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233: Agencies Aren’t Your Enemy: How to Work Together & Build a Better Brand

Posted by Austin Brawner on January 7, 2020


Digital agencies get a bad rap these days.

From providing inflated results to wasting time on dead-end tactics, many businesses have fired their agencies and moved things in-house.

However, agencies aren’t the enemy. You just have to understand how to build the right relationship with them, and truly integrate them with your team.

Our guest today is Susan Wenograd the CMO of digital agency Aimclear.

We talk with Susan about the shift she’s seeing in where brands are directing their paid ad spend, and the issues of attribution that are coming along with it. She talks about how to build a deeper relationship with your agency so they can bring you greater success, and her thoughts around navigating the digital landscape as things continue to change and evolve.

This episode is a must-listen whether you’re a digital agency or doing digital marketing in-house for a brand.


Episode Highlights

  • 8:01 What the role of CMO looks like at a digital agency.
  • 10:06 The changes in where brands are spending their paid media dollars.
  • 14:43 Today’s analytics are not the analytics of the future, and why attribution objectives may continue to get less defined.
  • 18:08 How to spot an agency that’s getting results that are too good to be true.
  • 21:26 If you want your agency to be a better partner, you need to more transparent.
  • 24:58 As an agency, it’s important to have the difficult conversations and be a leader.
  • 30:17 Global perspectives on digital marketing and where the US is falling behind.
  • 34:35 You cannot fix broken strategy by optimizing tactics.
  • 37:02 If you’re entire marketing plan only consists of spending $300K/month on Facebook, you do not have a brand (and that’s a problem).
  • 41:06 Why fluidity and flexibility are the keys to long-term success.
  • 42:35 Is it time to hand bidding control over to Facebook?

Links And Resources

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Austin Brawner: What's up, everybody? Welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence Podcast. My name is Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell. Man, I tell you, I got a really nice note this morning from someone who had taken one of our courses. Woke up to just a wonderful note.

The guy said, "I would have paid four times as much for this had I known how much value was in the first 45 minutes."

I'm like that's like the nicest thing anybody's said to me about the courses. That's really what you're ultimately going for in anything that I feel like you're putting out there.

Austin Brawner: With that, Andrew's actually going to be raising the price four times.

Andrew Foxwell: Exactly. It's going to be four times more expensive.

Austin Brawner: 48 hours from now, the price will go up four X.

Andrew Foxwell: Exactly, exactly. Yeah. But it's cool because it's like creating that content and just hearing... We hear about it from the podcast a lot, and since we've moved into doing more courses that can be found at, it's neat to see the over 100 people now that we had take those courses, and just the feedback we've had and it's being truly helpful, which is really, really, really cool.

We've never even had a refund, which is also cool. So this feels good because I feel like you're creating so much value on the Coalition. People are in there and the amount of learning is insane that you could get from one membership.

Austin Brawner: Yeah, man. It's a lot of fun. One of the things I've been most excited about over the last eight-nine months is just been connecting with people more deeply. Connecting with listeners, connecting with clients, members of the Coalition, and it's really, really fun to hear from people who have listened to the podcast for a long time and reach out and say, "Hey. This has been an invaluable resource to me. Thank you." It's always surprising when I've never heard from them before.

I had somebody reach out and say, "Hey, you should probably just send me an invoice because we've been making a ton of money off the podcast."

Andrew Foxwell: That's awesome.

Austin Brawner: I was like, that's awesome. And connecting with different people in the industry, I feel like this industry is so small and you can learn so much from other people, this kind of transitions to the person that we have on today.

Our guest today is very, very sharp, very thoughtful, and is one of the people that when I talk to, I feel like she truly has a good pulse on what's actually going on and how people are actually feeling in our industry around advertising spend, relationships with agencies, what it means to be successful in your relationship with a partner agency. And so I really enjoyed this conversation with Susan.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. I did too. Susan's someone that I respect deeply, and I think, as you said, goes through a lot of things in today's episode of the agency relationship and the things that you can learn from it. Also, looking forward to the future, what that looks like for a lot of us.

So this episode is absolutely a must listen to really anybody wherever you are, if you're an agency or an in-house brand or in-house at a brand and kind of navigating what is a changing digital landscape every day.

So let's go ahead and welcome Susan to the show.

Susan Wenograd: Thanks for having me back, you guys. It's awesome to be here, especially this time of year.

Andrew Foxwell: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, we're so excited to have you on as a true friend and transparent ally in the digital marketing space. We're excited to chat about all things digital marketing today.

