Episode #013: Kelli Maxwell, CEO at Campfire Blend Coffee Co. and Owner of Ember Marketing Group.
It’s true. You don’t need everyone to like you. And your company doesn’t have to be for everyone. In fact, it’s probably better that it’s not if you really want to stand out. Most companies would be wary of publicly admitting their company isn’t for everyone, but not this week’s guest on Real Marketers.
In this episode, we chat with Kelli Maxwell, CEO at Campfire Blend Coffee Co. and Owner of Ember Marketing Group. She has more than five years of marketing experience and started her career with a Premier Princess Party Company and realized she could use that experience to create her own marketing agency.
We’re talking about why her brands aren’t for everyone, why she doesn’t make her customers sign contracts, her secrets for driving value on social media and with content creation, how her podcast turned into an idea for a coffee company, and so much more.
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Stephanie Cox: Welcome to REAL MARKETERS, where we hear from marketers who move fast, ask forgiveness, not permission, obsess about driving results, and are filled to the brim with crazy ideas and the guts to implement them. This is not a fireside chat and there's absolutely no bullsh*t allowed here. And I'm your host, Stephanie Cox. I am more than 15 years of marketing experience and I've pretty much done about everything in my career. I believe speed is better than perfection. I use the Oxford comma. I love Coca- Cola. I have exceptionally high standards and surround myself with people who get sh*t done. On this show, my guests and I will push boundaries and share the real truths about marketing and empower you to become a real marketer. We're starting off this week's episode with a super hot take. You likely saw it in the title, not everyone has to like you. Yep. It's true. They don't. And that applies to both your personal and your professional life. Now, most people and most companies would likely never publicly admit that they don't really care what others think about them, but that's not the case for this week's guest. In fact, she openly says her business isn't for everyone. She wants an edgy brand and she's perfectly fine if that turns some people off. In this episode, we're chatting with Kelli Maxwell, CEO at Campfire Blend Coffee Company and owner of Ember Marketing Group. She has more than five years of marketing experience and started her career with the Premier Princess Party Company and realized she could use that experience to create her own marketing agency. We're talking with her about why her brands aren't for everyone and that's totally okay, why she doesn't make her customers sign contracts, her secrets for driving value on social media and content creation, how her podcast turned into an idea for a coffee company, and so much more. So first question I always ask is, what is something that few people know about you?
Kelli Maxwell: So I am a mother of twin daughters and nobody knows that about me because I do not post my children online, I keep their lives private. And so, most people don't even know I have kids at all, let alone twins.
Stephanie Cox: I have twins as well.
Kelli Maxwell: Oh, cool. What a coincidence.
Stephanie Cox: So I'm the same way for the most part. I mean, minus Instagram, which is private. I typically don't post anything else with my kids, because I have no idea what they're going to think about that when they get older.
Kelli Maxwell: Right. Exactly.
Stephanie Cox: So you're got a really interesting background, you're a marketer, but you're also the CEO of a coffee company. So I'd love for you just to talk to us about your career overall and how it's grown since you got started in marketing.
Kelli Maxwell: Okay. Sure. So my initial background, I was actually a princess. So I had a princess company in my 20s and we dressed up like princesses and we performed at birthday parties and we did parades and local events. It was a lot of fun. And that is how I really cultivated my talent for marketing and creating content for that company. And so, while I was doing that, I had a lot of other local business owners approach me and ask me to do freelance work for them. And I ended up making the shift from quitting my full- time job to starting my own marketing agency as a full- time social media content creator. So that's where the marketing agency came from. And then out of that, we got into podcasting just as a fun side hobby, but as you know, podcasting is a very expensive and time- consuming hobby, so we wanted to monetize that as quickly as we could without getting like 10, 000 subscribers. So we then started our own coffee company to monetize our podcast show.
Stephanie Cox: Very cool. So I love how it came out, when you talk about running this kind of event company for princess parties, what do you think you learned from that that's applicable to everything that you do today?
