Creating an 8 Person Agency By Taking A Holistic Approach To Marketing
When Virginia Case looked at the marketing services that agencies offer their clients, she saw a gap. Read on to see how she took advantage of her unique approach to build her business.
Hi Virginia! Can you give us a short intro to who you are and what are you currently working on?
My name is Virginia Case and I’m the Chief Marketing Fixer and Brand Strategist for Strategic Tactical Marketing - we go by “StraTac” - a portmanteau that brings together both words as a philosophy.
I chose my title because I wanted people to know right from the start that when they were engaging me and my team, they were under the same understanding that “something wasn’t quite working within their business”.
“When I first started, it was me and a virtual assistant. Now, we’ve grown to a team of 8.”
Back when I worked for other agencies, we did a lot of what I call “maintenance marketing” - the stuff you know you need to do to keep things flowing, like SEO and social media. A lot of people bucket this as “inbound”.
As a student of many teachers, I found myself craving a more inclusive and more expansive definition of “marketing”. I discovered User Experience Design and that came the closest to my definition of “what marketing should include in 2020”, but it was still limiting.
While StraTac does do traditional marketing in the sense of sales enablement, demand generation, inbound and outbound marketing - we really excel in deciphering how humans think and helping shape how they’ll respond.
In 2019 I finally put all of my learnings together and I developed a model called “SOME™” - Sales, Operations, Marketing and Employee Engagement, which allowed me to articulate and change the image of what modern marketing is.
Can you break down the SOME model and how it provides value?
SOME™ takes into account many business best practices and puts them into a repeatable process that has proven to help generate lift for clients. Much of our initial work with clients is in consultancy - we are learning who you are, what you’re good at, where you’re vulnerable, and what we can do to help make the greatest impact while staying within the budget you have outlined.
When we begin, we have a hierarchy of priorities and questions we need to answer about Sales, Operations, Marketing and Employees.
- Function - what’s working and isn’t? This goes for messaging, for processes, sentiment, advertising, product or service description.
- Communication - is what you’re trying to express clear to your target audience? Do people “get it” and is it easy for them to grasp why you’re a great choice?
- “Best Practices” - are you following the “rules” when it comes to SEO, to readability, to etiquette, to organizational operations?
- Consistency - knowing that safety is the basic necessity for human motivation - what parts of your business are you conveying that you’re stable, reliable, and consistent? Where do you need to improve? (note: we can all improve in this area)
- Affinity - what do you currently like about what you have going? What don’t you like? What are the brands you like doing?
- Aesthetics - what is attractive to you and to your customer? Who gets to win the beauty battle?
- Budget - what is realistic for you to spend on our services, investments in your business/product/service, your margin padding, and potentially on rewarding your good employees?
We look at these 7 key areas and build a strategy that we can then tactically execute. The work falls into 4 categories that many people are familiar with: Sales Enablement, Demand Generation, Inbound Marketing, and Outbound Marketing.
In short, good branding turns into motivated shoppers which results in increased sales which generates happiness for you and for your team. A profitable company is a happier workplace.
As you can see, we do a lot of our work grounded around psychology. Our campaigns and our analyses are structured around fulfilling an adapted version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
We use what we know about human and animal behaviour to prepare statements that will elicit positive emotion and motivation. It’s all rather geeky and interesting to me pulling together the human/computer/human interactions and the internal/external employee engagements.
Why did you start StraTac?
In honesty, I was motivated to start StraTac because I was tired of being told “no, we can’t do or say that”. It sounds very maverick, but starting StraTac was motivated by wanting to do more than just “marketing” marketing.
I wanted to help people who essentially had marketing problems that were impacted by Sales, Operations and Employees. I knew that the companies I had served didn’t want to focus on these areas, nor did they have the expertise to lend.
In 2017, after working for businesses and agencies for over a decade, I hit a wall and realized if I wanted to make a greater impact on the enterprises I was serving, and if they wanted to hold me accountable to their results, I had to change the script. I had to break the marketing mould. Marketing couldn’t be limited to just emails and brochures. It had to be more than SEO and tradeshows. People have said time and again to “niche down” but I simply refuse. There are too many things StraTac has to share that can help people.
