Martech Stacked Episode 7: The programming language that you should know as a marketer - with AJ Wilcox
Joining us for episode 7 is a man who for the past 6 years has focused on one of the most difficult online advertising channels to get right - LinkedIn. Now he’s one of the world’s most renowned LinkedIn advertising experts as well as being a LinkedIn Course instructor - and Host of the LinkedIn Ads Show - AJ Wilcox from B2Linked.
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#1: SQL A domain-specific language used in programming
#2: CRMs such as HubSpot CRM Free CRM software
#3: Google Data Studio Bring all of your data together into one visual platform
David Bain: Joining us for episode seven is a man who for the past six years has focused on one of the most difficult online advertising channels to get right, LinkedIn. Now he's one of the world's most renowned LinkedIn advertising experts, as well as being a LinkedIn course instructor and host of the LinkedIn Ads Show. Welcome AJ Wilcox.
AJ Wilcox: Thank you so much. I'm excited to be here.
David Bain: Great to have you on AJ and of course, you can find AJ over at b2linked.com. So AJ, explain what your business does and how you use marketing technology to make it better.
AJ Wilcox: Yeah, well quite simply we're an ad agency that literally LinkedIn Ads is all we do.
David Bain: Wow.
AJ Wilcox: And as many of you may know, if you're in marketing, LinkedIn Ads is incredibly expensive, but also features the very best targeting and segmenting that you could ever hope for, especially if you're in Business to Business. We can target people by super granular things like their titles and their level of seniority and by company size, et cetera. And so with that precision in targeting, comes our ability to track and attribute in ways that just can't be done on any other ad channel.
AJ Wilcox: So the data that we are generating becomes extremely powerful, but when you have good data, you need to make use of it. And so that's where marketing technologies come into play for us. We've built a custom reporting engine that gives incredible insights into what we're doing on LinkedIn Ads, breaking it down by all different dimensions. But then we have to process that in ways that actually deliver insights and aren't just dropping us more data. So a lot of the MarTech that we're going to be talking about here is a lot of what I would call data tech as well, but it certainly applies to anyone in marketing who's willing to get a little bit technical.
David Bain: Okay. So an agency that just focuses in on LinkedIn Ads, what would you say are the pros and cons of just focusing in on a very niche proposition, a very niche advertising tool as an agency?
AJ Wilcox: Well, it's really easy to become well known. It's really easy to build a personal brand around a single channel because there are quite a few people that if you just say, if you just bring up LinkedIn Ads in conversation, there's no one else out there who's being loud about it. And so immediately comes to mind, they'll go, "AJ Wilcox", or "B2Linked". So it's been really helpful in getting business up and running, getting a lot of leads very quickly, but we have disadvantages compared to other agencies who can just add on multiple channels where oftentimes we'll lose bids to companies who go, "We know that you would do better with our LinkedIn Ads, but we don't want to have six different reps to go to when we have questions, we just want that one chokeable throat". And so they'll go with a generalist agency that will do everything, even if it's mediocrely just so they have one point of contact.
David Bain: And what would you say that the general trend is? Would you say the general trend is for clients to be willing to use different agencies for different platforms or to go towards an agency that does more than one thing?
AJ Wilcox: It seems to me like more and more people are happier going to an individual specialist and just managing more relationships. Of course, my world is the only reason that people come to me is when they want help with just their LinkedIn. But that's what it seems like to me, it seems like people are valuing performance over convenience.
David Bain: Yeah. I'm sure as more and more businesses get comfortable with different technologies and what these technologies can do for their business, they're more able and willing to ensure that they get optimum performance for the different channels that they're focusing in on. But let's bring it back to your own business and marketing technology. So just in summary, what parts of your business would you say are working really effectively at the moment thanks to marketing technology?
AJ Wilcox: Well, I definitely think that our ads management is going extremely well. We've actually built our own set of internal tools to manage LinkedIn Ads in bulk, because we've looked at agencies who do Facebook ads and Google ads and Bing ads. And they've got Google Ads Editor, Bing Ads Editor and can do all these things very, very effectively. We've built our own to try to mimic those at scale. But on the data side, like I talked about, we generate all of this super rich data because of this ultra tight and segmented targeting. And then we're looking for insights. So we're playing in a lot of data sources. We're doing a lot with dashboards in Excel, in CRMs with APIs so that we can understand in ways that no one else could tell a client here's, what's working, here's, what's not, here's how to tune your efforts even across all of your other channels. So I'd say those are the two areas that were firing on all cylinders.
