How can brands stand out and drive incredible customer loyalty?
This week on The Inbound Success Podcast, Katie Martell talks about what it means to find your "exceptional truth" as a brand, and why that should be the guide for everything you do as a marketer.
As Katie says, "the only thing in the middle of the road, is roadkill," and brands that fail to speak their truth get lost in the crowd.
In our conversation, we wade into the controversial waters of whether and when brands should speak out and take a stand, and how to do it in a way that keeps you tightly aligned with your customers.
Highlights from my conversation with Katie include:
Katie says it is the job of the marketer to understand what is happening in the world.
Marketing controls brand perception, and brand perception influences whether someone will buy from you.
If you're in marketing, you have to understand where your brand fits in the world of your buyer's identity.
When you know what your buyers care about, you can align that with your brand values, and you have an opportunity to take a position that will strengthen your place in the market.
Katie says that brands that don't take a position get lost in a crowded marketplace and are not a part of the conversation.
By taking a stance about what you believe, you can change the conversation in your market and, in doing so, become a market leader.
Katie says brands need to find "exceptional truths" - little kernels of truth that get buyers to stop, pause, and rethink the way they see the world.
When you've created that seed of doubt, buyers are open. They're leaning in, they're listening to what else you have to say. And that is when marketing works at its best. That's when they're more receptive to your pitch.
This takes knowing buyers so well that you know where they're misinformed or what they don't know or what they don't understand so that you can challenge that.
This approach is based on the concepts outlined in the book The Challenger Sale, which is typically used in the sales world but has a lot of application to marketing.
Marketers need to be confident to convince the organizations they work for that this type of challenge is the right approach.
This can be hard because marketing is a "voyeuristic" profession - meaning that everyone can "see" marketing so they think they are an expert and know how it should be done.
As a marketer coming into a new company, its important to determine what your exceptional truth is and then find ways of rolling that out across your marketing in a way that makes your brand unique and different.
I'm your host Kathleen Booth. And this week, my guest is Katie Martell, who is an on demand communications strategist based out of Boston, Massachusetts. Welcome Katie.
Katie Martell (Guest): Hi Kathleen. Thank you so much for having me.
Katie and Kathleen recording this episode.
Kathleen: I am excited to have you here. For everyone listening, I heard Katie speak at MarketingProfs B2B Marketing Forum in, what was that? September or October? October of 2019.
Back in the days when we still went to conferences in person. And I was just so blown away. She gave such an amazing talk on Rabble Rousers and it really not only struck me for the content of the talk, but also, you were just an amazing speaker.
We can have a separate conversation about that. But anyway, that's why I wanted to have you on and share some of your amazing wisdom with everyone who's listening.
So I could go on and on about you. but before I go down too much of a tangent, I would love it if you would explain what an on-demand communication strategist is and what you do, and also a little bit of your background and how you wound up doing that.
About Katie Martell
Katie: I would love to, and I have to start by saying thank you for the kind words about that talk last year.
So the title of that talk was something like "Market Like a Rabble Rouser" and it came from this fascination I have with the world of politics and persuasion mixed with what I do as a marketer.
So I've been a marketer in the B2B realm for 11 years now. And what's been interesting is, I've been marketing to marketers for the majority of my career.
And that was first at a B2B data services company. We were an early sponsor of the MarketingProfs event. That was a startup that I grew up to acquisition. And then it was a PR firm, an analyst firm, and then my own MarTech startup.
So I've kind of lived multiple lives, worn many different hats, but always marketing in this world of B2B tech, and MarTech specifically.
So I've been a student of marketing in a time when it's completely changing from what was the kind of capital M marketing that we've known it to be.
And so this talk was just honestly, they had asked me what I wanted to talk about, which is a moment in time where you go, "Oh, that's a dangerous, that's a dangerous ask of me." And I was honest. I said, "Let's talk about what's happening in the world of misinformation, persuasion."
I'm talking Russian trolls, I'm talking campaign interference. I'm talking all the stuff that, you know, you read on the headlines, on whatever news outlet you choose to follow. And let's talk about what marketers can learn from it.
So I get up on stage. I give this talk. It went over a little bit of time because that's, hello, it's me. Well, people were absolutely polarized in the audience. We had half the room, a little more than half, I will say, who were like, "Yeah, we got the takeaway. This is great. Thanks so much."
And the other half that I just think, I don't know what, didn't go across as well for many, because I presented a lot of information about Russian trolls and some of the exact campaign ads they used and it was pretty incendiary stuff, but that was the point. I was trying to get people riled up and hey, achievement unlocked.
Kathleen: But I also think, isn't that polarized response just such a perfect reflection of why that talk was needed in the first place?
