When more types of people can finally believe in their own ability to get to the top, the pool will begin to naturally widen.
As a part of my Marketing Strategy Series, I’m talking with my fellow marketing pros at the top of their game to give entrepreneurs and marketers an inside look at proven strategies you might also be able to leverage to grow your business. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Margo Kahnrose.
Margo Kahnrose has more than 15 years of experience in marketing, branding, communications, and creativity across various enterprise SaaS and consumer industries. Margo previously led the development and management of Kenshoo’s brand marketing for more than four years before doing the same for mobility app SpotHero. She rejoined Kenshoo in 2018, where she leads demand generation, branding, and communications for the company globally. Margo holds a BBA in Design Marketing and Management from Parsons School of Design.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, or readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was a creative kid and took all kinds of fine art and design classes throughout elementary and high school. I figured I’d become a graphic designer, or maybe even an art director one day—it sounded like a cool title. But I also really loved writing, and one day my high school English teacher handed me back a paper and told me I should consider a career with communications at the center. This was a real aha moment, because until then I’d only suspected I was any good at it. That’s the power of saying to someone, “I see this in you”—it can change everything for them. It led to my decision to go to design school for college, but to major in marketing. After graduation, I was still enamored of the traditional institution of print and television advertising but also really excited by what was happening for businesses on the Internet at the turn of the century. It was obvious to me that digital was the future and I wanted in. So I taught myself to design and code websites and then optimize them for search. It was great fun and very empowering—in those days, you could charge good money to write a site in highly optimized HTML5, and see it magically climb the SERPs twenty-four hours later. Being able to do all three of those things rather than just one part of the puzzle made me more valuable. My education just continued for free online because there was always a message thread, video, or blog that could teach me whatever I didn’t know, and because the technologies were evolving so rapidly, I needed to stay really tuned in. I started a family really young, and I’d be up feeding a baby in the middle of the night while tinkering with code. That’s how I spent my twenties! A lot of my early career was on the ecommerce side of consumer companies, working on websites and email campaigns, while doing things like designing logos for friends on the side. From all of that hands-on experience I was learning what went into building brands and connecting with customers. At the same time, my husband was running a startup based on search marketing technology—exposure that taught me about the world of paid digital media, which was then rife with fraud and measurement issues. When I was recruited to join Kenshoo, I was told, “Our software is premium, the best in our category—we’re the Bugatti—but we look and sound like a Kia.” It seemed like unusual kismet to have the opportunity to bring literally everything I had learned and loved together—developing the brand identity of a digital performance marketing company.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
During my days as a web designer, I became really comfortable with front-end development—too comfortable, because I had no formal training and it’s not really in my DNA to be as religiously detail- and process-oriented as any type of engineer probably needs to be. I made a lot of mistakes but as long as I figured out how to troubleshoot, I kept getting the job done, which gave me false confidence. Once, in making a simple edit, I somehow deleted from the server the entire website of the company I was working for. It was one of those horrible moments where you’re sitting at your desk surrounded by people, and only you know what you just did, and you have a very short window of time before someone else notices. I was in a full-body sweat, heart-pounding-in-my-ears panic. I managed to push through and get the site back online pretty quickly, but while I can laugh about it now, I still get a little lightheaded remembering that feeling of having messed up with only myself to blame. Not because I made a mistake, but because I hadn’t anticipated the possibility. Ultimately, it taught me that you may be able to learn to do something, but that doesn’t mean you’re the best person for the job. You need to learn which professional proclivities really gel with your personality and natural instincts. These days, I use that background to oversee the function, but make sure people more skilled than myself are between me and the server.
What industry are you in? In your opinion, what makes the company you are marketing different than others in your space?
