Thursday, 23 June 2011

Master Marketer - Interview with Digital Marketing Star - Firas Al-Khaffaf

Firas is an experienced Digital and Social Media Marketer who is passionate about helping people succeed in the new media world. He started off his first steps as a web developer, leading the way in search marketing, moving into e-learning instructional design and then exploring ways to build on open source and web 2.0 technology.

Firas has been involved in e-learning and training development since 2003, developing different types of e-learning modules built to give the end user a fun and engaging learning experience. Ranging from simple e-learning with voiceover to interactive rich media video e-learning content.

During his time of being involved with the several web, e-learning and video productions, he’s also been involved in launching successful digital campaigns for various organizations in both the public and private sector which includes UK universities and awarding bodies like Chartered Management Institute, CAM Foundation and Manchester Metropolitan University Business School. This has lead him to broaden his digital marketing expertise and is now looking to share the experiences and insights so feel free to connect with him on Linkedin and follow him on Twitter.

Question 1:  We hear a great deal about Social Media Marketing today. How well are companies focussing too much on these specific tools, and what advice could you give to maximise Marketing Communications overall?

As Social Media Marketing is growing more and more popular, we see more companies introducing this as part of their overall business operation. However, there are many companies that are still hesitating. There are various reasons why this is happening. Some will think that it’s not important for their business. Other businesses are afraid if they open the social media channel, they wouldn’t know how to deal with negative comments.

My advice is to embrace social media marketing. The market place is changing and the Internet is becoming more social. The consumers have expectations; they are now allowed to speak freely online about what they think and express their opinions openly.

At this rate, if businesses don’t adapt to fit social media in their business operation, they will have to eventually.

A client of mine approached me asking for my advice on using Twitter. They said, “Should we start using Twitter to promote our products? I had a look on Twitter and someone has said something negative about our products already. What if we receive more negative comments if we decide to open this channel?”

I responded by saying that there are always going to be people that will say something negative so don’t let that put you off. Also, the negative tweet was perhaps a cry for attention as no one had responded to the individual using the regular communication channels. Perhaps this was a last resort of expressing their opinion. Now that you’ve seen that someone has expressed their opinion negatively, it is your job to turn that negative comment into a positive comment. You’d be surprised when you respond to these people how things can change. Once you win them over, they’ll be speaking about you online in a positive manner. That’s the power of social media!

Beware that there are some that would just argue for the sake of it. Whatever happens, don’t get yourself into an argument via social media; it can get messy and out of control. Nothing beats picking up the phone and just resolving the issue there and then.

I would recommend getting yourself trained up on Social Media using The Social Media Training Pack on

Question 2:  In-bound and Out-bound there is a huge amount of ‘noise’ on Digital Channels. What can Marketers do to cut-through the clutter, in both directions?

We live in an age where there is information being thrown at us from everywhere. Sometimes It’s just information overload and we need to know what’s important and what’s not.

In terms of inbound through the digital channels, marketers need to know and decide which methods work for them more effectively for their business and their customers. For instance, one market may find themselves on Facebook more than Linkedin, so it is a good idea to reach out to that market via Facebook. There is no point setting up several profiles/pages on different social networking sites across the Internet for the sake of it, “just because everyone else is doing it”.

What eventually happens is that it becomes too overwhelming to maintain and respond to everyone, which leads to unhappy people left hanging with no responses to their queries/complaints. All they see is that you’ve provided a way for them to communicate with you, but then you don’t respond to them. It’s like never checking your email inbox.

Inbound is much more effective than outbound, but that does not mean you should rule out outbound completely. For instance, email marketing and webinars are very effective. Being able to reach out to an online audience is more powerful now than ever before because people are hungry for knowledge and finding solutions to their problems.

So it comes down to recognising what is important and what isn’t. Don’t try and do everything because that’s when the huge amount of ‘noise’ develops.

Question 3:  Should Digital Marketing be treated as a separate and specialist area within the marketing function (like SEO) or is it better treated as something with which all marketers should be involved?

 As the years go by, digital is becoming more integrated in our lives. Soon digital and traditional marketing will merge. For instance, people these days expect you to have a website, blog or Facebook page. They want to find out more about you before they meet you. A website, blog or Facebook page is like an online shop window for your business. This is digital marketing, but is also becoming part of the overall marketing function.

However specialist areas, such as SEO, will always somewhat remain separate, as the processes involved in SEO require time and resources. Not only that, but also extensive expertise is required. Getting websites to rank number one in search engines for competitive keywords is something that 
requires a vast understanding of using various SEO tools as well as techniques.

Question 4: How do you see Mobile Marketing developing over the next few years?

Mobile Marketing keeps evolving year after year. Mobiles are becoming as sophisticated as computers.

I remember a time when there was no Internet access on mobile phones. Then came WAP and now we’ve got mobile phones that load webpages exactly like they would appear on your laptop, or games like PlayStation and Xbox.