Katie: I hope so. I was encouraging folks to really, you know, rouse the rabble, you know,? Create emotional responses, shake things up, and that's kind of what I did on stage.
Kathleen: Well, and to be clear, just to interject, your talk was not an inherently political talk in the sense that you weren't taking sides, you were presenting facts, right? And people can take that and do with it what they want, but I just wanted to put that out there.
Marketers need to pay attention to what is happening in the world
Katie: Well, I appreciate it. And let the lesson and the takeaway here be that we need, as marketers, to pay attention to what's happening in the world.
I mean, the world around us, look at this past week and today's date. I don't know if you're going to give the date here. It's June 1st.
So we are coming off of a weekend of civil unrest, Black Lives Matter protests. It is a time where, if you check social media, you're bombarded with hashtag activism and memes and everybody from brands to individuals getting involved in this current conversation.
We as marketers should be watching this and learning.
Kathleen: Yes. I mean, actually, it's interesting that we are having this conversation today because I literally, just this morning, was online on social media and I saw one person saying something about how you have to speak out and you have to make your positions known.
And another person's literally saying "I'm not going to support businesses that don't say anything."
It's interesting. There's so many different sides to what's happening right now, but it really doesn't matter what you believe about the current situation.
The fact is that the world around us is going to make judgments and make personal buying decisions. And they could be different ones, person to person, but they're going to be made based upon what you do and or do not say right now, right.
So if you're not paying attention as a marketer, you're not doing your job
Katie: Because this is our job. It is our job. Marketing controls brand perception, right? Brand perception is the reality for consumers. They make a decision about us before they engage with us by the way we act through marketing.
That's the kind of inherent "duh" that we know about our jobs, but what that means at a time like this and what it started to mean over the past, I would say, decade or so as the world of social movements, identity, and brands and corporate world they've started to intersect.
And so what that now means is, if you're in marketing, you have to understand where your brand fits in the world of your buyer's identity, whether they believe in the Black Lives Matter movements, right? These kinds of areas that were kind of gray areas before of, we don't want to get political.
It's not appropriate for every brand to have a comment on what's happening.
For example, we're talking about the treatment of African American individuals in the US, if your brand happens to live values that embrace diversity and inclusion and have large representation from that community and you take steps to make sure that their employee experience is great and yada, yada, yada, you might as well leverage that in marketing.
You might as well show the world that you're on the same side as the giant movement that's now building in States and cities around the world.
My God, this is a great opportunity for marketers, which I know sounds dirty to say out loud, but it's absolutely a time to take advantage of the global zeitgeist right now, and be part of the conversation, be part of the narrative, earn trust. It might help you differentiate.
It is a way of saying to the world, "This is where we play, this is what we believe, this is who we are as a brand" that may go well beyond what your product or your service does.
That is an opportunity.
Kathleen: I agree with you. This is such an interesting conversation. In the past year, I had a conversation about this with someone who I've always considered to be very much a professional mentor/idol/role model.
I've come to realize as I've gotten to know this person better that they feel very strongly about keeping all politics, all commentary on social issues, completely out of business. And that is their personal belief.
It has come into focus, I think, with this last election cycle, and we had a big debate where the person was saying companies should never post about politics. I personally don't believe that, nor do I think every company should post about politics.
People will disagree with me and that's fine, but I think that it all comes back to really understanding your brand. And in this case, especially for privately held companies, brands are very inextricably interwoven with the person that owns the company.
This is going to come right down to the owners of the company and what they personally believe in.
There are some companies where the person that owns it is never going to talk about politics because that person, as an individual, doesn't talk about politics even in social settings.
But then you have companies, and there's some examples I'd love to cite, like Penzeys Spices. They are a spice company out of the Midwest. I had discovered them years ago because I was looking for some really niche spices. I like to cook and I had followed them, and then I started seeing this stuff on Facebook and they come out really, really strongly.
This is a long story, but I got into a really big debate with this person. And the person was saying, you are going to lose customers and that's not good for your business. And you're going to alienate people and that's not good for your business.
And my feeling is, that might be fine.
If you're somebody who believes that you want to live your beliefs and you want your business to live those beliefs, you may lose customers, but you will probably have the ones you keep drive tremendous loyalty and you may gain as much, if not more, than you lose.
So, diatribe over. You're the guest, not me!
Katie: Oh, please! I love your point of view. I'm honored to be here because I think you are just brilliant and I love your work.
You hit on something really polarizing right now which works at multiple levels. It also kind of hearkens back to the fundamental truth that not all marketing advice is going to apply to every company. And I feel like that's an important disclaimer, because we tend in marketing to say, brands should do this, they shouldn't do that.
