THE SEARCH FOR SUCCESS:
SEO THRIVES AT QUATTRO
An Interview with Quattro’s
CEO, Scott Cohen and VP of
Strategic Growth & Marketing, Sean Kainec
Gramercy Institute Chief Analyst Bill Wreaks recently met up with Scott Cohen, CEO of Quattro. Philadelphia-based Quattro was named one of Gramercy Institute’s Top 12 Agencies in Financial Marketing in 2020 and has proven itself as true marketing innovators. In the process, Quattro has handled marketing, advertising, and digital programs for national brands such as US Bank, PenFed Credit Union, Comcast, NewRez, Chubb Insurance, as well as ongoing pro-bono work for The American Red Cross.
It seems that the current pandemic quarantine has not slowed Quattro down. On the contrary, Cohen shared that business remains brisk as many of their client partners have reallocated additional funds to SEO from other channels.
Gramercy Institute invited Scott Cohen and Quattro’s SEO practice lead, Sean Kainec, to share details of their success, along with their take on the unique value and impact of sound SEO strategies and tactics for financial marketers. There’s lots to unpack in our exchange.
WREAKS: Gentlemen, welcome. I would like to begin with a question for Scott, who is the CEO of Quattro. Scott, tell me a little bit about Quattro and its place in the financial services marketing world. Please don't be bashful. This is the moment for which I am asking you to brag a little bit about your company.
COHEN: Thanks, Bill. As always, it’s my pleasure to chat with you. Quattro just celebrated its 15th anniversary. Throughout our history, we’ve evolved to become a leading expert in financial marketing. In fact, earlier this year, we were honored to be named one of “Financial’s Top 12 Agencies” by the Gramercy Institute. Today, we partner with the nation’s leading banking, mortgage, and insurance companies to successfully build amazing brands, acquire and retain customers, and drive profit. It’s what we do, and it’s what we love to do. We are a passionate team, and our clients feed off of that energy.
WREAKS: It is remarkable what can happen when focus meets passion. Congratulations on your success in this space. Scott, another question – tell me a little bit about your focus from a strategic point of view on search marketing. Obviously, this emphasis is not an out of the blue kind of thing. Why have you guys decided to focus so keenly on SEO?
COHEN: Great question. We are an omnichannel organization that embraces both a digital and traditional marketing mix. We typically test an integrated approach and media spend for each client, as not one organization commands the same KPIs. I like to say that SEO is not a cost but an investment. SEO is the ultimate and necessary complement to both brand marketing and driving sales success. I’m going to let Sean (Kainec) get into the specifics on how his team works their magic. But let’s just say that we’ve found, time and time again, SEO eases the consumer decision-making process, providing both a faster and far more cost-effective sales process. It has become a core component of our service offering and one of the chief reasons our clients depend on Quattro.
WREAKS: Speaking of Sean Kainec, tell me a little bit about him and his background. I know he’s Quattro’s VP of Strategic Growth & Marketing, and I have some questions pointed specifically at SEO that I would like to ask of him.
COHEN: I was first introduced to Sean in 2018. Sean ran the SEO marketing team at Comcast/NBC Universal and was the leader of their business unit. Before that, he did the same for Home Depot Corporate in Atlanta. I quickly found out that Sean was a true visionary in search marketing and a regular on the digital marketing speaking circuit. We hit it off, and I was able to entice him to join Quattro.
Over the past two years, Sean’s talents have become the core of our strategic digital machine. We’ve built an amazing team around him, and he has supported both Quattro’s business development and client teams tremendously. Hiring him was one of the best decisions we ever made.
WREAKS: Scott, thank you for that nice intro. Sean, welcome. I have some specific questions for you, given your background and the important role you play at Quattro. We are in a unique, if not unprecedented, time in business right now. You lead the SEO practice for Quattro – have you been busy lately, Sean?
KAINEC: Yes! We’re quite busy. But this is not really a sudden thing. I agree these times are unique and unprecedented, but I don’t think that necessarily translates over to SEO. SEO is a marathon and not a sprint. So, while we have changed focus with some of our client partners and gained a few new ones, overall it’s been small changes like tapping into a few different tools and resources, but the tactics and strategies that we develop have not changed a bit.
WREAKS: So, the demand for SEO services is high at Quattro?
KAINEC: That’s an understatement. Don’t get me wrong though, we were busy before, and we will continue to be busy even when “normal” returns. Our client partners believe in SEO as the backbone of their business. The numbers don’t lie. SEO is constantly changing and evolving, and it’s not easy work. That has not and will not change, but neither will the fact that SEO will continue to be a critical, must-win part of every business.
