Mike Moran

Mike Moran

Do you have 10,000 hours to spare? The answer is probably, hell no. However, you probably have 10 minutes to spare. That’s why we started our expert interviews, where you can pick the brains of an expert and learn all they have to offer. Today our expert is internet marketing god, Mike Moran.

Early in his career Mike cut his teeth working for IBM in a variety of roles eventually reaching an executive level position. Today he offers the benefit of his many years of experience via his website, aptly called MikeMoran.com, books, speaking engagements and videos. What was it like working with a huge company like IBM? What do you do when your info becomes outdated? We asked Mike to find out.

Your website notes that you worked with IBM for 30 years, which is a staggeringly awesome achievement. Can you give us any details about what it was like working for such a company as huge as IBM?

When I started out with IBM, my college friends would have found it staggeringly awesome that I would still be alive in 30 years. I was a big enough wiseacre (this is a family publication) that the senior class voted me “Most Likely to Be Bludgeoned to Death.” But working for IBM showed me that no matter how smart I thought I was, there were ten people around the next corner smarter than me. So, the size of IBM taught me to stay curious because there was always someone discovering something new, and you could be there to ask them questions. I never quite understood most of the answers, but still…

Your site also notes that you personally hold 6 patents. Can you walk us through the process of attaining them? Since we’re pretty sure we’ll never get a chance to ask that question again.

That is mostly about working for IBM. IBM seems to lead all companies in patents every year and I was encouraged to take every innovative idea and check out whether it was patentable. Smarter people than me checked all seven million of those clever ideas and six actually survived.

In one of the many videos on your site you say that the secret to internet marketing is pretending not to know anything, since the market is always changing. That’s a very Zen statement. How did that thought process come about?

It’s easier than you think because I truly don’t know anything, so I can pull it off without actually pretending. Appropriately enough, I don’t really know what Zen is either, so I will have to skip that part of the question, but I can tell you why the idea is important. If you ever think that you know everything about digital marketing, just wait ten minutes and something will change–something new will come in or something you thought you knew will be wrong. You can’t afford to think you know what you are doing–everything you believe must be tested every day. The technology is changing, your customers are changing, and your competitors are changing. The day you think you know everything, retire. Or start picking stocks. Or both.

In the same video there’s footage of you stressing the point of high quality content. Do you feel like this is one the keys to internet marketing that perhaps people aren’t getting?

I think people are starting to get it but only because they are running out of alternatives. For too long, we’ve treated marketing as some kind of parlor trick where the smartest person fools the most customers, but social media makes every person a watchdog–and technologies can ferret out poor quality better than ever–so we all might just need to provide quality to our customers as a last resort.

Again, in the same video you note how you enjoy it when people ask you questions. Are there any questions you’ve had that have genuinely surprised you or left you stumped?

This one.

With a background as extensive as yours, we can imagine that you’re asked to speak to a diverse range of clients. Are there any in particular that stand out to you? Anything weird you’ve been asked to speak about?

I’ve been asked to speak about many weird things, but let’s leave my private life out of this. But in business, whenever I am asked to speak about something that seems unusual, it is typically more a commentary on my ignorance than the client’s request. I remember once being asked to speak about innovation to the long-haul trucking industry and my first (ignorant) thought was, “What could be so innovative about trucking?” Luckily I decided to go to the conference the day before my talk to look around and I was floored by the amount of innovation for everything from automated inventory tracking to reducing pollution and fuel usage (by focusing on how long trucks idle and which routes they take). And I saw truck cabin dashboards that looked like they were designed by NASA. Whenever I think someone has a weird request, I know that I am about to learn a lot and shatter my preconceived notions. (For some reason, I never have post-conceived notions…)

You very matter-of-factly state on your site’s digital marketing page that “material can’t help but become outdated,” even noting your own books as an example. That said, are there any things you believe have remained constant when it comes to digital marketing?

Oh sure. In fact most of the precepts of offline marketing still hold true for online marketing. Marketing (online, offline, or right down the middle of the line) is always going to be about targeting the right audience for your offering, understanding what that audience needs, persuading them that you have it, and getting it to them. What’s different is how you do it–that undergoes constant change. But if you follow the advice in my book to “do it wrong quickly” by trying experiments and seeing how customers react, you can eventually develop exactly what the customer wants. When you listen to customers, it is amazing how fast you can look like a genius.

Speaking of your books, your site notes that you update Search Engine Marketing, Inc. on each subsequent printing. Is there ever a conscious decision made to issue a new printing when enough changes have occurred in the industry? How is out of date information brought to your attention?

Nope. It’s the Doritos approach. When the publisher runs out, we make more. Each time we make more, we update them with the latest. Sometimes people tell us when things are out of date, but when you work on these things every day, you know what is changing in the industry. My co-author, Bill Hunt, and I keep running lists of things that need attention in the book for each printing, and every few years we rip the cover off and do a full-blown new edition. (Nothing ever seems to be half-blown, though, so not sure why I said that.)

On a similar topic, what do you feel have been the biggest changes, good and bad, to internet marketing during your career?

I am older than dirt, so you won’t have enough room for a complete answer to that question. To me, the biggest positive changes have revolved around a constant drive to higher quality and more ethical marketing, driven both by technology that more accurately recognizes quality and by tremendous social participation by ordinary folks. The biggest negative change is that we are afraid to take any time off nowadays because something will happen and we need to respond. I think that when we learn to use technology instead of technology using us, we will all be better off. [Full disclosure: I am writing this answer Sunday night at 1 am.]

Finally, with the decades of experience and huge list of impressive achievements you have to your name, have you ever felt like answering questions from difficult clients simply with “I’m Mike Moran” or something similar?

I already admitted that I am old, so you don’t need to rub it in. I was a Distinguished Engineer before I retired from IBM (my wife says that now I am an Extinguished Engineer), so that seems to impress some people. But the truth is that the only time that I answered a difficult client with the simple answer “I’m Mike Moran” is when one of them gave me a puzzled look and asked, “Who are you again?”

To find more from Mike, we advise you to check out his own website. Where you can find videos, articles and musings from Mike on all things to do with digital marketting. He also frequently contributes to the Biznology blog and he literally helped write the book on search engine marketting.