Season 3, Episode 1: Mixing up Marketing Methods
An Interview with CMO Eric Dodds of The Iron Yard
Veanne Smith: Hello, and welcome to Atlanta Business Impact Radio. We’re your hosts, Veanne Smith, and Sarah Lodato. We’re now into season three, where we’re exploring innovation and talking with business leaders about how they have incorporated innovative ideas into their workplace.
Sarah Lodato: Today, we’re going to discuss the innovative ways the coding school, The Iron Yard, has been leading the charge in ed-tech. From their marketing efforts to coding boot camps and online learning, The Iron Yard has been shaking up the traditional methods of obtaining and education.
Veanne Smith: Here to discuss these topics today is the Chief Marketing Officer, Eric Dodds. Early in his career, Eric worked at a nationally renowned marketing shop, where he developed content, managed accounts, and built strategies. He crossed paths with the CEO of The Iron Yard, Peter Barth, just as The Iron Yard was being developed. Eric decided to jump on board as a partner, and head up their marketing efforts.
Sarah Lodato: We are so thrilled to have you, Eric. Welcome to the Atlanta Business Impact Radio.
Eric Dodds: Thanks. I’m so excited to be here with you all.
Veanne Smith: Thanks for coming in to visit our city today. We’re excited to get started. I always think it’s good to set some background here. For our listeners who may not be familiar with The Iron Yard, could you give us a little overview on what the school focuses on, and then tell us a little bit about your role there?
About The Iron Yard
Eric Dodds: Absolutely. At The Iron Yard, we teach people how to build software. Whether they’re just starting out and trying to learn about computer programming, or they want to gain professional skills and launch a career in software development, we teach people how to do that. Currently, I serve as the Chief Marketing Officer, so everything that goes out the door, marketing-wise, me and my team work on.
Veanne Smith: Fantastic. Great. Appreciate that.
Sarah Lodato: Preparing for the tech industry has really evolved from going to a four-year college to getting a degree in something like computer science to now being able to kick start a career in programming in just 12 weeks at a code school like The Iron Yard. Can you tell us more about some of your more recent new educational models – I know that y’all are running sprint courses, online courses, crash courses – and how those aligned with your original goals establishing The Iron Yard?
Eric Dodds: Absolutely. Education is undergoing a significant change. There’s a really famous statement Marc Andreessen made a couple years ago, he said software’s eating the world and I think that is really why we’re seeing a lot of the change in education, why The Iron Yard exists, really. We started out with a goal of helping people gain the skills that they need to work in a world that is increasingly run by software. Our goal from the beginning was to help people launch new careers.
Along the way, we’ve encountered a lot of people who want to learn software development, but have different goals than just launching a career. Maybe that’s leveling up in a current career, or maybe that’s figuring out a way to lower the barrier of entry for them at the very beginning stages of that, as they work in a current job.
We’ve come up with a couple new courses that we offer that help people accomplish those goals. The first one is Foundations courses. These are courses that are designed for people who want to dive into the basics of how you build a website from the ground up, but who are probably frustrated with online tutorials. I think a lot of people can appreciate that, where you go online, you start learning, via some online tutorials, and you hit this wall, where you feel like you can’t go any further, and there’s just something … You’re reading forms. It’s difficult to get past that.
Our Foundations course is a two-week part-time course, and it helps you break through that barrier by learning from a professional, and you walk away having built your very own website from the ground up, responsive, so it works on all sorts of devices. You do it all on your own computer, using real tools that real professionals use, as well. You get a taste for what it’s actually like to do that.
Veanne Smith: I would think that entrepreneurs maybe who are starting their own business that need to get an eCommerce site up or need to launch their own site would be ideal prospects for you for coming on and taking that foundational class. Do you see that happening?
Eric Dodds: We’ve had a variety of people come through those programs. We launched the first couple this past fall, and we have had a variety of people. definitely entrepreneurs, people who are just interested in it, maybe content publishers, a lot of people who maybe have a site, a Squarespace site or a WordPress site and they want to be able to tinker with it under the hood and feel more confident about that.
The Foundations course is one of the first new offerings. The second one is called a Sprint course. That course is for a little bit different of an audience. Our immersive program is for career changers, and our Foundations course is for people who want to go past online tutorials.
You don’t have to have any experience coming into those. We’ve also heard from a lot of people along the way who already have a career, maybe at a tech company. Maybe they’re a product manager or a project manager or maybe they’re a designer, and they want to maintain their current career, but level up in a specific skill.
Veanne Smith: Right, such demand. The four weeks, is it full time for four weeks or how many hours of training are they getting in the four weeks?
