Photo courtesy of Darrell Keezer
Darrell Keezer is the founder and CEO of Candybox Marketing, a digital marketing firm based in the Greater Toronto Area and Halifax. Candybox Marketing focuses on online conversions and conversations — brand strategy, web design, high-performing search engine campaigns, new social media marketing strategies, and video advertising.
Their portfolio includes of 400-plus clients include Turtle Jacks, Canon Canada, Gordon Food Service, Redmond Distributing, and ERB Transportation.
Candybox Marketing is the winner of two Awards of Excellence in Business from the Governor General of Canada. Canadian Business and Maclean’s listed Candybox on the annual Growth 500 list three years in a row.
In addition to being a successful small business owner, Keezer is also a popular keynote speaker, often invited to share his knowledge on digital marketing, social media, and how to navigate the ever-changing digital landscape.
Pre-pandemic, he delivered some fifty keynotes a year across North America. Clients included Microsoft, the Conference Board of Canada, the Young Entrepreneurs Conference, universities across Canada, and the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario.
Keezer is the author of Pick Up Your Freakin’ Phone: New Rules for Entrepreneurs. In 2014, he was also inducted into the Sheridan Business Hall of Fame. Keezer spoke with The Edge about how digital marketing is evolving and more.
What are some simple strategies businesses could employ to start their digital marketing?
It’s essential to put aside all of your thoughts on marketing and start thinking like your customer.
What social networking sites do they participate in? What do they spend time researching? What do they want to improve in their lives and businesses? Why do your existing customers choose you today?
Once you start thinking about your customer’s mindset, you’ll be able to start building a digital marketing plan around them. Unfortunately, many companies rush into new networks or marketing automation software, believing it will improve their marketing results, but tactics without strategies often fail.
I would rather spend $100,000 on a marketing plan with an excellent digital strategy than $1,000,000 on a bunch of good marketing tactics that may never work or have no value.
The most overlooked strategies include improving the calls-to-action on your website instead of a generic form, improving the information on Google My Business, encouraging positive reviews, and good quality email campaigns. If you don’t have an effective digital strategy, you don’t really have a strategy at all.
What is Candybox Marketing’s signature concept?
Marketing needs to be sweet. Everything should look like eye candy, from the first advertisement that your prospect sees to your website’s thank you page. But, unfortunately, millions of dollars are wasted every day on poorly designed corporate websites, failed social media campaigns, and videos that no one watches because they are either ugly, lack value, or just plain dull.
Candybox focuses on creating award-winning designs, websites, campaigns, videos, and brands on customer journeys. It is a lot easier to double your conversion rate (how many people are converting from a visitor to a customer) than to double your online traffic.
How does Candybox Marketing differ from other marketing agencies?
We don’t outsource. It may scare you to learn that most digital marketing campaigns are outsourced to third-party companies that operate overseas and have very little exposure to the brand or prospective customers. It saves agencies millions of dollars in operating costs, but I believe that their customers pay the price.
Our team works as a team. We launch campaigns plus websites that work. We are obsessed with getting high returns with our customer’s marketing dollars and have over 400+ happy customers with a 97.5 per cent retention rate. The average digital agency keeps customers for four months, but our customers stay with us for 5.7 years on average.
We like to win and generate high rates of success for our clients. We also believe that having an in-house team of qualified and professional digital marketing experts is one of the keys to making that happen.
What’s an example of how people fumble their business social media posts?
It’s simple: They spend a lot of time to create posts that do not promote engagement. Sharing corporate news, a new product release, or a significant achievement is not engaging content. It’s just corporate noise.
Before you post anything on social media, you need to ask yourself, “Is this sharable? Does anyone care? Does it promote reaction (clicks, likes, shares, comments)?” If not, don’t bother to post.
Social media should be social at all times. That means starting a conversation, and not telling people to buy your products. Always create content that comprises of things that your network loves to share and do your research on what is trending each week.
Companies need to work with the end goal in mind and work backwards when it comes to launching a social strategy. Use customer stories (a.k.a. journeys) to guide your plan instead of your company creating a plan that works for you.
It’s easier said than done, but if you focus on your customer first, marketing plans can write themselves.
You’ve stated that many companies are making costly marketing mistakes. What are some of these mistakes, and what should they avoid?
