The Slope Playbook: Building an Enduring Content Engine

Jason Saltzman
Head of Growth

Karine Hsu is a Partner at Slope, the full-service creative agency bridging brand design and marketing for names like Function of Beauty, Daily Harvest, Point Card, and more. 

She’s also a serial founder, angel investor, and Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree. Diving into her multi-faceted background and domain expertise, Karine walks us through: 

  1. How a full-service agency thinks through content for itself vs. for clients
  2. When and how companies should approach long-form content
  3. Tactical tips for defining and aligning with your customer
“Content helps set the stage for both clients and partnerships by helping us stay top of mind and building brand awareness around our story and ethos.” 

What Sets Slope Apart?

Tactically, Slope sits between brand and marketing — with offerings across 1) Brand - brand strategy + identity, 2) Digital - Web design/dev, UI/UX, and 3) Marketing - paid acquisition and content creation. 

Karine highlights two core qualities that have shaped Slope into what it is today. 

1. All of Slope’s founders were venture-backed founders themselves

Slope began because Karine and the OG team felt startups lack good partners — whether those are agencies or service providers — who truly understand what it means to be a founder. 

This led to the value prop, ethos, and tagline of being an agency “by founders for founders.” 

2. Brand design and marketing under one roof

Traditionally, most agencies are either branding agencies only or performance marketing agencies. As such, having both functions under one roof was crucial to the Slope team. 

They emphasize that brands today must be built with both great branding and design plus great distribution as core components. 

“Marketing isn’t just about performance anymore. Founders simultaneously have to think about how to build a brand, but also consistently showcase their brand and adhere to brand guidelines + values.” 

Great Agency Content Can Attract Your Ideal Client

In the past, Slope mainly considered content a medium for raising brand awareness as well as an educational resource for potential clients. 

They’d preemptively answer questions about their abilities across brand, design, or even TikTok. 

Today, Karine has recently revamped and solidified this strategy to focus on staying top of mind and getting in front of potential clients, whether pre-launch or fresh off a recent fundraise. 

Most of their content to date has comprised of personal profiles or short-form interviews, plus more educational pieces aimed at creating thought leadership. 

As she explains, clients often just don’t know what to expect from Slope. Most startup founders are focused on the product or engineering and lack basic design and marketing know-how. 

In that sense, Slope can’t just run on “meme content” to help them stay top of mind. Their content needs to actually demonstrate what the Slope brand is and what the agency represents. 

This is especially crucial as they aim to attract clients who are the ideal fit. 

For instance, Slope knows a company looking for a new logo in two days with a new brand identity and site to match in one week simply will not align well with their process. 

“When we’re trying to define our brand, positioning, and ideal clientele, simply writing about the broad strokes of design and marketing is not super helpful.”

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The Slope Playbook: Full-Funnel & Long-Term Content Plays

There are clients who understand that, by helping you stay top of mind, high-quality content builds credibility over time and, as a result, inbounds from customers, investors, and partners. 

Then, there are clients who are the type to, again, ask for a new logo in two days. These teams tend to ask exactly how many leads they can expect within an hour of distributing a new piece. 

Quite simply: That just isn’t how content normally functions, and this response is more akin to that of paid or performance marketing.

Karine explains that it’s ultimately a balance. You need to believe great content does inherently lead to ROI, and that, if you put in the necessary work and consideration, good things will come. 

At Slope, their school of thought is — if they’re going to spend the effort to churn out a ton of content and social posts that no one reads, it’s almost definitely not worth the effort. 

In other words: It takes more time to put out enough mediocre content to keep you top of mind. While it could still drive ROI, it won’t be the same ROI you’d see from fewer pieces of quality content. 

When Is It Time to Transition to Long-Form Content? 

For the Slope team, part of this switch toward publishing more high-value content comes from the fact that they’re at a stage where it makes more sense. 

They’ve transitioned through quite a few phases. For instance

  • Early days — When the agency first launched, they had limited bandwidth and network for strictly employee-led, short-form content. 
  • Expanding — Even as they grew, it wasn’t time to invest in long-form content. They still generated higher ROI through modes with less output like personal relationships. 
  • The long haul — As Slope considers its life as a longer-term brand, investing in content to play the long game makes sense. 

Karine stresses that the “right time” for a company to begin investing in long-form content relies on having some key pieces in place, including: 

  • Having both your brand and team in place
  • Having the infrastructure to appropriately service inbounds
  • Having the right client partners in place (i.e., you’re no longer signing any paying client you can get, but rather focusing on clients you’ll be successful with)

For Slope, they’ve recently redone their own brand positioning and are on the precipice of launching a new website with new branding plus a new feel. 

In her words: “A lot of it stems from us recognizing our positioning in the market now. We want to keep paving that path moving forward with the ability to share about all of this.” 

It’s time to go in on content because they can define their role in the world of venture-backed tech startups, bringing clarity to exactly who they are and what they want in clients. 

Diversify Your Full-Funnel Content

Content doesn’t just help companies drive awareness. It can foster more high-touch engagements by featuring partners, investors, or just friends throughout one’s ecosystem. 

Tactically, Slope aims for a mix of content to serve the full client journey, though their emphasis is on writing to different intentions across the top and middle of the funnel. 

Karine will typically aim content toward startups who may not know about the agency, who may be about to hop on a call, or who just want to learn more about their client approach. 

She also highlights that both Slope’s internally produced content and independent employee posting are highly strategic. For instance: 

  1. Long-form B2B plays — Company-curated content speaks more to how potential customers think, what they’re thinking about, and what matters to them as a startup. 
  2. Personal social content — This serves to keep the agency or client company top of mind, nurturing existing user interest and proving thought leadership in their category. 

Overall, Karine leans toward high-quality, evergreen posts, plus some pieces that are more timely or trend-specific as necessary.

Designing Content for Yourself vs. Clients

As for strategizing content for an agency vs. a B2B SaaS company vs. a consumer brand vs. a venture fund and so on, Karine highlights some key similarities and differences. 

Serve Your Audience Above All

As it turns out, creating content as a studio or an agency isn’t wildly different from the content one might write for a B2B SaaS company. 

In fact, they’re pretty damn similar, seeing as both start with identifying your ICP, determining what they want to hear to assuage their pain points, and then building content against this. 

Great content will always meet your ICP and target audience where they are. 

Different Models Mean Different User Relationships

Different categories and thus different business models naturally lead to different relationships with customers, which then necessitate different types of content. 

For instance, consumer brands can focus on more fun, lifestyle-centered content, because that’s the dynamic users subconsciously expect (or often even want) from these companies. 

Realistically, most people don’t want that kind of relationship with a B2B tool like MailChimp. 

“Ultimately, good content will always revolve around what your customer is thinking about or frustrated about. Hopefully, you can answer their questions.” 
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