Marketing Interview: Owen Nitka of MarketingLab

We had the opportunity to interview Owen Nitka, Senior Account Executive at MarketingLab, a Minneapolis-based marketing agency. Owen is a 2007 graduate of University of Minnesota, and brings a unique perspective on the agency (marketing) careers and tips for the marketing student. Check out this all-encompassing and insightful marketing interview here:

How did you know that the agency side is right for you?

Every work environment has its own culture, and for marketers there’s probably nowhere that difference is more pronounced than between agency and client-side work. My first work experience was an internship with a Fortune 500 company during college.  In that time, I was able to see how marketers deal with all the environmental factors affecting one brand.  The experience was valuable, but the highly disciplined structure of a large corporation just did not fit my personality. 

Prior to graduation, I had an internship at MarketingLab, a shopper marketing and consumer engagement agency and was immediately met with a rush of excitement from the big ideas that filled the office. Working on a range of brands and a multitude of projects meant I never had a dull day. The best part of working at an agency is that creative solutions are king!  I was motivated to focus on the fun part of marketing – developing engaging and innovative ways for our clients to sell more stuff.   There is no clear cookie-cutter answer for client vs. agency and obviously the answer depends on the marketer’s personality, talents, interests and in particular their motivations.

How creative can you get with your job? What excites you the most about creating new campaign ideas?

Agencies thrive on creative thinking, so you always have a chance to stretch your creative muscle. Working in a smaller office, everyone has a hand in the strategic and creative development. Although we have a full creative department, it takes an entire team to deliver the best thinking.  MarketingLab started 12 years ago with one key objective; help clients sell more of their products and services by changing shopper behavior.  Whether it’s a relatively small project or huge campaign, its all starts with an actionable insight.  Our job as an agency partner is to turn those insights into impactful and profitable programs.  It’s exciting to carry an idea all the way through from concept through activation and see the measurable impact is has on our clients’ businesses.

What tasks do you do on a daily basis, and how or how didn’t college prepare you for them? 

As a Senior Account Executive, I am responsible for account management and developing new business opportunities. The commonality between both of these is the building of strong relationships with clients by leveraging knowledge of their business. For my current clients, I’m the day-to-day contact who manages all elements of a program from concept to activation to recap.  Providing exceptional account service can mean different things depending on the client or project, but often includes: strategic development of marketing solutions, managing a team of project managers and external vendors and ensuring appropriate financial management of projects.

What was the turning point for you when you decided to pursue a degree in Marketing? 

Throughout high school, I was interested in business, but didn’t have a particular area of focus. It was important for me to choose a university that had a quality program with strong ties to a vibrant and dynamic business community like Minneapolis.  From the University of Minnesota, it’s easy to get connected to different opportunities. The school is friends and neighbors to Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurial start-ups, and non-profits, meaning that mentorship, internships and job opportunities abound. After taking the ‘general’ business courses my sophomore year, I found the creative, strategic and competitive elements of marketing to be more fun and engaging than anything else. From there, I went beyond the marketing degree to enroll in a self-designed curriculum that integrated marketing and strategic communications through the journalism school. 

What advice could you give recent college graduates who are looking to enter the world of marketing?

  • Whichever part of marketing you’re interested in, it all moves pretty fast. Chances are, whatever your professors taught you your freshman year of college no longer applies. Need an answer to a pressing marketing problem? You won’t find it textbooks. Effective marketing isn’t about looking up the answer, it’s about creating the solution. For example, nobody taught professional marketers already in the business how to “do social media”; they had to figure it out on their own. That’s your future: figuring out marketing. Forever.
  • There’s more to the marketing world than big brands and agencies. Yes, you can work at a marketing agency, big or small. And yes, you could work for a big brand like Target, BMW or Coca-Cola. But there are SO many more options. What about working in-house at a cool tech company? A small business? A hospital? Just because your professors only talk about the campaigns big brands have executed, doesn’t mean those are the only marketing jobs out there.
  • Network like crazy with everyone.  I know every graduate has heard this, but I’d challenge recent grads to always be looking for opportunities to increase the value of your network.  Whether you live in a big market or small one, the network in your chosen industry is going to be extremely tight knit – everybody knows somebody.  Don’t wait for job postings to go up, set your own interviews.  I never turn away a request I get for an informational interview.  You can learn more about a potential career in 30 minutes across the table from working professional than hours of online research.  Point is, you never know who could end up helping you out the future. Get to know as many people as you can.
  • Your career will be the best campaign you ever work on.  Prove your skills by marketing yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to give you the opportunity. Invest time in building your social media reach, and leverage LinkedIn to connect with other marketing professionals. Demonstrate your passion for marketing by properly marketing yourself. If you can’t market yourself, how will you market for others?

[Check out more marketing interviews here...]

Successful Gamification Tips for Your Business

Customers just want to have fun. That’s why gamification is so popular and steadily on the rise. The purpose of gamification is to make things more fun and to encourage user engagement. Just about any business can figure out ways to incorporate gamification into their marketing strategies – all it takes is a little creativity, and a little understanding of what makes it such a successful approach. Here are some tips to help your business gamify your Internet marketing:

Clearly Define Your Goals

What do you hope to gain from gamification? You need to know before you begin. Gamifying your content should work in tandem with your overall business goals, and should produce specific results. For example, do you want to boost traffic of repeat users to your website or social media? Do you want to use gamification as a tool to assert your image and foster brand recognition? Knowing exactly what you want will help you implement the right gaming elements.

[More on Internet Marketing education.]

Know Your Audience

You should already have a clear idea of who your customers are.

  • What is your target audience?
  • What demographic is the majority of your audience made up of?
  • Who visits your website?
  • Who are your friends and follower?
  • Most importantly, what do they like?

Create gaming elements that will appeal to your audience in particular.

Offer Rewards and Incentives

People don’t play games if there’s nothing for them to win by doing so. While rewards can be things like real-life prizes, they don’t have to be. Badges and pins for achievements, for example, are very popular (think Foursquare). You can also offer some type of virtual currency, which could be used to purchase anything from real-life merchandise to items within the game. Rewards and incentives give people something to strive toward. Offer them generously enough to keep their interest, but make sure they’re still challenging – a game isn’t fun if there’s no challenge to it. Consider including recognition as a reward, too, such as with a public leader board.

Constantly Analyze

As with any marketing strategy, you should be paying close attention to the results. Look for ways that you can quantify the results of your gamification. Find out the numbers: How many people are playing?, How often do they play?; How quickly do they earn achievements? Are you earning more fans and followers? Are you getting more clicks? Use the numbers to figure out what works and what doesn’t….

Ask for Feedback

Another way to analyze your strategy is to simply ask your audience and participants what they think. Make it easy for them to do so, such as by including optional feedback boxes at certain checkpoints. Use their feedback to improve your gaming elements to make them more user-friendly and enticing. Consider a user survey in the beginning stages of your gamification. Listen closely. The trick to gamification isn’t just getting people to play – it’s getting them hooked so they keep playing.

About the Author: Russell Martin is a marketing pro and small business entrepreneur who often gives advice to other businesses about ways to improve customer engagement.