Marla Johnson is co-founder and CEO of Aristotle Internet and a renowned Internet marketing keynote speaker. Johnson is known for delivering captivating and constructive keynote addresses, breakout sessions and half-day sessions to companies, industries and associations across the nation. Her topics include search marketing strategy, mobile innovation, strategic branding and design, social networking, trends, online analytics, market segmentation and integrated PR and advertising just to name a few.
Johnson began her career in commercial production and marketing for technology firms when she and a group of computer-oriented friends became fed up with the quality of their Internet access service. Together, members of the group realized, they had all the expertise needed to run an Internet access company, Aristotle.
Aristotle is one of the most successful and award-winning Internet firms in Arkansas. The company began in 1995 with just six employees and according to BuzzFile, Aristotle is estimated to generate $11.3 million in annual revenues, and employs approximately 73 people.
Over the years, Johnson has had two parallel career paths: one in government and education, and the other in video production. She has a masters degree in education, and once worked for the city of Memphis and the Arkansas Department of Health. Johnson also worked in the engineering department at Little Rock's KTHV-TV, Channel 11, and spent two years doing commercial production at her own company, Montserrata Productions.
Johnson is an active member in the National Association of Women Business Owners and a 2013 winner of the Beta Gamma Sigma Medallion for Entrepreneurship award from UALR.
Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
[0:00:03.2] TB: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Be sure to stay tuned till the end of the show to hear how you can get a copy of this program and other helpful documents.
Now, it's time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.
[0:00:16.4] KM: Like Tim said, I’m Kerry McCoy and it’s time for me to get up in your business. For the next hour, my guest, Marla Johnson, founder and CEO of the award-winning Little Rock, Arkansas based internet company, Aristotle Internet, and I will be getting up in the business of eCommerce and running your own business. We hope through our conversation and storytelling you will learn something, want to get involved or be inspired to take action in your own life.
For me, the taking action began over 40 years ago when I founded Arkansas Flag & Banner. During the last four decades Arkansas Flag & Banner has grown and morphed from door-to-door sales to telemarketing, to mail order and catalog sales and now relies heavily on the internet. Each change in sale strategy required a change in company thinking and procedures. My confidence, leadership knowledge and my company grew. My initial $400 investment now produces nearly four million in annual sales.
Each week on this show you’ll hear candid conversations between me and my guest about real-world experiences on a variety of businesses and topics that I hope you’ll find interesting. Starting and renting a business or organization is like so many things, it takes persistence, perseverance and patience. I worked part-time jobs for nine years before Arkansas Flag & Banner grew enough to support just me. Today, we have 10 departments and 25 coworkers, thus reminding us all small businesses are the fuel of country’s economic engine and empower people’s lives.
Before we start, I want to introduce you to the people at the table. We have my technician, Tim, who’ll be running the board and taking your calls. Say hello, Tim.
[0:01:52.9] TB: Hello, Tim.
[0:01:53.9] KM: That’s Jessie, he’s helping Tim today. Hey, Jessie.
[0:01:55.6] J: Hello.
[0:01:56.6] KM: There you go. My guest today is Marla Johnson, cofounder and CEO of Aristotle Internet, one of Little Rock, Arkansas’s pioneers in the business of eCommerce. Founded in 1995, Aristotle continues to keep up in this rapidly changing industry by developing premium web services for clients nationwide. Aristotle offers a vast array of services from professional search engine marketing, social media management, website design, domain hosting and wireless broadband. CEO, Marla Johnson, is an expert internet marketing speaker who’s guided countless organizations and leading brands, such as Elvis Presley, Muhammad Ali and Bob Marley to online marketing success. She is known nationwide for her keynote addresses and workshops that deliver informative and educational industry-specific speeches followed by breakout work sessions.
Her teaching topics include internet marketing strategy, integrated advertising and public relations, mobile innovation, strategic branding and design, social networking, trends, online analytics and market segmentation.
Marla is not just another pretty face with a nice personality. She is smart. Graduating summa cum laude from the University of Memphis with three majors. Hear me, three. International relations, urban studies and political science. Ten years later she received her master’s degree in education from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
I can’t list all of Marla’s professional experiences, but I can briefly say, prior to cofounding Aristotle 20 years ago, she worked for the City of Memphis, Arkansas Department of Health, Little Rock’s KTHV TV station, founded her own commercial production company and what I think is the most interesting past job you did to me is you worked on and helped design one of the first video computer games on the market. That’s actually when I met you right after you were doing that.
Marla continues to follow her passion for community stewardship. Her 2017 board commitments are Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, Fifty for the Future, Heifer International, public facilities, Little Rock Police Foundation and Trike Theatre.
As you would expect, her awards are too many to list, but in 2015 she was the featured high-profile Arkansan and Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette, and in 2013, winner of the Beta Gamma Sigma Medallion for Entrepreneurship Award from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
It is a privilege to welcome to the table my longtime friend, the socially conscientious, smart and multitalented, Marla Johnson.
I didn’t know you did all that, and I’ve known you forever.
[0:04:54.8] MJ: I need to rest.
[0:04:57.9] KM: I need to rest.
[0:04:58.9] MJ: Just from all of that reading.
[0:04:59.8] KM: I know.
[0:05:00.5] MJ: All those big words.
[0:05:02.2] KM: I mean I’ve known you, I met you. Do you remember when I met you? This is a test.
[0:05:06.3] MJ: I think it was with the Arkansas Executive Forum.
[0:05:11.5] KM: Exactly.
[0:05:13.2] MJ: Yeah, we were in what I affectionately call the breakfast club.
[0:05:17.7] KM: Exactly.
[0:05:20.1] MJ: Yeah, we had breakfast once a month with other business owners who are still dear friends.
[0:05:24.9] KM: Really?
[0:05:25.4] MJ: Aha!
[0:05:26.6] KM: We were at a round table and you had just started this newfangled business called Aristotle that was going to do this crazy thing called the internet and you started explaining it to me and I was immediately captivated.
[0:05:40.1] MJ: Right, and you came to us and we started arkansasflagandbanner.com.
[0:05:46.9] KM: Was it that, or did we start — You may not remember this.
[0:05:49.5] MJ: Flagandbanner.com.
[0:05:51.3] KM: Actually, it was flag-banner.