Eric Dodds: It’s not. It’s a part-time program. It is, I believe, 50 hours’ total. You’re investing a lot of time into it, and it’s pretty hard. people who have taken the course have told us this is … “I learned so much, but it’s pretty difficult.” That’s fairly typical. At The Iron Yard, we serve people who are pretty motivated and who really want to learn things the right way and that just takes a lot of effort.
Veanne Smith: That’s what I love about everybody that I’ve come into contact that’s come through The Iron Yard. They’re just real gritty and they have persistence and hang in there. They see things across to the finish line, which is really commendable. That’s one of the things I love most about everybody I meet at The Iron Yard, or whose come through the classes.
Eric Dodds: Thanks.
Sarah Lodato: Yeah, we’re lucky to have four or five engineers on our team that were from The Iron Yard, which is awesome.
Veanne Smith: All doing fantastic. Just great work. Thanks for that. It’s really good to hear some new innovative things you’re doing, since we’re talking about innovation this season, so thanks for that. I really see what’s going on now changing about how people look at earning a degree and how that affects their ability to be successful from a career perspective. Do you see ed-tech affecting our educational model for children? I’m just curious what your take is on that. Have you considered what impact that has on what you’re doing in terms of marketing?
Eric Dodds: That’s a great question. I absolutely think that ed-tech is already having an impact on younger generations. You can see efforts to incorporate programming skills into curricula at elementary schools, even. There’s a lot of news about the Fisher-Price toy that teaches really young kids the basics of programming concepts. You can already see it affecting education. I think that’s a great thing. We think over the next five to 10 years, some of the skills that we teach in our courses, kids should know those coming out of high school.
Veanne Smith: They’ll already know them.
Eric Dodds: Right, which is great. That’s a really good thing. That’s a great thing because that means they’re that much more marketable and they can apply those skills as they go through whatever higher education path they follow. We do offer kids course at our campuses. Those are free kids’ courses. It’s usually a six-week program one night a week. Some of our students will teach kids MIT’s Scratch, which is sort of a visual programming language, and maybe some HTML and CSS. That’s been a really great experience for us.
As far as that being part of our business model, it’s definitely something we’ve discussed, but like we did with part-time programs, we only offered courses for career-changers for years, and we really wanted to perfect that and we really wanted to listen to our customers before we just offered part-time programs because everyone else is doing that. I feel the same way about ed-tech for younger people. You’re talking about potentially partnering with school systems, and it’s a different type of curricula. That’s definitely something that we’ve discussed, but we want to make sure, especially as we’re rolling out these new part-time programs that we focus on making those as good as they can be, and stepping into that when the time is right for us.
Veanne Smith: Very good.
Sarah Lodato: Sorry, I was just thinking about your kids’ classes. [crosstalk 09:31]
Veanne Smith: What else do I want to learn about that? Yeah, I know. Kind of want to explore that a little bit further, but … I’d love to come and see when the kids are there sometime. I come down to visit all the time, here in the Atlanta office. I’d like to be there maybe when some of the … Thinking of how I’d like to get involved, actually. That’s where my head was going. I’d like to get involved in that somehow. We’ll have to take that offline.
Eric Dodds: Sure.
Sarah Lodato: I want to hear a little bit about your a-ha moment when you realized that there was an opportunity to provide these new offerings. You said you’re super-diligent about perfecting what you have, understanding it, but you guys …
This particular year, I know that that’s been a heavy focus on spreading that, now that you have a lot of really great, established campuses. Yeah, such as the Sprint courses, online education you mentioned, we haven’t talked about yet. Did all of that come as a result of analyzing your marketing efforts? How does that play into what you’re doing or is the marketing really on the other end, once you’ve established those?
Eric Dodds: That’s a great question. As funny as it sounds, marketing research played a role in it, but really, the starting point was just conversations with students. We’ve just started to roll out some online learning programs. We just had a lot of conversations with graduates who said, “If you gave me a way to continue my education, to maybe begin learning another language …” A lot of students will come out of our front-end course and say, “Man, I wanna start to learn the beginnings of Ruby on Rails,” or they’ll come out of a Ruby on Rails course- [crosstalk 11:17]. Exactly. They want to add a specific skill to their skillset.
With online education, if you already have an economy of scale of knowledge and you’re working as a professional, online education is a really good format for that. We started to develop … We really grew out of our online learning classroom management platform that we built internally for our instructors and students who are going through our immersive programs.
