Eric Holtzclaw ADT podcast cover
Episode: 117

Eric Holtzclaw - Making Sense of the Modern-Day Marketing Maze

Posted on: 21 Dec 2023
Eric Holtzclaw ADT podcast cover

Eric Holtzclaw is the founding partner and chief strategist of the full-service B2B marketing firm Liger.

In this episode, we explore the modern-day marketing maze and how to best navigate it.   We focus particularly on content marketing; on the core values, mission and vision of a brand; and on the abundance of MarTech available, as well as the changes in job roles and in the skills required for these new roles.


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"So the path is long, but it's fruitful if you really follow it and you are being consistent with your marketing, you're using the right tools in the right place, your company can far exceed any of your competitors without spending a significant amount of money. But you do need to have some patience. And the number one mistake I see most companies have is specifically in the marketing space, is they lack patience."

Welcome to the Agile Digital Transformation podcast, where we explore different aspects of digital transformation and digital experience with your host, Tim Butara, content and community manager at Agiledrop. 

Tim Butara: Hello, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. Our guest today is Eric Holtzclaw, chief strategist and partner at the hybrid marketing firm Liger. Our conversation today will explore how to make sense of the modern day marketing maze. And we'll focus on content marketing, on values, mission and vision of your company and on the abundance of all the new tools, as well as all the adjacent skills and responsibilities that are required to effectively use those tools.

So Eric, hello, welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for joining us. Do you want to add anything before we dive in? 

Eric Holtzclaw: That's a great way to get started. So thanks so much for the introduction. 

Tim Butara: Awesome, then let's dive right in and maybe to set the stage, let's first talk about the most common mistakes or like pitfalls or challenges in digital marketing today.

Eric Holtzclaw: One of the biggest pitfalls is that people are still doing marketing the way they did about 10 or 15 years ago and marketing changed very dramatically in 2008. So that's why I talk about making sense of the modern day marketing maze. Many people think that could be back in the 90s when the internet showed up and it really was this kind of watershed year in 2008 when we got social media, the internet and smartphones all at the same time. It's our ubiquitous internet, internet available everywhere. And many people think of marketing still as kind of a transactional thing. So the intent of marketing is to drive someone to your doorstep and then sales picks it up and does the relationship.

Marketing is now much more responsible for the relationship. And it takes a lot longer to establish the relationship with a customer along that path. So it used to be about 7 to 10 times to build branding and awareness. And now it's around 21. And then it takes five or six times to kind of close that person.

So the path is long. But it's fruitful if you really follow it and you are being consistent with your marketing, you're using the right tools in the right place, your company can far exceed any of your competitors without spending a significant amount of money. But you do need to have some patience. And the number one mistake I see most companies have is, and it's specifically in the marketing space, is they lack patience.

And the best analogy is going to the gym. So if I go to the gym one time, I'm not going to see any results, but if I go every day for six months or even twice a week for six months, I'll start to see a change. I'll start to feel better. You know, I'll lose weight, those types of things. Marketing works very much in the same way.

Tim Butara: And well this kind of ties perfectly all together because you mentioned 2008 kind of this explosion in digital marketing. And I remember the first usage, the first major usage of social media. I think that was precisely the year when like people transitioned from MySpace to Facebook. 

Eric Holtzclaw: And that's when we were finally allowed to be on Facebook. If we were older that we would have been left out. And then 2008, it's like, hey, you can be on Facebook too. And it's like, ah, yay. So. And Twitter really became popular about that time too. So we started getting our information in different places and the company didn't control that information as much as they used to.

So even with the internet, companies still had a lot of control. You would go to their webpage. They would worry a lot about what's the next, you know. Click you should take those kind of things. Now we go and look for reviews and we look at all these other places before we show up at your website or reach out and talk to you because we want to make sure that we've kind of done our due diligence before we decide to work with a an organization or an individual.

