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Inbound Success

How FreshBooks pivoted with COVID-19 ft. Paul Cowan (Inbound Success, Ep. 191)

When COVID hit, FreshBooks CMO Paul Cowan switched gears and leveraged the company's proprietary data to build a new marketing strategy that drove growth through the pandemic.

By Kathleen Booth

How FreshBooks pivoted with COVID-19 ft. Paul Cowan (Inbound Success, Ep. 191) Blog Feature

How do you make marketing lemonade out of a pandemic?

Paul CowanThis week on The Inbound Success Podcast, FreshBooks CMO Paul Cowan explains how the company pivoted when COVID hit, and made use of its proprietary data to create content and insights that drove a new marketing strategy.

When Paul joined FreshBooks, he inherited a 45 person marketing team with a strong SEO game. After reorganizing the team, he built on that foundation by adjusting the company's messaging to target an owner/CEO audience, while unearthing new content opportunities within FreshBooks' customer data.

Fast forward to 2020, and when COVID hit, the company was ready to launch a massive new original research series focusing on the financial health of various industry sectors based on their invoicing behavior.

In this interview, Paul talks about navigating an internal restructuring, revamping the company's brand and tech stack, and how its new content efforts have fueled significant increases in brand awareness for FreshBooks.

Check out the full episode, or read the transcript below, to hear Paul's story.

Resources from this episode:

 

Paul Cowan and Kathleen Booth
Paul and Kathleen recording this episode

Transcript

Kathleen (00:00): Welcome back to the Inbound Success Podcast. I'm your host, Kathleen Booth and this week, my guest is Paul Cowan, who is the COO of FreshBooks. Welcome to the podcast, Paul.

Paul (00:23): Hi, Kathleen. Great to be here.

Kathleen (00:25): Yeah. I'm excited to talk with you. You have an interesting story and you've been at FreshBooks for about a year and a half, and a lot has happened in that time. Before we dive into it though, can you tell my listeners a little bit about yourself and how you wound up doing what you're doing now, and what FreshBooks does?

Paul (00:41): Yeah, for sure. So firstly FreshBooks. We're a cloud accounting software platform. So we focus on helping small business owners manage their business, really managing their finances for non-financial managers. So, you know, the key differentiator between us and other folks in this space that you've probably heard of is that we really focus on the small business owner.

So others have built their platforms for accountants. We were started by an owner from a pain point that owner had. So, we kind of started on a point solution 15 years ago and then have grown into being an accounting platform for business owners.

Kathleen (01:19): I so needed this when I owned my business. I owned a digital marketing agency for 11 years and I don't know how other marketers are, but the reason I became a marketer is I was terrible at things like accounting, which I did study in business school.

Paul (01:36): It's funny. Marketers are one of our strongest verticals. So we kind of target service-based businesses or people who kind of their invoice and their client relationship is kind of the core pieces of how they operate.

And so our software is really kind of built around that. And I was actually a FreshBooks customer in 2013 and 2014 when I was doing some consulting. So I do know the space and the need to actually arrange your books appropriately as well.

Kathleen (02:07): Yeah, it's a big deal. I mean, it's funny. They always joke. There's that running joke about how doctors make terrible business managers, business owners, but I, for me, the same was true of me as a marketer. I, again, cannot speak for all marketers, but I was just not good at the money side so I can see the need for the product for sure.

Now you came in about a year and a half ago and you've done quite a bit of work on the brand and, and on the marketing strategy, let's start by just talking about that. When you, when you got there, what did you find and what path did you start to chart for yourself as CMO?

Paul (02:46): For sure. So, so like most when most companies are looking for a CMO, it's generally indicating that some sort of change is going on. So, you know, I was, I was running enterprise and SMB marketing for Shutterstock and, and so I was selling stock imagery and videos and custom content to marketers.

And I was having a grand old time doing it. I really liked it. And then FreshBooks came calling and, and, and they were really looking to go through some growth. And so they'd been investing a lot in product. They've been investing a lot into new channel activation and, and they were, they'd been on a hunt for a CFO for a little while, and hadn't really been able to find the right kind of person.

And, and I think part of it was like the founder, Mike, he, you know, it was the founders CEO of a, of a company he wants to make sure you're getting people in there who get the pain points, get the problem.

