6 Key Marketing Lessons I’ve Learned Growing 20+ Brands

Erin Bury Presentation Notes

  • Nobody knows the secret sauce to marketing. Startups, Fortune 500’s, agencies, and now working on my own, I thought we might have the secret.
  • The truth is that like a stock broker doesn’t know the secret to the stock market, marketers don’t know the secret to marketing.
  • Here are some general lessons I’ve learned over 9 years


Lesson #1: Virality isn’t guaranteed, but you can do 5 things to set yourself up for success.

There’s no secret to going viral. You can’t engineer virality. But hopefully these questions can put you on the right path:

  1. What is the goal of your campaign? Why do you actually want to go viral, and what business will it drive? (Positioning, sales, social engagement, website traffic, or just purely awareness/buzz)
  1. Is the idea that we developed unique? Has someone done it before? Will it make someone laugh/cry? Would I share this campaign if it showed up in my Facebook feed?
  • There’s a reason the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was successful. It was the first time we saw a social good viral campaign.
  1. Is it the right timing, and is it relevant now? Does it relate to a current event/trend?
  • A startup called Sortable created a landing page for applicants from the US to escape Donald Trump by working for them in Canada. It went viral.
  1. What are the 3-5 ways you’ll market this campaign? (Seeding to social influencers, social ads, PR, partnerships)
  • Something like the WestJet Christmas Miracle had a strong marketing campaign behind it. It didn’t “just go viral.”
  1. What resources (people, budget, time) would you need to devote to make it successful? You don’t need to put a ton of money in to go viral.

Case Study: 88 Creative

  • 88 Creative was hiring for junior roles. They created a BuzzFeed Quiz to vet job hunters and asked them questions like “Do you like salad or pizza?” (Salad is a bad fit, apparently.)
  • They also built a microsite that asks you if a phrase is the name of an agency or an adult film. We sent packages to agencies with provocative names, it achieved business goals: positioned us as a creative agency


Lesson #2: Being an early adopter is key – but be strategic about it.

When you’re in startups, you have no money, so you’re looking to new, underrated and low priced tactics any way to find a new audience, save money, and get press.

  • Don’t build a presence on every network under the sun. Assess, test small campaigns or ad widgets, and pursue what works.
  • There’s a lot of value in being perceived as cutting-edge.

Action items: Review these 3 questions quarterly

  1. What new networks should you be testing for ads and/or a community? (Snapchat? The next Snapchat?)
  2. What could you be using simply to get press (Bots!)
  3. What are creative places you could buy ads that are underpriced right now? (PornHub – Yes, Seriously) Don’t be a “don’t.” Don’t try to jump on bandwagons (like “on fleek”)


Lesson #3: Tap into influencers, but don’t waste your money

  • Anyone can call themselves an influencer. They often cost a lot, they’re fickle (promoting multiple brands), and they often don’t drive the interactions or sales you’re looking for.
  • The ultimate goal is to work with a wide range of influencers, test impact, and bring on a smaller group as ongoing brand ambassadors. Look to influencers within your own community, and people who already love your brand.
  • The ideal: a tight-knit ambassador program of people who use and believe in your product.

Action items: How to ensure influencer success

  1. Don’t just look at vanity metrics (e.g. followers) – look at social interactions
  2. Ask for a case study where they’ve relevantly driven sales downloads, or traffic
  3. Ask for expected engagements/CTR and tie it to compensation when possible
  4. Provide unique trackable codes/links for each influencer to measure actual impact
  5. Work with influencers represented by talent agencies like #PAID (easier to demand/ensure results)


Lesson #4: You can’t care only about brand awareness, or only about conversions.

  • Some things really only work for awareness and brand-building, such as PR.
  • Some things work best for conversions: social ads, paid digital, discounts/promos
  • Some work for both: email marketing, content marketing, or events.
  • You need to care about both if you want to build perception, and not just revenue.

The way your company is perceived is almost as important as your bottom line.

Action items:

Lesson #5: Building a personal brand is arguably the most underrated marketing tactic

Building a personal brand helps you build legitimacy, source leads, position yourself as a thought leader, and raise the profile of your company.

Action items: Framework for building a personal brand

  1. What are my goals (fame, the best network in the business, eventually become a pro speaker)
  2. What topic or niche has the biggest opportunity in my industry?
  3. What’s a fit for my skillset?
  4. How will I get there? (starting a blog, building a personal website)
  5. What’s my timeline for the next 3, 6, and 12 months?
  6. Is my plan realistic in terms of time commitment, and how will i hold myself accountable?

Download Erin’s personal branding workbook: http://www.88creative.ca/ctaconf

Lesson #6: Your great marketing ideas will never see the light of day. Creating a culture of risk can help.

  • You have great ideas. They won’t make it past approvals. It’s okay.
  • The key is building a culture of risk, testing, and innovation.
  • Brands that are willing to try new things and push the envelope are often reward (but sometimes not so much).

Action items: How to get buy-in for your creative idea

  1. Demonstrate why it’s strategic (potential impact on sales, repositioning your company as edgy/creative, differentiation from competitors)
  2. Find a champion who has decision-making power (your boss, the Creative

Director, someone on your client team)

  1. Answer the “what-ifs” (What if everyone hates it? What if it backfires? What if the press roast us?)
  2. Find a way to test it (Launch a test campaign, do a focus group, share with trusted industry peers)

At the end of the day, not every idea will make it through. Document the idea and come back to it at a more opportune time.


I am a technologist with a strong background in software engineering. I have many interests. My current distractions are 70s-80s-90s music [it's a very eclectic collection], ontology, information architecture, mobile device technology, medical bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, and nanorobotics.

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