Marcel Hollerbach of Productsup: “Why the world needs more entrepreneurs”

I think the world needs more entrepreneurs. Throughout history, entrepreneurs have changed the world by creating new products that help people. If I were to start a movement, I would encourage everyone to identify something they are passionate about and simply pursue it. Don’t hold back and don’t hesitate. A simple idea can change the […]

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I think the world needs more entrepreneurs. Throughout history, entrepreneurs have changed the world by creating new products that help people. If I were to start a movement, I would encourage everyone to identify something they are passionate about and simply pursue it. Don’t hold back and don’t hesitate. A simple idea can change the world, and when someone has the courage to pursue their idea, it can be monumental.

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 Marcel Hollerbach.

Marcel Hollerbach is CMO and member of the supervisory board at Productsup, a Berlin-based tech company that empowers brands and retailers to reach more customers on more channels and maximize sales. A serial entrepreneur, Marcel is also a founding partner of venture capital fund Cavalry Ventures, which specializes in early-stage investments in European tech startups. He also founded video streaming platform hiClip, which was acquired by Adconion Media Group, as well as NativeAds, which merged with Seeding Alliance and was later acquired by Ströer. Marcel studied business informatics in Würzburg and Stanford. His expertise in ecommerce means he has a solid understanding of user behavior in a digitized world, as well as the importance and impact of high-quality, contextualized product data. In his spare time, Marcel is an ambitious guitar player.


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?

After working as a freelance web designer while still in university, I founded my first startup in Berlin, a social network for musicians. Through that startup I met Kai, now co-CEO at Productsup, and together we founded HiClip. HiClip was acquired by Adconion Media Group in 2008 and that’s how I got acquainted with the digital media industry. Kai and I soon spotted two opportunities: native advertising and product ads, so in 2010 two other companies were founded: Productsup and NativeAds, which was later acquired by OOH media company Ströer. So I’d say that the last 10 years have basically been about advertising — driving outstanding results for brands and publishers around the world.

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?

Absolutely. I remember my first time running an out-of-home campaign. The advertisements were all around Berlin, everywhere from subway stations to bus stops. We were so excited to see the campaign go live, but then somebody on our team saw one of the ads out in the world and realized that the domain name was misspelled with an extra “s.” Fortunately, we were able to think on our feet and correct the mistake by registering and redirecting the mistaken URL. We quickly learned the importance of having more than two people look at a print campaign before it goes live!

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 first supporter I vividly remember was the son of our landlord. He studied computer science and he was the first person to put me in front of a computer when I was 10. He taught me the basics of MS-DOS and even let me play with Paint Brush every once in a while. I fell in love instantly and already enjoyed designing things at that young age.

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

I think our culture definitely sets us apart. The Productsup values are ABC: Achieve, Build and Care. These values are deeply ingrained in our entire team, and every team member we have inspires me constantly as a result. One team highlight that stands out was a company trip to Cancun in 2019. We wanted to provide our employees an opportunity to simultaneously grow and relax, so we flew out 150 people to Mexico for a week of workshops, community work, and team building.

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?

I believe resilience and perseverance are two important traits that helped me push forward even when the road ahead was bumpy. Of course, success does not happen overnight. Throughout every stage of building any company, there are new challenges and opportunities. Sometimes you have to pivot a couple of times until you have found a perfect product and market fit, so adaptability is also key. At the end of the day, the willingness to believe in your product and never quit is what makes most entrepreneurs successful in the end. A while ago I took a test of my key character test that also showed that I am quite competitive and very much a futurist. Naturally, this is a great combination for somebody in tech. I always recommend that people interested in this profession stay consistently open-minded to new technologies and changes in the market while simultaneously maintaining an eagerness to win.

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

We are working on a lot of exciting new projects. In general, I think last year showed how important our platform was and still is to so many brands and retailers out there. When their shops closed, everything moved online and we were able to continue supporting our clients by enabling them to keep the lights on, shift online where necessary and keep selling to their customers. We recognized that when customers are not able to physically look at products in a store, every additional piece of information helps them choose the right product.

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.

A lot of companies get stuck in ‘chicken and egg’ issues. They have never done digital marketing before, so they don’t have the in-house expertise to run a campaign. The problem is, before they start to seriously invest in resources, they need to prove that digital marketing has value. This often complicates things because trying to run a marketing campaign without a good strategy or with execution that is lacking in finesse will most likely net an unsuccessful result. Consequently, this could lead to the impression that digital marketing is a waste of money due to a campaign that was not properly executed.

Another issue that occasionally occurs is that clients rely on agencies that are not fully competent at digital marketing because they do not have the background to distinguish a good agency from the bad ones that are out there. This lack of marketing knowledge may also lead them to ask the wrong questions of an agency, which would lead to suboptimal service. Ultimately, however, one of the main mistakes companies make is the lack of realistic goal-setting, and failing to set up an infrastructure to properly measure results, which is of utmost importance in a successful marketing campaign. When a campaign does not measure these metrics, it is a recipe for disaster.

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.

It is really hard to answer this question without kicking in open doors such as, “make sure you know your target audience” or “tailor your messaging to the buyer personas you defined.” Naturally, all of that is true, but this advice always leaves the reader with the question, “But HOW do I do that?”

I think anyone can greatly improve their chances of success by adopting two strategies. First, let professionals do the work. It is very tempting to lean on in-house marketers without a lot of digital experience to run campaigns because they find it super interesting and a large number of advertising platforms spend a lot of effort on spreading the message that advertising platforms are super easy to use. Not only is that not always true, but to use them successfully (and profitably) requires someone at the helm who has a lot of experience with them and understands the best practices intimately.

