The title of this blog captures the beginning of the career of Alex Wall in digital marketing. The Lead Marketing Strategist at Roar Media (and Muay Thai fighter) started delving into this field while in college at University of Central Florida using a variation of the text above (read on to learn more). In her career, she has continued searching for the latest trends and applying new approaches, including tactics learned from science.
During a recent presentation during Social Media Day Miami on ‘Social Neuromarketing,’ Alex used images, quotes and stats to tell the story of what social media does to our brains and how can marketers and content developers use it to their advantage. In our interview we talked about applying science to advertising, how Internet has been her tool to learn and connect, and her love for ads. She wants people to love ads too as a “meaningful experience or exchange, not a corporate apparatus.”
In terms describing what you do, how would you describe your roles?
I am a full stack digital marketer so I manage the digital department at an integrated PR marketing communications agency. More or less if it happens on the internet is something that I have some purview over. I cut my teeth on the bread and butter of SEO (search engine optimization), social media, web design, and copyrighting… I build out from there with a really heavy emphasis on persuasion marketing using psychology to increase conversion and analytics using math. I think I take a pretty scientific approach to it.
What is your background? Do you have a background in all those fields or is it a passion of yours?
It’s kind of funny. I don’t really have a background in marketing prior to actually doing it… My degrees are in English Literature and Philosophy. I was not ever really in Business or Marketing or Advertising, but I started building websites when I was 11 or 12 years old. My first website, I think I was 11, was a Pokémon website. I had some friends on the Internet who also loved Pokémon. The weakness of the gateway system at that time was that in order to be able to play against somebody, you had to be standing right next to them. I was like ‘that’s garbage because I don’t have a lot of friends in my immediate periphery because I am a weird little kid, but I have lots of friends that I can stand on the internet’ because I think I was like one of the first kids on my block to have computer.’ So I built websites where I could host my Pokémon data and then run simulation Pokémon matches against other nerdy children out there. I started coding when I was about 11.
How did you learn?
I just looked it up. There were a bunch of tutorials on the Internet and I just looked it up…There was no WordPress; I just coded in just straight HTML, XHTML because that was the thing back then and I was into that. I had fun with it. I played around a lot. Then I moved on to college and studied the Humanities and I studied classics and I studied communication. I was a debater. I was also a speaker… and I did copywriting to make extra money.
Then one day I was fucking around on the Internet on Facebook, which was a relatively new thing back then. It was before it was opened up to everybody and it was just for college students. So I was messing around on it and this was back when you could make Like pages, just like anything, like the cool side of the pillow…you could make these Like pages so I made one. Just being a condescending English major, I should have made some trademarking around it because you now can Google it to this day and find it everywhere, I wrote ‘I like long text messages because I appreciate a complete thought.’ I just thought that was hysterical and I liked it, 13 of my friends liked it and that was cool and I walked away from it. You know I won’t do like a slow build up here but within 3 or 4 months that page had 1.6 million people following it.
(…) This was the precursor to Facebook pages as something that was done for businesses or brands or locations.. So I had all these people following me and advertisers started reaching out to me… offering to post links to their online t-shirt shops… The ecommerce sites that were sarcastic in nature, these smart ass t-shirts shops… would say ‘we’ll give you X dollars to order, we’ll give you 15% commission and kick back.’ So I basically started doing affiliated marketing through that Facebook page, just goofing off and I ended up making a substantial amount of money figuring out affiliate marketing and running that page.
Is that page still available today?
No, I actually got out at a good time because Facebook completely changed the way they do their pages now. You are no longer able to create a page that represents an idea or sentence…That taught me something important abut social media and about Internet marketing and making money on the web which is don’t build your house on someone else’s land… If you build your model around someone else’s platform like Facebook and they change their platform and they disrupt your model, you’re screwed. Sorry.
That’s why email has always been such a dominant format cause you always own our email list. If people subscribe to your stuff or whatever, you always have your email list…. It was an accidental breakneck speed education I would say.
Is your specialization neuromarketing?
I am a specialist in it but I am not practicing specialist. I sort of moved on to broader topics and here’s why: there is not that many people in Florida talking about neuromarketing. I think that a lot of people in marketing come from two angles: they come from a communication and a journalist angle, or they come at it from a sales angle, and neither of those is sufficient to really grapple with the complex problems that neuromarketing tries to solve.
