“If You Are Not Ahead of The Digital Trends, You Are Already Behind” (Interview)
Updated: Dec 6, 2021
What does it take to build and set up effective online campaigns?
Marin Aganderov’s whole career so far has been dedicated to digital marketing. Prior to joining the Advent Group, Marin worked for French advertising group Publicis as digital planner. He was responsible for the digital campaigns of the group's clients. Prior to that, he held various marketing-related positions in Bulgarian media groups.
Currently, he heads Advent’s Access Digital ad agency, which creates tailored campaigns closely aligned with the specific recruitment goals of university admissions teams. The digital advertising agency offers various services, including strategy recommendation, personas and customer journey mapping, custom audience targeting and lead generation, media planning, and candidate management and conversion.
Digital marketing is an extremely dynamic ecosystem where trends appear literally every month. In order to keep up, he is a member-lecturer at IAB Europe and takes part in the Google Certification Program. He has also taken part in focused programs for project management and leadership at IESE Business School (Spain).
Marin says his work at Advent gave him the opportunity to travel the world and meet a great diversity of people. He has participated in numerous Access MBA events on five continents and has spoken in person with thousands of candidates and hundreds of school representatives.
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What are some of the myths about “digital marketing strategies”?
One of the myths is that a low budget can produce high results. The reality is that the digital marketing field has significantly changed over the past decade.
The share of digital marketing has increased and a higher number of competitors means higher bids for all types of digital ads.
Another myth is that the return on investment (ROI) from digital marketing comes quickly. Some believe that if they spend a certain amount on SEO, email marketing or social media marketing, they will get 3 or 4 times that amount in sales and profits right away. Aside from the fact that measuring ROI is a challenge, getting a proper return takes time.
The only digital marketing strategies that can bring near-immediate results are short-term ones such as pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns and paid ads. But again, we cannot disregard the fact that there should be an investment in brand recognition and positive image building.
What does it take to build and set up an effective online campaign?
There are a few questions I recommend answering before developing a successful digital strategy: “What do I want to achieve?”, “Who am I addressing?” and “What platforms should I use to get to those people?”, followed by an analysis of the results and optimizing the strategy accordingly.
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You said the share of digital marketing has increased significantly. Can you tell us some data about the current state of the digital domain just to get a general idea?
Sure, here are some hard facts. Currently, some 4.18 billion people access the internet via their mobile phones. The average amount of time that internet users aged 16 to 64 spend on social media is 2 hours and 12 minutes.
Google, YouTube and Facebook are the most visited websites according to Similarweb. To get a better idea, consider that 90% of internet users aged 16 to 64 watch video content on YouTube. At the same time, 32.5% of Instagram users are between 18 and 34 years old.
Speaking of social media platforms, what challenges and new opportunities do you see in digital marketing, having in mind all data privacy and protection initiatives such as GDPR and Apple’s and Google’s new privacy rules.
But what is more important is the pronounced death of the cookie. Google plans to remove third-party cookies from Chrome by 2022. This is controversial because according to a recent study of Adlucent:
60% of consumers expect brands to deliver tailored customer experiences
70% say they prefer content and ads customized to their interests and shopping habits
43% have reported an increased desire for personalization in the past year
96% of consumers want brands to be more transparent about their collection and use of personal data
Consumers’ desire for personalization is alive and well, but it runs counter to privacy concerns and government restrictions on data collection. As we lose more of the means to market to the individual, we will have to focus more on what our brands stand for. Here is my advice on how to do that:
Have a clear idea on what your brand stands for.
Create high-impact content and don’t be shy to deliver it to audience-relevant platforms.
It appears that we are moving towards a future with fewer personalized ads. Is this going to hurt Access Digital?
Not really. It will hurt big platforms like Facebook who rely heavily on personalized advertising. Access Digital will not be affected to that degree because we already have the necessary database.
Advertising will become more expensive and the changes will make it more difficult for us to build lookalike audiences based on interests. Once Apple’s changes gain wider adoption, we will inevitably lose access to some of the information on our users.
We need to shift our focus from personalization to the distinguishing features of individual universities.
All this talk about data leads to the question of whether marketing is always based on data.
Not really. At its core, marketing focuses on a product or a service, identifies the ideal customers and draws their attention to the product or service. Traditional marketing uses a combination of two factors to achieve those objectives: market studies available at the time and assumptions about the target audience. Basically, that means trial and error.
In contrast, data-driven marketing allows marketers to connect with customers at the right time and with the right offering.
Digital data-driven marketing came about after customer relationship management (CRM) led to the creation of new category-marketing automation software.
Via Access Digital, recruiters can target their “ideal” student and get more leads and higher conversion. This sounds a bit counterintuitive. Should the narrower focus lead to fewer conversions?
The key in our Access Digital solutions is the custom audience that we can provide. Each year more than 4 million visitors come to our websites and register to attend some of our events (MBA, Masters, EMBA, etc.) We then use the information these potential candidates provide. All CPC platforms (Facebook, Google, LinkedIn) allow us to create a so-called “custom audience” where we basically upload all the information we have for our candidates and re-target them. On top of that, we can expand the targeting with lookalike audiences - people with similar profiles and interests to those we already have in our database.
We provide services to more than 250 business schools worldwide, which gives us enough information to deliver not only quantity but also quality, which has always set us apart from the competition.
How does Access Digital engage prospects and move them past the initial awareness stage all the way through to initiating contact with the admissions department?
Apart from the precise targeting - geographical, demographical and based on interests, we also apply other filters.
We want to be sure that people registering and stating their interest in particular business schools are actually motivated enough to go all the way.
That is why we usually ask those potential leads to take a step further by uploading their CV or leaving their LinkedIn account. We also target users across platforms using optimal frequency capping and delivering different ad messages depending on the channel.
What does frequency capping mean and how do you determine ‘optimal’?
Frequency capping is a feature that limits the number of times your ads appear to the same person. According to Google, the optimal frequency capping on a weekly basis of a campaign with average saturation is between four and six impressions. More saturated campaigns typically involve about eight impressions. It is imperative that frequency capping is not limited to one platform. That’s why Access Digital builds campaigns that reach audiences on different platforms.
Identifying the ‘dream’ candidate appears to be crucial. In your experience at Access Digital, what are the common features of a successful online marketing campaign targeting a specific type of candidate, i.e. based on region, interests, background and so on?
Yes, knowing your audience is half of the success. This is important because if you know who you want to target then you can anticipate where to find those people, how and when to approach them.
It’s also important to diversify your presence and don’t bet the farm on one platform. Diversification means delivering ads to all the platforms our specific audience uses.
Another key factor is the creative element. Use that to your advantage in your marketing efforts. Whether it is a logo, mascot, font, or colour scheme, having it included can help make your brand recognizable. You want to catch the eye of the audience, but you also want to maintain their attention and have them remember your brand.
Staying on top of digital trends is vital. If you are not ahead, you are already behind.
And finally, analyze your results. Take the ROI into account. Integrate all of your digital channels into your CRM and make sure to have constant feedback from the admission team on what works for them.