Brooke Beach, Founder and CEO at MarketWake (Atlanta, GA), a results-driven, strategy-focused digital marketing agency, partners with medium to large companies looking to grow, scale, or introduce new products or penetrate new markets. In this interview, she explains how her company “partners” with its clients to take them to “the next level,” how she expects AI, A, and holographic technologies will play out in the marketing world, and how Google’s OKR system keeps her company on track.
MarketWake consults with client companies, determines business goals, executes in-depth company and market research, develops plans, identifies marketing channels, and either implement the plans or works with in-house marketing teams to track timeliness, deliverables, and targeted goals. Unique about the company is the close alliances it forms with its client companies, often functioning as an “outsourced CMO,” and its technological orientation: Six months after starting MarketWake, Brooke left her company in the hands of a business partner and served as CEO of a tech company for 15 months during its pivot . . . just for the experience.
Brooke also addressees what to do when a channel taps out. She believes that the well never runs completely dry?you might have to drill deeper, you might have to find new opportunities?but,
even when going into new markets, your current customers are often your best customers. Always market to your base by asking the questions: What they are happy with? What are they not happy with? and Where are the opportunities for upsell?
Brooke can be reached via email at: email@example.com.
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I am joined today by Brooke Beach, Founder and CEO at MarketWake, based in Atlanta, Georgia. Welcome, Brooke.
BROOKE: So good to be here. Very excited.
ROB: Awesome to have you on here. Thanks for making some time. Why don’t you kick it off by telling us about MarketWake and what you’re excellent at?
BROOKE: MarketWake is a digital marketing agency, but we really focus on strategy. We’re strategy-first. Typically we partner with medium to large size companies, but mostly medium, where they’re looking to grow, scale, introduce a new product, or reach a new market. But they’ve reached that pivotal place where they know what they’re doing and they’ve done very, very well; they’re just ready to take it to the next level.
We come in almost as consultants in the beginning and work alongside of them to figure out what their business goals are. A lot of our clients actually call us their outsourced CMOs, which is fun. We do [that], and then we build a plan and figure out what marketing channels we need to activate, and then we can implement those or work with their in-house marketing team to make sure things are being done on time, the deliverables are getting achieved, and we’re reaching our goals.
At the end of the day, it’s all about results. One of the reasons why I started MarketWake was because I worked with a whole lot of agencies that had no concept of results or data or ROI, and that got frustrating. So we started this as a data-first, strategy-first agency.
ROB: That can be super frustrating. I was having a conversation yesterday with an agency leader who was talking about the number of marketers who are out there who are happy to do and take the budget and smile and be friends, but they kind of shrug on the results side of things.
BROOKE: Yes. It’s so important, too, because if you’re not looking at those results, you have no idea what is and is not working. At the end of the day, that’s a poor reflection on you and your team.
Since we founded MarketWake, we have lost only one client. They were a startup, and we’re not really a good fit for startups. But we have never lost any of our major clients because of this whole focus around “we are truly your partner.” We are going to be very transparent with the results.
Sometimes what we do is unbelievably successful. We’ve grown one of our clients—they were at a million dollar mark in a year and a half, got to that 5 million dollar mark with only their entire marketing team, which was really powerful to see. Sometimes data shows that what we’re doing works, sometimes it shows that what we’re doing does not work—but we put everything on the table so we can really solve it together.
ROB: Wow. You mentioned that you come in a lot of times when they realize they want to take things to the next level. What are some of the limits that you see people bumping up against that help them realize that they may need to look outside themselves, they may need to engage MarketWake or at the very least make a change in how they’re approaching things?
BROOKE: Typically we see they have a product, they’ve tapped into a really strong customer base, and the problem that they’re having is, how do we take it to the next level? They’ve been around for many years, typically. Sometimes their leadership team has tried a bunch of things and they’re not quite sure why the things that used to work are not working anymore.
