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Just wanted to share that for the umpteenth time in my career, my direct experience is once again confirming that diplomacy trumps technical skill when it comes ensuring long-term SEO success.

Mind you, I’m not suggesting that any palooka off the street can succeed at SEO. Having at least a decent understanding of the fundamental underpinnings of natural search are still a prerequisite. However, more often than not, it’s the ability to collaborate with both internal and external stakeholders that makes the difference between mediocrity and rock start status.

Moreover, this key skill is required at all three core facets of SEO:

  • Technical SEO
  • Link Building (and yes, I’m lumping “SEO friendly” social content marketing in this bucket)
  • Analytics

At the technical level, diplomacy can be the difference between getting your page, site, and server-level recommendations implemented quickly versus waiting weeks if not months (maybe even years in some extreme cases) for the dev/IT team to “get around to that SEO stuff.” It can also be the difference between getting looped in at the most preliminary stages of a major site redesign or CMS migration versus finding out about these initiatives midstream (or worse yet, after they’ve already been completed!).

As far as analytics is concerned, the value of diplomacy is inversely correlated with the size of the company involved. With smaller companies the SEO can often have direct control over analytics implementation as well as direct access to analysis via Google Analytics. At larger organizations, that precious SEO data can be a lot hard to access, particularly if said company is using more complicated analytics platforms like Omniture or Coremetrics. And when this is indeed the case, diplomacy can be the difference between getting direct access and setting up the necessary SEO-centric reporting dimensions versus performing SEO with a blindfold on.

I left link building for last because in my experience, it is where diplomacy is absolutely critical, particularly when dealing with enterprise-caliber brands. For starters, diplomacy is one of the skills that facilitates effective link building outreach. You have to get along with bloggers and webmasters in order to build the relationships that lead to inbound links.

But that’s 101 stuff.

The real heavy lifting occurs in terms of building the diplomatic ties that facilitate the kind of large-scale, authoritative link building activities that not only lead to an unassailable SEO advantage but can also set the stage for success in parallel channels like social media and public relations. But building these stakeholder ties is often fraught with all sorts of communication hurdles and bureaucratic red tape. It can require getting face time with and approval from:

  • the social media team
  • the PR team
  • the brand marketing team
  • the copy/content team
  • the merchant team (if you work for a retail brand)
  • the dev/IT team
  • the legal team
  • the tax liability team
  • the finance team
  • the executive team
You get the picture.
The good news is that if you can run this labyrinth while simultaneously lining up the the right talent (either internally or via agency partners) to produce the content, identify the link prospects, and effectively build relationships with those link prospects via that aforementioned content, it will only be a matter of time before you build the kind of SEO authority that is immune to the ups and downs of search engine algorithm updates and actually helps buoy parallel marketing channels at the same time.
And in my experience, there’s nothing more satisfying and ROI friendly than executing SEO without the need to chase any algos and with the full, top-down support of your organization.




Do you love SEO and feel like you could dive its depths for the rest of your career? Do you think email marketing is your long-term career destiny? Do you thoroughly enjoy display media planning and think it’s a great fit for you? Do you believe that social media is the place to be both now and in the future?

That’s cool with me, because there’s nothing wrong with endless passion and deep expertise. However, in my experience, it pays to branch out from your core discipline and diversify your portfolio of marketing knowledge.

Mind you, it’s not just about job security, though having more than one feather in your cap can definitely open up doors in the corporate world. Rather, the reason for the recommendation has to do with what diversification can do to your overall marketing perspective.

Here’s why and how:

  • For starters, with every passing day, many of the supposedly silo disciplines that we know and love become increasingly intertwined with other supposedly silo disciplines. Want to be a successful SEO? You’d be have a fairly deep understanding of social media, PR, and coding among other things. Want to grow your brand’s social media following? You’d better learn how to properly leverage email segmentation and messaging in order to usher your existing customers into your social media community elements. And so on, and so forth.
  • As multi-channel attribution develops and matures as a discipline, the ties between channels will become more evident and success in one will be dependent on alignment with the others. For example, my brand’s attribution insights are helping us recognize just how integral parallel marketing channels can be in terms of maximizing the revenue we generate via paid search. In other words, it would be virtually impossible to maximize ROI in one of the channels I directly manage (paid search) if I didn’t have an intimate understanding of what was happening in several parallel channels that I don’t manage directly.
  • Working closely with other channels and their corresponding stakeholders helps you develop a healthy respect and admiration, and that in turn, often results in a more empathetic and less contentious approach to dealing with those stakeholders, even when you’re reasonable certain that your point of view is the right one. And guess what? You get more bees honey then vinegar.

