Interview with Chuck Aikens of Volume Nine

Last week, I sat down with Chuck Aikens, the founder of Volume Nine. V9 is another digital agency here in Denver that specializes in SEO, content and social media marketing strategies. They work with local & national brands of all sizes to develop, optimize, and promote branded content that attracts the right target audience for online business growth.

We talked about how our agencies differ and where we think the industry is moving as a whole. Check out our interview below and join the conversation on Twitter.

When you are starting a BIG project, like an e-commerce site, where do you begin? What about a project with multiple business objectives?

Chuck: First off and no matter the size of the project, I like to start by asking “Why?” Why are we doing this project? This usually leads to multiple business objectives and project goals being set. As a team, we work together with the client to figure out the right mix of things we want to accomplish against different investment levels.

This often means that we need to focus on a few primary objectives, or even just one thing. Using a large e-commerce site as an example, we might start with:

  • Prioritizing website issues
  • Cleaning up social media profiles
  • Identifying content gaps

This creates a strong list of things that eventually need to get fixed. However, we also actively listen during our discovery process for true business objectives. We look for things like new product launches, or a large product category where sales are becoming more and more stagnant. Basically, we try to take a large e-commerce site and start working on specific categories or even sub-categories where we will update the copy and also work to optimize the top SKUs in the category. We may even optimize all the product detail pages.  

While we are in a particular category silo, we will also look for internal cross-linking, social media promotion, and off-site placement opportunities. I have found that creating a defined focus on a particular category or sub-category leads to a lot of creative ideas for both on-site and off-site marketing strategies.

Robert: I have to agree – taking the holistic approach to any project is the best course of action. When we give our designers and marketers the chance the think outside the box and see a project as an entire strategy rather than in a silo, we always get a better final project and our team enjoyed working on the project.

How do you distill results down for your clients?

Chuck: The key to distilling down results is understanding the main metrics you are trying to influence with your campaign. From there, you can ensure everyone is on the same page about those metrics or KPIs.

For example, we recently talked to a company who only is looking at one major KPI for their business from online marketing — web form fills. However, their existing marketing team is reporting on a mix of form fills and phone calls, and the client is understandably a little frustrated. It’s important to have a really clear and specific understanding of the metrics that clients want to see go up and to the right, and to make sure you have a great way of tracking and optimizing for that — even if that means setting up a new view in Google Analytics or finding a tool that reports specifically on that metric.

In general, we set up custom reporting that regularly provides clients a snapshot of their data every month, compared both to the previous month or year with top KPIs at the top. Additionally, if there are specific results outside of that custom report they need to see, we provide screenshots or other data pulls to update them on that specifically. For example, we have an e-commerce client with a couple negative reviews ranking under their brand name, and each month we provide updates to show how that branded SERP is looking.

The key to reporting is to make data clear, transparent, and easy for everyone in your client’s organization to understand.

Robert: We’ve noticed this same kind of need with our clients.  They want to see a big data set with all the data points and KPIs, but they also want to see the analysis through our eyes. We started giving both – a slide deck with raw data but also boiled down analysis in their terms.

In your opinion, how is data changing the game, especially when it comes to attribution or engagement?

Chuck: Data is making it better for marketers to place smart bets, harder for smoke and mirror agencies to exist, and making it easier for Marketing Directors to make the case for increased budgets.

Knowing how to utilize things like UTM tracking, event tracking via Tag Manager, and multi-channel attribution reports, marketers have a better picture now, more than ever, on the value of channels that have been historically hard to attribute a monetary result.

It also arms marketers with the information they need to combat “shiny object” syndrome in their organizations and to help them continue to craft more and more dialed-in marketing strategies each year.

What’s the most important factor in a client-agency relationship?

Chuck: For us, this starts with actually having a relationship. Too often, an agency thinks of a client as a fee-generating entity with a scope of work that needs constant management to stay within budget. On the flip side, we can usually tell when a client views us as “just” a vendor, where the goal is to get as much work done against a set fee as possible before moving on to the next agency.

We not only think of our clients as partners, but we look to have a shared passion for their business, their goals, and their interests. We really look to work together on a whole different level, almost more like buddies or good friends. Of course, this is business and we can’t all be BFFs. But treating each other with respect, trust, and being honest just like you would with any relationship is what we strive to do in our client-agency engagements.

Robert: But we can still be BFF’s right, Chuck?

Where do you see the industry going in 2019? What key trends are your team excited about?

Chuck: I have been watching the industry for over a decade now and there are some disturbing trends. One trend that we have always seen is the commoditization of techniques and tactics in a race to the bottom in regards to pricing. I am a big fan of creating efficiencies without losing effectiveness, but there are a lot of agencies that have scaled their production work with less experienced talent.  

These type of companies are able to produce ‘good enough’ work and this works for some situations. However, brands with more complicated and complex situations are often very disappointed with the standard tactics and techniques don’t deliver the expected results.

Another trend I am seeing is that more companies are more equipped to build brands today than ever before. By leveraging established social media and distribution platforms, companies can quickly get their brand in front of consumers. Even without using a platform like Amazon, it is easier for brands today to operate direct-to-consumer than in the past.

We are more focused than ever in 2019 on helping brands find their online audience, craft the right content and message for that audience, and find a way to grab their attention in a unique, compelling way. This is all aimed at starting a conversation that hopefully leads toward a purchase and to true loyalty for the brand.

Robert: Thanks for all your insight, Chuck. Our team is certainly excited to see how we can help our clients grow in 2019 will definitely start taking your perspective on big picture workflow and data delivery into our next project.

Working with and making connections with other agencies here in Denver is an important part of our growth. Even though on the surface level it might look like Buhv and V9 are competitors, we’re different in the types of clients we service and how we deliver our work. Also, we build websites.  

Digital marketing is ALWAYS changing, keeping up with our friends in the industry ensures that we are staying on top of it and helping to serve our clients better. They say that a rising tide lifts all boats. If boats are agencies, then the rising tide is helping out our clients and creating a better digital experience for all – and we can all see the benefits of that.

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