Today’s guest is Hallgeir Gustavsen. A self-proclaimed nerd, he’s the general manager* and creative advisor at Vecora, where he helps marketing managers become superheroes. He’s been working with marketing, sales and the web since 1998 and has built numerous brands from scratch, including his own – and today he’s a digital consultant who works with websites and ads, as well as visibility on digital surfaces and giving lectures on marketing, sales and social media.
This episode is centered around marketing, specifically direct response marketing, and how getting on top of your data can help your marketing efforts. Marketing and branding are closely interlinked disciplines – so this should be an interesting conversation indeed!
*Since recording this episode, Hallgeir has actually “fired himself” as general manager to take on a different role at Vecora – because he believed someone else would do a better job in that role – and that he could do a better job in a different role. Now that’s leadership skills on a whole ‘nother level!
TL;DR For those who want to connect with Hallgeir, you can find him here:
Digital marketing starter-course (in Norwegian)
Disclaimer: The following transcript has been auto-generated and then edited by me and while the general flow of the conversation is there, it’s most certainly not 100% accurate.
P: Welcome, Hallgeir! Thank you so much for joining me today.
H: Thank you so much for having me.
P: I always ask my guests to provide me with a bio for their intro. I don’t think I could do yours justice, so before we start… Let’s dig a little deeper into it! I get a sense that you have quite the entrepreneurial spirit – you listed some pretty innovative money-making ideas from an early age. Tell us about that.
H: Well, there is a Norwegian saying that you take what you have and you make the best of it. I don’t remember exactly what thing you’re thinking about, because I did a lot and I think in the bio I gave you there’s an extortion scheme to get money out of the innocent students at a school my mom worked at?
P: Yeah, that was one of them! Also something about rocks?
H: Yeah, well… if you have a backyard full of rocks, and that’s what you have… Then you take that. And you take your best innocent looking four year old eyes, batting eyelashes and everything, going door to door in the neighbourhood selling those rocks. And iIf you have an infinite supply of something that you can get paid for, it’s a good business opportunity.
P: That’s fantastic. Did you sell a lot of rocks?
H: Yes. Yes, we had… I wouldn’t say a rock imperium – but close. Yeah.
P: You started fairly young then, building brands and doing marketing.
H: Yes, well… after the extortion scheme where I stopped students going to classes and threatening to hit them with a reflective disc (it’s very painful to be hit with one of these things!) And I was four, I think and I was trying to extort them for five Norwegian kroner. If not, I would hit them. I was informed that that was not okay to do. So I had to broaden my emporium _ and then what else did I have? I had rocks. So then that’s what I did.
P: So I think it’s safe to say that you’ve come quite a long way from rocks and hitting people. You now work in marketing, right?
H: Yes, I’m helping other people with their marketing. I now help other people find their reflectors and threatening people. No, I don’t do that. But Yes, I would say I help marketing managers or marketing coordinators become the superstars of their businesses – because my experience is that a lot of the marketing people that work on the ground in different businesses… they are overlooked or over worked and not appreciated enough. Because their bosses often are people that don’t understand marketing or branding or anything like that. And they’re like “Yes, please. I would like you to do our social media, do the website. You have to produce some content. If you could also improve our branding and could you please also make a podcast and do video editing. That’s no problem, is it?” I think that unfortunately, it’s familiar for a lot of people I’ve seen, in job ads for a marketing coordinator role, where you need to have, like, four or five masters degrees to actually be qualified for what they’re asking.
P: Yeah, and I see this a lot in my line of work as well. So branding and marketing; although they overlap, they aren’t the same thing. I think a lot of people get a little bit confused with the terminology, so maybe we should start off with a little bit of an introduction. Like I said, I do get quite a few people come to me asking for help with their marketing because in their head, that is part of what I do. And then I have to tell them that “You know, that really isn’t my field of expertise” – and when I try to summarise it to them, the relationship between branding and marketing in just one sentence… What I would probably say is that branding is more about who you are, and then marketing is more about how you build awareness of who you are. And so it’s like two pieces of the same puzzle. Would you agree?
