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RC Victorino

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Tag: marketing

The power of voicing your opinion

I’ve been an active Asana user and evangelist since 2012. Many clients and colleagues swear by Asana now, thanks to my passionate support. 

In other words, there is no reason for me to switch from Asana. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and my project management workflow is definitely not broken. 

Still, the other night, I spent more than an hour inside Basecamp, wondering if it’s time to switch. The journey that led me there, to what marketers might call the evaluation phase of the marketing funnel, was jumbled and messy. But it wasn’t out of the norm. 

We have so many channels from which we can interact with a brand; it makes sense that how we get from Point A (stranger) to Point B (customer) is, well, complicated. 

My own experience with Asana and Basecamp is evidence of that. This is why subscribing so blindly to marketing models, like the marketing funnel, can be shortsighted and harmful.

But first, some context. 

What is the Marketing Funnel?

I won’t waste your time defining the marketing funnel. There is plenty of content out there, including this post from Neal Patel (more on this article in a moment). 

Here’s a brief look at what the marketing funnel is.

  • It contains several stages representing the journey we take as consumers. 
  • Below is a good example of a 6-stage funnel:
Marketing-Funnel

As you see, the top of the marketing funnel is wide. The funnel then narrows with each ensuing stage. 

That’s because many people can and will become aware of your product. But from that vast pool of people, a smaller amount will be interested. 

From those who are interested, a few will consider your product, and so on. 

This is all quite logical and commonsensical. But I find two issues with this model. 

1. You end up filling the funnel with crap

Subscribing to this model has inspired companies to assume the best approach toward growth is to fill the funnel with more leads. The more people aware of your product, the more who will become interested, and so on. 

Again, sensible. The issue is this kind of thinking leads brands to spend millions of dollars on ads to fill the funnel because it’s a quick and easy way to increase awareness. 

This has been my least favorite aspect of working on growth teams. Growth teams fixate on more, often while disregarding what happens post-acquisition. So long as folks convert, growth has done its job. The rest is up to some other team, right?

Not really. I’ve always had a huge issue with how organizations hand off customers to different teams based on where those customers are in some disenfranchised funnel. This always results in incongruous experiences.

It’s also worth noting that ads with pithy ad copy are by no means a natural way to connect audiences to a brand. If I were ever to convert via an ad, I can assure you that every step of the way (including post-conversion), I’d be looking for reasons to abandon ship because an ad convinced me in the heat of the moment to convert. It didn’t allow me to make up my mind at my own pace. 

2. This doesn’t represent how people interact or want to interact with brands

I don’t know about you, but I don’t walk a straight line from stranger to customer with any brand. I’ll make this point in a moment, but for now, let’s revisit a portion of Neal Patel’s marketing funnel blog post. Below he outlines how the marketing funnel works in real life, as well as online: 

Marketing-Funnel-Example

My god, that’s a linear theory reliant on weak assumptions. While there are times when I walk into a store, look at products, and buy, there are just as many times when I walk into a store, look at products, leave, and maybe come back some other day. 

Maybe not.

And sometimes it’s messier than that. Let’s take a look at the journey I took to consider leaving Asana for Basecamp’s project management tool.

My Messy Non-Marketing Funnel Journey to Basecamp

The point of this rundown is to show the many back-and-forth steps we as consumers take in our purchasing-decision process. And how many of those steps aren’t easily measurable the way marketing-model advocates would love them to be. 

1. I accepted a new role as the head of content for Slab. 

This milestone moment (the job at Slab) inspired me to get more engaged — and potentially active — on Twitter.

Through following some key voices in the spaces I was interested in, I discovered @DHH, founder of Basecamp. I didn’t follow him because he was the founder of Basecamp. I followed him because of tweets like this:

FB-Privacy-Scandal

This tweet has nothing to do with Basecamp, at least not overtly. It’s about data and privacy — which I’m passionate about. I thought to myself, heck, maybe he’s worth following. So I scouted his Twitter feed and profile. 

I liked how he wasn’t afraid to post politically charged tweets. I can’t stand people who ignore things that actually matter in life just because they’re afraid to offend. 

