Dan Brackett, SEO Manager at Goodyear, has worn a lot of different hats in a lot of different industries. We spoke to him for our Humans of Marketing series to get his perspective on the passion that drives great marketers, evangelizing search data, and how taking a spin on a motorcycle can inspire you to better marketing.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Christine Schrader: I would love to hear how you got started and what made you get into marketing. I feel like everyone has a different story about how that works.
Dan Brackett: I’ve been a little bit all over in my career, in different verticals. I had some latent interest in marketing back in college at Ohio State but the first touch was really my first job out of school.
I worked for JPMorgan Chase in their mortgage division. I won’t bore you with the details, but you could add on a life insurance policy to your mortgage. Instead of paying two different bills, you just pay one consolidated bill every month.
As part of that we did some database marketing and even telemarketing, and that got my marketing juices flowing. I really enjoyed the data aspect blended with a little bit of creative, and how purposeful decisions could be made on the backend of the campaign once you have a very clear winner and loser and know what to do on the next campaign moving forward.
Christine Schrader: I feel like that blend of creativity and data is what appeals to a lot of people about marketing in general and SEO in particular. And I have to ask, what did you major in at Ohio State?
Dan Brackett: I was an agribusiness major. My mom’s side of the family are all full-time farmers. I grew up around farming, but honestly it’s very much a classical business degree, but instead of producing widgets, it’s a grain elevator in the classroom.
It’s interesting because there were some marketing aspects there too. Honestly marketing-wise I’ve always been interested, even at a young age, in what brands I liked were doing. Even the concept of brands doing something purely for shock value and bumping top-of-mind awareness as a result.
It’s about asking: What are these brands doing? What are they producing out there for the consumer? I find that really interesting and that might be why my career has been all over the place.
After JPMorgan Chase, I got local and small business marketing experience because I ran my own business with my brother for three years. We started a franchise location for Jersey Mike’s Subs and built that up from ground zero.
Christine Schrader: My mother lives in rural Virginia, and they opened one there and she is obsessed. I have to say, those are delicious sandwiches. A Jersey Mike’s day is always a good day.
Dan Brackett: That’s awesome. That was actually why I chose that franchise over any other because I wanted a product or a brand that I could really believe in, versus opening a random smoothie place or somewhere I could just make money. I really believe that Jersey Mike’s is one of the best subs in the marketplace.
My brother and I did that together for three years, and we ended up selling it off. We were at a crossroads between either expanding and buying more to try and take over the market, or selling it, and the sale ended up happening first.
That was one of the best work experiences in my life. I’ve taken a lot from that into my career. Knowing employees are wholly dependent on you for their paychecks provides a real perspective that not a lot of people have and that’s been really valuable to me.
Christine Schrader: My dad owns a lawn care company with his brothers and taught me that same sense of responsibility. You brought up your interest in these kind of crazy rockstar marketers shaking it up, getting attention, and doing crazy things, but on the other side you have that strong sense of responsibility for your employees. How do you think those two poles have affected you as a marketer and a manager in your professional life?
Dan Brackett: Well, when I was in that environment as a business owner, money was tight.
It always is for small businesses, especially in start-up mode, so the decisions you make as a marketer have to be really purposeful: how am I going to get the most bang for my buck out of this? Is this really a smart investment? It’s a different mindset from just spending marketing dollars because that’s part of your job.
I ask myself where I can get the most out of it, not what’s easiest to spend against. So there is a bit of a rockstar angle as it relates to that Jersey Mike’s experience. But it was grounding, too. It comes down to being smart about everything that you’re doing for your organization. From choosing to run an ad or not, to the way you organize your team, it requires really purposeful decision-making because every dollar matters.
Christine Schrader: I would love to hear a little bit more about your team and how you work with them. What does that structure look like currently? I would love some information about that process of organizing and structuring your team and how you make those decisions. In your long career experience, what gives you a good sense of what people need and how to support them as a manager?