We built, on that, a learning tool that we already have some courses available to the public, introductions to certain languages. We call them mini-courses, and it’s a great way to compare languages and get an introduction. We’re working on some longer-format courses. That’s still in its very early stages, but those grew out of conversations with actual alumni, who clearly said, “This is something that we’d be really interested in.” You hear enough of people say that and you start to think about the products you could develop.
Sprint and Foundations course is really the same way. We have a lot of people ask us about part-time courses. The interesting thing is that is the main question that we hear about when we ask, “What are you hearing from the customers?” when we talk with our campus directors and campus ops people who are on the ground. “What are you hearing from our students?” The number one question is, “Do you have part-time courses?”
For career-changers, part-time can be tough, because you’re working a job and you’re trying to learn at the same time. We believe that the immersive format is really good for that. As we dug into those conversations more and talked with students about, “What are your goals for a part-time course?”
We saw people on either side of what we would say is our immersive program: those who weren’t ready to change their career, but wanted to dive past online tutorials, and those who already had some knowledge about programming, but wanted to add a specific skill to their skillset, so a full-time, three-month program didn’t make sense for them.
We validated a lot of those conversations with market research, but they really just grew out of talking with our customers. That’s something that I do all the time, fly around and just have really open conversations with our students all across the country.
Veanne Smith: I would certainly conjecture or argue that your students and your customers, who are happy and getting more from The Iron Yard than they even thought they were going to get, that is the best marketing you can do, right?
Eric Dodds: Sure. [crosstalk 13:48]
Veanne Smith: Get them out there talking to other people and getting other friends of theirs and acquaintances to come and reap the benefits of The Iron Yard. It’s probably some of the best marketing you’re doing.
Eric Dodds: Absolutely.
Sarah Lodato: I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing some of those roundtables and I think that kind of intentionality and that attachment to somebody in a foundational leadership position is huge. Something that I think is really important is that, from a marketing perspective, you’ve done a really good job of explaining the intention behind those courses rather than, “Hey, pick one of these things. [crosstalk 14:26] We’ve got a whole bunch of different things you can pick.” No, this has a specific purpose. Be intentional about it, and then you will reap the benefits of it, so that people know what they’re getting themselves into and not just picking the easiest-sounding one, and then, “Bam, I’m a programmer.”
Eric Dodds: Right. No one wins in that situation. If someone’s not accomplishing their goal, and they’re just trying to use the easiest format to get to their goal … Format and goal are really interrelated. different goals require different formats of education. It is education. That’s something we talk about a lot, where we’re not selling a widget, and this is someone that’s trying to better themselves professionally, better themselves as a human. We take it pretty seriously. We don’t want to just create a product that will sell, we want to create a product that will help someone accomplish their goals.
Veanne Smith: That’s awesome. I love talking to marketing folks because y’all are so creative. I’d love to explore a little bit from you, what are some of the non-traditional creative things that you have approached there at The Iron Yard. Anything you’ve done crazy or anything like that you can share with us?
Eric Dodds: That’s a great question. I think one of the most surprising things that we tell people is that we do a lot of traditional advertising. When you think about The Iron Yard, people mentally classify us as a tech company a lot, which is true to some extent. We work in software, so you sort of … You almost apply that software startup marketing mentality, but we buy a lot of billboards, which seems a little counterintuitive. We’ve tested things like direct mail. You have what people would consider antiquated ways of getting our message out to potential customers that work really well for us.
The one thing we hear about so much is ads in the D.C. metro. Those are really expensive and we ran it as a test one time, and it’s just been extremely effective. In a world that’s becoming increasingly digital, as far as marketing, a lot of people, it’s fun for them to find out we run a lot of traditional advertising, which is really fun. We do a lot of complex digital advertising, as well, but it’s pretty fun. Running billboards and radio ads and all those things are a lot of things that we do. That’s kind of fun.
Veanne Smith: I’m going to say that running the billboard ads, the way you all do it is pretty creative, actually. I love your billboards. [crosstalk 17:04] … When I’m downtown and see them, they always catch my eye.
Eric Dodds: Thanks.
Veanne Smith: It is kind of creative that you’re doing it that way and that you even tried it.
Eric Dodds: One thing that’s really fun that we’ve done is we have run ads in specific markets that are relevant to something that’s happening to people in that market. A great example would be Washington D.C. There’s obviously been a lot of change in that city over the last couple months, and more change coming. We try to think about how do we communicate with people for whom our programs would be a really strong benefit?
You have a lot of people that are going to be looking for jobs on the Hill, who potentially would want a career change, after slogging it out. We ran ads along the lines of, “Launch a career that doesn’t change with the administration,” and other advertising like that, that is really relevant and timely for a specific audience in a specific city. We try to do that a lot.