I view that as either cowardly or, worse, apathetic. These are not times to be indifferent. 

2. I also learned he wrote a book that struck a chord with me:

Rework-Book-by-Basecamp

I agree — work doesn’t have to be crazy. The way people assume 40+ hours during specific hours, and in one particular location, is a practical approach to work — for everyone, is inane. 

After evaluating all of this, in a matter of seconds, I thought to myself, @DHH was worth following. 

Keep in mind — I did not buy his book. I haven’t yet. I might if I find the time, but following him on Twitter was the only conversion point I was interested in at the time. 

By the way, kudos to him for not flooding his feed with tweets masked as ads for his book, or Basecamp. That would have resulted in my disinterest in everything else he had to say. That’s not why I or anyone else go onto Twitter. Twitter is a marketplace where folks can exchange ideas. 

Ideas. Not elevator pitches. 

3. Through Twitter, I learned about his other content: blog and podcast

Basecamp has a blog called Signal vs. Noise. I learned of it through @DHH’s Twitter feed. Not because he posted something elementary like: “Check out my latest post.” Here’s what led me to the blog:

WeWork-and-Open-Office

DHH tweeted this during the recent shakeup at WeWork. The tweet made sense from him. He’s been quite vocal about open offices before, which is why he included a link to an article he wrote back in July of 2018 regarding open-plan offices. To let folks go more in-depth on his perspective if they wanted. 

His tweet intrigued me, so I read the article. It made me a bigger fan of his, and now of the blog. 

Still, I didn’t subscribe. Why? Because why would I subscribe to a blog after one post? 

Also, I didn’t go from that one post to another post. Why? Because I have other things to do in my life than read through a blog’s entire archive. So, I closed out the window after reading his article and moved on with life. I didn’t even bookmark the site, add it to my Feedly list, or anything else. I simply moved on.

Would a marketing team consider that a loss? Perhaps. But that’s shortsighted. 

Just because I didn’t ‘convert’ (become a subscriber) didn’t mean this interaction didn’t make an impression on me. 

It did. 

Enough so that I thought it a good idea to listen to Basecamp’s Rework podcast. I wanted to hear more about DHHs ideas and perspective. At times he reinforced my own preconceptions. At times he challenged them. That’s the kind of person I want ‘in my life’ (albeit virtually, in this instance). 

In other words, he helped me shape my view of the world and how I live in it. 

I listened to what at the time was the most recent episode of the podcast. It was about fast fashion vs. slow fashion. I didn’t love it, because it’s got little to do with me. I don’t care about fashion. I don’t run a factory-based business.

But I didn’t give up on the podcast (although I didn’t subscribe). Because at this point, I had faith that something associated with DHH (still, not yet Basecamp) likely had quality content I’d be interested in. 

Why? Almost entirely because of his Twitter feed. It’s authentic. It’s opinionated. It’s not a feed filled with salesman crap. He established a good rapport with me. 

So I researched some older episodes and found one on healing the internet. This was the first time I heard DHH speak. There’s something far more compelling about listening to someone talk vs. reading their likely-heavily curated words. 

This entire episode inspired me to be more proactive, both personally and professionally, when it came to data protection. It also introduced me to Basecamp beyond the product. 

What I learned from this episode is that Basecamp recently ended its practice of using pixel trackers in emails, a move I applaud. But the episode wasn’t some infomercial on why Basecamp is best. It didn’t cheat me of the experience I expected. It delivered on its promises of introducing me to new perspectives and ideas about data protection.

So I subscribed to the podcast, not just because of this episode. But because of the constant positive content provided to me by DHH via his Twitter feed. 

4. I got introduced to the ‘other’ Basecamp founder

Tweets, blog posts, and podcasts under my belt, I now felt pretty connected with DHH, and even Basecamp a bit. Yet, I still hadn’t visited the Basecamp website. 

Why? I’m not in the market for a new project management tool. Asana works just fine for me. 

Imagine that. I’m not just some automaton that mindlessly funnels through steps. I have a life outside of all of this. I don’t automatically become aware of a brand and jump into the interest phase. 

I’m more complicated than that. You are, too. 

