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How I Approach Strategic Marketing and Product Partnerships at Buffer

How I Approach Strategic Marketing and Product Partnerships at Buffer

Nearly two years ago, in an article on how I approach TOFU marketing at Buffer, I postulated:

“One of the most exciting things about working at a startup or small company is that every employee wears multiple hats.”

At the time, I didn’t fully understand how relevant that statement was and would be to this day.

Each one of my teammates at Buffer still wears multiple hats. Things still move lightning fast. I’m still learning and failing and succeeding all at the same time.

My most recent role comes in the form of strategic partnerships manager.

Essentially SPM means that much of my day is focused on identifying mutually beneficial partnerships (both marketing and product) that will help Buffer achieve very specific business goals. Some companies call it Business Development, but I tend to think that sounds a bit sales-y.

Once I’ve identified a potential partnership, I’m in charge of the project from start to finish: relationship building, testing, building, creating, writing, analyzing, innovating, etc. Each project is then tied back to something specific such as trial starts, or brand awareness, or retention.

Since starting this role in early 2018, I’ve come to realize that there seems to be a limited amount of resources available to learn about the emerging role of strategic partnerships (a.k.a. business development).

And so I put together what I’m calling my Strategic Partnerships Strategy 2019. It’s based on the incredible work of James Cohane, Andrew Chen, Tien Anh Nguyen, as well as other professionals working in the field that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting over the last year.

As with everything I create, I’m still learning and this strategy is nowhere near perfect (plus, it’s changing every day), but I thought it might be useful to share it with you all. Enjoy!

Why invest in strategic partnerships?

In both B2B and B2C, partnerships provide businesses with a unique and quantifiable opportunity for incremental growth. When done right, they have the potential to expose both parties to an even larger base of targeted and qualified customers. A win-win.

Partnerships come in all shapes and sizes (more on that later), but the most important factor when considering partners is whether or not they are aligned with your business.

Successful partners see eye-to-eye on key variables such as target customer, market, product, brand positioning, values, and long-term goals.

Strategic Partnerships Manager Strategy 2019 - Overview

In my short tenure as strategic partnerships manager, we’ve utilized strategic partnerships at Buffer to:

  • De-risk Buffer against future market changes by developing relationships with key product managers at all major social media platforms and 3rd-party networks upon which our product relies
  • Expose Buffer to a larger group of profitable markets, including small-to-medium sized businesses
  • Build brand awareness by aligning with bigger, more well-known businesses in the SaaS industry
  • Publish thought-leadership pieces by leveraging exclusive, previously unavailable research data

One example of this in action is our recent partnership with Delmondo — one of the world’s leading analytics platforms. You can check out the complete research here, but this wouldn’t have been possible without the mutual effort of both teams.

Types of strategic partnerships

James Cohane defines partnerships and business development as:

“The function at the company responsible for identifying, securing, and/or managing relationships with organizations outside of the company (excluding customers and suppliers) that helps other key functions at the company achieve their respective goals.”

What I love about this definition is that it provides folks (like me) in the role unlimited possibilities in what they can experiment with and accomplish.

I tend to lump partnerships into two main categories/opportunities: product and marketing.

Let’s take a look at each.

Note: There’s traditionally a third category of “sales,” but since Buffer doesn’t have a formal sales team — never has — I decided to leave it out for now. Check out this post from Andrew Dumont on the difference between sales and partnerships and this complete guide from James Cohane for sales-related insights.

Product Partnerships

When done right, product and partnerships are a match made in heaven.

In this bucket, partnership managers work closely with the product team in order to, you guessed it, achieve product-related goals.

  • Marketplace / App Store

One of the most classic examples of this in action is when the partnerships team creates a program that allows 3rd-party developers to build a marketplace of apps and/or features that integrate seamlessly with the company’s core platform.

Intercom did this in July 2018 with their launch of a brand new app store — connecting more than 100 apps to the Intercom product, including Atlassian, Google, Marketo, Salesforce and Stripe.

Strategic Partnerships Strategy - Marketplace

These types of integrations help to increase the amount of engaged users within your product. Engagement is critical in keeping users from cancelling their subscriptions. As Intercom wrote about on their blog, a decrease in customer engagement is called activity churn, and it indicates that customers are finding less and less value in your product.

There are countless others that have found success with this model, with companies like Trello, HubSpot, Salesforce, and even us here at Buffer, offering some sort of app marketplace for customers.

  • Integrations

On a similar note, many companies will strategically seek out potential integrations to build themselves.

There’s the obvious example of products whose entire business model relies on building 3rd-party integrations to attract customers and drive revenue — Buffer is one of those examples.

But there’s also opportunities to strategically build integrations on top of other platforms in order to expose your product to a new market. In the Intercom example above, Google, Salesforce, Marketo and others all strategically decided to build an integration on top of the Intercom platform to open up the potential for a new market.

The wonderful thing about product and partnerships working together is that it relieves some of the pressure from the engineering to “build everything.”

“Make what most people want to do most of the time easy, and make the rest possible.”

Finally, on a smaller, but important point, building integrations also allows businesses to develop relationships with key partners in their industry. Not only does this open up other marketing and partnership opportunities, but it’s a gateway to what could end up as a profitable merger or acquisition.

Marketing Partnerships

No matter what industry you’re in or type of product you sell, marketing is hard.

Add that to the fact that more products, websites, content, ads, videos, and emails are being produced than ever before, and it’s easy to see why a brand might get lost in the noise.

  • Co-Marketing

That’s where marketing partnerships can help (also know as co-marketing).

