Q&A with Marketing Leaders: Hillel Fuld, CMO/Blogger/Vlogger/Startup Advisor

If you’re a marketer that’s active in the social realm, there’s a good chance you know, or have heard of Hillel Fuld.

Hillel is the Co-Founder and CMO of ZCast, an iOS/web podcasting app that breaks the barriers of audio broadcasting.

Hillel also guides start-ups on how to scale-up, and blogs for notable online tech publications which include TechCrunch, Mashable, and The Next Web. He has been named Israel’s top marketer by Inc Magazine, been featured by leaders in the media such as CNBC and Forbes. Additionally, Hillel is recognized by Google an expert in marketing and branding and is a sought-after member in their marketing experts program.

To top it all off, Hillel works as a strategic advisor for companies such as prooV, Hometalk, Flipboard, and Intelligo, while working with some of the leading companies across the technology landscape, including Huawei, Oracle, and Google, to name a few.

What is the biggest challenge companies face when planning their marketing strategies?

It’s always a question of balance. On the one hand, I’m a big believer in building a brand, creating quality content, delivering in social, and in qualitative marketing. But that takes time. Yet no CEO will say, “All right, let’s start doing it now. We’ll only see our ROI in a year.” Whether it’s because of themselves or because of their board, or their investors- people want to see short-term results fast.

On one hand, if you spend all your time and resources doing PPC, for example, and you’re left with nothing but your user acquisition, you’re left with no brand, no anything. On the other hand, if you invest all your time and resources building a brand, then you might not drive actual user acquisition.

It’s always a balance of where to spend your time and resources, how to balance the need for long-term marketing and short-term marketing.

It’s always a balance of where to spend your time and resources, how to balance the need for long-term marketing and short-term marketing.

How often should companies adjust their marketing plan?

Things change every single day. On a very large scale, the fundamentals may stay the same, but things still change every day. When it comes to marketing, much like operating a startup, you definitely need to be flexible, iterative, and pivot when it’s needed.

I don’t think any CMO in the world will tell you they built a marketing plan and stuck to it. It doesn’t work like that. At least, I hope it’s the case. Otherwise, it would be a huge mistake. You can build an annual plan, that’s fine. But you must know that that’s going to change at least ten times by the end of the year.

I don’t actually revise my plans every single day. I view a marketing plan as a high-level outline that is up for adjustments along the way in terms of priorities and resources. The changes don’t need to be made every day, but definitely to some degree on a weekly basis.

I think there’s a correlation between the frequency of changes to marketing plans, and how early the stage of the start-up is. The earlier stage you are, the more changes your marketing plan will undergo.

It’s typically chaos in the earlier days- a calculated chaos. That’s because you have your goals that you need to achieve, but the path to get there is a maze and it changes quite often in the early days of running campaigns, depending on the climate.

It’s a natural and common occurrence across the board for businesses in general. As companies mature, the challenge is typically to remain agile while being flexible. If you look at enterprises, their biggest challenge is moving ahead with changes in technology and processes. Due to their size, it’s difficult for them to undergo technological transformations. The most successful enterprises are the ones that succeed in making quick and efficient shifts as needed. That applies to organizations as a whole, their various departments, and of course, marketing.

Which marketing channel do you think is the most underrated?

YouTube. With all due respect to Facebook and Twitter, which I love (and are both very significant platforms) everyone is very comfortable writing a status or writing a tweet. There’s no challenge there.

The reason why YouTube is the most underutilized marketing channel is a mixture of a few factors. First of all, it’s difficult. It’s difficult to create high-quality videos, and it’s difficult to differentiate yourself and get excellent traffic on the platform. I don’t think most people are comfortable in front of the camera yet. I also don’t think it’s hitting the mainstream in terms of marketers yet.

Yes, a lot of people are leveraging video but not enough. Video nails something that text cannot, and that’s emotion- everything from happiness to sarcasm. At the end of the day, you’re going to miss things when it’s in the form of a text, whereas in a video you can really get to know someone and understand their message.

Also, it’s very challenging for videos to initially gain traffic. I myself only have a couple of hundred views on each of my daily videos (though I’m just getting started). I’m not giving up. I understand that it takes time. All marketing activities take time. It’s not easy, and most people just don’t have the patience for it.

My tip for those who are getting started with YouTube as a marketing channel is to be consistent. Just keep at it. It takes time. Same thing with blogging. For years, I was blogging, and traffic took a long time to build up. The same idea and dedication applies with video; you need to keep at it. I’m not talking about video marketing in general; I’m talking about YouTube specifically.

I think people are more comfortable on Facebook. There are a lot of people, at least in my circles, that are using Facebook video, but not many are active on YouTube. If I had to state a reason, I would guess that it might be because they already have an established network on Facebook and it’s easy to hitch a ride on those numbers, whereas on YouTube they don’t have a network and would have to start from the ground up.

