You need to have the willingness to network and learn from others. Study what other successful brands are doing, and speak with other successful digital marketers. Collaboration is a huge part of digital marketing, and putting many different ideas together is super powerful in this industry. Don’t think you need to have some special unique idea that no one else has ever thought up. Digital marketing, to a large degree, is about observing other successful brands and people, and doing what they’re doing with your own unique twist.
Marketing a product or service today is easier than ever before in history. Using platforms like Facebook ads or Google ads, a company can market their product directly to people who perfectly fit the ideal client demographic, at a very low cost. Digital Marketing tools, Pay per Click ads, and email marketing can help a company dramatically increase sales. At the same time, many companies that just start exploring with digital marketing tools often see disappointing results.
In this interview series called “How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC, & Email to Dramatically Increase Sales”, we are talking to marketers, advertisers, brand consultants, & digital marketing gurus who can share practical ideas from their experience about how to effectively leverage the power of digital marketing, PPC, & email.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Allison Baker.
Allison is the founder and CEO of Alchemy Advertising, a digital media agency dedicated to helping small brands break into the often-complex world of digital marketing. With almost a decade of experience in the advertising industry, Allison has worked with thousands of brands ranging from brand new startups to million-dollar companies.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Of course! I’ve always loved digital media, and have been blogging, making websites and dabbling in different digital projects since I was a teenager. My first real taste of digital media started at the University of Minnesota, where I got my degree in Journalism and Media. While attending college, I began working for a local agency, where I eventually grew into the Digital Marketing Manager and single-handedly launched the digital arm for that agency. After five years in this position, our agency went from having absolutely zero digital presence to over $1M+ in digital revenue.
After spending most of my professional career at this agency, I realized I wanted to give each brand more dedicated attention, and help these companies figure out what really works for them instead of just turning through sales. In 2020, I founded Alchemy Advertising, and here we are now!
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
When I was first starting at this agency, I was in charge of creating all our social media accounts. The agency didn’t have an Instagram, so I got to start that from scratch. Creating content for an advertising agency is a little more challenging than creating content for something like, a cosmetics brand, because we really have no products apart from our actual advertisements, so there wasn’t all that much to photograph or write about.
I spent the first few months basically just making really horrible Instagram graphics with quotes about marketing and advertising, and posting those to our Instagram every day. I had no idea what I was doing, and looking back on these photos, it looks like they were made in Microsoft Paint by someone with no digital experience. BUT — the takeaway here is our Instagram account still grew! I posted consistently, and managed to grow our following little by little every week. If you’re posting content that your target audience really can engage with, and you stay consistent, your following will grow even if you don’t have the most incredible photos, witty captions or best hashtags.
I find a lot of brands (myself included, sometimes!) feeling like their photos aren’t good enough, or their content doesn’t stand out, but the key here really is just to keep going. Your audience will find you, and your brand will grow and get better with time. Don’t compare yourself to what other accounts look like. Just do what feels right for you and your brand, and you’ll find your way eventually.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
The CEO at the agency I used to work for is the only reason I am where I am today. She took a chance and gave me a job while I was still in school, and basically let me create my own position along the way. Her willingness to let me make mistakes and test things out is the reason I discovered my passion for digital marketing.
No matter what happened, she always had the solution. I very much admired her ability to remain calm and find an answer, regardless of how horrible the situation was. Whether it was unhappy clients or staying positive during slow months, she was always so good at just seeming to know what to do next. I think that definitely comes with experience, and taught me that mistakes are definitely how you learn.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Alchemy Advertising stands out because we do something super unique called roundups. These roundups are essentially like gift guides, and give our brands an advertorial feature that looks super organic, and is really engaging and fun to read. They’re also highly affordable because they are shared by multiple brands.