David Bain: Great. Well, towards the end of the conversation, we'll get into maybe what areas of your business you would like to make even more efficient using marketing technology. But let's get into the core of the discussion, which is the three key MarTech tools that you're using in your business at the moment. So starting off with number three, what are your top three tools in your current MarTech Stack and why?
AJ Wilcox: Okay, perfect. Well, you gave me a really good suggestion here. It's like, don't use the tools that everyone says. I don't want to be boring. So certainly everything that you're imagining we're already using as well, but putting them here in, into priority order, number three is Google Data Studio with Microsoft Power BI as well. Both of them are free and you can use them to visualize trends that you would miss. Even if you were building a pivot table to summarize performance every week. We saw this with our account managers where every Friday they generate a pivot table and they're looking at insights and it's cool, but they weren't ever comparing to the previous week to see if things were trending down or trending up. So now on a dashboard, we can see this and catch things before they become a problem.
David Bain: So I just finished a conversation with Kevin Gibbons, founder of Re:signal an agency based in London and his number one selection was Google Data Studio. So I'm certainly interested to see what your other selections are, but I'm just focusing on Google Data Studio to begin with. Were there any other similar platforms that you considered to begin with?
AJ Wilcox: Yes, so we do use Data Studio. We started with it and we've built all of our client dashboards based on it, but just recently I found Microsoft Power BI and does pretty much the same thing, but it's a lot more powerful. And if you want to just use it for data discovery yourself, it's free. Anyone can download it, but if you want to publish a dashboard for your clients to see that's only $20 a month per person who owns a license and you could theoretically just have one license for an entire agency. So anyway, I like both, I think eventually we're probably going to move to Power BI because it's a lot less buggy and a lot more powerful, but Data Studio, it just, especially for us marketers who are dealing with a lot of Google data sources, there's easy plugins into things like Webmaster Tools or whatever they call it now.
David Bain: Search Console, yeah.
AJ Wilcox: Google Ads and Google Analytics. Yeah, Search Console. Thank you for bailing me out on that one. So yeah, marketers, I think Data Studio is a great place to start and it's just indefinitely free.
David Bain: So Power BI by Microsoft, that sounds an appealing option, but is it just as effective to take in data from Google Analytics and Search Console?
AJ Wilcox: I believe so. At least for us, Microsoft Power BI, can link very nicely to databases and we hold all of our data in a database. So both that and Data Studio can do it, but I think it's going to be easier if you're pulling all of these Google sources because Data Studio is already built for that. But I believe both are very effective at either pulling data from a spreadsheet or from an API or from a database. So I would imagine both are similar, Data Studio might just be a little simpler to get started.
David Bain: Okay, great. Well, two really good options there for people to explore. Google Data Studio is the one that makes it in as number three for you. What is your tool number two?
AJ Wilcox: Yes. Okay. So number two, and this is, it feels like a total cop-out, but it's CRMs. And the reason why is because LinkedIn Ads, they cost so much more than every other channel. So if you're only measuring to a conversion, you're going to look at Facebook and say $5 conversion over there. And you'll look at LinkedIn and say, a $35 conversion there, let's cut LinkedIn and send all of our spend to Facebook.
AJ Wilcox: So what the real value is for marketers is understanding how are the lead quality being scored in them? And this is really key to, or I guess a CRM is really key to figuring this out because what we find is, yeah, LinkedIn's going to be more expensive on a cost per lead basis. But when you get down into the cost per marketing qualified lead, or cost per sales qualified lead, or cost per proposal, cost per close, all of a sudden LinkedIn starts looking really good, but you, as a marketer, you have to have a good CRM. And maybe even something like lead scoring models to help you understand how those are graduating. And so you can actually track and attribute, spend to each stage of the funnel.
David Bain: So can I push you into disclosing maybe specifically what CRM that you're enjoying to use at the moment that you're finding links, pardon pun, very nicely with LinkedIn.
