Obsessed with start-ups, coffee, and online marketing.

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Aug 10

A Growth Lesson: Who should you hire?

Number one question, always. No matter if I’m meeting a founder over coffee, or if I opened up Q&A to a room of 2,000 conference attendees. The number one question is – but if I’m looking to hire out for growth, who should I hire?

Spoiler alert: no one ever likes the answer.

They are hoping I’ll say something like “go looking for a marketer with technical chops” or “I’d find someone with a product background that has worked closely with marketing.” To them, even searching for a hybrid, cross-team hire like that feels hard enough.

Sadly, it’s soooo much harder than that. Finding someone who sits on marketing that understands product, or someone in product that understands marketing isn’t enough to assure they are going to drive real impact along your growth curve. And if I can be brutally honest for a minute…isn’t cross-team knowledge and awareness more of a pre-requisite for any hire these days? I mean who is hiring someone who only knows their domain at a startup these days? Yuck. Anyway, I digress.

So, what are you looking for when hiring for growth? You’re looking for a t-shaped hire. Not the t-shaped hire of yesteryear, but an even higher bar. Just a few years ago you could get away with hiring for a t-shaped hire that was domain specific. For marketing, it would look something like this:

As most of you already know, it means they are deep in one domain of marketing but exposed broadly to all other marketing domains. My personal example would be that I’m a performance marketer by trade – started my days in Adwords back when it first opened, I played around in Panama, and remember contributing to the very first versions of the Adwords Editor (ahhh those dreamy days when we were all buying keywords for cents on the dolla #memories).

But then I began stacking channels. I learned SEO (thanks Rand!), community marketing, lifecycle marketing, retention marketing, loyalty and brand, and so on and so forth. With each job, I would take on a little more so I knew how to do each channel – as if I was deep in the weeds. Fast forward 14 years and I’m a t-shaped marketer.

Worth noting that t-shaped domain hires are still super useful, especially if you are early to mid-stage and have small teams, limited resources, and big goals (i.e. most of us).

But what I think is needed to really staff for growth these days is even more – I think you need a t-shaped hire that is domain agnostic.

[Looks around, shaking head] Say what?

Yeah, I think the real impact hires are ones where the deep domain is an ENTIRE domain, and the broader stretch is exposure to all the other domains. It looks more like this:

Great growth contributors don’t think as a one-team contributor, they think as a cross-team contributor. They are aware of every single lever across the business that could drive growth, and they have built the relationships across the company to influencer those levers.

If growth can happen from either acquiring more people, retaining them longer, or monetizing them more effectively – then the levers are all around us. Marketing. Product. Engineering. CX. Finance. Ops.

If a dollar could be made, or a dollar could be saved – it can impact growth. The right hires intuitively get this. They see the company as one big growth machine, independent of the team they sit with in the pit.

I freaking love these hires. I mean whoa.

Now, are there many of them? Sooo, uhmmm, welllll. Maybe not quite yet, but it’s happening. You’re feeling the shift, or at least I am. I think it’s happening with the rise of a few other macro trends like:

  • The rise of training institutions/programs like General Assembly, CodeFellows, etc.
  • A shift towards in-house training/brown bag lunches with cross team shares/training
  • The general acceptance of doing side projects when employed at a startup
  • The millennial renaissance where they are constantly seeking new experiences/striving to be better
  • The best companies out there expecting this as you apply for a role on their team

I actually believe, that we are quickly seeing a revolution where the early career hires I make tend to have more exposure than the more seasoned ones. It’s like the early career hires were never told they had to pick a domain, so it never occurred to them. I also think that tech as a field is so much more prevalent, that it’s assumed many of them will land in it in some capacity. So, the idea that they will just sample all it has to offer is an obvious one, making their backgrounds broader by default.