I like to boil it down to three main areas: traffic, websites, and offers. For traffic, you need to make sure you are attracting prospective customers to your target. Companies should audit what kind of users are clicking on their ads and ensure they have the potential to become a customer.
Websites are your point of conversion, yet when was the last time you took a look at them as a customer? There are hundreds of reasons why websites don’t convert, and the best way to find the issues is to watch prospective customers who visit your website. There are tools plus testing websites that you can use to find out where and why your customers are falling through the cracks.
The offer is the last but probably the most essential thing that is unnoticed. Before a single line of code, you should find out what you are offering your customer. Your prospects are multi-tabbing, comparing companies, watching videos, and reading reviews. They are looking at your competition, and you need to convince them to do business with you. Find out what makes you or your services unique and make it clear why you’re their best choice.
In December 2021, you announced that Candybox Marketing went national. Can you elaborate? What advice would you give to other companies hoping to expand?
We opened up our second Candybox Studio in Halifax to offer our services across Atlantic Canada. As an agency, our goal is to become Canada’s premier marketing agency, so we chose the East Coast as our next location to help us achieve our national vision.
Our team hopes our second location will open up the door to working with more national brands. We’ve always valued working with customers one-on-one, and our new studio is welcoming to customers and employees across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Labrador.
You created the company Launch48.ca, and that’s an exciting story — can you briefly retell it, and, in a sentence or two, the lesson you learned from that experience?
Five years ago, I launched my second agency, Launch48, because I saw a rising demand for small websites to launch quickly. I was turning away thousands of customers that did not have the budget or time to launch a large website. So, I created a company that focuses on creating websites in just two days. We’re now a few years into this venture and are launching new sites for small businesses across Canada. Every day, I think of new businesses that I want to launch each year. Even though a lot of the new businesses fail sometimes, I’m pleased with my effort of trying out new things.
What’s the theme of Pick Up Your Freakin’ Phone?
Going from a one-person start-up to one of the fastest-growing companies in Canada has been a wild ride, so I wanted to pass on my learnings. Many entrepreneurs struggle with the same issues, so I wrote a book to document my top pieces of advice to new businesses.
The book’s title is after one value I focus on throughout the texts: to pick up your phone and call people. Don’t depend on your email campaign, website, or videos alone. If you want to get something done, you need to make calls and get people to join your cause.
What strategies have you implemented to continue your operations and serve your clients during the pandemic?
We have continuously operated as a hybrid remote/studio business, so it wasn’t as difficult for us as some other companies. We have an effective contingency plan to in place to ensure that we can serve our clients and navigate during a crisis or a pandemic.
Are you currently involved with any types of projects and philanthropic work?
Our company loves partnering with charities that make a measurable local impact. This year, we sponsored the transportation to ship 22 buffalo to a First Nations group in Saskatchewan. It was a privilege to be part of a multi-generational reconciliation project with our First Nation neighbours.
What tips can you offer to someone planning to start a new business in Canada?
Don’t wait for everyone else to approve your idea before starting. So many entrepreneurs are waiting for the right time, the right investor, the right idea, the right incubator program. These are all great excuses not to start today, but the timing will never be perfect.
If you want to start something, start today and stop making excuses. We live in one of the most business-friendly countries globally — begin now.
Who are some of the people who have inspired you over the years?
I’m part of a small group of 12 CEOs that meet every month to discuss our strategies, results, and challenges. Each one of them inspires me to a better leader in different ways based on their strengths, which has helped me to grow my agency. Every month, I listen intently on what they are achieving in their companies and industries and take notes on what I can do to be like them. Without the support of this group of industry leaders, I would not be where I am today.
What is one of the most memorable pieces of advice you have received that helped your business?
Entrepreneurship is a team sport. Gather a team of people around you to help you achieve your vision and get their input regularly. Entrepreneurs get credited for their success, but they are just the face of a multi-person success story.
Where would you like Candybox to go in five years?
The most incredible privilege of my life is the people I get to work with every day. Each month, we add more incredible digital marketing experts that I have a lot to learn from. In five years, I’d love to have the same kinds of relationships but with hundreds of more people from across the globe. Of course, I also want a Candybox-branded Delorean, but that’s personal.
Jennifer M. Williams | Editor-in-Chief