Hallam is a multi-award-winning strategic digital marketing agency for brands that want to thrive in the digital world. Agile and fast-moving, Hallam is a trusted digital partner to some of the world’s biggest brands (The United Nations, Suzuki, Speedo), as well as some ambitious SMEs in the UK and internationally. Upon her retirement from leading the company after 20 years, I sat down with Susan Hallam to talk about the state of online marketing today, and where it is heading in the future, post-covid.
Please describe the company’s story and its evolution so far.
Hallam is a digital marketing agency founded in 2000. As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, we are also celebrating the appointment of our new CEO, Julio Taylor, and new MD, Jake Third. Together, Julio and Jake will ensure the continued success and growth of our agency as I, the founder, step back from day to day leadership of the business.
In the beginning, our aim was to provide ethical SEO services in a market that was crowded with black hat agencies. That ethical approach, combined with building a brand based on trust and expertise, is what enabled us to win the United Nations as our client, and it continues to be the golden thread in our company values to this day.
As the company grew in size, and technical SEO requirements evolved, we made the decision to merge with a web development agency called BigSpring. At the same time, we’ve grown our team of experts to more than 50 professionals, including creative, social media, PPC, insights, and digital PR.
Hallam is an emerging force in digital marketing, with transformational results and industry awards to prove success. We currently hold Google’s top prize for agencies in EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa): the Growing Business Online award.
What are the most important principles that any brand should follow in order to build a strong online presence?
A strong online presence is all about being visible to your prospects and customers. It has the purpose of increasing the chance of getting noticed by prospective customers and being chosen over your competition.
That visibility can take many forms, from ranking well in search engines to being mentioned by others on social media.
The most important guiding principle for any brand is to build trust. In a digital world, you need to consistently earn trust at every touchpoint in your customer journey. While trust can take many forms, the basics remain the same: having a website with excellent user experience, being open and responsive to your customer requirements, and being respectful of the needs of both the wider business community and your own employees.
Of course, what other people say about you is more important than what you say about yourself. Without trusted relationships with your clients, you won’t be able to earn great testimonials, create powerful case studies, or be influential on social media.
Businesses with strong online presences are always following a robust marketing plan, with consistent messaging and brand promises. Campaigns, whether paid, organic or social, are all aligned to deliver a consistent user experience.
What is the role of AI and Machine learning in marketing automation?
For top-notch marketers, leveraging AI and Machine Learning is the secret to success.
Every single time you engage with a customer or prospect, you are gathering data and learning a little bit more about them and what makes them tick. We can learn about customer intentions and their behaviors to see which campaigns delighted them and use that to build even better customer experiences.
From a practical point of view, we are using AI in our conversion rate optimization (CRO) and paid advertising campaigns, with the specific aim of reducing the cost per acquisition of new leads for our clients.
Marketing automation gives us an ever-evolving toolkit to enable us to become even more relevant to our customers, build stronger relationships, and focus even more on customer satisfaction.
How has COVID-19 affected your business and industry?
For the digital marketing industry, the pandemic has changed nothing, but it accelerated everything.
Of course, COVID-19 has had a profound impact on society, businesses and individuals alike, but from the digital marketing industry perspective, it has simply created new working practices, using technologies and techniques that were just waiting to become mainstream.
What has fundamentally changed is the speed, the acceleration, with which we have adapted these digital technologies.
Zoom has become an everyday part of our day, as we all make the switch and get comfortable with videoconferencing. I’m sure that is a change that is going to stick, as we move into the future.
Decisions and transactions are taking place online even more, from online trade shows to electronically signed documents. We are consuming even more video content, and businesses are going to need to accelerate their adoption of these technologies, including AI, to take advantage of what these advertising platforms have to offer.
Businesses need to be available when their customers demand it. For many years, we have talked about the “anytime, anywhere” digital business culture, but with the changes of working patterns due to greater adoption of remote working, that “always-on” business environment is now more important than ever. You can be sure your competitors are building a robust, interactive online presence to serve customers on-demand in response to the pandemic.
Which trends and technologies do you expect to see more of in the coming years?
I think we are going to see shifting tides in the current dominance of social media platforms. It’s interesting to watch the trials and tribulations of Facebook. Whilst by no means is it struggling, Facebook is losing market share to younger demographics who prefer visual content on platforms like Tiktok and Instagram. I think we are going to see more new players emerging in the social media space.
We are also seeing shifts taking place in response to the mass adoption of voice technologies like Siri, Google and Alexa. I think we will see new types of user experiences emerge in response to voice interactivity. We will see more changes, from the way search results are presented to the types of user experiences our devices are able to provide.
Finally, I also think we are going to see mass adoption of video marketing and particularly live streaming. The time is right, and the opportunities are great.
These are hugely exciting times for digital marketing, and as an agency, we are taking the lead in shaping our customer’s digital marketing strategies to deliver significant growth and value.