From left, Tania Mulry, founder of DDx Media; Patrick Mullen, SCVBJ editor; Vitaliy G., design partner with Gem Digital Design, at Gem’s Newhall offices. Katharine Lotze/The Signal
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What does digital marketing actually mean in 2017? Who’s doing it well and who’s behind the curve, locally and beyond? Why isn’t search engine optimization enough anymore? In this month’s Knowledge Exchange, two local entrepreneurs tackle those questions.

After a stint in investment banking and a decade with MasterCard in New York, eventually leading their push into mobile payments, Tania Mulry moved to California in 2007 to join a startup in Santa Monica. After its investors pulled the plug, she landed a job in digital marketing with a unit of Omnicom Group. Great schools and relatively affordable housing brought her and her family to Santa Clarita.

Born in Riga, Latvia, Vitaliy G. (it stands for Gnezdilov, but he says people find Vitaliy easier to pronounce) came with his family first to South Florida, then to Santa Clarita. He went to College of the Canyons, and worked for an ad agency and a software company. Having witnessed a tech boom in Miami, he sees Santa Clarita, particularly Newhall, as being on the verge of something similar. Vitaliy and Mulry spoke recently with SCVBJ Editor Patrick Mullen.

SCVBJ: Let’s talk about your companies. Tania, yours is called DDx. Why those letters, and what do you do?

Tania Mulry laughs during an interview with the Signal’s business editor Patrick Mullen and Vitaliy Gnezdilov, of Gem Digital Agency in Newhall on Monday, March 6, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Tania Mulry
Company: DDx Media Inc. and Steamwork Center, Santa Clarita
Title: Founder & CEO
Born: La Mesa, CA
Education: Bachelor’s in Economics, Near Eastern Studies, New York University
Hobbies: Teaching at USC, cheering for my three sons, exercise
Motto: Wish for it, then work for it.

 

Mulry: It stands for Digital Detox. We do digital advertising, websites and apps. Our clients are mostly business-to-consumer, and can be based anywhere. We have clients in Australia, New York, Florida, Texas. I’ve lived all over the country,  so I’ve made contact in different places that are useful for business development.

SCVBJ: Why Digital Detox?

Mulry: Sometimes we get so wrapped up in technology that we have to figure out how to harness it for good and not evil. Facebook and Twitter came up right as I was moving from New York to California. We left behind fifty people in our immediate family. My husband is the youngest of seven, I’m the oldest of five, and we have tons of relatives. It’s so cool that we get to see everybody’s announcements and keep up long-distance relationships. But it’s also spectacular when you see someone in person and you realize what you’ve been missing. And there are stories like one I saw about a young boy who took 200 selfies trying to get the perfect one. He ended up committing suicide because he couldn’t get it. There are all kinds of things going on in our psyches. That’s why Digital Detox.

SCVBJ:  Vitaliy, what is Gem?

Vitaliy Gnezdilov of Gem Digital Agency answers questions during an interview with Signal’s business editor Patrick Mullen and in Newhall on Monday, March 6, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Vitaliy G. (Gnezdilov)
Company: Gem Digital Agency, Newhall
Title: Design Partner
Born: Riga, Latvia
Education: Associate’s in Multimedia Design, College of the Canyons
Hobbies: Hobbies: Reading, photography, motorcycling, boxing
Motto: First they ask, “why?” Then they ask, “how?”

 

Vitaliy: We’re a digital marketing agency that creates high-quality content, engaging customer experiences, and tell authentic stories. Are we an advertising agency? Our clients are established businesses more than start-ups, which tend to have limited budgets. And like DDx, our clients can be based anywhere. We’re starting to pick up more clients here in Santa Clarita.

SCVBJ:  How does Gem’s work differ from a traditional ad agency?