Susan Wenograd: Oh, I never get tired of it, especially with you guys. I'm happy to be here.

Austin Brawner: Well, now since we had you on last, you are now the CMO of Aimclear, a very well known and respected agency, and you guys won a bunch of Search Industry awards. You've traveled all over the world, including your luggage has traveled all over the world.

Susan Wenograd: I'm still recovering from that I think.

Austin Brawner: If you've not followed Susan on Twitter, you would learn that basically her travels to Milan were slightly interesting is the way to say that.

Susan Wenograd: My suitcase got a tour of Charles de Gaulle Airport even though I never flew there.

Andrew Foxwell: But it did end up getting to you, and you ended up getting home, there and home somehow.

Susan Wenograd: Yes.

Andrew Foxwell: Which is actually pretty miraculous.

Susan Wenograd: It was.

Andrew Foxwell: Well, we're excited to have you on, and I think the thing that we want to start off talking about is first getting into talking about your new role.

I think that a lot of people don't necessarily understand big agencies. I mean, not that you're a huge agency, but don't understand agency structure and necessarily what different roles do.

And so tell us about kind of what you were doing a little bit and now what your role is as CMO and kind of where that means you're taking the business.

Susan Wenograd: Yeah. So as you guys know, I've always been pretty heavy in channel, and I still am to an extent for certain clients. But moving to the CMO role in Aimclear's been interesting because typically when people think of CMO for whatever company they work for, whether it's a brand or an agency, they assume that 100% of my time is just marketing Aimclear.

And while that's part of my job, actually the way my job truly works is that I'm kind of the on-call marketing person to help support the team, help with strategic ideas and decisions for a lot of our clients. So I kind of have one foot still in the brand marketing world.

So it's fun for me because I get to work with a lot of different brands, help solve different challenges. They appeal to all different kinds of demographics, and it's interesting to be in that position right now given some of the shifts we're seeing when it comes to where clients are spending their paid media.

So I probably spend a good at least half my time supporting the team and working within the accounts from marketing strategy. And then the remaining is spent marketing for Aimclear.

So I'm either traveling a whole lot, like you noticed, doing a lot of workshops, speaking and teaching, which has always been a passion of mine. Lots of writing, podcast appearances, and that kind of thing.

So it's a fun role for me because I kind of feel like I'm both agency side and in-house in a strange way. So it kind of scratches both of those itches for me. So I really enjoy it because it's different challenges on both sides.

Austin Brawner: And you talked about, you kind of briefly touched on it. You said that there's some changes around how clients are deploying their spend. Could you dive into that a little bit? What are you seeing from your perspective on how people are actually changing their spend?

Susan Wenograd: Yeah. It's an interesting time because I feel like we're at the beginning stages of clients wanting to do that.

So I started in paid search, which is very bottom of funnel. So then once paid social happened, there was kind of this great migration over there because they're like, "Oh, finally another channel that produces results."

And now we're in this position where it's been so heavily Facebook. When I say Facebook, I mean Instagram as well, I just kind of fuse them together in my mind. But it's been so heavy on that side, and then still heavy on the Google side. And there's just kind of been this chasm in between for anything else that didn't fit into those.

And the challenge clients are having now I think is that they're seeing that A) there's just this bottomed out kind of inventory situation in both channels really, and they're watching how the demographics are starting to change. So it was that everybody was on Facebook and Instagram, so the other platforms didn't really matter as much because it was easy to write off as, "Well, those are young people that don't have any money."

But that was five years ago. So now those people are in college or graduating. They do have disposable income. They're making different decisions than older people do about where they put their money.

So it's interesting to watch companies kind of grapple with A) we're having to diversify channels but we don't really know how to do that effectively. It's also causing a lot more bandwidth issues because now instead of managing and deploying for one platform, you're having to do it for two or three or four at a time.

So there's this dawning realization that, hey, we need to diversify, but what does that look like if we do that.

And then the other piece that kind of goes along with that is it just makes the whole attribution discussion even more hairy because now it's like there was already kind of how do we attribute stuff with Facebook and Google. But now we're adding in two, three, four more platforms. So it's really making that fuzzy.

So it's interesting to watch brands. They know they can't rely on something like last-click attribution. They know that they can't really just go by what the platform says as gospel. But they don't really know where to go from here.

So I feel like we're kind of past that point of having to appeal to brands to get them to understand this. But the big issue with moving forward if it is just, okay, we understand. But what do we do about it? And that's different in every situation.

