SpinWeb is an Indianapolis-based digital agency, specializing in enterprise website design & digital marketing

Thin Thinking and Digital Business Integration [Digital Exec]

Michael Reynolds

Posted by Michael Reynolds on 12/17/13 10:30 AM

In this episode of The Digital Exec, we sit down with Gillian Muessig from Moz to discuss the concept of "thin thinking" and how digital is really just reality.

If you're feeling stuck in your marketing efforts, this episode is for you. We cover topics ranging from customer service to analytics to offline-online integration to branding and more. Gillian has a way of getting people un-stuck and helping them with innovative leaps and breakthroughs.


Michael: Michael Reynolds here with SpinWeb for episode five of The Digital Exec. Topic today: "Thin Thinking and Digital Business Integration." I'm here with Gillian Muessig, co-founder of MOZ. Gillian, how are you?

Gillian: I'm doing great, thanks for having me.

Michael: Awesome. So glad you're here. And you're joining us from the West Coast, correct?

Gillian: I am, from beautiful Puget Sound, where it's cloudy as usual.

Michael:  We've got a great view behind you. I love seeing it here. Actually, I had appointments this morning at a client's office, and they have big nice conference room in a beautiful office building, with a great view, and I'm thinking, "I could get used to this. I may just hang out here all day and enjoy the view."

Gillian: We call that the style of life to which you should like to become accustom to.

Michael: Yeah there you go. Well, for our audience, Gillian is the co-founder of MOZ, formerly SEOmoz, which let me know if I get this wrong, MOZ is an analytics company, right?

Gillian: That's right. We provide a business and marketing metrics analytic software company.

Michael: Awesome. I know you just launched a new product, right? Tell us about it.

Gillian: That's correct. SEOmoz started as just a couple of guides and a few tools that were separately put on the page, and we now have a complete suite platform, including, of course, the analytics which are a major piece of business visibility. We feel that we've moved a lot farther than just SEO, which is where we started and then even the marketing, which is where we went next. Now we're really about business analytics. 

Michael: Great, now I want to know a little bit more about that at the end as well. But, just so the audience knows where to find you, you're at SEOmom on Twitter, correct?

Gillian: That's correct, you'll find me at SEOmom on Twitter at CEOcoach on Facebook, so it's I'm also, of course, at, and you'll find me just around the web @ SEOmom.

Michael: We met at the recent Digital Mastermind meet-up in Vegas, and your presentation just blew us all away. We were enthralled with what you had to say, and we really appreciate you speaking to us, so I'm really glad we got to connect. I've been following your blog at SEOmom as well, and this topic actually came out of your most recent blog post, "Thin Thinking and Digital Business Integration," and if you don't mind, I love how you opened it up with this little joke, do you mind if I...? I'll try not to butcher it too badly, but...

Gillian: Go for it.

Michael: I was going to share the joke you start off with. It's basically three different scenarios. You've got one scientist in New York, digs down and finds copper wire and says,"Oh, what's this? A hundred years ago our ancestors had telecommunications foundations laid." In L.A. another scientist digs deeper and says, "Oh well two-hundred years ago our ancestors had wire copper laid and had communications, so we're beating out New York. Then, a third scientist in New Orleans digs down and finds nothing at all and says, "Well in New Orleans we must have already gone wireless way back then so we've got everyone beat." Did I kind of get the summarization right in that joke?

Gillian: Absolutely.

Michael:  And the point is kind of related to thin thinking and coming to conclusions that are really not at all correct. Is this an example of thin thinking?

Gillian: Yes, you make a conclusion based on the evidence you have in front of you, and you obviously have no other pieces of evidence, and what I'm suggesting is that we triangulate more data and we make deeper decisions.

Michael: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, but it seems like the point you're making in your post was that we don't really do this very well, or at least some of us don't. So when it comes to marketing, it sounds like you're suggesting a lot of marketers have incomplete pictures of data. 

