Secrets to Incredible Paid Media Performance

Episode #016: Brett Westerman, Founder of Oktober Media

Paid media…oh how marketers love and hate you all at the same time. When your paid media strategy is working, it feels like you’re on top of the world as you watch sales or leads come in. And when it’s not working…it feels like you’re basically throwing money away.

In this episode, we chat with Brett Westerman, Founder at Oktober Media specializing in B2B and B2C paid media. He has more than 15 years of marketing experience in driving incredible SEO and paid media results for various B2B and B2C brands. Prior to starting his own agency, he’s worked at Newell Brands, One Click Ventures, Angie’s List, Barefoot Proximity, and more.

We’re talking about all things paid media including why you’re missing out if you’re not investing in Spotify and YouTube right now, his secret hacks for driving incredible performance with LinkedIn ads, why Google is both your friend and foe, and so much more.

Stephanie's Strong Opinions

  1. Start advertising on Spotify ASAP. There’s no excuse not to anymore. 
  2. Want to start fresh in 2021? Rethink your LinkedIn paid media strategy.
  3. Google can be your friend and foe. Your settings will determine which one it will be.

Listen Your Way With These Platforms

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Episode Transcription

Stephanie Cox: Welcome to REAL Marketers, where we hear from marketers who move fast, ask forgiveness, not permission, obsess about driving results and are filled to the brim with crazy ideas and the guts to implement them. This is not a fireside chat and there’s absolutely no bullsh*t allowed here. And I’m your host, Stephanie Cox. I have more than 15 years of marketing experience and I’ve pretty much done about everything in my career. I believe speed is better than perfection. I use the Oxford comma. I love Coca- Cola. I have exceptionally high standards and surround myself with people who get sh*t done. On this show, my guests and I will push boundaries and share the real truth about marketing, and empower you to become a real marketer. I’ve been in marketing a long time and over the years I’ve developed my go- to list of fellow marketers, the ones I reach out to when I have a question about a specific topic, or the ones I connect others with that have a question about the same topic. And there’s one person in my network that I immediately think of any time I have a paid media question or someone else I know needs help in that area. He’s basically a paid media guru, and I don’t say that word lightly. He not only knows how you should think about your paid media strategy, but all the tips and tricks on how to actually implement it. Because after 15 years of doing it, he still likes being hands-on and setting up paid media campaigns himself. And somehow I convinced him to his first actual podcast interview and tell us all of his secrets. Trust me, this is going to be one of the most helpful episodes we’ve done, if paid media is part of your marketing strategy, you might want to take some notes. In this episode we chat with Brett Westerman, founder at Oktober Media, specializing in B2B and B2C paid media. He has more than 15 years of marketing experience driving incredible SEO and paid media results for various B2B and B2C brands. We’re talking about all things paid media, including why you’re missing out if you’re not investing in Spotify and YouTube right now. His secret hacks for driving incredible performance with LinkedIn ads. Why Google is both your friend and your foe, and so much more. I am so excited to have you on. And before we get to talking about all things paid media, tell me something that few people know about you.

Brett Westerman: Yeah, a funny brief anecdote where probably 10 years ago or so, the day before I decided to propose to my wife, we were in Chicago, visiting friends, and I was in Wrigleyville, parallel parking my car, I wasn’t very good at that. And I might’ve maybe hit her with my car a few hours before proposing to her. So that was a little embarrassing, but she still said yes. And…

Stephanie Cox: Wait, you hit her with your car?

Brett Westerman: I hit her with my car trying to parallel park, but…

Stephanie Cox: And she still said, yes?

Brett Westerman: She still…

Stephanie Cox: And you’re happily married now?

Brett Westerman: She still said yes. And we got married and had kids. And so yeah, it didn’t ruin anything.

Stephanie Cox: I’ve never heard someone say that story, I can only imagine what you must have thought initially.

Brett Westerman: Yeah. I felt pretty bad, but we still had a good time of it and yeah, it all worked out.

Stephanie Cox: Well, let’s talk about one of my favorite topics, and part of the reason I wanted to have you on the show is, when someone asks me a question about who should I talk to about paid media, my first thought is you’ve got to talk to Brett. So I would love to just start with, one of the things that I know is a hot topic for you, which is YouTube and Spotify and how they can really help brands with brand awareness campaigns. So let’s talk a little bit about what you’re seeing there, and I know for me, I’ve never thought about advertising on Spotify.