You know that there’s so many different ways to gain traction, and you typically find a way that works and you drill in that hole until it’s dry. When it does run dry—which a lot of them inevitably will do—it’s hard to pull back and really figuring out where the next audience is, and how we can shift just a little bit our messaging or our product offering to reach a whole new interested market.
That’s when we come in and help them think a little bit more creatively about where they want to go, what this audience is actually looking for, and how to bring new people in the door.
ROB: What kind of process do you bring to the table when one channel is tapped out? How do you go about finding the next marketing channel or approach that’s going to work, or maybe even how to go deeper in what they think may be tapped out?
BROOKE: We do a good amount of research. I was talking to a CEO the other day—we went live with him several months ago, and he was like, “I’ve been in this industry for 20 years and I’ve never seen research as spot-on as what you guys did.”
If we’re entering into a relationship, you guys have typically been in the industry for 10, 15, 20 years. We could potentially be new, so it’s unbelievably important that we are completely caught up and we know as much as we possibly can about who your target audience is, what you do, why you’re different.
So typically the first 6 weeks looks like heavy research. We do everything from client interviews to focus groups, industry statistics, SEO analysis, content analysis, competitive analysis, everything in between. From that, we create a whole document of recommendations, opportunities, and avenues that we can pursue. We bring that to the table and typically have 2-3 hours in the room with the C-Suite, CMOs, whoever is commissioning this project, and we build out a plan.
ROB: It sounds fairly compatible, I think, with the idea in that Gabriel Weinberg book Traction, with having these different channels and being tapped out. Are you familiar with that? Is that relevant, or do you have some thinking even beyond that book, of ways people who have read that book can think about doing better?
BROOKE: Absolutely. I have read that book, love the book, and I do agree with him in a lot of ways. He looks at the 19 different traction channels. One of the things that we do that might be a little bit different is I don’t believe a well ever runs completely dry. I think you need to tap into new avenues, but create an engine where you’re consistently engaging and have outreach into those—because you never know when it’s going to fill up again.
The other thing that’s so important that people continue to forget about is their base. We are constantly marketing and upselling their base, and oftentimes receive massive amounts of revenue from their existing customers that they just forgot about because they’re always looking for that new.
So traction channels do a really good job of finding that new avenue and that new channel, but often—especially if these companies have a good established base—we need to look within and figure out what those customers are happy with, not happy with, or where there are opportunities for upsell.
Sometimes those are by far our most valuable campaigns, lowest cost to acquire. Minimal marketing activities are needed. Just showing your customers a little love every now and then in a pretty strategic way can be incredible for your bottom line.
ROB: That’s a huge point, to not forget that sometimes the biggest business opportunities are with the people you’re already working with, and they’re staring you right in the face.
You mentioned, Brooke, a little bit of the backstory of MarketWake. Take us through what led you to start this company, and what was the journey there?
BROOKE: I graduated from University of Georgia. Grew up in Georgia and wanted nothing to do with it when I graduated. I said, “I’ll never live back here.” I actually worked for a company that was based in San Francisco. They were a startup, and I helped lead nationwide peer campaigns for Fortune 500 companies. It was amazing.
To see that juxtaposition between a Fortune 500 and a San Francisco startup was mind-boggling. The startup was fast-moving, it was exciting, they were trying new things, they were really pushing the limits. Whenever you would talk to the Fortune 500 companies, certain teams were good, but there was so much red tape involved. There was good and bad to both.
I traveled about 32 weeks a year for several years. It was exhausting. I saw everything I could ever want to see. It is not as glamorous as I once thought, all that travel. It’s basically homelessness, is what it is. [laughs]
I’ll tell you this story. I had been on the road, and all you’re doing is eating out in restaurants, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, because you don’t have a home base. So I was staying at this Hyatt, I can’t remember what city. They went to take my order, and I said, “Can I please have peanut butter toast and milk?” [laughs] They said, “Excuse me? No, absolutely not. It’s dinner.” I said, “No, you don’t understand. That’s all I want.”
