Williams Popoola: How I Discovered the Future of Marketing Is Digital



Williams Popoola can be described as an enigma in the advertising world –simple, suave and spectacular. The experienced digital marketing expert is the managing director of Wow Effects. As a digital artisan and marketing strategist, Popoola is a pioneer of digital marketing in Nigeria. Prior to starting Wow Effect, he was head of marketing for the Nigerian arm of Naspers (Africa’s Biggest Company). He consults on digital strategies with companies on three continents including brands ranging from NIIT, Vitafoam, FPT Corporation, Nordica Fertility, Autoport, and LCCI to a list of promising start-ups and small businesses. He speaks with Adedayo Adejobi on how his success, setbacks and inspiration

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How did your career begin?

I have an interesting career trajectory. I worked throughout my undergraduate days at the University of Lagos first as a book distributor to churches across Nigeria and later as an operations official in the geophysical department of my uncle’s engineering firm. My first post job was with Lagos Judicial Service Commission. I was a sheriff –that was late 2005. I resigned from this job immediately I finished my master’s degree in 2009. Anybody that does anything with the judiciary knows that the sheriff job was a ‘juicy’ one. But I knew I had to leave if I was to make anything of my life. I was lucky at this time to have met Tim Akimbo. My master’s degree was in advertising and PR but nobody was employing me. Tim asked me a pointed question on what differentiated me from the thousands of master’s degree holders in the job market and truthfully, I had no unique value proposition. So, I did a bit of analysis and identified that the future of marketing was digital. With this realisation, I started learning everything I could on digital marketing on the Internet. I started a blog and offered internet marketing service to small companies (mostly for free). Not long after this, I got a job with a Boston-based company with some e-commerce businesses in Nigeria. I was made the head of marketing. From there, I moved to Naspers as head of business development in their Nigeria unit. I worked with two other companies before I decided to start my own digital agency in Nigeria in partnership with a Vietnamese colleague.

If you had to define yourself vocationally in one sentence what would it be?

I would describe myself as a very determined and principled professional.

What have been your key or keys to success?

Well, success is relative. So, I am not very sure if I am a success by the goals I have set for myself. However, in terms of the little that I have been able to achieve, I guess the most important contributory factor will be my love for learning. I read for at least three hours a day. Another thing will be patience. In the early days of my company, I was probably more focused on trying to achieve results all at once, but experience has taught me that it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

What was your greatest success and biggest setback?

That is a tough one. I could say pitching and winning internationally competitive accounts in Europe and Asia. But that will just be looking at it from the narrow prism of image and financial reward. Personally, I will choose my little contribution to creating public awareness about endometriosis in Nigeria as my greatest success. As for setback, I really can’t say precisely.

Who were the biggest inspirations for your career?

Without doubt, Will Reynolds of Seer Interactive and Michael King of iPull Rank. These are two black men that are doing great in the white dominated space of digital marketing in the USA. These guys have substance and their career and successes have inspired me greatly.

What are some common myths about digital marketing agency executives?

All they do is post things on social media! That actually stems from the poor understanding of what digital marketing entails. A lot of people believe that by engaging on social media they are doing digital marketing but this is not 100 per cent true. In reality, the social media is just one of the available channels of digital marketing. In most industry verticals, social media is actually one of the least effective digital channels in terms of return on investment.

Describe your typical day at work.

My day starts by 4am. I read for like one hour, mostly blogs, industry news and educational videos. Then I do some work for another one hour. After which I start to prepare for work. I get to office around eight in the morning. Have quick stand up meeting with the team leads so we can discuss projects. This usually lasts for 15 minutes. After this, I attend to my mails and do some management stuff till 11 am when I go for my breakfast. From 11:30 to 1:30pm I roll my sleeves and get some work done reviewing and optimising clients’ campaigns. After this, I move to the play area where I play video games alone or with some of the guys in the office. After this, I work for some two hours after which I leave for home. Later at night, I do like two more hours of work. Of course, for days when I have meetings outside of office, it doesn’t follow that routine.

How does the Internet search marketing and search engine optimisation play into your business?

I will say search marketing, both organic (SEO) and paid (mostly AdWords) is central to everything we do. The reason for this is not farfetched, effective SEO gives a company long-term competitive advantage while paid search helps us to generate immediate results for clients from day one of the campaign.

Is it important to collaborate with colleagues in the field?

Absolutely! Digital marketing is broad and it is almost impossible for one agency to have all the required expertise in house. For instance, we used to outsource most of our UI/UX projects to dedicated design agency abroad until late last year when we executed a merger with a South African-based UI/UX agency, Acumen.

Who are three of the most renowned digital marketing agency executives in the world right now? How and why did they get to the top? What are people at the top of this profession paid?