Paul (03:40): And, and I kinda came in with like, I'd had B2C experience. I had B2B experience. I'd been an owner of three different companies in the past. I'd gone through all the trials and tribulations of what an owner had. So he was like, great. Like you, you know it, so, we got along very well and, and I joined the company cause they're like, you know, we need to, we need to go through this time of growth.

So you know, I came on board to, to, to help kind of get a couple of things right. It, in terms of the, the organization that, you know, there was just some, some, some structural challenges that were there. So, you know, I came in and did the two things that every cliche CMO does. I reorganized the team and I rebranded.

Paul (04:23): And so, you know, the reorg I knew was something that I needed to do. So there was just a lot of challenges within the company in terms of like, not all the marketing kind of disciplines were together as a, as a full marketing function.

There were some, some things that the company was doing in terms of like investing into a direct Salesforce, which it really hadn't had, it made a significant investment there before, and most of our business was done through self-service channels. So we needed to have self-serve, we needed to have demand generation.

We needed to make sure we were kind of managing those two types of customers differently. And get the structure, the right structure in place. So I came in and did that stuff fairly, fairly early on in my tenure there. The brand stuff was kind of interesting because the company had been going through a two-year process, like re-evaluating who it was and insuring and reaffirming its commitment to its customer.

Paul (05:20): So I kinda came in at the tail end of that, like all the logo and the design elements and all that stuff was done, but they just hadn't been pushed over kind of the finish line. And so so my role there, like, I didn't come in and say, Hey, we need to rebrand. I came in and said, man, we've done all this work.

Or you guys have done all this work. You really just need to kind of move this forward and progress things so that we're making an indication to the market that we're changing as an organization. And, we're representing something slightly different in the eyes of our customer.

Kathleen (05:52): I have so many questions. In no particular order, let's start with the team, because that's kind of where you started. How big was the team when you got there?

Paul (06:03): Yeah, so I think it was, we were probably 45-ish type of people within the marketing group and in the companies around you know, right now we're at about like just over 400 people globally in a couple of different offices.

Kathleen (06:17): And talk me through how you restructured it. You mentioned not all of the different disciplines work together. So what did that look like the before and after?

Paul (06:26): So really it was kind of a tale of a couple of different departments. So you know, we had an acquisition team that was, was doing a great job in terms of driving top of funnel activity, but they weren't really too accountable to the conversion metric.

Within that attrition funnel, we drive a lot of free trials and then those trials convert into paid users. But, but that team was really kind of focused on like optimizing that front end of the funnel. So we needed to do some changes and bring in some folks who weren't just going to be performance marketing oriented.

We needed to bring in marketing strategy, the people who got demand, build the actual B2B capabilities. And then get that kind of funnel activity structured right then we had a pretty functioning customer marketing team or life cycle marketing or CRM.

Paul (07:18): However, you want to kind of frame it. The one area that we needed to just get in order was the marketing operation.

So we just needed to kind of centralize that and make sure that that team was all together, that we built out like a capability in terms of how we managed our MarTech stack and centralized all that underneath our customer marketing lead product marketing wasn't in marketing, it was in product.

So we said, Hey, let's shift this back over. Comms wasn't in marketing. Kind of critical. So it was sitting within our strategy group. We had an event team that was doing event activity that was not tied to any of our lead generation activities. And they were just kind of off like running more of what I would call brand or community oriented activities.

Paul (08:01): And that was underneath our BD team. So, there was just a lot of like weird stuff going on, but just how the company had, had kind of structured a grown up and done things. So, just first needed to get everybody together and align under, under one marketing strategy, understanding what the goals were that we were trying to drive to and and just bring it all together.

And, really, it was like a game of efficiencies in terms of content generation. And in terms of all the types of things that we could, we could generate by just like optimizing against like that, that customer journey.

Kathleen (08:32): Yeah. Wow. That that's a lot of moving parts, but I also am very curious to hear how you navigated just from a relationship standpoint and coming in as the new guy and, and looking at these different marketing functions that are sitting under BD and under strategy and under all these other places, how you navigated the relationships with the leaders of those parts of the company to I'm going to take these people and move them under me.

Paul (08:58): Yeah. I mean, thankfully we had a lot of adults at the table and there wasn't a lot of territory issues. I think most of the folks there were like, Hey, you know, I know that this really shouldn't be under me, but I've been shepherding it. Well, we haven't had someone who's seen the full picture.

