Damien is quite anomalous due to his origins in professional photography. He’s not entirely sure why, but somehow the technical aspects of photography from aperture, shutter speed and f-stop conventions provoke his highly quantitative imagination and perspective. So, he built a website teaching photography that grew so influential it gathered the attention of Barnes & Noble, who wanted to learn his secret recipe to success. The rest is history. He soon built Modern Marketing, a digital marketing consultancy based in Houston.
Continuously playing along the fence of creativity and analytics feels completely natural to Damien. So, given his unique disposition, we just had to hear his thoughts on programmatic. He spent a few moments on Dec. 4 sharing insights with us:
PA.O: I’ve noted you have an artistic background – what brought you into digital advertising?
Damien Franco: My transition into a consultant basically came from when I started up a photography website, which was my passion. It grew widely popular, and I was brought on by Barnes & Noble to help them with their social media training and eventually, I became their consultant.
I thought, at that point, given that the website had become so much bigger than I thought it would, I could either bring in full-time help, or I could do something else. I was contacted by Barnes & Noble for an acquisition, and we negotiated it for a while. It actually went really well. We merged my website with one of their sites tied to a photography publishing house, and I was tasked with helping them redesign their website and social media platforms, strategize their marketing (especially their email marketing) and train over 30 contributing authors for the platform. I needed to train the writers on how to utilize social media to grow the platform and tidy up their blog writing. These were published authors who were used to long form writing. They weren’t used to writing blog posts.
It was a really smart idea on their end – to bring someone in like me with experience in the social media and website space.
I was a good photographer, but I was a great teacher. I could emphasize with my audience, and I used a lot of targeted marketing in the social media that we put together. I was an early adopter on Twitter, Google Plus (I was actually so early I was a beta tester) and all sorts of new social media platforms. You just go where the audience is.
Back then, you had to work a lot harder to ensure that you were finding the right audience and getting in front of people. That’s the most important thing – getting your work to the targeted audience, because the “shotgun effect” just doesn’t work anymore.
You can’t trust your audience reach all the time on TV and print, but you can trust the digital footprints of accurate profiles when you have hard data on the people you’re trying to reach: their specific interests, the actual areas where they live, apps targeted toward them and their social media platforms.
PA.O: In your opinion, how do data and creative work together?
Damien Franco: Marketing is of so much more value to the individual when data and creative are utilized to better pair people with products. You can have an infinitely better user experience when that happens. I’m a big fan of ensuring that we have a relatively safe, but good amount of data so we are not wasting our time designing and serving ads that don’t match.
PA.O: How do you feel programmatic is shaking up the world of marketing and marketing jobs?
Damien Franco: I think programmatic is going to allow people to be more creative. When you free up the analysis part, which is finding the right people at the right place and time, you free up a lot of hours. That part is hard. With those man hours you could be using creative to work on a new campaign, regardless of the medium, whether it is article writing or video production. As far as how it affects marketing teams, I think smart marketers are always going to look for tools that make their jobs not just easier, but more effective. If they can prove an ROI to the executives, then they’ve actually helped cement their position. It’s not like it is going to be a job eliminator. I see programmatic as a job inventor.
PA.O: What are the biggest growth areas for advertising and/or marketing?
Damien Franco: Anything that fixes redundancy in the day-to-day operations of any marketing job is a huge growth area. When I think of the things that take the most time, I think of redundant processes. Creating or tweaking new digital ad campaigns, whether PPC or Facebook ads, whatever they are, those things can take a lot of time.
Also, pushing out curated content is big. That is an area that I have been looking at a lot. Utilizing curated content, especially on social to help draw in a niche, is really crucial. It would be great to streamline that process as well. I feel like the new apps are helping with this. Swayy.co is a really interesting little product because it helps you find good content so that you can share it and the interests of people that follow you. It’s good, but it is just stuck on popular content. It’s not as niche as I prefer. If you can marry something like that with something that serves up really relevant ads to people you can have this great mix of curated content and highly targeted messaging.
PA.O: Are you ever concerned that we could spend so much more time on testing and analyzing data that we don’t spend enough hours designing rock star creative?
Damien Franco: It’s two sides of the same coin. It’s about how you view the marketing prospects. So, you’ve eliminated all of the time for finding the right audience, so how do we spend the time? We could do some hardcore A/B testing, but you still need creativity to come up with the ideas you would be testing in the first place.
It is dependent on the industry and the role – if the marketing director is deciding on the campaign and has been in that industry for several years, he knows what kinds of creative work. He doesn’t have to spend as much time on the creative side. But if you have the junior at the company with less experience, they are going to spend more time on the creative side of things. It still involves testing either way. If you are testing a bunch of campaigns, you still need more time to actually create the campaigns. Programmatic gives you the freedom to do what you want with your time, relative of course to the industry and your goals.
PA.O: Given your comments on the difference between seasoned professionals and novices, what are your thoughts on using intuition for marketing and advertising decisions?
Damien Franco: Being an early adopter meant I was going against the grain, so intuitively for me, it is about trying things that others aren’t. If it’s not working, you drop it fast. You use your research to guide your gut so you know if you are headed in the right direction. You don’t just shoot from the hip. Once you find a direction that is working, you further refine that direction.
PA.O: What do you think the future of advertising will be?
Damien Franco: We will be using more geo-tech and geo-tagging information coupled with our daily and social profiles. Marketers are going to have access to who we are and where we are. Who we are at work is different from who we are at play. You’ll get advertisements on your watches, buzzes on your clothes – on everything – and it will be crazy.
Consumers will get special discounts when you walk into a place. I thought Klout was going to do this, but they haven’t. I have this idea that if you’re a social influencer, when you walk into a store, somehow someone in that store is notified that you have influence within this particular group and you get a social care discount. They utilize you to push their brand forward. We need technology to let the retailer know when the biggest Instagram fashionista in town has just walked into their boutique. That can happen with wearable technology, iBeacon and all the new products that are coming out. When all of that information is coming together, the salesperson at the boutique gets a little buzz on their watch saying, “@fashionlust just showed up, and she loves that XYZ kind of clothing.” Give her A+ service and that influencer will Instagram it the whole way.
PA.O: That is a really fascinating idea.
There are people all over every city in America and the world who have more social influence than others, and they spend a lot of time building their profiles and connections online. But they could get more for all of their hard work.
Twitter and Facebook make millions of dollars off of them. Influencers give these big brands all of their user-generated content and in exchange, they get entertainment. While entertainment is great, brands could do better. Brands have the opportunity to say: Because you’re an influencer in cupcakes I want to invite you to come to my cupcake shop. I want to tour you around the back, and you can Instagram it while you’re there. That would be so valuable, not just to the influencer, but to the business.
PA.O: Hopefully someone out there is taking notes and is going to implement that! With all of the tools, information and resources we now have available to us as marketers, what are your biggest concerns about the future of advertising?
Damien Franco: I think my biggest concern is that there is going to be some sort of pulling back and dehumanizing of the brand. I think we need transparency as consumers. We see so much of this push media failing. Every time that happens, there is a pull back. I think there is going to be a huge pull back at some point, and that will be detrimental to the consumer and all brands. However, even if it happens, I think we will move past that – but I just don’t know how much damage will actually happen to the advertising industry.
I’m pretty optimistic in general for digital marketing, though. I think for the most part, the right amount of information is getting out there. We are seeing social media gurus and experts out there advocating for the consumer, saying, “Hey! Treat customers like people and you’ll win!”