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Michael Bonfils: State of Digital Summer School, Learning from the Experts

This summer we are taking you back to school! We are focussing on education in Digital Marketing: what is the best education, what background is important? Questions you will see answered throughout the summer by those you can learn from the best: the experts. Those that already earned their stripes and are now willing to share with you how they got there and what you should do to get that far as well.

In this interview we listen to someone who has had a lot of experience in many different roles, from international search specialist to running a company: Michael Bonfils.

More about Michael here.

Summer School

What type of education did you have?

I studied International Business Marketing and Computer Science.

Is your education related to what you do now?

Absolutely! It’s been a excellent foundation to build experience on.

How did you get into digital marketing?

It was a bet.

michael-bonfilsI finished my education in France, moved to the UK and got a job with a tech company that distributed digital equipment to the middle east and europe. I hated the cold and ended up finding myself in the south of Hungary during the war in Yugoslavia. For a living, I convinced a company that I could create business connections with Eastern European companies with Nato since I was American. While dodging bullets (just kidding…only had one near death incident though), I would utilize the local Universities computers and played around with an inter-college project called Yahoo at around 94-95. It was really cool, had about 50 web pages at the time and 8 directory links. At that point, I was in love.

After a few years, in 1996, I came back to the US and got a boring, low paying job as an assistant to a relocation director for a real estate brand. My job was to help realtors move their clients to different parts of the country and whoever I placed them with, paid a commission, which I facilitated. One of the agents husbands worked for NASA and created a website for his wife, instead of a site about her, he created a site about the city she worked in. This fascinated me, I worked with him to create a web portal that I would then use to market via search engine optimization to get leads for people who wanted to move. It worked out well and I was getting cut of the commission checks.

So, l went to the real estate company and made a bet, that I could actually make a living by digitally marketing their corporate brands site and they would get more exposure then any competitor for no cost. They agreed that if I can win this bet, I would get to keep all of the leads I generated online and therefore the commission. I won the bet and I also made 25 times more a month then my salary. After 8 months of utter shock at what I was doing and making, they nearly fired me, so I quit to become a digital marketer. 🙂

From that point on, I worked at a web portal, a dot-com boom company for a few years called Business.com and started my entrepreneur life September 7, 2001.

Did you need extra schooling? If so, what type of extra schooling did you get?

There was no school on digital marketing, I along with some friends I made doing the same thing I was doing, made the rules and came up with ideas. From SEO tactics (there was no paid search then) to banner ads. It was a frontier, a wild west where we made the rules.

How do you think the state of education in marketing is these days? Do marketers learn what they need to learn?

The state of marketing (digital) at universities I feel is behind. The reason for that is digital marketing changes every 6 months, faster then the school year. Not enough time to print text books and professors have no time to get themselves further ahead. Not saying that its not good, it’s just behind. Marketers need to not only read everything they can, they should also be involved. There are so many tactics and so many different business models to learn from.

How do you feel about online training courses?

I like online training courses as long as there is the ability to practice, to test. A lot of online training courses end up being a list of articles found on the Internet. Having real, practical hands on projects with online training…perfect!

What is your tip for those that want to learn more?

Determine if you are a technical marketer (SEO, Analytics, Programming, Mobile Apps), an artistic marketer (creative, design) a social marketer (community builder, online PR) or a digital strategist (paid search, display, affiliate manager ). When you choose what you love, it will be really easy to learn from that point forward. If you are a terrible programmer, you might not want to focus on being a technical marketer for example. Find your love first.

What resources are best to learn marketing?

Hands on experience, trial and error and courses that are up to date and practical.

What’s the last lesson in marketing you learned?

I learned that you could utilize programmatic real time bidding along with real time creative with a dynamic landing page as a last click when retargeting.

The next step for me is to experiment a correlation with search engine results to see if I can lift paid search CTR using RTB as the attribute for the lift. Kind of nerdy I know, but I love that kind of stuff.

Know about what is changing in marketing!

Keep up with the latest digital marketing developments, views and how-tos through State of Digital’s digest newsletters. Be the first to hear about events, white papers, e-books, webinars, training and more!


Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.