So I think just like previous regimes of leadership within the marketing group, either leaned maybe towards like direct marketing only, or performance marketing or, or, or in other areas. So they really didn't kind of bring all the activities together. So, so the organization knew it needed someone to kind of do it part of it. Half of like, yes, just like putting it down on a page and doing it.

But I think, you know, you're alluding to the whole change management exercise and, you know, it was really more about like, how do we get you know, how do we get all the different people to then work together and make sure that, you know, because we're taking things that they may have built up and it's great within the, their, their portfolio, but it wasn't because it wasn't tied to like a demand gen activity.

Paul (10:02): And we weren't really kind of assessing the ROI of some of these action that we were running. It's like, you know, they were a little bit more under scrutiny, but, but really we're just like, how do we take these things and dose everything with, with gas so that we could just light this whole thing up on fire and, and, and get way more efficient with everything that we were doing.

Kathleen (10:20): Yeah. And you mentioned one of the key areas for kind of reorganization or, or streamlining being around your top of funnel content efforts, it sounded like your inbound efforts really aligning those with your strategy to pull prospects down the funnel. Can you dig into that a little bit more?

Paul (10:41): Yeah, absolutely. So a couple of things that were going on really well when I got there was like our, our SEO game was off the hook.

Like we had a huge amount of volume and the team had some real solid SEO experts and, and they just were, were focused on, on what we needed to do to build out and to, to just like, make our site magnetic and make sure that we're covering off, like all of the terms within the invoicing accounting payment space that, that we needed to be in.

So, so like all of that activity was going, going really, really well. You know, we have like this performance machine, right. So we needed to, we need to make sure we're filling that machine. One of the things that I think we're ignoring the most previous immediate to me coming in was really the messaging we were putting into that performance machine.

Paul (11:27): So, you know, we had some great kind of stuff going on in the, in the SEO space where, where, you know, we're, we're getting people in our performance media and our ads. We are great in SEM, but not great in any other channels. Mainly I attribute that to just being like the creative felt like everything else in the space.

So like everybody's out there saying all in one accounting solutions and you could rip the logo off and it would be for any other company. So we tried to pivot that and just be more focused on like appealing to the owner and the mindset of the owner.

So that was a big portion of what we were doing purely from like a top of funnel ad content space, get our differentiation rolling and tie it into everything that we were doing from a branding and brand strategy standpoint.

Paul (12:09): The content game, like underneath there was, was pretty good. Like our blog is, is, is great. You know, we, we get some good traction. We just weren't doing things like webinars or, or, or other types of layers to our content strategy.

So we could build a big piece in and you set apart. Or we weren't like taking research reports that we were doing and turning them into smaller blog posts. So a lot of the effort was like, Hey, let's look at all these assets that we currently have, that all these different teams are doing. And then how do we just like, get smarter with them so that we're not going to, we don't have to keep reproducing more and more and more and more.

And so a lot of the effort, even now that our blog team does is just like repurposing old posts and just making sure that they're optimized and, and kind of rinse repeat. And now we're, we're taking a slightly different approach to how we really look at the content that we're going to generate and, and kind of put across the whole funnel off of some of the stuff that we really know about our customers.

Kathleen (13:05): So when you say you're taking a different approach, is it just shifting topic-wise or audience-wise, or is there something else to that?

Paul (13:11): Yeah, so a couple of things. So one area that I'm a huge believer in is like, you know, I think every company has some under-resourced assets or some sort of like gold or oil around that it's just not tapping into. And so, you know, one area that I see is like, Hey, we've got like a whole bunch of customers that are using our, you know, doing, entering their expenses and invoicing within our platform.

And we have a big opportunity to start to reveal that to our customers or to the market as a whole. And, and, you know, there's, there's some gold within there. So it was actually interesting because through the whole pandemic and when the first, when the first downturn kind of happened in, in March of last year, what we found was like there was a lot of different government agencies that were looking to understand what was actually happening within the small business sector.

Paul (14:03): And so we said, we've got all this data on the small business sector, and we were able to see how much small businesses were actually impacted. And in terms of the revenue that they were, they were they were producing over that timeframe and when they actually recovered and, and so the government was like, Oh, great.

