Wolfgang Digital’s Alan Coleman tells Michael Cullen (left) why he takes pleasure in running an agency that’s all about business results
Ten years ago Wolfgang Digital founder and CEO Alan Coleman was chasing the agency’s first and only client, an overseas property investment company, for payment. He needed the money to pay a phone bill and buy some biros. “The future looked bleak,” Coleman said. As someone self-taught in search, he sought a sales job in Google – but they turned him down.
“If you’d told me that today I’d see 50 sound heads doing brilliant digital marketing at Wolfgang Digital and being named Europe’s best large integrated agency, I’d have called you barmy and asked if I could borrow a biro,” he says. Coleman is both focused and personable and he knew exactly what he wanted. Obsessed with Google Adwords, his sights were set.
He took jobs on for free, tripling their business in a month. He then promised clients that he would turn a grand into four grand every month. The work was with small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), so he dealt with the owners. Coleman’s business needed a proper name. The monikers he considered included Fat Cop Advertising, Loud Mouth and Chatterbox.
But he felt they were “a bit faffy”. The office had a goldfish called Wolfgang. One day after the fish had somehow flipped out of its bowl, Coleman decided that its demise should not go unnoticed. Enter Wolfgang Digital, with a remit to be the digital marketing scientist.
Wall-to-wall ads: Alan Coleman says the biggest digital innovation has been able to measure its influence on in-store sales. Brands without a proper online offering may have missed out.
“We’re not selling an ad impression,” he insists, “we’re selling a business result… each month it all happens again.” Colman does not see digital from the point of view of whether or not it is ‘sexy’ – unlike television advertising. A TV ad relies on emotional impact, while digital is all about results. He points to how the TV marketplace is coming under pressure.
One in 10 households in the US are opting to stream Netflix and Amazon Prime. Closer to home a lot of TV viewing is on demand where viewers sip the commercials. Result-based marketers are switching to digital. They look to Facebook for maintaining consumer loyalty through sharing and saying good things about the brand, while Google is more about demand.
Take a selfie, put it out there and tag it #iWear. Young women share it and bask in the glory. It creates a powerful fashion brand. Social users are invaluable advocates in recommending brands and it is a huge asset for marketers. Coleman is excited about 5G. He reckons it will be transformational with speed times expected to be up to 200 times faster than 4G.
When 3G was rolled out it was all about improved internet access. A banner ad was just a press ad online. 4G saw speeds increase 10-fold. But it is hard to fully appreciate what impact 5G might have on marketing and media. Last November, Vodafone made Ireland’s first holographic call as part of a live 5G network site open for trials in Dublin’s Docklands.
Benefits include robotic surgery, driverless cars and real-time virtual gaming on the move. Vodafone and Ericsson partnered with NovaUCD, the Centre for New Ventures and Entrepreneurs at UCD, to create a new 5G accelerator programme. As well as ultra-high speeds, 5G will mean more device connections, reliable connections and low latency.
Wolfgang is preparing for 5G. “We want to be exceptional in our readiness,” Coleman says. By that he means experimenting with ideas. They launched something new last year which has just started a second cycle. Half the things they tried failed, but they expanded on what scored. Coleman himself took three months out to study the Amazon business model.
“It’s so entrepreneurial,” he says. “They take a decentralised approach… very different to Google.” To test what it might be like to run an e-commerce site and walk in a client’s shoes (or something more revealing), Wolfgang launched its own adult toy shop – Sexshop.ie.
Shopping online for sex toys meant creating a template which ensured anonymity. They found someone in Manchester to ship the products. Within a month, they sold the first dildo to a woman in Co Clare using a dedicated office hotline. The site broke even. But the real turn-on for Coleman were the insights – the shop proved to be a huge learning process.
They developed understandings around trends and people’s appetites for certain types of sex toys. What prompts someone to buy handcuffs, vibrators or red lingerie? These were the type of questions the in-house ‘sexpert’ had to answer. The site coincided with the worldwide release of Fifty Shades of Grey and Coleman’s case study was published in The Guardian.
In 2012, Sexshop.ie discreetly launched a €70 toy hamper. “Retail is all about getting control of an ocean of detail,” he says. Wolfgang has put one per cent of its revenues over the past two years into a forestry charity. The have just gone sale agreed on 15 acres of land in Co Wicklow which they intend to plant with native species of oak, birch, beech and holly.