I work in the marketing technology industry for a company called Kenshoo. Kenshoo was born of independent thinkers and maintains that pedigree to this day. Each step along the company’s journey has been fueled by the three original founders making good bets on what areas of digital marketing to expand to next. They believed in the advertising potential of Facebook and Amazon well before others did and began developing solutions for those sectors which have become industry leaders. That steadfastness and ability to trust your own instincts, no matter what the rest of the industry is doing, is an unusual quality in the leadership of a venture-backed company. Even more rare, even with all of that confidence at Kenshoo comes an equal measure of humility, which is one of our core values. People give our CEO grief over “humility” as a corporate value—like, aren’t we proud of our success? But he simply says, you need to show up every day with a growth mindset. To be humble is to remember our connection and fallibility as humans, and the minute we get complacent, we get lazy. That speaks to my personal ethos.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
The world of digital marketing is going through incredible disruption right now, between media being dominated by a handful of massive players, and new regulations changing how brands can engage with audiences over time and across touch points. In the face of these challenges, we’re finding that our clients, who represent some of the most powerful marketing organizations on the planet, are relying on Kenshoo to not only deliver in the campaign activation realm, but also for our ability to help them understand what’s really happening and make confident decisions. They want to know, from a trusted source, things like how much to invest in each marketing channel, when and how to venture into a new ad type, which audiences are their best bet—and they want to be able to act on those decisions immediately, in an automated way. With thousands of clients, ~$7 billion in media spend managed through the platform annually, hundreds of ecosystem integrations and a bevy of in-house experts, we’re in a unique position to address those needs and bring everything together as a centralized operating system for marketing. So Kenshoo is expanding our offering beyond activation to include solutions for marketing strategy and measurement. The goal is an open platform, cross-channel, marketing hub that adapts to any company’s infrastructure, getting continuously smarter and more effective. My role is to help represent the marketer, evolve our brand identity and bring this stuff to market, which takes time when you’ve got a strong existing reputation rooted over a decade-plus. In January we launched a new tagline, which says it all: Total market intelligence, totally intelligent marketing—the right input for the right output.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
First, identify the projects that you love, the ones that you happily lose hours working on without even feeling it, and seek them out—that serotonin will carry you through more tedious moments and days. If they are few and far between, come up with ideas to make them more frequent. The “what” of this is highly individual and personal, but you know it when you experience it. Second, don’t become a slave to your calendar. Take ownership of your schedule. Get to know your body clock and time-manage to your strengths so you’re not constantly swimming upstream. In marketing, there is always, always something to do—so if you’re incessantly yawning at 3:00 pm and can’t think straight enough to edit that copy, or to confidently email that journalist, don’t! Check in on the numbers or tackle the lower-stakes housekeeping items on your to-do and make good use of your fresher, more focused hours the next morning. Rest and sleep always make for better work.
Ok fantastic. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. As you know Google and other search engines constantly update their search algorithms. Today, do you believe that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is still an important part of any long-term marketing plan? Can you explain why?
SEO is still useful, particularly when combined with a paid search program. It’s the marketing tactic that pays dividends over time, and because it’s entirely owned and earned, one that companies can continue to rely on for customer acquisition even when they need to pull back on budgets. It’s important to remember that search engines are designed to educate and inform—to answer questions as quickly and concisely as possible—so learning how to make use of newer formats of search results, such as location-based query results or definitions, can be part of a more current approach to SEO than longer form content alone.
Can you share some basic Search Engine Optimization tips you have for less experienced marketers?
Foremost, create real content that provides value even as it casts a net. Today, there’s no gaming the system through black hat SEO techniques, and it’s more important than ever to follow established industry best practices so that the search engines will recognize and promote your website as valuable.
You also need to get technical to make sure that there are no entirely preventable obstacles in the way of your indexing, like slow page loads, incorrect or underutilized metadata, and broken links. An expert team or tech platform is recommended for cleanup and monitoring.
Understand that SEO takes time when done correctly. Think ahead to topics not yet widely saturated with content to make your mark on keywords and phrases before competition increases. Build high-quality content that provides value and insight to searchers, make your site easy to navigate with fast page-load times and use relevant and accurate keywords. Essentially, give the site user an easy and enjoyable experience and it’ll pay off in the long run.
Finally, be sure and sync your SEO efforts with your paid search strategy so you can “own” the SERP between paid and owned media. One strategy is to examine where your SEO efforts are strongest at driving traffic and capturing searchers and complement that with paid search campaigns for your less successful SEO keywords, products, etc. Another can be to leverage both together towards the same terms to try and push your competition lower on the page.