I work mostly with small start-up brands that have budgets between $500-$2k, so most of my clients don’t have the advertising dollars to spend on huge campaigns with websites like Bustle, Refinery29, etc. These roundups give my clients the chance to reach these bigger audiences without the huge price points, plus they give them credibility and trustworthiness, and a fun piece of content for them to share with their audiences for years to come.
I also think Alchemy stands out because of how small we are. We understand that being a small brand is tough and that every dollar counts. Working with a larger agency, sometimes I feel like they just take advantage of these smaller brands — they’re just another number and dollar to them. But with Alchemy, we’re a two-woman show, so we put all of our attention and focus on to each and every client. We’re not just here to make a profit; we really do care about how your campaigns perform, and want to help watch your small brand grow.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Above everything else, confidence is the number one trait that I think has been instrumental to my success. You absolutely have to be confident in yourself and know that no matter what, you can do it. It’s so important to remember that self doubt is present for everyone, but the thing that sets successful people apart is their ability to take that self doubt and drown it out with confidence. I know this sounds super cheesy and cliche, but it’s so true! Whenever I’m feeling like I can’t do something, I make a list of all the things I’ve accomplished in the past, and that always helps me feel like I’ll figure out my current challenges, as well. I like to remind myself that there’s nothing I haven’t figured out in the past, so there’s a pretty good chance I’ll figure this out, too.
The second trait would have to be the ability to not take things personally, or get offended by what people say. When I was first starting out, I had a client tell me that they didn’t like my website. I had spent a ton of time working on it all by myself, so I was initially super offended by this. But instead of getting upset and letting this impact my client relationship, I asked this client to give me more detail on what they didn’t like. The client actually had some really great constructive criticism that I took and used to help improve my website. The client later admitted they were really impressed at how I handled their critique, and we ended up working together on multiple campaigns after that. In business and in life, people are going to try to see how far they can push you, and if they can get you to crack. Don’t ever crack. This ties back into having confidence in yourself, but just learn to brush things off, know you’re the best, and keep going.
The third character trait is for sure patience. When I first started Alchemy, I wanted it to be a million dollar business overnight (wouldn’t that be nice?). I was so frustrated by its slow growth at first, until I remembered that good things take time. So instead of wanting to go from 0–60, I started setting small, attainable goals for myself. First, book one campaign for one client. Next, five clients. Next, ten clients, and so on.
Running your own business is a sacrifice, and that sacrifice is going to take time. I like to read stories of other entrepreneurs to remind myself that most people don’t start a business in January and end up with a 7-figure empire by February. I also just did a guided meditation (highly recommend for business owners to decompress at the end of the day), and one of the lines that really stuck with me was that “trying your best is still succeeding.” I think that stood out because it made me realize that doing a little bit every day and really giving it your all is still success. Having a successful business and being a successful business owner isn’t just defined by you having a million dollars or a fancy car; it’s defined by making small progress in the right direction every day.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Believe it or not, but I’m currently working on planning out our holiday gift guides! I know it’s summertime right now, but in the world of advertising, you have to be about 4–5 months ahead at all times. It’s crazy, but I think that’s something most of our clients don’t understand: if you want to run advertising in October, you should probably be booking it by next month. Also — don’t ever hesitate to ask for an early bird discount! Agencies love when they have enough time to put together a campaign without a crazy rush, so many of them (Alchemy included) will offer discounts for booking early.
Sorry, that was a bit of a random offshoot, but regarding our exciting new projects, I think that will help our clients because it’ll make it so incredibly easy for them to get in front of millions of readers this holiday season at such a low cost. Working with Alchemy, it’ll also mean that our clients can have exposure to hundreds of different publications and outlets, while only needing to make contact with one person.
It can get super complicated working with 10 different websites, and handfuls of different people, but we simplify that process so Alchemy is our clients’ only point of contact. Business owners have enough emails in their inboxes, so we like to think having everything in one place simplifies things a bit. We know that the holiday season means most business owners are busy packing and shipping, so we try to handle as much of the rest as we can for our clients.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. As we mentioned in the beginning, sometimes companies that just start exploring with digital marketing tools like PPC campaigns often see disappointing results. In your opinion, what are a few of the biggest mistakes companies make when they first start out with digital marketing? If you can, please share an example for each.
