VisualFizz: Maximizing Digital Value with Smart Execution

guest: Marissa Ryan, Co-Founder
company: VisualFizz

On this week’s episode of fjorgecast, we are joined by Marissa Ryan of digital marketing agency, Visualfizz. Visualfizz, founded in February of 2017, specializes in experiential marketing – a unique combination of human emotion with effective digital execution. Tim and Marissa discuss this, employment strategies, digital marketing processes. They also delve into marketing complications in regulated markets and the recent trend of “savagery” in social media.

Episode Transcript

Advertiser: Enter the creative world of Fjorge Cast. Explore a variety of trends in the creative landscape, getting insider knowledge and advice from the industry’s best. Fjorge is proud to present Fjorge Cast. You host, Tim Barsness.

Tim Barsness: Thanks for joining us on Fjorge Cast. I’m Tim Barsness, Founder of web and development team, Fjorge, and today in our show, we will be talking with Marissa Ryan about her digital marketing agency, VisualFizz. Welcome to the show, Marissa.

Marissa Ryan: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Tim: Absolutely. Glad you could be here. Can you tell us a little bit about VisualFizz?

Marissa: Yes, VisualFizz is mine and my co-founder’s little brainchild. It’s a digital marketing agency. What really sets us apart from the other agencies in the Chicago area, or the midwest area, or even the country is that we aim to reconnect the analog actual human emotions back into what it means to be involved in digital marketing. We call this an experiential approach to concepts like SEO, paid search, social media marketing, even content writing. We focus on how to actually bring data in for measuring the performance of those channels and how that connects to a real person’s experience with the product or service, and then actually filters into a buying decision.

Tim: When was the company founded?

Marissa: This year actually [laughs].

Tim: All right.

Marissa: It was founded in February. My co-founder and I have both been in digital marketing for five years plus. It was just the right step for us, so it feels like much longer than 10 months, but it’s been about 10 months.

Tim: Very cool. And team size right now?

Marissa: There’s actually, I think, about eight full-time members, eight or nine. We have an interesting setup. So we have an extended team, but our core team consists of eight.

Tim: That sounds like a pretty solid start.

Marissa: Yes, yes. We were excited with how quickly it took off the ground for us.

Tim: What drove you to start the company?

Marissa: In my personal life, I had been just freelancing and doing my own contractor thing, and it was perfectly mediocre [laughs]. I was just floating along, not really striving to make any new career changes, not really trying to do anything different, but still chugging away, chipping away at the digital marketing career. When I met Dan, my co-founder, it just all fell into place for us, it made a lot of sense for us to build an agency and actually grow something that’s scalable to take on more clients, more than the 5 or 10 that I was able to take on myself, actually provide full service instead of just pieces of marketing strategy. It just made sense for us to move forward into something bigger, and we’ve been growing ever since.

Tim: Tell me a little bit more about your perfectly mediocre freelancing career.

Marissa: [laughs] Yes. So I started out in paid search. I accidentally fell into an internship, an unpaid internship with a paid search company, and just from there, being involved in such a small agency setting, you really do have to wear all the hats if you will. You have to be involved in the SEO strategy and the on-page content, all the social media, all of the different kind of channels that come together to make a digital strategy. I think I actually remember the day when the planets aligned and I saw how all of the channels work together.

When I say perfectly mediocre, I mean I kind of was full service, in that, someone would say, “Can you do this?” And I would be like, “Yes, absolutely.” And I figure out how to do it. That did include web development, I’m a perfectly mediocre web developer [laughs] as well, but the strategies that I was delivering to my clients, I wouldn’t consider those mediocre. When I say mediocre, I mean, I just kind of floating along, not really extending my career, learning new skills, just utilizing the same ones that I had learned in my past life [laughs].

Tim: What did you learn that prompted you to start the company? What did the transition look like?

Marissa: Yes, I think what I actually learned in starting the company is something that I knew right from the start. Especially in digital marketing, you always have to be learning and you always have to be looking for new ways to do things, and you always have to be paying attention to what’s going on in this field. The more I paid attention, the more I start to see that a single service agency that I was as a sole proprietorship, it wasn’t giving me the same scalability and the same growth that I really wanted to have.

