Steven Morris of The Mth Degree discusses why he decided to sell his agency and focus all his time on being a consultant for brands. Steven discusses why brand strategy is the driving force behind a successful brand and comes before mid-to-bottom funnel marketing.
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Here’s the full transcript:
Ryan Shank: All right guys. Welcome back to another episode of growing your agency today. Super excited. We have Steven Morris from the empty degree. Steven, thank you so much for joining the podcast today. I’ll start to be here. Thanks Ryan. Really appreciate it. Awesome. Awesome. So, so tell us, before we dive into too some tactics because that’s what we like to do here. And before we start grilling you with a bunch of questions, tell us a little bit about, uh, your business, your agency, and the approach that you’re taking, uh, and why you’re taking that approach. Yeah, yeah. So my business is less of an agency and more of a consultancy. And so I’ll just get into
Steven Morris: a little bit of backstory about sort of, you know, what I’ve done over the years and, and where I’m sort of at today and I’ll, I’ll fast forward a lot of things to truncate the long journey here. Uh, but back in 1994, I founded my agency and it was a, it was under a different name at that point called Morris Communication and, and Morris designed. And, uh, so I founded it in 94 and for 23 years I ran it, built it, and then ultimately split it apart. So for the longest time, uh, my agency was both a marketing agency, a digital marketing agency, but also a brand strategy company where we went in and worked with the organization. So around the globe as big as Samsung and NFL teams and ESPN and folks like that as small as you know, companies based here in San Diego. Uh, and essentially took them through brand evolution programs.
Steven Morris: And then ultimately what we got hired on for was doing a lot of marketing campaigns and programs for them. So you know, like I mentioned Samsung and LG and Sony, we did a lot of product marketing for them. So lots of them on the products side, creative, but also, um, a lot of work in retail, a lot of work in digital marketing as well. And, and a bunch of work back then in sales training. So what I did two years ago is, are split off the agency. And on one side of the agency was the kind of the marketing arm to it. And then the other side was the strategic arm to it. I’ve split it off and sold the, uh, the marketing side of it. And really now it’s degree me is focused on doing brand strategy work. And so I work with business leaders really at their apex of change and, uh, and I take their organization to the next level, starting with their most deeply held beliefs within the leadership team, capture them into a process that I have infused them within the culture of the organization, and then ultimately build the brand that creates the exterior of the world.
Steven Morris: So, uh, you know, I don’t really get into marketing these days in a direct way other than to craft and create what we consider marketing strategy or marketing plans. So some organizations that I work with after we go through some of the brand building processes, uh, I helped them craft a strategic marketing approach to figure out how to deliver and how to capture, uh, the audience. Uh, in the way that they want to. And really ultimately how you capture a brand loyalty is really what I tend to be focused on.
Ryan Shank: That’s interesting. I was talking to someone recently and they were saying, uh, you know, the how they’re, they’re incredibly focused on copy and just like the psychological effect that like, good, really good copy has. Um, instead of getting caught up actually in like design and that sort of thing. He said, look, if you can speak to someone and you can like really hit those pain points and like resonate with someone, they are, you know, ex, you know, like more likely to buy just because you’re actually speaking their language versus if you had this, you know, well-designed landing pages with the buttons that convert and that sort of thing. So that’s really, really interesting. What, um, you know, what, what made you decide to, you know, you split it up. Why did you not want to go with the marketing route? Why did you say, Hey, I want to take the consultant the,
Steven Morris: yeah. Gotcha. Yeah. My work, Ryan, is I’m big impact. And so I believe that business can be a change for good in our world and a lot of, a lot of um, uh, customers today and really just our culture has lost trust in large institutions and large institutions, but include the government and when include large corporations. And so I think, you know, a lot of, a lot of people are looking to, uh, companies to create the change that they want to see in the world. And so a lot of trust that they put behind them. And so what I do in my brand evolution programs, and the reason I’m focused in that area is because I want to help these business leaders just like you do in your podcast. I want to help them thrive. And I know that organizations thrive when they create their deeply held beliefs connected to a significant value that we can create for a customer, really make a change in the world that our customers. So it’s that big strategic work that I really love doing, which is why I chose to go in that particular, the routes that of the marketing route and not the marketing can’t have changed. But I think that these value systems that organizations have is really the head of the missile, if you will, for how change actually it gets integrated within, even if it’s in a marketing program.
Ryan Shank: Sure. And it’s almost like further up than than uh, than the marketing. It’s almost like that comes first kind of drives, drives marketing, you know, spending positioning. Right. The way
Steven Morris: about is it like it’s upstream. So you know, you have the stream like marketing’s way down here. It’s, it’s after all this other strategic stuff is built. And so I really, what I do is I work on strategy and it’s mostly business strategy, brand strategy, culture strategy.