The main benefit of strategic marketing partnerships is that they give multiple brands access to each other’s audiences. There are also secondary and tertiary benefits such as the ability to pool a larger amount of monetary resources, a variety of marketing perspectives (brain power), access to new press contacts, and lots more.

Strategic Marketing Partnerships - Comarketing Strategy

One of my favorite examples is a co-marketing campaign that we ran with Animoto in 2017 around the launch of their new square video product.

We were looking to publish original data around the state of video marketing (but didn’t have the robust data needed to make it legit) and Animoto was looking for a peer company that could help amplify the reach of their new product.

It worked because each partner (Buffer & Animoto) aligned in terms of goals, target market, and vision. Plus, each brand brought something unique and valuable to the campaign in the way of data and reach.

Examples of other great co-marketing campaigns:

As you might have concluded from the examples above, there are unlimited ways to partner with another brand on a marketing campaign.

The key for a marketing partnership to be successful is that both partners must work together in a large, integrated capacity with efforts focused on the current campaign as well as long-term residual results.

When to invest in strategic partnerships

The beauty of strategic partnerships is that the benefits tend to span across the entire company — from marketing to product to advocacy.

As mentioned above, if your product relies on any sort of external partners, networks, or APIs, the relational aspect of strategic partnerships can provide significant long-term benefits such as de-risking your business from significant market changes.

But that doesn’t mean that strategic partnerships are right for every business or that you should start partnering right away.

The decision to invest in strategic partnerships must come from the top.

It must be a widely held belief that they are an important tool for business growth, otherwise SPM professionals will hit roadblocks every step of the way.

“Strategic partnerships only work if your SaaS startup is ready for them and if you’ve done the necessary homework to ensure they make sense (for both partners).”

— Scott Maxwell

Before investing in any sort of strategic partnerships — product or marketing — it’s important to ask a few key questions:

  1. What does our product roadmap look like? What are we hoping to accomplish product-wise in the next 1-3-6-12 months and how/why will partnerships help us to get there?
  2. Who is our target customer and where do they spend time? Are there markets we can tap into via strategic partnerships? How/why?
  3. What does an ideal partner look like? How will we know if the partnership was successful or not?
  4. Who will be responsible for initiating and executing the partnership from start to finish? Do we have the resources needed to support them?

Pay close attention to question #4 when developing your own strategic partnerships strategy. Often the idea of investing in SP sounds great on paper, but the actual implementation and resources needed for successful partnerships are a different story.

For example, marketing partnerships might require an engineer to build a landing page, the data team to ensure everything is properly tracked, and the content and email team to realign their schedules around a new campaign.

Product partnerships might require buy-in from various product managers and engineers as well as in-depth market research into the pros and cons of exploring new apps or integrations.

Though one person is typically responsible for overseeing various projects and campaigns, truly successful marketing and product partnerships are always a team effort.

How to measure results of strategic partnerships

Being in strategic partnerships reminds me of one of those “choose-your-own-adventure” books. There are endless ways to approach partnerships and there are certainly plenty of ways to be successful.

At the end of the day, I measure the success of this role based on how closely I am able to align various projects, campaigns, and initiatives with Buffer’s marketing vision and product roadmap.

Notice the inclusion of both marketing and product.

Strategic partnerships have the ability to impact both marketing results and product KPIs. Here are a few examples from a made-up SaaS business:

  • A Google My Business integration results in a large, company-wide product launch as well as increases user activation by 17%.
  • A co-marketing partnership with a well-known SaaS business results in press coverage from TechCrunch as well as 100 new product trialists.
  • A Shopify App Store launch results in more than 30,000 downloads as well as a front-page feature in the Shopify App Store. It’s now your #1 source of incoming trialists.
  • A co-marketing partnership and integration with a lesser-known SaaS data analytics platform closes the gap in your product offerings as well as gains significant press coverage from new published research.

It’s important to remember that truly successful partnerships take time. They often require weeks or months of planning and executing due to the fact that there are various stakeholders involved.

That’s why SPMs must evaluate every opportunity carefully.

Stakes are higher, timeframes are drawn out, and failures are inevitable. Sometimes you’ll wonder why you even took on a project in the first place.

But as time goes on, your eye for mutually beneficial partnerships will improve. Your knack for understanding when to say “no,” when to push forward, and when to drop an initiative completely will sharpen. Eventually, you’ll get to a place where your success rate for partnerships is 80% or above, and that’s a great place to be — for your career and your business.


Continued Reading: Strategic Partnerships

  • What are the Fundamental Skills for Tech Business Development (Matt Wyndowe)
  • Should You Be Investing in Channel Sales and Marketing? (CeCe Bazar)
  • There are Only a Few Ways to Scale User Growth, and Here’s the List (Andrew Chen)
  • Understanding Business Development (Seth Godin)
  • Why – And When – Strategic Partnerships Makes Sense for SaaS Startups (Scott Maxwell)

7 TED Talks That Will Make You a Smarter, More Enlightened Marketer

7 TED Talks That Will Make You a Smarter, More Enlightened Marketer

I recently stumbled across a TED Talk by Simon Sinek on How Great Leaders Inspire Action and it suddenly dawned on me why TED Talks are so powerful.

Sure, they have a lot of great information. And they’re super inspiring. But those aren’t the only reasons why.

TED Talks get us thinking in a way that is completely unfamiliar to our minds.

They challenge our views of the world. They open up passage ways into places we didn’t even know existed. They leave us with a fresh perspective on what’s possible and even push us to change the way we go out our lives.

Sometimes that’s all we need as marketers.

Here are 7 TED Talks that will make you a smarter, more enlightened marketer.

