Mike Stratta knows he’s being watched on the Internet. In fact, he knows everyone is. It’s what the future of advertising is based upon.
“The moment a consumer searches online is the inflection point for any brand because it carries intent,” Stratta, founder and chief executive officer of search marketing firm Arcalea, explains. “It’s the most important moment in digital marketing.”
That intent—along with lots of other information—is gathered every time a search is conducted online. Arcalea uses that data to connect clients with their optimal audience.
“What we do is in the realm of search marketing, but search marketing as a field touches every aspect of a consumer’s journey online,” Stratta says. “All of the data that exists about you tells the world who you are and what you like. And then it’s used to market to you in nearly every way.”
With roots in information security, Stratta has plenty of insight into the way the web works. “I’ve always been aware that there are layers of data present in every experience online, which are totally invisible,” he says. “This fabric of data is just there. The key is how to activate it to your benefit.”
Stratta began his career at a security consulting firm called Internet Security Systems, which has since been acquired by IBM. They would perform security posture analysis, penetration testing, network hardening and forensics, and managed security services. To put it simply, he understood security.
“There has always been a challenge for brands to leverage their presence online,” Stratta says. “One of the key components of that was making sure companies’ networks were safe. I gravitated toward the technical challenges, gamification, and rapid evolution inherent in IT security. There is a constant conflict, a battle between sides which raises the stakes for all players.”
Stratta would learn the weaknesses of clients’ security infrastructure through a process of “fingerprinting” the architecture and reporting the findings. “I’d present to the CIO and say, ‘Here’s your security posture and vulnerabilities, here’s how to bypass the firewall, and here are the tools to do it,’” Stratta explains. “They’d often hire us on the spot.”
Eventually, he realized that this invisible fabric could also be a place where brands could set themselves apart from the competition. In 2003, he left IBM to launch a marketing agency called LimeGreen. The agency serviced some of the biggest brands in the world, including Jim Beam, Kia Motors, and the McDonald’s Corporation, to name a few. Working campaigns at that level proved invaluable, but sometimes larger brands take time to adapt. “Digital changes rapidly. The pace even three years ago is slow compared to today. And the big brands are not built for that pace of change,” he explains.
That’s why he decided to change focus. Stratta sold his agency in 2015 and created Arcalea to systematically assess, prioritize, and leverage consumer information to build strategic marketing campaigns online. They say that “Success is now a Science” for a reason.
“A battle is taking place in this very real, invisible equity online,” he says. “Often when the lightbulb goes on with clients, I know they get it. But it’s immediately accompanied by confusion and then dread as new questions arise.”
Stratta explains that the algorithms and rules are always changing, which reminds him of the information security space. “We borrow heavily from the infosec world,” he says. “We bridge the two together in this new form of forensic marketing. The only way to win is by understanding the rules as they evolve. Many brands don’t even know the game is being played.”
As an example, a decade ago, stuffing websites full of keywords was enough to gain a top listing in a web search. Now, Google is becoming so sophisticated that you not only have to mimic the traits of success online, but you also have to walk the walk. “There’s no faking it anymore. A brand’s posture online is, for all intents and purposes, all that matters,” Stratta says.
And that’s just looking internally. When brands look to court consumers online, leveraging this data is literally game-changing. “Bots and programmatic advertising are just two examples of the expanding universe of application,” he says. “It’s no longer just the website and search, but every single facet of a consumer’s traits are being mapped, cataloged, and activated upon by brands looking to connect with those consumers. Businesses not investing in this today may not be around in five years. It’s that important.”
Stratta should know. He’s spent his career analyzing this space. However, he is quick to point out that Arcalea clients enjoy more expertise than just his own. The agency’s focus combines search marketing with paid advertising, search engine optimization, inbound marketing, web analytics, business intelligence, and content marketing. Stratta’s combination of brand experience and background in security and search is prized by clients. Few in the search marketing realm have his perspective. “In information security, we can look at data layers beneath communications and see things others can’t,” he says. “At the same time, I’ve worked with some of the biggest brands in world. We bring that experience to organizations who are gated for rapid change and rapid growth. That’s where we have the biggest impact.”
Take it from someone who has long known not only that the the game exists—he also knows how to play it.