Cathy von Birgelen is executive director of Ben Franklin Technology Partners' eMarketing Learning Center in Erie. It aims to advance the skills and knowledge of those in any business — including nonprofits — who use the digital realm to compete and grow. The program links industry experts to digital hopefuls in an increasing number of Pennsylvania cities.
The eMarketing Learning Center also holds an annual eCommerce Day Forum; this year's event is slated for May 22, 2014. Last year, 70 people attended. The agenda featured 15 ecommerce merchants and service providers lending their expertise on topics such as getting started in e-store technology, selling in online marketplaces like Amazon or eBay, using social media and contests and Affiliate marketing.
The Center surveyed the speakers and found that, in the last 12 to 24 months, over 80 percent had added 1.8 new hires to their staff in marketing, sales, design, programming or operations. And, in the last 12 to 24 months, they had experienced 36 percent average annual sales growth.
Keystone Edge spoke to von Birgelen about the Center's work and its new slate of courses.
Why was there a need for this Center?
It started because there's such a talent and skills gap. The pace of digital marketing and technology is always evolving. Three years ago, who was paying attention to Twitter? We just saw a gap; we're trying to help people keep pace in terms of their knowledge and skills. For entrepreneurs, there are all these new tools, such as video. Production values are changing and don't require a big investment. Because of their shelf life, you're trying to capture moments in life live, in real time; now you have the tools that enable you. And there are new distribution channels, too, like YouTube and Twitter Vine.We try to give people a good strategy. It's not really about the technology, it's how you apply it.
What are typical e-marketing needs?
We have employers that are constantly looking for talent — people with a certain skill set in Internet marketing [who can say], “I have executed social media campaigns to achieve these results.” That's how employers look at these technologies: How, at the end of the day, are they going to help me achieve my business goals?
The online channel is the fastest growing channel — it doesn't matter if you are in manufacturing or in retail, you need to have a digital component. Everyone today needs to look at e-commerce and how they might be able to leverage that. It gives you such worldwide reach, but people don't understand all the categories. That's why we started off last year with an eCommerce Day — we brought experienced e-commerce business people and newbies together and they naturally learn from each other.
Who needs e-marketing?
The digital channel creates opportunities to find new customers and new markets and helps you innovate. In the digital world, it's all about being findable, visible and accessible, and that requires good content — videos, blogs, pictures. The search engines identify those elements as content but they also reward content that is read, viewed, shared, liked and commented on.
Modern marketing requires a fully integrated approach that includes online and offline. This is Paid, Owned and Earned media, or POEM. Paid media is digital advertising, banners or in-print ad placement; owned is any created assets that you might have, from your digital platform (website) to your LinkedIn page, Facebook page, YouTube channel, or blog. Earned is any type of content that might be shared on these platforms, such as posting a blog post that somebody shares or a tweet about an your event or article that gets retweeted.
That whole eco-system can be complex. A typical person who comes to the training is someone who doesn't do email marketing or do their own paid advertising campaign, but they need to source somebody. It helps to learn how the channel works to be able to outsource it and know what this person is talking about.
Somebody who wants to learn how to do it to stay competitive in their position takes the class to be able to add it to their skill set. Then there's the person who thinks they want to do it and takes the class and realizes it will take more time than they have the bandwidth to do and realize they need to outsource it.
How did you develop your new classes?
We're taking our core classes and going on the road. We'll be in Dubois and Clarion in March and May. For our Twitter for PR and Marketing and the Hashtag sessions — hashtags are becoming the new keyword search tool and you can follow them for behavior — we'll have a DIY hands-on workshop where you can set up your Twitter account. You will create your profile in a way that [brands you] and you will start to create tweets. You'll learn what types of tweets and what times of day are best, et cetera. Some people just need for somebody to go in and show them how to do it.
Video marketing is becoming a must for driving sales. 52 percent of consumers who watch product videos say those videos make them more confident about purchases. On February 20, we have a workshop on how to produce a product video with limited resources. You'll learn how to video a product or a service, and we'll have different types of technology there — regular cameras and your smartphone. We'll talk about storyboarding and how to have an objective — is it to demonstrate, educate or inform? We'll talk about lighting and different free editing software. Google gives more ranking power to online videos that get views. Product videos appear in 70 percent of the top searches.
In March, we will be doing email marketing, paid per click advertising, [called] Beyond Paid Search. We also offer, and we've done it for different firms, LinkedIn training for their staff. We customize based on where they want to focus. We've given advanced email marketing strategy guidance and website strategy classes as well.
And all of these techniques seem to get results.
The great thing about interactive is that it's all measurable. If you have somebody doing blog posts, that's great, but that's just a deliverable — a task. What you want to know is, who's reading or sharing that blog? And what can I do to get more people reading it?
How have you seen people advance their businesses?
As soon as one company, Lake Erie Systems took our class on video and YouTube optimization, they began to make videos for all the parts they make showing how to install them. They linked to the videos on their ecommerce site, fastprinters.com Service people began watching the videos before buying the parts. Not only did it improve their search engine ranking but it helped them sell more parts.
Where do you see the center going?
A new initiative, Great Lakes Digital Network, is getting underway to support digital creatives in our region, giving them more visibility and helping them connect. Digital creatives include people working in sales, marketing, advertising, creative design, user experience, software engineering, web development, and mobile and ecommerce. They share a common interest in un-siloed customer-centric digital excellence.
The first networking event will be called Salon Night; it will be held on Febraury 5 from 4:30 – 7:30 p.m. We're trying to create a culture for the category — digital doesn't have its own trade association. There's no end to where this can go.
Upcoming courses from the eMarketing Learning Center include Twitter for PR & Marketing + The #Hashtag Session (Jan. 23, Erie); Digital Salon Night with Mike Esser of Red Hat: Red Hat's Video Marketing Strategy (Feb. 5, Erie); How to Produce a Video With Limited Resources (Feb. 20, Erie); Beginner Twitter DIY Workshop (Feb. 26, Erie); LinkedIn for Sales & Marketing (March 26, DuBois); Successful Email Marketing (March 26, DuBois); Paid Search: Beyond Pay-Per-Click (March 27, DuBois) and SEO Training (March 27, DuBois); Essentials in HTML and CSS (April 17, 2014, Ecommerce Day Forum (May 22, 2014).