Anyway, I carried on with Twitter (again, mostly because I started a new position). While on Twitter, I did happen to see a tweet by Jason Fried that caught my eye, enough so that I felt compelled to retweet it: 

How-to-be-a-customer-minded-company

Notice how Jason commented on my retweet. Little old me with my 300+ followers. That two-word phrase was enough for me to feel connected to Jason, meaning I now felt even more connected to Basecamp, even though that was not my intention. 

It took Jason seconds to do it. I know that. But that doesn’t matter. It was a meaningful connection. 

5. If these folks are aligned with my perspective, then …

Here’s where all this messiness comes to fruition. Once again, I repeat: I am not in the market for a new project management tool. But, as with everyone else on this planet, I am always looking for new tribes to join. 

DHHs tweeting, the book he and Jason co-wrote (that I’ve yet to read but have on my radar), the podcast, Jason’s comment to me: they all led me to wonder, should I look at Basecamp? 

And that’s precisely what I did the other night. I spent more than an hour inside Basecamp, setting up an account and figuring out how I could make it fit my workflow and replace Asana. And trust me, it’s not a simple replacement. There are compromises I’d have to make, and adjustments to processes I’ve had in place for years.

If an ad or some gated material (please, god, end this push for gated content!) led me to try out Basecamp, these friction points would have been enough for me to stop trying. 

But I came on my own, at a time of my choosing, after building a rapport with the brand behind the product. As a result, I am far more inclined to work harder to get this product, and this tribe, to fit into my lifestyle. 

In fact, I went into it saying how can I make this work, which is almost certainly not what I’d have said if I were led to this conversion point via an ad or some other typical marketing tactic. 

All this to say that opinionated brands speak to me. They spur me into action — and not necessarily actions that marketers can measure.

Along the way, if I had seen ads peppered on my social feed asking me to try Basecamp, I wouldn’t have clicked. In fact, I’d have been annoyed, because I would have known that Basecamp used my behavior (following its founders, visiting its blog site) to target me. 

And that doesn’t sit well with me. 

The good news is it doesn’t sit well with them, either, which is how I found myself inside their platform, pondering a mutiny against Asana. 

Now, will I become a Basecamp customer? I don’t know. Asana is perfect for my needs, especially as a content calendar. 

But I’d argue that my becoming a Basecamp customer is moot. Because here I am, dedicating a couple of hours of my life writing about how awesome Basecamp and its founders are. I’m linking out to their blog, their podcast, and their Twitter accounts. 

Perhaps, somewhere, somehow, someone will read this and also follow the same messy path I took. And maybe they will become Basecamp customers.

And if they do, no marketer will have been able to know the exact origin of this conversion, because it didn’t happen as neatly as all these marketing models want them to happen. 

It never does. 

Don’t get me wrong. Data is empowering. But it should not drive the marketing vehicle. 

Marketing-Revolution

I became interested in Basecamp because the people behind the organization have genuine interests aligned with mine. They share these interests in a natural way, not in some preconceived fake manner where it’s evident they’re looking to rank for some keyword. 

They’re just true to themselves. As a result, I fell in love with their purpose, not their product. And so I’ve become loyal to their message. 

In the end, that’s far more valuable than convincing me that their product is right for me. 

The brand experience genius of Cotopaxi

I recently spent 24 straight hours on a quest through Seattle arm wrestling strangers, doing pushups in Pioneer Square, and decorating a friend’s face like a cake:

It was all a part of a 24-hour scavenger-hunt-like event called Questival, put on by a company named Cotopaxi.

Prior to the event, I had no idea who Cotopaxi was. I assumed it was a company that organized adventure outings across the country.

Cotopaxi is actually an outdoor gear brand (like The North Face). I didn’t find that out during Questival. Despite organizing it, Cotopaxi didn’t shove their branding or products down my throat.

I only discovered it afterward, when, following a much-needed nap, shower, and solid meal, I hopped online to learn more about the people who just gave me one of the coolest experiences of my life.

Unbeknownst to me, the entire event was one big clinic on kickass content marketing.

Bravo, Cotopaxi.

Here’s what I mean.

