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Spark Digital Marketing Conference Recap

Posted by on Jul 11, 2017 in Conference Recaps

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Spark is an annual digital marketing conference hosted by TrackMaven, a marketing software company. This year, the conference was held at the iconic Newseum in Washington, D.C. on May 18. Spark brought together a group of digital and content marketing leaders from various industries to discuss the future of social, marketing, analytics and digital creativity. Mary and Katie, two of our MDS associates, had the pleasure of attending and are sharing their top takeaways from the speakers.

Mary Cline & Katie Lopus(Image Source: Mary Cline and Katie Lopus)

Mary’s Picks: 

Storytelling IRL: Creating Big, Beautiful Experiences that Drive Brand Results 

Vanessa Fontanez, executive director of brand marketing for VOX Media, shared how her brands create multisensory experiences to drive results. VOX Media’s most successful activations are realized when brands combine multi-sensory experiences with passion points shared by the audience. To promote Infiniti’s newest car designpar and Eater, the dining website, VOX Media created a virtual-reality lab in partnership with the Museum of Food and Drink. A virtual-reality screen was placed inside the windshield of the new car to give guests a tour of culinary centers around the world. Fontanez conveyed that experiences like this should be paired with an editorial hook, branded content and social media for a multilayered approach and to measure ROI. Marriott has hosted countless experiential brand activations like this in the past. For example, this year’s luxury “glamping” tents at Coachella music festival, designed by brands like Aloft, Moxy and AC Hotels, were a hit. We can’t wait to see what’s next.

Next-Generation Retail Strategies 

In this session, Laura O’Shaughnessy of SocialCode discussed innovative retail strategies that are reshaping how consumers shop. In comparing the shopping experience at a big-box retail store, such as Target, versus a digital-first store, like Rent the Runway, it is apparent why many traditional retail stores are closing and online-only retailers are opening brick-and-mortar locations. The main difference is that the brands that start online allow consumers to drive the design of the brick-and-mortar stores. Some examples include Warby Parker, Bonobos and none other than Amazon. Customization is key in this model as well. Because eCommerce is the hotel industry’s bread and butter, creating the most customized and intuitive shopping experience possible is a continuous work in progress for hospitality digital and eCommerce professionals.

Washington DC Capitol Building(Image Source: Mary Cline and Katie Lopus)

Katie’s Picks: 

The Importance of Video in Your Digital Strategy 

Beverly Jackson, vice president of social media and content strategy for MGM Resorts International shared some valuable insight from her professional experience. Across social platforms, people who see your content organically are users who love your brand. The key to owning algorithms is to tell good stories by leveraging video trends. Some of the current trends include cinemagraphs, live video and episodic content, all different themes that can be used while being authentic and staying true to your brand. Marriott International hotels around the globe can utilize this strategy by implementing videos across social channels. Hotels can use video to show off iconic features, such as infinity pools or rooftop bars with a view. Also, hotels can live stream events, for example, interviews with chefs and bartenders for a behind-the-scenes look.

Social Strategy at Scale, Conde Nast’s Road Map to Accelerated Growth

Spark Digital Marketing Conference(Image Source: Mary Cline and Katie Lopus)

Rochelle Stewart, a growth expert and director of Social Strategy & Innovation from Conde Nast, shared how the company focuses on growth within the right market for each specific brand, while staying true to the umbrella brand of Conde Nast. When focusing on expanding followers, consistency is key. Focus on the people by delivering in a consistent manner and providing what the audience expects. Having the largest audience isn’t what’s most important; having the right people engaged is. Determine which social platforms have the best opportunity, establish benchmarks, set goals, share knowledge and celebrate wins. Additionally, use the data for what themes are successful on each platform, and consistently implement those successful content buckets. For Marriott, our hotels can establish which posts resonate the most with users by categorizing the content in buckets, and creating benchmarks to track data. Hotels can use content buckets for posts, such as local areas, hotel pictures, special events and employee features. With this knowledge, these themes should be shared in various forms, whether via photo album, quick video or gif.

Facebook Principles_Spark Digital Marketing Conference(Image Source: Mary Cline and Katie Lopus)

Instagram Growth Strategy_Spark Digital Marketing Conference(Image Source: Mary Cline and Katie Lopus)

A day well spent learning about all things digital from iconic digital leaders. To read more about the event, the speakers and the schedule, visit the official website at

MDS Announcement!

