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Filling the Gap Between Learning & Engagement


The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a rapid and forced transformation of many businesses. Plans that companies previously anticipated rolling out over many years have been decided and implemented in weeks.  

Amid this rapid change where many are scrambling to adapt, leaders should ask themselves what other “five-year plans” should fastrack to keep pace with these critical business plans. One of the plans that companies should evaluate is talent development: how can businesses develop strategic plans to meet the needs of their rapidly evolving businesses?   

Creating talent development work isn’t as easy as providing online learning to employees. Our Marketing Standards board members met recently and uncovered an unexpected commonality. While all of them are making learning available to their employees, the primary area for improvement on their employee engagement surveys continues to be upskilling. This revelation brought on a layered conversation about the common challenges employers face when it comes to engaging employees in training and development — especially when these pieces of training are online. So, what’s causing the disconnect between desire and action on upskilling employees, and most importantly, what can leaders do about it?   

Understanding the Disconnect

Upskilling is urgent for employers — especially for newer professionals who aren’t going to be satisfied in their jobs if there are no learning (or advancement) opportunities. Employees don’t merely want a job; they want to work for companies they can learn from and grow within; employees wish to build careers.  

In a Deloitte survey, 90% of employees said their organizations were redesigning jobs. The World Economic Forum reported that more than half of all its employees would require reskilling or upskilling to address the digital skills gaps driven by changing job requirements over the next three years.  

For many reasons like these, our board members agree that it’s an employer’s responsibility to make learning available and an integrated part of the employee experience.  

So, what’s getting in the way of learning — from the employee perspective?  

Two big factors are time and incentive. Many employees feel like there’s not enough time during the workday to take the training accessible to them. Others don’t prioritize upskilling because although they want new and updated skills, there is no extrinsic motivator for learning them. One of the clearest opportunities for extrinsic motivation often isn’t clearly connected to training: it’s the idea that training and skills are requisite expectations for the job or performance. The right jobs motivate all of us.  

Possible Solutions

Providing employees with upskilling opportunities signals to them that they are valued and that they have a future within their workplace organization. However, offering a training program isn’t enough — the implementation of these programs must be intentional, structured, and relevant. During our conversation, board members came up with tips that can help companies foster a learning-positive workplace. These tips include:  

1. Partner With Leadership to Allocate Time During the Workday

Big roadblocks employees face: blocking time to make learning important and creating company-wide time blocks, like “No Meetings Fridays,” to provide designated time for employee upskilling. Making these time blocks company-wide is critical. If some teams aren’t participating in it, they’ll throw a meeting on the calendar that conflicts with the learning time. At that point, you’ve lost the consistent open time and original initiative purpose you’re trying to create for your team.   

2. Extrinsic Incentives: Compelling Rewards

Extrinsic incentives are tangible motivators that can encourage employees to take an upskilling training course. Offering incentives gives employees a clear prize at the end of their experience, plus an added incentive to complete learning by a particular due date. This specific incentive is a nice touch from board member Gretchen Saegh (CMO of L’Oréal USA), who plans on rewarding “the best re-scorer” of the CM1 assessment with being “CMO for the day.” These empowering incentives give employees a sense of purpose, a structured career path, and long-term vision, giving them valuable real-world experiences and advice that can be difficult to get elsewhere.  

Extrinsic Incentives: Executive Messaging on Expectations


When employees see their managers endorsing upskilling, and also see the executive team pushing for the same thing, it speaks volumes about the value of upskilling within that organization and the expectations around completing tasks and initiatives surrounding it. The bottom line is that upskilling gains immediate credibility when employees see it supported by leadership. A message from the CEO and executive team is imperative when it comes to setting the tone for a company, as a message from “the top” can have a ripple effect throughout the organization.   

Getting employees to translate the desire-to-action key values of online learning is particularly pertinent as more employers look for efficient and effective ways to train their employees remotely via online training providers. It’s a new world, and there’s no magic bullet, hidden secrets, and there are certainly no shortcuts. The right online training is thoughtful and methodical: it considers human behavior, personal motivations, and leadership alignment + support to get online training to occur and resonate for employees — from entry-level positions to the C-suite.  

Finally, there’s the process of trial and error. Although initiatives often start with the strongest and best of intentions, the most successful training results adapt and fluctuate over time. No plan is flawless right out of the gate — however well-planned or well-intended.  

Learning is always a journey.

To learn more about how General Assembly can help guide your company’s talent transformation, check out our enterprise marketing solutions.

Skills Needed For Marketing


Building Marketing Leaders of The Future

Looking inside of a new roadmap of core skills to drive vision and leadership in the industry to see what it takes to be a leader in marketing?

This ideal skill set has changed dramatically in recent years as the responsibilities and experience of today’s marketers have expanded in scope. While strengths that used to set marketers apart — like crafting a powerful brand voice and a brilliant go-to-market strategy — are still more important than ever, leaders today need to be savvier with marketing technology, data fluent, and measurement focused. They must be equipped to decide which systems power their strategies, connect the customer experience across an array of channels, and address new innovations such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence. They are also accountable for demonstrating and optimizing ROI. 

As marketing’s purview has widened, we’ve seen individual roles become increasingly narrow and specialized, creating silos of digital capability. Budding marketers often focus on technical skills around a specific set of digital tools such as Optimizely and AdWords that translate to growing sub-fields, including conversion rate optimization and SEO/SEM. 

The problem with this approach is that by focusing on a limited set of tactical skills rather than the broader goals those skills help achieve, marketers risk losing visibility into how brands grow. They also lose the ability to solve complex problems that span beyond their immediate domain. 

This creates several human capital challenges: 

  1. Lack of leadership development: A narrow skill set is not suited to leadership roles in marketing, which increasingly require synthesis across social channels and touchpoints.
  2. Lack of career guidance: To grow beyond narrow domains, marketers need clear guidance on what skills and industry experience they should develop and what career options become available as a result.
  3. Lack of clarity in hiring: Without clarity around the essential marketing skills or how to assess for them, recruiters can only guess at who might be a high-potential candidate. And without clear expectations, new hires are not set up for marketing success. 

