Spartan Insights: Speak with a seasoned Consultant for Internet Products and Digital Media, John Slade

Last week’s Featured Spartan was John Slade, Consultant for Internet Products and Digital Media (See his LI profile to view some of the projects he has worked on.) John has agreed to answer questions about his industry, career background, and projects. This discussion was featured from 03/16/2015 until 03/30/2015.

Spartan Insights is a regularly scheduled Linkedin discussion thread inside of the MSUALUMNI Linkedin group. Each discussion is meant to give you the opportunity to ask questions regarding one Spartan’s experience within a specific company, industry, or occupation. Answers will be given at the convenience and discretion of the featured Spartan and will be answered from the Spartan’s own personal experiences and opinions which are not meant to be representative of his/her company’s official position. Questions regarding a person’s applicant status at the featured Spartan’s place of business will not be answered in this forum. Interested in being a helpful Spartan? Contact me at isbelld@msu.edu.

John Slade – Consultant for Internet Products & Digital Media

Thanks, Dave! And greetings to fellow Spartans. I’m looking forward to the conversations and thoughts from folks.

Let me start with a few observations about the world in which we live and work today (note this is focused on societies with advanced economies). One, today, a brand or a marketer can reach an audience of over a billion people, yet ratings for traditional broadcast media continue to free fall. Two, lifecycle for consumer communication devices average <2 years, while software lifecycles shrink at much slower paces. Three, funding for business startups is readily available to many, yet the overwhelming majority of money is invested in companies on the coasts.

This is the world of digital media today, and the world of software development in the Internet age. This s the world in which I have spent most of my career. And I stay in this world because the opportunities are vast and the learning opportunities are so interesting. I’m a Michigan-raised transplant to southern California. I graduated from MSU with a BA in English in 1990. (More about my specific background in my LI profile) And I am continually grateful, amazed, and excited by what I’ve learned and by what my colleagues and I have been able to do together.

So, for this fortnight, I hope we can have useful, enlightening, and perhaps even entertaining discussions about how these worlds intersect and interact. Let’s opine about digital marketing and advertising. Let’s inquire about what are keys in designing and building software that powers businesses globally. Let’s brainstorm about how those of us with training in the liberal arts can “make it” in the world of high tech. And, most importantly, let’s get jazzed about cheering on Coach Izzo and the team in the Big Dance! Go State!

Dave Isbell – Assistant Director of Alumni Professional Enrichment at MSU

Hi John. Thanks for your willingness to help Spartans. I will kick off with the first question. With the advent of social media, it seems every high school kid with a Facebook account got in on the action and branded themselves as social media experts. I wonder what your take on this is? Are there companies or people who do social media well? What are some examples of social media campaigns that went well and or completely crashed and burned?

John Slade Consultant for Internet Products & Digital Media

Success in social media is, as you well point out, an elusive and difficult-to-quantify thing. It does seem like everyone is “hanging out a shingle” as an expert here. I chalk that up to the great business truism that “where there’s mystery, there’s margin.” Much money stands to be made as the knowledge about social media catches up with the practice of marketing. After all, I don’t think most business or comms schools teach social media with any science behind it.

That being said, my personal belief is that social media is a great leading indicator of where marketing needs to evolve in general. The key to that is a shift from marketing as mass communication to marketing as conversation. It’s no longer about telling a wide audience what you want about your product or service. It’s about engaging with your audience (and particularly with your fans) to understand how they view you and to co-create with them how your relationship affects their lives. Listening is as important as speaking; honesty is more important than cleverness; and humility is essential.

Social media campaigns that work well can be rare, but some examples I think were likely effective (remember that effective isn’t my perception but found in the data) include: Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” and the Doritos campaigns for their Super Bowl ad competitions.

To summarize, social media is about conversation. Period. Be authentic and be responsive. And remember what you learned in kindergarten, “you learn more when listening than when talking.”

