In November of 2000, Keith was a rising star at a promising dot com when the company’s president called the entire staff into the conference room, told them the board was pulling the plug, and fired every single one of them. It’s a story that unfortunately is all too familiar for many, especially in today’s economy. But Keith turned his pink slip into a major opportunity. Ten years later he is the CEO of a successful online marketing agency with over 30 employees in his charge.
Through Keith’s vision, iMarketing functions not as an outside resource but a direct extension of its clients’ operations, enabling them to expand their online media mix, develop and grow online sales channels, and create unique, cost-effective strategies that meet specific business goals. While other online marketing agencies claim results, iMarketing demonstrates them, which is why Fortune 500 and Media Metrix 100 companies such as Yahoo!, Dow Jones, eDiets and AARP have turned to iMarketing to increase revenues through a wide range of online channels, including search marketing, online media planning & buying, affiliate marketing, research, and technology.
Hello, I’m Mike Sullivan. Today joining us on M.O. is Keith Kochberg. He is the CEO of iMarketing, an internet marketing company, and he joins us today to talk to us a little bit about the business and the industry. Thanks for joining us today, Keith. Can you start by telling us what iMarketing is?
Sure, iMarketing is an interactive agency that helps clients cost effectively acquire customers online. That could be a sale, a lead, or a subscription, or any other desired, measurable action. Our job is to use all the tools available, i.e. channels and methods of reaching consumers online to deliver that desired action within the metrics that the client’s looking for.
What are some examples of your clients and what kind of things do you do for them?
I’ll just pick random ones in no specific order. But a company such as eDiets, which has online dieting programs as well as meal delivery programs for weight loss at home, turns to us to take their marketing budget or their online marketing budget and create programs, primarily in paid search so i.e. Google AdWords, Bing, Yahoo, the combination, as well as a performance marketing or affiliate marketing program so that we’re using their marketing dollars through those channels to drive qualified users to the various eDiets products pages. Obviously, we hope with a high propensity to convert from qualified visitor to customer.
So, there’s a lot attention around internet marketing today, and there’s a lot of internet marketing companies out there. What differentiates you from those?
That’s the great question, and it’s one, certainly, throughout the last ten years interestingly we don’t get asked enough, I think. But that’s okay because the answer is a tough one. At the end of the day, we’re in a service business. So, to a great degree what we’re selling is intangible. iMarketing doesn’t sell widgets or manufacture a product, etc., etc. We’re selling our services, our intellectual property, and our capabilities.
Therefore, when I am asked the question, I realize that any answer is just words and they don’t mean anything until you live it and breathe it and prove it. So with all that preface out of the way, I think our execution in the channels we operate in is superior. We don’t claim to be something we’re not. If we’re talking about a channel that we’re advocating or proposing to a client, we have a high proficiency level. I think we’re very strong executioners. Along with that, I think we’re real sharp on the strategy side, because being able to execute well against the wrong strategy doesn’t necessarily get you anywhere great.
We also pride ourselves on the service level. As I mentioned, we’re in the service business, and I don’t ever forget that and I don’t let my team forge that. So, at the end of the day, it’s not I who signs the paychecks, it’s our clients. We do have to go to all lengths to achieve success on their behalf.
The third thing I talk about in what’s a differentiator is our level of transparency. Interestingly, surprisingly, and to a great degree frustrating what we see is there are many agencies in our position that don’t operate with a great deal of transparency with their clients. That may mean from within, not giving the client clarity as to where there ad dollars are being spent, the exact type of execution, all the way through to the true cost of the media.
We believe our contract with our clients is agreed upon upfront. It stipulates how we’re going to get paid. Every expense, every dollar spent can be accounted for. We want to operate with complete transparency. One, it’s just the right thing to do. Two, if you don’t that, can you really wake up in the morning and consider yourself a true partner to your client? I think the answer is no.
Execution, service, transparency are three pillars I think differentiate us from many, many folks out there in our space.
So, one fact about your history. You worked for a dot com about ten years ago that ended up closing its doors. There’s always something to be gained from an experience like that. What did you take away?
A file of papers and a laptop, that’s the literal answer. However, in addition to, so not in place of, because those were things I took with me, a huge eye opening to the world of business. Here I was a younger guy, if you will, thinking the folks that raise $60 million and had this business plan were geniuses and had the world figured out. Hindsight 20/20, right place, right time, were given a shot, but I don’t think there was some silver bullet there.
It was an eye opening experience in the world of big business, so to speak. Not billions of dollars but tens of millions on an idea. So, I learned a lot of macro level things including how to manage a team, how not to manage a team. Importance of communication. Of course, the importance of revenue, and real revenue and actual dollars and cents.
