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Decades of Digital Marketing Wisdom with Justin’s Career Story

Written by:

Howard Tillerman is the Chief Marketing Officer for Making That Sale and an award-winning marketing professional.

Edited by:

Sallie, holding a Ph.D. from Walden University, is an experienced writing coach and editor with a background in marketing. She has served roles in corporate communications and taught at institutions like the University of Florida.

Decades of Digital Marketing Wisdom with Justin’s Career Story

Decades of Digital Marketing Wisdom with Justin’s Career Story

Join us for an engaging interview with Justin Kunst, a veteran in digital marketing with a career spanning over 25 years. Justin will share insights from his early beginnings in the field, crafting websites for local businesses, to his evolution into a leader in corporate marketing campaigns. He offers valuable perspectives on SEO strategies, lead generation, and the integration of data analytics in marketing.

Throughout the interview, Justin discusses the challenges and opportunities presented by the digital age, particularly the impact of AI on marketing strategies. His journey is not just a tale of personal growth but also a reflection of the dynamic nature of digital marketing. This conversation is a must-read for anyone in the marketing field, providing practical advice and deep insights from one of the industry’s experienced professionals.

Justin Kunst headshot

Career Inspiration and Job Application Criteria

MTS – What inspired you to seek a career in digital marketing? 

Justin – I started in digital marketing when I was 13 years old. I’m coming up on 40. So, it’s been a good career path so far.

MTS – How did you know what you wanted to do that early?

Justin – I kind of stumbled into it. My very first job was stocking shelves, of course, as probably most people. But I had a friend who needed help on his website, and he had a construction company called Vogt-Spear Construction down in Key Largo. At that time, we had a 56k dial-up. We didn’t even have high-speed internet. I put together a website for them with a membership login and a highlight portfolio of their construction projects. I hand-coded that, believe it or not, with HTML. I wish I had AI back then to just code everything for me. I didn’t have any nice tools that many marketers have these days; I had Notepad. I created this website for them; it looked beautiful, and I felt good about it.

I was always into computers, and then, in my twenties, I got out of the military and needed a job, so I defaulted to that. I had my first job with an agency in Vero Beach, Florida. Working for them, I made pennies on the dollar compared to what I’m making now. But that was a lot of my learning phase, and I started freelancing. I would take on jobs through a website called oDesk, which is now called Upwork. That was also a fantastic learning phase because I had many different projects, and many of them were focused on lead generation because that’s always been what businesses need. They need leads, customers, and contacts. 

MTS – What criteria did you have when you applied for jobs? 

Justin – I wasn’t a programmer. I was into marketing, and I started to focus on SEO, SEO website changes, and WordPress — these are still the skills I use daily in my marketing. However, businesses needed assistance bringing in traffic and converting that traffic. That’s what it all comes down to. I did that for several years and considered that as my college phase, more or less, because that was when I was picking up those essential skills.

Then, around 2007, I started my own agency, again specializing in SEO lead generation. That agency was called Local SEO Services for Businesses. Quite a mouthful, but that’s what we specialized in, and that name helped us rank well for local SEO services (sometimes, your name will make the biggest difference on Google). That lasted for about ten years until the pandemic hit. It affected local businesses and nationwide businesses, and, unfortunately, many of those local businesses that I was working with had to either close up shop or suspend their business for a year. Of course, they weren’t going to market during that year.

After the pandemic, I had a choice of whether to go back to working with local businesses or shoot for something different. I did something different, and I went into the corporate realm, working directly with local businesses and getting leads instead of doing B2C marketing. I started working with a pharmaceutical newspaper online. It was a very big shift. We were pulling in leads through webinars. It’s a totally different skill set (webinars and subscribers), but it’s still organic traffic. SEO has always been a key part of that.