I would say that’s a component of our marketing team that’s been the most fun and the most challenging is figuring out which messages resonate, which specific messages resonate in each market, because it’s pretty different. The marketing mix varies a lot, city to city. It’s very different here in Atlanta than it is in Austin, Texas, than it is in Washington D.C. Figuring out what that mix is and how you turn all the dials to make sure we’re speaking to the right people is always a fun challenge.
Sarah Lodato: Yeah, and staying in line with your brand, too. Anybody can pick up, “Oh, I’m gonna do a marketing campaign of really funny emojis everywhere.”
Eric Dodds: We haven’t crossed the emoji threshold yet, so can we be a relevant brand? [crosstalk 18:59]
Sarah Lodato: I don’t know. That’s me, off the record. I think that’s important because you really start to form a very consistent personality in those things, but you can still have a little bit of fun with it.
Eric Dodds: Sure.
Sarah Lodato: I’ve personally noticed … I’m just trolling you guys on Facebook and things like that, and I have noticed very distinctly the different messages that are going out from different cities, which is awesome. As a diehard [inaudible 19:28], I want to say things that are relevant to my city, and I think that’s kind of new, that local movement and all that. It’s so comforting when you look at a brand at large and see that it’s still very consistent. It feels reliable, it feels honest.
Eric Dodds: I feel a little bit bad because I don’t have juicy marketing secrets.
Sarah Lodato: Yeah, that’s we invited- [crosstalk 19:54]
Veanne Smith: -so disappointed. I was looking to pick up a few ideas.
Eric Dodds: We can just close it down right now, if you want; saves the listeners disappointment. One thing about the brand that I’m glad you brought that up, Nathan Spainhour, who runs our brand, and he’s really watched over that … From the very beginning, we started … I guess we had just a couple locations when he first came on the team. One of the things I charged him with as part of this role was building a brand, building a national-level brand. As boring as this sounds, the companies that do that really well do the same thing over and over and over again, visually, from a messaging standpoint, from a collateral standpoint. One interesting thing, this is a little bit juicy insider information for people-
Sarah Lodato: Here we go. Shakin’ my shoulders over here.
Veanne Smith: I’m leaning in.
Eric Dodds: That, for us, when we think about a brand, we think about if someone hears The Iron Yard, what do they think of? That brand image is really important, especially as you’re a new company and trying to develop a national presence. For us, that really got down into the details as small as T-shirts. We printed the exact same T-shirt, only one T-shirt for three years, basically. It’s just a black T-shirt with a white logo. That was a very intentional choice by Nathan. He’s like, “We’re not gonna print anything else.
We’re just gonna continue to print this one shirt, and it will go all over the country and it will become iconic to a certain point on whatever small scale our brand footprint has as The Iron Yard.” It worked. That sounds really boring, but we’re just going to make the same thing over and over again until people … You get sick of it as a company, because you’re like, “Man, we need to do something new.” Other people, the awareness starts to click, and they’re like, “I know about that, because I’ve seen that so consistently, and it hasn’t changed.”
Recently, we’ve started to branch out and do some more fun things with colors and other things like that, but we didn’t for literally years because Nathan said, “We need to give this time to get a foothold from an awareness standpoint.” That’s my juicy marketing secret is that building a brand is actually you get bored of it way, way before- [crosstalk 22:25] Yeah, before everyone else does.
Veanne Smith: I commend you. I think your T-shirts today still …
Sarah Lodato: It’s iconic.
Veanne Smith: Yeah, it is iconic. I’m used to seeing them. I’m glad I have one now that I love to wear. I still think you do an awesome job of sticking with what you are at The Iron Yard and that T-shirt still looks the same to me.
Sarah Lodato: I’m going to veer a little bit here. I saw a guy moving into my apartment building a couple weeks ago, and he was wearing a Iron Yard zip-up hoodie and I nearly lost it. I was like, “Where are you from?” Because it was a zip-up hoodie, too. I was like wait, this is not the T-shirt, but it did, it had the one iconic logo on it.
Veanne Smith: Were you trying to take his sweatshirt from him?
Eric Dodds: They called the cops. It turned into kind of a thing.