In a nutshell, what I’m saying is that educating, and in some cases, immersing yourself in channels outside of your main discipline can actually make you more of an expert in your main discipline. It sounds like a paradox, I know. But those that have experienced this phenomenon in action know that I speak the truth.

If you’ve been enveloped and consumed by your marketing channel of choice up until this point, give this approach a try. You might like the effect it has on your marketing world view as well as the effect it has on your channel’s marketing ROI.




One of the reasons that I chose to leave the fast-paced agency life in favor of an in-house gig was the promise of getting a much deeper perspective on the business of marketing.

What I mean by that is while agency folk swear that they’re super strategic and 100% aligned with your broader business initiatives, the reality is that they must necessarily be focused on a broad number of clients and verticals. That can be a beautiful thing because it gives you tremendous perspective on how different types of business work and how that, in turn, impacts marketing strategy.

However, I remember from my last in-house stint – at CBS back in 2004-2005 – that working for a single brand requires a much deeper, integral understanding of the business and the myriad of key stakeholders that make that business go. Without that business acumen and counterpart buy-in your strategic approach to marketing for said brand is destined to fail regardless of which channel(s) you’re focused on (though in my experience, this is most evident when working with cross-functional channels like search and social).

So far, my experience at HSN has proven to be very much in line with that expectation. I’ve had to learn about all manner of brand and product assortments, from Dysons to dress shops. I’ve also had to build relationships with fellow marketing team members (digital and traditional) public relations staff, merchants, brand reps, senior execs, celebrity spokespeople, finance, legal, accounting, accounts payable, and, well, you get the picture.

And this has taught me a very valuable lesson about one of the fundamental elements of marketing strategy. Sometimes, being strategic simply means knowing what to keep in and what to leave out.

To help illustrate what I mean, I’ll pick one of the channels that I manage:

Every day (no seriously, every day) my SEO analyst identifies some interesting technical manifestation that prevents us from maximizing ROI for one of the thousands of revenue-generating keywords we manage (and that doesn’t even count that hundreds of thousands of potential revenue generating keywords that are on the back burner to a certain extent).

And every day, I must make a decision as to whether the day’s particular manifestation is worth fully exploring or should be put on that ever-growing back burner of opportunities. Mind you, it’s not that we don’t want to address every single one of these issues. It’s just that even with the help of a powerful SEO automation platform, several solid agency partners, and one of the most nimble dev staffs I’ve ever worked with we still don’t have enough bandwidth to tackle everything.

So instead, we started by writing down (and this is important, it can’t just be in your head) a fundamental strategic plan for 2012, and now it’s my job to make sure that my analysts, partners, colleagues (and myself) focus on the tactics and execution elements that will help fulfill that plan. Moreover, even though I created the plan in the first place, I often reach out to my boss for guidance and a fresh perspective, so that I can make sure that I’m on track and not veering of the path that was set several months ago.

For some of you reading this, the preceding advice will seem like a given. For others, it will seem way too rigid, bureaucratic, and for lack of a better word, corporate.

If you fall into the latter category, I implore you to take this strategic approach for a spin. You may just find that while ideas and opportunities are always abundant, the ability to properly decide which to keep and which to set aside can be a source of tremendous, measurable ROI.



I’ve had some interesting conversations with my dad over the years, and one of the most memorable and recurring topics has to do with my current profession.

I’ve been working on enterprise online marketing programs for nearly a decade now, and while I enjoy the immense challenge that the ever-shifting sands of the internet provide as well as the fairly solid compensation this growing field has afforded me there has always been a lingering concern that has haunted me from time to time. That concern has to do with the fact that, at times, I have helped market brands and products that aren’t exactly benevolent in nature (some financial and pharmaceutical outfits from my agency days immediately come to mind).