Brett Westerman: Mm- hmm( affirmative).

Stephanie Cox: So tell me what I’m missing.

Sure. The reasons I love both YouTube and Spotify, they are great for reach and for being both super affordable. So if you need to reach a wide audience, with either a limited or robust budget, both will get you the most bang for your buck. So yeah, let’s start with Spotify, like you mentioned. So you’ve been able to run direct places with them, for a few years, though you had to have a certain budget per month, and it wasn’t self-serve at all, you had to go through an account team. Recently this year, they rolled out a self-serve platform. And so with that, one of the big promotions was it really don’t have a minimum spend threshold, it’s like$ 200. And they take away any roadblocks with having to produce your own audio spot. So really you provide a script to them, 70 words, something that fits in about 30 seconds, and literally, two hours later, you will get back a production-quality voice narrator, reading your script. In addition..

Stephanie Cox: Wait, what?

Brett Westerman: …It’s really that simple. And then from there, you can ask for revisions, you can say, well, I don’t really like the tone or the pacing. Furthermore, you’re able to specify, well, I’d like a middle- aged female with this tone. And so you give all that direction, creative direction, and you get back your asset, it’s wonderful.

Stephanie Cox: So why aren’t more companies… I’m just quasi- speechless, I guess maybe, why aren’t more companies doing this. There’s no minimum spend, what’s the catch? I feel like I’m waiting for the catch, Brett?

Brett Westerman: Sure. No minimum spend and targeting is not as good as it could be. So you can use, their calling interest- based targeting that they’re building off of your podcast consumption habits. And so from that, they could make an assumption that you are a parent, or you are into technology, or you’re into finance, but that’s a bit of a dotted line. So the interest- based targeting isn’t so great. The followup after the initial listen is lacking, because there’s no audio pixel that then I could retarget you with a banner ad or, so they don’t… it ends there unfortunately, but other than that, what we’re seeing is cost per listens of literally a penny, a penny and a half is what I’ve been paying.

Stephanie Cox: Wow.

Brett Westerman: And this is a captive audience, I don’t think you can really skip ads on Spotify. And so someone is listening to 30 seconds of you talk about your brand for a penny and a half.

Stephanie Cox: So what kind of CTAs are they using, are they just like brand awareness just to get who are people familiar with you? And then are you following that up with other ads across other channels? Tell me more about the goal of that and what people should expect, do they do something?

Brett Westerman: Yeah. Often it is awareness. So you want to be heavy on your brand. So they walk away remembering something about you, click through rates are about what you would see on a standard display banner. So something around 0. 01%. So not amazing, but with the reach we’re getting, 0. 01% still equals real eyeballs at a certain point. So once you get the clicks, then they’re over to your site and then you can check on with a pixel, so to speak, and then you can do all the retargeting that you want. But as far as CTAs, usually it’s about learning more. If there is an offer that you’re mentioning in the ad, take advantage of the offer, something that’s time- based or limited time as often. So yeah, yeah. Really, it’s good reach, and it’s affordable. So everyone should be doing Spotify. You can really just go to Spotify ad studio and create a free account, and get started from there.

Stephanie Cox: That’s absolutely crazy.

Brett Westerman: Yeah.

Stephanie Cox: Especially with no monthly minimums. I feel like sometimes when I look at other channels, they always have a minimum, I’m like, well, that’s way too much to commit to, to get started, to see if it even works for me. So, that’s really cool.

Brett Westerman: Yeah. I believe it is 200 or 250, but in the scheme of things that is…

Stephanie Cox: It’s nothing.

Brett Westerman: Yeah. Yeah. Most ad platforms, it’ll be 10,000.

Stephanie Cox: I would say there’s a comma usually.

Brett Westerman: Yeah. Yeah. So, this is great to throw into your mix, if you’re testing out for the holidays, you’ve got a little extra budget leftover, literally for $200 you could test out a new campaign with a client, or if you’re in house, see what you can do for awareness to end out the year.