We'd have to wait for like a census next year tax time to, to really understand what's going on and to inform stimulus packages and things of that effect. So we're like, Hey, you know, this is really valuable yes.

To the government also to businesses, just for them to kind of be able to understand how they're performing versus their sectors, the industry as a whole, and that kind of thing. So what we're really kind of focused on is like, how do we take our data and use that as like a big magnet to bring people in?

Paul (14:48): So let's like publish this data back to the, to to our audiences and to owners, so they can understand different things that are happening within their verticals, within their sectors and that kind of stuff.

And, and there's tons of like lots and lots of examples of, of, of companies who do this, like, you know, MailChimp or HubSpot. They do a lot of great stuff like that, where they'll, they'll publish like benchmarks in terms of email, open rates and these kinds of things, but we've got like what might be much more harder to get data.

Kathleen (15:16): Yeah. Now what does that look like for you? So, because I've worked on this too, we have lots of data in our platform, and we do a quarterly report where we sum up, in our case, what's happening with malvertising attack patterns and threat levels. It's very nerdy to the ad tech world.

And, and that's something I think a lot about is it's one thing to say, we're going to share our data. It's entirely another to really conceptualize the right way to share it where it's not just digestible, but it's, it's kind of like set up for vitality. And then the question is, do you do it in one big report or do you chunk it out? And so I'm curious how you guys are approaching that.

Paul (15:54): Yeah. So like, I'm a huge fan of, of just like doing indexes, like being able to give someone a tool that they can, they can use and, and be able to understand what's actually going on. So, you know, we've, we, of course first started with reports because that helps us be able to build the different types of things that we would need to build, whether they're indexes or otherwise.

And then, and then kind of piques our curiosity around where do we want to go deep and where do we want, not, where do we want to be very kind of general?

So, so the first thing we did was we produced like a women's report and, and how women were, were negatively impact or women-owned businesses were negatively impacted by COVID and still are having a hard time performing at the, at the pace of, of their male counterparts. And, and so we were finding really some interesting findings there. We have our general report, we started going into trades and construction.

That industry has actually fared really, really well through the pandemic. Like it had a big downturn, but then they're exceeding historical patterns in terms of revenue generation. And, and, you know, I think the obvious is obvious, like around things like, Hey, there, you know, people are at home or disposable income, they're, you know, trying to improve their home office and all of that kind of stuff.

Kathleen (17:09): We sit around all day staring at all the things that are wrong with our houses and that we want to fix. My husband would tell you that our project list has grown exponentially since COVID started.

Paul (17:20): Yeah, absolutely. So I think from there, it's like, Hey, do we want to do quarterly reports? Or do we want to build a tool that people can just access all the time? And so we're, we're building a tool right now so that people can get there. We have a bunch of reports. But you know, I've looked at other companies that I really like, you know, there's companies in the lending space, like borrow well.

And they've like, they have, like, from an inbound perspective, they've got a credit there, so do loans and borrowing and and so they have a credit score calculator and that thing doesn't matter what else they do. Their credit score calculator is their magnet. It just brings everybody to their site. They fill it out, they use Facebook and lots of other places it's become such a lead engine for those guys that they sell leads to other creditors or people that they would not want to ever loan to.

Paul (18:12): So they've created this like revenue machine that they can go in and refer people to other places. So, you know, I see that as is, you know, that'd be a great outcome for us if we able to bring people in.

But I also think like beyond even just our market that we're servicing today, like there's lots of people in the VC space, like who would be really in the investment space, who are really interested in this data as well. So, so I'm also interested in like, Hey, is there other markets that we could actually be servicing with this, the state of two that we could potentially monetize down the road as well.

Kathleen (18:44): Now, do you foresee the tool that you're building as really kind of destined to be a lead magnet like you described, or, or do you foresee at some point that the data or the tool you're building with the data could become a product in and of itself that you sell access to?

Paul (18:58): Yeah, absolutely. Both. So it's, you know, we're, we're kind of the sharp end of the spear to say, Hey, like, let's just show that there's demand for this in market. And we've seen it already.

So, you know, both from, yes, the government's interested, but just purely from a PR standpoint, we have like a huge amount of hits on, on just like that woman's report to say to, for us to just talk about it and, and, and go deeper into what's actually what people are, what we're seeing in the data.

