a second show about that. But the alternatives. Never wanted to level the playing field. Now, I personally, and there's another thing you talked about that we can't get away from Google. Like third-party alternative analytics platforms such as Matomo, I love Matamo. I don't know what your thoughts are on it. But I love it, it has everything that you need all built into one. But the problem is, like when I was running Google Ads campaigns to the dealership, I had a separate view set up just for Google ads because I had Google ads specific goals. I had a target market view that had all my goals, and then I had a Google ad-specific view that was connected to the Google ads account so that I only had certain goals that were at the target market view that did not matter in the Google ads, and I did not want it counted as a KPI. So, I had to set up but if you're going to try and get away from Google, how the hell are you going to do that? To my knowledge, there's no way to do that. There is no way to run Google ads with conversion tracking in an analytics platform that works together, apart from Google Analytics. Correct me if I'm wrong, but we're always going to have to use it.

I think Google likes to think that it’s going to have a monopoly on it. But some of these companies are urging and pushing to build in KPIs. Where you had to do Google data study report. So, it would be one way to do it and the other thing is that maybe it’s not Microsoft Power BI, but there’s a way for you to patch some of those things together. And it might be a little bit clunky for a little while now, but we’re doing that same thing and using some other alternatives and we’re adapting to what the clients need. Clients are saying, no, we’re not going to learn GA4, we’re not going to do it. We’re just going to rely on HubSpot. We’re just going to rely on this or that. We’re going to rely on something else. So, I have a lot of clients that are saying the same thing. So, I think getting involved with the surveys or, if you will, the seats they have for some of their research things that are going on, Invoicing. We stayed quiet but I think it’s time to rally and riot against Google a little.

Yeah, absolutely.

Well, the rebel in me is going to speak up to Google as I’m going head-to-head and I don’t want to break up with Google, but it may or may not be forced.

It's amazing. You know, there are so many other questions I have and I would love to have you back on the show to talk about those. I think I have 50 other questions I did not ask.

We can have a part 2.

Yes, absolutely. But how can our audience get in touch with you online if they choose to do so? Like, how can they connect with you?

I think LinkedIn’s great. Our site is massively outdated. So, LinkedIn is great. I’m pretty responsive there. They can email me at shea@ad-spark, I am responsive there. I have the alternatives kind of research so if people are looking for some things to test. I love to share and nurture and give information.

Right on. It's Shea Park on LinkedIn, everyone. We will make sure to include that information in the show notes. It's been an absolute pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much for coming to the show today.

You too, it was great. I love your platform, and as I said, I’m a big fan of listening to your podcast.

Thank you very much. We appreciate it. Have a wonderful day.

You, too. Thanks, Matt.

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