When Chase Chappell was still a high school student in Fort Worth, Texas, he founded a small digital marketing company. Chappell had created a business model that flew in the face of digital marketing convention, and which began producing huge returns for his clients almost immediately. Within a few months of hiring Chappell, his first customer, a luxury pool contractor, booked enough work to fill his calendar for the next two years.
The pool builder was thrilled—he’d never had so much business. But though he’d wanted to increase his revenue, he wasn’t interested in becoming a larger company—or in the headaches that would have come with it. Having no need, or even desire, for more customers, he ended his marketing contract. In effect, Chappell had been too successful for his own good.
Still, in the Dallas-Fort Worth community where he’d spent his whole life, Chappell had begun to make a name for himself. He took on four or five more local clients, achieving results similar to those he’d gotten for the pool contractor. But he kept running into the same problem. At a certain point, his clients couldn’t handle any additional business, and they had no further need for Chappell’s services. Meanwhile, as a teenage entrepreneur, Chappell was having trouble accessing the kinds of clients that were best suited to his business model—companies that operated at the national or international level, who could handle fast, substantial growth.
About a year ago, he found a next-step solution. Through a professor at TCU, Chappell got a meeting with a larger, well-established marketing agency in Dallas. After impressing its executives with his model, Chappell whitelisted his firm, Chappell Digital Marketing, with the agency. The move gave Chappell access to a roster of Fortune 100 clients. He now projects revenues for 2019 of roughly $1.2 million.
We recently caught up with Chappell, who was kind enough to share a few key takeaways from his experience, including but not limited to:
- The secret sauce that has made Chappell a fast-rising digital marketing star.
- How whitelisting his company was vital to proving his model and vastly increasing his revenue.
- How whitelisting helped him refine that model, as well as his business structure, to position Chappell Digital Marketing to eventually operate as an independent agency.
Bonus action list: Get our 2-page PDF summary of action items you can use to land bigger clients based on Chappell’s advice.
How Chappell Developed His Marketing Strategy
Chappell has long had an entrepreneurial bent; he even attended a high school that specialized in business training. But when he began experimenting with Instagram and Snapchat — a period of dabbling that would ultimately lead to Chappell Digital — he wasn’t thinking along commercial lines. At least not in the traditional sense.
A friend had started an Instagram account devoted to luxury watches, and Chappell became impressed by how quickly his friend began receiving free timepieces from the high-end brands he showcased on his page. Chappell decided to start a page of his own, featuring luxury cars and houses. Certainly, he didn’t expect those items to appear in the mail, gratis or otherwise. But he was curious to see what would come of it.
This was in the early days of Instagram influencing, and Chappell quickly found himself with thousands of followers. He was skilled at selecting, editing, and branding photos that were freely available online, often overlaying them with motivational text — e.g. “Rise and Grind” — and Chappell soon became a paid promoter for various rarefied lifestyle products. Before long, he sold his page for a tidy profit.
It was on the basis of this achievement that Chappell got his first marketing client. And as he worked with subsequent local customers, focusing increasingly on analytics to hone his own sensibility, he realized that there was an underlying system at work facilitating his successes. He could refine and operationalize it, he saw, to create a powerful business model.
The Marketing Strategy That Wins Chappell Fortune 100 Clients
Despite the knack for giving people what they want (demonstrated in his early Instagram forays), Chappell increasingly believed that when it came to effective marketing, creative sensibility — taste, or whatever you wanted to call it — had very little to do with success. Invariably, when he looked at the results for ads placed through Instagram, Facebook, Google, and the like, Chappell saw that the numbers told a story. And the more he took his own opinions out of the equation and simply adjusted his clients’ campaigns according to that story, the better the results.
In short order, Chappell arrived at a four-phase process, which he has continued to refine, but which he applies to each and every client.
- Data Intake: During the first phase of the process, Chappell Digital plugs into the client’s databases to collect every relevant scrap of data they can: past and existing ad and marketing strategies, data analytics, sales figures, customer contact information.
- Testing: Next, over the course of a week or so, the team performs a series of rapid tests, examining thousands of ad variables, media placements, and potential audiences in order to weigh all possible KPI outcomes.
- Optimization: Phase three is perhaps where Chappell Digital most starkly distinguish themselves from other digital marketing shops. Here, the team rapidly and ruthlessly identifies and cuts underperforming ads. What’s left is the cream of the crop: the most effective bits of all of the client’s previous and existing marketing strategies, e.g. tag lines, photos, and sales offers. Depending on the size of the client’s archive, these can be potentially mixed and matched in thousands of permutations.
- Scaling: Having arrived at a process for creating the best ads for the client’s most receptive audiences — a collection of proven copy and images that can be repeatedly combined and recombined — Chappell floods the digital channels with countless iterations, capturing those audiences to deliver big returns on ad spend.
In an era when many digital marketers are consumed by figuring out how to churn out the best new content, Chappell has focused instead on perfecting and doubling down on the content that clients’ already have.
“There’s zero times where we’re putting our own opinion into anything,” he says. “We’re not reinventing the wheel for creative. Through testing, we find out what resonates best for their audience. Once we’ve found a winner and it’s performing well, we can scale it up pretty easily.”