And, and so, yeah, and then I think that there's kind of two places. One is like, Hey, is there a place that we can actually take this and turn it into an actual product? And whether it's via API or otherwise, like, do we want to sell this data, or also, how do we bring this back into our platform and go a little bit deeper into it?

Paul (19:42): So, you know, if example of like you being a, a marketing services person, and you're kind of saying, Hey you know, what should my billable rate be? And, and us being able to surface those types of things, because we have that like all anonymized of course, but if we're able to say, you know, if you're up in North Dakota and you're doing graphic design work, here's what all the graphic designers are actually charging from a an hourly rate standpoint. And so here's where you kind of should, should really be thinking about it based on, on your business.

Kathleen (20:13): That is awesome. And you sort of answered one of the next questions I was going to have, which is around PR because whenever I think of original data and research, it's like, you know, candy for organic press coverage or earned PR press coverage. So have you, have you, have you done any specific pitching to the press around it or is it just getting picked up? Like, do you have a strategy to support that?

Paul (20:38): Yeah, we're, we're absolutely. So we're, we're absolutely tying it into our PR activity where we're just really kind of getting the ball go in there, but we, we took like, our women's report, for example, is one of the lead things that we wanted to see if there would be some, some market interest in and through January, we got a ton of pickup on it.

So lots of people leading into obviously leading into international women's day. Like, so January, February, where some big months for us in terms of getting a lot, a lot of interests really across North America in terms of pickup for it.

But yeah,  I think where we want to go with this is then turn this in and also, you know, use, use the media as, as a as a partner with us to also help, like, where do we want to interrogate the data and what's next?

Paul (21:23): And, you know, there's some obvious things like, you know, as vaccines start to roll out and travel restrictions get lifted, there's going to be like an uptick in travel.

And so we'll be able to look at like the travel expenses within small businesses that they're logging and say, look at like, how are they actually increasing their travel expenditures and where are they actually spending their money?

So are they spending money on Airbnb? Are they going to the chains? Are they spending on airlines? Like trains, like how travel patterns changed at all since, since in the past as well,

Kathleen (21:57): This is the clearest indication that I'm a huge marketing nerd, but like, I get so excited when I hear this stuff like, Oh, fun to dig into that data and turn it into things.

Paul (22:07): I think it's one of those things where, you know, we could have easily just kept going down the route of like buying a bunch of buying a bunch of units competing for keywords, doing all that kind of stuff, or, you know, which we still do, but we can also look at other ways that we can, can really kind of create and drive like this organic activity, which all marketers need to be really trying to figure out.

Kathleen (22:28): Yeah, absolutely. All right. Shifting gears a little bit, let's talk about the branding, because you mentioned that you came in and there was a rebrand and you specifically explained that like, logo and a lot of that was already done when I hear that, I feel like, Hmm, that could be a double-edged sword, because if you literally have just come in as a CMO and somebody says, guess what?

We just redid the logo and the colors and this and that. I knew that it could be like, Oh, great. Yeah, no, cause then you're stuck with the new one and you can't be like, let's change it again. But it sounds like in your situation, it was not that way.

Paul (23:05): Yeah. It was the greatest way to come into a company. The biggest, the hardest part of it, any kind of rebrand or branding activity is getting, doing the change management and getting organizational buy-in. Yeah. That was done. So the entire brand effort was built up from the ground up.

There was a brand council that brand council was like working on like what were the things that we needed to do and represent in the minds of our customers. So we had an agency called son and sons that was, was helping kind of, really kind of do that inward look.

And also then, you know, what's what's role, what's the customer's role and how do those things, two things come together and, and getting down into like the, the challenges that every small business owner faces and in their journey of growth.

Paul (23:57): And then what our role is within that, when I came in and the first month it was this big brand fair, where there was the entire company was mobilized and to generate ideas and around, and it could be anything, product marketing, M&A, anything in terms of like, how do we action this for our customers?

And it was just basically like a huge kind of session that where people were pitching their ideas. And so you know, I came into that and so people were bought into it. They had already knew what was the place that we were going to occupy from a brand standpoint and a positioning standpoint. So I'm like, Hey, this is great. All I need to do is like, choose a logo.

Kathleen (24:39): I feel like that's sort of a risky move on the part of the company and it paid off in this case. But like, yeah, when I think about that, it's like, Oh, we're going to hire a CMO. I would be like, we got to put the brakes on all of this branding stuff, because we don't want to do it and then have them walk in and be like, here you go.