What prompted me to start this business with my co-founder was, again, that scalability. I wanted something more, I wanted to be able to offer more, I wanted to really do cool things with people that have a bigger budget than a couple hundred bucks a month. I was excited to start something bigger and to watch it grow and really put a hundred percent into it to make it grow.

Tim: What’s the key to starting a company in February and by November having it be in a person team?

Marissa: Yes. I would say that what really sets us apart is our lean model that we have in the way that we’re set up. A lot of people may or may not disagree or agree with us, but we tend to work with just contractors. And I don’t mean “just contractors” as in they’re nothing special, I mean we actually don’t have any salaried employees on staff. What that gives us the advantage of is that we’re actually able to hire much more experienced really, really self-driven in entrepreneurial team members as supposed to just the intern that just graduated college that has no idea what they’re doing. Because we don’t have any salaried employees, we actually are able to keep our overhead very, very low when it comes to an office.

We partner with a co-working space, MakeOffices, in Chicago. We partner with them, we help them with their digital strategies as well. We have a very small office that we don’t have to pay for because of the partnership. We keep everything very, very clean. My co-founder and I actually don’t pay ourselves quite yet just because everything that we have brought in in revenue, which is great to actually be in the positive revenue in the first couple of months, we put right back into the business. So we operate on a very lean model. We focus really only where our skill sets our strongest and then we push it off to other professionals.

We have a pretty core team of contractors that are experienced, and we have an extended team of people that are really really specialized that we feel comfortable working with.

Tim: When you say you’re reinvesting in a company, what are you investing in?

Marissa: Sure, we have a couple of projects that are secret. We have a couple of software services that we’re trying to push, hopefully, in the next year. We’re trying to branch out into international markets and companies. We have a lot of cool things under our belt that we actually reinvesting to. Secondly, we do reinvest into [clears throat] conferences where they make sense and learning experiences where they make sense for my co-founder and myself just to make sure that we’re always staying on the top of the industry and actually growing it appropriately and smart, intelligently I supposed.

Tim: Do you think there will ever be a point in time when you will hire full-time employees?

Marissa: Absolutely. I think that we will have full-time employees very, very shortly within the next couple of months. It is very important to have a core team that’s consistent and that you can really trust. One of the challenges with contractors is that they often come and go as they please, which is just sort of how the nature of the industry works. We definitely want to bring our full-time employees, but we want to make sure that we’re balancing out making sure that our employees are paid what they think they should be valued at, which is something that you really have a lot of flexibility on when you’re a contractor.

We want to make sure that our team has the amount of experience that commensurate with what we expect from them. We don’t want to hire someone just out of college that has no idea what they’re doing. We don’t really feel comfortable giving that type of work to our clients. We do want to have full-time employees, we just want to make sure that we’re able to get the experience levels that we really need our staff to have.

Tim: Absolutely. Is that something that you did intentionally or you’ve learned from other people, or how did you come across that model?

Marissa: Yes. So that actually was one of the things I realized as a sole contractor myself. When I walk into a room, it sounds terribly cocky, but when I walk into a room with another company and I see three 21-year-old interns and then people kind of complain about having to work with a contractor, it’s startling because just the amount of experience that you have when you’ve been doing your own thing is so much greater than just trying to find a job for a job sake. When I had my sole contractor set up for myself, you really care about what goes into it because that’s your business.

If you don’t finish what you said you would finish, you don’t get paid and that’s it. There’s no safety answer other than yourself. I really found that working with contractors that consider themselves entrepreneurs, that they really take pride in their own personal business and small business that is themselves. We’ve just found the quality is that much better just from being in that same position. Both Dan and myself have been in the freelance in the contractor position, we’ve both put our hearts into everything that we do, and we really hope that our employees would mirror that.

Tim: Got it. Very cool. So let’s get into a little bit about VisualFizz and how you guys kick butt with the work you do. So tell us a little bit more. What does the typical project look like?

Marissa: Yes. So a typical project could look like many things. Digital marketing, it just depends so much on what’s going on around you. So one client in a certain agency or, excuse me, in a certain industry might need just social media or just social media influence or marketing.

