Digital Marketing International Anthony Simmons Wharton Interview

Youre listing to Marketing Matters Powered by the Wharton School.  And we are back this is Marketing Matters business radio xm 111 and your listening to our monthly Marketing Matters CMO Spotlight. Im Catharine Hays the Executive Director of the Wharton Future of Advertising Program and I am here on the lovely campus of the University of Pennsylvania at the Wharton school.

And today we are talking about…how do we keep a brand necessary and contemporary with all of the new tools that are out there the services the uses the content the communication that people are using? And how do brands really make sure what they are doing is keeping up with the pace of change that were dealing with?  So let me give you a quick line up for tonight.

Were first talking with the Chief Marketing Officer from Digital Marketing International who is doing some really interesting and innovative work there and then we will be talking with the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Girl Scouts of the United States of the USA and today were very happy to have her in particular because were certainly all celebrating International Woman’s Day so um were going to be giving her a special shout out today.  And then finally around 6.30 were going to be talking with Michael Collins he’s the managing director service delivery sort of the Chief Marketing Officer function for the CFA Institute.  Um and again across the board were going to be talking about this quest for relevance.

So with that why don’t we get started and welcome our first guest the Chief Marketing Officer for Digital Marketing International welcome.

Anthony Simmons:  Thank you for having me on the program, I um, forgot your…oh that’s right Catharine.  Thanks for having me on the program Catharine.

Catharine Hays:  Well we ah we ah really want to get into talking about some of the again some of the really innovative things that you’re going on for the quest for um relevance for a brand that’s old, is that right?

Anthony Simmons:  That’s right Catherine we are a brand that’s old for an International Digital Marketing Agency.  We are well known throughout the world in digital marketing circles and with international communication agencies but we certainly aren’t a house hold name with consumers.  When you talk about Digital Marketing International and Anthony Simmons most consumers are unfamiliar with our company and they have to Google me in order to get more information.  We started out in 1998 which makes us old for a digital marketing company and young for a company that now just specializes in international search engine optimization, International search engine marketing, international social media marking and helping nations reinvent or modify their brand.

Because although we help large corporations like Coca-Cola, Nike, and Hyatt Luxury Hotels which are well known brands we also help countries because if you think about it, and I know you have Catherine, countries are also a brand in and of themselves.  Each country we represent has a message that they created or haphazardly created due to a lack of control over the global media.  So now that we have sort of moved away from SEO for small businesses and private corporations we really believe the future belongs in terms of online marketing to companies that want more of an international presence.  So we typically find companies that want us to help them offer a product or service that they have had success with locally or nationally and they want to see if we can offer that same product or service to another country or group of countries through our online marketing efforts and the influence we can exercise in other countries because we have offices and relationships with the media in 8 countries currently 11 countries we expect by 2015 or 2016

So in terms of growth we see the future moving from sort of a localized digital marketing effort by SEO experts and web design firms to a more international effort to assist business owners in a specific country  in providing services that are multi regional and multilingual.  An international approach will be valued in today’s changing world tomorrow.  And that’s something we are 110% certain about here at Digital Marketing International.

Catharine Hays:  110 amazing so a perfect opportunity to talk about how to keep relevant and there’s so much going on but before we do that we wanted to just ask you if you could tell us a little bit about your quest.  We think marketers are some of the most interesting people out there but were only slightly biased so if you could give us just a little bit about what your journey has been a little bit about your background and some of the ways your path has brought you to where you are today.

Anthony Simmons:  Sure I started out as a small business owner that got involved in direct response traditional forms of direct response advertising in my late teens and saw how immediate the feedback loop was there in terms of generating a response from prospective customers.  Back then I was just handing out flyers and I could see the amount of calls that flooded in well back then at that age all I could afford just starting out was a pager we didn’t even have a phone line but I remember knowing that I was born to market and direct response came very naturally to me.

