“Build a media property that is not based on your expertise, but it is based on the expertise of your most profitable customer.” -James Carbary

If there was any doubt that we are moving into a digital world before the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s only been further cemented by the past year of social distancing.

But how do we build a sense of purpose or culture in a digital world?

Recently, James Robert Lay sat down with James Carbary, founder of Sweet Fish Media and author of the book Content-Based Marketing.

Sweet Fish Media always has a lot going on and has long been a part of the digital communication world with constant contributions like podcasts, videos, articles, and social media posts that all feed into each other. The company has always worked remotely, and the way that James and his team have been working over the past year — even in a pandemic — is really going to expedite their trajectory, thanks in great part to the purposeful way that they have been working together.

Crafting a Culture Remotely

Now that a large portion of the workforce is working remotely, there are even more influential voices speaking on building a company culture without being in the same room. James has taken a lot of wisdom from these leaders, like Patrick Lencioni and Craig Groeschel, but what he and the Sweet Fish Media team have done with this information is unique.

James introduced the concept of OpenOffice to his team. They’ll hold four-hour Zoom calls without any kind of agenda.

Think of it as the equivalent of opening up a conference room door and saying, “Hey, if anybody wants to work in here for this afternoon, like, let's jump on this Zoom call.”

For the most part, for James and his team, it’s business as usual with the video call on mute, with the added opportunity to cross-pollinate, banter, or collaborate on a specific idea.

James and his team have spent a lot of time thinking about purpose and culture. Why? Ancient wisdom says it all:

Without purpose — without vision — there is really kind of no future.

Post-pandemic, financial brands aren’t going to go back to the way things were before.

So, how can banks and credit unions build this purpose and culture in a digital world?

Building Purpose and Culture in a Digital World

James and his team spent a lot of time defining their company, asking questions like:

  • Why do we exist?
  • What’s our mountaintop?
  • Where are we going?

He shared that many organizations use words like “mission” and vision,” but as he put it, these words were “a little bit too nebulous” for Sweet Fish Media.

He explained, “We didn't really know what those words meant. But, ‘why’ and ‘mountaintop’ made more sense for us.”

The Sweet Fish Media Team knew already they were a podcast agency with their own shows, plus the responsibility of producing shows for over 80 different B2B organizations. But as James stated, “But I wanted to add some soul to that and purpose like, ‘Why are we actually producing the content that we're producing?’”

They discovered that their “why” was to inspire others in their own careers, with the notion that one’s work-life — 90,000 hours of one’s life — shouldn't suck. Their goal was to create content to help others get better at work and to actually enjoy it.

Suddenly, their purpose was clear: to share fresh ideas, perspectives, and insights into how other people do things and to help listeners get better at their job.

From their purpose, they were able to visualize their mountaintop:

To educate 1 million people every single day.

By rallying the Sweet Fish team around those two big ideas, James witnessed a total reinvigoration around their purpose. It’s changed the entire culture of the company. As a result?

“We have incredible employee retention; people don't leave our team,” James shared. The cost savings of not having to hire, rehire, and train new team members has made a world of difference.

Why does this matter?

Purpose is at the center of everything an organization should be doing because money is stressful. This stress takes a toll on people's health, their relationships, their overall sense of well-being. Credit unions and financial institutions need to know their customers are looking for someone that they can trust to guide them beyond that stress to a bigger, better, brighter future. Financial brands can be the medium to help people achieve that.

Relationships Can Change Everything

James knows firsthand the importance of building relationships. One chance meeting with someone on a plane that turned into an ongoing business relationship changed the trajectory of his whole life.

Here’s what happened:

Years ago, a friend of James’ won a sweepstakes offer to travel with a group to New York City to take in a New York Giants football game and invited James along. On the private plane ride to New York, he struck up a conversation with the person running the sweepstakes. What happened next? They continued their relationship, and a year and a half later, he was offered an opportunity for a new job in a new city, which changed the course of his professional life, led to him meeting his wife and closest friends and ultimately creating Sweet Fish Media.