1. Renny Gleeson: 404, The Story of a Page Not Found

Description

Renny Gleeson is quite the accomplished human. He currently leads interactive strategy for ad agency Wieden+Kennedy — earning his B.A. from Yale and eventually his MFA from the University of Pennsylvania.

404, The Story of a Page Not Found is an exploration into why all of the small things matter when it comes to your website, marketing, and your brand values.

Gleeson proves the importance of minute details by showing the importance of 404 pages and why they should be attended to. In short, it’s all about communication.

Takeaway

It’s easy for brands to skip over all of the little things that make up the entirety of the customer journey. From your landing pages and customer service to storytelling and, yes, 404 pages, your brand isn’t just one single experience — it’s the sum of every micro-moment.

Your brand isn’t just one single experience — it’s the sum of every micro-moment.

Taking the time to ensure that your customers are well cared for is a great to show that you value their time (and energy) when they arrive to your website or other digital assets… Even if you’re not home!

That’s, essentially, what the 404 page is all about and why it’s so important. You’re owning up to your mistakes, leaning into transparency, and building trust with your customers one micro-moment at a time.

2. Christopher Bell: Bring on the Female Superheroes!

Description

Dr. Christopher Bell is the Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Communication at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs where he teaches both theory and methodology courses in critical analysis of popular culture.

Bring on the Female Superheroes! is an inspiring talk about the challenges of how society is taught ideologies, for example, like learning how to be a “man” or a “woman” or how to learn to behave in public, or how to act. In other words, how we learn, what we know about other people, and about the world.

In this 2015 TED Talk, Bell talks about the importance of female superheroes.

Takeaway

As brands and marketers, we have the power to shape and influence perceptions, not only for current consumers, but for future generations as well. With great power comes great responsibility. It’s on us to create a media environment in which all genders, nationalities, and affiliations can thrive.

Plus, studies show that diverse teams create better work!

It makes sense that bringing in a variety of perspectives, cultures, and inputs will create a world in which the media isn’t dominated by one group or another.

As I mentioned in the beginning, some TED Talks are meant to challenge your view of the world and get you thinking in a different light. This is one of those TED Talks.

3. Sheena Iyengar: How to Make Choosing Easier

Description

Known for her research on choice, culture, and innovation, Sheena Iyengar is a Professor of Business at Columbia Business School and the Faculty Director of the Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center.

Research shows that the average human makes more than 70 decisions per day. You might think with all of these opportunities to make a decision that we’d be experts as choosing quickly and correctly. However, Sheena’s research shows that the opposite is often true. In her TED Talk, Sheena suggests 4 techniques you can use to improve decision making in customers.

Takeaway

Today customers are faced with choice overload — often paralyzed by the sheer amount of options out there. And when people are faced with too many choices in the decision-making process, they tend to become disengaged, make poor choices, and often end up dissatisfied with the choices they make.

Sheena discusses the 3 main consequences of offering people too many choices

  • Engagement : They tend to procrastinate
  • Quality: They tend to make worse choices
  • Satisfaction : They are less happy with their choice, even if their decision is objectively better

Tune in to find out how to reduce complexity, improve decision making, and increase sales and satisfaction.

4. Seth Godin: The Tribes We Lead

Description

Seth Godin doesn’t need much of an introduction— he authors one of the most-loved blogs on the internet, has written a dozen+ bestselling books, and launched a social site with more than 50 million viewers per month.

But perhaps one of his best-known and most powerful ideas is what Godin calls your “Tribe.” Humans have, since the dawn of time, needed to belong to a group, a tribe (to be exact). The internet has provided us with the opportunity to select our own tribes, and these groups are incredibly powerful forces for positive change.

Takeaway

As leaders (or on the path to leadership), one of the most important things leaders can strive for is change. Positive change. And in order to fuel change, leaders must challenge the status quo and question everything.

But it’s nearly impossible to truly make a change on your own. That’s where your tribe can make a world of difference.

The internet enables people all over the globe to connect with each other. It is tribes, not individuals, money, or power, that can change the world. Seth discusses how we need assemble a tribe to spread ideas until they finally become a movement. Start with one person that cares about your idea, then two, then 10, then 100, then 1,000.

5. Malcolm Gladwell: Choice, Happiness & Spaghetti Sauce

Description

Malcolm Gladwell, one of the most popular minds, journalists, and authors of this generation has an uncanny ability for turning conventional wisdom on its head. In his podcast, Revisionist History, Malcom reinterprets something from the past: an event, a person, an idea — allowing us to learn something new from what we all might consider mundane or obvious.

In his TED Talk, Choice, Happiness & Spaghetti Sauce, Gladwell explores the story of the man who refused to believe in a “perfect” spaghetti sauce. Of course, the point of the story is not about the pursuit of the perfect spaghetti sauce, rather, it’s how one man’s research impacts our broader understanding of human choice and happiness.

Takeaway

One of the biggest takeaways I got from this TED Talk is that people don’t always know what they want or what’s best for them. If you were to ask soda drinkers, for example, what they’d want in a perfect soda, they would say one thing, but in reality what they deem to be a perfect soda is something completely different.

The iPhone is another great example of this. If you were to ask customers what the perfect iPhone looks and feels like, very few would answer with, “no home button.” But that’s exactly what Apple did with the iPhone X — no home button.

There are lots of great takeaways from Gladwell’s TED Talk which you’ll have to watch to get!

Bonus: If you’d like to hear a great interview with Malcom Gladwell (and how he thinks), check out Adam Grant debating Gladwell live in New York city.

