How PosterMyWall used COVID-19 to really listen to its customers [Interview]
By John Becker
PosterMyWall is a powerful tool for many small businesses, restaurants, schools, and faith-based communities to promote their upcoming events with posters, flyers, and other types of graphics.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and in-person gatherings were upended, those same customers needed PosterMyWall to adapt to help them overcome their new challenges.
Truth be told, pivots are hard. It can be difficult to recognize that a business needs a radical course correction, and it can be hard to pull one off once a business decides to go for it.
We talked to Ric Goell, co-founder and co-CEO, who describes a successful pivot during these uncertain times. He listened to his customers, strategized a pivot, and helped support these beleaguered industries through uncertain times.
Now, as people start to resume their in-person activities in some parts of the country, Ric reflects on the lessons learned from the greatest challenge his business has ever faced.
What is PosterMyWall?
John: First off, tell me about PosterMyWall and your role at the company
Ric: PosterMyWall is a do-it-yourself design tool that empowers organizations and small businesses to create professionally-quality graphics, videos, and promotional materials. These materials then are used for print, email, social media, websites, presentations, and more.
We have a huge library of pre-design templates, nearly 200,000, that can be very quickly and easily customized for any brand. Our goal is to make it very, very easy for someone to create and publish all the promotional materials that their business needs.
My partner Jaffer Haider and I co-founded PosterMyWall about 11 years ago.
John: Did you have a background in graphic design?
Ric: My background was in software and websites, and we actually started out with more of a consumer direction. We built our site as an editor where people could create posters and photo montages of their friends and family.
When we launched it, we found that a number of bars and bands were showing up and creating gig flyers and other promotional materials for their events. And that was even before we created the templates for them. So we decided to do a pivot and re-focused on creating templates for small businesses.
John: It seems like there’s an interesting lesson there: You design the tool, but then you have to wait to see how people use the tool to see what it will become.
Ric: Absolutely. Watching to see how people use our tools continually helps us identify new markets and opportunities.
COVID-19 presents challenges and opportunities — if you listen to your customers
John: Tell me about the challenges and opportunities that COVID-19 presented your business.
Ric: Well, COVID-19 was a big deal to our company. Print posters became less viable as a marketing medium because there was no longer foot traffic that would see those posters. We had already been moving towards social media, but we had to double down on that effort and get there faster.
What our customers were finding was that their customers were staying at home, and the only way to reach them was online. So, we worked very hard to put new tools for social media in place very quickly.
In order to succeed we had to act quickly and decisively. Everything from the strategy to the product had to be designed to meet the changing needs of our customers.
John: Take me inside that pivot. How did you decide to shift your business?
Ric: We always ask: How do we solve our customer's problems?
We've made it a habit to have customer feedback forums where we get about ten customers within one particular vertical, get them online, and talk about what's going on in their industry, talk about the challenges they're facing.
Through these forums, we were able to identify what the obstacles our customers were facing were— and with COVID, these obstacles were unprecedented.
We found a couple of customers who were finding success even during COVID, so we worked with them to create webinars and other training programs where they shared their experiences and lessons with others.
This education was free and accessible to all of our customers — and in the process of doing this, we learned a lot more about what was working and what our customers needed — which benefited us.
We produced one webinar specifically focused on re-opening restaurants, and one for the faith-based community that talked about how to stay connected with their communities through social media and online activities.
During each of these webinars, we helped people envision what the new normal might look like — and how they could adapt to thrive in that environment.
We learned that people really wanted answers. They really wanted help. And they appreciated us providing it.
We also partnered with a couple of our customers to experiment with online marketing and advertising techniques to see what worked for them.
For instance, we worked with The Marlay House in Decatur, Georgia to run promotional campaigns on Facebook, Instagram, Google, Untappd, and NextDoor to get a feel for which approach and platform was best for accomplishing their goals.
Now we’re using that data to improve our product and build new tools that are up to speed with the changes to the digital world.
John: But you had these customer feedback meetings long before COVID?
Ric: Yes. We've always believed that customer feedback should be part of our company's DNA.
We want to listen closely to our customers and learn from them. All businesses succeed or fail based on their ability to solve problems for their customers. You've got to hear what their day-to-day frustrations are in order to come up with new and better ideas to resolve their problems and improve their user experience.
Graphic design during the COVID crisis
John: How has the COVID pandemic created new graphic design needs for businesses?
Ric: The pandemic certainly affected the way businesses got their messages out, but we also saw it dramatically change the messages that our customers needed to deliver.
We ran a crash program in the first two weeks of COVID to inspire our artists' community to create a whole new set of templates for things like office safety, delivery options, reopening messages, and curbside pickup. In a very short time, we were able to build a whole new library of templates for our customers.
John: Were businesses making mistakes in this scramble to get their messaging out there so quickly?
Ric: The one mistake we saw people make was not taking action fast enough. Some customers were slow to take action because they believed that things would go back to normal quickly.
That was the worst because, first of all, COVID wasn’t going to go away quickly. And second, COVID has changed human behavior permanently. People have become much more comfortable and creative about living their lives, communicating, and connecting online. As a result, the world is never going to fully go back to the way it was.
We tried to encourage people to take action by helping them to see the opportunities in the situation. This is a very, very hard problem. But we believe that if you look hard enough, there's always an opportunity, even in an extremely challenging situation like what we face today.
John: Describe some clients or companies that are finding opportunities amid these challenges?
Ric: We worked with several fine dining restaurants who pivoted by creating and marketing meal kits targeted to families that were offered at a sensitive price point.
We also worked with a brewpub who pivoted to delivery. They then took some of the tools that they created to run their own delivery and put them online for other breweries to use. They essentially became both a brewer and an online delivery platform.
Pivoting services to meet the challenge of a "new normal"
John: How do your new services make sense for you and your customers?
Ric: We have built out a set of new tools that make it easier for companies and organizations to move from print-based marketing to online marketing.
We've added a lot of video and animation capabilities over the last few months, and we're continuing to build that out extensively. This includes the ability to use stock or your own video for backgrounds and the ability to animate text and graphics.
We've also added a lot of tools to help customers distribute and publish the marketing materials they create on our site.
We have an email campaign tool that makes it fast and easy for people to create videos and email them to their customer base or publish them on social media. And we have a number of additional tools in development that will be geared towards other channels of distribution.
Predicting the post-COVID world
John: I agree that those waiting for normal to come back are thinking about things the wrong way. What do you think the post-COVID world will look like?
Ric: Customer behavior has changed in many ways that I believe are going to last. I believe a lot of customers who previously preferred to visit physical stores are going to be spending more time looking online for their answers.
Many of our customers, such as bars and restaurants, previously depended on word of mouth and their physical presence. Now, they've been forced to use social media to promote themselves and to drive word of mouth, and many have discovered they can really make it work well.
This online move was something that was happening anyway, but COVID pushed it to an extreme. A transition that likely would have taken years happened pretty much overnight. Customer behavior may swing back a little bit, but it's going to land somewhere different from where it started.
I think services such as purchasing family meal kits from restaurants are going to stick and become key portions of our customers’ revenue streams.
Getting started with PosterMyWall
John: How can people get started with your platform? What do they need to know?
Ric: Our business follows a freemium model, so it is very easy for anyone to just show up at our website and give it a try. It doesn't cost anything. They just need to go to PosterMyWall.com, start searching for templates that meet their needs, and then click to start customizing.
For customers who need high resolution downloads or want our premium features such as our advanced editing, publishing, and distribution tools, we offer both pay-as-you-go and a premium monthly subscription.
Wondering where to begin?