One thing is super clear to me though – T-shaped hires, that are domain agnostic, are critical to creating a growth culture. Here is an example skill set list I’d look for in any marketing hire on my team these days:

  • Performance and organic marketing exposure
  • Technical marketing chops – SQL, html, etc.
  • Design theory/UX/UI knowledge
  • Product knowledge – can they wireframe? Do they know how to write a product brief? Do they understand the product development lifecycle?
  • Finance knowledge – can they understand a P&L, can they forecast/model?
  • Engineering awareness – have they worked directly with engineering before? Do they understand the common tech stacks? Have a working knowledge of engineering tools, QA processes, etc.

Sound like a lot? Damn right it is. Oh yeah, I also want them to have high EQ, be kind, and a culture fit.

The heart of it is this: if you want to staff a company that wins a market you have to hire the absolute best talent out there. They have to think differently, see opportunity where others see blockers, and they have to work well with every team so you don’t lose cycles to friendly fire.

So that’s what I think makes a great growth hire…a domain agnostic t-shaped hire, with low ego, high EQ, that wakes up every morning obsessed with making an impact.

I told you that you weren’t going to like the answer.

But if you think those hires are magical creatures that don’t exist, think again. I’ve met them, and they are out there – participating in forums like GrowthHackers, completing programs like Reforge, and grabbing coffee together sharing ideas, helping each other make the world a better place. They are out there, you just have to keep the bar high and do the work to find them.

Wishing you all the luck in your hiring adventures and high-fiving you from NYC, go get ‘em.




Aug 03

A Lesson in Growth: Nothing is Precious

It’s feels like something that people who build things should intuitively know. If we, as entrepreneurs, founders and builders, wake up every day to build something the world has yet to see then at the heart of that drive exists a singular truth: “everything is replaceable, everything can be made better.”

Yet, when it comes to our own companies, products and hell…even our teams, we fall prey to a common pitfall among early stage companies – we get hooked on something that isn’t working, and we beat our heads against a wall hoping it will.

If you’re lucky you only lose months to this, but it’s more likely you’ll lose years. And some companies will lose it all. They will sink their entire company because they had the inability to let go of something that failed them.

This past year and a half I’ve been fortunate enough to lead marketing at ClassPass, and it’s a role I am incredibly thankful for. I’ve seen what a high growth company looks like from the inside, and I’ve played a key part in helping that growth engine grow stronger.

And you want to hear a little secret? Things are messy up in here.

You want to believe it’s a beautiful well-oiled machine. That we’ve got flywheels, and viral loops, and high fives tossing around all over the place. And, well, yeah, we’ve got some of that. But we’ve also got burning questions, face plants, and redirects. We’ve got cultural growing pains, and we’ve got a lot of big swings that rest on our ability to make the best decision with the information we have at the time.

My CEO, Fritz Lanman, once said to me: “You know Joanna, nothing is precious.” We were talking about the way one of our referral programs was set up (an incredibly healthy one, my third highest converting channel to be exact) and he was dead serious – if it netted out bad for the consumer, or if it ultimately didn’t work with the new social experience we were building…we’d kill it. We’d make the hard decision, we’d change it up, and we’d move on.

Nothing is precious.

Last year we had to sunset the product that made ClassPass famous. I’m not even being dramatic. Tens of thousands of fitness lovers fell in love with the ClassPass Unlimited plan, but it didn’t work for our business. It had our product teams internally hoping people worked out less, and it was at odds with our company’s vision.

So after attempting many things (price hikes, launching new successful plans, and testing every feature you can imagine) we made the decision to sunset it. We chose to not let something that was once considered precious and beautiful bury the very company that built it.

When I think about the fastest growing companies in the world, the ones we all admire – I think you see time and time again they are ruthless in revisiting what they offer, who they offer it to and how they do it. They know that they are more than just one product or one feature. They have a commitment to re-evaluate the value they offer this world and push the limits at every turn.

They know at the heart of every great company is the belief that nothing is precious.

So, what is it? What is it you and your leadership team should get in a room and get honest about? A partner that is disproportionately using your resources? A product that has no clear path to profitability? Maybe it’s a hire that once was a great culture catalyst, but their time has passed and they’ve become toxic.

