Karen is the founder and CEO at Apiary Digital Media, a marketing agency specializing in performance marketing. Their model is curating teams of independent consultants to provide deep expertise in marketing strategies which are customized to the needs of customers.
They do SEM (search engine marketing), SEO (search engine optimization), analytics, paid social, content and design. For earlier stage startups they help with digital strategy and Go-To-Market.
I sat down with Karen to learn about how she helps companies with their marketing and what kind of insights she learned along the way.
How did you get into marketing?
Karen went on to say “I got into marketing right out of college. When I was in school I heard a speaker that came to the school and told us about this new thing called Digital Marketing, the speaker talked about A/B testing, all these metrics and data and I thought that's so cool, you actually know if the thing you're doing is working, I want to do that!
So I started applying for jobs out of college and I got in as a marketing analyst at an ad agency in San Francisco. Back then I didn't even know what search engine marketing was, but it was long enough ago that there weren't a lot of search marketers so I got a pass and learned pretty quickly.
From there I jumped over to a b2b software startup. As the years went by I realized I wanted to travel and see the world.
I wanted to quit my job with the grand plan of traveling around the world, fortunately my boss at the time said well, could you do remote consulting? So I did that, I took off traveling and I started doing SEM consulting and content. That was great, I was able to travel and work, and organically I got more and more work through referrals.
At some point it was more than I could do myself and the clients needed more than what I could provide, but I knew people who were good at what I couldn’t do. So I started this process of curating teams of consultants for clients, it grew and in July of 2015 I started the company. At that point we had a handful of consultants and a handful of clients, we've been expanding our capabilities and our client base ever since.”
When you start with a client, how long is the project usually and who manages it?
Karen said that they have three different models when they work with clients:
- One is project based work which is usually short term, like an audit and a roadmap. For example a client is doing a website redesign and they need SEO and analytics implementation. Those short term projects are usually one to three months.
- The most common is what Karen calls a Growth Marketing Model where the client is looking for strategy and execution. Those are typically a year contract and they have clients that they’ve had for years.
- The third way that they work with clients is called Flex Resourcing - it's for clients that probably have an in house team and they just need staff augmentation. Maybe they just let go of other agencies and they're trying to do everything in house, or maybe they have someone on maternity leave and need to get temporary help to keep execution going. Those are usually shorter term, three to six month engagements.
It's a very high touch relationship based business Karen says. She works on the sales side with one other person.
Then they have a client-strategist who's accountable for the project. A lead-consultant who is the main one doing the work talking to the client, project managing, they are the heart and brains of the operation. Moving forward depending on the size of the project they plug in consultants as needed.
How do you define SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and other terms?
Karen went on to say “I think of SEM as paid search as opposed to organic search, and within SEM people do have different definitions. Some people might interchange pay per click and SEM as the same term, which I suppose could encompass any kind of paid media like paid social, Facebook ads, etc.
When I think of SEM I think of search engine marketing which would be your text ad, search ads, Google Shopping. Also because it's part of the Google suite, you'd have display advertising which doesn't always fall under SEM but it can, and YouTube ads.”
The encompassing term for SEM, paid social, display, programmatic, pretty much anything paid advertising online is Paid Media.”
What categories do you work with and what’s the difference between them?
Karen said that the biggest categories they work with are B2B Tech, SaaS, whether SMB or Enterprise, and Direct to Consumer e-commerce brands particularly in the beauty and wellness industry.
When they work with B2B and SaaS businesses who are focused on the Enterprise market, the thinking is multiple layers of stakeholders and actually a finite set of customers.
For example a lot of companies that sell to Enterprises target the global 2000. So by definition there's a finite number of 2000 companies that are your potential ideal customer profile. So then you can actually do things like Account Based Marketing where you flip the funnel.
Whereas in Direct to Consumer marketing your market base is so much bigger. In that case usually the person who buys the product is the person who uses it.
How does Account Based Marketing and flipping the funnel work?
Karen went on to say that it can mean a range of things, for example it could be engaging with ABM technology platforms like Demandbase and 6sense, where customers buy into that ecosystem and it's an expensive enterprise sophisticated tool with a lot that goes into it.
Companies can start off ABM by thinking about their ICP, which is their Ideal Customer Profile, from there they build their target accounts list by creating the list of businesses, and then from there they find individual people to contact at the right positions in those businesses.
A lot of times it's also building targeted content for specific personas, for example ”what is the IT manager in a health and wellness company looking to learn or solve”
Then it could be a combination of outreach from your sales team, a specific targeting strategy on LinkedIn where you can do fine targeting, paid media retargeting and email marketing.
You could use any marketing tactic and say that it's part of your ABM ecosystem, but really the heart of it is you start with a small list and then you work from there.
In B2B it's a long buyer journey, it can be a 12+ months sales cycle. So you definitely need your marketing mix working for you.
What are usually the marketing strategies in the Direct to Consumer e-comm brands?
Karen said “ideally you're doing paid and organic. Paid media is definitely a pretty big factor in terms of at least how you scale.
