By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: . You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Creative Series: Mark Hughes, Oodle: Show Notes & Transcript

Post | May 07, 2024

Welcome back to Marketing Smarts! From brand-building and marketing veterans Anne Candido and April Martini (that’s us) comes a podcast committed to cutting through all the confusing marketing BS so you can actually understand how to take action and change your business today. We deep-dive into topics most would gloss-over, infusing real-world examples from our combined 35+ years of corporate and agency experience. We tell it how it is so whether you are just starting out or have been in business awhile, you have the Marketing Smarts to immediately impact your business.

In this episode, we continue our Creative Series with Mark Hughes. Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and your other favorite podcast spots – follow and leave a 5-star review if you’re exercising your Marketing Smarts!

  • Episode Summary & Player
  • Show Notes
  • Marketing Smarts Summary
  • Transcript

Marketing Smarts: Creative Series: Mark Hughes

In this episode, we continue our Creative Series, focused on the issues facing creative agencies today and how they need to evolve to stay relevant. Our 5th special guest is Mark Hughes, Partner and Chief Strategy Officer of Oodle. They’re a digital marketing agency that creates captivating experiences to help brands stand out and drive results. Hear whether to start with brand or digital, how to qualify a great digital agency, how search is changing, how to brainstorm with AI (Artificial Intelligence), and what types of agencies will survive in the era of AI. This episode covers everything from digital marketing to AI. Here’s a small sample of what you will hear in this episode:

  • Does the user or creative guide the journey?
  • Is digital its own thing or part of an overall campaign?
  • How do you decide what content to put out there?
  • Do Google Ads actually work?
  • How do you keep up with digital trends?
  • What does good creative actually look like?
  • Who will survive in the world of AI?
  • Quick-Fire: Fly or drive on vacation?

And as always, if you need help in building your Marketing Smarts, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at:

Check out the episode, show notes, and transcript below:

Show Notes

  • Creative Series: Mark Hughes
    • [0:32] Welcome to Marketing Smarts
    • [0:34] Anne Candido, April Martini
    • [0:56] Connect with Mark at and on LinkedIn
    • [2:24] What is his background?
    • [4:05] How has the agency world changed over the years?
    • [6:54] Does the user or creative guide the journey?
    • [8:24] AdTech (Advertising Technology)
    • [9:21] Is digital its own thing or part of an overall campaign?
    • [12:19] Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok
    • [13:24] How should clients think about digital?
    • [14:31] CMO (Chief Marketing Officer)
    • [15:20] Focus Group
    • [16:02] Gantt Chart
    • [17:22] How do you decide what content to put out there?
    • [24:05] How strategic is digital?
    • [25:35] CPM (Cost Per Thousand)
    • [27:08] Do Google Ads actually work?
    • [28:19] Vaporware
    • [30:08] AI (Artificial Intelligence), Microsoft Copilot, YouTube, Google
    • [31:48] We’d like to invite you to join ForthRight Women: The Cohort. This community is for females who are ambitious in their careers, but want an equally fulfilling personal life. For more information and to join the group, check out
    • [33:08] How do you keep up with digital trends?
    • [35:04] Sam Altman
    • [37:12] What does good creative actually look like?
    • [43:01] Who will survive in the world of AI?
    • [43:56] Cookies
    • [45:04] DoorDash
    • [45:34] CRM (Customer Relationship Management)
    • [46:48] What are the watchouts with AI?
    • [48:18] What advice does Mark have for young marketing professionals?
    • Quick-Fire Questions
    • [49:53] How does Mark drink his coffee?
    • [50:26] What’s his definition of a great day?
    • [50:48] Fly or drive on vacation?
    • [51:11] Connect with Mark at and on LinkedIn
    • [52:08] Make sure to follow Marketing Smarts on your favorite podcast spot and leave us a 5-star review on Apple Podcasts
    • [52:12] Learn more at and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn
    • [52:19] Sign up to view all the ForthRight worksheets & tips for FREE!
    • [52:25] Shop our Virtual Consultancy

What is Marketing Smarts?

From brand-building and marketing veterans Anne Candido and April Martini comes a podcast committed to cutting through all the confusing marketing BS so you can actually understand how to take action and change your business today. They deep-dive into topics most would gloss-over, infusing real-world examples from their combined 35+ years of corporate and agency experience. They tell it how it is so whether you are just starting out or have been in business awhile, you have the Marketing Smarts to immediately impact your business.

How do I exercise my Marketing Smarts?

Thanks for listening to Marketing Smarts. Get in touch here to become a savvier marketer. 


Please note: this transcript is not 100% accurate.

Mark Hughes 0:00
I think most digital marketers have forgotten how important brand is.

Anne Candido 0:06
This is Marketing Smarts – a podcast committed to helping you become a savvier marketing leader, no matter your level. In each episode, we will dive into a relevant topic or challenge that marketing leaders are currently facing. We will also give you practical tools and applications that will help you put what you learn into practice today. And if you missed anything, don’t worry. We put worksheets on our website that summarize the key points now. Let’s get to it.

April Martini 0:32
Welcome to Marketing Smarts!

