How to Turn Your Business Into a Digital Business: the CCREATE Framework

The CCREATE framework stands for:

  • Category – design a new category
  • Community – build a community around your category, brand, and purpose
  • Recurring revenue – turn your business into a subscription service
  • Educate – become the number-one source of educational information for your category
  • Automation & AI Technology – automate your business as if you were a SaaS software, and leverage AI to do way more with fewer people
  • Entertain & Delight – surprise, entertain and delight your customers at every touchpoint

The CCREATE framework is a business framework to help local, brick & mortar companies, service providers, and consultants turn into true digital companies.

We live in a world increasingly populated by Native Digitals who are reaching decision-making positions, starting families, and influencing the direction of the economy. But many businesses are still transacting with the mentality of the last century. 

Yes, they have a website, a Facebook page, and an email address. But they don’t behave like digital companies.

Why behave like a digital company? Because that’s what today’s increasingly digital native consumers expect.

Today’s Native Digital Consumer:

  • Buys food from Uber Eats and gets their groceries delivered.
  • Uses rideshare apps instead of owning cars.
  • Works from home and uses Zoom and Slack to communicate with co-workers.
  • Uses dating apps.
  • Uses Apple Pay, and sends money using CashApp and Venmo.
  • Keeps up with friends on Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter.
  • Gets their news from Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter.
  • Finds out about new businesses from Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter.

Everything is digital.

The CRREATE framework is how to “appify” your business, but it’s not a guide on how to build an app for your business. It’s how to fundamentally change your business model by becoming a category of one, and transacting business as if you were a digital native business, using easily available and affordable technologies while behaving with an app-like mindset.

1. Design a Category

The first step is to distinguish yourself from all your competitors and become a category of one. This needs to be more than just a Unique Selling Proposition (USP). The new way to stand out from the crowd is to leave the masses to fight it out amongst themselves for the remaining scraps of an already existing category, while you sit atop of your own category.

To design a category:

Identify a market segment with unmet needs

Identify a segment of the market that asks themselves “There’s got to be an app for that…”. They’re pining for a way to avoid calling on the phone or getting in their car to visit a physical location.

They think: “Hell if my local pharmacy or grocery store offers home delivery, why can’t service X?”

An example could be young home dwellers wanting to hire a landscaping service. They dream of a landscaping service that only accepts appointments using Calendly, would offer a killer automated email welcome series, and doesn’t accept cash. 

What market segment has unmet needs you could easily fulfill and nobody else is satisfying?

Write a book about your category

A great way to establish your new category and attract this unsatisfied market segment is to write a book about it. Codify the processes and create the vocabulary used to describe your new way of doing business.

Christopher Locchead, Eddie Yoon, and Nicolas Cole, the Category Pirates, call this “languaging.”

When you write the book on the subject, you own the category and you invent the language.

Just like Hubspot founders Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan wrote the book Inbound Marketing, which kicked off a whole B2B marketing movement, you could write the book about how Hair Sculpting is the new & improved category that will quickly replace the hair salon category.

Publish content about your category

In addition to writing your book, publish content on social media, your blog, and your newsletter to educate people about your new category.

Organize events

I’ll discuss content and events in more detail below, but as you build your category, you’ll also build a community through events. Provide multiple opportunities for like-minded people to meet each other through in-person and virtual events. 

Don’t forget to host an annual conference, the crowning event in your category creation strategy.

Your car repair shop, or rather, your auto wellness center, could hold a conference called Auto Wellness World that attracts internal combustion enthusiasts to hear talks on topics such as:

  • What does your car say about your love life?
  • Why mini-vans are the new sexy
  • Auto-care 101: how to keep the 2nd love of your life going for more than 300,000 miles

2. Community

The longest-lasting, most profitable companies are the ones that have built a passionate community around their brand and purpose.

Companies from Patagonia to Harley-Davidson, as well as companies like 6AM Run and Evernote, are examples of brands with passionate communities.

Establish a brand purpose

Today’s digital native consumers prefer doing business with a business that cares about something beyond just making a dollar. 