So it's an interesting time to watch because you're seeing them trying to figure out where do we want to stop spending on Facebook and maybe move it to something else. But if we do, how do we measure it? So it's an interesting landscape because I feel like it's getting a shakeup that we all kind of assumed was coming in the next few years. But we're finally starting to see it happen.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. I think there's a lot there. I think the thing that's surprising to me about the multiple channels leading into attribution becoming more confusing. There's been a sort of two lines of thinking that I've seen that's been prevalent. One is there's been a lot of discussion from agencies going back to clients and saying, "Well, the brand is what you need to lead with. You need to talk about your brand, and you need to build a brand."

Which is really tough to hear when you're a director of digital marketing at some BPC company.

Susan Wenograd: Yes.

Andrew Foxwell: We have a client that they have actually just set goals around time on site and the amount of traffic, the amount of unique traffic and new traffic. And that's it. That's basically it.

Susan Wenograd: They're like screw it, I'm just going to go for that.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, they know that their website converts at a certain percentage. They know that they have some retail store, so they know that that's a part of it as well. And instead of being muddled down in the attribution discussion, which is tough, I mean, you have to be to some degree. They have chosen to say their north star is web sessions and unique web sessions and the quality of that.

What's your take on that in terms of if a brand asks you that and said, "Hey, we have to add these things. How do we begin to talk about attribution?" Because I don't think any agencies do this really that well. I also don't think any brands necessarily do it super well, and I think there's a lot of room for tricks. And so if you want to touch on that briefly, that'd be great.

Susan Wenograd: Yeah. I think one of the factors that feeds into this that we haven't really touched on but is important is that the targeting and the insights that we have today are probably not going to be around a few years from now.

So these issues we're seeing, like you're mentioning, of you know what, we just kind of need to look at total in and total out, I think that's going to become more the norm. So when we look at things like right now where there's still this tendency to be like, "Well, we put X amount in Facebook and we want X ROAS, and we want to get this much out of it."

The dawning realization that it's probably double counting things in other channels. It's taking credit for things that maybe really aren't necessarily that weighted to Facebook. I think that you're probably going to start to see brands have fuzzier objectives on a per platform basis.

So from a specific tactics perspective, there's really not an exact way. What's interesting about that is that's how marketing used to be. I mean, that was how it always ran. It was kind of you bought TV commercials, you bought billboards, you bought print, and you looked at the total amount you spend on marketing and what the total sales were and what the percentage of the total revenue was spent on marketing. And that was how you judged yourself.

So I feel like we're getting sort of back to that except it's just adapted to the digital age. So your example's a really good one of kind of the same thing where it's like ultimately there probably isn't some perfect mix, even though we'd love to believe there is. There's so many factors that move in and out of the market at anytime that it's really hard to just be like, "This is your perfect... You need two parts Facebook and one part Instagram." Trying to come up with that kind of concoction is next to impossible.

So I think the thing that you're talking about is probably going to become more prevalent A) because brands realize there is no perfect attribution but B) I just think the insights that brands are going to be able to get at a granular level are going to continue to get tougher and tougher just by nature of the privacy laws that are going to be coming.

So I think it's sort of a one, two punch for that stuff is just nudging the industry in that direction.

Austin Brawner: Yeah. It's interesting. I've seen kind of on working with the business owners solve this problem that everyone's having. One of the things we've been diving into and focusing on has just been post-purchase surveys, asking people where they came from. How did you hear about us? And trying to use that as a way to kind of cut through some of the attribution issues that, like you said, everybody's facing.

Really, the companies that I'm seeing that are feeling the most confident are the ones that have made a kind of specific decision to pick something they're going to guide themselves off of, and then they're consistent with it. They're like, "Okay. This might not be perfect. But we're going to use this for the time being and figure out... Make our decisions off of this."

On the flip side, I don't know if... I feel like there's always going to be such a huge opportunity for an attribution type software because people have a taste for it. They want that. They want the certainty of I spent $1000, and I made $3300. That's like very comforting. So I'm very interested in how that plays out.

One of the things that Andrew and I have talked about on this podcast, we talked a lot about agencies. I feel like we've put out kind of a knowing kind of how a lot of agencies work and how there are some disingenuous agencies out there.

What are some of the things that you see, I guess tricks or whatever, that they use to justify performance that might not be there?

Susan Wenograd: I think a lot of times it's when they know that the attribution within the platform is inflated but they act like that's the end game. That's always the hardest part that we run into because they'll do things like set up for a 28 day view through and a 28 day click, and then when you open it, it makes it look like they're driving all this revenue. But the reality is there's probably other channels that they aren't measuring that are doing it.

