The Atlanta tech market has been booming in recent years, but it’s not all concentrated in the city center! There are great marketing service providers based in the suburbs of every city, and Atlanta is no exception.
In this week’s “From the Ground Up” interview, we are chatting with Kriston Sellier from id8, an UpCity Certified Premium partner and one of the top branding agencies in the United States. Below we discuss how id8 got its start, their approach to building client relationships, the booming Atlanta tech market, and more!
Q: Let’s start things off by having you tell me a little bit about your company, how it got its start, and the growth you’ve seen.
A: id8 started as an idea that businesses could be better served. When I was in a prior art direction position at IBM, I noticed that sales were not aligned with creative and the sales staff didn’t always understand what they were selling. Many times they’d sell a project and walk away, having sold inaccurate expectations or impossibilities; we would be behind the eight ball from the very start. The thought behind id8 was to deliver a better experience. I wanted creatives to sell creative so accurate expectations were set from the beginning. That was number one.
I also fell in love with the idea of business and design really merging together. In design school, you’re taught how to design, but they don’t always teach you how it connects with the business side of things. That leaves a lot of designers with only half the necessary skills to be successful today. When I started id8, I really wanted to bring the business and design sides together, so when we deliver final work and projects they help transform brands and achieve real business objectives.
Q: We know from experience that keeping your clients’ best interests first usually isn’t the cheapest option for a young business. Besides the obvious problem of cash flow, what has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in growing your business thus far, especially while maintaining such strong integrity at your core?
A: I think the biggest challenge for us has been to always focus on sales. No matter how busy we are, we carve out time weekly to focus on growing the business and achieving revenue growth. If you’re not focused on it every week and you don’t understand what’s wrong, you can’t be proactive and fix things quickly. That’s an easy way to fall behind. Beyond that, finding the right partner is tough, but when you understand your brand and your business goals, those decisions get a lot easier.
Q: Aside from being mindful and blocking time each week to focus on revenue growth, what other strategies have you taken to ensure that you’re not just pitching more people, but that you’re actually building partnerships that will help to elevate your brand?
A: Building relationships based on education and a personal touch has been key for us. A lot of times if I meet with someone and I want to reconnect with them, I send a handwritten note. It’s not about throwing in a business card and hoping there’s a sales opportunity; it’s just about touching base with them.
For example, I recently gave a talk on the importance of LinkedIn to business owners in the area and afterwards there was a number of leftover sheets from the presentation. I went through our list of contacts we hadn’t worked with in the last few months and wrote a handwritten letter to each of them. I included those few sheets from the presentation to help them better their LinkedIn page. This way it’s not just about sales, it’s about building that relationship and educating a partner. If we get one phone call from something like that, or even just someone thanking us, that’s worth it.
We also have an email database that we engage with every four to five weeks with tips for our contacts to use in their business, but we also believe in communicating with people in their own way. We have clients that prefer to be texted, some that like email, and others that want phone calls. When we touch base with each contact, we do it in their preferred method of communication, which really sets us apart. A lot of it is old school thinking and being relationship-driven rather than using drip campaigns or automation. Marketing can be such a big, scary, unknown thing for businesses these days. What a lot of business owners, CEOs, and other leaders want to know is: are we doing the right thing? Giving them tips and tricks from experts in the field allows them to feel confident about their choices and builds your credibility as an authoritative and trustworthy brand.
Q: It must be pretty tiring trying to maintain that level of personal attention at scale. If you don’t mind me asking, how many clients are you generally working with at a time and how do you manage your current client relationships while managing to grow your client base?
A: In the last two years, I’d say we’ve serviced close to 100 clients per year. Right now, we have around 50 active projects. It’s definitely not easy keeping up with those relationships, but we each have specific account focuses and that normally ranges from 10 to 20 different clients. It’s each person’s responsibility to stay in touch with their clients and build those relationships.helps spread out the work across our entire team. As we grow, we hire more people so we can maintain that level of attention and service.
Q: Being near Atlanta, has your location played into your ability to bring in great talent as your needs expand? Atlanta is a hot market for tech right now, but that’s not the case in other cities. For some companies, it can be pretty difficult to find the right fit when hiring, even to the point that generating sales aren’t their main issue, but rather keeping up with operational capacity. In what ways do you take advantage of your location?
A: There’s an excellent workforce that’s dedicated to serving those businesses. It’s not just our location, but the fact that we focus heavily on building a great brand. It’s not that great people aren’t out there, it’s that they don’t know about you. We have our eyes on recruitment 100% of the time. We continually produce content that positions us a great place to work and we pride ourselves on that. I’ll be the first to admit that the high attention to detail we require at id8 isn’t for everyone; however, there are a lot of people that demand excellence from themselves and from others. hose are the people we want to bring on. During the hiring process, potential recruits see that value reflected in everything we do and that goes a long way.
If you aren’t familiar with the Atlanta area, there’s ITP (inside the perimeter) and OTP (outside the perimeter). People outside the perimeter, including ourselves, are a bit looked down upon by those inside the perimeter because of our suburban location. The advantage to working with someone OTP like us is that we attract and seek out talented individuals who are family-minded. They want to work 40 hours a week, and also have the work-life balance to spend time with their families on nights and weekends. We are able to attract that person who wants to do great work, but doesn’t want to commute into the city. There’s only a handful of agencies in the suburbs, so finding a great agency to work for (and to work with as a business owner) isn’t easy. We are the best agency in the Atlanta suburbs.
Q: And I’m sure it goes a long way when it comes to finding clients as well. Would you say most of your clients are based in the suburbs or do you still have a pretty strong client base in the city as well?