My father – who busted his butt selling cars for 40 years to support our family – insists that my first concern should be ensuring the financial security of my wife and young son. Moreover, he explains that the world is far from perfect and that I’m not ultimately responsible for all of the good or bad actions of a large organization. I understand where he’s coming from, since he’s basically a first-generation immigrant who committed himself to doing whatever it took to provide a better life for me, but for some reason, I’m simply incapable of fully accepting his point of view.

Fortunately, I’ve landed at an organization that while admittedly a fierce, consumer-minded, online shopping machine is also an organization that sports a huge corporate heart. In just a few short months I’ve witnessed them giving a large award to an employee that had the moral fiber to return a diamond wedding ring to a customer that had accidentally dropped said ring into a return box. I’ve also discovered that they made a commitment to creating a work-at-home program for customer service reps, which allows them to have additional flexibility in their lives while simultaneously allowing the corporation to cut costs and thereby keep said customer service jobs in the US instead of outsourcing them. Lastly, I’m set use one of two dedicated “community service” PTO days to give back to the community, on HSN’s dime.

Mind you, my current employer is not the only company with a story worth believing in. I’ve come across many over the years. One that often comes to mind is Stihl power tools. I can’t speak for their German world headquarters, but I can tell you that their US operation is one of the most well-run organizations I’ve ever come across. And perhaps more importantly, they are one of the most humane operations I’ve ever seen. They’re fiercely loyal to their employees, treat their regional dealers like family, obsess over picking agency partners that will stay onboard for life, and support a variety of extremely noble initiatives.

So what’s this have to do with marketing strategy you ask?

Well it’s simple. For starters, it’s much easier to get motivated to come to work in the morning (and stay late at night) when you believe in the brand you work for. And just in case that’s not enough for you, the secondary benefit is that companies with this altruistic ethic facilitate successful marketing.

It’s a lot easier to execute successful multi-channel marketing campaigns and build social and SEO authority when the organization you’re promoting is involved in beautiful campaigns like Pitney Bowes’ Holiday Mail for Heroes (a joint venture with the Red Cross) and are generally admired for their approach to treating their employees and the community at large.

On the flip side, achieving successful results is a hell of a lot harder when your brand is responsible killing things or oppressing entire communities or nations (and no, I’m not going to link to specific examples. If you’re curious do some research and find out who some of the real bad guys are).

Granted, I understand that my dad’s advise is valuable, because not everyone can afford to work in a virtuous industry or for a virtuous company. At the end of the day, you have to do whatever it takes to move forward and support yourself and your loved ones.

However, if you’re faced with the choice, always opt for the brand you can believe in. It will be easier to achieve long-term marketing ROI, and if you’re like me, you’ll likely have the added benefit of sleeping a whole lot better at night.


I’m on vacation this week, hitting the slopes in Colorado and hanging out with a bunch friends. The point of the trip is to disconnect a bit and clear mind of marketing-think, so that I can return to my duties at HSN with renewed vigor.

But sure enough, despite the fact that none of my fellow travelers work in marketing, the topic has come up time and again.

One idea that stood out had to do with re-targeting/re-marketing via display ads. I’ve met many marketers that shy away from this technique because they fear that it will turn off their site visitors or flat out creep them out. After all, which one of us hasn’t felt a little bit uneasy once we’ve realized that a site we’ve recently visited is all of sudden following us around the internet and serving display ads virtually everywhere that we go.

Here’s the thing, though. Based on my unscientific poll that I’ve conducted during this vacation, it’s apparent that the average non-marketer has no idea that display re-targeting exists. Moreover, even after the concept has been explained, they don’t seem very concerned about it at all.

Mind you, I’m not suggesting that you use my little vacation anecdote as your sole justification for implementing a re-targeting program. What I am suggesting, however, is that you test out a few campaigns to see how they perform. This is especially true if your marketing programs are geared towards generating direct, online conversions. It’s highly unlikely that you will turn off any potential consumers. Instead, what will mostly happen is that you’ll bring back visitors that may have come close to converting their first time around and just didn’t pull the trigger for one reason or another.

If your product/service is a good one, your site visitors will likely appreciate being reminded about it from time to time. And unlike many of us day-to-day marketers, they won’t spend anytime contemplating the technological underpinnings or privacy implications of  said re-targeting efforts.

So don’t feel so bad, and don’t beat yourself up about it. Instead, educate yourself and your team then take re-targeting for a test drive to see if the ROI make it’s a worthwhile long-term endeavor.


