The following is an interview with Brent Lollis, founder of Creative State. The interview covers Tulsa web design, branding, video production and other topics. It has been lightly edited for clarity.

 

Interviewer:

Over the past year every week I hear from somebody that has listened to the show or happens to be up at 7am in the morning, and the constant among them men, women, old, young is that almost all of them are small business owners up early in the morning on Sunday.

 

 

We're in the process of doing a complete overhaul on our website and it was such ... I'm from a younger generation so I'm very comfortable on the computer and the internet and the web, but still when I went to research the project and how I wanted to make it work, I really was at a loss.

 

 

The guy that we hired, I thought I'll have him onto the show because I know so many of my listeners are small business owners, and would be interested in this topic and the struggle that I went through trying to figure out what the heck I'm doing and what to do. He can educate us on what to ask so that ultimately we're a little bit better consumers and more knowledgeable when we come to him. Brent, the name of your company is?

 

Brent:

Creative State.

 

Interviewer:

We're operating from the presumption that a website is important, otherwise I wouldn't be dedicating thirty minutes to this. Why don't you tell me, let's not assume anything, why is it important for people that still advertise on the Yellow Pages?

 

Brent:

Well, I started Creative State fourteen years ago. At that time people were still trying to figure out is it important, and is it needed and does my business even need a website and do I need to dedicate money to it? Over the last fourteen years it's become a given. Every new business, every existing business they know we need a website. First and foremost, it just gives credibility and people are using Google.

 

Interviewer:

That's true. Almost every form you fill out as a retailer when you go to the wholesaler, they want to know what's your website.

 

Brent:

Right.

 

Interviewer:

Credibility is a good one that I didn't even think of.

 

Brent:

Right. If you tell someone we don't have a website or we're going to build a website.

 

Interviewer:

Right, we just have a Facebook page.

 

Brent:

Right, they might not say that your credibility goes down a little bit in their eyes, but it does. That's the first and foremost. You need it for just kind of a base level of credibility. Then of course for marketing purposes you want to put your best foot forward. You want people to know how you see yourself and how you see yourself as being different from your competitors.

 

Interviewer:

How savvy would you say the average person is when they go on the web and they look at a website? I can tell because I'm on the internet almost all day long, oh that website is about five years old. Do you think most people are that savvy or they just kind of notice that doesn't look, like I can't find what I want.

 

Brent:

Yeah. I think most of the time it's probably less about them being able to vocalize what the problem might be. It's just in kind of that impression. The impression is this website seems outdated, so maybe this company and other things within the company are outdated or they're not giving ...

 

Interviewer:

Right, they have like a flashing logo with the big yellow background with grey dots or something.

 

Brent:

Right, or the spinning E for their email or whatever.

 

Interviewer:

Yes, that's awesome. In that vein, what should people know, a business owner? What should they come to you with so that you're not just trying to pull information out of them and not giving them the appropriate? What do they need to know when they come to you?

 

Brent:

I think that people hire us because they're not experts, and so there's no minimum that people need to come to us. If they recognize that they have a need and they are willing to kind of be serious about that and know that any need that's important to a business is going to take some investment, take some dollars. If they get over those hurdles, we encourage them just to come to us and let us help them walk them through the process.

 

 

Now, is it helpful if they know what they want to accomplish and they know what they like about their current site and what they don't like, if they know some competitors and what they like about their site and what they would want to do better? Is that helpful? Absolutely, it's helpful. The biggest thing is just recognizing that there's a need and then reaching out.

 

Interviewer:

You mentioned what they want to accomplish. Give me some examples of why when people come to you they're unable to vocalize it, but you know they're wanting to accomplish what.

 

Brent:

Yes. It's a number of things.

 

Interviewer:

Everybody wants a good return on investment. What else other than that?

 

Brent:

Right. Yes. One of the questions that we always ask is, what does success look like with this project? Because it's different for a lot of people. Sometimes success is when people come to our website, we just want them to have a good first impression. That's it. That's all they want.

 

 

Sometimes it is we have X amount of traffic now and we want to increase that by twenty percent or we have X number of sales on our online on our eCommerce site and we want to increase that by twenty percent or we want people to sign up for our newsletter. Whatever it is, let's define what success looks like so that then once we do a new website, we can measure that and see if we've accomplished the goal.

 

Interviewer:

It sounds like web design is a lot of things, but it's definitely marketing too. Your web designer needs to be pretty knowledgeable about marketing to your customer or maybe just people in general.

 

Brent:

Yeah. I think marketing in general and communicating in a compelling way is a key factor. As an aside, that's one of the things that I think we try to be a little different than most companies who see themselves as web designers. Design can just be something that looks really good. There are a lot of companies that can do that. They can build and design a website that looks phenomenal.