Anne Candido 0:34
I am Anne Candido,

April Martini 0:36
And I am April Martini, and today we’re continuing our Marketing Smarts miniseries all around the topic of the issues facing creative agencies today, and how they need to evolve to stay relevant. This series brings together folks from both agency and corporate that all have different POVs on this topic, but are all experienced practitioners and thought leaders with decades of experience. Today we welcome special guests Mark Hughes, founder and partner at Oodle, a Cincinnati-based digital company that through strategy, technology, and creative they empower brands to inspire and connect with people. Having started out building websites in 1999. Mark’s career has found its way back to digital with Udall and he has over 20 years of experience in this space. In this episode, specifically, our discussion covers everything from whether Google Ads really work. Spoiler alert, it depends one of our favorite phrases, to the undisputed role of brand as a foundation in the digital space. Even in short term content based situations. We stress the importance of what a digital team means versus what a digital guy or girl in quotes implies. And the limitations of this approach, as well as the willingness of clients more and more to be scrum like meaning that they’re more nimble than they’ve ever been in the past. The emphasis on AI came from its use as a tool versus the be all end all future solution to everything and digital. And it’s not unsurprising that my favorite part of the discussion delved into how digital marketers get themselves in trouble when they forget the power of brand. And its overall stopping power, as well as its ability to drive cost down and delivery up speaking my language, of course. And with that, we will get into the issues facing creative agencies today and how they need to evolve to stay relevant. Mark, we’re so excited to have you please introduce yourself and welcome.

Mark Hughes 2:17
Well, thank you guys for having me. I’m Mark Hughes. I’m one of the founding partners of Oodle, a digital agency based in Cincinnati started in 2009. So I’ve been in the industry for quite a while. But my first website in 1999. So that is a long time ago. And that’s when you know era was was in full swing bubble was also shortly right behind them. And now it was really interesting walking around and trying to sell local businesses websites, because no one really knew what the internet was outside of like using Yahoo at the time. So like, why won’t you to websites won’t because your customers will find you they’re my customers call me they don’t need to go to a website. So that changed that context to today. And you know, upwards of 80% of mobile traffic or traffic is through a mobile mobile device to a website. So very different dynamics in terms of the world then and now. So that’s my quick bio.

April Martini 3:12
Awesome. So obviously, for those of you listening, we’ve invited mark to be the very digitally centric perspective on where creative agencies are and where they are going. As all of you know, by now, this has been a good part of subset, I guess, of the conversations we’ve been having. So it’ll be really good to get your perspective with those very early moments dipping your toe in when no one else was to where we are now. And all the things we’re seeing in digital. So with that you been in the creative industry for I’m trying to do quick math, well, almost 20 years. Let’s just say that.

Mark Hughes 3:46
Yeah. So if you take my, my stint in 1999, and then my, you know, my absence for however many years and into the corporate world, and then starting little one in 2009. Yeah, we’ll call it we’ll call it 20. Yes,

April Martini 4:00
so it’s so anyway, 20 Plus, you know, we don’t want to age too much in defense. So there we go. But really, you know, you started down this path, but take us through your journey over the years, and really with that lens of what you’ve seen, from the industry perspective, how it’s evolved, because I think that’ll be kind of the starting point for the rest of what we talked about today. Google

Mark Hughes 4:21
started in 2009. And it started in was born from this interest in technology and consumer journeys and all the different things that you learn as part of an early stage marketing career, went to the corporate world and you know, came back together with my my then partners and said, You know what, I’m bored of the corporate world, but start something, let’s let’s get this entrepreneurial bug out of our system and start something and we’re like, Well, I know let’s start a website agency. And we had no business at all. Being in that business. We had no agency background, we had no clients. We really didn’t even know what we were doing outside of we had a passion and had a grit about how we were doing things and we understood business that was really it. And so you know, when I think about the creative lens from that point in time, what we were recognizing was not really a creative, dynamic or a creative need. We were understanding business needs at that time. And then trying to apply a marketing and creative lens on top of that to say, what would a really great user experience for a website do for this business or for this nonprofit organization, or whoever we’re working with the time. So with that lens, we then we then started understanding and realizing you know, what, there’s a lot of disconnection between a customer’s journey and the creative they see across this entire landscape that is digital. When you think about a website, when you think about front end portal, back end portal, you think about, you know, the evolution of social and social use to be still in entry. Now, it’s evolved very, very heavily towards short form video content. And so that that evolution needed some additional help, and some additional layers, and no one we thought it was doing extremely well, and really figuring it out how to do it. And so over the course of time, we added a social component to the work we were doing, we added full blown creative to what we were doing to support a lot of that social, and quick form, shoot video content development and editing. We added paid media, and we added the analytics and technical side of all of that short story of all this is that I think about creative and a lens that is not just creative, it’s the it’s the it’s the entire customer journey that is digital, when I think about creative and how it impacts that customer’s journey. So rambling a bit. But that’s, that’s the evolution I saw from for starting the business until, until now, big picture. It’s

Anne Candido 6:41
an interesting conversation, because digital was new, you know, when you basically started the game, and it’s feels like, or maybe I’ll ask the question, and this is like, is it the cart or the horse? You know, when we talk about the the consumer journey, or the customer journey, or the user journey or the user experience? How much of it? Is the user defining the experience? And how much of it is the actual technology or the quote unquote, creative or the opportunity defining the journey?

Mark Hughes 7:14
Hmm, that’s a really interesting way to frame that question. And I would say, in some cases, the tail wags the dog, and in other cases, the dog wags the tail. And in that, you have to know the parameters in which you play in in the mediums in which you’re trying to reach your target audience. So in other words, if you’re using a platform, either the Meta’s platform, Facebook or Instagram, you have to know the confines and what you can play. What am I targeting capabilities? What are what are the algorithms preferring at any given point in time? How does that translate to content and shareability, and virality, and all those different things and so that, that influences backwards, the creative side of what would get someone to react to this based on the confines that I have put in front of me, it’s not dissimilar to old school TV media, right? So they gave you a, you know, you could either choose a 5, 10, 15, or 30-second spot, and you had to tell your message, but then whatever you bought, right, it’s no different than that. It’s just much more complex, because the options are near and limitless. And it’s across so many varying perspectives and platforms that it’s really hard to understand what ad tech performs well, it doesn’t what’s vaporware, what’s not. And so you know, you can have a great campaign internally, I’ve told my team very often you can have a great campaign that’s ruined by bad data. Because when you’re showing your client, the data is pointing to red and green arrows. And you have this short term emphasis on results, that ruins a long term brand campaign as an example, because you’re trying to drive conversions, when really that wasn’t the purpose of the campaign from the start. So it’s this song and dance, you have to have this deep understanding of the technology, but also this deep understanding of the customer journey to marry those two together to get the right outcomes. I know that that’s sort of a nebulous way to answer that question, but it’s hard as far to give you a very, very strict this is exactly how it works answer.