Kelli Maxwell: I would say my biggest lesson in that was a personal lesson where I had never been on the receiving end of online trolls before. And when you dress up like a princess and put your picture out in the world, you're going to have haters. So it was a lot of personally working through that, my worth is not attached to my business or what people online might say about our looks. And so that was probably honestly the biggest learning curve that sent me on the trajectory I'm on now, because our current brand is pretty edgy and now that I'm in my 30s, I very strongly believe in the fact that I'm not for everybody and that's okay because someone else is going to be. So I don't sleep over what people say or think about us anymore and we just stay in our own lane and we collaborate with people when we can and I attribute a lot of that to how fast we've grown in the last two years.
Stephanie Cox: So speaking of that, you mentioned your current brand is kind of edgy, how and why did you make that decision to go with something that is more edgy versus something that is maybe more traditional or conservative?
Kelli Maxwell: Two reasons. So the first one is that's kind of our whole crew, that's our personality type. We like to laugh at stuff. We like to banter. We like to have fun. We're not easily offended. And so it was an easy way for us to create content based on just authentically who we are. And then the second thing is for our audience, because you can very clearly define your audience when you have people that are like you, they like the same things you like, they think it's funny. The tagline for our podcast is," Where the roasts are hotter than your mom." And it's a business and leadership podcast, but we banter, we have fun, we have guests on the show who are really bold. They're doing bold things, they think outside the box. And so, we really attract our audience with that, being bold because lots of people aren't willing to do that online these days.
Stephanie Cox: Well, I love that. It's part of the reason why I started this show too, and we rebranded it under this new name, because so many other shows are not bold. Right? It's the same stuff and there's no... I call them hot takes or rants, no one has a hot take or a rant that, obviously some people should argue and disagree with, everyone just talks about the great stuff. And I think that's fine, but that to me is so boring.
Kelli Maxwell: Right. And it's not authentic. And I think we've been doing social media for a decade now, and everyone has been keeping up with the Joneses and putting the highlight reel up and we've lost that personal connection. So what we bring is authenticity. Business is hard. Podcasting is hard. Sometimes we talk about that on our show. Sometimes we have huge wins and we celebrate those. So I think that's important for people to hear and see that we're real life people just doing the best we can with what we've got too. And we're not trying to make it look like we're killing it online, if we're not, we're just being real. And that's gone. That's had huge traction for us too.
Stephanie Cox: So I know one of the other things that you're really big on is content creation. I'd love to just get your thoughts on, when I think about content, a lot of times it's the output. How do you think about figuring out what you should create and what should go into it?
Kelli Maxwell: So this is where my business became really, really niched because you can go online and you can see a million marketers who are going to charge you a package to do X amount of posts on your Facebook page because every small business owner doesn't have time. And so I see that model and I just disagree with all of it because all these people are charging these business owners like ridiculous amounts of money to post garbage. It's content that's not curated to their business, it's not on brand for them, it's super lame informational insurance articles that no one's ever going to read. And so what I've really found and what I've really honed in on since I started my own agency is that I only work with people locally. And I only work with people in one industry because I work so closely with them. They put me on retainer every month for whatever we agree on for however many hours I spend with them, but then I'm on the job filming with them. I'm taking pictures, I'm listening to their verbiage and their industry and how they speak so that I can curate all of the content I create to them and their brand. So it doesn't look like generic marketing agency posted for you, it looks like you posted this yourself, but obviously you're in my videos, you're talking about what you're best at. And also, back to the authenticity, that way I get those authentic moments. I don't script or stage my clients, I go catch them doing what they're best at, and then we show the world exactly who they are and what they do. And I've built in the last sale, I launched my business in July of 2018, in two years now I built a six figure marketing agency, just working in my city and just doing that for people.
Stephanie Cox: That's really impressive. When you think about why so many companies do the opposite of what you're doing, which is just hire someone, and a lot of times it tends to be like," Oh, we'll put the intern on social," or," We'll just outsource to write 20 Facebook posts a week or three blogs," and aren't really focused. Why do you think so many companies fall victim to that?
