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Leading in Spite of Marketing Priority Uncertainties in 2021

We’re delighted to celebrate Jeff Seevers’ three-year workiversary with the North Star team this month. As our product development manager, Jeff leads the way forward with many efforts, projects, and some client management, but he’s the primary driver for Via, our proprietary project management platform designed specifically for the needs of marketing teams and strategic campaigns. Thorny challenge? Time to break new ground? Need for leadership to move a complex project forward? These are some of the many ways we lean on Jeff and his diverse talents. Thanks for all you do for our team and clients, Jeff!

Okay, Jeff … rewind the tape for us a bit and give us your take on the last year. You have a unique vantage point in our team, and I’m curious about what you’ve been working on through all the challenges in 2020.

Jeff: The pandemic caused a lot of introspection for a lot of companies. What do we do when the markets we serve are challenged with something that is unforeseen and impacts business in unique ways? What is the value we bring those companies and markets? It’s been clear that this thoughtful reflection has caused the leadership team at North Star to become more focused on the education market and also the value that Via has in today’s marketplace with agencies. 

I’ve been spending the bulk of my time managing the development of Via from an execution standpoint. Andy still provides direction and leadership in where it’s heading, but I have been supporting our development and design teams in translating those directions into action steps. As we’re bringing on new marketing agency teams with the Via platform, I’m also providing guidance and direction on the Via onboarding process. For the last 9-10 months, I’ve spent a lot of time with the question, “How do we get agencies on board in the most effective way possible?”

When you think about the high points and successes from the last year, what stands out to you?

Jeff: We were able to gain a much clearer picture of the market we serve with Via. That has also translated into gaining traction with our initial group of Via clients. Even though we haven’t widely marketed what we’re offering, the value that Via provides is becoming more widely known through word of mouth, agency meetups, and networking opportunities. 

It has been neat to see the work NSM has put into development this past year, as well. It really has taken our entire agency and years of day-to-day usage, trial-and-error, and constant refinement to develop not only this product but also a strong articulation of the strategic campaign thinking agencies need and Via supports. We have done a tremendous amount of work within the software, identified the gaps that occur in agency life, and built software that bridges those gaps, fixes clarity issues, and gets tactical and consistent around executing. As a result, Via plays a big role in alleviating those pressures and brings visibility to those issues. We’re seeing that many agencies might be thinking about these challenges, or at least have some level of awareness about them — but they aren’t clear on how to fix them. It is so rewarding to have Via bring light to these areas and bring value to other teams.

What are some of the gaps that Via solves for?

Jeff: Sometimes agencies have a tendency to listen to the needs of their clients and automatically ask, “How can we help solve these objectives?” —and they proceed to execute really well — but they’re running from project to project without the higher-level view of their clients’ organizational priorities. If they want a website, or sales or leads, which is typically what you’re selling, there is often a higher-altitude need that is generating that visible need or project they’ve asked for. Via has a place to quantify, qualify, and outline all of those visible and half-visible priorities, and it creates a clear line of sight for strategic execution. If the highest-altitude need that surfaces is “We want to grow this line of business because it’s highly profitable for our company … ” then Via will help you see what campaigns you can put in play to serve that priority. You get a very clear line of sight between the priorities and how to develop the campaigns — built by projects and executed through more granular tasks and milestones — to achieve those priorities. Via delivers the Why, the What, and the How in one package.

From your vantage point, what do organizations really need right now?

Jeff: There is still a lot of confusion and uncertainty. I think organizations are really trying to find some sense of clarity around which way their market will turn. What is our new reality going to be as we serve our markets based on variables we have no control over? States are locked down. You can’t bring families and prospective parents into your school for a tour. Maybe the biggest need right now is near-term goals and priorities and some very clear messaging and value in places where there is no clarity or value. If you can’t sell your services or widget the way you did before, but there is still value for your product/service, how can you communicate that value to your customers in a new or unique way? In light of current circumstances, maybe the value you create has changed — what does that look like? A key near-term priority is asking how your message needs to change. 

What’s next for you as we keep pressing deeper into this first quarter of 2021?

Jeff: We’re onboarding two agencies right now. They are excited and have jumped right into the deep end of the pool and are prioritizing their tasks and efforts in Via through the lens of campaigns. As more and more agencies begin to use Via, we’ll always get more clarity about the gaps agencies have and how to refine our tools to help them deliver. Constant improvement — that’s always what’s next!

I distinctly remember some news and updates about your wife Katie’s start-up bakery business when we talked last year around your workiversary, and I’m hungry for an update: how is that going?

Jeff: [Laughs] Yeah, man: her business took off this past year. She sold a LOT of variety boxes with cookies, cupcakes, and cream pies. We bake everything here at the house, and since I’m working from home, I’m available to help take goods out of the oven, wrap deliveries, and maybe more importantly, serve as a small business venture capitalist /investor … all while leading our stringent efforts at quality control. If there’s a misfit cookie, or new product testing to be done, I get called in immediately.

Interestingly, the business really took off among Elon University parents who wanted to support their students through difficult times this semester, but couldn’t be there physically. In the midst of quarantine, lockdowns, and wanting to connect with someone you love, we’re all looking for personal ways to reach out. As we look forward, that’s going to be a constant, and that is part of the opportunity that we all have — corporately or individually — to build thoughtful messages that make a meaningful connection.

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