This is my first blog about modern marketing. In this blog, I’ll explain what I consider modern marketing to be and explain why this approach is so effective.
When you ask people what marketing is, they’ll talk about all kinds of things; writing blogs, writing articles for print magazines, newsletters, email marketing campaigns. But for me, building personal brands which by association also promote the company is one of the most relevant to the way that marketing and business is conducted today. It’s very fit for purpose for this modern world.
What is modern marketing?
Modern marketing is all about demonstrating expertise in your marketplace. Building personal brands is a vital part of that.
In years gone by, companies have been ultra-possessive of their content and knowledge, because they see it as the golden egg. Don’t get me wrong, that is absolutely still the case, but there is immense value in sharing some of that information and knowledge with potential clients. In my experience, any risks of a company using that information going off and doing it on their own are far outweighed by the sales that can be generated by taking this approach.
More forward-thinking companies get this concept and use it as an important part of their marketing mix. They recognise that putting their expertise out there is a way of advertising without having to pay for it. There are various low cost of disseminating expert content once you produce it.
How we discovered this concept at Cake
As a company, Cake naturally fell into this approach to marketing, before we realised its value and potential. It started with certain members of our team writing books, back in the early days. This evolved into blogs, again in the early days of blogging. Then members of our team started talking at user groups and giving internal talks. As they grew in confidence, they started to give conference talks, speaking to 500-600 people sometimes.
Now, each of those facets of sharing expert content contributed to those team members building their own personal brands. Ultimately, they became a known name in their area of expertise, which is absolutely brilliant for them as an individual and I’ll come on to why shortly.
The benefits to the company are also huge because, by association, the company becomes well-known through your many team members who are building their personal brands. We recognised this and made it a strategy within Cake.
It was even something we talked about when we interviewed people for a job. We explained that we had this policy of encouraging people to build their personal brands in various ways. We did that in such a way that even some of the least confident people could ease into it, but also made it clear it wasn’t compulsory.
The first step was always to encourage someone to give an internal talk to their peers. We called these sessions ‘lunch and learns’. There might only be 15 – 20 colleagues there and we’d make a point of buying pizza for everyone who attended. They’d all get lunch, listen to an interesting talk and learn something.
This was a great way of introducing people to this way of thinking and giving them the confidence to take the next step. That next step might be giving an external talk at a user group, where you’re not only talking to some of your colleagues but also to people from other companies who are interested in the same technologies. That builds your confidence again and then you might decide to write some blogs. Those blogs could generate positive feedback and initiate conversations with people you’ve never met before because they have the same shared interests as you.
You might build up a following for your blog and then take that confidence and expertise to conferences. If you’re good at this kind of stuff, you’ll even start getting invited to speak at conferences. At that point, you know you’ve built a really strong personal brand.
The benefits of becoming a known name
As an individual, there are many benefits to becoming a known name in your area of expertise. At this point, you could get a job anywhere because people in your industry know how good you are because you’ve shared your expertise. By building your personal brand, you’ve essentially created a highly effective virtual CV that showcases your expertise.
But this isn’t only about employment prospects. Becoming a known name in your industry is good for your mental wellbeing because you feel appreciated and have an opportunity to make a difference. There’s nothing better than giving a talk that people genuinely find really interesting and helpful. It’s really rewarding when people come up to you afterwards to talk more about what you’ve discussed, or to congratulate you. All of this helps develop your confidence and leads to a healthy ego.
Make sure people want to stay
Of course, as a business, this might seem risky. Giving your team members a platform that could see them being poached by recruiters may seem counter-intuitive. But what you have to remember is that if you have the right culture and ethos as a company, people are going to want to stay with you.
They might put their heads above the parapet and get more attention from recruiters, but if your team members are good then they will be getting calls from recruiters regardless. What you have to do, as a business, is make it attractive for your employees to stay with you. Giving them this platform to build their personal brand is part of that. In my experience, people are really grateful for having that opportunity.
When I say that you need to make sure your company is attractive enough that people want to stay, I’m not only talking about money. Of course, money comes into it, but it’s about more than how much you pay people. It’s about the ethos of your company, the kinds of projects you work on, the customers you work with, the equipment you provide and the overarching culture you have at your organisation. By making sure your culture is set up in the right way, people won’t want to leave.
The benefits to your bottom line
Of course, there are significant business benefits to taking this modern marketing approach. At Cake, encouraging our team to build their personal brands allowed us to generate sales without needing a sales team.
Not only did we receive incoming sales enquiries, but our expertise was never in doubt during those the commercial conversations. We weren’t having to sell ourselves and our expertise to potential clients because they already knew they wanted to work with us. The conversations were about whether we could fit them into our schedule and what the commercial terms would be. Those were the only hurdles we had to get over.