[0:05:53.5] MJ: Flag-banner.
[0:05:54.3] KM: And then you came back to me a week or so later and said, “Kerry, the dash is too hard,” because you’re going to have to tell people — Well, it’s not to spell it out, D-A-S-H. It’s a hyphen. You said, “I’m going to change you to flagandbanner.com,” and I was like, “Whatever. I don’t even understand this stuff.” People always ask me, “How have you got that great name?” I said, “It’s Marla. She did it. She’s got that great name.”
Marla, this was written about you in an article I read, “The direction of Marla Johnson’s life resembles a random internet search. Clicking a link here leads to a second link over there, which leads to yet another link elsewhere. There’s no obvious arc, just a series of fortuitous discoveries plotting her destiny like a firefly marks the night.”
That’s pretty sweet! Would somebody write something like that about me please? What do you think about that?
[0:06:56.1] MJ: Well, I think that it really speaks to something that I love about being in business, which is that I just love people. I love working. I love working with other people. I like helping them. I like making a difference in their companies, in their business life. I like helping see people succeed.
Really, what that is about is about meeting people and being open to opportunities that they bring along and being willing to jump in and help them succeed, which has, honestly, led to my own personal success.
[0:07:29.9] KM: Yes, because even when you were a student in Memphis, you were on a lot — I don’t have that piece of paper or anything, but you launched a lot of governorship type newsletters and community organizations for the school you were at.
[0:07:45.5] MJ: Right. At the University of Memphis I started a publication with my then boyfriend, which was all about learning about different policies, policy decisions that affected us in every wake of our life, and that led to many connections politically within Memphis. That was actually after I already worked for the city hall in Memphis, which was also a great opportunity. I got to help write a grant for the fire department in Memphis that made us over a million dollars for training and hazardous material handling and I got to do a lot of things.
I’ve always had the opportunity. I loved my time in Memphis and at the University of Memphis and at city hall, because I just had many opportunities to do things, including working on a PC for the first time. I did some research in economics with punch cards and mainframe computers, which was really great. Then, yeah, the geography department was doing a logistics study and they were bringing in companies like FedEx and others and it was with the Department of Transportation and we had this PC and we were conducting surveys on it, and that was when I first started learning about PCs.
Not only people, but technology. I get excited, and I want to learn everything about that technology just like I want to learn everything about people, and I become fascinated and want to learn. I mean I do have a lot of interests. I was very grateful that the internet came along and that I could actually be in a business where so much of what I love could be expressed.
[0:09:26.0] KM: One of the things I love about you — I love a lot of things about you. We have a mutual love affair, but your curiosity is what I think is really one of the things you and I have in common, but you really have it and you just spoke to that when you talked about how the internet just opened this huge door of possibilities for you to research and do things. How old were you when you wrote that grant for a million dollars?
[0:09:48.1] MJ: I was 18.
[0:09:51.7] KM: Yeah! Not many people that young are mature enough to kind of know what they want to do, which is probably why you’ve been so successful at such an early age. Your mother is a school teacher, isn’t she?
[0:10:03.8] MJ: She was.
[0:10:04.9] KM: She was?
[0:10:05.5] MJ: Yeah, she died in 2003.
[0:10:07.5] KM: I’m sorry. I probably knew that. Oh, God. You got your degree in education, your master’s degree. After you did all of that, you went back to get a master’s degree in education. Why?
[0:10:21.9] MJ: I’ve actually found that being able to communicate with people in a way that gives them that aha moment that I love so much is just an incredible gift. I have taught. I’ve have taught part-time. I’ve taught full-time. I’ve taught in private school settings. I was an adjunct professor at the University of Little Rock.
[0:10:47.6] KM: What’s adjunct mean?
[0:10:48.3] MJ: Adjunct means like not full-time.
[0:10:54.3] KM: Why don’t they just say part-time? Why can’t they just use words like everybody else knows, part-time?
[0:10:57.7] MJ: It means that you’re someone in the community that has been attached like a barnacle to the bigger enterprise.
[0:11:04.4] KM: Really?
[0:11:04.5] MJ: I’m adjunct at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
[0:11:08.4] KM: See? That’s a teacher for you right there. There’s something really surprising and reoccurring in the theme of all the guests that I have, and you are a perfect example of this.
[0:11:17.6] MJ: Okay.
[0:11:17.9] KM: It’s the heart of a teacher. Almost every successful person that I interview, I had no idea, it loves teaching. The more I think about that is you can’t move from the position you’re at till you can teach somebody your position so you can move out.
[0:11:34.3] MJ: Yeah, I found it incredibly valuable to understand how people learn, how people hear you, how they digest information in such a way that they can actually act upon it. That’s very important obviously in developing your company culture and then being able to grow your company. It’s also really important with your clients, because they become a part of your company and a part of your company culture. Hopefully brand loyalists, right? They’re going to tell people about you.
You want to bring them in and help educate them so that they understand your value and they can understand — If you give somebody a fish, you don’t have brand loyalty. If you teach them how to fish, then they have gained something that empowers them. That’s really been important, because the internet and everything that I’ve done has been new to the majority of people I talk to. If they do not understand it and I have to kind of decide, “Okay. This is how much they need to understand. I don’t really need to go this deep into the weeds, but here are the pieces of that knowledge that they can act upon and that can help them make decisions going forward.”
[0:12:47.1] KM: You did that with me. You gave me tiny little pieces and you just kind of drugged me into the 21st century. I think it’s really interesting that you were a gamer. You did video games, and so you knew a lot more about digital — What am I trying to say?
[0:13:02.4] MJ: Stuff.
[0:13:02.9] KM: Yeah, stuff.
[0:13:03.5] MJ: Of course, not me only, because I’m part of a company and I was working with Christopher Stashuk.
[0:13:09.8] KM: There were six of you I think that started, right?
[0:13:11.5] MJ: Four originally. Yeah, but people who — We had that combination. I think we didn’t know how much we did know, but we knew a lot about compression, about animation, about interactive experiences. When the worldwide web came out, it was 2,400 hundred bot modems and tiny little — You couldn’t do animation originally when we got in the internet business and the web design business, but very shortly we did and we worked for KTHV and Oaklawn and all of these companies. We did amazing animated graphics for all of them and that became their own thing that flew out into the world. We did a rotoscoping, for example, for Oaklawn of the horse galloping. We found that horse everywhere for years and years to come.