Paul (24:55): Well, I think there was part of that, like what I needed to do was like, you know, a lot of the work had been done in terms of crafting a story. But then we needed to get it down into like a strategy.

So, so, you know, people got it and got what we doing now. We needed to make it tight and, and, and really just make sure that we can kind of bring it down so that once we engage other partners in, in trying to make this thing come to life, that once we kind of build up our story again, in terms of what we are doing externally, it, it made sense.

So like, it was, it was really about like, you know, my it a great thing too, with the company is that like, it's very, very customer-oriented in terms of, of, of being able to when you like, so for example, when you come into the company, you have to do four weeks of customer service training and product knowledge.

Paul (25:41): So you spend basically two weeks doing classroom sessions and then two weeks doing ticket and, and customer support. So you get to know the product in and out and you get to know the customers in and out. And whether it's their pain points, their joys, their hates, it's like everything about their experience with the product.

So you kind of exit when you go into your seat, like you, you get it, like you get what these people are trying to do and how they think of FreshBooks in their day in day in and day out lives. And so, so that part of it is like such an interesting dynamic, but I've never been in an organization that is so customer-focused like this. So so, so all of this stuff is like, how do we now take this in and externalize it and make sure people understand that, that we get them.

Paul (26:26): And we get them at a, at an emotional level that not a lot of other companies do. And so that's where, where it was like, for me, it's like, how do we now take that and, and tell that story to our customers. And that's the journey that we're on right now. So we've done a ton of stuff there.

Like we launched a campaign before, right before the pandemic hit in, in Texas, where we took a bunch of markets and we were looking at the lift that we would generate through a bunch of different media plan media that we had in market. And we had like a big coordinated, integrated campaign and with OTT and performance media and some traditional media. And, and then of course, like everything got shut down. So it's like plans.

So it's like, Hey, now we have to pivot on everything. But it was great. Like all the early warning kind of early warning indicators are coming in very, very positively. So it kind of told us like, Hey, everything's right. Like we need to launch this thing and just get it out in to prime time. But when, cause the you know, COVID, so, yeah.

Kathleen (27:30): So when you, when you think about that, you know, you talked about, like, we had the, we had the, the story, we had the brand, it just like really, wasn't kind of like delivered to the market.

When you think, when you came in and you were thinking about how do we take, what we've, this, this baby we've developed and like, put it out there into the world.

What does that look like? I mean, obviously you had a lot of balls in the air and you talked about an integrated campaign. Can you give me sort of a high level overview of how you think about taking a new brand to market?

Paul (28:00): Yeah, sure. So you know, I think you know, most people don't care is like customers don't care whether or not you created a new logo or not.

And, and, you know, I come in you know, I came in really with that type of mindset that like, we can go into market. This is more about us than it is our customers. So you know, this was about us just confirming a commitment as a company to what we're doing and, and moving forward.

You know, we sure we got some feedback from customers when we launched the logo and things like that, but, but really the feedback that we wanted to get was, you know, if we're saying that we're in, we understand the, you know, the feelings that customers have, the isolation of being a business owner, and if not, we're here to help them through those times.

Paul (28:50): Like, are we credible in saying that? So it was really just testing that, making sure that, that, that message resonated well, that, that, like, it, it ticked off all the kind of key things that we needed to do from a brand tracking standpoint. And, and just go with it and really, you know, we got that feedback.

We tried to line it up more with like, you know, kind of market moments and, and the things that we do, because we're a small business, we're, you know, we're a mid-market business, but we have lots of learnings.

So everything we do, we try to then help tell our customers why we're doing it and give them a little bit of of an insight into you know, why are we changing our logo and what that actually means to us. So we wrote a big, long blog post about not just like why we're changing our logo, but how we did it.

Paul (29:35): And, and just like, so if you're thinking of changing your logo, here's like the playbook that we did. So everything we do, we try to like, then kind of turn it and take a little bit of a different slant on it.

So it's not like, you know, bang the drums. We have a new logo, everybody come here and you'd be amazed with it's with this design. It was really a very like, Hey, we did this. And if you're thinking of doing it, here's like the thought process that you could go through.

