Last week I had the pleasure of speaking to Eamonn O’Brien from the Reluctant Speakers Club about how Learn Inbound will help to create a community of enthusiastic and skilled digital marketers in Ireland. Along with this we discussed the key challenges faced by small businesses when incorporating a digital marketing strategy, the biggest mistake many people make in marketing and how looking at metrics alone can make you forget the most important person; your customer.


Eamonn: Hello, this is Eamonn O’Brien, and you’re so welcome to the Reluctant Speakers Club Expert Series. And I am delighted to be joined today with a pal. It is Mark Scully. Today, Mark, we’re going to be talking about the whole area of upscaling and fostering interest and excitement in digital marketing. So, I’m delighted to have you here today.

Mark: Thank you. Thanks very much for inviting me.

Eamonn: And of course, Mark, you’re a senior Marketing Executive at the Digital Marketing Institute, but I’m especially excited about a brand new project that you’re working on, which is called LearnInbound.com.

Mark: Yeah.

Eamonn: I love the idea of this, because the idea of developing a community that knows something about digital marketing and sharing that is great. What’s the idea all about?

Mark: Quite simple. I want to give people the opportunity to learn and for a low cost. People sometimes struggle with training opportunities. They can’t attend conferences. Maybe they’re outside their budgets. They’re small businesses. They’re looking for assistance in terms of learning how digital marketing channels actually work. It’s great to meet fellow people in the industry, but sometimes conferences can be quite expensive, like I said. So, our networking opportunities are very valuable to people starting out.

Eamonn: Yes.

Mark: Sometimes, these people can have some of their experiences they can share. They have insights into the industry. Maybe they actually know particular tactics they should be employing in their business. So, for me, the learning environment is opening up to them opportunities for people; making it so we can support all marketing events across the country, as well as to allow recruiters to actually find candidates in the industry that actually are highly skilled.

Eamonn: Well now exactly. Because I think that there’s a major league challenge for businesses of every size, and I include larger enterprises in this — that really in terms of a country, we have developed many, many people with various forms of skills. But finding people who know a lot about all of the things that we have to know about today is really quite a challenge. You know, we have SEO, SEM, analytics, platform developments, social media tools, apps, plug-ins, yada, yada, yada. And for most people if you’re not that technical…or even if you have technical abilities, you’ll find there are gaps in what we know.

So, tell me about your observations, because obviously you’ve been in this space for a long, long time. Just how tricky is it for entrepreneurs, business owners, even long in the tooth fellows?

Mark: I think it’s hard, because industry is full of terminology. And sometimes people focus on, like you said, SEO, PPC, social media et cetera. But they forget the one most important thing, and that’s their customer. They hardly reach these people, and from that you can begin to understand which channels you have to use to reach these people. And that’s what a lot of entrepreneurs sometimes forget. They hear the terminology, they see their competitors who are doing X, Y and Z. But they’re not focusing on the end user, and that’s the customer.

And for each business, that’s the difference. And sometimes they get caught up, and forget these things. You have to find where your consumer is online.

Eamonn: Yes.

Mark: You have to find what’s suited to you as a business. And sometimes, Facebook is not right for you.

Eamonn: You’re absolutely right…and I like what you said there, because the truth is that this is really about still thinking in marketing terms when you’re online. Because what often happens is, if you don’t have the expertise, you’re looking to people who maybe have technical knowledge…

Mark: Yeah.

Eamonn: But really aren’t, if you like, consumer or customer driven. And so, you’re almost having to be the person who’s telling the technical folks, “Look. Here’s what you need to do. But actually, I don’t know how this works.” So, that’s a real challenge, isn’t it?

Mark: Yeah, like there’s a disconnect sometimes between these people who have a technical understanding; whether that be a particular agency, or a particular candidate that you bring into your company. But sometimes they again forget about your consumer, and your actual voice, your brand voice as a company. So, trying to get that across — the technicality, the language, and what you’re trying to achieve on your type of consumer base is sometimes quite hard. And there is a disconnect. So, for me, the learning environment is giving opportunities to people to come together, because I think that’s what people need.

Sometimes you can read certain terminology on certain blogs online. You read about certain tactics and certain strategies. But you might meet say, Joe, who came along to events.

Eamonn: Somebody who is doing the same thing you’re doing, yeah.

Mark: He’s working, and he has a online pet store. Maybe you have an online pet store. There might be a situation whereby he’s working in a different market than you. Maybe here’s an opportunity for you guys to talk, because you’re not direct competitors. Again, that’s what I want to open up Learn Inbound to — to allow these people to come together. And for me, that’s what we’re trying to achieve. We’re not out to make money from this. We’re out to actually help the people who want to learn. And I think that’s sometimes what’s missing.

