A serial entrepreneur and growth hacker, American Cameron Gawley's varied career extends back to when at 18 he founded an IT service company called Computeks. After that, he went on to start Boomerang Data, an SAAS and online data backup company. And while each of these stints brought him success, it's his work at digital strategy agency BuzzShift (a company he co-founded) that brings him to Kiwi shores.
Next week at The Project: Digital Disruption conference being hosted by AUT on 30 April and 1 May, Gawley will appear as one of the international speakers at an event jam-packed with 30 of the sharpest minds in the industry.
As chief executive of BuzzShift, Gawley has built a team that prides itself on providing clients, such as Verizon and the National Breast Cancer Foundation, with data-informed solutions that connect with people individually while simultaneously being measurable, trackable and scalable.
Gawley's success has seen him ranked fifth on Business Insider’s list of the 25 most influential ad executives on Twitter, and he is also a founding member of the Social Media Club of Dallas and Board Member for the American Advertising Federation of Dallas.
On Tuesday, StopPress sat down with Gawley for a Skype conversation, which although distorted at times, gave us a glimpse at what to expect from the entrepreneur during his visit.
On coming to Aotearoa
I’m honoured and humbled just to be able to go to New Zealand. Basically, I was pulled in to speak at the 2014 conference. My main focus at the conference will be on the interception between data, creativity and curiosity, so I’ll hit on those three things. I think the big topics that they want me to really talk about are digital marketing and how this is being disrupted. I look forward to being there. It’s going to be a good time.
On the relationship between creativity and data
We often talk about big data, but data by itself doesn’t do us a lot of good. Overall, data by itself is very boring, so we find it important to creatively tie it in to [a client’s] KPIs. What data really comes down to is drilling into overall observations, what’s happened?, what’s happening?, and then making actionable recommendations to a client and saying, ‘Hey this is where we think you should go with this data’.
On working in the industry
What’s interesting for me as marketer in an agency is that working with chief marketing officers and vice presidents of marketing is sometimes like working with kids. They like their story being told in a concise and interesting manner. And I think the more emphasis we place on telling a story rather than just presenting raw data will make it easier for the client to understand it, and they’ll make a better decision as a result. This is just how we are as marketers now: we’re data-driven. We have so much more data that we can look at, so with those insights we know whether we should use more of this content or less of this content. So overall the whole topic of data, creativity and having a bit of curiosity in the mix is just fascinating to me.
On making big data more manageable
What it comes down to for us is going back to objectives. Depending on what the client is doing, there’s so much data that can be tracked, but we focus on the data that really supports the overall goals and overall objectives. And only focusing on the objectives narrows it up for us a lot.
On tracking data for tracking’s sake
There are a lot of things that we could track for tracking’s sake, but if it doesn’t move the needle for the company then why are we tracking it? That, in our mind, just becomes supporting data or historical data that we could use at some given point for the client, but our whole thing is honing in and narrowing out the data that we think is necessary for the client.
On quantifying the return on investment
We can track the ROI better now in digital than we ever have been able to, and it’s a big leg-up on the traditional marketing world in the sense that we can do a lot of tracking. The whole focus in 2014/2015 for Google is on building up this attribution model. Even last week, I’ve seen that they’re [Google] calling visitors users and they’re calling visits sessions.
But there are still issues that will arise when it comes to social. I think that’s still an issue when it comes to ROI as to how we track it and relay it back to the ROI. And then also understanding the offline world. It’s still not clear how we track the offline and online world, and how we link that back to retail purchases. But I think we’ll get there soon. I think overall attribution modelling, although it’s not anywhere near where it needs to be, is making it easier and easier to track ROI.
On digital charlatans
It goes back to setting expectations and objectives. It’s about understanding that if I go into this relationship as a marketer with a client then these are the expectations and objectives. What happens is that we’re in a world of shiny objects, where we are drawn to things like tactics and technology. And I think we have to back up a lot and get away from these things and focus more on the expectations and objectives of the client. I walk into discussions with marketers all the time, with them saying ‘We need to be on Facebook’ or ‘We need to be on Vine,’ and so marketers are spending money creating videos and all this content. But it really goes back to the overall objective—and if it doesn’t support it, then don’t do it. There are a lot of marketers that have made us look really bad as an industry by using the snake oil of tactical strategy and technology, without setting any true expectations.
On the emergence of omni-channel marketing
It’s one of the buzzwords of 2013/2014, and in this sense it’s kind of like ‘big data.’ But there are multiple channels that we can use. I might use my iPhone to look up a product and then I might do a little more research on my laptop, and then I’m reading some reviews, and then I visit the store. But, honestly, this screen agnostic approach is exactly where we’re at. There are so many paths that we can take, and so many pieces of content we can consume to get to that purchasing decision.
On the success of BuzzShift
We aren’t a siloed social media agency or a siloed content marketing agency or a development shop or an SEO agency. We’re very integrated with our approach to our clients, and we understand that combining everything from search to social with the foundation of content really helps clients achieve their goals. And I think that in order to achieve those goals, we’re looking at true data that can be measured, tested and scaled out, and these are the things that we really focus on. Whatever we’re rolling out for our client, we figure out what works and what doesn’t work and then we optimise it – no matter how many times, we keep optimising that existing content and repurposing it.
On being digital
As an agency we’re digital first. There are a lot of traditional agencies that I refer to as immigrant agencies, in that they were traditional first and they bolted on a digital arm. That’s kind of the opposite for us. The one big pain point that a lot of ad agencies, marketing departments and digital agencies have when it comes to looking at big data and analytics is that those aren’t their core strengths and capabilities. We started that as our core strength. We play in the same box really well with traditional agencies, and I think you’re going to see a lot more agencies like us spin up—agencies that are digital first.
On personalisation in marketing messages
There’s a lot more predicative data that we can use to generate unique content for a particular individual, and this is going up against the traditional approach of trying to hit the masses with broad messages, like what we have on TV. What I think we’re heading toward is generating content that’s for a particular individual …
I think this is the age of the customer. Everything is about personalisation and focusing on the customer and customer support. The data that we have now allows us to truly tell a story and do some remarkable things.
On being a hybrid agency
A lot of things we do are different. For example, we’ll even do something called equity-based partnerships, which means that our butts are on the line and we don’t get paid until they get paid. It’s about solving business problems and not just marketing problems. We also align product and marketing, because we see a lot of clients and their marketing teams are completely siloed. So we try to bridge that gap between product and marketing. Most marketers don’t traditionally have technology backgrounds, so it’s very difficult for them to make realistic decisions on their in-house technology. So a hybrid agency like ours really aims to bridge that gap between marketing and technology. I think this might lead to the emergence of a few new job titles.
On having a ceiling fan named after him
My dad was a vice president of one of the biggest ceiling fan companies in the States. So when I was a kid I used to help him with packaging design and so forth, and that’s kind of how I got started in this. So, anyway, they created a label called Hampton Bay, under which they released a line called the Hampton Bay Cameron fan. And there was a stage when you could go to a Home Depot hardware store and people would be like, ‘There’s a Cameron fan’.
Because we're feeling a little generous, StopPress is giving away two tickets (worth $599 each) for The Project: Digital Disruption conference. To enter the competition, leave a comment describing the most disruptive thing imaginable. The two most creative responses get the tickets. (Feel free to get metaphorical, fantastical or downright creepy).