‘Take Ten’ Interview with Kevin Lee, CEO Didit & We-Care.com

kevin leeKevin Lee
CEO, Didit & We-Care.com

“The reason that training and certification play a really important role is that whether you’re an in-house marketer looking to bring on additional staff to help you with all of these various tasks, or you’re an agency looking to bring on staff, you want to be confident that they have at least some foundational level of knowledge and that’s where training and certification become so important, as well as continuing education.”



Welcome to ‘Take Ten’, OMCP’s podcast where we spend 10 minutes, more or less, talking to online marketing thought leaders, educators, and career professionals about training and certification with hosts Jane Flint and David Temple.

OMCP: This is Jane Flint with ‘Take Ten’ at OMCP and I’m here with Kevin Lee this morning, and we’re going to talk to Kevin about his 20 years or more of experience in digital marketing, including founding and running several successful businesses. You’ve probably heard of Didit and he’s now working on a company called We-Care. He’s also active as an investor for other enterprises and serves on the advisory board of many notable groups including Sympco and the eMarketing Association. So Kevin, with all of this vast experience, what does the future of digital marketing look like from your perspective?

Kevin Lee: The one fascinating thing I’m noticing now is that there is a blurring of the lines of how you and I, who have been in digital marketing for a long, long time, would describe digital marketing and what truly is becoming digital marketing, which is, almost every form of marketing has a digital component to it now. Right? So, whether that’s direct mail and having personalized URLs or personalized copy or personalized imagery within that direct mail, that’s digital. Right?

That’s all given off of digital and big data files in the same way that used to be called TV advertising, now people are like, oh, maybe it’s video advertising and you can see it in a TV environment, you can see it over-the-top, so then what is it when you see a commercial in an over-the-top viewing of a TV show? Is that digital marketing or is that TV advertising? The reality is it’s a little bit of both. So, I think we’ve gotten so far down the path of digital marketing that it’s really hard to find any untouched portions of marketing where there is no digital component, and even if there is still a penny-saver being published with classified ads, my guess is the call-to-action is an email address now, right? So, everything is digital; it’s just how digital is it, and how does it fit into the overall strategy of the business and the overall marketing strategy.

OMCP: Well put. So, as Didit – the company that you founded as an SEO/SEM service company – has morphed into full-service group to include branding, advertising, public relations, social and online design services, just as you’re saying, everything becomes digital, I’m wondering if you can speak to how the evolution of the profession of digital marketing has changed the way customers, business, and even the economy function.

Kevin Lee: Well, you know, the profession of digital marketing still retains a lot of silos within certain areas of it, so you still need subject matter experts who are really, really good at those specific point solutions and even, in some cases, sub-categories of those point solutions. So, use SEO as an example; there’s technical SEO, which is typically site audits and removing all the hurdles to Google, Bing, and other engines knowing what your content is, and then there’s strategic SEO, which is really more about content marketing, figuring out how to promote content in interesting ways, leveraging existing business relationships in a way that generates the kind of signals that Google and Bing and others consider acceptable for ranking you better.

The point I’m trying to make is, you’ve got almost like a factory going on where there’s somebody’s job just to put the tires on the vehicle, right? They don’t know how to install the engine, but overall, you still need a process to get the entire car built, and in the same way with digital marketing, somebody has the big picture, right, and they may not have a really, really deep knowledge of every single step that is taken along the way to the point that they could step into the digital assembly line and implement the canonical tags strategy around duplicate content. I mean, you need to be really in the weeds to know what that even means.

I think that’s what we’re seeing now is that the more sophisticated agencies, the more sophisticated entities, are having people who are doing digital strategy and then they’ve got people that are out there doing the execution because they’re really, really good at those various components: email marketing, SEO, affiliate marketing, display media that’s problematic, display media that’s insertion order. I mean, they all have similarities, but they all have their nuances, and to some extent the same way buying…you know, you could always be your own GC when you build a house and just hire all the sub-contractors, saying, “I know enough about house building or renovations. I can do that role,” or you may realize, “There’s some things I don’t know and they can get pretty dangerous if I make a mistake,” so any money I save being my own GC I may end up losing because have to hire three roofers. So the better agencies, I think, are moving towards this kind of strategy-first perspective, and then the tactics for when under strategy, and the strategy has to be with budget allocations within paid media, you know, resource allocations within earned media, what are the strategies around earned media, and it’s non-trivial, right? I mean, the difference between a good strategy and a bad strategy can be pretty significant.

OMCP: Yeah, truly. So, in addition to offering the services that Didit offered, you also offered publications, glossaries, guides and that kind of thing and by doing so you seem to have anticipated this kind of current trend of providing education and information as a way of creating leads and nurturing customers, and I’m wondering where you see this trend going, both in your own company and just in general.

Kevin Lee: I think in general, within B2B marketing – which is obviously what we were doing for ourselves – it’s always good for there to be some kind of a quid-pro-quo, give in order to get, and we stumbled across that pretty early on. Sometimes it’s a very obvious quid-pro-quo, where I will not give you this ebook unless you give me your email address. Even in the case of publishing articles -of which I’ve written close to 600 at this point – and for books, you’re still giving, right? And then there’s, I guess you call it inbound marketing now, right? It allows you to be recognized as a subject matter expert and I don’t think that that’s going to go away. Again, each of these points of marketing touch points, or clusters of marketing touch points, requires specific expertise. So, not only will there be social media experts, but there may be people who are just really, really good at Twitter, or really good at Pinterest. Knowing how to utilize those people is going to be important.

