By Shannon Furniss for the Montana High Tech Business Alliance
“We’re seeing areas in Montana like Kalispell where high-tech advancement is becoming the main thrust of their future expansion plan. High tech is drawing in a slightly different crowd, it’s influencing our educational system, it’s changing the way we hire and train people. Montana is becoming a tech hub.”
-Doug Schust, Chief Operating Officer, Hagadone Digital
There is often a mindset that technology companies thrive in major metropolitan centers – not in rural areas. But Doug Schust, the chief operating officer of Hagadone Digital, has found the opposite to be true.
In 2013, Hagadone Digital, a powerhouse for digital marketing in the U.S. and Canada, expanded its operation to Kalispell, a town with a population of just over 20,000 located in northwestern Montana near Flathead Lake and Glacier National Park. Locating in Montana has been a good decision for the digital marketing company, Schust said.
“We’re seeing areas in Montana like Kalispell where high-tech advancement is becoming the main thrust of their future expansion plan, Schust said. “High tech is drawing in a slightly different crowd, it’s influencing our educational system, it’s changing the way we hire and train people. Montana is becoming a tech hub.”
Formed in 2012, Hagadone Digital creates digital marketing solutions for businesses, ranging from small shops to major international brands like BMW, Mitsubishi, Disney, Canon, and Weston. Some of their global partners include Google, Bing, Yahoo, Adobe, and LinkedIn.
The recent tech boom in Montana reminds Schust of the boom experienced in his hometown in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada nearly 25 years ago. Schust was one of the entrepreneurs who helped launch the tech industry in the Tri-Cities region – which includes Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo and is often referred to as “Canada’s Silicon Valley.”
Like Montana, Waterloo’s economy struggled during the recession of the 1980s, and companies began to shut down and jobs began to leave the area, Schust said. The Canadian community started looking at the tech industry to turn the economy around. Over the years, the community has built a region with a high concentration of tech companies, the most well-known was probably Research in Motion (RIM), makers of the BlackBerry smartphone.
At its peak, RIM employed around 17,000 people in the Waterloo area with salaries averaging more than $100,000. When BlackBerry experienced its demise four or five years ago and 8,000 people lost their jobs, the region was still strong enough to withstand the decline. In fact, Google and Facebook recently established offices in Waterloo, Schust said.
Another similarity Schust sees between the Montana and Ontario tech scene is the strong high-tech associations in both areas. Schust helped build Communitech, an alliance in Waterloo for the tech companies that he compares to the Montana High Tech Business Alliance that now has more than 250 member companies.
“We created educational and support programs that helped leverage and transition businesses through that difficult period of time,” he said. “Communitech in Waterloo today is the most powerful group in the region. They’ve created so many jobs.”
Hagadone Digital Leveling the Playing Field for Montana Companies through Digital Marketing
Setting up in Kalispell has been a smart choice for Hagadone Digital, said Schust. The multi-million-dollar digital marketing company has experienced steady growth and expects 100 percent growth year-over-year for the next several years. The fact that the Hagadone Corporation already had a successful publishing company in Kalispell also influenced Hagadone Digital’s decision to locate there.
In addition to the Kalispell office, the company has offices in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Beloit, Wisconsin; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Waterloo, Ontario (Canada). With 24 employees across all locations, Hagadone Digital provides a variety of services including search engine optimization, social media marketing, email campaigns, website design, and data analysis. The Kalispell office currently has four employees, but Schust expects that number to double in the next year.
Hagadone Digital’s future plans include expanding in U.S. and international markets. Adding another office in Missoula will likely happen in the near future, he said.
Digital marketing used to be the domain of companies with big budgets, but that’s not the case anymore, said Schust. “The big equalizer is doing a few things really well and steadily even if you’re a small mom and pop shop.”
Companies with small budgets can compete if they know how to invest in the right strategies, said Schust. In fact, digital marketing levels the playing field for companies in remote and sparsely populated states like Montana because they can access customers around the world.
5 Tips to Dominate Your Niche with Digital Marketing
Doug Schust is somewhat of a pioneer in the digital marketing arena. His company, M3 Social Mindz has been established in digital marketing since 1997. M3 was the backbone of a larger digital marketing organization, WSI International, which has locations in 80 countries in the world. In 2012, the Hagadone Corporation purchased M3, and Schust became the chief operating officer.