To better prepare the next generation of marketers, leaders across the industry urgently need to come together to explain the broad skill set needed for marketing success in the field today. As a wide-ranging set of good marketing leaders across the consumer goods, technology, publishing, and education sectors, we formed the Marketing Standards Board to channel our collective experience toward this purpose. With the goal of defining excellence in the field and providing transparency into marketing careers, we’ve crafted a framework that will help provide this clarity for individuals, teams, and business partners. 

What Makes a Marketer?

Marketing is comprised of four major functions, each with a distinct goal:

  1. Brand: Define and communicate brand purpose, value, and experience.
    • Brand marketers are responsible for brand strategy, brand communications, and working across the organization to create a holistic customer experience.
    • Sample job titles: VP of global brand, director of integrated marketing, brand manager
  2. Acquisition: Win new customers for your products and services.
    • Acquisition marketers are responsible for acquiring customers within a given budget. They run campaigns and think strategically to improve performance.
    • Sample job titles: Director of search engine marketing, lead generation specialist
  3. Retention and Loyalty: Retain customers and expand share of wallet.
    • Retention and loyalty marketers are responsible for engaging customers. They deeply understand consumer behavior and work to maximize customer lifetime value.
    • Sample job titles: Manager of CRM, director of brand activation
  4. Analytics and Insights: Get business insights and drive ROI using data.
    • Marketing analysts are responsible for analyzing increasingly large volumes of data to derive insight that informs business decisions.
    • Sample job titles: Marketing analytics manager, data scientist — marketing.

These four functions are common threads of marketing success, and they frame goals that haven’t changed over time. They were true when TV, print, and radio were the dominant media, remain true today with the prominence of web and mobile, and will remain true for whatever media and products come next. Although the execution required to achieve these goals has changed due to new tools and technology, the underlying purpose provides a stable frame of reference to understand and explain our profession.

Experienced marketers will often prioritize the skills needed for their role spread across more than one of these functions, given that a single role is often accountable for multiple goals that require a blend of skills.

A Career Framework for Marketing

With the four functions of marketing in mind, we have drafted a framework that captures our collective thinking about the career paths and associated skills required in marketing today.

Let’s break down each section of the framework and how we see it being used to guide career progression.

Level 1: Foundation

To begin a career in marketing, individuals need the bundle of skills in Level 1, from understanding customer insight to marketing technology. These skills allow them to be valuable early-career professionals, and are essential irrespective of company type, stage, and industry. From an HR perspective, Level 1 encompasses the set of required skills for most entry-level and early-career marketing candidates. They are the building blocks of marketing success that are needed and can be assessed for, regardless of one’s future career path.

Level 2: Application (Mid-Level)

Level 2 is for mid-career professionals and includes the four key functions we identified above. After demonstrating strong fundamentals from Level 1, most marketers will find that their career paths grow into a mix of Level 2 applications. Not all mid-career professionals need or desire expertise in all four areas — many will find their talents best suited in one or two. However, awareness of the full spectrum can identify strengths on which to double down and gaps that may lead a marketer to seek more support from others on their team.

For example, there are brand managers who are incredible at building out brand identity and communicating the value to consumers. They are clearly Level 2 marketers specializing in brand, even though they use acquisition and retention strategies to execute on their objectives. Similarly, there are search engine marketing managers (Level 2 marketers in acquisition) who are tremendously effective at finding new customers, and CRM managers (Level 2 marketers in retention) who specialize in engaging and delighting existing customers. Finally, new roles have emerged that are as much data professional as marketer, and as such we see Level 2 marketers in analytics.

It’s our job as leaders to guide team members toward Level 2 applications based on talent and interest, and define with our HR colleagues which (and how many) Level 2 skills are needed in each role, at each stage of seniority. Skills across these Level 2 applications, paired with strong vision and judgement, will prepare individuals to become marketing leaders.

Level 3: Leadership (Senior Role/Management)

For team members who seek leadership roles, Level 3 contains the bundle of additional skills needed to be successful marketing directors, vice presidents, senior vice presidents, and, ultimately, chief marketing officers. While having Level 3 skills does not make a leader, a leader typically possesses all of the Level 3 skills. At the leadership level, overall domain expertise and verbal communication skills becomes as important as setting the vision and strategy for the marketing team. Because these roles require problem-solving across the specialties of marketing, from customer experience to tech and data, successful Level 3s have often covered more than one Level 2 during their careers.

Next Steps: Putting Words Into Action

We formed the Marketing Standards Board six months ago to provide clarity into marketing careers for individuals, teams, and business partners. Our career framework is a first step toward achieving this goal, but it’s only effective if followed by action.

Our goal is for this career framework to be a valuable tool for:

  • Aspiring marketers who want to understand what skills they need to enter the field.
  • Mid-career professionals who want to understand their career options.
  • Marketing leaders who want to build capable, well-balanced teams.
  • HR leaders who want to build transparent, consistent career pathways.

To put this theory into action, we are going to use this framework within our organizations to:

  1. Explain career progression and roles across our teams. We’ll use the framework to guide development conversations by linking individual marketing activities to strategic objectives on our marketing teams.
  2. Guide high-potential employees on how to round out their skills. Point to individual strengths and gaps in Level 2 applications and Level 3 skills to support conversations with team members who show potential to take their career to the next level.
  3. Evaluate job candidates based on the function for which they are applying. Use one or more assessments to define and validate skills needed in open positions.

If you could benefit from these same actions, we encourage you to join us in using the framework for similar purposes in your own organizations. Our industry needs to use a common language around marketing, and that language extends beyond our board. 

In parallel, we’re seeking feedback from our colleagues and friends to refine this framework. We’re starting with partners in our executive teams, industry associations, and peers around the world. We’re also asking you. If you have feedback on how this could be useful for you, let us know at

By coalescing on what it takes to succeed in marketing businesses, we can begin to examine some of the big talent strengths and weaknesses in the profession and better prepare the next generation of successful marketing leaders. We analyzed 20K+ Certified Marketer Level 1 assessment results; download The State of Skills: Marketing 2020 report to find out what we discovered.

