Interview With Brafton’s CMO: Jeff Baker

jeff employee headshot

Interview with Jeff Baker, the CMO for Brafton’s marketing team. He specializes in SEO research and testing. In his personal time, he is a woodworker and jogger. He hosts a podcast that can be found below:

1.    What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a CMO?

I come from an account management and production background. In many ways, life is a lot simpler when you have someone telling you exactly what you need to do and when it needs to be done. Your priorities are laid out perfectly in front of you; your calendar is filled with what you’re tasked with, so all you have to do is work.

When you become an executive, that all goes out the window. You become the one who determines what is worth working on, how to prioritize it, and who it should be tasked to. Nobody is giving you a blueprint for how to spend your time, so you need to do it yourself. And you have to hope that you chose your tasks correctly, or you will inevitably end up with a long list of failed campaigns.

2.    What part of the job do you enjoy the most? Why?

I’ve always specialized in SEO and web analytics. What I love doing the most is combing through massive amounts of data and synthesizing it into something that makes sense. It’s far too common in the SEO world that people report data for the sake of data without producing any real insights.

When you analyze data you should always be telling a story that relates back to your goals that ultimately results in some sort of insight that identifies a problem and provides a solution. SEO and web analytics are simply a combination of metrics and human behavior, so everything can be explained in terms of people and psychology.

  • What do you consider to be your biggest achievement at Brafton? And how did you accomplish it?

About five years ago we completely changed our model from outbound lead generation to 100% inbound. This was an enormous challenge, as we were barely generating 80 inbound leads per month from a nonexistent email marketing strategy and an SEO plan that generated zero traffic with buyer intent. We were getting about 400k visitors per year with pure informational intent.

In other words, nobody bought anything from inbound marketing strategies.

Over the next 4.5 years, I overhauled both our SEO and email marketing strategies which have resulted in an increase to about 450 inbound leads generated per month. From an SEO standpoint, we now generate about 1,000x times more traffic than when we first started.

  • Do you have an example of a failure that you managed to turn into valuable learning?

I have screwed up SO many email sends to our newsletter. It really doesn’t take much to make a big mistake, and I’ve made more than a few, including:

  1. Double sending the same email to thousands of people.
  2. Sending the previous week’s newsletter.
  3. Glaring typos.
  4. Sending to the wrong list of recipients.
  5. Using a swear word that a few people didn’t like.

Look, if you’re doing email marketing, mistakes are gonna happen. There is no way around it, no matter what you do. The most important thing to remember is that you should avoid making the same mistake twice. Email service providers are tricky, and you’re going to have to screw up to figure out how to not screw up in the future.

5. How do you make sure to keep your team aligned, being all remote workers?

What we’ve gained in personal freedom and productivity we’ve lost in communication.

One of the very few positives that came out of the pandemic was that it forced digital companies to embrace remote-first work. And remote work comes with an insane amount of positive aspects, including but not limited to:

  • Increased quality of life. Workers are happier working remote/from home.
  • Reduced commutes and traffic on the road.
  • Increased productivity. Workers work longer and more efficiently from home.
  • More time with family and friends.
  • More time for personal health.

The one major con to remote work, as I see it, is communication. Where we used to be able to pop by someone’s desk to check-in, grab a coffee and catch up, or schedule quick impromptu meetings, we now have to schedule Zoom meetings or send a text chat. We simply don’t interact as much, or the same way as we used to. We are losing a lot of nonverbal cues to understand how someone is feeling and communicating. This can result in people feeling siloed and not understanding the team’s direction.

In order to counter this, we regularly have video calls. We don’t necessarily need to chat about work; we simply need to check, see everyone’s faces and talk. We overcompensate.

6. What piece of advice would you give to someone interested in developing a career in digital marketing?

Build a website. There is no training course or college degree that will teach you 1/10th of what you’ll need to know on the job. And the very best way to learn this space is by building a website and doing SEO for it.

You’ll learn how to use a CMS, create content, tweak SEO, and how to understand and manipulate Google Analytics and Google Search Console. Hands-on experience is the only way to understanding digital marketing, and anyone that tells you different either doesn’t know digital marketing themself or is selling you something.

7. After working for more than a decade in digital marketing, what trait/characteristic do you think it’s the most relevant for anyone to succeed in this area?

The best digital marketers are naturally curious. Web analytics is a giant puzzle, and they like to piece things together into a story. SEO is a game of trial and error. Email marketing is a matter of understanding the psychology of a reader and figuring out what tickles their fancy.

These traits, unfortunately, can’t be taught. You can definitely teach someone enough techniques so that they can evaluate a situation as one would go through a diagnostic checklist, but you can’t teach that person to “chase the rabbit” and uncovering powerful insights and ways of thinking.

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