Anne Candido 9:12
Well, I think if I could just build on that question. And the reason why I was asking that question is because it’s, as we think about the immersion of digital and how it’s become almost a practice of itself. One of the questions I was trying to kind of rectify my head, or one of the positions during our trip on my head is, is digital part of something bigger, or as digital evolved to be something on its own now. So when you’re talking about marketing campaigns, or you’re talking about any kind of execution, do you still see digital as part of the overall puzzle like a piece of the overall puzzle? Or are you kind of saying now digital is like, this is nothing that we go do?

Mark Hughes 9:52
I’ll say there are two camps of brands. There are brands that understand the deep dynamic of brand development and they’ve put A lot of energy and long term emphasis on creating that brand over a period of time, and may execute digital as a as an additional practice on top of that, for brands that are in the defend stage or in the growth stage. So at Google, we have kind of four stages, we define brands, and it’s build, grow, transform, protect, for brands that are in the build, or in the transform stage, they’re going to look at it differently. But brands that are in the grow and protect stage, I think you’re going to think mostly digital first today, because it’s the highest value are as the highest amount of ROI that you can expect from most marketing activation. And because of that, what we found is that most most of the brands that we work with think about digital first, not second. And so they’ll think about even as part of the idea development, they’ll think about the activation side, closer to the digital lens than what we’ve seen historically. So I’ll give you a short story. So we worked with, I’ll call it a large hotdog company, for lack of a better phrase, that may or may not have something to do with a hotdog eating contest a long, long time ago. And so, you know, in that era, circa 2017, there was a deep emphasis on on big idea development and big idea in mass media. And it didn’t translate super well to how we activated some of these things digitally, because it wasn’t thought of as part of the shoot process. And so we had to really evolve how we worked with this client so that when we were doing shoots, that we had someone from the digital team on site to be able to understand this lens doesn’t work, a wide lens doesn’t work for a square box, it just doesn’t you can’t reframe that shot in a way that works in that digital dynamic. And so I think most organizations have evolved to get better at that. But I still think there’s a bit of misunderstanding for you can’t just use these assets in the same way as across these various platforms. Because you can tell, you can tell when you have, you know, posted the exact same content with no editing or very minimal editing on Facebook, and LinkedIn, and Tik Tok and on, you know, Insta, it’s just you can tell, it’s very quickly apparent. So the brands that do it really well understand the tone and the tonality of the users across those platforms. And how those, those various challenger groups, as we like to call them, can consume that brand content differently.

April Martini 12:28
It’s interesting, and this will be great, I think, for the conversation. And what we really wanted you to provide is kind of the lens of what you just did, which is the ones that start with brand versus the ones that start with digital. I mean, from where Anna and I sit. I mean, our business is founded on solving business problems through brand, right, so our foundational belief is that and the clients we serve are the ones that are more in that brand space, or the ones that we can convince that right? That that’s the starting point for everything. And that should be the foundation and without that you quote unquote, watered down your experience potentially, or you make it very fragmented, because or you’re not connecting with the right people, all of the symptoms that we see occur when that is not the case. So my question coming out of all the things you just said is what is the perspective on how those clients do because I think the fact that you have the purview of both the ones that leave with brand, and the ones that lead with digital? What are the maybe pros and cons of each approach? Or can they even be compared? Are they apples and oranges? And you know, our our immediate response is always like digital is a tool, right? It’s one of the things we can utilize. But until we have the brand strategy, we’re not there on how do you choose the channel? What should you be shooting what you all of those types of things. So I would just love your perspective there and working on kind of both sides are

Mark Hughes 13:50
brands that have the luxury of of going through that process and doing it the quote unquote, right way. That’s still my advice is brand first. You’re right, the digital lens is an activation lens, it’s how you amplify your brand message or your overall, you know, your your reasons to believe any of those sorts of things that you’re trying to get across as part of your brand messaging. However, most of the organizations that I found, they’re under tremendous pressure from their leadership, whether that’s their you know, their board on the president and pushes on CMOs and so it falls flows downhill, right. And so most often what we hear and what we would discover is that organizations are no longer patient enough to get through that entire brand strategy process. They can be if it’s like a new product development from end to end, and they’ve gone through this massive iteration cycle with you know, focus groups and all these different these different things that were norms 10 years ago in marketing and now they’re they’re much fewer and further between than they used to be. Instead what brands are looking to do is try to get messaging and market get an understanding in real time. I’m what’s resonating with with the user and what’s not, and then work backwards into brand development, a brand foundation. So they’re almost using advertising and marketing as a way to focus group and audience set by way of paying to play and saying what’s clicking what’s not. And so some organizations I know have rolled out not not what we could do. But unlike the rapid prototyping development of products in general, similar idea of how do we get this thing into the proverbial hands of users as quickly as possible and see what sticks. And if it doesn’t stick, then we know we need to pivot and go a different direction or slightly teeter this way. Most organizations end up in the same place, the roadmap is just different than how to get there, they ended up with brand guidelines, they end up with a big idea, they end up with a foundational plan to execute in market, they end up with personas and buyer journeys, is just what comes how do you gather that info? And how do you? How do you put it together? Does it come in a very linear, Gantt chart, waterfall process? Or is it much more scrum like, and what we found is that organizations are much more willing to be nimble today than ever, about being much more scrum like, get this in market, see how it sticks, get this in market, see how it sticks? Come back together? Let’s brainstorm the the idea and then kind of rinse and repeat that cycle? Is