[0:14:06.7] KM: We could talk forever about all the successes of Aristotle, but we need to take a break. When we come back we’re going to learn more about Marla Johnson and what she teaches and her highly sought after national seminars about Aristotle Internet and what they can do to help you and, last, what she thinks the next big thing is in her industry.
[0:14:24.7] TB: You’re listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. If you missed any part of this show, a podcast will be available next week on flagandbanner.com’s website. If you prefer to listen on iTunes, YouTube or Blog Talk, you’ll find links to those there as well, lots of listening options. We’ll be right back.
[0:14:55.6] KM: Hey, you’re listening to Up In Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. I’m speaking today with Marla Johnson, cofounder and CEO of the successful Aristotle Internet in Little Rock, Arkansas. Okay, teacher Marla, during the segment, let’s learn from you, and these are the topics I came up with. You may want your own topics, so I’m going to say mine first and then you get to say yours.
[0:15:15.5] MJ: Okay.
[0:15:15.9] KM: Internet marketing strategy, mobile innovation. That one drives me crazy. Strategic branding and design. Oh! That one drives me crazy. Social networking and trends. Oh! That one drives me crazy.
[0:15:26.0] MJ: After strategic branding, what?
[0:15:28.6] KM: Oh, social networking and trends. You’ve got to have somebody just do that. You can’t [inaudible 0:15:32.9]. They all drive me crazy. Online analytics. Let me just say AdWords just brought down my PLAs. If you all don’t know that vocabulary out there, you’re going to learn it today. Market segmentation, advertising and PR and more. What topics do you like?
[0:15:50.6] MJ: I think that first I’d probably want to start with the interactive advertising just as a big broad category. What’s happening in the world of the internet now is that it’s not the same internet that you stepped into like that river theory. It’s like, “Wherever you step in the river, it’s a whole new river. It’s a whole new internet right now that your company is your website, your online marketing efforts, all of that. The ecosystem has changed dramatically since I’ve been in business.
[0:16:20.4] KM: In the last year.
[0:16:21.3] MJ: And specifically in the last year, in the last two or three years. Game changing beyond any — I’ve seen a lot of change, right?
[0:16:28.8] KM: Yeah.
[0:16:30.3] MJ: This is the big change. This is huge. What’s happened is all of these companies — Let’s start with a couple who are major players, Google for example. What Google is doing now is they’ve found their way to make money and to be influential on the internet. The likelihood of you being found organically in search just naturally is much, much lower than it was. You now almost have to pay to play.
I think that that’s the big thing, and Facebook’s done the same thing. Originally, they didn’t know how they were going to make money without ruining Facebook, and many would argue that they have ruined Facebook with their advertising. That’s my personal experience now when I’m on Facebook. It’s just way too many ads and not enough of what I liked the most about Facebook, which is just connecting to my friends and family, but it is an advertising model. Only a year ago, you could put something out on Facebook and all of the people who followed you would see it, and now they will not unless you spend money for them to see it.
This is a huge disadvantage for a lot of small business. A lot of businesses — And even medium-sized businesses. Then large businesses also have the money to spend to actually advertise, but what’s happening there is that there’s also a lot of merging and acquisition in the area of online advertising and advertising digital media and advertising. Target is now coming out with their own platform. There’re a lot of giant brands who are getting into the business of owning the ad networks.
What that means is that even large companies can find their money being swallowed up without getting real results, such I can talk to you about in just a minute. I think that the bigger story is that the level playing field that the internet was when I first got in the business and actually fell in love with the internet, totally fell in love with the internet, is not the same internet today.
I’ve been really focused on thinking how to help smaller businesses and medium-sized businesses get a leg up in this ecosystem without spending as much as kind of as required. They have to spend something, I will say that, and that’s a big change. Any company that isn’t spending money on digital advertising is just losing out on market opportunity. There are a lot of startups too. There are all these startups, all these new young companies. We are in a global economy, and getting your business started is easier and cheaper. It’s even easier and cheaper than ever to scale up.
You pretty much need some advertising capital, some investment, and then you can pretty much get your foothold in a market, and we’re seeing just extreme competition for every single business. It just doesn’t matter what it is. I’m kind of a little jealous of the liquor store in my neighborhood which is really doing really well, or I’m really jealous — What I mean by that is that he’s found his niche and his foothold and he’s in an area, there’s not a lot of other liquor stores in that area. It’s like, “Wow! I can’t say that about almost anybody I talk to every single day.”
Disruption comes from so many different places. It is disrupting, because it’s not coming from your competitors. It’s coming from whole other businesses sometimes who aren’t even in your category.
[0:20:08.9] KM: Or neighborhood.
[0:20:10.3] MJ: Right. What we’re seeing is that the internet as an ecosystem has changed where you pretty much have to pay to play. That’s the big news. Then, how can you do that efficiently and effectively and still win? That is really the question. It’s not that people are not getting organic traffic, they are, or it’s not that they’re not having some success in Facebook or Instagram or in other social networks either, they are. Now, the other thing is that if you succeed, it’s probably because you are doing more than one of those things.
[0:20:49.8] KM: Everybody is good. Every company is good. If you’re selling quality and service, everybody’s selling that.
[0:20:58.0] MJ: Quality, service and price were the old things when we first got into business.
[0:21:01.1] KM: And everybody is doing that, yeah. Everybody is doing that. How do you separate yourself from everybody else?
[0:21:09.2] MJ: That’s one of the other topics that you’ve brought up, which is really strategic branding. Again, I think that there used to be a lot more companies who could survive without a really great business strategy where they understood fully, “This is my audience. This is the audience that I have to listen to, that I have to be doing research all the time. I have to know what they’re thinking, know what they’re feeling. Make sure that I know what they need. Make sure that I know who they’re listening to, what they’re reading and what they’re hearing,” because, again, it’s — I remember that book that we all read, Who Moved my Cheese? Everybody is looking around going, “Who moved my cheese?” Except it’s happening more and more quickly. Then the reinvention of companies, companies having to reinvent themselves is just really compressed. We have to do it more and more often.