When Schust started M3 in 1997, many companies did not have an online presence, and social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were yet to be invented. During his career, he has helped a variety of companies with digital marketing campaigns, some of which have “gone viral and exploded overnight.”
While Hagadone Digital works with major brands and multi-million-dollar companies, they also work with local businesses. In Kalispell, Schust and team have worked with a furniture store to build a plan to keep them in traditional media, but bump up their spending on digital assests. Schust says he looks forward to working with other Montana businesses.
Whether you’re trying to find a good Italian meal, get a replacement part for your washing machine, or buy a car, it’s likely you’ll turn to your phone, tablet, laptop, or computer to find information about these products before you even consider heading to a restaurant, a store, or a car dealership, according to Schust.
In today’s society, people look at their phones nearly 150 times a day, perform more than 3 billion Google searches every day, and upload 100-plus hours of video on Youtube every minute, says Schust.
“Consumer behavior is changing rapidly,” he said. “If your business is not online, you are missing major opportunities. Transitioning into the digital era is critical for businesses.”
Here are five tips for companies planning a digital marketing strategy
#1. Time, Location, and Device are Critical
Newspapers, television, and radio have always been an effective way to market and promote businesses, but these methods alone are no longer enough, said Schust. Reaching customers who are “online and on the move” – who are reading emails and posting on Facebook and Twitter while commuting to work or waiting in a doctor’s office — requires new marketing strategies.
Understanding customers’ behavior –the time of day, the location, and the device they’re using to get information – is critical. Delivering relevant messages to customers at the right time via the right channel is the key to success and has helped many of Hagadone’s clients double and triple their growth, he said.
#2. Driving Targeted Traffic to Your Website is Important
Generating online traffic is important, but the key to becoming successful in digital marketing is driving targeted traffic to your website, Schust said. Targeted or qualified traffic includes customers who are actively seeking products, services, or other information that is on your website.
There are many strategies for attracting targeted traffic including creating captivating content with compelling headlines, designing effective email and social media campaigns; paying attention to search engine optimization; and advertising through Pay-Per-Click.
#3. Customer Engagement and Conversion are Key Factors
Connecting with customers and providing them with personalized experiences is important in digital marketing, said Schust. Ways to engage people during their customer journey include mobile push notifications, emails, and social media. Customer engagement leads to higher rates of conversions, where customers will take action like filling out an email form or purchasing a product online.
#4. Marketing Automation is the New Buzzword
In order to tap into the invaluable opportunities leads offer, companies need efficient, manageable systems in place that help bring great quantities of data to scale, said Schust. Powerful software like Oracle Eloqua, Marketo, and HubSpot allows companies to automate, streamline, and measure marketing tasks so they can increase their efficiency and productivity. Automated emails and social media campaigns can be highly effective tools.
#5. Maximize Retention and Referrals
One of the biggest mistakes a business can make online is considering a purchase as the final step, says Schust. Customers who have a positive experience with your brand are willing to be repeat customers and will tell their friends. A successful long-term digital marketing strategy is about keeping a customer and getting them to talk about you.
Top photo caption: Two years ago, digital marketing powerhouse Hagadone Digital expanded its operation to Kalispell, Montana, a relatively rural area with a population of about 20,000. While the mindset has been that tech companies need to locate in metropolitan areas, Doug Schust, COO of Hagadone Digital, says his company is thriving in Kalispell. Schust sees Montana as an emerging tech hub and casts a vision for Montana’s thriving tech community to scale up like that of his hometown of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada (home to nearly 1,000 tech companies, including RIM, maker of BlackBerry). Also pictured are Hagadone’s digital media specialist Baltej Gill (center) and director of sales Brian Doane (right). The Hagadone group presented a digital marketing seminar in Kalispell last fall and then attended the Alliance’s reception in Lakeside. Image by Thomas Kurdy, Ndigena.
About the Author: Shannon Furniss is a Missoula-area journalist and president of Market Interactives. She writes articles on business trends and issues for the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, the Montana Business Quarterly, the Montanan, and other publications. She holds a degree in journalism from the University of Montana.
About the Publisher: The Montana High Tech Business Alliance is a statewide membership organization made up of more than 250 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates. More information on the Alliance can be found at: www.MTHighTech.org.