How to Position Your Agency as the Solution Clients Need
Vasa Martinez is the founder and CEO of Growthbuster, a remote marketing agency that has helped food and beverage brands reach new heights with community, creative, and innovation. After years of CPG experience working with many brands, Vasa started building his own company focused on the outsourced marketing department. Today he joins us to talk about his experience with brands, how he positioned his agency as the solution clients need, and why you need to follow your north star.
3 Golden Nuggets
- Bet on yourself. A lot of times a company might be really attached to “vanity metrics” and turn to buying followers. This is a really ineffective measure, as they usually find out when they hire an expert. Trying to steer clients away from shady practices like bots or buying clients, this company started making bets that they would grow their social media in four months. Trusting their methods has helped them win many of those bets.
- Follow your North Star. As a rule, Vasa and his team make it a point to work with companies that are solving a problem in the world. This aligns with their core value of “human first, business second”. That has led to saying no to brands that could bring in a lot of revenue but don’t really fit with the agency’s values. For his part, Vasa says their north star is not growth if it comes at the cost of his values or his team’s mental health.
- Don’t compromise your team’s mental health. This is a very demanding industry but running a solvent business, working with some really cool brands, and scaling your agency shouldn’t come at the cost of your team’s mental health. Respect people’s rest time. As agency owners, we sometimes end up working weird hours but don’t expect everyone on your team to do the same.
Follow Your North Star and Position Your Agency as a Solution
Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, what’s up everybody? Jason Swenk here, and I’m excited to have another really good episode, a really amazing guest. He’s going to talk about how did they position their agency as an outside marketing solution for companies coming in.
So let’s go ahead and jump into the show.
All right, Vasa. What’s going on, man?
Vasa: [00:00:25] What’s up. What’s up? How are you?
Jason: [00:00:27] I’m excited to have you on, so tell us who you are and what do you do?
Vasa: [00:00:30] My name it’s Vasa Martinez. I’m the founder and CEO of Growthbuster, an outsourced marketing department. I’m also the CMO of Outer Aisle, which is a food brand that creates cauliflower sandwiches and pizza crust.
Jason: [00:00:43] Very cool. And so with the agency, how’d you get your start? Why did you guys jump into this world?
Vasa: [00:00:48] Well, I found that I had some ideas that I wanted to see brought to life, and working as an employee wasn’t the best way to do that. So in the back half of 2017, I started consulting rather than being a full-time employee.
And that turns into, uh, you know. At the beginning of 2018, I incorporated what became Growthbuster and started building from there.
Jason: [00:01:06] Awesome. And talk about kind of, why did you choose to kind of position? Or why are you guys going after the outsource marketing department?
Vasa: [00:01:17] For me, it’s, it’s nice to have a group of specialists and a group of generalists all on the same team when we work with different brands.
I’m typically running point on, on the account. So we never pass it off to an account manager that’s just out of college or anything like that. So having that team behind you, that support, is the most helpful. You know, having the graphic designer or having, you know, an email marketer or a copywriter, uh, rather than just focusing on being a paid agency or a social media marketing agency.
It just wasn’t enough for me and part of it was, you know, I treat GB as a CPG company. We work mostly with CPG companies, food and beverage, and I was listening to a lot of our potential clients, what they wanted. And wherever we could, we solely tacked on, you know, those, those resources.
Jason: [00:02:00] So, how do you position yourself different than all the other agencies out there?
Vasa: [00:02:04] Well, I don’t really look at too many other agencies, to be honest. I, I focus on what we do and what we do best. Um, you know what my background is at Quest Nutrition and creative and community was one of our main focuses in the marketing department. We also, you know, as my first stint in marketing, I left a previous industry. Really enjoyed it, and we had our own creative department as well.
So we never worked with any agencies. So I’ve kind of learned like the project management systems, you know, all the copywriting, everything as a generalist at first. And I went into content marketing for one of the arms. That’s kind of why we went in that direction, is simply because it’s what I started with. It was nice to have and I love it.
Jason: [00:02:40] Very cool. And so what are some things that really you guys do really well that you’ve figured out over the past couple of years of running the agency?
Vasa: [00:02:50] So we’ve always been known for our creative. Uh, we work with a couple awesome brands like Magic Spoon.
In the past, we’ve worked with just some of the coolest CPG challenger brands out there. So we’re definitely known for our creative. But early on we used to be known for how quickly we can escalate social growth. We don’t buy followers, we don’t use bots. We don’t do anything shady like that. So we would literally have bets with new clients that we would double their social within the first four months, one month onboarding three-month execution.
And we won a lot of bets that way. Since then, you know, everything’s always changing on IG and Facebook. So we’ve really made adjustments and evolved along the way. So, um, back then, community and creative, 100% we were known for, we still are, but since the pandemic, we really dove into our innovation department.
What that is, is basically acquisition and retention with an emphasis on SMS.
Jason: [00:03:37] So when you would go to your clients and you would bet them, hey, we can double this. What were some of the things that you did that would help get more engagement, double their, you know, numbers and all that?