Ryan Shank: Okay. I mean even a, you know, a lot of the people listening who are starting agencies and going after the marketing route, I think it is important to know that like, Hey, let’s take a step back. Let’s not just go and, you know, chop up a, a new campaign for someone and once we get a client but almost take a step back and really think about those things that are necessary to, to drive the marketing efforts. Um, switching gears into just a little bit of a tactical, you know, uh, stuff, how did you, how do you acquire clients? Like how’d you get your first client when you were starting off? How are acquiring now is very different than how I got my first story. Exactly. That’s why I had to frame it like that. Yeah.
Steven Morris: Um, I, so I’ll, so I’ll tether this to your last point. So Ryan, what you were just talking about where you know, really any business leader needs to focus on, you know, what if their business truly all about, and I’m a firm believer, believer in specialization and expertise. So you know, there’s great companies out there that are experts in SEO for instance. There are great companies out there that are great when it comes to copy or strategy or creative or whatever. My expertise happens to be in business and brand strategy and the tethering and those two things. And so, you know, if you have a position of expertise for any business, this goes from my company, your company, anyone else? The more that you can put that expertise out into the world and get on anything that would be considered a stage or a platform. Now stage could be a literal stage.
Steven Morris: It could be a podcast like this or it could be a platform where you’re actually sending out thought leadership, such as writing a book or sending out a blog. Almost all of my work comes from one of two things. The, the thinking that I do in that which I put out into the world on these platforms where stages or the referrals for companies that have worked with me in the past and they say, you know, amp degreed, Steve and his team did a great job on this. You really need to work with them at that. If that’s your problem, that’s your challenge. So it’s almost all referral and, um, all this workaround really building a platform of expertise.
Ryan Shank: Okay. And could I describe that as content? Putting out content?
Steven Morris: It is, but it’s, it’s a, it’s content of values. So it’s not just content, it’s, it’s making sure that any blog I write, so I have like, you know, 10,000 people on my mailing list, any blog that I send out there, then they’re going to be looking at that content that it’s going to be something for them. I’m never pitching them, I’m never trying to sell them. All I’m doing is putting thought leadership out into the world as valuable for their life.
Ryan Shank: Love it. That’s, I actually recently kind of took this, a similar approach. I was like, look, we got to stop just pitching all the time. Let’s just like give value and interact and just have a lot of like activity with people in the space. Maybe collect something, be that kind of like go to source and then like good things will happen. Right. Starting to just like be known and, and uh, you know, people will look if they have a need at that time or know someone that has a need, um, then they’re gonna think of you at that time. So totally, totally get it. And a, I really like that. Um, that model. What’s, uh, what’s your pricing model? How do you, how do you, when you onboard a new client, how do you decide, you know, what the pricing looks like?
Steven Morris: I really only have a couple of programs that I put together and you know, it’s a lot of companies that come to me, they want to hire me for complete brand evolution program. So I have packages that I set up for that. And there’s a, there’s a base figure that I won’t go below four programs and some, the bigger the company, the more complicated. So, you know, there’s almost always a research component. There’s workshops and then there’s some delivery of the work. So everything that I do is based upon a, essentially a program approach. And then occasionally I have some clients that want me for ongoing strategic work and so they can put them, put me on retainer for that kind of work in the future.
Ryan Shank: Got It. So it’s going to be based on whatever program they want. You kind of itemize out the different, you know, elements to that package and then, um, and then you deliver it to them. What in terms of delivery, I guess, and even maybe project manager, what kind of tools are you using to, uh, you know, kind of put everything together and communicate with the client on the, on those deliverables?
Steven Morris: Yeah. Uh, it’s, I don’t get hung up in the tools, so sorry, I’m probably not going to be a lot of help here. So, you know, like Google workflow processes and Google, you know, all, all the Google tools are really, really adept, uh, cool tools. Like my country’s are a, my clients are all over the country, so zoom and, uh, you know, Skype and things like that for meetings and that kind of thing. But I don’t use a lot of project management tools like Trello base camp or anything like that. Um, now I don’t really need it. Yeah,
Ryan Shank: yeah, yeah, yeah. No, no, it’s totally fair. I think some people I was talking with, I’m talking with someone the other day, they and they had everything like, so you know, like just like almost so complicated and they’re like, we almost just need to like do just hand to hand combat right now because it’s like we’re not at this hyperscale like hyper blitz, you know, growth company. It’s like we just need, um, we almost need to like slow down on that aspect of things. So I do think that is like, um, interesting when people get like overly complex with, uh, with tools. Um, and then in terms of like deliverables to the clients you reporting to them, uh, you know, weekly, biweekly, monthly,
Steven Morris: uh, we have weekly check ins like this morning and have the reason I’m late even for this calls, cause I had three clients, three weekly check ins that I do on Monday morning and one ran a little bit long. Sure. Which cascaded my whole thing. So a weekly check ins, I use a spreadsheet just through excel to make sure that they’re up to speed on all the calendar items that we’re working on and you know, the project milestones and stuff like that. Uh, but weekly check ins for those kinds of things either via zoom or face to face, but it’s usually zoom or, or, um, or a phone call for Monday, Monday morning check ins.