Stephanie Cox: So let’s talk YouTube then. Are you doing similar things on YouTube, or what are you seeing work there? Because I think for me, if I think back to when I’ve used YouTube in the past years ago for ads.

Brett Westerman: Mm-hmm..

Stephanie Cox: It wasn’t probably the channel that it is today, and the results I saw weren’t that great. So I’d love to know what’s working in 2020.

Brett Westerman: What has improved with YouTube over the past few years, is their increasing specificity with targeting. So there are custom audiences that you can build have just gotten better and better. The more data they gather on users out there and understand behavior, we can create what are called in- market audiences. So someone is literally in the market for the thing that you are selling, based on their browsing behavior, they’ve gone to seven car sites, and specifically they filled out lead forums and like, Oh, so they’re in the market for a vehicle, so we can create tight audiences. Other examples would be an affinity audience. So based on your, again, browsing behavior or app consumption, you have an infinity, or an interest in a certain topic, or here’s my new favorite. You can create an audience based on competitive URLs and your competitors’ apps.

Stephanie Cox: Wait, what?

Brett Westerman: Yes.

Stephanie Cox: Hold on. I feel like this is really important. Everyone needs to write this down.

Brett Westerman: So effectively you’re putting a, I’ll call it a digital lasso around your competitors’ traffic, and if they’ve got apps that are consumer facing, not like an internal app, you can also target users of that app. So imagine how powerful that is if you want to do, not even just an awareness campaign, but a conquesting campaign, specifically going after competitors. So wonderful targeting, and that’s really, I think that’s the secret sauce. And so if you do what’s right with the targeting and you avoid all the things that is generally wrong with Google ads, which is junk mobile app inventory, over- serving of your ad, where you let the frequency just get out of control, or not putting the right guardrails in terms of the interest you don’t want to tackle. So if you put the right guardrails in place, then Google generally does a good job.

Okay. So you’ve mentioned Google, and I know you and I both have a love-hate relationship with all things Google ad- words related. So I would love to just, let’s talk about some real truths around what’s great about the Google ad network, and also what’s horrible. So rant away, Brett.

Brett Westerman: Yeah, let’s get real. So what do I love about Google? They’re the bread and butter in which I’ve built my business. So, I’ve got a lot to thank them for, as do a lot of marketers. So, yeah, why are they great? We can literally access the entire world, more or less, of internet users. That’s something, we just don’t even question it. Traditional media, you would think, well, what’s the circulation of this print ad, or who’s driving past this highway billboard, no, literally Google just gets in front of every eyeball in the world. So, that’s great. They’ve got this integration across their suite of products that is seamless, it just works for the most part, like Google analytics. You’ve got YouTube that I just mentioned, you can dotted- line it over to their suite of SEO tools, keyword planning tools, that are all essentially free. We’ve all been gifted these tools that work elegantly together, no minimum budgets. We just mentioned that a minute ago, getting access to networks and special groups of eyeballs often comes with a minimum spend, or attacked on a premium price, no, I could spend$2 a day on a search campaign if I wanted. So, there tears down that barrier for anybody just starting to get in. And one more good part, before we get into my complaints. The system getting smarter and smarter over the years. So I mentioned that with YouTube, how you can get better with audience targeting and the specificity with that. The algorithmic bidding mechanism that’s going on behind everything that they do, every auction ad that served, where it’s priced at, who it’s served to, that’s just superior to any simple human brain at this point, we got to admit that. The machines won with algorithmic bidding. So you could tell them, I’m running a search campaign, and my goal is to get the most conversions. I don’t care how much it costs, or I want to hit this target CPA, or this target ROAS, and they do it really well. I used to second guess them when bid strategies first came out, but now I don’t even, I get to a bid strategy as soon as I can, once we have enough data. So that’s great. Algorithmically running ads, the responsive search ads that we now can run were years past, Stephanie, I would have to say, here’s my headline, here’s my headline, here’s my description, it’s the static ad. And I would create three to five versions and they’d be a little different, and later I’d have to analyze my data and say, well, what worked? And was it the headline? Now I can give Google, here’s 10 headlines. Here are four different descriptions and go, and it’s literally running a multivariate test for me. Right? Like what you would probably have to pay software lots of money to do, or you would need a lot of manpower to do, or what literally could be my full- time job. And it’s just doing it for us, rather effectively.

