Social Marketing, Analytics and the Customer at the Center of It All: Interview with Aaron Kahlow

Think you’ve heard it all when it comes to Internet marketing? SES advisory board member and conference speaker and founder of Online Marketing Institute, Aaron Kahlow (@AaronKahlow) wields the element of surprise. In advance of next week’s conference, Aaron answered a few questions about his session on search-social synergy. The responses I got back look at our powerful marketing channels in a way that subverts some progressive ideas en vogue today, favoring an approach that the SMB community can sink its teeth into.

Aaron Kahlow speakingAaron’s Online Marketing Institute is an educational resource for all areas and levels of digital marketing. Over the years, he’s heard the stories of challenge and triumph of all kinds of businesses looking for solutions to their pain points and ways to take advantage of the hot channel, social media.

It’s from this context that comes some sensational statements. A few standouts include:

  • The average SMB shouldn’t be worried about real-time anything.
  • Avinash Kaushik’s analytics recommendations don’t apply to the majority of businesses.
  • Consumer intent versus consumer interest is a made-up, misguided construct.

And while these statements can sound astounding alone, they make a lot of sense when you consider them in their big picture context.

Piquing Consumer Interest vs. Targeting Consumer Intent

At SES San Francisco next week, Aaron will be part of the session called Activating the Social-Search Dynamic. The session description on the site says, “If search marketing is all about delivering value from consumer intent, social is about delivering value from consumer interest.” So I asked Aaron to describe the synergy of intent and interest, and the point of distinguishing between the two. His advice? (Emphasis added.)

“Sometimes I laugh at these made up ideas. So much is based on non-verifiable assumptions by looking at analytics from the past, ala footprints in the sand versus simple and much more powerful remote usability studies asking the ‘why’ did you do this. The analogy would be that by looking at the direction and size of footprints in the sand, one could deduce whether someone was on a walk on the beach on their way to the surfing store, taco stand or just on a leisurely walk. 50% of the time you may guess right, but not 100%, and it’s just guessing.Interest versus intent are adjectives describing human thoughts. I’d rather focus more on buying paths and get back to marketing 101.Much of social is an awareness game where you get seen in the stream, get remembered for something clever and have an initial, albeit fleeting, engagement with consumer.Where with search, there is 97.2% (says last bit of research I looked at) objective to research something that is of importance to the end user, and of course in many cases something a user would eventually purchase.

So, being in the stream of social in a more casual awareness way, and being found in Google in more focused deliberate path allows one to ensure maximum potential for sales. Moreover, if your search results are review, comments, etc., you have even greater (32%) chance at getting the deal. Consumers trust third-party reviews more than they trust our so-called independent journalist and most friends.”

Aaron’s approach to Internet marketing isn’t to read consumers’ minds. Instead, he advises businesses to use social and search channels for their strengths, raising brand awareness and driving conversion, respectively. He compares looking at analytics and trying to intuit a visitor’s intentions to looking at footprints in the sand. A bold statement.

So what of analytics? What does Aaron think is the way to look at analytics that will yield the best effect for Internet marketing? How do we avoid the mentality of chasing footprints in the sand, making up stories about our customers and getting caught up in the minutiae of the data?

The False Dilemma of Data Deluge

I asked Aaron for his thoughts on not getting bogged down in data and seeing the real value in the measurements available. After all, attend a few conferences and you’ve probably heard analytics guru Avinash warn against getting caught up in data puke. Aaron’s response (again, emphasis mine):

“First, I don’t think Avinash has a good grasp of what is really going on out there for 90% of the business and general marketing folks. The deluge of data is real but only those that are spending time on Analytics more than 2 hours per week would be hitting that challenge.Consequently, I believe the answer to the question of not getting bogged down is the most simple: decide what it is that is important to the organization that the website/digital ads is trying to drive. Then do a little role play and figure out the 2 or 3 actions (click to a certain page would even qualify) and then start tracking such. Once you commit to that type of planning and review weekly, then and only then do we worry about data deluge.Now, if you are a sophisticated digital marketer, yes, you do have data problems and more over like all things in digital marketing, there is so much opportunity for success, it’s simply a matter of prioritization.One of the most compelling ways to deal with overload of data is to start clueing into the big data conversations out there. Things like mapping disparate data sets (internally or externally) to one unified database and profile and cross-correlating that to your Web analytics data and the story and data deluge gets a lot easier because all is coming through one filter.

Much of this would fall in places like predictive analytics (of which I blatantly steal ideas from my younger sister Amanda Kahlow, the real guru here, since she is actually solving business problems, not just soap boxing all the issues we have). Things like taking your CRM data, mapping that to your analytics data and then mapping that to a third-party source to help identify (Demandbase, Bizo to name a few) off-site personas and get answers to who is buying when, why and where. And predicting beyond that to get to some real answers.

Now to answer your initial question on social data, it simply is another data set to use and align with your onsite analytics in ways described above. So, final advice, if you are the 1% and sophisticated enough to be overwhelmed by data, don’t get stuck on one set of data or one metric, rather, work on unifying into one central data profile. For the rest of us, we just need to start measuring in a committed way, period. And no knock on Avanish, he is doing the industry a great favor by pushing the importance of Analytics.”

Unrealistic Real Time Marketing

At this point I realized Aaron’s drawing some clear distinctions between big brands and SMBs in terms of marketing approaches that that can be adopted. SMBs often look to the big brands to for cutting-edge tactics that can be adjusted for smaller budgets. I asked Aaron for some guidelines when utilizing real-time social media metrics and tweaking social campaigns on the fly as dictated by real-time data.

“SMBs need to keep it simple, focused and realistic. Creating a fan page on Facebook, building a discussion group on LinkedIn, tweeting very specific and relevant information and, more than anything, writing a blog post once a week is what should be focused on.Have a presence, be found, focus on localized or highly specialized areas to be seen and don’t compare oneself to the big boys in the same way none of us SMBs would delude ourselves to thinking a TV commercial at the Olympics is possible.

The ONLY real-time effort I’d make as an SMB would be following what is trending on Twitter for their niche and locality and having a blog post that is tweeted, as well as RT others good content, to stay ahead of fray. But for most businesses, real time is not a REAL-ity.”

For the People, By the People

So do we get it now? In talking about the opportunities and strategies and tactics of search and social marketing over and over, we’re overthinking it. When you’re drowning in data, or contriving campaigns for different social channels, get back to the basics. Ask your customers why they’re doing what they’re doing on your site. Return to the source, the people. I asked Aaron what he thinks draws people to conferences like SES and OMS to learn about what social media can do for their business…

“Ah my favorite question. Social media draws us all for one main reason, we ALL USE IT. We all have Facebook pages, LinkedIn profiles, write or read UGC posts on products… so it’s ingrained in us on a human behavioral level. And for some of us, that human behavior is what is most fascinating, because now we are not just talking about the paradigm shift in buyer behavior as we do with search but we are talking about fundamental changes in overall behavior, especially in how we communicate as human beings.We express our individuality on Facebook walls, we IM, message and text each other much more than we talk. And we simply use social as a tool to filter information.So, the interest in social ties that human behavior to the marketer or advertiser’s utmost metric, Time of Attention. How much time people spend in certain areas drive huge interest for all of us if we can be part of that. And now when we see that people spend more time on Facebook than watching TV, that gets real interesting and worth some big dollars and deep thought about being in that stream of attention, regardless of source.”


Virginia Nussey is the director of content marketing at MobileMonkey. Prior to joining this startup in 2018, Virginia was the operations and content manager at Bruce Clay Inc., having joined the company in 2008 as a writer and blogger.

See Virginia's author page for links to connect on social media.

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