AJ Wilcox: Yeah. So we will use whatever CRM our clients are using. So we don't force anything on them. We don't have a preference. What we find is if you have a Salesforce developer, you can make Salesforce do anything. And that's really nice to have that extensibility, that flexibility, but most companies, if they can afford a Salesforce license, don't have someone full time or even part time to be that Salesforce admin. So we find that HubSpot has really good integrations into LinkedIn Ads, so do Salesforce. So if you're using either of those tools, it's usually a pretty good play, but you can make about anything work.
David Bain: Okay. Well, we had Lukasz Zelezny on episode number one. And one of the tools that he recommended as a CRM tool was Pipedrive. How have you worked with Pipedrive before?
AJ Wilcox: No, I haven't. I've heard them as sponsors on all the podcasts I listen to, but don't have personal experience with them unfortunately.
David Bain: Okay. Okay. Well, the CRM, you talked about HubSpot as being useful tool potentially as a CRM. And that was to number two. What is your tool number one?
AJ Wilcox: Okay. So tool number one is actually a language and it's SQL. It's a query language to pull data from a database. And the reason why I bring this up is we store all of our ad data in a database. And if you understand even basic SQL, you can get access to whatever data you need very quickly and very easily. I would say the average marketer, if you don't consider yourself very technical or don't want to go and learn databases SQL, maybe that's too much for you. Then there are tools like Super Metrics and Ad Stage that will let you do this on a fixed monthly fee to get access to your data in a lot more clean of away. But I would also say if marketers can get technical and learn to access and interpret data, we will find a lot more value for our companies and clients in ways that you will stand out against other marketers or even technologies who might be looking to replace you. So don't be afraid to get technical.
David Bain: Okay. I like that advice. I'm not personally as technical now, probably as I used to be certainly in marketing in general. When I started off doing things like designing web pages, then I maybe used Dreamweaver to begin with. And you could see the Wysiwig version of the designs. You could see the design, you could see the coding behind it as well. And that helped me to learn basic HTML. It also helped me to learn basic PHP as well. So the initial web pages that I built, actually, I ended up building my own PHP includes to design common headers and footers for the different web pages. So this is before WordPress existed.
AJ Wilcox: Yes, David, you're speaking my language. Yes.
David Bain: But I've maybe been lazy in keeping up to date with things like the best practice CSS nowadays, because I remember years ago, what I used to do was actually use tables and you'll remember this AJ, I'm sure, to actually create things at coroners within a webpage design. So you thought about you probably designed the webpage on a flip chart to begin with and figured out where your different columns would be, your different sections of your web pages. Then you designed a table to make the design happen. Nodding away here. And there were fun days, but then, CSS came along and different technologies came along and I've now tended to rely a little bit more on things like lovely themes within WordPress or third party tools, such as Zapier to link different technologies together, which means that I've not been so focused on the actual data itself. Would you say that that's a mistake? Would you say it's a mistake for marketers to rely too heavily on tools rather than actually the data within the tools?
AJ Wilcox: That's a really good question. Early on in my career, I had a very similar path to you. I had a lot of experience building stuff in languages and tools that would become obsolete, but what I never lost from that, I spent and wasted a lot of time doing things like building a webpage code from scratch, not using a tool, but I don't regret a single minute of that. And the reason why is now I understand the technology behind the tools that I use every day. And so I don't think anyone's ever to regret going back to the basics and learning something that is very low level, very close to a technology, because even if tools change and even if you don't do that process anymore, you go onto use that tool, and you'll always be able to look back and say, "If I see an error, I know why there's an error. It's because that thing wasn't possible." And I know this is all sounding very ethereal, but I love wasting my time on low level stuff that will be replaced later because I'll understand the tools later a lot better.
David Bain: Yes. Yeah. I love that as well, because not because it's the best use of your time at that moment in time, but because you're actually taking the time to really understand the intricacies, it'll actually make it more efficient when you come to automate things in the future. And you'll be able to be very specific about what you can automate and how you go about doing it. And then you can select the tool to provide automation on your behalf.