And it used to be your full-time job. Right? You’d have a massive spreadsheet of these things. Yeah.

Brett Westerman: Yeah. Giant spreadsheet. So it’s made our lives much easier as marketers and more effective as marketers.

Stephanie Cox: Well, and it’s also, I think helped, back in the day, and I’m going to date myself, right? There used to be other search engines you guys, I know some of you only know Google, but there used to be things like called Bing, and I could go on and on, but today, right? Google just occupies so much of search traffic that you really, if you can do well on Google, it can be a huge boom for your company.

Brett Westerman: Yes. And you can scale. That’s the biggest thing that I love. Once I find something that works on Google, I mentioned earlier, the reach, you can scale what works and that’s then the game changer, because you can get a 10X return for what’s 2X my energy. So now we’re talking real gains here. So yeah, there’s a lot to love, but.

Stephanie Cox: But. Let’s get to the buts. The buts are my favorite. Right? But there’s a lot to dislike, Hey, whatever word we want to use.

Brett Westerman: Yeah. And Twitter is full, all those search marketers, it’s very cathartic, I think for us to complain about Google out there. I think the general trend is they are pushing to gather more of your budget while simultaneously taking away your ability to know where that budget’s going, to control where it’s going, and lately, to some extent, the data that they’re giving you about that performance. So I don’t like those three trends, I’m sure you don’t as a marketer. Super frustrating.

Stephanie Cox: No. Yes. Well, and I think we can dive into those in a more detailed, but one of the other things that I think has been, I’d add to the list maybe as a fourth item, it’s backed about getting more of your budget, but how many times have people gotten an email from Google that’s like, I’d like to be able to help you with all of your campaigns. Right? And someone’s like, Oh, Google wants to talk to us. I’m like, no, they don’t want to talk to you, they want us, to get more money. Will they be helpful? Maybe, but their whole purpose is to get you to spend more. It’s not this altruistic, I want to help everyone get better at search, or at display.

Brett Westerman: Mm-hmm(affirmative).

Stephanie Cox: It is, I want more of your budget.

I always suggest that if you do get an outreach from a Google specialist, that you take the call, because at the very least, in a 30-minute conversation, you’re going to learn one to two things that maybe you didn’t know, and if you can just patiently listen as they tell you to bid your display ad super broad, or maybe you take those guardrails down, sometimes you’ll find some nuggets that are helpful. And actually what I really like is, gosh, after probably listening to dozens and dozens of these reps, I really now know their process of script, really, of how they think about ads, or campaigns, because I’ve had friends that have done this before and under their roster of clients, they literally probably have 70 to 80 clients in a month. And so how do you keep all that straight? Well, you’ve got a very specific process that you go through to know how to quickly turn an account around, and try to nudge them towards your internal objectives as well. But yeah. Always take the call because you’ll find something that helps.

Stephanie Cox: All right. So let’s talk about the other stuff with your rants on Google. What do you wish Google was doing, or how do you think about, with these challenges that we all face, using Google as a marketer with a limited paid budget? What are things that we can do in order to make it work better for us, I guess?

Mm- hmm. One, I would say awareness, be aware of your settings, know where you are bidding, and how are you finding an audience because they make it very easy when creating a campaign to just not untick that box that they have checked for you. Here’s a great example, I was complaining about this last week on Twitter. So when you create a new display campaign, all right, there is an automatically checked box that after I’ve specified, Oh, these are my interests. These are just the people that I want to reach. There is an auto-checked box that says, would you like us to expand your audience to reach 11 million more impressions? That’s it. Okay.

Stephanie Cox: Super vague. Yes, but what?

Brett Westerman: In theory, to their credit, they probably take my bid strategy and they say, this is what Brett wants to accomplish, and we think we can find those people maybe better than he can. There’s probably more than a grain of truth in that, but guys we’re jumping to 11 million, that’s the population of Ohio, right? 11.

Stephanie Cox: That’s a lot of people.

