Like everyone else on the planet, I didn’t expect to be celebrating my agency’s nine year anniversary in the midst of a global pandemic. As I look back on our successes and struggles, I feel great about what we’ve accomplished and know that we have the strength to survive and thrive during the tumultuous times ahead.
We started SoFab to address a gap we saw in brand marketing services and created an agency that could provide the total package by offering high quality strategy, design, and technology from a one-stop shop. The past decade has seen tremendous growth on the heels of the last recession, online shopping and mobile device usage have skyrocketed, and consumer habits will never be the same. And now we find ourselves in the unchartered territory of navigating the global standstill brought on by Covid19.
But I have confidence that what we’ve learned over the nine years of running a successful digital agency will carry us through these times as well. Want to help navigate your own business through this crisis? Read on for concrete steps and plans.
Step 1: Stay focused
We got sidetracked for a brief period by developing our own social content aggregator. At the time, it seemed like a great idea— this was something our clients were clamoring for and would provide us with an ongoing revenue stream.
Building a new product was hard but finding customers was even harder. And running a high-touch customer business and a SaaS product from the same P&L was crazy—both businesses had very different needs and profit structures. After learning that lesson, we spun off the SaaS side of the business into its own entity with one of our founding partners to run it.
This experience helped us be successful in working with many other startups—like Catalina Labs, which was recently acquired—as we understand their need for agility balanced with structure.So, step 1 is to stay focused. Once you’ve found your strength, stick to it. You can grow from your place of strength and augment it with complementary services, but these should never distract you or take you away from your bread and butter.
Step 2: Keep learning and optimizing
When you have a winning strategy, it’s tempting to repurpose it for a new market or climate. Resist this temptation. Yes, there are operational cost savings to reusing work or putting forward previously shelved concepts. But the carbon copy of a winning strategy quickly becomes ineffective when market conditions or customer needs change. One size does not fit all. Don’t sacrifice relevance for efficiency.
We’ve seen this firsthand. When our client Nespresso was rolling out in the U.S., they were instinctively leveraging the same formula and assets that had proven successful in Europe and Asia. But what European audiences perceive as desirable and luxurious can come across as cold and distant for the American consumer. Recognizing this, we helped Nespresso optimize their brand imagery and increased their brand affinity in the U.S.
Having a static strategy that doesn’t allow for experimentation or creativity maximizes your efficiency without guaranteeing results. Be humble, be curious—stay hungry, stay foolish—and keep learning and optimizing. This is the best way to future-proof your business.
Step 3: Give (in order to get)
Responding to customer needs is crucial for survival. And how a brand responds to those needs determines the quality of their customer relationships. In order to move beyond transactions and to build an ongoing relationship, a brand needs to earn their customers’ trust—which is hard to earn and easy to lose.
To nurture solid customer relationships that materialize into recurring revenue, a brand must first give to the customer. Ask yourself: how are you adding value to your customers’ lives right now? Are you providing them convenience or agility? Are you educating them? Are you connecting them?
Eight years ago, StubHub was struggling to avoid the fate of being an eBay marketplace. They needed to move beyond merely facilitating a ticket transaction. After carefully reviewing the customer journey of event goers, we created and implemented a series of strategies to add value to the customer experience. From promoting pre-game spots and venue-specific information to connecting users with post-event transportation, we helped surprise and delight customers through their entire event-going experience. These initiatives increased customer retention and lifetime value.
When NTT launched their new cybersecurity division, businesses were just starting to decipher potential online threats to their businesses. To help educate prospects, we created an online magazine that highlighted existing threats per industry, showcasing companies that had been attacked and discussing the resulting impact on their business. This allowed many readers to substantiate a business case for the need for cybersecurity services in their own companies. The magazine served as a lead generator for NTT with a 5% conversion rate to customers.
What are you giving to your customers and prospects? Is it what they need? To be able to get, you must first give.
Step 4: Make it accessible
Making information accessible leads to better user experiences for all customers, period. We first noticed the impact this can have on a business when we helped Tealeaf, a customer analytics platform, make their product more accessible to a non-technical audience. The resulting interface update—which was later patented— played a key role in their acquisition by IBM a year later.
The majority of interactions customers have with brands are now digital. If these digital interactions are not accessible, your market size is impacted; in addition, it’s unfair and unlawful.
We consider this to be more than a business opportunity—it’s the chance to hire a more diverse set of people who will help bring different perspectives into the products a company creates. We all need to practice inclusive design and work towards making our digital touchpoints ADA compliant.
Make it accessible, no excuses.
Step 5: Define and align with your values
We were always clear about our value proposition for clients but it took some time for us to outline the values and guiding principles behind our work.
As a branding expert, I know how important it is to define these values. Once you have a clear understanding of your core values, you can incorporate them throughout your business, processes, and work culture. But in our early years our top concerns were the viability of our business and securing new business.
Once we had a chance to step back and define our values, we used them as criteria for aligning business opportunities with areas where we wanted to focus and grow. For example, we always knew we wanted to be a catalyst for change and have a positive social impact through our work.
Our very first client was the New Orleans Business Alliance; we helped establish awareness for New Orleans’ official economic development organization and bring much needed capital to post-Katrina NOLA.
After this success, we aligned with other businesses with positive social impacts, like Farm From A Box, a toolkit for sustainable agriculture, and My Money My Future, a fintech on a mission to alleviate the wealth gap for women and minorities. When our heads and hearts align, we’re able to create our best work—as proven by the awards our work has garnered working with these clients.
This last step is essential, so don’t skip it. Understand and operationalize your values. This clarifies your intent and provides more transparency for everyone, keeping people engaged. Align your work with your values and you will create your best work.
These experiences have shaped our path and will help us as we forge our future. Though the last few months have been challenging for everyone, we’re keeping these lessons top of mind to help guide us. Did you find this useful? Let us know by dropping a line.