Kent Lewis’s frankly impressive profile spans back to the 90’s when he first started his web marketing career. In 1999, he co-founded two agencies: Wave Rock and email ROI. Then came pdxMindShare, SEMpdx and Formic Media. In total, he’s worked at 9 agencies in various capacities. His corporate roles include Director of Marketing and Business Development, and Chief Marketing Officer. He’s been a board member at SMART and Membership Chair at the Portland chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO).
And that’s not even getting into his role on advisory boards, or his speaking engagements at industry events, or regular contributions to notable publications. Not to mention the slew of industry awards under his belt. Phew!
Currently, Kent serves as President and founder of Anvil Media, which has quickly accrued a number of industry awards, including a place on Inc. 5000’s fastest growing private companies in America.
On this installment of Agency Gurus, Kent discusses his ambitions for Anvil Media, the goals he tries to achieve with his many podcasts, and what the future of ethical, post-COVID marketing looks like. Strap in!
Cloudways: Thank you so much for being with us, Kent. You have an incredibly prolific background – your internet marketing career kicked off in the 90’s, and you’ve founded quite a few agencies in the years since, including Anvil Media, whose mission is to become “one of the most respected search engine marketing agencies in the world.” Why this goal, and how are you making it a reality?
Kent: Excellent question. I’ve always felt anything worth doing is worth doing exceptionally well. If I can’t make an impact through my actions or insights, what’s the point? One of the reasons I’ve been a part of so many agencies in the first few years of my career is that I struggled to find a fit where I could make an impact.
Once I took the opportunity to do my own thing as Anvil, I decided to walk my talk and do it right. That means ensuring 100% of our team is Google Certified, that I pass our own internal Anvil University training, teach as an adjunct professor at the local university (since 2000) and continually optimize our service mix, processes and delivery to maximize ROI for our clients.
As a result, we are regularly recognized with industry awards, but that is only an outcome of our efforts to make an impact vs. a goal.
Cloudways: Anvil Media specializes in search engine marketing. What do you think is the most common thing agencies get wrong about optimizing their ads for social media? What does a successful SEM campaign look like for you?
Kent: We’ve been in the business for 20 years, so we’ve seen literally hundreds of campaigns, some built by in-house teams and others by agencies or freelancers. One of the most common errors we’ve seen with social media ads is improper or incomplete targeting. Many campaigns are too broad or sometimes too narrow.
The second most common oversight we see is stale creative. Unlike Google ads, social display ads get tired quickly. A well-optimized campaign regularly revisits ad targeting, ad creative as well as landing page optimization.
Cloudways: You’ve spoken about how you primarily use digital PR for outreach and to grow your agency. Beyond link building, how can digital PR be used to amplify a brand’s reach?
Kent: As a traditionally-trained PR professional, I’ve leaned heavily on foundational best practices to build Anvil’s brand. Beyond the benefits of link building, PR provides exceptional brand awareness and credibility-building via third-party validation.
Press coverage is powerful, even without a follow-link back to your website. Speaking opportunities, syndicated articles, speaking opportunities and press releases all have the benefit of generating awareness with target audiences. Links are a natural result of strategic PR efforts.
Cloudways: As a notable and versatile podcaster, what goals do you try to achieve with your podcasts, and are there any metrics you use to measure success? What would you say are the necessary elements for creating an interesting show?
Kent: My podcast efforts (as a co-host or guest) is primarily brand awareness-oriented. My secondary goal is credibility-building as a thought-leader. While audience (listens, subscribers) and engagement (shares, reviews, comments) are important KPIs, they are secondary to the ability to utilize the content for sales and marketing efforts and in generating qualified leads.
Podcasting provides a relatively easy way to create audio (and video) content for social media and content marketing strategies. We’ve also monetized podcasting by creating and managing programs for our clients.
Cloudways: You’ve talked about how the future of marketing is for brands to be transparent about their processes, and to be socially and ethically responsible. Why should brands be motivated to incorporate ethical marketing strategies? And going forward in the new decade, what do ethical marketing practices look like?
Kent: It’s no longer good enough to green-wash business practices. Consumers are voting with their wallets and brands are being impacted. Organizations that choose to ignore consumers’ interest in social and ethical responsibility are paying a price in terms of reduced revenue. Brands that are embracing social and ethical responsibility are being rewarded. Patagonia and other brands are seeing strong sales while others suffer.
Corporate responsibility goes beyond words, rules or policies to action: from sustainably sourced raw materials to fair pay and treatment of employees to minimizing the impact on the environment throughout the supply chain. Brands like McDonald’s, Walmart and Amazon are all advertising their focus on the environment, yet have a high number of employees relying on federal programs for economic support. Providing fair wages and benefits should be their focus in 2021.
Cloudways: The pandemic’s been around for a year now, and according to you, its impact on marketing and customer behavior will most likely be enduring. What do you think are some of the changes that will stick around for the foreseeable future? What major changes will agencies have to make to their communication strategies to adapt?
Kent: The greatest impact COVID has had on consumer behavior, in my opinion, is the gravitation towards digital communications as well as remote work (Zoomification of business). Digital transformation became a call-to-arms in 2020 as brands scrambled to move towards digital communication and service delivery. 2021 will see brands largely complete the transformation.
The biggest challenge for brands, will be adjusting marketing and sales strategies towards virtual events as physical events will take another 12 months to recover. As a result, agencies must not only adjust service offerings to focus on digital channels and high-ROI channels and strategies as the economic uncertainty remains until a vaccine is widely available.
Cloudways: What role do high-ticket clients play in Anvil Media’s growth? Do you use any particular strategies to target them?
Kent: If rapid growth was Anvil’s primary goal, securing and retaining large accounts is essential. Fortunately, we have a more conservative organic growth goal that allows us to be more selective. We choose to work with brands that know who they are and where they are going. We help get them there as quickly and affordably as possible.
That approach has led to greater client retention and long-term growth of those accounts. As a result, we focus our sales and marketing efforts towards brands with a clear purpose/mission/vision, good reputation in their industry and aggressive but achievable growth goals.
Cloudways: As an analytics specialist, what are the top tools you would recommend to agencies to track their clients’ campaigns and optimize results?
Kent: A majority of our clients are considered small-CAP companies, and therefore have relatively simple reporting needs and technologies. As a result, we rely heavily on Google platforms and lightly augment as-needed, based on specific client needs, martech stack and goals. We like Google Analytics, Google Data Studio and reporting provided by Google Ads.
We do incorporate call tracking, heat-mapping and other tools to optimize campaigns on the paid side.
On the SEO side, we rely on platforms like Moz, SpyFu, Screaming Frog, Semrush and others.
Cloudways: And finally, who would you like to see us interview next in this space?
Kent: I’m a big fan of SEMpdx board members and their perspectives (especially Todd Mintz). Also big thinkers like David Mihm from the advisory board are impressive.
Our thanks for sharing those deep insights, Kent!
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Manal works in digital marketing at Cloudways, where she shines up content primarily by torturing the Oxford comma. After hours, you can find her rambling about books, movies and music, and ranting about media and politics to anyone foolhardy enough to listen.