In this episode, Stacy sits down with Ira Maher, the Vice President of The Basement, an integrated agency that studies data to uncover insights that enable strategic, targeted, and effective marketing and advertising campaigns. The two discuss Ira’s passion in leveraging the convergence of marketing, technology, data and automation to optimize the customer experience and maximize long-term business outcomes.

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Stacy Jones (00:01):
Welcome to Marketing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. I’m Stacy Jones, the founder of influencer marketing and brand and content agency, Hollywood Branded. This podcast provides brand marketers a learning platform for experts to share their insights and knowledge on topics which make a direct impact on your business today. While it is impossible to be well-versed on every topic and strategy that can improve bottom line results, my goal is to help you avoid making costly mistakes of time, energy, or money, whether you are doing a DIY approach or hiring an expert to help. Let’s begin today’s discussion.

Speaker 2 (00:31):
Welcome to Marketing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. Here’s your host, Stacy Jones.

Stacy Jones (00:36):
Welcome to Marketing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. I’m Stacy Jones. I’m so happy to be here with you all today. I want to give a very warm welcome to Ira Maher. Ira is vice president of The Basement, an integrated agency that studies data to uncover a market insights, which enables strategic, targeted and effective marketing as well as advertising campaigns and which was awarded Indianapolis Business Journal’s Fast 25 designation for private growing companies. Ira carries responsibilities for client strategy and oversight of the agency’s overall media strategy, operations and analytics disciplines, and has the agencies integrated agency operating model.
Today, Ira is going to be sharing his passion with leveraging the convergence of marketing, technology, data and automation to optimize the customer experience and maximize long-term business outcomes. We’re going to learn what works from Ira’s perspective, what should be avoided and how some businesses miss the mark. Ira, welcome. So happy to have you here today.

Ira Maher (01:30):
Oh, thank you so much. I’m excited for the conversation.

Stacy Jones (01:34):
Well, I had heard that you are a self-described reality star addict. Is that true?

Ira Maher (01:44):
Unfortunately, yes, very much so. Very much so.

Stacy Jones (01:47):
What is your favorite reality show?

Ira Maher (01:50):
I think my current favorite reality show is probably the Below Deck franchise on Bravo.

Stacy Jones (01:55):
You’re one of those. I have family members who love Below Deck.

Ira Maher (02:00):
I don’t know what it is, but I think it is that I envisioned myself every time I watch it on a yacht in some beautiful tropic climate that is so much unlike where I live.

Stacy Jones (02:13):
You should try it. Yachting is fun.

Ira Maher (02:16):
Oh yeah, I know. I just wish I could do it every day versus once in awhile.

Stacy Jones (02:22):
So, how did you, Ira, get here today? What was your career path that landed you in overseeing your agency and doing all the things that you guys do digitally?

Ira Maher (02:33):
Yeah. So, I started my career with every intent of being the next Jim Nantz. I studied play-by-play broadcasting in college. I was DJ. My way through college, I was super jazzed to call the NBA finals or whatever the case would be. As luck would have it, just a little bit more than halfway through my undergrad collegiate career, I realized that the people who call the games, there’s one in 100,000 who are successful and make a really meaningful life for themselves. But the people who own the various properties on which those broadcasts are transmitted, that’s where the ultimate shareholder value it. And so, I pivoted to a business degree with the idea that I would somehow be involved in the media space.
I started my career in… So, I live in Indianapolis. This is where the NCAA and actually the National Federation of High School Associations is headquartered, but you probably don’t really know that. But I started my career working on that and building a media network for high school sports across the country. So, that was my entry. It just so happened that I was doing that work at an advertising agency that had originated a couple of media networks through service to Indiana University and Purdue University way back when networks were not really that cool. So I was in that space. I was just introduced to marketing and advertising just by the adjacency. When I was doing my work, they were also doing that on the other half of the agency, and I became increasingly familiar or interested and familiar with some of the tactics that they were using.
That firm specialized in branding and was very much focused on upscale delivery and absolutely curating every single touch point that a consumer would see. As I made my way to The Basement, I did so because I realized that the… I mean, this isn’t groundbreaking, but the market is going to a place where the ability to curate that experience is exponentially stronger when you effectively leveraged technology. I saw The Basement was doing those things and growing as a result of it. And so, it brought those two paths together.

