Automating & Advancing
Why one Anchorage firm is sharing trade secrets to educate, elevate its community
By Danny Kreilkamp

magine hosting an event with an array of prospective clients in attendance, and the first slide of your presentation reads: “Here Is Exactly How Not to Hire Us.”

It seems counterintuitive, but this is precisely what ARM Creative has done with its educational event series: SOTI.

SOTI, or State of the Industry, is an event curated by the full-service marketing firm that aims to inform Alaskans about new tools available to advertising professionals in the digital age. But the event isn’t just limited to marketers; ARM welcomes anyone who’s interested in learning how to better leverage these tools—including its competition.

ARM Creative founders
Kerry Tasker

Co-founder and CEO Zach Aregood says there’s so much more to a digital marketing strategy than simply boosting a Facebook post; from building targeted ad campaigns to creating content at scale, the tools available to marketing professionals have never been more powerful, or certainly, more profitable.

The inspiration for SOTI was due in part to the lag time that exists for business trends in the Lower 48 to catch on in Alaska, Aregood explains.

While most companies in Alaska are familiar with tried and true advertising mediums like print, radio, and television, information surrounding more recent trends in digital marketing has only been around for a fraction of the time. Aregood likens this space to the “Wild West,” which his team hopes to pioneer.

“There is currently a gap in the understanding of how a lot of these things work in our market,” says the UAA grad. “And because of this, what we were finding was that, on the agency and sales side, it might take six months to a year from when we first connect with a potential lead to when we close.” This delay was less than ideal in a business environment where clients have the money to spend today and demand results tomorrow.

“So we thought: How can we close or shorten that window? How can we educate people on the advantages of these tools and put our money where our mouth is? But also: How can we build community?”

In a way, this lack of information in the state is ironic. Because information—or data—is precisely the fuel for one of the most influential tools covered in SOTI: programmatic advertising.

Leave It to the Data

Programmatic advertising utilizes software that pairs artificial intelligence with real-time bidding to streamline the digital ad-buying process. Programmatic—sometimes called automated—advertising offers marketers a number of advantages compared to traditional ad-buying methods which can often include time-heavy negotiations and requests for proposals. But at its core, what Aregood says is special about the process is that it takes the guesswork out of identifying a company’s “customer persona.”

Customer personas begin with demographics like age, gender, and income. And when paired with psychographics like interests, motivators, and behaviors, a company can develop a pretty clear idea of the type of person who might be interested in buying its product.

“We really are trying to educate ourselves, educate our clients, and also educate the market. We truly believe that when the market is doing better as a whole—everyone does better.”
Zach Aregood, Cofounder/CEO, ARM Creative

Once a company decides to invest in programmatic advertising, it can use demand-side platforms to plug in its campaign budget and other specifications to purchase ad space from supply-side platforms on an ad exchange. This process can also be further augmented through the use of data management platforms, which allow companies to import specific customer data they might already possess.

It sounds like a mouthful—and at times it can be—but there are reasons to take a deeper look at this kind of process: consider the reach of a radio-based ad campaign compared to that of a programmatic approach.

“Say you spend $10,000 on a radio ad and reach 100,000 people,” Aregood posits. “That station may only have 30,000 people listening that you really care to reach. Whereas with programmatic, with a fraction of that budget, you could reach a similar amount of people, but all of them are interested and highly qualified buyers.” He is quick to note that programmatic advertising is just as capable of reaching large audiences, but the important takeaway from the example is that it’s maximizing a company’s budget.

And while advertising to targeted audiences isn’t necessarily a new concept, the level of detail with which marketing professionals are able to target these audiences—and subsequently place personalized ads for—undoubtedly is.

“Digitally, everything is tracked through cookies,” Aregood says. “We tell Facebook everything we like whether we put those interests on our profile or through the things that we engage with.”

It’s a familiar feeling for everyone.

After a conversation with a friend about their fabulous new sunglasses, not even a day later while scrolling through Facebook, there’s an advertisement for those same sunglasses. It’s concerning, and most people are understandably creeped out and proceed to contemplate deactivating their account.

There isn’t any definitive proof that phones are indeed “listening,” but that’s certainly what it feels like; however, due to the strength and sophistication of modern algorithms, Aregood believes a more likely scenario is that a consumer probably took some action or expressed interest in those sunglasses without even knowing it. “And that’s the thing—the ways that advertisers are allowed to target on Facebook would blow your mind.”

To illustrate this notion, Aregood points to a past ad campaign for one of ARM’s clients, CombatBet.

CombatBet manufactures challenge coins, a commemorative token with traditions dating back to the Vietnam War. “We create these Facebook ads for them, and I’ll run a campaign targeting anyone who’s been to their website in the last thirty days, anyone who’s watched any of their videos in the last thirty days, or anyone who’s made a purchase in the last thirty days.

“Then I’ll run a simultaneous campaign that serves a different message that targets anyone who saw that other stuff. Anyone who visited their website, anyone who added something to their cart and then abandoned it. And at each of those levels, I can give that customer a different message. For example, to someone who added payment information but didn’t follow through, I can place an ad that says, ‘Hey, come back now and finish your cart and we’ll give you 5 percent off.”

