The marketers aren’t marketing right now

10 minute read

Takeaway

Janine Pelosi and Meagen Eisenberg believe you need to use social as a channel more now, do educational content, and engage more with customers

Relevant for

People interested in how to do marketing with the right tone now

Main

I summarised a talk by Operator Collective [1] on operations recently here, and will be doing another summary today for a talk they did on marketing.

Their talk “Marketing and messaging in the time of Coronavirus” included panelists Janine Pelosi, Zoom CMO and Meagen Eisenberg, TripActions CMO discussing the steps they’ve taken in their companies [2]. Notes below will sometimes be paraphrased for clarity, and cover the following topics:

  1. Changes they’ve made to their business
  2. Having the right tone for marketing
  3. Planning for the future

Highlights for me were:

  • The shift to social as a channel given that regular marketing channels have become inapplicable.
  • Repeated mention of having to track metrics more frequently, a common theme I’m hearing from talks by operators
  • Having to reset expectations on what types of marketing mix were working, and even within that mix, what in particular has changed e.g. search keyword value
  • Thinking of alternative, non-salesy ways of engaging with customers e.g. hold office hours
  • Thinking of ways to make virtual events more interactive e.g. item delivery for attendees

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Pullback from competitors could be an opportunity

What has changed?

Meagen

  • We’ve had to take another look at our marketing mix and see what’s actually coming in and converting
  • In the last two weeks of March and first week of Apr we had dead traffic, decline across the board
  • We’re now seeing that come back up though (as of May 5)
  • We’ve pivoted to set up content that was informational for our customers e.g. TripActions Academy [3] and webinars.
  • We’re finding that people are learning from the above and have found them helpful
  • I’m going to twitter more than I have before. Social has become more important for us in engaging customers, and we’re getting more of our most qualified leads from social than we used to
  • Email channel for leads has been about the same

Janine

  • The things you used to look at in terms of months or weeks, you’re now looking at on a daily basis
  • We have a day 1 mentality all over again at Zoom
  • There’s been too much change, and there’s so many different variables. We need to get to a point where we can stabilise and think about what our new metrics mean for the business
  • We’re also in a lucky situation that we don’t have to make changes in the workforce.
  • We’ve pivoted from one type of marketing to another e.g. from doing events to social media, where we’re helping people learn how to use the product
  • In terms of helping our workforce pivot in their roles, it starts with who we hire. We hire self starters, and this has helped us with the pivot

LL - The repeat mention of social from both of them is interesting, and makes sense given the in person sales events are canceled. They’ll discuss actionable ideas for social below. The move to tracking metrics more frequently was also mentioned by the COOs here

What are some things you’ve put in place?

Janine

  • We have a daily standup with the exec team, since it’s important to ensure that we’re getting feedback from the field as we make quick decisions
  • We take a few actions out of that standup

Meagen

  • Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. You need to be flexible
  • We’ve had a lot more communications with our customers, employees
  • Go on zoom mobile phone walks with our team
  • We kicked off office hours with customers too

LL - The office hours with customers is new to me, so that’s something actionable your company could do in order to maintain a relationship with customers while still being mindful of tone

How has your team’s relationship with sales changed?

Meagen

  • We’ve had to change our sales pitch and make sure it’s still relevant
  • That involved education, objection handling, and having relevant case studies

Janine

  • We’re getting sales team the information we do have asap, are doing a partnership for us to get daily new news from the company
  • We want to be able to step back and communicate in a programmatic fashion

How do you think marketing should spend their time?

Meagen

  • We have a lot of people working now on middle of the funnel. They’re creating content, doing sales enablement. We need more people and budget there even as it’s been reduced
  • Our spending outside has been more about awareness, getting people into the funnel
  • We’re also doing paid search. A lot of competitors are not bidding on our brand terms anymore, so it’s an opportunity.
  • If we can protect our brand terms on business travel, we can get net new people out of this
  • The mix of brand terms has also changed a bit

Janine

  • We’re working top of funnel, and are back to a day 1 mentality
  • We’ve always run lean teams, and are getting stretched now
  • We’re also putting content and energy in virtual conferences

LL - If you’re like most companies and employ SEM on google in order to acquire customers, now would be a cheaper time to do so. We know that Google saw a significant pullback in ad revenue from March onwards, implying that competition for the same ad spot has gone down, and prices have too. You might want to check which terms might be converting better as well. Of course, that depends on whether the leads you’re getting are still qualified leads and will convert to customers or not. As mentioned later, you should be tracking that

Be authentic to be relevant

How do you navigate building a business without being tone deaf?