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Last week, I focused on the idea that you don’t know what you don’t know, and that therefore, it’s important to keep an open mind in order to avoid stagnation in your marketing strategy.

This week, a blog post from one of the most well-respected marketers in the world seems to have lent credence to my assertion.

Here’s what happened:

I decide to check my Twitter stream and come across retweet that reads “Doing it wrong, relentlessly” and links to a blog post on Seth Godin’s blog.

Now for those that don’t know, Mr. Godin is one of the most accomplished marketers in modern history, having published a variety of fantastic books on the subject of marketing as well as having launched a variety of successful start-ups. In fact, you can make the case that  he’s the greatest marketer (or at least the greatest marketing author) alive today.

Anyhow, back to said blog post.

In it, Godin references Neil Patel’s post over on seomoz.org, which lists 12 things that will kill a blog post every time. He then goes on reveal that he’s doing 7 out of the 12 things that Neil advises against. Moreover, he explains that he’s doing these things on purpose and finishes the post by stating that the main lesson or takeaway for him is that “One way to work the system is to work the system. The other way is to refuse to work it.”

My gut reaction was to think that Mr. Godin was suffering from a similar type of hubris that afflicted Pulitzer prize-winning columnist Gene Weingarten, in that he mistakes his lack of understanding about marketing tactics like SEO for an affirmation of his personal core principles that guide his craft. This sentiment was strengthened when I attempted to @ reply Godin on Twitter only to find out that Mr. Godin does not actually interact with anyone on Twitter (thanks for the heads up Ross). Instead, he uses Twitter as a one-way, non-interactive, broadcast channel, which is more or less the opposite of what most successful social media practitioners suggest as well as the opposite of what I’ve personally found to be a path to social media success for both myself and the clients and employers I’ve worked for over the years.

I then spent some time reflecting on Godin’s main takeaway, trying to open my mind to his point of view. After all, he is one of the most successful marketers around, and he helped chip away at traditional interruption marketing before the internet became mainstream and facilitated a new way of doing things. Moreover, the fact that he linked to Neil’s post and recognized that he was “doing it wrong” implies some level of affirmation for the assertions being made by Neil in the first place.

Still, it was hard for me to identify with any of his core assertion for a variety of reasons. First off, as a blogger and friend of bloggers (many of which are wildly successful) I tend to agree with most if not all of the 12 assertions that Neil Patel made in his aforementioned post. Secondly, Neil is one of the most well-respected voices in the online marketing community and is a very successful interactive marketer and entrepreneur in his own right. Thirdly, Godin rose to fame at a time when channels like SEO were little more than an afterthought and the term social media didn’t even exist, and so despite his overall marketing acumen he’s not necessarily an expert in either of these specific marketing facets.

Even as I write this, I’m still questioning myself, wondering if perhaps I’ve missed the point of Godin’s post, because it’s so hard for me to accept that one of my marketing heroes could be so flat out wrong. But he very well could be, and perhaps that’s the main takeaway.

Don’t take Seth Godin at his word just because he’s Seth Godin

Don’t take Neil Patel at his word just because he’s Neil Patel (or because his post went viral on SEOmoz).

Don’t take Gene Weingarten at his word just because he won a Pulitzer prize.

And definitely, whatever you do, don’t take my word for it!

All appeals to authority are a fallacy and they can, at times, lead the unsuspecting marketer astray. In fact, they can and do lead folks astray all the time in many facets of life, but that’s a story for another day on another blog…

So instead of relying on appeals to authorities, realize that you don’t know what you don’t know and spent the requisite time testing and measuring to see what works for you and your marketing program. That’s the only reliable way to figure whether you side with Seth Godin or Neil Patel, and it’s also the only reliable to pave a way towards long-term marketing success.

I’d like to think that Mr. Godin would agree with me on that.



Today I get the honor of participating in the Q&A panel for the SMX West session entitled Differentiate or Die. There are some really sharp minds and one true search icon that will share the stage with me, and so I know that it’s going to be a very humbling experience.

And interestingly, with every passing day I continually rediscover that humility is one of the primary character traits that determines long-term success in the online marketing space. More specifically, if you want to be successful as an online marketer, you had better come to terms with the fact that you don’t know what you don’t know.