Digital Marketing 101: How Paid Social Increases Brand Engagement and Optimizes Your Ads


The advent of the internet introduced new mediums through which people could communicate — and new ways for marketers to reach potential customers. In the internet’s early days, online advertising was focused on banner ads and emails targeted to audiences based on traditional methods built on demographics. But with the near-ubiquitous adoption of social media, marketers can now refine their targeting thanks to information users willingly provide in the form of a profile. Couple that with advancements from social media companies in the ways brands can communicate, and you have the creation of one of the fastest growing forms of digital marketing.

From 2014 to 2016, the amount of money spent on social media advertising in the U.S. doubled, and nearly every one of the top 100 global brands have used some form of social advertising in the past year. It’s no longer just Facebook, either. YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat have all gotten into the marketing business and brought with them intelligent engineers who have helped shape the next generation of paid advertising by offering a host of new features, like targeting, testing, and engagement.

There are plenty facets of paid social that make it a unique and constantly growing way to gain clients and increase revenue. The following are some of the most essential aspects of the practice.

Laser-Focused Targeting Tactics

Social advertising has transformed the way advertisers can target ads, reducing the wasted spend that comes with traditional media such as television or radio. Traditional ads are purchased based on impressions and target demographics, meaning marketers are forced to pay for every impression, even if, for example, only 80% of a program’s audience fits the marketer’s target audience. With social, we can eliminate this waste.

Thanks to all the personal information people willingly share on social media, marketers no longer have to rely on assumptions when trying to reach potential customers. We can target based on age, gender, geographic location (both in real time and your listed residence), interests shown from your comments, social interactions, pages you like, your friends’ social interactions, relationship status, trending topics, people interacting with events and live television shows, and on and on.

With new features like Facebook’s Pixel service, marketers can now even retarget — or show ads to people who have been to your website previously or are part of your customer database — next time they log in to Facebook. To take it a step further, we can utilize “look-alike” audiences to increase our reach to potential customers by allowing social platforms to analyze your customers and place ads to those that share similar characteristics.

Unparalleled Reach

It’s hard to argue with the reach of social platforms. In mid 2017, Facebook surpassed 2 billion monthly users and one in five pageviews happens on Facebook. Roughly 71% of all online American adults use Facebook and with new people signing up every day, there are very few entities that allow you the same reach that social platforms can offer. Add in frequency capping and you have the benefits of reach without having your ad shown to uninterested viewers.

Low Barrier to Entry

With traditional media like broadcast (TV and radio) or print (newspapers or magazines), marketers pay for the advertising space up front. Digital platforms blew that model up years ago with the introduction of cost per click, or interaction, as social channels have come to define it. What does that mean for digital marketers? We no longer have to worry about spending for lost impressions, and instead we now only pay for results. Couple that with the ability to bid in real time and with no minimums, and you have a platform that’s advantageous for any size business.

Ability to A/B Test and Optimize Ads

Not sure if you’re using the right image or if the copy you chose is driving people to action? Thanks to the ability to stop, pause, or edit campaigns in real time, we can analyze and optimize data from our campaigns as they happen and make immediate changes.

A skilled marketer will no longer have to guess when it comes to determining whether and why a campaign was successful. We can run variations of ads simultaneously and see which are producing better results. Really, we can A/B test every aspect of the campaign, including targeting, bidding, images, copy, and even placements to determine the best course of action. And if nothing is working — or worse, something went wrong — we can turn it off immediately.

Increased Engagement

Social advertising has evolved from only sending a user who clicked on your ad to your website. Now, marketers test the power of social media channels through engagement — direct interaction between a potential customer and the business. For example, an ad may now encourage a user to share a video with their friends or comment on a question, all of which can help increase a brand’s social equity.

Engagement can also help spread the brand’s message to a user’s network, furthering organic reach and creating a form of third-party validation. Because people can see others’ responses, oftentimes a positive comment can increase the likelihood of your message being believed. Thanks to YouTube and the proliferation of streaming video, advertisers can create rich media ads that keep users engaged and increase the likelihood of users remembering them. Social sites like Facebook are even taking it one step further, allowing users to autofill lead-generation forms. After all, your personal information is already packaged up and ready for shipment.

Social advertising has quickly become a requirement of any respectable marketing strategy. Thanks to social advertising’s ability to better target, unmatched power to reach potential customers, and low cost of entry, if you’re not taking advantage of everything social advertising offers, you may well be behind the times.

Social Advertising at General Assembly

In General Assembly’s part-time Digital Marketing course, both on campus and online, we walk our students through the process of setting up social campaigns. As we move through the back end of these platforms, we highlight the features that allow you to become proficient as a marketer and make this channel so essential to the new age of marketing.

Through hands-on experience, our students become knowledgeable in all aspects of social advertising, including utilizing the latest techniques in targeting, data analysis, and optimization, adapted from our real-world examples. By highlighting integration techniques, we move our students from the idea of single-campaign tactics on separate platforms to fully cohesive campaigns that build off of one another. The cohesive campaigns can then be tracked through platforms like Google Analytics to measure desired outcomes and return on investment (ROI), and compare them against all other forms of advertising.

Will Hayes is a marketer, entrepreneur, and Digital Marketing instructor at GA’s San Francisco campus. A former media buyer, account manager, and public relations specialist, Will currently owns and operates The Grill House restaurant while consulting for clients on the side. He graduated summa cum laude from Arizona State University with a B.A. in journalism and strategic communication.

“The rapid growth of the digital marketing industry has created a large shortage of skilled practitioners. GA’s Digital Marketing course prepares students for an exciting career in a fast-growing field.”

–Will Hayes, Digital Marketing Instructor, GA San Francisco

What Does It Mean to Be a Good Digital Marketer? Defining Digital Marketing Competencies and Landscape

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In this digital age, employee roles and responsibilities are changing as quickly as industries are evolving. Most jobs available today don’t have higher education programs, standardized exams, or textbooks that definitively tell people which skills they need in order to land them. Without this industry standardization, employers also struggle; they don’t have clear boxes to tick when evaluating job seeker’s qualifications. How can companies get a better sense of which skills job candidates and employees need? How can job seekers become more savvy about developing and communicating their qualifications?

