I’ve known BJ Cook for so long that I can’t remember anymore how or when we met online. You may remember him from SuggestionBox. What keeps me interested in BJ’s projects are his dedication to being not only an entrepreneur, but also a promoter of green marketing. His social media and networking skills, wrapped with his years in marketing and building strong online relationships, make him and his projects stand out, year after year.
A happily married, fairly new father, BJ is active on Twitter (http://twitter.com/BJ) and Doodles, the Digital Operative blog (where the mouth watering recipe for Milk Chocolate, White Chocolate Mandle Bread recipe can found).
For the rest, I’ve decided to let BJ talk to you himself. I caught up with him late last year, and he’s patiently waited for me to catch up on work and release our interview. Take it away, BJ!
1. You’ve had such a busy year! Let’s talk about your new company, Digital Operative (http://www.digitaloperative.com/). It looks to be a full-service operation that includes search engine marketing, web design, social media and other digital marketing. What makes Digital Operative “special”?
What a year it’s been Kim. From spending 12 months of ups and downs at SuggestionBox and deciding after being laid off; it was time to finally venture out on my own. Luckily, I was able to work alongside Adam Levenson (twitter.com/adamlevenson) at SuggestionBox and we naturally complimented each other. Also the fact that we both came from the interactive agency world, Digital Operative was a chance to approach digital marketing from the mindset that people do business with people. Customers have certain expectations when they engage with companies and brands. A lot of what we learned from SuggestionBox in the area of customer relationships and co-innovation has seeped into the way we approach new challenges with client partners. We’ve got over 20 years experience across the lifecycle of projects from business planning to user experience to digital marketing. That cross-functional expertise really sets us apart because we can build strategies and then provide the execution. We’re always saying, ” We just do it.” I know that sounds like some Nike cliche, but it’s true.
2. You’re located where? Do you commute to an office or have a home office?
Right now we are located in Carmel Valley, about 20 minutes north of downtown San Diego. I commute up to Adam’s home office Monday through Friday. It’s nice to not have the overhead of some expensive office space. It allows us to offer a better value for client partners. But, there are the days, when I’m on baby duty and I gotta say that I have the utmost respect for anyonewho works from home with a baby. It is one of the most challenging things. No matter if you’ve got them on your lap, in the front pack or in the jumper next to you; your focus is truly tested.
3. What has always stood out to me is your commitment to the planet. You’ve found all types of ways to become involved. One such venture is Eleho.org (http://eleho.org/) . How did you become involved? Why?
What I do for client partners fulfills one aspect of my life, but being involved in projects that really touch and help people is where I find my passion gets going. I was introduced to the guys from Eleho about 2 years ago through my wife and we hit it off. Brett told me the story about how they risked their lives and went over into Burma to capture footage of the Karen people who were being killed off everyday. I was so touched by the story that I felt like I wanted to get involved in some way. Outside of dropping everything and going over there, I tried to be resourceful and utilized my network to create opportunities on social platforms like Razoo.com, Myspace, Facebook and ended up getting in touch with CNN to get one of the guys on air for “Weekend At War” during the monk uprising last year. They are truly great guys to work with and have been over there back and forth over the past 6 months. If anyone is interested I recommend going to the site and reading about their current efforts.
4. How are things going at Gooruze? Has it taken off? Are there plans for anything new in 2009?
Gooruze is a niche social network for the online marketing community and there has been constant growth with the community. The members have been able to stay engaged by syndicating content to their other social networking profiles. I’m waiting to hear about the details for 2009, but I can tell you that there will be some movement with the community in the upcoming year. Hopefully some more widgets, articles and growth in member engagement.
5. Yucky Soda. You MUST tell me more! What in the world is this site about?
Haha. So Adam and I created Yucky Soda as the parent company for a new startup we were trying to find funding for this past October. It’s actually still in a funding reviewing stage, so I can’t say much about it. As it progresses, I’ll be sure to update you more. It’s definitely our entrepreneurial project and something we believe could really provide a new way to do business in the retail space.
6. I know you love “green marketing” and are involved in several web site projects. Please tell us about them? Please also share an example, or two, on “green marketing” practices.
