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Q&A with the Influencers & Experts Driving Digital Innovation in Marketing & AdTech

December 17, 2018  •  By: Renee Chemel

InsiderInbox with Todd Lebo

Seasons greetings InsiderInbox friends! During this season of celebration and giving, we’re sharing a special treat with you, our insiders. This month, we’re chatting with Todd Lebo, CMO and partner at the research-based marketing firm Ascend2.

In addition to Ascend2’s custom marketing surveys for clients, Ascend2 also surveys thousands of marketing thought leaders to find out what’s hot and what’s not, providing the summary result reports absolutely free on it’s website. So, if you’re interested in learning about the latest digital marketing strategies, lead gen and nurturing, email-driven content marketing or more, Ascend2 has the data from more than 50,000 marketers to help you learn about best practices in the market. And, of course, if you’re in the market for original research—they’ve got you covered there, too. Ascend2’s branded reports are excellent vehicles for lead generation, press coverage, contributed blog posts and more.

Todd is a marketing and biz dev leader with more than 20 years of experience, nearly 15 of those at the director level or above. He discovered the power of research during his 4+ years at MarketingSherpa, where his work drew audiences in droves to training events and summits, grew partner relationships and expanded content offerings in multiple formats and topics. At Ascend2, Todd leads outreach, business development and client intake for the company’s white label research reports.

As we wrap up 2018 and head into the new year, here’s Todd’s perspective on publishing, marketing and the world in general.

1. Why did you choose digital marketing, or maybe it chose you?
It chose me. I’ve been doing it for over 25 years. My first job using my marketing degree was with a publishing company, that provided guidance on HR and environmental compliance. I got started in direct response marketing, developing B2B direct-mail and telemarketing campaigns. I really got my start in traditional marketing before digital was really even a thing. It worked so well for me to transition because my experience in direct response was all about testing data—it just took longer in traditional formats, but if you think about it, that was really the foundation for digital marketing. We were creating lists, sending direct mail, testing response, analyzing data, and making changes based on those test results. Everything was data driven, just like it is today. My experience was unique in that I was a marketer working for a publishing company, so I understood the content creation side. When digital marketing became a thing, how to create content was already ingrained in me. Digital just changed the way we distribute it.

2. What is your personal mission statement?
I actually have three:

  • Always add value. Whether it’s to my clients or my community, including friends and contacts in the industry, but also my personal community, I always try to think about my role from a standpoint of whether I’m adding value. Be it monetary, service, expertise, etc., if you’re always adding value, it comes back to you in spades.
  • Be a person of integrity. It’s really important and you can’t replace or fake it.
  • Give back. Whether that’s sitting with a younger person, a college student or someone looking for a job to provide insight, or mentoring someone new to the industry, you just need to stop and take the time to do that.

3. Tell me something about your job, other than money, that inspires you to keep working at your company.

Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship. Five years ago, I finally went out and started my own company. I’ve always had that entrepreneurial fiber in me and I’ve always enjoyed building something…a team, a new product line… it always sparked my enthusiasm. This element of building and entrepreneurship have always been important to me.

4. When you think of the word “successful,” who is the first person who comes to mind, and why?
I don’t really think of an individual, I think more of teams. Teams that I’ve worked with in the past here and at MarketingSherpa, and other companies throughout my career. I think of the groups of people I worked with and what we accomplished as a whole. I’ve always felt like the whole is greater than it’s parts when it comes to success. When you point at an individual, you kind of miss the point—success is almost always never because of the efforts of just one person. It’s a group of people. I’m a sports guy and a big Philadelphia Eagles fan, and I think they’re a great example of team success. Last year, even with their primary quarterback out due to injury, the team overcame and worked together to win the Super Bowl.

5. What is a skill that every digital marketer should have and why?
The skill and desire to learn. Marketing is changing so rapidly, you have to be excited about learning and embracing the new things that come up every day. The skillset has to evolve along with it. When I started, the element of technology was so new. We used some, but didn’t have ownership over it. Back then, you’d send data off to someone else to figure out. I was coordinating 30 direct mail campaigns a month. We would rent lists from companies that would send them to us on these huge magnetic tape reels. We’d send them off to merge/purge company, and if it crashed, you’d have to wait for them to run it on the mainframe, which might be as big as a house. Now you work on that data yourself, on a laptop that is ridiculously small compared to those big mainframes. Marketers have to have this ability and desire to evolve.