Stacy Jones (05:03):
Ira, as part of your career, I mean, a lot of it with the inter-collegiate or with the high school, I mean, you were marketing to a young demographic and their parents, but it was a much younger, much trendier, much more aligned to the digital and mobile world than perhaps a lot of other brands that you could have started off working with.

Ira Maher (05:22):
Yeah, definitely. The space there was what few people really consider is the fact that more people in the United States attend high school sporting events than do any other sporting event when you’ve classified at that level, just because of scale. I mean, you’ve got track meets and swim meets all over the place. So the audience there is humongous. Technology has afforded us the ability to start to bring some of that together so that it creates a marketing opportunity for brands. I’m sure somebody from Gillette would love the opportunity to be in the locker rooms across the country, because when you’re at that stage, where you’re starting to make your initial commitments to brands, that is a tremendously strong place to influence and has lifetime value that’s difficult to measure. So, that was-

Stacy Jones (06:28):
Yeah, I think access got in so heavily, right? That is their demo that they went after, that they just conquered that whole world of getting into that youth of male of very heavy spring, where it hides and masks all sorts of [inaudible 00:06:41].

Ira Maher (06:42):
You go through half a bottle. It’s perfect.

Stacy Jones (06:43):
Yeah, it’s perfect.

Ira Maher (06:44):
It’s a rinse and reuse.

Stacy Jones (06:44):
Yeah.

Ira Maher (06:46):
Yeah, definitely. That was the value creation that we were seeking, was start to bring together this disparate system in such a way that you can amass a large audience, but also create the ability for the downstream participants all the way to the school level to generate revenue in a way that they hadn’t previously, because as an individual school, it’s pretty difficult to get the attention to max. But when you talk about the state of California and all of the high school, then it creates something completely different.

Stacy Jones (07:25):
Yeah, it’s really interesting, this diving in and seeing different businesses that have popped up in probably the last five to 10 years, where there are companies, like the one you were working with, that figured out how to approach localized, regionalized marketing on that national scale to enable those sometimes global marketers to be able to actually be interested in one piece of the pie.

Ira Maher (07:47):
Yeah. It’s absolutely still a work in progress. I mean, it just I think one of the things that we have-

Stacy Jones (07:53):
It’s a lot of work.

Ira Maher (07:55):
Yeah. Something that we face on a regular basis is there’s the chasm between the promise of technology and its implementation when you’re talking about a broad audience, a broad set of people who have to participate. That can be a pretty big chasm. It can take a long time to bring those things together. I think in this immediate time, it’s been really, really inspiring to me to see how our country has been able to leverage technology in some unique ways to face the pandemic that we are unfortunately in, but you think about, “Oh, well, it should be easy to do contact tracing. My phone just talks to your phone and then we’ll know.” But the reality of that is very representative of that chasm, because you have to opt in and I have to opt in and all of the various players that fill that value chain.
That replicates itself on a different scale and ideally with far less important consequences in a pandemic, but across a lot of things. And so, the mantra that we espouse is there’s a really, really great opportunity and choosing the right ones and right as defined by its ability to positively influence the experience of your consumer engaging with your brand, making those right decisions can have a really big impact, but it will not be tomorrow. Maybe a couple of weeks away, but it won’t be tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean that the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. There is value there.