Dan Brackett: Our team at Goodyear is fairly new to having all of these digital acquisition responsibilities, maybe only a year and a half old. Much of what we’re doing is building things from square one: new processes and procedures, new staff and team members that never really existed before.
I just have one direct report today, but when he was hired I told him there was actually nobody prior to me in a hundred and twenty years of business with the title SEO manager here at Goodyear. The shift that represents is an exciting thing for both of us.
It’s pretty cool to be in a business where you’re doing something really transformative. We’re changing things and getting more much more digitally focused and data focused.
Christine Schrader: Who knew they even had tires a hundred and twenty years ago? But in all seriousness, let’s talk about evangelizing data in a business that has such a rich history that isn’t in digital strategy.
Can you talk about how you are helping Goodyear by evangelizing data and digital transformation? How do you make that case to an organization that might be set in its ways?
Dan Brackett: I think the case is twofold. One is search data. We have socialized internally the power of search and that it’s this barometer for consumer demand, whether that’s what’s hot at a given moment or the nuance between calling something a winter tire and a snow tire and what search volume can tell us about the difference. Internally, people really responded to that and seek out the best way to capture search demand.
The second thing is that, in a business that as you said has done things the way they’ve done them for a long time, the idea that we can be so quick in a digital world with decision-making and within minutes we can get actionable data that is statistically significant is exciting.
We can change plans, adjust and evolve. You see other people react: “wow, you can get that data that quickly.” So it’s really neat and we continue to spread our message internally. It’s a large organization and there are others that are also very data-centric here, too.
We focus a lot on the search side of things more so than other groups, but we’re all preaching the data story, and the organization is really listening.
Christine Schrader: I’m a big words guy, so I just love hearing that people are thinking about how they phrase things. Taking data and hearing your organization say, we want to speak with that voice, that’s very cool.
Dan Brackett: And it’s relatable: you’re telling the story about how people search this way and we all use search. You can relate it to your own personal experiences. And then it makes sense for people. So you ground yourself in the data in that exercise.
Christine Schrader: It’s amazing that you’re bringing all of these new things to the table and expanding the role of search and the role of data. Let me switch gears to focus on new things for you: what’s one brand-new thing you’re trying to do differently this year or something you’re learning that will help yourself, your organization, or your career?
Dan Brackett: I’ll answer that two ways: one professional and one personal.
Professionally, I am continuing to build on our team and grow our influence internally. I want to grow the team where appropriate, and also help show how we can be part of transforming the business.
Personally, I’m a total motorcycle and car geek. So one new thing I’m trying this year is to take my motorcycle on the race track again and learn more from the guys that do a lot better than me.
And in the last year, I got my knee down for the first time on the racetrack, which is exciting on a motorcycle when you’re doing 70 or 80 miles an hour. I’m nowhere near as good as some of the other guys, but it’s exciting to be there and push the envelope and learn.
Christine Schrader: Pardon my French, but that’s badass. I love that. That’s so cool.
Dan Brackett: It’s a real adrenaline rush and stretches your limits for sure.
Christine Schrader: Almost as much of a rush as seeing a traffic spike, right?
Dan Brackett: It’s a close second.
Christine Schrader: We talked about rock star marketing and now I’m picturing the dirt flying up in slo-mo as you spin around on a motorcycle. Does that help inspire you as a marketer?
Dan Brackett: I really enjoy doing things completely and accurately. Marginality is frustrating for me.
That kind of keeps me going. I like being on the edge, trying new things as much as possible, getting in the data and finding a needle in the haystack. What fuels me is finding that nugget and knowing that wow, we solved a complex problem. That’s exciting.
I’m also inspired by family, who have done really well in their careers. My grandfather the farmer, my dad was in the insurance industry, my brother is in the software industry. We talk a lot and I have learned so much from people that are close to me.
Christine Schrader: That support system is so important. What would you tell somebody just getting started in the marketing world?
Dan Brackett: I would say live in the data. But only let it guide you so far: there are times where your gut needs to come in to check a situation, and even though something is pointing in one direction, you might have a hypothesis rooted in what you know about the business.
