Cover Story: Building a Marketing Monster1 Apr, 2017 By: Thomas Haire Response
Chris Owen and Brian Costello say Monster Worldwide is using an expanding mix of performance-based marketing to drive B-to-C and B-to-B success.
“Even when we are serving a brand message, I always think about it from a performance aspect,” says Brian Costello, vice president of performance marketing and media for Weston, Mass.-based Monster Worldwide, a global leader in digital job seeking and recruiting. “Even if the ROI metric for a given campaign is brand awareness, we have to define what that means. If you don’t approach a campaign — whether its B-to-B lead generation or branding messages for our users seeking a job — with a clear needle to move, you lose sight of the end goal. With performance-based marketing coming out of the shadows over the years, it’s driven marketers to desire clear measurement. That’s not bad — it’s great.”
Costello and Chris Owen, the company’s New York-based director of global integrated media, are just two of the key marketing executives who’ve helped move the 23-year old digital recruiting pioneer into marketing efforts that reflect the company’s 2014 strategic changes around job aggregation and an expansion into the small business market. It hasn’t been easy, but Owen agrees with Costello that performance measurement is crucial, especially online.
“Performance-based efforts online only help build brand if they maintain the integrity of the company,” he says. “There’s so much click-bait in digital — and it’s obvious why. Go ahead and put puppies and kittens on your ads and watch your click rates soar! But to what end? Our digital marketing is all about driving new leads but maintaining the power and integrity of the brand. You must deliver a message of value that’s relevant to your target. If you stay true to that, then you can optimize to success.”
Costello celebrated his one-year anniversary with Monster last month, while Owen recently passed the five-year mark. With backgrounds that range the entrepreneurial and major agency worlds, they represent a combination of talents that seem to be growing on today’s marketing landscape — a pairing that fits Monster’s need to market to both business owners looking to hire new employees and those seeking a new job.
“I embrace change and love the idea of disruption,” Costello says. “Going back to 1994, Monster has been a disruptor. It disrupted the way people looked at job postings and has continued to create change in the space.”
Barbarians, Branding, and Big Data
That career as a disruptor dates to Costello’s earliest days in the job force. The Massachusetts native is a serial entrepreneur, having founded a mobile app development company, a healthcare education firm, and a pair of digital marketing agencies.
“I’ve been involved, primarily, in entrepreneurial internet marketing,” he says. “While I’ve worked at a number of larger enterprises, I’ve also started a number of different companies and agencies.”
One of those agencies — The Barbarian Group (which he served as co-founder and director of strategy) — earned a series of accolades from Advertising Age and Fast Company while working with clients like Nike, Volkswagen, and Apple. Chiel Worldwide eventually acquired it.
Costello’s other digital agency — Maple Farm Media — was a venture- capital-backed marketing solutions company that he sold in 2013. Prior to that, he served as general manager and vice president of digital strategy for Valassis Communications, one of the nation’s largest marketing services companies.
“Things change constantly, and you can’t be afraid,” Costello says. “Disruption can be great — it helps you figure out where the trend lines really are. That’s one of the reasons I came to here: recruitment is constantly going under disruption, and Monster’s on the cutting edge.”
His day-to-day at Monster includes managing all North American media teams and agencies, including all paid media — “Search, social, display, TV, out-of-home (OOH), global customer relationship management (CRM), and marketing analytics,” Costello says.
Owen is one of Costello’s key implementers and a leader in his own right. He also touches on Monster’s paid media — online and offline — reaching both the B-to-B and B-to-C markets. “It’s a combination of building plans for the future, clearly defining strategies and objectives for agency partners, and executing across those objectives,” Owen says. “That means monitoring and understanding performance across all of our current campaigns — and optimizing as they continue.”
Owen’s background prior to joining Monster was a decade spent in the agency world at a pair of juggernauts: Mindshare and Mediavest. “I had a number of multichannel planning roles — and early on they were more about brand building than performance,” he says.
Early in his career he worked on major consumer packaged goods (CPG) accounts like Unilever and Kraft. “CPG is very structured and thorough in the planning process. It gave me the foundation in and fundamentals of media — the structure and the rigor around it,” Owen says.
After earning his M.B.A., Owen returned to the agency business at Mediavest, working on the Sprite business. “It was the ‘innovative’ brand in the Coca-Cola portfolio,” he says. “I was truly exposed to emerging media and digital tactics — which were still a bit of the ‘Wild Wild West’ as far as measurement is concerned.”
He then slid over to the Walmart account, which he calls a “massive team.” Owen adds, “There were a lot of different planning and buying teams, and I was part of the ‘seasonal’ business. I was coordinating buyers across different media channels, and working with planning teams to execute seasonally relevant campaigns. It really taught me how to unite a team around common objectives.”
