Lurie was the guest speaker at the University of Washington Web Council, an informal group of IT professionals at the UW who meet monthly to share technical advice. Often, a guest speaker graces the program. The speakers I’d heard to date had been interesting and their content was a value-add to my mornings at Web Council. None, however, had been as quirkily interesting as Lurie.
Refreshingly devoid of jargon, Lurie’s talk - “Weird, Useful, Significant: Internet Marketing in 2013” – focuses on retaining clients by creating captivating content, buoying it with excellent service, and making sure that it is significant in the ecosystem in which those clients live.
Our talk about Lurie’s take on internet marketing and the sea changes he’s seen in that sphere since the mid-nineties also took us into well past Duck Dynasty to some serious advice about succeeding in the internet marketing world. We started with his own path to the business.
The child of university professors, Lurie grew up in a home where computers were ubiquitous. He didn’t consider them anything extraordinary and when the moment to choose a college major arrived, he picked history - one of his passions. That liberal arts road led him to a law degree, but he practiced only briefly. Law wasn’t a passion. He’d always loved to write, and he also enjoyed data. Two years at a marketing firm gave him the confidence to start his own firm, and in 1995 he did that with Portent, an internet marketing firm nested high in the Smith Tower, overlooking the streets Lurie plied as a bicycle messenger during his early days in Seattle.
I asked how Lurie would summarize what it means to be weird, useful, and significant, and why marketers should do so.
“You have to market to the weird, because if you don’t, you’re talking to no one,” he began. “If you don’t, you’re talking to the average – but really there is no average. You have to be useful: You have to provide value to people from the moment they get to your site, because they want to be rewarded for the time they spend there. Being significant means providing lasting worth to the people who come to you.”
From there, we traced Lurie’s history as an internet marketer, what he’s learned about the field, and his advice for the newly initiated. Here are the highlights:
Flip: What brought you to Seattle?
Lurie: It was the “thought environment”. A lot of people here think with both sides of their brains. That doesn’t happen in many places.
Flip: It’s been 18 years since you founded Portent. How much of the internet marketing space would we recognize today?
Lurie: Not much. Back in 1995, most of the internet would have fit on a fairly cheap thumbdrive, seriously.
Flip: Your firm is known for SEO consulting. In the sea of competition out there now, how do you keep your edge?
Lurie: SEO is becoming more of an outcome and less of a tactic. People talk about “doing” SEO, but that’s not what it’s about. We approach it as good, intelligent marketing. You have to do stuff that has a legitimate marketing purpose: You want a fast website, top-quality copy-writing (not a duplicate of something else on the web), and a logical structure to the site so that people can find their way easily. SEO is at the top of that pyramid.
Flip: I understand your own people are responsible for the latest iteration of the Portent website. What was that like?
Lurie: You know that old thing they tell people who want to represent themselves in court – about how they have a fool for a client? That’s the idea. I think I’d characterize it as being trapped in a bag of starving weasels.
Flip: It’s a great website, though. Was there a benefit of doing it in-house, despite the angst?
Lurie: Definitely. The team learned things they wouldn’t have learned otherwise. They got to do things they wouldn’t have gotten to do for clients – the learning process would have been too expensive – and now we can re-purpose that knowledge. We’re also now deeply bonded to our own branding.
Flip: What tech trends do you see in the near future?
Lurie: Three things - and the first is what I call “Couch vs. desk”. People are making more and more purchases on tablets and high-res smart phones – anything that’ll give them a decent web experience when they’re not at a desk.
The second is hyper-localization of brands. Google is favoring local results very heavily. We’ve had to learn a lot about what drives that.
The third thing is content marketing. It’s actually always been the truth that creating marketable content is necessary, but it’s getting a lot of attention right now. When a consumer gives you 5 minutes of their day, they need to find an enjoyable experience on your site. If it’s not, they leave. And they never come back.
Flip: Thinking of one of our readership demographics, I have to ask: Do you have any wisdom for new graduates looking for a start in your industry?
Lurie: I do. The first thing is, read “Ogilvie on Advertising” by David Ogilvie. Even though it was written a long time ago, it’s still filled with tons of great learning applicable to print or internet. The creature to which you are marketing is still the same.
Also, whatever you think you are, do the opposite. So if you’re really technical, learn about creative work. Make sure you know what it takes to get a really good creative piece on the internet. If you’re a creative type, phutz around playing with tech stuff. You don’t have to learn it deeply, but if you understand the basics, you can sit down with a developer and partner more effectively.
One other thing – don’t let the paycheck determine where you work. Find a place where you really want to work, with people you really want to work with. Don’t feel entitled. You hear stories of huge salaries for people just out of school – usually with a company that’s gone for an IPO. They usually don’t last. Staying in a job for at least 6 months allows you to learn and grow.
Flip: Do you factor Klout scores in your hiring decisions?
Lurie: No! You hear about firms who won’t hire someone unless their Klout score is over a certain number; that’s just wrong. It’s about the person.
Flip: Do you use it in other ways?
Lurie: Klout was a great idea, but its algorithms have changed, and it’s very high level. We use it as a tool; we don’t allow it to be a final determinant. It’s handy for finding the weak points in a campaign – things like traffic from search, branded search, paid versus organic – things like that.
Flip: Any thoughts about what’s next for Portent?
Lurie: Growth has been strong in the last 2 years. Of course, I’m always pessimistic – I was raised by people who were always pleasantly surprised to wake up in the morning and find that the world hadn’t ended. Portent comes down to the people who work here. The team just keeps getting smarter and smarter and better at what they do. That’s all I can ask for.
Ian Lurie was one of the panelists at SIC’s panel yesterday on SEO: [Not Provided] - Measuring Paid and Organic Search. Seattle Interactive Conference ends today.