Relationships matter.

James knew that when he started Sweet Fish Media, he wanted to provide a way for others to build the same kinds of relationships. “I know that relationships are powerful, and I know that they can be life-changing,” he said. “How do I bake that into my business? How do I build a relationship with somebody, so that our friendship … opens up business opportunities.”

James didn’t want cold calls and transactional business practices. He wanted to build genuine relationships. The way he decided to do that? He explained his thought process. “What if I started reaching out to people that would be my ideal customers? And what if I just started collaborating with them and creating content with them?”

In this, he wasn’t seeking to share his knowledge with other professionals like himself; he wanted to share information with a different kind of audience — one that would help him grow his business. As he explained, “I am not a VP of marketing at a B2B technology company with 50 plus employees, but I know that my buyer is.”

James has focused his work on helping the companies he works with build individual relationships with the exact people that they're trying to do loans for. And? They’re also educating their loan officers on all the different facets of the businesses they are working with — helping them find other ways to serve these companies.

What does this mean for Sweet Fish Media’s clients?

It opens them up to new revenue streams because they know their customers better.

This gives Sweet Media and their clients the ability to share stories that make a difference — that make it personal.

Focus on Transformations Over Transactions to Convert

Sweet Fish Media is using its platform to help brands tell personal stories. Financial institutions can do the same to build and share relationships, telling stories of individual transformations. And the result? It pays off.

James is looking to build a long-lasting relationship with the people he features on his show. With each podcast, there’s a whole process that’s been carefully curated to build a foundation for a strong relationship, from the pre-interview through the podcast to further collaborations and sharing episodes, articles, and more following each interview to cement the relationship.

James Robert added, “That is the core definition of digital growth. Digital growth is well-defined systems and processes that have been centered around the modern consumer journey to generate traffic to your website, to take that traffic and turn it into leads, and then ultimately convert those leads into loans and deposits.”

It’s not about an immediate transaction. It’s about the long-term relationship. It’s about investing in the people you are working with and focusing on helping them grow. Your payoff may come years down the line. The buying journey for financial products is an extremely complex one, which can take months to develop. After all, the more complex the product, the longer the buying cycle.

James Robert shared, “It's going to take time, but the more deposits you make, the more interest you'll gain, the more trust you'll build … This is about helping first and selling second.

Category Creation: Helping First and Selling Second

Banks and credit unions have an extremely unique opportunity with the content they create to connect with individuals — without feeling like they are selling to them. James offered that they hear from many of their clients that they can’t talk about certain things in their industry because they are dealing with regulations. His response? “Good. You shouldn't be talking about that anyway because it's going to bore people to tears.”

Instead, James suggests that when it comes to creating content, that it’s important for organizations to talk about something that is of interest to their potential clients, which allows these institutions to position themselves as the voice of that interesting thing. Why is this? Ultimately, when these clients need something, they will reach out to those organizations.

James Robert agreed, calling this strategy category creation. What does this mean? “Create a category, own the category, be the bank for people that love beer, and that becomes your central button.” With this category, banks and financial institutions can easily answer the question, “Who are we going to help? And more importantly, why are we going to help them?”

The Most Profitable Customer

James shared one final piece of advice, “Build a media property that is not based on your expertise, but that is based on the expertise of your most profitable customer. As a bank, you probably got lots of different potential customers. Hone in, who is our most profitable? Is it construction CEOs? Is it pharma? What is it? What's it look like for us? What is our sweet spot client?”

From there, banks can start to build a media property around that specific persona. And in doing so, banks can create content that’s been carefully designed to build relationships and connect with these targeted groups.

He continued, “Be it a podcast, a video, a series of blog articles that your team runs … [a bank’s] focus should be … building a media property around the persona of their best-fit customer.”

James Robert agreed. “Building a media property is such a key.” Why? As a financial institution, this is an asset that you own and can assign a monetary value to. It’s yours. And as time goes on, it can help you grow exponentially.