Posted by on Jul 4, 2017 in Announcements

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MDS Americas Blog Article

George Corbin Shares How to Get Ahead – In Life and Business

Posted by on Jun 27, 2017 in Digital Industry News

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George Corbin, former Senior Vice President, Marriott Digital, recently shared some inspiring advice about life and career development with Marriott’s digital team. Watch the video to learn what is the most important question to ask and which word limits companies and careers.

“Your true lasting impact is what you did for other people. How you made them feel. What you enabled them to do. Those are the ripples that change lives. Those are the ones that last.” Statements like this not only reveal George’s leadership style but also reflect Marriott’s corporate culture well.

Russia – A Country of Opportunity and Growth

Posted by on Jun 20, 2017 in All Matters SEO

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My first visit to Russia was in December 2010 (yes, Russia in DECEMBER!) when it was minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit. At the time, I wouldn’t have described the ground as snow covered – it was more like blocks of ice. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to go back four more times, visiting both Moscow and St. Petersburg. Amazing and interesting, Russia is filled with many surprises.

Russia is the world’s largest nation. Bordered by both Europe and Asia, it has everything from a beach, to forests, to mountains, to major cities. This diverse country has over 144 million people, which is two times the size of the U.K.’s population and about 50% less than the U.S.

To drive across Russia (about 10,500 km) from the most western city of Kaliningrad to the most eastern city of Vladivostok, it takes around 6.5 days. By train, it takes seven days with over 80 stops. And to fly, it takes 11 hours. To put into context the immensity of the country, you could fly or drive from New York to San Francisco and back again more quickly.

Visiting Russia is not easy, but it’s not impossible. A visa is needed by most nationals, but there are some exceptions. For example, a U.K. national can easily get a Russian tourist visa from the processing center in London; it involves completing a long form and answering a few questions, but it’s attainable.

There is an incredible amount to see and explore when in Russia. Moscow is, of course, the largest city – just standing in the middle of Red Square leaves you amazed. This iconic, historical site is one that every student learns about at school.

Chris Robinson_Russia Trip

(Image Source: Chris Robinson)

In St. Petersburg, you cannot fail just to walk the canals, explore the architecture and watch the trams run up and down the streets. The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, which took the years between 1883 and 1907 to build, is simply a stunning building.

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

(Image Source: Chris Robinson)

Russia has seven major airports open to passenger travel, with three located in Moscow and others in St. Petersburg, Simferopol, Koltsovo and Sochi (home of the 2014 Winter Olympics and the annual Russian Formula One race). There is also a major train service to several European countries, such as Austria, Germany and Hungary.

Next year, Russia will host the 2018 soccer FIFA World Cup across 11 cities which presents a massive opportunity for Russia to “sell” itself to the world, plus there is a major opportunity for residents to experience the country.

Outbound travel from Russia in 2016 was tough, as the FX rate between the ruble and the U.S. dollar (USD) dramatically changed. In January 2014, 3 rubles bought just over $1 USD, now it takes around 5.5 rubles to get $1 USD, but in early 2016, it was as high as 10 rubles to the dollar. This made overseas Russian travel expensive and unaffordable. The good news is, the foreign-exchange rate has improved and continues to ensure that Russian nationals can travel the world.

In a recent study by Russian Tourism, it identified, like any national market, there are, of course, different types of consumers in Russia. There are those who visit places like Thailand and Southern Europe to see the sun and relax. Then there are those in the travel market who visit such destinations as UAE, France and Germany – all popular with the Russian consumer.

The internet in Russia is a little different than most countries, with Yandex being the largest search engine. For more information on that, check out this blog from Petra Baer on the differences between Google and Yandex at

According to Live Internet Stats, since 2015, the number of Russian internet users has grown by over 30% to 102 million, which is just around 71% of the population. The U.S. is currently at 88% internet usage, so room to grow for sure!

While Yandex is Russia’s largest search engine, it has many other services, including:

  •, an auction-based, text-based ad-placement platform
  • Yandex Maps
  •, which is like PayPal
  •, a similar service to Uber

The key with this is, the internet in Russia is growing and the digital community/consumer base is growing. Though the market is complicated, especially because of the language difference, nothing is impossible. If you understand and get it right, the opportunity to attract a new market is clear.

Marriott International recently launched a new Russian website, Now Russian-speaking travelers can book hotels around the world in their native language.

Why Going Global is Essential to Your Business – My SMX London Session

Posted by on Jun 13, 2017 in Conference Recaps

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In the last days of May 2017 at the SMX London conference, I had the pleasure of presenting a session about the importance of going global, and the key considerations to ensuring success.

Here is what I had to say:

The world is a very big place with about 7.5 billion humans. And half of those humans are connected to the internet in one way or another.

