PODCAST EP 81
Business Tips from BDO with Andrew MacDonell
On Episode 81 of The Paper Planes Marketing Podcast Simon chats with Andrew MacDonell, Associate Director at BDO.Listen Now
Simon Dell: Welcome to the show, Thibaud Clement, who is in LA at the moment in Studio City. Thank you very much for joining us today.
Thibaud Clement: Thank you Simon for having me.
Simon Dell: Now, you are the CEO of a software company called Loomly, if that is right. Give us a bit of an overview about what Loomly does.
Thibaud Clement: The way we present ourselves usually is that we are a brand success platform, meaning that we help our users and customers actually collaborate and build a better brand online for their business. At the moment, we do that for over 5,000 clients around the world.
Simon Dell: Before we go any further, you need to explain the Loomly logo to me.
Thibaud Clement: I’ve been working with my spouse, Naomi, for eight years. And before starting Loomly, we were actually managing an advertising agency, just like you. We were operating in France. Our biggest client was [INAUDIBLE 00:04:09] and we are also operating here in the US. We spend a lot of time on social media. We spent a lot of time creating content for our clients. And as you’re probably familiar with this kind of insider joke, you always say that a cat is a social media manager’s best friend because whenever you put out a little photo, or a GIF, or a video of a kitten doing whatever, you will have tons of likes, and shares, and comments.
Basically, the idea behind our logo, which is two social media chat bubbles forming a cat head, is basically Loomly is your best friend for social media and is going to help you create better content so that you get more likes, and shares, and comments, even when you’re not publishing kitten pictures.
Simon Dell: I get it. Does the cat have a name?
Thibaud Clement: It doesn’t, no. You can name it whatever you like. It’s more customizable this way.
Simon Dell: We get a lot of people listening to this who are starting up businesses, in startups, or whatever. You went from an advertising agency to building a piece of software. For me, who has done that and is doing that, that seems a completely sensible thing to do, but what was the moment that you clicked that said this is the way you want to pivot, you wanted to change the business? What caused that change?
Thibaud Clement: It almost happened the other way around. We had this advertising agency both in France and the US, and we were serving a pretty wide array of customers, big and small. Like I said, our biggest customer was L’Oreal, and we were managing five brands for them. You can imagine the high end of the spectrum. We also work with smaller businesses and everyone in between like fast growing startups looking for more growth.
And there was one thing that was common to all of those clients: it was the process that we had to plan, prepare, and send them content suggestions for the weeks and months to come. And so, that’s something you’re probably familiar with and something that in the business we tend to call creating and managing an editorial calendar. And all of that was happening within Excel or spreadsheets.
As you may know, Excel is terrific when you have to play with numbers. It was not really meant to include a lot of text, creating assets, or to collaborate with people going back and forth and getting some approval. The process was repetitive, time-consuming, error-prone. And so, we tried to find something different to basically streamline the process. And all we could find online from existing tools were basically two families of tools: One was, I would say, generic project management software that were great for collaboration, but were not meant for the actual content publishing process; what you and I are probably very familiar with from ID generation, to content creation, mocap generation, and some kind of approval process, and then distribution of the content.
There was this first family of tools, generic project management software. There was another family of tools which were a bit better in the sense that they were allowing us to distribute the content, so we could call them social media schedulers: HootSuite and Sprout Social that are all very great software.
And basically, they were terrific at scheduling and distributing existing content, but they were falling short on the aspect of creating the content before that, the front of the funnel, and enabling the collaboration. Because we couldn’t find anything, we said, “Okay, we’ll just build it for ourselves.” It was just an internal tool. I’m not even a software engineer. I just learned everything on my own, and that was back in 2015, I started programming by night and consulting by day in the agency. And by the end of the year, we had a prototype up and running and we started using it with our clients. We did not tell them it was our own product because we wanted some honest feedback and not just a pat in the back.
