expertCoach - Grant MacFarlane

In this edition of expertCoach, we talk to Grant MacFarlane who is the founder of London based digital marketing agency The Media Image!

Please introduce yourself, your company and what you do!


Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to tell you a little bit about myself and The Media Image. My name is Grant Macfarlane and I founded TMI as a Paid Search agency in 2008 after I left Google. In our early years, some big client wins like Ladbrokes and Coral helped us to rapidly acquire expertise in the iGaming vertical. Virtually nothing can prepare you for the pressure and pace of big events like Cheltenham and the Football World Cup, but some of my fondest memories are of the camaraderie of those weekends in the office - making calls on bid adjustments, changing budgets, and watching the action unfold on the TV. It was very bonding. I'm proud of the fact that though we're now a large agency, we still combine that sort of operational capacity with an ability to service each of our clients like they're our only one.


How did you first get involved in Digital Marketing?


I started my career at DoubleClick in 2000 which of course GoogIe then went on to buy years later. It was the dotcom boom and it literally went from boom to bust while I was there for 2 years. I was then fortunate enough to be Google's first UK AdWords hire back in 2002 when the platform changed from an impression-based search buy to a pay-per-click model. So, I suppose you could say I got involved in digital marketing at the very beginning with the guys who thought about it first. I count myself lucky to have had that opportunity at such an early stage of an industry that today accounts for 86% of Google's income and which now forms the biggest slice of ad spend worldwide, eclipsing television in 2017. 


What factors do you believe are involved in a successful online marketing strategy?


Digital marketing isn't rocket science, but neither is it for the generalist. Given the nature of the always-on internet and the fact that campaigns are run off multiple highly-sophisticated platforms, a generalist (at best) won't have the specialist knowledge to efficiently spend even a small marketing budget and, at worst, will waste their entire budget without generating a single lead. Just two days ago, I saw a Facebook post by an old university friend who'd started a guesthouse and was looking for advice on Google Ads. The first response to her query was from someone who told her, simplistically: "Just watch a few videos online - there's literally an automate button!" My gut response was to write: "It really isn't that simple. There are automation tools but, as a business, you can't afford to waste your budget because you hadn't heard about AdWords Editor or how to maximise your spend efficiency and lead generation with Portfolio CPA Targeting bid strategies." But no-one wins arguments on Facebook and I didn't want to get into a fight, so instead I messaged her privately to say hi and that I knew a few decent digital marketers. 

Apart from engaging specialists deploying best practice, I can't emphasise enough how important it is to get the data layer and tag implementation and management right. You need to collect as much information on visitors to your site as you can - whether they convert or not - and you want to count conversions, leads and sales accurately, when they happen. Without proper tracking, you won't know whether what your clients paid for their conversions was more or less than the value of those conversions. For me, "Know your ROAS" is the 11th commandment.


In your time offering Online Marketing services, what have you learned about the industry?


I love the story of the department store owner John Wanamaker who, all the way back in the 1860s, said: "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don't know which half." The measurability of digital marketing solved that problem, but advertisers still don't like wasting money, especially when they know where it went. A lot of clients hold back on branding spend because of the low conversion count. But this is close to becoming a legacy problem with advances in attribution modelling. There was a clever guy called Lloyd Shapley who won a Nobel Prize in 2012 for his contribution to attribution modelling. Google uses his insights and - these days - so do we.


I've also learnt that strategic management of increasingly-sophisticated marketing platforms and machine learning automation apps is imperative. You must be proactive - adopt and adapt. At TMI, we've learned to use new digital marketing technologies as adjuncts to our human skill sets, rather than as replacements. I think the wisest thing is to tool up your smartest employees on all the training resources available so that when a client raises a query, you look like experts, not resellers. And lean on the support resources of whoever's tech you're using. Google's troubleshooting support is lightning quick and very sophisticated. A big trap with any hyped tech is "man with a hammer syndrome". What I mean is that to a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Not every client needs every bit of tech you have, so approach deployment on a client-by-client basis.


Finally, what direction do you think the industry will take in 2019?

We should all heed the words of the old Danish proverb: "Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future". Remember too that John Maynard Keynes said: "Better to be roughly right than precisely wrong." And then there was Thomas Carlyle, the great Scottish historian and essayist, who said: "Our grand business undoubtedly is, not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand." The speed of change in our industry always manages to surprise. Simply put, if you run an agency, don't try to second guess the future. Hire good people, listen to good advice, treat your clients with respect and show up every day of the week. And sometimes on weekends.

Thank you!

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12 Mar, 2019