People have access to their mobile phones more than they do to their laptops. This means you can target them with all sorts of mobile marketing from SMS messages to app notifications. Also to bear in mind, SMS is a powerful form of marketing. There is a higher open rate in SMS messages compared to emails. This in itself has a lot of potential.

My advice is to get involved now. Everything is heading towards digital. People are online and they are easy to find with social sites and search engines. In fact, it’s never been this easy to market your products/services as you can market to the whole world with a few clicks.
Another form of marketing is to have in-app advertising. This means you can promote your products/services within other people’s apps or within your own apps that you give away for free. You can even incorporate videos in your advertising on mobile phones. 

Question 5:  What advice would you give Marketers who want to improve their performance and job prospects in the field of Digital Marketing?

The Internet is filled with information, which can get you started in the digital field. First you need to know what you want to specialise in within digital marketing e.g. social media, SEO, PPC and so on. Try not to do everything; though do grasp an understanding of what each aspect is.

To those who find the idea of digital marketing daunting, it’s not really that daunting. In fact, you will find similar methods of traditional marketing, which are applied in digital marketing. For instance the principals of marketing communication does not differ much between digital and traditional marketing. This means you can take similar methods and rules and apply them. Over time you will learn certain online ethics, which may vary from offline. However this comes with experience and with time, but shouldn’t be something to hinder you from getting started.

Also, if marketers want to climb higher in their career ladder, I would recommend getting a qualification in digital marketing, such as the diploma in digital marketing for instance. With this qualification, you will be recognised and respected throughout the industry.

There is no better time than now to embrace digital marketing so simply just dive in and get started.

Useful links and resources:

Firas Al-Khaffaf’s Website/Blog:

Follow Firas on Twitter:

Become Friends with Firas on Facebook:

Connect as a Friend with Firas on Linkedin:

Firas Recommends The Social Media Training Pack:

Recommended Digital Marketing Blog:

Download Your Own Social Media Map:

Thank you Firas!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Master Marketers - Interview with Digital Media Expert - Imran Farooq

In the rapidly changing world of digital media and digital marketing, I am pleased to post this interview with someone who is working in this area as a Master Practitioner, Academic and successful Businessman.

Thank you Imran!

Imran is MD of MMC Learning, a digitally driven joint venture company with MMU Business School and a Senior Examiner for the Diploma in Digital Marketing awarded by the Chartered Institute of Marketing.  

He is experienced in the rapid development of rich e-learning content which is being used to educate business professionals in over 50 countries as well as working with senior management teams to develop staff training programs for Digital Marketing skills with various companies including Hewlett Packard, Bell Pottinger and 3M. 

Question 1:  We hear a great deal about Social Media Marketing today. Should this be the main focus for a company’s Digital Marketing activities?

It definitely should be one of the main tools or channels in the mix as that is where the gravity of the internet is.  There are lots of networks and if you Google “Social Media Map” you will see some interesting visuals showing all the social media networks on the internet!  

The main ones include Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and some of the upcoming local networks. 

Before jumping into any of these tools it is worth researching or monitoring the buzz on these networks which will give you customer insight into what is relevant to your products, market and business activity.  

For example, Linkedin has a Q&A and groups section where you can see what people are talking about, Facebook has an advertising area where you can view detailed audience profiles and Twitter search & trends can show you what people are tweeting about.

He is an expert commenter on and also sits on the advisory board for the CAM Foundation helping shape the pioneering and leading Digital Marketing Qualifications in the UK.

Question 2:  What advice would you give companies to ensure that they achieve the best results and returns from Digital Marketing?

Key advice is to segment as much as you can! 

Target your audience using customer insight tools – always follow through with relevant messaging specific to your audience at each point of the campaign. 

If you are targeting specific keywords/audiences, the ads have to be relevant, the landing pages have to relevant, the sign-up/register has to be relevant, the email follow-up has to be relevant and then close the deal!

Question 3:  Should Digital Marketing be treated as a separate and specialist area within the marketing function (like SEO) or is it better treated as something with which all marketers should be involved?

Everything is Marketing and the word Digital is latest word being used to describe the explosion of new ways and tools to reach customers.  There is a big issue at the moment as there is a divide between Marketers and Digital/Technical people.  

Digital is being treated as a bolt-on and may have worked in the early days but right now it is not working as everything needs to be joined up.  So the digital activity has to be at the core of marketing and other functions in a business.

Question 4:  As a Senior Examiner for the CIM and someone who is heavily involved in Marketing Education, how strong are Marketers skills in the area of Digital Marketing today? What can they do to further improve them?

There are some Marketers already out there who launching amazing online campaigns and generating brilliant results on the money they are spending.  Marketers are all at different levels in terms of general digital marketing skills and also at different levels in terms using different digital and social media tools. 

The main reasons why some Marketers are struggling is an information overload and not having the right mind set.  I think it is important to have a clear understanding of what you are trying to do within the business and then utilise the appropriate digital tools.  