Dave Isbell – Assistant Director of Alumni Professional Enrichment at MSU

What are your thoughts on pop up ads on sites such as Hulu? Is there a particular reason why the same ads are repeated so frequently during the viewing of one show? Really, it makes me NOT want to buy whatever they are selling just by the frequency of annoyance. I’m just curious about how much return companies actually see from this kind of advertising.

John Slade – Consultant for Internet Products & Digital Media

Hulu (and other sites like network-owned and operated sites) is stuck in a classic “chicken or the egg” situation. They are beginning to attract audiences that can be of interest to marketers and brands. However, the size of those audiences are still small relative to the audiences marketers traditionally wish to reach with video ads (tens of thousands of people vs. millions of people).

This leads to situations where one sees three common conditions with the available ad space: (a) a small # of marketers buy, resulting in repeated viewings of ads from a limited number of brands, (b) ad space being bundled and sold as “add-ons” to broadcast buys, resulting again in repeated viewings to ensure promised impression volumes, or (C) ad space going un-sold or under-sold, resulting in countless “house ads” promoting other offerings from the network or website.

I share your frustration at the repetitive nature of so many of these ads and cannot wait for the day when the online audiences and ad space are so valuable that it doesn’t occur. I believe it’s a matter of time (measured in a few years, not in a few quarters) for this to happen. Then, audiences will be large enough to attract great marketers and brands, which will enable further investment by content creators, which will enable higher viewership, That “virtuous circle” will vanquish the chicken and egg (to mix metaphors horribly) someday soon.

MICHAEL – Adding to Dave’s point – repetitive ads in non-traditional markets – I find it frustrating as well that ads repeat or are longer than the content provided when watching internet based programming or using ad based apps. With Internet usage, where you have to watch a 30 second spot to see a 15 second clip, this can lead you to actually disdain the product advertised. Do you see anyone in the digital media marketing world working on software to keep the ratios more in line to user expectations? It seems an area ripe for opportunity.

On the use of repetitive adds on game apps, I find there is a direct conflict of interest. Take Words With Friends as an example known to millions. The video ads are repeating, and even passing them buy after 10 seconds is disproportionate to the time spent on the app. This makes the user frustrated, and for many, the treatment successfully drive them into paying for the non-ad version. How do app marketers handle a potential advertiser when confronted with the observation that the overuse of ads is a tool to drive customers to pay NOT to see them?

COLLEEN – Hi John, I am a senior who will be graduating in May with a degree in Marketing and am very interested in any positions the digital marketing world has to offer. What would be your best advice for a new grad looking to enter the industry?

Also, what company do you feel has fully understood digital marketing and executed the best digital marketing campaign?

John Slade – Consultant for Internet Products & Digital Media

Mike, I think we all (when we wear our consumer and user hats) share that frustration. I know I do too. For brands and marketers, it’s another Chicken and Egg thing in many, if not most, situations. Brands would love to create ads perfectly tailored to the size and audience of online opportunities while living within the right, non-distracting ad slots for that medium. However, online audiences and ad slots are often small enough (when compared to more traditional broadcast media) to make that custom creation ineffective due to cost per exposure. This WILL change quickly once tipping points in audience size have been achieved. In the meantime, I’ve seen some brands be very successful by using these opportunities for campaigns with different key performance metrics than broad campaigns. (E.g.: new product intros, testing of new messages, highly targeted promotions, social media promotion). I often advise marketers to take this experimental approach, as it helps them meet their business needs while also enhancing, rather than distracting, the consumer/user experience.

While software to help tailor ratios like you suggest would indeed be awesome for the present-day marketer, I am afraid it would face a wall of obsolescence once tipping points have been achieved. For that reason, I’d advise against significant investments trying to build such a system.

John Slade – Consultant for Internet Products & Digital Media

Colleen, congratulations on your impending graduation! Your whole family will be so proud of you. And it’s such a fun, challenging, and ever-changing time to enter the business world. Buckle up!