Whatever or whoever it is that is holding your company and team back from greatness…they aren’t worth it. Everything has its season and the season has come to let it go. Nothing is precious, so get moving. Make the hard decision and move on.

It won’t be an easy day. Hell, it could be a horrible week or quarter. But the company will be stronger for it. So, go, make the decision, cut it loose. And if you need someone to remind you it was worth it, and that was the exact move you needed to make…you know where to find me. We can raise a glass to bold moves and having the courage to know that nothing is precious.

Good luck & go get ‘em.


Jun 28

Servant Marketing: What Is It & Why You Should Care?

Let’s talk about servant marketing – a term not used that often but a philosophy that is key to better marketing.

Servant marketing is putting the customer needs before your company’s needs – aka being their “servant”. Servant marketing can come through in a number of more traditional channels:  inbound marketing, cause marketing, content marketing, community building, or loyalty marketing, just to mention a few. Whatever you call it, it all boils down to putting the customer first. It’s about understanding your customer’s wants, needs, desires, motivations and putting that at the heart of your marketing campaign and how you bring it to life. It might seem obvious, but you’d be amazing how many times these elements of a campaign or launch get cut.

Sad, but true.

Making sure you’re including the right vehicle, design and experience to really serve your customer isn’t as easy as it sounds. Not only can it be tricky to implement, but it’s also incredibly difficult to get cross-company buy-in for it. Think about it – you’re asking everyone across your company to take a step back and let the customer come first, so you may find disagreement in some departments. A lot of this comes down to internal evangelism and making sure all stakeholders know why you’re making the ask. What customer problem are you hoping to solve? In the same way a product team gets buy in for a new feature investment, marketing needs to build a case for servant marketing investment.

Alright, so let’s talk about how to make this work. There are a ton of channels that can help you deliver servant marketing and, depending on your company, some will work better than others. But it’s important to know: Brands that are investing in servant marketing are winning.

If you’re ready to dive into servant marketing, here are a few examples of how it can be done:

  1. Build a free tool or resource for the open community. You know there is a tool that you have the capability to build and you know it will really improve the lives of your customer. So…why haven’t you built it? Probably because you can’t show that it’s more important than your growing roadmap. That’s where servant marketing comes in. You have to make the case for an upfront commitment to solving your customer’s problem, even if it’s not the clearest way to monetize and win your market with revenues.
  2. Build a robust customer service / open forum for the community to connect and solve together. How many times has the self service or community forum idea been kicked out? It doesn’t drive growth, so see you later. But making a commitment to solving their problems quickly and get them information fast is needed. It is almost expected of today’s empowered customer. Put them ahead of yourself and get them the info they deserve…after all, they are paying you and they are the reason your business exists.
  3. Build a public product roadmap. Talk openly about putting your customer first. Let them know where you are going, be clear on when they will get what they want, why they can’t have what they want now, show off your challenges, etc. Be transparent and public and let your customer see exactly what is happening.

    Image: Screenshot of Hatch.js product roadmap

  4. Surprise and delight your consumer. Some companies have formalized this role, others have baked it into social media or company operations. This can be sending flowers, a handwritten note, an email to any customer or community member saying, “Thank you”, “I’m sorry”, or “We’re thinking of you”. This is a community relationship investment that should make the customer feel as though they are part of your team.

Video: Kleenex Surprise and Delight Campaign

As marketing leaders we’ve all had to make those budget calls. I get it. I hear you. Someone on your team has this great idea and everyone agrees that campaign, content, tool, etc. would be SO helpful to your community. They would love it. Their lives would be easier because of it…but you don’t build it, because it’s not “core to your business.”

Ugh. Please. Your customer is core to your business.

May 22

What Does It Mean to Invest in Brand?

Last week I keynoted the Inbounder in Valencia, which was a remarkable experience all around. The venue, the level of dialog, and the community of passionate digital thought-leaders was impressive. The two-day event covered a broad sweep of provocative topics like what the future of digital marketing is and what role humans will play in it (if at all). Fascinating to say the least.