Then, most recently, I worked with a CCaaS (contact center as a service) company called LiveVox. I worked for them for a couple of years, which was fantastic but very different (lead funnel). I was able to still pull from a lot of those essentials that I learned and kept, but not only was it a different type of marketing and lead generation, but it was also a different environment for implementing those. I was the leader, the say-so, and the go-to man. Suddenly, I was in a team environment where I had designers, content writers, and managers, and we all had to work together. That also introduced a whole ‘nother skill set of leadership for me — working between departments with multiple goals and directions, bringing them in, focusing, and funneling them in towards what ultimately had to be the success of these marketing and lead generation campaigns. 

SEO Strategies and Adaptation to Google Updates

MTS – How much have your SEO strategies contributed to the business growth? Is your strategy changing because of the recent Google updates? 

Justin – First off, I’ve seen businesses flourish once they’ve achieved good rankings because of Google and other search engines, as these are the go-to places when a prospect or a searcher has a need. You don’t go to Google for entertainment; you go to Google when you need a solution to some problem.

If someone’s looking for a plumber or garage door repair, they have an issue and need a professional to come because they can’t do it themselves. So, having a good position with a good ranking and good reviews for local businesses is going to make or break a business locally. In the larger nationwide arena, information and things are changing. But again, when someone’s going to look for information, there’s a need behind that.

When you can use rankings to pull in traffic, you instantly are an authority in the eyes of that searcher. Think about this: They are counting on Google for the best answer. So, when someone hits your website and you have the number one ranking, their subconsciousness will tell them that this is the best answer or the best person to give it. There’s a lot of trust there — and trust and rapport are some of the most important things in sales and lead generation.

Sales and lead generation are combined, and they need to work together. When you pull in somebody, you come from a position of authority almost instantly. If you rank well, depending on the issue, give them a call to action to get them into your funnel. If it’s an informational-related search, give them more information and a solution in exchange for their email address (or maybe it’s an SMS opt-in or a live chat). That gets them into your sales and lead funnels

Handling Marketing Campaigns and the Role of Data Analytics

MTS – What strategies do you use to handle different marketing campaigns? 

Justin – I’ve worked on so many different types of campaigns. Some of my favorites are local businesses because the lead funnel is so short. Oftentimes, because that lead is so strong, they’ll pick up the phone and call right away. There’s your lead. That is nice and can be measured, but you probably need to invest in better software. Unfortunately, it comes down to money and the type of software you use.

For B2B, it’s a much longer sales and lead gen cycle. With LiveVox, it may have been six months to a year before they made a decision because they were investing in a piece of software that would cost them a million dollars per year. That takes a lot of consideration.

Between these different types, it is important to understand your product, market, and audience. You need to know what’s going on behind their head. What’s always helped is having a very good standard operating procedure (SOP) has always helped. A strong SOP is your go-to fallback and inspiration and your foundation to build on. You need to build out your SOP because no matter what the campaign is, you’ll be able to draw 80% from what you’ve already done, and then you need to draw another 20% from inspiration or thinking outside the box. 

MTS – Do you believe that having good data analytics has a good impact on the campaign?

Justin – Absolutely! Metrics are key, no matter what type of marketing you’re doing, what product you are selling, or what leads you’re working to pull in. There’s an old saying, “What gets measured gets managed.” If you can’t measure it, how can you improve it? How can you know what to improve? If you’re working with local businesses also, or even reporting up to your leadership or the C-suite, reporting to the business owner or your manager, you could be working so hard, but if you don’t have metrics to show the results of that work, they’re going to let you go. Here’s the thing: Even if you’re pulling in 20 leads a week or 20 leads a day if you are not able to measure that, it will oftentimes get underplayed by people, and they still will not realize the true benefit of your marketing, so you need to measure that.

Let’s talk a little bit about different types of metrics. In my mind, and this is pretty common, there are three levels of metrics.

You have your top-level metrics, which are going to give you a larger overview of your whole campaign and its success. Often, that is your revenue, ROI, the lifetime value of a client, and maybe your overall traffic to your website. That will be more important to your business owners at your C-suite level.

Now, you get to your mid-metrics. Those will be more specific to each channel — your email marketing, your pay-per-click, how each of these channels operates, and their success. That’s going to be important to your mid-level managers.