WREAKS: Sean, as search relates to financial marketing, what are your thoughts about the value of SEO at this moment?
KAINEC: There’s no doubt that our financial industry partners have scrambled more than others during these crazy times. With interest rates falling, stock markets plunging, job losses, and forbearance programs activated, priorities have changed quickly and flipped the industry on its head.
WREAKS: How have budgets held up for SEO, versus other media in recent weeks?
KAINEC: We have seen companies cut marketing spend on paid media and paid search. Yet, rarely have they dialed back expectations for their business goals in 2020. In turn, companies have pinned their survival on SEO, including content creation. In some cases, it has been a much needed wake-up call, and for others, it has been an ongoing strategy. Either way, I know they will be better off for it when things return to “normal.” My take is that those partners that were already heavily engaged in SEO are not feeling the pain in the same way as those that were not.
WREAKS: Tell me, do you feel that any increase in demand for search engine optimization is a result of an upward trajectory that SEO has been enjoying for some time now? Or, do you feel that this particular increase in demand is related to (or perhaps directly due to) the pandemic crisis that we are all experiencing?
Sean Kainec, VP of Strategic Growth & Marketing, Quattro
Sean Kainec joined Quattro from Comcast, where he led his team to Search Engine Land’s In-House SEO Team of the Year. He also ran The Home Depot's SEO program for three and a half years prior to Comcast, and is a regular speaker at many industry
conferences and events.
His goal at Quattro is to grow the agency into a powerhouse digital program leader, as well as change the way agencies and clients work together.
Scott Cohen, Managing Director& Partner, Quattro
With over 30 years of innovative marketing and brand advertising experience, Scott Cohen leads Quattro. Scott has been named "Philadelphia DMA Marketer of the Year," and in both 2018 and 2020, Gramercy Institute named Quattro as one of "Financial's Top 12 Agencies."
Under Scott's leadership, Quattro has handled marketing, advertising, and digital programs for national brands such as US Bank, PenFed Credit Union, Comcast, NewRez, Chubb Insurance, as well as pro-bono work for The American Red Cross.
Bill Wreaks, Chief Analyst, Gramercy Institute
Bill is Chief Analyst of The Gramercy Institute. Based in New York City, GI is an industry think-tank focused on the intellectual needs of senior marketers from major financial firms. The Gramercy Institute is the largest global network of senior financial marketers in the world. GI produces approximately 20 thought leadership forums and conferences in the financial services marketing space each year in Boston, Chicago, London, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Toronto.
KAINEC: SEO has been seeing huge growth for a considerable number of years because many companies made informed decisions to engage in a holistic SEO strategy. Still, to your question, Bill, the pandemic has increased the demand for SEO services. While SEO isn’t free, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to every other channel, except possibly email. Plus, it provides a boost to the other channels, helping save money with simple efficiency.
WREAKS: Why then are not all marketers all over SEO?
KAINEC: The plain truth is that some executives do not understand SEO. They may think it is “too difficult to execute,” or it takes “too long to do right.” My take: If a company doesn’t have a strong SEO strategy in place, it is irresponsibly rolling the dice.
WREAKS: Share with me your insights on what has changed in terms of financial services audiences since this pandemic crisis hit. Obviously, the routines of financial audiences and, I presume, the media they absorb and the way they absorb it have shifted due to the fact that people are staying home. How might this affect the demand for search as a marketing channel?
KAINEC: COVID-19 or not, business is highly competitive and should not be taken lightly. But everyone’s routines have obviously changed, and that means the opportunities have changed as well. Financial audiences are working from home now, they don’t spend time commuting, they are spending lots of time in front of screens, and they are researching many topics around saving money, reducing costs, and using resources more efficiently. SEO is the number one way to win for this new routine. It’s comparatively inexpensive, you can answer any question you want to help your customers or new prospects, and you can build a true, trusted relationship with those people.
WREAKS: Thank you. Let's shift gears and talk for a minute about the team at Quattro. What is unusual about the way Quattro approaches the discipline of search engine optimization? Do you find that this difference makes Quattro significantly more attractive to marketers of financial firms as they consider search options?
KAINEC: We are different here. The team runs differently from others.
WREAKS: Tell me what you mean.