Tim Butara: Well, and again, this ties back to the explosion of marketing, because before then there was practically no competition, right? It was, you know, it was the first thing that was there was the thing that was there, was the thing that people used, was the main thing. But then, you know, the more other people, other businesses saw potential in all that, the more heavy and the more innovative competition there came to be, which made this longer term nurturing view, even more important and an even more crucial part of any marketing strategy. 

Eric Holtzclaw: A hundred percent. 

Tim Butara: So now let's focus on content marketing and how that has been evolving. 

Eric Holtzclaw: So if you, if you start to think about the, you know, making sense of the modern day marketing maze, the thing that feeds that maze, what it lives on is content. A little bit of... a little secret. We actually had a client ask us this yesterday, like, well, how long will it take us for us to rise in the rankings for SEO? And I was like, well, what do you mean? I'm like, well, we launched our website and I'm like, yeah, but that's not enough. That's not going to get you there.

The secret is that the search engines are not in the business of driving people to your website. They're not there to... you're selling a product or service, they don't care. I mean, you can pay them and run ads and get people there. What they are in the business of doing is answering people's questions.

And so if I go in and I search for something, I'm not typically searching for a product or service. I'm searching to solve a problem that I'm having. And so by creating content on your website that teaches someone how to solve that problem, you're going to be way ahead again of your competition because often they're telling you all about the things that they do and what their services are. And they think about their website as a catalog. 

We tell our customers to think about their website or clients as a magazine. So what are the things you're going to teach me within the, you know, within those pages? And magazines don't just publish once, they publish time after time after time, and they have a theme. So you have to start thinking about creating content that's going to be compelling and educational. It's going to feed the search engine so that they are like, hey, this website knows a lot about this topic. So when I go in and I search for my problem to be solved, I end up on your site. And by the way, you have a product or service that's going to solve that problem.

And so using content is sort of the way to pull people through. This happens both on the B2B and B2C side. And really I look at B2B as a relational marketing, so something that takes a long time for someone to make a decision or it's a dangerous thing that they're deciding on, versus B2C being more transactional.

So, like, if I'm buying a T-shirt, you give me a discount and I buy the t shirt. If I don't like the T-shirt, I throw it away, right? But if I make a decision on buying something that's very expensive or going to fundamentally change the way I kind of lead my life, I need to be very educated and informed before I make that decision and I'm going to take a lot more time because there's greater risk.

And so content's the way that we solve that problem, and it also lets us stop paying as much for traffic. So if you do content right, you can grow organically. And that organic growth is harder to kill later. And when I say that, that's a good thing, right? Like if I've done all the right things, I'm going to get traffic to my site, regardless of whether or not I'm paying for it. If I'm only paying for traffic and I stopped paying for traffic, that traffic will go away. 

And so we want to make sure that we use that content and think of like how people are going to find my stuff, my services or products or what I do. And more from their language and less from mine. And that is kind of a tough thing for marketers to think about, because marketers like to come up with cool names, like making sense of the modern day marketing maze or creating content that converts. That may not be how your customer is searching to solve their problem.

So you need to think about it from that perspective, and then when they end up on your site, or on one of your digital properties, or in your store, or whatever your marketing is driving them to, then you can start to talk more in your language and make them, and convert them over to understanding that you are the right solution for their problem.

Tim Butara: But how will, you know, tools like AI, generative AI, that embedded into search, how will all that impact more broadly content marketing and more specifically search engine marketing? 

Eric Holtzclaw: So it's a really good question. So one of the things that we're seeing specifically with Google is they are looking at changing the way that their page results are going to come back. So instead of them just being lists, they're going to be more like a Wikipedia page. So it'll pull the right content from sites that give you the best information. And I'm a big, I'm a technologist at heart. So I started in technology. I ran a research firm for a period of time, then ended up at marketing and marketing is a combination of technology and research. 

And what I feel like is happening in AI, not feel - I know what's happening in AI is the same thing that happened any other time we had a disruptive technology. There are companies that adopt it and adopt it quickly and they're the ones who excel and pivot and survive, and then the ones who see it as a threat. 