In a sense, building personal brands also acts as a filter for your sales enquiries and this means that the enquiries you do get are generally very high quality, because people already know exactly what you do and what you’re capable of as a business.
This is far from the only commercial benefit. When clients know about the expertise within your team upfront, it makes it easier to command a reasonable day rate because your company is in demand. Supply and demand might dictate that instead of charging £500 a day you can charge £700 a day. That’s all possible because of the way in which you’ve disseminated the expertise in your company.
I believe that adopting this modern marketing approach can transform your company. Within six months of starting these activities, they can start to have a significant positive effect. Within two years, I would say that you won’t need much in the way of other marketing or sales activity other than to keep pushing that ethos around building personal brands and really bake that into your company culture. Doing that will generate all the growth and sales you’re likely to need on an ongoing basis.
Recruiting becomes easier
Another positive strategic byproduct of this approach is the quality of the job applicants and enquiries you receive as a business. I’m not only talking about speculative enquiries, where someone sends you a CV on the off chance, but also about the applicants you get for jobs that you post.
Much like with prospective clients, prospective employees will have read about what you do. They’ll understand how technical you are, what kinds of projects you work on and what technologies you work with. That means when they apply for a job with you, they’re not doing it blindly on the off chance, they’re doing it with real purpose. They’re excited about having the opportunity to join your company, work on your projects and with your clients.
It’s another filter and one that makes recruiting much easier. You’ll not only garner interest from high-quality applicants, but you’ll also receive more applications because of the reputation you’re building.
This also ties back into the concept of building your culture and creating a really positive vibe at your organisation. This is positive internally as well as externally. In fact, one of the things we found at Cake was that our clients really wanted to understand how we did that. They’re a business too and they face the same recruitment problems as everyone else. It’s about differentiating yourself from other organisations in the same space. Our clients were particularly interested in how we did that and how they could apply our approach to their business.
Creating a community
Interestingly, we also heard from recruiters who were interested in how we attracted such high-quality applicants. They couldn’t approach it in quite the same way as us because of the different nature of their business, but they recognised the importance of the technical community.
This was positive for the health of the technical community as a whole because other companies started to get involved and were willing to put money into that community, whether through the sponsorship of user groups or within conferences. Seeing other organisations putting the time and effort into organising things for that community was another really nice strategic byproduct.
One eye on the future
One other strategic byproduct is that building personal brands and putting your expertise out there in this way can get you noticed by potential acquirers. This can be very helpful if your endgame is to be acquired. At Cake, that wasn’t why we did this, but in reality, our eventual acquirer followed us for four years before they made an offer for the company. It wasn’t something we planned, but it worked out really well. It’s always worth considering that kind of future outcome.
How to start using modern marketing in your business
As with any marketing activity, you’ll need a bit of upfront investment. But I would say that modern marketing is more about investing time and effort than money. You also need to be patient. If you pay for Google ads, for instance, you’ll probably get instant results but it’s going to cost you money on an ongoing basis. Over the long term, you’re not building anything permanent. It’s a ‘here and now’ marketing philosophy.
I’m not saying that this approach isn’t useful. It may even be a helpful way to supplement the first six months you put into this philosophy of growing that culture of building personal brands within your organisation. But once you get the momentum going with modern marketing, and you maintain that momentum by baking it into your company culture, it will just grow and grow. The more people you get behind you, the more it builds.
If you’re setting up a new business, put building personal brands at the centre of your marketing philosophy. I’m currently setting up two businesses and it’s the approach I’m taking. That means before we announce the launch of these companies, the main people involved in each of them are beginning to build a personal brand. You’re reading an output of this right now.
I’m talking to you through this blog and hopefully, you’re enjoying it. Hopefully, you’ll read more of my blogs and learn who I am and what I do, so that when I do announce these companies and what we’re doing, there’s already a strong platform to launch from. I think having this platform is vital for startups.
Entrepreneurs who want to prepare for the launch of their startup in a modern way need to start building their personal brand at least six months in advance. Get other key members of your team to do this as well.
I would add one caveat to this blog and say that this concept of building personal brands isn’t for everybody. Not everyone wants to write blogs, do a podcast, speak at conferences and put themselves out there, particularly in the software development world. However, if you can get a third of your company behind you in doing this and give them time to follow this philosophy, then it will be really healthy for your business and help you get off on the right foot.
This approach isn’t for everybody, but for most startups, I think this is very appropriate – and not only in the technical world. You can apply this approach anywhere. In fact, the two companies I’m starting at the moment aren’t technical yet we will use our personal brands to make an immediate impact when they are launched. Watch this space….