Martech Stacked Episode 17: David Mihm from Tidings shares his top 3 pieces of marketing technology
17th September 2020
I’m joined today by a man who’s written and spoken extensively about how small businesses can improve their presence in local search engines. He’s served as VP of Product Strategy for ThriveHive, Director of Local Strategy for Moz, and was the co-founder of GetListed.org. He’s now the founder of Tidings - an app that automatically builds your email newsletter from social content, bookmarked links, and RSS feeds. Welcome to Martech Stacked, David Mihm.
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#1: GoogleMyBusiness Connect with customers across Google Search and Maps.
#2: Shopify Create an ecommerce website backed by powerful tools that help you find customers, drive sales, and manage your day-to-day.
#3: MailChimp Turn audience insights into personalized marketing with an email platform that gets smarter over time.
David Bain: I'm joined today by a man who's written and spoken extensively about how small businesses can improve their presence in local search engines. He served as VP of product strategy for ThriveHive, Director of Local Strategy for Moz, and was a Co-Founder of getlisted.org. He's now the founder of Tidings, an app that automatically builds your email newsletter from social content, bookmarked links, and RSS feeds. Welcome to Martech Stacked, David Mihm.
David Mihm: It's great to be here. Thanks so much for the invitation David. Looking forward to speaking with you and your listeners.
David Bain: Sounds great. Well, great to have you on. You can, of course, find David over at tidings.com. So David, if you can possibly explain, just to begin with, in, I guess, a little bit more detail what Tidings does and how you use marketing technology to make it better.
David Mihm: Sure. So Tidings actually is a piece of marketing technology. It started out of my own need for a product in about 2006 or so. I had started a newsletter for the first time, which shame on me for taking 10 years to start a newsletter despite being a digital marketer all that time. But I was very frustrated by the time that it took to build a very simple newsletter in MailChimp, which I think is a great piece of technology and we'll talk about later, but it was just taking two hours a week for me to send out my newsletter, which was just a few links with my assembled thoughts.
David Mihm: So I thought, "There's got to be a better, faster way to do this," so I decided to start Tidings, and that's still our core product, is basically as you described it in the opener, we'll pull in any social content that you've shared since your last newsletter went out. You can augment that with bookmarked links or RSS feeds in a very easy drag and drop mechanism, and then send directly using the email service provider of your choice to whatever list or segment you choose. So that's the idea.
David Bain: Sounds good. You mentioned MailChimp there. I wonder if that was a little bit of a tease as to what one of your selections was likely to be. But I'll tell you what, I remember using MailChimp a few years ago and they certainly had a tool in there at the time where you could import an RSS feed or add an RSS feed and automatically generate newsletters from that. I'm not sure if that's still within MailChimp.
David Mihm: As far as I know I know it's still there. So I actually tried that with my previous personal setup in 2016, and there's very little customization you can do. So it truly is a hookup the feed and send it out automatically, which doesn't really work for me because I like to say why I think this article is important or what people should be paying attention to. So you don't really build, I don't think, the same level of expertise and leadership with your readers and subscribers. But as I said, I think MailChimp is a great product and happy to promote them as much as I am Tidings, to be honest.
David Bain: Okay, great stuff. It's funny actually, funny talking about RSS feeds because I'm not sure how many marketers nowadays would even know what an RSS feed is or be able to find an RSS feed because it seems like 10 plus years ago RSS was probably a more common technology. Would you agree with that?
David Mihm: Totally agree. I think Google's decision to kill off it's feed reader back around that time, I don't know exactly how long ago it was, but I think that that probably had a big impact on how many people were using RSS feeds to consume content. There are still certainly some great readers out there, including Feedly, which I use on occasion. Not one of my favorite three pieces of marketing technology, but a great one nonetheless. But I and I also think that the rise of, especially in our industry, Twitter has probably changed the way people consume content as well, where they follow certain sources for information in a given category or about a given topic, and that's really where they're pulling most of their content from.
