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Five Questions for Mark Kingdon – CEO, Organic Inc.

_Mark Kingdon has served as “Organic Inc.’s”: CEO since January 2001. In addition to spearheading the company’s remarkable turnaround and repositioning, he also leads business development and client strategy for significant accounts. Founded in 1993, Organic creates “exceptional online experiences” for Fortune 1000 clients by delivering comprehensive web development and interactive marketing programs that drive more profitable customer relationships. Organic has offices in Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Toronto._
*Organic prides itself on having a very user-centric design approach. Does starting with the user and working out make sense to large corporations or do you still need to sell this concept?*
It’s extraordinarily important for brands to adopt a user-centered design approach, especially for large corporations, because many stakeholders and agencies are responsible for representing their brand to consumers. Successful user-centered design always starts with a keen understanding of the user, often represented as a persona, or a fictitious person that represents the target market – their habits, media consumption patterns, preferences, pet peeves, and influencers. Three-dimensional personas give all marketers, working toward building awareness around a particular brand, a common framework – a language – that helps to create a cohesive brand identity, regardless of channel. The key is to make sure that your personas are based in real research and that they are actually used.
*Janice Fraser of Adaptive Path’s article “A Whole New Internet”: has drawn both praise and criticism for its assertion that things are getting very interesting online right now and we’re about to see a real change in the way things are done online. Do you agree with Janice that we’re at the cusp of “a whole new Internet”?*

Janice has some interesting points and her article is worth reading. She suggests that the Internet will change, based on a new concept called Ajax, a term “coined by Jesse James Garrett”:, also from Adaptive Path not coincidentally. In very simple terms, it describes a new paradigm or Internet protocol that combines the best of JavaScript and XML and a more interactive way that a user and a web application server exchange information. Although the approach looks promising because it mends the gap between design and technology that Flash applications have created, I’m not sure if that’s the beachhead to “a whole new Internet.”
*The IAB’s recent ad revenue figures show that an increasing share of the online ad dollar is now devoted to search marketing. Google seems to *be the Internet* for many consumers. How does the rise of search (both natural search and advertising within it) impact the way sites are designed?*
It’s true. Search is the front door to the Internet for most people and this is particularly true for Google, maybe even more than they realize. I did an unofficial survey about how tech-savvy people (my friends and colleagues) enter the Internet. Interestingly enough, most people admitted that they use the Google toolbar to access sites, even when the URL is known. Maybe it’s because the toolbar is easy to access right in the browser, or maybe it’s because Google almost intuitively understands where we want to go, despite misspellings or hasty typos. Search, particularly toolbar search, is an important and powerful entry point into the Internet that Google is neither monetizing nor talking about.
This point, although anecdotal, only makes search even more important to the Internet design process. Yes, you need to create a flagship URL that is easy for your customers to find. Yes, you must employ a search-oriented strategy when considering your site design that the search spiders can find and helps you attain the appropriate natural search ranking. Part of that strategy needs to be an HTML-version of your site because Flash is difficult for the search crawlers to detect.
*What trends to you expect will define online marketing over the next year or two?*
We’ve all heard about the rise of rich media usage (Flash applications and video) due to the almost ubiquitous adoption of broadband. We’re seeing a rapid growth in client requests for increasingly complex and rich online experiences that include video shorts, online games, and creative “Eyeblaster”: (expando) advertising. These types of applications will only increase over the next year or two.
Additionally, we’re also noticing that clients are increasingly considering the Internet, particularly online advertising, as an integral part of their marketing mix. Literally, the Internet is a necessary part of the story, but more often, the central part of the brand story. Within two years, I would expect the Internet component to lead big campaigns with television, radio, print, etc. as supporting media. This will be particularly true for highly considered purchases such as automobiles or expensive electronics.
What’s interesting is the difference between the online marketing landscapes in Canada vs. the US. Based on what we see, Canada is 8-12 months behind the US in terms of online trends and spends. Right now, we’re seeing many Canadian companies in the midst of their site redesigns that most US brands completed about a year ago. It is encouraging to see Canadian companies begin to make their Internet presence a priority again and we should see the Canadian online marketing spend increase next year, as companies want to drive traffic to their new sites.
*You are looking for an MD for Organic’s Toronto office. How would you describe the ideal candidate for this (or any) Managing Director role?*
Thanks for asking. The Organic Managing Director in Toronto is a wonderful opportunity for several reasons. First, we have assembled an incredibly talented team in Toronto that loves what they do. Second, the Toronto office has a unique opportunity to work on both Canadian-based and US-based clients. Canadian clients include President’s Choice and Benjamin Moore. US clients include DaimlerChrysler, Sprint, and SIRIUS Satellite Radio. These are clearly interesting brands to work on and represent a lively and diversified portfolio. Third, the new MD has the opportunity to lead a company that is currently one of the best-kept secrets in Canada. Raising our market profile in this region will be a priority and this person will be front and center.
Enough selling. Back to your question. We’re looking for a leader who is passionate about the medium, has a great understanding of the Internet and its role in the marketing mix, and has a savvy business sense. We need someone who is great with clients and with people in general. I’m confident that we will find the right person.
Thanks for the great questions. I enjoyed the opportunity to share my thoughts.