Uberall on Wednesday announced the appointment of Greg Sterling to the team in the newly created position of VP of market insights.
While Sterling brings 20 years of experience as an analyst, writer and researcher focused on digital and location-based media and marketing, he is educated in law, political philosophy and social psychology.
Among the reasons he chose to join Uberall are the company’s employee culture, how it focuses on helping businesses succeed and manage their reputation, and getting discovered in Google search results.
Reputation management is an ethical issue, he says. Many companies today struggle with fake reviews and fraud -- something he hopes to change.
In his new role, Sterling will support internal teams, leading research and content initiatives.
Prior to joining Uberall, Sterling held the position of VP of strategy and Insights at the Local Search Association, where he helped the organization transform from a traditional media trade group to a digital marketing association for location-based marketers. He has been a contributor to Search Engine Land since 2006, and spent time at Opus Research and The Kelsey Group.
Search Marketing Daily spoke with Sterling to get his thoughts on his new position, search, and ethics. What follows are excerpts from the conversation.
Search Marketing Daily: Your education is in law, so how did you land in marketing?
Sterling: I did litigation and didn’t like being a lawyer, so I transitioned into editorial content for internet sites. I developed an expertise around small business issues and marketing. That led me to become an analyst for the Kelsey Group, and from there to the work I’m doing today.
SMD: When you were young, what profession did you want to go into when you grew up?
Sterling: I was always very interested in politics, although the more I learned about politics, the more I realized it wasn’t for me. I am still quite interested, but not as a candidate.
Writing was always something I enjoyed doing, and that’s a substantial part of what I do. I wanted to be a columnist to express my opinions on certain subjects. I also wanted to do dramatic writing like plays and movies. I was probably in middle school. I always enjoyed writing and got positive feedback. It was then that I became interested in story structure.
Everyone in marketing likes to talk about storytelling. Some of that is superficial and some is real. Storytelling does factor into my writing daily. I’m always thinking about the story I’m telling and the arc on how to draw in the audience, along with the payoff.
SMD: Does politics play a role in your profession?
Sterling: Yes, in the sense of business ethics -- issues like privacy and those central to the challenges that digital marketers face like trust and transparency. They are not political issues per se, but I like to think ethics has a role to play in politics.
Ethics is a strong interest of mine, and how that plays into marketing is central to things going on today in the market. It plays out in location tracking, for example.
SMD: Do you have the time to read books?
Sterling: Yes, I’m actively trying to read books as an antidote to the attention deficit disorder culture that we’re living in today -- in the way in which smartphones rob you of the capacity to sustain attention to anything.
I'm reading Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist, written by Eli Saslow, about the life of Derek Black, who was the heir apparent to the White Nationalist movement. He turned his back on it and walked away. It's an interesting book because this is an essential problem in our society now -- how to help people overcome some of the prejudices that are pretty pervasive and dominating our national policies.
SMD: Do you find any connection between the underlying message in the books you find interesting and your profession?
Sterling: This is my own opinion, but we have terrible things going on in society such as climate change, politics, and racial intolerance. Most of the digital marketing world just chugs along like none of this is happening. We're all about maximizing the return on ad spend.
I think there needs to be a more ethically centered ordination to marketing. It plays out in the concepts of privacy and transparency. It also plays out in doing the right thing for your customers.
For example, too many companies doing digital marketing for small businesses really don't care one bit about their customers. They simply are trying to retain the revenue and reduce churn.
They do't see a person or someone trying to earn a living -- they only see numbers on a spreadsheet. That is wrong, and it's having an influence on business retention. The businesses know they are being exploited.
The issues around ethical conduct need to make their way more deeply into digital marketing. We need these very large companies to do the right thing in society because they have as much or more power as the government.
SMD: Looking back through your career, what is the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?
Sterling: I tend to be a very ambitious person and increasingly take on more responsibility and projects. I've had a conversation with several people about my limits in the past five years. It's around doing few things well, rather than doing many in a mediocre way. I would rather do three things well than doing 10 things in a halfhearted way. It has become a lesson. I've felt the importance in those words the older I get.
SMD: So, you're an overachiever?
Sterling: That would be a grandiose way to put it. When I get into a project I really have high expectations of myself. I always try to boil down the content to its essence to convey the information. I'm not a perfectionist, but it's challenging because I have high expectations of myself.
I am trying to accept my limitations. It's something I've struggled with. I used to sleep five hours a night, drink six cups of coffee each day and push through the fatigue and physical challenges. I can't do that anymore.