6. Linda Hill: How to manage for collective creativity

Description

Linda Hill is a Harvard Business School Professor who studies collective genius — an idea that it takes more than exceptional talent or the right investments to maximize team leadership and productivity. This 2014 TED Talk covers her fascinating findings from a study of leaders of the world’s most innovative and creative companies.

Hill discusses how most leadership books will talk about the importance of creating a vision and inspiring others to execute it. However, leading a creative organization is less about directing people than it is creating an environment in which people discover their own innovative way forward.

Takeaway

I found Linda Hill’s TED Talk to be very valuable because it taught me that it’s important to understand that the art of creation is not a simple process. Rather than creativity being a single skill or event, creativity is a collaborative journey that involves people with different expertise and varying points of view.

Hill pulls examples from lots of large organizations such as Google and Pixar in order to better illustrate her point. For example, one of the ways that Pixar encourages creative interactions is through the design of their buildings, she explains. It’s intended to generate as many random interactions as possible. And individuals at all levels and in every department are encouraged to openly provide feedback and opinions with senior people.

7. Derek Sivers: How to Start a Movement

Description

Derek Sivers is historically known for being the founder and former president of CD Baby, an online CD store for independent musicians. More famously, however, Sivers gave a TED Talk in 2013 titled, How to Start a Movement, which continues to be quoted as one of the greatest presentations on being an effective leader.

Obvious, but true, Sivers discusses how one of the unspoken rules of leadership is that you need (at least) a follower. There are lots of important and relevant concepts in this talk, including how a leader has to be doing it for her or his own sake — not trying to start anything for any other purpose.

Takeaway

There are a lot of well-known resources for how to be an effective leader, including books like Tribes and The Tipping Point. But this marketing TED Talk makes use of an extremely obvious, instant, and visual example of how to start a movement.

One of the most tangible takeaways from Sivers’ talk is that if you want to be a starter — a leader of a movement — then you have the courage to stand out. And more specifically, make your actions easy to imitate and inspiring to follow. The old saying, “lead by example” is extremely effective in getting people to follow you, but you have to make whatever you’re doing look fun and exciting!

TED Talks on Marketing

TED Talks are just one way to become a smarter, more enlightened marketer.

What I like about the 7 TED Talks on marketing above is that they are actionable and extremely easy to digest. You don’t have to read a book or article or take a course to learn what you can in about 5 minutes from these inspirational thought leaders.

TED Talks get us thinking in a way that is completely unfamiliar to our minds.

We could all use more of that.

6 Rules of Great Storytelling (As Told by Pixar)

6 Rules of Great Storytelling (As Told by Pixar)

Pixar is arguably one of the greatest storytellers of our generation.

Over the years, they’ve won 13 Academy Awards, 9 Golden Globes, and 11 Grammys.

Effective storytelling involves a deep understanding of human emotions, motivations, and psychology in order to truly move an audience.

Luckily, storytelling is something we all do naturally, starting at a very young age. But there’s a difference between good storytelling and great storytelling.

I recently stumbled across Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling — here are the top six we can all learn from.

6 Rules for Great Storytelling

“Storytelling is the greatest technology that humans have ever created.” — Jon Westenberg

1. Great stories are universal

Great storytelling is about taking a piece of the human condition (so things like birth, growth, emotionality, aspiration, conflict) and conveying it in a unique situation.

Acclaimed Pixar director Pete Docter puts it perfectly:

“What you’re trying to do, when you tell a story, is to write about an event in your life that made you feel some particular way. And what you’re trying to do, when you tell a story, is to get the audience to have that same feeling.”

One way you can do this is to pull apart the stories you like.

Break down every little element about what you love about them. Those are real feelings you’re having and you have to recognize them in detail in order to tell a great story yourself.

In other words, self knowledge and awareness are at the the root of all great storytelling.

You are part of the human condition and people will relate to that.

2. Great stories have a clear structure and purpose

Part A (Structure)

One of my favorite ways to develop a compelling story is to use “The Story Spine” formula created by professional playwright and improvisor Kenn Adams.

Pixar has used this story structure to create so many films we know and love today.

It goes:

Once upon a time there was [blank]. Every day, [blank]. One day [blank]. Because of that, [blank]. Until finally [bank].

The Story Spine — Emma Coats

Give the Story Spine a shot to help develop a truly unique story to tell.

Part B (Purpose)

As Pixar writes:

Why must you tell THIS story?

What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of?

What greater purpose does this serve? What does it teach?

That’s the heart of really great storytelling.

By crafting a story that you are passionate to tell because it serves a real purpose, your stories will have bigger impact on the world.

I think that gets lost a lot of the time.

3. Great stories have a character to root for (an underdog)

Believe it or not, people want to root for you (the main character).

AND they love a good underdog.

This might seem straightforward but it’s worth keeping in mind anytime you’re creating a story.

Pixar explains that we as the audience admire a character for trying more than for their success. In other words, it’s more about the character’s journey than it is their actual destination.

When your character is battling against all odds, facing adversity, or their back is against the wall, well then, you have yourself the makings of great story.

In our modern society, for example, everyone loves a good “rags to riches” story. How many times has Forbes published an article about the fearless entreprenuer that dropped everything, almost failed dozens of times along the way, yet still managed to create a multi-million dollar business?

Give the people an unexpected hero to root for.

4. Great stories appeal to our deepest emotions

Psychologists generally agree that there are six basic emotions: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise.

If you ever watched the Pixar move Inside Out, you’ll recognize these emotions as characters in the movie.

Pixar Inside Out Characters

The more you understand how/when your own emotional levers are pulled, the more you’ll appreciate how that works in other people (and the more you’ll be able to hone those emotions in your stories).

Consciously being to recognize these various emotions in yourself —and think about the “why”.