I moved my way into sales selling both small and large ticket items using direct response and grew my business into a company that had a 100,000,000 valuation which at the time I thought was a lot of money and I guess it was for someone at my age but now the global economy has changed and countries and governments communication systems are all interconnected and what’s important today is irrelevant tomorrow so after having success as an entrepreneur I really valued the experiences I had but I wanted to move on to international marketing and I wanted to help countries I should say with their image and reputation in the world.  So Digital Marketing International was founded not by me, ironically, but I was asked to come in and fill the role of the Global Chief Marketing Officer for Digital Marketing International and I found that attractive.

My education through Wharton allowed me to gain a framework through which I could better evaluate opportunities and implement strategies that are timeless yet at the same time we are taught at Wharton the importance of being able to change with the times and the importance of staying relevant and innovative in a changing world.  Also having a strong analytics background has certainly helped so I think the combination of various factors has sort of led me to a place where not only can I teach what I have learned to others but I can also help clients get measurable results improve ROI and do what I really enjoy doing which is marketing on a global scale.

Catharine Hays: And you know from what I understand of what you are doing at Digital Marketing International you really have to have a focus on transforming through innovation or as you mentioned sort of consumer centric or customer centric marketing.  How do you really think about that and how has that changed for you over the last few years as you look more specifically to this notion of customer centric?

Anthony Simmons:  That’s a great question and a great observation for a couple of reasons.  The digital marketing arena is becoming more competitive and it is still a good field to be engaged in if you are a digital marketer and I think the field will grow but the quality of the services various digital marketing agencies will be able to provide clients has to move in the direction of international search and international search engine marketing.  And I also think involving the public in helping to assist with a brands campaigns online or through traditional sources of media will play a big role in the future and separate the really successful brands and campaigns from those that have a more difficult time engaging their customers.  People like to see their ideas played out in media. Consumers like to see their ideas or their input played out in the media or through online distribution channels and they also like seeing their image so we made it a point with all of our campaigns to use authentic imagery.  The people seen in display advertisement online, videos so on and so forth are actually customers or consumers of the brand that we are helping or they contributed to the brands online campaign in some fashion.

So I really think to stay competitive more and more digital marketing agency’s that want to remain relevant are going to have to engage the customers of the brands they represent and they will also have to be able to engage a brands customer internationally in multiple languages online.  And that part can be tricky because different cultures prefer different platforms when sharing information so you really have to be located in a particular country in order to understand what the preferred methods of online interaction and social norms are so that you can maximize the ROI for the brands you represent or the countries you are helping with their image throughout the world.

Catharine Hays:  Well that’s certainly music to our ears.  I know that’s one thing that we talk a lot about is the notion of seeing things from the standpoint of the person whom your serving and weather it’s a B2B or a B2C. They’re both people on either side and the way that they perceive brands is through all the ways they come in contact with the brand, and not just through advertising or not just through the service.  So coordinating that in a holistic way is certainly a concept and a philosophy that we think is really essential.   That’s the way people think about it.

Anthony Simmons:  Another thing that we are seeing is the fact that as competition grows in a space that is limited the challenge of companies that want to rank for highly competitive key words is sort of taking a back seat to long tail key words so if you are a smaller company and you want to rank well you will have to compete with larger corporations who have content writers in house that churn out a tremendous amount of valuable content some websites we work with have hundreds of thousands of pages and if you want to add the in house advertising executives that are responsible for creating and optimizing campaigns that result in an enormous amount of inlinks to a corporate websites homepage or several landing pages it makes it almost impossible for smaller businesses to rank well organically for those highly competitive key words that everyone wants to be on the first page of in a countries most popular search engines.

So I see or I believe we can expect an increase in paid advertising online in order to be seen on the first page of a search engines returned search queries and I think YouTube which is already being used by marketers will provide a big boost to online businesses that are creative and want to gain exposure through viral means of distribution so views on YouTube and Facebook and other platforms that most people are unaware of in the states but are popular in other countries will allow small businesses to stay relevant and competitive especially if they are focusing on a niche market.   So there is still hope for small businesses that want to grow.  Innovation and technology will continue to change and I think that will provide entrepreneurs with some really interesting opportunities.  I’m not sure what those changes will look like just yet because they are yet to occur but I see a bright future for small business owners in light of the increased competition we are seeing online in the global marketplace.

