Expert Interview Series: Erik Huberman of Hawke Media About Outsourcing Marketing Functions, Digital Marketing Techniques, and Mass Text Messaging


Erik Huberman is a top e-commerce and digital marketing expert and the founder of Hawke Media. We had a chance to speak with Erik about the state of e-commerce today and what it takes to run successful digital marketing campaigns.

Tell us a bit about your background. Why did you decide to start Hawke Media?

My background is in e-commerce. I got out of college in 2008, and I started in real estate three days before the entire banking industry collapsed. So I started looking for an alternative.

I had always liked computers and buying and selling stuff, so I started working on creating an online company. And that turned into my first of three e-commerce companies. After running three different e-commerce companies, I started consulting for a lot of big and small brands.

I saw that getting marketing help was a real big pain point because hiring in-house was near-impossible. And frankly, 95% of agencies have no idea what they're doing, so the other 5% tended to be either really expensive or on long contracts or have some other barrier they put up. It makes them hard to work with.

So I adopted my own system and hired my own team of seven people, and went back to all the companies I was working with and said, "Everything is a la carte, month to month, and cheaper than hiring in-house." Basically, we told them that we can set up a team that fits their needs based on a menu of services. That's how we started more than three years ago, and we're now up to about 70 people.

If someone were to say to you, "I don't have enough money to spend on outsourcing a chief marketing officer," how would you respond?

Usually, that person is not set up for success. If they're making decisions without all the information, then that's going to be a pretty good recipe for disaster. So when that does happen, I usually say, "OK," and walk away, because it's not going to be a good relationship.

I'm pretty straightforward. We start at $3,000 a month; so for outsourcing your marketing, if you can't afford $3,000 a month, you don't have a business yet. That's my view of it, because you can't hire anyone or any help for that. So if you can't afford those kinds of fees, then it really comes down to you needing to build your business yourself and have the wherewithal to do it yourself, or go raise money before you can really talk to anybody about hiring anyone.

What kinds of digital marketing mistakes can doom a startup or brand new business to fail?

It's not looking at the full funnel and understanding that there's a lot of moving parts, not just one thing. Like running Facebook ads without a good email campaign or a good website, or running email marketing without anything to drive in new emails. Just not understanding that there's a full funnel is probably the biggest thing I run into with companies of all sizes.

I see massive, multi-tens-of-millions-of-dollars-in-revenue companies not getting that they are missing a huge piece of their marketing, because they look at it as this vacuum. Like they say, "I hear Facebook is good" and not understanding it.

Which digital marketing techniques or tactics are today's companies relying too much on? Which ones are being underutilized?

As far as those that companies are relying too much on, I think social media management or posting on social media. If you have a big following or are a big company, social media can be a pretty valuable tool. But if you're a small company with a small audience, social media does not move the needle for you. It's not going to make you money, and people love to focus on what they're posting on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook while not paying attention to the fact that it's actually not drawing any business to them. It's a vanity method. I think people pay way too much attention to that.

As far as not those that are underutilized, I think it's email. I even hear people tell me that, "Oh, I thought email was dead." We work with hundreds of e-commerce companies, and we see that about 80% of their revenue comes through email marketing. So when people tell me that email is dead, it's a little bit laughable because it's such a big thing and a lot of people don't take advantage of it.

Other than conversions, what metrics are the most important to capture and analyze in order to get a clear picture of the success of a digital marketing campaign?

Lifetime value is an overlooked metric. It's not about that first purchase. It's about how much someone is spending with me over the course of a year and their lifetime. I like the value of a year, because if someone's going to buy from me again ten years from now, that doesn't mean a lot for the sustainability of my business. That's a little harder to bring in. But if I know that someone buys from me four times a year, that affects the way I look at marketing a little differently than just a one-time purchase. So I'd say that's a metric that's really important.

If you have a high-purchased item, your cost-per-acquisition is going to take a long time to discern. So if you get earlier indicators, it's really going back up the funnel. So looking at the cost-per-lead can help a lot, like figuring out how much it costs you to get an email address and then understanding how many of those email addresses over time convert to a sale.

What role can SMS or text message marketing play in a given digital marketing campaign?

It can work a lot for brick and mortar retailers. With digital and e-commerce, it tends to be a little too invasive. So you have to be really careful how you're using SMS. Because with most companies, it doesn't work well; and if you use it too often, it feels invasive.

Again, when it comes to local brick and mortar stores, it can work. When it comes to things that are happening that you can time correctly, it works - like if you know that they're coming into the store, or they're down the street, or whatever. But when you're in e-commerce, it's harder to make it work.

What types of businesses or organizations might benefit from SMS or text message marketing?

I'd say restaurants, bars - honestly, any type of service business where you have regular customers. So coffee shops are great, even hair salons, supermarkets - places where you know that your customers can come back quite a bit, and it's usually a local place. Because then you know that your marketing can actually draw them in more often.

As digital marketing continues to evolve, what will be the components of a successful digital marketing campaign in the years to come?

The components are going to always be how are you covering awareness, meaning:

  1. how do you actually gain new audience
  2. how are you covering nurturing that audience
  3. how you are building trust with that audience

Three different pieces. So how are you showing third-party validation or some kind of social proof so that you're not the only one saying you're great? How are you creating awareness so that you're actually reaching new people? And then how are you taking all of those new people that now have heard about you and converting those to new customers?

That's always going to be the root of marketing. It's going to be done in very different ways, and that I can't predict. But it's always going to have to cover those three things.

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