Sometimes it’s worth it to try a test a second or a third time and see if results pan out the same way. There’s a lot to be said about gut and I think that’s the marriage of creative and data we talked about before. That’s invaluable.
Christine Schrader: I think all of the best SEO that I’ve ever talked to talk about SEO that way, that there’s an element of detective work. You’re following the clues, but you also have to have intuition leading the way, like a Sherlock Holmes on your shoulder. That’s the magic, that’s the art and the science of SEO.
Dan Brackett: That’s so exciting when that leads to that needle in a haystack, that Sherlock Holmes moment when you piece it all together. You’re looking at the data and thinking, this could be influencing that, or perhaps it could be this, and all of a sudden: aha.
It’s especially magical when you can craft a solution around whatever it is that you found.
Christine Schrader: That’s why I keep a deerstalker hat and a pipe right by my desk. I can pop it on whenever I’m about to have that moment.
We hear a lot about challenges around siloing SEO. Can you talk a little bit about how you promote SEO in the business and share wins in the company?
Dan Brackett: I’m kind of an over-communicator. Whether in meetings or in an email, I try to work in a little of education around what I’m talking about and why it’s impactful to the business.
If you’re telling people why we need to make a change and what the best result might look like and they get the reason behind it, they can get on board a lot easier. So it’s about over-communication and being an open door if someone has questions. Don’t be afraid to set aside some time to share what you know or don’t know about a given situation and to bring everyone up to speed about what’s going on.
Christine Schrader: I like the way you’re talking about it almost as a narrative. Here’s a hypothesis, here’s why it matters to the business, and here’s how we tested it.
Dan Brackett: Exactly. Here’s the question we are trying to solve for, and here’s how we went about it. Here’s the earnings we did or didn’t get, and we learned something from that too.
Christine Schrader: What are you most proud of that you’ve worked on as a marketer?
Dan Brackett: Maybe not as a marketer specifically, but what I’m most proud of that I’ve worked on was running my own business from start to finish. That was a childhood dream of mine.
As a marketer, both agency and client side, there’s nuggets in every single situation that have been exciting. It really is those individual things we talked about before, about finding that needle in a haystack, those little things can be a really big win for a given client that make all the difference
Christine Schrader: I know you’ve worked not just in a lot of different verticals but a lot of different kinds of marketing. What brought you to this place to organic?
Dan Brackett: Organic was actually my first love in digital marketing. Right after I sold the business I was at a bit of a crossroads, and I had a good friend who was in the digital marketing industry. I knew I wanted something that blended data and creative.
I took an online certification course that looks kind of hokey now, but it got my foot in the door. It was an SEO course of some variety, and it opened my eyes to a lot of what was out there. The job opportunities at the time were more on the paid side, and that’s where my career led me to for a while.
Then the opportunity came up at Goodyear. I wanted to get into focusing on SEO full-time, beyond just on a consultative basis. Goodyear gave me that opportunity and I’m excited to be doing this in my day to day.
Christine Schrader: What makes Goodyear a great place to work?
Dan Brackett: Goodyear was actually a client of mine when I was at ClearSaleing, which ended up later becoming eBay Enterprise.
One of my current co-workers was one of my clients back in the day. They were a great client to work with, and honestly being a car and motorcycle geek, it goes back to wanting to be involved with a brand or product that I have passion around. Tires fit that bill for me.
It’s really exciting to be part of this brand professionally. We are really all about innovation. For a hundred and twenty years, that’s what the brand has been all about. We’ve been involved in a variety of landmark things, from the first moon lander to changing the shape of society.
And we are focused on the future more today than we were in the past. You’ll hear our CEO talk about something called FACE, which is an acronym for Fleets Autonomous Connected and Electric vehicles, and how that’s going to transform the tire industry.
Christine Schrader: The time has come for a very serious question as a Goodyear employee: How often do you get to ride in the blimp?
Dan Brackett: I have not ridden in the blimp yet, but I’ve been on it when it’s moored. I have had quite a few meetings in the blimp hangar and the blimp is actually really close to neutral buoyancy. When it’s hooked up you can lift the entire blimp with one arm.
