Last week, we hosted the AMA session with Jessica Korthuis in the Theta Club.

Jessica Korthuis is the Founder/CEO of Sohuis, and educational platform and community that provides marketing and branding educational resources to help early-stage female founders grow and market their businesses.

Jessica is a working mom, building a startup, building a community, running a small team, running off of passion for helping founders.

Here’s what we covered.

Q: What do you think the Coronavirus's effect on branding & marketing will be?

Marketing spending will definitely go down, no doubt about it. However, branding in these times are more important that EVER. Your brand story, why you exist, who you help, how you help - all of that matters even more now as people are pulling back their spending and only investing in core resources. So your messaging must be as clear as ever. And in that light, as a small business, you have an amazing opportunity to rethink how you tell your unique brand story and how you uniquely serve your customers. :)

Q: For companies in the mobile payments sphere looking to build a global presence, brand messaging is key. However, different markets react differently to certain "industry buzz words". In such a scenario, do you recommend a uniform brand messaging or messaging customised to specific markets?

Wow that is a great question - my dear friend is the CEO of a global payment processing company so I do know a little bit about this.

Overall, for any brand and not just payments, it's critical to have your global brand narrative that is always the same. So the who, what, when, where, why of your brand - that will never change. However, as you enter into global markets, perhaps you launch a microsite or special landing pages that are geared towards that audience and culture expectations. I did this with a global non profit I worked with, and we would launch specific campaigns that were geared towards that audience, while keeping our core messaging and branding the same.

Imagine your brand as a solar system, the sun is always the center and is your anchor, this is your core brand messaging. Then the planets are your marketing channels and other avenues for communication, and you can tweak your messaging slightly based on what planet you're on. At the end of the day, all planets revolve around the sun. :)

I hope that makes sense!

Q: How closely do you work with an SEO (if at all) and how much does (or should that) affect your branding strategy while working with your customers?

I would not consider myself and SEO expert, however, SEO should be seen as something that is always humming in the background. SEO never ends, and it's always changing. So yes, it should be a big part of your brand strategy. But before SEO, you have to understand the broader context of your content and the broader narratives you are having a dialogue about, and then plug in SEO keywords and strategy behind that context.

Q: Are there some things that work, say in the US, that will never work in Asian countries and vice versa?

Ah - gosh, I honestly can't answer that not having worked in Asia. I did substantial work in Europe, and there were a lot of differences. US consumers want quick ,easy, digestible information. We're selfish and we want to know what's in it for us. :)

Europeans are much more civilized in their content consumption (from my experience only), and you can write longer form copy and provide more explanation that you typically can with Americans. We're impatient and we want everything yesterday :)

Q: What in your opinion are the best tools for email marketing and landing page optimization?

I use ConvertKit for both email marketing and landing pages (they're already optimized, mobile friendly, SEO optimized). Super easy.

Mailchimp has really stepped up their game recently, and last time I checked, you can use their platform for free up to 2K subscribers and they have landing pages optimized and ready to go as well.

Lead pages works too, but I prefer to have my landing pages and email marketing in one system, click funnels I know is an industry favorite as well

Q: How did you increase the blog subscribers? How long did the process take & was/were there any specific blog post(s) that triggered the increase in subscribers?

First, it's important to understand that blogging is a long game. I mentioned something similar in a comment above, which is that there's a false narrative that we can create content and then POOF, we're famous and mega successful. That's not the case for 99.9% of us - and blogging is a great strategy for SEO, thought leadership, lead gen, etc- but it takes time, a long time, years, to really benefit from this strategy.

With that said, I increase my blog subscribers primarily through Pinterest. Pinterest is HUGE for blogging, I post all of our blogs in Pinterest and we get so much traffic from that it's crazy.

Blogging is about consistency - I also build our email list in conjunction with everything else we do, and every week, I retarget the list and send them back to our blog to read new topics.

I also have guest writers, which has been great in expanding our blog - they write for us (for free) in exchange for exposure and they share it with their networks every time their posts go live, so it's an evergreen channel that brings in new viewers on a monthly basis.

Blogging is so hard, it's a labor of love. For me, I haven't had 1 major influx of subscribers, it's been little hits here and there after creating and repurposing content. The most important thing to remember about a blog is to be consistent and authentic.

Q: What tools are in your box that help you generate the look and feel of your content?

I LOVE TOOLS.

So first, before I take on a new tool, I always approach it from a systems, sustainability perspective. So I always ask myself, what exactly do I want to accomplish? And then I find a tool that does that function. And then, I make sure I create templates and systems so that I can reuse the tool in the most efficient way possible. With that said:

Design tool: Canva - I have created templates that serve different content functions (and that took some time for sure), but now I can repurpose those templates every single month.

Marketing tool: ConvertKit - super simple, handles automations and workflows, $29/month

Planoly: for Instagram and Pinterest posting (these are my two major platforms)

HubSpot CRM (free): houses all customer data and information, and they have a handy google chrome extension that sends all of your emails into the CRM so that you can look in someone's contact record and view the history of that contact and all communication. You can also see who opens your emails and how often they open them :) which is very helpful if you're sending proposal and other things and you need to followup!

Pipefy - free - project management and task management!