The distribution of internet users is surprising to many, as only 8% of total users are in the U.S. and 9% in Western Europe; both lower than Africa at 10%, South Asia at 16% and East Asia at 24%. These statistics were compiled in a We Are Social and Hootsuite 2017 study.

Even more impressive is that only 29% of the African population is online (internet penetration ratio), which means that when a larger part of the African population eventually goes online, it will represent an even greater share of the world’s internet population. The U.S. and Western Europe have an internet penetration ratio of about 90%, leaving a smaller growth opportunity.

Looking at eMarketer’s data on projected digital buyers’ growth by continent, it is clear where the growth will continue at a double-digit rate (Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa) and where it will plateau (Europe and North America):

eMarketer’s data on projected digital buyers’ growth by continent

(Image Source: eMarketer)

All of this leads to one clear conclusion: Every company, regardless of size, needs to globalize in markets that make sense.

So how does a company globalize? It all revolves around three core considerations:

  1. Linguistics
  2. Cultural
  3. Technical


A company needs to make sure its brand name doesn’t mean something strange or inappropriate in the target language, and that the correct version of the language is identified and used. Many languages spoken in multiple countries have variations. Even within a single country (e.g., China), languages can have varying dialects. Identifying the right one is key to ensuring success.

Once the language is identified, the tone (formal or informal) must be chosen. French, German and Spanish, for example, have formal ways of addressing people (a politer way, if you will), which can be preferable depending on the company’s industry. Also, the tone may vary by country depending the company’s products. This all must be researched before developing website language.

After the language, tone and format are decided upon, cultural considerations, such as references, preferences, perception, awareness and local competitors, need to be researched.


Cultural references vary from country to country. In the West, babies are brought by the stork, whereas in Japan, babies come from big peaches. In China, red is synonymous with warmth and success, but disliked in South Korea. Movies stars, singers, authors and the like are different throughout the world. Target-audience research ensures cultural references are relevant.

Along the same lines, it is essential to cater to preferences (e.g., payment methods, formats, aspect), local norms and public holidays to avoid any faux pas.

It is also important to confirm if the brand is known and, if so, how it is perceived. If the brand is unknown, it might require a full explanation. If the band is known but misunderstood, it may require a change to affect perception. Doing the research is crucial. It can also help to identify and understand successful local competitors.


Finally, I touched upon the technical elements that should be used to ensure that well-written in-language content makes its way to the right platform and is understood.

Google provides multiple tools, such as geo-targeting, adding “hreflang” tags to signal the availability multiple languages and identifying potential markets.

While Google, Facebook and Twitter are the norm in many countries, different platforms may be more widely used in others. For example, Baidu is the lead search engine in China, Line is the lead social media platform in Japan and Yandex is the lead search engine in Russia.

Ensuring optimization of in-language, culturally relevant content on the right platforms and sites ultimately leads to successful business globalization.

For even more details and visuals, view my deck here.

Two Days at SMX London

Posted by on Jun 6, 2017 in Conference Recaps

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The world-renowned SMX Conference had its annual edition in London on May 23 and 24.

As usual, the program was jam packed and featured great speakers who covered the latest on many subjects from social, to paid, to SEO, to attribution models.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and was fortunate enough to be both an attendee and a speaker this year. More to come in another post on MDS Decoded about my talk. But, as always, it was about global.

If I had to sum up the whole conference in three words, they would be:

  • AMP
  • Attribution

Most of the presentations revolved around these themes, as they are top of mind for digital marketers at the moment.

While HTTPS seems to be widely adopted (as high as 50% of domains according to Olga Andrienko, Head of Global Marketing at SEMrush), AMP is still in its ramping-up phase, with relatively low adoption as highlighted by many presenters.

Many reasons were invoked for the low adoption of AMP, which is hosted by Google. It’s not clear what they will do with the data collected this way – it’s too complicated to implement on large sites. But the general agreement is that it leaves a wide opportunity for marketers to be early adopters and get a head start on the competition.

Attribution modeling was debated at length across various sessions and panels. While no one seemed to have the perfect solution, all agreed that current attribution models are incorrect. First and last click provide only one side of the explanation, leaving much crucial information out of it.

During the two-day event, consensus was reached: Agencies, in-house marketers and technology partners need to have serious discussions, put personal bias aside and find a solution together.

Google coincidentally announced the release of a new attribution tool. It was welcomed, but with a lot of skepticism from the search community.

As always, the world of search marketing is a busy, exciting and continually evolving one to watch.

Here are the key things I overheard at SMX London this year:

SMX Key Learnings

(Image Source: Fred Schaub)