Christine Schrader: I suppose we can move past the blimp for now. Can you tell me what you’re currently working on that you’re excited about?
Dan Brackett: Tires tend to be one of those grudge purchases that people are more or less disengaged with when they’re not in the market to buy, but once they’re in the market, it’s a sizable investment that takes consideration.
So you want to be certain you’re making the right decision considering all the right angles. We’re working on a lot of content that will help consumers educate themselves so they feel empowered to make the best purchase decision possible. Some of it’s already written, and we have a lot more in the queue.
I’m excited to see some of this come to fruition and see the traffic results after the fact. Like I said, I’m a tire geek and I could talk about this stuff for days. But, I really love the opportunity when I get to speak to engineers or product people that know more than I do. I want to translate that into something that’s a little more consumer-friendly and can really help those consumers.
Christine Schrader: I love that attitude so much. Here at Conductor we’re big proponents of customer-first marketing: generously giving people the information they need so that they feel good and armed and ready to make decisions and solve their problems.
Dan Brackett: It’s something that search engines reward, as well. They want to know if you’re providing helpful, fresh, current content. It’s the best of both worlds because you’re getting the traffic benefit and helping the consumer. Everybody wins. That’s the direction we’re leaning and I’m excited to be a part of it.
Christine Schrader: Besides motorcycles, what else do you do outside of work that makes you a better marketer?
Dan Brackett: I am an avid reader of search blogs and ad blogs. I really enjoy staying current and up-to-date with what’s going on in real time across verticals in all things marketing. I think they all interconnect in some way, whether that’s display or paid search or whatever, so you have to stay at least pseudo-current on all varieties of channels.
I also keep up with those things on Twitter. I don’t use Twitter for much else beyond industry-related stuff, motorcycles, and Ohio State football.
It’s exciting to learn from others that are on the ground and have their hands in the data: what they’re seeing in their local search markets, what they’ve tested on their domains, what did or didn’t work. I’ve been able to reach out to some people that usually wouldn’t have any business talking to me, but out of the kindness of their hearts are helpful in certain situations on Twitter, so it’s a great resource.
Christine Schrader: Are there any specific authors or thought leaders or Twitter influencers that you trust if I’m building out my list of people to pay attention to?
Dan Brackett: If you’re looking for specific individuals, follow anybody that’s affiliated with one of the search engines, like John Mueller from Google.
There’s also a few people out there who are kind of the public-facing arm of search engines like Danny Sullivan. You can read between the lines of the tweets and learn a lot about either what’s upcoming or what the intent is, so that’s really interesting as far as individuals go.
Thought leaders-wise, I don’t really follow people who are talking heads just for the sake of being talking heads. I really like following people who have some hand in the data for a client or their own site and are still doing some of the work.
Christine Schrader: Do you have any specific songs or music that you recommend to pump up other SEOs and digital marketers? What gets you doing the risky business dance and saying let’s get marketing?
Dan Brackett: I listen to a really wide range of music genres, but there is a time and a place for a good pump up song. That’s a necessity.
Waiting for the End by Linkin Park. That’s a good go-to. And you can’t ignore a good crescendo like the beginning of Thunderstruck by AC/DC or Kickstart My Heart by Motley Crue. Method Man & Redman had a killer song from the late 90s, early 2000s, called Da Rockwilder.
Christine Schrader: I have Linkin Park in my head now, so let’s go to our final question as all the lights descend upon you in the reality show studio of this conversation. What is the weirdest yet work-appropriate thing you’ve googled?
Dan Brackett: My safe answer is some weird and obscenely long variant using search operators like site:domain.com, something really long to get to a specific result in the SERP. You know you’ve done well when Google says “we think you might be a robot”.
But in my agency days, I did have an adult client so my search history was really off the wall when we were looking at some of the product names or specific campaigns.
Christine Schrader: When you go home and you have to say, honey, if you look in my search history, let me explain a couple things.
Dan Brackett: Exactly. It was legitimate!