Btw – Valencia is freaking gorgeous. If you ever get the chance to go…please do. Teaser for you (and yes this is a real building…it’s crazypants beautiful):

I debuted a new deck around the Business of Building a Brand where I walked through pretty much every model or framework I’ve ever used in building and supporting brands. It took weeks to build and culminated into one of my favorite decks because it covered something so insanely critical for today’s brands – how to operationalize your teams, resources and budget to build a brand that truly impacts your revenue.

Enough with the “isn’t is fun to build a brand” type stuff and let’s instead turn to the truth – building a brand is mandatory if you want to remain relevant and capture the heart of customers in today’s customer empowered world. They choose if you get to participate in their lives, and “64% of those customers make that decision largely based on whether they have shared values with a company.”

64% people. Sixty-four freaking percent.

One thing I covered that I haven’t shared with you all before is the way I approach investing in a brand. While I’m not about to share my current brand budgets and itemized operating plan (sorry!) I wanted to share the general way I break up brand investment and perhaps more importantly for all of you – how that changes as your company grows over time.

There are really four categories I consider when investing in a brand: assets, vehicles, distribution, and management.

Let’s break these down so we can all be talking about them in the same way.

Assets: These are actual pieces of content that help share your values, mission, product UVP, etc. This could be something as tangible as your brand identity work (logo, slogan, wordmark, etc.) or it could be something more like a brand guide that is downloadable off a press room on your site. Any asset that you think should be made for customers, prospects, partners, or other stakeholders would be accounted for in this bucket of investment.

Vehicles: This would be the way you package all of those assets. So this could be a video, a website, a poster for an event. These are the vehicles that you productize your brand you can share them across platforms, on the web and offline.

Distribution: This would account for any investment you make into the amplification of those vehicles. So this could be boosting a post on Facebook, or any OOH buy on the side of a bus. If you pay to feature your story anywhere online or offline, this would get accounted for in your distribution bucket.

Management: This is the most traditional of buckets, it accounts for any hires, vendors, or tools you spend on that help you manage your brand. Often times this is invested in way too early, and it can be a huge sunk cost. Make sure your brand operations are in order before you go too deep here.

But how do you know how much to spend on each? The truth is it has a lot more to do with the stage of your company than it does much else. No matter if you have $500 to spend on brand or $5M, you’ll want to carefully think through the distribution of each investment.

For example, if you’re an early startup you will want to spend far more on distribution. You can make assets in house and manage across a small cross-functional team but you’ll want to make sure you’re applying budget against any campaigns you’ve got running. Whereas if you’re an enterprise, you might have matured enough in brand operations and tracking to invest more evenly.

For the sake of convenience, below is the general rule of thumb I use when comparing the distribution of brand investment for a (a) startup/early stage company, (2) mid-stage/growth, (3) enterprise, and (4) for a personal brand (think consultant, or independent).


Whether you agree with the exact allocations or not, is a little less relevant than all of us aligning on the fact that depending on what season your company is in you will and should be investing in brand differently. There is no one size fits all when it comes to investing in brand. Let’s be real – if you don’t have product market fit you should barely invest in brand at all, whereas if you are a Fortune 500 competing on an international stage, things change.

Hopefully this is a helpful primer for all of you digital marketers championing the investment of brand at your companies. I’m excited to hear how you model out your investments, leave your thoughts/feedback in the comments below.

Brand on friends, brand on.

Dec 09

What is Branding Due Diligence & Why Should You Care?

Branding. Brand marketing. Soft, squishy, conceptual, and so on and so forth. I beg to differ. It’s taken me a few years to really embrace the power of branding but here we are…sitting in the middle of the noisiest ecosystem of all time and perhaps our most powerful tool is, and continues to be, our ability to position ourselves beautifully.

This, my friends, is branding, and whether you want to own it or not – every marketer is now expected to be a brand marketer. We have to understand how to position our products, how to differentiate our experiences, how to get them in front of the right people and leave them with a lasting impression. We must do all of this through our content, our interfaces, our design and our communities. I for one…am freaking stoked. It’s a hell of a lot of fun.