Identify a purpose bigger than just selling your widget. And don’t do it just to check the “purpose” box. Really mean it. You’ll attract a passionate community of superfans when you sincerely carry the banner for your mission.

Nutritional supplement manufacturer 6AM run has gathered a passionate community of runners on their Facebook group who are united in their mission to wake up before everybody else in their household and get a good, solid run-in before they start their day.

Co-create with your community

From publishing user-generated content on your social channels and blog to creating new products or services based on client feedback, co-creating with your community is a great way to solidify your brand’s bond with your tribe.

Events revisited

Despite being digital natives, Gen Z and millennials ironically crave in-person gatherings. Mark Schaefer said in his book Belonging To The Brand that these generations are the loneliest generations, and are looking to brands to help them connect with each other.

Form an online community

Not everybody will want to join an online community for your landscaping company or hair salon, but you don’t want those people in your community anyways. 

You’ll find clients who will want to meet with like-minded fans in your Facebook group or Circle community to discuss their award-winning backyard, or the latest environmentally friendly shampoo.

3. Recurring revenue

Owners of transaction-based business will love this part of the CCREATE framework.

If you sell ice cream, haircuts, or websites, you can also offer subscriptions. Wait, you can sell a subscription hair styling service? 

Let me explain.

Subscriptionize your core service

When I get a haircut, I sometimes forget I need to get it cut again a month later. Before I know it, two months have passed, and I have hair growing on my neck, out of my ears, and making my eyebrows look crazy..

There’s a huge unmet need to set and forget recurring essential services (and some non-essential services. *Ahem* Peanut Butter Cups anyone?).

Amazon has turned grocery subscriptions into a thing. Why not you?

Offer additional value-added services

To make subscriptions attractive, add additional (zero cost to you) services to increase the perceived value of the subscription. You can deliver exclusive educational content, such as a video course or virtual or in-person live course.

We’ll get into this in more detail in the “Education” section below.

Leverage easy-to-use subscription-enabling technology

Applications such as ThriveCart, Shopify, Woocommerce, Stripe, and Square all offer easy-to-set-up subscription functionality, so even very non-technical businesses can subscriptionize their service.

4. Educate

You need to become THE educational resource for your category. Subsequently, you’ll need to publish content…and lots of it. 

The benefits are manifold. As the top dog in your category, your content becomes the sacred text that sets the standards everybody else will have to follow if they want to compete with you.

And they who set the standards win the war.

Content on social media

Wherever your target superfans are, that’s the platform where you should publish your educational, non-promotional content.

  • Share how to have an award-winning lawn while using organic methods to prevent pests and weeds.
  • Review the latest environmentally friendly hair-care products.
  • Teach how certain drywall brands are better than others to enhance the value of your home.

Make yourself redundant

Brian Clark, the legendary founder of Copyblogger, and one of the early content marketers, once said (and I paraphrase): “If you feel like you’re sharing too much about your secret sauce, you’re on the right path.”

Really teach your audience how to do what you do. Teach them your secrets. Give them the tools and the knowledge to do what is essentially your bread and butter.

But don’t worry. Most of your audience members won’t follow your advice. They’ll just reason that you’re the expert, the most qualified to do what they want done and pay you to do it instead of struggling to do it themselves.

Go above and beyond

Most businesses are done after they’ve sold their product or service. But you’re different. You know selling your widget is just the beginning of the relationship. 

After you’ve sold your Belgian chocolate ice cream with Reese’s crushins, follow it up with an email series on ice-cream-themed dessert ideas for your next dinner party.

Or when building an addition to your client’s house, deliver an automated email series with videos showing how they can use your techniques to touch up the rest of their house.

Going above and beyond by delivering a post-sale educational series helps to seal that bond with your clients, and makes them more likely to become a part of your loyal community!

Organize educational events

We’ve discussed this before as a community-building effort, but let’s talk about the role of events to deliver educational content. 

If you sell something as basic as a house-cleaning service, or something as complex as a plumbing service, you can hold a regular monthly virtual event, or better yet an in-person event, that delivers essential information.