My advice for folks wanting to make a career in digital marketing is pretty simple, and can be summarized in six jargon-free words: BE FRIENDS WITH MATH AND ENGINEERING. Practically everyone would acknowledge that marketing contains elements of art and of science, yet the prime focus of many in the marketing world places a huge premium on the art and discounts the value of the science as much as possible. That does not cut it in today’s world. Science is a fully equal partner to art in the toolkit of the modern marketer. (I say this as an English major who has spent most of my career in high-tech software, remember.) So, take as many math, statistics, and compsci courses as you do in design, copywriting, and motivational psych. If you’re not comfortable with numbers and data, get over it. You just cannot make it without this comfort.

For finding a first gig in the industry, I think it helps to look at opportunities the way new grads in finance often do: the first couple of years will be grunt work that isn’t inherently fun, but that allows you a ground-level view of how the nuts and bolts of the industry works. Be willing to “do what is needed to get the campaign live” and you’ll learn a ton and make connections that will serve you for decades. Pretty much every agency, brand that markets, and media outlet has jobs of this type, and they all would love to find a smart, humble, eager grad willing to work her tail off to learn the business.

I’ll take a wimp’s way out on your question about “best campaign” by saying that it really does vary by campaign type and objective. I know that’s not an answer, but it is true nonetheless.

Feel free to reach out more as your career search progresses and I’ll do what I can to help you find good opportunities. Enjoy your final months in E.L., and make as many trips to Crunchy’s and El Azteco as you can, because you will miss them.

MICHAEL- That last point cannot be over emphasized. Unless you are lucky enough to find vocation near the Green and White — enjoy every aspect of being there. Walk those gardens in the spring, enjoy the Red Cedar and the squirrels, laugh at the crazies outside Well’s Hall (is that still a thing?), enjoy the quality of Quality Dairy, go see the marching band warm up – once you get away from it, it is these memories that come back strongest as the years go by.

KARA – Hi John! I’m a junior majoring in Sociology and noticed on your LI profile you’re interested in joining a non-profit board. Have you had any success in finding a non-profit? If so, would you mind speaking about your experiences working with them? I’m also interested in moving to sunny SoCal someday…was it a difficult move to leave Michigan? Thanks for sharing!

John Slade – Consultant for Internet Products & Digital Media

Kara, I haven’t yet found a board to join, but I have been able to help a number of non-profits on limited duration projects. On those, the greatest challenge we have faced was making sure all of the hopes and dreams for the project from each constituent were out in the open. It’s been my experience that hidden agendas (zero sinister intent implied here) are significantly more numerous in non-profits. Achieving success with such organizations demands diligence to get them out in the open.

With regard to your second question, I didn’t make a relo to SoCal right away – there were stops closer to Michigan first. But I didn’t find the move particularly difficult. Fortunately, there is a very strong MSU alumni club in L.A., and I’d encourage you to turn to that group for connections and such. Los Angeles in particular is a magnet for transplants, so lots and lots of folks can share their experiences with you.

Dave Isbell – Assistant Director of Alumni Professional Enrichment at MSU

I second what John and Michael say about being on campus! I’m fortunate to be here every day, but the number one thing I hear from Spartans who have moved is how much they miss being on this beautiful campus and all of the “little” things that were taken for granted while they were here. I’ll just give my two cents here to you guys out in L.A. who may have not been here in a while. It’s probably pretty similar on campus as you described Michael. However, remember when E.L.’s bars were the place to go to watch great live music? That is not the case any longer. The Small Planet is long gone and the floors at Ricks are still sticky, but now DJ’s run the show, and if you get a band you are lucky if they play decent cover songs. (That comment is filled with biased opinions from someone who used to play in a band during an era when we had a vibrant original music scene. No offense meant toward people who prefer DJ’s and cover bands.) With that said, there have been some really great venues for live music pop up in Lansing and some phenomenal talent in recent years! In fact, Joshua Davis is a Spartan from the Lansing scene (now living in Traverse City) who is being featured right now on the TV show “The Voice.” Check him out, he’s terrific! (But, as was probably the case when you guys were here, getting to the QD on Michigan Ave. is still about as far west that students typically venture away from campus unless they live in one of the college living “experiences” that have popped up on the outskirts of E.L.) Plus, one more thing, the westside view from the roof at El Az now faces the side of one of those college living “experiences” that was placed downtown. But Pinball Pete’s is still open and still fun (though no longer a cloud of smoke once you enter, since smoking indoors is now illegal in Michigan.) See? The same, but different.