With that said, before you jump in, you need to set yourself up for success. I’ve noticed, through my experiences leading brand, that the most skipped step in brand marketing is doing your branding due diligence. Sadly, it is also the most important step. Without it, you could be setting yourself up for failure and a huge investment loss. Let’s not do that. No one likes losing money.

So what is branding due diligence? It’s a deep analysis of legal, industry, competitive, operational and product brand risks that will affect your ability to build a successful brand and set it up for advantageous differentiation.


Sounds complicated? Meh, not so much. All that really means is, you vet the potential of your brand concepts before you start to design them. Think of this as brand agile development – build a little, get some feedback (like talk to real people…WHAT?!), iterate, ship, repeat. It’s easy for marketers to see “branding” as a creative step, and therefore somehow it sits squarely in the creative camp (which traditionally is done with little diligence, as it’s considered an intrinsic skill/trade, i.e. you are either good at it or you aren’t).

That is dangerous, like performing on a balance beam after a night of margaritas dangerous…don’t do it. You’re gonna crash.

Branding due diligence sets you up to launch a brand your market will love. So how do we do that? Historically, there are five areas you’ll want to explore. They are well outlined in this pretty boring article, but the gist is below (and more fun to read if I do say so myself);

Area 1: Legal
Have you sat down with legal and talked through the legal risks, concerns, opportunities? This can include trademarks of slogans, imagery, verbiage, etc. Is everything registered that needs to be? Are you infringing on existing trademarks? Cover yourself on this. Nothing is worse then creating something beautiful, shipping it, seeing it succeed only to learn – yeah, someone else owns that. #sadsadsad

Area 2: Industry
Have you sat down with your product and business development teams to understand industry trends, concerns, opportunities? I can’t stress this enough. As a brand marketer, we are asked to build for the future. We are building a beacon that we are then going to ask our acquisition and development teams to build demand and direct that demand toward. This could include economic trends, technological trends, political trends, etc. Brand marketers hold a lot of responsibility here. We are building the lighthouse, that other teams (product, BD, growth) will use as a finish line. Know if you’re building in the right place.

Area 3: Competitive
Have you sat down and truly understood your competitor brands, do you understand what arena they have won, are playing in, are entering? Some of this may have been covered when you did that bi-annual competitive analysis (wink, wink…you did that right?). Companies over focus on what features their products are shipping and underestimate the power of their competitor brand teams. They say the best brands in the world end up owning a word. That’s one word. Volvo = safety. Apple = design. Zappos = service. If that is true, you better understand where your competitors are placing their bet, it should/will impact your ability to own yours.

Area 4: Operational
Have you sat down and mapped out how this brand will be managed, what internal risks, concerns, opportunities exist? Your brand is a thing. Like a real thing. That will need investment, budget, and support. Do you know who and how it will be supported? Inevitably, after you launch your brand you will need to manage brand risk and problems. It could be bad press or a product malfunction or a community mistake. Whatever the issue, so much of you brand success will depend on how (a) quickly and (b) authentically you respond. This includes legal, design, product, tech and often operations support. What is the operational process for shipping quick updates and responses? You and your teams should know this and be ready to react.

Area 5: Product
Have you sat down and documented the proprietary product and feature arenas you want to own? Understood the risks and opportunities that exist? This is what most marketers think of when they think about “building a brand.” This is what is largely known these days as your What, How & Why (Thanks Sinek!) and marketers obsess over this, which is great. It’s only one piece of the diligence process though. You should spend many cycles digging in here – what makes you great, how do you do it better than anyone else, why should people care? I think brand marketers have a huge opportunity to contribute to the culture with this analysis and it’s findings. In many ways, this should set the rally point for the entire company.

Okay. I know that was a lot, but it’s super important. The world is growing restless and noisy and shiny. Millennials and centennials are increasingly defined as the generation that is obsessed with self-identification, which means they want to find the brands that are them. Today’s brands need to know who they are and how to stand out, which requires more than a great idea for a brand. It requires diligence, process, and support.