KAINEC: We leave emotion at the door and let facts rule the day. Marketing is not an emotional game, nor should it be. If we make a data-based decision and it ends up we were wrong, we own it. On the flip side, if we were right, we own it. Our client partners know that we are as invested in their businesses as they are. That isn’t just a line either. We do not take our jobs lightly, and every day I think about how our guidance helps make winners out of the entire marketing team from the top down. I wish I could say the same for every agency that does SEO, but I will give you a bit of history: I have fired many agencies who “claimed” to do SEO well. That speaks volumes and shows just how scrupulous companies should be.
WREAKS: Scott, Sean’s answer reminds me of something. If I'm not mistaken, Quattro subscribes to the notion that an agency has a responsibility to ensure that its clients are “advertising responsibly.” In fact, this is your tagline, right? Can you explain to me how this notion of responsibility for your clients ties into your work and success in search marketing? Of course, I'm most interested in how it works for your financial clients.
COHEN: Bill, in the marketing world nothing devastates an opinion like a number. When I first coined “advertise responsibly,” it was intended to reflect the basic tenets of a return on investment — that every dollar spent on advertising directly impacts sales and generates incremental revenue for our clients.
Nowhere is that idea more evident than in our integrated marketing programs. Every day we orchestrate campaigns that seamlessly mesh traditional and digital channels. They generate leads, acquire new customers, and retain existing ones. But behind the scenes, our SEO program ties it all together by slowly and steadily maximizing revenue dollars. It’s the very definition of responsible advertising. But, don’t take my word for it — ask our clients!
WREAKS: Asking clients is, perhaps, the best metric of all! Thanks, Scott. Sean, I’m going to bring this next question back to you. Obviously, every client recommendation comes with its own unique strategy. Still, I'm wondering if you have some general recommendations for financial services marketers today — at this moment, during these very unusual times.
KAINEC: The big thing to understand about us is that “type” of business will not affect the tactics we employ — it only affects the topics, the way we speak, and how programs are laid out. Here’s a top-line version of what we address:
Technical SEO: Is your site built the right way, is it fast enough, is it crawled and indexed properly? Is your site healthy?
On-page/Off-page Content: Do you have the right pages, with the right content, worded in the way people actually search?
Content, content, and more content: Your company is a content creation company whether you like it or not. Your site is likely too small, or out of context, and you will suffer for it. Create blogs, answer questions, and provide a non-sales-related value.
Local SEO: Making sure every address, phone number, hours listing, and tiny little detail are correct across every platform is a must.
General: Think like, write like, and respect your customers and prospects. Match their intent, not your objectives.
WREAKS: Measurement of results and the optimization ability that comes with accurate measurement is one of the most beneficial attributes of SEO, I believe. Can you expand a little bit as to why search is so germane to accurate measurement, and why is measurement so important to financial marketers?
KAINEC: For financial marketers, a finger on the pulse of every channel is critical for success. A 2% drop in visits can equate to millions of dollars lost, even for just a few minutes. Because of this, we use a lot of tools that let us see what’s going on from every angle, and we trust no single source, exclusively. BrightEdge, SimilarWeb, SEO PowerSuite, Botify, and Moz are just a few tools we lean on.
WREAKS: In the not-to-distant future, what is search marketing going to resemble once we work our way through this pandemic crisis? Will demand for SEO remain high as consumer and business audiences return to their offices?
KAINEC: SEO demand will be higher than it was before simply because not everyone will fall back into their old misguided, quick-win routines. I also believe that not every marketer will get their paid search and social budgets back to the heights at which they were before, and best of all, some will have seen “the promised land” — SEO!
WREAKS: I also want to ask you about SEO in the long run. Five years from now, will marketers and financial services’ reliance on SEO be far greater than what we see today?
KAINEC: Let me start by saying this, Bill, here at Quattro we do outstanding work beyond SEO. We work in paid search, social, native advertising, email, and numerous traditional channels. I lean on SEO so much because I feel that it is a bit misunderstood and, therefore, under-utilized. Truth be told, SEO is the only channel that will never fail if done right and with the right focus. So, I believe that the long-term outlook for SEO is strong. And one thing is for sure, Quattro and I will be here, fighting the good fight for businesses that want to succeed.
WREAKS: Sean, Scott, I loved this. Thank you both very much for sharing your thoughts and your insights with us. We at Gramercy Institute wish you both continued success now, and as we move into our “new normal” post-pandemic world. Please keep your high-level of passion for what you do. It’s a rare commodity and a true asset to your clients.