Stacy Jones (09:31):
Yeah. Also, it’s hard because you’re not working with a traditional mainstream recipient who is used to working with doing media buying, who’s used to working with sponsorship. You’re working with a lot of PTA-driven schools and school boards who don’t really necessarily know advertising and marketing and principals of school districts and superintendents of school districts, who they know they want to help their communities make more money, but they don’t actually know all the processes that need to be placed even from trafficking, anything, get everyone on the same page. So I’m assuming that sometimes it’s a bit like herding cats.

Ira Maher (10:10):
It is. I think the other piece to the pie is the incentives rightly are on educating the youth of America. It so happens that extracurricular programs at the high school level, time and again, have proven to produce a positive impact on the lives of student athletes.

Stacy Jones (10:36):
And they get cut. They need additional funding.

Ira Maher (10:38):
Yeah.

Stacy Jones (10:38):
I mean, they may need that actually. They’re the home grown, the ones with the community actually typically comes forward to help raise the most money for school.

Ira Maher (10:45):
Yep. Yep. They’re organized at the state level, but each state does everything just a little bit differently. And so, the financial incentives, the way that the state organization is even classified and organized, it’s a completely diverse system in a way that’s really unique from what the NCAA has been able to create. If you look at the value proposition of those two organizations, you wouldn’t assume that they should be level. I mean, amateurism at different scales. But when you can bring a certain level of organization to a diverse set of constituencies like that, there is some potential value that you can create. There’s a multi-billion dollar basketball tournament that will actually host here in Central Indiana in a couple of months that is largely the result of that type of forward strategic thing.

Stacy Jones (11:47):
Now, I’m fascinated with all the networks that are opening up for schools and what they’re doing. Part of my fascination is my husband was a principal and administrator of school districts for 26 years, and educator, and now he’s actually our CEO at our agency. So my fascination dives in a little bit because I’ve gotten to experience a lot more PTA than I ever thought I would and things that are associated with it in school fundraising and seeing from a far as a brand marketer, all the things that schools do wrong. There’s so much that schools do wrong. There’s so many ways for brands to come in and be able to help and assist in that. So, that’s where I have that little bit of extra fascination.

Ira Maher (12:27):
Yeah. Well, I’m glad you did. I’m glad you did. When people ask me how I got my career and I said, “Well, I’m working in high school sports.” It’s just kind of like a glaze over because you experience that as an individual on such a finite level. You don’t see it as a marketing opportunity outside of the local car dealership or whomever is intimately involved, but when you think about the fact it started in the state of Indiana, more people go to high school sporting events than go to Indianapolis Colts games. I mean, it makes total sense now.

Stacy Jones (13:02):
Right. You’re just thinking of high school, but I mean, it extends out to middle school, little league. There’s so many… It’s just the school district itself, the localization on that level, I think it’s a very underleveraged and used opportunity because the school administrators can’t figure it out. It’s not like as you said. The attention is put on education, which is the important thing, but it’s just such a natural opportunity for fundraising and dollars that just get overlooked.

Ira Maher (13:36):
Well, one step closer to solving it, I guess, is today.

Stacy Jones (13:39):
So, what are some of the digital trends that you were saying that you’re fascinated with and you think are great or cool, or even software or things that you’re using at your agency?

Ira Maher (13:50):
Love the fact that you used the word fascinated because one of our cultural pillars at our agency is called Stay Fascinated. We’re headquartered in Indiana, which is not typically where brands look for the next great marketing idea. So the way that we keep our edge and keep on the fastest growing list is by having a culture that really focuses on being fascinated by new and different things, and then finding the way to put that into place for the diverse set of clients that we serve. So to your question, I have sadly, I think, aged out of the relevancy of a platform, like TikTok, as much as I would love to say that that isn’t the case, but I-

Stacy Jones (14:37):
You’d still be fascinated by what it’s doing, right? It might not be something you are getting your own attention to grab, but the platform itself is going to absolutely change how we market to a younger demographic and generation.