Eamonn: I know, and I think the thing that really gets me excited about this idea is that it is spreading the wealth. Because I think for many people, there’s an element of…there’s a worry, “Am I kind of getting into a situation where the blind might be leading the blind? Do the people I’m dealing with here really know as much as I would need them to know, or want them to know, or think they know?” And so, the notion that we can actually learn from each other…and incidentally, we will make mistakes in the process.

Mark: Exactly.

Eamonn: But there’s a greater possibility of learning from things that work in practice as opposed to notional.

Mark: Exactly. I mean, with digital marketing you’re going to make mistakes. It happens. If you’re not actually making mistakes, I don’t think you’ll learn, to be honest. You’re kind of staying steady…

Eamonn: Yes.

Mark: With the same tactics, and not actually trying new things. And those people who try new things, they’re your competitors. They’re outsmarting you, in that sense.

Eamonn: Yes.

Mark: They’re doing something different than you. Maybe they’re looking at your tactics. The funny thing about digital marketing is…

Eamonn: [laughs]

Mark: You can actually get them insights.

Eamonn: I think that’s exactly what happens. I think you have people looking over everybody’s shoulder.

Mark: Yeah.

Eamonn: And they’re thinking, “Look what he did. Look what he did,” and not necessarily knowing whether they’ve actually produced any more shares, any more people coming to your website. Going back to your point again, about are you building something that is right in terms of your message, in terms of your story?

Mark: Yeah.

Eamonn: Actually, maybe that’s an interesting segue, because ultimately when we’re engaged in digital marketing as with any form of marketing, it’s about getting our story out there.

Tell me a little about your background and experiences in getting stories out there, and lessons maybe you’ve learned over the years?

Mark: It’s funny. Whenever I look back and see one of my digital marketing roles, funnily enough it was a fancy dress store.

Eamonn: Oh, right.

Mark: It had no online presence. It had no marketing team. It actually had no one beyond customer service people that worked in the store. I had the opportunity to come in and set up an online store for them. But the most important thing — because it was based in Ballymena in Northern Ireland…

Eamonn: Oh, right. Ballymena’s great bitters. [laughs]

Mark: [laughs]. I had to actually realize, a lot of their consumers were local people. They recognized the name of the actual family, and that’s why they came to them. It’s because over like 100 years, they had actually become well-known within Ballymena. As I know when you go online, you think, “Okay, so people outside Ballymena have never heard this family name. Should I forget about this, and go in a completely different direction?” I thought, “Okay, they’ve got this history. I’m not going to lose that.” So I registered their actual website domain name under their family name.

Eamonn: And then what happened?

Mark: From that, I wanted to actually allow people to understand who these people were, because local people respected them. And I figured that in terms of online, if I can build that story and if I can invite people to get them insights into this family, who have actually built up a reputation in Ballymena, maybe they’ll actually start to see that’s a company they want to buy from, too.

Eamonn: Yeah, absolutely.

Mark: That personal approach is incredibly important. It’s what people try to get across through social media channels. They don’t want to be talking to random, generic person. They want to be talking to a real person, who’s at their computer talking to them specifically.

Eamonn: Absolutely. And two words are coming into my head immediately, which have to do with being authentic and being trustworthy; which of course are two parts of the same coin. Was that really at the heart and soul, if you like, of why people…first of all, went looking for them. And secondly, gravitated towards them?

Mark: Exactly. Like their competition were quite generic brands. So, it was an opportunity for us to get that message out there. So, they about us section on the site wasn’t just generic copy. It was telling people about what they’ve achieved over the years, and why people locally buy from this business.

In terms of how we operate social media, again we gave that personal approach. We signed off with the name of the owner of the company. People knew they were talking to this person, and they actually could look at the website to find out who this person was.

Eamonn: Yes. And it was real.

Mark: It was real.

Eamonn: It was real. And how did you then tie that in to what they were doing offline? Because obviously, the online…this is a constant challenge, I think, for businesses of any nature, and any size in Ireland and elsewhere, of course — how to marry those two things, where there’s visibility here and there; so that one kind of boosts the other.

Mark: That’s why I think it’s important to have that personal approach online, because offline you have that people who live locally come in to your business; they’re either calling you, or engaging with you in some manner. But if they don’t come together in that sense, it cannot be asked. If you are online, having a completely different message to offline, whenever you’re speaking to the consumer directly, you’re being quite different. I think you need to have that story. You need to actually ensure it goes across all the marketing channels, not just online but offline, and all forms of interaction.

In terms of even your customer service team in the actual business, they need to have that message, in terms of how they speak to people.

Eamonn: And in terms of how you speak to people, if you were thinking about maybe the top two or three things that you see again and again and again, where maybe people don’t get it right. So, if you like, they’re the no-no things that people have a tendency to do. What would be on the top of your nasty and don’t do it again list?