Secondly, when deciding on targeting, messaging, or creating those buyer personas that are so important, nothing beats talking to some actual customers. Just ask them how they spend their days, what they need to do their job better, what their biggest obstacles are, what journey led them to buy your product, and more questions to establish an understanding of what makes them tick. You will learn more talking to a single, actual customer than reading the advice of 15 industry experts.

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?

Ha ha, that’s a trick question, isn’t it? The correct answer is, of course: it depends. Specifically, it depends on the type of business you have, the regions you are operating in and the maturity of your market. In short, it depends on who your potential customers are and what they need. That should also drive your total marketing mix, which in turn influences the effectiveness of the PPC platforms you use. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to PPC marketing. Rather, it is important to plan PPC marketing on a case-by-case basis.

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

The main thing that you need to know, or at least be able to estimate, is what the value of a click is to your company. That means you need to know your conversion rates from the moment a potential consumer sees an advertisement through the moment of sale. Additionally, depending on your business, deeper details such as average order value or customer lifetime value are also important to track.

Secondly, it really helps to understand how to increase the value of the click: how can you improve your targeting, and how can you use that improved targeting to improve conversion rates? At the end of the day, this comes down to knowing your business, knowing what customers want and need, and knowing how to deliver that to them with as little friction as possible.

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?

I don’t think the issue is necessarily what you need to know. The tricky bit is how you collect this intelligence. This being said, looking at the “what,” there are three things you need to know, all wrapped up into one question: What type of message to send to whom at what time. The answer will vary from one business to the next, of course, but how you figure that out is the hard part.

If you have a large enough database, you can test your way to the answers. But many small and medium businesses or even larger B2B companies don’t have the volume to test early, test often and get statistically relevant results. More often than not, they need to rely on intuition, experience, and most of all: a good knowledge of their end-user. Again, sitting down for a chat with some actual customers can help tremendously.

It is also highly important to caveat that even with all of this in mind, it is very well possible that in certain markets, there is no such thing as successful email marketing — for instance, if your audience is mainly Gen Z, it probably makes sense to steer clear of an email marketing campaign.

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 am a big fan of Marketing Automation platforms such as Hubspot. If rolled out and implemented correctly, it lets you do amazing things and provide a lot of value to your customers by presenting them content that is relevant to them. Simply put, it allows you to better target those audiences that you spend so much time trying to understand before developing a campaign.

Also, in any digital advertising or marketing campaign, tracking and analytics are key. A great product that we even have integrated with Productsup is Clarisights. Clarisights is a combination of tools including Segment, BigQuery, and Tableau. The platform is tailored to performance marketing teams and empowers them to run their own campaign’s analytics without dependence on other data that might be less relevant to a successful campaign.

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?

There are so many tips and tricks to develop a successful career in digital marketing. These tips are not the only ways to succeed in digital marketing by any means, but they can certainly help you get a strong start.

  1. Follow (and understand) trends in the industry. It is no secret that digital marketing is an ever-evolving industry, and the best way to reach a target audience one day might not be the best way to reach them the next. By following industry trends, young professionals will stay ahead of the curve and succeed by understanding what the future of the industry looks like. For example, email marketing has historically been a popular way to reach possible consumers. However, as Gen Z begins to move into a purchasing demographic, this form of marketing will begin to phase out (albeit not entirely) and marketers who understand how to best reach these consumers will find success.
  2. Be creative. At its core, marketing is a creativity-driven industry. While it is so important for a company to understand its target audience, and metrics are a necessity for any campaign, creativity is necessary to take the understanding of a target audience and build a campaign that will actually resonate with them. If your insights point to a target market that wants to return to brick and mortar stores following the pandemic but you do not build a campaign that capitalizes on this, the metrics are worthless.
  3. Try new things. Never be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. As I mentioned before, it is imperative to express a constant desire to learn as a marketing professional. By learning new skills and understanding the newest platforms in marketing, you not only help your business succeed and build awareness, you stay ahead of the competition.
  4. Learn analytics. I mentioned the importance of creativity, but creativity has a symbiotic relationship with a fundamental understanding of data and analytics. The two are imperative in a successful marketing campaign, and one cannot exist without the other. If you do not understand the most effective way to read the consumer data or post-campaign data, it will be nearly impossible to improve future campaigns.
  5. Study the world. This sounds a bit silly at face-value, but it’s true. A good marketer should be constantly on their toes, studying the world around them. Look at the billboards as you drive. Which ones stand out to you and why? Read a marketing email that you might not have opened. Consider why you almost didn’t open it, and what might have driven you to click into it. Watch those advertisements while scrolling through social media and notice which ones catch your eye. The world is full of learning opportunities if you allow yourself to look for them.

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

It is difficult to point to one particular resource, because as I mentioned before, the entire world is a learning environment, and connecting with possible customers and target audiences can be far more valuable than listening to marketing professionals talk. That said, there are several resources available to help hone in on marketing skills. Podcasts that discuss industry trends and the next platforms to be aware of are always valuable. For example, This Old Marketing, Everyone Hates Marketers and Perpetual Traffic are a few podcasts that follow trends in the industry and help inform marketers about the skills they should develop. It is also smart to follow publications that specialize in the trade such as MarketingDive or Ad Age.

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 think the world needs more entrepreneurs. Throughout history, entrepreneurs have changed the world by creating new products that help people. If I were to start a movement, I would encourage everyone to identify something they are passionate about and simply pursue it. Don’t hold back and don’t hesitate. A simple idea can change the world, and when someone has the courage to pursue their idea, it can be monumental.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Keep an eye on Productsup, we have some really cool stuff in the pipeline. You can check out our website at https://www.productsup.com.

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

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