Feb 18, 2021
Omi Diaz-Cooper is CEO at Diaz & Cooper Advertising, a digital “growth agency” that focuses on developing tight strategic plans and transforming client websites into top-performing salespeople. Omi says that websites are no longer “set it and forget it”—they are “living things that need to be producing” for clients. Since Covid, even companies that used to have “catalog” websites have found the need to proactively nurture prospects along the customer value journey.
Engaging and locking-in relationships with customers before they are ready to purchase is essential. People may start out merely seeking information. Providing great content and thought leadership will encourage today’s digitally-empowered potential clients to “keep coming back” until they are ready to buy. Nurturing them after the sale turns them continues the client-journey as customers become repeat customers and provide references.
Diaz & Cooper utilizes data-backed optimization to build a predictable system of growth for two industry verticals – travel/tourism and online retailers. When Covid struck, travel and tourism revenues took a dive . . . and business for companies that sold things online soared. Omi agrees that “anybody who didn’t have an ecommerce store who ever needed to decided they needed one pretty quickly.” Diaz & Cooper is both a Shopify Certified Agency and a HubSpot Gold Solutions Partner.
Omi loves the travel industry and expects that it will rebound. She explains that most people who love to travel will do a lot of online inspirational research before they book. They may be looking for a unique experience or an adventure, seeking something new to surprise them, or to go somewhere where they know exactly what to expect. During the research phase, Omi says, “You have to get them to sign up for something so you can remarket to them with an email.” She recommends offering such things as destination information or tips on how to pack for a given climate to build value so people keep returning to your site. Engagement needs to be an iterative process where each stage brings opportunities to remarket. If potential customers book outside your brand’s website, it is hard to recapture the relationship. After an individual becomes a guest at your venue, remarket to them for great reviews and references.
In this interview, Omi talks about how agency focus has shifted. At the turn of the century, agencies created concepts, gave the concepts away in pitches, backed everything up with an invented rationale, and made money by handing accounts off to lower-paid junior executives, padding time sheets, or through media commissions. In the past five to ten years, the focus has shifted to consumer first, with senior-level strategy development, billing based on value provided to clients, and integration of constantly evolving technological innovations.
Omi can be reached Twitter at @diazcooperor on the agency’s website at www.diazcooper.com. The website offers a variety of audits and calls to action that visitors may find of value.
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I’m joined today by Omi Diaz-Cooper, CEO of Diaz & Cooper Advertising based in Miami, Florida. Welcome to the podcast, Omi.
OMI: Thanks, Rob. It’s really great to be here.
ROB: Fantastic to have you here. Why don’t you start off by telling us about Diaz & Cooper and where the firm excels?
OMI: Absolutely. We really think of ourselves as a growth agency rather than a traditional marketing shop. Our focus is really on transforming our clients’ websites into top performing salespeople. How we do that, or rather our secret sauce, is really data-backed optimization.
We want to create a predictable system of growth. We believe websites are living things that need to be producing for our clients, especially since nowadays, consumers are just so much more digitally empowered than ever before. The old ways of building websites, of setting them and forgetting them, and the old ways of how you used to reach customers online really have to evolve. So, we’re kind of a bunch of data nerds who understand and love the customer value journey. [laughs]
ROB: That seems like it can be better for everyone, because so often the website is this giant project that people work on, they get the website out the door, they work with someone to get it done, they don’t talk to them for 2 years – maybe they do talk to them 2 years later – and then you rebuild everything from scratch because the universe has changed. Having a framework where the site can evolve and where the relationship between the agency and the brand can continue – I guess if you’re cynical, you’d say it looks like you’re just keeping them on the hook, but realistically, something has to change every month unless you don’t expect anything at all from the website.
OMI: Yeah, exactly. That’s why we really focus on people who are actually selling something online. We do well with lead gen, but where we really shine and what really jazzes us is seeing our client numbers go up in analytics, making more and more revenue for our clients, but also connecting them to the people who will have some sort of an enhancement in their life experience by connecting to this particular brand.
Like you said, it’s really not about those brochure sites of “set it and forget it.” It’s really about growth-driven design, and that’s driven by actual visitor data. And those things change. We saw the huge changes that have happened over the last 6 months in consumer behavior. If you had a dusty old site that you hadn’t touched in 2 or 3 years, you bet your bottom dollar that you’re touching it now.
ROB: Right. Omi, you mentioned being able to tie something back to the bottom line and measurability. Are there particular industries that you find that Diaz & Cooper engages with most often?