Kelli Maxwell: I think it's because they don't know. So most of my conversations with small business owners is, they're overwhelmed, they don't understand social media, and they don't have time for it. So they aren't sure even what to do and then these marketers come by and they're a dime a dozen," Oh, hey, for 400 bucks a month, we'll do three posts a week." But then it's just garbage. These people don't do any research on them, they just find generic content online to repost and throw their logo on it. And that's engaging nobody. So I really focus on getting to know you. And part of that, for me personally, I'm much more relationship- based. I care way more about people than dollar bills. So I love, my favorite thing to do is hang out with clients all day and film them and laugh with them. And we have lunch together and I'm part of their team too, because I'm with them and I understand what they're doing and why. And then I can bring that through in their marketing.
Stephanie Cox: Do you feel like you need to do a lot of convincing when you have that conversation with a small business around the importance of having a content strategy that is highly relevant? Or do you feel like they get it right away?
Kelli Maxwell: Once I sit down with them and have a conversation, it's very clear to see that I do it differently than every other marketer they've talked to. And I think a lot of them usually get sucked in by costs, low costs. It's," Oh, 400 bucks a month, I can afford that and not worry about my Facebook page." And then these marketers, I've got beef with marketers everywhere, because I just can't agree with the model of," Give me your money. Let me lock you into a six month contract. And then I don't care if you don't like the post." They're not going to spend extra time learning about you or your industry. They're just going to post their generic stuff. And then you're locked into a six month contract you have to pay. That's the other thing I do is I don't do contracts because if you don't like the work I'm doing, we should have a conversation about it so I can fix it. Not," Oh, too bad, pay me anyways, you signed a contract." I just can't get behind doing business that way.
Stephanie Cox: That's a really great hot take, honestly, because you're right. So many agencies go that approach, which is," Let me lock you into a six month, one year retainer." And you end up stuck in these situations where you're not really happy, but there's not much you can really do. And not every agency is motivated to make a switch or to, I guess, not motivated to make a switch, but not motivated to help improve the situation, especially when they know you have you locked in.
Kelli Maxwell: Right. And it's easy money for them to just charge you 400 bucks a month and they do the minimal amount of work. And they're making 65, 75 bucks an hour, where I just don't believe in that. I charge less and I spend more time with my people. And honestly, in the long run, I make more money because once you put me on retainer, there's no contracts, it's month to month, and my work speaks for itself. So your engagement starts growing, your following starts growing, you start getting more business, and then I'm worth every penny. And that's really honestly, now that I'm two years in, nobody's left me. Once you sign up with me, you're with me because I do a good job and I go above and beyond for my clients. And I feel like that's a little hard to find these days.
Stephanie Cox: No, it really is. I think it's also hard to find people that want to invest to get to know you. So if you think about most traditional agencies, at least in my experience, they all have great ideas and great PowerPoints, but when it comes to getting to know my brand, they've read my website, they've not necessarily sat with me or sat with customers or prospects and really tried to get all the information in their brain and then become a true part of the team. They really are still like a vendor.
Kelli Maxwell: Yep. That's exactly correct.
Stephanie Cox: So why did you decide to take on this kind of different methodology to running an agency compared to what we see out normally?
Kelli Maxwell: It really was more of like when I first started, I consumed all of the information online, I signed up for courses, I read blogs about marketing and how easy it is to grow your marketing agency and do social media marketing. And the more I tried to fit everyone in a package or a box and the more I got to know my clients, the more I realized that it didn't feel good, you know when you have those gut feelings? It felt gross. And these people know me, we live in the same city and I just couldn't... I mean, I just couldn't do them dirty like that, where I'm like," This is not what we need to be doing for you. What I'd like to do is come film you actually, and get fun videos of you doing what you're best at." And so my very first client was actually a real estate agent. He's the one that pushed me to get him on video, because I was just creating generic e- content for him. And I'm like," I don't like this. We need it more personal. I'd like to go with you to some listings and get your verbiage and really bring that through." And he's like,"I'd really like to do video." So I'm kind of self- taught on taking videos now and editing videos and he had the patience to work with me and we just grew and learned together. And now videos is primarily what I do. That's my favorite thing. That's what I'm best at, but really cultivated that too and become really niched in content creation, especially videos for social media.