Questival: An Extension of the Cotopaxi Brand

Cotopaxi’s mission is:

Bold products. Big events. Better ways to help others. 
Gear for Good.

They target adventurous folks who value the importance of being good to the Earth and others.

It’s no coincidence that Questival attracts these types of people, myself included. I like the outdoors. I like adventure. I try to do good by the Earth. As a result, I learned about Questival through the social circles (and social profiles) I spend my time with.

Questival wasn’t an e-book to download. It wasn’t a webinar to sign up for. It was a unique and potentially memorable experience. I didn’t care who or what Cotopaxi was.

I wanted to be a part of this Questival. 

Most of the challenges my team and I had to complete involved meeting strangers (and doing something nice to them, for example) and doing something good for nature (like pick up 50 pieces of trash).

Both of these align with Cotopaxi’s mission:

Better ways to help others

For 24 hours Cotopaxi marketed their culture to me. But I sure didn’t feel like I was being marketed to.

That’s the goal, isn’t it? To market your business without alienating your prospects?

By the end of 24 hours, I’m certain some folks never gave Cotopaxi a second thought. Marketing in any form isn’t an absolute.

But for many people who never heard of Cotopaxi and love their experience at Questival, it was only natural to learn more about the brand behind that experience.

I did what most other people do when they want to know about a brand. I went to Cotopaxi’s social profiles — in this case, Instagram.

While their 69k followers impressed me, vanity metrics only go so far. I was far more affected by their bio and choice in images inside their feed.

My road to discovering Cotopaxi is not unusual.

Yet many brands continue to focus only on selling the benefits of their services or products. They completely disregard the experience of their audience.

Thanks to Questival, I knew more about Cotopaxi as a brand than I do most companies I’ve done business with for years.

And I like what I saw. So while I’m not in the market for any new gear at the moment, when I am, I’ll almost surely look to them first.

Can You Be Like Cotopaxi? 

Brand-building strategies like Questival are resource-intensive — and don’t equate into conversions as quickly as, for example, a Facebook ad.

But brands who have the means should invest time and money toward something like this. Unique experiences like Questival turn strangers into brand devotees — rather than passive customers who’ll jump ship at the next best 10% off coupon.

It’s unlikely you can afford the time or money to host a 500+ team event that takes over a city but doesn’t create immediate sales.

But you can think beyond the e-book box most marketers are stuck inside.

  • What is your company mission? What do you stand for?
  • Build an experience for your audience around that mission — even if your service or product takes a backseat in the process.

Cotopaxi pulled it off with perfection and, in the process, very likely created a lifelong fan.

The natural way to survey customers

A SaaS company emailed this to me recently:

“Hey RC, we notice you haven’t upgraded to Pro yet. Would love to know more about your reasons why. Mind taking a short survey?”

I didn’t take their survey. And I’m not alone. 

A 2015 Survey Gizmo study reveals just 10-15% of people respond to “external surveys”. External surveys are those sent to people outside of your organization — like customers.

Our relationship with time is the primary reason for this low response rate. We value our time. It is a limited resource. 

So we prefer to exchange it only when we expect a valuable return. This is why we are most likely and willing to spend our time: 

  • With family — Family makes us feel loved.
  • At work — It pays us for our time. Money gives us control over the type of return we inevitably get for our time.

What is the valuable return we get for investing our time in a company survey? More often than not, it’s very little. 

Most companies typically offer one of three promises in exchange for our time: 

  • A discount on their product or service
  • A gift card
  • Nothing at all. They hope we’ll respond to their survey out of our own good will. 

Each can hurt your brand by making you look terrible in front of your prospects. I break down my rationale below. 

1. Discounts

Discounts devalue your product or service. They make prospects wonder why they should ever pay full price.  

Apple doesn’t discount their products to woo customers. They offer refurbished and stripped-down models. They offer gift cards to the Apple Store — so you can buy more of their products. But they never discount their pricing. 

In turn, millions of people hold Apple products in complete reverence —despite their typically high price points. 

2. Gift Cards

Gift cards (specifically gift cards that allow folks to shop anywhere) are problematic for at least three reasons. 

