Engineer Finds Niche In Digital Marketing

CANFIELD, Ohio – In hindsight, abruptly quitting his job nine years ago at a research and development firm where he had a six-figure salary to start a marketing agency with zero marketing experience might seem like a brash move, allows Steve Cross, founder and creative director of iSynergy.

“It was probably one of the worst decisions I made in my life at the time,” he says with a laugh.

But Cross had his fill of corporate America and middle management. An aerospace engineer by training with degrees in physics and mathematics, he wanted to use his knowledge of numbers and data to help businesses, he says. At the time, digital marketing was becoming more sophisticated as businesses and consumers were more reliant on digital devices.

So in 2011, he founded iSynergy as a “digital first” agency. “We take the data first. Through strategic hires and education, we have acquired the marketing side of the agency,” he says. “We’re more data driven. And I think that’s what gives us leverage over a lot of the market.”

Today, the company employs 10 with specialties that range from digital marketing and search engine optimization to website development, video and graphic design. Nothing is outsourced, he says. Because he is a Google Partner, his employees receive Google Ads training sessions at Google headquarters.

Unlike traditional marketing deliverables, such as print ads and ad time on TV and radio, digital marketing is measured by metrics and KPIs, or key performance indicators, he says.

“It’s not based on the deliverable. It’s based on a goal,” he says.

For example, a client might want to increase his revenue by an amount based on month-over-month or year-over-year revenue and marketing budget. The agency develops a plan based on paid media, organic media, content offers and inbound marketing efforts, among other tactics.

Gearing a strategy to meet a goal is harder than delivering a tangible product because there is complete transparency, Cross says.

“You can’t hide anything. You can’t hide behind, ‘Well, we got you good awareness. We got you good branding,’” he says. “With digital marketing, it’s impressions, click-through rate, revenue, cost per acquisition, average at-order value for an e-commerce site. These metrics are part of every plan.”

Those goals are defined with each prospect before a company officially becomes a client, he says. “That way, we’re not shooting at a moving target.”

Data is the currency of digital marketing. Having a list of 50,000 customers gathered from an app or website is one thing. But breaking that down further with audience segmentation is what iSynergy does for its clients.

Determining specific audience behaviors – such as what they view online, what websites they visit, what podcasts they listen to – allows iSynergy to better remarket to those contacts, he says.

“If you don’t have it segmented, if you don’t have cohorts built out [and] you don’t have any behavioral tracking on them, that list isn’t worthless. But it’s not nearly as valuable as a list of 5,000 users that you have segmented into behavioral tactics and strategies,” Cross says.

His company takes that data and manages it with a customer relationship management tool, or CRM, which is critical to measuring campaign effectiveness and return on investment. The agency can help a prospect to maximize a CRM; but won’t take them on as a client without one, he says.

“If you don’t have a CRM and some way that I can track your revenue or track your deals or track all that information, then I just become a traditional agency,” he says. “You might as well just throw up a billboard, because what you had me do is just as trackable as that.”

Tracking and using that data has helped YoFresh Collective, Canfield, to drive sales this year, says co-owner and CEO Caroline Ritenour. Since the prepared meal delivery startup launched in December 2018, its website has changed frequently because its offerings are constantly changing.

YoFresh began to work with iSynergy at the end of 2019. The agency helped the company use behavioral data to better define its target clients, Ritenour says. Through SEO and analytics, iSynergy narrowed down who was most engaged with the YoFresh website, “so the content we’re producing is relative to that clientele,” she says.

That data enabled YoFresh to capitalize on the food delivery market during the coronavirus pandemic, she says. In August, the company experienced 100% sales growth year-over-year, she says.

Cross recommends that each company effect a marketing automation platform, such as HubSpot or SharpSpring, as well as a customer data platform. The latter takes data from multiple sources – a client’s website, Google Ads campaign, organic and paid Facebook audiences – and bring it all together in a single source that can be segmented.

“It makes your ad spend that much more efficient. Your ROI is through the roof,” Cross says. “And you’re not guessing. You’re planning based upon actual real live data.”

Having that kind of information accessible with a few clicks saves YoFresh’s Ritenour the time it would take to mine the data herself and interpret it, she says.

“Knowing where your sales are in real time, that’s amazing. It saves me a lot of time” she says.

By tracking those sales data, Ritenour can see where the company stands on monthly, quarterly and annual revenue goals, she says. It also shows website traffic, so if she sees a spike in traffic, she can determine the reason for the spike, whether it’s being featured in the local news or running a sale on social media.

“I can know what wording worked and try it again,” she says.

From startups to established companies, iSynergy has nearly 200 clients, Cross says, 80% of which are based between the Cleveland/Akron area and Pittsburgh. But regional clients account for about 20% of the company’s revenue, with a bulk of its business being national and international clients, some as far as South Africa and Saudi Arabia.

The scalability of what iSynergy offers allows it to serve a diverse customer base with no specific vertical or company size, Cross says.

Two years ago, the company began to pace itself based on its capacity, he says, onboarding just one large new client monthly along with small-budget website development projects that staff turn around in a month or so.

Since 2014, revenues have doubled or tripled annually, Cross says.

ISynergy just secured a seven-figure contract for a national client that will roll out in the first quarter of 2021, he says.

The agency also looks to ramp up its video department with Revolution Media Studio, a new brand under the iSynergy umbrella. It’s renovating the bottom floor of its headquarters at 558 E. Main St. in Canfield to include a soundproof audio booth and studio.

Pictured: Steve Cross founded iSynergy in 2011. Today, the agency employs 10.