TMM Marketing Innovators Interview Series: Dina Khoury, ‘Marketers forget the importance of understanding the audience’
I was lucky enough to randomly meet Dina Khoury at ISITE’s Delight 2013 event in downtown Portland. I immediately realized she had some expert advice that would be valuable to TMM readers. Her many years of marketing experience at both small start-ups and large agencies provides her a unique view on the industry.
Dina was generous enough to provide thoughtful responses to TMM’s probing questions, discussing the future of digital, women in leadership and what she looks for in a new hire. Enjoy!
Where do you feel the future of digital marketing is heading?
Great question – especially in an industry that changes every six months. Digital marketing has always been about creating opportunities for engagement. The best way to do that, has always been, and continues to be via relevant content. I think that new technologies and new tools will only enhance our ability to tell stories. In marketing speak this means a growing emphasis on content marketing. I think what will be added to this is the use of qualitative and quantitative data analysis to help guide, not direct, the story process. It’s all about how content marketing can help build demand, and how data can help refine and improve what you do.
What do marketers NEED to be paying attention to?
Marketers need to be paying attention to how to combine their left brain to their right brain. What do I mean by that? Understanding how to apply new tools like the next Instagram or Rebel Mouse and/or data analytics to basic human nature. Digital marketing is part technology, part data, a bigpart understanding what makes a target audience or community tick and then the ability to combine all that knowledge into engaging content. I think sometimes marketers forget the importance of understanding the audience and are blinded by the next big thing v. understanding an insight about the audience.
What is your philosophy regarding brand updates on social media?
Our philosophy is to make sure that our clients are authentic in all posts. That their updates provide value and tap into what we call the social currency of the community. If they can’t add value either by educating, informing or entertaining…then they shouldn’t post.
Can brands provide valuable information on social channels?
Absolutely. As I said above, they need first to understand the “social currency” of their audience. Social currency is “the thing” that makes a particular community tick and inspires action. For some it’s information, for others it’s deals or discounts. The key is to identify what it is and ensure you are providing it in a consistent manner.
Are consumers really engaging?
I actually think they are. Reports may show that overall engagement is decreasing and people are suffering digital overload, but there are more people online and more online programs so the net percentage may be decreasing. The issue is, so many brands are actually getting it wrong. When brands do get it right, however, consumption and/or engagement is unparalleled. It’s identifying the audience need, creating relevant content and using marketing to drive engagement – content marketing. Take for example the latest video phenomenon “What Does the Fox Say?”. The video is from the Norwegian equivalent of Saturday Night Live. The got it right. They integrated universal content with humor and great production – a great combination for consumer success.
Do you feel it’s more difficult for women to reach the c-suite in the tech industry?
I think it’s more difficult for women to enter the c-suite in any industry. Just look at the numbers of women in the c-suite in general – it’s growing – but it’s not on par with where men are, even after 40 years since women have entered the workforce in a big way. Why? I think it’s partially the old boys network, and partially the competing demands many women face. I grew up in an era where we were told, women could have it all, a great career, a great family. But what I’ve learned over the last 25 years is that something’s got to give. You can have a good career and a good family life, but the minute you go for great in either, the other suffers.
Do you have personal experiences that have helped to define you as a female executive?
Of course. When I first got out of grad school with 3 years of work experience, I was offered the same job as a man right out of college for less money. When I called the company on it they back peddled and offered me a better job, with more money. I learned early on, you have to be proactive and assertive and demand equality. Other lessons were less about being a women, but equally as important.
What advice would you give young marketing professionals just entering the industry?
Find what you love, do what you love and success will follow. Also, I’d share the importance of finding a mentor in every job you take. Someone to teach you, advocate for you and to connect your growth to.
You have experience working at large, established agencies (like Edelman) and smaller start-up digital agencies. Can you outline the pros and cons of each type of working environment and which one you feel has been more rewarding?
I have worked at start ups and at large firms and I think each has been equally rewarding. At the smaller firms you get an opportunity to learn and do more than your title may dictate. There is an entrepreneurial current in small firms, a can do, a figure it out on your own that is exhilarating.
At large firms you have the power of a large agency – the research, the expertise, the larger budgets as well as process and training that you often don’t get at boutiques. I think working as a junior person at a boutique, moving to a large agency in mid-career and then going back to a smaller agency is a great model because you can build your expertise, refine your process and then test what you learn.
Digital technology is changing our education system. There are free courses available online for almost everything, with companies like Google supporting free online education for everyone. How important are the ivy-league MBA’s and other expensive marketing degrees for marketing professionals?
Funny you should ask that. Two months ago my answer would have been very different, but we just embarked on a project for a university that is offering an online degree. I was surprised to learn from students how much they prefer online courses because they often allow students a greater opportunity to participate. There are no time restrictions on conversations, and no teachers favorites.
It’s really all about the course work and the way the online program is managed – what is required of the students and what access a student has to the faculty. Faculty training for online teaching is equally important.
I do think, however, that nothing can replace the person-to-person contact that you get in an undergrad degree. To me an undergrad education is 50% material and 50% interaction – interaction that happens within the classroom. And interaction that happens with like-minded, equally engaged people over the dinner table. Nothing beats that inter-personal interaction. Online course work could provide a bit of anonymity that makes creating a strong network of alumni difficult.
Regarding MBAs, I am a big supporter of education and continued education. I think MBAs and other Ivy League educations provide both a rigor to thinking as well as network of potential clients, colleagues or business associates.
What are the top skills you look for when hiring for a digital marketing role?
The key thing I look for is curiosity. The second is the ability to make connections between two seemingly unrelated things. Third, I look at a candidate’s experience that is relevant to the specific position. And lastly, I like to hear about how they have dealt with conflicts and/or a challenge in the work environment.
Can you give examples of innovative campaigns you have experienced recently?
Wow, there are so many good ones. It depends on how you are evaluating it. From social media use (like Wieden’s cookie this) to and innovative use of Google+, like the Cadbury Kitchen, to content creation like the real beauty videos from Dove – there was a lot of good stuff going on this year. Sure, you had to dig a bit, but there are some really good examples of how great content and content marketing can build engagement and demand.
How does your team bring innovation and creativity into the process?
Innovation and creativity can not be mandated into a process. You have to create an environment that will allow it to flourish. This starts by the people you hire. Are they curious? Do they know how to make those connections. Provide them green space to think. And an environment that celebrates collaboration and rewards original thinking.