[0:22:00.7] KM: Why do people buy — If you go on the internet, you find a million companies that are doing exactly what you’re doing. They’ve all got the same products. They got the same prices. They got the same great service, because everybody is great these days. What makes you buy from one and not the other?
[0:22:14.9] MJ: Right. We have commoditized fields where it’s just about price. People know, they feel they know what that thing is that they’re going to buy. Maybe that’s a flag, an American flag that’s on six-inch stick.
[0:22:32.5] KM: Don’t you know your American flags?
[0:22:34.1] MJ: Right, but you know. I don’t. People think they know that they understand what the quality issues are of that, right? You know that it’s actually a lot more complicated than that, that that stick is going to break or that it’s going to ravel or it’s going to fade in color.
[0:22:50.8] KM: It’s not made in America.
[0:22:52.3] MJ: Right. My point is just that people are doing comparison shopping all the time online and it depends on what is motivating that person on that product or service. If they feel that they understand what it is they’re getting. In other words, if they feel that it’s commoditized and they have a good enough understanding that it’s price. If they feel that it’s something like, let’s say, a professional service. Let’s say they’re looking for an attorney, an immigration lawyer or whatever it might be, that there might be some other specific things they look at. They’re going to definitely look at reviews. Everybody is going to look at whatever kind of review component they can find, and so they’re going to look for lists of lawyers or lists of whatever other kinds of companies. If it’s a hotel, they’re going to be on TripAdvisor. If it’s restaurant, they’re going to be on Yelp or TripAdvisor or some other review site.
[0:23:49.9] KM: But you’re a small company and you can’t afford to put that review snippet into your website.
[0:23:55.4] MJ: You have to. You cannot afford not to. You cannot afford to not put your reviews out there and get reviews and pay attention to reviews as much as you might hate it. I’ve talked to people who really hate it. They felt like — I talked to a hotel here in Eureka Springs, and she said, “I do not trust TripAdvisor. I don’t like them. I don’t like the way they communicate with me. What can I do about it?” I said, “I am really sorry. They are the 800-pound gorilla in that room and people will make decisions to stay at your place or not based on what they read on TripAdvisor. You have to go, but you have to pay attention to them and you have to play.”
[0:24:33.2] KM: If you don’t have a big conglomerate, like TripAdvisor you can sign up for, you can go to — I think Google has a Google review that they will add to your website, or if you want to go and —
[0:24:47.3] MJ: There’s a lot of free services, and Google is always out there to take advantage with a free service. Definitely, your Google listing, there’s a thing called Google Business listing.
[0:24:58.8] KM: Oh, okay.
[0:24:59.8] MJ: For free, you can make sure that the hours of operation are correct, the address is correct. What you have to do is you have to talk to your happy clients or customers and you have to get them to go and write reviews for you.
[0:25:13.1] KM: If you buy a — Is it Shopify? No. What’s the website that you can go and build your own website and they come already formatted and you just put your pictures in? What’s that? It’s not Spotify.
[0:25:24.7] MJ: There are several, but not Spotify, but Shopify, yes. They have an ecommerce engine as well.
[0:25:32.6] KM: If you use their website to pick your platform to build your website, and you use one of their templates, will you get a review?
[0:25:45.2] MJ: From them? I doubt it.
[0:25:48.2] KM: That’s your competitor. You don’t want to do that. A lot of people can afford you.
[0:25:50.4] MJ: No. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m not saying — No, I’m saying that I’m not sure about the review piece. I just don’t know. I do know that you can do it through Facebook or any other form. You don’t have to rely on something like that. I love that my hairdresser at Breathe Salon, they give you a 5% discount whenever you come if you post on Facebook that you were there and say something about them.
[0:26:26.3] KM: That is creative. That’s clever.
[0:26:28.4] MJ: Yeah, every company can do that.
[0:26:30.7] KM: You just give them a card and give them a 5% discount.
[0:26:32.3] MJ: That does not cost money. It may cost you 5%, but it’s not costing you media dollars. What you’re doing is you’re leveraging what we call the social graph of all of the friends and people around that, which is much more credible than anything you could do on your own.
[0:26:48.9] KM: You’re trying to set yourself apart by having reviews. You’re trying to set yourself apart by maybe telling a story about who you are.
[0:26:58.2] MJ: Yes.
[0:26:58.5] KM: We try to talk about me all the time and the stuff we do in the community. You do tons of stuff in the community.
[0:27:04.1] MJ: In strategic branding, what you want to do — I would say a lot of that for a lot of companies is about networking. Also, meeting other companies or people who want to do community service as well. They want that to be a part of who they are, and that’s a part of their story. When I was talking about strategic branding, yes, you have to have something that separates you from everybody else, whatever that is.
There’s this great program, it’s called Story Branding, where you learn that, really, it’s not about you. It’s not about your company. It’s really about the person who’s looking at you. Here, again, you really have to get into the head of your audience, and how do you be a hero to them, because you’re not the hero. In other words, as long as you’re going, “Oh! We’re so great. We’re fantastic.”
[0:27:53.0] KM: Nobody wants to hear that.
[0:27:54.0] MJ: Nobody. You’re just talking and no one is hearing you. You’re talking to a wall.
[0:28:00.9] KM: Yeah.
[0:28:01.8] MJ: People want to hear, what will you do for me? How can you help me? One of the things, we try to provide a lot of guidance to our clients. We try to make sure that we get the word out, “We have the knowledge and experience to help you, guide you through what’s happening in the ecosystem, if you will, of the internet today.”
[0:28:23.6] KM: I like what you said here, and I think I got this off your website, “The secret to good marketing is understanding —” and I think you’re saying this right now. “The secret to good marketing is understanding that the people on the other end of the screen are on a journey that is both intimately personal and collectively global. Their actions are guided by their thoughts at that moment and your message has to be relevant to them.”
[0:28:47.1] MJ: Yeah, relevancy is absolutely the key, because you might think that the message that you have is relevant to you, but it’s not necessarily relevant to that person who you’re speaking to. Now, I won’t going to give you a word of caution here, and it’s really hard, because you’re on the internet, right? Everybody can be my customer, right? Everybody needs what you have. Right, Kerry?
[0:29:12.4] KM: Supposedly.
[0:29:13.0] MJ: There isn’t anybody who doesn’t want what you have.
[0:29:16.7] KM: Okay.
