For the purpose of this podcast, we firmly believe that Kelly Smith, Chief Digital and Information Officer at Hagerty –…

For the purpose of this podcast, we firmly believe that Kelly Smith, Chief Digital and Information Officer at Hagerty – a brand known for perpetuating the love of driving and North America’s largest classic car insurance provider, would be best suited.

Kelly brings more than 25 years of technology experience to the table and leads Hagerty’s enterprise digital strategy, capitalizing on emerging opportunities to support Hagerty’s rapid growth.

In addition, Kelly champions the integration of information and technology into all aspects of the business including team building, customer experience, development and product management. Prior to joining Hagerty, Kelly served in senior roles at MGM Resorts and Starbucks.

Mark Wright, Director of Climb Online discusses the importance of speaking the right business language when operating in a crowded digital marketing sector…

Mark Wright, Director of Climb Online and a successful entrepreneur with a passion for business and a love of digital marketing (and the winner of Apprentice UK back in 2014) discusses the importance of speaking the right business language when operating in a crowded digital marketing sector. We also explore how, as long as you have the passion, the drive, the knowledge and a brutal honesty, then you have what it takes to succeed.

Marketing is something that everyone thinks they’re an expert on, so how do you cut through that? 

It’s an excellent question. It comes back to understanding the customer’s industry and business that you’re dealing with. No digital marketing campaign is ever the same, and that’s because no business is ever the same. The fundamental flaw most digital marketers make, or most people in the online world, is taking a cookie cutter approach, treating every business like the same, and every campaign should be the same, when every business needs to be displayed and understood differently. What I did very, very well early on is personally get to know the individual that I’m dealing with, and their personalities and the personalities of their business to understand which marketing strategy would be most appropriate for this business.

For example, if you’re working with a plumber that’s got a great personality, looks great on camera, something like YouTube ads or social media marketing ads with video of that guy talking about his products and services could be phenomenal because he’s got something his competition doesn’t, which is him, his personality. Then, you might have someone that’s shy or hates being in front of the camera, but is very creative, and that person could do great testimonials, great imagery, and case studies on their website and boost it out through blogs or whatever it might be, their way.

It’s understanding what’s going to work for the customer and what works best for that industry. That’s why these cheap, outsourcing it to India, cookie cutter approach businesses don’t work. 99 times out of 100, I go and meet a business and they tell me, “I tried marketing. It didn’t work,” but they’ve tried marketing that’s worked for everyone else, but hasn’t had anyone understand what they should be doing.

You work with clients, for example, Emirates, but also the local dentist. That’s going to be different conversations but both are wanting the same outcome, so how do you communicate with them?

Well, I am a very direct person. A was very upset with me because she didn’t feel the marketing approach I was displaying for her business was right for her business. I said to her; “You’ve been with other marketing companies before, and you failed every single time. Now, if I presented you the same strategy and the same approach that you’ve done over, and over again, we will fail again.

“You have come to me and paid me very hard-earned money to come to me to let me do your marketing. Then, you’re going to ring me up and tell me how to do your marketing. Then, if I listen to you, we’ll fail, because I am the expert. I am the person that is the best marketer, is the best company to go to, and I’m charging you. Now, if I was to listen to you and do your strategy, why would you pay me good money to do that for you? You must listen to me.”

I don’t ring you up, if you’re a dentist, and tell you how to fit a crown, or whiten my teeth, or do this, because I don’t really know. I might have watched a couple of YouTube videos or heard about it down at the pub, but I don’t really know what I’m doing because I haven’t got the experience, I haven’t got the expertise. The funny thing about marketing is everyone is a bit of a bedroom DJ. They think they know their onions, so to speak, but the truth is that I’ve worked 11 years every day, as you say, day-in, day-out, working with thousands of companies. I get it. I understand what to do.

I have to be quite blunt with people sometimes and just say, “Just leave me to it.” Because you don’t put your car in the garage with the mechanics and stand over him and tell him which wrench to use and which filters to change. You understand that that person has experience, qualifications, and the understanding of what to do. Generally, the biggest problems I’ve ever seen in marketing campaigns is owner-operators dipping their wick in, and going in and making changes and putting their two bucks worth in, or not spending enough money. Then, they tell us that marketing doesn’t work.

If you hire experts, if you work with people, you’ve got to let them do their jobs and not tell them how to do their jobs. Because Steve Jobs was a great advocate for if you hire A-players, you need them to let them be A-players. Let them be creative. Let them do the things that you hired them for, and that’s when you get the best results. 

Forgive me if I’m wrong, there are thousands of marketing companies that could say and promise the world to clients, but what do you do to ensure that you stay ahead of them?

Yeah, there’s thousands of companies that do. This is the million pound question. Any company, any entrepreneur or any business person that stops innovating starts dying. The day you start standing still, you start moving backwards, so you’ve got to constantly challenge yourself to stay ahead of the market. That’s listening to your customers, that’s listening to technology. Understanding what the next Facebook’s going to be, what the next video content’s going to be. Is it going to be augmented reality? Is it going to be VR? Is it going to be UX? What is it going to be that’s going to be the next Google AdWords for our sector?