I will rephrase that question to mention three of the most renowned digital marketing thought leaders in the world right now. I will say Dave Chaffey of Smart Insight, Larry Kim of Wordstream and Avinash Kaushik. The success or otherwise of a company’s digital engagement depends largely on their strategy. No one understands and has contributed more to the development of digital marketing strategy frameworks than Dave Chaffey. Data analytics: the practice of transforming raw data into meaningful insights that can be used to drive business decisions is, without doubt, one of the most important aspects of most digital marketing programmes. Avinash Kaushik has probably contributed more to this field than any other person. He has done so much in simplifying perceived complexity in the field of data analytics. Larry Kim is a one of the most brilliant and versatile digital marketers. He knows everything about everything and he is ever willing to share his knowledge with others. On the industry pay structure, I think it varies on lot of factors. A very good UI/UX designer will earn minimum of N500,000 a month while a social media executive can earn as little as N60,000 a month. So, it depends on the degree of expertise and experience.

What are the hottest digital marketing specialties for the new decade?

Data and analytics, design and content creation.

Describe your ideal job candidate and your nightmare job candidate.

My ideal job candidate is someone that is teachable. Nightmare job candidates, and there are so many of them. But I will give the trophy to one guy that could not answer even one question correctly only for him to prostrate himself at the end of the interview that we had to give him the job because he needed the money desperately. When we asked him to go he refused. He just kept begging.

How should prospective digital marketing students assess their skill and aptitude for this field?

How good a writer are you? How good are you with numbers? Do you have any programming skills? Do you love reading? Questions like these will help you know if you have the aptitude for digital marketing or not.

What advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in the business side of digital marketing?

Get ready to work hard. Digital marketing is a very dynamic field. The search engines and social media platforms keep tinkering with their algorithms and you as a digital marketing professional need to keep abreast of these changes and adapt to them to give your clients the desired results.

The growth of the Internet affected nearly every industry in profound ways. What do you believe will be the next big trend in advertising?

Artificial intelligence.

What are the advantages of conventional marketing over digital marketing? Do you think that digital marketing is a threat to the future of conventional marketing?

I think digital and traditional marketing are complementary. So, I won’t say one is better than the others. Though, they have their respective advantages. Also, it is difficult to form a definitive conclusion about the death of traditional marketing. What I know, however, is that traditional ad spending and effectiveness are on a downward trajectory. So, I think digital will force traditional marketing to evolve into some new hybrid, or new context, rather than disappearing overnight.

What are the common mistakes committed by organisations in leveraging on digital marketing?

I think the biggest mistake is not having a strategy. I have had tens of meetings with prospective clients and one of the first questions I ask at the discovery stage is: ‘what internet marketing strategy do you have in place?’ The commonest answers are ‘we advertise on Facebook’, ‘we have employed somebody to manage our Twitter and Facebook account’; ‘we have banner ads on XYZ sites’. Little wonder virtually all of these companies are reporting little or no return on investment from their online marketing activities. The fact is that without a clear strategy, your online marketing effort is doomed to failure.

Which are your three favourite digital marketing tools?

For SEO, I love Semrush. For social media, my favourite tool will be Hootsuite. And yes, I love Google Analytics.

A small business owner or one-man marketing team can very easily get overwhelmed by all their social media accounts. What advice do you have to help keep them on track and be involved?

It’s simple: you don’t need to engage on all the available channels. And don’t get swayed by the new shining object. Identify the most appropriate channels for your business and focus on those.

What are the top skills you look for when hiring a candidate for digital marketing profile?

Writing skills and technical skills; but most important, teachability.

How do you stay updated on the latest trends in digital marketing?

I read a lot. I follow lots of digital marketing thought leaders on social media and subscribe to many industry newsletters.

Which are the digital marketing resources (i.e. blogs/websites/apps) you visit regularly?

Chief Martech, MOZ, Smart Insight, Occams’s Razor and a lot of relevant places on medium.

Would you like to share few words about the work you are doing at Wow Effect?

Wow Effect Communications is a full service digital marketing agency with expertise in digital marketing strategy, website design and development, social media marketing, viral and search marketing. We develop interactive strategies and experiences, implementing projects that provide extraordinary value for brands through innovative design. Our design arm, Acumen, is arguably the leading UI/UX agencies in West Africa. For now, most of our clients are actually foreign companies.

QUOTE Wow Effect Communications is a full service digital marketing agency with expertise in digital marketing strategy, website design and development, social media marketing, viral and search marketing. We develop interactive strategies and experiences, implementing projects that provide extraordinary value for brands through innovative design. Our design arm, Acumen, is arguably the leading UI/UX agencies in West Africa. For now, most of our clients are actually foreign companies