Sarah Lodato: It was a thing. I don’t live there anymore. Too funny. I stopped him and I was like, “Oh my god, Iron Yard logo.” It was because the placement was consistent. It’s the exact same white logo, dark gray hoodie. Turns out, he was part of the Iron Yard’s Accelerator and had moved to Atlanta. He’s still running his business and we had a conversation. I went to my leasing agent, and was like, “I just met somebody from Iron Yard, and he’s in Spartanburg.” Then we had a mixer later, and she’s like, “Oh, Sarah’s so excited to meet you.” He was just like, “Why is this girl so excited?” It was fun though, but it’s something … I’ve had people ask me when I wear an Iron Yard T-shirt if I went there, if I whatever … They’re just like fangirls. “Oh, where’d you get the T-shirt? I actually haven’t done it …” It has a reputation, which is great.
Eric Dodds: Sure. The V T-shirt, the iconic T-shirt, we launched an online store because we got so many requests for them. We sell everything at cost, so we eat shipping on everything. The T-shirts are really nice and you can’t get them for that cheap anywhere else, from any other store. We just sell everything at cost, and people love it. That was by popular demand because we got people … “I want a shirt!” It’s like, “Well, we don’t have any,” so we launched an online store- [crosstalk 24:38]
Veanne Smith: Shall we shout out to where they can go get their T-shirts right here now?
Eric Dodds: Store.The Iron Yard.com.
Veanne Smith: There you go.
Eric Dodds: Yeah. [24:44] 10 bucks for an Iron Yard T-shirt.
Sarah Lodato: That’s awesome.
Veanne Smith: Hope you can handle the traffic that’s coming your way.
Eric Dodds: Bring it on. I’ll be packing boxes myself.
Sarah Lodato: Let’s veer a little bit toward you, Eric, because I think you’ve had an interesting background. You went from an agency environment and working in marketing for a variety of clients, which is similar to what we do here. It’s a different sort of environment when you’re working client work, to leaving marketing for a single organization. I know you shared a little bit about that consistency. You can kind of write it out when you’re working for a single organization. I want to know how your strategy for marketing involved in those two environments, and if practices are the same? Is it a completely different ballgame from a timing perspective? Were you in there to create those juicy marketing campaigns for an established organization? How’s that been for you?
Eric Dodds: It’s been similar and different, I would say. The agency I worked at, we did a variety of things. We did do a lot of branding. We did a lot of community-building, community management. We executing on digital projects, as well. definitely a lot of similar types of activities as we do at The Iron Yard.
I think one of the biggest differences is, and this is something that is both a blessing and a curse of agency or project work is that there’s a lot of variety, but the projects aren’t … They tend to be shorter term, even if it’s six months or a year. That’s really fun, but complex projects take a lot of time, especially for larger organizations. To some extent, when you do project work, even if it’s extremely effective, a lot of times, the benefit happens post-relationship and so you don’t necessarily get to enjoy the spoils of the hard work that you’ve put in, but that’s the point. The client does, and that’s the point of it.
The other thing is that focusing on one brand allows a lot of consistent focus. You’re thinking about the same thing every single day and there’s a lot of benefit to that. A lot of the people who work on my team come from agency backgrounds. To be able to set a goal of we’re going to do X and it’s going to take six or eight months and know that the client isn’t going to change because the client is us, there’s a lot of benefit that you get from that focus. Kind of like I said with the brand building, the downside of that is it feels like it takes a long time because it does, but you really feel that, because you’re like, “Man, we have been slogging through this project for a really long time” That’s a little bit tough internally, as well, because you lose the forest for the trees a little bit.
We also have a bunch of campuses and so my team almost acts as an internal agency. Because each market’s different, like we talked about the messaging in D.C., we do get a variety of different projects and different ideas. A lot of our great ideas have come from campuses, so I would love to say, “Man, I was in the shower one morning and I thought about this great ad campaign for D.C.,” but I didn’t. They actually brought it up as a concept. Some writers on my team worked through it and we came up with something really great, but the original idea came from them, which I think has really been fun to have people on the ground who are interacting with the customers, actually bubble ideas up to the marketing team, and then we can use our expertise to actually execute on those.
That’s been really, really fun, as well. A lot of times, in an agency environment, even if you do have connections, the customers are one layer of separation, because you’re an agency and you’re not the brand. There can be a little bit of separation there, whereas us, we … I talk with our students all the time. That’s been another really fun part of focusing on marketing for an individual company, as I feel the direct connection to the customer a lot more than I did in some of the agency projects that I worked on.
Veanne Smith: That’s awesome. You’re blending both worlds, really. You get a little bit of that agency feel by having the multiple offices, and then you have the consistency of working for one stable company for the long term. You get the best of both worlds. If you can’t decide, just come work at The Iron Yard.
Eric Dodds: Yeah, it’s great.
Sarah Lodato: That’s awesome.