[0:29:16.9] MJ: You think that you’re marketing to everyone, but whenever you’re marketing to everyone, you’re marketing to no one. You have to actually say, “No. I’m going to focus on this audience right here. I am going to be known in that world and in that person’s world and people like them,” and then you grow from there. You don’t try to be everything to everyone.
[0:29:43.6] KM: That’s the most expensive marketing there is.
[0:29:45.6] MJ: You can’t afford it today. You really can’t. Unless you’re Amazon or you’re some giant company.
[0:29:52.7] KM: That’s what you say about internet marketing strategy?
[0:29:55.7] MJ: Yes, that’s internet marketing strategy. That’s a little bit about branding and story branding, which I love.
[0:30:01.6] KM: And market segmentation.
[0:30:03.6] MJ: That takes us right to market segmentation. You have to have industry segments. You have to have people in a specific geographic or something area who you want to resonate with so that you can make sure you’re relevant, because being relevant is going to change all the time.
[0:30:19.3] KM: It’s the hardest part for me.
[0:30:21.5] MJ: I know.
[0:30:22.2] KM: Everybody buys a flag. Everybody is an American. Everybody needs a flag.
[0:30:25.8] MJ: This goes back to that hoarding thing that you’re hearing a little bit. There’s like marketing hoarding.
[0:30:32.6] KM: Marketing hoarding. You coined a new phrase.
[0:30:34.6] MJ: Yup. We don’t want to lose any possible customer. Yeah, you can’t do it.
[0:30:39.4] KM: That’s true. All right! It’s time to take another break. When we come back we’re going to pick up with more tips on marketing from Marla. We’re going to continue our conversation. She is the CEO of Aristotle Internet in Little Rock, Arkansas.
[0:30:51.2] TB: You’re listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. If you missed any part of this show, a podcast will be available next week on flagandbanner.com’s website. If you prefer to listen on iTunes, YouTube or Blog Talk, you’ll find those links there, lots of listening options. We’ll be right back.
[0:31:20.3] KM: You’re listening Up In Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. I’m speaking today with Marla Johnson, cofounder and CEO of Aristotle Internet in Little Rock, Arkansas. If you’ve got questions or comments for my guest or me, this is your chance. You can send an email to —
[0:31:33.3] TB: The email is email@example.com.
[0:31:37.1] KM: That’s questions with an S. We’re tweeting. We’re tweeting @askkerrymccoy, using the #upyourbusiness. Marla, you got a hash tag you want everybody to us. What is it?
[0:31:47.5] MJ: @aristotlebuzz.
[0:31:51.5] KM: B-U-Z-Z. I love the name Aristotle. Did you think of that name?
[0:31:54.6] MJ: Oh, that’s a great story.
[0:31:56.9] KM: Come on.
[0:31:57.2] MJ: When we were finding the company, a bunch of us sitting around talking about what the name might be, there was like game out called Socrates, and I thought that was cool. It’s an educational game for kids. Somebody said, “Oh! How about Aristotle? I love this particular philosophy of Aristotle,” one person said. Then another person said, “I love how he said that if you could envision a perfect sphere, then you could create a perfect sphere.” Then somebody else said, “I love how he saw that the universe was all interconnected.” It’s like, “Okay. Aristotle it is.”
[0:32:28.1] KM: That’s the definition of the internet.
[0:32:31.7] MJ: Yeah, it is. Isn’t that cool?
[0:32:33.3] KM: Yeah. That’s really great. We’ve got topics we can talk about, which we already talked about internet marketing strategy. Story branding. I love that one. We’ve talked about competition. We’ve talked about that there’s going to be a lot of new big players in the ad networks online.
[0:32:56.5] MJ: There are a lot of big players, and I think mainly what people need to know is that if they’re not advertising online, then the deck is just stacked against them. They’re going to have to work harder. If they can, they should try to carve out some budget for online advertising.
[0:33:12.5] KM: I just got back from the National Independent Flag Dealers Association in Denver, Colorado. Yes, we have an association, and everybody in that room I’ve known for 40 years, and they’re just wonderful, small business people, veterans. Sometimes third generation flag companies, and they’re small. When the speaker asked them to raise their hand, how many of them were good in social marketing, they had all a website, but nobody really knew how to do anything with it.
I was kind of sad about that, because they all have really great family stories, family businesses, but the people that seemed to be my competitor online are people that don’t even really — They’re not even really flag companies. They’re just people who sell products and they’ve thrown up a website that’s called USA Flag Company and they just sell flags and they have another website that’s called USA Pendants, and thy have another that sells shirts and another one that sells — Just all kinds of products. It seems like online you’re competing with people who don’t have a story. When you talk about story branding, most of the people online don’t even have people to answer the phone. They don’t have stories at all, and the people that do have stories are too small, don’t have enough money, don’t have enough manpower to build their story branding.
[0:34:35.2] MJ: Yeah, sometimes they are actually happy with tier size. They don’t really want to go down that road. That’s not the kind of company they want to be. They’re in danger, but they may have their B-to-B clients, their big clients in their areas who continue to be loyal. It’s just that — Yeah, they’re not going to be on a growth path.
[0:34:56.0] KM: Yeah.
[0:34:57.4] MJ: I think that the important thing for me that I love about online media is that you can actually learn and listen to customers through online media. That’s the thing that I’ve really been working with our clients on, is how do we make sure that when we are looking at search engines specifically, because it’s just like people voting with their feet in search engines, right? It’s like, “I’m searching this thing.” They’re going to ask for things. They wouldn’t tell people they’re asking for, but that’s what they’re looking for. They’re looking for information or something about something. Search engines, to me, that’s the killer app for data intelligence, data analytics. You combine that with Google Analytics, which is free to have on your website, and you have a very powerful combination.
[0:35:45.7] KM: Say that again. Are you talking about the search box on your website using it?
[0:35:50.0] MJ: That too, because you have that, but a lot of other companies don’t. You have a search box on your website.
[0:35:55.4] KM: That I can use for data collection.
[0:35:56.6] MJ: Yes, that’s important as well. People have already come to your website and then they can’t find something usually, or it’s just their way. It’s faster for them to just use search. That’s good to know what they’re looking for. It’s really good to know if they’re looking for something that you don’t have. We have access to tools that tell us what people are looking for on your competitor’s websites. They’re not even coming to your website.
