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Entrepreneur Luke Lintz is just 22, but he’s already had eight-figure successes and his share of failures. He’s built a digital marketing firm, HighKey Enterprises, with his brothers that is anything but low-key. Critical to his business success? Focusing on impact.
Below, the CEO of HighKey Enterprises shares insights with StartupNation on social media marketing strategy, working with family members and how startups can avoid missteps while establishing their brand. The Q&A is lightly edited.
- You use your story to brand your company HighKey Enterprises. What advice do you have for entrepreneurs on storytelling and crafting a narrative that will resonate?
Being authentic is critical in today’s world and I’m not in the business of crafting stories, but instead living narratives. Your brand’s story should not be made up and should be taken seriously since it is a reflection of your past experiences and how you got to where you are today. We didn’t make up any part of the HighKey story. We have just accumulated so much experience, and built so many businesses in the past and worked on so many different projects that have been like a snowball effect, which ultimately leads me into the next opportunity. All my past experiences strung together become a creative story. Nobody will have a very powerful story just starting out in business or starting out in whatever project they’re working on. The story constantly evolves as you grow as a person and grow in a specific industry.
2. You’ve been described as a digital marketing genius. What’s different about your approach to digital marketing?
My approach to digital marketing is always looking at it from the user’s perspective or the consumer, so to speak. If I break down every component of our business, for instance, our social media department, the main thing that I talk to our social media managers about is to focus on what the end users in that particular industry would want to watch, in terms of what types of content and then on platform-specific channels, what content is best suited for each channel.
So if we’re looking at Instagram for instance, people go on to Instagram, mainly to look at their Instagram stories and Instagram DMs for the most part, and so you would want to be spending the most time focused there. People use their Instagram profile like a digital business card. Your Instagram profile needs to look amazing, and as clean and precise as possible, so whenever somebody comes to the Instagram page it looks perfect.
You then apply those techniques on every single social media platform. So you should be focused on the end user and then looking at platform specific content.
And then in terms of other things that we do, too. We kind of think outside the box with all the marketing strategies. We really value press, and a lot of things that people don’t have a lot of knowledge about but are all components that make a really good elite digital brand.
3. Where do small businesses and entrepreneurs go wrong with their social media marketing efforts?
This is a great question and a loaded one! There are a lot of places that people can go wrong with their social media marketing efforts.
The biggest problem that we had when we started our first business in the e-commerce side of things is we immediately wanted to get into direct advertising and to launch direct ads, whether it’s Facebook ads, Google Ads, TikTok ads, before having a brand established.
People want to do direct ads because they see quick money there before having the brand established, but to have a perfect direct advertising strategy, the brand needs to be established at a very high level.
We are living in an environment and an ecosystem where there are endless commodities out there. For instance, Amazon has completely taken over and is pushing products completely into the commodity space, which is a commodity where you’re not shopping for any brands, you’re just shopping for what’s the lowest price. And brands, what they try to do is they try to level up their brand, so that they can offer a higher price point. So people are not just purchasing the product itself but the brand behind the product. That is probably the biggest error that people make is going into the direct advertising side of things before developing their brand.
Another problem that occurs is businesses hire an in-house social media team. Well, your social media is only as good as that one person who’s a part of your social media team, compared to if you’re hiring an agency where that’s their bread and butter.
One individual is usually only really good at one social media platform. However, every social media platform is for a different audience, uses different types of content and goes to a different demographic. You need to know what types of content each platform can relate with, and how to edit that content. You also need to know how to post the content and how much you should post.
There are so many different things that come into play here. In general, there is a huge separation in terms of people’s knowledge of social media, and then what they actually do on their social media presence.
4. As a Forbes Council Member, you wrote about thinking beyond return on investment (ROI) with marketing. In a world where metrics, metrics, metrics seems to be the mantra, how would you advise a startup that isn’t established enough to rely on its reputation so early in the game? In other words, how can you build a brand without a strong focus on marketing metrics?
