In this interview sponsored by Out of the Box Innovations, Founder Jason Lavis talks with The Sociable editor Tim Hinchliffe on marketing best practices and how they are tearing-down old sales models of the past.
Jason Lavis is the Founder of Out of the Box Innovations (OOTBI), a marketing solution that specializes in both the Oil and Gas and Solar energy sectors.
Lavis inhabits the intersection of Internet Marketing, PR, Copywriting, SEO and the Energy Industry. As well as being involved in a handful of start-ups, he is also interested in helping ethical companies amplify their market message.
What are some of the common mistakes companies make in their marketing strategies?
The main mistake that I see, is for companies to focus on sales, and ignore marketing. They constantly need to pitch and cajole to keep their business going. I’ve been involved in direct sales, and got tired of the feeling that I was interrupting or pestering.
Inbound marketing, where warm leads come in like clockwork is surely a better solution for everyone involved. Warm leads can come through referrals, but they happen anyway… The feeling of a an email or telephone call from someone who seems like they ‘already know you’ through your body of work is amazing.
How important is it for a company in the energy sector (or any sector for that matter) to have a marketing strategy?
This is a tough question, as many companies have long standing relationships with customers or suppliers. There are examples where additional marketing will make little difference to their balance sheet. It’s more common however, to see a valuable company that has neglected their online presence, with little to no SEO, done, and old fashioned websites that haven’t been updated for years.
The answer to your question varies from company to company, and country to country. I’ve never seen a situation where there was no room for improvement at all, and we can identify these areas in our research and discovery stage.
The beauty of digital marketing, is that a relatively small spend now, can impact business for years to come, unlike a globetrotting sales rep, or a stall at an exhibition. There are few marketing channels that can offer such value.
Another consideration relates to order values and lifetime values of each new customer. In the oil and gas industry, even one new customer that found you because you were on page one of Google, could be worth six or seven figures!
When should a company start thinking about marketing?
Due to the internet, social media and higher levels of transparency, everything that you do in the public domain could be construed as marketing. From the timely answers to customer complaints on Twitter, to the way you conduct your own LinkedIn feed, it’s all presenting an image to the world.
I believe that ‘sales’ is in permanent decline, and ‘marketing’ is the present and future.
As technologies such as voice search, artificial intelligence and Martech improve, I can’t imagine the old sales models working very well.
So, the answer to your question, is right now, and all the time. We’re embedded in our markets through the internet, it’s up to us what impression we want to make.
It’s hard to make a living in online marketing. How difficult was the journey and what are you doing to stay relevant while providing value?
The first few years that I worked online, I made little to no money, and almost drove myself mad in the process. Now, I look back on it as more of an apprenticeship, which progressed to ‘on the job training’.
‘Making money online’ is incredibly hard if that’s the goal in of itself. Many years ago, as I was transitioning from ‘in person’ sales and marketing, to go online I spent a few years going down one rabbit hole after another, without providing the economic value needed to reach the revenue goals that I desired. I realised that I’m not going to be able to compete with a billion internet marketers using spammy tactics to get to the top of Google, nor should I want to. That’s the biggest problem online, the levels of competition in every area.
My epiphany was when I realised that I should focus on one sector, and one way of marketing. For me this was oil and gas, and content marketing. I found that if I could show demonstrable and repeatable results, people would want me to do this for them. Seven or eight years down the line, all the steep learning curves and constant failure has given me a robust knowledge of most aspects on online marketing. My experience can save my clients wasting time and money, the way that I have done in the past.
You have both Oil and Gas and Solar Energy marketing as services. Why serve the two which seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum for energy production/consumption?
There’s a tendency in the US, UK and other developed countries for groups of people to polarise and basically fight each other with words and negative sentiment. Oil and gas has been the backbone of industry for a century, we can’t go back and un-invent it. I believe that solar energy is the most likely solution for our future energy needs.
Many oil and gas companies continue to diversify into renewables, its not an either/or proposition at the present. Abruptly ‘leaving it in the ground’ would cause a meltdown of society as we don’t have alternative infrastructure or resources yet. Of course, predictions of the future are often wrong, and we can only live in the present.
We have some of the best minds in the world working on cheaper, cleaner, and more efficient solar. There are equally talented people working on making the extraction, transportation and processing of hydrocarbons cheaper, cleaner and more efficient too!
As with all big issues, the question everyone should ask themselves is “what am I doing about it personally?” If the answer is complaining about, and demonizing people and companies then that’s not very helpful. So to answer your question, we don’t see any reason for conflict between the two industries.
What are the differences in working with a client in the Oil and Gas industry as opposed to Solar Energy? Is the process the same? Is one more challenging than the other?
Being a relatively new industry, and ultra hi-tech, solar companies tend to be much better at online marketing. There’s unlikely to be anything that I could tell Elon Musk about digital marketing!