Brett Westerman: …And furthermore, how will I know if the audiences and the interests that I was prescriptive about, how will I know that those worked when otherwise, you’re going off to the races to find other audiences? When I run a campaign, first and foremost, it’s results, performance. After that it’s insights and learning. I need to know what I can grow upon, what I can maybe pull off into another channel even. So, don’t deny me insights. And so that automated expansion does just that.

Stephanie Cox: I was literally just talking to someone about that today, about LinkedIn, because they have a similar little check box that’s automatically tracked. It’s like, do you want to expand your audience network? And I’m like, okay, I know this sounds good, but you may not want to check that box. Your budget might spin a lot faster than you think it would normally.

Brett Westerman: If you run up against the ceiling, like say you found what works.

Stephanie Cox: Yeah.

Brett Westerman: Yeah. And then you need to scale like, all right, we’ll loosen up the reins a little bit. And I have found that to be effective. Go out and find me more people like this. It’s like creating a lookalike audience on Facebook, or what Google calls similar audiences. It’s a nice expansion once you’ve found your ceiling.

Stephanie Cox: No, I completely agree, but it’s not always the best place to get started.

Brett Westerman: No. Nope.

Stephanie Cox: Definitely not. Okay. Anything else that you find that most marketers have a misconception about Google, or are using it in a way that is, you’re just like, Oh man, why did you do that?

Brett Westerman: I would say the one that’s just been bugging me all year too. A lot of folks assume that display and YouTube are not the effective channels that hopefully I’ve convinced you, they can be. And I think a lot of that is, well, one it’s due to not unchecking those boxes I mentioned, and two, it is not being aware of all the mobile app inventory that Google is flooding advertisers with. And so this is now the default. In years past you could do a specific exclusion that told Google ads that you don’t want to appear for mobile mobile app inventory. Why is that? You get a lot of accidental clicks with big thumbs. Apps are probably not the environment you’ll find the most receptive audience, right? They’re in an app because they want to accomplish whatever that app is offering them. They are not in a browsing mode, or a passive viewing mode, like you might have on YouTube. So you get a lot of junk clicks in traffic, or let’s say nowadays, COVID, parents sharing their iPad with their child. That iPad is logged into the parents’ Google account, and targeting them as such. And then you’ve got your kid watching videos and playing games, and they’re getting served your B2B ad, right? That doesn’t make sense.

Stephanie Cox: And then they click on it because they’re like, what’s this? I accidentally didn’t mean to tap that.

Oh, so what can we do about this? I mentioned, it used to be easy, you could exclude right across the board, mobile app inventory. Nowadays you have to very specifically go into your placements settings, go further into exclusions, go further into mobile app categories and then, we’re not done yet, you have to then check every category type within each app ecosystem. So all the iOS categories and a category could be parenting, medical, music, entertainment. So literally we’ve got probably a hundred. And so you go through and you manually check all 100 and then you go over to the Play Store and you do the same darn thing. So it’s probably about five minutes of just mindlessly clicking boxes, but despite the frustration, it will greatly improve your display campaigns, your YouTube campaigns. Right now go in and do a placement report for your YouTube and your display. And then do a filter for how many of those are mobile apps? So look how much money you’re spending. What’s the performance first, in non-mobile apps. And you’re going to see a world of difference with these exclusions.

Stephanie Cox: And is that one of the things that you find a lot of times, like when you talk to brands that have been doing search and they feel like they’re just not getting a lot of results. Part of it I know obviously it’s creative and messaging, but also part of it, it’s just placement. They’re putting it in their ads and places they just don’t even realize that are never going to drive them the traffic that they want.

Brett Westerman: That’s correct. Sometimes it is a result of, it’s a legacy accounts, either it gets passed between hands internally, or passed from agency to agency. And so there are settings that were put in place on a campaign years ago that haven’t been thought about in years. And if a campaign is doing okay, sometimes there’s a hesitation to change, maybe what’s working, or the new in- house lead doesn’t know to check for this campaign, or for this setting, or lastly, the account could be just in a, I call it a Frankenstein mess. If it’s passed so many hands, your Google ad structure could be all over the place, everybody had their own way of doing it. So that could hide a lot of deficiencies in your setup.

Stephanie Cox: So let’s just maybe take it back to just B2B paid campaigns in general, because that’s, I know, primarily where you spend a lot of your time.

Brett Westerman: Mm- hmm.

