Boardroom Insight

Consulting Sector News and Trends

Interview: Ballantine director of digital services Ryan Cote on marketing strategy and AI

This interview is part of a Boardroom Insight article series exploring the marketing consulting landscape from the perspective of industry executives. Ryan Cote is partner and director of digital services at New Jersey-based marketing agency Ballantine. Founded in 1966, Ballantine works with B2C, B2B and nonprofit organizations. 

BI: Providing a positive client experience is a very important component of marketing agencies’ growth strategies and also one of the most complicated. What are some ways that small to medium-sized marketing agencies, and consultancies in general, can ensure a positive experience for clients?

RC: For us, it’s always been about continually fine-tuning the way we do things, from onboarding clients to the ongoing engagement. 

What works well comes down to these 4 things:

  1. Having a strong kickoff where you really dive into their business and goals — and then reminding them about the scope of work, access needed, and what the first 30 days will look like.
  2. Regular communication with a detailed agenda for each call. We usually meet with clients 1–2 times per month, and each meeting comes with an agenda inside Google Docs, so the client has a written trail of all our meeting notes.
  3. Responsiveness is key. If you’re taking more than 24 hours to respond to clients, that’s not ideal.
  4. And, of course, results. Make sure your clients know you’re working hard for them. Also, share wins with them and a game plan if things aren’t going in the right direction.

BI: When should a company go with a print marketing campaign and when should it opt for digital ads? Please explain some of the factors that should be considered when making the decision.

RC: It comes down to audience, goals and budget. For example, on the digital side, we often work with industrial manufacturers and, in most cases, their best choice is a digital campaign because they want a steady flow of cost-effective leads. For this audience, print is usually reserved for sales collateral for their sales team and handouts at trade shows.

On the direct mail side, we work heavily in the travel and non-profit industries, and print makes a lot of sense for them. For travel, if you’re selling cruise packages, consumers want to thumb through a booklet to experience their options. For non-profits, especially with the older demographics, they respond well to print because they have to mail in their donation – yes, this will eventually change as an organization attracts younger donors.

There are a lot of “it depends” with this question, but a good rule of thumb is this: If you’re a small to mid-size B2B company looking for leads, a digital campaign is probably your best bet; if you’re a mid- to large-size B2C company looking for brand awareness and sales, a combo of direct mail and digital marketing is probably your best bet.

BI: On the client side of things, what are some best practices that a business working with a marketing agency should follow to ensure that projects go as smoothly as possible? 

RC: This is an easy one. Communicate! Tell us what your needs and goals are, and if these change, make sure we’re in the loop. If you’re executing any additional marketing efforts, such as launching a new website, make sure your agency knows.

If your expectations are not being met, share your concerns. And the flip side is true too – if you’re really happy, let your agency know. 

Show up for every meeting as much as possible and actively engage with your agency. 

Lastly, if you require approval on any print or digital piece or campaign before going live, make sure you approve things quickly to keep the momentum flowing smoothly.

BI: Measurement is a major priority in the ad world, and also in adjacent sectors like PR. How can businesses measure the success of a digital ad campaign? And what about campaigns that include both digital and print ads?

RC:  For digital, it comes down to tracking form submissions and phone calls. We prefer creating thank you pages for every form on a client’s website and then setting up those pages as conversion goals inside Google Analytics. You can also track clicks on a sales@ or info@ email address, as those actions typically have commercial intent.

For tracking phone calls, we prefer CallRail, but other call tracking services are available. With call tracking, you set up numbers for each channel, and the number dynamically swaps based on the source of traffic coming to your website.

The bigger challenge is seeing the full path of a lead. If someone converts into a lead from an organic search, for example, there is a strong probability that they were brought into the picture via another channel, whether that’s Facebook, LinkedIn, a banner ad, or a paid ad. You can layer attribution software on top of Google Analytics if you want to see the full picture – and Google Analytics also gives you insight into which channels assisted with a conversion, and how many times.

For direct mail, you can do 2 things:

  1. Use a print-only call tracking number on your direct mail. The only place this number exists is on the print pieces, allowing you to effectively track calls from the campaign.
  2. Put a print-only landing page URL on your direct mail pieces. The only way they can “find” this page is if they received the direct mail piece. And to make it easy for your prospects to visit this URL, consider registering a branded, easy-to-type domain and forward it to the longer landing page URL.

BI: What are some new trends in the marketing industry that you believe are worth watching over the next five years?   

RC: Definitely artificial intelligence. What will change is how we write copy — blog posts, social media ads, even email sales outreach. Right now, humans write all our copy, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, but maybe we’ll learn the best way to use AI to complement and enhance our efforts. 

Also, we’re all already overloaded with too much content – and now it will be easier than ever to create new content. I don’t see content losing its value — we need it to learn and share value — and the search engines need it to answer search queries. I think it will still be an important part of most marketers’ overall campaign, but it’s going to take a lot more effort and strategy to get noticed.

We’re also experimenting with using artificial intelligence to improve our graphic design, especially when it comes to stock photography.

The next 5 years should be very interesting.