COLLEEN – I will definitely agree with Dave that the E.L. bars feature primarily DJ’s for entertainment. I was surprised when the MSUAA staff said they used to have live bands, I would love to see that make a comeback! Hopcat, which opened just last year, is definitely one of the new cool places in town with over 100 beers on tap and “crack” fries. I still have yet to get a bucket of beer and watch karaoke at crunchy’s, but I will be sure to do that before I leave. I have a short list of things to do on and around campus one last time as a student including: making sure I eat in every cafeteria on campus, my personal favorite is the Gallery at SnyPhi, get a jumbo cone at the dairy store filled with more ice cream I can eat, and feed the ducks in the Red Cedar outside of Wells. Michael, the crazy Wells hall preacher still makes an appearance occasionally!

MICHAEL- There was more than just crazy preachers outside Wells hall when I was there! It was three acts running simultaneously every weekday around lunch. John, how much of the work you do requires the use of Third Party Vendors? Do you rely on your own team to design layouts, make the internet campaign, the print campaign, and shoot/record any visual/audio campaign work? Is freelanceing on the rise, or decline, in our new media oriented market?

John Slade – Consultant for Internet Products & Digital Media

Mike, The usage of third-party “creative” or “campaign management” services is really variable by company and focus. Personally, I work with teams that advise companies that buy ad opportunities and with teams that build software to make digital advertising easier to implement. My expertise isn’t quite as deep in campaign design and execution, so I am hesitant to offer prescriptive advice.

However, like any effort requiring professional results, I heartily recommend using experts when one (or one’s company) lacks in-house expertise. The long history and sustained success of the “ad agency” model certainly demonstrates that using expertise from a firm like an agency can be a HUGE advantage for a company. But the rub lies in finding an agency (and/or other service provider) who has appropriate expertise. I’d be careful when hiring a firm without detailed proof of its digital experience, as I would be careful in avoiding hiring a less-experienced freelancer to plan a global campaign with multiple cultures and languages.

And to be specific in answering your question, yes, it seems to me that freelancing is on the rise quite a bit. This can be great where experience and expertise can be freed from the complexity of larger company relations, and it can be daunting when anyone who uses Twitter or Instagram (etc.) a lot hangs out a shingle and claims to be a “new media expert.” Let the buyer beware has seldom been keener advice for this world.

John Slade – Consultant for Internet Products & Digital Media

One last comment in this thread from me: Thanks very much to all who participated. I enjoyed the discussions very much. This is a dynamic, growing, and challenging business topic, and it’s great to see Spartans studying and practicing therein. The world of marketing is changing before our very eyes — we see changes in years that our ancestors only saw in decades. How fun is this! And how great it was for me to learn at a university that prepared me to view the whole world and each life experience as a learning opportunity. I’m forever grateful to MSU for preparing me for this world, and for teaching me the power of #SpartansWill.

Dave Isbell – Assistant Director of Alumni Professional Enrichment at MSU

Thank you John for sharing your insights with us, and thanks to all who participated! This discussion on Linkedin is now closed. For those of you who want to engage more on the particular topic of digital media (as well as Event Planning, and Film), I’d like to invite you to join the Spartan Insights discussion featuring Kristen Miller, which wraps up on 04/06; If you have an interest in chatting with an HR Manager, look for the Spartan Insights discussion that just started today which features Katie Paulen

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