Sequentia Communications, a Toronto-based marketing and public relations firm, was recently named one of the emerging growth companies on the Profit Hot 50 list. Pipeline spoke to Jennifer Evans, president of the boutique marketing firm, about what got her company on that much-coveted list.
Pipeline: Describe your company – what is an urban marketing boutique?
Jennifer Evans: It means we’re deliberately downtown, we decided not to go out to the ‘burbs, even though office space is much less expensive there. Boutique means we’ve got a couple areas of specialty – technology and marketing to women. We actually just decided to spin out the marketing to women practice and we’re launching a new company called Swing.
Pipeline: Who are some of your clients in the IT field?
JE: We’ve got a broad range of clients, everything from a company called Data Deposit Box, which is an online backup service, to companies like Intel, so we’ve got the whole range, from hardware to software to services. We’ve got a fairly equal distribution, but the majority are probably on the business-to-business software side. We’ve worked with Alias, Data Mirror, and we’ve got some interesting Web-based clients like Red Flag Deals.
Pipeline: How did Sequentia come about?
JE: I founded the company in the fall of 2002. I was director of marketing for Cognicase, which was an IT services firm that CGI bought about four years ago. I was responsible for all the marketing and communications for all their Toronto business units. After I left there I started Sequentia. I recognized there was a real opportunity when it came to technology marketing and B2B technology marketing in particular. For whatever reason B2B marketing has been a really dry, boring area. It’s almost like marketers forget there are people reading these things and making decisions about them when they craft some of the message around this technology marketing, so I thought there was real opportunity for us to have an impact there, and the way we’ve done that is through something we call community building.
Pipeline: What do you mean by community building?
JE: It’s a way companies can shrink the distance between themselves and their customers, and that’s by creating ways … it’s not just a purchase relationship, it becomes an ongoing dialogue between the customer and the organization. We create the strategies and channels to make those things happen because you don’t want just broad-based dialogue, you want focused dialogue that’s going to benefit the customer and the organization, so we create the channels in the media that allow them to have these conversations and help them create better products, services and give customers more of a say in the types of things they are receiving.
Pipeline: The press release says you use technology as a marketing tool – presumably most marketing firms do these days, so to what extent and what kinds of technology?
JE: We’re very much at the forefront of technology so we keep a really close eye on the pulse of what’s happening out there, particularly in the different media and channels that are developing. It’s almost like there are new technologies creating dialogues every day, things like RSS and podcasting, and a lot of companies and a lot of people within organizations hear the names and are familiar with them but they don’t know how they apply to their marketing initiatives and how to use them effectively. For example, blogging is a huge thing right now, but nobody seems to know what exactly they can do with blogging, other than creating a blog and having their own dialogue, so we help companies understand how they can leverage that stuff better and more effectively.
Pipeline: What do you see as the latest technology with the greatest marketing potential?
JE: Blogging has a lot of potential but it really needs to be done properly. What tends to happen is people see the latest buzzword, and feel like it’s the bandwagon they’ve got to jump on so they have to have a blog but blogs can be challenging to maintain. They require regular authorship and you have to have something to say, you can’t just put one up and expect people to come and visit it. So we only recommend blogging to companies with considerable intellectual property or that have a really different take on how technology can be utilized, or different things that can be done, and whose thought leaders are real visionaries in their field. In that case you have something to say and possibly have an audience to create around it as well, but if you don’t, you’re not really going to gain a lot of traction from anything like a blog. There are a lot of things that are interesting, like podcasting and RSS and text messaging, but the thing about all those (technologies) is nobody really seems to get how they can be used most effectively. They’ve got their niche audiences but there’s nothing really broad-scale happening yet, so I guess you could describe it as testing. But I think there’s some really cool stuff happening in game advertising. That’s really going to catch on, I’m not sure how much from a B2B perspective, but much the way product placement happens in TV and film at the moment, you’re going to see more and more in game marketing, so in contextual marketing and advertising. This is really forward-thinking, but I think one of the big breakthroughs from a technology and marketing standpoint is going to be advances made in the area of digital paper, so you have a newspaper that can adjust its messages on the fly and we’re in the very early stages of seeing some of the delivery on some of the early promise of that technology. So you won’t have a static Globe and Mail anymore for example; you’d have ads that can be really tailored and streamed and video and all those things. We’re at least five to 10 years out from anything like that happening but that’s going to be huge. They’re very early. There was a Japanese company six or eight months ago that said it has (designed) foldable digital paper that you can roll up and scroll, and the information on that paper can change.
Pipeline: What are some of the challenges related to the use of that technology?
JE: The biggest issue now is bandwidth more than anything else. It’s still a long ways off. Even with things like RSS and podcasting there are already challenges. The big movement right now is towards personalization and those are technologies that are intended to reach broad audiences, but not on an individual basis, so tailoring individual messaging or personalizing is tough with things like RSS and podcasting, but they do allow for adjustable pieces of information to be delivered so I think there is some potential there too.
Pipeline: Describe how you’ve used IT recently to help a client.
JE: We have a client in the middle of a Web site overhaul. They know their site right now is very static, and they don’t really have a process in place for Web site updating or authorship, and what happens is if you leave a site alone for a long time your visitors drop off, your search engine ranking drops off, it gets very static and there’s no reason for anybody to come back. We’ve helped them design some topical RSS feeds that feed into the main page of their site. They’re headlines related to their industry, recent topics, discussion boards, well-known blogs related to their area, and it’s now an automatic feed. It’s a very simple technology that keeps the Web site fresh. The real issue is they weren’t even aware this kind of technology existed, so that’s the role we play.
Pipeline: Is this the first year you’ve made the Profit Hot 50 list?
JE: Yes. It certainly speaks to the fact that there’s still an appetite for technology marketing out there. From my standpoint as an entrepreneur, you don’t always have the chance to look out and evaluate how you’re doing and it’s nice to have that external validation.