I have a colleague now, a client actually, who reminds me, “Keith you can’t put percentages in the bank. You can only put dollars in the bank.” So, things of that nature. But then tactically, because at the time, obviously, I was a marketing manager, a biz dev guy, etc., and I was able to, I don’t want to say sharpen my skills, but continue to grow my skills and have experiences with over 400 e-commerce merchants and understand some of their interests, pain points, and what are important measures of success for various aspects of online marketing.
I really think my experience in that dot com was great from a tactical, being an online marketing practitioner, all the way to being somebody that didn’t have much exposure to what a C-suite responsibility took. I kind of learned through the school of hard knocks, so to speak.
Where would you say you developed your online skills and marketing abilities?
Actually, I would say that was my sophomore year, so to speak, because I took a lot of what I had had in my previous life, which I’ll hit on for a second, was able to apply it a higher level. But, really, where I began in this space was around 1997, working for a mail order catalogue company and was tasked with taking their website, which you’re talking about a 1997 e-commerce website, and generating revenue without any budget or any tech resources.
Really my first foray into the world of online marketing was in that environment. How do you take an e-commerce site, have no budget, no resources – and by resources, no creative, no IT – and how do you generate cost effective sales? The quick answer was the first thing I kind of got turned onto was affiliate marketing. This was when Commission Junction was about six people in Minneapolis or wherever in Minnesota. I found them and some great folks there.
So, it was really the feat of taking a mail order book company and driving e-commerce sales, getting that early affiliate marketing experience, and then taking that to the startup in Manhattan where it was that plus everything else at the time.
How important would you say online marketing is to just your general small business?
I think online is important to all businesses, although the degree is going to vary. If you’re a small business that has a digital ad bent or maybe is an online play, then obviously it’s of huge importance. If you are, I don’t know, a local accounting firm, it’s going to have a different degree of importance. But I think in terms of importance in the overall marketing mix, so if you say a small business that’s spending money or applying resources to grow their business, I think it always should be up there.
There’s low hanging fruit, if you will, that if I was a small business owner with a B2C or a B2B, frankly, I’d certainly be evaluating all my ad opportunities. Maybe I’m biased, but I think online should always command a good portion of the budget.
Do you have any tips on what any small business owner can do to immediately impact their online visibility, whether it be through search engines or other means? Any quick hitters you can give us there?
Absolutely. I’ll give you some of the what I would consider a no-brainer, which you mentioned search, I think. Any degree of search engine optimization is important. I’d always advocate going to credible sources for information or credible agencies. Unfortunately, the world has proliferated with, you’re a business owner, you get an e-mail, be number one in Google for $99.
Delete that e-mail, don’t respond to it. I think there’s a lot of information available for more do-it-yourselfers, and there are for legitimate firms that can assist on the SEO side. I think SEM, the paid side of the Google AdWords is super important, and I put that in my no-brainer for almost every business whether it’s an online or offline business.
You can open a Google AdWords account with your credit card and $25, and start testing and driving traffic and get a lot smarter about your business and your prospects or potential customers.
As of late, and by as of late I’d say the last year or two, I’d also put Facebook in the mix. Now, the degree in which it’s a priority I think will vary slightly based on your business. But they’ve developed what I consider a great ad vehicle, where, again, with a credit card and no real technical capabilities, you can be up and running with an ad campaign and really target to either your actual or who you think is your target audience.
Those are things I think any business owner can get started on right away without a significant investment, without a long term commitment, without great risk, and pay attention to the learning along the way. You may not make the return you’re expecting out of that first dollar spent. But if you pick up everything you can learn along the way, I think you’d have to be a rare breed to not be able to get any value out of the exercise.
So, we did touch on this a little bit when you mentioned Facebook, but how important do you feel social networking is to small businesses today?
Yeah, I think it absolutely is. It’s something that every advertiser or business owner should consider. The degree of involvement and/or resources applied is going to vary. But I think if you’re in business today and you’re not paying attention to social networking or social media, you’re missing a great opportunity. You’re missing the boat. You could potentially be missing what the environment’s saying about your business. One thing we tell folks is you’re considering a social media strategy presence or frankly you’re dead set against it, that doesn’t mean your business isn’t being talked about, mentioned, commented on in that environment. At a minimum, if you think it’s not the right vehicle for you, whether I agree or disagree doesn’t matter. You need to pay attention to know what the world is saying about your business.
Keith, it’s been great. Thanks so much for all this information.
Awesome. Thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate it.
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