And they actually loved it. One of our clients even told us he would fire us as an agency if he had to go back to using Excel after trying the platform. That would probably be the a-ha that you were referring to. And so, we decided that maybe some other people could enjoy that. And so, we opened up a platform that was better and we received a lot of terrific feedback. One thing led to another, and at some point, things got out of control in the right sense. That’s when we decided not really to pivot from the agency to the startup, but more the startup was just taking all of our time. And so, we decided it was more the right thing to do to put the agency side on hold.
Simon Dell: I met somebody the other day who ran a restaurant, she was building a piece of software for her to use internally. As she was building it, she thought other restaurants will be able to use this as well. I guess there’s a lot of people that have that thought. They can see that there’s a gap for something in their business that they could possibly build.
When you built that software, were you building it yourself? Did you employ software developers? Did you outsource that? Was there another agency building it for you? How did you approach that?
She was basically the first user, so it was terrific because I was building it, she was giving me the feedback, and so we had this instant feedback loop that helped us get to this first stage of the prototype, and then we started growing a little bit and we’re able to hire a talented engineer who knew better than I. That’s how we got started.
Simon Dell: A lot of businesses in our target demographic, small to medium-size enterprises, they still, in 2020, after Facebook had been around for 10+ years, find it hard to produce content consistently. Is there a discipline behind it? Is there a trick to creating some sort of focus that you can make sure that you’re actually consistently producing content for these social platforms?
Thibaud Clement: Yeah. I don’t know if it’s a trick, but what we’ve seen working consistently: Initially, when Naomi and I built our first e-commerce business, which was selling candy over a subscription model, and then later on, as we were operating an advertising agency. And now, that we are basically serving over 5,000 marketing teams and small businesses around the world, there’s one thing that always pops up, that everyone is consistently getting back to when they’re being successful. That is implementing a process.
That process is actually very simple. It’s all about having some publishing guidelines, which is basically how often you want to publish, on which platforms, what kind of content, the topics you want to cover, what you want to leave out, those kind of things, and having some sort of editorial planning, meaning that you are going to lay out ahead of time the content that you’re going to publish in the next few days, weeks, or months; prepare that content in batches. That’s when you are the most effective. And then either schedule it ahead of time to be published automatically, or to set some reminders for you to basically publish it on time manually at the right moment.
When I say publish automatically, I really don’t mean automation, like some kind of tool that would automatically kind of take some content from somewhere and publish it automatically for you in your account. I’m talking about creating some authentic, original, and sincere content, something that make sense for your brand and tells your brand story. And of course, preparing it ahead of time and setting it to be published down the line. I would say having this process or workflow where you prepare everything ahead of time, and you get the big picture, and you have a vision of the story you want to tell in the next few weeks or months, and you prepare the content once, this is probably the most effective strategy to consistently be able to publish on social media and to publish great content.
Simon Dell: You mentioned a couple of words there, authentic and original, which is obviously at the heart of all social media content or any content. I find companies struggle to understand what authentic content is. Give me how you would explain to a customer what authentic content is.
Thibaud Clement: You can look at what your competitors or peers are doing, but taking what they do and repurposing it with your own flavour is not the best definition of authentic that we could get at. Authentic goes back to – before content comes the story. What’s your story? Where do you come from as a business owner or as a founder? Why did you start your business? What makes it different? Do you have specific values, or a specific process, or specific partners, a specific way to hire your team? What is really unique about yourself? By definition, it’s not getting something unique about other people.
And so, when you start from there, you can basically craft your brand story and say, “Okay, this is what is unique about us. This is who we are serving, who our target audience is. And so, we are going to basically present every single piece of content, every single interaction we have with them through the lens of that uniqueness.” That’s basically how you build an authentic brand story.
At Loomly, we are a startup, but you already know that I’m French, I work with my spouse, and it’s true that many things that we do in the company – even if it’s not for communication, it’s just for the way that we manage the company – is influenced by culture and the fact we are basically a mom and pop startup. That is a unique value proposition compared to some of our biggest competitors who are 10x or 100x bigger than we are, because it allows us to let all of that attention to detail, and passion, and love transpire in everything we do.
