Have you ever felt misunderstood? We have.
For the last nine years, we’ve been quietly growing a pretty solid little business here at 502. We’ve sawn wood and cut our teeth, growing from a team of two to a team of ten… and a Xerox machine! And some pretty sweet digs.
Xerox machines and locally-brewed coffee aside, behind all of this growth has been some truly amazing clients — incredible human beings with amazing stories, fantastic businesses and incredible generosity. And, a team that I never dreamed I would have, comprised of compassionate, hard-working and driven individuals.
For the last nine years it has been a true pleasure working with all of these individuals to creatively solve problems. However, with that growth came the challenges that so many businesses of any age face. How do we scale our business without compromising our service? How do we communicate our vision to our team and our clients alike? How do we institutionalize our core processes so that our time can be freed up for creative problem solving.
Put more simply, we had to decide who we wanted to become as a company.
We determined that a clear answer to this single question would give our team unity around our vision while giving our clients the understanding of where we fit into their strategy.
In taking a hard look at ourselves and searching for answers to these questions, we consistently overlooked our biggest challenge: Ourselves.
As our business continued to grow in size, so too it grew in complexity. Projects become more integrated and multi-faceted. Clients became faced with new problems we’d never before solved. Amidst this growth period, we found ourselves so lost in taking care of our projects and client that we failed to commit the time to take care of ourselves. To treat ourselves as a client.
It became easy to spot what areas of our operation needed improvement, however, we felt crippled by our inability to make the time to tackle our own challenges and to solve our own problems.
(Now, I know that nobody reading this can relate, right? I mean, surely everything in your organization is buttery-smooth. Your whole team has great communication and everyone is on the same page. Your vision is crystallized. Your message is consistent. As opposite as our world sounds from yours, stick with me here.)
Well, for us it was a challenge. It was a challenge to make the time for ourselves, not because we didn’t want to but because it always felt like, short of shutting down the shop, we just never had enough hours in the day.
To add to that, we had new people. Our team has grown over the years and we all bring different ideas and worldviews to the table which is an incredible strength but it takes conscious effort to manage those ideas, opinions and expectations effectively.
It was May of 2016 when we decided enough was enough and that we were going to commit to improving ourselves organizationally, no matter what it would take.
Step one for us came back to that original idea of understanding who we wanted to become. What we wanted to stand for.
We needed clarity around and an unreasonable commitment to ‘what should be’ and we needed an action plan for turning that vision into day-to-day actionable items for our entire team.
We committed ourselves to a strictly regimented schedule of quarterly team retreats with focus on both short and long term organizational goals (just as we do with our clients). We determined that we needed to clearly articulate our position and our offering within the market before any further work would be done (just as we do with our clients). We agreed that we needed to deeply analyze the gap of where we are and where we are trying to go to develop the strategy that it would take to get us there (just as we do with our clients).
For us, moving our organization forward was simple. We just had to make the time to treat ourselves like we treat our own clients.
Through the process, we’ve spent countless hours locked in conference rooms and off-sites. We’ve decided and undecided and re-decided again. Heck, we even coined the term “passion aggression,” which became our moniker for exactly what it sounds like – fully active aggression, but for the right reasons because we’re so damned passionate about the topic at hand.
But through the process, iron sharpened iron. The team gained clarity and unity around our vision, goals, values and beliefs. And from this process, we decided what we wanted to be. The funny thing was, after all of this work, we realized that putting words on what we wanted to become was simply a giant exercise of semantics. The framework and structure was there all along. This wasn’t a reinvention of self. Rather, it was clarity on the thing we all knew at heart but could never seem to put words to.
It’s been a long and arduous road getting to where we are. And, one year later we feel like we’re only getting started. But something is different. There is momentum. There is predictability. There is confidence in our team’s ability to see where we want to go and then execute.
So, what is 502?
502 is a strategic marketing agency that grows companies through story.
We believe in the power of story. We believe that the right story has the power to make us want and love and hate and cry and be. We believe that story is an anchor for all of us which play a part in this shared human condition. And most of all, we believe now, more than ever, brands need story.
Just look at the world we live in. Surrounded by automation, outsourcing and abundance, we are all overwhelmed with products and services. Our cars can park themselves. Our meals can be shipped to us in a box. An attorney in Thailand can draw up our lease agreements.
What creates winners and losers in an economy where supply and demand are no longer the sole determinants of a business’s viability?
We believe that the world is quickly becoming a place where buyers do not make decisions based on rationalization or utilization or maximization. The time of the classical economic definition of human nature has passed. We believe that people no longer purchase the best products or services but instead the ones they can relate with most. The ones they can understand.
502 exists to help brands identify which stories matter most to their audience and then help those companies deliver those stories through the best fit medium. We make elegant websites. We capture beautiful images. We design with intentionality. Heck, we can even run a mean Facebook campaign.
But in the end, 502 does not want to be sought out for our ability to create amazing widgets. We want to be sought out by clients who believe what we believe.
We believe that story has the power to differentiate. The power to make a brand come alive amidst a sea of sameness. We believe that every brand has a story to tell, and that we are here to help them tell it.