That's usually probably the most common thing because... Some of that kind of goes into the how do you want to judge each channel. So sometimes it's not always necessarily just the agency. It's also that's what the standard the clients holding them to. They're trying to stack the deck in their favor. So we run into that a lot.

I do feel like there's kind of a Darwinism thing happening with agencies that just don't do a good job. We still run across a lot of them, but clients are a lot more aware of them than they used to be. So I feel like it's good and bad. I mean, it's good in that clients have a better sense and brands really have a better sense of how these things probably should work.

But at the same time, it also has bred this feeling of distrust, understandably, because there's just been more crappy agencies than really, really great ones because everyone is kind of like, "I'm going to build an agency in 30 days." And then they get into it and realize they don't really know what they're doing. But they're in so deep at that point, they can't get out of it.

So I think there's going to be continued that kind of Darwinism thing happening where I think you're going to see a lot less agencies over time that just can't hack it. It's just painful in the meantime for these of us who are kind of coming along and trying to clean it up.

That's another change we kind of see happening is that clients aren't as scared to move agencies. I think before it was sort of the devil you know versus the devil you don't. And we're not seeing that type of misplaced loyalty as much as we used to either.

Andrew Foxwell: There's so many different things we could talk about in that. I think there is a skepticism that comes with it, and I think one of the common pieces that we have been working with a lot of clients on, Austin and I have had this conversation too, is how does someone, internally too, work with an agency the best way.

Not only how do you work internally in your team to communicate with the agency, but how do you... If you have an agency or you're looking for an agency, how do you kind of be transparent about the types of things that you're looking for and what your expectations are?

Because I feel like there's learnings on that end as well that the agency that you're hiring and the people listening to this podcast are probably hiring agencies that are actually of decent volume and quality. And so outside of that then, what are the things that you can do because sometimes agencies aren't great at communicating to say, "Hey, this is what we need." So what are the things that you as a client can do to make that relationship the most helpful in your opinion?

Susan Wenograd: Yeah. It's a great question. I know that I personally find and we as a team find we work best when we are treated as an extension of the marketing department essentially.

So what can be difficult is when you get into those environments where there's politics involved, but you don't really understand what's happening. So it sounds silly because you think, "Well, I'm hiring this agency just to get me better results." But getting you those better results is sometimes an easier road to hoe if we understand what the landscape looks like.

So if you're engaging an agency but let's say you've got somebody in the C Suite that's really into the details and super nitpicky about stuff, it's good for us to know that because then we can support you better.

And so for us, we always look at it as we're here to get you results, but we're also here to make you rock out your brand, whatever that looks like. And we're all humans, so we know that that's comprised of many different things that aren't just numbers in marketing spreadsheets. It's also internal teams that have to work together.

And at the larger companies, especially, sometimes there's a lot of politics flying around. As an agency, you can kind of tell something's up but you don't know what, and it can be hard because you want to try and help as best as you can. But you can't do it if you don't know all the information.

So it sounds like of woo-woo touchy, feely, but it's actually really helpful to understand the departments that interact together, potential areas of strife.

If we know that landscape going in, we can be way more efficient and help our point of contacts navigate it well and just be able to arm and empower them from that perspective.

I mean, I feel like that's usually where those pieces come in that can make things difficult as opposed to they're not giving us the creative on time or they're not doing this or that. You're being hired as kind of an extension of what they're trying to accomplish, and that means understanding the larger machine that they're working within.

So a lot of times that context is missing, and I actually find that when we understand that, we're able to partner much more strongly with a lot of brands.

Austin Brawner: I think that's a really, really good thing to remember for anybody who's working with an agency. To kind of add onto that, I always find it interesting when you put yourself in the shoes of the person that you're communicating with at an agency, typically that person has... It's a difficult position to be in because they have their team and their boss telling them how to operate. And then they have the client who's also telling them how to operate successfully with them, hopefully.

Typically what I see is that the client is, like you said, they're not sharing enough so that the person that they're working with can understand how they operate. But they're getting enough from their boss. So they're just operating under the paradigm that their boss is telling them to do something, so that's what they're doing. And that might not be the right thing for the client. So yeah, being super transparent is very, very helpful.

Susan Wenograd: Yes. I totally agree. I think that's the other piece too is, and this has been something I've been working off and on in the agency world since 2006. I think part of it is a personality type also that just kind of gravitates, especially towards things like paid media.

I tend to be a pretty direct, unemotional person when it comes to managing stuff, and I don't take a lot of things personally. And I think that there's a large contingent of brands and clients where they really do want their agency to take ownership and leadership. And sometimes I see that there's just a lack of that. I think it's born out of agencies being afraid that if they disagree with the client or, to your point, tell them this might not be the best way to go, that they're going to lose the account.