Simon Dell: There’s an element where I always think that, to be producing good content, you need to be relatively creative. I think people that are running businesses sometimes might be creative, but they might not have the time to be creative. All those kind of challenges that people have thrown at them, is there a way that you can maybe trigger that creative element? You talk about telling your story. We had a podcast on a couple of weeks ago with a lady called Mandy who has done a lot of brand work.
She always talks about getting the brand values right for your business and all those kind of things. Do you think this is something that people should potentially outsource from a creative perspective? If they’re struggling with time, do you think they should be going to ask other people for help, or do you think it’s going to be more authentic if they’re doing it themselves?
Thibaud Clement: I need to break it down into several talking points. I will probably start with the end of your question: “Should you outsource? Can you be authentic when you outsource?” I think you can be authentic when you outsource. This is the reason why we built Loomly. There’s one thing that we are convinced, Naomi and I: Maybe some people are better at creating nice visuals than you are. Maybe some people are more comfortable with words than you are, and so they are better at crafting copy. But one thing is for sure: No one knows your brand better than you do.
And so, we think that in the end, even if you did not create the content, what you should be doing for sure is approve the content; making sure it’s aligned with your brand values, your brand story, what you want to say, your brand messaging. If you do that, I would say it’s okay to work with an outsourced team who is going to be more efficient at actually creating the content.
But what you are the guarantor of, as the brand owner, is anything that goes out is on brand. That is the most important part. I would say that’s one. Two, going back to the first part of your question about creativity: I think that in the past 10 years that I have been working out in the social media and digital marketing and advertising sphere, every single time, I have seen consistency with creativity. That’s for sure, because this is a long-term goal. Maybe if you are super creative and super lucky, maybe once, you will have a post go viral. And then the next day, you’re just falling off everyone’s radar.
However, if you are here day in and day out building your brand, telling your brand story, pushing out some authentic content, then you are going to build an audience over time, and this is going to make it successful much more than being a creative genius once. The last part is a good question, which is about “how can you spark this creativity if you don’t feel like you are the creative type?” I think creativity is more like a muscle than a gift. It’s something that you can train, and the more you use it, the better you are at it.
And so, basically, there are indeed tricks that you can use to basically spark your creativity. That’s another thing that we do at Loomly. Again, it’s something you can do without Loomly, absolutely. In Loomly, we give you some post ideas, and those are based on trending topics on Twitter, so that you can have some ideas of what the conversation is and you can harness that conversation to basically talk about your brand. That’s one.
Two, you can subscribe to many RSS feeds that talk about topics that are related to your brand, so that you also know what is going on in your industry, or your geographic area, and you are able to basically also have a sense of what the conversation should be these days, and this gives you some ideas of what to post about.
Another thing that you can leverage is some kind of date-related events, like Earth Day, or International Cat Day, all these kind of things, where you can anchor your own communication into the current context. It’s not about just saying, “Hey, it’s Earth Day. Happy Earth Day, everyone!” It’s more like, “Hey, today is Earth Day and here is what we are doing in our company to celebrate that.” And this helps you to position yourself in the actual life of your audience.
Simon Dell: When we create contents plans for customers, there’s some great websites out there with stupid or strange, weird holidays that can be celebrated throughout the world. There’s a World Pizza Day and all those kind of things. Not only are there international ones; there’s national ones as well. There’s massive databases of these, and all of a sudden, you can create really, fun content by playing around with those things. And then I always say in Australia and the US, there’s standard holidays that happen every time every year like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and all those kind of things. You’ve got content that you can produce not just for online, but within your business around those events.
If you can’t find content for 12 months in the year, I would often argue you’re not looking hard enough.
Thibaud Clement: It’s correct that there are many sources of ideas that you can leverage to shed a light on something that you may not be thinking about yourself, but then you can look at it and you say, “Oh, yeah. This is interesting for us because so and so.” That’s exactly the part of the process that I was referring to earlier, where you want to decide how often you want to publish, so maybe twice a week. And when you look at the upcoming months, it’s very easy to say twice a week, there are four weeks coming up, it’s 8 posts. I’ll think about what’s happening in my business and I will start with that.