At General Assembly, we work every day to answer these two questions. We provide job seekers with the competencies they need to be successful in today’s workforce. We also help employers understand how to evolve with their industry and connect with skills and talent that will enable them to grow. But in order to provide guidance to employers and job seekers most effectively, we must have a clear definition of each field ourselves. As the job landscape changes and General Assembly grows, we constantly refine our offerings and frameworks to better unite our product and message.

Let’s look at the field of digital marketing, which has seen exponential change in the last few years.

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How to Break Into a Digital Marketing Career


Digital Marketing Career: How to Land a Job

With digital media surpassing TV as the largest channel for ad spending in 2016, digital marketers are more important than ever. Through clever concepts, smart storytelling, and a keen understanding of audience behavior through analytics, these data-driven brand specialists move business forward through strategic email, paid search, social media, and beyond.

Recent data from General Assembly’s Credentials division — which helps companies determine the capabilities of team members and potential hires through assessments and more — suggests that digital marketing is an open playing field for anyone who can acquire the skills needed to succeed.

But once you have the skills, how do you land the gig?

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Experience doesn’t matter: Industry veterans and aspiring talent are equally qualified to break into digital marketing


Digital Marketing Vs. Traditional Marketing Skills

All aboard! It’s never been a better time to embark on your digital marketing journey.

We all seek experience. Personally and professionally, experience captures what we’ve done and what we have the potential to do. In hiring, prior experience is used as a shortcut to qualify job-seekers for interviews, job offers, and higher compensation. This shortcut works well in steady fields where the practices of the industry rarely change. If someone has done it before, they can probably do it again.

But does this shortcut work in a field that is dramatically changing? Marketing is an occupation undergoing rapid change. Adults now spend six hours a day with digital media, compared to three hours a day in 2009. As consumers move social, professional, and personal interactions online, advertising has followed. 2016 was the first year that digital media overtook TV as the largest channel for ad spending. Successful digital campaigns now require proficiencies across a host of new platforms, and the question for veterans and aspiring marketers is: Does general experience in marketing still matter?

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Using Influencer Marketing to Connect Consumers With Your Brand


In a multichannel era in which people’s daily lives are increasingly spent devouring content through mobile devices, consumers are increasingly tired of interruptions from advertisements. Because they regularly install ad-blocker software, or skip past obvious ads, marketers have had to generate new ways to reach potential customers on these valuable digital platforms. Enter influencer marketing.

Influencer marketing is a method of promoting your brand or product through the medium of an influential individual — whether that is a digital celebrity like fashion and beauty vlogger Zoella, or an opinion leader in your industry, such as the editor of Vogue. It allows brands to reach their target audience through the voice and network of a person directly in the social news feeds they’re looking to for entertainment.

For example, Dolce & Gabbana filled the front row of its Spring 2017 fashion show with millennial influencers, which got them countless press features. Big and small niche influencers were the stars of H&M’s TV campaign that challenged what it means to be “ladylike.”

The rise of mobile advertising — in which the amount of time spent on mobile is disproportionate to the amount of money spent advertising there — has led marketers to specialize in social media-focused content and influencer marketing. According to a survey by the influencer marketing platform Linqia, 39% of marketers intend to increase their influencer marketing budgets in 2018, compared to only 5% who intend to reduce it.

These influencers have more sway than newsworthy celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence or Tom Cruise because they have a closer connection to their followers. In some demographics, such as Gen Zers, they’re at least as well known, if not more so. But marketers need to build those relationships early in the influencer’s career, before they’re mega-famous. That way they can foster a genuine business relationship that can result in reduced costs, better content, a lower cost per engagement, and a higher ROI. Then, you must continue to invest time and budget to ensure your pool of individuals is connected to your brand, both emotionally and via the relevance of their style and audience.

What Makes a Good Influencer?

Influencers fall into various categories, each with their own benefits and challenges:

Fans Already loyal and committed to spreading love for your brand. Tiny reach, and require campaigns/competitions to engage.
Key Opinion Leaders High level of trust, and good for B2B. They will not expect high fees. Need to build the relationship offline. Cannot be transactional.
Microinfluencers You can become their champion; build an early relationship. Smaller reach and time-consuming to manage.
Creators They create high-quality, unique content with minimal budget. Lower reach and complex negotiations.
Digital Celebrities Huge reach and highly efficient to contract. Engagements can appear sponsored, lessening the brand impact.
Celebrities Drive awareness, consideration, traffic, and high-authority links, too. Highly expensive contracts that require focus to activate effectively.

For our purposes here, we’ll be talking about digital influencers, a term that each brand must also qualify on its own terms. For example, the popular online cosmetics company Glossier famously considers every one of its customers to be an influencer, reflecting an open attitude that’s consistent across all of the brand’s marketing activities, and clearly shapes its influencer strategy.

The Rise of Influencer Marketing

In the last few years, brands are increasingly considering influencers to be more valuable than global celebrities who can gain them coverage in mainstream press to drive awareness, but don’t increase brand consideration as highly. This was evidenced by the game-changing New York Fashion Week show held by Tommy Hilfiger in Autumn/Winter 2016, during which a handpicked audience of more than 3,000 influential individuals experienced the “show” in a “Tommy Pier” carnival experience littered with Instagrammable moments that flooded attendees’ social feeds.

While influencer marketing content in Europe and the U.S. must be clearly identified as an advertisement through the use of #Ad or #Advert hashtags on Facebook or Instagram, or flags built into the platforms themselves, the influencer’s “authority” and character attributes (e.g., their behavior or artistic flair) are lent to the brand, providing rich product marketing that creates a deeper connection with the target audience than pure-play advertising.

At my creative agency This Here, we conduct regular analysis into the engagement rate on posts containing #Advertising tags, and repeatedly find that the hashtags’ inclusion does not affect performance, when compared to untagged posts. Consumers increasingly understand that a portion of the digital content they consume is sponsored; they understand that their favorite influencers need to draw an income from their work, and react negatively only if the brand in question is not a natural fit for the influencer.

