INTERVIEW WITH LIANE GRIMSHAW, SUPAREAL
Inbound and content marketing agency SupaReal specialises in complex B2B products and services. On a mission to put the human back into marketing, Liane Grimshaw launched the business in 2014 with big ambitions, and hasn’t looked back since.
With over 20 years experience in the industry, Liane is all too familiar with the high and lows of agency life - but believes that, with a full-frontal approach - one that focuses on meaning, authenticity and employee wellbeing - anything is possible.
What inspired you to set up SupaReal in 2014?
Although I’d been in the industry a long time; working in senior roles at agencies, and actually running the agency in some cases, I’d never had my own company. So that was the key instigator. Having done a lot of successful things for people, and having worked as a business coach too (in the agency sector), I just thought it had all come full circle, and that it was time to – excuse this phrase – eat my own dog s**t (eruption of laughter on the phone at this point).
So, there was that - but there was also the fact that I’ve seen a lot in this industry - a lot of good things, such as the way the digital marketing field has evolved – in fact, how the marketing industry has evolved. I’ve also seen a lot of bad things, in terms of how agencies can be run, how people are treated, and so on.
At the end of the day, we are people businesses and our knowledge and skills are core to that. I just really believe that the way you run a company is not like a sweatshop. My team are so important to me - as important as my clients, in terms of the way they deserve to be treated. I want to prove that I could build and grow a commercially successful business in this industry, but do it in a way that includes investing in the growth of the people within it.
The name ‘SupaReal’ too – it’s about being authentic and being truthful – and it’s a fact that there’s nowhere to hide online. You can’t pretend you’re something you’re not anymore. We’re all so ‘connected’ these days: referrals, reviews, etc - we’re far more well informed and do far more research before buying or trusting anything.
With the company name, it’s also about doing more than content marketing for a client. We often go into high expertise/high knowledge B2B firms, and as we begin working on a strategy for them, we end up ‘opening up’ the company (like a can opener!) and getting them to ask themselves some meaningful questions. We get them to question the purpose of things they already do, or want to do. It’s because we need them to look at how they market themselves from the inside out. It can sometimes be tricky, because inbound/giving away value in content is not something some of the more ‘traditional’ businesses are comfortable with. They worry about competitors and giving away business secrets.
I like SupaReal’s ‘no fluff, no nonsense’ tone of voice on the website – what prompted this writing style?
I think marketing can get itself caught up in over-expressing things sometimes. There’s always a fancy new word or some jargon – even from agencies – where you get to the end of the sentence they’ve written, and you go “WHAT?” … “What does that mean?”. There’s a real need for plain speaking when it comes to content.
You asked me about the origins of SupaReal - our very purpose is “Make it meaningful.” This statement flows through everything we do; all our outputs, and how we run as a company. Our content’s tone of voice basically boils back down to that. We’re trying to engage human beings, no matter what content form it’s in, or who it’s for – you’re trying to engage another human being, so that they then come away having taken some value and meaning from what they’ve read or seen. It could be what they think of you as a business, or something which then prompts them to take an action - making them into a customer, an advocate, or an influencer – whatever it might be.
Most agencies are absolutely crap at marketing themselves. They’ll write a blog about a charity bike ride they’ve done – that’s nice, but realistically, as a potential client, what is that telling me about who you are - other than you’re a nice bunch of people?
I’d say this to agencies: share your knowledge, share your expertise – and make it relevant to what you do, and who you do it for. Be useful. Give people value. Help, don’t sell. Practice, don’t preach!
Get rid of the fluff and say what you mean, and also: admit when you don’t know something! Being a bit vulnerable is more credible, and draws people to you a lot more - compared to wrapping something up in a big bow when it doesn’t mean anything. If you are honest about what you are crap at, then it’s human nature to believe you when you tell people what you’re good at.
To this end, we try and see ourselves as the no.1 client when it comes to marketing ourselves. It’s constantly on my mind - right now, I feel a bit frustrated because we’ve not published a blog post for a couple of weeks, and I can feel that missing! It’s because we’re busy, and that’s what happens at agencies; doing your own marketing drops to the bottom of the list, whereas it should be at the top – all of the time. Don’t worry., we’re on it and sorting that issue out!!
How do you see content marketing evolving over the next couple of years, if at all?
I think my first point would be that content marketing has always been there. It’s just taken different guises. Back when I worked as a marketer for a cinema chain in the mid ‘90s for example, we launched a customer magazine called Blast – containing content about films, actors and what was coming out soon.
But I think these days, content marketing IS marketing – full stop. It’s everything, because it’s not just what you’re saying at the beginning of someone’s journey with your business; it absolutely runs through all your activity as a business.
People don’t always acknowledge this though, and think ‘content marketing’ – oh… blogs! Blogs are incredibly important – they’re almost like the bedrock of what you’re saying to your audiences, but I think people forget content runs through everything a business projects about themselves.
In terms of where it’s going – it’s going wherever human behaviour’s going. So, what I mean by that is, however we’re engaging – through whatever format, on whatever device, that’s where content marketing is going.
But you still need a good authentic story no matter how and where you’re telling it. That will never change, But you do have to be yourself...as Oscar Wilde said…”because of everybody else is taken.”
Hopefully over time, content marketing will become more of a respected discipline in terms of understanding how to engage people online, how to tell a story effectively, and how to get your content in front of the right people in a natural and meaningful way. This is going to need paid media though I’m afraid, because I don’t think we can avoid that. However, let’s not see it as advertising per se, as what you are promoting should still offer value to the audience instead of a pure sales push.
There are tons of content marketing agencies out there now. Do you think there’s enough room for everyone in the marketplace?
It’s just like saying ‘is there enough room for marketing agencies’, forgetting ‘content’ for a minute - because marketing agencies will be using content in one way or another.
I think it boils down to agencies effectively positioning their services at clients. So for example, at SupaReal, we make it clear that we work best with B2B companies offering a complex product or service.
Normally it falls into one of two camps in terms of our clients. Either they’re an entrepreneurial business and we’re dealing with the owners who have got a consultancy - sometimes involving technology. But we also deal with big companies who have large marketing teams - they’re just a bit behind the curve when it comes to content marketing, so we spend time helping them update and transform their practices and processes.
My point is, I don’t think you can just say ‘we’re a content marketing agency’ – a content marketing agency for who? How? Why? It could mean anything – it’s not focused enough. For example, writing for a fashion ecommerce site is very different to writing for a financial services institution.
Lastly, what advice would you give to someone new to a career in content marketing?
The first thing I’d say to someone is ‘make sure you’re a good writer’, because no matter what form the content takes, you need to be a good writer.
In my team, I get everyone to read a book by Ann Handley called Everybody Writes. One of my main writers has a degree in creative writing, and he’s exceptional – his writing style when he first joined though was very prose, very... long…sentences…
…and I remember just throwing that book at him, and saying ‘read this’. It changed his writing overnight – so I think: one, read that book, and also see writing as a craft which you need to continue to hone over time.
I would also suggest that people need to ‘think beyond words’, because the visual side of content marketing is incredibly important. In fact, I’ve made sure that my team have equipped themselves with at least some graphic design skills so that they can create some of our visuals in-house and we’re not reliant on an external designer for every little visual thing. Some things are quite simple to put together, and can be done by a content writer.
And also, writing outside of your job – blogging about something you’re passionate about – have your own community, write for Medium, write for Linkedin, run your own blog. Exercise your passion and skills, and see what you can get out of it.
You can download Supareal's recently-launched eBook: Blog, Sweat and Tears: The no-nonsense guide to crafting your next B2B blog post, here.
More about SupaReal, here.