  • They don’t connect your offer to your brand — unless you’re like Apple, where you offer gift cards to your store only.
  • They’re thinly veiled bribery — and customers know it. Bribery cheapens your branding. It makes you look desperate. 
  • Customers don’t complete surveys for the right reason. You want honest feedback. They want money. They’ll do anything to get it, even give you answers they think you want to hear. 

Little good comes from gift cards, at least not long term. Ask the parent who bribes his kid with candy. Sure, the child acts proper at that moment, but you just taught the child how to get what she wants — whenever she wants. 

3. Nothing at all

Most brands favor this approach. It’s the approach the SaaS I mentioned earlier employed. 

Emails like the one I referenced earlier could easily just say: 

Mind doing us a favor? We can’t give you anything, but we’d really appreciate it. 

Favors among friends and family are generally OK, though not everyone survives those arrangements scrape-free.

But favors between customers and companies? That’s trouble. Particularly when your customer hasn’t shown himself to be fully invested in your brand. I, for example, was on the free version of this app. Clearly, I don’t love it enough to pay for it. 

“Having to ask for a favor puts you in a weak position. You expose a deficit (which the favor is supposed to fix) and you empower the other party to make a yes-no decision. Either way the other party comes out stronger.”Joachim Krueger, Ph. D.

The deficit your brand faces is lack of data — that’s why the survey, right? You’re asking customers to fill in the gaps. 

When a customer does you the favor of donating their time, they have leverage. It becomes even harder, now, for them to value you on equal ground.  

So how then can you access essential information straight from your customers and prospects without weakening your brand?

Bake Survey Questions Inside the User Experience 

The problem with most surveys is they come out of left field — a random email with a random ask, completely off-base from your customers’ experience with your brand. 

But there are plenty of opportunities for you to ask questions of your customers during their routine exposure to your brand. For example:

If you’re a SaaS company, you likely use an onboarding sequence to convert new users into power users. 

Every email you send helps the user get more out of your product. 

You provide value. You ask nothing in return. For example, you don’t say, “Would you mind filling out your profile for us? It helps us give you a better experience.”

Instead, you say: “To get more out of your subscription — complete your profile. It gives our powerful AI platform the data it needs to personalize your experience.”

Value. 

Surveys should work the same way. Provide value that’s baked right into the user experience, molded in a way that provides you with valuable insight. 

Let’s compare the traditional survey experience with an example of what I mean.

Traditionally, a SaaS company would send a survey to customers, say, a month after they complete their onboarding. The survey would run the gamut of questions, including staples such as How did you learn about us and Which feature of our product do you find most useful?

Good questions — but they lose their impact and relevance when you shove them inside a 6-question general survey. 

Here’s how we could drip those questions organically into the customer experience:

How did you learn about us?

Add this to your checkout experience after someone converts (to minimize friction). Once someone completes their main conversion, direct them to a screen that asks where they heard about you. Don’t make this a mandatory step. Yes, some people won’t respond. But remember, you’re competing with a 10-15% response rate from surveys. You’ll still come out on top. 

What is your favorite feature?

Send an email to customers after they use a certain number of your product features. In that email, tell them you’re making critical upgrades to your platform and have selected them to gain exclusive access to an advanced version of one of their features. Then have them choose which feature they’d like early access to. 

This provides value to them (upgraded versions of what they like best) — and lets you know which features they prefer.

The key is to bake singular questions into your customer experience — rather than bombard customers with a single 6 or 10-question survey. It won’t always be easy, but it certainly won’t be impossible. 

Consider all the ways you can — and do — naturally reach out to customers, already:

  • You email them when they first become customers (onboarding/welcome series)
  • You shoot messages to them when they visit your website (or dashboard, if you’re a SaaS)
  • You (should) retarget them on social media with ads and boosted posts

Each one of these points of contact is an ideal time to gather some intel on your customers. As a result, there’s no reason to have stand-alone surveys. 

Integrating questions into your existing customer touch points, at relevant times based on behavior and action, makes your questions better timed, less obstructive, and a positive contribution to the customer’s overall experience. 

Better yet, with this approach, you gain insight at the point of action, rather than as an afterthought.   

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