Metrics are critical to show ROI. The main metrics that we’re looking at, across all of our social media platforms, are engagement rates. There is no universal standard for engagement rates, because engagement rates differ between every single channel, the content that you’re posting, the goals of why you’re posting the content, and engagement rate rule, and oftentimes KPI metrics will change.
Suppose you’re posting in an industry that’s not as popular on, say, a platform like Facebook. In that case, we adjust our metrics and what we look for in terms of what success looks like based on the client’s demographic, what their goal is with things, and then which social media platforms they’re targeting. For example, if somebody is interested in knowing what platform they can get the best engagement from currently that is TikTok, but if a company’s demographic is an older audience, say over 30 years old, well, then you might not want to be spending the majority of your time creating and publishing content on TikTok, because the large portion of your audience is on platforms like Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook.
So it’s a combination of knowing which demographics you’re going after, then asking yourself based off those platforms, what are solid metrics in your industry and then in return, establish metrics for each of those platforms.
5. You’ve written “Your brand is the only asset that no one can take from you.” What steps should a startup owner take to build that brand from the ground up and what should they do if that approach isn’t working?
Correct. Your brand really is the only asset that can’t be taken from you. Just as I was talking about the difference between branding and direct advertising. For instance, with direct advertising, you’re putting money into direct ads but you don’t own any of the direct ads that you’re publishing. You are paying per view that people are watching your content. Then after you pay for that, it’s completely gone. You then have to keep paying and reinvesting to get that viewership constantly. But with branding, on the other side of things, once you build up a brand and a community, depending upon what platform you built it up on, you have that community where you can reach out to and market to as much as you want — for free. Really, it’s just about creating and publishing really good content.
To build a brand from the ground up, the key is to have really unique and quality content.
To build a brand from the ground up, the key is to have really unique and quality content and there is so much content being published, so the bar is set at a very high level right now. The content needs to be very industry specific.
So if you have a product-based brand, for instance, you need to be doing a ton of research on TikTok and other product-based brands. On the platform, you should be following other top businesses, and top creators that are in your industry, following them and then engaging with their content. TikTok will naturally be feeding you videos, and this can be on any single social media platform. Same for YouTube, same for Instagram, as their algorithms are set up to feed you content that you’re engaging with. So if you’re engaging with content creators, and businesses that are doing very well and are in your specific industry, they’re gonna be feeding you content of the best performing videos in your industry.
You then take those videos and replicate it and put your own spin on it. That is really good for a product-based business, but really can be for any single industry.
Same with YouTube. If you create a YouTube channel, and the only YouTube videos that you engage with are specific ones that are competitive businesses, YouTube will only be feeding you YouTube shorts and long form videos that are mainly from competitors.
Therefore, market research becomes critical in your industry. Then it’s just a matter of replicating that and putting your own spin on it. That is what we do as an agency. Our social media managers are just researching other people’s niches because usually business owners usually don’t have the time to do that. So we do it for them. Then we feed them content ideas, and figure out how to structure videos for specific platforms and edit the videos. The videos get tons of engagement typically because they are done well.
6. What failures have you experienced as an entrepreneur and what lessons did you learn from them?
Every successful business owner will experience some failures along the way. The first challenge came with our e-commerce business. We were excited because we had this winning product, which was wireless earbuds, and we were crushing it. We made a million dollars in revenue (not profit) and we had this seven-figure company and felt we could sell anything. We had all these ideas of creating new products that we really liked ourselves, but didn’t know if it was a fit in the marketplace.
We spent six months designing this product, which was a charging backpack, and due to the success of the last product we thought this product would be a hit. We were being very greedy in our mindset because we didn’t want to sell out of this new product, we wanted to maximize our returns. We took out a loan and purchased way more than we should have or conceived of and it led to so many problems.
For instance, we didn’t sell this product, we spent so much marketing money and so much time trying to market this product that there was no demand for it in the marketplace. We spent so much time away from selling our No. 1 product and had to pay for warehousing fees, it turned into around a $250,000 to $300,000 failure on our part.