Another client in the same industry might want to be focused on local SEO. Another client in even the same industry might really, really want to focus on conversion rate optimization once they actually get users onto the page of their website. So a typical project that offers the [unintelligible 00:10:51] services that we provide generally shift and change dependent on the goals of the account or what we’re actually trying to do. But generally, the structure follows.

Dan, my co-founder, is the project manager kind of to start off on all projects. We have a couple other project managers that we then pass work off to. But he’s kind of the head and the touchpoint, which is great because he is much more organized and on it than I am. I’m the creative, if you will [laughs].

Tim: Got it.

Marissa: And he’s the project manager. So generally, he and I will discuss strategy. We will do usually a lot of competitive research and kind of current industry analysis just so we know we know what to expect between him and myself. We usually have some kind of experience in most industries. Nothing is really ever new. We do a little bit of audience analysis to make sure that we’re actually kind of targeting the people that we actually want to target rather than throwing marketing noodles at the fridge to see what sticks. After a little bit of competitor analysis and audience analysis, we’ll actually build campaigns out. So what that looks like, again, varies. It truly depends on the goals of the account. But we would then assign our top person that we have on staff that would fit the account personality-wise and skillset-wise.

We always like to make sure there’s a good fit with that team that we assign to each client just because the personality, and voice, and tone of actually what you put out into the world matters so much. And then from there, it’s a lot of project management, it’s a lot of back and forth. I tend to be that keyway on almost everything before it’s sent to the client because I have kind of a stronger, maybe stronger digital marketing background but more of a strategic and actually down in the trenches sort of background.

So I tend to queue everything that goes in and out. And then from there, it’s kind of a rinse and repeat process. We set new goals, we analyze past data. So if that data from a previous campaign, then we will apply learnings that we’ve taken from what we’ve done previously and apply it to a new campaign. So, yes, that’s generally the process. It’s kind of a set rinse and repeat process.

Tim: Sure. So are there any industries where you wouldn’t recommend digital marketing as a solution?

Marissa: That is an excellent question. There are some industries where the traditional channels don’t necessarily make sense. And I think that this is where some of the newer startups or even some of the more niche industries really kind of struggle. That’s why there’s only a couple companies that seem to be able to do it right. I think that a lot of times certain industries, they’ll just push against a brick wall that’s never really going to move for them. So just throw money at certain advertising channels or they say think SEO is going to solve all their problems or if they just get a cool enough Twitter feed going up, then people will just flock to them.

Tim: Why do you see people making that mistake?

Marissa: Yes. I think that people make the mistake just because they think that there’s one set path that leads to success online, and that’s just not true. Not every company has $5 million to have TV advertisements and not every startup out there has 10 years of historical data to fall back on to. So I think that just blindly pushing forward into digital strategies is not the way to go for a lot of industries. Lots of industries that have restrictions, or even legislation around what they can and can’t say, or what they’re able to actually advertise, traditional marketing channels just aren’t really going to work for them. And a lot of times, businesses give up at that point, and that’s sad to see as well.

Tim: Totally. You mentioned before we started recording that you’ve worked with some restricted or alternative industries. I’m just curious, how does working with those industries compare to digital marketing in general?

Marissa: Yes. Working with restricted and limited industries is one of my favorite things to work with. It makes me sound like I take joy in other people’s struggles; I don’t. But I do like the challenge of trying to find out what works and what doesn’t. So working with industries like cannabis are working with industries like health care even, I’ve really found that I enjoy the challenge of trying to figure out this is what we can and can’t say, these are the rules. You’re usually able to find a lot of deep analysis or you’re able to be one of the first people to create a deep analysis based on some of the data that you’re working with. So generally speaking, it’s definitely the road less traveled by and there is much less competition. We can do really cool things. It’s just about being scrappy and smart at the same time. This is what I say.

Tim: It’s almost like people who won’t touch those industries it’s not because of any, I guess, moral issues but instead because they just don’t know how.