Ryan Shank: Sure. And then when you have to, do you ever have to bring in, you know, outside partners for like copywriting or design and if so, do you have your go to people on upwork? Like I guess, how do you, how do you do that? Well, it’s interesting
Steven Morris: that you bring up upwork because I just hired a virtual assistant through upwork and
Ryan Shank: every single one of these episodes they’ve used upwork. Every single ones, Huh?
Steven Morris: Yeah. And it’s just an incredible tool. Like A, yeah. The Gal that I brought on for the VA work is, uh, you know, she was super responsive and like really appealed, like just awesome. Yeah. So highly recommend that tool. And I’ve tried Fiverr, but, um, it’s, I don’t think they quite the calibers, they’re like, you’re going to get a higher end, uh, type of professional through upwork versus on fiber.
Ryan Shank: Yeah. Fiber to me feels like they almost have like skews of services and they sort of are just delivering these like, you know, bundle of, of services versus, and again, I didn’t, I could be completely wrong, but just from my interactions with, and I’ve done a lot on upwork is just, you know, it just feels like you’re hiring like good quality people that want to find, you know, jobs all over the world versus like, Hey, I will do this one task for, you know, x amount of money. That sort of, I think that’s the difference between
Steven Morris: Fiverr and upwork. UPWORK, you’re hiring people for skillset on Fiverr, you’re hiring skillset for project and then that’s why they presented based on packages.
Ryan Shank: Yeah, definitely. I, I just personally, uh, like the upwork model and, uh, a lot better. Um, sorry, getting into your why, like why, and I know you said you, you want, you thinking big and everything, but like what drives you? Like why are you still, you know, two years ago you broke off. Why, why, why keep going every single day doing for your clients?
Steven Morris: Ryan, I love what I do. Oh my God. I’m just like, I get fired up every day. Every time I’m working with somebody. And you know, you asked the question about the why, what’s my driving purpose, if you will? And my true, um, you know, I’m in this work to help organizations find their own individual purpose and realize their potential in business. And so some of the companies that I work with are actually agency owners, like creative agency owners where I guide them through because I’ve been in the agency world for, you know, 25 years. And occasionally I’m, I, I consult with them. I run mass masterminds even out of those, uh, with, with those folks. And so my driving purpose is to help them understand what their driving purposes and then activate that within their culture and make sure that they’re communicating that clearly to the set of somebody out there that we call customers who are ideal customers out in the world so that that company provides real value. This is what I love doing.
Ryan Shank: I love that. And then, you know, obviously seeing the winds is, is incredibly fulfilling as well. Once you are able to help them and then you start to see the wins it, that they get. Okay. Wrapping it up, we always ask this at the end. What is your morning routine look like?
Steven Morris: Oh yeah. So morning, um, I’m up without an alarm clock, usually between five and five 15. And my first thing is I meditate every day for about 20 minutes. And then I do some type of journaling practice. Uh, that journaling practice is usually a, I’m sorry, my phone was ringing. Uh, the, uh, the journaling is usually a reflection upon the day before and then what I want to accomplish, uh, today. And then I do some type of moment. So I either do yoga, surf, or uh, a trail run. So I’d love, I live right on the canyon here. And so I do one of those three things every day.
Ryan Shank: A couple of follow up questions. Do you use any apps for your meditation, headspace or any of those? Or are you unguided? Yeah,
Steven Morris: no, I’m guided. Yeah, just silent meditation. That’s awesome. Um, yeah, I started journaling recently. So, so when you look at the day before, is it gratitude or is it just a reflection of what happened? It’s two things. So write a sentence on recapping my experience in the day before and then I read a gratitude list of the things that just come up into my attention. And then the, the rest of the journaling is, here are the things that I’m looking to accomplish today or experience today. It can be both. Uh, and then, um, I’m usually thinking about something that, or I’m writing down something that I’ve been thinking about and that could be a blog topic or it can be something that I’m working on with my new book or something like that. All right. Awesome. Steven Morris. The emp degree. Thank you so much for joining us on growing your agency. We will link to your website below and, uh, any where can we work? Can everyone find you? Oh yeah. So, uh, uh, the nth degree.com is where you can find me and firstname.lastname@example.org is my email. Anyone who wants to reach out, feel free. And Ryan, thanks for hosting. Awesome. Thank you so much, Steve. Yeah, see Ya.