Our job is constantly investing in research, constantly investing in new products and new markets to make sure that we’re ahead of every other marketing agency out there. Once upon a time, you used to walk into a phone shop and there were hundreds of phones on the wall. You’d go into a carphone warehouse, and you could pick up to 150 phones off the wall to be your handset. Now, you walk into the shop, there’s three. You’ve probably got a Galaxy, you’ve got an iPhone, and maybe whatever the third-party of the day is. There have been people that have come into that market, that their products have been so good, it killed the other competitors.

My job at Climb Online is making sure that our product and our technology gets our customers such good results that there’s no other option than to go with us, and it kills those other thousand competitors. That’s what I think about every day as I’m getting up and I’m going into work; “What am I doing today for my customers that’s going to make me so essential to their business that everyone has to use me?”

What are some of the current trends you are seeing in the industry?

We’re living in just the most fascinating time in human history. The advances in technology that we’re seeing are just unbelievable. You go back 70 years ago, they didn’t have the TV. We now have the Internet. I still remember, in my time, when we had dial-up Internet, and you would have to sit there for 10 minutes while the box made all that noise, and it’d take five minutes for a website to sort of click down the browser. We’re living in a time where machine learning, algorithms, analytics are just changing the game.

Some of the stuff I’m seeing in analytics, things are being done online using data and analytics that we cannot even dream of. I’m seeing technology, that just blows your mind in terms of data prediction and output that is just breathtaking. The stuff that the companies are collecting in terms of data, and using to segment audiences, supply advertising data, but also control what we’re seeing, and feeling through the media that we’re consuming, is just really intelligent stuff.

I think we’re moving really quickly, and the thing that I’d want to back is being on top of analytics and data. That’s the thing that I’ve seen over the last couple of years that’s really impressed me, and the thing that I think is going to be the big game changer moving forward. If you’re in business right now, understanding your customers and what they want to see, what they’re feeling, how to talk to them is really important. There is technology out there to do that much better than you’re doing it right now. It’s the customers that are understanding that technology and how important analytics are that are the ones that are going to be successful over the next few years.

What have you seen in terms of the impact of COVID on the business landscape?

 It’s been a very challenging period. At the same time, when I’ve reflected on it recently, I’m very grateful for where we are and what we’ve learned. I mean, for example, the amount of money that we’ve discovered we were wasting on going to face-to-face meetings all around the country, getting on a plane here, a train here, a hotel there, when our sales process is now improved. It’s now shorter. We’re doing more things by Teams, Zoom, et cetera, like this, saving the company money. We’re closing bigger deals. We’re closing them faster, all using technology.

COVID has changed the world. Now, the health side of it is terrible. The business side has really sorted out the men from the boys, shall we say. It’s sorted out the skilled sailors from the people that were just floating around on a wooden door. There’s businesses that are going under right now, and they’re saying it’s because of coronavirus. Jamie’s Italian went under about a year ago, 12 months ago, right before coronavirus. If they went bankrupt right now, they would blame coronavirus. They didn’t go bad because of coronavirus. They were just a bad business. There are many companies that were over-leveraged, that had poor market share, that had too many employees, that had bad technology, and now they’re blaming coronavirus.

On the flip side, there are some companies like airlines that are just affected, holiday companies that are really affected by coronavirus, and I get that. Our job, as business people, is to understand who it is affecting and who it isn’t. At the start of this, it did affect my business a little bit, but we’ve improved our processes, we’ve learned from it, and we’ve understood what we can do better through technology, through working with different industries, different niches, to make sure that we’re more protected for the future. We’ve also understood that there was wastage in our business that we could improve on.

Tough times are always going to be around. This year, it’s coronavirus. In the future, it will be something else. We can either sit back, furlough ourselves, furlough our employees and blame the environment for failure, or you can tackle it head-on and you can learn from it. If you can run a business right now, if you can thrive right now, you’ve got an incredible business. If your business makes it through this, you have something for the future. If it doesn’t, you probably didn’t have a great business anyway, and your job is to be serious. It comes back to that honesty.

Look at yourself and say, “Is this coronavirus, or is this a bad business? Is this a bad employee, or is this a coronavirus problem?” I think this period has been a great time for really true reflection. Looking at yourself, looking at your business in the mirror and understanding what is good and what is bad. What do I want to change, and what do I want to keep? There’s been a lot of natural cleansing in this period. I think a lot of people, whilst right now it feels really ugly, in 12 months time, they’re going to have made some decisions or be in a totally different business or career, and be really happy and glad this happened because sometimes, things always have a natural way of working themselves out.

Mark Wright
Mark Wright

What is your key to success? 

Find whatever it is you love to do, and then get obsessed with it. If you want to be successful, you have to be obsessed with being successful in whatever it is. That’s the best advice I could give anyone. I learned, very early on, what it is I was going to do, and I focused on that, day-in, day-out. I watched You-Tube videos about it at lunchtime. I worked until midnight about it, day-in and day-out. It is really finding something that you enjoy, finding something you’re good at and passionate about, and then just really working at it like crazy. If you do that, it doesn’t matter what tools you have behind you, what mentor you’ve got, this, that, and the other, you’ll get there eventually if you stick at it long enough.