How Influencer Marketing Works

If you think about it, there have always been influencers around us. Think of celebrities promoting brands and products. This hasn’t changed. What has changed, perhaps, is the type of people the world has decided to trust.

Today many of us look up to the individuals we follow on social media — people who resonate with us. And while a famous actress might give a beauty brand a massive reach, digital influencers serve a more targeted, engaging, and cost-effective way to reach specific demographics. Plus, the connection with their audience is so much more magical. ✨

As with any brand collaboration, marketers need to approach influencer marketing strategically and with both an analytical and creative mindset.

When it comes to finding the right brand-influencer match, the key challenge for marketers is finding influencers who:

  1. Reflect the brand’s values.
  2. Are followed by a demographic that’s desirable to the brand.
  3. Will be happy to be associated with the brand in question.

After finding this sweet spot, the influencer manager — if there’s not someone in this specific role, these duties could fall under social mediacontent, communications, or even paid media teams — provides the influencer with a clear and creative brief about the project. The brief details the actions the brand would like the influencer to carry out, and the deliverables, e.g., the number of posts, relevant copy or hashtags to use, and a posting schedule. That leads to a budgetary negotiation, influenced by the level of effort involved and, of course, the desirability of the influencer ad the brand in question.

A luxury brand like Gucci can often negotiate lower fees for its innovative campaigns like #TFWGucci (influencers are lining up to work on such briefs), but high street fashion brands, for example, need to work a lot harder. This is particularly true if the brand needs the support of influencers to drive a perception shift.

For example, the Spanish fashion brand Desigual needed to make a significant investment to inspire a global pool of influencers to get involved early in the process of the brand’s transformation in 2017 and 2018. The brand had huge awareness across Europe, but a poor reputation. As a result, the company revamped everything from its products to its retail stores, and decided that influencers were the perfect mouthpiece to communicate the change.

Finally, the influencer receives the product or experience and creates engaging content in their unique style to help the brand achieve widely varying objectives, from brand awareness or reputation, to directly attributable sales, and even SEO. Most agencies and brands track the performance of each post carefully, ensuring the response was positive, before working with the same influencer again.

Influencer Marketing at General Assembly

Though influencer marketing can be a marketer’s sole focus, anyone in the industry, especially those who focus on content, social media, and communications, could benefit from a deeper understanding of the field. In General Assembly’s Digital Marketing course, on campus and online, students gain insight into this growing sector while digging into content strategy and social media practices. Through selecting influencers for your class project and crafting an influencer strategy, you’ll get hands-on experience that you can use in real-world campaigns.

Meet Our Expert

Jemima Garthwaite has nearly 10 years’ experience in the world of digital and social media marketing. She’s the founder of the data-fueled creative agency This Here, where she oversees strategic, creative, and analytical work, and has held roles as head of social media at Groupon and Poke London.

Jemima has taught at General Assembly for five years, first on our London campus, and more recently for GA’s corporate training programs. Jemima is also a judge at the Lovie Awards, was a Cannes Young Lions winner, made The Drum magazine’s 30 Under 30 list, and has been a guest on The Guardian’s Tech Weekly podcast.

“Influencer marketing all comes down to connection. It’s not about impressions — it’s about creativity, collaboration, and reciprocity. It’s about real influence and human relationships.”

Jemima Garthwaite, Digital Marketing Instructor, GA London

Performance Marketing: Using Consumer Data to Optimize Your Marketing


“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

This quote is attributed to John Wanamaker, a pioneer in marketing back in the early 20th century. These days, saying something along those lines at work is an easy way to get escorted to the exit door. Today, we have enormous amounts of consumer data that can be processed through platforms such as Google Analytics and Facebook Ad accounts. As a result, understanding the impact of our budgets is easier to measure. However, many companies still lack actionable insights regarding what they should do with the information available.

Performance marketing is the process digital marketers use to analyze consumer data, and optimize marketing efforts as it relates to their business goals. Often, performance marketing involves paying for a specific action, such as a click or conversion. However, it can also include paying for impressions, meaning you pay for someone to see your ad as opposed to them taking any further action, like clicking through to your site or making a purchase. From there, the goal would be to use these impressions as efficiently as possible, based on your desired outcome.

How Performance Marketing Works: A Facebook Campaign Study

To see performance marketing in action, let’s look at a paid Facebook marketing campaign. We’ll first need to start with a goal, such as volume of goods sold, and then determine how we can most efficiently achieve this objective. We do this by identifying key performance indicators (KPIs). These are measurable values, such as order volume or cost per order, that immediately demonstrate how effectively a company is achieving its desired outcome.

Let’s say we have volume goal of selling 1,000 units, and our advertising budget is $2,000. KPIs help us understand how much our cost per order (CPO) can be. In this case, we’ll define cost as our advertising budget.

Our CPO is the cost divided by number of orders: $2,000/1,000. That means our target CPO is $2. If we spend more than $2 per order, we’ll fall short of our volume goal.

We’d then identify which segments are achieving a CPO at or below $2. Segmentation is the process of dividing your audience based on various attributes such as age, gender, or location. However, we can also create segments based on the specific ad someone viewed, or the device they used to view it.

The chart below provides an example of how performance can vary by segment.

Segment Ad Cost Cost Per Order Orders
 A $500 $1.25 400
 B $250 $1.75 143
 C $750 $3.00 250
 D $500 $3.50 143
 Total/Average $2000 $2.14 936

After identifying the best-performing segments, we can begin to optimize, which involves spending as much ad budget and/or effort as possible on the most successful segments. To be effective, optimization requires timely reporting and adjustments.

In the example above, the best-performing segment is A, because it has the lowest cost per order. If possible, we would put all our budget in this segment. However, this isn’t always feasible due to various constraints, such as the number of people in each segment. We’ll then have to invest in the next-best-performing segment until we reach our volume goal.

The chart below shows how the budget could have been optimized. I’ve capped the ad cost at $750 per segment to reflect constraints in audience size. Meaning, there is a finite amount of money we could spend in each segment.