- Hands down, the biggest mistake I continually see is brands running advertising campaigns before they have an optimized website. Please, please — I am begging you: if you have $5k to spend and your website is awful but you want to advertise, just spend that money first on getting your website updated, or you will be wasting $5k on advertising. I have seen so many clients with websites that look like they’re stuck in 1995 run a campaign and then get so frustrated when they don’t see any conversions. Remember, even if your actual ad looks great, your website is what converts. If a customer gets to your website, and feels that it’s a little sketchy or untrustworthy, I promise they’re not going to give you their credit card information. Advertising can only do so much for your brand — it can grab a customer’s attention, and bring them to your website, but you have to convert from there. Even personally, I’ve clicked on so many Instagram ads that looked great, and then when I arrived at the website, was totally shocked to find missing text, dark and blurry photos, and limited information on the company. The ads looked great, but there was no way I was buying from these websites. The key takeaway here is focus on your photos, your branding and your website before you start advertising. Ads don’t mean magic sales if your brand isn’t ready to convert.
- Another mistake I commonly see is brands being overly “salesy.” This happens a lot in native advertising, when the goal is to make the ad seem organic and blend with the editorial, but this still applies to PPC campaigns and social media advertising. It’s so common for brands to want to be like “hey, buy our product! Buy it right now!!!! Check out this DEAL!!!!” in their ads, but this is really a turnoff to customers. Try being more subtle, and just providing a little information about your brand and products. Brands don’t sell things. They sell feelings and stories. Tell your story, make your audience feel something instead of just telling them to buy, buy, buy. I personally love shopping for sustainable and earth-friendly products, so if I see an ad that highlights how a company gives back or is zero waste, I’m much more likely to buy from that ad than one that’s like, just trying to tell me to buy something. Give your customers a feel for who your brand is and what they do. I guarantee that’ll convert better than just a banner with a “Buy Now” button.
- Lastly, another big mistake I often see if clients spending $500 and thinking it’ll make their sales skyrocket. As a small business owner myself, I totally understand every dollar counts. $500 is a lot to part with when you don’t have a steady stream of sales coming in. However, it’s super important to remember that advertising requires a little bit of consistency. Running a few social media ads for a day or two, or one email campaign for $500 is probably not going to change your world, unfortunately. I know that’s not something many business owners want to hear, but if you’re going to start advertising, try to remember that it might require a little trial and error before you find what works best for your brand. Don’t give up and quit advertising just because one campaign didn’t cause your entire store to sellout.
If you could break down a very successful digital marketing campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.
As far as digital marketing goes, it’s important to always start with your goals. Make a list of what you’re hoping to accomplish with your campaign. Ask yourself if you’re looking to drive leads, increase brand awareness, generate conversions or something else. Your goals will determine what kind of marketing you should do, and really are important for where things will go from here.
Just like knowing your goals is important, it’s also super important to know your target audience from the start. And don’t just guess here. There’s so many analytical tools to help you find out who is engaging with your brand, even if you just use the analytics provided by Instagram or Facebook. If you know your target audience, you’ll be able to better match your campaign to reach this audience. For example, if you have a lipstick brand and you think your audience is 18–24 year olds, but then you check your analytics, you may discover your largest, most engaged audience is actually 35–49 year olds. Had you not known this, you probably would’ve spent all your advertising dollars targeting an audience that wasn’t really all that interested to start with.
Now that you have your goals and audience clearly outlined, it’s time to talk budget. Before you work with an agency, or start looking into doing things by yourself, get serious about how much you’re willing to spend (and know that your first campaign might not result in a positive ROI). If you’re not seriously willing to spend money, then you shouldn’t be looking to advertise — it takes money to make money. I run into so many brands that want to advertise, but aren’t willing to spend money to grow. Don’t fear spending your money! If you stay consistent with your advertising, your money will come back to you, doubled.