This very kind lady came out and brought me peanut butter toast and milk and said I was allowed to go sit by the fire and call it home if I needed to. Amazing.
ROB: [laughs] Wow. So coming from that road life, then where did your path take you?
BROOKE: Back to Atlanta. I ended up making my way back to Atlanta, worked for a company called PGI. When I started at PGI, they were rebuilding their marketing team. The CEO, a year or two before, had fired the entire marketing team and said, “We need to completely restart.” It was a massive, massive change for the organization.
When I came I think they were getting like three inbound leads every month—and it was a half a billion dollar company to be getting three inbound leads. Then when I left, it was a team of about 22, and we had created a really solid process for onboarding, working with our base, client retention, and acquisition.
When I left there, I worked at a company called Kevy, which was a tech startup here in the Atlanta area founded by someone named David Cummings, who had started and sold Pardot not too long before. I came on as marketing associate. I was young; ended up working there for a couple of years, worked my way up from associate to specialist to director.
It was during that time that Kevy started to pivot. At the time it was a point-to-point API company where basically—not to get too technical—the process was how we can get all of these different apps and SaaS softwares to talk to each other. Kevy was going to act as the Rosetta Stone of all of these different softwares. It’s an amazing idea in theory; in practice, APIs are not normalized. There’s lots of customization there, so it wasn’t quite as easy as that.
So they started to pivot. When that happened, I decided it was the perfect time to start this agency. It’d really been eating away at me. I got the entrepreneur bug when I worked for the company in San Francisco and knew it was about that time. So I started MarketWake.
Then about 6 months into starting MarketWake, David asked me back to Kevy to be the CEO as it was undergoing a pivot.
That was one of the hardest decisions of my life. We had clients, I had a partner at MarketWake—well, not quite yet, actually. I’d brought her on to help me run creative, and I had to sit there and look at her, and what was I going to say? “There’s this really exciting opportunity and I think I’m just going to bail, leave you here. Thanks for quitting your job and following me, but I’ve got to go.”
That was horrible, but we sat around and talked about it and realized where MarketWake was, we had a few really amazing clients. We were blessed to have kind of a floodgate of clients from the get-go. We decided the experience that I would get from being a CEO of a tech company while it’s undergoing a pivot, really in not a great place, would be astronomical to our own growth one day.
If it was going to be temporary, she said, “I can hold down the fort while you’re gone. Don’t take too long, but get it to a good place, and then please come back.” [laughs] It was a lot of stress and excitement and fear, but we decided “let’s go ahead and do this,” and she did a phenomenal job of keeping MarketWake strong and going. We never lost a client during that 15 months.
I came back as CEO for Kevy. In the first week, I had to lay off a whole bunch of people, one of which was in my own wedding. That didn’t go over well. [laughs] Not at all. I felt terrible. But at the same time, we were growing, we were building. We were creating a brand new product that didn’t exist before. I had an awesome team at Kevy, an amazing partner at MarketWake. I decided we were going to make this work.
In the course of 15 months we were able to get Kevy from negative to breakeven, at which time I decided it was in good hands with my CTO, so I was able to step out and go back to MarketWake. Kevy’s still being run by my CTO, Don, who’s now the CEO.
ROB: That’s pretty cool, to bring a startup through to viability.
BROOKE: It was hard.
ROB: Is there any version of that story, if things had gone just shockingly, amazingly, super-duper rocket ship well, is there a scenario you could imagine where you would’ve been tempted to stick around to continue growing Kevy? Is that a world, the world of a tech company and running that, that you get tempted to go back to at any point in the future?
BROOKE: Absolutely. It’s a great honest question. I think about it all the time. Where I was, the fact that I had made a promise to my partner at MarketWake, I don’t think it could have worked out for me to stay there.
The other thing is, MarketWake was mine. I started it from the beginning. It was all me. And I didn’t own Kevy, David owned Kevy. So that was another piece of it. Yes, if it would’ve taken off, it would’ve been even more amazing to be able to hand it back and say, “Check it out, look at all of this incredible stuff!” But at that point in time, it was really no question for me to come back to MarketWake, because I had started something and I was definitely going to finish it. I really felt that my time at Kevy was always going to be short-term.