Marissa: Right. Exactly. Yes. And especially in an industry like cannabis where it’s constantly changing. There’s a lot of risk. There’s a lot of risk in being associated with an industry that may or may not be legal where you live or where your mom lives or something like that. And there’s a lot of struggle in trying to learn and actually find out what you can and can’t do. The highway of traditional marketing is much wider and much bigger than the highways and kind of side roads that sort of the restricted industries have to take. So it’s a lot more difficult to try and navigate new industries and constantly changing industries than it is to just stick to your regular Facebook ads.

Tim: With your regular Facebook ads, you don’t need to explain to your mom at Thanksgiving what you’re working on.

Marissa: It’s true. It’s true. The way that I explain it is everybody needs marketing. Every company does. I’m not there to judge where you come from, I’m just there to help you sell your product or service.

Tim: Absolutely. How do alternative industries leverage digital marketing if they can’t use traditional means?

Marissa: Yes. So if they are able to use traditional means or there’s restrictions on what these companies can and can’t promise or can and can’t say, usually, one of the first things to do would be to learn what you can’t do. It’s important to not just go blindly out into this beast that is digital marketing, especially if [crosstalk]–

Tim: Is that something that you help them with?

Marissa: It is, yes. So my past experience and learning, I can usually say starting out, we’re going to start with caution. This is what we can and can’t say. You can’t use these these words. So generally, when they start a digital strategy, I start very cautiously and very slowly. You work up to pushing things a little harder and sort of testing the boundaries and walking the line a little bit. But you definitely shouldn’t do that right off the bat. No matter what, no matter how much experience you have in an industry, there’s always going to be things that you have to learn. There’s always going to be a learning curve. There’s always going to be things that you didn’t expect to happen. So it’s better to experiment kind of quietly and slowly sort of the tortoise in the race rather than the hare vis-a-vis.

Tim: Sure. After you learn regulations, what’s the next step?

Marissa: Yes. After I learn the regulations about what we can and can’t say, we actually tend to look at competitors, and we’ll look at what other similar companies or businesses in the industry that we’re working in are doing. Will pay attention to any fallbacks, we’ll constantly stay updated on any kind of new information that comes out. We tend to build campaigns that we know will work again quietly, softly and then learn what we can and slowly push the dial from there.

Tim: Got it. After competitors, what’s next?

Marissa: Yes, after competitors is usually where the fun stuff starts. So this, again, will depend on the goals of the campaign, and this will depend on what we plan to do for the business who are working with. But we usually will undergo some sort of community growth. So what that means is creating a small community around a topic that we’re trying to create.

Generally, this is done with social media. As we spoke of before the cannabis industry and companies, they’re barely allowed on social media as it is. Any kind of social media platform as an independent third-party platform, so they can set the rules about what’s allowed. Facebook can say I don’t care if this is legal in California. You can’t talk about it at all. They fully have a right to do that.

So that’s something we would look at. We’d look at things that have worked in the past, we would look at certain channels and restrictions. Just, for example, Facebook might not make sense. A channel like Reddit might be more appropriate for a Cannabis Company, or a channel like even Twitter if you can drive traffic to the website.

So from there, generally, what we recommend is to figure out the channels that make the most sense for you, build up a small community following, and then from that community base, it’s basically just support that community as much as you can. Generally, that means creating content. And when you are in a kind of restricted industry. One of the first things that I recommend doing it is to build up your own written and graphic content. So there’s no restrictions. Facebook has no power about what you put on your blog. Even whatever state you’re in, they have no control over what you actually put on your blog. In the whole breadth of the Internet, there’s crazy things out there. So you really do have a lot of freedom and autonomy when it comes to writing your own content, creating your own blog posts and RSS feed. Then sharing that content that you can create on your on your social channels organically.

You are allowed to post things as a brand organically with no restrictions. Organically means with no paid budget behind it, so no boosted post, no promoted posts, no sponsored ads that say we sell cannabis products. That’s super not allowed, but you are allowed to post, “We just wrote this blog. Check it out”, onto your Facebook page. So usually it’s kind of just finding the right path to share that content and create that community. But generally speaking, we say that content is the first place to start.