H: Yeah. Yeah, that’s a good way of looking at it. I see all the time, people want to get their brand out there and I’m like “OK. What’s your brand?” –” Well, here’s a picture of our logo” and I have to tell them “Well, your logo isn’t your brand. It can be a part of your brand or the visualisation of your brand, but a logo isn’t a brand. So Yeah, there are a lot of people that don’t know what they’re doing.
P: There are. And then I guess that’s why you’ve got people like yourself and me, who are there to guide people. Hopefully, that’s what we’re going to do in today’s episode: teach people something. And so before we really get stuck into the juicy parts. I just want to set the tone for those who are listening to us today. What are they going to be able to take away from today’s episode?
H: In the small, smallest piece of what you’re going to be left with as a brand adjacent person working with your branding and/or marketing (because in most cases you don’t have separate branding and marketing departments) my takeaway to you today is to know your hiring and firing stats. What kind of things will you be measured on by your boss? Know what you get out of the time and money you spend, show them why you are the superhero. You know, here comes sales!
P: Sales is really difficult if you haven’t got the brand and the heart and the soul of the brand in place.
H: So that’s why, for those people listening now: know what you are worth. Show people why marketing and branding is what builds the foundation that sales can build their superhero status on. You know, a lot of people view what you and I do as an expense. And my takeaway to people is, if you can show people what you’re actually bringing to the business, then they will see you as an investment, and they will throw a lot of money your way.
P: That sounds good. We like bigger budgets to work with, right?
P: This episode is titled control your data – flourish in marketing. I have to be honest. Just the word data is enough to make me want to crawl under a rock because, you know, it sounds complex, and it sounds like a lot of hard work and I’m probably not the only one with these thoughts. So would you please help me crawl out from under that rock? How can taking control of your data help someone with their marketing efforts? And how do you go about it – where you start?
H: Well, for people working with marketing in this day and age, data is your superpower. And it’s not very hard. I shouldn’t say that because then I’m out of a job.
P: Nah, you’re not, because there’s always going to be people like me who don’t really want to wrap their heads around this!
H: Well, to put it this way: Let’s say you own a store. Would you say that knowing how many people come into your store every day, it’s data? Is it hard to get your head around? No, you probably wouldn’t. That’s like the basics. How many people come to the store?
P: See, when you put it that way, it’s a lot more manageable, I think for people.
H: Yeah, and then you can start measuring… okay from the people that come to your store; how many off those actually engage with the people working there. How many people ask “Excuse me, how much is this?” And with the technology we have today, it’s actually possible to do this in social media. It’s possible to do this on your website. It’s possible to do this on all these digital platforms. Not only with direct questions, but you can do it with for instance, goals. In Google analytics you can set up “I want to know how many people read my articles.” If I spend 10 hours every week writing articles for our marketing department or our support or for our clients to use, and I can measure that… “Do you know what, Hallgeir? Nobody is reading your crappy texts.” Then maybe I should do something. We want that. We don’t want nobody to read it, but we want to know… if we spend an enormous amount of time and money and effort on writing something, we want to know that it is being used. If it’s not being used, then we should do something else with that time or we should do something else on the website that makes it more available for the people that actually need it. So all of this is data.
P: You’ve put it forward in a way that makes it certainly a lot easier for me to grasp. But I’m hoping that the people who are listening are getting a little bit of an a-ha! moment here as well.
H: Yeah, well my main thing is to make data as nice and accessible as possible, because it’s not a big bad word. It’s not very complex. You just have to… well, maybe you have to have the brain for it, in order to get it really easily. But if you just view it in a certain way, it’s quite easy to wrap your head around it because… like the store example. You have this many people coming to the store, this many people engaging with the people working there or the different product isles. How many people go up to the counter… and if you suddenly see that from 100 people going up to the counter, everybody just stops when they get there, become really confused and then leave the store. Then something is wrong near the counter. Then you have to find out what’s wrong there. Well, if there’s a hole in the floor, or if somebody’s making really bad faces at them when they get to the counter – then that might be a reason why they don’t buy anything, So then we can take that information into consideration when we figure out what to do to fix this.