Content Calendar (google sheets) - I plan out content months in advance based on my business, holidays, events, etc

All of these tools combined (with the exception of Hubspot, that was a freebie!), helps me keep our content focused and on brand over time.

Q: Could you give us some insight into your job, what exactly do you do?

I am the founder of my company, Sohuis (so-house), an educational platform and online membership community that provides branding and marketing education for female founders. I create branding and marketing courses, host digital workshops, create resources, guides and templates to help female founders wrap their arms around branding and marketing.

My membership is $29/month, super affordable, and we have bi-weekly brand strategy sessions where I meet live with our members and strategize with them, we have guest mentors that support the community, a private slack channel, and other benefits for our community members.

Insight - I'm a working mom, building a startup, building a community, running a small team, running off of passion for helping founders - it's crazy all the time! But what we're doing is important and needed, and I love working with female founders. :)

Q: What comes first: the product or the brand?

Product - always. And before product, validation of the product.

I teach in my community to always validate your product/service with your ideal customers before building a single page of your website or investing into your brand. Once you've validated and made several iterations and pivots based on customer feedback, then you can focus on branding and storytelling.

This is because if the business hasn't been validated, the story won't matter, because your customer won't resonate or understand it. Validate the product, then build the brand.

Q: What’s the best way to tell your brand story?

Love this question - brand storytelling, no matter what kind of business you have, starts and ends with authenticity. Your brand story is your reason for existing, it's your secret sauce, the special thing about you that makes you unique and different from everyone else.

So the first place to start is to think about: what are your special gifts? do you have a unique perspective or point of view? do you do something different, and if so, how? what is your area of expertise, and so on.

Brand storytelling starts inward, which is why it's so difficult for some. A lot of founders will try and build a story that they think their customers want vs being themselves and being authentic to what they believe. So you have to know what your beliefs are as a company and as a person, and build your story around those beliefs.

A good example is Kat Williams, the owner of Rock n Roll Bride - she has a mega following on Instagram, full of tattoos, rainbow hair (she's extreme and I love it!) - but her brand is all about alternative weddings. So how can a couple have a wedding outside of the normal "typical" white church wedding. That's her story - you can, and should, and are allowed, to create the wedding of your dreams, rainbow hair and all. :)

Q: What do most startups miss when building a brand?

Most startups miss the fundamentals. There's been a false narrative for a long time that startups simply have to do 2 or 3 major efforts and then POOF - rich and famous. :) That is not the reality for building a brand.

Startups have to crawl before they can walk - with the biggest problem I see, is that startups are so focused on bringing their product, they forget that they actually need to validate their products/services with their customers. Customer validation will drive all aspects of the brand, and without understanding how the product/service provides value to a specific customer, the brand cannot stand long term.

The other area I see startups miss is that they try to do too much, too soon - especially from a marketing perspective. I love to use this analogy - imagine you are a circus performer and you're balancing in a ball spinning a plate on your left hand and your right hand. Now, have someone throw you another plate and try to spin it on your foot - this is what it's like being a startup marketing yourself.

Most startups try to spin all of the plates at the same time, and then they come crashing down. So, the best thing a startup can do is figure out which plate they "need" to be spinning. Which plate will move the needle in the most significant way, focus on that plate (strategy), get it going where it's automated and pretty much self sufficient, then start spinning a new plate.

Q: How do you find more clients? How do you find your dream clients?

My marketing strategy includes multiple arms that I have built up over time. Primarily, my products are all digital educational courses and memberships, so a digital strategy is key for me. I host monthly educational webinars and trainings (all live) - utilizing digital ads to encourage my target audience (female founders) to sign up for a free training or masterclass. Once they've signed up, they are added to my marketing funnel and I encourage to provide super valuable content via email, and I continue to bring them back to other free classes and digital workshops. The idea, of course, is to carry that prospect through my marketing funnel to eventually have them purchase a membership for $29/month - super affordable!

My DREAM clients are founders who take their dreams seriously, who understand that marketing and branding is an ever-evolving process, and who want to work within a community setting to position themselves the strongest way possible. My dream clients are founders who see the value in marketing education, and who tell all of their friends and colleagues!

Another strategy for me is speaking engagements, which unfortunately, will be put on hold. I travel 4-5 times a year and speak at conferences, host workshops, teach classes - which creates brand awareness and exposes our educational offerings to broader audiences.

Lastly, I have a referral program for those who are already Sohuis Insiders (members at $29/month) - and they receive various benefits at the 3 month, 6 month, 12 month + marks to encourage them to stay in the membership (on top of the value they already receive), and encourage them to send referrals.

It's a multi-channel, multi-disciplinary approach that is always evolving - it's a moving target!

Q: Do you have any suggestions for early stage startups on creating a solid brand identity?

The founders in my membership community are ALL early stage founders, so I know your world very well. :) Creating a solid brand identity is based on the notion that your brand is more than your logo, your website, your website, etc. Your brand is the collective experience your customers have with you on all platforms. So if you think about your brand from that perspective, it helps provide a more holistic approach to brand strategy.

Early stage founders typically jump right into brand building before they have validated their products/services, and that would be the first place I would suggest you start if you haven't done so already. Make sure your business has merit and has early customers before diving deep into building brand assets and infrastructure.

Interested in joining the Theta Club? You can join here.