OMI: Yeah, we have two pretty big industry niches. The first one, believe it or not, is in travel/tourism. We’ve worked with everything from local attractions of an aquarium in Tampa that’s pretty famous and has actually been in a movie to global brands like Regent Seven Seas and Royal Caribbean. I have a lot of faith in the travel industry, even though obviously it got whacked pretty bad 6 months ago. We can talk about that a little bit later. So that’s one niche.
But again, it’s all about generating bookings online. For example, we currently have an airline client, and it’s all about generating those bookings. Then the other piece of it is more of a peer ecommerce place, so retail businesses that are selling something online through Shopify, for example. We are a Shopify Certified Agency as well as a HubSpot Gold Solutions Partner.
ROB: That’s an interesting place to be. Quite often, when people think about HubSpot, they think very B2B, but HubSpot is also a lot about the customer journey. The past couple years – certainly not this year, but the 2 years prior, we recorded this podcast at the Inbound Conference because they get great speakers in there, and the advantage of recording in person is really helpful. It makes for a great conversation.
Talk a little bit about how to think about – I think booking travel is a customer journey, much like buying a B2B product. What are the stages when somebody’s thinking about travel that might make sense to us but be not intuitive to somebody looking from the outside?
OMI: For sure, travel, and especially with more and more people doing so much research online, travel begins at the inspiration. Unless you’re traveling for business and you have to have travel and you don’t have that much choice in the matter, most people that love to travel really are looking for an experience, something unique – they either want adventure and they want to be surprised, or they want to know exactly what to expect. Either way, they’re going to do a lot of that inspirational research online.
That’s the piece where a lot of companies, like for example tour companies, have really not been doing super well in the past. I’ll give you an example. Have you ever landed in a new city and gotten out of the station and seen people handing out little flyers or little postcards for bus tours or an excursion locally? Honestly, that’s been one of the largest ways that a lot of these tour companies have marketed themselves, and they’ve really ignored that pre-travel inspiration research aspect of it. By the time someone’s landed nowadays, they might be pretty set with their itinerary and they may not even look twice at whatever excursion you have to offer.
So, it’s really about trying to capture the imagination of people who are at that research stage and then having engaging content. From there it’s a pretty traditional ecommerce journey. You have to engage them with content, you have to get them to hopefully sign up. If they’re not ready to book yet, you have to get them to sign up for something so you can remarket to them with email. And then after they become a guest, how do you remarket to them so that they give you a great review and refer you to others?
It’s really looking at everything from the time that they first think about wanting to travel through turning them into a raving fan.
ROB: It seems like it could be getting very divergent. It seems like there would be a pull. A lot of the travel booking sites would probably be trying to pull these brands into their own marketplace to book alongside their travel, to book alongside their AirBnB. But it seems to me if you’re doing that, you’ve lost complete control of the customer relationship. How is that pull working on the tours? Or is it not much of a factor yet?
OMI: It’s beginning to be. For example, I think Bookings Holdings, which is the owners of Booking.com, they realize the potential of the excursions & tours area of travel tourism, and they actually purchased a booking engine called Fair Harbor. Again, they want to have more control of that customer journey. But you’re right; that means the brand themselves loses that a little bit.
It’s really important to have a mechanism by which you can engage with the potential customers before they actually book so that they’re already looking to you for information, whether it’s destination information or whether you’re giving them tips on how to dress or how to pack for a particular climate. Whatever the case might be, it’s going back to good old-fashioned content creation and thought leadership where you really want to be able to establish that relationship before they book. Because if they book outside of your brand’s website, you’ve lost that relationship until you can capture their email again or something like that.
It’s really about providing touchpoints prior as well as throughout. As soon as they book, what are you doing to nurture them before they show up? Unless it’s like a same day thing. Obviously, every brand is a little bit different, but those basics are the same as far as wanting to figure out ways to create more touchpoints throughout the relationship so that you don’t lose that touch with the guest.
ROB: And they might even be able to capture some of the referral revenue out to the accommodations, out to the plane flights and whatnot, right?
OMI: Yeah, that’s actually pretty common in the industry. For example, concierges at a hotel, if they book a tour or something like that, they get a piece of the revenue. That’s a pretty common practice. How do we do that digitally, and how do we do it digitally effectively so that you’re not pushing things on people that don’t make sense? That’s the rub.
ROB: Got it. March 2020 must have been quite an inversion of your business, because you have this travel vertical that undoubtedly was hit hard, but conversely you have this ecommerce side of things that anybody who didn’t have an ecommerce store who ever needed to decided they needed one probably pretty quickly.