And I've always come at it from the point of view of they are hiring us to help them do this better. Now there's going to be perimeters around that, that's part of the reason why it's good for us to know where those limitations are and what they're dealing with internally because it's going to affect how often we're able to do that.

But I've always been okay having what I think could be perceived as difficult conversations with clients because to me it's a partnership and we're there to work together.

And there's been so many times where I've had those conversations with clients, and I feel like people kind of brace themselves thinking it's not going to go well and it winds up being one of the best relationships that we have because they know that we'll be honest with them, and even if they don't agree, that's okay. But you're paying us to tell you what we think you should do.

So I think there's also just kind of been that. There's a lot of situations I see that devolve into the brand sort of ordering the agency around, and when that... I mean, sometimes the agency isn't strong, so that's what winds up happening. And maybe it's for the best.

But I think there are cases too where if agencies can't establish co-control I guess is the best word for it as far as piloting where things are going to go, it sort of devolves into clients having to order them around.

So you wind up encountering a lot of agencies that just are order takers, and they're not really providing any additional value, whether that's their fault for not being assertive or the client really should just hire an intern to manage it. There's also that dynamic that we run into a lot as well.

Andrew Foxwell: That's one we run into as well. 

Austin Brawner: Just tailing that one last thing is if you're listening from a business owner's perspective, like I see a lot of people being like, "Oh, this agency, they're not performing." And they're first question I always ask is, well have you had a serious conversation and gone and lined out the issues that you are important to you? "Oh, no. I haven't. We haven't done that." It's like that's-

Susan Wenograd: You're not going to get better.

Austin Brawner: Well that's step one. Yeah, they're not going to know.

Susan Wenograd: There's a lot of conflict avoidance in marketing. It's kind of funny. It just kind of seems to attract... And it's not necessarily the conflict in a bad way. You know what I mean? But I just think anything that people perceive as conflict, there's a large contingent of marketers that are really afraid of that.

I mean, believe me, it's not like it's... They're not fun conversations to have, but I just feel like there are so many issues between clients and brands and agencies that could be solved with those types of conversations. But it just seems to attract the personality type that doesn't like to have those discussions.

Austin Brawner: Whether it's a personality type or the dynamic of feeling like... Like what you said earlier was 100% true. They should be an extension of your team, and you should treat it like your team versus this other entity because that's the breakdown that I think everybody sees.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. I'm sitting here and my monitor for my computer sits on a few books to be at my eye height. One of them is Sapiens. So just to go a little bit woo-woo here.

The part that makes us human is the ability to... that made us different as a species is the ability to speak about the nuance of things and be able to provide context. Like, "Hey, there's a predator down by the river. They were there earlier."

And I feel like it's kind of that conversation that worked many times isn't taking place. And I hear what we're saying, and I also think about another sort of la-la-land comment here, but emotional vulnerability. To be like, "You know what, I don't know." Or be like, "Here's what is concerning to me."

We end every conversation with clients on weekly calls, "What are the ways that you feel that we could have improved or that we could be doing something smarter?" Just the discovery of that is going to change the entire conversation I feel like more.

Susan Wenograd: I agree. I feel like there's this pressure on both sides. I mean, both from the brand side and the agency side that everyone has to know everything. And it's just we're at a point, especially now with the diversification of marketing, we're like no one's an expert in everything.

I mean, I'm somewhat self-deprecating in this way, but I'm always okay being like, "Yeah, I don't know." I have no ego about that. But it's hard too because you'll wind up going down a lot of false paths over stuff that if someone had just said, "That's not going to work," or, "The platform doesn't work that way," you'd save everybody a lot of time.

But there's definitely that feeling of having to know everything constantly and always have an answer for every single question. That's just not the reality of being human.

Austin Brawner: Oh, I was going to say I want to transition a little bit, Susan, and ask you a little bit about some of your travels, and you've been speaking all around the world about digital marketing. And I would love to hear kind of your take from your travels.

What are some of the differences in the way people think about digital marketing from some of the different countries you've visited and talked to and spoke at?

Susan Wenograd: Yeah. It's a great question. So they obviously have some greater challenges that happen faster because of GDPR.

So one of the things that I've noticed, and my founder and I have both talked about this because he's a judge for the UK Search Awards. So he sees a lot of contest entries, and one of the things that we've noticed is there's a lot of innovation on the paid social side over, especially in the UK I've noticed, that is lacking on the US side.