One of the most important questions a Chief Marketing Officer can answer is who is your customer?  And I really know our customers can be separated into three different categories.

One, we have countries that want to change how they are perceived through the eyes of others that come from foreign countries.  When a country experiences a 9-11, or a Tsunami, or an Oil spill in international waters, or something along those lines it impacts the people who live in that country in a profound way in in ways that aren’t always immediately visible.  So our job really is to become managers of unexpected event perception as I like to call it on a global scale.

This is not as easy to do as it once was when each country just had a couple of news channels but there has been a consolidation of media outlets and the internet is becoming more controlled so it is possible and in our case probable to effect the global perception of an event and sort of manage how that even is perceived in the minds of viewers who are aware of what is being portrayed in the world through various platforms and media outlets and influencers online.

Our second group of customers are global brands that want something done in a country specific market that Digital Marketing International is located in and as a result can influence.

These global brands might not have an office in the same country and as a result we are seeing companies understand that they can be more effective if they change their approach.  Normally, multinationals have a very specific brand message and they distribute that message quite effectively in say North America for example.  It has been a standard practice as you know Catharine for global brands to send that same message across the world and into countries that have a culture that may not respond as well to the brands message that had enormous success in North America.

So we are beginning to see multinationals seek the assistance of reputable communication agencies and digital marketers in foreign countries to modify the brands message so that it is attractive to the target country’s culture.  Global brands that retain our services know that we are not just going to contract out the work to a communications agency in another country we will see the project through and we will be able to maintain the consistency and flexibility that a brand needs to be successful globally because we have influence in a number of important or strategic regions.

Our third group of customers are private businesses public companies that have been able to grow and create a brand and a successful business model in a country that is competitive.  These are business that we normally partner with so we are able to appeal to their need to grow based on where they are at in the life cycle of their business.

When they have reached saturation in a specific country and they have exhausted additional opportunities to expand like new product offerings, campaigns, so on and so forth we offer them the marketing side and share in the revenues that we can help them generate by offering the products they have had success with domestically in countries we are familiar with and that gives us and the company a huge strategic advantage because they save time, energy and resources by being able to use our market knowledge and research base in a foreign country to expand quickly and efficiently.

So when it is a good fit both sides win and we normally take a portion of the money we receive from these types of deals and reinvest in the companies we are in business with which benefits existing shareholders, management and employees who are stock holders.  It also allows us to play a more involved role in the marketing campaigns and the expansion of the company’s brand because we have our own money invested in the project.

They always keep a controlling interest.  We aren’t in their business to acquire or merge we simply have the expertise, experience and knowledge to expand their brand in an efficient way internationally and we have a tremendous amount of confidence in our ability to influence so we invest and know that through our efforts we can turn an advertising campaign into a source of value that exceeds the value of a normal retainer agreement.  Profit sharing agreements based on the efforts we provide require us to dedicate our own money, resources or talent to a project so we have to be confident in the national brand that we are engaging.

So I think our company is unique in the sense that we have three customers.  You don’t see that very often in fact I only know of one other company that has three customers and I’m sure others exist on a global scale but it is becoming increasingly less difficult to be successful with all three groups because of the tools we have at our disposal and the benefits of technology that didn’t exist just three or four years ago so we are able to manage our customers’ expectations efficiently and we are able to deliver the results they are expecting which would have been an impossibility 3 or 4 years ago.  And I imagine we will be able to have more success in the coming years as technology develops and we are able to integrate the developments with the services we currently offer and C-NET has been instrumental in….excuse me….(silence for two)