David Bain: Okay, great stuff. Because I remember back in... It must've been about 2005, 2006, really getting heavily into internet marketing it was called at the time, as opposed to digital marketing, checking out big websites to see how they were doing. And I remember the BBC website, which is a big website in the UK and probably globally as well, and they had RSS feeds and little RSS icons as part of their site and even had a little page saying "What is RSS?" You click that and it had a good explanation of what that is. But perhaps I'm getting sidetracked a little bit here. You mentioned a couple of tools already, so let's start off with number three. So what are your top three tools in your current martech stack and why?
David Mihm: Sure. So I will give you my three tools that I recommend for small business owners as somebody who's... I've basically spent my career helping small businesses, everything from get off the ground online, build their first website, to optimize their million-plus SKU ecommerce website, that was a little bit larger business than a small business, but you get the idea. I have run the spectrum in terms of the size of businesses that I work with.
David Bain: Okay, sounds good.
David Mihm: And I think, especially as I look at what has happened both with personal behavior during COVID, as well as digital behavior on the part of customers during COVID, I think that I'm doubling down on my recommendation for the three most essential pieces of martech for small businesses, and those would be Google My Business, Shopify, and MailChimp.
David Bain: If I was to push you to share them in a certain order, what tool would be number three, starting off with that one?
David Mihm: Number three. I would probably say MailChimp to be honest.
David Bain: MailChimp, okay. You mentioned it already. MailChimp have obviously been around for a while now. Not maybe as long as something like AWeber, but for a reasonable amount of time. So what makes you choose MailChimp instead of ConvertKit or some other software?
David Mihm: So funny enough... in particular, in comparison to AWeber and other tool... I don't want to bash AWeber. It's a perfectly good solution if you're already using it. But I think MailChimp integrates much more widely with various other tools from around the web. So regardless of the content management system that you're using for your website, you can probably connect the sign up form where you're trying to collect emails to your MailChimp audience list. You can probably integrate your MailChimp reporting with whatever CRM suite that you're using. The MailChimp API, for those of you who are advanced enough to know what an API is listening in, it's basically the way two pieces of software talk to each other. MailChimp has, I think, the best API, the widest Rosetta stone, I guess, in terms of being able to communicate with multiple other pieces of software. And I think that for more advanced marketers, that's the reason I recommend it.
David Bain: And for slightly less advanced marketers, but marketers that still want to do as much as possible with MailChimp, if they're using MailChimp, does that API functionality extend into Zapier, where you can choose lots of different things from MailChimp to do as a result of it hooking up with something else?
David Mihm: That's a perfect example. I haven't done this recently, but if you go into Zapier and you compare the number of actions and triggers that the MailChimp integration offers versus some of these other email service providers, I am guessing that you'll see MailChimp at the top of the list in terms of the number of things that you can configure in Zapier. And that speaks to my point about how good at integrating it is with multiple other pieces of martech software. Okay.
David Bain: Okay, great stuff. So you mentioned Shopify and you also mentioned Google My Business, but which of those is number two?
David Mihm: I would probably say Shopify is number two. It's hard. For me, they're 1A, 1B, but if you forced me to choose, I would say Shopify as number two, and the reason is that, in a little bit of a backwards way, Google My Business has released so much functionality in the last two or three years that you can almost get away with not having a website, which I would not advise any business to do. But there's just so much that you can do with Google My Business, I would say Shopify as the next thing to focus on. And Shopify in my experience is really great. I've used it to set up a handful of ecommerce websites for small businesses in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, since the COVID pandemic started.
David Mihm: And I just find it to be... First of all, as a longtime customer of businesses using Shopify, I think it has one of the best checkout experiences and user experiences for your customers. So I think it's a great way for you as a business to convert, basically, the most browsers into customers and make sure that they actually follow through on checking out, which I think is a, is a huge part of what you should look for in choosing an e-commerce content management system. It's also very affordable. They have packages somewhere in the 20 to $30 range per month, which I think is really important. I think they've also have had a number of big COVID promotions where if you just want to get started with ecommerce because of a lot of retail not happening anymore, they're trying to onboard as many people into their system as possible.
David Mihm: It's relatively easy, I think, to do SEO using Shopify. If you've got a smallish store, a couple hundred SKUs, I don't think it scales really well into the sort of hundreds of thousands or millions of SKU range. But I think for small sites, it's really great. And as with MailChimp, it integrates with a lot of other systems, including importantly, a couple of big integrations they just announced, one of them being you can now create a Google Shopping feed for free from within your Shopify dashboard, and Google Shopping is becoming a fairly large search engine in and of itself.