Ira Maher (14:51):
Yeah. I love the democratization of creativity and just the ability for that to be so infectious. I think a lot of us look at the time that maybe we have a teenage child who’s spending hours upon hours upon hours on TikToK. There are some positives to come from that experience. If you’re doing something and you’re creating something, that’s turning on a part of your brain that maybe historically would have been painting or coloring and drawing or something like that, but it’s a different medium on which you’re being creative. I think that’s really, really neat and there’s obviously value there to unlock for branding.
Also, I like at least the initial approach that TikTok has taken to the way that we’re not just going straight to a programmatic environment where it just gets clouded with inauthentic stuff, but we’re really focused on creators, who can represent a brand in a much more authentic and holistic fashion. I think that has lasting impact in a way that half a second of a programmatic insertion just doesn’t. I think that’s where more broadly where we’re shifting, is to doing things that have more innate value to them for the consumer, because it’s not just an ad, but it’s some sort of curated content.

Stacy Jones (16:19):
It’s not only curated content, it’s also endorsed. And so, you’re getting it where it actually has that implied endorsement factor that’s not from a celebrity, but from up here. And so, that whole word of mouth marketing that we all were so geared up about for so long has just transitioned to online being super, super hyper, hypercritically powerful.

Ira Maher (16:43):
Yeah, taking the quarterback who uses Axe body spray in the locker room to the next level.

Stacy Jones (16:49):
Right. Because the whole team is now using Axe and you do not want to walk into that locker room or your eyes are going to burn.

Ira Maher (16:56):
Yeah. Yeah. The two other things that are on the edge of my interest, I think the Twitch platform that’s owned by Amazon is a really interesting, another representation of, again, the democratization of our ability to create content completely different fashion than TikTok, but very authentic relationship between who leads the channel and their audience in a way that is very, very difficult to replicate across any broader space. So I think that’s a really interesting space. It’s a space we’ve been doing our best to play around. Unfortunately, well, not unfortunately, but our agency doesn’t have a strong set of brands that focus specifically on a very youthful demographic.

Stacy Jones (17:54):
[inaudible 00:17:54].

Ira Maher (17:56):
We serve the education. We have a nice contingent of education clients, and that’s where it’s interesting, but it’s also those platforms require so much authenticity in the messaging that we don’t want to just go there because that’s where the audience is, we want to go there because the audience is there and there’s something very relevant and authentic for us to say. So that’s been the strategic rub, is we know they’re there, it’s just how do we make it a worthwhile?
Then the third thing is all types of mixed reality. So we serve the Transitions lenses brand in the United States. Our agency acquired a firm that originated that brand name 30 or 40 years ago and we’ve maintained the relationship. So in high school, when my parents bought me transitions lenses, I hated it, hated every moment of it. I took them off when I went outside because I thought I looked silly. It was so circular for then 30 years later for my assignment as an advertising representative was to step in and help the brand specifically with that problem. It was just this break that once you got to be 41 years old, you were all in on Transitions lenses, but at 39 and a half, absolutely not, and below, absolutely not.

Stacy Jones (19:20):
I am that person, by the way. I’m going to give a shout out to Transitions because I never wear my glasses, ever. I wear contacts. But then a few months ago I had an ISU and I had to take them off for the first time since I was in third grade. I didn’t wear glasses for like two months, not glasses, contacts about two months. I was so happy that I had upsold myself at the eye doctors to the Transitions because I was too cheap to be like, “I never wear glasses, so I should get a pair of sunglasses too.” And so, I’m like, “I don’t wear glasses. I should get something that does all in one.” Right? And so, I got the Transitions, and by the way, I fit into your age ranges where I would probably not have done this at 39 or 41, no problem, or 46. And so, I will tell you, it saved me. I love them. They are fantastic. So, that’s my plug to your client.