We can't see it as a threat. The genie's out of the bottle. It's here now. It's actually amazing. I'm an insomniac and so two or three o'clock in the morning when I need to write something I can bring up my little AI friend and, you know, I write and I'm doing a little bit of research and I'm using it to research or answer questions for me or solve an Excel formula problem.

So it's an assistive technology to what you're trying to accomplish. It doesn't... it does replace jobs, but it replaces lower level jobs that were probably going to be replaced anyway. And it just happens to be impacting the white collar world versus, you know, robots came in and took over a lot of the manufacturing and things like that.

So, my term around this is that AI creates and humans curate. So let it create it, but then you need to curate it. So when I see this thing that's been created by AI, it is not appropriate or advised to then just lift that and put it on your website or do something with it because you need to go through it and add your flair to it.

You know, I like to cook and I go to the grocery store and I buy chicken and I take it home and I turn it into what I want to turn it into. If you went to the store, you would buy chicken and do something else with it. So that's how I see AI is it's giving us the base to then create whatever it is we want on top of it.

And it's getting rid of the harder parts that really kind of all got in the way, right? Like, I mean, most of the time, the brilliance is in the 95 to 100%. It's not in the first 95%. So the first 95% of the content is consistent from thing to thing to thing. So, one coffee shop selling coffee, another coffee shop selling coffee.

The 5% is how they're distinctively talking about it, changing their brand, going after a consumer market. Or, that's where you use AI to do the 95% and then your 5% is where you're really going to succeed or not. And I'm really very high on what AI can do for us. I think it's a really interesting translation.

I don't think I know how to search well. So like when I go to do research on something and I try to search for it, I'm like, oh, I never really get back the results. I can go into an AI tool and I can know about a new thing in five or ten minutes. And it's just, it's amazing. 

Like, I had one client was, they sold into a market that I wasn't very familiar with. And if I'd had to go search and understand it, it would have probably taken me a day. You know, a day of reading different articles, understanding it. I used an AI tool and in five or ten minutes I'm like, ah, okay, I see how this fits. This market is... so, really, accelerating our ability to get our work done.

Tim Butara: Man, there were so many awesome points here, Eric, that I can't even begin to address all of them because then this would turn into like a two hour conversation. But one thing that stuck out, and kind of a point that I made was so that AI isn't about replacing. jobs, but it's more about replacing job roles or like kind of adapting job roles, right? So it's not that you'll be out of a job, but the job that you do will be kind of obsolete because you'll be able to do a new, more exciting job in a way.

Eric Holtzclaw: A hundred percent. And you have to be ready to adapt to that. That is, that is the fallacy of sometimes in kind of human beings, right? So there was this period of time where you could go to work for a company and you'd work there for like 20 or 30 years and get the gold watch and whatever. That's when technology wasn't changing as dramatically as it does. And so today you have to be constantly learning and thinking about how to up your skillset. 

You can't be afraid of the change because if you don't adopt it, somebody else will. So, like, which one do you want to be? The person who adopts it or the person who resists it? Cause if you resist it, then you may be putting yourself into a position where you're going to have a problem finding kind of that next role or the next thing. 

So for me, it's easy to say that cause I've always been naturally curious. I like technology for what it can do for me. So it's like, not technology for technology's sake. I like it when it's an enabling thing. It's like, ah, okay, so, you know, like, good grief. The tools we have now, like, I don't ever have to walk into a grocery store. Cars show up and I don't have to, like, pull out my card. Like, all that kind of stuff I think is great. It's like a frictionless experience. Because those are not the things I want to do. I want to do something else. So by allowing those things to happen and happen in the right way, I can then lead a more effective life using my best and first use of my time. 

Tim Butara: Moving on to the next thing that we kind of planned to talk about and mention in the intro, which is also a crucial part of marketing today. Why are the core values and the mission and vision so important to a strong brand in today's world? 