 

 

My background is more under the business side of it, and so my goal, and you and I have had this conversation before, is I want to know what's the business case for doing this? What are you trying to accomplish? Do you need more request for proposals? Do you want people to just pick up the phone and call you?

 

 

Sometimes that's what people say, "Hey, success for me is them coming to the website, getting a good first impression, knowing who we are, learning a little bit, and then picking up the phone and calling me. That's all I want them to do. I don't want them to buy anything on my website. I don't want them to sign up for anything. I want to talk to them." That's fine. That's the way some businesses work.

 

 

Some businesses are the complete other end of the spectrum where everything is online. I want the initial contact to be online. I want to manage the relationship online. I want to do everything online. We just need to know what that is upfront so that we can build it to accomplish whatever the goal is.

 

Interviewer:

I wonder if that's kind of a generational thing, like the younger generation is wanting I don't want to have to talk. That's why they love text message. I don't want to talk to anybody. I want to find the information when I need it, at 1:00 in the morning, so you almost have to know a ton about who your customer is and who you're wanting to reach.

 

Brent:

It does tend to be the other end of the spectrum that you just said is, a lot of times people who are in their say fifty, sixty, even seventy-year-olds they come in and they tend to want someone to ... They want to talk to them, because that's how they've done business and they value the personal connection. They're more likely to say things to us like, "I hate it when I go to a website and I have to dig ten pages down to find a phone number."

 

Interviewer:

To find a telephone number.

 

Brent:

Right. In that case, we make sure and we try to do this anyway, but we make sure that the phone number is very prominent on the homepage and every other page so people can just pick up the phone.

 

Interviewer:

I want mine hidden. I'm younger.

 

Brent:

You're right, exactly.

 

Interviewer:

You can find everything online.

 

Brent:

Exactly.

 

Interviewer:

When I'm looking for a web designer, we're talking about generally how to reach a customer, but do I need to find one that specializes in my line of work? How much of the information is translatable from the restaurant industry to a manufacturing to oil business to selling widgets?

 

Brent:

Right. In almost every industry there's a company who specializes in building websites for that industry. We build websites just for restaurants. We build websites just for law firms. There's nothing wrong with that. What you typically get with a company like that though is they're making their money.

 

 

Take law firms for example, I was just talking with one yesterday. Companies that only do law firms, their business model is we need to do a lot of law firm websites and so it's more template based. Some of the content is boilerplate content. The person that I was talking to yesterday said, "We've done that now for a couple of years. What we don't like about it is we look like everyone else."

 

Interviewer:

Yeah. Actually when you said that, a lot of law websites do look alike. They've got the little scale.

 

Brent:

Right. Scales of Justice yeah exactly, and lawyers with their photos taken in front of all the law books.

 

Interviewer:

Yes.

 

Brent:

That's what everybody wants. This particular company yesterday said, "We've done that and we feel like what we want to communicate is how we're different, and we're not able to do that." There's a couple of companies in the law firm space that a lot of people use, that's why they all look the same.

 

 

We get a lot of people that come back after doing that and spending a good amount of money and a good amount of money every single month to pay them a fee. They realize hey, we look like everybody else. There's nothing to differentiate us. There's a disconnect between what we're showing online and who we really are as a firm, so that's where a firm like Creative State comes in is everything we do is custom.

 

 

We sat down with that firm and said, "Tell us how you're different. What do you do? What's your process like and how does it differ from firms that are similar to you in structure?" Those are the things that we're going to highlight in that design and in the message of that site.

 

Interviewer:

You and talked about there are so many when you Google what question to ask a web designer. I was looking through them and so many of the questions that I would even ask you if you told me yes or no, I would just write that down and not even know. Like do you offer Cascading Style Sheets? You told me no, I'd be like okay and not knowing if that's good or bad.

 

Brent:

Right.

 

Interviewer:

For all those people out there that are trying to be intelligent when they approach a web designer, how much of it is just go with your gut, trust the person?

 

Brent:

They always say the cliché is, your past performance is the best indicator of future results or future performance. That's what I tell people when they say, "How do I know who to pick?" I would say first and foremost meet them if you can. If they are local, meet them in person or certainly talk to them on the phone and get a gut feel of is this person ... Do they seem trustworthy? Are they somebody that I could do business with over a long period of time?

 

 

Ideally, what you're hiring just as much as someone to design a website is you're hiring a partner that hopefully will be there over time so that as things change, as Google changes, as devices change, as the landscape changes, you'll have someone there that can help you kind of navigate those waters.

 

 

First and foremost, get to know them. Get to know is it just a one-man show that's kind of working out of his garage or his basement, or is it an actual team of people that will be there? Second, look at their work. If nothing in their work kind of captures your imagination and kind of speaks to you, probably what they do for you is not going to be what you want.