David Mihm: As well as a couple of big distribution deals here in the United States anyway. One with walmart.com, so now Shopify merchants can opt in to a presence on walmart.com as well as the Shop App ecosystem, which is sort of its Trojan horse, almost, competitor to Amazon where they're aggregating all of these small merchants who are on Shopify into their own marketplace, which I think is a really smart idea. So I think Shopify is really a great option for cost, for all these additional distribution channels, and the ability to do some very basic but important SEO techniques to make sure that that your website shows up in Google for your products that you want to sell.
David Bain: Okay, great. When you mentioned linking up with Walmart, my immediate thought was competitor to Amazon, which is exactly the next thing you said. So you stole my next question there. I do have others in mind. One of those is I'm actually thinking about other software like WooCommerce. You mentioned small businesses, small ecommerce stores. Why would a small ecommerce store choose Shopify over WooCommerce?
David Mihm: Sure. I've set up a number of websites, I wouldn't say a number, a handful of websites in WooCommerce over the years. None in the last, I would say three or four years, so I can't speak to its current functionality. I will say that I found the user interface, as someone who was setting up the store, very, very confusing, using WordPress and WooCommerce. I think you just need to be a little bit more advanced in your ability to understand the WordPress ecosystem, which there may be many marketers and agencies listening to our conversation for whom that's the case, and I think that WooCommerce would be a perfectly good option for them, but I think if you're just getting started as a small business and you need a great ecommerce website out of the box, I think Shopify is a little bit better option to go.
David Mihm: They also have, and WooCommerce has some of these as well, but the Shopify app ecosystem has grown to be quite large as well, so if you need a particular thing within your checkout process, or if you need something in the back end with your customer data, there's all these third party apps that plug into the Shopify instance that may or may not be available within WordPress and WooCommerce because WordPress was not built from the ground up as an ecommerce engine. It was built basically as a blogging platform onto which this ecommerce plugin, WooCommerce, has been bolted. And I think that WordPress is awesome. I use WordPress myself for the front end of the Tidings website, for if you are a local realtor or an insurance agent or a lawyer or anything like that and you're just publishing content, WordPress is my go to choice. But for ecommerce particularly, I think Shopify is a better... It's a round peg in a round hole as opposed to a square peg in a round hole.
David Bain: It's funny that you mentioned that you haven't tried WooCommerce in the last three or four years. I haven't tried it in the last three or four years either. So maybe that just tells the full story perhaps as to... It's perhaps not the most current top of mind choice for most small ecommerce stores or large ecommerce stores. But anyway, Shopify is certainly something to consider. That was your choice number two. What is your choice number one?
David Mihm: Number one, sorry to ruin the surprise, but Google My Business, I think is my choice 1A, and the reason is... There are two reasons. Number one, first of all, essentially everyone is Googling you in this day and age. Even if they've heard of your business from a friend or someone forwarded a newsletter from another business, they're probably going to look you up by your name, and the thing that shows up front and center, if you have taken advantage of it, is your Google My Business profile. It's also called a knowledge panel for those of you who have been around SEO, search engine optimization, for a little while.
David Mihm: But essentially this card with photos and very rich structured information like your address, your phone number. They will have a link to your website. It's very small because they're trying to keep you on Google for as long as possible. But photos, when you're open, there's a whole range of content that you can provide this application that Google's created, Google My Business to tell them about yourself. And then Google will showcase that to prospective customers who are looking to do to do business with you or are considering doing business with you.
David Mihm: So that Google My Business profile is just incredibly visible these days. Certainly for brand name searches, if somebody is looking you up by name, but also for generic keywords, so if you sell blue widgets and somebody types in "blue widgets Portland," Google My Business profiles are the things that are ranking right underneath the ads. Those Google My Business profiles are ranking above the organic results for pretty much every localized keyword. So if you're not taking full advantage of all of the features that Google My Business has to offer, you're probably not going to get found in those searches, and, excuse me, even for brand name searches, your profile is not going to look very compelling if you're not taking advantage of all these new features.