Segment Ad Cost Cost Per Order Orders
 A $750 $1.25 600
 B $750 $1.75 429
 C $500 $3.00 167
 D $0 $3.50 0
 Total/Average $2000 $1.67 1195

As you’ll notice, we’ve now achieved our goal of selling 1,000 units, with the same advertising budget.

There are many third-party platforms, such as the Adobe Marketing Cloud, that leverage algorithms to assist with this process. Facebook also introduced its own optimization tool, automated rules, within its Ad Manager platform. These automated rules are used to continually monitor your campaign KPIs and execute your desired actions based on the performance thresholds you’ve identified.

For example, let’s say your cost per order is $3 for a particular ad — $1 more than your target. These rules can automatically stop running the ad, and/or send you an email notification. This is certainly a game-changer for companies that aren’t quite ready to invest in automation technology without proof of concept.

Today, many digital marketing campaigns are evaluated on performance marketing tactics rather than just reach and frequency. Along with Facebook, campaigns can be run on Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, and more, managed through their native platforms or through third-party vendors like Marin and Kenshoo.

The Objective-First Framework

In General Assembly’s digital marketing programs, we focus on performance marketing by leveraging the Objective-First Framework.


GA’s Objective-First Framework, used to define and document digital marketing campaign strategy.

This framework is a lean marketing plan used to define and document campaign strategy. Students first start with an objective and the associated KPIs. Next, they design their tactics, which is how they’ll present their business value in a way that addresses a customer need or desire. They then move on to launching campaigns and measuring the outcomes. Proper measurement is an absolute must for performance marketing, as we can’t optimize what we can’t measure. After reviewing their KPIs, students make adjustments — optimizations — and further refine their strategy.

This is an ongoing process, and there will always be new approaches to explore. “Test and learn” is a phrase familiar to all performance marketers, but it’s also important for companies to create a culture of innovation so they can be free to test. I typically recommend setting aside 20% of your total budget for testing, which shouldn’t be earmarked for any critical outcomes. However, it should still be evaluated based on your existing goals and KPIs.

If your test works, keep it up, and increase the amount of budget and effort toward that approach. If it fails, stop. At least you learned something, and you know what part of your advertising spend was wasted. You’re already better off than John Wanamaker.

Performance Marketing at General Assembly

In General Assembly’s part-time Digital Marketing course, on campus or online, students learn performance marketing by creating, distributing and optimizing their own digital marketing campaigns. These campaigns are served on platforms such as Google AdWords, Facebook, Instagram, MailChimp, and LinkedIn. Additionally, we supply training in data and industry benchmarks for students to practice the budgeting and optimization process before launching their real-world campaigns.

“GA instructors are still active in their field, which is extremely important since digital marketing changes so quickly. You want to learn from someone who can tell you about their day, not just a user guide they read.”

– Terry Rice, Digital Marketing Instructor, GA New York

Search Engine Optimization Strategies for Better Page Rankings


A good business website allows customers to learn about a company’s services, purchase its products, and sign up for more information: all key elements for growing a successful enterprise. However, creating a functional website is only half the battle — once you’ve built your site, you need to get it in front of people who will benefit from your product. This is where SEO can make or break your organization.

SEO stands for search engine optimization and, in a nutshell, it refers to how you optimize your website so that it appears on a search engine results page (SERP), like Google, when a user enters specific keywords. The World Wide Web is a messy mass of roads through which it’s virtually impossible to find your destination without search engines. As of 2017, 88% of consumers conduct online research before making a purchase either online or in-store, and studies show that the average user only looks at the top five results when they search for a key term. Given this, it’s worth taking the time to learn how you can use SEO to make sure your website ranks well on SERPs.

Improve Your Site’s SEO With These Tips

Rest assured: If you’ve created a website that’s not ranking well on SERPs, there are measures you can take to get your hard work in front of customers. Here are a few of the most effective ways you can ensure your website has strong SEO.

Research relevant keywords.

SEO is not only about driving more traffic to your website; it’s about attracting the kind of visitors that ultimately become customers. Knowing who your audience should be, and how to write content that’s relevant to them, is an important piece of the SEO puzzle.

Keyword research is your compass for finding which words and phrases will reach your audience. Use free tools like Google AdWords’ Keyword Planner and Google Trends to see which keywords you should target. This is also a good way to discover topics trending in your industry or topic area. For example, let’s say you’re trying to optimize this article. The first keywords you would think of are probably “SEO” and “SEO guide” because these describe the main topic of the article.

When you enter these keywords into the Google Adwords keyword suggestion tool, you may see some frequently searched variations of your keywords that you hadn’t thought of, like “SEO marketing”, “SEO optimization”, and “search engine marketing”.

Focus on long-tail vs. short-tail keywords.

When your site is just starting out, showing up on the first page of Google is nearly impossible. Industry leaders that have been producing content for years dominate all of the top keywords and results. For example, it’s going to be tough to outrank long-standing industry websites like Moz, Search Engine Land, and Neil Patel with the key term “SEO”.

Researching and creating content for relevant long-tail keywords is a great strategy for developing SEO. A short-tail keyword includes one or two words, while long-tail keywords are longer, more specific, and less competitive keywords or phrases. Think about it: If a user  searches the word “bed” (a very broad short-tail keyword), it’s unlikely they’re ready to click through to a sale. However, if a user searches for “French style oak bed”, they know exactly what they’re looking for and are probably closer to the point of purchase. Although you get less traffic from long-tail keywords, the traffic you do drive will be more focused, more committed, and more likely to convert.

Understand how to incorporate keywords.

Once you’ve identified your keywords, you can now tackle your on-page optimization. Be sure to place keywords in your:

  • Title tag: The name of the page that appears both in the browser tab and in the Google search results.
  • Meta description: A snippet of up to about 155 characters that summarizes a page’s content, entered either as HTML code or in a designated field in your site’s content management system.
  • Header (h1 tag): A tag used to indicate the main heading on a page.
  • Subheaders (h2, h3, and h4 tags): Tags used for the creation of headings less important than an h1, which have a top-down hierarchy from <h2> to <h6>.
  • First 100 words: The introduction to your page.
  • Image alt tags: An HTML tag that should be used with any image on your site to describe what’s in the image.