Here's like the tools and the, the different types of things you can read on, on doing that. So, so we always try to take that from the lens of, like, why would an owner really care about this? Well, maybe they're thinking of doing this type of effort to,

Kathleen (30:11): So it's been about a year and a half, and I'm, I'm sitting here feeling kind of blown away by how much you've done in that time. It's a lot, and a lot has happened in that time, because we've had COVID and all these changes, as you indicated, like, and it was funny listening to you talk about it too, because I started not this job.

I started a new job a little over a year ago, January as head of marketing at a company did my whole, like after 30 days, I had my whole plan, my whole marketing plan mapped out, and then the pandemic hit. I was like, well, throw that out the window. You know, and it's, it is, it's incredibly disruptive.

And so it's amazing what you've accomplished. I would love it. If you could speak a little bit to, you know, what, what that has done in terms of transformation of your marketing, you know, and I know there's only certain things you can and cannot share, but like, can you, can you get into a little bit of like before and after for me, or,

Paul (31:06): Oh, of course. I mean, as I kind of mentioned before, we're going through this, like a growth phase.

So, you know, we were built out like, you know, we're building out our B2B capability and capacity and building up that, that whole kind of ability to just do demand gen do a lot more kind of intent-based marketing, building up our capabilities in that space, along with keeping our, this kind of a tree, this big funnel kind of going on our self-serve side.

But, but really it's like it, I mean that the pandemic just like blew everything up because all of the assumptions that we had didn't know if any of them were gonna keep going.

So we did three different models in terms of where we thought the year would end up, that we took to our board. We got feedback, like there was people coming with nine, 10, 13 different types of bottles for like, well, you might as well, why not?

Paul (31:56): If you're at 13, why not 20? Right. But, but it's, it's so we, we just said, Hey, let's take this case scenario. And then be very, very, very flexible with our cash. So, you know, like most companies, we can track that a bit, like in terms of we thoughtfully just like, let's like remove some costs from the equation.

We think we're going to go through a bit of a downturn. Let's you know, pull back on our spending, but be really, really ready to just like open the flood Gates if seeing what happens. And, and really, we didn't see a tremendous down downward impact on our business. We saw some cancels.

I think we were kind of pulling forward what may have been some cancels or some churn that that would have happened regardless. But then we stabilized very, very quickly. And then saw like the summer, like last summer was a very good time to be spending cause a lot of people exited the market.

Paul (32:45): The economies in terms of driving CAC were great. And, and so, you know, of course we're then doing re-forecasting. And, you know, our August re forecast was then our 2021 reforecast, but then as new people entered the market in the fall, then, then the economy's changed around hot day. Yeah.

And so, and so, you know, and so a lot of the assumptions that we made even in our, in our 21 plan are not coming true because we were doing them in a time when, when we were seeing some real, when a lot of people that just exited the market. So so it, you know, right now we're just in this continuous cycle we reforecast a lot now just within the marketing team.

Paul (33:28): I think the main thing that we're doing is really just trying to make sure that, that you know, we're hitting the core metrics that any SaaS company we really mindful of our LTV to CAC. So we look at our costs.

We just look at all, all our early warning indicators in terms of people engaging in trials and making sure like our pipeline is healthy and all of those types of things.

And it's right now, it's just being really, really ready to shift, to turn, to pivot, to pull back to. And it's, it's at a very, very like a channel by channel level now, like is mobile is our mobile channel working is, do we need to pull that back mobile web versus desktop versus, you know, it's so it's, it's a very it's w the, the folks who are on the controls right now, they're very hands on the controls.

Kathleen (34:11): Nice. Well, I mean, unbelievable. And, and I would love, I know I can't, but I would love to get a look at like how you guys do forecasting and modeling. I feel like that's something that we're grappling with. I'm at a, I'm at a series, a startup, and we're constantly re-evaluating and we've new products launching, and you come up with your kind of, back of the envelope forecast, and then you have to re forecast as soon as you start to see a little bit of traction. And so I'm always fascinated by that process, but that's for another podcast, right?

Paul (34:39): Yeah, no, absolutely. And I'd love it. It's such a fascinating area that I think a lot of people just don't really understand how much marketers spend on, on that and how much are our, you know, database assumptions, how much are WAGs or wild-ass guesses and what it takes to actually make all this stuff come true.

Kathleen (34:58): Yeah. You know, we go into marketing thinking, we're not going to be stuck in spreadsheets and jokes on us.