David Bain: Am I right in thinking that a business has to have a local address in order to be included in Google My Business.
David Mihm: Yes and no. I think you have to have a place of business that people can visit. You can't use a PO box for example. But there are options for service area businesses, and even if you're something like a software company, like Tidings, you can put your headquarters in Google My Business with the business category of software company, and that business profile will still show up front and center. And any business with a physical location is eligible for a Google My Business profile.
David Bain: What about if you've only got one location, but you do business nationally or even internationally, will you still have that knowledge panel in front of people when they search for your brand?
David Mihm: Yep. So that's exactly the case for Tidings, just as an example. So we we have customers all over the world, from Australia to Mallorca, and we've created a Google My Business profile for ourselves. The caveat here is it may not show up all the time when people are searching Tidings in, let's say, Florida. We're in Oregon, so our business profile may not show up for those customers. But certainly if you search for Tidings here in the Portland or Oregon geographic area, our knowledge panel, our business profile should show up above our website or off to the side of our website if you're on a desktop computer.
David Bain: Great, great. Something else we were talking about before we started recording was your local marketing stack, and I love the design that you've come up with on your website. So did you want to give the listener just a summary of what you've come up with there?
David Mihm: Sure thing. The local marketing stack was my attempt, probably three or four years ago, to try to structure... I think I mentioned, I've been doing consulting for small businesses and helping them get started with digital marketing really my entire career, but in particular, the last four or five years, I've worked with a nonprofit here in town called Mercy Corps Northwest as well as our city's economic development arm on a series of consultations with small business owners. And I kind of found myself repeating the advice I would give at a lot of these consultations, so the local marketing stack is really my attempt to standardize and structure the advice that I've given to hundreds of business owners over the last decade.
David Mihm: Really the idea is it's laid out like a transportation map. The London subway map is my inspiration, I guess, behind the layout. So you read the graphic, it's structured from bottom to top and from left to right, so you read it in an up and to the right direction. There's five lines and six zones. So you want to start at the bottom in zone one with what is your name, address, phone number. Who are you as a business? And basically the idea is, this is my effort to sequence which pieces of marketing technology you should focus on at what stage of your business. So the idea here is not to skip any core elements of your marketing technology stack before you're ready for them, essentially. So there's all kinds of pretty slimy marketing companies of all sizes trying to sell you all of these advanced marketing solutions or expensive marketing solutions at the top right hand side of the graphic, like radio ads, for example, or programmatic retargeting or these kinds of things.
David Mihm: And frankly, those don't make any sense for a business that doesn't have a mobile friendly website that people can refer to, that doesn't have a Google My Business profile that will show up when people are searching for them, that doesn't already have a MailChimp or some other email service provider set up where they can be capturing customer emails to to stay in contact with them beyond just that first website visit. So the idea here is that what we're really trying to say is start at the bottom, start with the basics, take care of each of the basics before you graduate into these more advanced, more expensive marketing technologies.
David Bain: I love that. There's so much to it and there's about 60 different digital marketing or digital business tactics or things that you have to do in order to be successful, and you present them in a manner that, although there are a lot of things on there, it doesn't seem to overwhelm. So it's nice for people to consume. I also like the fact that you actually include important offline activities such as trademarking or accounting, bookkeeping and things like that on there. Funnily enough, actually, little personal story. I've got an SEO background. So 15 years ago, I was very much about doing things like registering keyword phrases as domain names and building brands based upon keyword phrases.
David Bain: But I happen to be married and I have a wife who's a trademark attorney, so she has taught me about the importance of trademarking. I think over the last five years or so, through the evolvement of Google's algorithm and the maturing of the way that business is conducted online, I've came to recognize the importance of brands. It's a long way of saying that I like the fact that you've got that in there initially, because many businesses still probably focus a little bit too much on driving traffic or just writing content before really thinking about the structure behind their business.
David Mihm: So a couple of things I would say. First of all, thank you for acknowledging the completeness of this arc. But a couple of things I would say. First of all, Eric Schmidt, Google's former chairman was famously quoted as saying, "Brands are how you sort out the cesspool of the internet." I think that that was maybe less true at the time that he said it, way back in 2008, than it is today. I think if you look at who does well in Google search results these days, it is companies with established brands, and I think your trademark really should be a part of that.