Vasa: [00:03:50] I can think of one good example. And we’re still currently with them three years later and that’s Outer Aisle. They have 18,000 followers when we first started and 93% of them were in Rio de Janeiro. Interesting part there, is that Outer Aisle doesn’t ship to Rio de Janeiro. And we really had to displace those followers that cannot be buyers and bring in a lot of folks who could be buyers.
So what we did was run our playbook on the content marketing, identifying what the RTBs are, our reasons to believe. For Outer Aisle that’s low-carb, gluten-free, grain-free bread that’s delicious. And easy. So, and it’s virtually of pretty much anything.
So the goal of ours was trial. Our influencer funnel, we work on just constant trial. We call it targeted trial. And from there, we bring them down the funnel to five different ways to win. That’s, you know, sentiment. What do they think about the product? They hate it. Hey, thanks. We’ll see you later. They love it. Well, what else can we do together? Can we send you more? Um, do you want to be an affiliate? You want to be activated for our next paid campaign and retail rollout? Uh, do you want to be an ambassador?
Things like that. So the trial, like product in mouth, was 100% a main focus for us. Um, really honing in on what the messaging was at that time. It was a little bit different. We did a rebrand in 2019 and the messaging at that point, was always focused on low carb, grain-free gluten-free. That’s what people care about.
And we focus our influencer efforts there. People started seeing it. We started attracting the social proof using that on the back end, using that in ads.
The other component of that was, um, brand partnerships. We worked with a lot of different low carb keto brands, grain-free brands. And what we did was by, I think it was, was actually like two months that we doubled out their following from 18 to 36K. And when we looked at the displacement where the original was 93%. It was now closer to 40, 50%. And at this point today it’s 93% US for the 142,000 followers.
Jason: [00:05:38] Oh, wow. Yeah. You know, not too long ago or maybe, maybe this? I don’t know. I keep losing track of time.
Two years ago, I had Facebook reach out and was like, hey, we’re reaching out to influencers in this space that we want to grow your account. I was like, sure, you can grow it. And the next thing I knew, I had like 40,000 more whatever likes on Facebook. And then I started looking at the names and I’m like, what is going on?
It was all like, I couldn’t even pronounce the names and I couldn’t believe Facebook would do something like that. And so, yeah, that kind of perked me. I really like your, your strategy of how, uh, how you’ve grown it.
Vasa: [00:06:18] Yeah. The tough part about that too, is what stakeholders don’t realize. And we don’t work with brands that buy followers or have bought followers.
We’ve done it in the past. We’ve literally switched their accounts and started fresh. What they don’t realize is that what to them is a vanity metric like, oh, investors need to see a hundred thousand followers or my peers need to see a hundred thousand followers and know I’m legit. When you start passing your accounts off to a paid agency and they, they believe that these are real. There’s not much for them to work with.
But on top of that, let’s just say that they’re, they make it look like audience for engagers and you just bought engagement. They’re making it look like audience of people that are ghosts that just don’t exist. So, um, that’s one thing that people don’t realize when you, when you tell them, hey, you’re wasting money and this is why then they’re like, oh, buying followers isn’t that cool.
Jason: [00:07:05] Oh, yeah, definitely. Well, I’m still trying to, I’m so complexed at what Facebook did. I’m sure they probably outsourced it to someone to do that, but I kind of laugh. I kind of leave it because everybody kind of uses me as the lookalike audience. I’m like, oh, you’re going to target to the wrong people, suckers!
Vasa: [00:07:22] Yeah. That’s very true.
Jason: [00:07:25] Awesome. Well, what’s your guys’ North Star? Like what, what really kind of drives the agency for, uh, you know, getting to the next step?
Vasa: [00:07:33] Yeah. So our north star is being human first business, business second. Always has been, always will be.
There’s a lot of times in my history where my career, where ethics, weren’t the number one thing that I’ve come across. So for me, I learned a lot about how to be from learning and watching people and seeing how I don’t want to be. So that’s how I run the agency.
What our north star is, it’s not necessarily growth. Yeah. Growth is nice, you know, to be a $10 million agency instead of one half for 2 million. Yeah. That’s great. But at what cost? You know, employee, um, mental health is important to me. Like we worked 40 hour weeks. I never had hit people up on the weekends. My, my signature literally says, hey, I work weird hours. If you see this at the time, when you’re not working, just reach out to me when you are working, don’t think about responding to it.
So for me, the north star is running a solvent business, working with some really cool brands and not sacrificing employee’s health as a result, I can tell you this, I didn’t look like this when I first started GB. So I I’m like the first-hand experience of what I don’t want my employees to feel like or turn into.
But at the end of the day, you know, another, another north star of ours is, uh, we don’t work with brands that don’t solve a problem. We’ve said no to a lot of brands that, yeah, we could have done so much more in revenue. But we love working with brands that are solving a problem for people.
And that really starts, again, going back to my experience at Quest Nutrition, we solved the problem there. Not me personally, but it was solved before I got there. And that was creating a bar that was actually good for you. And we’ve turned down lucrative offers with brands where they just weren’t as… we’ll say, just their north start was a bit skewed, you know, there’s ingredients in there that, that weren’t very good.
