In the fast-paced world of marketing, it seems that every day there’s a new agency starting up, and others that sadly close their doors for good. While it can prove challenging in such an intensely competitive industry, some firms do have the tenacity and business intelligence to last the test of time.
At CBD Marketing, Co-CEOs Lori Colman and Liz Brohan are in the midst of celebrating the agency’s 30th anniversary, having started out as a small B2B shop in 1988. We sat down with them to discuss the firm’s early development, how they’re staying competitive in the digital era — and their plans for the future.
THE BEGINNING OF CBD MARKETING
Back when CBD was getting started, you two hadn’t quite formed your business partnership yet. Lori had just pitched her B2B startup to an important client in the technology industry and won against many well-known competitor firms. Shortly after, Liz brought along her expertise, which has had a major influence on the agency’s upward path over the years.
Given your unique experiences, what was your vision for CBD when you first started? Did you have a direction in mind from day one?
Lori: I don’t believe we had a specific direction in mind when we first started out. We were caught up in the excitement of starting a business and just wanted to get going and not mess it up. Digital hadn’t arrived yet, so my vision then wasn’t the same as it is today. Back then, we were more traditional in our offerings, and our focus was on building our agency up — one client at a time.
Liz: I would say I had a clear direction in mind when I joined forces with Lori. The firm was already established in B2B marketing. My vision was to bring the B2C side to the agency. And I believe that still holds true for the most part. Today, we specialize in lead generation, demand generation and customer acquisition within the B2C and B2B space.
THE PRESENT: 30 YEARS IN THE MAKING
Having spent the past 30 years in B2B and B2C marketing is no small feat. It takes more than luck to stay ahead in such a notoriously competitive, ever-changing industry. What has been the single most important factor in terms of the long-term success of the agency?
Liz: I believe it’s our ability to leverage emerging technology. As you know, digital continues to transform the marketing industry, and if your agency can’t adapt quickly enough — it’s easy to get left behind. At CBD, we’re lucky to have a team that has been more than capable of taking on the latest trends to keep clients ahead of their competitive set.
Lori: Marketing technology is an important factor, of course, but if I had to pick — I’d say it’s finding exceptional talent. People who are not only outstanding in each of their roles, but also embrace working as part of an integrated team. We are careful to ensure that our teams aren’t siloed from one another. You really need to have a collaborative spirit to work here.
As digital continues to change the industry as a whole, many agencies are starting to rethink their disciplines, messaging and more. In fact, according to Widen, 80% of marketing organizations have completed or are currently undergoing a digital transformation. Back in 2011, you went through a transformation of your own, with the launch of Market What’s Meaningful®.
This positioning got its start based on CBD's ability to uncover customers’ deeply-rooted, emotional purchase motivators. How has that evolved? Has the rise of digital had an impact on the agency’s positioning?
Liz: Our digital capabilities have certainly allowed us to determine what is most meaningful to customers on a deeper level across various audiences. Being able to look at data, mine it for insights and visualize what’s driving growth brings a depth to Market What’s Meaningful® that makes it a richer, more personal way to go to market.
Lori: When we first created our Market What’s Meaningful approach, it was centered around qualitative research and talking to customers about what’s important to them in terms of the products and services we market. Today, real-time data and online listening tools help provide a deeper perspective on what our audiences truly find meaningful about their interactions with a brand, revealing what truly motivates them to take action. We use this information to constantly optimize everything we do across digital — from paid search to web development.
For CBD’s 30th anniversary, the agency sponsored the adoption fees of 30 at-risk dogs at Chicago Canine Rescue and promoted the organization frequently through social media. You even sent a team there once a month to film adoption videos and create online profiles for each of the sponsored canines. What inspired you to support that charitable cause?
Lori: CBD has been canine-friendly since day one, so helping 30 dogs find homes seemed logical. I’ve adopted and fostered many dogs from Chicago Canine Rescue, and over the years, I’ve also gotten to know the people and staff behind the organization. They truly do amazing work for these at-risk dogs, and we wanted to take part. We’re all avid dog lovers at CBD and there are many CCR alumni here.
Liz: As a dog-friendly agency, it’s truly rewarding to take part in this initiative. We knew we wanted to give back to our community as part of our 30th anniversary, and sponsoring the adoption fees of 30 dogs from Chicago Canine Rescue felt like the perfect fit for us.
Then, we decided to take it a step further and give every member of our team the opportunity to get out of the office for a day, so they can volunteer for the nonprofit organization of their choice. In addition to all of the work that we do, it’s nice to be able to make a positive impact on the world, and our team is always happy to help.
THE FUTURE: A DIGITAL-FIRST AGENCY
Now that CBD has reached its 30th year in business, it’s time to start thinking about what’s next for the agency. With all of the possibilities brought forth by the latest marketing technology, there are several, new opportunities to branch out in the industry. What is your vision for the future of CBD? How have you started working toward it?
Liz: As of late, we’ve expanded our digital capabilities to meet the rising demand for analytics across many of our key verticals. That’s what we’ve found to be driving the most growth right now.
Lori: I agree. The future of CBD revolves around our clients and setting them up to succeed in a digital world. Whether that involves equipping them with the latest marketing technology or building up our team’s expertise to offer one-of-a-kind, innovative solutions, we stay focused on their needs.
We’re currently in the middle of an annual listening initiative, in which we take the time to discuss our progress with each of our clients and try to discern areas where we can improve. Ultimately, we’re working toward being even more holistic in our service offerings in order to achieve their business goals — no matter how complex they are.
CBD Marketing’s 30th anniversary isn’t quite over yet. Co-CEOs Lori and Liz still have major plans in the works, including the recent release of “Words of Wisdom from Kick-Ass Women Vol. 3.” Plus, you can catch Lori at SupplySide West on Nov. 8, where she’ll lead the “Marketing Effectively & Legally via Social Media” session alongside our VP [PR, Social Media and Content Marketing], Bob Musinski.
To stay current on the latest events, news and more from CBD Marketing — including all 30th anniversary happenings — check out our Content Hub.