TRS 016: Brooke B. Sellas CEO and Founder of B Squared Media
Have you ever cringed while interacting with a chat bot or other automated marketing tool? Chances are, those businesses set up the tools to complete a task, not to build a conversation.
We’re talking to Brooke B. Sellas CEO and Founder of B Squared Media about how brands can transform their campaigns and drive more engagement by focusing on the value of conversation and keeping things human.
Like what you hear? Check out how to get a coupon code below, and catch Brooke at this year’s Insight Marketing Conference in Lancaster, PA on September 25, 2019!
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Marcus: Hello, marketers and business leaders. Welcome to an exciting new episode of The Revenue Stream from Web Talent Marketing. I’m Marcus Grimm, the CGO for Web Talent Marketing. As listeners of The Revenue Stream know, we’ve been taking a handful of episodes here and interviewing speakers from the upcoming Insight Lanc conference. And if you’ve missed some of our recent episodes, or you don’t remember what Insight Lanc is, here’s what’s happening on September the 25th to be exact. Now, marketers from around the U.S. will be descending upon our fine city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania for a one day event, full of fun and education. This is, wow, I’m getting old. This is the fourth year of Insight Lanc, where we’ll be bringing together some of the sharpest minds in marketing. So for these next few episodes of the podcast, we will be speaking to many of those great speakers, including today’s guest.
Marcus: Before I introduce her, I do want to direct you to insightlanc.com. You can find out more about the event. I’m not exactly sure which day this podcast is coming out. We might still be at super early bird pricing. We might be at early bird pricing. We might be at regular pricing. It’s possible that today’s guest even has a coupon code for you. Either way you don’t want to miss it. There’s still some tickets left and we would love to see everybody at Insight Lanc.
Marcus: Well that brings us to today’s guests and who is that? Well that’s Brooke B. Sellas. According to her bio right off that Insight Lanc website, Brooke B. Sellas is the CEO and the Founder of B Squared Media, an award winning “done for you” social media management and advertising agency. In 2018 she was named a top 25 brand builder and Woman Entrepreneur in New Jersey. She’s also a blossoming blogger and a purveyor of psychographics. She has a great podcast which I hope we can learn more about. Brooke’s marketing mantra is “Think conversation. Not campaign.” You can find her on Twitter. You can find her anywhere on the worldwide web. You can find her in iTunes. Brooke, welcome to The Revenue Stream.
Brooke: Hello, hello! Marcus, thank you so much for having me on the show today.
Marcus: We are thrilled to have you here. I can’t wait to talk about your topic for Insight Lanc, but let’s make sure that our listeners know about you and about your agency. I do see, according to LinkedIn, you are a Penn State grad. So let’s start there. How did you decide to pick Penn State? Last I checked, there wasn’t a major for being the CEO of an ad agency. So what did you major in, and how’d you end up where you are today?
Brooke: Well, you know, a long time ago, I started to see the benefits of social media marketing. Even before Facebook had pages! This was back when they still had profiles. My spidey senses were going off, you know, and I was like, “Hey, there’s something here. There’s something to this whole social media thing, and it goes beyond connecting with your friends and being humorous.” And the whole personal thing, I got that, but I thought it kind of went beyond that. And I kind of said to myself, “There’s something here from a professional level.” So I’m not sure obviously that I knew that I wanted to own a company or that I wanted to do things on my own. I’m not even sure when that thought formed to be honest with you, but it was likely a little bit later. I think that there was just that tingling sense that social media was going to be something big and something beyond, you know, just the personal touch.
Marcus: Right, I know Gary Vaynerchuk tells the story many, many times that almost the first time he saw the web, he felt like he saw it a little bit differently than other people. That he was like, “Oh wait, I can sell baseball cards here.” So it’s almost like similarly, very quickly almost jumped a step or two ahead of where everybody else was like, “Oh, I can find my old friends from high school!”
Brooke: Right, right!
Marcus: So, you go to Penn State. What was your major back then?
Brooke: It was Media Studies and Communication. So like the closest thing you could get to a social media major. Which how would they… P.S. This is a question we bat around a lot, but how would you even have a program like that because things change so often? How would you keep it current? I’m not sure.
Marcus: It’s a tremendous question. I’ll get on my soapbox here. I was a communications major also. My son’s a communications major. Even now the coursework that he’s taking– I’m like, “Well, that’s not really what we’re doing on a daily basis,” but how in the world can college keep up? We could spend hours on that.
Brooke: Oh, we could.
Marcus: So you come out of college. Did you work for some brands? Did you work for some agencies? How did we get to the point now where you’re the CEO and Founder of B Squared Media?