Then, you have your lower-level metrics. Those are the very specific metrics of a campaign — click-through rates, cost per click, post engagement, and keyword performance. That will be most important to the people who are implementing it. You’ll frustrate your CMO. If you’re trying to give him those lower-level metrics, he won’t want those. The business owner is going to phase out. He’s going to blur out, but he’s going to want those high-level metrics, and he’s going to trust that you’re taking care of all the rest. 

Conversion Rate Optimization and Success Measurement

MTS – What techniques now do you employ in conversion rate optimization, and how do you measure the success of it?

Justin – For conversion rate optimization, I use many techniques that you would use in sales, and that’s one emphasis that I always have — if you want to be good at conversion rate optimization, you must also have a good understanding of sales and presentation. You are part of the sales process, and you need to communicate in the same way a salesman would communicate.

There’s a great book. It’s very old, but I always recommend it to anybody doing sales copy and conversion rate optimization. It’s called Influence by Robert Cialdini and is based on what makes us work as humans: reciprocity (when you give something, people want to give back naturally), social proof, authority, scarcity, rapport, and likeness — that’s just some of them. You need to apply these same things to your landing page for your conversion. You need to build rapport, look good, have scarcity. Make someone need to take action now, not wait.

Think about the world through the eyes of your prospect. That’s sometimes hard because we have to step out of ourselves. Oftentimes, we are stuck with our own opinions and views on life. I like to literally step out of myself. I imagine that person who’s searching online with that keyword and step into them. What are they thinking? What are they feeling? What are their needs? What are their fears? Take all that in and then start to write your copy around that. It is your job, and it’s hard. Everybody has opinions. You can show your landing page to five people, who’ll all say something different about it. What it comes down to is your prospect. That’s the most important person, so you have to research who your prospect is.

Adapting Strategies to Different Industries and Career Shift Advice

MTS – How do you adapt your digital marketing strategies to different industries? What advice would you give someone who finds it hard to shift to a different industry?

Justin – If you’re going into a new market, totally new product, or different type of business, one of the best things you can do is look at your competitors. I ran this agency in Stuart, Florida, a very small city on the Treasure Coast. It was a very small demographic. For local businesses, I’d do research on what are the anaestheticians up in New York and Chicago. What are they doing? Look at their marketing plan, and with a very little bit of time, you’d be surprised. With a little time, you can uncover another business’s entire digital marketing plan. What are they doing on pay-per-click? What are they doing in SEO? What type of content are they putting out? What’s their call to action? How are they getting people to take action? How are they positioning themselves? So, look at competitors that are already in the market.

Also, look at other verticals and similar businesses. How are they positioning themselves? Uncover the marketing and then also think about what they are NOT doing. That’s one of the most important things. What are they not doing? You have to think outside the box, and you have to stand out. That’s one thing about digital marketing — sometimes people focus way too much on the digital side, which is the campaign setup, making sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed. That’s important, but then there’s the other side, marketing. You need to make your clients stand out and create a powerful call to action that makes them unique and makes someone stop and notice. 

Lead Generation Tactics

MTS – What lead generation tactics did you find the most effective in the last couple of years? 

Justin – I’ll go over a couple of them. Some of these are a bit more broad, and some are specific. One of the number one things is a good special offer.

Again and again, I’ve come in with businesses, and I see they’re running ads. But what do these ads offer to someone that makes them want to click? Make sure that you have a good special offer, a good call to action, not just a good positioning.

Talking about positioning, a very good tactic I use for almost every website is a floating sidebar or a floating bottom page ad — something that stays on the page. When someone hits a page, if you just have a little call to action towards the top or the side, they may scroll past that and consume your content. You need something that will stay with them, so go for floating sidebar ads, and I don’t mean ten different ads there. I mean one ad that stays on the page or towards the bottom. It stays in their line of sight, and that’s important because you’ve heard that sometimes you have to present someone with an idea 10, 17, or 25 times before they take action. 