That said, I did get a taste of technology, and I really do love it. I absolutely think that’s in my future in some way. We already have a dev team that’s building some products here and there, testing them out.
The beautiful thing about services—I know a lot of people say, “They can’t scale as quickly.” Services give you a whole lot of revenue very early on, and I think that that’s underrated or overlooked for a lot of people who are so focused on what the next big tech item is going to be, or the next big platform is going to be.
Where we’re at with MarketWake, if we do decide to launch a new product, we’re going to be able to self-fund it. That is also really important. Not to say we would never get investors, but from the get-go we would be able to go a long way with building it out and then see where it takes us.
ROB: Very cool. It’s amazing; in short order, you’ve hit for the cycle, as marketers go. You’ve been on the marketing tack, the vendor/startup side of the world, you’ve been brand side, you’ve been agency side. If someone’s feeling entrepreneurial but also trying to decide between those worlds, how would you suggest they think about that decision?
BROOKE: Good luck. [laughs] I think it is worth trying a few things. I was fortunate enough to be able to try a lot of things when I was young. I had three or four really, really good opportunities when I was young to get it out of my system and figure out what I like and don’t like.
The people who are service-oriented, who really like that client-facing aspect of work in their job, I think figure out a way to serve well in what you do, bring expertise to it, but then figure out a way to make it go beyond you.
I’m a mentor here in Atlanta, and I talk to a lot of people, whether they’re in tech or services. I think one of the shortcomings of people who have the professional service mindset when they’re early entrepreneurs is they take on everything and they have a really hard time delegating, or a really hard time letting other people do it because they have grown and succeeded based on their methods, their practice, their viewpoints, their creative ways that they solve problems.
You can’t scale it if it’s just going to be you, so my biggest advice is always to say take that leap of faith. Bring on a partner, bring on a team member, and be okay to let them be themselves and help you grow. You really need that in services.
ROB: That’s some good learning. What are some other things you’ve learned as you’ve built MarketWake—and you can dip back into Kevy a little bit if you want—that you would do differently next time?
BROOKE: I think I would be more clear with goals from an earlier stage. Some of the things that I learned, especially when you start a company, it’s all of these stars in your eyes, lofty ideas, “this is going to be amazing, we’re going to meet these crazy high objectives within the first 5 months of being in business,” and your timelines are always a whole lot shorter than what is reality.
I would set more realistic expectations of what the timeline is going to be and what I’m going to achieve, not just in the 10-year goal, but next month and the month after. It’s crazy how fast months fly by, and all of a sudden here we are, it’s almost June in 2018, and have you met the objectives that you wish you would have or thought you would have? If you’re not writing those down every single month or looking at them every single week, it’s really easy to miss a lot of that.
We actually use a tool, an OKR. Have you ever heard of OKRs, Rob?
ROB: Yeah, but explain that out, because I don’t know it very well and it sounds like you do. Give us a dive there.
BROOKE: It’s Objectives and Key Results. You can actually find a template online. It’s what Google uses and they’ve done pretty well, so I figure, why recreate the wheel? Do what Google does.
It is a really powerful document where you can have different tabs for each department, and you state your company objectives and key results of how you’re going to get there over the next quarter, 6 months, or a year.
We do it by quarter, so every year we have a company “what do we want to achieve this year?”, and then we break that down by quarter. So every single quarter we have a team meeting where first we create our company objectives. These are the things that we want to achieve this quarter in light of how they fall with our 1-year goals.
Then the key results are actionable. They need to be yes/no. Did we launch this campaign? Did we get this many new customers? Did we upsell our existing customer base in some way?
Then you score them. Built into this template is a scoring system, and your goal is to be a 0.6 or above. That all sounds a little bit elusive right now on the phone; it’s a lot easier when you can look at it in person. But at the end of the quarter we go through, score it, see what each team did, what we didn’t do. What we need to roll over to the next quarter we can.