AJ Wilcox: Yeah. And then even taking that a step further, we see that a lot of our tasks, a lot of the button pushing, those tasks are going to be automated by tools anyway. But if you understand what goes into those tools, you will still be able to use strategy and execute tactics in a way that the tools won't ever be able to. You'll coach your human brain to solve problems that a computer just can't and other people will get left behind if they're not willing to keep up, but you as a marketer, you will always be valuable if you understand these things.
David Bain: Absolutely. Well talking about strategy, I'd love to get a feel for your ongoing content marketing strategy, yourself as a business, as an agency, what you actually do, how often you publish content, how you go about deciding the content that you publish and then how your marketing technology actually integrates with that. So how your tools support what you're trying to achieve?
AJ Wilcox: I like it. Our content marketing strategy is very much nebulous. And the reason why is because my team is writing blog posts for our blog and this is recent. But up until then, I was the only one who is creating content. And so I'm trying to run a business and I'm trying to create content and I'm trying to do sales. I'm trying to do a lot of different things and I can't create nearly the level of content that I want to. So what I have started doing... And go ahead if you have a question...
David Bain: No, that's good. That's good. So, yeah, you were just about to say, possibly explain the why you choose to decide the content that you're doing. I'd like to get a flavor of, I guess, how you go about researching and deciding upon the content that you do end up publishing and whether or not you've got content that fits into a bigger picture, or you tend to just to focus on blog type content on an ongoing basis.
AJ Wilcox: Yeah. So I started out life as an SEO, not life, but my career. And because of my experience at SEO, it's really to get away from keyword research. So when I very first started the company, I went in to Answer the Public and I took stock of every logical good question that people were asking about LinkedIn Ads. And I sought to write a blog post or create content that answered each one of those questions. And now that's pretty much done.
AJ Wilcox: For all the basic questions, I have a good answer out there that I can point people towards and that search engines can find. So now it's actually really hard when someone comes and says, "Do you want to write a guest blog post for us?" I go, "That's going to be really hard for me to think of what topic can I write about or cover that I haven't already." And so what I do is I'm always thinking about, what's the thing I'm most excited about with LinkedIn Ads or the question du jour that a lot of people are asking me and they get confused on and I try to go down that rabbit hole to create.
David Bain: So it sounds like what you did was you started off to begin with, by focusing on keywords and getting the right questions answered. Incidentally, actually, have you read the book 'They Ask You Answer' by Marcus Sheridan?
AJ Wilcox: No. I love Marcus Sheridan, but I haven't read his book because I'm not a big reader, but if there's an audio version, I'll totally consider...
David Bain: No, he actually recorded a couple of months ago, a new version of the audio book. You should get the new version of the audio book, not the old one.
AJ Wilcox: Yes.
David Bain: The old one was narrated by someone else, not him. And the new one contains a lot about video and is done by him. So definitely get that. I was just asking, because your strategy of just answering every conceivable customer question about LinkedIn advertising seemed very much like what he advocates. And then it sounds like after that, what you did was you moved on to building your own personal brand, and you're also business brand. Is that something that you intentionally decided to do?
AJ Wilcox: Yeah. And in fact, it's personal brand has definitely taken a front seat and the company brand has taken a back seat. I found very early on, it was very easy to get LinkedIn Ads associated with the name AJ Wilcox, but no one had ever heard of B2Linked. And I was okay with that. It got me on stages. It got me as a guest on podcasts and things, but now I'm looking at it going, "How am I going to adequately start giving B2Linked to the brand more credibility?" And that's something I'm going through right now. So if anyone has ideas, let me know. I'm I would like to make that process happen. But it's really hard when you're the one out there speaking and names stick.
David Bain: You started a podcast two or three months ago. How is that going? And is that something that you're doing to try and actually market your business brand a bit more effectively?
AJ Wilcox: Yeah, I really, I love podcasts. Obviously we're talking here and we've done podcasts together in the past. It's just one of my favorite mediums. So it's something I've always wanted to do. And in the past I was thinking, "Okay, a whole podcast about LinkedIn Ads. I know there are podcasts about Facebook and about Google, but LinkedIn Ads just seems too niche. I don't know if I'm ever going to see value there." And I was talking to Michael Stelzner, who runs the Social Media Marketing podcast. And he said, "Hey, are you going to start a podcast?" And I described, "I just don't think it's worth it. I think it's too niche." And he's like, "It is very niche and that's the reason you should start it." So he prodded me along. As how it's been going. I just recorded episode 20 last night and it is so much more work than I thought it was going to be.