Tim: Totally. All right. Let’s get into a couple of news stories here. First news story, I guess both are from your team, but the first one, why experiential marketing experts will rule 2017? Tell us about your article, Marissa.

Marissa: Yes, sure thing. So we wrote this article just because of all of the technological advancements in 2017 that have happened in terms of social media, in terms of social media algorithms. Just, for example, Facebook’s algorithm has drastically changed even in the last twelve months. Now, they’re not showing you things that just happen to come up in your feed in order. They’re trying to kind of guess what you’ll like the most. So they push high activity pieces up high on your news feed and they kind of push down ones that aren’t getting a lot of activity. They tend to value photos over text, text and links, so anything that is visually appealing will get pushed up first.

The whole concept of this article piece was that in 2017, especially, especially in the coming years and years to come, marketers are just going to have to do more. They’re just going to have to figure out the best way to actually make that emotional connection with their audience to kind of reconnect in a real person way since everything else is being so drowned out in technology from ad blockers to Facebook algorithms. Marketers just need to pay attention to the human connection that exists and needs to exist for a real community growth to happen.

Tim: Totally. It makes sense. Our second article today, A Smart Brand’s Guide to Savage Social Media Strategies. Could you tell us a little bit more about your article here?

Marissa: Yes. So this is one of my favorite articles that we’ve had written. The writer that did it for us is– I don’t want to say he’s a jack, but he kind of is a jack when it comes to cynicism and calling people out on their stuff. So this is actually a call out to the brands on social media that have a little bit of an attitude when they respond. I don’t know if you’ve seen or heard the Wendy’s Twitter feed. They tend to get a lot of shade [laughs] to other companies.

We actually wrote this because being a smart ass, is what we call it there, being a smart ass on social media can benefit your brand. It really can help you stand out from the crowd, it can help you have a little bit of personality behind your brand instead of just that cut and dry, “Hey, buy our stuff” kind of concept. But it also can go way too far and it can make you look terrible. You can provide bad customer service. So we wrote it to help to unblur the lines between having a little bit of an attitude to the point where it’s funny, and witty, and cool and then actually taking it too far and upsetting your customers.

Tim: How do you put the trust in someone managing your social media account to understand that line?

Marissa: Yes. So that’s actually one of the reasons why on our team we look at the team members personality as well as the voice and tone of the account that we’re trying to promote or run on social media. Voice and tone are critical on social, so it’s important that you are able to find a digital marketer or manager that can mirror the voice and tone that your brand is looking for. Social media is certainly not an easy job by any means and mirroring that voice and tone as it needs to reflect your brand is one of the most difficult aspects of actually being a social media manager.

Tim: Totally, makes sense. Let’s see. I’m curious. Do you find voice and tone being more relevant in B to C or is it also relevant B to B?

Marissa: It’s just relevant in B to B. A lot of times people think that if you just write a bunch of blog content just for your customers, then you’ll be golden. But if you are trying to really make B to B connections and B to B sales even, people actually do read the content.

Usually, the voice and tone has to adjust a little bit, so the individual consumer needs to kind of have more of a real person tone. They tend to be okay with social colloquialisms of the time or they use the slang maybe even memes if it’s an individual, you have to kind of make that personal connection, whereas if someone is representing a business, they’re in the business mindset. They need professional information, they need data. They kind of don’t really want to laugh in a meme when they’re trying to learn about the ways that a product could support their own business.

So voice and tone definitely needs to shift depending on the target audience. It definitely needs to shift depending on where that target audience lives. Just, for example, we definitely would use a different voice and tone when posting– like a jewelry company to Facebook, then we would maybe a car company on LinkedIn. So voice and tone need to change drastically. It’s important for us to be able to switch that voice and tone as we need to.

Tim: Totally. We’re out of time. So that’s it for the day in Fjorge Cast. You can find Marissa’s company at That visual, You can also find her on Twitter @marissaryan25. Thanks for joining us on the show today, Marissa.

Marissa: Yes, thanks for having me.

Tim: It was a pleasure. And thank you to our listeners for joining us as well. You can download episodes of the program by going to or subscribing to the show on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, and iHeartRadio.

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