Dr. Amy Osmond Cook on Effective Content Marketing Strategy for your business

October 19, 2022 | Interview

Welcome to Rankwatch’s Marketing Lego thought leader interview. Today we will talk toDr. Amy Osmond Cook, founder of Stage Marketing, about her journey of creating a successful full funnel marketing agency. We also talk about Effective Content Marketing Strategy that helps grow your business.

Hi, everyone. I’m so excited to welcome you all to today’s Marketing Legal Fat Leader interview. My name is Harshit and I’m the director of the business alliance of two amazing marketing SAAS tools Rankwatch and Websignals. We have a very special guest with us today, Dr. Amy Osmond Cook. Amy is the founder of a full-service marketing agency called Ospon Marketing, which is now named Stage Marketing. She’s also CMO of Simpler and Emphasis Company and a regular contributor to big media houses like Daily Herald and Folks. Amy, so happy to have you with us today and welcome aboard.

Thank you so much for having me, Harshit. It is such a pleasure.

Perfect. Amy, please tell us about your journey. What were you like as a child and how did you get to where you are today?

Oh, well, thank you so much. When I was young, I grew up in an entertainment house. My dad was a singer and he travelled with his brothers, and I grew up in a hotel room until the time I was sick. I grew up with the media all around me. I got to see the publicist first hand. I was on TV shows when I was three. I had this amazing experience. And then when I was six years old, my mom said, we’re going to get you an education and we are going to stay home. And so that’s when I quit travelling. But the media was always so interesting to me, and I was absolutely fascinated with how to get the message out, how to get the right message at the right time to the right people, using the right channels, which is essentially what marketing is. And so as I grew up, I went through college, my bachelors in English and my Masters in English, and then I got a PhD in communication. And every time I was really trying to study that question, how do you influence people with messages and with content? And for me, that was kind of the fundamental question.
So I got married and then I got divorced, and then I got married again. And I had just moved to California with my cute husband, and we had two kids that were younger than two from my previous marriage. And my husband got a job at Lehman Brothers one month before Lehman Brothers went bankrupt and before the financial collapse. And I was like, oh, no. I was so worried because I had all of these little kids and I was staying at home with them and I hadn’t worked for several years and I didn’t know what to do. And so Jeff and Jeff is my husband, and we were thinking about what we could do, and we had a $10,000 tax return. And he said, okay, we’re going to split this in half, and we’re each going to take $5,000 and we’re going to see who can make the most money. And so Jeff put his money in real estate investment, and I put my money in Stage marketing, and, guess who won? It turned into this amazing agency. And we’ve been around for twelve years and we have been growing really fast for many years and it has just been such a wonderful opportunity.
It was so great. And so then one of my clients was Simpler and the CEO, Ryan, came to me one day and said, Amy, I need an inhouse marketing lead. Will you come to join me over at Simplest and leave your agency? And I knew immediately it was such a good opportunity. This was about five years ago. And so then I said, okay, I’m in. I cannot wait to learn and to learn what enterprise operation looks like, and how to serve in marketing in different departments. It’s been like drinking out of a firehose and it’s been absolutely amazing. So my husband and I still own stage marketing and it continues to grow and do really, really well. And then I spend my time over at Simplest and service their CMO.

And this was much before like when Infosys acquired Simplest, right?

That’s right. So I came on with Simplest at Series A and it was in July 2017, and then we were acquired by Infosys in March 2020. So I had about three years there and then I’ve had about a year and a half, almost two years at Infosys. And it’s been a wonderful opportunity for me to do that too, because then, now I understand how you market in a massive business and with so many different stakeholders. So I feel really blessed to have had the journey that I have. And it all started with a $5,000 investment in a marketing business.

In your agency business, what is the scale of businesses that you mainly get? Is it mainly small and medium enterprises or like a good blend of almost all business sizes?

