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Marketing Leader Series: John T. Meyer on What's Next in Marketing

“I was a Communications major in college, which basically meant I had no idea what I wanted to do,” says John T. Meyer, founder of Lemonly and Fabric. “So I spent my time reading and writing and talking to groups of people, and now that’s what I do every day and I love it.” Lemonly began as a side passion project for Meyer, launched while he was working at a marketing company that he and his brother co-founded called 9 Clouds. We sat down with this passionate entrepreneur to learn about his take on marketing, what makes for success, and advice he has for hustlers like himself.

What is visual storytelling

Meyer describes Lemonly’s objectives very clearly: “We try to make the boring interesting and the confusing simple.” Through creative visual storytelling, the agency is able to use great visuals in a narrative form, whether static, animated, or interactive, to help businesses deliver their message in all kinds of ways: a banner for a tradeshow, an infographic for the web, an annual report, a video pre-roll ad, etc. “We always start with the story,” explains Meyer, “and think about the medium and deliverable second.”

Three trends marketers should care about

1. Stretching of visual content

“For a while we saw visual storytelling getting shorter and shorter,” Meyer explains, citing the rise of gifs, photos with typography suited for Instagram and Pinterest, and other microcontent designed specifically for “thumb scrollers.” “But now we see that the middle is stretching both ways. Longform journalism with visuals, chapter based storytelling, these are coming back.” As we move to telling stories more broadly, marketers need to be flexible and creative enough to be able to deliver a compelling message in a variety of forms.

2. Audio is new again

Originally designed as a “visual storytelling” agency, Lemonly has been watching the rise of audio lately. Between podcasts and the ubiquity of in-home devices like Alexa and Siri, we’re seeing the importance of having good audio as part of the “web of content,” a way to “connect to one story eight different ways. Do you want it as a blog, printout, snapchat, or podcast?” The means of delivery continue to expand, and audio is now a crucial component.

3. Augmented reality

“With our mobile devices, we’re able to layer stories onto life. It’s incredible,” said Meyer. “And it’s very visual, if done well.” Lemonly is keeping a close eye on this space and knows that it’s a big frontier. Filled with possibility, and not yet a lot of competition, augmented reality will have implications and opportunities we can’t yet imagine.

Culture cure

From its inception, Meyer put a lot of energy into the culture of Lemonly. In the last seven years, only seven people have left, and three of those were individuals starting their own businesses. “There’s a business case for culture, including how huge talent costs are for retraining, but most of all, it’s just the right thing to do.” The Lemonly culture has “become almost a marketing pitch! We just got 53 applications for a 15 hour a week job.” He has been asked by business leaders, “but what’s the ROI on culture?” His answer is simple: “If you’re asking, you don’t get it.”

After writing about and promoting healthy workplace culture for so long, Meyer teamed up with Rosalynn Verges to create a new company called Fabric to help companies build culture at their organization. “It’s so great to be out there and talking about it,” Meyer says. “It just feels good to help people do the right thing.”

Advice for the next-gen marketer

“Become a practitioner.” Action matters more than ever, at least according to Meyer. “Your GPA, college courses, I don’t really care, whatever. Just show me what you can do, show me what you’ve done.” Creators and makers are the ones who will stand out: “I’m really looking for that spirit that drives people to practice, build, and create.” When your portfolio is more important than your resume, keep focused on making great work and staying true to your craft, whatever it is.

“Any town is too small to burn a bridge.” No matter where you’re working, a personal touch can go a long way. Lemonly has been committed to handwritten thank-you notes and thoughtful details from the beginning, because your relationships are everything, especially in a creative industry.

“It’s easy to underestimate how much people want to help.” Don’t be afraid to ask! Even people that seem busy. “I think it’s just written into our DNA to help each other,” said Meyer. “And there’s something really symbiotic that happens between the mentor and the mentee. I know I have plenty to learn so I keep reminding myself to keep reaching out too!” You’re never done learning, so don’t be shy about going after what you want and the support you need to get there.

“Don’t start too big.” When moving from passion to building a business, as Meyer has done a fair number of times, it’s tempting to try to over-extend yourself and try to be too many things to too many people. “You have to know your niche and not be afraid to really own it. You have to start as a stream. But it’s good to grow! Down the line that stream becomes a river becomes a delta.” He advocates knowing your market and expertise, “but then with clients say, sure we can expand the playbook.” Be honest about your capacity and smart about how you extend and grow.

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Antenna is a leader in delivering top marketing professionals to corporations of all sizes for project-based consulting, interim leadership assignments, and contract staffing engagements. With headquarters in Minneapolis, Antenna draws from its private community of experienced marketing talent to help clients balance the flexibility and expertise modern marketing organizations demand.