Another thing in that line is having the same offer presented in multiple ways. So, as an example, you might have a blog post, and you might have five different ads on that blog post. Well, instead of five different ads where you’re saying, “Download this,” “Download that,” “Watch this video,” “Go to this other section of my website.” Instead, have one offer presented in five different ways in five different areas. Again, you need to keep hitting somebody with the idea. The mind is like a lock. Now, you don’t have the key to that lock, or you’ll be able to open it right away. Instead, you’re kind of like a locksmith. You need to go in and hit different buttons to finally be able to unlock the lock. Having one offer but being presented in multiple ways with multiple benefits of taking advantage of that offer, you don’t know which one will spur that emotional need to take action.

What’s different (and nice) about digital marketing compared to print advertising is that when you run a print ad, that ad is done; it’s in circulation, and you can’t change anything. You can only run another print ad later. But with digital marketing, you can test and try different things out. Once you have someone in your funnel, you can have a conversation with them, so you can bring up different conversation topics. Once you can push them into that funnel, presenting one objective multiple times in different ways allows you to focus your traffic into one funnel versus five different ones. 

Overcoming Challenges

MTS – What challenges have you faced in the lead generation campaign, and how did you successfully address and overcome them? 

Justin – One of the largest challenges I’ve had is getting my ideas accepted by others on the teams, IT, designers, and leadership. Like I said, everybody has opinions about how things should be.

One such challenge was with LiveVox. They’re a publicly traded company, so they have legal that needs to make approval on different messaging. They have standards that are in stone, which is sometimes very difficult. As marketers, we have an objective: to get people to take action. You should be thinking outside the box, wanting to try new things, and wanting to position the company differently and stand out. It can be hard to get people on board.

One thing that I’ve found is persistence is key. If they don’t say “Yes” now, they may say “Yes” a month or two months from now. If you have an idea and it gets shot down, bring it back up later, and bring it back up with a different set of eyes. Get other people on board and seed the ideas. That’s also in marketing and persuasion. You want to seed ideas, so plant the seed now, knowing that it’s going to grow three months from now.

Another thing is the “Let’s run a test” mentality. Another thing with digital marketing is it’s flexible and fluid, so you can run a test. Split testing software (A/B testing) is wonderful. Crazy Egg, Hotjar — I love these platforms because you can set up a test, have it run for a certain percentage of your traffic, and then have real metrics to show your team and say it worked or it didn’t. In marketing, it doesn’t always work.

You need your metrics, and that takes things from something subjective to something objective. We can measure and show a 100% increase in a call to action, ad, or messaging. If you don’t have those metrics to show that, it makes everything very ambiguous and again comes down to opinions. 

Advice and Essential Qualities for Digital Marketers

MTS – What kind of advice would you give someone wanting to start a digital marketing career now? What qualities do they need to have? 

Justin – Digital marketing is always changing.

But first, advice for aspiring marketers who are just getting into the field. What I have learned myself is, first off, to learn to systemize and set up the SOP to increase efficiency and not have to redo everything from scratch. I love templates. I have ad templates, website templates, and checklists up the wazoo because I’m not a designer. I’m not a designer, I’m not a programmer, I’m a marketer. Having those templates allows me to deploy things that normally take weeks or months or need additional help. I can do that in a couple of hours or a couple of days. Templates and systemization allow you to scale up and be more efficient, take on more projects, manage more campaigns, and grow an agency because it’s very difficult to grow an agency if you are not systemizing.

I have a recommendation for a book that has greatly impacted my life. It’s called The E-Myth by Michael Gerber. He talks about one of the biggest issues with people transitioning from working for a business to owning their own business and becoming entrepreneurs — the lack of skills to systemize. If you truly want to be an entrepreneur or a CEO, you will NOT have to do the work yourself. You might be excellent in marketing, but you need to learn how to transition from a marketer to an owner or a manager to help others do the work. You need to take your skills and give those to them to do. To do that properly, you need to systemize. It is a lot about mindset, too. That’s why this book is very good. It helps address that, and it has changed my life.