But it is unbelievable to keep everyone on the same page. Anyone listening to this who’s in services or has their own agency knows, your own agency is the last one to get focused on. You’re focused on all of your other clients 24/7, and sometimes it’s hard to build your business because your team is focused on building the businesses of everyone else.
ROB: Are there any particular resources you find helpful for OKRs? Any sites or books or where to get started, if they want to learn more?
BROOKE: Anything on Google. Since they started it, they have a very, very good—I can’t remember the article name, but they’ve got a lot of blogs about how they use it, how different teams use it, and how they set their company goals.
ROB: Got it. In general, whether it’s for MarketWake or for broader marketing opportunities, what are you excited about that’s coming up?
BROOKE: There’s so many new technologies right now. I mentioned earlier that we’re dabbling a little bit in figuring out product, and agency life is another really good way of testing the market to see what takes on and what people are excited about—which is another advantage to having services first.
I’m seeing a lot with AI and AR especially. I was asked to be on the Super Bowl Tech Committee, because the Super Bowl’s going to be in Atlanta this year, which is awesome. Just hearing some of the ideas being tossed around for an event this size that can actually spill into our everyday life is pretty astronomical. Getting a lot into everything from holograms—all the Harry Potter fun stuff that you think would never come to fruition is actually on the horizon. [laughs]
So I think we’re in for a whole different way we experience products, events, and just our life in general through the use of holograms, AI, and AR.
ROB: Around the Super Bowl, maybe even for the general fan who’s just coming down near the events, is there going to be a significant augmented reality component this year, do you think?
BROOKE: I’m not positive, but I think that it would be a safe bet to want to see that. I think that there’s no reason why it can’t be involved in some capacity. Can you imagine walking down and seeing your favorite players standing there in front of you, but they’re AR/hologram in some capacity? It brings engagement and access.
I think that’s another thing. Typically when you’re wanting to meet your favorite players or view certain things, it’s VIP. You’ve got to pay a whole lot of money for those meet & greets. But if there’s some virtual component there, it gives access to larger groups of people.
ROB: Got it. With artificial intelligence, it can mean a wide range of things. Where do you think AI is coming home to roost sooner, and where is it actually going to make a difference versus kind of being a science project?
BROOKE: I think it’s going to make a difference in everything from document reading—some of the research that I mentioned before that we do, it is an extremely manual process. We’re reading through emails and documents and case studies and all kinds of things. We literally have an entire research team that’s dedicated to it. It’s almost like a legal briefing team, where they go into a room, they’re reading everything that they possibly can that the customer is willing to give us from the get-go, and extrapolating these key ideas and thoughts.
I think that is an area where AI could absolutely be used by saying these are the aspects/words/phrases/key thoughts that we want to find in these documents—or maybe we don’t even know what we want to find. Are there patterns to these documents that we haven’t seen with the naked eye yet? That would be unbelievably powerful for an agency. I know many legal teams are already using it for legal reviews.
So I think it will start to seep into our everyday lives in doing the tasks that are very time-consuming. A lot of people are worried, “AI is going to take over and it’s going to take jobs.” I think it’s actually going to allow us to be better at our jobs because it’s going to do a lot of the work that is way too time-consuming for us to be paying someone else to do manually.
ROB: Within the past couple of weeks did you see this video, the Google Duplex technology that will make phone calls, and they called a restaurant to make a reservation?
BROOKE: No, I have not seen this. What is this?
ROB: It’s called Google Duplex. I think if you google “Google Duplex,” I think it will come up. They did it at their keynote. It’s an artificial intelligence making a phone call on your behalf. It’s unclear whether this is a product they have right now or if they’re just moving in the right direction for it, but the idea is that you can say, “Hey Google, make me a reservation.”
(I just triggered everybody’s Google Home that has one. Great.)
