Abacus Co-founder Jeff Goldenberg on Building An Advertising Agency Fit For The Future

Samantha Schleese

by Samantha Schleese

Published: March 25, 2020

Though it started as a friendly conversation in 2015, Abacus has grown to become an agency passionate about bringing the worlds of content, data and strategy together to create mobile-first solutions for brands.

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Here, Co-Founder Jeff Goldenberg sat with our intern Jacky Brule to discuss the story behind Abacus’s beginnings, how brands should be solving big marketing problems, and why the future is already here.

What’s the story behind Abacus, and how did the brand get started?

“In 2015 Pete [Reitano] and I met at a conference and started talking about what we thought advertising would look like in the year 2020. When we had come to a conclusion, we recognized that the current advertising world wasn’t prepared for 2020, so we set out to create a new kind of performance-focused ad agency that aimed to reconnect agencies with businesses through bottom line performance, and nothing else. Abacus believes the future is the man AND the machine, and looks to unify old school and new school advertisers.”

What's the #1 piece of advice you would give to someone who is just starting out in the marketing field?

“If you get a chance to work at a startup, it will likely afford you the opportunity to work on a bunch of different marketing activities and get a lot of exposure. Once you understand how marketing departments work, I recommend figuring out what you want to be the best at, and focusing on that. In that stage of your career, specialization will benefit you greatly. Finally, when you’re ready to take on leadership roles, you can expand your focus back to the general. Be the change and don’t settle for excuses.”

Abacus grows start-ups and helps big brands solve big marketing problems. What is your top strategy when helping a brand do that?

“Buyer personas have fallen out of favour because so few brands did them properly. So many creatives have abandoned the process instead of focusing on improving it. Each well-crafted buyer persona could be the starting point for a huge channel of content specific for THAT persona, at EACH stage of the buyer journey. Thinking multi-persona, multi-platform and multi-journey allows you to do better than anyone else.”

What top technique do you use to generate creative ideas?

“Understand the context of the platform that the creative will reside on. Only through the intimate understanding of the context will you have the chance to produce incredible, modern, creative ideas.”

What research tool would you recommend to forecast marketing trends?

Google Trends, maybe? The real problem is that seismic change in any industry is more likely to be the by-product of seismic changes in other, more fundamental industries, so it’s very hard for most to predict what will happen. Decide which brands are doing it right and study everything they do. I joke that the best marketers in the world show you every day what to do. You just need to listen.”

Abacus is known for helping clients create iconic ads. What would you say are three main features that all iconic ads include?

“It needs to get the mobile-user to stop scrolling. That’s the biggest challenge.

It needs to tell its story quickly, knowing that the audience isn’t captive anymore.

It needs to be human, empathetic, personal and vulnerable on social.”

Abacus is known for using Facebook and Instagram Ads. What are the top criteria for an ad to produce a high ROI?

“A ton of testing. You never know what is going to work (and what is going to scale) without rigorous testing. But that comes with a caveat or two. Firstly, only test things that have a chance to make a meaningful difference. Second, be very careful to change only one thing at a time. Otherwise you won’t know what caused the change. Finally, prioritize your testing so that you’re not testing small things at the expense of big things. Unless you have a TON of traffic, your call-to-action (CTA) button colour won’t double your business.”

For more entrepreneurial insight, check out ThinkHatch founder Emily Foucault’s business goals for March!