AJ Wilcox: So I cheers to you because I know you do this all the time, but I thought, "I speak on stage all the time. I hop on webinars and answer questions. This will be so easy to talk into a microphone for 30 minutes at a time." But I find that it takes me about four hours of planning, where I plan out every topic that I want to hit to make sure each episode is complete. And I told myself, I was like, I know for the first year, no, one's going to listen to this thing. It's going to maybe slowly gain steam. But for the amount of work I'm putting into creating it, it will at least for the first probably year, I will be disappointed, whatever the stats say. And LinkedIn, actually...
David Bain: You have to have, or you should have that attitude to begin with as podcasting and I've produced well over 500 different podcast episodes and edited them all myself essentially. And it is a challenge to do. And you should certainly only do it if you love doing that, but it's a wonderful medium to do, but it's a long term brand building type opportunity. And if you look at your stats to begin with, it's very difficult to even drive your own audience, to get them to be subscribers. You almost have to resell them over time to subscribe to your podcast. Just one last question in relation to your podcast, you talk a lot about planning beforehand. Do you only do episodes by yourself? Do you never have a guest on, do you ever intend to have guests on?
AJ Wilcox: Yeah, really good question. I designed early on, I was thinking every podcast has guests and when you do that, it's so easy to create content for it. But I was thinking, and honestly, on one hand I can count the number of LinkedIn experts that would be worth interviewing. And I didn't want to ever say, "Well, how about I bring on potential clients and talk to them?" Because that just feels like used car salesman, slimy, and that's not what I'm all about. So I decided early on it was going to be a solo cast, except I have access being a LinkedIn partner, I have these regular conversations with LinkedIn's product managers and engineers. And so I said, Okay, this will be a solo cast, except once per month, I'm going to have an employee of LinkedIn come on and it'll be an interview style there" Just so they can share what's coo and technical about their own product. So maybe in the future, I'll see about having other guests. But as of right now, it's solo cast with the occasional LinkedIn employee.
David Bain: And do you record it on video as well?
AJ Wilcox: I don't do video. I'm sure all of you can tell I've got a face for radio! I've been very afraid to turn on the camera just because it adds additional complexity, but I certainly wouldn't hate that idea later on right now. I just know that dealing with the audio is tough enough.
David Bain: Yeah. I completely agree with starting off with audio only because you've got to be very comfortable with the microphone with speaking around the microphone and coming across as well as you possibly can audio only, but you've also done a lot of podcasts as a guest. So I would suggest maybe thinking about turning the camera on and not necessarily intending to use the whole video, but perhaps taking a three or four minutes section from the video and then turning it into a video with captions on it and using that segment within LinkedIn and then maybe promoting it and using that to promote your podcast.
AJ Wilcox: That is good advice, David. I love it. I will take you up on that advice. That's really, really good.
David Bain: Okay, that's great. We touched upon earlier on in the discussion, an area of your business that was working really efficiently, thanks to marketing technology, but as your business grows, what's an example of a process that you currently do manually that you may wish to automate using marketing technology in the future.
AJ Wilcox: All right, so this one's embarrassing because I actually have a good tool for this. I have AgoraPulse, I've got a great subscription to that that can post to every network with every conceivable feature. You can schedule it out. You can upload things in bulk, but I still share socially manually. And I have my assistant help me with it sometimes, but that's one area that I would like to get better at in the near future. I would love it if we had an actual content calendar. And I knew when I was going to be sharing what, and I could be testing on different networks, different ways of writing the copy and increasing click through rates and, and comment rates and things like that. So right now that's what is being done manually.
David Bain: Yeah. I was talking to Ian Anderson Gray, and he was saying that he started off with just manual posting of everything and he really focuses a lot on social media now. And he started to use different tools now, but it's no issue with starting things like that manually because then again, you're figuring out what works best at different platforms. And I guess, unless you're doing a reasonable amount of social posting, then you're not getting the value out of a social media dashboard.