What “3 Non-Intuitive Marketing Strategies” have been most effective for you in your industry? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Acquisition marketing via digital channels is well understood in consumer companies, but it’s surprising to me how well it works in B2B today, as well. Just five years ago, the marketing team at Kenshoo was almost entirely focused on brand marketing tactics like media and analyst relations, webinars, content, tradeshows and events, and that was normal for the software and technology industries. The thinking was that when the offerings are complex, and the addressable market more niche, demand is best captured via influencers and in-person connections. Today, my team still does all of those things, but we also have a robust performance marketing program that runs paid and organic search and social as well as website conversion optimization, and it generates a significant and pretty predictable number of inbound leads. But managing that requires budget and staff, which always comes at the expense of something else, and it’s not always easy to say “Ok, we’re just not going to sponsor that big tradeshow where everyone is going to be and where we’ve always been because we’ll have a lot more visibility into the ROI of that $30K if we put it into paid search instead.” I’ve found a good balance between the old and new, corporate brand and performance marketing, with a lot of effort put into tracking and measurement, is the best way to stay in control. With more visibility, you can pull different levers between your channels and programs to suit the needs of your business at any moment in time.
If you were only allowed to run paid ads on 1 platform (in your industry) over the next 12 months, what would it be and why? (If your answer changes drastically based on variables (ie. budget, etc) feel free to explain or answer in general terms (entirely up to you, have fun with this!).
It’d have to be paid search, especially Google, as it remains the most popular search engine, accounting for more than 92% of global market share. That popularity ensures access to just about any audience relevant to your offering, while they are actively interested and demonstrating intent. On top of that, paid search remains the most directly effective digital advertising channel, which helps explain how such a mature channel can still achieve a 19% increase in ad spending YoY (according to Kenshoo’s Q4 2019 Quarterly Trends Report), even as other channels and publishers emerge. I’ve been delighted to see how well paid search has worked for growing Kenshoo’s pipeline—somewhat counterintuitively, as we work with enterprise level advertisers, most of whom are generally already aware of us, and our sales cycle is understandably longer than a more instant consumer purchase. And yet it makes sense, because while search used to represent a very specific place in the lower marketing funnel, it is now being used fluidly throughout the customer journey, from awareness to consideration to conversion.
As a professional marketer, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I’m passionate about our universal need to get more diversity at the top—more gender, cultural and age diversity in positions of executive leadership. There have been many studies that show the positive effects of a more diverse mix on creativity, productivity…even stock price. But I’ve also seen and experienced first hand the detriment of too much sameness within a company amongst people in positions of power and influence. Sharing the decision-making inherent to running a business with people who feel and think like us might be temptingly comfortable, but at best, it rarely leads to breakthroughs and at worst, it breeds really unhealthy workplaces, as we’ve learned over the last few years. The problem is, while most people I know understand this in theory, the problem is ages-old, which means the fix is complicated, even counterintuitive—it will take time. I once worked for a CEO who claimed to be gender-blind, he just hired the “right person” for the job; it just so happened the best people were nearly always white men! And it’s hard to argue with that logic when the percentage of more diverse, qualified candidates is, indeed, disproportionately small. We’ll need to employ a mixture of overcorrection in hiring, at least for a time, that employs the occasional leap of faith that people can rise to the occasion and grow into roles when given opportunity, alongside deliberate development programs to get them ready. When more types of people can finally believe in their own ability to get to the top, the pool will begin to naturally widen.
What quote would you say has inspired you the most in your life or career?
Who is rich? He who rejoices in his lot (Ethics of the Fathers)
For most professionals I know, so much time goes into angsting over career progression, choices made and missed opportunities. So much self-worth becomes tied up with how we are doing in our careers at any moment in time; when it’s going well, we credit ourselves. When we’re stuck, we internalize it. That comes at the cost of enjoying the here and now, the smaller moments, and gratitude for the ability to have talents, choices and experiences in the first place. I’m not exactly an exemplar of mindfulness and always being present, but my parents have been reminding me since I was a child to be grateful for my lot. What constitutes your ‘lot’ varies from person to person. For example, I spend a lot of time in my own head, thinking and processing, though my external movements are often quick and I love to jam-pack a day until I’m exhausted. Thinking is my ‘me-time’ and it makes me appreciate my own brain and its ability to evolve, to push past my first-pass, basic understanding and assumptions to a deeper level. I thoroughly enjoy my solo creative processes, both towards work and outside of it, and ability to zoom both out and in as needed, and I try really hard to recognize, on a regular basis, these as abundant blessings. What goes furthest for me is not to focus too hard on my actual achievements, because progress on paper (or LinkedIn!) is a fickle thing and so much of opportunity is the result of the family and place and circumstance you were born into—no matter how hard or smart you worked. Rather, I zero in on the raw material I was dealt. Physical health, mental health, communication skills, ability to learn, creativity. These I can stop, recognize and rejoice about at any stage.
Thank you so much for sharing these fantastic insights!