Picture this: You’ve just been hired as the marketing head for a promising startup. Your job is to help the company build awareness and find users.
Where do you start? Certainly, you know that getting off on the wrong foot can have disastrous consequences. Bad hires and processes not only hurt the company, they also make you look bad and can destroy your credibility and trust within the company.
On the other hand, if everything goes smoothly from the start (barring some inconsequential missteps), you’ll know that you helped the company grow and played an important role in its success.
How do you know where to begin, and what mistakes should you avoid?
These are the challenges that Tamara Mendelsohn faced when she joined Eventbrite in 2009. Mendelsohn built the Eventbrite marketing team from the ground up, to a team of 60.
And the company has turned into a pretty big success, hosting over 1 million events per year and processing over 4 million tickets.
Mendelsohn and her team deserve a lot of the credit for helping establish Eventbrite. They grew awareness of the company, helped it reach new user groups, and built a solid marketing team.
Mendelsohn learned a lot of lessons along the way, and she shared what she learned at True University. This blog post is a recap of her presentation.
Mendelsohn broke her presentation into three sections:
- Laying the Foundation
- Driving Growth
- Building a Team
Each section is chock full of good advice. Let’s get into it.
1. Laying the Foundation
These are the lessons Mendelsohn learned in the first year at Eventbrite. They are the foundational pieces you have to get right.
Understanding Your Customers
At the time, Eventbrite had thousands of customers. Because of the self-service nature of the business, they didn’t have a sales team. When Mendelsohn joined the company, she launched the blog. Unfortunately, she didn’t know much about events or event management. So she emailed customers who had used Eventbrite to run events, and she interviewed those customers and posted the interviews on the blog.
The value in these interviews was not just blog content, but also being able to talk to and understand customers.
Mendelsohn says that hearing from customers helps shine light into areas you may not think of regarding your brand, messaging, and positioning.
Crystalizing Your Value Prop and Positioning
After talking to a lot of customers, Mendelsohn created a list of all the reasons people were using Eventbrite.
There were about 20 different reasons. Here are just a few:
From there, Mendelsohn sent out a survey to users. She kept it short and sweet, limiting it to three questions. This was the first question:
- How do you use Eventbrite?
- I love it and would recommend it to a friend
- Eventbrite suits my needs but I’m open to other solutions
- I’m really dissatisfied
From there, she cut the data with this second question:
- What originally prompted you to use Eventbrite?
- A dropdown of the 20+ reasons list
And this was the final question:
- After using Eventbrite, what is the greatest value you find from it?
She got two takeaways from this – the perceived benefit and the realized benefit.
Then Mendelsohn created a series of paid search campaigns that paired a perceived benefit in the headline with a realized benefit in the text underneath. There were a lot of different combinations to test. She took the top three perceived and realized benefits and then created dozens of ads based on the different combinations. So, for example, the #1 perceived benefit could be paired with the #2 realized benefit. And the #3 perceived benefit could be paired with the #1 realized benefit. All these different ads were then tested against each other.
She found a big winner, which was this:
Headline: All in One Solution
Text: That lets you get access to your money quickly
This process can give you a place to start. (In the case of Eventbrite, their positioning and messaging have evolved a lot over time.) At the very least, this gives you a starting point for your messaging, and you’ll know you have something that gets people to click on an ad.
Considering Your Brand and Culture
Once Eventbrite raised their venture capital, the team sat down and asked themselves some introspective questions:
- What kind of company are we?
- What kind of company do we want to build?
- What do we want to stand for?
- What do we want to represent?
This was the beginning of their “brand and culture” discussion. Mendelsohn thinks that brand and culture go hand in hand, and she uses the terms interchangeably. She says:
Your employees and the culture of your business will make its way into your brand whether you like it or not, and vice versa.
There are two important exercises for building your culture and brand. We’ll start with the “why” question.
The Why Question
Mendelsohn recommends starting with one question:
She recommends viewing this TED Talk from Simon Sinek (and watching it again if you’ve already seen it). It has been so influential, in fact, that Mendelsohn watches it every couple of months just to remind herself of the importance of answering the “why” question.
Mendelsohn expounds on the reason the question is so important:
If you want to create a brand that people have an emotional connection with, that outperforms the market, outperforms the competition, and outperforms your expectations because people feel an emotional connection to it, the heart of creating [such] a brand…is the answer to this question: Why do you exist? What is your authentic reason for being?