It really depends. I try really hard to not limit it by size because my passion is with the startup. I love working with startups because there’s so much heart. Most of the time, startups are done to serve the community in some way, to serve an industry, to serve, to innovate. And so I think those are fascinating. But our largest clients are enterprise level and so we have some commercial and some enterprise, and then some SMB as well.

Got it. I think even the growth that Simplers had in all these years, like even that itself is a big case study. Right? How is the shift from owning an agency to working in a job? I’m sure like, that must be a really all-new ball game for you as well. So what was the experience of that transition like for you?

The transition was fantastic because I was able to get things from both sides. So, you know, a lot of times there’s a little bit of antagonism between a marketing agency and the in-house marketing department it serves. Like sometimes they don’t understand each other, or they talk past each other, and the agency is like, I need three more days. And the inhouse team is like, sorry, we’re launching tomorrow. And so I was able to experience both sides of that, and I was able to see firsthand what is difficult about working with an agency, what’s better about an inhouse team, what’s not ideal about an inhouse team. So I feel like I’ve been able to craft something as simple as which pulls in the best of the agencies and the best of an in-house team. And that was a really interesting education for me.

And, like, let’s talk a bit more about the service offerings of Stage marketing, what it does, and who’s an ideal fit as a client for you?

Okay, thank you for asking that. We are a full-funnel marketing agency, and we do both digital and traditional marketing. So the reason that we do it that way, it took me a long time to build the company because it’s a lot easier to just focus and go in one channel and you’ll see that a lot of them will do SEO and will do websites, but we won’t do content because it’s hard to do a lot. Marketing has such a variety of expertise that’s needed that it’s really, really difficult to develop an agency that is good at everything, right? A lot of people say, well, you can’t be good at everything. And my answer to that is if you hire the right people with the right expertise and you give it enough time and enough experience, then you can, but you have to go slowly. So the tip of the spear for me was content, because that’s what I do. I’m a writer. And so it was very easy for me to start picking up jobs where I could do it myself. And then when we got bigger, then I started adding channels. And all of a sudden, the people who had me do content, they’re like, well, can you design this into one page, or can you put this on a website?
Or different things like that. And so we added channels as the client asked for them, and I was able to hire people specifically for that expertise. So we do the full-funnel marketing, and then we also have recently added inside sales and business development services like cold calling and emailing and serving as an appointment-setting team, because we have been pretty successful in taking an account-based marketing approach and using our marketing abilities to really integrate that and sync it into move it into an appointment setting and move the leads forward.

Got it. And how exactly is the typical client journey in your agency? And what exactly was the first 30 days? Because that’s the most crucial time, right? Look like your friends.

I think about the customer journey. Once a customer signs on, what I do at first is a lot of times I’ll do a free project for them at first because maybe they’re a little nervous, maybe they want to do something they’ve worked with several agencies before with not very good results. That happens to me a lot when someone is like, I’m just so nervous, I had a bad experience working with an agency. And so then I’ll say, okay, well let me do a project for you and see what you think. And so that just gets my foot in the door, helps me build some trust, and then by the time and then we just keep talking and I put a lot of focus at the first on who they are as customers and who their audience is and what they’re looking for. Because if we can really build that persona initially even before we are on board, then we have a very good understanding of who they are and what they want to accomplish. So that is for me, by the time they get to onboarding, we already know the customer pretty well.

Got it. And what are the main challenges even for the entry project that you do, say you do it for free, what are the main channels you utilise for that specific project? And, also like the core expertise or specific channels that the agency mainly leverages to cater to the ground?

Well, it depends on the customer for sure. I think about one that I did last month where he needed an email created and designed in HubSpot and so it was a very easy thing for me to do, but I was able to do it quickly for him in about a week sooner than the other people that were going for the job. And so we were able to prove how quickly we could get things done for him.

Got you. And since content marketing is your core for tip right, it has always been taking for you. Can you share a few useful tips that kind of like every business can use when it comes to content marketing?