A house-cleaning business could hold a monthly speaking series with guest speakers who will discuss topics such as “How to turn your home into a spiritual sanctuary,” “The best environmentally friendly cleaning supplies,” and “How to have an allergy-free home.”

Or if you’re a yoga instructor you could offer additional in-person or virtual sessions on meditation, nutrition, and yoga fashion!

5. Automation and AI Technology

Leverage existing and widely available technology to the fullest extent. Automation and generative AI tools are available at low to no cost, and there’s no excuse not to use them.

Automated client communication

Client onboarding is especially useful if you offer some sort of service, like a hair salon, dental service, or plumbing company. Get permission from your clients to send them emails, and send an appointment reminder a week, a day, and an hour beforehand.

Automation tools such as ConvertKit, Calendly, and others make it so easy to deliver the kind of information that your clients (and your business) will really appreciate it. And you won’t have to spend endless human hours manually sending messages over and over again

Client follow-up

Even if you own a coffee shop or a specialty soap store, get your customers to sign up for your mailing list and then send them a client appreciation email series.

Ideas for a series:

  • 10 ways to brew the best coffee at home
  • 100 gift ideas for Mothers Day / Father’s Day / Lawyer’s Day / Marketing Professional’s Day
  • 7 ways to get the most out of your widget

Follow-up communication

After an appointment (or after somebody has bought their daily peppermint mocha) send a follow-up message asking how they liked the service. For a bonus benefit, invite your clients to leave a review on your Google My Business page or Yelp.

Subscription service

Get your clients on an automated subscription schedule. Use automation software to remind them of their next service, purchase, or delivery. Charge them automatically. There’s so much you can do with cheap, easily available software tools.

Let your customers do business with you online

If you’re a coffee shop, enable online “order ahead” ordering. Don’t let Starbucks corner the market in this area. 

If you’re a hair salon or cleaning service, enable online appointments.

Use AI to become a content generation machine

Look, I’m a writer, but I’m not precious about it. Leverage ChatGPT or any of the other AI writing tools to churn out content to:

  • Populate your automated email series
  • Create outlines for your educational seminars
  • Write SEO articles

And more.

Two caveats: 1. Use the right prompts to get the most out AI, and 2. Use the 10/80/10 rule (first discussed by Nicolas Cole and Dickie Bish). The 10/80/10 rule is:

  1. The first 10% of the content is you writing detailed prompts to instruct AI to craft content specifically tailored to your needs.
  2. The next 80% of the effort is the initial draft, or series of drafts, the AI will produce for you.
  3. The last 10% is what you need to do to edit, correct, and customized the content produced by AI.

6. Entertain and Delight

Finally, you need to entertain and delight your customers. If there’s one thing you need to keep in mind today, it’s this: the only marketing really worth its salt is word-of-mouth marketing. And the only way you’re going to trigger word of mouth is:

  1. Deliver an awesome service/product
  2. Delight your customers every step of the way

Create magical moments

Magical moments are those moments of truth where you get to deliver surprise, joy, and delight. In other words, memorable moments.

This can be as simple as offering free freshly baked chocolate chip cookies to customers who walk into your store. Or delivering a follow-up email with personalized, heartfelt thanks.

Make your communications fun

Throw out everything you learned from your Business Communications 101 course. Send messages that are fun, casual, and personalized.

Educate, educate, educate

I can’t emphasize this enough, but it bears repeating in this section: your competition won’t do this, but since you’re creating a new category, this is part of your MO.

  • Deliver an automated email series to prospects who haven’t bought yet. For example, if you own an Auto Wellness Center, you could get prospects to sign up for a free email course on “10 signs your car might have a break-down soon”.
  • Deliver a post-sale automated email series. While their car is in the shop after you’ve delivered the mani-pedi, or after they’ve signed up for a 10-pack of yoga classes, deliver an email series on how best to take advantage of your service. 
  • Deliver a “make us redundant” email series. If you haven’t heard from your clients in a while, don’t send them an email saying “We miss you!” Instead, teach them how to do what you do. This will really shock your clients…in a good way! They won’t expect it, and they’ll want to come back for more!