I would also say — work on communication. Learning how to communicate is very important. If you’re very good at setting up ad campaigns, that’s really great. Nonetheless, to be a real leader, you must learn to work with people. Communication is essential for that. Learn how to work in teams and lead with authority, but not to boss people around. There’s another excellent book called Side by Side Leadership that I love. It’s by Dennis Romig. It’s a very good book about how to incorporate a team together. You’re not dictating. Instead, you’re helping everybody contribute. It’s really important. You’ll get better ideas, and you’ll get more and better input. You’ll have more people on board with your projects and marketing. In that realm of communication, learn sales and public speaking, which will make you a better marketer because that’s the psychological aspect of marketing. It’s the people you’re working for.

AI in Marketing: Threats and Opportunities

MTS – In marketing, what do you believe are some potential threats that AI presents, and what are some things that AI can help us with?

Justin – Things are changing radically, especially in search. In 2023, Google phased out the FAQ search results and replaced those with generative AI. That had a massive impact on some of the campaigns I ran that were informational searches. Now, that means that people will not be clicking through websites to get information. Instead, they receive that information directly from search engines. There’s just no positive way to frame that for an SEO. It means less organic traffic, unfortunately.

But also keep in mind that Google and other search engines do not want to lose revenue from their paid ads. These large businesses, Meta and Google, are still figuring it out. They don’t know exactly what the next couple of years are, but they won’t want to destroy their breadbasket. It’s unfortunate, but I think we all just need to face the reality that SEO will suffer because of this.

As a marketer, you have to have a variety of skills. As the market is changing, SEO may become undervalued or may not contribute as much traffic. You might have to pick up skills in your paid ads to make up for that because Google is always going to drive traffic to their paid ads. You have to think outside the box and think beyond just Google.

Now, as things change, there’s another traffic source that’s ignored a lot of times: your referral traffic. What will become very important is niche websites that people go to directly for industry information. Those websites will become more valuable, and they’ll be able to demand more for their ad space. They are great sources for very specific traffic. As an example, in the contact center software industry, you have industry experts who analyze the industry, and they have subscribers from all the major Fortune 2,500 businesses that subscribe because they want to stay up to date on the latest industry trends. Those people are not necessarily going to Google. They are going to experts that they are already familiar with, that they already have trust in. 

AI Tools in Business

MTS – What AI tools are helping you in the business right now?

Justin – My best friend is ChatGPT. I subscribe to Premium. I love it. It talks to me on my phone. We have great conversations. However, Chat GPT is AI. I tell people (and I did a whole presentation on this) — don’t let it think for you. I mean this because if you don’t continuously develop the skills, say, of writing, you’re going to lose them. They’ll get softer, and you won’t be as good of a marketer. It’s important that you don’t let it think for you but allow it to assist you.

I use Chat GPT for research, ideas, and brainstorming. But ultimately, when that pen hits the paper (it’s the fingers on the keyboard) — it’s my fingers on the keyboard. I very rarely just copy and paste from AI. Of course, when you get into sales, it will be different. When I look at what’s happening with Salesforce and how they’re integrating Einstein (their AI tool) into their platform, I see it’s able to pull the client information out of the profile and customize an email based on a special prompt that you put in, and that’s going to save your sales team hours.

Right now, I’m working with a person to develop a program to use in-house for outreach for pitches where the tool scrapes through news articles, local businesses, and whatever we tell it to, and based on a prompt, we’ll customize a pitch email and send it out to them.

Yes, things are changing. Be the person who controls the AI. In a business, in your business, that’s what you want to be. It’s difficult because it requires a change in how you present yourself, but you need to market yourself the same way you’re marketing a client. If it comes down to the job market very soon, besides your Google Ads certification credentials, you will have to have some type of AI prompting certification. It’s what business owners and marketing teams are going to look for.

By the way, I am opening a marketing and advertising agency called Timber Wolf Advertising, and we’ll be an aggressive advertising agency that will aggressively advertise our clients and make them stand out and position well.