It's really, to your point, what is right for your business, your customers, and most importantly, your goals.
Now that spice company, I don't know them, but I guarantee their goal is not to be the spice for everyone.
It sounds like they know exactly who their buyer is and they know exactly what that buyer wants from them. They want a spice company that stands for more than spice. Great.
Not all car companies are going to be a car for everybody, right? Just like with Patagonia, right? If you're buying a jacket to go skiing and they have a set of brand values that they know aligns with the subset of the total market, but that subset will be inherently loyal to them because Patagonia is an example of a brand that's been consistent against their values.
And it's Patagonia saying "We cause too much waste in our industry. We build products that may cost you a little more, but they're sustainably made and we want you to wear them for longer.
We're going to help you repair them. We're going to give you some tools to make sure that you can make sure you get the most out of them. They're longer lasting."
These are brand values that the buyer can relate to because the buyer also shares those values.
So this really isn't a new marketing problem. We like to think it is because of social media and hashtag activism and all the propaganda that's happening. But this really is an old school marketing best practice. Know your buyer, know where you fit in their world.
Bill Bernbach has a great quote that's like, "If you stand for something, you'll find some people for you and some people against you. And if you stand for nothing, you'll find nobody for you and nobody against you."
Which is worse for a marketer? To be completely out of the conversation or to be clear about where you sit and stand and who you're intended for?
I love old time radio. There's a great Sirius XM station about the radio shows from the era of when that was entertainment. Somebody had this quote in the old timey accent. They were like, "The only thing you find in the middle of the road is roadkill my dear."
Right now, today, brands do not have to have a comment on who should be president.
That is politics. That is up to the individual. We each have a right to vote. Stay out of it unless you're relating to the campaign or you're lobbying for a certain group.
Honestly, we need to have a say about issues that matter for our buyers. That's it. If it doesn't matter to your buyers, it shouldn't matter to you and your marketing.
If you're a founder, I'm going to kind of disagree with you on this, but if you're a founder trying to leverage your organization for your own political, personal views, that's a mistake because not everyone in your company is going to agree with you. Just like not every one of your buyers is going to agree with you.
You have to find middle ground. That's what this is about.
When you canvas for a political campaign and you're going door to door for, I don't know, Bernie Sanders, you don't open the door and knock on the door and say, let me tell you why you're wrong about insert political candidate. You find common ground. You say, what do we share? What are we aligned on? And how do we then move forward together?
It's not about polarizing. It's about recruiting people to see the world the way you do. And those people likely bring the same set of values that you do.
Kathleen: To be clear, I should say because I probably didn't explain this, I'm not advocating that businesses come out and say "Vote for so and so."
I'm more coming out and saying that the context that came up when I talked about it with somebody, was that there were things happening politically that impacted other issues, whether that's the environment or social issues, et cetera, there was like a trickle down.
And there were businesses that at the time were coming out and standing for or against those environmental or social issues. That was what sparked the conversation.
It's very interesting to me because the things that swim in my brain when I get into this conversation are, there is an increasing amount of data that started to come out, particularly with younger generations, that they are actually much more likely to buy from businesses that are willing to say what they stand for.
Again, I'm not talking about politics, I'm talking broadly about things that you stand for. And I loved your statement about the only thing in the middle of the road is roadkill.
Because you know, you look at social activism and business today and you see companies like Tom's shoes, which stand for something, and Patagonia, which stands for something. These businesses are doing very, very well, particularly amongst a younger demographic.
And so I think part of it is knowing who you sell to, as you said. Part of it is also recognizing that over time, things are going to change as this younger demographic ages and people follow them, who knows?
I don't know what will happen with the next generation, but today's 20-year-olds are going to be the 30 and 40-year-olds of tomorrow and the next decade, et cetera.
And so as our customer populations age, their preferences come with them as they do.
It reminds me of the conversation that I've had with people about niching down as a business. I used to own a marketing agency and agencies talk about this all the time. Should we be the agency for everyone? Or should we declare that we are serving this one niche?
And the fear that everybody always has when you get into that conversation is the fear of having to say "no" and turn people away.
What most data shows, and most people find when they do it, is that when you niche down, you actually thrive. You make more money because you really find the right fit customer and they have a higher perception of you. They stick with you longer, et cetera.
And so, there's an echo of that going through my head as I listened to us talk about this.
Understanding your brand promise
Katie: Absolutely. And again, it comes back to branding basics.
You have to know the promise that you're going to make to anyone. That's what brand is. Brand is a promise. When they engage with you, they want to know that they're going to get something that you've promised them.