(…) I’ve spent a few years as part of a passion project really getting into neuromarketing and learning as much about it as I could. I even consulted with a neuroscientist in California. But there is really nobody else talking about it.
I became fascinated by it and the reason that I originally became fascinated by it is because I thought it was bullshit. I was part right, because what people say about neuromarketing and what people think about neuro-marketing is mostly bullshit. Someone posted a video a few days ago about subliminal marketing and how advertisers found the ways to hide the word ‘sex’ in Coke cans and that make Coke cans sell more. No, it doesn’t! Nobody thinks that. They experimented with shit like that in the 1960s and 1970s… Unless you are selling condoms there is no business advantage in trying to show dirty stuff in your ads, so when I see stuff like subliminal messaging, trying to get you to buy stuff by showing stuff about sex, that’s garbage, that’s total pseudoscience and that’s garbage.
There are principles though that we learn from the study of neuromarketing. Neuromarketing really is not a practice, the practice is in learning from neuroscience and occasionally being able to conduct real tests, which are very costly… Some of the principles that I went over in my talk like contrasts, things like narrative instead of statistics, pain marketing, fear marketing, show people what their life is like without your product and then show them what is like with your product. I guarantee you, if somebody is not doing that and starts doing that, the sales are going to double. The sales are going to double and if they are not, call me Sally.
It is interesting and it seems like a topic that should be addressed more. People want to know what the foundation for all of this is. They want science to be behind this. They want the evidence.
John Wanamaker said once ‘half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, the trouble is I don’t know which half.’ I only think that neuromarketing combined with analytics seeks to answers that question…With either one, with good data analysis or with neuromarketing I think you can figure out where you are wasting money because with neuromarketing you learn which messages are more effective before you send them out, whereas data, metrics, analytics… can help you understand on where you are making and losing money once your campaign is live. And that’s helpful with an ongoing digital campaign, with something you can start and stop and turn on and edit. But if you are doing a study because you are going to spend 30 million dollars to run a Super Bowl commercial or whatever it is, you kind of want that information up front. You can’t turn it on and adjust it on the fly. You need to film that shit way, way in advance. It’s those types of campaigns that benefit the most from neuromarketing tests…Pretty much everything else you just learn from what is already being learned.
From your particular experience, what do you see to be the trends to look out in the future?
I’ll tell you: chat app marketing, for messaging apps. You are going to see brands trying to get on WhatsApp, on Kik and other one to one messaging apps.
(…) Video has been blowing up year over year, its still headed in that direction. The best investment a small business owner can make right now or somebody who wants to be a digital marketing consultant or start an ecommerce or retail business, the best investment they can make right now is invest on a nice camera. Because visual content is the future for the Internet, absolutely.
How do you see yourself in the future? Are there are aspects of marketing that interest you more?
What I like to do is being involved at developing new types of ads, new types of marketing messages, new ways to communicate with people… When you go and you spend money to place ads on the Internet, that is where the money of digital advertising in. It’s not in SEO or organic social media management. It’s in content and good content and it’s in paid media. That’s where 95% of the money is. If anybody else tells you differently they are either lucky or lying.
I love marketing, I love digital marketing, I love the Internet, I’ve always have. I have a very philosophical take on the Internet and the opportunities it presents and part of it is sentimental… (Growing up) kids would come up and say, ‘can Alex come out and play’ and I would go tell my mom ‘can you say that I can’t go out and play’, ‘can you say that I am grounded so I can’t go out’? I did not have the spine to say ‘no fuck off.’ I do now.
I wanted to be liked but I also did not wanted to hang out with them. I wanted to do my own stuff. The Internet to me gave me a lot of opportunities to get in touch and to learn stuff. Almost everything that I’ve learned about marketing, media and social and everything, I learned online, I learned by doing. I’ve taken online classes, I’ve gone to seminars, I’ve gone to conferences, done a couple of workshops. But mostly I just read, and tried and failed and tried again, failed and read and that’s just it. That’s it. And I failed Algebra 2 twice in middle school and high school so if I can do it, absolutely anybody can do it.
I think I am just so stubborn that I won’t stop doing something until I get my way.
Follow Alex Wall on Twitter @AlexlWall
Follow the author @yadicarocaro