6. What is the best part about your job?
Two things. First, the fact that it is always changing. You’re always doing something new, and I enjoy that variety. Second, the people component. A lot of my work is with clients and bringing on new clients. I love when you get to have conversations with people and they just get it, they become excited about what we’re working on together. When you can start building relationships with people and help them, that’s fun for me.

7. If you could only use five (digital) marketing/ad/publishing tools, what would they be? And why?
It depends on the type of marketing…whether it’s B2B or B2C and sometimes depends on the size of the company. But, generally, my top five are:

  1. Marketing automation platform for its efficiency in maintaining engagement.
  2. A good CRM, just to have that wealth of history on our prospects and customers.
  3. A CMS tool with a video component. Content is so valuable and I’m a huge believer in the power of video. When I was at MarketingSherpa, we actually set up a green room with our own studio because we saw so much benefit of that video experience.
  4. Data unification tool. Getting all of your data silos together is so important. A lot of the problems I encounter revolve around meshing data and getting it out of silos, getting data sources to talk to one another so that you can optimize personalization and the customer experience.
  5. Platforms for advertising and promotion. You can’t do much if you’re not incorporating some of those platforms. Data and content are great, but you also have to have the bullhorn.

8. Who inspires you?
Marketers in general. This is a tough job. When I come across marketers who really have a strong vision for the future, passion and conviction for what they want to do and how, that really inspires me. I especially see that with marketers who are trying to convert traditional departments into a modern marketing department. I have a lot of respect for marketers who will step out and blaze that trail in their company and do what needs to be done to move into the modern era. It can be really hard to change a company’s approach when they’ve done things the same way for so long, even when they know they need to change. Those who can do it, I have a lot of respect for them.

9. What is the biggest digital publishing trend/challenge for 2019?
The industry as a whole is facing a lot of tech consolidation right now. I’m very interested to see how that plays out in the coming year. We had the Marketo/Adobe merger last month, Salesforce had a couple of mergers with Datarom, CloudCraze, and Adobe purchased Magento as well earlier in the year. The whole industry has blown up over the last 5-10 years, now we’re seeing a lot of consolidation, and that will have a big impact over the next year.

The use of AI in marketing will also be huge. We’re doing some research now on hyper-personalization and AI is a critical part of that. Bringing AI down to the everyday use in small to medium size companies through tech is a game-changer. It’s now not just for the large enterprise companies. There are a lot of AI apps that are helping out in a lot of different formats.

I also think that we’ll see 2019 become the Year of Strategy. In our research on specific topics, one of the challenges we see is that marketers have all the tactics, whether it’s content, data, platforms and tools, but strategy tends to be one of the greatest challenges. They’ll say we’re doing all of these things and adding a lot of tactics to our toolbox, but now they need to take a step back to see how it all fits together. You can’t just keep adding things without understanding why and making sure they’re adding value in the right ways. It’s not that they don’t know how to create strategy; it’s just so hard to take the time to create it. You get so busy doing, you don’t take the time to stop and build it out. We see this with clients to whom we deliver a great research report. Sometimes they have great intentions for how to use it, but the next project comes up and it falls to the side. Later, they wish they would have used it in all these other ways but missed the opportunity because the strategy wasn’t formalized.

10. If you could have one billboard and place it anywhere, what would it say and where would it be?

Your marketing message here!
I would look for the highest traffic location possible (based on my research background, I would find the place with the greatest impact). The message would be from the Bible, Matthew 22:39 “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I think we could use a little bit of that in our society.

11. What have you changed your mind about recently?
From a biz/marketer standpoint, I feel like I’m actually always changing my mind based on data, research, testing and what’s working. One of my first bosses said that we would be testing all the time. I was skeptical at first, but I figured out that you find out what works based on when people pull out their wallet and pay for something. You can have all these great ideas, but you have to get over needing to be the smartest guy in the room. You have to be open to change. I feel like I need to be strong in my convictions, but also willing to change based on what’s going on around me. Change is good. Marketing is very humbling.

12. What’s the one or two things you can’t live without to get the job done?
Professionally, it’s my network of friends and industry connections because so many times when I have a question or need some advice on how to handle something, it’s great when I can call up someone and ask them. I use that all the time. I’ve found over the years that having those connections is extremely valuable.

Personally, it’s my family and faith. Work is just work. It’s not the most important thing in life, by far.

Thanks, Todd! That’s great advice to leave us with as we dive into a new year. May we all try to live and work with intent to be true to ourselves, kind to those around us, and helpful to those in need.

From all of us at PowerInbox, we wish you Happy Holidays and a best wishes for a peaceful, fulfilling, successful and Happy New Year!

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