New director helps lead GTMA into fresh verticals

Alexandra Watson: Small businesses need to be strategic in their digital marketing

GTMA staff
Courtesy of GTMA

Nearing a-year-and-a-half in Vancouver, GTMA – a full service creative agency and Southern California transplant continues to fulfill its promise to hire locally and expand its footprint in Vancouver. In May, GTMA brought on its first digital marketing director, a role previously unofficially occupied by the company’s CEO Joshua Swanson.

Alexandra Watson
Alexandra Watson

New DMD Alexandra Watson, in her 25 years in business and marketing, has seen digital both arrive and flourish, and she has had the opportunity to build digital teams from scratch. As an adjunct professor at Southern Methodist University, she taught upper-division advertising electives on digital strategy and social media marketing. She also developed all course materials, lectures, assignments and exams.

Her wealth of experience led her to write a book, available on Amazon: “Strategic Digital Marketing Survival Manual: A Practical Field Guide for Small Businesses and Startups.”

She said even small businesses and startups can have success with digital marketing but they have to be strategic about it.

“It’s hard. You have to create awareness. You don’t have a big brand name or built-in market, you can’t afford to outspend the competition and you have to work very hard for every transaction,” Watson said. “I found that there are four phases to optimize.”

She recommends small business and startups:

Do “significant business development,” identifying their goals and audience in order to do relevant targeting and tracking.

Develop a strong website presence, as “social networks always change.”

Use inbound marketing strategies, “using compelling content to draw people in.”

“Be very strategic in how they use paid media” and partner it with inbound (organic or unpaid) marketing.

Prior to Watson’s hire, GTMA had begun to restructure its social media offerings. The company now offers four tiers of social marketing and lead generation packages that offer a combination of organic storytelling and paid advertising. This change reflects a desire to be more nimble and responsive to its clients. For example, clients with “Social Storytelling” packages are no longer locked into a specific social network and their team’s digital media strategist is free to act on the results a client is achieving without a change in their contract – say, moving the client’s majority social media presence from Facebook to Instagram because Instagram is producing better results. 

“This allows us to bring more strategy to the partnership,” said Christian Swanson, GTMA director of media strategy. “A lot of social media marketing is just doing small experiments (and acting on the results).” 

A trend watcher by profession, Watson has her eye on the future of the digital community space.

“Digital marketing is ever evolving … we’re moving away from big public forums into small group private conversation. We’re more guarded with our words online, which necessitates a shift in the way we market – things are more permission-based,” she said. “We have to be adaptable and flexible in our marketing to reach people and deserve their attention online, to bring value instead of being interruptive.” 

Watson is coming to the team as GTMA is expanding its horizons. Once focused on real estate – the high-end rental market – and hospitality, the agency is now deliberately bringing its expertise to additional market segments, growing verticals in wine, food and non-rental real estate, as well as student and senior housing.

Christian Swanson said he and Joshua both have had other interests in marketing for years, and they were ready to branch out, using their focus on “hyperlocal” marketing to build a reputation in new segments.

“We really conquered the multifamily industry. Once, we were trying to get a chance, and now we’re the established ones,” he said. “We’re entering fun new territory, with a recognition of what our skillset is – marketing something locally.”

As a newly transplanted expert in storytelling, particularly in real estate and hospitality, Christian Swanson said that the story of Vancouver “could be told better.”

“We’ve hired a lot of people locally, and it’s been fascinating, how little they knew of Vancouver even though they are right there (in Portland),” he said. “There’s a lot more opportunity to tell the story.”