This is probably an easy thing to accept for relative newcomers and small business owners that have to wear the marketing hat while also juggling the rest of their organizational roles. But for the grand majority of “experienced” marketers (especially those that work in the enterprise space) it’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you’ve got it all figured out and that your methodology and knowledge of your particular channel is beyond reproach.

And why not? After all, your KPIs look relatively solid and you continue to see solid growth YOY. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

Not necessarily. One of most challenging facets of the online space is the dizzying pace of technological innovation. Whether it’s Google launching a major algo tweak and/or Adword feature or whether it’s one of the multitude of newly born startups leveraging heavy amounts of machine learning or the latest social networking flavor of the month, our industry is the birthplace of daily innovation.

Because of this technological saturation and because of an admittedly high signal to noise ratio, a lot of marketers choose to simply put their blinders on and adopt a very conservative approach to testing, experimentation, and adoption. In other words, they wait for someone else to prove the value of new innovations before they’re willing to take it for a spin.

That’s probably a good approach if you’re happy being in the middle of the competitive pack, but if you’re interested in taking your brand to the forefront, you have to start digging around into the nuts and bolts of your program as well as reading up and tracking down the new technology start-ups that are catering to your specific marketing channel(s). Why? Because it’s a mathematical certainty that what you’re currently doing is necessarily incomplete, and kicking the tires on newly developed features, techniques, networks, and technology are the only way that you can truly evolve your marketing program.

Or you can just continue on doing things they way they’ve always been done, believing that you know everything, and that your program incorporates everything under the sun and that there’s no reason to urgently pursue new opportunities to innovate. Just be aware that your competitors might not be so complacent.

They might be busy figuring out what they don’t know yet, and then using that newly acquired knowledge to differentiate while you’re busy dying.


Those of you who know me well know that I’m a skeptic at heart. This worldview shapes a lot of my personal and professional interactions, and it’s one of the reasons why my social stream is filled with links to science articles.

But this is a marketing blog, so let’s get to it.

Simply put, skepticism is inclination to question or doubt all accepted opinions. When applied to digital marketing, it can often mean the difference between winning and losing in what has become a hyper-competitive digital landscape.

SEO is probably the channel where skepticism is more or less a prerequisite to success. It’s what allows the true greats to question even the most well-established “best practices” and instead focus on strategic and tactical insights that are based on empirical evidence and application of the scientific method of inquiry. Eventually, these folks are able to piece together truly cohesive online marketing strategies that incorporate real SEO within the broader framework of online marketing.

Mind you, SEO isn’t the only channel where a little skepticism can go a long way. There are pioneering minds in the social media space that have literally made a living (and a name for themselves) by refusing to go along with established “best practices” and instead relying on real, data-driven evidence.

The reality is that skepticism permeates the online marketing universe, infiltrating every channel and every discipline, from usability to analytics. Marketers that embrace this mentality are quick to rise up the ranks by developing an iron clad repertoire in their given field of expertise.  Those that don’t often get mired in mediocrity, and end up spending an inordinate amount of time trying to explain why KPIs aren’t stronger despite their having implemented all of the “best practices.”

So do yourself a favor and ask yourself if you’re taking the mediocre safe route and simply adhering to mainstream marketing ideas, or if you’re taking the road less traveled and applying a healthy dose of skepticism in your day-to-day.

The answer could very well determine your long-term prospects in this digital marketing thing of ours.

P.S. Make sure to check out my latest business venture, Opulent Items, which specializes in modern leather sofas.



My original plan was to title this post “Advertising is Dead.” But then I thought about how annoying all those “SEO is Dead” posts are, so I decided introduce a bit more nuance and forego the opportunity for link baiting.

But I digress.

I curious thing has happened to me over the past month or so. Do to a work-related relocation, I had to go a few weeks without access to television. I was thrilled at the prospect, because I knew that it would force to spend more time on one of my true loves. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this brief television hiatus would result in what appears to be a more or less permanent aversion to traditional TV.

What began as a curious nightly foray into YouTube has been a more or less steady habit of online video consumption. Interestingly, what I thought would be a limited source of entertainment turns out to be a nearly limitless fountain of both entertainment and education. I literally have hours worth of content waiting to be consumed in my “Watch Later” playlist.