You don't have to take a stance around hot button issues. Stay away from hot button issues, unless you're ready for that, unless that's really core to your business and your values and live throughout the organization.
There are many examples, from our history, of B2B companies that stand for something in their industry. This is where this needs to be applied to B2B. B2B listeners might be thinking, this doesn't apply to me because I sell, I don't know, refrigeration.
And I'm here to tell you, there is, within the world of refrigeration, a company called Stirling Ultracold, that was kind of a smaller player within this world of refrigeration. They would sell to pharmaceutical companies, and we're talking commercial grade keeping stuff cold, right?
That's the extent of my knowledge, but they are ultra low temperature freezers that companies need. This is a great example of a company in a world that we would think, what is controversial about this space?
The way they were disrupting their own industry was just with this idea of sustainability and energy costs and carbon footprint -- these things that their product enabled companies to decrease. They saved something like 70% of energy costs.
Energy and sustainability and carbon footprint was never a consideration point for this buyer before. They just didn't look at it along that list of criteria that they're making their decision against. It didn't matter.
Suddenly, here's a company who comes forward with a great PR program, really strong thought leadership, a leader who says, "I believe we have a responsibility to have a smaller carbon footprint. And guess what? My products enable you to have it."
It suddenly changed the entire perimeter of an industry.
That is the exact same advice that you and I are preaching right now. Just take a stance in what you believe in your own market. That's how you're going to change the conversation in market.
That's how you're going to find buyers that are aligned with you around this value that now matters, and in a broader sense, you know, to the world, but really in this industry. And that's how you're going to differentiate and earn that trust, is when you declare "Here's what we're about."
And you do that with confidence, because that allows the buyer to look at you and say, "I know exactly what I'm signing up for."
Change the conversation in your industry
Kathleen: I love that. And it reminds me of a talk that I heard by April Dunford.
Katie: Love April Dunford, high five.
Kathleen: I heard it at HubSpot's Inbound conference. April Dunford is an expert on positioning and she gives this talk about the four different ways you can approach positioning for your business.
And I don't remember the nickname she has for it, but the example that she gives for one of the ways is about changing the conversation. And she talks about Tesla and how before Tesla, the leader in the electric car market was the Prius. And the whole conversation in electric cars was about battery life. How long could you drive before you needed to recharge?
You could substitute refrigeration, but the bottom line is that, as a new entrant, if you think about coming into an established market, you're not going to have the first mover advantage.
You're not creating a category per se. So how do you catapult yourself to the head of that market? You do it by changing the conversation.
And so she talks about how Tesla came in and totally changed the conversation by saying, "Yeah, whatever. Battery life. Of course, we all have battery life. It's really all about how sexy is the design and how fast does the car go?"
And now, you see a completely different dialogue happening in electric cars. You see Tesla as a front runner. And you see a lot more electric car manufacturers focusing on design and speed because they made it sexy.
And that's the new conversation. And it sounds like that's exactly the same thing this refrigeration company did.
Finding your "exceptional truth"
Katie: They had to. And this is really where I think, and I know I'm a little biased. I come from a communications background. I've seen the power of content marketing and PR and all of that working in tandem to lift up brands.
I mean, I'm a startup girl at heart. When you can't be the loudest voice in the room and you can't be the dominant player of which, by the way, there's only one in every industry. So the majority are not dominant players.
All of us need to figure out how to get more strategic with the way we leverage PR and content. I think we've fallen into a bit of a trap, and I'll use that word gingerly because of the rise of inbound marketing, because of the rise of the tools and tech that allow us to publish a lot of content.
What we've sacrificed are the kernels of little ideas that we're using to seed the market. We've become really good at publishing education tips and best practices, which are great and necessary. This podcast is a great example of one.
The issue is that we've lost sight of what creates movements, what creates change in people. It's that little kernel of truth.
I call them exceptional truths that get people to stop, you know, pump the brakes and go, "Wait a minute. I've been thinking about things all wrong."
And when you get a person, a human being to stop and kind of pause, you've got them, that's it.
When you've created that seed of doubt, the way that they saw the world may not be that capital T, truth, they're open. They're leaning in, they're listening to what else you have to say. And that is when marketing works at its best.
That's when they're more receptive to your pitch, to your ideas and your path forward, but it takes knowing the buyers so well that you know where they're misinformed or what they don't know or what they don't understand so that you can challenge that.
Kathleen: I was just going to say, I used to be in sales and in the sales world, this is The Challenger Sale.
Katie: Yes. I don't know what happened. I mean, how can The Challenger Sale extend its way to marketing? Not to say that it hasn't, but you know, is that a puppy?
