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Cameron Gawley on digital snake oil and getting creative with data

A serial entrepreneur and growth hacker, American Cameron Gawley’s varied career extends back to when at 18 he founded an IT service company called Computeks. After that, he went on to start Boomerang Data, a SAAS and online data backup company. And while each of these stints brought him success, it’s his work at digital strategy agency BuzzShift (a company he co-founded) that brings him to Kiwi shores.

Next week at The Project: Digital Disruption conference being hosted by AUT on 30 April and 1 May, Gawley will appear as one of the international speakers at an event jam-packed with 30 of the sharpest minds in the industry.

As chief executive of BuzzShift, Gawley has built a team that prides itself on providing clients, such as Verizon and the National Breast Cancer Foundation, with data-informed solutions that connect with people individually while simultaneously being measurable, trackable and scalable.

Gawley’s success has seen him ranked fifth on Business Insider’s list of the 25 most influential ad executives on Twitter, and he is also a founding member of the Social Media Club of Dallas and Board Member for the American Advertising Federation of Dallas.

On coming to Aotearoa 

I’m honoured and humbled just to be able to go to New Zealand. Basically, I was pulled in to speak at the 2014 conference. My main focus at the conference will be on the interception between data, creativity and curiosity, so I’ll hit on those three things. I think the big topics that they want me to really talk about are digital marketing and how this is being disrupted. I look forward to being there. It’s going to be a good time.  

On the relationship between creativity and data

We often talk about big data, but data by itself doesn’t do us a lot of good. Overall, data by itself is very boring, so we find it important to creatively tie it in to [a client’s] KPIs. What data really comes down to is drilling into overall observations, what’s happened?, what’s happening?, and then making actionable recommendations to a client and saying, ‘Hey this is where we think you should go with this data’.

On making big data more manageable

What it comes down to for us is going back to objectives. Depending on what the client is doing, there’s so much data that can be tracked, but we focus on the data that really supports the overall goals and overall objectives. And only focusing on the objectives narrows it up for us a lot.

On tracking data for tracking’s sake

There are a lot of things that we could track for tracking’s sake, but if it doesn’t move the needle for the company then why are we tracking it? That, in our mind, just becomes supporting data or historical data that we could use at some given point for the client, but our whole thing is honing in and narrowing out the data that we think is necessary for the client.

On quantifying the return on investment

We can track the ROI better now in digital than we ever have been able to, and it’s a big leg-up on the traditional marketing world in the sense that we can do a lot of tracking. The whole focus in 2014/2015 for Google is on building up this attribution model. Even last week, I’ve seen that they’re [Google] calling visitors users and they’re calling visits sessions.

But there are still issues that will arise when it comes to social. I think that’s still an issue when it comes to ROI as to how we track it and relay it back to the ROI. And then also understanding the offline world. It’s still not clear how we track the offline and online world, and how we link that back to retail purchases. But I think we’ll get there soon. I think overall attribution modelling, although it’s not anywhere near where it needs to be, is making it easier and easier to track ROI.

On digital charlatans

It goes back to setting expectations and objectives. It’s about understanding that if I go into this relationship as a marketer with a client then these are the expectations and objectives. What happens is that we’re in a world of shiny objects, where we are drawn to things like tactics and technology. And I think we have to back up a lot and get away from these things and focus more on the expectations and objectives of the client. I walk into discussions with marketers all the time, with them saying ‘We need to be on Facebook’ or ‘We need to be on Vine,’ and so marketers are spending money creating videos and all this content. But it really goes back to the overall objective—and if it doesn’t support it, then don’t do it. There are a lot of marketers that have made us look really bad as an industry by using the snake oil of tactical strategy and technology, without setting any true expectations.

On the success of BuzzShift

We aren’t a siloed social media agency or a siloed content marketing agency or a development shop or an SEO agency. We’re very integrated with our approach to our clients, and we understand that combining everything from search to social with the foundation of content really helps clients achieve their goals. And I think that in order to achieve those goals, we’re looking at true data that can be measured, tested and scaled out, and these are the things that we really focus on. Whatever we’re rolling out for our client, we figure out what works and what doesn’t work and then we optimise it – no matter how many times, we keep optimising that existing content and repurposing it.

On being digital

As an agency we’re digital first. There are a lot of traditional agencies that I refer to as immigrant agencies, in that they were traditional first and they bolted on a digital arm. That’s kind of the opposite for us. The one big pain point that a lot of ad agencies, marketing departments and digital agencies have when it comes to looking at big data and analytics is that those aren’t their core strengths and capabilities. We started that as our core strength. We play in the same box really well with traditional agencies, and I think you’re going to see a lot more agencies like us spin up—agencies that are digital first.

On having a ceiling fan named after him

My dad was a vice president of one of the biggest ceiling fan companies in the States. So when I was a kid I used to help him with packaging design and so forth, and that’s kind of how I got started in this. So, anyway, they created a label called Hampton Bay, under which they released a line called the Hampton Bay Cameron fan. And there was a stage when you could go to a Home Depot hardware store and people would be like, ‘There’s a Cameron fan’. 


Haven’t got your Project ticket yet, but really want to go? We’ve got one worth $599 to give away. To enter the competition, leave a comment describing the most disruptive thing imaginable. Themost creative response gets the ticket.

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