Anne Candido 16:22
it okay, if I push on this a little bit? Because it’s absolutely it’s a very interesting conversation about thinking about it from the flip side. And I just want to seek to understand a little bit then of how you would approach it. Because my first question would be, and we totally agree with testing and learning to and that’s that’s the number one way to learn in digital. But without having some sort of brand foundation by which to go test and learn against how do you choose what you’re going to go, what kind of content you gonna put out there, or what you’re going to actually make, because it feels a little bit and I think this is where we tend to see some of our clients start to get frustrated is they try like, all these like random things that feels like everybody else is trying or that they like because somebody thinks that they’re the consumer. And so they’re going to put out something that they like, and then nothing works. So I’m sure that’s not your process. I’m sure you have a much more methodical process for how to do that. But I just want to make sure that people are hearing it within that context. Because it’d be would you agree that you do have to have some sort of level of foundation? Or maybe I’ll just ask them more general sense? How do you help them then choose what content to put out there where to start?

Mark Hughes 17:36
Well, I’ll say it like this, most organizations, well, Google, in particular, we will never put together an activation campaign without having some level of brand Foundation. And that usually doesn’t come at least for us in the form of very detailed brand guidelines. They’re usually like some loose brand guidelines. Got it some loose understanding of a customer set or a persona set. And then we will take all of those things that we already know because very few brands don’t have something like that. And then apply a digital lens to it with some some challenge or group. realignments based on what we know about how these guys overlap in terms of category. Because in digital, you can’t, you don’t necessarily want to get as finite as you know, as you would in persona development, you want to be able to target those more broadly and hit both in the same sort of messaging lens, you always build on what’s already there. Right? So we’re we end up creating something that we haven’t as an alignment tool, both with our client to say, these are the Challenger groups. This is the brand messaging overall, this is the overall look and feel of what we’re going to market with. So it’s, it’s brand light, in that sense, while we work towards the bigger picture, brand development as it’s necessary. And sometimes that’s not even our lane just for full transparency. We partner with other organizations, maybe even much like yourself that have a much deeper lens and a much deeper understanding of the brand development side. And even into the packaging design side. That’s not something that we plan as either.

April Martini 19:10
Yeah, well, first of all, I mean, you and I have had these conversations Mark about there being enough work for everybody and all of us being the best in our lane. And those of us that stay at what we’re good at and admit what we’re not are the ones that succeed. So I can appreciate that side of things and that lens but also I think what you’re saying is not so different from often how and and I operate. And this goes to some of the bigger conversations we’ve been having. And I think a lot of the reason why we’re in the situation has to do with the digital landscape and how far that’s come. But very rarely anymore, especially where we focus with our clients, which is small to mid size b2b service based and philanthropic similar to what you were saying they don’t have the patience the budget or the time And quite frankly, to do the big brand exercise, right? So I would argue the way that’s defined from the past, you only get a handful those anymore, right? Yes, I agree. And so often what is happening is we are also coming in. And our goal and our discussion with our clients is first, you must have input in the areas you outlined, right? Like, we have to understand where the business is, where the brand is, who you compete with, loosely who else is in the category, especially in the digital landscape of all the people we compete with, and who you’re targeting. Now, that doesn’t look like a polished 150 Page Brand Book anymore. More often than not, it is here, we have this document and this document and whatever. And so I think our processes are similar and that we make sure that there’s enough there to feel confident that we can build whatever the next steps are, whether that’s digitally focused, or print or whatever else we’re doing, with then some real time test and learning, because that’s a great way to figure out if you’re on track. But I’m happy to hear that you don’t start with nothing, because that might be a very different conversation.

Mark Hughes 21:14
No, absolutely not.

April Martini 21:15
Yeah, so what you’re hearing us all say is there needs to be some of that foundation across the board. It’s just the depth and breadth by which you have it to start from. And then it’s optimizing as you go through the process. It

Mark Hughes 21:27
may just be the the organizations that we tend to work with as well. But we rarely work with the client that doesn’t have something already in market, right, most of the clients that we’re working with already have a campaign that we’re taking over, or that we’re you know, being charged to optimize or being charged to enhance in some way we call that keep the lights on. And so while we’re going through some of this discovery process behind the scenes, and trying to really better understand what’s how we can amp up what foundation is already there, what already exists, what can we build on what do we need to do from scratch, and build that work that roadmap, usually a multi year journey in our in our case of where we’re trying to go versus where we are now? What do we have to have in market so that you can have at least some level of results today, it’s not throwing good money after bad necessarily, it’s it’s creating eyeballs, and optimizing as best we can so that a brand can achieve today’s results while understanding they need to move their vision to tomorrow. I

Anne Candido 22:24
hope everybody is hearing it from this conversation, that digital is very strategic, because I think what’s tends to happen and you kind of set this up is that people are looking for the short term wins mark, right. And so they see digital as a way to deliver on short term wins. And when you have that mentality, a lot of quote unquote agencies take advantage of that by offering some specific level of execution, that they feel that they can apply to anybody. And then they’re going to be able to deliver whatever that client is looking for through their quote unquote, proprietary like, I can get 20,000 eyeballs on this, and I’m going to deliver you 10,000 leads on this in a week kind of thing, right? And so there’s an element and I want people to hear this. What a strong digital agency, does the processes the strategy, the intention, that they’re going through the spin the method in my madness of asking these questions, which is like there is thought that goes through this. So I like to hear from you too, like, how do you qualify for a really good digital agency. This is I’m kind of speaking from on behalf of other clients and in the room. Because I feel like a lot of the clients get kind of lulled into thinking that they can buy this quote unquote, little like, quick trick kind of thing, generate something that looks like success, but then it kind of all falls apart in the end.