Sure. For content marketing, one thing to make sure of is that you have to get the right message. So there are four main parts. You have to get the right message to the right person at the right time with the right channel. That’s the essence of marketing right there and especially content marketing. So you could have the greatest message, you could have something that resonates so well with you but not your audience. Or you could have a great message that resonates with your audience three days late. Or you could have a great message that resonates with your audience at the right time, but your audience doesn’t use those channels, which is why it’s important for us to select the right channels and have all four of those components. So for example, a lot of our clients are healthcare clients, and healthcare users Facebook way more than LinkedIn, they just do. And so investing in Facebook is better but to be honest with you, doctors are busy and they don’t really like to look at their social media channels all that much. So a minimal investment in Facebook, getting other doctors to talk about you in Facebook groups, and working in more direct channels with more of a white glove appointment setting approach is usually going to be better for them.

I’m also seeing a new trend in healthcare called social manipulation. Not just in health care but in a lot of industries, right? And that is something like you basically create multiple personas that could be done by a marketing agency and you try to drive the conversation happening in a group or a particular community towards your client’s business. And that is something that I’ve seen work for a lot of businesses. Is it something that you do?

That’s something that I have not done. So that’s something I’m going to have to look into.

So basically since we’re talking about content and one of the biggest challenges that the businesses face is how do you basically go about planning the right content for you and then measuring itself and kind of like improving onto your marketing message and marketing content over together? How exactly do you do this?

That’s a really great question. So we use a variety of tools. One of them is a playbook trying to align the business objectives with the content. One of them is a core messaging guide where we can use these messages to get the word out to the public and it’s aligned very well with what the company wants to say. One of them is a content calendar which is important. And another thing that we do that I’ve never seen another agency do is we will try to just get as much as we can out of a content piece as much as possible. So for example, we will write like five or six blogs that roll up into an ebook. And what that does is that gives you the SEO value of the blogs on the page but then it also gives you the legion value of the ebook and the premium content that you can send out through email. So by combining that content together in that way, it just gives you kind of double the value.

Got it. Any specific KPIs that you keep track of while measuring the success of your content marketing?

We do. We measure by, we measure by leads, and we measure by traffic to the website. We measure by organic traffic and then we also measure just by channels. Yeah, so I’d say channel traffic, organic traffic, and leads generated would be our best.

Gotcha! Any other very successful case study of Stage marketing that you would like to share with us? I know, simpler maybe that or any other success too?

Sure. We have a couple of other customers that have done public case studies for us that we can talk about right off the bat. One of them is Generations Healthcare, a very large organisation in Southern California that serves the senior care community. And we have pulled together all of these disparate skilled nursing facilities and given them a structure to help them with all of their website materials in their brochures. And we’ve made everything consistent, and we’ve basically integrated the brand. So while all of these facilities are stand-alone, they have a really nice brand altogether.
So it enables them to grow their brand a lot faster. We have also had a great experience working with Advanced Management Company, also here in California. They have apartment buildings of about 40 people, 40 different locations, and actually, you know what? Now they’re up to 55. And so we service them on the SEO and the Web, and we do some Google Ads for them and basically help them increase their census and their occupancy. So in skilled nursing, you call it census, and in apartment buildings, you call it occupancy. But their Occupancy, they have a goal of 96%, and they’re at 98%. So we’ve been really good at that.

How long have you been taking care of their marketing?

About four years now. So most of our clients are long standing clients. We have very little churn. And one of the reasons for that is that one of the things that’s really annoying about a lot of agencies is they’ll give you a retainer and it’s a flat fee, and they don’t tell you what you’re getting from it. And it’s very difficult for a lot of companies. And I saw that on the inside, right where I’ve hired agencies before, at simplest, and they’re like, what am I getting for this? Right?
They’ll have like a $5,000 service management fee, and I don’t see them servicing anything. So what we did instead was we decided to try to become as much like an in-house employee as possible. So rather than try to compete with the agencies, we started competing with the employees. So we dropped our agency rate down to 75 to 100. And ours is the same as an employee, and then we bring in when we give them an invoice, every single hour is allocated so the company knows that they’re getting 100% utilisation and an entire team instead of one employee for the price of an employee. So it’s a pretty amazing system, and not a lot of people want to leave that.

