JT Moore, vice president of marketing for ASPE Training, a division of Fortis College, speaks frankly about the marketing industry and bucks some conventional thoughts about the future of social media.
In today’s landscape, in which people early in their career tend to job hop, Moore, 30, is somewhat unusual. In October, he’ll mark eight years with ASPE, which is one of the nation’s largest providers of professional training. Moore, who holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in business administration from North Carolina State University, started with the company right out of school.
When he was hired, ASPE employed seven people. “I was the second person hired into a marketing department of two people,” he said. “Where some might have seen the small size as a negative, all I saw was opportunity. The product was solid; the leadership team was inspiring, and I knew that the small size would give me the opportunity to grow and show impact. At a much larger company, I would have been put in a box where the value I added may have gone unnoticed.”
Moore now heads up the company’s 10-person marketing department. “I’ve had the pleasure of learning and trying every traditional and digital channel and building our department’s strategy around what we believed,” he said. “I’ve watched our company grow … I’ve seen a lot, and I’ve done a lot at ASPE. And it’s all because I saw potential and took a chance.”
What attracted you to marketing?
“Marketing is just in my blood. … it really is just how my mind works. When I was a kid, I incessantly asked questions. I would pester my father on car rides asking what billboards said before I could read, and then I would inevitably ask why. … My need to know why those signs were there and why they used the photos and words they did is where everything started.
“Early in my career, that question of ‘why’ usually focused on why campaigns I liked or responded to worked. What emotion did it evoke? Why did I convert or not convert? Nowadays, that question of ‘why’ is usually more centered around why do we do things the way we do them. To the dismay of my team at times, I don’t like the status quo. I am always pushing them to try new things and rethink their processes and assumptions.”
How would you characterize the Triangle as a place to work as a marketer?
“I owe a lot of my career to the Triangle marketing community. We all sometimes daydream about what it would be like to live in the New York City or San Francisco creative scene, but the truth is the Triangle has some real advantages.
“It’s similar to my earlier point about the advantages of a smaller business versus a giant Fortune 100 behemoth. What makes the Triangle marketing community so special is that it’s a tight-knit group that is both accessible and knowledgeable. Everyone is excited and happy to help.
“I was lucky enough to be in the thick of things when people like Kipp Bodnar, Wayne Sutton, Dan London, Phil Buckley, Gregory Ng, Jeff Cohen, Chris Moody, Ryan Boyles, and so many others were really laying the groundwork for what the Triangle marketing community is now. It was these people who inspired me to go out and learn — really dig into digital marketing and social media long before they hit the mainstream. And no matter how busy they were, every single one of them was more than happy to sit and talk about challenges or just what you were thinking. That is what really makes the Triangle marketing community special: the fact that you can contact executive-level marketers and subject-matter experts directly and actually get face time. Getting to know them and having a coffee or beer to just talk marketing is what truly changed my career. I hope the new crop of young marketers continue to take advantage of that.”
How is the increasing focus on digital and, more specifically, mobile, changing your approach?
“We are a high-ticket item in B-to-B, so we are somewhat of an anomaly. I will tell anyone in the information or B-to-C space that mobile can be critical. Someday that may be true for B-to-B, too.
“But right now, for someone like us, mobile is still a small piece of the possible and a small percentage of our traffic. It is something we continue to monitor closely, and I can see a day where traffic starts on mobile for us and later converts on a laptop. The average person right now is not purchasing high-ticket items with a company credit card on a phone or tablet. But I do think that is a lesson in itself. Mobile is the latest marketing must-do if you read anything. That doesn’t mean you have to just jump and do it though — take the time to go build the data to lead your decision.”
How should a company’s communication plan incorporate social media marketing?
“This may be a controversial statement, but I think we will start to see a decline in the buzz around social media. It’s an incredibly powerful tool, especially from a content strategy perspective, but social media-driven conversion or revenue has probably peaked.
“We have started to see a righting of the ship when it comes to the social-media only marketer. It really doesn’t make sense from a business investment perspective. I believe the conversation will continue to be around content and social media will become the channel—not the profession—that it is.
“We will expect the average employee to come on board already familiar with social media, and companies will leverage that.
“Businesses will focus on creating good content and building a culture that encourages employees to share it with their own networks.”
What’s the most important advice you would give to a Triangle-area student?
“To any Triangle area marketing professional, my advice would be to get involved in the community. We have several really good professional groups, like TIMA and the AMA, that offer great content and networking opportunities. There’s also the Raleigh SEO Meetup …
“For students in general, my advice is to get some real tangible skills. The universities are teaching you how to think, but very few teach you how to do. There are an incredible amount of free tools and technologies where you can get your hands dirty and gain skills and experience that will help you stand out in a tough marketplace. Build a website. Start a blog. Create an Etsy store. It will teach you marketing and business skills that you’d otherwise have to learn on the job.”
What is the biggest mistake you see marketers make?
“Complacency. Good marketing blends in. It excites people. It makes them smile. The biggest reason we hear so much about privacy concerns is because of poor marketing. People love to talk about good commercials (think Super Bowl ad craze every year). It’s the poor work that gets people riled up.
“The problem is that 95 percent of what gets put out is bad, my work included. We have gotten too focused on budgets and deadlines, and gotten away from work that excites our audience.
“We are too focused on our customers and business and have forgotten about the consumer and audience. We play it safe to stay within our time and money constraints instead of trying to push ourselves to do good work. We don’t ruffle feathers and we play it safe.
“We need to stop being complacent and start pushing ourselves more. The world will be a better place for it.”
How will marketing evolve over the next five to 10 years?
“My favorite professor at N.C. State, David Henard, talks about the evolution of marketing in an interesting way. In the early 1900s, he says we were production oriented. As Henry Ford famously said, you can have any color you want as long as it is black. We didn’t care about people. It was only about production efficiency.
“In the mid 1900s, there was an evolution to what Henard calls sales orientation. This was the heyday of traveling salesmen, who sold whatever and however they could. The late 1900s led the way to a marketing orientation, where companies beat customers into submission with a push-marketing approach.
“The most recent evolution is to what he calls a social orientation, where the power has been taken back by the consumer. They rely on friends, family and their networks for purchasing decisions and openly speak and post about their experiences with products and brands.
“In the next five to 10 years that social orientation takes a next step into what we might call a personalized or experience orientation. It’s already starting with products like NikeiD, which lets you design your own shoes … Timbuk2, which lets you design your own bags, 3D printing, which allows you to design and produce about anything you want…the list goes on. Technology is enabling businesses and marketers to get even closer to true one-to-one experiences.
“The future of marketing will force us to recognize and treat each potential customer like the individual they are. Our marketing tactics and our product offerings will have to evolve accordingly.”