Why are you feeling a certain way? How might you be able to take the “why” behind your emotions and tell a story?

Continuously question yourself in order to understand your own emotional reactions to stories so that you can learn to tell more authentic stories that reach and move people where it counts.

5. Great stories are surprising and unexpected

We’ve all seen the classic “fairytale” storyline: a helpless princess in need and a charming prince swooping in to save the day.

Boring (and totally outdated).

What makes modern stories compelling are when our perceptions of reality are challenged or changed in some way.

Creators like Pixar and Walt Disney use animated movies as vehicles to address real-life phenomenons, issues, stereotypes, and norms.

Movies such as Brave, Coco, Tangled, and Moana help us to understand and reflect on big, human-centered topics that we might not otherwise take time out of our day to think about.

Pixar's Brave Character

Many times those topics or themes are surprising and unexpected, leaving the audience thinking about the story well after it is over.

If you’re stuck on coming up with something truly unique, Pixar recommends to get rid of the 1st thing that comes to mind — and then the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th.

Challenge yourself to dig deep.

6. Great stories are simple and focused

We as audiences know a good story when we see or hear one.

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book where you had to keep asking yourself (or someone else) what was happening in the plot?

Not a great experience.

As creators, we naturally want to include as much information as possible in our stories. We want to pack the story full of characters and plot twists and dialogue.

And often times we might not even realize that we’re adding layers that don’t need to be there.

Pixar’s advice here is to “combine characters and hop over detours.”

While you as the creator may feel like you’re losing lots of valuable stuff, it’ll set you free in the end and will allow your audience to get lost in the narrative.

One way to find out if your story is easy to follow is to tell it to a friend or family member who has never heard it before. Watch their face as you read it and try to see where they pause and what questions they might have.

Simplify, simplify, simplify.

22 Rules for Storytelling by Pixar

22 Rules for Storytelling by Pixar

6 Rules for Great Storytelling originally appeared on the Buffer Podcast:

3 Ways We Increased Weekly Podcast Downloads by 109% in Two Months

3 Ways We Increased Weekly Podcast Downloads by 109% in Two Months

Nothing makes a podcaster happier than to see the below trend line in Libsyn.

Today Buffer’s podcast, The Science of Social Media, is generating more than 12,350 downloads per week, with that number steadily growing (huge shout-out to all of our awesome listeners!)

But it wasn’t always this way.

As you can see on the left side of the chart, we hit an all-time ‘weekly download’ low in early June of this year. 5,900.

Buffer Podcast Download Insights

Which isn’t poor by any means! Though seeing as how we were averaging roughly 9,500 downloads per week for ten months straight it was a tough pill to swallow. Something had to change.

My co-host Hailley and I threw everything we thought we knew about podcasting out the window and started from scratch.

Here are the 4 strategies we went all in on to turn the fate of the Buffer podcast around.

We 180’d our show format

We’ve had the privilege of welcoming some amazing guests to the show over the past year. Guests like NASA, NatGeo, First Round, Marie Forleo, Rand Fishkin, Ryan Holiday, Mari Smith, Noah Kagan, Jay Baer, and lots more.

Buffer Podcast Guests

They were a huge part of helping to make our show so successful off the bat and a big reason why we are here today.

When we made the decision to move away from typical guest interviews it wasn’t an easy one.

We looked around the podcast industry and realized that tons of shows (and I mean TONS) follow the interview format. And most of these show’s descriptions include something along the lines of:

“Strategies from the biggest and brightest influencers in __[insert topic here]__”

The difficulty was that there were only so many “big names” that we could get to come on the show.

Week in and week out we’d spend several hours pitching guests, writing sample questions, waiting for approval from PR, scheduling interview time, stressing over tiny details, and trying to make the interview perfect. And when we looked 6–12 months out into the future, we knew that the big-name-list would soon run dry.

That’s when we began experimenting with what we called “Bonusodes” and “Minisodes.” Bonusodes and Minisodes were quick (10–15 minute) episodes where Hailley and I discussed social media and marketing strategy.

The ironic part is that these types of episodes only started because we ran out of big-name guests for the week. Little did we know they would eventually help to turn the show around.

As for the guest interviews, we decided that we’d only run them if we made each interview dramatically different than what you might here on other podcasts.

We began to turn the interviews into stories. We interjected, added commentary, took the best parts and mixed them together into a cohesive, easy-listening episode. NPR-style.

Of course, this meant more time recording, more time producing and editing, and more time finding just the right story to tell. But it also meant a new and unique experience for our listeners. That’s our top priority.

If you’re interested in hearing a few of our new interviews, check out:

Branden Harvey — Using Social Media for Good

Paul Jarvis — On Entrepreneurship

Ryan Holiday — Creating Perennial Sellers

Now that we had a new format, we needed ideas. And good ones at that.

We’re repurposing top Buffer Blog content

As we began transitioning to full-time Minisode production in April-May of 2017, we chose episode topics that we thought would be interesting.

Sometimes they worked and sometimes they didn’t.

When they didn’t work it halted growth of the show. That’s no good when you only have one shot per week.

We needed a proven method of generating episode topics that would increase downloads week over week.

Why reinvent the wheel?

Buffer Podcast Episode Ideas

The Buffer Blog is one of the most prolific blogs in the social media industry with more than 1.5 million monthly visitors — AND we have all of the back-end data!

Instead of guessing what topics would work on the podcast, we went into Google Analytics and sorted our blog content by the most page views over the previous 30 days (see chart above).

Viola!