P: That makes total sense in a way, the way that you’re using a brick and mortar store as an example, I think makes it less abstract and easier to see. But I think when you’re talking about marketing, online especially, it’s just all so foggy and not tangible in a way. Not in the same way that an actual physical store is . So I think maybe people over complicate it too much when they think about the data.
H: Yeah, I think so. And I think if you think about your website as your store, or your office, then you might have a good way of approaching it. Because if your office is run down, the windows are not clean, there is graffiti outside on the windows… Then people are not going to take you seriously. Nobody is coming into that store. And the same goes for your website. How it looks, how it works. That also goes for your brand. If it looks like you went bankrupt sometime in the early nineties, people are going to think that you went bankrupt early in the nineties.
P: Yeah, unless that’s the look you’re going for, which I would say is a very specific niche that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend.
H: Well, if you went for that and everything was working correctly and that everything looked good with that look, I might say it could work. But you need to follow through. You can’t have…
P: You need to do it on purpose.
H: Yeah, and you can’t have… like, some of the websites I’m seeing where they’re not responsive, not made for mobile when more than 60 percent of all traffic is on mobile devices. That’s basically like having, once again, a store where you have two metre high steps going up to your door.
P: Yeah, that wouldn’t be very helpful for me. [For context: I am 1.59 cm short]
H: So that’s kind of my approach to it. And then then it’s more getting control over what kind of things are necessary for me to do my job. If, for instance, my sales department is working on getting client meetings and then going to places and selling. Then I need to know as a marketer… “Okay. How many meetings is it required of me to produce. How many meetings are they able to follow up on, and if I get a potential meeting today, will they actually follow up this today? Or does my lead have to lay around and wait for a couple of weeks and then they don’t get a good experience from it?” And the sales department also, they don’t get a good experience because they’re not working with people that are actually interested.
P: So it sounds like part of the clue here is for all of the different disciplines to maybe work together in a way. So you’ve got your sales department, marketing department… you’ve got your branding people… and they really should be working together.
H: Yes. They don’t need to, like, sit and work together all the time. But they should have marketing meetings to help them realise each other’s needs and values.
P: And to be aware of what the other departments actually do and how they add value to the organisation. I think otherwise, it’s all too easy to just stay in your own lane, do your own thing. If you don’t at least keep a little eye on the next lane, all of a sudden there could be a car there, right? You don’t know what you’re doing. So yeah, I like that you’re kind of thinking of a multi disciplinary approach. Where each department has some idea of what the other department is all about.
H: Yeah. No matter what businesses we are in, most businesses have a goal of revenue. If businesses don’t have revenue, they don’t exist.
P: If they don’t have a revenue goal then it’s a hobby, right?
H: Yeah, basically, but I’ve been to a lot of companies where the marketing people don’t know what the revenue goals are, and the sales people don’t know how marketing affects what they do. And that is something… If they had, like, one meeting every month where they sat down, had a talk… “We have generated this amount of traffic to the website. These people on the web site… 55 of those have actually become people that have contacted us. And I’ve seen now, James, that you have gotten 20 new meetings based on what we have done here in marketing, but you didn’t follow up on any of them, so now they’re angry with me because they answered an ad that said ‘Do you want a meeting regarding X?’ And now they have been promised something we haven’t delivered on.”
P: And that is perhaps the number one rule in branding as a whole: do not over promise and under deliver. Yeah, again… the value of each department there and for them to know what the other department is all about, and for it to work together, as I don’t know, in a kind of a synergy.
H: Absolutely. Yeah.
P: And for there to be a common foundation.
H: A lot of people I talked to also, say they want to do a branding campaign – and this is more your domain, because I’m all about “Okay. What does that bring me?” My advice to people is that you should spend 90% of your marketing budget on branding and 10% on direct response. But for 98% off the companies I’ve been visiting, they are actually not big enough to do that because they are not a brand yet. They are still just a company that maybe somebody recognises their logo. So to get there, you should spend 90% on direct response marketing and 10% on branding – until you can get that the other way around.
P: Yeah, and branding is such a long term game. It takes time to build up that brand recognition that you need to become well known and well established in the market. So I really like what you’re saying there. Like I’ve already said: marketing is definitely not my zone of genius, so when you say direct response marketing that makes me really keen to learn more. Do you want to perhaps tell us a little bit more about what that’s all about?