OMI: Yes. [laughs] That was definitely our saving grace, that we did have that part of the business. We had already been Shopify partners for several years and have had a lot of success with some retailers. Because yeah, literally about 60% of our agency’s revenue paused within a week or two of March, the terrible Ides of March. [laughs]
ROB: Were people looking for any sort of store to sell their thing online? Were there particular types of products that seemed to accelerate faster?
OMI: Obviously anything related to health and toilet paper and sanitation and that kind of thing. Obviously all of that was huge. But overall I think it took a little time for people who had never done ecommerce before. They knew that they needed to go into it, but they weren’t sure how to go about it. And that’s not really our core target audience. It was really more about finding more of those clients who already had a decent ecommerce shop and how do we make it better? How do we do conversion rate optimization so that they capture more of the market?
Because the behavior really changed. The behavior changed in that people were less loyal to specific brands and they were looking for bargains and looking for something that was going to make sense for their budgets. Again, yes, there were a lot more people buying online, but there were also a lot more people with less money to spend.
ROB: Right. It all flipped very quickly. We had one client who was in a different business who decided to spin up a third party marketplace for challenger and interesting food brands. You can imagine, they’re talking to all these companies that are used to selling stuff in grocery stores; now they’re not because nobody is stopping and browsing around a grocery store. If they’re going at all, they’re going to find their toilet paper and their core essentials.
The shift from March until now – at the beginning, everyone they talked to said, “No, we don’t have a store.” It has come so quickly to now they fully expect this client to integrate with their Shopify store and integrate their order history. The knowledge and sophistication really turned amazingly quickly.
OMI: Yeah. I read somewhere that the CEO of Microsoft said that we experienced 2 years of digital transformation in 2 months, and that’s exactly what it felt like. [laughs]
ROB: Oh yes, it felt like a lot of things, for sure. Omi, when you look back, tell us about the origin story of Diaz & Cooper. How did you decide to get this business rolling?
OMI: That’s actually a funny story. A little bit personal, but I’m going to go ahead and share it. I had been in the ad agency world for, I don’t know, 10 years, maybe 15. I can’t even remember. I had decided to step off the hamster wheel and freelance. I wanted a little bit less pressure; I wanted a little bit more intimate contact with my clients and all of that. I also wanted to start a family around that time.
After about a year, I was finally pregnant. I was about 7 months pregnant or so, and my husband and co-founder Todd Cooper came home from work – he was an associate creative director of a kind of large agency here at the time – and he said, “Hey, I want to quit my job too. Let’s do this for real.” So, I looked down at my pregnant belly, looked at him, looked at my belly again, and went, “Are you crazy?” [laughs] But then I realized, okay, there’s a gap in the market we can fill. Why not? Let’s try it out.
At that time – this was back in 2000-2001 – most local agencies created work in a vacuum. All the agencies we had worked for would come up with creative and then invent a rationale. Nobody was talking about data, nobody was talking about putting the consumer first. A lot of agencies were hyper-focused on getting creative awards – or even worse, as soon as they landed an account, they just dumped it off on a junior executive.
Because strategy was not valued and creative was given away in pitches, the only way agencies could make real money was through media commissions. That really misaligns the agency and the client goals. Tim Williams talks a lot about this, how with hourly billing, the agency is penalized for being efficient, so you either have to make up time sheets or just make a lot of money through media commissions. A lot of that has definitely changed in the last 5-10 years, but back then that was the status quo.
We really learned how to value what we do based on the value that we achieved for our clients, and that’s really what we wanted to do with the agency from the inception. We wanted to provide senior level strategy, access to senior level thinking to all the clients, and be able to feed our intense curiosity for new technologies.
ROB: And if LinkedIn is to be believed, it looks like he joined in early to mid 2001.
ROB: So you put all of your family eggs in this basket, you have a child incoming, and then you have 9/11. You’re now in your third turning of the world upside down, between COVID, the financial crisis, and 9/11. How did 9/11 and that time affect your business? And were you in travel then? Because that was another travel mess.
OMI: Yeah, it was. Luckily, 9/11, as horrific as it was, really didn’t have the long-lasting effects to the industry that COVID has had. We did have a couple of travel/tourism clients at the time. I think we had a couple of hotels. They didn’t really change a lot. That didn’t really affect us horribly.
One thing that did, though, was the real estate bubble bursting. 2008 was one that really whacked us because we were pretty deep in the real estate market. Probably 10 out of 15 clients were in real estate. So that was another big wackadoodle. We learned a lot of hard lessons.