In its most recent study on e-commerce websites, Wolfgang lifted the lid on data which had gone largely unreported. The importance of encouraging return visits plus social media’s consumer influence were among the insights to be gleaned. Returning visitors are the most valuable as off-site brand interactions were shown to considerably sway online sales.
No taking team spirit for granted: Wolfgang Digital has won major industry awards at home and abroad. To help boost staff morale, every Monday morning 58 people greet each other with hugs and handshakes. The company spends about 15 hours a month upskilling.
An analysis of 250 million website sessions and €500m in online revenue was made to determine what drives today’s consumer to click and buy. For the first time, the study delved into Facebook analytics conversion data, merging it with Google analytics and an online survey, to give a more comprehensive picture of a consumer’s path to purchase.
Coleman said for the study they went bigger and broader with data set to produce deeper findings. They filled some holes in Google Analytics by tapping into Facebook’s analytics to see which patterns of user behaviour, on and off-site, correlate with higher than average e-commerce revenues. They got the strongest correlation scores, with some key findings.
The study’s strongest trend was the value of the returning visitor. Websites which attract a user back time and again are way ahead of one-click-wonder competitors when it comes to sales. The more visits per user, the higher the revenues. E-commerce websites are averaging 1.5 visits over a year. Anything that increases the return visit rate is the best marketing.
The study revealed social’s real value. Coleman says it is not just user interactions on websites that count. Facebook analytics reveal a social media engager is twice as likely to buy than a consumer visiting a website, with a 4.4 per cent conversion compared to 1.8 per cent. Notably, Messenger had extraordinarily high conversion rates on 9.9 per cent.
The third key performance indicator (KPI) unfolded was Facebook’s advocacy advantage, with 48 per cent of consumers more likely to buy a specific brand when they hear a friend or family member had a good experience with it. With the average Facebook user having 338 friends, a single share can bring a brand up to 162 positively-inclined buyers in an instant.
The study confirmed the average conversion rate as 1.8 per cent. The travel websites average two per cent, retail websites 1.7 per cent, with online-only converting 11 per cent more than their multi-channel counterparts. Big ticket travel purchases are harder to convert.
Hotel websites convert three times the number of customers than holiday websites largely due to the much higher average value – €378 for hotels and €1,078 for package holidays. Mobile device revenues accounted for 32 per cent of overall revenue.
Smartphone traffic accounted for 53 per cent, desktop 37 per cent and tablets 10 per cent. Big ticket purchases are still more likely to take place on desktop or tablet. Google dominates but share of pie is down. It still delivers 60 per cent of traffic and 56 per cent of revenue.
But its share continues to slip, with no insight from Google Analytics into who is winning that share. The report shows that average page load times were 6.8 seconds, some way off Google’s recommended two-second threshold for e-commerce sites. UK is streets ahead on conversion rates at 1.8 per cent, as against Europe on 1.5 per cent and the US on 1.3 per cent.
Dream come true
Wolfgang Digital won the best marketing and communications blog at the Irish Blog Awards last November. At the 2018 Content Marketing Awards, the agency won the best paid advertising/content marketing integration for Tesco Ireland, as well as bringing home a third consecutive grand prix at the Google-sponsored Search Engine Land awards in Seattle.
Wolfgang is no stranger to winning major international awards. The agency scooped the best large integrated search agency title at last year’s European Search Awards in Prague. The international show honours the best in SEO, pay-per-click (PPC), digital and content marketing. Now in its seventh year, this year’s show is in Budapest in June.
In 2016, Wolfgang won the best small PPC agency title. Coleman says the integrated win shows how the agency has evolved from its meagre start-up. Coleman rates the best large integrated agency in Europe as the pick of the bunch as it was his long-term goal. “The win was a dream come true for me and is a fantastic testament to the talent we have,” he said.
“In particular, it’s an endorsement of our leadership group which drove our integration,” he added. Coleman’s first property investment client never did pay up, but bigger and better jobs came along. Jobs for clients that not only paid their invoices but work with Wolfgang as partners. The agency is gunning to keep doing digital better and help businesses grow.