H: Yeah well, that’s basically one of the things that I really enjoy working with as a marketer. Because then direct response is something that should get a direct response from the consumer. It’s either a direct sale, if you’re a business that has a webshop or something like that. It’s getting an email address for a newsletter or something, or it’s booking a meeting if you work with people who like that. So it’s something to invoke an on the spot response, to get the prospective customer to take action and to move towards becoming a customer of yours. I tell people that there are some people in the world that know of you, thinking about your product or service, and thinking about buying your product or service. Unfortunately, those are the fewest people. Then there are the people that have a need, a want or some sort of itch that you can scratch, but they don’t know about your offer. Those are more people. And then there is the largest quantity of people, which are the people that don’t even know exactly what their problem is or what they want or need. But they feel a symptom of something. And they are actively trying to figure out “what is this.” Your job as a marketer should be to help them to get one step closer to becoming your client. If you could actually help them with their want or need. So direct response is something that brings a potential customer one step closer to becoming an actual customer.
P: Nice. And I think that links nicely with branding, because branding is very much about emotions and evoking emotions with a certain target audience. Your ideal client. Whatever you call it. And I guess then, to get someone to move one step closer to buying from you, you need to first know a little bit about who these ideal people are, so you can speak to them in a way that tugs at their heartstrings. That creates an emotion that makes them then want to take whatever action it is that you want them to take.
H: If they’re totally out on the periphery of the journey towards becoming our client, they’re not actually aware of their problem… Then you just might want to create some sort of positive emotion regarding you, or a negative emotion regarding their problem or want or need. And then, as they become more aware of their problem, then you can start telling them about potential solutions to this problem. Still not pitching your solution. I have sent people emails where I have deciphered that they have this problem and I’ve told them “these are three ways you can solve this problem, and if you choose number one or two, you should go to these kind of companies. If number three is your preferred option, then I have a good solution for you.” And this is just to be a good help for your potential client to actually figure out if it’s a good fit for you and for them.
P: I think this is overlapping with branding again, because I think this falls into very much the whole building of the know, like and trust factor. Because when you show up to start off with, and you’re not looking to push a sale on someone, you’re just serving them. You’re helping them. You’re maybe even just helping them to put into words what it is they’re struggling with – and then you’re being of help and so people start to see you as someone who is knowledgeable about this, and they will start to want to consume more of your content, because they’ve seen that you know your shit. And then as they start to get to know you better through your content, then I guess that’s priming them to become paying clients towards the end of it. But what I always say to my clients, is that we really don’t want to be pushing ourselves onto potential clients. Instead you want to be the magnet, you want to be what pulls them to you. And that means that you’re gonna push someone else away in the process. Because you’re not going to be a magnet to everybody.
H: I’ve started something new this year. Helluva year to start doing it, but I’ve started saying no to clients and letting clients go. A couple of years ago that would have been totally out of my comfort zone to do. There have been times I would have both eaten and swallowed all sorts of camels during the years. But lately I’ve been saying “Well, I think maybe we shouldn’t work together, because I don’t like you” or “I don’t like how you talk to your clients” or “I don’t like how you talk to your employees” or… Yeah, so it’s been a process that I very much am happy about, even though I’ve lost a lot of business doing it.
P: I think, and this is maybe mostly relevant to the Norwegian listeners that we have today… Here in Norway, we have this term called “Janteloven” (the law of Jante) and I think that’s been so indoctrinated into our daily lives that when someone actually does what you’ve done, and said “Look, I don’t think we are a right fit.” I think people are almost like “What? So you’re getting all cocky now? You are too good for us? What are you doing that for?” – and that’s something I think that we, as people who work in branding and marketing, really need to be a part of the solution for. We’re really digging deeper into this topic now, but…
H: No, I like it. And the best way off the best way I have found of doing this without offending anyone is to say “Well, I feel that we don’t have an alignment in values.”
P: I find that’s a really efficient way.
H: You can’t start arguing around that either. It’s “Oh yeah, you’re right.”