Mark: That’s an interesting question. For me, I think sometimes they answer it like a corporate company. You know, like for example, if someone has an order that’s been late, they’re forgetting about that person specifically, and their problem. And they’re given that kind of template answer. They’re not thinking about, “Okay, so James has ordered this…” Can I go back to fancy dress, here?

Eamonn: No, go back.

Mark: Okay. [laughs]

Eamonn: So, here we are in fancy dress. So, we have a punter, he’s got a party coming up here. He needs to get right kind of kit. “Where am I going to go? I phoned the Ballymena lads, and now why am I attracted to them?” What possible errors might be made in attracting people in the first place? Things that might kind of cut you off at the pass, before you get cracking?

Mark: You don’t live up to your expectations in terms of what you say. Like for us, we eventually moved on to Amazon to sell products. We had our own online store and website, but we moved on to Amazon. And we realized that we were treating consumers through that channel completely different than we treat the ones through our websites, and how we treat them offline.

So, in terms of like whenever a product was late delivered, we weren’t dealing with it in the same way. We just followed Amazon’s procedures. You need to ensure that everything just comes together. So, for that person say for example, it was for a hen party. Strangely, I did have one.

Eamonn: Fair enough.

Mark: And she had her hen party on a Saturday, again. But we forgot about it. We just treated her like a normal consumer. She obviously wants that. It is important to her. And sometimes you forget what’s important to them, and you come back to the fact that you’ve said on your website somewhere, two to three days delivery. But you need to go out of your way. You need to exceed expectations.

Eamonn: Absolutely.

Mark: To not just think about online reviews.

Eamonn: Yes, because in fact you don’t have the same intimacy, and so people can’t see the color of your eyes, if you like. So, there’s two things going on here. Firstly, that you have to appreciate, look. This is a channel with different demands, having found people who have taken the trouble to say, “I’m interested in you.” The second element, I suppose, has to do with the overall experience and message that you’re sending out. And that can be hard, I suppose, to manage?

Mark: It can be hard, because I think a lot of people in terms of even digital marketing, they think specifically about metrics.

Eamonn: Oh, yes of course.

Mark: They get lost in the fact that they’re actually there to help a business grow their consumer base, but not only that, actually have a history, have a story to tell. It’s not all about the bottom line numbers of financial targets. It’s not about just your keyword rankings in this field.

Eamonn: Yes.

Mark: It’s not about how visible you are in terms of AdWords.

Eamonn: Yes.

Mark: It’s not just about your metrics, your number of followers on Twitter. It’s about that customer.

Eamonn: It is. Actually that customer has a real voice. In fact, we had Connor Keppel in just a few weeks ago. He had some nice phrases. I know it sounds corny, but he talked about word of mouth.

Mark: It still works though. [laughs]

Eamonn: It is corny, I know, but he’s right that the word of mouth actually does matter.

Mark: It does matter, completely. Like if you can keep that consumer happy, obviously they’re going to recommend you to someone else. And nobody can measure that. You can’t look at your spreadsheet and think, “Okay, so he recommended that person to this guy. And that other person went and converted five days later.”

Eamonn: Yes.

Mark: And then he spoke to someone else. My conversion funnel is like this.

Eamonn: Yes.

Mark: You can’t measure that. Again if you’re seeing every consumer as your number one priority and you’re trying to make him happy, that’s what matters. You can’t just think, “Okay, these numbers, I can go back to my manager and make a nice spreadsheet, my clever tables and my charts. And I can show this in a nice format.” You just have to care, and you can’t fake that.

Eamonn: No. So, it’s still down to, I suppose, the same kinds of things that we’re trying to do in an offline sense; which is that people really understand that we understand where they’re coming from. And we’re really trying to shape what we’re doing all around experience?

Mark: Exactly, because that’s what you need to remember. It’s experience with the end user, and you need to keep them happy.

Eamonn: I’m just thinking about a phrase that I heard Paul Hayes use at an event recently, where he talked about that, “People don’t remember what you said, but they remember how you made them feel.” And I really like that, even in an online sense, because I think it has great weight.

Mark: Also, we remember the fact that people are more open to sharing their negative thoughts online than the positive ones.

Eamonn: Oh, yes. [laughs]

Mark: [laughs] You see it all the time.

Eamonn: Absolutely. But I want to kind of go back to the Learn Inbound idea. I love this notion –and agree with it — of the power of, if you like, selfless sharing. Why do you think that has such potential?

Mark: Digital marketing as a whole, you can invest in specific channels. But sometimes, like I said, you do forget about the end user. Like Inbound Marketing is different in the fact that you provide value. In terms of providing value, it’s sometimes not about investment of a particular channels. In terms of yourself Eamonn, creating great content like your podcasts.