Once you have these three items checked off the list, and you actually run your campaign, one of the most important parts of this “blueprint” is what you do at the end. Ask for reporting, and really study how your campaign performed. Did you see results? Don’t just let this campaign go and move onto the next one. If one form of advertising or one outlet isn’t working for you, that’s a sign you need to switch and try something else.
Let’s talk about Pay Per Click Marketing (PPC) for a bit. In your opinion which PPC platform produces the best results to increase sales?
I think that really depends on the brand and the product being advertised. If you’re a B2B company looking to increase sales, PPC ads on LinkedIn Ads would be my recommendation. If you’re a cosmetics brand, for example, and have really eye-catching creative, PPC through Facebook or Instagram would be my go-to.
It really goes back to your target audience — it’s so important to think about where your ads will go when you run them. You can have the best creative in the world, but if you’re running a PPC campaign for sweatpants on LinkedIn Ads, you’re probably not going to see the best results.
Can you please share 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful PPC campaign?
- Know your audience (do I sound like a broken record yet?)
- Based on your audience, do some research on keywords. What keywords are your customers likely to search? You can use keyword tools to check these types of things prior to starting a campaign. Keywords are super important for PPC campaigns.
- Write good copy (or pay someone to do it for you), and make sure that copy includes a relevant call to action (CTA). Every ad ever created should have a CTA, but this is especially important for PPC, where you’re trying to quickly catch the eye of a scrolling potential customer. End your ad with something that makes them want to click on your ad — a discount, free trial, etc. Don’t let them just scroll away.
Let’s now talk about email marketing for a bit. In your opinion, what are the 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful email marketing campaign that increases sales?
- Similar to PPC, it’s so important to know your audience. You might personally love receiving your daily newsletter from Allure, but if you’re designing an email marketing campaign for a new protein bar brand, you’re going to need to make sure those audiences match up. This isn’t just about picking a few of your favorite newsletters and running there. Really do some digging into who buys and interacts with your product.
- Again, also super similar to PPC, but make sure you have good copy, good creative, and especially a catchy subject line. People get hundreds of emails in their inbox each day. Yours needs to stand out if you’re going to be successful with an email marketing campaign. I’ve always seen the best results from brands that keep things short and simple. Put your offer out there right away, and let customers know what you have for them. Don’t make this email a story on how your brand was founded, why you founded the brand, etc. That’s great for a blog, but your email marketing campaigns should be reserved for quick information, like a new product release or a flash sale. Boom — get the information to your customer right away!
- Run a frequency. One email typically isn’t enough to make much of a difference for many brands. Try to work with influencers or outlets that will re-send the campaign one or two times to audience members that didn’t open the email the first time. With click-tracking software, it’s super easy to see how many people opened the email initially. This number normally ends up being between 15%-20%, on average. Being able to resend the email a couple times will help boost that open rate, and in turn, boost your email CTR, as well. The more customers open it, the better results you’ll have.
What are the other digital marketing tools that you are passionate about? If you can, can you share with our readers what they are and how to best leverage them?
I personally love native content. That’s what Alchemy is entirely built around. Internet users are getting good at knowing when they’re being advertised to, so sometimes things like PPC and newsletters get ignored, because people just don’t want to look at ads. But native content is great because although it’s an ad, it still provides readers with informative content.
The best way to leverage native content, in my opinion, is with affiliate campaigns or with something like what we do, which is gift guides and co-branded roundups. Both of these options allow brands to have access to millions of readers, work with trustworthy and notable websites and publications, and create evergreen content at a fraction of the typical price.