P: But then there’s an even easier way I found. Okay. And that is when you’re putting your marketing messages out there to be very clear on who you are and what you stand for – because that way, fewer of those people you don’t want to work with are going to reach out to you. And so you don’t have to say no to as many because they’ve already self selected. That this person is for me or this person is not for me to work with.
H: I got a review on one of my talks that I did that was so amazing. I should read it for you because it talks about this directly. The review was… I did a talk and I got a lot of feedback from the audience, but one of them had given me, like, really middle of the tree everything. Nothing special about anything, and his general remark was “In general, as a listener and potential buyer, you may appear a little too “smart” with your caps and your clothing. You have to think about your audience and your buying group. I think they will be much bigger if you have a more humble approach, both wordly and dress style. You also asked if the audience understood, and in your dialogue with the audience I perceived it as very condescending and you should also communicate more clearly with your points. You should cut out your talk about drugs.” (I will come back to that!) “…I got the impression in combination with your clothing that you’re doing drugs. Confidence was lower and you made some references to it.” Okay, just so you know, the drug references… There was a question from the audience where they asked if everybody needed to do marketing, “do we really need to do marketing for this product?” And I said “Well, I know of one type of product that doesn’t need marketing, and that’s that is drugs. Have you ever seen an ad for cocaine? No, you haven’t. But people buy it still.” That was supposed to be a joke…
P: Yeah, I guess he just didn’t get it… But that’s OK.
H: That’s totally okay. And I wear my caps, and one time a client asked, are you going to wear that indoors? And I said “Yeah, well, I don’t think that this is going to work. Thank you so much for your time” and then I just left.
P: But see, I think… Yeah, you have ruffled some feathers there, with that person. But what you’ve also done is that you have positioned yourself in a way that you will attract the right kind of rather than the people who don’t get you, which is pretty much all I’m about when I work with my branding clients. It’s like you have to dare to ruffle some feathers. You have to dare to push some people away in order to pull the right people towards you. And then marketing, I guess, would be one tool that would help you achieve that. So I really liked what you said at the start of this conversation about how you want to make the marketer the superhero. So, do you see yourself as a superhero?
H: Me? No, I’m more of… I’m the ground guy. You know, the person in the control room where Captain America can call into. I’m more that person.
P: So you’re the ground services?
H: Yeah, basically.
P: I guess we need those too! So… I mean, we all kind of want to feel like superheroes and to feel that the work that we do and what we put out into the world actually makes a difference to people. And so how would you say that marketing adds that superhero value. How can we make that link? How can you use the data and the numbers and take them, like a superhero would take them, and turn them into something that’s really good?
H: Well, that’s basically done with analysis and reporting, because if your superiors at the job don’t know what you do, then they will never know the value of the marketer – if it is not reported in a way that they both understand and care about. And that’s why I said in the beginning: know your hiring and firing stats. In Norway, this is not a problem because you won’t get fired or hired based on those kinds of stats. But in Norway, you might say it’s more the… getting some kind words from your boss or being reprimanded. So if you know those things, know what kind of stats the higher ups care about. Then you can start making reports that report on the actual stats that have value to the company. And you can present it to the company and say “Well, this is before we started this campaign. Now we have spent this amount of money. I’ve spent these amounts of hours, and now we’re on this level. So the increase of 20% in sales in this area is because of things that the marketing department did. So you guys should be really happy about that, shouldn’t you?” Being able to show the value of the work we’re doing, because I can’t tell you how many times I have been sitting in meetings and the client says “Well, I don’t know what you do.” … “Okay. As we talked about, we did this, this and this.” And the client goes “Oh, but what happened then?” And I can take out some charts and graphs and say “Well, this happened.” … “Oh, that’s very good. Why didn’t you say so?” … “Well, I’ve sent you the reports. You just didn’t look at them.” So that’s why I say you have to know the stats. You have to show the stats and you have to get the person signing your paychecks to actually see and understand it. When you do that, only then can you actually be the superhero. Because if you’re around saving people and doing all that, but there is no Peter Parker to take your photos and get you in the newspaper… then those people are going to be saved but you will never get credit for it.