Yes, and even this is one of the biggest problems and challenges that the agencies face. In agency businesses, I think somewhere around 60% to 65% and dragging that down to such a great level is actually pretty remarkable.

Thank you. Well, you know, you can’t do it without an amazing team, so I feel very blessed to have so many excellent people working at Stage. It’s really phenomenal to see the level of expertise and commitment there is.

I am sure, like, because you guys have been in such a good environment and usually attracts good talent as well?

Yeah, I think so. I think when you have a great culture and you have, again, the right fit for the right people. So, for us, we’ve always been a remote distributed environment. I have hired a lot of women like myself who wanted the flexibility to raise children. But they’re so good, they’re so smart, and they want to be able to use that as an outlet with more flexibility. And so we built our business on flexibility and quality and grit and kindness. Those are our core values. And so we hire really kind, hardworking, amazing people who need flexibility. That’s who we hire. And it works really well for them. So we hire and it doesn’t matter where they come from. Some of our best web developers live in Guatemala. Some of our best designers live in India. Some of our best Legion people and SEO people live in the Philippines. It really doesn’t matter where you live because we have this amazing Internet opportunity, you know, to all be together. So it’s a wonderful company. I’m very proud to be able to be part of it.

That’s perfect. Now, since we shared a really good experience, let’s talk about the negative part as well. Any horror stories that you would like to share with us because you’ve been in business?

Oh, yes, I have. A really good horror story. So when we first started, it was my very first project. And it was a book, and we did the book. I had been an academic book publisher in a previous full-time job, and so I knew how to design books. I did a great job, but we had like thousands of orders of backorders. And the books came from a printer that I had used in China. And I had never used this group before, and I got a great price. The books came on time, but they used the wrong glue. When I opened the books, the books just fell apart. It was my first project. And I remember I just sat down on the bed and I just cried. And I was like, My time is over before it’s even started. Who wants these books? And so we had no money back in the day, right? I had put a big part of what we had into producing these books, and they had all fallen apart. But it was such a good learning experience for me because, number one, it made me realise that quality is not the same everywhere, right?
There were plenty of printing houses in China that were fantastic, but this particular one used the wrong glue. So I learned how to be more careful in how I source and take risks. I learned to get samples beforehand. I learned to use known commodities. I learned to use brokers. I learned that, you know, to use manufacturing companies that other people had used before. And then I also learned how to be honest and replace books if they were broken and take the hit if I needed to, to deliver the highest quality for the customer. So that was a really, really good first project that I failed.

You did well. Lesson learned. Coming to an end here, and I would like to have a quick, rapid-fire with you. Are you ready for that?

I’m ready. I’m ready.

One advice that you would give to your younger self.

For my younger self, I would say just learn as much as you possibly can. Don’t worry about asking dumb questions.

Got you. And when are you most productive?

I’m most productive at night when I’m not on, like, in meetings. I get a lot of my work done at night.

Same happens with me. What scares you the most?

What scares me the most is having a client leave and me having to let somebody go because of it.

What’s the first thing you notice about someone when you meet them?

Their smiles.

When were you the happiest in your life?

Oh, I’m the happiest right now. I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

Any final thoughts that you’d like to share with our viewers?

Well, I really appreciate this opportunity. It was wonderful to connect with you Harshit and final thoughts for viewers is it doesn’t matter who you are and it doesn’t matter where you live. It doesn’t matter what socioeconomic background you come from. If you have the will and you have the work ethic, you will find a way to be successful and pursue your entrepreneurial dreams. And I know that for a fact. I know that from personal experience.

Thank you so much. Thank you so much for all your time and all the valuable information that you have shared with us about GM, the company, and marketing. Thank you so much.

Thank you so much.

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