Yes, I was involved with the first green social network called BeGreenNow. I’ve also done work with the team at EarthScreen.com. Right around the time during these 2 projects, the whole “green is the new black” period happened. There were a lot of companies taking their products through the green washer and trying to promote new eco-friendly products. The best “green marketing” is when companies truly engage in environmentally friendly activities and practices and create media around those elements. If it’s creating press about how your company participates on Earth Day or you purchase carbon credits to offset your pollution or create some type of video around carpooling and making it part of your site’s content. You’ve got to participate and capture it in some way. Just like any differentiator, it becomes part of your core messaging and your company’s culture. One of the key things about Digital Operative is that we’re focused on projects and client partners that align with our Triple Bottom Line model of people, planet, profit. This is something we believe in and use as a yard stick when we assess new opportunities.
7. Now married and a new father, has your view of the world changed and if so, how?
Wow so of course! I was recently interviewed about what I was thankful for this year and it’s amazing to see the impact that our industry had on the recent presidential campaign. I made sure that I got out and voted because it’s going to be an important year that will affect generations to come. Every day I’m experiencing new products and services as a new dad that I never knew about. You know the big change is my point of view on the whole social networking piece and thinking how I can only educate my daughter on how to be safe when she starts creating profiles. Who knows what it will be like by then. I’ll place my bet here and say that it will all be mobile-based social networking in real time with media exchanged via the handset. The other thought I had the other day was how it’s amazing that everything our kids do is captured in some type of media format that gets uploaded and indexed. That the first 10-12 years they have no control over what their parents decide to put on the web. But it’s also exciting to think my daughter’s whole life is going to cataloged so she can go back and see all the funny videos I made with her on 12Seconds.tv )
8. What do you love most about online marketing?
I’d say the Strategy and Planning phases and then results. I’ve got this saying that goes, “”Marketing never fails at the point of the idea, it’s in the planning.” And it’s true. Depending on the type of person you are; you either love or loathe strategy. It’s the part where the vision is created and all the little details get linked together to create something that is living, breathing and can change at anytime. If you don’t plan for things like this; you could end up with a lot of gaps. Over the years, I’ve been involved in a variety of roles that have given me hands-on experience. Whether it be SEO, Social Media, Email, Analytics or CRM; there are synergies between all of these. You can end up down the wrong path unknowingly very quickly if you go for the let’s just get it done mentality. From my point of view you need to have done some of the tactics in order to comprehend bridging them together. The second fave is results. I spent a lot of time as the CMO of SuggesitonBox staying up late from 10pm-2am reaching out to bloggers, journalists, partners and customers. When I was able to really connect with someone and they wrote a post or article; the gratification in that kept me going and made those sleepless nights worth it. What I truly love about online marketing now is that it’s spanning to mobile and becoming more of a conversation. It’s becoming more about the experiences people have and to how many others they syndicate those feelings. Then are you a part of the conversation? Yes most CMO’s will tell you it takes resource time to keep all these conversations going, but if your strategy and plan is solid from the beginning; you’ll use your time wisely.
9. Last Fall you wrote “Startup Marketing Strategies and Tactics”. I loved this line; “If you want people to come, forget about the Field of Dreams and get real.” Obviously you’ve learned some tough lessons in the past few years.
What can you share with everyone that may help them in their own pursuits and guide them to meet the challenges they may face?
One of the things I’ve learned about working with and at startups is that people still think that Kevin Costner is the smartest guy ever. That mentality only works if your business network supports it and you’ve got stellar business development and PR. Yes you need a great product and the people will spread the message, but you’ve got to cover all your marketing bases and that’s really where this post came about. I saw the downfall of many startups being that
1. They had no business model and
2. Their marketing efforts were weak. I would recommend that you focus on customers, business development (partners) and grassroots marketing. You can do a lot with no marketing budget and I know from experience. When you’re busy product planning, developing, designing; make sure you put time into market research, messaging, planning and figuring out, “how do I get the most distribution with little budget?” That’s where you truly build the foundation for your first step into the market.
My thanks to BJ for his time in answering my questions. I hope you find him as inspirational as I do. I sometimes get a feeling that I’m not doing enough to help the planet or not giving back in creative ways. People like BJ Cook are proof that work can be combined with home, family and creating a healthy planet.