“The first thing I would do, if I went back in time, is kiss myself on the mouth and change nothing.” (Man, that would make a killer bumper sticker.)
Most of us can only dream of saying this about our lives (let alone our careers), but looking at the professional growth and success Unbounce’s Oli Gardner has experienced in the last six years, it comes as no surprise that he would feel this way.
After co-founding Unbounce in 2009 with five peers, Gardner wore many creative hats within the organization. He recently sat down with IMPACT’s John Bonini to discuss this unique experience, as well as the role it has played in molding Unbounce into the SaaS and marketing juggernaut it is today.
You’ve heard the expression, “Jack-of-all-trades, master of none.” Well, at Unbounce, the team has gone to great lengths to ensure this never happens.
The idea for Unbounce came to them after seeing that the traditional process for creating landing pages at large corporations just wasn’t working. It took too long for Marketers to work with IT to create a page, and it took just as long to make simple changes.
Something had to give, so the six set out to create a cutting-edge landing page tool that Marketers could use without any help.
“We were laser-focused on doing that one thing exceptionally well,” Gardner recounts. “There’s always somebody saying we should branch out...but we needed to be focused on doing that one thing better than anyone else” and that’s what they did.
Instead of stretching themselves too thin or venturing into something unknown, Unbounce stayed the course and strived to be the very best in their niche, and ultimately, they became the industry standard.
What Can You Do? Like every person, every organization has its strengths. Instead of trying to put out sub-par versions of many offerings, focus on perfecting the strongest one for your niche.
To help find your company’s strength, ask yourself the following questions:
What makes us different?
What do we do better than anyone else?
Why would people recommend us to their friends?
Once you have this established, you will not only be able to clarify your goals, but also allocate your time, money, and effort more efficiently.
2. Invest in Your Talent
In their early years, the Unbounce founders juggled all of the work themselves, but like every start-up, they quickly learned they’d have to scale to match their growing needs.
While their current team had the skills to get the job done, they needed fresh perspectives and expertise to speed up the process (and frankly, they needed to learn to trust others with their “baby.”)
Gardner recalls, “Marketing was me and it was hard putting that in someone else’s control; would they mess it up? [Was] that the end of [my] reign? The end of [me] being important?”
Despite these concerns, he found comfort in “hiring up” and expanding their team to include individuals even more skilled than themselves. Today, Unbounce employs 100 talented creatives and Gardner couldn’t be happier with the people they have brought on board.
Write down exactly what you need to accomplish and what skills someone has to have to get it done. With that in hand, set out to find someone that not only possesses those skills, but also shares in your passion and overall vision.
3. Have a Strong Brand
Today, the SaaS world is more competitive than ever.
As Gardner explains, “People understand the business model, they understand the pricing, [and] they understand feature differentiation. If they can build something, they can quickly wrap a business around it because someone has [already] paved the way…”
The playing field is leveled and in order to be remarkable you need to offer consumers something they can’t get anywhere else. You need to innovate and have a strong brand that people want to be a part of.
What Can You Do? Identify what values you want your organization to represent (these should resonate with your buyer persona) and what you want people to think, feel, and visualize when they hear your name. These things are your brand. Once you have it established, infuse it into everything you do by maintaining a consistent:
Whether it’s a value proposition or a blog headline, make sure you meet people’s quality and value expectations of your brand.
As Gardner describes, “your post-click experience has to deliver on the promise you made prior to the click…” in order to delight your audience and move them further down the funnel.
This not only keeps them happy, but it also helps build their trust in your brand and makes them feel more comfortable about converting. Far too frequently, “marketers are disrespecting our clicks...” by not providing delightful experiences, and the more frequently this occurs, the more likely people are to take their business elsewhere.
What Can You Do? The easiest way to deliver on your promise is to set realistic expectations. Avoid “sensationalizing” your headlines or over-selling; this can only lead to disappointment.
Rather, be direct and clear about the value you are providing and prove it. If you’re working on a premium offer landing page, consider including an excerpt or social proof with the number of downloads so far or if it’s a BOFU request, include a testimonial.
5. Let Your Audience Write it For You
You can try to guess what your persona is feeling or saying about your brand as much as you like, but the only way to truly know is to go straight to the source.
“[Your Audience] will say the best part of why they became a customer when they write about you,” advises Gardner and this provides valuable, uncensored insight that you wouldn’t be able to get through research and observation alone.
What Can You Do? If you do not have the means or context to reach out directly to your audience, consider review mining. Use Amazon, Angie’s List, Yelp, or other review sites to see how consumers are describing their experiences with products or services like yours, then infuse those phrases into your copy.
The result will be content that truly speaks to your audience, endearing them to your brand and in turn, making them more inclined to work with you.
6. Research and Test Everything
“...We’re in the age of data-driven marketing…[and] marketers are becoming way more accountable than they ever used to be,” remarks Gardner, a huge advocate and influencer in the conversion rate optimization sphere. He admits, “I used to do a lot of bad testing, but...[N]ow it’s really all about research.”
While Unbounce offers A/B testing on their platform, their team also heavily relies on it for internal strategy.
In their early days, the team leaned on “big brother” MOZ for guidance, but they knew that just because something worked for that company, it didn’t mean that it would be for theirs as well. “Case studies should be used for inspiration only; never blindly implement,” Gardner warns.
With this in mind, Unbounce tested everything they created repeatedly until they found the optimal variation for their audience.
What Can You Do? Whether you’re drawing strategic inspiration from industry case studies, competitors, or advisors (like Unbounce did with Rand Fishkin), do not blindly copy. Look at the guiding principles and best practices behind an idea then adapt them to your goal.
Once in place, test the idea and analyze its performance. Depending on how your audience responds, make adjustments and test again until you find the ideal variation.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
In the end, fortune favors the brave. The only way to stand out from your competitors and truly make an impact is to try something different. With this comes the risk that it may not work, but don’t let that discourage you.
“The truth is most tests fail,” explains Gardner. “If you can get a little win, that’s amazing, but even losing is fine.” Even if you fail, you learn something and gain insight that you can use down the line to create a win. With every loss comes a lesson, and with every lesson, you move one step closer to achieving your organization’s goals.
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