Hundreds of podcast episode ideas at our fingertips sorted by what people are searching for online. Taking this approach has led to more podcast downloads per episode, more reviews, and a higher popularity rating on iTunes.

We’re advertising on Facebook

Once we started to see a slight increase in week-over-week growth to the show, it was time to take the podcast to the next level.

Having a solid backlog of quality episodes allowed us to justify the investment because we knew if someone clicked through to the podcast that they would have a much higher chance of subscribing and listening to additional episodes.

Cue the snowball effect❄️

Facebook Ads have been a huge source of growth.

Here’s how we did it:

Buffer Facebook Advertising Strategy

  1. We set up a Custom Audience targeting all traffic to the Buffer Blog and Buffer.com knowing that brand awareness would increase our CTR and decrease our CPC.
  2. Next we added an additional targeting filter to only deliver ads to iPhone, iPad, and other iOS devices and linked directly to the episode on iTunes (rather than the show notes or podcast landing page). This reduced the friction of going from podcast ad >> podcast subscriber.
  3. We chose the most popular episodes from the podcast and started there — $10 per day using the “Post Traffic” campaign option in Facebook. We keep a close eye on CPC and whenever it creeps above $0.25–0.30 we shut it off and start a new add.

We’ve spent a total of $922 over the last two months which has resulted in nearly 4,000 direct clicks to the podcast.

This applies to everything

As I wrote this article I realized that the above strategies apply to much more than just podcasting.

We’ve taken this re-thinking approach and applied it to social media, blog writing, partnerships, videos, design and more.

If something is not working, it’s alright!

It doesn’t mean you’re failing.

It doesn’t mean you’re bad at your job.

And it certainly doesn’t mean it can’t change.

180 your ideas!

Repurpose and curate awesome content. Advertise. Do something wild like completely change the format your audience has come to know and love.

How I Approach Digital Marketing at Buffer as a TOFU Marketer

How I Approach Digital Marketing at Buffer as a TOFU Marketer

One of the most exciting things about working at a startup or small company is that every employee wears multiple hats.

That means at any moment I might be working on our next social media campaign, writing content for the blog, interviewing a guest for our next podcast episode, hosting a workshop, streaming Live, or editing a video in Adobe Premier.

It can also mean, though, that more formal strategies and long-term thinking take a back seat to shipping projects today. After all, if we sat around and thought about it too long we might never ship anything at all!

But this year we’re taking a more strategic approach to our marketing at Buffer. We’re planning out content weeks in advance and making sure it aligns with our various business objectives.

In other words, we’re growing up.

Each teammate is responsible for delivering content or assets within a certain time frame for his or her role on the team. Whether it’s PR, Community, Social, Content, Growth, Email, or Data, we’re all focusing on working together.

This year, I’ve had the privilege to take on an expanded role: Top-of-the-Funnel (TOFU) Marketer. Essentially it means that a lot my day is based around getting as many people (potential customers) into the top of our marketing funnel as I can through digital and offline content.

To do so, I needed a strategy.

What processes should I prioritize? Which marketing activities will drive the most growth? Which ones won’t? How will I know if it’s working?

And so I put together what I’m calling my Digital (TOFU) Marketing Strategy for 2017. It’s based on the incredible work of Brian Balfour and other professionals who have written about digital and growth marketing in great detail.

I’m still learning as I go and this strategy is nowhere near perfect (plus, it’s changing every day), but I thought it might be useful to share it with you all.

Here it is in its entirety. I hope you enjoy!

What is Buffer’s vision? Why do we exist?

To give people a greater voice on social media and to create a workplace of the future.

What is TOFU Marketing?

The main goal of TOFU Marketing is to attract more quality customers to a product or service.

(Quality is key when deploying TOFU marketing strategies. 4,000 leads doesn’t necessarily equate to 4,000 long-term customers ((or even 4 for that matter))

And it doesn’t stop there.

On small teams, TOFU marketers also need to take into consideration the entirety of the marketing funnel. In other words, once we get the customers in the door, where do they go? Do they stick around? Purchase more products? Leave a review? Tell their friends?

In that light, TOFU marketers take on the roll of what we might today call a Growth Marketer.

“Finance owns the flow of cash in and out of a company. Growth owns the flow of customers in and out of a product.” — Andy Johns, VP of Growth, Wealthfront

Where does TOFU Marketing fit into the Buffer vision?

In order to give people a greater voice on social media they must:

  • Know about our product
  • Decide that our product is the best fit for their job to be done
  • Understand how to use our product to the fullest

I am approaching TOFU marketing as a delicate balance between traditional awareness + acquisition marketing and retention + revenue + referral marketing. (See chart below Growth vs. Marketing vs. Product)

This equates to creating content and prioritizing marketing activities that not only look to attract a large amount of new customers, but also to guide customers along the marketing funnel in a cohesive and strategic manner.

[In my current TOFU-focused role, many of the activities will be geared towards awareness + acquisition. However, understanding and implementing MOFU & BOFU marketing processes is important in the success of retention + revenue + referral. This may come in different forms such as email marketing campaigns, “how-to” videos, targeted Facebook Ads, growth experiments, and more.]

Growth vs. Marketing vs. Product (via Brian Balfour)

Note: These are generalizations. Implementation of growth strategies within companies can vary widely.

Growth Marketing Matrix

We are in the unique position at Buffer to be able to move quickly between growth and marketing. This allows us to conduct data-driven experiments, while also thoughtfully planning campaigns that will help to drive overall brand awareness and product conversions.