Kathleen: Yes. I have two who are laying at my feet and every now and then they lift their heads up and say, "Wait, there's a world out there!" They're getting excited about The Challenger Sale.
Katie: They probably are just as confused as I am as to why The Challenger Sale didn't work its way into the world of PR and content marketing. To me, we need to challenge the way the buyer sees the world. I think very few brands do that.
Kathleen: It's very true. I have worked in sales before and when I was in that job, I read The Challenger Sale. I used that approach in sales and it made me very successful.
And you're spot on. That has so much applicability in marketing.
I owned an agency for 11 years and I worked with a lot of different companies and there is, in marketing, this lemmings syndrome where we see the lemmings running ahead of us and we want to follow them off the cliff. If they're doing it, it must be the right thing to do.
And it extends from everything, from messaging and the way we talk about what we do, to things like brand colors. I used to do websites for attorneys and they all wanted forest green and maroon and these very stodgy, old attorney colors.
And I remember I had one client and I was like, "Let's just do something crazy." And they were like, "But nobody else did that." And I was like, "Precisely."
There's this inclination both amongst marketers and within the business world to play within the lines. And I think that does hurt us.
There's a sea of sameness out there and it's the content we create, it's the colors on our websites, it's the way we message. It's, you know, "Hey, you should or should not talk about this in our industry. We don't talk about that so I'm not going to" and I really think that that has tied our hands behind our backs,
Katie: I have a lot of empathy. I mean, I'm a Pisces. I'm gonna look at every situation from both sides. And it's empath to the Nth degree over here. But I do have a lot of empathy for the modern marketer.
And this comes from being one, but also selling and marketing to them for 10 years. I've been on the megaphone side of MarTech vendors back in the day when there was a hundred of us, marketing solutions in a world of digital marketing that was now starting to shift.
Don't forget, 10 years ago, we now had to be good at becoming top ranked on Google. We now had to start using social media to develop a two way dialogue. We then had to automate everything. Then we had to start measuring everything.
Now we're trying to leverage AI. It has moved at such a pace. It all happened in nine years.
It has moved at such a pace that the marketer, the poor beleaguered marketing ops person and lead gen new roles that are being created because of this ecosystem in MarTech have inherent uncertainty, an inherent doubt and inherent fear because thinking about it, you and I work, we do marketing for a living.
This is our income. How are we going to support our families? This is more than a job and an industry, buyers and marketing.
I always had this kind of point of view when I was marketing to marketers. The buyer is more than a director of marketing at an IT company. They are an individual who's just trying to figure it out.
And a brand like a HubSpot who comes out right at the turning point of an industry in flux to say, we have 10 ways that you can do this better. And five tips for this and seven strategies for success in that, that brand is going to win.
That fearful buyer who's like, I just need a job, and I need to keep ahead. The biggest fear for the marketing buyer is falling behind. If we fall behind, we're no longer relevant. If we're no longer relevant, guess what? There's some 23 year old who's going to come up and take our spot because they know Tik Tok.
I'm being hyperbolic, but that's constantly on our minds. And so we have to have empathy for that marketer who's like, we are going to do the things that work and copy the things that work because they work and we need a win.
It's really those organizations that can allow their marketing team to do what they do best. That means leave them alone. Let them understand the buyer and the market, the way that they're supposed to.
The challenge of being a marketer
Katie: Somebody else said to me that marketing is a very voyeuristic profession. Everyone can see it. Unlike finance, unlike R&D or engineering, or even sales, to an extent. Everyone can see marketing.
Everyone in a business thinks that they're an expert in marketing because they see marketing all day. They see billboards. They see ads. They feel like they know the science and the practice of marketing.
That creates a lot of pressure on the marketing team to kind of do whatever everyone else thinks they should be doing.
So we have a department that's not only fearful of falling behind, but also facing pressure from the business to do things that may be counterintuitive to what marketing should do.
To your point, the lawyers with the maroon versus doing something different.
The telling of exceptional truths, the disruption, the rabble rousing, it works on teams that allow marketers to operate with confidence and hire marketers that are allowing them the space to push back and say, "No, this is what marketing does.
Our job is to understand who the buyer is, what they need and why we're uniquely fit that market. And that may look different than what you expect, but that's why you hired me."
If you're listening to this and you're young and you love marketing, but you're unsure of the path ahead, that's the strongest thing I think you can do is to hone this sense of what marketing does for business and the sense of confidence that you need to bring to every meeting. You almost have to defend your job at every go, but the more you do it, the more resilient you get, the better you get at it.
Kathleen: Well, I think it also points to what you should look for in a place of work. I completely agree with everything you just said, and, and I don't often talk about where I work now, but I'm at this company Attila Security, which is in cybersecurity.