P: I think a lot of the people who are going to tune into this episode are probably small business owners. Some of them may be working with just a one person team, so they’re both marketing and CEO at the same time. So how can they take these principles and apply it within a very small organisation? How can they become the marketing superhero of their own brand? Is it even possible? Or is it you know something that you should outsource to other people? How would you approach it if you were just a one person business?
H: Well, when you’re a one person business, it’s even more important to know your stats because then you don’t have anyone that will ask you… or you don’t have anyone else to blame. So then it’s even more important. If you’re a one man show, then you have to at least know what kind of things pays for your rent. “Okay, who are my main clients? How do I get these clients? Do I get them just from calling up? Do I get them through my website, do I get them through social media? Where do I get my clients from? Where can I find new clients?”
P: So if you have a one person business, and you haven’t been tracking any data?
H: Then the first thing you should do is start tracking data.
P: Yeah, Where should you start? You can’t start all over the place because you’re going to get overwhelmed. So let’s imagine we have a listener who is running a one person business. They’ve been just doodling along, and now they realise “I need to step into my CEO shoes here.” What’s the first thing they should do? If they only did one thing.
H: First: you put on your big boy’s or big girl’s pants. Then: get a CRM system – a customer relationship management system (there are many of them. I use Hubspot, which is free. That’s why I started using them) to track what kind of customers you actually have. Then I would recommend adding Google Analytics and Facebook pixel on your website so that you can know which people are in your store at any given time. If not, it’s basically like having a shop, but with no one watching it.
P: For me, I know that when I go and try and look at the stats from maybe my Facebook pixel or my Google analytics, sometimes there’s just so much information there. What is the key piece, or the key pieces, of information I should be looking at first and foremost?
H: Well, forget all about views and clicks and everything. What you should be worrying about or thinking about is how many people are contacting you. If nobody is contacting you, then there’s something wrong there. Then we have to see on this level of how many people are visiting your page, and then you can see If you run ads: how many people are seeing your ads? If 10,000 people are seeing your ads and nobody clicks them to get to your site, well, maybe there’s something wrong with your ads. If 10,000 people see your ad, 1000 people click on your ad and nobody contacts you. Then there’s most likely something wrong with your page.
P: So basically what you’re saying is the data becomes a tool to help you figure out where to make adjustments.
H: Yeah, and that’s why you need to know the data, because if you don’t know the data, it’s like fighting blindly with both your hands and feet tied behind your back. Because you don’t know up and down. You don’t know what’s forward. You don’t know how anything is going. The only thing you can see by not having control of this, is just how much money is going into your account every month. How much money is going out of your account – and that’s not the way to run the business.
P: This is going to be such an important takeaway. I think for a lot of people
H: Hopefully! Hopefully it will.
P: Well, I want to round off by just saying thank you for coming onto the Brand it! with Petchy podcast and being my guest. I have certainly learnt a lot from our conversation. I hope the listeners will too. But if they want to learn even more from you, where can they go to find you and connect with you?
H: You can just google “Hallgeir Gustavsen” – I have a blog, I have LinkedIn, a Facebook page…. I’m basically trying to be omnichannel. So just Google my name. I even sometimes respond to fax. That’s some time ago. But actually we did. We did do that as a prank for some clients that we felt were living in the past, so to speak.
P: I will pop the links to your various social media channels into the shownotes for everybody to go and click away! And just lastly, I know that you have (and this is mainly for the Norwegian listeners that we have) a starter course in digital marketing, which is in Norwegian. Tell us a little bit more about that before we round off.
H: Well, there’s this Norwegian company called Videocation. They came to me and asked me if I could make a starter course, in digital marketing. I have done an article on how to learn digital marketing, where I’ve basically gone through all the possible ways you can learn digital marketing. Including podcasts, books, actual schools in Norway… I’ve gone through what they’re actually learning in those classes… e-learning courses… and l
isted up everything. So they asked me if I wanted to do a starter course. So that’s what I did. It’s 24 sessions. It’s free to use for the first seven days. So you can basically sign up to try my course if you want. But seriously, if anyone is listening and wants to ask me anything, I’m quite responsive. I like helping people and being of use. So that’s no problem, just get in touch.
I hope you all enjoyed that conversation with Hallgeir as much as I did!
Until next time.
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