Then I will look into a couple of things that are trending on social media and/or some of those international dates, and that will basically fill my plans for the next few weeks. That’s basically how you can break down this process or work around the writer’s block because you are like, “Okay, I’ll just break this down into some very simple and actionable steps.” And you find there are many ways to find inspiration around the web.
Simon Dell: I to finish up by talking about a couple of the channels. I would imagine that somewhere, you may have some opinions on what channels people should be focusing on. Normally, I would say, and I would suspect you would agree, that the channels depends on your target market, what you’re trying to achieve, et cetera. Would that be true for what you believe?
Thibaud Clement: Yeah. I think that in an ideal world, what you want to do is… You want to find yourself in a platform that is at the intersection of where your audience is and where your competitors aren’t. That is the perfect world. That’s easier said than done. And so, of course, the priority is to be where your audience is. Now, it’s very interesting to see these days that more and more of the social platforms that we all know and love are growing exponentially, although there are the usual suspect, it’s true that in particular, there are three on which we see some increasing opportunities to build a brand and do some fantastic things.
One, of course, let’s just get it out of the way. Of course it’s TikTok. It’s so massive and beyond the app and the social network itself, I think everything that is being built around it is disruptive and people impressive, the tech, the business strategy, so many things. I think TikTok, it’s skyrocketing for a reason. If you are mostly in a B2C setting and you are targeting mostly a younger audience, then of course it’s a no-brainer.
Simon Dell: It’s an insane platform at the moment. It’s such a time sink. You can start. You can watch it, turn it on for two minutes, and the next thing you know, 20 minutes has passed. And I guess just to sort of go off on a tangent there, Facebook and Instagram are looking at building a competitor. YouTube’s going to be building a competitor. Do you think they’re too late? Do you think just TikTok has just got that market now that it’s going to be too hard to knock it off the porch?
Thibaud Clement: I don’t know. We’ve seen things happen in one way and the other way in the past, Snapchat and Instagram war has been interesting in that regard. I don’t know. I think it’s interesting to see how each platform is going to evolve. I think that what’s interesting about Facebook and Instagram is that they have built this mode with their network effect, and the fact that you and probably everyone else has probably tons of friends on Facebook and Instagram. It kind of makes you come back. That’s interesting.
What is happening with TikTok is that you can just open up the app. You don’t even need to sign in or sign up, and you will start seeing content. You don’t even need to have friends over there. That’s where it’s interesting. And the question is going to be how these two models are going to evolve in the future. It’s possible that at some point, with TikTok, people will at some point need some more connections and we don’t know. But maybe it’s also possible that this is the future in how platforms are going to be built, because this lowers the barriers to.
Honestly, I don’t know yet. What I think is that those are two big and impressive companies, Facebook on one hand and TikTok on the other hand, and they have found a way to entertain, and attract, and retain so many people. We can probably trust them to keep doing so.
Simon Dell: There’s an announcement that came out that TikTok’s put aside $200 million to fund people to create content, which I think is fantastic but it’s also completely insane.
Thibaud Clement: It’s actually super interesting that you mention that because… Do you know who also thinks that TikTok is a big competitor for them? It’s Netflix.
Simon Dell: Really?
Thibaud Clement: Yeah. And for the first time in their corporate documents, they are referring to TikTok as a competitor for them, while they never in the past mentioned other social networks and they never even mentioned Quibi, which would be a direct competitor.
Simon Dell: I downloaded Quibi and I still don’t understand it. I think that was a product built by a committee. Anyway, it’s interesting you say that about Netflix, because I sit there and go, if there was a TikTok app on my smart TV, on my Apple TV, the opportunity to sit and turn it on and then again be 20 minutes, 30 minutes into it watching TikToks, that’s an attractive proposition for people who want to advertise as well.