I don't know if it's a cultural thing. But I think also they've had to become more creative because they don't have the freedom with data and the freedom with kind of free-wheeling with people's privacy that we have over here still.

So it's interesting. I went to Brighton SEO has started doing a one day break off conference called The Paid Social Show. And Kelvin Newman who runs it, he's just brilliant at understanding where these nuances and crevices are.

They did it last April, and it was probably one of the best conferences I've been to. It was one day. It was 100% focused on paid social, and most of the people that presented were from the UK. And it was just fascinating to see how ahead of the curve they were. I mean, so ahead of the curve on using Instagram stories, ahead of the curve on using things like polls. They're very creative with using the tools that are there.

And I feel like what I run into more in the US is it feels like a lot of the questions I get at conferences over here are people that aren't willing to let go of what's worked before. It seems like they just don't adapt as quickly.

So it's kind of more like, "Well, Facebook always worked, and now it's now. So what should I do differently?" And it kind of feels like when I'm overseas, it's more like, "Well, this stopped working, so what tools do they have that I'm not using that I should start using?" It's just a different mindset.

It kind of seems like the adaptability to change is a little more present over there and just some more curiosity about how to stay ahead of the curve versus a lot of the, like I said, the questions I get here I kind of feel like are more people just trying to keep squeezing blood from the stone. And not really tinkering around with the tools that are out there.

So I definitely notice a difference. And like I said, I don't know if it's a cultural thing. I think that, like I said, the privacy thing probably forced them to be a little more forward-thinking than people had to be in the past.

But I notice that a lot of the questions I get over there are really about emerging platforms and kind of, "They just rolled out this tool. Have you used it yet?" It's a lot more focused on that, and the questions that I get here are more like, "My conversion campaign stopped working, how can I get them to work again?" It's just a different outlook on how to adapt.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. I completely agree with you that there's definitely a difference in practicality. We work a lot with companies in Germany and agencies in Germany, and their no-nonsense German approach is really funny in relation, because the American version a lot of times is, like you said, is kind of a little bit of a complain-y, which, again, I'm not immune from. I've certainly complained when things... I'm like, "What the heck? This was working. Why isn't it now?" But in German, it's like, "We just have to find another solution," that's it.

Susan Wenograd: Yup. Shift the railroad track.

Andrew Foxwell: Totally. Totally. And I think moving forward where there is additional scale in the future years for digital marketing in a lot of ways is internationally.

So I think you have to understand that. It's not like a nice thing to know. It's you got to know and say, how do you market in India, for example, or in Australia versus how you market in the United States. And what are the differences and nuances there?

One thing that struck me that's related to this is you retweeted a tweet last week, someone saying, "You cannot fix broken strategy by optimizing tactics," which is related to this.

Why does that resonate so much with you, and why does that speak so clearly to sort of where we stand currently?

Susan Wenograd: I think it kind of goes back to what we were talking about before of this understanding that marketing is a lot larger than the sum of each tactic that you do and brands becoming savvy to that.

And it kind of ties into what we were just talking about, especially on the American side where there's this propensity to want to cling to the things that used to work.

And more and more, I think that we're finding, especially with things we touch on whether there's net negative inventory on Facebook. The strategies and the things that used to work when the media was cheaper and when organic reach was better. It was a great big party, and now that that's worn off and it's a hyper-competitive environment with an unreliable platform and new platforms that are a little clunkier.

I think because it's what brands feel like they can control, it's very easy to get sucked into, "Well, should I do CPA bidding or should I auto-bid? Or should I do all these other things?" They're all important. It's not that they're not. But I think that those are the things that used to be able to focus on and flip and make pretty different results pretty quickly.

But we're getting to the point now where users are so saturated with ads and messaging that those things are not going to be enough anymore.

And I see so many brands, especially B2C, that they don't give any thought to the overarching brand. It's kind of like if you look at something like a movie where there's like an overarching character arc that's happening, and then there's a whole bunch of subplots that lead into that character journey.

They're missing the character journey. They have 18 million subplots going on, and they're not kind of looking at the 30,000 foot of, where do we want to be in five years. And the thing is if you don't look at it and say, "How do we want this brand adoption to be in five years? What do we want to be known for?" The tactics help you get there, but that's not the brand.

I tell people all the time, if your entire marketing plan consists of dumping $300K a month into Facebook ads and nothing else, you do not have a brand. You are endlessly going to be held hostage by their wins, their privacy changes, what things cost. You are not in control of that.

