Guest post from our Brand Amplifier 2014 Spring Edition Contestant, and Instagram Challenge rock star, Emma Lanman, CEO and founder of Van Girls. Emma’s BA inspired Instagram campaign garnered hundreds of views within days of publishing. Let’s find out her secret to success.
I was an arty kid, into drama and painting. I wanted to be an interior designer or an actor, or an architect, that kind of thing. My working life has been varied, starting off in art galleries and theatres, moving on to firefighting and now running my own business, Van Girls.
From the get go I have loved the creativity of running my own business. Everything from brainstorming names, working on the logo and branding and producing marketing material has had me excited and fully absorbed. On top of that, I am what you might call an over-empathiser. I can’t help it. I worry about every customer. Do they love us enough? Do they feel special enough? Are we fun enough for them to come back? This helps me channel my creativity to really engage our audience.
Faced with the challenge of communicating through social media as a removals woman and van company, my first problem was who on earth would want to follow a van company on Twitter? When looking through the Twitter feeds of rival companies, I sensed they hadn’t really been honest with themselves and put themselves in the shoes of someone who isn’t their mum or their best friend. The average “Tweeter” isn’t proud of you and ready to support you no matter what. They want to be engaged, amused and listened to.
I had to find a way to create content that I would actually want to read or look at, enough so that people would want to follow us and see more. So it had to be about real people – the Van Girls and our customers. It had to be about aesthetics – the aesthetics of the ordinary, or the extraordinary, that we see on our day-to-day jobs. Finally, and this is important, it had to have humour. Otherwise it would just be a Twitter feed about vans.
Brand Amplifier has pushed me to expand this, drilling in the idea that “Content is King, Conversation is Queen” and stimulated me to use Instagram where I was inspired to produce some really popular series’ of images, #7daysaVanGirl and #BeforeIwasaVanGirl.
My Brand Amplifier Instagram Challenge entry:
#BeforeIwasaVanGirl I played football for England!
This was seen by 750 people on facebook!
I applied this empathetic view to every aspect of our marketing. I found projects I could really enjoy, including commissioning an illustrator to create our own land girl-esque postcards to advertise in coffee shops. Why did we need these? Because who would pick up and keep a postcard with a van on it?
For creativity to flourish, you need to let it in without judgment. I have a constant flow of new business ideas, some fit really well with our current offering while others are totally unrelated. I let them in without too much thought, share them with my team and we just sit with them for a bit. Some fall away and some we keep coming back to. Eventually the good ones emerge from the rest and you realise you’ve got a good’un! Innovation is key for the survival of any business and to foster a culture of innovation you must let creativity in.
An example of our creative video content:
Van Girls Driver Test: “Don’t Spill The Water!”
The downside to overflowing creativity is that it can be a distraction. I can be found in a corner mocking up cardboard leaflet stands for an event with glue, postcards and glitter when there are accounts to be done. I can spend hours plotting the visual evolution of Van Girls when I should be focusing on getting more jobs in for next week to get the bills paid. I once spent two days getting beautiful Van Girls branded cupcakes made and delivering them in hand decorated boxes to lingerie brands to get ourselves introduced, because we had one lingerie brand as a customer. They were all overjoyed with the delivery but it didn’t convert to bookings.
So if you’re a creative at heart, you need to filter it a bit so you don’t get carried away with an idea because of its creative merit without researching if it has a sound business case.
Every year I get illustrated Christmas cards designed, handwrite them and wax seal the envelopes. Everyone loves this personal gesture and it has proven to bring customers back to us and reinforces their loyalty.
Your time is precious. I know mine is near extinction at the moment. So don’t let yourself get too distracted by cutting and sticking, but when a good idea comes along, you have to pay attention. At this moment I am contemplating going after one of my business ideas, which would place Van Girls at the forefront of innovation amongst removals companies, but it could distract me from the work of growing the company. I’m teetering on the edge and considering my options. If I know me, and I think I do, I’ll probably go for it head first! But the difference is, this time I’m pursuing it for the long term business benefits.
Follow Emma @van_girls for her latest creative musings.