Big agencies treat employees like cogs in a wheel, but for us they were almost like family, so it was hard to sit down and say, “Oh my gosh, what staff do we need to cut? How do we make it so that people can survive this?” That was just a big lesson in making sure that we weren’t overextended not just in terms of staff but also in terms of expenses. We had a big fancy office and things like that. All of those things really played a part in us reassessing the model itself and being able to focus more on the team and less on anything extraneous so that we could be more resilient when things like this happen.
And inevitably something will happen again. It’s almost our 20th year in business. Bring it! What’s next, world? [laughs]
ROB: Yeah, you’re still here. Did you have an office in January, and do you have an office now?
OMI: We did. This is another semi-funny story. We were ROWE Certified back in 2012. ROWE is Results Only Work Environment. Obviously, from pretty early on, it made sense for us to focus on results versus somebody spending X amount of time in a seat in an office. So we’ve been at least hybrid since 2012. By hybrid, I mean some days some people come into the office, some days some people don’t.
Back in October of last year, we made the decision that we were going to go 100% remote. We looked around and we saw that almost all the big HubSpot partners were either 100% remote or nearly 100% remote, and a lot of our clients are not even in the vicinity. They’re not traveling to our offices all the time. If anything, we would travel more to them for presentations. So we said, let’s not have an office anymore. Let’s go 100% remote. We can always do a WeWork type situation if we have to do a conference or a meeting or find other ways to meet as a team.
So we had already made that decision in October. We had already let our landlord know we weren’t going to renew our lease in the summer, and we wrote a blog post about how to measure results remotely and things like that, kind of in preparation for announcing that we were going to 100% remote. Then, of course, COVID hit 3-4 months after that, and we were already ready from the standpoint of letting go of the office. That was already in the works. So we were already ready.
And of course, we were already hybrid for many years, so all of our systems are online, our management software is online, our servers, everything. It was a really seamless transition.
ROB: Do you think it’ll be completely remote when the world comes back? Or do you think you’ll have some sort of default remote? Some people were 3 or 4 days in the office before. Do you think it’ll be 3 or 4 days remote and 1 or 2 in an office if you choose, or are you thinking doesn’t matter, probably fully distributed, maybe not even all in the same city or state?
OMI: We already don’t have everybody in the same city or state. We’ve had employees as far away as Italy. Today we work with a U.S. designer out of Mexico; I have writers that are in North Florida. So we already have people. I think the beauty is not just the flexibility for employees, that they have a much more balanced lifestyle and they’re actually a lot more productive. The real beauty is that you can get the best talent no matter where they are.
I have a very long-time employee, someone that’s been with us 10 years, who recently let us know, “Hey, since we’re going to be 100% remote, I think I’m going to be moving. I want to try out a new city.” His roommate got a job in New Orleans, and he’s like, “I’m moving to New Orleans with my roommate. Is that cool?” I’m like, “Yeah, of course. Why not?”
So I think moving forward, if we do have some sort of an office, it would probably be more one of those contracted things where you can have a coworking space somewhere. It would have to be pretty flexible because, like I said, we meet with people usually in their cities. So, it would have to be something where we could meet in different cities.
ROB: Right. Our team is very distributed as well. When our team still wants to work remote but not in their house, we may try to equip them with some sort of local coworking membership.
The bigger challenge, I think, is in relationship and team rapport. Have you thought at all, or have you done, something to bring a distributed team together and to maybe gain some of the benefit of having been in the same place, even if that’s not the norm?
OMI: Yeah. Obviously, we do a lot of video meetings. We do little celebrations online. We send each other things. Culture is such a big part of the agency. Culture is so important. But we’re playing around with the idea of maybe having quarterly live meetings in, like you said, a coworking membership type of space, and even like a retreat once a year when we can all travel again. I’m really looking forward to doing that. This is our first year, and I’m definitely itching to travel. So that’s definitely something that as soon as it’s safe for everyone, we would likely have maybe a once a year agency retreat.
ROB: That’s going to be such an interesting ongoing conversation, I think, the agency retreat. We have one employee in Santiago, Chile, and I’m hoping we all go see him.
OMI: Oh, that’d be fun.
ROB: That’s some logistics right there.
ROB: We’ve talked about some lessons already, but what are some things you’ve learned in building Diaz & Cooper that you might like to do differently if you were starting over right now?
OMI: I will tell you that I would’ve done the remote thing a lot sooner. Like I said, the benefits of being able to attract talent from all over the U.S. and things like that – I would definitely have done that a lot sooner. I would’ve pushed harder to go fully remote sooner rather than later.
