Interview With Sameet Durg

The old days of Madison Avenue’s spray-and-pray approach has given way to a much more sophisticated strategy that places measurable insights and precise data at the forefront of the marketing sphere.

Today, digital platforms can deliver in real-time, allowing marketers to fine tune their efforts and adjust their responses in a nimble fashion. However, the digital landscape is also filled with noise, competition, and endless data points that can easily convolute the customer experience. While very lucrative, digital can often be incredibly volatile

Between the growth of the digital-first environment, COVID-19, the 2020 election cycle, and a slew of antitrust and privacy concerns among digital platforms, 2020 was a defining moment for digital marketing. That’s why we decided to sit down with Sameet Durg, GeistM’s Co-Founder & President, to discuss how GeistM has positioned itself in the digital world, the current state of digital marketing, and what differentiates it from your traditional advertising agency.

GeistM has seen exponential growth over the last several years. What do you attribute to this growth?

"There’s a lot of factors that we consider when talking about our growth. The main factor is that we have evolved every month with the market and our clients needs. We have never stayed stagnant - We’ve never invested too heavily in one thing and have been able to stay very flexible. There are two core principles that we care about. The first is high-touch 24/7 service and making sure that our clients have what they need on command. The second thing is continuously improving our technology and proprietary processes. If we remain stagnant, the market will lap us and we won’t have a competitive advantage. Sure, our content is our bread and butter, but that’s also what has allowed us to invest in the new up-and-coming ways of reaching the customer."

Can you give an example of how you’ve been able to adapt?

"Absolutely! At one point, there were lengthy discussions on whether to invest in a studio for creative purposes. We were asking ourselves if we really needed to go all out on rich media - we knew we had to up our game in creatives - our clients were curious about it and wanted it. When analyzing our data, we saw greater performance from user generated creatives vs. studio. Instead of trying to fast follow competitors, we focused on performance - So we took the approach of creating more user generated content. One of our core beliefs is that people want to see authenticity. They don’t want studio quality doctored videos, they just want to see what somebody their age/demo/etc is doing. For example, with a product like Proactiv, let’s say you get a Beyonce to advertise your product. Sure, she’s recognizable and build’s credibility, but everyone knows that Beyonce would never use Proactiv. It’s in this vein that GeistM excels. Obviously, UGC is mainstream now and moving forward we plan on offering more technology-enabled services around creatives so we can provide our clients with the best-in-class experience possible. Stay tuned!"

How do you think COVID-19 has changed the digital marketing landscape?

"When COVID first started, nobody knew what to expect. Most clients decided to pause and wait it out. In our case, we’ve seen a massive boom in our business two months into COVID because we’ve noticed that many companies have gone from waiting to adapting. They’ve adapted their product offerings and their marketing to be digital first. This was a fantastic opportunity for Geist because we were able to reach unique customers for their business to harness that buyer intent. We’re seeing way more digital first and more service offerings, but most importantly you’re having all of these Fortune 500 companies coming out of the woodwork telling us that they can’t advertise on billboards or at events so we need to figure out how to allocate this budget to digital."

How has GeistM minimized the repercussions of COVID-19?

"Our business is very resistant to COVID. I mean if you’re a digital first business, then you’re prepared to weather this storm. I think the second thing to bring up was that we use a network agnostic approach to how we go to market. We are not married to Facebook or Google. We have content and other processes to reach the customer that enables us to teach our clients how their marketing mix needs to be constructed. It’s the combination of this network agnostic approach and our content that allows us to be incredibly nimble with our clients. Moreover, COVID has made us much more aware of how we spend our budget and has forced us to narrow our focus on the areas of our business that really matter.

How has the election influenced digital advertising and has it impacted GeistM efforts In any way?

"It’s sort of a crazy storm of events. This was definitely a crazy election cycle for a number of reasons. But we saw more political spend on Facebook and Google than ever before. Compounded by COVID, these campaigns couldn’t rely on fundraisers and in-person events. So instead they spent millions of dollars on digital. Then combine that with increased demand from users on platforms like Facebook talking about these events and you’ll find that the level of investment outpaces the demand for ad space. So we saw CPCs and CPMs climb to levels that we did not expect. Generally, in Q4 you have an increase in rates, but I was surprised by how much the dollars of investment increased the rates across the board because I thought the demand would most likely off-set that. But they just had no other way to invest their dollars so it just became even more competitive than it would have been otherwise. In terms of how it impacted us as a business, we’ve had to pay more for customers, but our conversion rates improved, so we’re still thriving for the rest of Q4."

There are numerous digital privacy initiatives being pushed by legislators and big tech, including the recently passed proposition 24 in California, Apple’s IOS 14, Facebook’s decision to phase out 28-day attribution, and the third-party cookie crisis. Is GeistM prepared for these changes? What measures are we taking to ensure that we will still be able to offer value for our clients?

"I’m not too worried about these privacy concerns when you look at areas like California because GeistM is very good at prospecting for new customers for our clients. I think that some of our clients that do heavy retargeting are going to have some challenges that we can help alleviate with our channels. I see this as an opportunity for Geist. Now the one concern that we are innovating around is the cookie crisis. That is something that I think most marketers don’t truly understand, but it really just means that you won’t be able to track your conversions and your sales as you used to before. I don’t think people realize what is coming. If you can’t track your sales, how are you going to make decisions moving forward?

So at Geist, our CTO Michael Sprague and our team have been working on patented ways to try and address this problem. I don’t want to reveal too much since we’re still in the alpha phase, but let’s just say that we have ways through our Blackfire technology that we have innovated to give our clients visibility into how their audiences and channels are performing. I want to really implore clients to talk to us about how to address this problem because we’re going to be at the forefront of this."

What’s next for GeistM? What plans do you have for the company over the next 12 months?

"Our vision is to be a marketing technology company that is able to acquire customers profitably for our clients and provide insights in order for them to make better marketing investment decisions at high velocity. If we can do those two things as a company, we are going to be around for a long time. Now how we execute on that varies, but one of the things that we’re currently doing is expanding into new areas like OTT - the Hulu’s of the world, but also investing in some smaller tier applications like the CBS or FOX streaming app. Whatever the channel may be, it’s going to have a digital app and so many people are consuming content in that way that it makes it a great core enhancer for our business. We want to continue to expand our search and Google efforts. We’ve already done that from stand-still to a seven figure business in less than 12 months and we plan on expanding it to an eight figure business by next year. We’re also looking at really getting into email just to really close that attribution funnel. We have our core and now we’re just trying to control everything so we can help our clients become much more efficient with their marketing spend.

The next S-Curve for Geist will be linked to Blackfire. Our Blackfire technology is currently in beta and we’re planning on releasing it next year with the intention of giving deep data insights to our clients around their market and aggregating data from their networks, internal GA, and much more to show them some of the click path and attribution analytics. Not just a report, but giving them actionable insights. For example, let’s say we see 100 of your customers click on an Outbrain ad, but then 90 of them converted via Google. So instead of investing more in Google you should invest more in Outbrain. Or maybe Facebook is a great capture tool for customers who click first on Outbrain and then come to Facebook, but you wouldn’t have found these customers if you weren’t on Outbrain to begin with. I think everything with digital marketing is very one-to-one right now and people have yet to figure this out. Our technology will be able to solve these problems with marketing investment decision making."

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