We continue our interview series with the industry’s finest with Howard Jacobson, PhD, Creative Instigator at VitruvianWay.com and Ultimate Frisbee gladiator. He’s co-author of Google AdWords For Dummies and creator of the Checkmate Method of competitive positioning. He has presented at the System Seminar, Early To Rise, StomperNet, Vital Learning, Perry Marshall’s AdWords Seminar, and his Bar Mitzvah. Howie has been called “one of the great positioning strategists of his generation” by his teenage daughter, which is a huge compliment if you think about it.

howie jacobsonName: Howard Jacobson, PhD
Creative Instigator

What’s the first metric you check when you start work for the day? Larry Page’s blood pressure. Actually, I don’t check anything for the first two hours. I like to start my day in proactive mode – but I’m not an active SEM manager, so that advice may not apply to people whose clients count on them to make minute-by-minute decisions.

What’s one metric you rarely bother to check? I don’t bother much with Quality Score anymore. I know that’s controversial, but probably not as controversial as my opposition to referees at Ultimate Frisbee matches. Quality Score rarely correlates with any meaningful outcomes. And when it does, CTR correlates better. And I know how to improve CTR; it’s just a matter of promising great sex and everlasting youth in the ad. Or at least implying it.

If you had 10 million dollars to invest and you could invest in Google or Facebook stock, which would you pick, and why? 
Can I just keep the money?

I have yet to see any evidence that the Facebook model of bothering people in the middle of their social time leads to effective engagement. Whereas Google’s ads don’t even feel like interruptions, at least when I’m searching. So I’d go for Google.

If you would give me enough hypothetical money to become a majority stakeholder in Facebook, I’d take Charles Eisenstein’s advice and make it a donation-based network. Free with ads and data mining, or pay $50 a year for no ads, no profiling, no nothing. Facebook made about $5 billion in revenue this year, from 1 billion users. Meaning each user generated $5 in advertising revenue, on average. I think a paid or donation-based model could do much better. (And I think this model could solve some of Zuckerberg’s ethical and existential dilemmas as well.)

What do you think will be the most important marketing platform in 10
It’s always going to be the human heart. Search is the most human activity there is. In fact, it’s the most biological activity there is: organisms interacting with their environments, looking for what they need to enrich their lives. Regardless of the technology, we always need to keep our eyes on people’s needs, and the language they use to represent those needs to themselves and express them to others.

Humans are not actually that great at clearly stating our needs. We say we need money when we need autonomy and safety. We say we need six-pack abs when we really need to feel good about our bodies. We say we need chocolate when we – OK, so we really do need chocolate. You got me on that one.

But the point is, one of our sacred responsibilities as marketers is to help people get in touch with their true needs. Otherwise we’re just selling them s**t for the sake of making money, which isn’t a sustainable basis for an economy. Sooner or later, business has to step up and take responsibility for its part in creating a society that meets real human needs and not distortions that can never be satisfied.

What’s your favorite advertising campaign (e.g. Betty White Super

Bowl ad, Got Milk billboard, etc.)? Not sure if this qualifies as a campaign, but the Embrace Life seatbelt ad for Sussex Road Safety is the most beautiful, positive, life-affirming way I can imagine to move people to action. Rather than using a fear-based shock approach, the short video paints a vision of love and family – all the reasons to wear that seat belt.  Now I’m ferklempt.

What are the three most important qualities of a good account manager?
1. Good account managers are more organized than I am.
And they combine two views of reality in one head:

2. A “numbers” view, where they can quickly pinpoint areas of hidden opportunity, profit leaks, bidding sub-optimalization, and stuff like that.

3. They also have a “human view” of the data. They can look at a data table or a chart and hear the prospects talking, pleading, thanking, asking, complaining through the numbers. I think of it like John Nash in A Beautiful Mind.

And of course they’re willing to work 18 hours a day without health insurance.

If anything keeps me up at night worrying about my company, it’s… What the IRS is going to think of our frequent company meetings in Bali.

Actually, it’s about how we define ourselves going forward. There are always new opportunities, new platforms, new market niches. It’s so easy to chase everything, and it’s equally easy to become rigid and resistant to change. The key is to figure out the result we deliver and then focus on that, regardless of how we may have to grow and morph to keep delivering it.

What’s the one marketing lesson you wish you had learned earlier? I don’t understand the question. I was born marketing.

Mainly, I wish I had learned that marketing techniques are pretty unimportant compared to the intent behind them. A good company that truly cares about its customers has a hell of a lot less work to do than a cynical, bloated company with a huge marketing budget.

If you could invest in one marketing technology company, which would it be and why? I think it would be the one that figure out how to put product placement in our dreams.

In three words or fewer: the future of SEM is…? ngokushesha, umuntu, shesha

Oh, in English? Dynamic, heart-based, and rapidly evolving.


  1. Karen Tiede March 7th, 2013

    Your PinIt button isn’t working today…

    Interview Pin

  2. admin March 7th, 2013

    Thanks, Karen! We’ll look into it ASAP.

  3. Larry Haines March 8th, 2013

    Engaging and perceptive; (especially the part about keeping the money).
    … And about what keeps you up at night…”The key is to figure out the result we deliver and then focus on that, regardless of how we may have to grow and morph to keep delivering it.”
    I like to say…
    “Commitment Creates Results
    Persistence Implements Results
    Focus Directs Results”
    …but I have to admit…I like the word “Morph”!!

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