That skill has come in handy at Monster, which has grown — since its founding in 1994 — into a global business offering services in more than 40 countries. Now owned by Randstad Holding NV, Monster provides services in: job seeking; career management; recruitment; and talent management. In November, Monster announced 12-year veteran of the company Mark Stoever — who had been president and chief operating officer — as its new CEO.
The company uses intelligent digital, social, and mobile solutions — including its flagship website Monster.com. It also offers valuable online advertising space on category leading properties like Military.com and FastWeb.com. In recent years, the company has deepened its focus on leveraging multiple distribution channels to further extend its reach in local markets in the U.S. and beyond — something that’s evident through Monster’s alliances with major newspapers in some of America’s largest markets, as well as its expanded work in social media.
Getting Out of the Silos
As one of the internet’s original destination websites and marketers, it’s no surprise that Monster has long been a believer in performance-based marketing tactics, both online and off. One of the first websites to air a TV spot during the Super Bowl (in 1999), the company is no stranger to using the entire panoply of marketing outlets.
“Today, performance-based tactics allow us to avoid getting bogged down in the minutiae,” Owen says. “In such a digital-heavy marketing world, there’s a huge risk of doing just that — there are so many things to measure across the variables. But, just because you can measure something doesn’t mean you should immediately action against it. You have to stay focused — and keep your team focused — on your key performance indicators (KPIs).”
Add to that the fact that Monster is marketing to both those seeking new employment and the employers trying to add new talent. “We break down the world into ‘seekers’ and ‘employers,’” Costello says. “We market the brand to both, but individual direct spends have different KPIs. We’ve moved heavily into the lead-generation side, which Monster hadn’t done traditionally. And we’re now focusing both on e-commerce and offline revenue.”
Monster enjoys massive traffic to its site — every minute, 29 resumes are uploaded, 7,900 jobs are searched, and 2,800 jobs are viewed. That creates its own challenges for the marketing team.
“We truly understand how to build and segment our first-party audiences,” Costello says. “But since we’re constantly inundated with data, we are always focused on how do we make quick, smart decisions with that data. What can we do to move the needle in our B-to-B marketing? What channels are working on the ‘seeker’ side?”
Owen adds, “In this day and age, pretty much every marketing campaign should be considered performance-based. That doesn’t mean it’s ‘direct response’ — with an immediate response — but that everything has some level of measurement. We’re still accountable to softer measurements like brand health, but we track the performance of every facet in order to make smarter investments with our media dollars to maximize ROI.”
Being flexible and nimble is crucial, especially with the range of data both Costello and Owen are dealing with. “It’s very hard to get a good, clean apples-to-apples data set,” Owen says. “That means you have to lend your expertise as a marketer to be able to decision off that data — the data that’s truly indicative of what’s happening.”
Costello and Owen also represent how Monster has evolved with changing marketing media and — especially — consumer response methods.
“In the past, Monster’s marketing teams tended to be more siloed, so one of the changes we’ve made — in order to become a true multichannel marketer — was to restructure the team out of those silos,” Costello says. “The search team, the mobile team, the CRM team — which in the past was never integrated into the media teams. It’s all about having the best strategy — B-to-B or B-to-C — to reach a target. Chris leads one of those teams that are creating strategies that make sense by understanding the full scope of operations, from TV to radio to OOH to mobile to search.”
Owen has a deeper history inside Monster, but agrees that the way the company’s marketing teams interacted was past due for a refresh. “If you dial back a few years, our brand was built on doing a lot of big, splashy things — branded blimps, Super Bowl ads, etc. That helped build brand equity, but then we moved to being a very DR-based marketer — which came at the expense, for a while, of brand health. Today, we’re doing a better job at both. To have a full funnel, we need a successful combination.”
He also says that Monster is moving beyond KPIs. “In our response activation efforts, it’s evolved that we’re orienting toward an underlying objective, not just the KPI,” Owen contends. “The operative word in KPI is ‘indicator’ — which meant in the past, we chased traffic or visits when we really wanted to grow our audience. When you clarify that — and broaden that — it truly identifies what you’re trying to do, expands your thinking, and orients you toward lifetime value and multichannel attribution.”
As far as current efforts go, Monster is not campaign driven. Rather, as Costello says, it is in “always-on mode.” He explains, “We have continuously running campaigns, both online and off, that get tweaked and optimized. Even our offline creative is dynamic — but we’re always focused on data.”