OMCP: So, let’s not short change We-Care because that is, that’s what’s happening now. For those who aren’t familiar, We-Care is a non-profit cause marketing communication platform that Kevin has developed to meet the marketing objectives for non-profits and sponsors. I’m wondering how you got from Didit to We-Care and what has been the response that you’ve gotten.

Kevin Lee: Thanks so much for asking. You know, We-Care was the genesis of a conversation that I had with my business partner, Dave Pasternack. Didit was doing well enough and it’d been around a dozen years approximately, and we said, “Maybe we should take on more pro-bono work. Maybe we should just do a little bit of corporate philanthropy,” and I said, “I really love the concept of cause marketing. I love the idea that when businesses and non-profits figure out how to collaborate, there’s a reciprocal halo effect. They both get to wear the halo. The bigger brand is a halo to the non-profit because it lends them legitimacy and, of course, the non-profit is a halo for the brand.”

So, I wanted to figure out how to add a level of direct response to that – in other words, a level of accountability – that didn’t really exist in most cause marketing because most cause marketing is, you walk down the aisle of the KMart and you notice a Coleman for the Cure ribbon on the side of a package and you think, “Oh, that’s really great that so-and-so is partnered with Coleman for a Cure,” but those are difficult to measure, right? Those kinds of marketing investments are difficult to measure. So, my first idea was, hey, what people do everyday is worth a lot of money to advertisers and marketers, particularly if they’re direct response behavior level where they’re clicking on links or they’re making purchases, things that are very much measurable. I said, “If we could figure out how to harness that value and allow the individual to let that value go to their chosen cause, where we would be agnostic to cause or indifferent to cause, that would be really cool because everyone has a different level of passion for different causes.” I could walk down the KMart aisle, see the Coleman for the Cure insignia and barely have any emotional response at all, and my wife might walk down there and see it and have a much stronger emotional response.

The idea that I had was, hey, why don’t we let the consumer pick who they love and then the merchants will just reward that cause for the behaviors they want to get done, right? The first behavior we started with was shopping, so we watched through about 1,500 merchants including Amazon.com – built browser plug-ins that members could go ahead and install – and a portion of every transaction would go to support that particular non-profit that the individual had. As long as they were a 501(c)(3) we were fine with it. And it got to the point where it was its own successful, viable company. It retains its challenges like any other business, but it has generated over $8 million for non-profits thus far which we’re pretty proud of.

Amazon chose to build their own platform; we can’t prove that it was our idea that was the genesis of Amazon Smile, but the timing is interesting because we had just finished a test that proved the implementality of our platform to the Amazon associates program when shortly after that study was complete, they decided to launch Amazon Smile. So, we were very flattered that we might have been the reason that they launched Amazon Smile, but now we’re working on a newer platform which is broader than just merchants. It’s not live yet. It may be live by the time this is broadcast; it is just exiting from beta now and it’s called Giving Forward. I happen to have that domain name so we used Giving Forward, and my definition of giving forward is similar to what’s going on at We-Care is that it’s free to the consumer. The consumer doesn’t have to pay any more. But in this case, it’s other behaviors that are being traded for donation amounts, and so we have two versions of Giving Forward. We have sort of a pooled public philanthropy fund of our own money that we put in and we raise it every time another partner comes on board, and then we reward the consumer’s chosen cause as they engage in behaviors – registration behaviors, sharing email, social media activation behaviors, watching videos – these are all things that marketers would love to have consumers doing.

The reality is many of them are being corporately philanthropic already but they’re not necessarily seeing the returns that they should, and they would be writing bigger checks to non-profits if they could demonstrate the return, and that’s what the Giving Forward platform is designed to do. It’s designed to demonstrate to the corporation, hey, this year don’t give just $50,000; give $100,000 and watch what happens when you engage your audience in helping decide who to have allocate that money, or even if you have only a specific single cause, maybe that won’t resonate with your entire audience, you can have them vote and have them engage in behaviors. So that’s going live very shortly. I mean, it’s up and running now but it’s technically still in beta, so we anticipate launching that very shortly.

OMCP: Congratulations. Sounds great. So one last question, I’m wondering what is most interesting to you these days in the world of digital marketing, but I’m also wondering how you think standards and certifications – like what OMCP is doing – fit into that vision?

Kevin Lee: There are a whole lot of really fascinating areas, from things like beacons and hyper-local targeting that will completely transform that area of marketing to areas. Video, I think, has still got a tremendous amount of traction but it’s still unclear exactly how that fits into everybody’s marketing plans from the mom-and-pop shop all the way up to the McDonald’s and General Motors of the world. Everybody’s strategy is going to be a little bit different. You really just have to look at, where is my audience, how can I reach them at the right time with the right message, and increase my share wallet or get them to convert or get them to connect, or whatever you want to do.

The reason that training and certification play a really important role in that is that whether you’re an in-house marketer looking to bring on additional staff to help you with all of these various tasks, or you’re an agency looking to bring on staff, you want to be confident that they have at least some foundational level of knowledge and that’s where training and certification become so important, as well as continuing education. For medicine and for law and for a lot of other professions, continuing education is mandatory, right? We don’t have that same level of universally accepted certification where there are folks like yourselves or other folks out there selling certifications, but we need to do the best we can to approach that. I think you guys have taken an excellent step in that direction.

OMCP:Well, thank you so much for your time and for your insights. I know our readers and listeners are going to be happy to hear from you. Have a great rest of your day and I’m sure we will be talking again.

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