Mark Hughes 24:00
Yes, digital is incredibly strategic. And it starts with understanding all the same things that we would all all as marketers want to understand about your audience that in some way, shape or form, then you layer in, where are those individuals speaking online and interacting online? And then you will Aryan? What’s the best way to measure this. So you have a measurement strategy and an analytic strategy. Those two things are different. And often organizations look at those things together, that goes back to that whole green arrow, red arrow thing I was talking about. In digital, I’ll tell my team all the time, and they’ll roll their eyes when they listen to this. If it moves, you can measure it. But it doesn’t mean it’s important. Doesn’t mean it’s valuable, or meaningful. If you have if you want to tell a story. I can tell you a green arrow story all day. But it doesn’t mean it’s the right story. Right? It doesn’t mean it’s actually going to move move the needle on your business. There are so many other factors to take into consideration that you would in any other brand strategy right so seasonality competitive landscape, buying dynamics in digital, one of the things that a lot of I think agencies and clients don’t really understand is that you’re not competing against your competitors as much as you think you are. You’re competing against anyone who wants to target that person in that group. Yep. And so as advertising over the last three years, all datasets say that everything has gotten far more expensive, because brands that traditionally have not been in the traditional in the digital landscape, have adopted the digital landscape. And so if you used to buy, you know, an ad for whatever, I don’t know, two bucks CPM, now it’s for. And so everyone’s looking at digital agencies like, Well, why is my advertising so much more expensive now, and they’re not understanding or able to tell the story around the market dynamics that are happening behind the scenes that are influencing the overall results? So I say that as a story to say, like, there’s a lot that you can measure, but it doesn’t mean it’s meaningful word and tells the right data story to how your campaigns are performing. Does that answer your question?

Anne Candido 26:02
Yeah, I think so. Because I think it’s in as much as what you’re saying is how you’re saying it. And so I think it’s really important for people to hear how people who are really, really good at digital, and they do this as a practice day in and day out how they think about it, compared to some other agency who says, Hey, I have a digital guy, you know, our girl that does digital, you know, and so I want people to hear that this is a practice, this is a subject that you have to live in, day in and day out and understand the analytics and understand how the elements tie back to the decision that you made, and understand how everything works. Because all the questions that people get, like you said, there’s so many choices that the questions are endless, as well as like, What channels do you choose? And how do I know that it’s working? And so you have to have somebody that’s actually really in it to be able to answer those with some level of authority and credibility. But before I turn this back over to April, to ask a question, I have to ask, because this is what everybody’s asking us. Do Google ads actually work?

April Martini 27:05
Well, a bit of a pivot, but it is irrelevant.

Anne Candido 27:07
But it goes to the thought process of like, you know, asking somebody who actually know something. And I know you’re going to tell me it depends. But that’s fine. You could tell me it depends. But you could contextualize why it depends.

Mark Hughes 27:20
So I’ll first build on your last question and answer by saying, I think it’s really important for people to understand that when you have a digital guy, that’s not an agency, right? An agency that specializes in digital has people that are dedicated to their craft, you have someone that’s on Facebook all day, every day, someone that’s on tick tock all day, every day, someone that’s still running influencer, someone that’s running YouTube, someone who’s running paid search someone that’s understanding the dynamic of what’s coming out in the innovation space, but things like AI, someone who understands deeply the web engine and how user experience on a website generates conversions or doesn’t someone that understands Amazon, or any other retail platforms, and how all those things work. That is a very different landscape, there are literally 10s of 1000s of ad tech products that are on the marketplace. And just martech ad tech, both of them together that you can choose from as marketers in the digital landscape. Most of them are vaporware. So understanding that, and how to how to slice and dice through this stuff. So you’re not accidentally spending your clients money, or you’re advising your client to defend them against spending unnecessary money on things that just aren’t aren’t going to move the needle. So secondary questions sorry, I had to had to draw. The secondary question that you asked was do Google Ads work? My paid search director is going to he’s going to cringe when I answered this. So it does depend, you are correct. And it’s very contextual. Google ads are the lowest end of the funnel. So if you’re trying to convert, yes, Google Ads work. So you want someone to go through click do a Form Fill, or you want someone to buy a product, or you want someone to go to a page, so you can retarget them for a longer, longer tail marketing cycle? Yes, they work. They do drive traffic, they do drive conversions. I’d say most agencies do that incorrectly. Because they’re not leveraging high level ad tech. They’re using products that require humans to actually do the the automation, I’m sorry, I do the the optimization of all these things. Whereas there is ad tech that exists behind the scenes with agencies like Google or who use things like search ads 360 as a way to dynamically optimize those things based on machine learning and algorithms. That’s a very different outcome than if you have a human going in once a week and adjusting your ads. And that’s it. That’s all that’s all that happens behind the scenes. There’s no There’s no cell optimization. I would also say searches change. teaching in a big way, AI is changing search in a huge way, because now you have search engines that were largely irrelevant. And from Microsoft, as an example, that have copilot added to Microsoft Edge, which is one of the leading one of the leading browsers in the market. With copilot, you can leverage chat GPT for and find an answer to whatever you have, or for whatever you’re looking for, without actually seeing search results at all. It just tells you the answer. And so that’s changing the dynamic of how search works. Simultaneously, you have YouTube as the number two search engine on the planet, at least historically, that you know, this was my data set may be slightly old at this point. But it’s been number two. And there’s more content uploaded to YouTube every day than existed yesterday. Like in totality. It’s it’s a nutty statistic to think about how much content volume is out there. And then you have tick tock that’s somewhere in that mix. And depending on how you look at the datasets, it actually rivals or beats Google in terms of the number one search engine that’s out there, depending on how you define search. Your your question was about Google ads specifically, but I kind of wanted to level it up to search, because it’s changed in the user journey and how they interact with all these things have changed. And it changes monthly. I’ve given a speech one time, and I’ll say it on this podcast you brought me on because you can see me an expert at this space. Well, as of about 12 minutes ago, I’m not anymore. Like it stuff has changed behind the scenes that you need to keep applying, you have teams of people that keep up on these things to get the best outcomes for your clients.