Gillian: That's correct.

Michael: One thing you mentioned in your post was something called last click attribution, and that was one thing that people do and they have a very narrow view of their data. So what is last click attribution, what does that mean?

Gillian: It means that somebody clicked, you tracked it, and they got to your website, and they bought something. Isn't that wonderful? My question is, what happened before they got there? Did they talk to somebody? How are you going to track that? We can track stuff if they've been to our site multiple times, you can see that type of information. You can see what pages they've been to, and you can see what else they've done, you can even get a little deeper and say, "Oh, they also saw stuff on Facebook," and things like that. There are wonderful pieces of analytic software out there or data software out there at this point, not just MOZ, but others, and there will be all kinds of information. So, what happens when I hang out with you, Mike, and we talk about something, and I tell you about that new car that I picked up, and you really like it, so you go down to your dealer and you check it out, and then you leave that place and then you get online and you do some research, and then you...

Oh wait, we can't track you until you got online. How did you find out about it? What made you decide to do that? It wasn't a Google search all on your own. That's what we look at. What I'm really saying is the time for digital marketing is over. Digital marketing is dead. Now there's a statement, right? All I'm really saying is, it's gone, just call it marketing. All of it is marketing.

Michael: Yeah.

Gillian: Online, offline, paid and non-paid, social and non-social, it doesn't matter. It's all marketing, and if we don't think about that, we lose sight of the broader picture. When you take a beautiful picture and you frame it very elegantly like they do at hotels and things like that, well is required to tell us what the real picture looks like. You have this lovely photo of somebody who is about to get married by a swimming pool in a little pagoda and so on, it just looks lovely, and then takes exactly the same photo, but doesn't crop it for you and it says, "yeah, but behind you is the Macy's parking lot, and there's a fence there," It's like, "do you really want to plan your wedding around this place?" 

All I'm saying is, get the whole picture. Even when we don't have full data, simply knowing that it exists gives us a broader vision around the likelihood of scenarios and gives us a better evaluation of all of the components that go into our pot. We need to stop talking about digital marketing and then talking about print media marketing, and talking about radio or TV marketing and separating all of those. Siloing is dumb.

Michael: So are you saying get away and add that to our picture, or are you saying that we should track those things, and if so, how do we track it?

Gillian: Okay, I'm saying you track as much as you possibly can. The first things is to be aware of it, to take the language of siloed marketing out of the systems of your business. It is, as I said, thin thinking, and it is archaic. Consider marketing from it's whole perspective, and I would add to that by the way, that sales and customer service are also part of your marketing department.


Michael: Thank you. 

Gillian: Silo those things.I know, that's a passion on your end as well. This is all the same conversation. From the moment that somebody understands who you are, from the moment they hear about it from someone else, to the moment that they buy and then they engage with your brand beyond it, it's all about how you present yourself. If we're going to use a word around it, let's choose marketing, you can choose any word you want, but I'm just saying, don't reinvent the wheel so everybody does know what you're talking about, but it is about marketing. 

Now, here's the interesting thing, if you and I have that conversation around a vehicle, it's because I just purchased the vehicle and I've already had experience with your marketing, your sales funnel, and perhaps I did it somewhat online, and then I went to a shop, and I experienced your sales processes, both the online process and your salespeople, so I've done it offline as well. And then I experienced your customer service folks, and now I'm driving this product around, so I've experienced your product. And you know what that generated? Potentially another sale.

How do you really put a crack in that circle and say, "Okay, Michael's going to go and check out my car, and I want to make sure he buys my car." Where did Michael start? The answer was it started with a conversation that did not just begin as a conversation. It started as a conversation that began with a prior sale and a prior experience through marketing sales and then customer service. Whoa. There's the cycle of life, it really does continue. 