I knew I had landed in the right place and I had this sense when I interviewed.
When I got into the company and I met with the CEO and I presented him with my 90 day plan and strategy, this was about 30 days in, he said, "Yeah, just do it. I hired you because you know what you're doing", you know? "You don't need my permission." And I was like, "Wow, what a great feeling".
When you're interviewing, that's a thing to really watch for and to dig into and to see if that's a trait that you're going to find amongst the leadership team of the company that you go and work for.
Katie: I wonder how to ask that in an interview. I'm a startup girl who's just been at companies where inherently, there's no one to tell me what to do. What would you ask if you were interviewing?
Kathleen: As somebody who hires a lot, I've always been a big believer in behavioral based interview questions. Those are basically, you don't ask people "What would you do?", you ask, "What did you do?" And you ask people to talk about actual experiences.
So I would probably ask something along the lines of, you know and it depends on if it's a company that's had marketers before. I would say, "Tell me about a time when a prior head of marketing proposed something that you weren't sure about or didn't necessarily agree with, what did you do?"
And if they haven't had marketers before, if it's a startup, I would probably ask them something about being at a prior company. Or I would say, "Tell me about a time the head of sales proposed something," or somebody else in the company presuming that there are other leaders. Because I think past behavior speaks better than hypotheticals.
Everybody can come up with the right answer, hypothetically.
For what it's worth, that's kind of the approach that I've taken, but some of it is also just a feeling that you get from talking with people.
And I think that's something that you hone over time as you work in more places and you're exposed to more different types of people.
Standing out in a world saturated with marketing content
Kathleen: But one of the things I was thinking about as you were talking, you mentioned HubSpot and how they solve for something very specific at a time when it was a real need. And, it got me kind of circling back to a little bit of what we started with here, which is this need to tell exceptional truths and should companies go there? Should they not go there?
One of the things that I started thinking about as you were talking is that the interesting unique moment that we live in right now is that content marketing has become so commonplace. And there are so many companies creating content that there is this saturation.
There's just a lot out there. There's a lot of blogs. There's a lot of newsletters. There's a lot of video out there. We're all busy. Nobody has the time to read all of it. So how do you choose what you're going to consume?
And this applies to anybody, any buyer out there has this dilemma whether they're actively searching for something or not. And it seems to me that one of the factors that's really affecting what works now in marketing is that one of the most effective ways to stand out amongst a very saturated world of content is to have a point of view.
We've talked a lot about in the marketing world about authenticity, and a hot topic lately has been email newsletters and getting really real in your email newsletters and showing personality and individuality, even in company newsletters.
And the reason that that's working so well, I believe, is because it is different. Just the fact that it's different and just the fact that it doesn't sound like everybody else, people gravitate to that.
So I'd love to know kind of what you think about that.
Katie: I a hundred percent agree. Mic drop because you said it yourself.
This idea that everyone is a publisher, everyone can produce content - it makes it more important than ever to do what we were suggesting 20 minutes ago, which is to know exactly who you're talking to, what they value, the ways you share that value and just be confident that that is the niche that you have decided to own.
You cannot be all things to all people. I'm hearkening back to my marketing undergraduate. This was a long time ago now. It's the one thing I learned.
This is not new, right? We just have a proliferation of information now available to us. It makes it more important than ever to have not only a clear point of view, but first a very clear intended audience.
You cannot be the solution, in your case, for all CIOs. You're the solution for all CIOs that are extremely risk averse or something.
There's something about your buyers that you are really aligned to. Well, many companies fail to understand what that niche looks like and where that alignment happens.
I have a newsletter. I call it the "World's best newsletter." I started it when I started consulting, frankly, honestly, truthfully as a way of reminding the world that I wasn't gone.
I was leaving a startup at that time that I had co-founded and I was the public face of, and I needed a way to take that momentum and transfer it into my consulting, speaking, whatever it is that I do, practice.
So I started a newsletter. I had no intentions with it. I had no best practices around it. I probably break every rule in the book.
People love it. And what I do with it is what I've done from day one. I collect the things that hook my attention throughout the week, that I believe more people need to read, and I send it out weekly. And I say, "Here's what is important to me".
I am a human being with other interests outside of marketing. I'm a fierce advocate for feminism, and I'm a fierce advocate for human rights.
And I have a documentary coming out about the intersection of marketing and social movements. And all of that is jam packed into this little newsletter, seven links and a quote of the week.
It makes no sense. If you were to tell me, as a marketing consultant, it wouldn't make any sense. There's a lot of marketing stuff in there, but sometimes there's a really important New York Times cover story about racism in America.