[0:36:21.3] KM: They’re going to your competitor’s website?
[0:36:22.7] MJ: Yeah. We have search engine marketing tools that allow us to know what people are searching in general. What’s trending, what they’re looking for and where they’re going?
[0:36:31.7] KM: You mean in the Google Analytics.
[0:36:33.7] MJ: No. These are proprietary platforms that we have to pay money to access.
[0:36:39.2] KM: You’re creeping on the competitors.
[0:36:41.0] MJ: Oh! Everybody is. Yeah.
[0:36:42.2] KM: Of course they are.
[0:36:43.9] MJ: But you’re not only creeping on the competitors. You’re not really creeping. What you’re doing is you’re trying to gain insights on your customer segment. Now, of course, if everyone is your customer, that’s not really possible to do.
[0:36:57.1] KM: Was that a dig at me? I think it was.
[0:36:57.8] MJ: No, it’s not. No, I’m saying that — Because I hear this all the time. I have this problem. People come in and say, “Who’s your best customer?” “Oh! Everyone.” It’s like, “Oh! Let’s go somewhere else with that, because you just got to put a stake in the ground with some audience.
Anyway, yeah, we have these awesome tools that allow us to plug in your website and then plug in multiple competitors’ websites, see what search engine terms you have that are the same and which ones you have that are different and how many people are going into those websites on those terms, right?
[0:37:35.0] KM: Yeah.
[0:37:35.9] MJ: Then if you combine that with Google AdWords and digital display advertising through Google, you can do the same thing. You can see what people are searching for and how you’re marketing to those groups and reaching out and what’s resonating, what message are resonating, what messages are not resonating. You can do A-B testing on your messages, on your prices, on your story brand.
[0:38:02.1] KM: Do you do A-B testing?
[0:38:03.2] MJ: Aha! Yes.
[0:38:04.4] KM: I need to do that on my new website. What do you do if you have to launch a new website? I’ve done this twice and it’s almost bankrupted me, because technology changes. Let’s talk about mobile innovation, the one that drives me crazy. We had to get a new website, so we could be mobile ready, because how many people use their phones to shop?
[0:38:23.2] MJ: Everybody, and over 50% of the searches for products and services that you purchase and even higher than that actually, but over 50% of the traffic to every website now is coming from mobile.
[0:38:38.0] KM: Yes, we found that to be true. Everybody was searching on their mobile phones and nobody was making purchases, so we did the math and thought, “Well, if we upgrade and spend this money on a new website, all those people are going to start converting like they do on a desktop.” They don’t. I think they still find you on their phone and go to their desktop or tablet and place the orders. Do you find that true? I find that to be true.
[0:39:05.0] MJ: That they’ll do research on their phone and then make a purchase on their desktop?
[0:39:08.7] KM: Yes.
[0:39:09.4] MJ: That’s typical in several fields, not just yours. Yeah, sometimes it’s just easier. It’s just the fat finger test and dealing with that form on your phone.
[0:39:21.8] KM: You feel your desktop is more secure.
[0:39:24.6] MJ: Right. I think mainly it’s just easier.
[0:39:27.4] KM: Yeah. Let’s talk about cyber security and fraud.
[0:39:30.6] MJ: I do want to mention that actually we’ve seen a huge increase in people actually purchasing on the phone. People are purchasing on the phone and increasingly so.
[0:39:41.4] KM: When we did launch our new website, we did find that more people did buy on their phones, but not as much as we thought. You can’t do one to one and go, “Oh! If this percentage buys on the desktop and we upgrade our mobile interface, the same percentage is going to buy.”
[0:40:01.0] MJ: Is your website responsive?
[0:40:02.8] KM: Mm-hmm.
[0:40:02.9] MJ: Okay. Good.
[0:40:05.1] KM: Let’s talk about cyber security and fraud.
[0:40:09.5] MJ: I do.
[0:40:09.9] KM: Or do you want to talk about online analytics? We kind of just did that.
[0:40:13.7] MJ: I think that the main thing about analytics is that we are in a world of big data. The other thing besides money to advertise that the big boys have that small and medium-sized business don’t have is more data, and more data insights.
A lot of the companies who have the data to share with you and to help you and to provide insights and strategic insights are just expensive. You’re going to spend 20, $30,000, $50,000 a year, maybe $100,000 a year on data analytics. You have to be able to do the math with your own business and your audiences and decide whether or not you can make that kind of investment. A lot of big companies have that and it’s one of the other things that I’ve seen that’s kind of — Again, part of that story that I want to share, which is just the internet is not the levelized playing field that it used to be.
[0:41:09.9] KM: No. You use to do this analytics for me and you taught me — 10 years ago you taught me Google AdWords, and then it got to be such a big job that I hired somebody in-house to do Google Analytics. That’s that online analytics. I pay somebody 40 hours a week to look at Google Analytics all day long and change that.
[0:41:39.3] MJ: Google AdWords, right?
[0:41:41.2] KM: I’m sorry. Google AdWords.
[0:41:42.0] MJ: Your pay per click marketing.
[0:41:43.2] KM: And the analytics, all day long, because when you go to Google, there’s two different platforms. There’s Google Analytics and there’s Google AdWords, and the Google AdWords is where you buy the keywords, for our listeners, and then the Google Analytics is where you make decisions.
[0:41:58.8] MJ: Right. By the way, a lot of people don’t know how to set up Google Analytics and it’s very important that you set up events and that you put dates in there, like this is when I launched this micro site or when I launched this promotion. You have to mark those in there so that you can begin to see in your analytics what things you did that changed.
The hard thing about all these data is that there are — Yeah, that’s one of the things I do a lot of training sessions on is here is some basic things you need to do if you want to make sure that you’re getting actually tactical advice and recommendations about of Google Analytics or out of Google AdWords and not just a lot of big data sitting there that you don’t know what to do with.
[0:42:42.2] KM: You’re talking about the way you name your campaigns?
[0:42:44.6] MJ: Mm-hmm.
[0:42:45.7] KM: Naming your campaigns — Ours awful, or they used to be. I don’t know if they are anymore.