So, one, I'm saying it's a deeper issue. Two, we should not silo, we should recognize that it is not quite a cycle that's a full circle, but it's a spiral. Each one generates the next one. If you were to come to this idea that you might want to buy a vehicle and get online and do some research about cars in general and then consider it and then you generate conversations, then you have multiple conversations with multiple people, some of who may own the vehicle themselves, may have looked at it themselves, who have good responses and bad responses, and all of that stuff cannot be tracked. Or, maybe it can a little bit.

What I would look for when you look at the online data, would be the kinds of searches that were done in order to get to your site. So, if you've have a positive conversation with me, you're looking for the car. If you had a negative conversation with me, but you've been thinking about the car before, perhaps because you saw print media ad, perhaps because you saw something on the TV, or on the radio, or you just drove by and it looked cool in a parking lot, or you had seen something, articles about it, so that would be PR, however you came to your first idea around the vehicle, if you had a negative conversation with me, your searches might look a little different. You wouldn't simply be looking for the car and how to buy it, you might be looking for articles concerning, I don't know, callbacks for this car. You know, recalls. Maybe something for seatbelt trouble, maybe something about it's mileage, something about + scam if you're worried about where to buy the car.

Maybe it wasn't the vehicle itself that was a negative part of our conversation. Maybe I just didn't like the dealer. But if I did like the dealer you'd be looking for the dealer. If I didn't like the dealer you'd be looking for the dealer plus Better Business Bureau reports, or something like that. Those things will give you an indication of what's going on offline, but only a very tiny piece. All I'm saying is it's an important piece. And, if you do see those kinds of searches around your branch on a regular basis, + scam, + better business, + problems, + recalls, whatever it might be, maybe that's something you'll need to address online, as well as offline, as well as in your business systems. Marketing's an interesting place, it's going to tell you all kinds of things. Social media in particular, both online and offline, it'll tell you amazing information.

Michael: That's very interesting because, I hate to say it, but you pointed out something I'm really dense about a lot. As inbound marketers we often get very obsessed with these long tail keywords and finding these terms that lead new people to your site and put them in the funnel We sometimes discount brand terms, like, "company XYZ." If somebody types in a name, we discount that as, "oh, that's a brand term, we don't worry about that," but we should be worrying a lot about that because, as you said, there are lots of offline input that may lead to the type of search that you're talking about. I think a lot of us, myself included, are very dense about that and don't quite pay as much attention as we should, so thank you for correcting the error of my ways. (Laughter) That's something to look at.

Gillian: Here's something else to thing about. As you talk about social media, online and offline, that is just talk. As we use more and more online ways to communicate with each other, social media will tell you extraordinary things, it's going to tell you what goes into triage. Over at MOZ we figure out what goes into triage by watching the Twitter stream. In seconds, when something isn't functioning, Twitter's going to have reports on it. We now have a large enough community around our Twitter feed that we can watch that and say, "oh, this isn't working for somebody. Wait, it isn't working for that guy. It isn't working for ... Okay, everybody, where's engineering?"

Marketing connects with engineering instantly and says, "We have three reports... ten reports... fifteen reports..." Whatever it is, within a few minutes, something isn't functioning. Generally engineering says, "yeah, we already caught it," before the first person got it, and they're already working on something. They have an answer, it will be a few moments, it will be a week, it will be whatever. But that is messaged back to marketing who messages back to end users who receive that as if you are proactive customer service. But, they'll tell you what goes into triage, if something doesn't work. They will also start commenting really early when something major changes over in how the search engines are working, and then they will discuss immediately how that affects the products that we have over at MOZ. That's what goes into triage.

Michael: Well it sounds like really good information to have. So, I guess I'm wondering why don't more organizations do this? It seems like a lot of tools exist to give us metrics. A lot of tools exist, like Twitter for example, to give us real time feedback. There's tons of software out there, including MOZ, that will let you track a lot of information online and get a very rich profile into what people are doing. So, why aren't more people using these tools?