Brooke: Well I’ve had a very interesting and varied career path, but most of my jobs have either been involved with marketing or sales or marketing and sales focused. I was in real estate for a long time and back then, I won top sales associate from my company because– I think this is again, early storytelling into why I love being an entrepreneur, but I really love sales. I think that’s what has helped make me successful as an entrepreneur is that I did have that sales background, and I love sales. Then I had a stint in non profit for a while where I was the Director of Special Events for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. And truly, even though that was nonprofit and event planning and fundraising, I looked at it as sales because I was responsible for raising over $750,000 a year with my 12 events.
Brooke: And it was a lot of marketing too, right? Getting people to come to the events and getting volunteers to sign up and help us out. Then I moved from sales and marketing on their own to kind of a sales and marketing company for a sales training company. But again, it was a sales training company, but my main KPI was to create social media revenue streams for them. So I not only had to come up with the programs that they were going to sell to make money using social media, but I was also their marketing director. So it was like still marketing and sales. I think the bottom line is I love a challenge, and that’s why I was led to kind of jumping off the cliff and doing my own thing.
Marcus: I want to ask you about that because, it’s interesting, today we can definitely see people who would call themselves pure sales people. I work with a a lot of people who would call themselves pure marketers, but not unlike you, I’ve kind of been in this hybrid bid place my myself where I spent a lot of years in sales and then almost layered the marketing on top of that. How do you feel that has given you a vision for how you think of marketing? That you come to it from the sales side?
Brooke: I think it’s a tremendous leg up honestly. I’m a different school of thought. Everybody has their opinion and obviously no one’s wrong, but for me, sales and marketing aren’t separate entities. I think they should live together, and I honestly think that’s why I have had success as an entrepreneur because I have friends who have also started even similar companies to mine, social media marketing companies, and didn’t succeed. And when we’ve talked about why they think they didn’t succeed, they weren’t able to bring in enough business to sustain. And I think that’s probably the most important part of my past journey helping me be successful today. I’m not scared of sales and that actually really enjoy sales.
Marcus: Awesome. Awesome. That is great feedback. So now I want to talk about what you’re going to be bringing to Lancaster, and before I get into that, you were a speaker last year, right? You’re a return speaker to Insight, right?
Brooke: Yes, that’s correct. This is my second year and I’m so excited to see everyone again.
Marcus: You’re down there on the Philly/ Jersey line. Is Lancaster familiar to you? Have you spent much time in Lancaster, or was last year kind of one of your first times here?
Brooke: I have been to Lancaster customer before. My parents are actually in Paoli, Pennsylvania near the King of Prussia Mall. So I’ve visited Lancaster before, but I had never been to the downtown section. I have to say, I was quite impressed with the bars and restaurants that you guys have. It’s very cute. Like I was thinking to myself, I could totally see myself living here.
Marcus: Well, thank you. We appreciate the words. I’m coming to you live right now from the Lancaster LNP studios, the Lancaster Newspaper studios, and we are right in the heart of it. We have a blast here. We really do. Now here’s what you’re going to be speaking about at Insight. This is just coming off off the website. Brands and businesses have become immersed in using those intelligent tools. We’re talking about artificial intelligence, marketing automation, and machine learning to successfully scale their growth efforts. But on the flip side, connected customers expect these brands to use intelligent tools because they want the convenience and accessibility of online self service, but yet they also still want access to a human agent when problems get confusing or complex. So the question becomes, with intelligent tool use on the rise, how in the world do brands stay human?
Marcus: This is a tremendous topic. We spend so much time these days talking about technology and clicks and click throughs and engagement rates, but at the end of the day, we’re still trying to create that human connection. Now here’s the thing that I think’s funny, Brooke. I took a look again at your LinkedIn bio, and you wrote, you probably remember this, an honors thesis that was called “An Evaluation Measuring the Patterns and Effects of Nonprofit Messaging through Facebook.” In other words, even many, many years ago, you seem to be one of those people who likes to live at the center of the quantitative marketing and qualitative marketing. So why is that? You seem obsessed with how these two ideas come together.
Brooke: Yeah. It’s funny because, again, this was a lifetime ago but it still reigns true today. It’s actually how we got our tagline. But the thesis work essentially looked at three nonprofits, a local, a regional and a national. What I did was I looked at how those brands were communicating with their communities on Facebook. We looked at Facebook specifically. And what I found way back when was when brands sought to make that emotional connection with their audience, they did much better. They had higher engagement rates, they had a lot more conversation, they had a lot more fans. There was a lot of things going on that you could directly see the effect of essentially this one to one are human to human connection that they were trying to make through their Facebook page. So that’s how, again, we kind of come up with our tagline which we still use today at B Squared, which is “Think conversation. Not campaign.” But I think we’ve kind of come full circle in the seven years that I’ve owned B squared. I think a lot of brands have gotten away from that or maybe even never even connected with that whole think conversation mantra. And I think now, today, where we are with social media, brands are really starting to see, “Okay, wait a minute. We don’t actually try to make a connection here, we just try to hack our stuff. This is not going to work.”