Ira Maher (20:10):
Well, thank you. Thank you so much. Your use case is so representative of that brand, of the brand experience that they’ve maintained for a period of time. The challenge that we were given, I think now that three or four years ago was in partnership with a number of global agencies to increase the likelihood to recommend among eye doctors who are under that age special and increase the brand affinity and brand relevance to people in that age group. So we brought forward a concept at this time. It was about the time where Snapchat was at a maturity level that TikTok is now when we were doing this. A colleague of mine was one of the first people to get the Snapchat glasses.

Stacy Jones (20:10):
Yep, the lenses.

Ira Maher (21:06):
Those big things. Yeah. And so, he had them and we were making fun of the whole thing because he looked goofy, but he would snap us all the time.

Stacy Jones (21:18):
You get them in vending machines. It’s very cool what they did. Talk about a cultural moment or relevancy using pop culture, they did it right.

Ira Maher (21:26):
Absolutely. It became the fascination in our office was, “Okay. This platform, these tools are really, really interesting. How can we do something?” We created what at that time was the first try-on experience, both for that brand and to be completely custom written within Snapchat. It was a tremendous success, deployed across multiple of their English speaking markets. It was successful in increasing interest, coupled with some really, really compelling evolutions to their brain creative that rolled out at the same time. But to the point of creating an experience, you pull or roll out that brain creative, there’s some really, really beautiful television commercials. But if you get to the point actually trying on the product and it doesn’t have the same resonance that you saw on television, that’s a pretty embarrassing brand gaps, so it fill that gap. Now, as you maybe even experienced as you were buying your Transitions, you go on the website as a consumer and you can do the whole augmented reality try-on before you visit an eye doctor.

Stacy Jones (22:36):
I did not do that because my eye doctor was not that contemporary, but he was like, “We [inaudible 00:22:42] to push the Transitions.”

Ira Maher (22:36):
There you go. There you go.

Stacy Jones (22:44):
The other areas that you think that there’s growth in the digital world for clients right now?

Ira Maher (22:52):
Aside from those technological evolutions and where the audience is, our focus is obviously as with the rest of the agency on how to effectively be privacy forward and allow audience information to be something that is both an asset of a brand, but not in a way that is abusive to the consumer. That was a terribly, terribly, terribly sticky space to be in, but it is leading down some common paths to the point earlier. What cookies and third-party data sets have allowed us to do is scale up efficient advertising at just a tremendous rate. So I can send my message out to audience segments with a proclivity to be interested in the product very, very easily, very cost-efficiently. But then when I turned around and I’m the consumer, I put the ad blocker on because it’s too much. It’s too much and I’m not getting [crosstalk 00:23:55] the value out of it.
I think the overall trend to being privacy forward in the way that audience is collected and managed puts the onus back on the marketer and on the advertiser to be sure that the messages being communicated is of value to the consumer. So that the trade-off that they’re making access to content for free in exchange for being the recipient of advertisement feels fair. Because when it doesn’t feel fair, they’re going to put the ad blocker on.

Stacy Jones (24:28):
That’s transition, right? It’s the same thing as landing pages, where we were trying to get email addresses. It’s just taking it up a level now with what we’re doing with privacy and cookies and the ad blockers, where you have to actually be willing, instead of paying cash, you’re paying for your eyeballs. You’re paying for your time. You’re paying. As a consumer, you’re giving something in order to get something. So there has to be a value proposition there, which is going to be extremely disruptive for the advertising world, because we’re not used to that.

Ira Maher (25:01):
Yeah, I think too many of us have taken it for granted. We take off our own hat as a consumer and we just assume that the people to whom we are marketing will-

Stacy Jones (25:17):
Are different than us.

Ira Maher (25:18):
Yeah. Appreciate us so much-

Stacy Jones (25:21):
They love us.