For example, you may be trying to generate leads, convert leads into sales or build relationships – depending what your aim is, there are different digital tools you could use at each stage.

Useful websites to increase your knowledge in Digital and stay up to date;

Useful Customer Insight tools;

It is really important to get a foundation of digital marketing knowledge which allows individuals to quickly grasp and leverage the opportunities in Digital.  

The CIM digital marketing qualifications are the best in the market place right now to gain this foundation.  

For more information visit or sign-up to a free trial at   

Question 5:  Finally, how do you think Marketing Education and Training will evolve with the continued growth in Cloud Computing and Mobile Technology?

I am looking forward to seeing the growth in both these areas as I think they will play a key role in joining up a number of business and marketing functions.  Mobile is big and will be big every year for the next few years.  

We are living in a world where content is being produced at rapid speed, we are consuming a lot of information and to stay on top we must be able to learn and respond on the go – advances in both software and hardware technology is really changing both production and consumption of information so it is important that everyone has an effective, on-going content strategy in place.

Other links and contact information:

Visit Blog -
Visit Company –
Follow on Twitter - @imranfarooq
Connect as a Friend on Linkedin -

Friday, 3 June 2011

Master Marketers - Interview with PR Smith (Part 2)

In  Part 1  of my interview with Paul, he talked about the evolution of the SOSTAC ®  planning framework for which he is best known.

Here in Part 2 he answers questions about his later interests in Sports Marketing, Sportsmanship and Leadership....

Q4. I believe that you have a new approach to the potentially chaotic Social Media area, please can you tell us something about this?

The Ladder of Engagement  looks at how customers can be engaged at different levels from the lowest level of giving a star rating or a review to the highest level of collaborative co-creation i.e. customers create the company’s products.

This is marketing utopia where customers drive the business, create and test the new products and then buy them and tell their friends all about them. This could have been written 20 years ago, you might say. I agree, except now social media facilitates the Ladder Of Engagement perfectly.  Essentially, social media makes it easier to create a real customer-driven business. That’s why marketers really must master social media immediately – not next year. 

There is an opportunity to restructure businesses around customers via social media and integrating into every aspect of the business.   And with this new responsibility comes the opportunity for marketers to take a seat at every board of directors.

There is always room for creativity. You can see how BBC Northern Ireland and On The Air by FlickrPix  highly creative approach took User Generated Content to a new level in the free downloadable chapter from PR Smith Marketing.

Question 5:   As well as Marketing Communications and Marketing Planning I believe that you are now also involved in Sports Marketing and have written a book about exceptional examples of sportsmanship, which you now use to teach leadership and social skills for all levels and ages.

Great Moments Of Sportsmanship is a collection of true 2 minute stories about sportsmanship. Honour & nobility, integrity & humility on and off the field of sport. Across all sports and all countries and all levels. It is my social media campaign to get sportsmanship back on the agenda of kids, coaches and commentators.

The book has been described as ‘the new bible’ by the BBC. It is not, but it does tap into something deep inside us all. It has sold out in Ireland but I’ve not been able to get the book distributed in the UK. All ideas welcome! I’m about to release a Kindle version. The web site has video clips of many of the stories in the book, plus new stories (and  videos), plus  ongoing discussions, my radio interviews, sample stories, posters and most importantly, new ideas for stories sent in by readers [this is the The Ladder Of Engagement].

I really need to find a sponsor so I can really promote this book and maybe give a free copy away to every visitor to the London Olympics?  If anyone has contacts, ideas or suggestions (re sponsors, media contacts, schools/libraries networks) - please do contact me.  

I also have a free educational workbook for schools that want to integrate sportsmanship into several different classes.  I’ve also linked up with the Campaign For Courtesy recently.

Sportsmanship is my personal passion. I really do think it makes a difference and can actually help the world to be a better place. And help to tackle obesity, illiteracy, low self esteem as well as having fun and just feeling good. In business workshops I use it to demonstrate how Social Media’s  Ladder Of Engagement  works. 

I’ve been told that the stories are so inspirational that they would make great stories for a leadership conference. 

You just need to ask me and I’ll do it! 

Other Resources:

Connect with Paul:

Twitter:  PR_Smith
Web site: my web site
Facebook:   PRSmithMarketing my facebook page
Blog: Great Moments of  my sportsmanship social media campaign – please join in.

Smith, PR  & Zook, Z. (2011)  Marketing Communications 5th ed.,  Kogan Page
Smith, PR & Chaffey, D. (2008) eMarketing eXcellence 3rd ed., Butterworth Heinemann 
Smith, PR, Berry C. & Pulford, A. (1999) Strategic Marketing Communications, Revised ed.
Smith, PR (2009) Great Moments of Sportsmanship, PR Smith self published.

Smith, PR (2002) Marketing Essentials series of 10 CDs, PR Smith
Smith, PR (2004) eMarketing eXcellence  10 courses on one CD, PR Smith

Coming Soon SOSTAC ® Workbooks