Marcus: So let’s talk about that because I think what you’re saying is the whole idea of what we find from a lot of brands and even a lot of agencies is, “Oh, here’s how many posts we made, or here’s how many likes we’ve got.” And we’ve become really obsessed with what we can pull out of Google Analytics or Excel and all that. So how do you suggest that a brand or an agency approach data and all these big numbers that we have the access to– It seems like these days, if we can measure, let’s measure, let’s put it on a graph/ in a spreadsheet. How do you think we should think about that?
Brooke: I think the data’s very important, but I always have had a human-centered approach, both in my sales and my marketing roles or when it was both. So before that was a thing or a trend, I’ve always made it about the relationship or, as our tagline says about the conversation. And as marketers we’re always handed these tools, right? Or these mediums. And we continually look at them as another sales or marketing channel. We don’t think about the tools or the mediums that we’re given or the opportunities that we’re given to look at the smaller picture. Social media is massive, but we have the ability through this massive channel to make small the new big. As in having those one-on-one or human-centered connections and conversations. We’re given this remarkable ability to have these one-on-one connections, and people are looking for that. They’re still looking for that. They’re out there screaming the answer to the test. And I think a lot of marketers still aren’t listening. You know, they’re still looking at the shiny object syndrome or looking at it as a big thing, the whole picture. Whereas I think our mantra, especially right now with social and mediums and all these tools and the data is that small is the new big.
Marcus: So you’re going to have to explain that one for us a bit more because I don’t know many marketers who are saying, “Let’s put out a report or let’s put out a graphic and talk about very small numbers,” and I think you’re onto something there. Help me understand that a little bit better.
Brooke: Yeah, so when we look at all of our social media activities or the social media activities of our clients, we try to tie those to business outcomes. So you may not be able to prove an exact dollar for dollar return on say your organic social media efforts, but you should be able to say something like, “These posts, were able to meet these key performance indicators or create these conversations around our brand, our product or service, which led to or are leading to these business outcomes.” Does that make sense? Like it’s a pretty, it’s a pretty simple formula.
Marcus: It does, and it sounds like what you’re saying is one authentic communication a might be worth more than 15 likes because we can actually see a true interaction where somebody has a concern or somebody has a question and the brand has proven their ability to, to engage with them? Is that what you’re saying?
Brooke: Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m saying. I’ve never been a fan of vanity metrics, but if I can get a client to not focus on likes and focus more on, yes, some of those conversations or gaining more share of voice or creating conversations that are happening online or moving the sentiment needle towards maybe neutral, where people don’t have an opinion of them at all to a more positive conversation happening online. That what I mean when I say small as the new big.
Marcus: Talk to tell me a little bit about– And based on what you’re saying, you must be a hell of a sales person because I’m picturing, what in the agency world, what a monthly report typically looks like to a client likes are up 2%, page views are up 10%. If somebody hires your agency, are you telling me that you replace those reports with something else, or how do you position all this?
Brooke: Yes, so that’s a great question. We do report on all of the standard reporting, and that’s exactly what we call it. We want it to sound vanilla. We’re going to give you all of the standard reports: unlikes, engagement rates, and the number of posts that went out. All of this stuff that you think is the most important thing in the world, but then we’re also going to give you a report. We create custom KPI dashboards for our clients or our key performance indicator dashboards, and essentially what we’re doing is we’re thinking about the business outcomes they’re telling us in the beginning. This is the business outcome I’m looking for. We’re tying it to those human centered results or activities on social. And then we’re showing them the results of what we’re getting. So over time, what we found is the clients love the customer reports more than the standard reports.
Marcus: Well there’s a story there, right? Because even if you’re putting that element in there, you might only be talking about one interaction between Mr. and Mrs. Jones and the brand, but it’s a story. And who doesn’t love a story more than they love a graph?
Brooke: Right, yeah. And I think that’s the other thing about our world, right? Marketing and especially online marketing, part of our job, I would say one of the biggest parts of our job, is not just marketing or sales. It’s education. It is so important as a part of digital transformation, and when you’re helping a company with that to hold their hand and guide them through the experience. It’s a very turbulent ride, and we to be educators. We need to be telling them, “Look, this is what’s actually important. This is what you need to be focusing on. This is why you hired us. This is why we’re the experts.”