Vitaliy: The market is much more segmented now. Everyone is in charge of their own domain. Google and Facebook are so powerful they’re the ones who happen to have the most information about you thanks to your interactions with their platforms. We can target an audience based on how many lines of credit they have open, their job title, where they work and how many employees that company has, where they live, where they’ve lived previously. All a lot of clients want is [search engine optimization]. SEO is just something that happens when you’ve done everything else right In the next two years or three, Google’s search results page is going to be specifically tailored to each person, so SEO is going to be hard to optimize in a useful way. Gem is different because we invest long-term in our clients’ brand stories.

SCVBJ:  When you talk to business clients about their digital presence, what are some things that amaze you about what they don’t understand?

Mulry: They have a sense of what’s possible, because they see other people doing it, but they’re not sure where to start or how to present themselves. People are used to telling their story résumé style: “Here are my accomplishments, here are my cut-and-dried things, here is me in the professional box. What people don’t understand is that a lot more storytelling is available and desirable now. People need to be entertained if you want to get any kind of attention. They don’t want to see another guy in a suit in a LinkedIn page or on Facebook. You have to show that you’re a human being with a personality that blends with what you do and how you do it.

Vitaliy: A lot of corporate clients are so smooth that they’re not sticking anything to themselves. You have to have jagged edges to in order to stick to something, like Velcro. You’re supposed to create a culture that people will relate to. That’s your community. You don’t care about anybody else. You just care about providing the best possible services and/or products for your community, the people who truly get you. Mental real estate is very limited. We’re all getting bombarded all the time with messages designed to get us to buy this or that. You have to pass through all that and find the people who go, “Yeah, this can really make an impact on how I live my life.” Those are the people you focus on.

Mulry: You have to speak their language, including their visual language. Find out what they like and don’t like and what appeals to them about your brand. Some clients will say, “Just make me those cool online ads, take a picture, write a few words.” But there’s nothing behind it. It’s not that easy. People are numb. To get the clicks, you’ve got to wake them up somehow.

Vitaliy: That’s where content comes in. Content creation is king.

SCVBJ: Define content. Is it a company’s actual product or service?

Mulry: It’s your company’s fishing net. Let’s pretend you’re trying to make a comeback for floppy disks as coasters. That’s your product. It’s not enough to say, “Hey Vitaliy, buy my floppy disk coaster.” You have to have a whole schtick. What did you store on yours? You might have a contest to see who can find the oldest floppy disk. You would need to create a whole universe of stories that makes this thing iconic and desirable again. You could be selling insurance or tripods or magazine ads. It doesn’t really matter. How do you make that product magnetic and desirable through the story that you’re weaving?

Vitaliy: Because there are a lot of people doing the same thing you do, trying to sell the same things you sell. You have to make sure your storytelling is better than theirs, and you do that through the content that you’re putting out there.

SCVBJ: Storytelling is as old as people, but as all the tools change so quickly, how do you combine the two?

Mulry: That’s the hard part. When I started college twenty-five years, I didn’t have an email address. I had a typewriter with three lines of memory. I know you’re jealous.

SCVBJ: I’m sure that was a powerful machine. Today, teenagers getting their first driver’s licence will likely be able to tell their kids, “I remember when we drove our own cars.”

Vitaliy: Totally. I was listening to an interview with Lyft’s CEO, who said that in eight years, 80 percent of their fleet is going to be automated. Eight years. That’s nothing. That’s amazing.

SCVBJ: So what should business owners should be thinking about and doing this year?

Mulry: It depends on what kind of business they’re in. I’ve found that very few owners of brick-and-mortar businesses, especially in Santa Clarita, are optimizing for local search, especially for mobile devices.

Vitaliy: For a couple of years, Google has been ranking mobile sites higher than websites that don’t have a mobile presence. This should be part of last year’s conversation, but it’s still news to some companies.

Mulry: Everyone is searching with their phones, and they’re willing to drive two miles out of their way to find what they’re looking for. Searches on mobile for businesses show a high degree of purchase intent. If I’m searching for a restaurant, that means I’m going to spend money in a restaurant in the next couple of hours. When I think of brick-and-mortar businesses, I think of restaurants. Because we’ve got this funny biological need to eat. Also, let your customers do your storytelling for you. Asking for reviews is important, and Google, Facebook, and Yelp are the main places people will look before they’ll come in to see you.