Eric Holtzclaw: So, you can't fake it. So we do, when we're working with a client for the first time, we do what we call a brand therapy session. So that's what we call our discovery session. That's a brand therapy session. And so we're getting that company in a room and we want to understand the company first before we start to apply marketing tactics on top of it or strategies even. 

So who are you as a company? If you have some aspiration, that's great. Like we can work through that, but we do need to understand where you are so that we can then get you to that aspirational place, because that's not going to happen overnight and the bigger your company is, the longer it may take to get to that aspiration, right? 

And so if you are selling something from a marketing or establishing a brand in a way, and your customer is going to experience that 21 to 25 times before they decide to buy from you. And then they buy from you and the experience they have with you as a company is disingenuous to what the marketing's presenting, they're going to smell it immediately. And they'll probably smell it when they start truly interacting with your salespeople or going through your process. Like, if you're like, we're easy to work with. But you take five phone calls for me to be able to get to the pricing, you're probably not easy to work with. 

You know, like, we're transparent - again, five phone calls to get to a price, you're not being transparent. So that brand promise starts at the beginning, but it's carried from the initial interaction of that customer all the way to the point that that customer is no longer a customer. Cause you want them to be able to refer and those things like that.

So getting to your mission, vision, and values, understanding who you are as a company, and then making sure that's translated into your brand is an important step. What we'll see is that companies will try to do the brand first and then figure out how to make the mission, vision and value fit and those two things may not be congruent.

So we need to understand where it is. And if you want to be something different, it may require that you change some things about your company, about the people that work there, the way that you approach a project, the ideal clients that you work with. So it's an incredibly important part of it. We've all worked with companies that say they're one thing, and then you end up interacting with them and they're not that at all.

Tim Butara: We do see a lot of that. And it seems like these are kind of not just super important to a strong brand, but they're actually what make up the brand's identity, right? It's like, you know, most important characteristics of a person. And that in a similar way, you can then kind of be disillusioned or surprised when a person does not live up to the values that they've been presenting outwardly. So yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Yeah. 

So the final part of the discussion that we said we'd cover is making sense and making the best use of all of these new digital marketing tools available today. We talked a little bit about AI, but there's like a whole plethora of MarTech tools... and how can marketers, you know, make sense of all of that and use them to their best advantage?

Eric Holtzclaw: So I think about it... so there's, you know, the home improvement stores, there's like a Home Depot or a... sort of places you'd walk into to get a product to fix your house. Right. And there are... some companies are like, we just want one thing. Well, that's probably a bad way to look at it because that one thing is good at one part of the marketing ecosystem.

So specializing and getting the right kind of products in place, this is where I do think you need to lean into an expert. So if you... I liken the work we do as close to being a financial advisor. So clients come to us, they have a budget for their marketing spend. And we're assisting them with what are the bond components, like the things that are going to last over time, or the money pieces, what are the pieces that can grow stocks, those kind of things.

So that we're... and we're telling them along the way, oh, this just changed, right? So like, instead of using this, we need to use this. It's very hard to work within a company and understand that. Because I have 25 different skill sets within my agency that I might deploy at different times and each one of the clients needs a different type of technology or back end things based on what they're trying to accomplish.

And so, it's not a one size fits all. It really is about, you know, having someone who understands it prescribe it, you then could potentially implement it on your own. But I would rely on at least someone to go through that assessment and kind of tell you what is it and then how do you go back and kind of look at that on an ongoing basis.

When I'm working with my financial advisor, you know, we meet with them every three to six months and, you know, we've set up, put a thing in place. We watch how it performs, we give it time to perform, and then we make corrections. And so, companies need to view their marketing spend, the way that they're implementing technology, all those kind of things in that way, and don't change too much of it.

So, like, you need to change a few of the variables to see if there's an impact. Don't change all of the variables, because then you don't know what really caused the thing to work or not work, right? So, it's a little experimentation, a little bit of science. I talk about taking your marketing from, instead of being a slot machine, so you put money in it and you're not sure if you're going to get anything back, to a vending machine.

