Kirsten McKinney of Digital Growth Mastery: “Look Out For Your Client First”

Look Out For Your Client First. There are a lot of marketers out there getting rich with some pretty shady gimmicks… I’m not here for it. Use integrity and watch out for your client or company no matter what. If you wouldn’t want someone to handle your business that way, don’t do it. Doing the […]

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Look Out For Your Client First. There are a lot of marketers out there getting rich with some pretty shady gimmicks… I’m not here for it. Use integrity and watch out for your client or company no matter what. If you wouldn’t want someone to handle your business that way, don’t do it. Doing the right thing will benefit you and your career a lot more in the long run.

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 Kirsten McKinney.

Kirsten McKinney is the founder of Digital Growth Mastery, an international digital marketing agency. She has been in marketing for nearly a decade, helping multi-million dollar brands and local businesses increase their exposure and create dynamic content that their clients love. With 35+ viral social media videos and multiple social accounts grown to hundreds of thousands of followers, Kirsten has a passion for equipping modern business owners with the tools they need to succeed online. In her free time, Kirsten and her husband, Elijah, enjoy flipping properties in the Central Ohio area.

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?

I’ve been in marketing for almost a decade now, and I’ve spent a good portion of that time leading marketing teams and working with multi-million dollar brands. It all started with a love for writing as a kid and wanting to inspire people. As I got older, I realized words could only go so far, and I became obsessed with finding the best packaging or medium I could use to get my points across. I’ve had the unique experience of working hands-on in almost every type of marketing capacity, from PPC (our team has over 1M dollars in ad spend managed), social media growth, email marketing, blog content, direct mail campaigns, print design, and the list goes on. Today, I run an international marketing agency full of passionate creatives who love to help entrepreneurs get their message in front of the right people.

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?

I remember way back when I was just getting into marketing, I wanted to set up a website. I saw an ad for a program that helps you design websites, and I was like, “Cool! This looks really simple and easy.” I didn’t research… I didn’t read reviews… I just hit purchase. It wasn’t cheap, either — I think it was a whopping 700 dollars. That was big money for me at the time. I downloaded and opened the program, and to my horror, you had to know custom coding to be able to use it… I didn’t know the first thing about custom coding! I was so disappointed. Moral of the story: do your research! I wrote an email to the company, and they were gracious enough to give me a refund.

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?

There’s a lot of people on this list, like my superhero husband who keeps me alive and makes sure I’m taking care of myself, but I want to give a special shoutout to my mom. My mom is a huge support in my life. She is the kind of person that just makes you feel like you can do anything, and no matter what, she is going to have your back. My mom was the one who encouraged me to go to college early and take a lot of other leaps of faith that ended up being massively rewarding. She also took some literal leaps with me, like skydiving and bungee jumping. I probably don’t say it enough, but I owe a lot to her fearless support.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Great question! A lot of business owners asked me for marketing advice before I started Digital Growth Mastery, and one thing became extremely clear — business owners needed help, and the current model in place wasn’t cutting it.

I used to run a marketing department for a global company… Like most large companies, we brought in marketing agencies and consultants, spent thousands and THOUSANDS of dollars to help our team grow or outsource tasks, and we consistently got terrible results. I actually had someone thank me for reminding them they were even managing our campaigns!

What I learned about the agency world from the “inside” was even more horrifying… Some agency owners told me they had never worked a day in marketing their whole life… Other agencies showed me how they outsourced all of their projects to overseas partners without the client knowing… And I saw others brag about overpricing and inflating prices because their priority was money, not the success of their client’s business.

I thought, “This is crazy, there has to be a better alternative to help businesses grow.” After a particularly passionate rant to my husband, he responded, “If you want to help them with their marketing so badly, why don’t you create the solution?” So, here we are today. For me, this meant a few big promises to our clients…

  • No outsourced services. This means our team always knows exactly what’s going on with your campaigns.
  • Our team has managed 1M dollars + in ads, created websites that convert, generated hundreds of thousands of dollars from organic social content and email marketing, and had 35+ viral social media videos… So when we give you advice, you can trust it.
  • We never sell you services that you don’t need. If it’s not the best financial decision for your company, we’ll be the first to tell you.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, but you get the picture. I wanted to create a business model that actually works to grow real businesses.

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?