Veanne Smith: We talked about billboards a little bit ago, so I want to talk about our world today. With streaming services like Netflix, the fact that everybody’s largely consuming content online, consumers really aren’t being as exposed to as many printed ads and commercials and things like that, or they’re maybe not paying as much attention, unless they’re your Iron Yard billboards, which are working great.
I’d like to talk about moving forward. How do you think that the way companies market their products or services is going to continue to change? Any thoughts or insights on that?
Eric Dodds: Sure. In preparing for being on this podcast, I was thinking about that question a lot. I actually think that marketing, at its core, hasn’t changed a whole lot. You’re trying to get the right message or experience to the right person at the right time, and that’s a very old, often-used definition of marketing, and it sounds kind of cliché and even outdated, but if you step back and think about it, it really hasn’t changed. The channels have changed. It’s become increasingly digital, but the core of what you’re trying to accomplish in marketing hasn’t changed a whole lot.
What I think has become exponentially more difficult is the execution. Managing a especially digital advertising across a huge number of channels is a very specific skillset. Optimizing digital marketing, understanding search engine optimization, understanding the social media landscape, and how to be an authentic brand on social media … Managing a complex system of marketing across all those things, from an execution standpoint, is difficult. Your strategy, I don’t think, has changed a ton in terms of what you’re trying to do, in terms of providing what your customer needs and communicating with them in a certain way. The tactics are what have gotten really complicated.
Another element of that is figuring out what to invest in. Vine closed down recently. Twitter bought them and then they shut the service down. There was a time you could Google search and there were articles about how every marketer needs to be investing in Vine because it is the new platform. If you spend a bunch of money on video production and all these things to reach customers through Vine and now that’s gone, it’s becoming more and more necessary for marketers to be able to evaluate new services that come out and whether it’s worth investing in them. It’s almost like the stock market, right? Do we invest in Snapchat?
Veanne Smith: I always talk about the shiny objects in marketing. There’s so many shiny objects. How do you know which ones are going to stay shiny?
Eric Dodds: That’s pretty tough. I think another component is that products becoming part of your marketing or products-tizing? I’m not even going to use that. I just used it, but strike that.
Sarah Lodato: You made up a word.
Eric Dodds: Yeah, I made up a word, ‘product-izing.’ I think I saw that in a listicle on BuzzFeed. Product-izing a listicle. Warby Parker is a great example and I think that can explain what I’m trying to say much better than I can, trying to put a definition on it. Warby Parker sells eyeglasses, but what made them so unique as a company was the software product.
You use your video camera on your laptop or your phone to get the right size. It handled the prescription thing beautifully. It was an incredible experience and that’s a software product. You get into this blending or blurred lines between are we selling glasses or are we selling the experience that you participate in to get the glasses.
I think that’s happening more and more. Even at The Iron Yard, we see that. We sell education, but that, a lot of times, is delivered through an online platform, and now we have started to deliver that to the public, through online courses. That’s another component that I see changing a lot as far as marketing goes.
Veanne Smith: When I’m talking to prospects and we track our information in our Salesforce system, I have a hard time sometimes when I go try to decide, I try to specify what’s the industry of this organization. Many times, I end up putting technology, because at the core, they’re a technology company. They may be selling something here, but at the core, many times, these firms are really technology companies, which is kind of interesting.
Sarah Lodato: Which is why they’re investing so much in that aspect of it. I think from an experience … Just thinking about the Warby Parker example, and then Iron Yard rolling out all of these different sort of products that then become their marketing in many respects, whether it be through the following of the people that then become your marketing voice, or just the products themselves, I feel like that identity of knowing that cool new thing or being a part of something that maybe isn’t shiny object, but just has a very solid identity that you can speak to, and you can tell people why The Iron Yard has these different offerings and stuff like that, because you have that cohesive message is very powerful in selling other people on that.
Like you said, I think that’s what it has done for Warby Parker. It has a very distinct message. It has a very grounded why behind the fact that it is a technology product and that’s what makes it great. It’s not just they’re cheap glasses that look really cool on hipsters. [crosstalk 35:50] I say it as I’m 100-percent wearing a pair right now.
Eric Dodds: I almost wore mine today. One last thing, really quickly, is that the standards have gone up as far as what customers expect. You mentioned Salesforce. If you just think about marketing automation and customer relationship management, it’s still really hard to get that stuff right. Piecing tools together and integrations, especially from a technical standpoint- [crosstalk 36:19]
Veanne Smith: Hallelujah. It keeps us busy around here.