Marcus: Tough question for you: Do all your brands get that? I mean…
Brooke: No, it’s an easy answer. No.
Marcus: So, like the rest of us you have, you will have people say, “Okay, this was one great conversation, but my likes are still only up 0.5%.” So it’s kind of an ongoing mission to bring people back. And to your point, it is how you as an agency try to differentiate yourself. So you’re staying true to that vision.
Brooke: Yeah, and we’re not the best partner for everyone. Not everyone has to conform to the way we think about social media. They can certainly think about it from a dollar only, ROI perspective, and that’s totally fine. There’s nothing wrong with that, but then we’re not the best partner for them and they’re not the best partner for us.
Marcus: Another great lesson from your sales experience there is sometimes the best move is to figure out who’s not a great fit for you as an agency.
Marcus: What have you found as you’ve grown your agency? Have you kind of settled on, from your perspective, an ideal client profile?
Brooke: Yeah, for us, right now, one of the biggest trends that we’re seeing is larger companies focusing on customer care through social media. So we’re working with more medium and enterprise sized brands on customer care, which is different than customer service because customer service is reactive. Somebody says, “Hey, Marcus, I have a problem with this thing, and I want my money back,” and then you’re reacting and saying, “Here’s what we can do.”
Brooke: Customer care is really using some of these tools like artificial intelligence, which is used through like social listening tools, and you’re being proactive. You’re actually not only helping with the customer service but the customer care is going out and using data from these AI tools and machines to find where conversations are going and to solve the problem before it even becomes an actual ask. So it’s still a human-centered approach because we’re using these machines to help us with the data, but at the end of the day, with these clients, we’re also plugging their gaps. They can only work from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. So from 5:00 PM to 11:00 PM we’re coming in and we’re filling in as their a customer care team on social.
Marcus: Got it. Which I think might be a segue to one of the last big things that I want to talk to you about, which is from your services pages is something you call “Done for You Chat Bot Services.” And I’ll tell you what I really want to understand this better from you. Because I’m not criticizing you, I’m perhaps criticizing the technology when I say most of these chatbots that I’ve seen, quite frankly, are train wrecks. They’re terrible; they’re horrible! First off, it sounds like the perfect product for your agency to offer because it does live at that intersection, but talk to me about– And by the way, the only thing that you already told us is that you’re trying to do this at a medium size or enterprise level company where, quite frankly, the product also fits in better. Just tell me about that service and where it fits into your agency.
Brooke: Yeah, so honestly, I think chatbots are a nice way for any company, no matter the size, to enter into the world of artificial intelligence and AI. Because if you use them properly– And I’m actually using an example of this during my talk at Insight Lanc. So please come see me!
Marcus: Oh, awesome. Wonderful!
Brooke: But you can offer that connected consumer, these up and coming generations who will not pick up the phone to call customer service. They won’t even hardly email. They’re going to go to Twitter; they’re going to go to Facebook. They’re looking for self service or help right now, no matter what time it is. So they’re looking for that 24/7 self help, right? But, and this is a big but, you also have to have the human ready because even these younger age groups are saying, “If there’s a problem, I need human help.” And they want it the same way they want the chat bot, which is basically immediately.
Brooke: So even if you can’t offer human assistance immediately, which we’re not even 24/7 yet. We are working towards being 24/7 and offering that kind of service, but we’re not there yet. So even if you can’t offer that human– I would say that the biggest golden nugget I have in a crisis situation, the most important thing that person is looking for on the other end of the line, it’s just communication and information. So even if the bot says, “We’re sorry you’re having this problem. We’re going to connect you with a human. Our humans are in the office from this time to this time. So you can expect a reply by X-time tomorrow morning.” Additionally, and we do both with our chatbots, you can give the name and email of a human that they can contact right then. Because that gives them a solution right then instead of having to wait for the human to come back online at 8:00 AM Eastern or whatever it is. You’re saying, “Here’s our operations manager. Her name’s Lindsey, and her email is [email protected]” And that gives them a solution right then. That person can leave that chat bot and go email a human right then. Even though Lindsey’s not going to get back to him, until the time you offered from the chat bot, you’re giving the, you’re solving the problem.
Marcus: You’ve closed the loop. I am 100% confident I have never come across one of your chat bots because I’ve never had one that was that useful.
Brooke: Well thank you! But I mean it’s not that hard. It’s not rocket science. It feels like rocket science, but it’s not. You just have to put yourself in the shoes of the person who’s coming to you with the problem and try to think of all the ways that you can can solve that problem. It’s like writing out like a script for a movie. It’s like a storyboard.