Meagen

  • It’s definitely a risk. We’re not hardcore selling right now.
  • You can reduce the risk if you focus on educational material and the value you’re providing. Don’t stretch the value of what you provide
  • Instead, it’s the time to build out new products and address things.
  • e.g. we just launched a trains product in europe, and we had a discussion about whether we should talk about it. We still need to educate customers and program managers, and let them know the product will be ready when they get back to traveling

Janine

  • It’s also an art. What you can do today is different vs 6 weeks ago
  • We’re focused on supporting users now, not on sales and marketing. All our celebrity shoutouts etc have been organic; we didn’t pay for those

LL - There’s a high risk of coming across as tone deaf when marketing during this period, as angry Reddit posters might be quick to mention. It seems like both of them are focused on education and support, which has lower risk of appearing to be profiting from the pandemic.

How do you get above the noise in marketing now?

Meagen

Janine

  • Smaller companies are going to be trying to do a lot. If they can attach to something that’s bigger, that’s always a good idea, if it’s authentic
  • There are authentic ways to be relevant

LL - I personally don’t get zoom challenges but you do you.

What are you strategies for social media now?

Meagen

  • The tone has changed
  • e.g. we put something out there for pi day, and doing that wasn’t good in retrospect
  • If you’re doing social media content, I’d test it on a few separate people first, and have a committee of diverse people that can respond quickly to that

Janine

  • We’ve more metrics set up to review
  • We took for granted the good relationship we had with users. When something bad happens it can sting

What education content have you provided related to coivd?

Janine

  • Our education content is not specific to covid, it’s specific to need
  • We’ve made 150 how-to videos for customers
  • Nobody needs to be reminded of covid, we all know it’s happening

Meagen

  • 6 weeks ago when we had our standup, it was all about covid
  • Now though we’ve added more topics to discussion
  • If an issue is relevant to your biz, you should talk to it
  • It’s good to have education content since we’re seeing more people interested in reeducating reskilling themselves now
  • As you grow as a company, people expect you to have some educational support

LL - I’ve never understood why company FAQ pages and walkthroughs of how to use their product are usually bad. Ends up frustrating current and potential users, plus waste customer support time. This isn’t even touching on the “have to call to cancel subscription” issue, but just basics like “how do I set up a form” in the product

Concrete plans now would be a mistake

How are you thinking about the next six months?

Janine

  • We’re playing the long game, hoping that a year from now people will remember us as being transparent and owning up when wrong [4]
  • We have to remain open minded, since we’re unsure what even three weeks from now will look like

Meagen

  • Our original focus was on connecting both people and businesses
  • We’ve shifted to focus more on businesses as we move forward in the recovery
  • We’re asking our customers what product features they need. We know we have product market fit and a strong relationship with our customers
  • We were spending more of our time on customer acquisition before, and are now trying to get more balanced on other areas

What should CMOs not pay attention to?

Janine

  • In terms of future planning, there are things we can figure out, but you can’t just keep to a schedule, you have to be flexible and agile.
  • Getting any concrete game plan for next steps now would be a mistake since things are changing so quickly

Meagen

  • I do daily plans, and every week there have been changes to that plan. We have gone from having something as a priority to new priorities often

LL - The general takeaway here is to be flexible, though I’d say that probably applies whether you’re in crisis or not

What’s something you’ve learnt about crisis management?

Janine

  • Life isn’t fair, not everyone’s honest
  • If you make right honest decision for good reasons, that will carry you through this
  • Surround yourself with the smartest people possible. We have a great team at zoom.
  • You don’t have to do it alone

Meagen

  • You need to put the emotional aspect of crisis aside
  • Agree with Janine, surround yourself with the types of people that are better able to deal with crisis than others
  • If you can approach problems critically it will help

What advice do you have for holding virtual events?

Janine

  • Zoom has a clean UI, but there’s also tons of features to help run smoother events
  • e.g we did a virtual waiting room for the NFL
  • We’re also developing a lot of cool use cases, learning what customers want

Meagen

  • We’re trying to figure out if we want to do our travel conference again, and the format for it
  • Are people willing to be there all day? Do people just want a half day conference now?
  • Can we have a food delivery company deliver them an espresso while watching, make it more interactive?

LL - I just saw a tweet about an event host doing this. Seems like a good way to delight customers. Swag money has to go somewhere now

What one piece of advice do you have for everyone?

Janine

  • We’re all under immense pressure, and there are days where it gets tough and hard. It’s ok to feel that way, and know that this too shall pass

Meagen

  • Any leader should be making sure both physical and mental health are good.
  • Focus on the customer and product market fit.
  • Companies that survive are going to have something customers need. Avoid churn by providing value and watching usage stats

Footnotes

  1. Operator Collective is a newly founded group for operators from diverse backgrounds to support founders both operationally and financially. Members include C suite people from Stripe, Waymo, Zendesk.
  2. Panel was moderated by Leyla Seka, Operator Collective Partner
  3. “TripActions Academy is a free series of courses that program administrators can take to polish their skills and learn everything from the basics of corporate travel, to best practices in structuring policies, and learn more about how TripActions can supercharge their efforts along the way.”
  4. Zoom was in the news for security concerns