And sure enough, as I started to spend more time on YouTube and share my experiences with “real life” friends and family, I discovered three things:

1) Several “real life” friends and a whole host of “online” friends have also ditched their traditional TV experience in favor of YouTube (or some variation thereof like Netflix).

2) Many loyal YouTubers choose to engage in a two-way interaction by both consuming loads of content and also creating loads of content (often in the form of a targeted response to other YouTubers that they interact with in one way or another).

3) By leveraging mobile, I could also completely disconnect from traditional AM talk radio while driving around in the car, opting to instead stream some or all of my favorite radio talk shows.

This led me to to the very plausible conclusion that most traditional forms of advertising are on the verge of extinction. Heck, print advertising is already half, if not three-quarters, dead. And since the video and audio consumption I described above is often nearly or completely ad free (at least in the traditional sense…I don’t mind getting served short pre-roll ads that I can opt out of at my discretion) it’s clear that traditional and radio and TV advertising could also be on their death beds without even knowing it.

Granted, I understand that I’m still in the minority. Furthermore, folks like my wife are still very much entrenched in their traditional TV (complete with 30-second ad spot) watching ways. But it would be foolish to simply ignore the “ad free” media consumption trend that I myself am now a part of.

So what does this mean for the savvy marketer? Simple. Make sure that your traditional advertising media is designed to have legs beyond the traditional channel that it’s being served on:

  • If you’re into TV commercials, make sure you have formats that are online, pre-roll friendly.
  • If radio is a big channel for your business, make sure you’re exploring ways to enter the consciousness of your consumers that have abandoned the airwaves for the stream.
  • If print ads are your ticket, where have you been for the past 5-10 years? Just kidding! Sort of. In all seriousness, though, it’s time to invest the dollars necessary to figure out what your target audience is doing when they’re not holding a magazine or a newspaper and it’s also time to invest major dollars in ways to target folks that are transitioning from print to tablet consumption

And perhaps most importantly, make sure that your advertising media is social media friendly. Not everybody can knock it out of the park the way Old Spice and Dos Equis have in recent years, but what you can do is make sure that your advertising media assets lend themselves to social sharing, and that your display media campaign strategy is tightly aligned with your search and social strategy.

Otherwise, your marketing program could find itself holding the short end of the stick when people like me go from being the minority to the majority.


Ten years ago, there was no such thing as “social media.” But there was social friendly content (blog posts, video, infographics, etc.) and social networks (we called them forums) and guest posts. There were also plenty of influencers for virtually every niche in existence. Granted, there were a lot fewer of each of these things, and they didn’t get nearly the amount of mainstream press that they do now, but any marketer (particularly of the SEO variety) worth their salt was already leveraging these elements to build the links that ultimately provided the foundation of their SEO success.

Fast forward to 2012, and it’s clear to me that the only way sustainable way to build SEO-friendly links for an enterprise brand is via this thing of ours that we now call social media. Paid links definitely still work, but big brands that rely on them usually end up as NY Times article fodder. Cookie cutter techniques like directory submissions and article syndication likely have some value, but for competitive niches such as my new employer’s online shopping universe, these outdated approaches simply don’t have the juice to be a game changer.

But building links via social media is, for lack of a more sophisticated phrase, really freakin’ hard.

Why? Because it requires close coordination and alignment with a variety of parallel business divisions and stakeholders.

You have the usual suspects such as brand marketing and public relations. These are key because they can provide leverage and connections that get you in the door with top tier social influencers like celebrities and traditional publishers. Then there’s the social media and content marketing team (or teams depending on how your organization is configured). Trying to develop the content assets needed to facilitate social media-driven link building without having buy-in and support from those folks is an exercise in futility and frustration (all too often, I see SEO teams attempt to create link-building content assets in a vacuum, and 99% of the time those efforts fail before the content even has a chance to be created).

And for some verticals, there can also be legal or even tax-liability hurdles that need to be overcome before any significant link building efforts can begin.

This is no small task. It’s time-consuming and potentially painful, with plenty of need for education and mentoring along the way.

That said, the brave and patient souls that are willing to work through this myriad of communication, presentation, and approval end up reaping truly massive rewards. After all, Aaron Wall is right when he insinuates that it’s nearly impossible to outrank a big brand that’s got all of its ducks in a row.