Develop an external linking strategy.

Links to your website from other sites are stamps of approval, especially if your site is linked from authority sites in your industry. If you wanted an authority site to optimize this article, for example, you’d want the article to be picked up and shared by sites like Moz or Search Engine Land. Keep in mind that not all links are created equal, so building a handful of quality links is better than a bunch of spammy links. If a website with low domain authority and no relation to your field links to you, it’s not very useful (e.g., a random hotel linking to this SEO article.)

A few quick and clever ways you can encourage links back to your site and build authority include:

  • Citations: A citation is simply a mention of your business on a third-party website — typically a local business or industry directory, or an event or reviews site. Look for quality, trustworthy directories and listing sites in your city.
  • Creating and sharing valuable content: Sites that create and deliver relevant and engaging content to their users get better rankings. Fresh, regular content improves your traffic and increases the time people spend on your site, two important metrics that tell Google you’re a trusted, relevant, and authoritative website.
  • Guest posting: One great way to get external links is by writing posts or articles for other websites. Think about topics in which you’d like to be known as an expert (relevant to your own website/industry), and reach out to like-minded businesses or blogs that could benefit from a guest post feature. Make sure you include a link back to your own website to reap the SEO benefits.

Technical Requirements for SEO

A strong SEO strategy depends on your website speed, security, and site foundation. Without this technical foundation Google won’t trust you no matter how much content you incorporate. Here are three essentials for developing your site foundation:

  • Site speed: Users are impatient. If your website takes more than three seconds to load then your customers are out of there. A good SEO strategy covers all the ways you can optimize your code and images to make sure your pages load quickly on all devices.
  • Site security: Starting July 2018, Google will mark non-HTTPS websites as insecure in its Chrome browser. Chrome accounts for approximately 58% of the global browser market across mobile and desktop, so you may lose web traffic due to security concerns if your site is not HTTPS.
  • Mobile friendliness: Since we do just about everything from our phones these days, Google looks for sites that can be easily read, clicked, and navigated to across all devices.

How to Optimize Your SEO Strategy

If you’re not measuring your progress, it’s hard to know what’s working and what’s not. SEO success is measured by increasing your page ranking for specific keywords and driving up your overall domain authority. Although every business is unique and every website has different metrics that matter, Google Analytics will allow you to track and report the success of your SEO efforts. You can gather all the data you need to measure the impact of SEO on a page, including:

  • Volume of organic traffic: Organic traffic is comprised of users who find your site through unpaid search results. If organic traffic to your site increases, it means your site is ranking on SERPs and being found by users.
  • Bounce rate: The percentage of users who organically come to your page and quickly click away. A high bounce rate indicates you’re driving the wrong kind of traffic.
  • Conversions: A conversion occurs when a user successfully completes a desired action. The desired action could be clicking on an email, entering their phone number into a webform, and more. In order to track conversions, you need to create goals to track the site visitors from organic searches who are becoming actual customers.
  • Behavior: The duration of a person’s visit to your site, number of pages they visited, and time they spent on each page.
  • Keywords for which you’re ranking: Understand which queries caused your site to appear in search results.

Learning SEO at General Assembly

Whether you want to pursue a career as a digital marketer or just dip your toes into the world of online marketing, SEO is a natural place to start. In GA’s part-time Digital Marketing courses, on campus and online, learn how to conduct technical audits, practice on-page optimization, and utilize more strategies to help improve site rankings. You’ll learn the art of keyword research and practice writing SEO-friendly copy that engages your audience and  increases your site’s ranking. Most importantly, you’ll walk away knowing you’re up to date with best practices and armed with the latest tools and tactics to confidently implement SEO the right way.

Meet Our Expert

Catherine Toms is a lead instructor for GA’s Digital Marketing course in Melbourne, Australia, and co-founder of Smithfield Digital, a company specializing in-house digital marketing and custom training. With over 20 years digital marketing experience in Australia and the UK, Catherine has worked with hundreds of companies from big global brands to creative startups to find their direction, organize their approach, and implement the right digital marketing strategies for the biggest impact.

“The digital marketing industry is rapidly evolving with new tech and opportunities. With the right training and skills you can move quickly through the ranks, go freelance, launch your own business, or even work remotely.”

Catherine Toms, Digital Marketing Instructor, General Assembly Melbourne

Personalization: 3 Ways Digital Marketing Can Speak to your Customers


When was the last time you went through your mail? No, not your email inbox. Your physical, real-life mail. How much of it was relevant to you? I’m going to take a guess and say that around 90% of the material you found was impersonal, generic, and maybe downright bothersome. But log onto the internet and suddenly you’re inundated with content that seems tailored to you. Where a one-size-fits-all method still tries to succeed in physical marketing materials, smart advertisers are using their money and energy to grab you where you’re spending the most time: online.

From sponsored Instagram posts by a brand you may be interested in, to email subject lines that tempt you to come back by adding in your first name or a specific call to action “just for you,” the lines between pleasantly browsing and unsuspected marketing are blurry. Where, as users, we think of the internet and our social media channels as a way to catch up with friends, see what our relatives are doing on vacation, or share updates about our lives, brands see this space as prime real estate to catch our attention and convince us to buy a product or service.

For digital marketers, catering ads to users on social media is a smart move. When it comes to buying products, people most often trust the recommendations of family and friends, and, according to Nielsen, if they see the product on social media, they’ll at least consider taking action from that platform.

The landscape for personalized marketing is competitive — but with considerable payoff for brands that do it well. A study by marketing platform HubSpot notes that advertisers utilizing social platforms with paid ads are seeing startlingly high returns on investment. The popular morning newsletter theSkimm, for example, used Facebook’s lead ads to drive more signups, which led to a 22% increase in lead quality. There are many factors at play here, including a popular brand (versus one that’s lesser known) using ad space, and engaging with users on a platform they’re already familiar with, but it could work with smaller brands as well.

With a user base as large and active as Facebook (the same study counts 1.18 billion active users as of September 2016), marketers would be remiss to not consider implementing strategies on this more personal channel. The challenge is how to make a brand or product visible on a platform that’s already saturated with competitors vying for consumer attention. Savvy brands are utilizing personalization tactics to make their marketing stand out, and you can do the same.