Eamonn: Thank you. [laughs]

Mark: A lot to show us.

Eamonn: Good, good.

Mark: People want to come back, because you are giving them something that’s valuable to them. Whereas if you invested in a paid channel, ad words…sometimes that gets lost on you. It happens. But Inbound Marketing as whole, I think it’s got longer term gains.

Eamonn: Yeah, and you see I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here, because it is about sharing real value. And if you’re doing that, then first of all the people who get to consume that, of course, they get something out of it. So, you’re turning up to an event and you were saying, “I actually got something that I can go and do something with, today. Somebody wasn’t trying to just sell me stuff.” And the beauty of that is that it boosts credibility; it boosts people’s capacity to think about you as, “You know what? There’s somebody with knowledge and expertise. I should come back to that person the next time I have to tackle that issue.” And everybody wins.

Mark: Exactly. I want every person that comes to an event to walk away with something they can copy into their business.

Eamonn: Yes.

Mark: I’ve gone to many events over the years. I’ve felt like sometimes they have speakers that don’t give advice that the attendees can use. They talk about their particular company. And while that’s interesting to hear their case studies, if I walk back into my office and if I speak to a manager, he’ll say to me, “Okay. We spent 400 Euros on that ticket. A nice conference we went to. What can you do for me? Like, what can you do to increase our targets? Can you hit these KPI’s?”

Eamonn: Yes.

Mark: And I say, “Well, X person at X company spoke about how he achieved his targets.” He’s like, “Okay, that’s interesting. But we can’t use that here.” [laughs]

Eamonn: Actually, it’s funny you say that, because if there’s one thing that sets speakers apart from others — and this is what I deal with, of course, on a daily basis with the executives — it’s really about people who are giving of themselves, and sharing. Where people felt better off after the fact than they were before they sat down, that really sets them apart, because you’re quite right. And oftentimes, it’s not just the speakers who are at fault, because if the event organizer isn’t actually saying, “You know what? Here’s our theme for today. Let me understand what you’re going to share, that is actually going to be something that people can walk away with, and do something with.” Well, maybe they didn’t know that this was what they were expected to do.

Mark: Exactly. I think you need to be selfless and not selfish in terms of what you share.

Eamonn: Yes.

Mark: Because people will respect you for that, and only that. They want the network off you, and connect with you. For me, that’s what Learn Inbound is about. Every speaker, who only stands on the stage for 5 or 10 minutes talking about their company, I want their minutes to be relevant to advice that helps all the people in attendance.

Eamonn: Absolutely. I’ve a pal in the north of Ireland who has a great phrase. He says, “Givers get.” [laughs]

Mark: [laughs]

Eamonn: And he’s exactly right with Bill McCartney, and I think that’s exactly what it is about. It’s about givers getting. So, if you have one…because I knew this was going to be a great conversation, and so thank you indeed, for coming in today. If you had one final thought on what you think would make a big difference towards anybody heading towards becoming a better digital marketer, what would you put top of the list?

Mark: Help people. That’s the number one thing. No matter what you do in terms of marketing, help people. If you’re doing SEO, you help people first and get your links eventually.

Eamonn: That’s exactly right.

Mark: Don’t run out the door, “Hi. I’ve got this great article to share. What do you think backed up these?” It’s not going to work any more. Forget that. Write to that person to help them. Use your spare time, help the company. Do some charity work. Whatever it is, help people. Again, if you help people in terms of the industry, peers who are more experienced than you, they will eventually lean on you for help. And you can tap into their knowledge sets. But you can’t actually pay for that advice.

Eamonn: No.

Mark: And you can’t pay for these connections.

Eamonn: No, I agree with you. And interestingly –and we kind of know this, of course — that it will come back to you many, many fold. But don’t do the quid pro quo thing, because understand and appreciate, it is really about being selfless at the outset.

Mark: Forget about metrics at times. That’s so important. Yes, you’ll get hammered at times if you don’t meet them. But if you are helping people, there are much longer term gains. Not just for the company you are in at the moment, but for your future as a whole. That will build your network; that will build your experience. And there’s no value you can put on that.

Eamonn: There’s no doubt about that at all. I knew this was going to be a great conversation, so I really appreciate you coming in. And so, that’s a wrap for today, and thank you for listening in. But if you’d like to learn more about learninbound.com, please have a look at the link that you’ll see down below this video. And for today, I’m Eamonn O’Brien. You have been listening to our Expert Series, and thank you for your attention.

Mark Scully

I'm Learn Inbound's co-founder, a geek and introvert at heart. When I'm not busying myself with inbound marketing, I'm relaxing with my Netflix account and a strong cup of coffee.

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