Go forth and brand…I can’t wait to see what you build. #buildallthebeautifulthings


Dec 01

Attribution Isn’t a Marketing Problem

I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations with CEOs and VCs around the nation these past few weeks. I’ve, luckily, had the chance to get to know companies of all sizes and shapes. I’ve talked to leaders of companies that are B2B, B2C, e-commerce, SaaS, marketplace, so on and so forth. It’s been fascinating to hear what keeps them up at night and, most relevant for our conversations — what do they need from a marketing executive?

While you would imagine that the conversations would be quite unique, especially since I’ve talked to companies ranging from idea stage to post-IPO, but surprisingly a few things seem most important – no matter your stage, size, or product. One of them, perhaps not as surprisingly, is attribution. I must have been asked over two dozen times in the last 30 days – what’s my philosophy on attribution?

You can actually sense the frustration in their voice as they ask. It’s as though they’ve been burned – likely by a marketer who promised they were tracking everything well and spending accordingly. Or perhaps by an agency that created dependency through attribution models that were “just hard to explain.” Ugh. Shoot me.

Whatever happened – the situations, as I dig in, are eerily similar – they haven’t invested much into attribution infrastructure, they aren’t sure where to start, they are pretty sure they are misspending, and they need a marketing leader to come in and fix it.

But here is the real deal – it’s not a marketing problem. It’s a company problem.

I can sit down and audit everything from here to Tuesday. I could introduce the leadership team to our options from first touch, to last touch, to linear, to time decay, to U-shaped, to custom. I could hold brown bag learning sessions on our free options and bring in paid vendors to pitch us on their latest feature releases. I could do allll of that…and you might feel better.

But if the entire company doesn’t understand attribution, and if the top leadership isn’t invested in building touchpoints into every customer system – it still won’t work. We’ll still lose in market. We’ll still overspend. It’s still a hot mess, and no one is going to be better for it.

Almost all of my conversations this past month have quickly turned around to me asking the CTOs and VP of Engineering – how do you work with a marketing leader and the marketing team to set us up for success? Then I call in the CFO and VP of Finance – how do you guys work with the marketing leader and the marketing team to set us up for success? What are our cross-team rhythms? How are “we” (NOTE THE WORD WE!) going to build the best attribution infrastructure for our business?

Attribution isn’t just about models or the latest approaches to funnel mapping. Attribution is about to being able to assign the right value or credit to each marketing touchpoint. It’s no bigger than that. Let’s not get caught up fighting paper tigers on this one. Continue reading →

Jul 15

Joining Porch.com!

Two weeks ago I announced that I had wrapped up my time at BigDoor, a leading loyalty software provider here in Seattle. It was a day of many emotions. I feel so lucky to have spent the past year working with such a scrappy, dedicated team. I was able to jump head first into the world of loyalty and retention and growth work with some of the top brands in the world. I am just so damn thankful for all the lessons I learned and what we built together.

It was hard to say goodbye, but I am so excited about my new opportunity. In a lot of ways it’s the type of opportunity I’ve been waiting for Seattle to have – a big consumer play backed by a brilliant team that truly believes in data and growth hacking. Throw in that it involves the visual web, online communities and actually has real-life value for those that use the service and I honestly couldn’t help but jump all in.

And that is exactly what I’m doing. In a week I’ll be jumping in as VP of Consumer Marketing at Porch.com, the home improvement network, and fastest-growing startup in Seattle. And frankly I’m over the moon excited.

Why Porch?

For about a million reasons to be honest, but let’s start with the big ones.

The Team

If you live in Seattle (or any of the tech cities to be honest) you’ve probably noticed that Porch.com has been snagging up top talent from some of the best companies out there to join in their mission of helping people love their home. I feel very lucky to collaborate with them and learn from them. After sitting down for just one day with their team I could tell this team was rare…passion, kindness and smarts all over the place.