So if I put money in a vending machine, I better get something back. And so it does take some time, it does take the right marketing technology, and you have to give it a, you have to give it a runway to then see what's working and what's not. If you're impatient and you want to change things on a, You know, all the time, you're not going to see the results.

And if you look at big companies that are very successful, who could afford to change their tactics all the time, they don't, they're incredibly consistent about the way the brand shows up, about the way they do. And they have more money to spend. They can make a mistake. You as a small company cannot, you must be consistent. You must, or if you're spending very little; I work with a lot of large brands who don't spend a lot of marketing. So we have to be very effective with the dollars. So keeping things in play in the right way is the way to approach it.

Tim Butara: Yeah, I think you mentioned the key word a few times here and it's consistency, right? Consistency and then good integration between your different marketing tools and your different, you know, business technologies, which is consistency, which provides consistency. Otherwise it just... it feels like it immediately leads to silos, which as we all know, from the past few years from trying to, you know, transition to the digital, is even more important right now to avoid silos and to provide efficient ways for, you know, the whole company to be aligned on, you know, on the data they have, we talked about data as an important thing on the strategies that they have basically to be able also to provide a unified marketing experience to the people to that they market to, unified customer experience.

Eric Holtzclaw: I think the secret to life is consistency. It's just 100%. If you're consistent, if you show up when you say you're going to, if you do the things, if you, you know, incremental wins, little wins, that's how you make it through. It's just being consistent. 

Tim Butara: To completely agree with your point, but also to add a caveat. If you're consistent. Then you can allow yourself from time to time to not be consistent and it's still in the realm of consistency. So that's perfect. 

Eric Holtzclaw: Yeah. And you know, if you make a change, what the impact was of that change, because you've been consistent otherwise, it's when you're too variable in too many places, you're like, I'm not sure what is this, what's causing things to work or not work.

So, yeah... but it takes patience and, you know, we live in a society, like I talked a minute ago about, I love it that my groceries just show up and that I can get in a car. We live in an instant gratification society, which is anti to what you need to do to be successful, specifically with some of these more complex areas like marketing.

Tim Butara: I love how we're mixing expert marketing advice with really valuable life advice. And so maybe in the same context and to kind of drive the conversation to a close. How can marketers, specifically, adapt to all of these huge changes in their roles and responsibilities as well as in society in general and kind of adapt the skills that they need to succeed in this new environment, I guess both hard skills as well as soft skills?

Eric Holtzclaw: Yeah, so the marketing is becoming a more specialized category. And that is a thing that is confusing to people because they're like, I went to school for marketing. And I'm like, yeah, but what does that mean? Like, what do you do in marketing? So when you first step into that... and I think working for an agency or a firm right out of school or when you're new to marketing is really good because you can experience lots of different companies and lots of different parts of the marketing ecosystem and then decide what you really like, right?

You need to decide what you really like, plus maybe a couple things that are adjacent to it because we just talked about AI and how jobs can sometimes get replaced. So, like, what's the primary thing you like? And then what's the thing that's maybe ancillary to it? And then the more you kind of grow in your career, you become more specialized in that.

We are building Liger just like an accounting or law firm. So in an accounting firm, you have someone who knows taxes or IP or corporate law or whatever. So with Liger, we look at people who know short form content versus long form content, people who understand tech versus understanding display ads, like each of those things.

And so the more junior they are, the more generalist. So we use them across different sort of principles and disciplines within the company. And the more they've been with us or the more seasoned they are in their career, the more they specialize. And with specialization comes, you know, expert knowledge and those types of dollars.

If you're within a company, then you need to be leaning into some experts because your company doesn't know what's happening and it's changing too fast to try to keep up with it. So a lot of companies that use us, they just use us because we're seeing so many things across so many different companies.

We can advise them on what's working now, which may not have been working six months ago or may have changed. Right? I mean, we're about a year into this big, huge conversation about AI. Like, November of last year is when this became like a huge thing and see how much of it's just dramatically changed the way that we're approaching so many parts of business nowadays.