Thibaud Clement: Correct. One thing that Netflix noted is that one of the challenges that all networks, TV channels, streaming platforms are running into these days because of the pandemic is content creation. TikTok doesn’t have that problem because basically everyone can create content from their phone, and they have developed the perfect app to create some nice videos, edit them, and enhance them. That’s why it’s super interesting that they are putting aside $200 million to help creators. That’s basically, they understand that content is king, always been king, and probably will always be king.
Simon Dell: Aside from TikTok, what’s your other favourite platform? What else do you think has still got growth opportunities and audience opportunities?
Thibaud Clement: TikTok of course is one of the most obvious ones. YouTube is pretty impressive these days, and the reason why we’re impressed with YouTube is because we are seeing audience growth that we haven’t seen for a while on other platforms. If you look at a couple of influencers that you appreciate, you will see that maybe it took them quite a while to go from 0 to 1,000,000 followers. But then you will see how fast they go from 1 to 6 million. That is extremely interesting because it shows the room that there is here for opportunity. For instance, I love looking at food videos, cooking videos. Many of the creators that I’m following now, when I started following them, they had like a couple thousand or tens of thousands of followers. Now, they’re in the millions. It seems there’s a huge acceleration of the growth of their audience. And so, I think YouTube is really – I wouldn’t say underrated, but it’s usually underappreciated for brands and creators because there is a lot of things to do on YouTube. That would be two.
The third one I believe is LinkedIn, because it’s B2B but there is a lot to do over there. The algorithm is still pretty favourable, especially for personal profiles. And so, there are great things you can do in terms of storytelling, telling the story of your brand or business, but through your own eyes. That is interesting from a branding perspective, because it kind of brings a new take on whatever you’re doing, the more human touch.
Simon Dell: I’m going to throw one at you. I only started looking at it probably a couple of weeks ago, but Twitch. Have you experienced much in Twitch?
Thibaud Clement: Personally, I haven’t that much, but what I find really interesting with Twitch is that it started mainly with the gaming community, and is still big over there. Btu what I find interesting now is because of the current context and the pandemic, we are seeing more and more industries and verticals moving onto the platform to try and find new revenue streams, and basically reposition themselves. One of the best examples is probably DJs who can’t go to any venues, events, festivals, and clubs, but they have a lot of sets. And so, they can basically keep sharing their music, their new productions, their talent, and having their following follow them and sometimes tip them as well.
Simon Dell: My last question for you today. You’ve obviously got 5,000 customers using your platform. Who, out of those 5,000, do you think is killing it? Who is doing the best content job? It doesn’t have to be someone on the platform, but who would you be looking at and saying, “Those guys are smashing it in the marketplace.”
Thibaud Clement: That’s where it’s super interesting. I would rather keep things rather anonymous and confidential for privacy purposes, but most of the time, I’m happy to speak with our customers and help them myself so I see what they’re doing. And most of the time, I’m blown away by non-profit organizations and charities. And for one simple reason: They are the ones who tend to be the most authentic, with the most genuine content showing real pictures of real humans, things are not necessarily photoshopped, and you should see the engagements on these posts.
Because when you see these posts, you just want to react, respond and engage. I think this is terrific and that’s one of the things that I love the most about what we do. We also heavily contribute to helping with [INAUDIBLE 00:37:52].
Simon Dell: Thank you very much for your time today. It’s been an absolute pleasure. I hope things work out over there in LA and the rest of America with the pandemic as well. Hoping it all comes back to normal relatively quickly, but really appreciate your time on the show. If anybody wants to check it out, it’s loomly.com. Where are they best to find you as well, Thibaud? Where can they track you down if they’ve got a question on you?
Thibaud Clement: You can find me on LinkedIn, type in my name, or you can find me on Twitter as well. My email is not that hard to find, it’s just my first name. I never respond to every single email.
Simon Dell: I suppose we better make sure everyone knows how to spell your first name. Whilst it’s pronounced T-Bo, it’s T-H-I-B-A-U-D. The uncultured out there who don’t understand these beautiful French names, that’s how you spell it.
Thibaud Clement: Thank you very much, Simon. It was a pleasure being with you today.
Simon Dell: Thank you very much, mate. Cheers.