A Brief History of Personalization in Marketing

The early days of digital marketing were similar to our mailbox example: Marketers tried to create enticing messaging that was general enough to be used on multiple parts of the internet. You’d run into the same banner ad many times over the course of a few days of browsing, and perhaps at some point thought, “This doesn’t relate to me at all.”

Geotargeting — pinpointing a user’s location — somewhat helped to address this by making regional sidebar ads more common and eliminating the extra headache and ad spend for marketers. With location as a driving force, marketers could spend time and money where their users actually were. Thanks to Google Analytics and other ad tracking tools, marketers could learn not only where their leads were from, but also from which kind of page they landed from, giving early insight into potential interests.

With the advent of social media, though, digital marketing exploded. People quickly started sharing personal data every day, sometimes without realizing it, including foods eaten, places visited, and entertainment enjoyed, complete with their own personal ratings. Social giants like Google, Facebook, and Instagram began to gather all this data as a compelling way to get marketers to spend money on their platforms and reach more targeted leads.

However, gathering consumer data is just the start. Knowing what kinds of people to market to is one thing, but knowing how to market to them is much more important. You can know any number of stats about your customer, from their age range, to gender breakdown, to how much money they make, but your customer is not merely a statistic, devoid of personality or motivation. Unless you speak to your potential leads as people rather than numbers, your personalization efforts will fall flat. It is the combination of informed statistical analytics and targeted content marketing that will lead to purchase conversions, and ultimately, brand loyalty.

Personalization Strategies for Digital Marketing

Once you’re armed with the statistics about your audience, you can better create a content strategy that will resonate with them. Below are a few content strategies you can use to make your marketing more personal, along with how to use specific data points to strengthen the message.

1. Ask customers for feedback. Fans love to interact with the products they love. The cosmetics brand LUSH is particularly known for using its social pages to drive conversation by asking for opinions, personal anecdotes, and ideas for new products or customer service initiatives. Once you have a good understanding of your user, consider nontraditional calls to action that will drive engagement.

For instance, instead of posting, “Like us if this is true for you,” share your update and say, “Tell us about a time where [XYZ scenario] applied to you. We may feature you in a future post!” By both asking for personal stories and showing how those stories may impact their future, customers will build trust in your brand and be motivated to contribute.

Data to watch for: engagement. Keep any eye on any post where you specifically ask for feedback and monitor engagement, including likes, comments, and shares, and promptly respond to or acknowledge comments. The more active a post is, the more likely it will stay in a prime spot in someone’s newsfeed, and the more likely that a relevant (but currently disengaged) user will see your content. This also shows current users that your brand is actively listening and responding to questions and anecdotes, and that you’re not just asking to appear interested.

2. Tell stories. There’s a good chance your product or service has helped you or your team at one time or another. Show your users how you are like them by tying in how what you do has affected you personally to create accountability and familiarity with your users. Employee testimonials are a great way to accomplish this, and show users that you as a company truly believe in your product. The online clothing retailer Modcloth uses employees to model its products. Potential customers can see firsthand that the company stands behind what it does — because it puts its people at the center.

Data to watch for: location. Take a quick glance at where in the country (or in the world) your customers are viewing your content, and if it’s appropriate, tailor your stories to a certain geographic area. I live in Chicago, and for the past few months I’ve been seeing sponsored posts from Smirnoff about how its vodka has ties to the Second City. While telling about its history, the company asked readers to share stories about their favorite cocktails and bars in the city (Smirnoff or not). By sharing the brand’s story and encouraging others, people throughout the Chicagoland area were talking about their favorite places to grab a cocktail, and users were interacting with one another in a genuine way. Smirnoff got to enjoy the increased brand awareness and the benefit of highly engaging content — some commenters even said they were going to give Smirnoff another try, after years of loyalty to other brands. Would they permanently switch? Maybe not, but the online experience was interesting enough to make them think differently.

3. Be conversational. Consider your product as another person your customers interact with on social media. Instead of “selling,” think of “sharing.” This automatically positions your word choices as more conversational and less toward conversion — but the difference in tone will be apparent to your customers. By offering advice or a recommendation as opposed to pushing a product (at least not directly), you’ll increase rapport with your audience in a way that’s natural and unforced.

Data to watch for: age range. Recommendations or advice are much better tailored when you know the age bracket you’re speaking to. BuzzFeed content verticals like Tasty (for food and cooking) and Nifty (for money-saving DIY projects) are great examples of this. Some of the language Tasty uses when it posts recipes and tips may come off as too trendy or informal for certain age brackets, but the content speaks directly to its most engaged audience, which happens to be a younger group. Similarly, if your product is aimed at a more mature demographic, be cautious of using slang to entice younger users. Not only will you drive away your core user base, but you’ll confuse the base you’re trying to attract — because they associate your brand with other language. If your metrics start to shift, however, you can adjust the tone and see how it performs on a post-by-post basis before you make a more permanent pivot.

Personalization in Digital Marketing at General Assembly

In GA’s Digital Marketing course, on campus or online, we cover personalization when students learn about content marketing strategies. By combining content marketing know-how with skills in social analytics and key performance indicators (KPIs), students discover strategies for creating marketing pieces that resonate, connect with audiences, and will drive sales and engagement. Throughout the curriculum, students learn about real-world examples of marketers who do this well, and get a chance to practice the skills as they relate to their own or future businesses.

Meet Our Expert

Rachel Wendte is a designer, content strategist, and marketer who teaches the User Experience Design Immersive course at GA’s Chicago campus. She is passionate about communicating design for connection, and uses her skills in client management, user research, and strategic thinking to craft meaningful solutions that are user-friendly and aligned with client goals. Before learning UX, she worked as an arts administrator and social media consultant.

“Giving students the information they need to succeed and providing tools to turn their ideas into solutions is powerful. Combined with input from career coaches and industry experts, GA students are well rounded and strong.”

Rachel Wendte, User Experience Design Immersive Instructor, GA Chicago