Making the digital shift has taken more than two and a half years, but Blue Flame Thinking is now on track to grow by 11 percent to 18 percent, thanks to the investment.
Owner and CEO Steve Schmieder explained Blue Flame Thinking is the result of combining his two companies, s2 Financial Marketing and Alexander Marketing, and focusing on enhancing digital services for clients.
Schmieder purchased s2 Financial Marketing, located in Chicago, in 2003, and Alexander Marketing, located in Grand Rapids, in 2008. Both companies had strong sector-specific focuses — s2 focused on the financial sector while Alexander Marketing focused on manufacturing — which appealed to Schmieder and allowed him to operate the two businesses independently.
Recently, however, Schmieder realized it was time for both companies to grow their digital marketing services.
“The marketing dynamics in 2008 and onward have changed dramatically in the marketplace,” Schmieder said. “We have moved into a digital marketplace arena.”
He decided the best way to achieve the transformation he was after was to bring s2 and Alexander together, keeping the area-specific expertise and adding a team of digitally focused experts.
His first hire was Josh Stauffer, who joined the team two years ago and serves as Blue Flame Thinking’s director of digital strategy.
“At the time, we had a very small digital team,” Stauffer said. “We had a web developer and some project management in that area, but we didn’t really have staff to take on the large-scale projects that our current clients were asking us for.”
Over the past two years, Stauffer spent a lot of time with clients, listening to their needs and gaining an understanding of what they expected from a digital strategy.
“(We wanted to) identify the areas where it made the most sense for us to augment our staff moving forward,” he explained.
Once they understood client needs and expectations, they could focus on growing Blue Flame Thinking’s workforce to deliver in those specific areas. What they found was a desire for websites and applications, sales apps, interactive experiences, social and media buying.
Blue Flame Thinking now has a burgeoning creative team that works with its sector-specific experts throughout client projects.
Schmieder pointed to a recent project Blue Flame Thinking worked on that wouldn’t have been accomplished without its creative team and industry experts.
“We just helped one of our clients, Fairmount Santrol out of Cleveland, Ohio, go public,” he said. “They did their IPO about a month ago. That was a name change. They used to be Fairmount Minerals and now it’s Fairmount Santrol. They re-launched their biggest division. We helped rebrand them, give them a new website and identity, kick off their new entity, and promote it nationally.”
Now that they are a year in, Schmieder and Stauffer are looking at what’s next.
“Our first goal was to make the transition and to keep what was working — our sector specialties — and then modernize our disciplines so we are utilizing all of the tools in today’s marketplace,” Schmieder said. “That transition and transformation has been complete, so now it’s about growing that area. Our goal is to have double-digit growth of 11 to 18 percent in gross revenues.”
The company is also looking at entering into other sectors. Recently it worked with Founders Brewing Co. on a website design project.
“We launched Founders’ website last month,” Stauffer said. “We are very excited about that one. It’s been an amazing relationship for us.”
Schmieder thinks working with retail clients will add value to its B2B clients.
“The B2B sectors — manufacturers, engineering firms, chemical firms — are late adapters to utilizing all the new tools that are out there, incorporating the apps and making them part of their sales structure,” Schmieder said. “We’ve put together a viable model that helps those firms adopt what the consumer marketing firms have been doing for quite some time.
“They didn’t see where the ROI was. We are showing them if you put the right mix of components together, they can have strong lead generation and stronger sales. Those are the programs we are helping our clients with.”
Stauffer said B2B clients are still used to being locked into their marketing plans in ways they no longer have to be.
“Before they may have done a marketing spend and would review the results quarterly or yearly to see if their mix was right and if they feel they got ROI,” Stauffer explained. “Digital gives us the ability to make decisions or aggregate large amounts of data very quickly.
“This is a time where it’s never been easier to change your marketing mix in 10 minutes. There is no reason you have to lock yourself into a plan when we can very clearly see what is working and what isn’t and help you make better decisions.”
Blue Flame Thinking operates out of Grand Rapids and Chicago and has clients nationwide. It employs about 50 people and continues to look for new talent.