Eric Dodds: Right. Every company is working on that. I feel like internally, you’re thinking, “Man, why is it so hard for us to do this?” Then you talk to other companies, and everyone’s like, “Why is it so hard to do this?” [crosstalk 36:32]
When it starts to work, and you can deliver the right content to people who are interested in what your company’s doing, that’s extremely powerful. A lot of companies are getting a lot better at that. A lot of software has come out that has made that easier for all sorts of businesses. I think if you are not focusing on the technical implementation of that, it will be harder to accomplish the core of marketing, which is the right content to the right person at the right time. As I think about people who are interested in marketing, that’s a skill thinking through how to set those systems up that is extremely valuable.
Sarah Lodato: It puts some science behind all of the creative efforts. I want to- [crosstalk 37:20]
Veanne Smith: Career opportunities for young people coming out of college.
Eric Dodds: Exactly.
Veanne Smith: I talk to young people all the time. It’s like technology and marketing, yeah, if you can be good at both of those, you’re set for probably forever.
Eric Dodds: Sure.
Sarah Lodato: Even understanding that, I know when I was a young sapling, thinking about what I was going to do in the world, I thought about marketing as the visual and the creative and you’re an artist. That’s certainly part of it, but you have to have that foundation, and once I understood the rest of it, it’s fascinating, but it wasn’t quite what was right for me. It wasn’t the part that I thought was foundational to those things. That’s what makes it stick long term, building up that very scientific foundation.
Eric Dodds: Sure. There’s still a lot of creativity, but increasingly, you’re going to have all sorts of people in marketing meetings and the starting point is looking at reports from Salesforce and Google Analytics, no matter what your role in marketing is.
Sarah Lodato: Exactly.
Veanne Smith: I agree.
Sarah Lodato: Cool. I want to pick your brain a little bit on what … Let’s think about innovative marketing campaigns. I want to know things that you’ve seen done that maybe are particularly inspiring for Iron Yard or not. Companies that are doing it right in your mind, or just have done some cool, flashy stuff.
Eric Dodds: Sure. Stepping back to Warby Parker, they launched retail stores, which is interesting. They were online only, and they launched retail stores. I can’t remember what the exact numbers are, but their revenue per square foot was phenomenal, like in the top five or something.
That, to me, is pretty amazing that a business like Warby Parker can go from offering exclusively an online retail experience and then just knocking it out of the park when it comes to a retail space.
Veanne Smith: It’s just backwards of the way most people do it.
Eric Dodds: Exactly. Even though that seems … It’s like, “Oh, online retailer launches …” You’ve seen Amazon do this, right? They’re putting some physical locations in and testing that out. I think it’s a common idea, but for Warby Parker, it is really innovative and interesting that they went from an online business to launching a retail business, like you said, backwards of the way that it normally works. I think that’s really interesting and I think we’ll see a lot more of that. Things are becoming increasingly digital but we’re also seeing companies like Warby Parker say their physical space matters a whole lot, as well. That’s really interesting.
Sarah Lodato: It’s almost more of a brand extension, but the success of that business is still tied into technology. You mentioned Amazon and, man, do I want to go to that grocery store, but that’s still 100-percent because of the technology that they’re … You go in with your bag and it checks you out when you leave. It’s almost just like a physical extension of their identity that they’ve created online, but it’s still grounded 100-percent in that technology. You can still get the things, but it’s …
Eric Dodds: Speaking of Amazon, another interesting … The things that I’m interested in probably sound really nerdy. There are good ad campaigns, but some of the really innovative things I’ve seen done … Alexa is pretty awesome. I think it’s going to be hugely powerful, because they’re processing … Who knows what Google’s doing with their keyboard data and what Amazon’s doing with all the ambient conversation that they’re collecting via Alexa.
We borrowed one from a family member. My wife had to have surgery and so she was stuck at home for a while. Someone said, “Here, take Alexa, and you can listen to books and do all these other things.” It was really interesting because you see communication with customers happening so seamlessly. My example would be I wake up one morning and I say, “What’s the weather out today? What’s the weather gonna be like today, Alexa?” Then we just end up not using Alexa for a couple days for whatever reason. It is crazy how seamless it is, but I get an email if I haven’t used Alexa for a couple days that says, “Have you thought about this way to use Alexa?” It’s shockingly congruent with a way that I would use Alexa.
Those are really crazy things that automate your life so much more quickly than you would expect. I’ve heard that from a lot of people who have gotten something like Alexa or are using a voice-activated technology.