Owen agrees. “From a macro level, we have a number of B-to-B and B-to-C campaigns that are constant and evergreen,” he says. “We’re testing, optimizing, and changing depending on the marketplace. That’s where being data driven is so crucial.”
Costello says some interesting things are happening on the B-to-B side, where Monster reaches out to employers.
“Though it’s a pretty mature space, we’ve done a lot more work on lead-gen tactics for enterprise sales,” he says. “We have a great online presence and field sales force selling to a lot of companies. But we’re working more heavily with them on strategy and project marketing — building out models to drive better leads. It’s some cool stuff that Monster hadn’t done before — lead-gen is an added layer to branding, consumer-side marketing, e-commerce, and it gets people in the organization excited.”
Owen says the company is also having success on the B-to-B end by improving marrying audience segmentation in media with placing relevant messaging in front of those segments. “With our retargeting campaigns, we’ve been able to build different segments — existing customers, prospects, visitors to specific areas of the site, for example — and create better paths to conversion. Conversion behavior is different for each segment, so we’re using bespoke messaging to help our clients find better candidates to fulfill their needs. It’s become one of our better-performing efforts.”
Both point to native and social media as key drivers of recent success. “We’ve been playing a lot more in the content space — native content and social distribution of content,” Owen says. “We’ve created a lot of good career advice articles from our great content team here — they’re a value-add to job seekers and other users — and they drive audience.”
Costello agrees. “We’ve had a lot of great tests in native — a lot of success on that side of the business recently,” he adds. “We’ve become a content-generation machine, and then it’s about taking that content and matching it with the right partners. Not only is it driving response, but also brand-lift metrics that matter.”
Owen notes that social media has become effective as well. “We’ve seen a lot of success in social and a lot of engagement acrosss platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest,” he says. “We had a campaign that was grounded in sharing tips and tricks on social, and we also created some videos that are performing well on outlets like YouTube, Hulu, and ABC.com.”
The evolution of Monster’s marketing efforts is no surprise given how both Costello and Owen are easily able to recall key lessons learned throughout their careers. After all, if one doesn’t learn from successes — and mistakes — it’s difficult to evolve.
“The most successful campaigns I’ve been involved with have had three things in common: a clear objective, great insight, and great strategy,” Owen says. “Those things keep a team focused. With how many people touch the execution of a campaign — from the CMO down to the buyer — you have to be able to articulate what you want to accomplish.”
Turning that on its head, Owen continues, “In the least successful, the main issue is usually mistaking a KPI for an objective. Sure, the campaign might deliver to the KPI but not drive business. Sure, you drove site traffic — but does it matter? Are these people who want to do business with us? Finding those people is much more challenging.”
Costello says that, perhaps, marketers have become too enamored of technology at the expense of creative. “Many believed that massive amounts of data and technology would give us an advantage over others,” he says. “You know: pinpoint accuracy in a cluttered space. And there was a moment in time where, perhaps, that became true. But while I’ve learned that that’s all great, if your message or creative isn’t resonating with your target, technology doesn’t matter.”
It’s no surprise that Costello is a believer in great creative. After all, during his time at The Barbarian Group, it came up with the legendary “Subservient Chicken” ad for Burger King. “Great creative means taking a risk sometimes,” he says. “Data can allow us to test and give us headline results, but what makes them remember you and click you? When we fail, we often lose sight of that. I’ve been in meetings and said, ‘That might be the dumbest ad I’ve ever seen,” and then watched it work — ‘Subservient Chicken’ is one of those. It was incredibly successful and put my agency on the map.”
“They’re what I call ‘tactical tiger teams,” he says. “We constantly challenge our partners to challenge us — which platforms are becoming important and which are fading? How do we use our data more efficiently? Tell me something I don’t know and why I’ll use it in my business. We tend toward large agencies with staff that understands the global marketing business. They give us insight we might not otherwise get.”
Owen calls out OMD as Monster’s “primary” agency, while its Resolution Media arm handles Monster’s search marketing and “some other executions.” He adds, “They’re crucial to our success, digging deep into data and executing on a day-to-day basis.”
More importantly, Owen offers three prongs to a successful client-agency partnership. He says, “No. 1: integration. We must work cohesively. When I think about OMD and Resolution Media, like many agencies with sub-brands, it’s impressive how they integrate so well on their side, across channels, and come across as a single team. Second, reporting and constant detail is crucial. The feedback loop — passing back performance data so the agency can optimize, while they build and supply reports on campaign performance — is a must. Finally, there’s trust. In a fast-moving, data-heavy environment, we rely on our agency to make optimization decisions on our behalf. Then, we regroup around outcomes and performance. These three things are crucial to Monster’s marketing success.” ■