Marketing and the Importance of Being Top of Mind

From the article series on running Raft, a small Amsterdam based design consultancy.

Awareness can mean everything. If you’re a small company and don’t do marketing, start doing marketing.

The simple place to start is to find who you want to target, and start producing relevant and valuable content on who you are and what you do. At the beginning we simply threw out whatever content we thought was interesting. It was random and not very useful. This can be seen in all our channels: website content, podcasts, instagram feed. It was embarrassingly random. None of us had ever done marketing and never understood its power. Therefore, like most areas when we started Raft, we were like kids constantly running around smashing into each other. Then we started to plan. We never got great at it, but slowly we developed planning, relevant content, and valuable content.

For other small companies — especially consulting companies — starting out, it’s important to define who you are targeting. Since you don’t have a product, the content and distribution channels could become very different depending on who you target. For us, our marketing efforts were focused partially on hiring new designers and partially on gaining new clients. For both we found Facebook to be useless, and Linkedin to be the most useful — but I encourage everyone to find what works for them and their business.

I’m saddened it took us nearly two years to understand some of the basics of marketing, and even after four years I would still rate our abilities as poor. We didn’t create content fast enough, and the content wasn’t as relevant as it could have been to the people we wanted. However as with everything, we were failing and learning. Over time content became more targeted and we learned to use it to entice past clients into returning conversations.

Let’s repeat one of the most important lessons we learned in Year 1. It doesn’t matter how talented your team of designers is, no one cares, and no one will care. The people who hire design teams are already so overwhelmed in their normal jobs they aren’t going to go out looking for who is the best. They aren’t going to keep your name on their desk saying to themselves “these chaps were great, I’ll hire them one day”. Your card is in the trash, they already forgot your name, and there are 10 other companies in the Linkedin feed who have your same message. Target your content and make it valuable in solving their problems.

Being top of mind with a message that connects, is all that matters. Do you want to know why that other company with less talented people got the 100K program instead of you? I certainly got curious — so I started asking. One of the top answers was simply, “I forgot”. Being present matters. Messaging matters. This is why marketing matters.

Our first podcasts were recorded in my living room

Here is a simple example that may illustrate this fact. I had been meeting every 3 months with a business lead at a national bank. We had met multiple times for over a year. One day, I found out he had hired another design team to him on his program. The next time we had lunch I asked directly why they hadn’t worked with us. His response shocked me…

“Oh yeah, I’m not sure why I didn’t bring you on…. I guess I just forgot”.

This wasn’t malice. It wasn’t about bill rates. It wasn’t about timelines. It was purely about being top of mind. We did end up working with that team about 3 months later from staying in-touch, but it was a lesson that lost months of work because we simply didn’t stay within this persons line-of-sight.

In an effort to try to produce content and stay top of mind, one of the other founders (Guus) and I started two podcasts. We were able to publish these weekly for years and found our clients would often listen to episodes.

We also dedicated 1/3 of the Raft website to design leadership articles under the title of “Think”. We aimed to publish articles every other week, but many times it could go months without an update. As we wrote articles, we would use them as a way to reconnect with previous and potential clients through sending direct emails. It was a way we could share our value with clients, while also staying top of mind.

Guus recording Lets Fix Things in our new office

In reality, we should have done a lot more, but it’s difficult when you’re also trying to start a company. I do feel we could have done better. We focused too much on perfection, and not enough on sharing. This is why the podcasts ended up being great. They were raw, under-produced, and above all, fun!

What cadence is right for you? That’s up for you to decide, but I suggest at least weekly. If you’re a fan of GaryVee, be prepared to think about how to share content daily. It’s possible, it’s simply about discipline, fun, routine, and finding the right target audience to engage with.

Setting up for Let’s Fix Things at ThingsCon

Examples of our two podcasts (Let’s Fix Things, The Dark Side of Design)

As we progressed with Marketing I noticed more and more that video was popping up on Facebook and Instagram (yes, call me late to this trend). In previous companies I had worked for video had always been this holy grail item. Making a video would take days. We wanted to challenge this. We felt video could be done quickly — very quickly. The problem we saw before was the process and people involved. The post production and perfectionism. When we looked at other small companies producing content on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, these were simple videos with clear messages. It was about fancy production, it was about catching attention and delivering value. Of course decent production doesn’t hurt either.

Thanks to the handy video work of a couple of our amazing designers, we started cranking out videos (for marketing and eventually clients) in less than a day — including script writing, filming, and post production. The key was simply to have a vision and do it. This could sometimes include multiple cameras, angles, and even stabilised camera action— it was all in decisiveness and execution. Like most marketing for companies at Raft’s level — we didn’t need to overthink it, but try and deliver something interesting to the people we were targeting. Stop being perfect, focus on the value, and put the work out.

We started doing video so much for marketing that it transitioned into our client work, and became a staple of our design research work. Perhaps the best video work we did for marketing was a set of interviews from the Thought for Food Summit in Brazil. Guus filmed and edited multiple interviews from 2 cameras in a single day — for an entire week. We ended up with 10+ great interviews, lots of b-roll, and several other promotional videos. We were then able to post those quickly and get attention on social media from potential clients. We ended up using many of the interviews within longer articles we created for the Raft website.

Anyone who tells you video is complex or takes too much time for marketing doesn’t understand how to work with video.

Interviewing the “Style Icon of Syngenta” — Steven Wall — at the Thought for Food Summit in Brazil

If you are starting a small company, going out on your own, or simply reinvigorating your company, I believe marketing is a fundamental piece of your business development strategy. Always being top of mind.

Find your audience, find what is valuable to them, link that to what you do, and start producing. Don’t take too long on production and don’t be a perfectionist. Get content out, be consistent, and be interesting.

Claps are welcomed! We also have more articles on the story of Raft, a small Amsterdam design consultancy.
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Head of Creative at argodesign Amsterdam (