The Mission

The past few years I was fortunate to spend a lot of time honing on what really matters to me and what I really want from my career and life. Recently I wrote about how I want to have a “beautiful impact” on this world. This to me means I pour my heart and soul and the hours of my day into a product I can get behind, design, share and one that truly makes life better.

Porch.com is that already, in many ways, and will continue to grow into it even more as we share it with the world. It solves a real problem, one that our CEO has talked at lengths about solving. We are helping home professionals do what they love, and homeowners love their home. I mean wow.

Funny enough, I spent a lot of time on my porch as a child. It was the place my family celebrated everything – from birthdays to “ice cream sundaes for dinner” nights, to graduations. My childhood is peppered with family memories on the porch. In fact, before my mom passed away we spent many afternoons on that porch talking about how much she loved it out there. Dad had it built for her so they could watch us grow up in the backyard and play in the pool.

A porch to me represents everything good…family, traditions, laughter, safety, comfort, peace of mind, and spending time together in something you’ve built as a family. Hell I get teared up just think about it.

I am 100% behind spending my days sharing the mission of Porch - love your home. We have very big plans for Porch and the value it will have for homeowners…more on that later, but get excited friends. I know I am.

The Challenge

My journey in marketing has been, unexpectedly, quite funnel like. So meta, huh? I started in performance, moved into engagement, ended up in retention, and fell in love with brand. I’ve gone from running campaigns to launching integrated customer journeys. I went from selling keywords to becoming obsessed with the visual web and what it has to offer.

I am a growth marketer, driven by solving the hardest problems with testing and data. I believe in viral marketing as a practice not a fluke. I believe in using our channels to activate and unlock growth at every turn. I believe that today’s best marketers have the platforms, and the guts required to build bold, beautiful experiences that catch fire and add real value to the consumer.

Porch.com combines so much of what I love. I’m coming on to Continue reading →

Jan 06

The Difference Between Brand Consistency and Brand Coherence

Designing a brand’s identity is one of my favorite things. I’ve grown to love it.

Every brand has a vibe, a form, an experience that is just waiting to come out and be shared with the world. The problem is most marketers aren’t sure where to start when it comes to brand marketing. It combines a number of skills, some of which are less familiar to a traditional digital marketer – things like – storytelling, visual theory, event management, offline experience, and consumer psychology.

One of the biggest mistakes I see marketers make is obsession over “brand consistency.” I bet, you hear this all the time in meetings  - “but there needs to be a consistent brand experience.” It’s an effective way to shut down a number of conversations. Some of those conversations, by the way, are likely to be the most innovative, disruptive ones on the table.

The irony of it is those are the ideas that are at the heart of brand marketing. Those are the ones that keep a brand evolving and growing with it’s consumers.

Instead of aiming for brand consistency, todays’ marketers should be aiming for brand coherence. They might sound similar, but the difference is critical. Brand consistency is when the elements of a brand go unchanged over time. Brand coherence is when all the elements of a brand feel familiar and are effective. Coherence is when all the pieces come together and are intuitive to those experiencing them.

Brand coherence and brand consistency

Brands that center their conversations around “consistency” are committing to a stagnant strategy. I’ve seen this approach used as a weapon to stunt big conversations, big gambles, big ideas.

“We can’t launch that new campaign it’s not consistent with our brand.”
“We can’t explore that design as our social account cover, it’s not consistent with our brand.”
“We can’t test that new mailer voice, it’s not consistent with our brand.”

Oy. The goal is not consistency. It’s coherence.

Continue reading →

Sep 18

Marketers as Creatives

I scored better on the math part of the SAT than I did on my verbal. I love analytics. The first third of my career in marketing was spent only in paid search, conversion rate testing and Excel. I am a counter. A calculator. I have been in charge of the budget for most of my career, magnetically pulled to the numbers that make or break companies. On paper (or on LinkedIn, because who really uses paper anymore) I am a numbers woman.

But I’m not. I’m a creative. And, much to my own surprise, the past few years I have found myself identifying more and more with this role of creative. 