 

 

I always just tell people meet them, look at their work and if you're comfortable with those two things and you can come at a plan and a budget that works for you, you're probably going to have success. You don't need to know about cascading stuff.

 

Interviewer:

Right. I know, exactly. All these silly things on the internet. That brings me to another good point. I'm googling what to ask a web designer, but what seems really important is how we make sure Google has our business show up on page one. I'm assuming that you're an expert in that and maybe that is something absolutely that any web designer should be good at.

 

Brent:

Yeah. If I remember correctly, I could be wrong, I think that that's how you found us was you just did Google.

 

Interviewer:

That and somebody told me.

 

Brent:

Okay, all right.

 

Interviewer:

Which always helps.

 

Brent:

Yeah, sure. About eighty percent of our new business comes from people who just did a pure Google search for something like ...

 

Interviewer:

Web design Tulsa.

 

Brent:

Web design firms in Tulsa or something like that and we're on the first page. I always tell people that that's the best advertisement I can give you for what we're going to do for you. It's the same thing we do for ourselves.

 

Interviewer:

For yourselves.

 

Brent:

The whole topic of search engine optimization is a good one in that it, like the industry in general, changes so quickly that you have to know what Google is doing from week to week and month to month because like it or not they control the rules of the game here. We just have to play the game by their rules.

 

 

When I started the company, it was not sophisticated. It was like banging rocks together. It was called keyword density. If you said the word more than your competitor said the word, you came up first.

 

Interviewer:

You came up first.

 

Brent:

That made for a lot of really ugly websites that had the same word repeated over and over. Now it's much more sophisticated. There are still people that will try to game the system and they will try to say we use these tricks to get you up high and we'll charge you money.

 

 

The truth is for every trick that I could come up with, Google has a whole warehouse full of really smart people that are trying to thwart whatever my trick is. What we tell people is content is king. If you have good content that's relevant to the keywords that you want to come up in, then Google will find that.

 

Interviewer:

Let's discuss that more, because I'm sure that's what's on everyone's mind. They're thinking, how do I game the system and how am I ... Let's have Brent talk to us about what elements we can put in our website to not game the system but just win.

 

 

Today we're talking with Brent about web design and how to make your business ... The topic we were talking about was how to make your business show up on page one of Google, because what is the percentage? How many people go to page two?

 

Brent:

Well, it drops off precipitously.

 

Interviewer:

Like huge.

 

Brent:

From page one to page two, and even more so to page three. It depends on how much somebody is trying to find a certain topic.

 

Interviewer:

Right. I would rephrase my search before I'd go to page two.

 

Brent:

Right, you would refine it, yeah.

 

Interviewer:

Yeah, refine it, thank you. Tell me like what do I need to do? What do I need to tell my web designer? Obviously if you hire Creative State they already know this stuff, but what should people know?

 

Brent:

Yeah. What we were talking about before the break was how important content is. Google has spent billions of dollars creating a method for getting people from relevant search terms to good content. That's key. Beyond that, how does Google differentiate Company A from Company B if they're similar? That's what people want to know. How do I get above my competitor?

 

 

There are a lot of factors. Assuming that both Company A and Company B have good content, so then what are the factors? One of them is how recently the content has been updated. All things being equal, Company A has newer content than Company B. Company A is higher.

 

Interviewer:

What is content? I might be jumping the gun, but what is content?

 

Brent:

Content can be any number of things. Content can be I've released a new product. I put news on my website. I update. Anything that is updated on your website is by definition content. If one is just sitting over here stale and nobody ever updates it, and one is updating say daily or weekly or even monthly, it's going to be ranked higher.

 

Interviewer:

Wow. It's like more photos.

 

Brent:

Yeah, photos, news releases, new employee announcements, new products, anything that you can do to update your website helps you with Google.

 

Interviewer:

Okay.

 

Brent:

They're assuming if Company A is over here updating their website, they're more active. They're more relevant, and so we're going to prefer newer content over older content. Second, not necessarily in priority order, but another big thing is within the last year Google has published a lot of articles saying that we're going to prefer video content.

 

 

There's a real opportunity right now for people to take advantage of that, because right now where we are with video is where we were with the web ten or twelve or fifteen years ago where people were saying, do I really need a website? Is it going to be effective? It costs a lot of money.

 

Interviewer:

Okay.

 

Brent:

We're kind of in that same spot with video right now.

 

Interviewer:

Do I really need video? It's going to cost a lot of money. How important is it?

 

Brent:

Right. The exact same questions. Just like with the web where now it's just a given, it has to be part of the marketing plan. That's where we're going to be with video in a few years, but right now Google says hey we're going to put video content higher than similar text-based content but there's not a ton of people using video. It's a real opportunity for differentiation.

 

Interviewer:

To game the system.

 

Brent:

In a way that is perfectly acceptable.