[0:42:50.2] MJ: I think naming them, putting those dates in, making sure that you know. The key to A-B testing is in large part that you know what the baseline was, and then you say, “Okay, I’m going to make this change,” and so you would impact that change makes. That’s the B.
In Google Analytics — So that’s the Analytics platform, but behind almost every one of our listener’s wesbite, you can say, “Hey, on this day I set up a new webpage in my website and it was a Labor Day campaign with a sweepstakes offer. I’m going to note that in my analytics program so that when I go to my analytics I can go, “Oh, look. That’s where we got the bum.” You can also track from your me media buys, “Hey, these are the new people. These are the repeat people. These are the retargeted people who came in and these are the things they did and this is the money they spent.” It’s all about tracking.
That’s very complicated. Yes, you have to have a professional person know how to set up tracking, think ahead. You have to, as a business owner, be asking questions, like, “How do I know if this worked?”
[0:44:06.0] KM: I love that. I just learned that. You just taught me something. A day before yesterday I changed my front page, my homepage. I should go in and make a campaign about that.
[0:44:15.4] MJ: You should go to your person who’s managing Google Analytics for you and say, “Please, make a note that this is an event in Google Analytics. Make a note of this date so that we can see before and after what impact they may have had.”
[0:44:29.4] KM: That is good advice. Marla, thank you.
[0:44:31.2] MJ: There’s also really an expensive software that allows you to see what people are clicking on your main page and there’s also eye tracking software and things that will let you see whether or not that new button or that new thing was even seen and what impact it have.
[0:44:47.7] KM: I think, for our listener, we’re talking about heat maps where you can see where people, what they’re clicking on on the front page. I think that’s in Google. I think that that might be — Or in Chrome, maybe. I don’t know. You can tell. That’s not my department, but I just know the words. Vocabulary is a big deal. For people that maybe are kind of lost in today’s interview, because we’re kind of using a lot of vocabulary that’s specific to the internet. I’m not sure how — You taught this to me over 20 years.
[0:45:21.3] MJ: Right, and sometimes I kind of gasp a little bit when somebody says, “Could you explain that to me?” It’s like, “Uh, not in 30 minutes really.” Of course, there’s a lot I don’t know. There’s a lot that’s changing all the time. I don’t know every single thing about every piece of software. What I do know what kind of mindset to have. What kinds of questions to ask and what the possibilities are. Then I’m aware usually of a multitude of applications or software that you could use at multiple levels.
[0:45:52.7] KM: If I was to go into my marketing room and ask them one question right now, what would it be?
[0:45:58.2] MJ: Who’s my best customer and how much are they spending? I don’t mean by an individual, I mean a type.
[0:46:05.0] KM: An industry.
[0:46:06.9] MJ: And anything. It might be people in St. Louis. It might business owners in a healthcare field.
[0:46:18.9] KM: It could be geography. It could be industry. That’s really the only two I can think of.
[0:46:24.9] MJ: Who are my best customers? Because you need to know who those people are and you need to know why they’re your customers. I think surveys of your customers are really important. I would place a survey.
[0:46:36.8] KM: What does that mean?
[0:46:37.9] MJ: Ask your customers. Why do you buy your things on Arkansas Flag & Banner? Why?
[0:46:44.1] KM: Yeah. We have a survey that goes out after they buy, and I’m surprised how many people will fill that up.
[0:46:51.1] MJ: What do you do? What industry are you in? Where are you located? All of the things that you would want to know that would help you understand your best audience, because more and more, it’s not about getting more people to your website to purchase. It’s about getting the right people to your website and taking care of those people better than other people can take care of them, and that’s your differentiator.
[0:47:17.3] KM: That’s been true even before the internet. Don’t get more — Or a lot of business models have been, “Don’t go get more customers. Just take care of the customers you got. Retain them, and possibly sell them more or speed up the sell cycle.”
[0:47:33.8] MJ: Then you can use online marketing techniques to make it easier for them to market you to their friends. That’s what you want to do.
[0:47:42.9] KM: What do you mean?
[0:47:43.9] MJ: Well, one of the questions that we ask all the time when we talk about brand loyalty are would you recommend us to your friends? Because people will only recommend a brand or a company if they think it’s really a good deal and they can pretty much assure that it’s going to be a good experience for their friends, and it reflects on them. It reflects on their personality, the personality of the company they do business with.
[0:48:10.1] KM: Yes.
[0:48:10.9] MJ: Yup. What you want to do is you want to — Then you can personalize more your content and your services. You can add services and you’re adopting by what people want.
[0:48:23.3] KM: All right, I like all that. We’ve got five minutes — Or actually we’ve got six minutes left. I can’t believe this, Marla. You have over 11 million sales. Is that right? I got that on BuzzFeed. Is that true?
[0:48:39.4] MJ: I’m not going to tell you.
[0:48:40.7] TB: BuzzFeed is fake news.
[0:48:43.0] KM: Is that true, Tim?
[0:48:44.6] TB: BuzzFeed is the fakest news.
[0:48:46.7] KM: It said you’re at 75 employees, but I think I read on your website you have 250 employees.
[0:48:51.7] MJ: No. We’ve had over 250 employees in our history.
[0:48:55.9] KM: Oh, in your history. Heck! I probably have too.
[0:48:59.3] MJ: Yeah, we have about 50 employees.
[0:49:01.3] KM: Oh, okay. You’ve gotten over 350 awards, hundreds. Now, I said — I think I said it wrong. You’ve got dial-up customers.
[0:49:15.6] MJ: We still have dial-up customers, yeah.
[0:49:18.3] KM: I said broadband, I think.
[0:49:20.0] MJ: We have broadband customers.
[0:49:21.0] KM: Oh, you do? You’ve got dial-up customers all over the nation.
[0:49:24.1] MJ: Don’t you love it? For 50 cents an hour still.
[0:49:26.9] KM: No.
[0:49:28.1] MJ: Yes, 50 cents an hour. We still have dial-up customers.
[0:49:33.3] KM: They must be way out in the country.
[0:49:36.1] MJ: A lot of them, they have some security in this dial-up world.
[0:49:40.3] KM: Really? Why do you say that? I guess that’s true. Yeah, explain that. Yeah, that makes sense.
[0:49:47.5] MJ: We provide voice over IP now, so you can also get your business on voice over IP and save a lot of money.