The lesson we learned from that is you never go full into a product or service that you haven’t tested in the marketplace first. So whenever you’re rolling out a new product or rolling out a new service, you have to either survey your past customers to get presales in to pay for the initial inventory. Another thing it taught us is never be overly greedy. In this day and age, it’s actually a good thing to sell out because it increases the demand of the product, especially if it’s a good product. So never be scared to sell out of a product or service because that can actually be a good thing and increase the demand.
The lesson we learned is you never go full into a product or service that you haven’t tested in the marketplace first.
Another failure we had is when we transitioned to starting up our HighKey Enterprise agency, and were starting to do social media marketing and press for clients. We oversold this one service because it was such a hot product so that became the exact opposite problem and now a fulfillment issue. We spent so much time and energy trying to fulfill on this service, that it took away from the time and energy that we were spending on the other business that we could fulfill on.
It is very important to only sell a product that you know 100 percent that you can fulfill on and that you have experience fulfilling. You want to under-promise and over-deliver. In most cases, that’s where clients are the happiest instead of over-promising and under-delivering especially when you are trying to sustain a brand. Your business brand is the No. 1 most important thing in life, and so you have to, at all costs, make sure that clients are happy.
Your business brand is the No. 1 most important thing in life, and so you have to, at all costs, make sure that clients are happy.
7. You run HighKey with your brothers. Any advice on how to get along and navigate rocky situations with family members as business partners?
I’m very close to my siblings and didn’t have an easy childhood. I’m always curious when people aren’t close with their siblings. I ask them questions on why not because I’m a very curious person. I try to figure out why they’re either really close, or why they’re not close, like, what was it like growing up? I think in our particular case, myself and my brothers, we were in a very unique situation, because our parents went through a very messy divorce. But both of our parents loved us a lot. And so we always had love and affection, but the situation brought us close together. We were each other’s rocks.
However, I can understand how family partnerships can get so tricky. It is tough to bring up business problems with family members. It’s the same thing as in a relationship. For instance, I couldn’t imagine being in business with your wife or husband and drawing this separation between what’s a personal conversation and what is a business conversation.
The biggest component of every single business partnership, and the reason why ours has succeeded and why we will continue to succeed, is the aspect of trust. If the trust is apparent, you can get through any single situation. This is with not just family members, but any sort of business partnership. If you have unstoppable and unbreakable trust, everything else will fall into place.
There will always still be problems, just like with any single relationship, but you’ll always have to work through those problems. You always have to communicate, but if there’s trust there then I think everything else falls into place.
8. You’re a big advocate of cryptocurrency. There’s a lot of media noise right now around it. How can entrepreneurs sift through the good and bad media coverage to see how it can fit into their business strategy?
Yes, I am a huge advocate of cryptocurrency. In fact, we may be getting featured on a TV show about business owners doing really cool stuff with crypto. In terms of where I feel the current crypto market is, I think I think we’re in a bear market. I think crypto is going to continue to head down because the overall economy looks to be in a recession. However, when it goes into a bull market, you will start to see gains and so I believe in crypto for the long run from an investment standpoint.
When I talk about crypto as a whole, and like decentralization as a whole, I believe that so many different industries should be completely decentralized, meaning that there’s no specific company controlling it, and that it’s run by the community itself. I fully believe in so many aspects, like I think social media should be completely decentralized.
Right now, we’re only seeing financial markets getting decentralized like cryptocurrencies, because that’s what the majority of cryptos are offering — decentralized finance, to a certain extent.
From the personal side of things it makes sense to invest, but from a business standpoint you have to be more cautious. I feel we’re a fairly long way away from every single industry getting decentralized. I think a lot of companies have gone too far down the rabbit hole, so to speak, in terms of jumping into crypto too early.
For example, I’ve seen real estate investors like, wow, there’s these decentralized universes where you can buy real estate. We’re so far away from that. That’s closer to 10 years away than it is from now.
So it is being on the right wave. But you have to be right with the timing because cryptocurrency decentralization will move very quickly. You want to be in on it, as it’s going up, not too early, and then definitely not too late.