Over the last decade, digital marketing has been riding a rocketship of advancement. From the inception — and evolution — of paid search and the emergence of major social media platforms to the advancement of SEO algorithms, marketers have been on a fast-paced ride of historical proportions.
Aimclear CMO Manny Rivas has been around through plenty of major shifts — and has emerged as a global thought leader on the integration of digital marketing, the future of search and the advancement of online-to-offline marketing measurement.
We sat down with Manny to understand the evolution he’s witnessed in the industry and to gain insight into what the future holds.
Aimclear (AC): Manny, you have a very interesting career history that has led to your current role as CMO. Can you tell us a little bit about that evolution?
Manny Rivas (MR): When I started at Aimclear, my title was associate account manager. We were a small digital agency at that point, four people strong.
At the time I entered the industry conference scene, there were two primary main tracks at conferences: paid and organic. Those two trains of thought really had a clear boundary between them. Social media was something that we at Aimclear attached to quickly. We were heavily involved in SEO, what I would call early social media… and paid search. I found my love in paid search and really pursued that heavily.
Since then, the lines between organic and paid have blurred as the industry has evolved — so have my roles at Aimclear. Over the years, I’ve been called upon to facilitate roles such as account manager, search account manager, director of client services and, now, chief marketing officer. It’s been a wild ride.
AC: In the last decade, what changes in the industry stand out to you most?
(MR): When Facebook emerged, companies were really able to gain steam doing what they do in Google, which is to gain visibility through organic optimization: Put your company out there, create a page and optimize it for the channel, just like you would in search. Websites were optimized for Google, channels were optimized for YouTube, Facebook company pages were optimized for Facebook. And the better you could do in-channel to give those platforms the appropriate signals, the better you would rank in channel as well as in search.
The next step in the evolution, within Facebook specifically, was essentially a neutering of organic proliferation for brands. No matter the skill or size of optimizations, Facebook forced brands to pay to play. This has resulted in a major shift in the ability to gain visibility with target audiences without paid being involved.
Since then, there’s really been this budding integration between paid and organic and the need for those skill sets to merge. We see it to this day. The integration is happening more and more across skill sets as the channels continue to evolve into pay-to-play models. There’s now a common language marketers speak that really wasn’t present five or six years ago because departments were more siloed.
Mobile search volume has been another major development. About two or three years ago, we followed the shift as high-volume accounts encountered significant increases in mobile search volume, eventually surpassing desktop. Bottom line: Companies need to optimize for mobile and understand the distinct difference between desktop and mobile intent and experience. Companies must adapt or risk obsolescence.
Another evolution in the industry has been the emergence of voice search…
AC: We’re glad you brought that up. In terms of the future of search, how do you see voice search impacting the way marketers run campaigns?
(MR): Today’s consumer is on-the-go and using mobile search way more than even a year or two ago. But mobile’s use is evolving beyond searching Google maps or asking Siri for a nearby restaurant. We’re seeing a sea change in how people are starting to use digital assistants from Amazon, Google and others — they’re asking questions from the comfort of their own home.
We’re just scratching the surface. Today people might ask a digital assistant to turn on a light. Tomorrow we’ll all tap that AI-based tech in really innovative ways to get deep information. Remember how we rode mobile search past desktop search? The same is happening now as mobile rapidly becomes something entirely new in its own right. It’s exciting and daunting for marketers.
The evolution of voice search in search queries is evident and will only continue to grow… in many cases the distinction between what is voice search and what is not is apparent. The opportunity for marketers lies in the proficiency to comprehend context; how individuals are searching for information and how we as marketers can provide the best information — the most appropriate information — in that moment.
That’s the big question that people are trying to solve for. If digital assistants are there to navigate the web for us and present the best possible answer based on what it knows about us (ALL the context) and based on what it knows about the businesses that have information out there in the ether, then our job as marketers is really going to be about figuring out how we get our information optimized for assistants.
Yeah, voice search is huge. From that point, enter machine learning… !
AC: What role will machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) have in the near future of marketing?
(MR): AI is definitely going to be, and already is, impacting the way we market, the way we consume information and what information we consume. It’s being built directly into the ad platforms we manage and plays an important role in determining customized output for end users.
AI will likely change things, but it’s not coming for our jobs necessarily. I believe it will focus our attention in other areas while it’s taking care of other important technical tasks.
Machine learning and automation of repeatable tasks through scripts have helped to radically reduce the time spent on those tasks. The focus on machine learning and the skillset that it takes to create the use cases will also evolve, and it’s exciting.
AC: You speak around the world about integrated marketing. What should marketers understand about integration and how it will impact marketing strategies now and in the future?
(MR): I like to think about integration from three perspectives: the tech, the team and the customer.
The tech piece is the aspect commonly spoken about because there are often multiple channels operating in silos. MarTech is what allows us to collect performance data from a particular channel and make it accountable for results on the backend. There are often several technical components that have to happen for this to be a reality. The larger the company and/or the longer the sales process, the more complex it is to stitch the data together.
Yet integration isn’t just about data, it’s about integration of the team. The integration of the team needs to happen. The performance marketer needs to understand what’s happening from a corporate branding perspective along with the community manager’s editorial calendar — and vice versa — this is key to better understanding marketing interplay and affords teams the opportunity to take advantage of and/or anticipate changes to the overall brand ecosystem.
When we live in our silos, we can be blind to other data points that could be game changers.
We have to integrate the team.
The third piece is customer integration. This is all about personalizing the customer journey through the integration of what we know about the customer across multiple channels. Whether email, social, search, display, a trade show, direct mail, our ability to integrate these touch points allows us to better understand our customer’s journey and develop creative that resonates. The smoothest path to success occurs only when we have the integration of the team and tech for the endgame, an integrated experience for the customer.
AC: Final question: Everyone in this industry knows how fast paced it truly is. How have you kept up and maintained the reputation of being on the cutting edge of the industry?
(MR): Being in it day-in and day-out is number one. Our teams are key players in some of the coolest case studies in the industry. We share these learnings internally to learn from one another and replicate successes.
It requires a lot of reading, staying current with betas, announcements and published articles/studies. We like our SearchCap roundups 😉 There are a lot of publications and we’re constantly tuned into the channels themselves, making sure we understand what changes are coming. We often have access to betas which provide an inside track on where channels and tools are headed.
Constantly testing, learning and scaling success – I would say the advantage to being in an agency is that we have insight into several case studies across multiple verticals from B2B to B2C where we can look at aggregate data across a portfolio to understand trends or understand the major differences. You don’t typically have that vantage point in-house.
Also, I would say speaking at industry conferences. We have multiple thought leaders speaking at industry conferences. But just because we’re bringing deep expertise to that conference doesn’t mean there’s not additional knowledge to take back when we’re there.
We are constantly learning. To stop learning in an industry that is constantly inventing itself is to stop moving forward.