Gillian: Well there are all kinds of things, and we leverage all those kinds of things to listen deeply and so on. One, it takes people. We actually have a person who is the head of our community, Jen Lopez manages the community at MOZ. We have a number of people who help out doing that, so it takes staff. At least one person sometimes, and sometimes more than that, depending on the size of your brand. Say you were a blue jeans company or something major. That would make a big difference. One would be staffing.

Two, is even recognizing the value of the information you're getting.

Three is to make it actionable. The fact that the physical environment of MOZ, for example, is kind of a loft environment, very few walls, a few alcoves to try to deaden sound here among those that must speak very often and those that need quiet, and so on. We create spaces but we don't block things off, so we don't have cubicles. Cubicles removes communication or reduces it dramatically within any organization and many of the twentieth century organizations continue to have those kinds of physical layouts. When that happens it's not as easy to communicate, they try to do that always through email, or maybe through check systems and so on. Moving things forward is a lot of effort. Even going from those little pink paper slips that we used to have, to using email, and then perhaps to using chat stuff, or using the Twitter stream, or using Yammer or something like that is a real difficult step for many organizations. So, some of it is being entrenched.

The second thing is, of course, is physical labor, so you must pay for that. The third is the insights. So what I said was the first thing is Twitter and things like Twitter will give you what goes into triage. The second thing social media will tell you about is what you should innovate on. And those would be tweets or blog posts or even Facebook comments, Google+ comments, LinkedIn comments, whatever it is. It's comments on and off line that say things like, "Gee I really love MOZ, I wish I could, 'fill in the blank.'" Like, thanks guys. We had a little space. Thank you, that was exactly what we needed to know, right? Not only do we need to innovate on it but we need to know that our customers want it. We didn't even proactively ask for that and it came back.

After a while we began to put a little tab on the left side of our screen that asked people to pop it out and tell us what they wanted at any time. We certainly had a lot of feedback that way, and it did increase that, but at the same time, social media is still the major way in which we receive that information, everybody's using it anyway. People are chatting anyway. Just going to a conference is a major event for us, we hang out, we listen, you just pass by in the hallways, you make a speech from the stage and there are questions that come up. Those kinds of things that provide deep information about, again, what isn't working for people, and what they'd like your stuff to do that it doesn't do today. 

The third thing it will tell you is what to invent. If you listen deeply into a broader space around your industry you'll also hear things like, "gee I wish there was a thing that did..." And you'd say, "wait, that's close to what we're doing, that's in our field of purview, that's what's next." When you hear it enough, you can see the road ahead. It's not that we can all invent things like Steve Jobs, creating ideas that we didn't even know we needed, let alone things that would be, how should I say, we didn't even know we wanted them, let alone that we needed them and couldn't live without them. That's folks like Steve Jobs, the rest of us need to rely in a more prosaic sense on the feedback we're getting from our customers in order to see that road ahead and think deeply about it. If you're thinking about anything except what's next, you're losing money.

Michael: Wow, what a concept. Listening to your customers, wow, great advice.

Gillian: I know.

Michael: I know a lot of software companies especially, or product companies, that their customer feedback system is if a customer is upset enough to send an email or fill out a form, that's their feedback mechanism. They ignore Twitter, they ignore social media, and their engineers are in a cave saying, "okay, well if someone emails us because something is broken, we'll fix it, but otherwise everyone must be happy as a clam, right?" And we know that's not true.

Gillian: Right that would be classic thinking, wouldn't it, right?

Michael: Yeah one little stream of data, which is if someone's angry enough to email you, they must be real angry. Meanwhile you have fifty other people that send a tweet in frustration but nobody sees it. And, you're missing out on a huge opportunity to improve your product and engage in your customers and make them happier.

