- Product design and innovation studio AJ&Smart has generated more than €2million from clients who first discovered it on social media.
- Ninety percent of AJ&Smart’s new clients now come from social media referrals, replacing word-of-mouth as the #1 source of new business.
- Social media has helped AJ&Smart’s client base to go global.
It was a cold January morning in Berlin, Germany, and Jonathan Courtney was feeling a bit stuck.
Nearly six years had passed since he founded design agency, AJ&Smart. And though the business had been a huge success — winning multiple awards and building a roster of big-name clients — Jonathan felt there was much more to come for his agency and team.
“But what?” he wondered to himself. “How can we take AJ&Smart to the next level?”
After much deliberation, Jonathan made a bold decision.
“Do you really want to do this?,” one advisor asked.
Other CEO friends in Berlin shared similar feelings. “Not only did they not understand it, they thought I was actively damaging the company,” he told me.
So what was it that sparked such impassioned responses from his friends and advisors?
Jonathan wanted to share everything that happened at AJ&Smart on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, giving followers behind-the-scenes access to the agency.
Yet now, 18-months down the line — and despite the initial pushback from advisors — AJ&Smart has generated in excess €2million in revenue from clients who first discovered the agency on social media.
‘We invested almost all of our profits in building our brand’
Whether you love his work or not, Gary Vaynerchuk is hard to ignore in the social media space.
If you’ve ever listened to his podcasts or stumbled upon a few of his tweets, you’ve probably heard some variation of his ‘Document. Don’t create’ blueprint. It was this strategy that encouraged Jonathan to take the plunge into the world of social media.
Trying to create content was always a big issue for Jonathan. He liked the ‘Document. Don’t create’ strategy because it was focused on simply showing people what was happening day-to-day and it didn’t require him or his team to spend hours planning what they’d publish.
“People think that you’re damaging your brand if you’re not being super careful about it. But while other agencies are thinking about what they should post each week and writing their social media guidelines, we’ve produced and published like 20 hours of content in that same amount of time and already have people engaging with it.”
CEO & Co-founder, AJ&Smart
Once Jonathan and the AJ&Smart team had decided to embrace social media, they went all in. “We invested almost all of our profits in building our brand,” Jonathan told me.
And though his strategy was a little out there for a creative agency — most agencies keep their cards close to their chest, Jonathan explained during our call — there was a strategic reason behind it.
AJ&Smart helps clients with product design and innovation as well as working closely with the Design Sprint creator (& NY Times Best Selling author), Jake Knapp. But it’s a competitive space.
“We’re in a commodity market,” Jonathan says. “We could compete on price or just rely on the quality of our work. But I didn’t want to do that.”
Jonathan wanted AJ&Smart to stand out alone in the field of design agencies. He wanted the business to have its own brand. “My belief was having a highly engaged audience would benefit us more than simply just focusing on client work,” he explained.
‘Instagram is our social media hub’
AJ&Smart decided to go all in on social media when Instagram launched Stories. “It was a super low friction way to create content and a great way to get started,” Jonathan said.
AJ&Smart uses Stories to be provide an authentic look at what the agency is like day-to-day and tries to show as much of what’s happening in real-time as possible.
For example, in its Stories you might see behind-the-scenes at a client workshop:
Or the team traveling to meetings with clients:
This type of content is super interesting for AJ&Smart’s followers, but it also provides talking points for its clients. “We’ll go into an office of a client and because of Instagram they’ll know the whole journey we’ve gone on to get to them. They always talk about it when we arrive,” Jonathan explained.
When it comes to the Instagram feed, it posts highly curated content that’s focused on design-related hashtags it wants to reach:
Hashtags are important for AJ&Smart to reach its target audience on Instagram. “A huge thing for us is designers following us,” Jonathan explained. “Designers follow us and then when their boss is looking to hire an agency, they recommend AJ&Smart. It’s made sales so much easier for us.”
Instagram has also evolved into a central hub for all of AJ&Smart’s content and it uses the Stories Highlight feature to showcase its content across platforms.
For example, one highlight showcases its podcast:
And another talks about its ‘Innovation Hackers’ Facebook Group:
“We’re big believers in re-purposing and re-packaging content tailored to the platform. We usually find that when someone starts following us on one channel, they’ll very likely soon start following us across our other channels too, which is fantastic. It also keeps us on our toes to always be putting out interesting, fresh content that is specific to the platform.”
Head of Growth, AJ&Smart
‘If you’re just focused on the numbers, you’re not going to succeed’
Social media success rarely, if ever, happens overnight.
After a couple of months of investing heavily in social media marketing, AJ&Smart had only picked up a few hundred followers here and there. And it took about eight-months in total before potential clients would contact the company saying they found it on Instagram, YouTube or any other social channels.
“If I hadn’t have been patient I’d have given up long before we started to see the benefits of social media. If you’re just focused on the numbers, you’re not going to succeed,” Jonathan explained.
The ROI of social media marketing
Just over a year-and-a-half after AJ&Smart went all in on social media, it’s seeing massive return on its investment:
- 90 percent of its clients first discover the agency on one of their social media channels
- Social media has been responsible for a minimum of €2 million in revenue
- Its client base has expanded globally thanks to its social media presence
“If a company interviews us and two other agencies and the work and costs are similar, they tend to book us,” Jonathan says.
“They will choose AJ&Smart because they can get an insight who we are from social media, they feel we’re an authority because of the content we create and sometimes clients even ask for certain team members after seeing them on stories.”
“Having a strong social media presence is massive for us. To the point where almost every customer coming through our door already trusts us, knows who we are and what we stand for. It’s not only how many of our clients find out about us, it’s usually what convinces them to choose us over our competitors.”
Head of Media, AJ&Smart
How to start grabbing attention and winning clients
AJ&Smart has been incredibly successful on social media by being authentic and sharing what goes on at the agency every day. It doesn’t spend hours planning content or creating elaborate, highly-edited videos. Instead, it just shares the processes its team goes through and the work they’re doing.
To get started all you need to do is pick up a phone, open up Instagram or Facebook and start talking about your work and the things you care about.
As Jonathan said on our call: “There’s little or no reason not to be talking with your audience every single day now.”