Todd Hedberg Of The Lacek Group On How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC, & Email to Dramatically Increase Sales

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Resilience: Best-laid plans often don’t work out, especially with digital advertising. But embracing a “fail fast” mentality of refining and testing ad components leads to success. So much can be learned from digital ad platforms, even when response is much lower than anticipated.

Marketing a product or service today is easier than ever before in history. Using platforms like Facebook ads or Google ads, a company can market their product directly to people who perfectly fit the ideal client demographic, at a very low cost. Digital Marketing tools, Pay per Click ads, and email marketing can help a company dramatically increase sales. At the same time, many companies that just start exploring with digital marketing tools often see disappointing results.

In this interview series called “How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC, & Email to Dramatically Increase Sales”, we are talking to marketers, advertisers, brand consultants, & digital marketing gurus who can share practical ideas from their experience about how to effectively leverage the power of digital marketing, PPC, & email.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Todd Hedberg.

Todd Hedberg has 20 years of experience driving strategic marketing from client roles in the healthcare, financial, and medical device industries, along with agency work leading digital marketing client services. In his current role as the director of digital strategy at The Lacek Group, he provides strategic digital engagement recommendations to support clients’ loyalty program growth and performance. He holds an M.B.A. degree from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., where he also serves as adjunct faculty for the Executive Education program for advanced digital marketing certification courses.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My passion for marketing was ignited at a young age through seeing my mother manage large-scale marketing campaigns. Her experienced varied from Fortune 100 companies to rapidly growing startups. I found it fascinating how effective marketing can positively change perceptions and purchasing behavior with key audiences.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Early in my career I was working on direct marketing for a consumer medical goods company. My role was to support our partner clinics by executing their local marketing. I accidentally swapped mailing lists on a fall direct-mail campaign — sending a Florida clinic’s direct-mail promotion to a batch of New York zip codes. Lo and behold, several months later the Florida clinic was flooded with snowbirds bringing in the mail piece and looking to purchase. This accident unlocked an insight that most snowbirds wait to make purchasing decisions until they settle in their winter destination. Sometimes accidents lead to useful insights — which is a reminder to stay open to new discoveries, whatever the source.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have managers who were committed to helping me reach my potential. A few years into my career, my manager encouraged me to take the next step in my growth by presenting to large audiences at customer training events — and I was nervous. In fact, the first time I co-presented with my manager I froze up during the introductions! Eventually, though, I flourished in these speaking engagement opportunities — gaining the skills and confidence to lead seminar rooms filled with hundreds of people on numerous occasions. That manager’s confidence — and prodding! — helped me grow in ways I wouldn’t have imagined, and I remain grateful.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The Lacek Group is best known for building many of the world’s most iconic loyalty programs. In fact, a new client came to us recently solely because they wanted to work with the agency that built the Marriott Bonvoy program, which Lacek still manages today. But I think it’s the culture and people at Lacek that truly differentiate us from other agencies. The level of collaboration among employees is unparalleled, as is the degree of trust in our leadership. These internal strengths shine through in our client work — so much so that many of our new clients come through recommendations from brand leaders who’ve worked with Lacek before.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

For me, curiosity and passion are the biggest drivers of success. The ever-changing digital marketing landscape really sparks those traits in me. I’m continuously immersing myself in innovations and exploring new and practical ways to apply to existing strategies. A third key trait I’d add is gratitude. After pausing much of the work I was leading in a previous role — due to the impact of the pandemic — I’m fortunate to have opportunities to help brands look forward again and thrive in our new, post-COVID business landscape.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, the last few months have been filled with a variety of exciting new projects. I’ve been supporting work for clients looking to accelerate their growth and customer loyalty in industries that include electric vehicles, home siding, facial aesthetics, and more. I’m always fascinated by marketing commonalities — and idiosyncrasies — across apparently disparate industries.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. As we mentioned in the beginning, sometimes companies that just start exploring with digital marketing tools like PPC campaigns often see disappointing results. In your opinion, what are a few of the biggest mistakes companies make when they first start out with digital marketing? If you can, please share an example for each.