Gillian: One of the most difficult things about listening is that if you're a global organization, you have to see that 24-7. I was stuck on a trip to the Ukraine, British Airways was supposed to leave at "X" O'clock and there was really no information about it. They had a tiny counter that was closed, and other people were trying to find out what the heck was going on but there was no airplane. It was a glorious sunny day in the spring season, so Autumn or Spring. There I was with my spouse, and we're all twiddling thumbs and having another cup of coffee, we don't know what the heck's going on but we can't leave but the airport is very close to town. We could have seen this magnificent city, so we're just hanging out at this tiny airport. What the heck's going on?

We're just spinning wheels and wasting time. I'm getting on Twitter and I'm going, "okay British Airways @ British Airways, what's going on?" I must have tweeted five, six, seven times and then suddenly British Airways started to follow me and I got an answer, it turns out that they were fogged in from London and they hadn't gotten information to the people in the Ukraine sufficiently that we could have got that information. All it took was to tell the people who were checking in your ticket and the baggage, right? But that didn't happen for whatever reason, and there they were, but Twitter told us what was going on, so I told about three-hundred people who went, "oh, okay." They were okay with that, but more than that they began to follow me, and I thought, "It is difficult for them."

It was daytime and it wouldn't have been that much difference in daytime, only an hour difference between central European time and London time, but I fly them all over the world, so when I'm in Singapore or whatever, it's difficult for them to follow it 24-7, and I think they select those who perhaps make a whole lot of noise and maybe have a lot of followers. But they should be listening a whole lot more.

Michael: Yeah, airlines are sometimes good at that and sometimes not so good at that, I've noticed.

Gillian: Right, and those that are getting better at it, hugely valuable for them. What is a frustration becomes hugely useful and therefore customer service. Southwest has been at the leading end of so much of this, and they do take the time to listen. Of course, they have a smaller footprint, so their time zones are fewer, but still, they staff it, they take the time, they make it worthwhile and suddenly customer service happens that way. We do a great deal of customer service via, again, Twitter and Facebook and Google+ and all of those kinds of things as well, but much of it is still done via email. 

Michael: As we were talking I, first of all I love the fact that we've got two great topics rolled into one, and we're kind of hitting both and we could probably spend all day in them, but don't worry I won't. (Laughter) I think it would be a lot of fun, but I know you've got to run pretty soon. I wrote down Mad Men in my notes here as I was listening to you, that's because, I don't know if you watch Mad Men but I do.

Gillian: I rarely watch shows (Laughter).

Michael: Yeah, Mad Men is the advertising age back in the day. A lot of us as digital marketers who are data coordinating too, I realize we're, digital marketing is kind of, in my mind, expanding into more things now just after this conversation. We look at that and we kind of laugh at Mad Men, and say, "oh, well I have their print ads and their story boards and their adversing spins," and we laugh at it and say, "Well, all that stuff's dead because it's all digital." Really, that's a very narrow view of things because you still see television ads, you still see print ads, you still walk down a mall and you see models showing off the latest clothes, and that makes an impression. That becomes an offline impression that can lead you to search different, or to react differently, or to talk to friends about something which then leads into talking to more friends talking about it, which can lead to a social media engagement. I think we're involved in...

Gillian:  "X" amount of placement and all of that, those in movies, and then there's PR pieces, and we'll see stuff in the local newspapers, and read articles that have nothing to do with an advertisement, it's absolutely all of the pieces and you're right. The other thing is, we still do all of those things. Things we call landing pages today, used to be called sales fliers. It's just new language, it's just new tools and toys. What I'm saying is, although the industry's been around about a generation, about twenty years, for digital marketing itself. It's really time to get on with it, if you will. What hasn't changed is our language around it, we still call it digital marketing. It's just marketing, we just have new tools and toys. Remember when the telethon showed up and the world was coming to an end, because people would speak to each other without ever having a calling card and showing up at each others homes. Oh my gosh, right? Absolutely, shocking. The world is coming to an end! And then there was teletype, and then there was Morse code, and then there were fax machines. Oh my God, fax machines, right? People could send letters across the world in just a few moments. It's just new tools and toys, guys. The world isn't coming to an end, again, and things will go on. Let's just figure out where it fits, how it all comes together, and call it marketing. Marketing department needs to heal themselves, it's time.

