What initially led you to create Greenlight?
I started out in digital in the pre-Google days doing commercial development for the UK’s first pay-per-click search engine, which wasn’t actually Google, it was a company called Espotting.
I would spend my time talking to advertisers and agencies about pay per click and got some very funny responses initially. “You mean that I need to pay PER click?” they would say. In the beginning, PPC was an abhorrent idea to many, but that view has obviously changed over the years.
After working with another couple of search companies, I recognised that search was going to be the dominant medium in online marketing. I had established a good reputation advising companies on their digital strategy across paid and organic search, so decided to form my own agency in 2001.
I founded Greenlight in my bedroom on a computer I had borrowed from my girlfriend. Today, the agency employs more than 150 people and manages search, display, social, e-commerce and analytics activity for clients across more than 30 different countries.
What factors have fuelled your growth over the years?
Delivering growth and maximum ROI has been our focus from day one and our approach has won us admirers along the way. Good work creates goodwill, and we went from strength to strength.
Search itself has obviously evolved to include various other components, such as web development, e-commerce, social media, digital display, and so on. As each of these areas became more important to the success of a search strategy, we built our in-house expertise in each area. For example, if a client’s site was delivering a poor experience and the conversion rate was poor, no amount of great search activity was going to help that, which is why we built our e-commerce and development team. There’s no point in spending money on marketing activity that directs people to a site which then burns the goodwill we’ve worked hard to create.
Ultimately, our clients know that we care about their bottom line. All our activities are focused on driving ROI by boosting engagement, leads and sales. As a result, customers now tend to approach us with growth as ‘the problem’ rather than rolling up and saying “we need social media” or “can you build this microsite?” People have growth targets to hit and, for many UK businesses, that means capturing more international customers. A well thought-out and executed search strategy is a crucial component in achieving that.
More and more clients are realising that the problem is multi-faceted and want to work with a company that can join the components together into a winning digital strategy for growth. Where companies or brands want to grow internationally and/or across multiple markets – and they have huge amounts of scale and complexity across their business – that’s where we are well engineered to support them.
What do you think differentiates Greenlight from its competitors?
Along the way, we’ve created our own technology and our own in-house processes that have set us apart from the rest of the market.
For example, one of the problems that our clients face, is how to do SEO and PPC at scale and then co-ordinate those activities at a local, regional or global level across multiple websites. There is no real existing tech for that. There are lots of analytics tools and lots of bid-management platforms but there is very little that joins the two together, so we developed our own technology as a result.
That’s one of our unique perspectives on search: people see SEO and PPC as two separate silos of activity when really they are the same channel. There’s only one customer, using one search engine, looking for one particular page.
The goal is how you spend your available budget and direct your activities across the four main areas of search: universal, organic, product and paid. Over the years, we’ve developed our own technology to help us demystify that, to work out how visible companies are, to establish how their budget is being appropriated across those activities and to optimise each part of that budget allocation to produce maximum ROI and growth.
I think that our e-commerce capability is another key differentiator for us. There are very few digital marketing agencies that build e-commerce websites. Likewise, there are very few e-commerce companies that do digital marketing.
We feel that much of the e-commerce web development community is currently following the wrong path because they are developing sites without thinking about how those sites will be used in anger. We are probably one of the few agencies to tackle the problem from an end-to-end perspective.
I find that in many organisations there is still a real divide between the e-commerce and marketing teams, who only talk to each other when they absolutely need to. If growth is your objective, you need a platform that brings those two parts of the business together. That’s why we work with great partners such as Demandware, Intershop and Hybris, who helped us deliver Maplin.co.uk.
What are the big talking points among your client base at the moment?
I’ve mentioned it already but more and more clients are asking about how to achieve international expansion online. With growth beginning to slow again in the UK in many sectors, many businesses look to international sales to hit their growth targets. This goal often requires companies to re-think everything they do. From marketing, to experience, to fulfilment and systems. It’s a big piece.
The second big talking point is data and how data is being used within the business to drive decision-making whether that be about the products stocked, the way they organise their website and category structure, the way that they build their check-out process or the campaigns that they choose to invest in. The way data is being used across an organisation permeates every facet of opportunity for them.
The third and final area that we’re hearing a lot about from clients is “how do we become a truly social business and use social media to its full potential?” A good place to start is to imagine your business as a person that actually cares about making friends, and keeping people close, happy and satisfied. What would a social person do? The bottom line is, it boils down to listening and responding appropriately, even pre-emptively, so as to engage.
Today, social media permeates everything from marketing, through to customer service call centre agents handling returns, to content marketing strategy to shareholder/investor relations, social PR and so on. We’re seeing a lot of clients trying to grasp the nettle on this issue right now.
To find out more about how Greenlight can grow your business, call Phil Armorgie, Business Development Director at Greenlight on +44 (0)20 7253 7000.
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