SCVBJ: Many online reviews seem to be either totally negative, written by cranky people who hate everything, or totally positive, like the company wrote them. How useful are they?

Mulry: People will take some of the “this place is awful” comments with the understanding that there are some nasty people out there. But good reviews speak volumes for your brand. The trick is to ask your happy customers to take a few minutes and post a short review. Let them know it could mean the world for your business.

Vitaliy: Converse has a digital presence that’s one of the best I’ve seen. Their Instagram presence is so impressive. Like Tania said, your market is your marketing team. Converse has 5.5 million followers on Instagram, and consumers generate 90 percent of the content on the Converse feed. It’s a kind of trade. You post a cool photo that you think meets the brand standards of Converse, and tag Converse. If they see it and like it, they repost it. They get free content and you get your photo seen by a lot more people. That’s the closed circuit of digital marketing on social media.

Mulry: And people are thrilled by it. They feel validated. They feel attached to your brand. It’s that Velcro idea again.

Vitaliy: Your brand has to stand for something. Think of Toms Shoes. You buy one pair of shoes and another one gets donated to a person in need. It’s like you’re a philanthropist by wearing Toms Shoes. You can’t have a smooth brand, because if you try not to offend anyone, you’re going to stand for nothing.

SCVBJ: Vitaliy, on your website, there’s a spot where it says, “Let’s talk.” When I clicked on it, it opened your calendar, or at least your publicly shared calendar, showing when you have time open. I thought that was cool.

Vitaliy: Contact forms do not work. They’re very old school. You’re saying, “leave us a message.” At that point there is a hard drop off. It’s like someone leaving a note in a suggestion box. You don’t know if it’s ever going to be read. If someone wants to talk, I’m saying, pick a time that works, and it’s synced with my calendar. I had someone call me responding to one of our Facebook ads, and he picked a time that was one hour from that moment. So I hustled to the office, and the first thing he said was, “Give props to your marketing team. I’m from Brooklyn, and for a Facebook ad to get me to call you guys is unheard of.” He’s still a customer.

SCVBJ: You are your marketing team, right?

Vitaliy: Very much so, but I’ve built a network of talented professionals that I pull in as needed. I wasn’t responsible for those ads. I hired someone to do them.

SCVBJ: Santa Clarita Valley touts itself as business friendly. Is that true in your experience?

Vitaliy: I think it’s a frigging gold mine of opportunity. It’s a brand new city that’s untapped. I saw what happened in Florida in terms of tech entrepreneurship. Part of Miami went through gentrification, with tech companies looking for lower real estate costs. First, small scrappy tech companies moved in. Ten years of that equates to Facebook and Microsoft moving in. Magic Leap, a VR company, raised $1.4 billion before they had a working prototype. I see Newhall becoming a version of  that. Compared to Silicon Valley or Santa Monica, it’s more affordable here, which gives startups a longer runway, more time to get off the ground.

Mulry: Santa Clarita is fascinating. It’s a wonderful place to live, has great proximity to Los Angeles, to Hollywood, to Santa Monica. We have a ton of extraordinarily talented people Because of our geography, half our people are trying to figure out how to build their dream job here and be an entrepreneur here, and not be stuck on I-5. One third of American workers are entrepreneurs, and the rate is probably higher here. But real success comes when people work together. That’s why I’m helping to launch Steamwork Center, to create a shared workspace for innovators, entrepreneurs, students and startup teams in a convenient Santa Clarita location. We need support from larger businesses and other entities through mentoring and places to come together. Established firms could win a new generation of loyal customers from the entrepreneurs they help. Bringing them together is a problem I think we’re both trying to solve.

SCVBJ: Thank you both for your time.

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Patrick Mullen
Patrick Mullen grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., and moved to Santa Clarita from Cleveland in 2016. He covered the business side of health care for 15 years. A Mets fan, he would be OK with a Dodgers-Cleveland World Series in 2017.
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  • Vitaliy Gnezdilov

    Thanks for having us on the Knowledge Exchange, Patrick!