Michael: I like that, heal themselves. Right on. Well I know we've got to wrap up here, is there anything else you wanted to add to this conversation that we haven't touched on yet?

Gillian: I'd say that while the conversation is a very broad conversation, the applicable things that people should come away from our conversation today is take a look at the structures of your business, if you're running a business, or if you're a major piece of it. The pieces of marketing must come together, not just digital and offline, but the pieces of marketing that really include PR, marketing, sales, customer service... It's all in a circle, and if you do it well, it will generate more circles as it goes on. Your brand doesn't stop with a single sales cycle. Stop looking at that as a single piece.

Michael: In eed, thank you.

Gillian: Once you've got that it's holistic. Thank you, it was a lot of fun.

Michael:  And I also want to thank you as well, again, we met a few months ago at the Digital Mastermind Conference and I'm not sure if you're aware but in our short fifteen minutes before your presentation, we talked about a business challenge I was having and you solved a big problem for me just for talking to me for a few minutes about it. You hit on the point I needed to focus on, and really that change was great for our business, so I want to thank you very much for that. Your insight is extremely valuable, extremely helpful, and great. 

Gillian: Michael, did you notice, though, that you had all the answers. All I had was the right questions, maybe that's what people could walk away with here.

Michael: Well, perhaps.

Gillian: Think about the questions you're asking, you probably have the right answers (laughter).

Michael: Yeah, sometimes the push is the last step. So, thank you. And, also I wanted to leave our audience with a little bit more information about MOZ, so maybe you could go into just a little bit of detail briefly about what MOZ does, who it's for, and why you might want to give it a try. 

Gillian: Absolutely. MOZ is a business and marketing metrics and analytics for people who do search marketing. If you a search marketer I strongly suggest you check out the blog. Do check out White Board Fridays, they show up every Friday, short videos of tactical pieces of information around search marketing and the broader conversation of inbound marketing. And in addition, the tools that we provide, there are some that are free, certainly give those a try, and some that are a paid platform.

The paid platform has recently changed dramatically, to focus not just on SEO or on inbound marketing, but rather on the larger, broader, business and marketing metrics that will give you something around that helps with your company. MOZ analytics is in data and we're sending out invitations as fast as we can to absorb new accounts over the next few weeks, so when you get to, just put your name down there and in a couple of says you will have an invitation to go get MOZ analytics as well.

The first month is always complimentary, we actually won't take your cash before then, and once you have signed in and tested it out for thirty days, you will know if it is something that will serve your business well. After that, what I would suggest you find are things are how your site ranks against other ones, understanding the errors that might be on page, very simple low hanging fruit will be reported to you clearly with what you need to do about it. Improving things becomes much simpler. It certainly is not designed for someone who has absolutely no ability to manage their own website, and it is also not designed only for those with, what we might say are seventy to one hundred percent knowledge in the field. It is designed for folks in the mid-business sector, even the small business sector, who need to manage these things.

We find we have more than a million folks around the world who are engaged with the brand of MOZ, I think you'd find a very strong community there. One of the most powerful things inside would be the question and answer space in which we have peer answered and peer reviewed responses so that you get a really good feeling from people all over the world, when you have questions about marketing in that sector. Pretty hot stuff, hope you do check out

Michael: Thank you, definitely check it out. Gillian thank you so much.

Gillian: Thank you, it was a pleasure.

Michael:  Appreciate your time and thanks everyone for joining us, we'll see you next time.


If you're a visual person, you can watch the video of our Hangout. Or if you'd prefer the audio version, it's available here. You won't want to miss this opportunity to be entertained by two professionals while learning how to raise some more moola for your nonprofit. 

Tune in next time for our next installment of The Digital Exec, your source for becoming an expert in the latest and greatest technology.


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