AJ Wilcox: Yep. And I agree with that. And like we talked about before, I love the idea of doing things manually. So later when they're automated, you can actually appreciate what's happening and you'll be more customized. I'll know what works on LinkedIn versus Twitter because I did it manually. Now I can do those things programmatically.
David Bain: Okay, great. So I asked you some questions that I didn't prep you about beforehand. I liked doing that, but here's what I did prep you about beforehand. And that is what is something that's you have in mind that would be a wonderful piece of marketing technology that perhaps doesn't even exist yet, but you would love to see created.
AJ Wilcox: This one's cheating a little bit because it is our tool, but I'll lay the background here. Every other platform out there lets you do what's called dayparting or ad scheduling where you can say, "Hey, I don't want my ads running in the middle of the night and maybe I have a sales team who's only in the office during our business hours. So I only want our ads running when someone could feasibly get to sales if they wanted to," LinkedIn doesn't have any dayparting technology built in and they also don't even have hourly reporting. So they're not even telling their advertisers what hours of the day are better and which hours are worse to be advertising, whether weekends are good or not. We have to figure things out ourselves.
AJ Wilcox: So as part of our LinkedIn Ads, bulk tool suite, we came out with scheduling and currently that's in beta. So anyone who's listening, if you're spending a significant amount on LinkedIn and want to test doing things like turning off in the middle of the night or turning off on weekends and see if that improves your performance. I'd love to have you as a beta tester, but we'll have that as a tool coming up here pretty soon as a freemium model. But that's the one that I always wished we had. And so I went and built it.
David Bain: Wow, that seems pretty significant that LinkedIn doesn't have that baked into their platform because anyone used to using AdWords, then they're certainly comfortable and used to using micro-targeting obviously devices, but very specific hours that are best for their business. Is this the type of targeting that you've heard LinkedIn themselves discussing about potentially incorporating in their platform at some point in the future as well?
AJ Wilcox: Yeah. I've been asking them for this for years and years, I've asked for hourly reporting. I've asked for the ability to target by device. I've asked for scheduling. And for the last four years, every time I talk to them, they just go, "Eh, that's not even on our roadmap. We just don't care. That's not something we talk about." And just in this last year, I've heard them at least a couple times say, "Yeah, we've been having discussions about that." Which usually when they say that means I'm going to see it about a year and a half later. So we'll see maybe, maybe I'll beat them to the punch and our tool be the one that everyone uses instead of LinkedIn. I don't know.
David Bain: Here's hoping. AJ, we've discussed a lot, really, in the last half hour or so as part of episode seven of MarTech Stacked. Is there anything specifically that you've shared that you think that listeners should actually take away and really think about a little bit more or you could feel like bringing in another point as a takeaway here if you'd like as well?
AJ Wilcox: Yeah. I think the one takeaway here is as a marketer, make sure that you are getting technical, make sure that you have those technical skills so that you can't be replaced by software. I think it's well worth your pursuit, even if you don't call yourself a technical person. And then I would also say never stop learning because in digital marketing things go so dang quick. And if you ever sit back and say, "Great, I've got it. I'm going to rest on my laurels." You'll get passed by. And it's really hard to see as someone who's been a manager and a mentor, it's hard to see digital marketers get left behind and not have any idea where they're going and then get into bad financial straits later. So my plea to you is as a digital marketer, keep learning, keep developing, keep growing, never let that hunger die out.
David Bain: Love it. Thanks so much for your time and your tips. And AJ, what's the best way for the listeners to find out more about you and what you do?
AJ Wilcox: You can follow me on LinkedIn, just search AJ Wilcox, I'm the only chubby ginger there probably. But if you want to get in touch, the easiest way is just go to our website, b2linked.com that you can see here on screen, fill out the form on any of the pages and you won't go to a sales rep and you won't be put on our newsletter, it just goes directly to my inbox and I'm not a sales guy. So feel free to reach out, ask whatever you need.
David Bain: You're not a video podcaster quite yet, because when you say things like referring to the link on the screen, most people will be consuming this show as an audio episode.
AJ Wilcox: Good point.
David Bain: Just go to b2linked.com. AJ thank you so much for being on the show.
AJ Wilcox: Yes. David, thanks so much for having me. It's been a pleasure.
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