The advice I follow is different from the advice I give on the whole “niche down” thing. I think that you have to prioritize what matters most - and to me, my priority at this point is to make my work and my team’s work interesting, varied, and evolving. No two days are the same for us - and because of that, we have to give up the potential revenue that we could gather from being a “just real estate marketing agency” or a “PPC and Inbound agency”. I prioritize keeping myself and my team constantly learning over easier/faster revenue. I’m still early in my agency life, so that may change over time and as we grow - but for now, it’s working well.
I think the way you avoid having to niche down is knowing what you do well, hiring experts and by relying on people you trust outside your organization to do what you can’t do. We do a lot of things really well and for what we don’t know well, we have StraTac Alliances - individuals and small companies that are experts in their own rights to help us dive deep on the areas we can’t stay on top of. It’s for that reason that we stay out of things like pay per click which is valuable but time consuming and ever evolving.
“In honesty, I was motivated to start StraTac because I was tired of being told ‘no, we can’t do or say that’.”
How have you grown StraTac?
I have grown StraTac primarily by referral. We have landed some project-based clients that have come from the SEO we’ve done for ourselves, but the best fits have been from the referrals clients and colleagues and partners have made. I’ve learned that I prefer the clients that are referred versus the ones that find us. There has to be trust before you can get into the nitty gritty of what we do - and that typically comes from someone you know - not a PPC ad or a web search.
When I went out on my own, I talked to people I knew and told them that I was starting my own agency. I told them I wanted to do things differently. I offered to do all of the “extra” stuff for free and came in with competitive pricing for the tactical marketing elements - such as websites and social media. I offered advice for free and documented progress and successes from the advice we provided that was followed and the results that were generated by our tactical work.
After proving value in the “extras” people started sharing my business cards. I also did a lot of volunteer work for the Tysons Chamber to help get my name out there. When I first started, it was me and a virtual assistant. Now, we’ve grown to a team of 8.
What are the tools of your trade?
The tools of my trade are quite varied.
We’ll start with the easy stuff first. We couldn’t survive without the Google Suite of products. They work seamlessly for sharing and communicating with our clients. From an infrastructure standpoint, we use Google Drive, Slack and Zoom to share and communicate.
We keep track of all projects in Monday.com and give clients access to view our work.
“I’ve learned that I prefer the clients that are referred versus the ones that find us.”
More important than the software and physical computers is the knowledge, skills and experience that comes with each member of the team. Listening is key to our business. We must listen to not only what the client says, but also the way in which they say it. The soft skills each person must possess are empathy, loyalty, multi-tasking, and the ability to manage urgent requests with grace under pressure.
As UX becomes more mainstream and more companies can partake in analyzing their data, I think that more of these great tools will become more cost accessible. I’m looking forward to helping translate that data for clients.
What have been the most helpful or influential resources you’ve learned from?
Jakob Nielsen has been an inspiration when it comes to UXD and for starting my agency, infact I'm a certified expert with the Nielsen Norman Group.
I also have to give a shout out to Blinkist. I really enjoy the app for a quick synopsis of books and for helping me choose which books to invest the time in reading from cover to cover.
Thinkers I look up to are Seth Godin, Simon Sinek, Malcolm Gladwell, Brene Brown, Ann Handley, B.F. Skinner and Martin Seligman.
What advice do you have for someone looking to break into tech or start their own business? Or, what advice would you give yourself when you were getting started?
The advice I would give is “courage”.
One of my favorite quotes is from Charles Bukowski:
“The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”
Have the courage to try. Have the resilience to fail and try again. Have the optimism to believe you can succeed.
One of my other favorite quotes comes from Winston Churchill:
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
The psychological advice I would give my younger self is “it’s ok to try and fail - just keep trying and stop worrying about comparing your success to others.”
The hard skills I wish I’d known sooner - Spanish. We recently moved to Austin, Texas and I wish that I’d learned Spanish instead of French in school.
Was there anyone in particular you want to shout out who helped your career along? An individual, or community?
My parents - each in their own unique ways shaped my passion for what I’m doing. I also want to recognize the highschool I attended - Blair Academy - because they taught me perseverance and how to work hard. While I learned a lot at Carnegie Mellon (undergrad) and at George Mason (master’s degree) - those formative years at Blair had a big impact on my life and how I choose to push boundaries and continue to learn.
Where can we go to learn more about you and your work?
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