Anne Candido 31:37
So you’re an expert, the beginning of the call, but by the end of the call, we should need to go back and find somebody else. Yeah,

Mark Hughes 31:42
you definitely have to go back and find somebody else all changed.

April Martini 31:49
So Mark, two things came up for me and what you were saying I’ll ask them both, but we can take them one on one I just don’t want to forget. So first of all, when you and I talked initially, one of my main questions to you was around what we were just talking about, which is how do you keep up? And so you’ve addressed that with the team and all of that. But I think you know, we just joked about the expertise piece, I want to understand a little bit more oodles perspective on how you keep up and then you strategically implement that. Because what I hear you say when and I you know, you told me the same thing about YouTube when we first talked and it’s stuck in my head ever since like that is a crazy statistic. So how do you as the leader, help your people keep up, but also keep that strategic lens so that you’re doing the right things at the right time for your clients with confidence, knowing it’s going to change. And then I also want to talk about the AI aspect as a lens of this too. But

Anne Candido 32:49
let’s just start there. So

Mark Hughes 32:51
the short answer is there, there is no magic website that you can go and read up or no magic podcast, or no magic show that’s gonna teach you and keep you up on all these various things. It’s a grind, and it has to be a passionate grind, or it just won’t happen. Because people are, if people are hungry to learn about the things that interest them, they’ll naturally do more of that. And I think most people that go into a digital career have a have a natural, more technical lean to how they how they think about work. And so because of that, they’re naturally more inclined to stay up with ad tech that’s around or new performance capabilities. Or at least that’s that’s my experience. One of the things that we encourage at Google is we put a high value of emphasis on continued education. We promote it internally, often we create contests around it. We create opportunities and space for it as best we possibly can. Are we perfect? Absolutely not. But it’s one of those areas that we don’t we know that if we don’t do this, and I’ll let me back up a couple steps. We failed to implement this entirely. But we went so far as to say we want to be 10 times better at continued education as an organization than anyone else in our space. That’s a really hard thing to achieve. And we’re still trying to figure out how to achieve that. But you know, sending somebody to conferences, or taking a class, the information is irrelevant by the time the class is over the conference is concluded. And so you’d have to find more dynamic ways to stay up to speed on what’s going on. So just speaking of AI is a perfect for instance. You know, Sam Altman came out recently and said, Oh, well, all agencies are going to be replaced by AI. And he’s reasonably confident saying that. You have clients that freak out about that or get excited about it, maybe, oh, we can get this work done. Far, far less expensive. Then you have agencies and agency employees that freak out about it, and they’re like, oh, my gosh, what’s going to happen? The truth is the agencies that don’t add the strategic value and the creative value, they will be replaced 100% They will be replaced. I’m not I did not coined this but I’ll say it again, because it’s a good phrase, people Will and agencies that don’t leverage AI will be replaced by AI, that it’s not AI that’s coming for your job, it’s the people that not use it, that will come for your job. That’s a fact, that’s where we are in the same way that the evolution of how to move pixels changed from pen and paper and paint to Carell back in the day, or work Express back in the day, and then evolve to Photoshop and all these other things that we leverage today, right? It’s no different they didn’t come those tools didn’t come through your job, the people that knew how to use them did, and AI is no different. Those that are most successful, we’re going to find ways to do that. AI is a little different, because there’s also a legality component that I don’t think is fully figured out of how you can leverage it and how you should leverage it. So it’s a little bit of a wild wild west there. But the agencies that are focused on strategy focused on providing a high level of strategic partnership with their their clients and understanding their business value, there are going to be the ones that not only survive, they thrive, because they’ll be inheriting market share from those that were just delivery groups. I

Anne Candido 36:09
think what you’re highlighting is super important for people to understand that the distinction it kind of goes back to just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. And I feel like people, again, they use AI as a way of doing the work. But unless you know what good work looks like you don’t even know what you got. And so I think that’s the thing that’s gonna continue to be very, very important for agencies to be really good practitioners of and Oodle I think is an excellent example of this is like, what does good work actually look like? Because anybody could put together 500 words on something or write a post on something or write a blog. I mean, anybody can do that, in any person can do that, from your your lowest level of junior account, personally up to the senior level of person, but it’s knowing what is good, knowing what is going to resonate. And it goes back to everything that you said about understanding the consumer journey, understanding what your consumer is looking for understanding what’s going to connect with them, understanding how to break through, because like you said, like the barrage is not just on your category. It’s everything that they’re getting. Right. So I think that’s to me, the important distinction to keep in mind as we’re approaching this whole world AI is embracing the fact that it can help us do the work, but you still need people to tell you if the work is good or not.

Mark Hughes 37:29
Yep, the foundational principles of digital marketing do not change from that if traditional marketing. In fact, I would make the strong argument that I think most digital marketers have forgotten how important brand is. Yeah,

Anne Candido 37:42
absolutely. It’s just another thing. Yeah, correct.