Stephanie Cox: If you had to talk to someone about thinking about their paid media strategy, maybe starting fresh in 2021, what would you recommend to them? Where do they start? Or what should they be paying attention to?

Brett Westerman: Yes. Great. My two darlings on B2B acquisition. So this is more direct response than all the awareness tactics I mentioned earlier. So one, LinkedIn, God bless them. LinkedIn has just improved their platform, leaps and bounds. Both of it’s targeting with just the platform itself, the ease of creation has gotten better. So what do I like about LinkedIn? One, I love their lead form ad type. So this is not an ad you see in your LinkedIn feed that you clicked through to a landing page, you fill out a form and all that, but it is where you click the ad and then right there within the LinkedIn experience, the form flips over with fields pre- populated, with your name and your position, and maybe your company. So to receive this, say it’s a white paper, or an ebook, you just have to fill these fields that are pre- populated for you. So the work is done. And from there, you connect that to your CRM. You’ve got the person in your system, they have the ebook that they wanted right away. So I see great conversion rates on that. The quality, sometimes from the lead form, is slightly lower than if you had taken a new landing page, acquainted them to your brand, to that environment, but still I’m getting 15% conversion rates, great CPAs under$ 50, for a B2B lead, I’m going to take that any day. So you should all be doing at least lead form extensions with some lead magnet, or asset. As far as the targeting behind lead forms, or even just any ad on LinkedIn. Here’s a new tip I picked up from some friends on Twitter, actually it was the podcast Marketing O’clock, some super smart folks. And often you start your LinkedIn targeting with job titles, or industry, that’s where your mind goes, and that’s what I’ve historically done. And it was when I switched instead to target by skills and groups, that things really got interesting. So these are professional interests that you have chosen, you have gone out and said, I want to be in this group that’s all about healthcare marketers, or I have a stated interest, or a stated skill in SEO keyword research, so it goes beyond what is the default that folks put up on LinkedIn, which is their title, and their job, and their company. And instead they’re raising their hands and saying, here’s something I’m really interested in, or this is a group that I self identify with. And so if I start there, and then I segment that out by seniority levels, if you follow my architecture so far. So I can speak differently to the VPs and the directors as I would the managers. So you’ve got skills and groups segmented out by seniority, and I’ve found lately that’s been a winning formula when you hit them with the lead form ads.

Stephanie Cox: Very cool. So thinking of that, so that obviously sounds amazing, but also a lot of, not work, but complexity in terms of getting it started. How do you think about, okay, if I want to get there, do I start first at a maybe lighter stage place and then figure out what works in general, and then get to more of your scaling situation where we’re doing things like we just talked about with groups and doing it by seniority, or are you suggesting like, Hey, screw all the stuff you used to do and let’s go straight to this?

Brett Westerman: Yeah. If you’re just starting and say you’re a little, maybe vague on your persona, and you’re not ready to double down on a skill set or a group, and you need to build, let’s say a little bit of awareness, I like native LinkedIn videos, short form. And if you have the asset already, something like 30 seconds, what I love is you can serve this up, you can test out a bunch of audiences, get a lot of eyeballs, pretty cheap, and create a custom audience for yourself, of anyone who has watched that video, which is prime for later retargeting. Also, with this, LinkedIn gives us some great data, you heard me mentioned earlier my frustration when Google takes away data. So LinkedIn is wonderful with professional data. So you could run a campaign, say this video campaign I mentioned, and then look at all the demographics, and who has seen it, who has clicked it, by every which way you want to slice the pie, seniority, industry, job title, et cetera. And so that could be a great starting point to give you an idea maybe of who your ad is resonating with, and what might be a next area to go into next, for your campaign as you’re trying to test out, or scale up.

Stephanie Cox: I have known Brett for years and every time I chat with him, I learn something new about paid media that I want to implement almost immediately. And that to me is the definition of a REAL Marketer. They get sh*t done, share what’s worked for them, or what hasn’t, and that’s how we all get better at our jobs and push each other forward. You’ve been listening to REAL Marketers, if you love what you’ve heard, make sure to subscribe, rate and review our podcast. And don’t forget to tell a friend, all of this marketing goodness, shouldn’t be kept a secret.