There's just a lot of brands that don't look past what was our ROAS for the past seven days, and I think those are the ones that are really feeling it with the changes in Facebook because they just relied on it for so long. And now that it's not working, they don't know what to do because they didn't really spend enough time building the brand part, working on retention, having a strong email marketing program. They haven't done any of that.

So I feel like there's this pressure on agencies, Andrew, you and I have talked about this before, where it's like, "Well, you guys aren't performing. We have to drive more sales."

And it's like at a certain point, there's not anything else that we can do if there's not a brand there to sell because we're just held hostage by what the platforms will let us do and what kind of performance we're able to make out of what you've given us.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, Austin actually has a great example. I mean, he just did this with a client where the client was only in Facebook, and Austin just helped him get email flows off the ground and email flows that are intelligent and smart and helped him find a partner to execute on a lot of it. And I think it was, what? Since May and now we're in November. 

Austin Brawner: It was exactly what you were talking about, Susan, he was dumping six figures a month, like $300K a month in ad spend in Facebook with nothing else.

Susan Wenograd: Yeah. That scares me. I just break into a sweat.

Austin Brawner: Stress level was through the roof. Really, really high levels of stress, and so it was, "All right. Let's make a plan to diversify. Let's get on your next channel, which should be email marketing."

In my view, if you're dumping $300,000 a month or even $100,000 a month, you should have your next channel should be email marketing. And then from there, once you've got those two, then you make an intelligent choice about the next channel to invest in. But it is freaking stressful if you're in that position.

Susan Wenograd: Well, David Herman had said one day, and it's so true, he said, "If you're basically putting everything all in on Facebook, we're essentially operating as a day trader for you at that point." I mean, we're essentially managing a stock market for you, and that's just not... The thing is we're managing a stock market where the return curve does not look like it does in the US stock market.

When you look at the increases and compounding stuff since the Great Depression, it's the opposite. It's the exact inversion when you look at direct return from something like Facebook or Instagram just because of the supply/demand.

But yeah, that was the truest thing I've heard. I was like I kept searching for I don't know how to explain it to clients, but when he said, "We're basically day traders," I'm like that's exactly what it is. You're just basically relying on a day trader to make your profit for you every day on a platform that has black box tendencies, and we don't have a lot of insight into. It's a scary way to build a business long term.

Austin Brawner: When I hear what you said about you cannot fix broken strategy by optimizing tactics, I think it's really interesting because we've heard a lot of grumbling about how Facebook has not been performing as well.

But at the same time, I think I've seen more companies in the last year be able to go from like zero to let's say $300,000 in ad spend a month, quickly, by coming in with a really good strategy.

What I mean by strategy, it's not like an advertising strategy. Somewhat of an advertising strategy, but like an overall just quality business strategy.

Andrew Foxwell: I agree with that for sure.

Susan Wenograd: Well, they have a brand plan. I think that's the other thing too is when clients come in that way, to your point, this is where we want to get the brand to in three years. They're less tied to how it happens.

So it's like if we launch in Facebook and we're like it's not... The engagement's kind of eh. The costs are not great. There's not that but we have to make it work. They're just kind of like, "Okay, great. So let's deploy on YouTube." I mean, there's not this like emotional being held ransom. Like you have to spend it all on Facebook. There's much more openness to, "Okay, great. Let's diversify, or let's move the money."

And those are the ones that tend to win because they're willing to be versatile. They're willing to go where their market is, and they're willing to go where they see the results instead of just being like, "Well, we have to be on Facebook and Instagram because that's where everybody is." It's like but that doesn't matter.

Who is your brand and where are those people? It kind of flips back to that you have to have a plan for your brand and your growth. You can't just rely on the platform itself.

Andrew Foxwell: So to that end, talking a lot about Facebook and becoming more omnichannel and things like that, it seems clear to me that Facebook is removing all the targeting. In an ideal world, Facebook is trying to tell us, "Let us handle it." With campaign budget optimization.

Susan Wenograd: I'm not letting you handle my campaign budget.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. With automatic bidding, with dynamic creative. And there's really two camps in our industry now.

One of them is let Facebook decide. And then the other camp is we still believe that there is value in manually splitting placements or bidding in a certain way.

What's your take on this as it relates specifically... This is pretty nerdy question, but I think it-

Susan Wenograd: No, it's a great question.

Andrew Foxwell: In terms of where we're at on that in Facebook and Instagram right now.

Susan Wenograd: Well, I mean, the thing is it's not even just to open up the conversation more broadly. It's not specific to Facebook and Instagram because Google Ads is doing the exact same thing.