But it doesn’t stop there.

“There might be three different types of people who abandon their cart,” Aregood adds. “We can even place an ad that’s more female-driven or one that’s more male-driven. These messages can be tailored at every step of the buyer’s experience.”

To those unversed in the world of modern advertising, this might be unsettling, if not mildly invasive; to Aregood and other marketing professionals, this is simply called “the customer journey.”

Students of SOTI

Aregood left Walsh Sheppard in 2017, taking with him then-client Deanna Miller, now co-founder of ARM. It’s only been a matter of years the two have been offering their expertise to the Alaska market, and the questions they aim to address with SOTI are considerable.

“We started SOTI last year, and we were able to get several events in before COVID-19 hit,” Aregood reflects. “What I have noticed is a shift in the way those people who’ve attended are starting to think when I follow up with people on LinkedIn or when I see their social media as they start to put things in place.”

Anchorage Chamber of Commerce Manager of Programs and Communication Tosha Swan, former SOTI attendee, is an example.

Swan first became familiar with ARM’s SOTI event after, unsurprisingly, coming across a Facebook ad at the beginning of the year. “Since we don’t have a dedicated marketing person at the Chamber, it was helpful to hear the ways that we can be more efficient with our content,” says Swan.

“For example, if we have an hour-long video that we’d post to YouTube, we can take screenshots and snippets of the video to use across other platforms,” she adds. “Snippets of that hour-long video can be shared on Instagram TV or for Facebook Live.”

On suggestions as to how ARM might improve the event, Swan only has one request: “I would just suggest that maybe they do it more often and on a larger scale. I think this type of training is important for many of the small businesses, gig workers, and nonprofits who have limited resources.”

Jesse Hale of Alcan Electrical & Engineering is another SOTI alum. Reflecting on his experience, Hale says he attended the event feeling that there was more to leverage in the social media realm than what his company had been previously doing. “I wanted to learn more about this and educate myself on something that I truly don’t fully understand.

“And bottom line doesn’t always mean dollars, it could also mean community perception, and they did a great job of explaining what these different platforms do and how best to utilize them. You don’t necessarily want to sell on Twitter, you don’t want to go to YouTube to discuss politics—there is a time and place for every platform.”
Jesse Hale, Vice President, Alcan Electrical & Engineering

“The event brought a lot to my attention; especially in the construction industry, where at 42, I’m still considered a ‘young’ guy,” Hale jokes. “I did not have a good understanding of how these different platforms could bring value to your bottom line. And bottom line doesn’t always mean dollars, it could also mean community perception, and they did a great job of explaining what these different platforms do and how best to utilize them. You don’t necessarily want to sell on Twitter, you don’t want to go to YouTube to discuss politics—there is a time and place for every platform.”

After the event, Hale actually decided to hire ARM to guide his company through a rebrand following a change in ownership. “It’s been a really collaborative effort working with ARM to maintain our past while also looking to the future,” Hale says, underlining the amount of work that was put into maintaining the company’s heritage throughout its digital facelift.

Advancing Alaska Businesses

The ARM team is in regular communication with tech giants like Facebook and Google each month, constantly trying to gain a better grasp of the ever-changing algorithms and platforms that modern advertising depends on.

But despite a proven track record, a business partner possessing decades of experience in Miller, and a client roster that includes local names like The Alaska Club and Alyeska Tire—not everyone is so ready and willing to sit down and take the advice of a 27-year-old.

“I’ll be totally transparent: I’ve had people in Alaska laugh at me when I’m introduced as the CEO of ARM Creative,” he says with a smile. “But the funny thing is, I’ve also had conversations with clients down in the Lower 48 where they’ve said, ‘If you were any older, I wouldn’t even be having this conversation with you.’”

Aregood feels this is a microcosm of the lag time described earlier and a symptom of a deeper issue: well-established businesses operating in the state haven’t really needed to adjust their marketing efforts due to a lack of competition.

But times are changing. And Alaska companies are increasingly feeling the pressure of an expanding market—especially as businesses navigate the uncertainties of COVID-19.

Components of Programmatic Advertising graphic
Components of Programmatic Advertising

Hearst Bay Area

Components of Programmatic Advertising

Hearst Bay Area

“This isn’t a town of 30,000 people anymore. A lot of businesses are recognizing that they’re losing market share and finding themselves in a position where they need to invest in, and educate themselves on, modern marketing strategies.”

Aregood believes an event like SOTI can also serve as an antidote to a market that is otherwise closed-off or uncollaborative, which isn’t what consumers want today. “If you look at every big brand there is right now, everyone is doing collaborations.”

After a SOTI event, ARM sets up a private Facebook group where attendees can bounce ideas off each other, troubleshoot, or work through problems together. “People can chime in with a question on a certain social platform or strategy they’re trying to implement,” he explains. “We try to create a space where people can meet someone that they wouldn’t have met otherwise. How can we bring together someone who’s a physical therapist and someone who works at a bank—and how can they work toward a common goal?”

“We really are trying to educate ourselves, educate our clients, and also educate the market. We truly believe that when the market is doing better as a whole—everyone does better.”