Interview with James Parks, Head of Marketing at Acton ADU
James Parks has been a serial startup professional for over six years, wearing hats like founder, chief executive officer, chief operations officer, market validator, researcher, product designer, UX/UI designer, talent sourcer, fundraiser, acquisition negotiator, and multi-disciplinary stratego. Currently, he is the Head of Marketing at Acton ADU a company that specializes in designing, navigating, and building personalized Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) for homeowners that want to benefit from a long-term family housing and investment plan.
Your journey as a marketing professional
Please take us through your journey as a marketing professional. Also, can you add a few interesting experiences you had in these years?
My career path is a bit atypical, I think. I started off as a comic book writer (I still am today) and became an early stage business strategist with Kaizen Creative Partnership, and now, Head of Marketing at Acton ADU.
Early in my career, I was a startup guy. I worked with a ton of early-stage companies, crafting stories and building products rich with the purpose for a wide variety of markets and industries: Everything from SMB marketing and video dating to AR/VR apps, craft beer, vegan breakfast shakes and even consulted companies from garage startups to Fortune 50 enterprises.
Lots of different industries, lots of different challenges, but if there was one core truth that I learned, was that whatever the vision or product, there was always the same elements that made for a successful brand and marketing organization. For me, that element is story, story backed by customer research, by a team’s united vision, and ultimately a product that is differentiated in such a way that it stands on its own, as a whole new category.
What is the importance of:
- Innovation in marketing
- Following conventional marketing strategies
Can you suggest how to maintain a balance between the two?
Innovation in marketing is happening every day and from my perspective, there are new tools and tricks being developed and tested all the time–and that’s very exciting. But the core elements of what compels customers to make decisions and purchase products has remained fundamentally the same. Customers have pain and find the product that provides them the most benefit, whatever those benefits or magic is, it must solve their pain. And that pain varies by product and industry. So, picking and choosing your “conventional” marketing strategies should be waited towards what compels customers to choose your solution to their problem, and then innovate how to better reach and service that prospective customer.
Please tell us about some of your most innovative marketing initiatives.
There are lots of stories I could share, across several different industries from virtual reality, to entertainment, beer, organic food, and even publishing–but the most top of mind is our work at Acton ADU.
Some background. In January of 2017, a major shift in building policy occurred in California, essentially empowering homeowners to build accessory homes to create more affordable housing and really make an impact on the growing housing crisis in California. As such, Acton was primed to leap out ahead in terms of our offering, as well as expand the awareness of the Acton brand.
Acton ADU is an accessory home builder, specifically Accessory Dwellings Units (ADUs) in the Silicon Valley in California. These are the backyard homes and cottages that many homeowners invest in for family, kids, or increased home value and passive income. Acton ADU has been a successful, soup to nuts architecture and home remodeling brand for 30 years, and a trusted partner for homeowners. And we’d clearly identified a specialization that we wanted to promote.
That said, our primary initiative, one that took great levels of planning, was to not just grow our awareness and conversion rates but to learn and expand our understanding of our customer, the market, and how we could successfully position ourselves as leaders. After all, Acton ADU is about more than building a box in a homeowners backyard. Acton ADUs are a total, long-term family housing solution, essentially a global look at the motivations, smart design practices for multigenerational homes, complete navigation of the maelstrom of California ADU regulations, and ultimately a professionally managed build and warranty of really good work.
So how did we innovate? We started simple. Before developing sophisticated funnels and geeking out on the latest marketing toys and practices, we talked with customers. We learned what really motivated them to build ADUs, and ejected our assumptions about the market. From there we dug deeper, and deeper until we learned how to approach these customers, and only then did we choose which tools and channels would be ideal for reaching them.
In your opinion, how important are software/ tools for a marketing team?
Very important. Marketing is a big job and tools make it manageable and repeatable and trackable, no matter how big your team.
When I’m looking at just technology and tools, for me, automation and targeting are critical. For example, coordinating a sales organization with all of the marketing activities is important. The ability to track a customer through a funnel to ultimately provide a better experience and value is a must.
I lean towards CRM tools like Hubspot, or others, that integrate the whole funnel, with a focus on automating value-based content like newsletters and social media posts that are relevant. It’s all about understanding your personas of your customers and crafting and curating value for them.
How according to you should an SMB go about choosing the right software for their need?
It entirely depends on the objectives of the business, but there are a few questions I always ask myself:
- How will I research and identify our prospective customer’s personas?
- How will I track a customer through our funnel?
- How will I measure the performance of each decision stage in the funnel?
- How will I keep up with and reduce my workload for sharing value (blogs, email, social, etc.)?
Three simple tenements, but very important to me when I’m looking at software solutions to get things done.
What are some of the important marketing software you can vouch for?
Hubspot has been proven, a valuable tool for me. I’ve also been a big fan of social tools like Buffer, and story curation tools like Feedly or GetPocket.
Another tool/service I frequently employ is UserTesting.com
Advice for the marketing community
What primary marketing channel should young marketing individuals focus on, at the beginning of their career, to get a holistic view of marketing? or Your advice for young marketing professionals?
The way I’ll frame my answer is to look at the channels that you believe (hopefully with some research and meaningful evidence) will be the most fruitful for the audience you’re trying to attract. For example, it’s easy to say: “Hey, it’s all about social media!” but for many, many markets and products, channels like Direct Mail are extremely effective. As a young marketer myself, I definitely see the appeal of an all-digital focus: cost, targeting, easy to track conversions at different stages…but in reality, that’s all achievable with other channels too.
In short, look at everything and how it applies to your business, your product, your objectives. There are no silver bullet channels, think holistically and use a good mix.
What are some of the learning resources/books that you would like to recommend to our audience?
There are a lot. But I think the two that jump on what I’m excited about these days are Contagious by Jonah Berger and Play Bigger by Al Ramadan, Dave Peterson, Christopher Lochhead, and Kevin Maney.
I’d say Play Bigger really works its way into not only my passion for early-stage ideas and the challenges of startups, but also my attention to the importance of research, positioning, and storytelling in marketing.