So that’s our second north star is working with brands, helping brands grow that are really solving a food problem.
Jason: [00:09:18] Did you start off that way? Because a lot of times it’s hard to, you know, especially when you’re getting, getting started of go or really kind of figure out who you actually want to go after, right? To gain that clarity.
So what were some things that did you just take your past experiences at sound like, and be like, I don’t want to do this, this, this, and kind of process of elimination, to figure out the north star?
Vasa: [00:09:40] Well, yeah, so I working with, with a low carb company and… My last role at that company was senior influencer marketing manager. So I had a lot of relationships that influenced the world, brands that were reaching out or, you know. Once I left, um, you know, there was another, vegan low-carb protein bar that reached out. Consulted for them for a little bit, a low-carb vegan chip reached out.
So having the experience with the product, but also the influencers I would reach out to. Couple that with being a one-man show then. And also having just a really focused laser precision on I’ll help run, you know, like social and I’ll run an influencer, I’ll put the content calendar together, um, and we’ll grow your social.
Those are the really like the box that I put myself in as a consultant. As we’ve grown and as I’ve grown, I’m working more as like the outsourced CMO, whereas my team serves as the department. So, um, how I worked with those brands is just… Again, I, I picked and choose. There was, I think my first two brands were those, no carb, but they were called Dee’s naturals back then, K Shake, which is a keto shake. And they were all very second nature to me because I was just working on all of those products at the time I was there.
Jason: [00:10:47] Very cool. And when you started, you know, obviously when you were, when you started, it was just you, so how’d, you decide who to hire as you were growing?
Vasa: [00:10:59] Yeah. So I worked with a couple of freelancers at the time I brought on one of my other closest friends. He was freelancing and just helped me out with influencer, what we call influencer partnerships. Organizing the influencer calendar. His name’s Simon.
But the first, first hire hire was my friend, Danny, who I brought on his VP of growth. And he helped Halo Top really hit that next level as a unicorn. And that was a really intentional choice because I needed another me in the field.
He was previously an engineer before he got into marketing. So he has that engineer mind where he can really set the structure of things. And that was important to me because it was very complimentary. But we also had similar skill because we literally sat next to each other at quest. So that was the first hire.
Once that happened, you know, the next thing I brought on was a creative director. Maybe it was a bit early, but we quickly started hiring in 2018. We brought on a, a retail marketing manager in 2019, which is different for an agency, you don’t typically see those. But when we start working in our innovations, um, tactics, you know, manufacturing, coupons, digital coupons, those sorts of things that all helps.
So bringing on that one, anchor that could support me was the priority.
Jason: [00:12:06] Yeah. I always tell, uh, all the people I’m coaching of like, hey, well, you got to kind of hire based on the things that you’re currently doing now that you don’t want to do anymore, rather than hire though things that you have no clue about.
I’m like, no, no, no, you’ll do that later on. But in the very beginning, you need to replace yourself. Not your exact twin, but you need to replace kind of those smaller things that you’re doing, that we all have to do when we’re first starting out.
Vasa: [00:12:37] Yeah, a good place for me to be eventually that I’m working towards is really focusing on the finances personnel, some, some higher-level strategy for similar brands, but fully cognizant.
Eventually, I shouldn’t be the, the reason that the business kind of runs and stays afloat, you know?
Jason: [00:12:53] Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, I always tell people, you know, as you’re building the business, you’re in it. And then, uh, and you’re going like the what and the how, and I’m like, no, no, no, no. All you have to do is be like, this is where we’re going. And this is the who who’s actually going to go do this. Who do I need to hire?
And then that kind of transitions to, you know, working on the business, which then you have that freedom to do what you want. Because I can promise you this, um, we’re not all about hustle, hustle, hustle, hustle, hustle, hustle.
It’s like, hustle, have fun hustle, have fun, right? So, uh, and a little bit more in between. So is there anything I didn’t ask you that you think would benefit audience?
Vasa: [00:13:36] Not that I can think of.
Jason: [00:13:38] Perfect. Well, what’s a website people can go and check you out?
Vasa: [00:13:41] That’s growthbuster.com, www.growthbuster.com. There’s no S at the end. Dan Akroyd and all those guys, aren’t part of the team.
Um, so that’s Growth Buster, singular one word, .com.
Jason: [00:13:56] Well, I was going to be like, hey, we need to create a really good theme song, you know. Because while I was in the agency I wanted to create an app that eventually turned into an iPhone app called Goldberg. The first name was called Chubby Busters. And we used to, we had a theme song that I would sing.
We’d be like, when you’re feeling fat and your pants don’t fit. Who are you going to call? Chubby Busters. But then we were like, no, one’s ever going to say we’re going to be with Chubby Busters.
Vasa: [00:14:22] Yeah. That sounds like, that sounds like an agency I would own right now, too.
Jason: [00:14:27] Awesome. Well, go check out the website and, uh, if you guys liked this episode, so, and you want to hear more of it and make sure you actually subscribe so you don’t ever miss out on a new episode that we’re pumping out all the time for you guys. So you guys can scale faster.
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