In addition to watching the TED Talk and answering the “why” question, Mendelsohn also recommends reading this AdAge article.
Understanding the reason for your existence will be the core of all your marketing and messaging, and it will make its way into your culture and your customer experience.
Airbnb is the quintessential example of this. They make it clear: It’s not just about renting a room, it’s about a feeling of belonging, and belonging anywhere. And when you travel, you don’t have to feel like a stranger.
Their ad campaign made this clear as well:
That is what they stand for, and that is why they exist.
If you can develop a relationship with your customers, that will translate into loyalty. And loyalty translates into higher lifetime value, greater word of mouth, and all the great things that come along with sustainable business metrics.
After poking around and doing some brainstorming, Eventbrite came up with this:
At its core, this is what Eventbrite is about. This was what they sold investors on in their first pitch deck. Even as technology advances and people spend more of their time in front of screens, the power and importance of connecting in person, with real people, remains. Humans will always want to learn together, grow together, and celebrate together. That will never go away. That’s Eventbrite’s pitch. If they can help bring the world together around live experiences, then ultimately they’re doing some good.
So that takes care of the “why” question. The second exercise for building your culture and brand is the “brand tenets” question.
In that very first customer survey (that Mendelsohn created after talking to customers), if a person answered that they loved Eventbrite and would recommend it to a friend, they were asked an additional question: What are the words you think represent Eventbrite?
They got a huge list of words.
Then they did a similar exercise with the executive team, asking them what Eventbrite stands for, what are the company’s principles, and what do they want to build?
Once Mendelsohn got answers from both customers and executives, she put the lists of words up against each other, and there was a lot of overlap between what the customers said and what the executives said.
To put it another way, instead of deciding what they wanted to be and forcing that on customers, Eventbrite went to users and asked them what they thought Eventbrite was. Then they asked themselves the same question, and finally they found the marriage between the two sets of responses.
This gave them the list of brand tenets. This may change over time as the brand changes with the business. For example, an early word for Eventbrite was disruptive. They wanted to disrupt the industry and get people’s attention. But once they got that, they felt they didn’t need to keep disrupting.
You may want to look at your tenets a year or two down the road to see if they still match who you are.
Over time, as Eventbrite grew, they realized that it wasn’t just marketing that owned the brand voice. There were sales people and product people writing copy. People outside of marketing were talking to users. Because they needed to speak with one brand voice consistently, Eventbrite created the voice and tone guide.
When doing this, you don’t need to create a huge manifesto. Just some easy to remember guiding points. Note that the above screenshot is not their entire guide.
2. Driving Growth
How do you build on this foundation and drive growth?
It is important to maintain focus on 1-2 metrics. The metric(s) will change over the life of the company. In the early days, you may choose an acquisition-driven metric, and, later, you may focus on a retention-driven metric.
Once you know your metric, you can define the funnel to get to that metric.
You need to define each stage of the funnel and measure it appropriately. Look at it at least every week to see your progress.
Eventbrite’s funnel had these steps:
– Visited signup page
– Signed up
This conversion rate was important. They dug deeper into the next steps:
– Signed Up
– Saved Event
– Published Event
– Sending out invitations
Once you have your funnel reporting, you can break down the data and decide where you want to optimize. Is there an area that’s doing well that you think can do better? Or do you want to improve an underperforming step?
It’s also important to find the people that dropped off in the funnel. Send them a survey and ask them why. You may think they won’t respond, but people actually do. Getting this qualitative feedback from people will uncover insights you haven’t previously thought of.
The Eventbrite funnel became so important that Mendelsohn hired a full-time person whose only job was to optimize their funnel. This person is the equivalent of what is now known as a growth hacker.
This was her third hire. Her first was a designer and second was someone to work on all their channels – social media, the blog, etc.
This was Mendelsohn’s job in her first couple of years. Her MO was this: Figure something out, and then hire someone better to do it.
When Mendelsohn was running channels, she used data to figure out what worked (social was a big driver of growth) and put more horsepower (resources) behind it.
Here’s what she discovered (your results will vary, of course):
– Display was unsuccessful for the first couple of years, but retargeting worked. It’s important to experiment with retargeting – test your messaging, who you retarget, where you retarget them, etc. Mendelsohn retargeted people who visited the press page. Why? Because these people were either journalists or people looking for a job. Suddenly, these people were seeing the Eventbrite brand everywhere. These are low-cost things that are not directly for acquisition, but they make the brand appear bigger than it really is. Here are some more tips for retargeting users.