Stephanie Cox: So if you had to talk to, let's say, a small business or a marketer at a medium sized business, how would you suggest they work with their agency? What have you seen work best from your side of the fence that you would like others to do when they work with an agency?
Kelli Maxwell: I think the biggest thing I've seen is when you question them what they're spending their time on or why this costs this much money? If they get defensive, that's a red flag. That means they're not doing a good job for you. They're just collecting a paycheck. That's my personal experience. And then secondly, you need to find clients that are going to fit your team, right? You're going to have to fit their culture and you're going to have to be able to hang out with them and have fun with them. So it's more of, really what I do is more a consulting than an agency, because you get me doing what I'm best at with you and for you. And that model has worked so well for me. I would suggest that for anyone, why don't you try getting to know your clients first and spend a little time with them so you can really do a good job on their branding and their content?
Stephanie Cox: What do you think a company can do to help get you up to speed on their brand and content? What have you found to be most helpful?
Kelli Maxwell: The most helpful for me is I need to be with them. I need to be out with them on a job site. I have a client who, he does epoxy floors and I've been working with him for almost two years now. And every time I go out on a job with him, I learn something new that I didn't know before. And I know a lot about epoxy floors now just by being around him and filming and listening to him train his employees and talk to customers. But every time I go out with him, I'm like," Oh wow. I did not know that piece of science that went into this." And then that's another thing that I can add to my knowledge then for his content. So I can come up with really catchy captions or promotions or fun stuff knowing what I know, because I'm actually on the job with him.
Stephanie Cox: I think that's a really important piece of... And I think any marketer can take that to heart, whether you're an agency working with a customer, or you're a marketer at a brand, is actually physically getting out there and talking to people and seeing what's going on, not just doing everything from your computer all the time.
Kelli Maxwell: Yep. I agree. And I know it's an easy... It seems like an easy way out to sit at home and make all this money, but really in the long run, who are you helping? And typically, those types of agencies, I don't see them have a high retainer rate. You're with them for six months, and then they're constantly selling because they constantly have to keep their book of business up because people leave because they didn't get value out of the six months.
Stephanie Cox: So when you work with a new client at the beginning of an engagement, are you setting metrics of success? How do you think about helping them understand the value they should get from working with you? Especially if they've never done anything like this?
Kelli Maxwell: Yeah. So I give them current client referrals, that helps a lot. I also, the thing about content creation is, unless we're running ads, it's hard to track the actual analytics. Content creation is one of those things where it's consistency and it's just building on your current brand and keep putting stuff out there. And then one day you wake up and you realize like," Wow, I'm making way more than I was a year ago." Or there's milestones we can kind of track. And then of course the actual analytics on social media when we can. But really, the best example I have is that my very first client, who is a realtor, he went from... And all we do is, he only has like 300 likes on his Facebook page, but we pay for his ads when we do videos and we also do, he's really fun so his content is funny and engaging and people share it. He went from being just a low- level realtor, I don't know what number he was at for realtors in the city, but last year he was seventh highest ranking, made the seventh most amount of money of all the realtors in Montana. And that's a big deal.
Stephanie Cox: That is a very big deal.
Kelli Maxwell: To grow that big.
Stephanie Cox: Well, it shows you the power of content, right?
Kelli Maxwell: Yes. The power of content, he just shows people who he is. He's a dad, he's an older gentleman, and so he makes really cheesy dad jokes in his videos and he's hilarious and relatable and people see that. And then, because we're putting out consistent content, when they need to buy or sell a house, that's the first person they think of now because he's all over town with his content.
Stephanie Cox: And it also makes him feel a lot more approachable, which I think when you're in the home buying process, you want to work with someone who you don't feel like is going to trick you, is going to be on your side.