  • Self-learner — I don’t think I’m the most creative person in the room or the most naturally gifted, but I like to think I’m the most engaged and determined to figure it out. If I don’t know what I need to know, you can guarantee I am grabbing every resource available and learning it. When I worked a 9–5 job, I was up early every morning learning new things. The marketing landscape changes daily. If you aren’t willing to learn and relearn over and over again, your expertise becomes outdated fast.
  • Grit — Call me crazy, but I think some hustle is required to succeed. You can’t have perfect work-life balance when you’re first starting out, you have to push yourself and lay the groundwork for the freedom you want to enjoy down the road. I work a lot, and so does my husband. Is that our forever? No, but it’s rewarding because we know what we’re working towards and we’re doing it together. I love the quote, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” Hard work is an edge all by itself.
  • A Genuine Love for People — There are a lot of businesses out there, but I think what separates us when we’re standing toe-to-toe with a competitor, and the reason people choose us, is because I care. I genuinely care. I don’t take a client if I can’t connect with their brand. I’m not all about this “perfect sales method” or trying to manipulate people to get more money, I just try to treat everyone the same way I would treat a friend. Growing up, I would occasionally go to business meetings with my dad and sit at the table across from clients. I was just a kid, but I knew that people trusted my dad, and I knew it wasn’t because he was a “sales guy.” He built a very successful business, and he did it by genuinely caring. I think to feel good about what you do, you need to be willing to fight for the other person’s best interest no matter what.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We have some really neat brands we’re working with and fun campaigns in the works, including some really cool influencer partnerships coming in Q4. We also have a few internal company projects that I can’t wait to share — I think they’ll be a great asset to smaller businesses. I can’t offer any details yet, but I’m really excited.

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.

This is a huge problem for a lot of businesses, especially with e-commerce. If you’re just starting to market your business online, that means you have a learning process ahead of you. That’s normal! It doesn’t mean your product is a failure, but the issue is a lot of entrepreneurs don’t know what questions to ask.

Here’s how a lot of startups launch their marketing: they launch a few ads, spend a couple of hundred dollars, and to their horror, they don’t get any sales… The ads must be failing, right? Not necessarily. There could be a number of things happening, but when a business owner is new to marketing, their biggest weakness is that they don’t know how to diagnose the problem.

Is the problem the ads or targeting? Is it the website? Is it the checkout page? If you can’t diagnose the problem, you can’t fix it, and you’ll probably blame and throw money at the wrong thing.

Every business owner thinks their offer is the best, and they should — it’s their business. That doesn’t mean that people online are connecting with every part of the sales process in the same way you think they will. Your question needs to be: where am I losing them at? You need to understand how to diagnose the data to make effective business decisions.

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.

Step one: Always start with your audience and the problem you’re solving. So many people overlook this critical step, but if you don’t understand their pain, you can’t sell to them. If you’re focusing on a problem that isn’t strong enough to sell, then it’s probably not the right problem to solve.

Step two: Get feedback. Many entrepreneurs become so hyper-focused on their product and how great their business is, that they actually become blind to what their customers are really trying to tell them. Sometimes people have a great product or concept, but they overlook one of the biggest aspects that matters to their clientele, like the packaging. Getting feedback early on can save you a lot of wasted money and time.

Step three: Create an offer that’s irresistible to your audience — not just in your mind, prove it by going back to step #2.

Step four: Figure out where your audience spends their time. Meet them there and sell to them in a way they understand. Don’t sell your product; sell their solution.

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?

This is like asking a construction worker to build a house with only one tool from their toolbox. You’ll talk to marketers who are extremely biased to either Facebook or Google, but to be honest, that’s typically the platform they were trained on. Every platform has a time and a place. Facebook tends to be more affordable for smaller budgets, but Google can offer more qualified buyers. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if people need to see it to want it, go with Facebook. If people are already out there looking for it (i.e. a lot of service-based businesses), Google is a great option.

Can you please share 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful PPC campaign?

  1. Test, test, test. Success with paid advertising is where creativity and data meet.
  2. Results aren’t instant. If you’re launching a new product or offer online, expect to make changes, adjustments, and strategy shifts before it’s “just right.”
  3. “Boosting” a post on Facebook or Instagram is not the same thing as running ads. I hear this one all of the time, and it’s a mistake that hurts a lot of businesses that try to launch PPC. You won’t get the same results with boosting posts. If you want to run ads on social media for your business, it’s time to get acquainted with the oh-so-fun Facebook Business Manager (this is also where you’ll manage Instagram ads).

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?