– PR was brought in-house after about 6 months. Having a PR person working only for Eventbrite helped them create much more creative PR ideas than an agency ever did.
You’ll need a good analytics tool for measuring all these channels. You need to know what you want from the start, and you’ll need a tool that’s flexible enough to fit your needs as you grow.
As your company grows, you’ll want to look at your marketing campaigns from three perspectives – paid, earned, and owned media.
You don’t just launch a campaign in one channel, because you won’t get the maximum benefit from it. So when you’re thinking of reaching an audience with a specific message, [think about] how [you’ll] create campaigns that have this 360 degree view [and] think about each of those. So, what is the content you’re creating (that’s owned media), then how will you amplify that through paid channels…and then how do you get the stage where it’s earned? And that’s when your customers are sharing things, press is picking things up….if you get those three (paid, earned, owned) to work together, [then] that’s the golden triumvirate because you’re getting so much more value for the initial work that you do.
At some point during your growth, you’ll want to coordinate your marketing campaigns around those three buckets and how you can get them to work together.
Mendelsohn is a big believer in content marketing. She saw it work at Forrester Research and took what she learned to Eventbrite.
Here’s the blog post that started it all:
When Mendelsohn was an analyst at Forrester, she understood that people wanted to know how social media impacted commerce. However, no one at the time knew the answer, except Eventbrite. When she got to Eventbrite, she connected the dots and released the report.
This was the first time they got all three buckets working – they put out some paid advertising for this report, the press picked it up (even Zuckerberg mentioned it in a press conference), and people shared it across their social network. It was one idea and one answer to a question that drove a ton of traffic and signups for Eventbrite.
As Eventbrite breaks into new verticals, they need to reach new audiences and gain credibility. The way they approach this is to listen to these specific user groups. Figure out what they’re talking about, what questions Eventbrite has, and then get answers to those questions.
One user group they discovered was the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) subset. There wasn’t anyone dominating this event market, which presented a big opportunity for Eventbrite. They went and talked to the promoters of EDM. The promoters didn’t know who the fans were, but they wanted to know, and they wanted more of them.
Eventbrite then worked with a company called Mashwork to gather social data on what EDM fans were talking about. All the data led to this popular infographic:
They also published a report showing the differences between EDM fans and traditional music fans:
This led to an explosion of coverage. Eventbrite competitors covered it, and Billboard magazine wrote about it. Ticketmaster, a competitor to Eventbrite, mentioned the data in their analyst calls.
Mendelsohn says that content has been the best way for Eventbrite to break in to a new domain. They don’t force their way into the conversation. Instead, it’s organic, relevant, and people are willing to embrace them.
This content approach doesn’t always work for Eventbrite. They’ve had a few that have flopped, and it’s usually a result of picking the wrong topic and not doing enough research.
3. Building a Team
Mendelsohn’s strategy for building a team was simple – what deserves investment, find the best person to do it, and then move on.
Early on, Mendelsohn hired people who were young, not very experienced, but really hungry to learn and really curious. After a couple of years passed, she began hiring more experienced people as she realized that the young people had reached their capacity for growth and she didn’t have the time or the knowledge to help each one.
To put it another way, her formula was this:
Start with a rock star, hungry team of junior folks and then over time, start layering in more experienced people to help the juniors continue to grow. Today, her direct reports have a minimum of 15 years of experience.
Not every company is the same. Some of what worked for Mendelsohn won’t work for you.
Does your first hire have to be a designer? No, not unless you have that need.
But there are some key lessons to learn. Never underestimate how important it is to learn about your customers. After all, these are the people you are targeting. You need to know about them and how to get more of them. And always do your research before you enter new user groups. Content may not be the best way for you, but whatever you do, you’ll want to make sure your name gets out there in a respectful and organic way that users are receptive to.
Here are some other key takeaways:
- First, understand your customers, and then crystallize your value prop and positioning.
- Watch the TED Talk from Simon Sinek and answer the “why” question.
- Test channels and see what works for you. Pour more investment into what works.
- Get a funnel that measures your key goals. Measure every step and optimize every which way.
About the Author: Zach Bulygo (Twitter) likes marketing, finance, and learning about different businesses.
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