The Makers of Marketing with Noah Learner

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Noah Learner is the Podcast Host of Agency Automators. He’s also the Product Director of Two Octobers. And if you’re wondering what a Product Director does at a marketing agency, well…you’re in for a treat, because Noah does things that almost nobody else does. 

He’s an executor. He’s a guy who gets stuff done. He thinks about the problems marketers face in wholly different ways. If you’re ready to hear more, just tune right on in, because you might just go looking for a Product Director of your own by the time you’re done.

The highlights:

  • [1:31] An agency challenge few people are talking about.
  • [2:34] What keeps Noah excited about marketing.
  • [4:46] What it means to be a “Product Director” at an Agency.
  • [9:14] Building solutions.
  • [13:13] Deciding what to do with products.
  • [22:09] Upskilling and upleveling.
  • [24:46] On tapping into the industry community.
  • [30:10] Noah’s causes.

The insights:

The agency challenge few people are talking about

There are agency challenges that crop up again and again in this podcast, but here’s one that has flown under the radar a bit: critical thinking.

“One of the things I take away from all the conversations that I’ve had with so many agency heads and owners,” says Noah, “is that the hardest thing they have in running their agency is getting people who know how to think.

Knowing how to solve problems, knowing how to think through and analyze data.”

Noah didn’t have a specific solution for this, but it’s a good note for those listeners who might be looking for positions within the industry right now: these are good skills to cultivate. Up your data game, up your problem-solving game, to increase your value to any agency you might want to work for. 

What keeps Noah excited about marketing

Noah says there’s a couple of things that get him super pumped.

“I have this constant backlog of technologies, tools, and processes that I want to learn how to master. The other thing that gets me super pumped is revenue. I get jacked when my clients make money. I love it. It’s the best thing ever.”

Noah says he’s always aligned himself around revenue as the primary goal in almost every engagement he’s been involved in.

Noah began his digital marketing career in the biking industry. 

“In that vertical, the challenges were typically 2-fold. Primarily it was a local SEO challenge to get people in the store, and then secondarily it was eCommerce, to supplement revenues set to grow. 

But over time, the focus has shifted more to the eCommerce side and solving problems that were related to conversion rates and traffic and average order values, mainly in the cycling industry.”

Now he works in many verticals. He talks a little bit about some he’s grown excited about, such as the skiing industry. 

“That’s been a total hoot. I’ve been able to take some of the content marketing strategies we’ve employed in the cycling industry that have really performed well and have pushed them into other verticals and have watched them be successful.” 

What it means to be a "Product Director" at an agency

When Garrett asked Noah what the heck he does Noah started to laugh really hard.

“I feel like I have the best job on the planet! I feel like the luckiest guy in the world!”

He originally began by founding an agency called Bike Shop SEO. It was from there that Nico Brooks, a principal at Two Octobers, found him and recruited him.

“We both have a love of tool building. We both had a love of data. We both had a love for solving thorny problems, and over time we just sort of drifted closer and closer. We talked about joining forces and it finally happened around April 1.”

Noah said he was very clear with them about what his strengths and weaknesses were. 

“They were really amazing in helping to create a role that was a perfect fit for me.” 

Day-to-day what does that look like?

Noah says that he spends a lot of his time building things. Building data pipelining tools. Working to solve bug issues. Learning how to integrate different technologies to solve specific problems for specific clients, and building tools that are useful for different clients in specific applications.

“It might be building widgets, building specific lead gen tools on websites, or all kinds of different interesting applications. The thing that’s the coolest about it is that in that role I get to interface with people all over the world and learn about all of their pain points in using the tools that we’ve built. 

It drives how I think about building things that we use internally, whether it’s processes, automations, or tools. More stuff we try and build for external uses.”

He compares his job to being a mad scientist. 

“What’s cool about it is that maybe 15% of that time turns into gold nuggets and home runs. There’s a ton of failure. There’s a ton of sweat. There’s a ton of frustration. There are times I’ve spent bug hunting something for 25 hours and when I finally figure it out it’s like the best feeling ever to resolve an issue and take something to the next step.”

Building solutions

One of the tools that Noah has built is Postamatic, an automated GMB posting tool. As many know, it is impossible to schedule Google Posts within the GMB dashboard. Noah has solved this problem.

Garrett asked what the process of building something like that looks like, and Noah took him through a different product, one called Ring My Bell.

“It all started with an email. I was going back and forth with someone that I built something for, and they ended a 2-line email with an aside: if you can build a tool that sends notifications when things are out of stock, we would happily pay you for it. So there’s market demand for this. A little bit.”

He says his next step was to go on Twitter.

“I’m lucky because I know a bunch of people who are really great at CRO and I tagged them all. They’re like: oh, yeah, if there isn’t one on the site you should get it. 

The eCommerce platform this business was on didn’t have it as a choice. So then I started trying to figure out: okay, is it possible to execute this?” 

He points to this as the mental framework for addressing opportunity.

“Is it possible to solve this problem? What are the risks for it to fail? Is the solution we’re going to provide going to be durable? Is it brittle? “

Other questions:

  • How many people would a positive outcome impact?
  • Is this something we can scale across all our clients?
  • Is it something we can sell?
  • Is it something we can give away for a thought leadership play?

He says they assess all these questions before taking on a project.

“For this specific product, it was really exciting for me because I got to leverage a whole bunch of different skills in producing an outcome. I got to do web design where I’m actually designing an interface for users to add data to be notified later. 

I got to play with a tool called Cloud Functions which live up in the Google Cloud Platform. I also got to work with Google Big Query, and another tool called Cloud Scheduler, and another tool called Cloud Task Queues.”