Much of our marketing success depends on the process of seamlessly integrating our growth goals with awareness + acquisition goals. It also depends deeply on the ability to deploy a fast, data-driven process to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

For example: We might test 4 to 5 different email sets (headlines, subject lines, audience, images, wording, length, CTA, etc) on any given day while working within the framework of our overall email marketing campaign. That email marketing campaign would be within the framework of our overall email goals such as blog traffic, open rate, CTR, etc.

Data from the 4 to 5 various email sets must quickly be measured, analyzed, and reported so that we can work the learnings back into our next email campaign.

Another example: We might experiment with 3 different video lengths and topics on Facebook while working within the framework of our overall Facebook marketing strategy. Our Facebook marketing strategy would fit within our overall social media strategy which is to educate, entertain, and drive traffic to Buffer assets.

Data from the different video lengths and topics must quickly be measured, analyzed, and reported so that we can work the learnings back into our next Facebook video.

Choosing Our Customer Acquisition Channels

Marketing Tactics Matrix - In a Perfect World

Customer Acquisition Channel Priority Matrix

From Brian Balfour’s “5 Steps to Choosing Customer Acquisition Channels”

  • Cost — The upfront and ongoing cost to acquire users in this channel
  • Targeting — The depth of ability to target different audiences
  • Control — The control you have over turning the channel on/off at will
  • Input Time — The upfront time required to start running experiments with this channel
  • Output Time — The time it takes to start getting data around your experiments
  • Scale — The size/reach of the channel

The chart above shows the top 6 marketing channels that fall under our marketing growth strategy. In a perfect world, the channels would look like this:

Targeting — High, Cost — Low, Input Time — Low, Output Time — Low, Control — High, Scale — High

Operating under this framework will help to prioritize marketing channels in order of importance. It’s crucial to remember, though, that this is only meant to be the beginning. At this point we have a hypothesis about a customer acquisition channel. We’ll benefit from setting up and running a number of experiments to prove out the viability of the channel in relation to overall growth goals.

Building a Process for Growth, Not Tactics

“Tactics first is putting the cart before the horse. You need a process that will help you build a scalable, predictable, and repeatable growth machine.”
— Brian Balfour

What the TOFU process may look like at Buffer:

  1. Setting BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) against the areas we’d like to grow in
  2. Continually feed the machine with new ideas and experiments
  3. Measure experiment data (did it work or fail?)
  4. Sharing our learnings with team and iterating on experiment process/implementation

Digital (TOFU) Marketing in Action

Social Media

One of the biggest strengths of social media is its ability to drive a huge amount of word-of-mouth marketing in a short amount of time.

It’s also a great tool for providing educational & entertaining resources that are timely, easy-to-digest, and unique to individual platforms.

Due to the changing landscape of social media algorithms and a decline in organic reach across the board, every piece of content that we put out on social should have a purpose. Those purposes are as follows:

  1. Provide value (education or entertainment) unique to the channel its shared on
  2. Provide content so valuable/relatable that people are moved to share it with their network
  3. Humanize the Buffer brand through authentic and transparent learnings

Email

As organic reach on social media continues to drop and social platforms move to more “closed” environments, it’s important for companies and brands to have “owned marketing assets” of their own.

A blog is one great example and another is a company’s email list.

Our email newsletter (and list) will serve as an important peripheral marketing channel with a focus on driving additional traffic to our blog outside of organic search and social media.

Email strategy and success will focus on three factors:

  1. Quality and segmentation of our subscribers
  2. Efficient and data-backed A/B tests
  3. Valuable, unique, and interesting content delivered consistently

Not only is email a great way to “push” out information to our current and potential customers, but it’s also a great way to “pull” knowledge about our customer database and enrich our insights into content preferences and demographic information.

(We also might consider running email drip campaigns — leading subscribers to certain pieces of MOFU or BOFU content aimed at converting customers at certain stages of their journey)

Video

Data from 2016 points to the fact that video is one of the best ways to reach our audience on social media and provide value to current and potential Buffer customers.

Video content will be one of our content cornerstones with a focus on marketing thought-leadership, social media education, company culture, and entertainment.

3 key factors that will help lead to video success:

  1. Consistency across all major video sharing platforms (daily video is optimal)
  2. Topic research, headline optimization, and thoughtful delivery of content
  3. Creativeness and willingness to think outside of the box

Due to the nature of video, we will be extra diligent in tracking the success of our video marketing efforts. What’s working? What’s not? Can we deliver video content in more effective and efficient ways?

think with Google put together a great chart on various video KPIs that we might measure in relation to each marketing goal:

think with Google - Video Marketing Success

Key Questions to Ask with Video Marketing Campaigns:

  • Question #1: What is your marketing goal for this campaign?
  • Question #2: What are the KPIs for that marketing goal?
  • Question #3: What are the best video analytics to measure your KPIs?
  • Question #4: How will you optimize for engagement?

Different Video Platform Opportunities Based on Previous Successes:

  • Pre-Recorded Video
  • Facebook & Instagram Live
  • YouTube Webinars
  • SkillShare Classes
  • Instagram Stories
  • Snapchat

Content

Content, when thought about under the umbrella of “Growth Strategy” has many facets. Growth content is optimized for SEO, has all of the parts required for social shareability (uniqueness, great headline, valuable), is optimized for click-throughs and email subscribers, and much more.

In this particular case, I am referring to content as a means to increase awareness. Therefore, content developed under Growth will focus more on virality (created and optimized for sharing across networks).

We will achieve virality through the following best-practices:

  • Thorough topic research on current, trending topics using a tool like BuzzSumo
  • Partnering with peer companies, brands, and influencers to leverage audiences
  • Creating unique content assets for each social media channel (80% promotion rule)

Podcast

One highly “personal” TOFU content marketing strategy that has seen exponential growth over the past several years is podcasting. Audio content presents us with the opportunity to reach new customers where and when they want to be reached.