It works for me because people know what they want from me. It's neat.
I have been really reticent to do that. It feels wrong. It goes against everything I'm taught as an email marketer, but you know what? It performs.
It might be because it's real. I think it's because it's honestly what people want from me. I think that's really what matters. And they come back to it week after week because it serves that need and it's fresh. They don't get it from other people.
Finding your unique brand voice
Katie: If you're a business, trying to figure out what to send in your newsletter, think about that first. Just like a product and the way that you develop a product, look at the consideration set. What are you up against? What are the other emails looking like from your competitors or even others in the same general industry? Do something different.
Maybe it's just doing it shorter. Maybe it's coming at it from a totally different angle, right?
Content and thought leadership should be treated like product development. Not only is it something new and different, but it's like this muscle that you have to work on.
You've gotta be really good at coming up with the processes to uncover those insights from inside the business to say, "This is what we believe, what we know." And then really, really good at delivering that in a fresh and new way.
That's what makes the job of content fun and hard. But it's not what most people do. Most people opt for the easy ebook, the 10 tips, best practices. And then they wonder why isn't this performing?
How to find your exceptional truth
Kathleen: So true. So if somebody is listening and they're a marketer, who's come into a company and they're thinking about - and let's talk about startups because I think that's the best way to illustrate how this works.
If you come into a startup as the first head of marketing, it is a green field, right? You get to shape the clay. If you're coming into an established company, that's a different story, but it's still, the challenge is still there. It's just how you navigate. It might be different.
Putting on my hat as head of marketing at a startup, I'm coming in, it's the first time we're going to have a marketing strategy. If I wanted to come in and really mine the richness of what you talk about as exceptional truths, what is the playbook for doing that?
Katie: Well, good luck finding a playbook. The place to start, in my mind, is to ask yourself the question, just like you would if you were starting a movement and activism, "What is the change that you want to see in market?" What is that end result that you're hoping to get people to switch?
It could just be, you want them to choose you instead of a competitor. Great. So what does that mean? What belief do you need to shift? What misinformation do you have to correct? What new insight, to quote the Challenger model, do you have to bring to the table to get them to see the world a bit differently?
I'll give you an example from HubSpot again, because I think HubSpot did this so well. And it's an example that we can all relate to.
Your podcast. The name is a great example of the power of what they were able to do, how this came to market. I hate to say it, they were just a blogging, search engine optimization, social media, and eventually an email tool mixed into one.
They were not the only player doing this at the time. However, they thought about this brilliantly. They needed people to see the way they wanted things to change. They were advocating for us to use these tools instead of cold calling, billboards, et cetera.
The way that they got people to make that shift was to create a dichotomy or create an enemy. I actually presented on this at their conference two years ago, create an enemy. You can find it on their inbound library. And they saw the world in two ways.
There's inbound and outbound. There's the new way forward, Mrs. Beleaguered marketer, who doesn't want to lose her job, the way that you're not going to fall to irrelevancy. And there's the old way that you're going to fall behind if you keep using it.
They were extremely polarizing with this perspective. It was just one article that started all of this, right? They were like, "Here's the way forward. This inbound and outbound. One is good. One is bad. White, black, right? Devil, whatever it is." And 80% of the market was like, "Oh man, there's no way I'm going to go there."
They were pissed because HubSpot is over here, challenging the existing status quo, the way they sell. 20% saw that and went, "Oh, you're right. Let's opt into this." And so HubSpot now of course built an entire movement around inbound marketing.
It is a practice. It is a job title. It is a category in and of itself because they started with that kernel of what changes do we need to create. We need to figure out a way to get people to move from A to B, to go from what they think they know to what we want to advocate for.
And then they brilliantly built a movement around it.
And they did so with a ton of content ideas, a community of people that were proud to call themselves inbound marketers and this kind of repetitive, consistent muscle they use to push the movement forward, now extending years and a $125 million IPO and 19,000 people at their conference.
It just has ballooned because they were smart about this kernel of truth that they've never deviated from.
Are you going to be the next HubSpot? No. This is right place, right time, right conditions and market. But, you do have to find and be willing to provoke, with purpose, the existing beliefs of buyers, and then be consistent about that. If you can do that, your startup is going to make a lot of noise.
You're going to punch well above your weight. Even if you don't have the biggest budget, you're going to make waves and you have to be willing to do that or risk falling into irrelevance.
Kathleen: It's a really incredible story, that story of HubSpot and it's certainly not the only one.
You have Mark Benioff at Salesforce who famously picketed outside with a sign that had a big red X through the word software. And he similarly named the enemy and it was software and his solution was move to the cloud, software as a service.