Here is the main question of our series. Can you please tell us the 5 things you need to create a highly successful career as a digital marketer? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- First and foremost, you need to have an interest in digital marketing. I’ve watched so many YouTube videos and seen so many TikToks where digital marketing is suggested as a “quick side hustle.” Yes, it’s true — anyone can learn to be a digital marketer, but if you don’t know anything about digital marketing, please don’t go around trying to sell your skills to brands. To be successful at digital marketing, you need to invest some time learning about the industry. It’s not as simple as just running a few Google Adwords campaigns and calling it a day. Really devote some of your time to learning about digital marketing — it’s pretty cool stuff when you really get into it!
- You need to have the willingness to network and learn from others. Study what other successful brands are doing, and speak with other successful digital marketers. Collaboration is a huge part of digital marketing, and putting many different ideas together is super powerful in this industry. Don’t think you need to have some special unique idea that no one else has ever thought up. Digital marketing, to a large degree, is about observing other successful brands and people, and doing what they’re doing with your own unique twist.
- You need to stay up to date. Digital changes FAST. From algorithms to new technology and apps and websites, everything is in a constant state of change when it comes to digital. What was popular last year might be totally out this year. You need to constantly be learning and observing new and upcoming trends in the digital sphere. Take TikTok, for example. A year or so ago, no one had ever heard of this. Now, TikTok is one of the biggest marketing tools available to brands these days. You have to be willing to learn how to use these new technologies. Digital marketing isn’t the place to be saying, “oh, I can’t learn that; it’s too confusing.” Nope. You have to confident in your ability to learn and grow with the industry.
- You need to have something that sets you apart. Anyone can run their own PPC campaign, so what do you offer that other companies don’t? Amazing customer service? Super low prices? The ability to handle everything from the content creation to report generating at the end, etc? Find your unique selling proposition, and remember that as a digital marketer, you are essentially your own brand. You need to sell yourself as such. Clients ask me all the time, “why you? Why should we work with Alchemy?” Be prepared to answer that question with a reason that really makes clients want to work with you versus the hundreds of other companies and marketers out there that do similar things.
- Lastly, you need to have confidence in yourself and your abilities. You’re going to hear “no” a lot. There are many digital marketers out there that can prove their worth and demonstrate amazing results that they’ve produced for clients in the past. However, many brands still think they can do everything on their own, and you’re just there to take their money. You need to be confident in the services you can provide, and know that you do offer a valuable service. Sometimes I wonder that myself — I’m not a doctor, I don’t save peoples lives, or do any miraculous like that. But I do help clients see their brands in magazines they adore, and get them featured on websites they look up to, and that makes them happy. And to me, I think that’s pretty cool. Helping clients grow their little baby brands into something real is a neat process.
What books, podcasts, videos or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
I definitely rely on other marketers for a lot of the research I do. Instagram is a fun social app, but it can also be a great business tool for studying what other brands and marketers are doing, too. I follow tons of agencies and marketers so I can always stay up-to-date on what they’re sharing. I particularly love @themrspedersen.
YouTube is also a big one for me. I love watching presentations on marketing, and advertising is very visual, so it’s fun for me to see actual campaigns instead of just hearing about them.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Hmm…that’s a question that requires some deep thought! I’m really passionate about educating people about invisible illnesses, so I think I’d want to start a movement surrounding that. I personally suffer from chronic migraines, and it’s easy to hide that — especially when all my work is done through a computer screen — but I would want to highlight how it’s important to be kind and compassionate to others, always, because you never know what someone is suffering through or dealing with behind closed doors.
I think a lot of people suffer from something invisible, whether that’s an illness, depression, anxiety, etc., and I would really like to start a movement that promotes being kind to people, even when you can’t see these people and when you can’t see their symptoms.
I guess that’s essentially just a fancy way of saying I’d like to start a movement that encourages people to be kind to each other!
How can our readers further follow your work?
Readers can follow us through the blog on AlchemyAdvertising.co, or @alchemyadvertisingco on Instagram!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!