The Science of Social Media has received more than 250,000 downloads in just about 6 months since its release. Since being featured on Apple’s News & Noteworthy, numbers have leveled out to around 6,500–9,500 downloads per episode.

In order to grow both our core subscribers as well reach a significant amount of new listeners to the podcast, we will focus on the following activities:

  • Identifying and securing quality podcast guests on a weekly basis (with a full backlog)
  • Examining trends in our data and in the industry to formulate successful topics and headlines
  • Experiment with and perfect show format to find “what works” with our audience
  • Utilize essential marketing tactics to ensure maximum episode promotion
  • Social media sharing (us and our guests)
  • Email newsletter (us and our guests)
  • Show notes optimized for SEO

Facebook Ads

Facebook Advertising works in a variety of Growth Marketing situations — from collecting emails to directly driving sales of product. In most cases, however, Facebook Ads are effectively used as a supplemental marketing strategy with the goal of amplifying the various content pieces we’re creating.

It is very important for us not to use Facebook Advertising as a crutch, but as an amplification tool. In other words, our Facebook marketing and growth strategy will look to maximize organic reach before using ads to promote our content even further.

Our promotion strategy will look to boost the following types of content:

  • Content with a high engagement ratio (engagement / reach total * 100)
  • New or important product/company announcements
  • Videos with a high video view ration (video views / reach total * 100)
  • Partner/curated content that has organically reached more than 20,000 people

Summary

As mentioned in the beginning:

The main goal of TOFU Marketing is to attract more customers to a product or service.

Though there are dozens of different TOFU marketing strategies for businesses and brands, ours will focus on the testing and optimization of 6 main activities:

  • Social
  • Video
  • Email
  • Blog Content
  • Podcast
  • Facebook Advertising

We will look to strike the delicate balance between traditional awareness + acquisition marketing and retention + revenue + referral marketing. This allows us to conduct data-driven experiments, while also thoughtfully planning campaigns that will help to drive overall brand awareness and product conversions.

What Running 700 Miles in 2016 Taught Me About Business

What Running 700 Miles in 2016 Taught Me About Business

700 miles out on the open road.

At heart, I’m a running purist. No headphones. No waistband for water bottles. No activity monitor or GPS tracker.

When I get thirsty I usually just pop into someone’s yard for a drink from their hose!

Just my trusty Asics Trainers and a $10 Casio watch for pace.

700 miles. At seven minutes per mile, that equates to roughly 4,900 minutes, 81.6 hours, or 3.4 days.

That’s a lot of time to think.

One of the secrets to running is the ability to lose yourself in positive thought. Brainstorming, reflecting, strategizing, and conjuring up crazy ideas while endorphins are going strong is one way to keep the mind from thinking negative, self-deflating thoughts.

Successful runs happen when the “I’m tired, thirsty, hurting, angry, frustrated, not-good-enough” thoughts are pushed aside for more productive thinking.

Which is why:

Running is a lot like business.

It rewards those who put the work in day in and day out. Those who know and love the process just as much as the results. Those who can block out the negative, learn from mistakes, and keep pushing forward.

When I set out on a 10-mile run, my thoughts aren’t on the 10th mile. They’re on pace, form, technique, and getting stronger with every stride. When the run is over, I’m already thinking about the next one.

What can I do next time to increase my average mile time? How was my breathing? Could I have hit another hill or pushed myself harder during the challenging parts?

The 3 most valuable business lessons I’ve learned from running

Going Where Others Are Afraid To Go

There are millions of great runners around the world. Each one has their strengths, weaknesses, and unique way of approaching the sport.

But what separates the good from the great?

Great runners are deliberate.

They’re willing to wake up at 5:00 a.m. to train because they have a full-time job and a family to take care of. They stretch, eat, and recover with purpose. Everything great runners do is calculated.

Same goes for business.

Whether they’re pursuing a new career path or a new marketing channel, great business people are deliberate about their actions. They’ve done the research, thought of all possible scenarios, and considered the consequences of their actions.

Deliberate action is a part of their DNA.

So much so that when they decide to take a chance on something that seems crazy to everyone else, they know deep down that they’ve had their ears to the streets for months and that it’s a good move.

Overcoming Negative Thoughts

One of the biggest business lessons I’ve learned from running is just how harmful negativity can be for career growth and business success.

Imposter Syndrome is a one form of negativity that surfaces in all different types of people and situations. If you’ve ever experienced this before, you know how hard it can be to overcome.

Self-doubt and a lack of confidence are closely related to Imposter Syndrome and can have dramatic consequences on overall well-being and business success.

To overcome negative thoughts I suggest a two-step approach:

  1. Recognize that they exist and that they are passing thoughts
  2. Realize that you are where you are because you deserve it

If you’ve put in the hard work (trained) and are successful, it’s not because of luck or because of chance. It’s because you’ve earned it.

By addressing your negative thoughts directly, over time you will develop a sort of internal confidence. Negative thoughts will start to creep in and you’ll kick them right out.

Achieving Measurable Progress in Reasonable Time

To get to that next level, we all have to push ourselves to be better. To work harder.

If you want to be a great runner, at some point you’re going to have to train outside of your limits. Turning that 8-mile run into a 10-mile run is what helps you get stronger so that you can achieve new milestones.

In the business world, we tend to get stuck in our daily routines. But at some point, if we want to change the results, we’re going to have to step outside of our comfort zones.

Reading, taking online classes, asking questions, experimenting, measuring new data, and just flat-out doing are the best ways to take control of your outcome.