That is an approach that absolutely works. I would say to go out and read The Challenger Sale. So many sales people read it, but so few marketers do, and I love that you brought it up in this conversation.
Kathleen's two questions
Kathleen: We are going to run out of time soon so I want to make sure I ask you my questions. I could talk to you forever.
My first question that I always ask my guests is of course, this podcast is all about inbound marketing, and is there a particular company or individual that you think is just a great example of how to do inbound marketing in today's world?
Katie: I think Rand Fishkin and his work with Moz and now with SparkToro which he actually details really well in a book called Lost and Founder. It's a great book. If you're thinking of starting a company read this first.
It may scare you away, but he always was the example for me of somebody who was again, challenging white hat versus black hat, giving away all the industry secrets to become a trusted industry resource, to ranked the highest, but it really builds trust in his company and him as an individual.
And I think it's just his consistency, Whiteboard Fridays, he was writing five days a week. That's still the best example of consistent inbound marketing.
Kathleen: You know, it's so funny because I could not agree with you more. He is somebody that I have followed really closely. I read his book. I read everything he does at SparkToro. I follow him religiously.
And I have been very surprised. I think you might be the first person that has mentioned his name. I ask this question of every single guest and that has baffled me because I think he's amazing. So I'm really happy that you said that.
Katie: He's also the world's nicest guy. We both spoke at the SpiceWorld conference in, I want to say, 2018. Both of us were speaking in the marketing track and I'm sitting here backstage fan girling because I love him. Who hasn't read his stuff?
He comes off stage with the mustache. He's the nicest guy. He's just, you know, very down to earth. And I think that's the secret. He wrote this content to truly help others. And I think that genuine purpose behind the content is really what sets him apart.
More people should have mentioned him.
Kathleen: Yes. I agree. And maybe they will now because we'll turn them on to his stuff.
All right. Second question. You mentioned earlier that the biggest fear of marketers is falling behind. And the second question I always ask everybody is exactly that.
It's like every marketer I talk to says, they feel like they're drinking from a fire hose. There's too much to keep up with. So how do you personally stay up to date and keep yourself educated?
Katie: 100% LinkedIn. I'm a huge advocate for using LinkedIn appropriately. I have a big following there, so I love it as a platform, but I also use it to consume a lot of best practices. I ask a lot of questions. I'm constantly looking through comments. It's become a resource that just, I find invaluable. It's a mess. Sometimes now people take advantage of LinkedIn to post some really nonsense stuff, but at the core of it, it's there.
Can I give two answers? There's a lot of Slack communities that are being built around specific topic areas. I'm not in marketing, but I'm part of a great marketing operations Slack group that keeps me knowing what's going on.
I work with a lot of MarTech vendors still as an amplifier now and a community evangelist. I need to know what's going on. And so even on that, in the practice, these Slack groups are hidden sources of insight.
So if there's not a Slack group for your world, your community, build it, invite people. They will come. This is not field of dreams. They're desperate to connect, one-On-one, sometimes outside of the loud world that is LinkedIn.
Kathleen: That group would not happen to be the MoPro's would it?
Katie: No, but now I want to join that one.
Kathleen: I'll send you a link. A guy I interviewed once for this podcast has a marketing operations Slack group that I am in.
But I agree with you. I have a ton of Slack groups and there's only like, let's say, two or three of them that I'm religious about checking every day. They're just insanely valuable.
But, love all of those suggestions. Again, I could talk to you all day long, but we're not going to do that because we both have other things we need to do. Great conversation.
I'm sure people will have opinions, both ways, about what we said here today, but that's okay. That's why these conversations are important to have. If you listened and you disagree, tweet me. I would love to hear your perspective. This is all about learning and listening and I'd love to hear what more folks think about this.
How to connect with Katie
Kathleen: But Katie, if somebody wants to learn more about you or connect with you online, what is the best way for them to do that?
Katie: They can Google me. I'm very, very, very Google-able. You can LinkedIn me. You can find my website. I'm just, I'm everywhere.
Kathleen, congratulations on over 150 episodes of this. This is a service to the community and we are grateful for it and it's a lot of work to put these together. So thank you for doing what you do and thank you for having me, really.
Kathleen: Well, I very much appreciate it. And I will put links to your personal website as well as your LinkedIn in the show notes. So head there if you want to connect with Katie, and she does produce some amazing stuff, so I highly recommend it.
And finally, if you know somebody else who's doing amazing inbound marketing work, please tweet me @workmommywork, because I would love to make them my next guest. That's it for this week. Thank you so much, Katie.
Katie: Thank you, Kathleen. Everyone take care.
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