For this reason, there tends to be more opportunity to get good results working with oil and gas SMEs, compared to solar companies of a similar size. We’re best placed to work with smaller local installers in the solar industry. For example, small solar companies tend to get started by engineers and installers that branch out on their own. These people can really benefit from local SEO and content marketing to drive leads.
When we chat to a potential client, we look for areas where we can provide leverage, and aren’t afraid to turn business away if we can’t see an opportunity to help. We certainly have ‘perfect clients’ in solar and oil and gas, where their competition is easier, but we approach every job with an open mind.
What differentiates Out of the Box Innovations from the rest? How is it out of the box?
Our sector (Digital marketing, web design, SEO etc) is crowded and highly competitive at both ends of the market. It’s impossible to be the cheapest, as these are companies that are likely to be going out of business. We don’t have the track record to be the most expensive. We compete against companies that email spam or constantly market by telephone or in person.
When Jack Welch was at the helm of General Electric and they were looking at a new vertical, the key question that Jack asked was “can we be number one?” If the answer was no, they’d move on. The vast majority of the work we do at OOTBI is for oil and gas companies, so we’ve niched right down, if I ask myself the question “can we be the number one digital marketing firm for oil and gas companies?” The answer is an empathetic yes.
Every day, we’re learning more about the industry culture, jargon and business practices, as well as strengthening our network. When we produce copy for our clients, their customers can see that the writer ‘knows what they’re talking about’ which is an Achilles heel for the average marketing company when working in a highly technical industry.
How are we ‘out of the box?’ This is an overused term, that often means nothing in practice. Our clients come to us because they need help, if they could 10x their web traffic or increase conversions easily, they would have done it already. We work in energy, but are deeply involved in all internet marketing areas, as well as following tech startups. We like to wow clients with tactics that are completely new and original to them, but are also likely to be integrated from other industries. Every now and then, we create something truly original and ‘out of the box’, it doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s an amazing feeling.
When a client comes to you, what can they expect?
Because we’re a small agency, every single new client deals with me personally. I make myself available practically 24/7 unless I’m asleep. Any commitments or promises made by OOTBI, are made by me, there are no grey areas or small print to trip up on.
The buck stops with me, and I’m the type of person who loves a challenge, and refuse to accept failure. I’ve often worked evenings, weekends, and gone the extra mile to do what I said that I would do.
Sometimes, with SEO or web design, achieving the desired result is a lot harder than initially anticipated. We’ve ended up working at a terrible hourly rate, or have even made a loss on a particular job. I’m fine with this, because my work is also my art and passion, it’s not just about money, and I struggle with defeat! Many CEO’s and managing directors also work in this way, and they recognise these traits when they meet me.
How many people are on your team, or are you flying solo?
In January we’ve a just opened a new office in Exeter, Devon where there are only one or two of us present at any time. For the past few years, OOTBI has functioned as a remote company, where we agree contracts with clients, then outsource the tasks to contractors who choose to work remotely.
Over time, we’ve built up a ‘go-to’ list of highly skilled specialists in different aspects of web marketing. For example, we have some great programmers in Armenia, and some really reliable people in Romania and the Philippines. The benefit for our clients is that the strategy, project management and deliverables are the responsibility of OOTBI, but our cost structure allows us to offer great value for money.
There are pros and cons between having a team all in one office, or spread around the world. With our new office, we’re experimenting with this a little and expect to have a ‘best of both worlds’ solution over time.
What type of services do you provide?
We specialise in content marketing, copywriting, SEO and web design. Due to our network of remote workers, and outsourcing strategy, we’re confident that we can compete with specialist companies that cover other aspects on digital marketing such as paid advertising or social media management.
Our advantage is that we’re deeply entrenched in the energy industry, and can find the best specialists to work with for our clients. We believe that the industry advantage is more powerful than any tactics or techniques that any specialist internet marketer might have up their sleeve.
Can you tell me one thing about you or your company that nobody else knows about? Something that is often overlooked or misunderstood?
Sometimes we might get mistaken for programmers, designers or even oil/gas/petroleum marketers, (as in selling the products).
Whilst there might be a cross over with these types of things, what we really do is solve problems for our clients in creative ways. For example, anyone can make a website in a few hours with platforms like Wix or Squarespace. Anyone in a clients company could write some decent articles to publish.
At OOTBI, we like to dig down to see what a client wants to achieve, then work back from the result. The fastest and most cost effective path to the desired result might be completely different to what the client had envisioned. We use our repertoire of skills and experience, and aim for maximum leverage, to solve our clients problem and help them achieve their objectives for them.
Sponsor Contact Information:
Out of The Box Innovations Limited
1 Emperor Way, Exeter Business Park
+44 1392 314725