In the dynamic realm of digital marketing, staying at the forefront is essential. We had the privilege of interviewing Zack Dugow, the visionary Founder and CEO of Insticator, Balihoo, and OKO Digital. Zack is not just a leader but a data-driven entrepreneur committed to nurturing authentic online conversations.
Leading a global team of over 100, Zack has propelled Insticator to remarkable heights, serving 2,000+ publishers and reaching 500 million users yearly. Under his leadership, Insticator's innovative solutions have earned them prestigious accolades. Zack's influence extends beyond business, as he explores investments, contributes to Forbes, and empowers entrepreneurs, earning recognition on DMN and Crain’s 40 under 40 lists.
See our Q&A below
- Can you tell us about yourself (background, current position)?
I'm the Founder and CEO of Insticator and the CEO of Balihoo and OKO Digital. I'm a keynote speaker and data-driven entrepreneur, dedicated to fostering genuine online conversations that build connected digital communities. Leading a team of 100+ global talents, I've steered Insticator's remarkable growth, serving over 2,000 publishers and reaching 500 million users annually.
Our innovative engagement, commenting, and monetization solutions at Insticator have earned widespread recognition, securing placements on prestigious lists such as The Inc. 5000, Deloitte Technology Fast 500, Crain’s New York Business Fast 50, and AdWeek’s Fastest Growing Solution Providers for Publishers.
My leadership has established partnerships with renowned organizations like The Washington Post, PGA, WebMD, and Ancestry.com. Beyond my role at Insticator, I actively explore investment opportunities, leveraging my affiliation with YPO and contributions to the Forbes Tech Council. Recognized on the DMN and Crain’s 40 under 40 lists, I'm committed to empowering entrepreneurs through mentorship and funding, embodying a multifaceted commitment to growth and connection.
- In your opinion, how has the digital marketing landscape evolved over the last few years, and what emerging trends do you foresee in the near future?
Digital marketing has seen a shift with the eradication of SSPs and DSPs, giving rise to a single unified system, the DSSP. Success hinges on the consolidation of the middle ground. To thrive, it's imperative to establish direct partnerships with both brands and publishers in the open internet. A strategic balance between working exclusively with brands or publishers is no longer a viable path. The key lies in having a comprehensive approach that involves collaboration with both entities. This shift underscores the necessity for businesses to navigate the digital marketing landscape by fostering direct connections on both fronts—brands, and publishers—for success going forward.
- User-generated content is becoming increasingly important in marketing. How do you envision harnessing the power of UGC to build authentic brand relationships and enhance customer loyalty?
Leveraging our commenting product, we're tapped into a wealth of authentic communication. Currently, our focus is on extracting sentiments when users discuss products. We aim to seamlessly interject feedback, relevant information, or suggestions during these moments, fostering an environment where individuals can share their specific and meaningful experiences. It's about capitalizing on the genuine conversations users are having, especially when the dialogue is centred around products. This strategy enables us to enhance the user experience by providing timely and pertinent insights, ultimately building stronger, more authentic brand relationships and fostering customer loyalty.
- Why do you think more brands are leaning towards UGC marketing?
UGC marketing is authentic and relatable (because it's passionate). When followers see content from influencers, it feels like getting suggestions from a friend, not marketing. That's the key to its effectiveness.
- How do you stay up-to-date with the latest digital marketing trends and techniques?
I stay current on digital marketing trends through conferences, industry connections, and direct conversations with the executives that I'm close to. Engaging with professionals and cutting through the marketing noise helps me to know what truly works in the field.
- Can you provide examples of specific industries beyond the typical ones, like travel or food, where user-generated content has significantly driven engagement and brand awareness?
In industries like finance, user-generated content has made a significant impact. Platforms discussing option trading and stock trading (as a means of wealth creation), especially on TikTok, have seen considerable success in leveraging user-generated content for both engagement and brand awareness.
- Could you share some insights on how AI technology is evolving to handle UGC moderation and curation better?
At Insticator, we employ a blend of AI that specifically targets sentiment to enhance moderation. Although we anticipate full automation in the next 2-3 years, certain contexts remain crucial where human judgment is indispensable. AI, while advancing, still faces challenges. That's why, for instance, we opt for a combination of human expertise and AI to ensure effective content curation and moderation.
- What is one secret to digital marketing success that no one talks about?
A less-discussed key to digital marketing success is powerful content marketing. A robust LinkedIn presence, particularly with impactful posts from the C-suite, can significantly influence and drive business, provided the content is genuinely engaging.
- Do you have any advice for start-ups trying to improve their online marketing strategies?
Experiment with various strategies. Not all platforms will suit your products, and testing is essential to figuring that out. Explore options like Facebook, Instagram, Google, and others. Initially, go broad and shallow, testing extensively. Then, identify the top-performing 20% and focus your efforts there, diving deep to maximize effectiveness.
- Two companies you think have mastered the digital marketing game?
Trip Advisor excels in digital marketing by harnessing the community's strong engagement with feedback and reviews, translating into increased sales. Vuori, a fitness brand, leverages micro-influencers and strategic marketing approaches to achieve success in the digital space too.
Zack's focus on the impact of user-generated content (UGC) and how Insticator uses it to create genuine brand connections and boost customer loyalty is pretty impressive.
His tips on staying up-to-date, the value of content marketing, and advice for startups are nuggets of wisdom.
We appreciate Zack Dugow for sharing his insights. His dedication to growth, authenticity, and fostering online conversations sets a great example in the world of digital marketing.