But “Make me a reservation at this restaurant on Thursday after 7:00,” and it rings the phone and it talks to the person at the restaurant and tells them how many people they want to have the reservation for, and it sounds like a person. It says “um,” it says “uh,” it responds when the person on the phone doesn’t answer the question quite correctly, they think that it’s for a table of seven instead of after 7 p.m.
It’s really convincing. At least in the demo. It may not be real, but it’s kind of real, at least.
BROOKE: That I will absolutely be looking up.
ROB: Yeah, I don’t think you can put it in the client pitch yet as something they should do. I think it’s in keeping with the AI and AR discussions. There are a lot of questions of what can it do versus what should it do, what’s appropriate, what’s creepy, what’s helpful. I think you have a particular spot at the table to help people decide what they’re going to do. It’s interesting to have your take on that side of things.
BROOKE: It is very interesting. It comes back to—several years ago, big data and IoT—all of those things are great in theory, but it really comes down to, honestly, creative people and agencies and businesspeople who figure out how they can incorporate that into their jobs, products, lifestyles.
All these new technologies come out every single day, but if there’s not a very clear use for it, it’s fun to look at videos of, but it’s not necessarily going to have that splash.
ROB: Right. What’s helpful with you, with MarketWake, is you’re going to bring it back to results. You’re not just going to be talking about shiny objects. That’s pretty cool.
You mentioned that you’re coming in as this outsourced CMO. Is there some scope and scale where you think a company might think about it being important to build their own full-strength, internal capability? There’s a point where they need help, and then they get help—is there a point that’s the next next level, do you think? Or is that a different service offering you may even offer within MarketWake?
BROOKE: No, I think it’s fair. Once a company gets to a certain point, I do think it makes sense to have some in-house presence. Typically we are working with companies who have an in-house presence in some way, because we can’t think about and communicate with your entire team 24/7.
Having someone or a team there who is around your internal team, who can pick up on cultural nuances, who can pick up on those sales calls, I think is really important. We work very nicely with companies who have that internal team, but they just need assistance to either get things done or build out a strategy.
It’s gone both ways. There have been times where we have taken the place of an internal CMO—which is always hard, but an honor. I’ve even had to be at board meetings for some of our clients, which is crazy for an agency to speak during those board meetings. [laughs] Typically that is an internal job.
And then we’ve had it the other way, where we’ve worked with companies and they’re excited about what we’re doing but they don’t necessarily have the time to devote, so they’ve brought a couple people in-house so they can manage a lot of the communications back and forth. It just depends on where they’re at.
ROB: It’s such a needed and helpful role to play. I’m glad to see you coming in and helping with the strategy, but also with some of the execution, bringing some different channels and tactics to bear—but also bringing attention back to the source of new business, which is the clients you already have and doing more for them.
Brooke, when someone wants to get in touch with you and MarketWake, how can they find you?
BROOKE: I have no problem giving out my email. They can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ROB: Very good. Anything else coming up for MarketWake that we should be paying attention to? Any big client announcements?
BROOKE: Yes, actually. Some potentially big client announcements, but I can’t say anything yet, so hang in there. We’ll have to do some sort of update in a couple weeks.
ROB: You’ll have to follow them. Go to the website or LinkedIn, Facebook—where are you most active?
BROOKE: Website and Instagram, for sure.
ROB: Website and Instagram, fantastic. Thank you, Brooke. Great to have you on here. Congratulations on everything you’re building at MarketWake. You mentioned the buildout of more office space.
BROOKE: We are.
ROB: Which is exciting. You have people to put in there, so it’s exciting.
BROOKE: It’s good. It’s all good. Fantastic to talk to you, as always.
ROB: Thanks so much, Brooke. Take care.
ROB: Thank you for listening. The Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast is presented by Converge. Converge helps digital marketing agencies and brands automate their reporting so they can be more profitable, accurate, and responsive. To learn more about how Converge can automate your marketing reporting, email email@example.com, or visit us on the web at convergehq.com.