“It’s just a bunch of tool names, but the thing that’s neat about it is that this project has already closed many bike sales, spread across all our clients, and that’s awesome, but the project is also a win because in learning how to build it, it set the foundation for us to build any type of long-running application which is a major programming challenge in the future. 

What that means is: we can build tools like Distributed Crawlers in the future. We’ll be able to get data programmatically from websites at scale. Which is really exciting to me on a personal level.” 

Deciding what to do with products

Garrett slows Noah down here a moment, asking him to back up and explain how the decision gets made to use a particular product in a particular way.

“We had a number in mind, or at least I did, that we would get to a specific user account, and at that magic number, which is really just an arbitrary number, it would make sense for us to charge at that period of time.”

He talks about building Postamatic and what it does, how it helps agencies push Google Posts out on GMB in a scheduled way. After going through all the questions mentioned above, Noah says they reached the following question and answer pair:

“Do we want to become known as an agency that solves really thorny problems for other agencies? The answer is: yes. Keeping it free helps us get exposed to other agencies.”

Another question:

“Does this product align with our values as a company? We’re what’s known as a B-corp, which means we use business as a force for good. Part of that means we’re constantly striving to help people and be out there in the community trying to level up as many people as we can. There’s another argument for keeping it free.”

Of course, it’s not all altruism.

“On balance, the other side is, hey, this is going to take time to support. The Google Support API is thorny. It’s not awesome. There are things about it that break that isn’t necessarily documented. And for that reason, and also because GMB API is a private API, it means it’s hard to test because you as an agency have to have access to hundreds of thousands of GMB locations if we were to find all the edge cases of how something can be broken. 

Like, the documentation for the API is very clearly laid out, but the data coming into the tool, you’re not going to know all the ways it can be broken until someone approaches you and they have a problem.” 

They have also built quite a few tools that are for clients only.

“I have a whole host of proprietary tools from Bike Shop SEO that I was really proud of. Like the #1 eCommerce platform that all my clients were on did not have a daily updated PPC feed. I was like: how is that possible? 

So we came up with a solution to pull that feed into a Google Sheet and basically replicate all the functionality of Feedonomics for free. I don’t wanna pay Feedonomics every month! We build it!”

Noah points to the idea that constraints drive innovation.

“Everyone I know has different constraints they’re operating in. If you’re an enterprise company I assume your constraint is kind of like the battleship nature of things and how difficult it is to change direction with all the lawyers of red tape. When you’re small like I was, the major constraint was budget and time. So that’s what led me to automate so many things. I can’t do everything. 

What don’t I enjoy doing? What is a time suck? What hurts? Those were the things I figured out how to automate first. 

Reporting was the first thing. That had many iterations. Then reporting led to feeds, automating a variety of different data feeds, and then from there it was like just learning how to get data out of APIs and that started with App Script.”

Upskilling and upleveling

Noah is constantly growing and building his skills, something that we as marketers sometimes struggle to do around client work. Garrett took a moment to ask him about this as well.

“I had two technology things I wanted to learn.

First, I wanted to learn how to work with postscript databases. And I wanted to learn how to do that because when you’re doing long-running applications, like let’s say you’re building a crawling and you need to read and write to a database very quickly, that lends itself either to a database application or a no-SQL type application, so I wanted to learn that.

I also wanted to build a Google Search Console data pipeline tool that would be able to backfill 16 months worth of data into a big query in less than 5-minutes. I did that.”

He says it was super cool to learn all the “gotchas” around a new technology.

“I think so much of the workflow is learning where you’re going to stumble and where the time sucks are and how to avoid those upfront is talking to as many people as you can who are 6 to 18 months ahead of you. We still have all those lessons really fresh in mind.”

On tapping into the industry community

Noah also does a lot of his upskilling and upleveling through engaging with the community.

“I’m so damn lucky. I have had some of the smartest technical SEO people on the planet on our show. I can reach out to any of them with a question. Hey, can I get your eyes on something? Some of them are even willing to mentor me.”

He called out several people he’s worked within the past. He also mentions he’s always looking for opportunities to partner with other people. 

“It’s super interesting. I learn how they think, I learn how they have solved problems, I get to see some of the outputs they’ve had, some of the processes. I share all of my stuff super openly with people I partner with. They do the same. We both level up in the process.”

What kinds of people is he looking to partner with?

“I’m looking for people who are energetically a good fit together. I’ll think of the craziest way to solve something. And I’m looking for people who are slightly more data-driven and slightly more analytical than I am. Because those energies together plug the gaps of what we can’t each accomplish on our own.”

Just as important, Noah believes in giving back to the community. Last week, Noah put together a great tutorial on building a Google Search Console Data Pipeline. The goal is to help others build their own tools and improve processes so everyone benefits.

What's your right now cause?

“This was a year where I dug in deep. I’ve never volunteered. Well, I’d volunteered a little but I hadn’t done political volunteering ever. This election cycle was the first that I really took a deep dive. I did a ton of phone banking for Senators all over the country. I found that was incredibly meaningful.” 

The other cause?

“This was a year where I dug in deep. I’ve never volunteered. Well, I’d volunteered a little but I hadn’t done political volunteering ever. This election cycle was the first that I really took a deep dive. I did a ton of phone banking for Senators all over the country. I found that was incredibly meaningful.” 

“I do as much as I can to help people in our vertical. People reach out to me all the time and I feel like being a mentor to as many people who are younger and greener in the field. It’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.”

Connect with Noah Learner

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Garrett Sussman

Garrett Sussman

Garrett is the head of content at Traject , a suite of digital marketing tools, and host of the Agency Ahead podcast. When he's not crafting content, he's scouting the perfect ice coffee, devouring the newest graphic novels, and concocting a new recipe in the kitchen.

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