Chappell’s insight much resembles what Hollywood figured out long ago—that the best way to capture large audiences isn’t to come up with new ideas, but to recycle and recombine the most indisputably appealing, or at least profitable, elements of old ones. (Admittedly, for movie producers, the strategy worked better before streaming.) For Chappell’s clients, this often involves very quickly increasing ad budgets for the campaigns that he’s found to be most effective.
“We took an ad campaign from doing $2,000 a month to doing roughly $16,000 a month in 14 days,” he says. But the results speak for themselves. “We’re getting a cost-of-result for pennies, or a few dollars. The return is going to be 10x or higher.”
Why Chappell Whitelisted His Agency
Because Chappell’s model relies heavily on a client’s bank of past and present ad campaigns — and because his process tends to produce big, rapid returns — the clients best suited to his services are large ones, with long digital ad histories and the capacity to handle a surge in demand. But when he first whitelisted his company with a larger agency, the agency’s Fortune 100 clients were understandably cautious about turning loose Chappell Digital and its youthful CEO on their marketing apparatus. To provide a proving ground, the agency entered Chappell in a competition to win the business of an important client.
The agency gave Chappell $30,000 to fund the project; if Chappell won, the client would reimburse them. But the agency Chappell was competing against devoted dozens of people to the effort. In contrast, Chappell had a team of three, including himself. To the casual observer, it looked like a lost cause.
It became clear almost immediately, however, that Chappell Digital was the true force to be reckoned with. “Within the first week, we’d broken unbelievable records for the company,” Chappell recalls. His method had produced so many results that the client grew suspicious. “They were convinced that we had fooled them — that we’d set the numbers up falsely. They were like, ‘This isn’t right.’” Convinced that the data was too good to be true, the company spent 60 days painstakingly reviewing every detail of Chappell’s process, from ad creation to results tracking. At last, they had to admit that all was in order — and that Chappell had won their business.
With Chappell at the helm of their ad campaigns, that client went on to reduce their cost per result by roughly 85%, tripling their return and completing a record year in 2018. Word spread quickly among Dallas marketing agencies, and Chappell entertained overtures from competitors of his parent agency. But he decided to stay put. It was too early to jump ship, and within weeks of his whitelisting with them, the agency had given Chappell and his firm the opportunity of a lifetime. Having proven his model on a grand scale, Chappell was quickly given access to additional Fortune 100 clients. Chappell Digital is now servicing three of them, winning prestige for their home agency and being handsomely compensated for their contributions. Their remaining clients include mid-size businesses that have 50+ employees and are looking to grow.
The Pros and Cons of Whitelisting Your Agency
In addition to giving Chappell access to big-time clients, whitelisting with a larger agency has allowed him to refine his business model and sharpen his brand identity. In an earlier iteration of his firm, Chappell made a pair of typical, not-unrelated rookie mistakes: over-hiring and trying to do too much. As the company gained local recognition, he brought on staff to try to cope with a surge of new clients that felt overwhelming. At roughly the same time, he onboarded new hires to produce creative in-house.
Neither move worked out well. Chappell was left with a bloated, inefficient staff, plus a raft of complications stemming from the review and revision process that goes with most any creative commercial enterprise, but which was unfamiliar and disorienting for Chappell. (When a client’s existing store of effective images and copy cease to meet the firm’s high standard for results, Chappell tailors new content that closely mirrors the old, tweaking variables here and there to reproduce the desired effect.) Chappell subsequently decided to outsource all creative work, funnelling assignments to a preferred agency, and reduced other staff, too.
Working under the auspices of a larger agency relieves the company of any need for staff associated with administration or client management, allowing them to focus exclusively on providing and improving their service. The fruits of those improvements are plain to see for their home agency, whose association with Chappell Digital has helped them land additional premier clients, and to the clients themselves. Some have been able to cut their in-house marketing departments by as much as 75% as a result of applying Chappell’s model to their ad campaigns.
As Chappell readily admits, whitelisting does have the potential to pose obstacles of its own. For one, the same client-management buffer provided by Chappell Digital’s home agency that allows them to focus on their area of expertise can also create “a game of telephone,” wherein messages get garbled as they pass from client to agency, agency to Chappell, and back again.
But for Chappell, the biggest challenge of whitelisting is that when it comes to developing clients independent of his firm’s home agency, it prevents him from sharing case studies showing the phenomenal results he’s achieved for big clients under that agency’s auspices. “Everybody wants to see a case study and our best case studies come from those large brands,” he says. “And we can’t show that.” A born entrepreneur, Chappell is naturally frustrated by being unable to advertise his own work.
At present, though, the benefits greatly outweigh the costs. “Our strategy for now is to continue to leverage our agency’s clients,” Chappell says. “[The agency] handles the relationships, and we handle the work. It works out really well. Outside of the whitelist, we’re also bringing on our own clients regularly. We are starting to get known. Of course, the idea is eventually to leverage that. To stop being whitelisted, to be using our own brand.”
Bonus action list: Get our 2-page PDF summary of action items you can use to land bigger clients based on Chappell’s advice.