A successful digital marketing strategy needs to be rooted in a strong sense of the target customer’s online behaviors and preferences. For example, in a past role I lead digital strategy for a hearing aid technology company. We determined that Facebook was a prime advertising channel, but Instagram was not, due to the age-related usage patterns. Thus, removing Instagram from our ad placements on Meta, ensuring only Facebook delivery, was critical to achieving a positive ROI instead of a negative one. We dove deeper to learn that news feed posts greatly outperformed Facebook Stories and other placements on the channel.

Also, search is a critical piece for achieving sustainable success in all industries, especially e-commerce brands and even B2B companies. The best way to achieve a high ROI with lasting results is a strong search-engine optimization (SEO) strategy. Not only knowing the right keywords to optimize for your target customers but also finding those nuggets of high search volume but low competition is vital. Brands who neglect SEO need their paid efforts to work miracles for them on a regular basis, often resulting in a high level of performance volatility.

This is especially important for the razor-thin line between success and failure. The biggest failures I commonly see with digital pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns is insufficient strategic planning to ensure proper campaign setup. Much like search-engine optimization, so much technical work is required during setup to ensure effective ad delivery. Reliance on the default platform settings and AI tools typically results in skewed keyword context and missed audience targeting.

If you could break down a very successful digital marketing campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.

A digital marketing road map should start with website and SEO development. No ads should run without a demonstrated ability to capture and convert leads organically. Implementing CRM capabilities for lead nurturing and scoring is also essential. If your brand relies on lead management for hand-off to distribution or retail partners to convert the sale, then that aspect needs to be established as well.

Once the bottom-of-the-funnel is leak proofed, it’s time to start running digital advertising campaigns to drive demand. The easiest and most effective way to start is social ads prioritized to the channels where your brand finds the highest organic engagement rates. Paid search can also begin at this point — but it typically takes a few months for a quality score to be established and campaigns to rise in page rankings. I generally take a wait-and-see approach with programmatic ad campaigns given the typically low ROI from display ads. If your brand is solely focused on awareness (and not ROI) out of the gate, which is usually a mistake, then programmatic may make sense. Though pay close attention to where those campaigns are running and their response rates.

Let’s talk about Pay Per Click Marketing (PPC) for a bit. In your opinion which PPC platform produces the best results to increase sales?

Google. I know there are stories of better success found for large brands on Bing and other secondary search engines, but I’ve rarely encountered that myself. Small and medium-sized brands don’t have massive budgets to own category searches, making secondary search engines less strategically helpful. Google’s plethora of viable platform options within the ecosystem are useful. For e-commerce brands, for example, ads optimized for Google Shopping and YouTube tend to have the greatest lift. Google Maps promotions are strong drivers of in-store traffic for retail stores. Analyzing the best placement of ad funds within Google is critical for any brand spending money on that platform.

Can you please share 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful PPC campaign?

  1. Channel opportunities: PPC extends into placement opportunities beyond standard search with maps, shopping, video, and more.
  2. Keyword research: The best path to success is unlocking relevant keyword targets around your product or service that have high search volumes but low competition. Often that requires extensive research and testing to uncover those prime keyword opportunities.
  3. Campaign optimization: Whether it’s adjusting campaign bids and content to meet audience behavior changes or platform algorithm updates, PPC campaigns require an always-on approach to conversion rate optimization.

Let’s now talk about email marketing for a bit. In your opinion, what are the 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful email marketing campaign that increases sales?

Email strategy is fundamental to digital marketing. While best practices for content and layout have essentially remained the same over the last couple of decades, innovations in AI have changed the game. Brands that rely on email marketing as a key customer communication channel must embrace and leverage AI optimization tools for delivery time, imagery, natural language, and promotional offer personalization to every recipient.

Here are three key critical aspects of email marketing success:

  1. Content: Does the message add immediate value to the recipient based on expressed interests? If not, don’t send it.
  2. Cadence: Does the frequency of your emails drive greater engagement or unsubscribes? Paying attention to performance data often makes or breaks email marketing campaigns.
  3. Tone: Given the reality that most people are flooded with marketing emails, can your email cut through the clutter to brighten their day? Whether your brand achieves 1:1 content personalization or not, knowing what tone to use helps generate opens and ongoing engagement.