[0:49:53.6] KM: What does that mean?
[0:49:54.5] MJ: Digital phones. We’re a phone company now. You can have all of your services on our voice over IP. That’s what VoIP stands for. Yeah, but a lot of people — We got a lot of preppers out there. They want to have a landline. They want to have —
[0:50:13.7] KM: Y’all, she said preppers.
[0:50:15.0] MJ: I do. They want to have a landline. They want to have a dialup internet service. They want to be a little bit off the grid. Yeah, they don’t want to be on Gmail. They know their information is being served up or shared.
[0:50:33.4] KM: Yeah, because cyber security and fraud is a big deal.
[0:50:35.6] MJ: Yeah, and getting bigger all the time. In fact we know that people — That whether or not there’s no question for any company of any size, whether or not you’ve been hacked. You have been hacked.
[0:50:48.5] KM: What?
[0:50:49.5] MJ: Yeah. There’s all these automation out there, and so information is being gathered constantly. It just doesn’t have a value in the market yet, so nobody’s selling it or distributing it or using it yet, but it’s everywhere.
[0:51:08.1] KM: Everybody has been hacked.
[0:51:10.1] MJ: Yes. Every company has to be prepared. There’s not a way to prevent it. There’s only ways to reduce the chances and to mitigate it and to respond. Yeah, that’s the word.
[0:51:27.9] KM: No wonder there’s dialup. We may all be doing back to dialup.
All right, Marla. It’s the end of the show. I’ve got to say thank you. I could talk to you forever.
[0:51:37.5] MJ: Did we get any questions?
[0:51:38.6] KM: Oh, no. We didn’t get any questions. I told you, you’re answering them all. Your tourism is your specialty, don’t you think?
[0:51:44.3] MJ: Yes.
[0:51:44.6] KM: I think so too.
[0:51:45.2] MJ: We still do a lot of work in tourism.
[0:51:47.4] KM: Hey, I want to tell all the ladies out there that you just got married.
[0:51:51.5] MJ: Okay.
[0:51:52.9] KM: Congratulations, Marla.
[0:51:53.8] MJ: Thank you very much.
[0:51:54.2] KM: When is your anniversary?
[0:51:55.3] MJ: The first time I got married, I was an inspiration to women everywhere, because I was 40.
[0:52:00.7] KM: Now you’re an inspiration to more women. That was your first time.
[0:52:03.7] MJ: Right. I was divorced in 2014 and then I got married.
[0:52:07.6] KM: Again?
[0:52:08.1] MJ: Again, year. A year ago.
[0:52:10.5] KM: Love that.
[0:52:11.5] MJ: Very happy. It’s great.
[0:52:12.9] KM: I’m glad. You’re from Colorado. We didn’t get to that. Look what you’ve got, a desk set.
[0:52:17.8] MJ: Oh! I got a flag. That’s so awesome.
[0:52:21.2] KM: A desk set of U.S., Arkansas, and Colorado.
[0:52:25.9] MJ: I love that.
[0:52:27.3] KM: I’m glad you do.
[0:52:28.1] MJ: You know, I was born in Colorado, in Pueblo, Colorado, on the Arkansas River.
[0:52:33.7] KM: No, that’s not right.
[0:52:34.0] MJ: Yup. My great uncle lived in the Rocky Mountain National Park, and one day when I was 16 he said, “See that trickle up there, Marla, where that snow is melting?” He said, “That’s where the Arkansas River begins.” Wow! Cool.
[0:52:48.2] KM: Will you come back? We didn’t get to any of your personal life, like how you ended up in Arkansas.
[0:52:54.4] MJ: I don’t think that that’s the topic of this story.
[0:52:56.5] KM: Yes, it is. I love how you ended — I love how you ended up in Arkansas, and you could have ended up anywhere in the world, because you’re smart enough to have been anywhere and you picked us.
[0:53:05.8] MJ: I’m committed to Little Rock and to Arkansas big time.
[0:53:07.9] KM: You are. You served on all these boards, and we didn’t talk about any of your good work you do, but you are big into giving back to the community. You really are, and we didn’t talk about any of that stuff, any of your philanthropy.
Aristotle has done like $1.5 million in philanthropy since you’ve been boss, or maybe more.
[0:53:25.4] MJ: Yup, more than now. Yeah.
[0:53:27.2] KM: That’s really great. Hey Tim, who’s our guest next week?
[0:53:29.8] TB: Next week is going to be the author, Chelsea Wakefield, who wrote the book Negotiating the Inner Peace Treaty.
[0:53:36.5] KM: I met her. I know her. She’s a UAMS psychiatrist. I met her this year. She did a seminar at my church and a little workshop at Eternity Episcopal Cathedral. She believes in dream study. I’ve been reading this book —
[0:53:51.6] MJ: And that’s how I came to Arkansas. I had a dream.
[0:53:54.2] KM: is that true?
[0:53:54.7] MJ: Yeah.
[0:53:56.1] KM: We’ve got one minute. You can’t tell us, or can you?
[0:54:00.2] MJ: I learned how to interpret my dreams since I was about 17.
[0:54:06.4] KM: I love it. You need to listen next week.
[0:54:08.6] MJ: I will.
[0:54:09.5] KM: She’s not from Arkansas. She’s a transplant. She just moved here this year. She’s also a sex therapist. My two favorite subjects, business and sex. That’s going to be interesting. If anybody is going to get embarrassed, it’s going to be next week.
If you’ve got a great entrepreneurial story you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. Send a brief a bio and your contact info to —
[0:54:34.0] TB: Questions@upyourbusiness.org.
[0:54:35.5] KM: And someone will be in touch. Finally, to our listeners, thank you for spending time with me. If you think this program has been about you, you’re right, but it’s also been for me. Thank you for letting me fulfill my destiny. My hope today is that you’ve heard or learned something that’s been inspiriting or enlightening, and that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence, or your life.
I’m Kerry McCoy and I’ll see you next time on Up in Your Business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:54:35.5] TB: You’ve been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Want to hear today’s program again or want someone else to benefit from it? Jot this down. Next week a podcast will be available at flagandbanner.com. Click the tab labeled “Radio Show”, there you’ll find today’s segments with links to resources you heard discussed on this program. Kerry’s goal: to help you live the American Dream.