Mark Hughes 37:46
So brand has stopping power, it will drive your costs of everything else down and drives the value and the delivery of everything up. If it’s strong. If you ignore it, and you negate it, as part of this journey, digital will not perform as strongly as it could. And I think that’s the missed opportunity from a lot of folks. And I’ll give you a good example. So we’ve worked with a an organization that has a lot of different different service lines that they market. And so as part of that, they were very intentional about marketing each individual service line, because they had quotas, and in areas that they had to hit for those. And so we were like, well, brand, brand, brand brand, two, three years into the relationship, we finally got the opportunity to try brand, guess what happened to everything. It went up went up in a positive way, cost went down, because of cost per acquisition, cost per program cost for everything went down, the overall brand recall and overall brand value went way up. That’s a very recent example, in the last 18 months or so of the power of brand, even in the form of digital and it should not be ignored, because it can amplify digital results. Going circling back to the AI conversation quickly. I think of AI as a great brainstorming buddy. It should never be the final engine that you send over the wall to a client or even an account person to say I think I’m ready. Let’s send this over to the client. It should be a starting point and something that can evolve your brainstorm along the way. It’s great because it doesn’t talk back occasionally. It doesn’t talk back. It does what it’s told. But that’s what it is. It does what it’s told it doesn’t replace a human’s capacity to think differently. And to think and to bring different discovery ideas from a completely different point of view, as it relates to solving a particular problem, whether it’s creative or business,

Anne Candido 39:40
and that AI is never gonna be able to do for you because like you said, it’s only going to respond to whatever question you ask. So you need to know what what’s the right question to ask or what’s the right problem to solve? Because it’s not gonna be able to figure that out for you.

Mark Hughes 39:53
Right, exactly. And that goes back to the strategic understanding of how a particular business works. And don’t get me wrong, AI is going to get better, it will get better. And it will have more capabilities, because of the datasets that it’s being fed. I think AI is actually a phenomenal tool for organizations that have the capability to in house, their own datasets for things like customer service questions. So someone asked this question, we have a litany amount of data in our Salesforce CRM to be able to respond to this first party data set, I think it’s a fantastic tool for things like that. That would be something that historically you would pay a creative agency to be able to write Q and A’s or you pay an internal analyst to write Q and A’s as part of some of these things, right? So small example of how aI think will encroach in some way, shape or form on digital, or creative agencies spaces. But generally speaking, it’s not common for your job. It’s a tool, just like anything else.

April Martini 40:54
Well, and so that’s the answer I was hoping for. So I don’t even have to ask the question now directly about AI. But I think it goes back to some of our earlier conversation, and then some of the things you answered about how you find the right people, or how do you, you know, cultivate their learning, it’s those of us that are gonna survive in this world. It’s no different than it’s ever been before. It’s that we’re going to continue to evolve and learn and do things differently. And by doing them differently, do them better. And so the thing that I keep thinking about and even in some of these discussions, and some of the work we do when we see agencies go away, or underperform or not do well, it’s because they get too far behind the curve, and they can’t catch up or they’ve rested in Oh, it’ll never get there. It’ll never change that thing will never be and I think digital was one of those things. And I was talking to number another member of your team at one point about how initially, it was one of those like the redheaded stepchild, right. It was like, Oh, that’ll it’ll all be TV all the time, you know, and just the history of the industry and where we’ve evolved to and so we get the question too, about, you know, well, it’s just marketing and branding, I mean, AI will be able to do that. And we’re always quick to say, and and says all the time until the world is run by robots, that’s just never going to be true, you need both things. And I think we’ve continued to see that as the answer over and over again. But it takes the right kind of people and the right kind of agencies, therefore, that are going to continue to answer that call, so that we can stay up and relevant and be giving the best advice to our customers.

Mark Hughes 42:33
I will agree with your statement and maybe add a slightly different twist to it. Sure, yes, completely agree that those that are going to survive and thrive in the space of they’re going to be those that are have always been continuous learners and continuous evolve errs of how to get the best results out of their team for their clients. I will also say that it’s never been more important for speed. And for that thirst for knowledge to be daily. And something that you know, you’re reinventing the wheel every day necessarily, right? But it’s, it’s not like you can go take a quick, quick course and get caught up on some of the things that are evolving because they’re evolving before our eyes. And our clients are looking for answers, right, some of which we have, and some of which we don’t we offer a point of view. And we have to say, well, our cookie is going away. Google has said that they are are they I still doubt it. Google is not going to hurt Google. Yes.

Anne Candido 43:30
Why would they have no motivation to do that?

Mark Hughes 43:32
Right. But they have they have formally announced and push the date multiple times. So you have to have a perspective on something like that if you’re going to play in, in the digital space. And what you should do about it is you have to follow the big guys and start in in housing as much as your first party data as you can, as you have the ability to because you can leverage that first party data on your own for your for your targeted advertising work. So another example of a lens that most organizations don’t necessarily think about when they think about digital. But we do we think about that as a totality and how you should be thinking three steps ahead of where you are today, not just about, you know those short term green and red arrows, like we talked about several times,

Anne Candido 44:13
just make sure it’s not arbitrary to so I’ll give an example. So in April know, one of my very, very favorite experiences and the company that I told all the time for their customer experience is DoorDash. Right? So I’ve had tremendously fantastic experience with them until this last experience, where I had a DoorDash shirt cancel my order twice, and then they just canceled the order altogether, but still charged me right. So I had to go pick up my order order directly from restaurant to go pick it up. I then went to the chat, which they said is a real person, which I found out after six exchanges was not a real person because they kept responding to me in a very CRM-based like here, let me go find what the typical response of this is. And you heard the response. And I’m like, this response makes no sense based on the question I was asking. And then ultimately, after about because I couldn’t give up at that, at that point in time, I was looking for some sort of compensation for my time and my effort or having to go get it. And I was like, I feel like I should be compensated for this. And it just kept saying, I’m not authorized, I’m not authorized, I’m not authorized. And I’m like, Well, this is very interesting. And so with what we used to be like, in my mind, one reason why I chose DoorDash was because of the customer experience. And then being able to, when you call, or you, you talk to somebody, somebody was, like, very empathetic with the situation. And oh, we don’t want you to have this experience, like, we’re gonna refund it, we’re gonna give you a $10 voucher or your next one. So you come back now it’s like, I’m not authorized, I’m not authorized, I’m not authorized. So I, I say that kind of going back and kind of drawing in that brand conversation with the use of AI is a intentional decision to make sure that you are not ignoring the fact that these things could feel easy. In the moment, it could feel like, Hey, I’m being able to streamline the work. But if they’re not intentionally, again, cultivated, it can really destroy your brand, pretty dang quickly. I’ll