They introduce Smart Shopping, which basically you just give them your fee and you say, "Go find the people." This is what they did with their app campaigns. So back in the day, we could set up app campaigns just like we would a regular search campaign, and you can't do that anymore. It has to be UAC, which is Universal App Campaigns. So they have dynamic ad options now.

So this is not just a Facebook, Instagram thing. A lot of them are starting to go towards that. I'm always one of those people... I'm a very middle of the road person on pretty much everything. So I look at it and I say I think there are certain things that are probably better off not being done by humans.

I think in specifically the example of Facebook and Instagram, there's a lot of black box data that we don't have access to, which is a little different from the search world because that's really keyword-oriented, and we have a lot of insight into specifics. It's much more cut and dry environment because it's not as persona-based.

The challenge with something like Facebook, Instagram is they have the ability to make those decisions off of data that we can't see.

So we actually have a client where they wanted to do a lot of really specific marketing towards different life events like recently engaged, recently married, getting ready to move. And in theory, all of that made a ton of sense for what we knew about their customer.

But the problem was they're only in a few geographies. So it made the groups so small that what should've worked great in marketing theory didn't do as well as just running combined.

So I think that there are definitely instances where the automatic placement of stuff is probably going to outperform. But a lot of that really depends on the data that you're feeding Facebook. So there still is this onus on marketers of whatever data we provide to these platforms, it needs to be as succinct as possible.

I think that there are still a lot of instances where things like interest targeting and all that still outperform because I just don't think the machines are that smart yet. I think they'll probably get there eventually.

But when I look at it, I just feel like there are things that show the greatest impact for the human time spent on them versus some things that it's like ultimately the machine will probably figure it out better. I think it's just finding that balance and understanding what those pieces are.

Because I do think it's going to become more and more automated. I think Facebook will continue to homogenize their targeting a lot more than they do now. If not for practicality reasons, just for privacy reasons. But I think this is a marketing platform-wide thing.

It's not specific to Facebook, Instagram because we've definitely been seeing it on the Google side. Our joke has been forever they'd be so glad if there were no PPC managers on the Google side. They don't want there to be Google ad agencies at this point.

So I think that's a trend for a lot of platforms. I don't know that it's specific to Facebook, Instagram. I think that the ideal mix is going to be somewhere in the middle where the robots do the things that the robots are good at. But there's going to be a human element of things like creative and messaging and understanding not necessarily how we rotate those tests, but the creative part of it I think is the part that will always need to be human.

Austin Brawner: It's really fascinating too, just from the practicality of Zuckerberg begin dragged in front of Congress is a lot harder for them to question him about AI targeting people than like blatant interest targeting.

And I can see that being kind of just a race in their mind. If we can get this as good as it was when people were targeting them specifically, and it would just allow our robots to do it, it takes a lot of the liability or onus off of them because listening to members of Congress describe the current state of Instagram and be baffled at how it works.

Now you take it one step further where it's being driven by robots. They're not even going to have any idea of how to question it.

Andrew Foxwell: Not even close.

Susan Wenograd: Yeah.

Austin Brawner: But, Susan, this has been awesome. I want to be cognizant of time here, and for somebody's who's listening and was interested in what you were saying, what's the best way our listeners can connect with you?

Susan Wenograd: I'm usually on Twitter. So you can find me @SusanEDub. I'm on there pretty much whenever. We also blog about a lot of this stuff on the Aimclear Blog. So if you just go to... You can actually just go to We do a lot of case studies and things of that nature on there.

And then I'm always happy to share my decks money wire. So if there's every any topic that you're interested in, chances are I probably have some, a few slides on it at this point considering how many presentations I've done this year. I might have a slide somewhere that covers what you're asking. But yeah, the best way to reach out to me is on Twitter.

Andrew Foxwell: Susan, thank you so much. Thank you so much for coming on.

Susan Wenograd: Yeah, thanks for having me on.

Austin Brawner: Hey, guys. It's Austin. And if you've been loving the podcast, you got to go check out That's where I work one-on-one with my clients to help them build faster-growing, more profitable online stores.

I've got coaching programs and workshops that we host all over the world. Would love to have you come check it out.

If you are a fast-growing, eCommerce business or you want to be a fast-growing eCommerce business, you got to check it out. That's the spot for you. We go more in-depth than we do in the podcast with comprehensive trainings and coaching to help you scale up.

Check it out, See you there.

Austin Brawner: What's up, everybody? Welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence Podcast. My name is Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell. Man, I tell you, I got a really nice note this morning from someone who had taken one of our courses. Woke up to just a wonderful note.

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