Paul (35:03): Yeah. That's why I, I love our FP and a team and having some good marketing, finance people are always a, a valuable thing to have within any, any department.

Kathleen (35:11): Amen. let's change gears now because we're kind of coming up to the end of our time. No problem. So there are two questions. I always ask all of my guests. And I'm curious to hear what you have to say. The first is, of course, we talk a lot about inbound marketing on this podcast. Is there a particular company or individual that you think is really kind of setting the bar for what it means to be a great inbound marketer?

Paul (35:33): Yeah, so one company that I can really appreciate today is Clear, but, and particularly because they're all over my social feeds promoting their social targeting capabilities. So when we talk about does the practitioner or the subcontractor have a really nice home, it's nice to see a company that's actually promoting its own product through the channels that it's actually promoting. So I'm like good, good for them. I give them a big round of applause. Companies that I kind of, I look at, like, there's a couple of folks you know, within this data space, there's a company. I look to a company called drop loyalty. They they're like kind of a millennial money. It's a little like a latent loyalty and rewards program for millennials. And they built out this product called Cartify, which takes the data. And then they've been able to build out some awesome types of insights there. So I think those guys are, are, are absolutely killing it in that space as well.

Kathleen (36:34): Oh, I can't wait to check those out. Second question. All the marketers, I talked to say that one of the greatest challenges they face is just keeping pace with the incredibly, you know, fast changing world of digital marketing. And so how do you personally keep yourself educated and up?

Paul (36:49): Yeah. so I will never recommend a book because I find books are generally out of date. I've in my career path, I've done a lot of different things. Like if you, if you look at it, you might say, Hey, there's some sort of rhyme or reason to that, but I've just gone into areas that I've been interested in, whether it's programmatic or whether it's data science or machine learning. And so I just find like, I get really obsessed with something and just read everything I can about it, and just try to target subject matter experts in that space. So, you know, I think nowadays, there's, there's so many different forums whether they're different Slack groups or, you know, I haven't spent a lot of time in clubhouse, but, you know, I hear it's the place to be if you want to go and learn some stuff. So there's, there's just like so many places that you could find those subject matter experts. Now, I think it's just like immerse yourself. And in that topic, I find personally, it's hard to do multiple topics at the same time. So I just, I just try to do one thing at a time.

Kathleen (37:46): Yeah. And it's funny, you mentioned clubhouse because I can't get sucked into it. Because for me, LinkedIn is the place. I feel like what I always say is you have to pick your platform and like go deep in the platform that you're going to commit to. And maybe, maybe you can have two, I don't know. But like, I, there are people I see who are on, who are everywhere and I'm just like, when do you actually get your real work done?

Paul (38:07): I know, I know it's a lot. Yeah. And I spent a lot of time doing social media consulting in like the late two thousands or working in a SAS company in the social media space. So I've I've, I've, I've let that all become very lax after like 2012.

Kathleen (38:23): Yeah. It's nice to be able to do that every now and then just say, you know what, we're going to turn that one off. Great. Well, speaking of social media and the web if somebody is listening and they to learn more about what you've talked about here today, or connect with you online, what is the best way for them to do that?

Paul (38:41): Yeah, they could just, if they Google CowanPKC, all of my socials will show up or I'm just Paul K Cowan on LinkedIn. And people can shoot me a note and just make sure you mention the podcast.

Kathleen (38:57): All right. Great. And I will put these links in the show notes so that they're easy to find. And any other resources you want to direct folks to.

Paul (39:05): If you're interested in finding any information about like the small business resource stuff and what we're doing, you can just go to our website. If you could just go to freshbooks.com, just head over to the resources or press area, and you'll find all that stuff.

Kathleen (39:20): I'm definitely going to check that out because I'm working on data stuff. So awesome. I love seeing what other people are doing. All right. Well, Paul, it was great having you here today for those who are listening, if you learn something new or you enjoyed this episode, I would love it. If you would head to Apple podcasts and leave the podcast a review, that's how other folks find us. And if you know someone doing amazing inbound marketing work, tweet me at @workmommywork, because I would love to make them my next guest. That is it for this week. Thank you so much, Paul.

Paul (39:49): Thank you, Kathleen. It was awesome.

 

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Topics:

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Published on April 19, 2021

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