 

Interviewer:

Right, they've told you. They're telling you.

 

Brent:

Right, exactly. Yeah.

 

Interviewer:

It makes sense because look, how often do we share videos, viral videos. I've watched a ton not even knowing that I'm being advertised to and they can be two, three minutes long and that gets shared eighty million times, versus a Super Bowl ad that's sixty seconds and eighty million dollars or whatever they are.

 

Brent:

Yeah. The problem has been if we're on Facebook and other social media, the video has been largely singing goats and skateboard crashes. How businesses take advantage of that has been a challenge over the last few years because of some built-in obstacles. One is, it is expensive in most cases.

 

 

If you call ten video production companies, traditional production companies and say how much does a video cost? They're going to probably quote you using a term called per finished minute of video. That means no matter how long it takes just to shoot it, if we deliver a finished product of a five minute video, we're going to charge anywhere from a thousand to five thousand dollars per finished minute of video. Which means your five minute video could cost five grand on the low-end with some production companies. That's been an obstacle.

 

Interviewer:

You guys see that and you see a need for it, and do what?

 

Brent:

Part of the reason I wanted to do this interview with you is to announce that my team has developed and started a new company called businessvideo.com. The goal of that is for small to medium sized businesses who maybe they'll do an expensive corporate video once a year or once every two or three years and spend ten or fifteen thousand dollars on it. They're not going to do that enough so that they get these benefits that we talked about with Google.

 

 

We created a process and a platform where a business can use content that they're already generating, brochures, press releases, product announcements, frequently asked questions, all these things that as business owners we're already generating these things. We've written the copy. We've gathered the photos. We've done design. Take those things and create a high quality professional video for just a few hundred dollars and a few days and be able to use that on social media on my website, at trade shows, and television ads, whatever it is.

 

Interviewer:

That sounds like it's a lot more approachable, because I definitely have brochures that I've already written and I definitely have all the photos. You're saying I can kind of give you that heap of junk and you make the videos scroll and look pretty and have a voiceover?

 

Brent:

Right. What we do, kind of our catchphrase that we are using to help people understand how we're different is what we say is, you provide the message, we do the rest. The elements of creating a video are you have to have the message or a script, and then you have to have all the other things. You have to have a studio or a location, lights and camera and somebody who knows how to operate the lights and camera, and editors and all of those things.

 

 

Most people don't know where to start with that, and so if they go to Business Video they can say, here's my script. I want to choose from five or six professional presenters. It's not just a voiceover. It's an actual onscreen professional broadcaster who looks good and sounds good and represents you well. Choose which one they want and then we can create a video and like I said, in just a few days for a few hundred dollars.

 

Interviewer:

Assuming I'm operating from the assumption that most videos are one, three, five thousand dollars and I might have to be in it since I'm the general manager. You're saying you don't have to be in the video and it's not going to cost you near that much.

 

Brent:

Yeah. For us a two minute video is four hundred ninety-nine dollars so we're talking about less.

 

Interviewer:

Oh my gosh.

 

Brent:

Our goal is to make it a no-brainer that if I want to create a quick video for social media, I can do it for not a significant amount of money so that I can do it regularly and stay in front of people and use the ... I've got a whole list here that we don't have to go through but video is much more, people remember video.

 

Interviewer:

Right.

 

Brent:

Sixty-five percent of information that I see in a video versus ten percent of information that I read in text only. You talked about sharing video. Ninety-two percent of video viewers have shared video with others. It's just a way to magnify your message basically.

 

Interviewer:

Actually like the minimum requirement because as a small business owner you're one more thing to throw you the heap of junk with the pictures and the text already written, that's the minimum. If I amp up my game just a little bit and could get sharing on it, I mean that would be huge.

 

Brent:

Sure, right.

 

Interviewer:

Because it's coming from a friend to friend, a trusted source, you're more likely to watch it than if it just pops up when I'm browsing on whatever website.

 

Brent:

Yeah. If you think about you've done a brochure, you've spent probably some thousands of dollars printing it in most cases. If you spend five hundred dollars, if you want to do a longer one near maybe a thousand dollars to take that brochure and make a video out of it, people are more likely to share that. How many times do you think they're actually taking your printed brochure and handing it to someone else and sharing it with them?

 

Interviewer:

Right.

 

Brent:

Whereas if they have it as a video, they can share it on social media or other things.

 

Interviewer:

I would think that would be, even if you only did one once a quarter, the social media aspect putting that up there and then at the New Year you've got four that you can work from and start filtering those in with the new four that you create.

 

Brent:

Yeah.

 

Interviewer:

Remind me of the website again?

 

Brent:

It's just businessvideo.com.

 

Interviewer:

Okay, really interesting. This is Brent with Creative State and we'll be back next week.

 

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