Catharine Hays:  Maybe he had to sneeze.  It’s also listening.   I think it’s interesting that he is saying how he came about it so one of his three customers in listening to them they said this is something we are hearing from our customers.  They paid attention Digital Marketing International paid attention to that.  A they were listening B their customers were willing to tell them, right?  So they must have had that kind of relationship and then C they actually were able to do it. Because where everybody is sort of (edit this part) talking about digital marketing international right now but almost 3 years ago it wasn’t that big at all so…and then so how did you then take ahold of it and then by the way if you are just joining us we are talking with Digital Marketing Internationals Chief Marketing Officer I’m Catharine Hayes at the Wharton school and were talking about resilience and relevance for brands especially (edit) brands like Digital Marketing International…so how exactly are you taking ahold of (blank out)  you mentioned that you are you have a relationship with CNET who obviously is seen as like the purveyor of understanding what technology one should buy and rating and reviews.  How did you come about partnering with them?

When we can get a seat at the table with a company like CNET and their top brass whenever we need to for a client or ourselves which as you know Catharine is not something just any company can do, the advantage that gives us is a tremendous one at least and at best it has allowed us to forge new relationships with brands we normally would not have expected to be working or partnering with in profit-sharing agreements.  The reason is straight forward.  They are able to add credibility to the technology we use to advance the agenda of nations, multinationals and national companies that are interested in global expansion.

They have literally helped us and our clients reduce costs by 50% in some cases and they have proven to be a tremendous resource.  We also have a list of clients from other countries that are interested in expanding into emerging markets but lack the resources on the ground in countries in which we are strategically positioned.

So for example when you want to outsource something to India or china manufacture something like car companies are doing in Brazil or take advantage of natural resources in Russia we can help jump start that effort to expand or enhance a global brands mission in those regions.  Agencies that have to contend with the political, social, and cultural barriers that we have already broken through tend to increase not decrease the clients expense for a project and can often jeopardize the project itself if they lack experience in a particular global region which is why we don’t just outsource the work to smaller digital marketing agencies or try to do it ourselves in another country in which we are unfamiliar with you really need to have is a team from that country in that country in order to be successful and insure the project’s success from a marketing standpoint if you are using traditional or ISEO methods for your advertising campaigns.

Catharine Hays:  I was about to ask that.  I would think that it might even be an attraction.

Anthony Simmons:  Digital marketing agencies domestically trying to assist national businesses or national brands with a global or international I should say advertising campaign fall short most of the time because they don’t really understand the culture of the country in which or countries in which the national brand the national client is looking to expand into.

So a few things can happen number one the digital marketing company that is located in a specific country can present themselves as having the ability to help customers or brands I should say expand into foreign markets but we are the ones that actually coined the term or acronym ISEO.  International Search Engine Optimization is not something that is new to us and when you ask others in the industry about ISEO I would say at this point most digital marketers could not begin to tell you what the “I” in ISEO stands for so you want to approach an international marketing campaign whether you are a business owner that has customers throughout a specific country, a global brand that wants to maybe target a specific country where you perceive growth opportunities but you need some help with getting your message across in a specific way, or a country that’s interested in changing how they are perceived are all attracted to a digital marketing approach that includes experienced digital marketers that are truly international and have like I mentioned before teams located in multiple countries that understand the culture and what works and what you might want to stay away from which is always changing.  The public is very aware of the options available to them today and the access they have to information continues to grow online so

Catharine Hays:  So it’s almost like your advertising so you have these that are hosted by your brokers who are certified who are using the staging kit to do it and the other brokers are saying “shoot I want some of that that looks really good.  I don’t have that and look what Digital Marketing International is doing for their brokers. They’re  putting them at the leading edge, the cutting edge of what you know and you did the research beforehand so you can show them this is what the next generation is looking for um and we’re there having it.