Mark Hughes 46:16
piggyback on your example. And say, we’ve had multiple clients that have come to us and said, we should add a chatbot to our website, it would save on so many things, and we’re like, you have no idea just based on that innocent question, how much work you’re asking for? Exactly, yep. Because to do that, right is not just installing a chatbot. It’s really making sure that you’re not negating your customer experience, and all the great work that you’ve put into elevating your brand to have a great experience only to and to your point, have one negative experience that have kind of tarnish that reputation. And so you have to be very thoughtful about the tools at your disposal. And I think that’s true in all marketing. But it’s especially true in digital because, you know, you look at me, like, Oh, it’s a simple install, I can install this thing to the website, and boom, I’m done. No, that’s yes, it now works. But now the real work starts of trying to train this thing in a way that feels like it’s adding value and not detracting from your overall brand authority.

Anne Candido 47:12
I ate as well said, and in case anybody’s wondering, I only got $5, I was very disappointed. I that was just not worth I thought my time was worth a whole lot more than $5. So

Mark Hughes 47:25
what’s was that translates to, like, you know, a buck 50 An hour or something

Anne Candido 47:29
basically about that, but all my time invested and going back and forth with the bot to on top of dollars. Wow. Thanks.

April Martini 47:38
Alright, so we do have a few quick fires to end with. But before we do that, just to kind of put the fine point on all the things we’ve talked about. I would love to hear Mark your advice to young professionals entering the market and it can be through the lens of digital or just the creative agency world in total, what one piece of advice would you give?

Mark Hughes 47:57
Oh man, I’ve always said, if you can understand marketing, put whatever lens on it that you want, whether that’s just overall, how marketing works, or creative process or anything else and understand finance, you are a potent force in this space. Because most marketers don’t think about finance, they don’t, at least not not at first if you go if you go client side corporate side, and you work on a brand team you have to write but if you work on the agency side, you don’t necessarily get that we you know, we call it the the agency business acumen of understanding how your clients make money, the understanding of how your clients make money will lead to better outcomes and your overall marketing ideation, your creative and your your activations because you’re not just trying the next new thing you understand whether that’s going to hit the mark on their business outcomes or not, which is easy to say harder to it’s harder to do in practice

April Martini 48:54
Which is so interesting because I literally this morning had coffee with a young professional and I gave that exact same advice a little bit different stage stated but about learning the business of the clients which and we’ll talk about all day and we could have a whole separate conversation on I won’t do

Anne Candido 49:08
that right so everybody

April Martini 49:12
Alright, so before we close out just a couple quick fires for people to get to know you maybe having nothing to do with this topic. So starting out how do you take your coffee if at all?

Mark Hughes 49:23
Huh, cream and a little bit of stuff called I’m blanking on it. We’ll call it cream and sugar because I can’t remember the name of it. No, it’s not stevia. It’s um it’s like a coconut powder superfood something something that goes in and makes it creamy. Oh, I don’t know that was off the spot to tell you guys what it is because I do not remember the name at all. Laird Superfood creamer. That’s what it is. Oh, okay.

April Martini 49:46
All right. So cream in layers. All right. I like it. Definition of a perfect day.

Mark Hughes 49:51
Got one thing done on the to do list because, you know, it’s one of those. It’s one of those roles now where I never feel like one thing is done. Ah, yes, it just like you just make these incremental progress on just two or three things that are on your list for the whole week. So all

April Martini 50:07
right, and the final one: fly or drive to vacation?

Mark Hughes 50:12
I would prefer to fly. But I have three small children. So we drive everywhere.

April Martini 50:20
I’ve been there Alright, so this has been awesome Mark, I think we have covered all areas of digital as best we can at least in an hour, some which maybe we just scratched the surface but and never have to go get a new expert. And now we’re gonna

Mark Hughes 50:34
need a new expert. I’m sorry. I’m old hat.

April Martini 50:40
So just in case then anyone wants to hear from you or talk to you. Tell them where to best find you. Go ahead and give a plug for Google what however you want to close this conversation out?

Mark Hughes 50:49
Sure, you can find Oodle at Or you can email me at

April Martini 50:56
This has been an exceptionally insightful conversation. And we want to thank Mark for being one of our experts in this Marketing Smarts: Creative Series, the issues facing creative agencies today, and how they need to evolve to stay relevant. We hope that coming out of this conversation all of you listeners take action on the insights we’ve discussed today to make your agency-client partnerships stronger and more meaningful, as well as be honest with yourselves and clean up work cleanup as needed. We can all change the industry for the better this way. Be on the lookout or listen for other episodes in this series. And if you have particular thoughts or feedback, we’d love to hear from you as always. And with that, we will say go and exercise your Marketing Smarts! Still need help in growing your Marketing Smarts? Contact us through our website: We can help you become a savvier marketer through coaching or training you and your team or doing the work on your behalf. Please also helped us grow the podcast by rating and reviewing on your player of choice and sharing with at least one person. Now, go show off your Marketing Smarts!