Tim Butara: Yeah, I think nowadays, especially on our podcast, it's literally impossible to not have at least a little bit of the conversation touch upon or focus on AI. I just made a note for the previous episode that I recorded, a note about the term T-shaped person. And I think that that applies here perfectly, right?

It's about specializing in something, but then also leaving room for specializations in... I mean, not specializations, but leaving room for learning and development and curiosity in other areas, so that if things change perhaps too drastically, you're not left stranded on a deserted island of yesterday or something like that.

Eric Holtzclaw: Yep, 100%.

Tim Butara: So with everything in mind that we talked about so far today, Eric, what do you think the future has in store for digital marketers? 

Eric Holtzclaw: Well, so, I mean, digital marketing, it's actually, it's a problem because sometimes when I talk with people, they think I'm just talking about digital. They're like, you know, how, but our people don't, they don't visit websites. Number one, I don't agree with them. So I'll get back from an older person who's like, people don't, they don't look for us on the web. And I'm like, they may not look for you on the web, but when they see you, they're going to check you out on the web and see if you're good or not.

So digital, I'm talking with a couple... I work in another part of my world is in some kind of startup space. And there's so much of the things of, like, Like, like the screen I have behind me, like things showing up in our real world. So instead of it just being your phone or your laptop, like I could see a world where we're not really carrying phones around. Wouldn't that be crazy? 

Like, did you see the - yeah, I know - did you see the thing, the guy had like his, like a keynote this week and he had it in his pocket? And basically it was a thing, and you had a little earbud in your phone and so it would share information with you as you were walking around, you never had to take your phone out, right? And it would also help you, which I need, if you're at an event and you, I run into people all the time and I don't remember their name and it's like, this is such and such and they're with this company. So these technologies are becoming more assistive and sort of disappearing into the background.

So if you think about, like, electricity and water and some of those kinds of things, when they first showed up, they were like, they had to redo their whole house and they had to figure out how to, you know, some of this technology becomes more and more kind of just disappears. It becomes just available and it's not so much about the device or where you're looking at it or how you're seeing it.

You're doing a marketing campaign. We're not calling it digital anymore because digital is everywhere. It's like ubiquitous. So I walk into a room and the screen knows it's me and it presents... like, I go to my car dealership, the car, they read my tag and I know that I'm showing up and what my service like all that kind of stuff, right? So...

And all that's marketing and it's digital, but I think we got to get away from the word digital because it alienates some people, because when you say that, they think websites and social media and those kinds of things. And it's really about a comprehensive marketing approach. Digital is like saying you're going to call somebody on the telephone, like it's marketing, you're just doing marketing, so yeah.

Tim Butara: So in a sense, the future of digital marketing is not digital, is that it becomes just marketing. 

Eric Holtzclaw: It's just marketing. We've sort of probably just need to call it that word, and it's so much more important to the whole company, because marketing was always thought of as a department, you know, hey, marketing does this and then hands it over to sales.

Marketing is from the second the client sees your brand for the first time to the second that client decides not to use your brand anymore and it touches customer support and it touches all that, because that experience needs to be... the more consistent it is, the more likely you are to keep the client, to get good referrals, to build your brand awareness.

Tim Butara: Well, Eric, I think we did a pretty good job of getting out of the modern day marketing maze, at least in this conversation. And hopefully we helped some of our listeners to get some pointers along the way so that they'll able to, they'll be able to exit the maze or, you know, navigate it as best as possible.

Eric Holtzclaw: Without starving, right? 

Tim Butara: Well, before we finish this great conversation off, Eric, if listeners would like to reach out to you or connect with you, learn more about you, how can you do that? 

Eric Holtzclaw: So, my social media platform of choice right now is LinkedIn. So if you want to connect with me, LinkedIn, and then of course our website is 

Tim Butara: Awesome. Thanks again, Eric. Fantastic conversation. 

Eric Holtzclaw: Appreciate it. 

Tim Butara: And to our listeners, that's all for this episode. Have a great day everyone, and stay safe. 

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