David Mihm: One piece of advice that I give to these newer business owners that I consult with here in Portland is do a search. Search Google for the name of your business that you're thinking about using. How crowded is that search result, how easy is it going to be for you to rank for that name? And if you choose something that's just a generic keyword for your business name and for your domain name, it may actually be harder for you to rank for your own name in these Google search results. That's separate and apart from even thinking about trademark, but think about how easy or difficult it will be to show up for, even if people have heard of you, to actually pull that traffic into your website.
David Mihm: The second thing I would say in relation to offline activities, and this is really critical for local businesses and essentially anyone for whom a Google My Business profile is going to be particularly important. Customer service really is the new foundation for marketing. When it comes to reviews and testimonials, I think that these things are now front and center on every online profile, even on Google ads now. Google ads, you can get these little stars based on how people are rating their purchase with you. So if you're doing a bad job of customer service, people are going to see that every time they search for you online. And conversely, if you're doing a great job with customer service, people are also going to see that every time they search for you online.
David Mihm: So I think it's really... You can no longer hide behind a perfectly SEO'd website if you're doing a really crappy job of actually being in business. I have to credit my friend, my friends, I should say, Mike Blumenthal on Aaron Weiche of GatherUp for, I think, helping to advance this narrative about the importance of customer service in our industry. I think that those guys are both really smart guys. They've both been around for a long time, and I think that they've got it exactly right that customer service really is the foundation for a lot of successful marketing in the digital area.
David Bain: Absolutely. Great brand, great customer service, but also great products as well. If you have an average product, I would go as far to say pause your marketing, improve your product, and then hopefully your customers will then actually start talking about you and then you can use your marketing to support what your customers are doing and not the other way around.
David Mihm: That's right.
David Bain: So what about yourself? What about Tidings? You've mentioned MailChimp, you mentioned Google My Business and Shopify. What marketing channels are you finding to be most appropriate and most successful for you at the moment?
David Mihm: Sure thing. A you mentioned in the opener, I had a full time job with ThriveHive for the last year and a half. I was just laid off in mid-May, partly due to COVID I think, but who knows. So I'm now just back on Tidings full time for the first time in a couple of years, and luckily for me, and I'm very grateful for this, we've been humming along as normal, even with my full time job with ThriveHive, and the way that we've done that is through content and SEO essentially. So we haven't spent any money on any kind of advertising, digital or offline-
David Bain: So how do you choose the content that you decide to write about?
David Mihm: I would say the major piece of content that I've focused on over the last six to nine months has been showcasing our customers. We've got hundreds of customers who are sending great newsletters every week or every month, and really dialing in what it is that they're doing and showcasing that to other prospective customers via... Whether it's just image galleries of their newsletters with keywords related to what the kinds of things they're talking about are, whether that's in-depth case studies in the case of a lot of our agency resellers. How long is it taking them to build newsletters for their clients? What has made them successful in terms of finding content sources to pull into their client's newsletters, those kinds of things.
David Mihm: And frankly, I think that those... Looking at Google Analytics, I know this, that those pages with vertical examples of customers who are doing well with our products that are obviously really well optimized and are pushed high enough up in our site architecture, I think that's what's bringing new customers into the tidings network or platform. And then from there, we're doing our best with nurturing drip emails and those kinds of things. But I think that showcasing customer content, sort of like what we were just talking about as it relates to local businesses not too long ago, I think that that's really been our biggest success, certainly while I've been otherwise occupied with ThriveHive.
David Bain: You touched on verticals. Do you attempt to be very industry specific with your case studies and then target just set prospects with those case studies?
David Mihm: Yep. Well, not set prospects necessarily. Quite frankly, we don't have enough inbound prospects coming in where that makes sense in terms of time and effort, but certainly in terms of keywords chosen and how the pages are set up. Right. My background is in SEO, so you did some keyword research and things like great newsletters for lawyers and email newsletters for bed and breakfast and those kinds of keywords, those are getting thousands of searches per month. Those are ideal customers for us to try to bring in through organic search, so that's the reason behind verticalizing. One primary reason.