What are the other digital marketing tools that you are passionate about? If you can, can you share with our readers what they are and how to best leverage them?

I love leveraging back-end marketing automation capabilities to deliver value at scale. This involves automated touch-point delivery across email and social as well as automation of core components of demand generation programs, such as lead routing and lead management.

Instilling personalization in lead-nurture and triggered-repurchase communications represents the apex of effective digital marketing. No matter if you use HubSpot, Marketo, MailChimp, or another automation platform, this practice is vital to achieving high performance over time.

Here is the main question of our series. Can you please tell us the 5 things you need to create a highly successful career as a digital marketer? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Humility: The digital marketing landscape changes every day. Expertise in any aspect of digital marketing is a mirage, but that’s what keeps it so exciting for me. In my teaching engagements at several universities, I have to regularly overhaul many of my platform strategy slides monthly to stay up to date with the latest best practices.
  2. Curiosity: The digital world offers limitless possibilities. To stay curious, to keep seeking valuable insights, digital marketers need to continually ask “What if … ?”
  3. Diligence: While digital campaigns move quickly, maintain a marathon mentality to drive sustainable success. Often small campaign insights captured after a few iterations unlock insights that catapult digital marketing efforts forward. Those key insights can’t be discovered without diligent review of analytics and research.
  4. Resilience: Best-laid plans often don’t work out, especially with digital advertising. But embracing a “fail fast” mentality of refining and testing ad components leads to success. So much can be learned from digital ad platforms, even when response is much lower than anticipated.
  5. Tenacity: This attribute is the most important, from my perspective, for driving ongoing results. Without a clear focus on execution strategies, the success of digital marketing campaigns, paid or unpaid, is often fleeting or sporadic. Leaving the heavy lifting to platform algorithms to guess the placement and targeting approach usually yields average results. High-performing campaigns, however, come from a tenacious desire to continuously revise and optimize based on key insights and opportunities.

During my time in the banking world, I inherited aggressively run PPC campaigns aimed at driving growth with retail banking products (e.g., checking accounts and mortgages). I was initially humbled by the deep level of understanding I’d need for these products’ user journeys to effectively hyper-target our messaging to trigger moments. My curiosity led me to further explore new journey moments around mobile banking that could drive consideration and conversions. Through my diligence in reviewing campaign performance analytics, I discovered a large percentage of the ad spend was dedicated to branded campaigns that produced a fraction of the conversions when compared to nonbranded campaigns. My resiliency proved pivotal for driving greater successes both with internal change management to garner approval to reallocate the branded campaign budget to new mobile banking-focused, nonbranded campaigns as well as overcoming initial flops with these new campaigns. Through my tenacity, these campaigns became a key driver of incremental conversions with new, younger audiences.

What books, podcasts, videos or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?

I love podcasts, especially when I’m driving or jogging. My mix spans a wide range of marketing topics, but I particularly recommend the Digital Marketing Podcast by Target Internet. The hosts blend a strategic and executionary view of digital marketing best practices. It’s refreshing to learn from those who understand the challenges and pains of implementing strategies to meet the latest trends. They provide quick-hit recommendations to get started with relative ease.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I love this question. I think we need to direct our attention to the nature of public discourse on social media platforms to foster greater decency and useful dialogue. Nearly five years ago I wrote an op-ed on this topic for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “Can Brands Save Social Media?” It’s still highly relevant. The crux of the article is that while general social media users engage anonymously and nefariously on social media, cluttering it with negativity, brands thrive by behaving cordially and providing inspiration for their followers. I’d love to see more brands set an example. In addition, we may also want to enforce constructive content contributions in social media.

How can our readers further follow your work?

While I used to maintain my own blog on social media strategies, The Social Media Frontier, I have more regularly contributed to teaching engagements and the Thought Leadership content at The Lacek Group.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

Todd Hedberg Of The Lacek Group On How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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