Kelli Maxwell: Yep. Yeah. Definitely. I am a huge proponent of putting yourself on video because it's second best to face to face. People can see you speak, they can see your mannerisms while they hear you talk, they can look at you. And then that builds that connection. Like you were saying," I feel like I know this person. I can trust this person because I've seen him multiple times now." And so that's just an added layer of, it takes like 24 touch points now to get a sale or get a contact. It's a lot. So, that consistent content is necessary.
Stephanie Cox: Well, it's a lot, and I feel like in this COVID world where everyone's at home and the news is all over the place, there's just a lot of information being thrown at everyone right now. So I feel like it even takes more than the 20 some odd touches to really get someone's attention these days.
Kelli Maxwell: Yeah. And to build that fan base.
Stephanie Cox: Yeah. And not to get distracted. So you also happen to run a coffee company, which we've talked about briefly, but I'd love to hear, why start a coffee company? I know you said it was tied to the podcast, but what is the goal and purpose behind it? And I'm assuming you love coffee?
Kelli Maxwell: Yes, I do. I'm an early bird so I get up at 5: 00 AM every day and that's when I'm at my best is when I've got my coffee and I'm getting to work early in the morning. And so, we also love whiskey and so part of our model for our podcast, which is called Campfire Hour, we want it to feel like you're sitting around a campfire and we're just having a drink together and we're pals and we're just chatting. And so it's very informal, it's very conversational. And so, we were recording one night and we usually drink whiskey with our guests while we record. And after we did a recording session, we were talking about how to monetize our show because, typically, you need a minimum of 10,000 subscribers and all this stuff. And we're like," Oh, this is a lot of work. We don't want to wait for 10, 000 subscribers. Let's figure out how to monetize it ourself." And Kyle, who's the producer, he said," Hey, why don't we make whiskey coffee? Those are two things we both love." And so the next day I made a call to my friend who is a coffee roaster and then I made a call to some local distilleries and one of them thought that was a great idea and they gave us our first whiskey barrel. And then yeah, we took a risk. We put some beans, coffee beans in a whiskey barrel and we're like," Worst case, we just wasted 1000 bucks and it doesn't turn out," but it turned out fantastic and it was a huge hit. And so we just grew the coffee company because anyone can start a coffee company. That's one of the most traded commodities in the world. So then to make it an added layer of something unique and edgy, we added whiskey coffee. And so whiskey coffee is now our bestseller and it's what we're known for. And so we make a whiskey coffee blend, and now we're releasing other blends too. The coffee company will be a year old this December.
Stephanie Cox: So how have you seen COVID impact that all?
Kelli Maxwell: So COVID-
Stephanie Cox: With being a relatively new company?
Kelli Maxwell: Yeah. This is a really silly thing because COVID grew my marketing agency by three times, because business owners came to me and said," If I'm going to survive this, I have to market. I need you right now." So I signed on several new clients during COVID, during the quarantine last spring. So marketing killed it. Coffee sales died off really hard because of COVID. People were scared, people... Which didn't make sense because people were stocking up on stuff and we ran ads and what's extra frustrating too is, because of COVID, none of the ads made sense anymore. None of our analytics were working. We were doing targeting ads. Everything that worked before was not working during COVID. And then we wouldn't run any ads and sell a bunch of coffee randomly in one day and get a bunch of orders and then we'd go a week without a sale. And it was incredibly discouraging and frustrating. But now I think we're back on the up and up and we're getting into holiday season. So since the end of August, things have been really good, but yeah, COVID was really hard on the brand new and we were only three months old when that happened. So it was easy to get discouraged during that, but we pushed through and just hung tight. And yeah, we're on the other side of that now, I think.
Stephanie Cox: Well, and I think one of the things that you can learn from that, and anyone really can is, there are times, regardless if it's a global pandemic or not, where things work in marketing and it goes great. And then all of a sudden for no good reason, they stop working. Contrary to what you would believe, or you would assume, and there isn't always a good answer for it.
Kelli Maxwell: Yeah. It was incredibly frustrating because, yeah, consumer buying patterns were all over the place and it was, why didn't we invest in toilet paper instead of coffee? That's what we were thinking for about a month there.