A: They’re all over honestly. What I notice most is that our clients whose businesses are in the city of Atlanta live in the suburbs. We work with marketing directors, VPs of advertising, CEOs, CMOs, COOs, and many of them live in our general area. We’re about 10 minutes from Suntrust Park, where the Atlanta Braves play and a lot of our clients are from the north side of the city, but we have clients on the east side, clients on the south side, and all over the suburbs. We also don’t mind traveling to our clients. Our location is a great central spot where we can build those types of one-on-one, personal relationships.
Q: Throughout our conversation we’ve both touched on the importance of being recommendable and building a strong reputation. How has that focus helped your business become what it is today?
A: Just recently I received a call from a gentleman who I’ve never met or spoken with in my life. In fact, when I asked how he heard of us, he said we had been referred by multiple people. We didn’t even know some of the people that referred us, which was the crazier thing! I looked one of them up on LinkedIn and sure enough, she happens to be connected with one of our clients. Those types of moments are so exciting for me as a business owner. We’ve been in business for 19 years. When I started the company, I worked in my basement. To get to the point where people I’ve never met recommend my company based on our reputation is just amazing.
Our reputation has opened so many doors for us. We worked with one client in the insurance industry, Tokio Marine. They aren’t your typical insurance company, and they needed to create proposals regularly. We helped create beautiful branded templates and infographics that helped streamline their process and improve their sales. The owner just happened to be on the board of a nonprofit, and after the project was over, he referred our company to his board. We ended up doing their whole rebranding as one of our next projects! Not to toot our own horn, but after the rebranding they had a 59% increase in revenue, which is amazing for a nonprofit.
Q: That’s amazing for ANY business, let alone a non-profit! Those are the exact stories I love to hear. Before we sign off, I’d love to learn a bit more about the ways that your partnership with UpCity has helped your business thus far and how you foresee the relationship growing in the future?
A: I would say it’s been twofold. Showing up on page one would be extremely difficult if not impossible in our market without the help of UpCity. We initially found UpCity during Q3 last year when I was doing a search for “branding agency in Atlanta.” UpCity came up so I started doing research and got our company listed. We started getting leads from those listings pretty quickly and almost immediately we started getting calls from people interested in our services who had found us through UpCity. That was the only change we made that quarter, so it’s a pretty clear attribution. We started asking our clients to leave more reviews and worked more with our UpCity account representative to see how we could improve our presence and rank higher. It’s definitely helped us build more brand awareness, which is huge for an agency.
Second, we secured one of our largest one-time projects from UpCity back in January based solely on reviews. The great thing about getting all those reviews and winning these awards through UpCity is that we can then promote them on LinkedIn and our other social platforms. We’ve had a lot of engagement and shares starting a number of conversations. We’ve built credibility and legitimacy on social platforms pretty quickly; it’s a nice additional piece of content that gives people the confidence to trust that we know what we’re doing.
In her role as CEO of id8, it is Kriston Sellier’s responsibility to cultivate the company culture she has envisioned since she opened the agency’s doors in 2000—one that nurtures new and innovative thinking, a relaxed approach to communicating with clients, and an understanding of the critical role design thinking plays in every business strategy.
Kriston’s vision is to create a “new agency”—one that brings more tangible value to the client by going far beyond creating designs that are visually appealing. Her goal with each and every client is to work hand in hand to understand their business goals—from generating leads to improving customer service to positioning for expansion—and deliver design solutions that will be an integral part of meeting those goals.
She also works internally to that same end, continually improving the company’s systems to improve efficiencies and maintain higher standards. She also constantly searches out ways to grow and challenge herself and her team. This tenacity has brought success time and time again to id8, including a spot in the Top 25 Best Small Businesses in Working Mother magazine and numerous awards from Graphic Design USA and American Graphic Design & Advertising.
But Kriston is more than a strategist and entrepreneur; she has been an accomplished designer in her own right since 1996. Her work with high profile and global companies like Strength of Nature, IBM, Kodak, Macy’s, and the New York Times has also won design awards from Graphis and other national publications.
Kriston has a Bachelor of Science in Graphic Design from Illinois State University. Born and raised on a dairy farm in Illinois, she is married and has two children. Her free time—when she has it—is spent running, coaching middle school cross country, camping, and building up community organizations.
Founded in 2000, id8 is an award-winning branding agency that specializes in developing conceptual brand identity based on sound strategic planning. We are passionate about helping our clients advance their brand presence in the marketplace, developing brand awareness and boosting profitability. The agency is conveniently located in Marietta Square, serves Metro Atlanta and the Southeast.
Our services encompass all aspects of branding, from research, audits, naming, identity creation, full breadth of marketing materials and sustainable brand plans. The branding work extends into every place a client may see it – including traditional paper, digital, out of home and social platforms.
id8 is pioneering the next century of high-performing branding agencies with our unique Experiential Design approach. When people walk through, touch and interact with your brand there is an opportunity to create a memorable impression—and true brand engagement. Our understanding of user behavior and brand strategy, combined with our deep expertise in marketing, enables our team to create transformative branded experiences and connects your story with your audience in a meaningful way. Advocacy for design has impacted positive social change within id8’s community and beyond.
Our past experiences have shaped our unique idea of how an agency should work. We have seen a lot of waste in the agency world – lots of billable hours from executives who aren’t involved in the work. We’ve even been called the anti-agency. Extreme cost, junior level creatives (even interns) doing all of the work, executives billing 40 hours while taking a shopping trip in New York City, and delivering little value has been the agency model. It’s not working for the clients. Where is the value? id8 practices a lean model, utilizes senior-level creative thinkers who are involved in every aspect of the project. We believe in delivering to every client value and transformation, not bloated budgets.