Ira Maher (25:23):
… that they’ll just accept whatever we want to give them. I like that that paradigm is shifting because at heart, I really care about the creative product and that efficiency in large part was at a loss for the ability to create a really unique and creative extension of the brand because you had to be so systematized in the delivery. And so, I think that shift back, it makes coming up with really cool and interesting authentic ideas that resonate with a target audience have that much more value because it’s not as easy. So I think that puts selfishly, biasly. For a firm in the space of providing consultative marketing services, that increases the value of the type of thing that we can offer.

Stacy Jones (26:22):
So for our listeners right now, if they want to learn more about you, and this is usually where I will jump in, so I’m going to jump in, how can they learn more about your agency, yourself, get in contact with you if they’re like, “Hmm, I’m interested. I want to learn more”?

Ira Maher (26:35):
Yeah. So our website is the best first place to go. The name of our company is The Basement. Our website, because we don’t like vowels is thebsmnt.com. We do like vowels, but [crosstalk 00:26:50].

Stacy Jones (26:50):
One way to get around limited available website domains. Yes.

Ira Maher (26:55):
Yeah. So, that’s a great way to understand a little bit more about what we do functionally. And then my platform of preference is LinkedIn. I’m very fortunate to have a unique name. There aren’t very many Ira Mahers on LinkedIn, so fairly easy to find me, LinkedIn\in\ my full name, Ira Maher.

Stacy Jones (27:14):
That’ll be in the show notes as well. So we’ll have that one. That makes it easy.

Ira Maher (27:16):
Perfect. I think the impetus to be in contact is an opportunity to talk about some of these things in a safe way. The mantra of our agency what we do, we obviously are interested in growing our agency. We want to do that in a very value forward way. So it’s not a pushy aggressive, like you have to work with us in order to be able to have a really thought-provoking conversation around marketing and advertising. That’s what we’re passionate about, so it’s easy, obviously, as you can tell, to get us talking and have a good conversation.

Stacy Jones (27:56):
It’s all good.

Ira Maher (27:59):
So, I appreciate it. Yeah.

Stacy Jones (27:59):
What are some last parting words, just because we have to wrap it up, what are some last parting words of advice you have for people, for brands and managers who are figuring out their next digital foray?

Ira Maher (28:13):
Central to me is being conscious of the desired experience of your customer, the consumer, and being honest about where the gaps are in that process. So long-term value is going to be created when you make the experience of the consumer as optimized as possible in working or engaging with your brand. To the point earlier, if hats on and the consumer hats on and hats off, when you put yourself in the shoes of someone who’s engaging with your brand, you become intimately aware of where the gaps are.
When you do that, it then makes it much more clear where you can potentially fill those gaps with technological solutions, either new ones or better connecting the ones that you have. More and more so, it’s the latter because we’ve all signed up for every SaaS solution that there is, and are doing pinpoint things of add personalization or really robust email campaign, great web experience, great social content. But when those things live siloed from one another, that’s how the consumer experience that it makes. You experience them in these little hops, and that’s not what we would want as consumers. So being conscious of what you want and where you are, and then being intentional about filling those gaps in a way that you can effectively manage is a great action step.

Stacy Jones (29:44):
That is great advice and insight, so thank you. Well, Ira, thank you. Our time is running short, so I appreciate your time. Thank you so much for joining us and sharing your insights.

Ira Maher (29:57):
Yeah, my pleasure. Thank you for facilitating the conversation. I obviously love talking about it.

Stacy Jones (30:02):
Yeah. Well, you’re good at it and you definitely are… But I love it. I didn’t expect that our conversation went first and deep dive into some of the localized ways of advertising, but on a national basis, because I really do think that’s something that a lot of brands haven’t really wrapped their heads around because they know that there are options there, but it’s not necessarily where the eyeball goes immediately with terms to budget, but it actually can help your community and community is all over the place in a very, very positive way. So I love that we touched on that.

Ira Maher (30:33):
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Stacy Jones (30:35):
Well, to all of our listeners, thank you for tuning into Marketing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. I appreciate your time. I look forward to chatting with you this next week. Until then, have a great week.

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