There are probably a million reasons for this. The web has steadily become more visual. It’s now a marketplace of ideas, an ecosystem of creative conversation, and an eruption of bold promises in beautiful colors. Or at least that is what it feels like to me. There are classes now to help us marketers learn design, and branding, and typography. Our teams are now heavily dependent on the bar to which we hold our design standards. Brands are built on beautiful foundations, and marketers’ campaigns are expected to deliver more than leads…they are expected to deliver experiences.

If you asked me 8 years ago what an ideal marketing team looked like, I may not have included a top-notch designer. I believed then the design team could live independent of marketing. But no more. Today, when I grab coffees with startup founders they ask who they should hire first on their teams and I say one of two roles – an amazing web designer, or a brand marketer that appreciates design theory. Every single marketing channel now requires a level of creativity that historically was not required for success.

It’s the new norm…marketers as creatives.

I know the school of thought out there around technical marketing. I adhere to it on many levels. I’ve taken Team Treehouse classes, MarketingMotive courses, and learned SQL just so I could hang with the technical cats around me. There is no denying that technical marketers are valuable. But I hope we don’t forget how hard it is to find a true creative. I also hope we don’t shut off our creative sides in hopes of fine tuning our technical skills. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, but given how much there is to learn, it often ends up being the case.

Tomorrow’s marketing will be driven by creativity. We will all be playing in new mediums to a new generation on new devices with new expectations hoping for new outcomes. We will literally all be flailing in a sea of creative marketing campaigns, and the ones that stand out will have put in the time to understand design theory, conversation marketing, psychological theory, and the power of persuasion.

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May 01

What is Product Marketing & Where Should It Live?

A friend of mine reached out and asked me my thoughts on product marketing the other day. Little did he know that question would send me off on a tangent. Because it did (and I thought I would piece together that tangent for this post).

For one reason or ten, I am insanely passionate about product marketing. I think it’s because I have seen the shift over the years from “two teams” to “one team”, from “hands off marketers” to “all in marketers”, and I couldn’t be more stoked about it. Today product and marketing need to be so closely tied, you can barely separate them. I believe that with my whole heart.

But alas there is a problem. The intersection of  the two functions often causes more friction and deeper silos than we could imagine. There is a turf war happening at a number of companies, and it’s too damn bad. The companies that solve for how these two teams can work together are going to win. They are going to win every time. Luckily for us there is a traditional function that helps lace us together for a common goal — product marketing.

Enter the second problem — most marketers don’t know what the hell that means. [facepalm] So let’s run through it shall we?

What is Product Marketing?

Product marketing as it traditionally exists solves for – what to build, who to sell it to, how to sell it, and what to price it at. Its a four cornered web of awesome that helps companies build something valuable for the right people, sell it well and make money. Wait a minute — that sounds super important? Why yes, yes it is. I have put together a magical picture (ridiculous attempt at a pun intended) to stress its importance…

what is product marketing

So how come so many companies screw this up? Enter the where should it live dilemma.

Where Should Product Marketing Live?

You know what I love? Cold, hard truths. So here are a few of them: Most of today’s marketers suck at what to build and how to price it. While most product managers today suck at who to sell it to and how to sell it. Don’t hate the messenger. It’s true. FWIW it’s not their/our fault, marketers weren’t trained in product planning, and product managers weren’t trained in market research and acquisition/take to market strategy. Let’s all just blame the system and move on.

So if it shouldn’t live on either team, then what? This is where it get’s interesting. I think you’ll see the rise of growth teams, or product planning teams that try to really drive those core functions (this is a lot of what growth marketing was at Moz for me and what you see growth teams do at other companies – FB, Dropbox, Pinterest, etc.). I think these hybrid teams will hire in curious cats that don’t want to do one or the other. And I truly believe that in a few years we may just see the structured “two team system” as we know it — be uprooted altogether.

With today’s companies being more product driven than ever and offering more products than before on more channels than ever before, the cornerstone that is product marketing has become the inflection point between success and failure. I’m seeing it. You’re seeing it. It’s happening.

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