I was going to say to the point of risk too that you know for something like this in many of these areas like emerging technologies once it’s sort of on the horizon it’s not it’s not way off in the distance its coming and it’s really starting to your point the prices are coming down there’s almost more of a risk not to do anything.  There’s almost more of a risk to not be the first to it and if somebody else does so that kind of opportunity cost is another way of doing it but that’s that’s impressive.

Anthony Simmons:  Well, all of our brokers are actually employees.  We rarely use independent contractors.  When we are in a situation where we need to go outside of our agency we rely on the help of Google and other experts that know the landscape of the digital marketing world internationally and that’s something we will communicate to our clients beforehand so that they are aware of what we are doing but that situation type of situation rarely presents itself.

What is more common since all of our employees independent contractors are required to be certified by Google as sort of a guarantee that they know what they are doing in their respective country.  We also like to see independent contractors that are well educated and come from the leading institutions educational institutions or maybe have worked for leading brands in the country from which they are located in allows us to have that conversation when it arises with our client so we can better explain who is involved.  And that’s not just us that’s something that I see a lot of digital marketing agencies trying to do but we are now located in the most, in our opinion, the most strategically important countries in the world and we’re expecting to expand.

We have had enormous success with a few major brand campaigns and a couple of countries want to change how they are perceived throughout the world to enhance business relationships and other things so we are excited I don’t like to use that word but we are cautiously optimistic about the future and we believe getting there first is important and what we have learned because we have had a lot of “firsts´´ is that we have to continue to change and sort of evolve as the world does becomes more integrated so since 1998 we have learned. Sure, getting there first is very important and exciting, there I go again with that word, but staying at the top and continuing to improve even if you are waiting for technology to catch up with your vision of the future plays a significant role in the success we have and our clients know that coming into the relationship which is nice.

And by normal standards we are a new company but as a company that has a presence online an internet marketing agency we are considered by the number of years of experience we have behind us we are considered a relatively mature company so the question really becomes, with that in mind, how do we stay attractive and how do we continue to take on clients that want to get the latest and best results.  When you look at some marketers online they are very capable and have strategies that will generate business and new customers for their clients but you never want to look outdated and we want to make sure that we are able to take the equity that we have built in our brand and who we’ve represented and also show there’s still a wink or a spark a forward thinking passionate spirited innovative spirit that is still alive in our brand that still allows us to attract countries, global brands, and national brands that want to do something globally.

So you have to continue to create trends like we have and that’s not something I’m going to be humble about I’m not I’m not going to be humble about the innovations we have… ask anyone that has a marketing background and specializes in search engine marketing if it is easy to stay relevant as technology evolves as search evolves as brands become more integrated through acquisitions mergers and then add that to the fact that the world is becoming more integrated socially and I think that you will find that keeping the spirit of innovation for companies that have been marketing online since the 1990´s and staying relevant is just as challenging as it is for a company in another industry that has been around for more than 100 years like Shell Oil which was founded in 1904,  Levi Straus 1837, or Heinz which was founded in 1869 by a family friend.

In some ways I think it might be even more difficult for us because there is no clear leader when a new business owner knows they need to hire an International Digital Marketing company because when they begin doing research there are so many digital marketers out there that they many times don’t know how to identify the industry leaders so we have been fortunate to have formed relationships with several staffing agencies who specialize in placing talented executives with global brands and through those relationships we have gained clients that we normally would expect to get from our online ISEO efforts but fortunately for us we have been able to gain clients from a number of different sources which gives us an advantage because we do not have to rely on just our online marketing efforts to attract businesses that want to expand internationally or brands that want to convey a specific message.

When you are helping brands like Nike, Coca-Cola, Hyatt Luxury Hotels, Heinz, Outback Steakhouse, FedEx, you have to deliver.  You have shareholders that are counting on the right message being conveyed and in the world of international search engine optimization every interview you generate for a brand that is global, every piece of information that you create and distribute through your own platforms but usually through the platforms of the brand that has contracted you to do the work has to be consistent with what it is that the brand wants to present to the world.