Stephanie Cox: Right?
Kelli Maxwell: Yeah. It's just-
Stephanie Cox: Who would have guessed that there would be a run on toilet paper and it'd be so hard to find?
Kelli Maxwell: I know and we ran ads like," Stock up on coffee and we offer discounts for if you buy X amount of bags at once," none of that worked. And so it was... But again, product sales are hard. And most of my clients, they either offer a service or a product like flooring or something. So I really wasn't that familiar with the actual product sales space. So it was a big learning curve for me too, of how products work. And I guess products are one of the hardest industries to be selling a product, so we know that now.
Stephanie Cox: You've got to live the good and the bad already in your first year.
Kelli Maxwell: Yeah. It's been wild.
Stephanie Cox: Well, so this will be your second holiday season. Have you thought about what you're going to do for this season differently, maybe compared to last year? And how you're going to make that a bigger effort?
Kelli Maxwell: Yeah. So really the whiskey coffee is what sells for the holidays. It's the perfect gift for, primarily women buy it for men, because what do you get men who don't need anything? Something cool and unique like whiskey coffee. And so we know our target audience and we're going to put together some fun whiskey coffee gift packages, and add a few more different products in there, and bundle them up. But yeah, whiskey coffee's really our big seller for the holidays, because it's unique and you can throw it into someone's stocking.
Stephanie Cox: Now, do you see sales from just the West coast or all over the United States?
Kelli Maxwell: They're all over the United States and we have ads running to target nationally. So we've shipped coffee everywhere from, we've sent some to Beverly Hills, we've sent it to Florida, we've sent it to Pennsylvania. I think a bag's gone to New York and Maine. So yeah, it's all over the country.
Stephanie Cox: That's really cool to see that happen.
Kelli Maxwell: Yeah. It's been slow. I mean, we still get orders trickling. And now it's really picking up now that we're through school starting and all of that stuff. But yeah, it's been really fun just to see where the orders come in at and then figure out which ad got them, where the ads are performing well.
Stephanie Cox: And when you think about ads, are you seeing success on certain channels versus others? Or what have you learned in this space around where ads work and where they don't?
Kelli Maxwell: Yeah, it's a lot of trial and error still. We're still testing out different stuff in different markets and seeing what works and what doesn't. Really, we just beefed up a lot of Google ad words and those have been performing really well. Whiskey gifts, there's not a lot of other people dominating that space on Google. So we kind of found, I have a really good SEO guy on my team. And so that's what I believe in too, is surrounding yourself with people who can fill in your weaknesses. I am not a data person. I like spending time with humans, I like filming with my clients and being out and about all day, I don't want to sit in front of a computer and look at analytics and figure out Facebook ads on the backend. So I hire people to do those things well for me. And then we can all work together as a team. So it's really fun to work with those people too and watch them do what they're best at and what they're passionate about.
Stephanie Cox: I think that's a really great point, as you think about being a leader and surrounding yourself with really excellent talent that have the skills in the areas that you may not, or areas where... I tell my team all the time," There are things I can do, I just don't like doing."
Kelli Maxwell: Yeah. Exactly.
Stephanie Cox: Right? And I find that if you like it and you're passionate about it, well, one, you don't procrastinate, but two, you always do a better job than someone else who maybe is still good at it, but doesn't enjoy doing it as much. Why do we care so much about what others think in our professional and personal lives? Now don't get me wrong, there are certain people in your life that you probably should care about what they think. For me, that's my husband, my children, my parents, you get the picture. But why are so many of us worried about what complete strangers might think of us or our company? Why don't we just be who we are and not worry about it? Why don't we just have our brand be who it needs to be and not worry about it? Think about that one. I bet you'll find that your life would be a lot happier if you focus more on what you think about yourself and what a small group of others think about you, than worrying about how everyone else perceives you. You've been listening to REAL MARKETERS. If you love what you've heard, make sure to subscribe, rate, and review our podcast. And don't forget to tell a friend. All of this marketing goodness shouldn't be kept a secret.