But bear in mind, one of the things that make YouTube so much better than other video platforms is the reach. It’s undeniably the most significant video platform. Also, you can’t ignore the fact that it’s integrated into the Google universe. So, that makes it a part of SEO, Android and everything Google. It’s all integrated together, so ignoring YouTube is basically ignoring Google, which is silly.

You can build an annual plan, that’s fine. But you must know that that’s going to change at least ten times by the end of the year.

What is your #1 tip for start-ups to get started with their marketing planning?

Do some market research.

I cannot tell you how many times start-ups reach out to me and say, “I’m building X. No one else is doing that.” And I say, “Well, what about this company?” And they’re like, “Oh, I never heard of them.”

Spend some time doing market research. Know who you’re up against, know the competitive landscape. And don’t be afraid of competitors. It’s not that difficult to Google and just figure out who the players are in the space. And if there’s no one in the space, then you need to figure out why not. Has there been someone else in the space before? Did they fail? Why did they fail? Why will you succeed?

You need to know your space. Research is maybe not as fun as launching something, but it’s absolutely necessary, and very few people actually do it properly. And even though they do it, they do the research in order to prove to themselves that they have no competitors, which should be the opposite. You should do research in order to find who your competitors are. Dig for them.

As you conduct this research, make yourself a map/landscape/chart of 50 direct and indirect competitors. It will come in handy when you go to a blogger, investor, or to whoever you’re going to and they ask, “Well, what’s the difference between you and this other company?” You will be able to answer them right on the spot.

It is fundamental to conduct market research before anything else.

What are some of your best practices in planning marketing strategies?

First and foremost is finding the perfect balance between listening to your competitors and getting inspired by them to do your own thing. It’s always good to get inspiration from your competitors and understand what you’re up against.

It’s also important to not fall into the trap of saying, “Oh, if they’re doing it, so I have to do it too.” I can’t count how many companies have said to me, “Look, they’re doing it.” And my answer is always, “But why are they doing it?” Just because they’re doing it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

And again, you need to be aware of what’s going on around you. As a best practice, you should definitely conduct a competitive analysis to be on top of your competitors. Look into the keywords they’re optimizing, what work they’re doing both quantitatively and qualitatively, and pay very close attention to what they’re doing. You wouldn’t want to mimic them, just learn and get inspired by them to do your thing and own it.

Spend some time in doing market research. Know who you’re up against, know the competitive landscape. And don’t be afraid of competitors.

What is the most common mistake marketers make?

There’s the famous TED talk of Simon Sinek about ‘starting with why.’ It’s about asking yourself why you are doing what you’re doing. Not what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, but why are you doing it.

Even I struggle with that sometimes. I answer it and think I’m addressing the “why,” but really I’m addressing the “how.” Figure out what is your “why,” your core belief. Apple’s “why” is think different. Their “what” is the iPad, iPhone, etc. And their “how” is to make a product. But again, the “why” is think different.

What is your why? I can count on one hand the number of companies that I’ve met with that really, really know their “why.” It’s very difficult, but everything is an outcome of that.

Another thing is subtlety. The difference between sales and marketing. A lot of times people get them mixed up, but they’re very different. One is short-term, and the other is long-term. In marketing, you’re telling me a story and you’re elevating your brand and then I decide to buy the product, whereas sales is sales. I find a lot of companies view marketing as just lead gen. That’s a very big mistake because anything that goes up quickly comes down quickly.

Anything you do short term, a little spike, some press, product launch, whatever it is… these things are great, but they’re there to support your marketing efforts. That’s not marketing, at least not strategic marketing. That’s just another form of advertising.

People misunderstand that term and don’t understand the importance of building something long-term.

What are your marketing predictions for 2018?

Most people would agree that AI is becoming a significant component in marketing, no question about that. On the flip side, I also think that we’re going to get a little too excited about AI and marketers might start using it the wrong way by automating things that shouldn’t be automated.

At the end of the day, you can’t automate human relationships. But there are things like, for example, what InfiniGrow is doing, using AI to figure out, based on different parameters, where and when I should be spending my budget, which absolutely can and should be automated.

In terms of the content marketing landscape, we’re going to look at these new cutting-edge technologies whether it’s AR, VR, MR, or other new innovative mediums. They probably wouldn’t happen in 2018, but I would say that by 2020, we will start seeing a lot more big content players in those kinds of landscapes.

If you look at the blogosphere today, you can’t really differentiate yourself anymore because everyone and their mothers are blogging. It is early days for AR/VR, but if you look at Samsung’s VR (or similar), there’s almost no content there. With all due respect to all the buzz, there’s very little content out there. As such, some big players are going to embrace those mediums and build their brands on them.

A lot of companies view marketing as just lead gen. That’s a very big mistake because anything that goes up quickly comes down quickly.