Catharine Hays:  I love the concept of a wink on top of this very weighty important notion of brand that there’s a spark there too which is really interesting.  Um maybe you can talk with us about I think that you um won an award can you tell us about that?

Your right we have recently won an award and a lot of awards especially in the early days.  Now, when you win an award it is nice and we have begun recognizing other digital marketers and digital marketing agencies that show some type of excellence throughout the world.

So we’ve gone from receiving awards to giving award and we’ve created an award that we give out or plan to give out when we come across a digital marketer that we find impressive.  Someone that is doing something that is innovative and relevant and it’s one of those things Catharine, that you sort of know it when you see it.  Excellence, when coming from Wharton is easy to spot throughout the world.  Excellence transcends cultures and we are very proud when we are able to find a someone who builds websites in Indonesia for example but they do it in a way that screams excellence we feel they should be recognized.

We believe even though they are in the same industry offering different services to a different clientele they should still be recognized by an industry leader.  And we know that by giving an award for excellence to someone in Nairobi or Madagascar we’re giving them more than an award we are essentially saying we believe that you are someone who could be an industry leader not only in your country but in the world.   So we created the Global Digital Marketers Award which we award to agencies, digital marketers and we know by doing so we are helping create credibility for that particular person or organization and we believe as an organization it is easier to rise together and help each other as opposed to continuously having this idea of competition consume how we interact with other digital marketers.

If fact we are currently creating an educational program that is set to launch on March 27th for people all over the world that are interested in learning the strategies and techniques that are taught by many of the marketing professors at Wharton like David Bell, Eric Bradlow, Michael Foley, Linda Stein and of course you…Catharine Hayes (introduce the same laugh)  I know we weren’t sure if you would share your knowledge with the general public secrets I should say but we thought we would include your name in the list anyways since we do recognize the invaluable service you provide listeners with here on Business Radio on Sirius XM and we are rally grateful for your contribution, we really are.

Catherine Hays:  That’s so impressive and it certainly really follows in the category of this conversation today staying relevant staying current um and it’s one thing for someone to sketch something out on a napkin but I think we’re all in an age where digital natives expect a lot more gravitas to to the numbers especially when it’s probably…to have someone that you can have the best of both world right?  You can your sitting across and looking at a person at your table and there equipped with all the kind of data that you would want to bring to personalize and customize specifically to your situation so very interesting.

Anthony Simmons:  Every country we looked at mentiones education as something that if improved can alter the future and the standard of living for those that engage in well crafted certified courses for continuous or executive education so we wanted to offer something that would allow millions of people from around the world to learn a skill set that we do not believe will go out of fashion any time soon.  We mentioned a few brands that have been around for 100 or 150 years earlier who are still engaging in marketing both through traditional avenues and through of course online advertising campaigns and digital marketing so we felt that would be important.  And we offer many of the classes for free so we certainly recommend taking a look at how you can approach digital marketing from a local, state, national, and international perspective.

Catherine Hays:  Exciting March 27th right?

Anthony Simmons:  March 27th

Catherine Hays:  Awesome thank you.  You heard it here.

So we are really excited about the future of international search marketing, brands and how the perception of nations can be optimized and we are also excited about the awards we have begun to give out to help regional digital marketing agencies increase their credibility and we want to provide educational strategies and an online school which we will be launching like we said on March 27th that we’ve put our heart and mind into to help sort of the new digital marketers gain valuable knowledge and insight into what it takes to succeed in the world of marketing and more specifically online marketing.

Catherine Hays:  Very exciting very exciting so especially to get a little bit of a scoop there look forward to to the 27th but I love the notion of heart and mind.  Thank you so much for joining us today it’s really been a pleasure.  You’re doing such interesting work a Digital Marketing International we really appreciate it.

Anthony Simmons:  Thank you for having me.

Catherine Hays:  Ok sounds good will catch up again later Digital Marketing International you can follow him and we will be back after the break more good stuff with us with reinvention and relevance in the age of marketing.  Stay tuned.