  1. There’s a reason you’ll see emails in your inbox from “Deb at Zapier” or “Ben Chestnut, Mailchimp.” The personal touch always wins. Always. Writing from a person instead of from a brand will boost your open rates and develop a stronger sense of community.
  2. Instead of asking people to click, don’t forget you can also ask them to reply. Email is a two-way conversation, and we have seen incredible results by allowing people to ask their questions or book an appointment directly over email.
  3. Emailing your whole list isn’t the best option for every eblast, especially if you’re seeing consistent open rates under 15%. Open rates under 15% will start directing your emails to spam. Segmenting your email list not only allows you to talk more specifically to one audience, but it can also keep your email placements healthy.

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?

Wow, this is a hard question. There are so many amazing tools out there, and we use a lot of them! Here’s three of my favorites:

  • Hotjar connects to your website and lets you see how people interact while there. You can see exactly what button or piece of text they get caught up on, which is a huge asset when testing a new product.
  • Zapier isn’t for beginners, but it’s definitely a top pick for me when it comes to ad automations. This tool allows you to trigger a series of events when a new lead comes in, like sending them a text, email, and adding them to your CRM all at once. It’s kind of like magic, right?
  • Grammarly is a tool I have used for almost a decade now, and I highly recommend it for anyone producing content. Think digital proof-reader.

Here s 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?

  1. Don’t Play it Safe.

A career as a digital marketer requires creative risk-taking and the confidence to back it up. I remember when I was new to marketing and I took my first big risk. I thought the organization I was currently working for would really benefit from social media video content, but my manager didn’t agree. It just wasn’t the way things were done… We posted videos rarely, but the ones we posted weren’t social media friendly and only got a few hundred views.

I (respectfully) brought it up in meetings when we talked about ways to grow on social media, and my manager finally got tired of me bringing it up and said, “Fine… If you’ll come up with the concept, film it, and edit it, we can post one and see how it goes.” Was it my job to edit videos? Nope. Did I know how to edit? Not really. It was pretty obvious he wasn’t rooting for me to succeed, but I felt like the upside was worth taking the risk. I happily agreed.

I put together a video, and that video ended up going semi-viral and reached 1M people. It was a turning point for that organization’s social media! Video ended up taking that organization from a few thousand followers to hundreds of thousands of followers. If you want to set yourself apart in the marketing industry, you have to be willing to climb out on a creative limb.

2. Think Like a Scientist.

There are no experts in marketing. An expert knows all there is to know, but the world of marketing is constantly changing, so what worked yesterday might not tomorrow. Good marketing requires a lot of humility. The best marketers are more like scientists, obsessed with testing their “theories” and improving as new data emerges. If you’re determined to die on a hill when it comes to your marketing approach, your business will die on that hill with you.

3. Look Out For Your Client First

There are a lot of marketers out there getting rich with some pretty shady gimmicks… I’m not here for it. Use integrity and watch out for your client or company no matter what. If you wouldn’t want someone to handle your business that way, don’t do it. Doing the right thing will benefit you and your career a lot more in the long run.

4. Do Prepayment. Seriously.

People told me this when I first started my business, but I ignored their advice… and it cost me. When you have people pay after the work is completed, you can fall prey to people who jump from company to company scamming the system. It might feel uncomfortable to ask people for pre-payment, but I’ve never had one person question it. It’s standard in the industry, and it can save you a lot of wasted effort (or staffing costs) for a client who won’t pay.

5. Sometimes, It Really is the Product.

If you want to keep your love for marketing alive, you have to understand what success looks like for you. Marketing can be a stressful industry since it’s so results-oriented, and there are a lot of factors that are out of your control. It’s important to understand that if you don’t have complete control over the product, website, or sales strategy, there may be limits to how much you can do for a client. If somebody brings you a product that doesn’t work, your marketing won’t work, either. You can’t make everyone successful, and that can be hard when you really want to help, but sometimes a product just isn’t ready to go to market yet. Do your best, and understand how to gauge your personal success based on what you can control.

What books, podcasts, videos or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?

Storybrand. Go look them up! Their approach to marketing changed my perspective on communication forever. If you’re serious about marketing, I highly recommend making the investment in one of their training sessions.

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. 🙂

I just want Apple to use the same kind of chargers for everything and stop making me buy converters to plug things into my computer. Is that too much to ask?

In all seriousness, there are too many to name… I think a lot of change is needed, but at its core, it can all be summed up with two words: “Be kind.”

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can follow along on my Instagram for marketing and business advice, or go to to schedule a conversation.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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