Also, moving to more of a value or performance pricing model versus hourly billing. We did that pretty early on. If I could do it from the inception, I would’ve.
One of the ways we started when we first started our agency was we were kind of a little creative boutique, and we did a lot of ghost creative for bigger agencies. We moved away from that pretty quick, but I probably would’ve done it quicker, looking back, because we got a lot more out of getting referrals from those bigger agencies and having them rely on us for things that they couldn’t do. I probably would’ve done that sooner and created our customer base larger more quickly.
OMI: The other really big lesson – this is a plug to all those wonderful agency consultants out there – there’s some really good ones out there, like Jason Swank and Karl Sakas. I would’ve invested in a consultant sooner as well. Because you don’t know what you don’t know. [laughs]
ROB: Jason was an early guest. He was once a fellow Atlantan, although I do believe that’s not the case anymore. Not that you’d see anybody in your same city right now very much.
When you talk about, especially on the consulting and advice consultants give you there, a few different perspectives on value-based pricing, how do you think about arriving at a cost for an engagement? Do you have packages? Are you using some sort of estimated effort but then adjusting so that it’s not hourly and you can have comfort giving certainty to the client?
OMI: That’s kind of a bird’s nest. I’ll tell you that agencies will fight over this. “No, my way’s best,” “My way’s best.” We looked at the whole point system that was pretty popular with the HubSpot Partners a couple years back.
What we arrived at, what works best for us and most of our clients, is we do have certain packaged programs. However, they’re highly, highly customizable. We always, always start with a strategy engagement. It’s a limited time. It’s a value for the client. It’s not exactly a loss leader for us, but it’s not exactly a big money maker either.
What that allows us to do is, number one, see how we work with the client. Really shape where we think the account should go. Really understand what their customers’ journeys are, what needs optimization, and really be able to craft the program that will work best for them. It’s also kind of a dating before you marry for both of us. They can see what it’s like to work with us, we see what it’s like to work with them. We can see if we’re a really good fit.
And then after that, there are programs at different levels that they can sign onto depending on how fast they want to reach their goals. Everything is goal-based. Everything is all around reaching certain SMART goals that we define during the strategy process.
Then where the performance comes in is certain built-in bonuses for going beyond certain expected performance metrics.
ROB: Makes a ton of sense. No matter how you approach the price for what’s done, I think one of the big unlocks that a lot of agencies struggle with is how to define an initial structured engagement that is paid discovery that also delivers value to the clients.
OMI: Yes. And it does have to deliver value. It can’t just be a laundry list of B.S. It really does need to be strategic. And what we deliver, they could literally take it and run or go with somebody else and do it. A lot of people are hesitant of that, but I find that the approach that some of the prepackages that I’ve seen of “Well, you get four blog posts a month and six social media posts and an hour of SEO” – how can you determine that that’s what they need before you even get to know their business? They may not need blog posts. They may have somebody that does it internally and maybe you’re just reviewing and helping them out with the topic strategy and the SEO.
Until you have a good strategic plan, you’re really just checking off deliverables, and that’s not what we’re about. We’re about delivering a result, and you can’t do that unless you have a good plan.
ROB: That’s super key. This is probably a topic we could spend a lot of time on with a lot of people. It’s a lever to growth, and it’s a lever to not seeming like – you don’t want to sound like you’re asking to bill hours to fill out their RFP. That’s where it comes from, this defensive “Somebody asked me to do a thing and I didn’t have an answer for them, so it cost me time, so I’m going to throw up a defense.” But that positioning and framing towards value really helps you stand out and it helps people have some skin in the game with you while also you freeing them to go anywhere and also not wanting to.
OMI: Yeah, exactly.
ROB: Excellent. Omi, when people want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way for them to connect with you and Diaz & Cooper?
OMI: We are on Twitter @diazcooper. Also our website at www.diazcooper.com. Those are the best ways to reach us. There’s all kinds of different calls to action and website audits and all kinds of things that are of value that we provide free on our website. So that’s probably the best way to reach us.
ROB: Sounds good. Omi, thank you so much for making time to come on the podcast. You have shared some wisdom from the year, some experience, some nuggets to carry forward, some really good stuff. I wish you and Diaz & Cooper the best, especially as you are able to not only keep your ecommerce folks happy, but bring those travel clients back into the world. Sounds like a good season ahead.
OMI: Yeah, we’re excited about it.
ROB: Thank you so much.
OMI: Thank you.
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