You think about, “Okay, I’m gonna put this thing on my kitchen counter, and then what am I gonna do with it?” A week later, those same people are saying, “Man, it’s crazy to think about what it was like when we didn’t have this.”
Sarah Lodato: Exactly. All those little kids [without those 42:55] surprise deliveries made through Alexa. Have you guys heard of that?
Veanne Smith: No.
Sarah Lodato: Little kids talking to Alexa and ordering hundreds of dollars’ worth of things through Amazon. It’s been in the news in the last couple weeks. Some little kid got a Barbie Dream House. She was just like, “I was just talking to Alexa about Dream Houses and cookies.” It’s like our phones and everything else. It should be that seamless integration with your life, where you don’t realize it. Suddenly, you become maybe not dependent on it, but unbelievably appreciative so that we can focus on other things that are more important in our daily lives. It’s awesome.
Veanne Smith: This has been great. Let’s end on some fun here. We always like to have a little bit of fun in the studio. We talked about, Eric, the fact that you’re from Greenville. We always love to have you here in Atlanta. You come here frequently. Love to hear some of your thoughts, findings, favorite things, favorite places to go in Atlanta. We know you’re a coffee aficionado. Any favorite coffee shops?
Eric Dodds: Sarah took me to Octane, which is really awesome. That was I guess my first boutique coffee experience in Atlanta. Still love it. Still love going there. There is a place close to our campus, and I can’t remember the name of it.
Sarah Lodato: Very close? Ebrik?
Eric Dodds: Yes. Really good, as well.
Sarah Lodato: Very good. I just saw them expand to Decatur. It was like super-small. I think it was just one guy running it, put it right by Georgia State, and it’s really good. It’s so nice. They just opened another location.
Veanne Smith: Congratulations, Ebrik, if you’re listening.
Eric Dodds: That’s great. Atlanta’s a super-fun town. You have this really strong tech community, but you also have professional sports teams and it has the feel, I think, of you can be downtown and have the big city feel, but you can, such a short ways away, feel like you’re away from the city a little bit, in a neighborhood. That’s a really unique quality to a city, and I’ve always loved that about Atlanta. You feel like you’re driving through this nice neighborhood with large trees, and then, whoa, skyscrapers.
That’s really neat, so I always love coming down here and experiencing the Atlanta vibe. People who live here love it, as well, which I also love. Greenville is not as proud of Greenville as Atlanta is about their home city. It’s energizing to be around people who love their city so much.
Sarah Lodato: It’s funny that you say that, because everyone I know in Atlanta that knows Greenville loses it when they find out that someone else has gone to Greenville, because they’re just like, “Let me talk about all the amazing things in Greenville that I love.” [crosstalk 46:06]
Veanne Smith: Yeah, we have a lot of people in Atlanta that love Greenville.
Sarah Lodato: It’s good. We’re neighbors in some respect.
Veanne Smith: I went to one of my favorite concerts in Greenville.
Eric Dodds: Oh, really? At the Peace Center?
Veanne Smith: Yes, when George Strait did his Cowboy Rides Away tour.
Eric Dodds: Yeah.
Veanne Smith: Had a good time up there. We like things in Greenville, too.
Eric Dodds: It’s a great little town.
Veanne Smith: It is a great town, yep. You want to close this up, Sarah?
Sarah Lodato: Yeah. This has been super-enlightening. I love hearing you talk about marketing. It’s clearly something very important to you. We’re all super-excited to keep an eye on what y’all are doing at The Iron Yard this year. If our listeners would like to reach out to you or learn more about what you guys are doing, where can they go to get more information? Maybe it’s website, social media …
Eric Dodds: Sure. I’m always available, so you can shoot me an email at Eric @ TheIronYard.com. I’m @ericdodds on Twitter. Feel free to reach out to me there, as well. You can go to TheIronYard.com and learn anything you want about our school.
Sarah Lodato: Awesome. It’s been a real pleasure having you here, so thanks so much for joining us.
Eric Dodds: Yeah. Thanks for giving me the opportunity and it’s been a blast.
Veanne Smith: Thanks, Eric.
Sarah Lodato: The Atlanta Business Impact Radio is a project developed by SolTech, a software consultancy located in Atlanta, Georgia. Our host, Veanne Smith, cofounded the firm 18 years ago with her husband, Tim Smith. Together, they strive to bring education to the community about technology leaders to improve the path to innovation for all.
For more information about the podcast and learn about the work we do at SolTech, visit SolTech.net, or find episodes of the podcast on iTunes. Also, if you’re interested in joining us as a guest for an upcoming show, send us an email at info@SolTech.net. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned for more insight into the tech community on our next episode.