Jim Lin is the VP of Digital Strategy for Ketchum, a PR and marketing agency specializing in corporate and product positioning. He’s also the guy behind the incredibly successful Busy Dad Blog that documents his adventures as a father of two.
Q: How did you get your start in digital marketing?
A: I got my start in PR in the mid 90’s – I did entertainment PR. I fell by accident into the digital world. One of our clients had a friend with an interactive start-up. Even though we initially turned the client down, they insisted on us helping them out, so we reluctantly took them on. That client was BizRate, who eventually became Shopzilla. We then got into the circle of other startups. This was way before the internet took off – really early stage stuff. I liked it so much that I quit PR and just worked in online marketing for a number of years. That’s where I picked up the technical aspects of online marketing. The social media strategy side of things really came into play when I started my blog. I started it in 2007, being there when social media took off – and I evolved along with it. What I liked about social media was that it introduced the human element into the digital equation. As a blogger, I focused on the human connection side, and as a marketing professional I worked in the technical side of things. It wasn’t until Ketchum recruited me that those two sides of me converged into one.
Q: What do you enjoy most about digital strategy?
A: I’m taking what I love at a personal level and paying my mortgage with it! My professional answer is – it is the perfect blend of humanistic and technological elements. I see myself as a communicator first and foremost. Digital strategy is all about people and brands communicating effectively.
Q: What kind of digital content strategies, either ones you’ve worked on or not, have you seen best? DO you have a specific brand/campaign in mind?
A: The ones that work best are the ones that work regardless of platform or technology. The best strategies allow the brand to be creative, but also allow the consumer that freedom. They allow for both to share the passion. Amplify the enthusiasm!
I really like a lot of what Twitter is doing with their clients and partners. They did something with American Express a while back – AMEX invited their card holders to link their Twitter to their AMEX card. When you follow AMEX, they tweet hashtags. If you tweet something using those hashtags, it would ping AMEX and the next time you went to the store whose hashtag it was, you could get a discount. Good digital strategy is something we don’t realize – it’s behind the scenes, it’s seamless.
Q: What is the number one tool digital strategists can’t go without these days?
A: At Ketchum, we have a number of different functions that make up digital. My boss and I joke that we’re the hippie humanists. First off, we’re both in California. Secondly, we look at digital strategy as a way for people to connect. Because of this, I believe that the best marketing and digital strategy involves that element of instinct and a knack for understanding how people interact. Numbers can give you a baseline. They can validate assumptions. But to truly mine insights to take the next step, the tool you can’t live without is your gut.
Q: What digital strategies do you see trending right now?
A: Obviously everyone is going to say this – it’s consumer generated content. The number one reason is because people actually have the ability to directly connect with brands these days. I always say social media is the first if not the only place a consumer will connect with a brand directly. Because social interaction essentially replicates a conversation, people expect to have feedback in what brands do. Whether it’s crowd-sourcing or UGC, the key engagement piece is giving the customer the ability to affect the brand’s direction, product line, or the way they market. People have always wanted to do this – it just wasn’t possible before social media. Add to that the on-demand world our younger generations grew up in and you understand that direct interaction and action isn’t just a “nice to have” – it’s an expectation.
Q: Where do you see digital strategy going over the next couple of years? Any predictions?
A: Over the next couple of years, digital will become increasingly personal. Not just in the nature of information, but physically and literally. Take wearable technology, for example – you’re interacting with digital devices all day long. Things like Google Glass or FitBit will be a part of everyday life, and digital strategy is going to pervade your every action throughout the day. You’re going to be washing dishes and something is going to ping in your ear about a coupon for dishwasher detergent. Something will record that and use it – paint a better picture of you, or offer new services, send you something that’s going to help.
Q: How have you seen influencers either make or break a brand? Any examples?
A: I can give you an example that illustrates a lot of previous answers. It’s Huggies. They came out with an ad campaign a while back that had a bunch of dads taking care of their babies while watching TV and “being men.” The ad basically implied that men can’t take care of their kids but that’s ok because with Huggies you can’t tell that the baby pooped in his diaper. Of course, the Dad bloggers were up in arms about this. Fortunately, Huggies embraced the power of influencers and social media and sent brand reps to the Dad 2.0 conference that was coincidentally happening at that time to talk one-on-one with the dad bloggers. After the conversations, they pulled the commercial and re-shot it to show dads in a much more responsible light. If you think about the time and money it takes to create a commercial…that example really illustrates the importance of online influencers in the marketing landscape today. Huggies went from a villain to a hero because they embraced this new landscape and navigated it intelligently.
Q: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in digital strategy?
A: I’m going to be the humanist and say you really just have to love communicating and connecting with people. All of the tools, case studies, and best practices – that stuff changes daily. Unless you love the “why” behind it all, you’ll never be motivated enough to keep up. Connection has to be your passion. Be on the social platforms, interact, engage, start a blog – leverage the technology to enhance the humanity. If that sounds odd to you, digital strategy probably isn’t for you.