Marcus: I’ll tell you what I really love about this is the idea that your chat bots are not pretending to be human. They’re saying, “I can do this, but by the way, if you need a real human, here’s the best way to close the loop on that.” I love that.
Brooke: Yep, and you know what else? California recently released a law saying that chatbots cannot pretend to be human. So if you do use chat bots and you do try to pass them off as human, even if you’re not in California, be cognizant that could become a countrywide thing where you can’t pass off a machine as a human. It wouldn’t be allowed. It’d be against the law.
Marcus: Very interesting. Just a real tactical question because I just love talking to people about how they grow their agencies and build their agencies: The chat bot, right now, is that a big part of what your agency does? Is it a swiftly growing part? Is it just one of ten amazing things that you do? Where does it fit in your business plan right now?
Brooke: It’s a small part of what we do, quite honestly. The main thing we do is provide the humans, we provide the worker bees to fill in for those gaps, whether it’s advertising, customer care, or social media management. Chat bots are a really small part of what we do, but we saw so many people struggling with them that we kind of like, “Oh man, we’re definitely going to have to offer this because we really want people to get it right.”
Marcus: Right. Well, I am thrilled that you’re coming to Lancaster and thrilled that you’re going to be doing this talk. Before we get to our final segment of the program, which is always a surprise for our guests, Brooke, how can people learn more about you?
Brooke: You can find out all things about me and B Squared Media at our website, which is bsquared.media. And then you’ll find all of our stuff there as well as my social handles, but if you just want to give me a shout on Twitter, which I would love for you to, it’s my favorite platform. You can just put my name in as my handle, which is Brooke Sellas.
Marcus: And I mentioned at the start of the program, you also have a podcast. Tell us about that.
Brooke: Yeah, so Mark Schaefer and I, he’s my partner in crime and my podcast buddy, we have a podcast called The Marketing Companion. I am Mark’s new co-host. I joined him back in March after Tom Webster left. Tom was with them for about six years, and we still have the same format. We just talk about trends and we bring some humor and insight into it. I think Mark’s kind of that genius marketer who has like crazy, amazing ideas, and I’m more of the relatable, everyday marketer. We battle it out sometimes; we really do. So I think, it’s not just a bunch of fluff. We’re actually on there arguing why he’s wrong or why I’m wrong. I think people like that.
Marcus: Outstanding. I am a subscriber, and I encourage our listeners to be as well. Well, marketers and business leaders, you know what that sound means. It means we’ve nearly come to the end of this program, but it also means that we get to run through the Marketing Minute with Brooke Sellas. Brooke, are you ready?
Brooke: I think so.
Marcus: Okay. First question: Apple or Android.
Brooke: Oh, Apple.
Marcus: Okay. Your television viewing habits: Are you in fact a cord cutter or cable-holic?
Brooke: Oh, I’m a cable-holic.
Marcus: You sound proud of it too.
Brooke: Yeah, very.
Marcus: All right. You’re surfing the internet: Ad blocker or no?
Brooke: No! No way, Jose. I need to get some ideas from those other ads.
Marcus: I love that answer. I’ll tell you what, sometimes when I get the ad blocker, I almost wonder why I brought them on the podcast.
Brooke: Love it!
Marcus: Next question: Don Draper, Steve Jobs, or Elon Musk.
Brooke: Ah, Steve Jobs.
Marcus: All right. I think you would have picked Twitter, so I’m only going to give you a choice of two. Facebook or LinkedIn.
Brooke: Ooh. Ah, Ooh. You know, just going off numbers, I’m going to have to choose Facebook. Necessary evil.
Marcus: Outstanding. The final one. Since you’re calling in, I can’t see your wrist. Would I see a smartwatch, a Timex, or a bare wrist?
Brooke: A smartwatch. An Apple smartwatch!
Marcus: An Apple smartwatch. All right, woman after my own heart. Hey folks, this has been The Revenue Stream. I’m Marcus Grimm with Web Talent Marketing. Brooke, thank you so much for being on the program today.
Brooke: Thank you guys for having me. We need to catch up at the conference! And hey, listen, if you are thinking about attending, give me a shout on Twitter at Brooke Sellas, and any codes I have all is pass your way for a discount!
Marcus: I had a hunch you had some discount codes for our listeners. Absolutely. Folks, it is insightlanc.com. Brooke B. Sellas will be there, as will I. Looking forward to joining everyone here in Lancaster in September. For The Revenue Stream, I’m Marcus Grimm with Web Talent Marketing.