In organic what we see often is that there's a lot of great quality brands that are initially launching through Instagram, influencers, or the passion of the founder. They've got a great story and purpose behind the product which gets them a rampant kind of following.
Then they get an investment and now it's time to scale, the way to reliably do that generally is through paid media.
You have to also think about things like how do you do your prospecting, how do you close the deal and then focus on retention, meaning once you get customers how are you keeping them, because you don't have the benefit of ‘they signed a one year contract’.
What smart brands are doing is thinking about ‘how do we surprise and delight our loyal customers’. Maybe ‘hey we threw in a gift with the purchase that you weren't expecting’ or some kind of referral benefits to sweeten the deal. Every brand has its hook and its edge for retention.
Karen said that at Apiary Digital they generally focus on new customer acquisition and then typically clients would have a retention marketing manager, that's usually the person who does email and works on the website. Brands usually have a retention marketing manager to work with.
Interestingly on the B2B side clients will often have what's called a Customer Marketing Manager, somebody who is in charge of renewals.
Another thing that's different in B2B is you're working with a Demand Gen team and they're looking for a Demand Generation strategy. In Direct to Consumer e-comm it’s either Growth Marketing or Performance Marketing depending on who you talk to, so it’s different lingo.
Karen concluded that at the end of the day it is all about getting customers and revenue and keeping the customers happy, no matter what business you’re growing.
What are the titles of the stakeholders who you usually work with at companies?
Karen went on to say that depending on the size and type of the company, the titles are:
For e-commerce it’s usually a Marketing Manager, Marketing Director, Head of e-commerce, maybe Head of Digital Products because usually they’re in charge of managing the website.
For B2B it’s usually Demand Gen, Director of Demand Gen, VP of Demand Gen, verias marketing managers. Those are usually the day to day contacts.
The CMO or the CEO are usually involved in the annual planning, quarterly planning, and the upfront kickoff, but not so much in the day to day unless it’s an early stage company.
What kind of reporting do you usually generate for clients?
Karen said that it depends on the scope, for some clients they do weekly reporting, others bi-weekly, others monthly. They usually set up Google Data Studio dashboards so that it's automated.
Some clients need very frequent updates on performance, especially when it's a high budget and you need constant updates on how it's performing.
What are usually the performance goals in B2B and e-Commerce?
Karen explained that in B2B there's the whole Demand Gen waterfall, it includes terminology that encompasses the process. It's basically the connection between the marketing funnel to the sales funnel metrics.
For example you get a lead and then it goes through some kind of qualification, maybe it's an automated lead scoring and then it becomes an MQL (marketing qualified lead), then if that is good and someone actually talks to the person it becomes an SQL (sales qualified lead), then Opportunity and a Contract.
Then from a marketing standpoint you have a completely different funnel, it will be impressions, clicks and then email signups, micro conversion, and then they become a lead. Ideally you want to be able to do a close loop tracking so you get a feedback loop on which of your leads are quality leads, because you don't want to be in a position where sales complains “marketing is sending me all these crappy leads”. You want to know that you're actually spending money on quality leads that convert to real business.
So overall the metrics across would be CPA (cost per click) or CPL (cost per lead) or sometimes people use CPA (cost per acquisition) interchangeably, then total leads, lead quality like MQLs, SQLs.
MQL = marketing qualified lead, generally meaning it’s passed some kind of lead scoring test.
SQL= sales qualified lead, which generally means a sales person has actually talked to the prospect and determined it to be a good lead worth pursuing
In Direct to Consumer e-comm the metrics that clients look at are ROAS (return on ad spend) and top line revenue. Other front end metrics include impressions, clicks, cost per click (CPC), average order value (AOV), and ultimately this all ladders up to ROAS.
If you think about the structure of the P&L for an e-commerce company, let’s say your cost of goods sold is about 50%. So you need to drive a ROAS of at least two to one in order to break-even, that's not even factoring in if there's returns and other overhead costs.
But if you have a strong retention then you can afford to break even on your first purchase. You would call that breakeven first unit economics and then you can just make up your margins on subsequent purchases.
All of this ultimately ladders up to CAC/LTV. Which is Customer Acquisition Cost/ Lifetime Value. This is essentially supposed to give you a complete picture to answer the question “how much is the total cost of acquiring a new customer and how much revenue do I get per customer over the long term?” This is a question investors care a lot about. Interestingly, although this seems like a straightforward and objective formula to answer this question, it’s not as cut and dry as it sounds. So over time different metrics go in and out of vogue in terms of what truly measures the bottom line.
How do you define MQLs and SQLs in the system? Does Google Data Studio allow you to do that?
Karen explained that it’s where the company implements close loop tracking in the CRM, or marketing automation.
Those systems then send data to either Google Data Studio or data visualization tools like Tableau. And then there's all these integrations and data connectors, it’s the holy grail - having a really great granular feedback loop in your ideal case scenario, but it's not always an ideal case scenario.
This concludes my conversation with Karen, I learned a lot. Check out Apiary Digital at apiarydigital.com, follow them on Twitter @ApiaryDigital and on Instagram @apiarydigital. You can also follow Karen Amundson on Linkedin.