David Mihm: The other primary reason is there are a number of agencies, which is our secondary audience for Tidings, that serve specific verticals. And in many cases they want to see, "Okay, I serve home services. Let's see how this other home service agency is using Tidings." And I think that that's, A, compelling content for them, and B, something that they might be searching for. And I have to say, I have to give credit to Joel Klettke who's a great copywriting and user experience expert. He's got a side business, maybe a full time business now called Case Study Buddy, and I think that he's really done a great job of helping me see the light on the importance of case studies and customer stories.
David Bain: Great. Well, stepping back into marketing technology in general. So as your business grows, what's an example of a process that you currently do manually that you may wish to automate using marketing technology in the future?
David Mihm: The obvious one for me is identifying and using a great CRM for my own company. So right now I'm basically cobbling together Google Sheets and MailChimp audiences in terms of the outreach I'm doing specifically for agencies, and I'd like to get that to a point where that really is tied in... I've used Salesforce in the... We use Salesforce at ThriveHive. Frankly, I can't recommend it to anyone. It's so bloated and complex that I can't imagine a small business, especially a software business, using Salesforce. But finding a great CRM for really the kind of outreach that I'm doing and that my team is doing to try to pull in more agencies and some of these larger volume vertical folks. I think a CRM is going to be essential for that work to really succeed.
David Bain: It's funny, I have never loved Salesforce, but I think it's because I've worked for smallish tech companies and they've tried to use Salesforce, but I don't think spent enough resources on getting it right, working as effectively as it can do, and you probably need at least one consultant internally just championing it and setting everything up and making sure everything's up and running as it should be.
David Mihm: In addition to possibly full time developers. We had a full time developer who was a Salesforce guru at ThriveHive, and I can't imagine that that's particularly cost effective for most small businesses.
David Bain: Exactly. So in terms of CRMs, obviously there's HubSpot CRM, a free tool out there. You could shift your email to ActiveCampaign and maybe even use their CRM. I've heard of Pipedrive being recommended on this podcast. Is there any CRM that you've got your eye on?
David Mihm: So one that I had investigated actually for one of my small business clients, and I don't know if it was successful for her or not, I'll follow up with her, but Copper was one that I had seen that I thought seemed to be fairly intuitive in terms of how it was set up and not bloated with too many features the way Salesforce is. That's the first one that I think I'll start with. I've also come across a Pipedrive and of course familiar with HubSpot, just being in the marketing space for as long as they have been.
David Bain: Okay, great. Well, we've covered a lot in our conversation. We've obviously talked about your three key martech tools that you're recommending, but also your local marketing stack. We've touched on where marketing's evolving as well. Is there one key takeaway from the conversation that we've had that you think that the listeners should think about a little bit more and perhaps try and implement in their business?
David Mihm: One of the first things that we talked about I think is applicable pretty much no matter the size of business that you are, and that's to do your diligence when you're choosing a marketing tool and make sure that it's not a walled garden, make sure that it does play nicely with a lot of other services, because digital marketing and really everything digital is evolving so quickly that I don't think any one tool will be able to keep up with the pace as well as a suite of purpose built tools will be able to do. So I think if you can put together a bundle of marketing technologies that talks really well to each other, I think that that's going to set you up, I think, the best for longterm success.
David Bain: Great. It certainly sounds like the ideal thing to do is to select your optimum 6 to 12 or something like that tools that specialize in different areas that you can use to hopefully deliver world class software in certain areas of your business. There are some very specialist businesses that may be able to get away with using just one big app or one piece of software, but I guess in general you need to find the software that delivers each piece of functionality as effectively as possible.
David Mihm: Couldn't have said it better myself.
David Bain: David, thank you so much for your time and your tips today. What's the best way for the listener to find out more about you and what you do?
David Mihm: For sure. You can go on tidings.com. Check out our about page there. I'm also on Twitter @DavidMihm, or you can email me, firstname.lastname@example.org. That comes right to me.
David Bain: Wonderful stuff. Thank you again.
David Mihm: All right. Thanks, David.