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The great void of content on consumer marketing and how to succeed regardless

Over the past week I’ve been spending a lot of time working on our year long marketing plan and also onboarding two new awesome growth hires.  Going from half my time to all my time plus 5 others working on growth / marketing / whatever the cool kids are calling it has been quite the fun time.

I’m often asked by new hires getting up to speed if there are any good resources on this stuff.  And as I name the usual suspects, I realized I often found myself saying “this site/resource is great, but keep in mind it’s geared towards B2B.”  Over and over again.

Then I had a realization: there really isn’t all that much content focused on consumer marketing.

For instance, I was recently looking for some resources about email marketing.  A brief look at the SERPs for “how to do an effective email marketing campaign” reveals how the content skews towards B2B.

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 10.49.05 PM

The common thread in all of these articles?  For one, they’re all produced by marketing software companies (more on this later).  But more importantly, they’re all geared towards B2B.

While I got some cool tidbits from these reads, I couldn’t help but realize that much of the advice was simply not applicable to me, a B2C marketer.  For example, here are a few ways B2C email marketing is much different than B2B:

  • Faster buying cycle: The entire awareness, education, and buying phase often happens in minutes.
  • Less affinity for the subject matter [1]:  At LawnStarter, most of our prospective customers don’t really care about getting a giant guide to lawn care  in their inbox – they just want their lawn to look good.  In contrast, when I received Segment’s case study Instacart Uses Redshift to Drive Growth in my inbox, I instantly ate it up because I’m a data nerd.
  • Event-based automation probably matters less:  Savvy B2B marketers send emails based on activity on their platform, how far they are into their free trial, which content they’ve viewed, ect.  With consumers, the additional utility you’ll gain from using true marketing automation (vs a simple drip campaign) probably isn’t worth it.

Now I could write an entire post on email marketing, but my the point is that there are differences between B2B and B2C. Important differences.  Again, I’m not saying consumer marketers can’t learn a lot from this content.  Whether you’re selling SaaS, getting an e-commerce store off the ground, or opening a freaking lemonade stand, I think everyone has something to gain from quality content.

lemonade-stand-pricing
Growth hacker lemonade stand pricing

Who has the incentive to produce marketing content?

As I alluded above, a giant’s share of the marketing content produced is by companies that sell marketing services or software.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • ConversionXL: A Conversion Rate Optimization Agency
  • Hubspot: Inbound CRM SaaS for large businesses
  • Quicksprout: By the founder of KISSMetrics (SaaS software) and now it’s own SaaS product
  • KISSMetrics: Analytics software for businesses

Yup, they’re all selling to companies.

Additionally, there’s a lot of garbage content out there – thin listicles, poorly written clickbait, and “case studies” which are really meaningless.  Good content takes time and / or money, and nobody writes for charity [1].

So who can afford to invest time and money into high quality content about marketing?  Big companies selling big-ticket marketing software who will ultimately get sales from said content – that’s who.

I’m not going to say B2C is harder, but it does vary more

As this interview with Jon Bischke on SaaStr points out, there’s much more of a playbook in B2B than in B2C.  For consumer startups (especially in the early stage), any investor will ask is “how the hell are you going to acquire all those consumers?”.  And that question has a very different answer for each company.  Whereas in B2B, it’s much simpler, likely something combo along the lines of “outbound + attracting leads with content relevant to the business -> marketing automation + sales.”  Not easy by any means, but more consistent from company to company.

Any given tactic that works for one consumer company will likely not work for another.  Because of this, consumer marketers need to find secrets, which they’re far less likely to share.  That’s why most of my personal consumer marketing knowledge has come from personal conversations with others – not blogs.

Natural bias

Finally, writers are inherently biased to what they know.  So it’s natural that a B2B guy would write about B2B marketing.  A couple weeks ago  I published “How to succeed at content marketing in a boring industry“.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was really writing “How to succeed at content marketing for consumer businesses in boring industries”.

How to get better at consumer marketing

Even with a void of subject matter written specifically for consumer marketing, there’s a ton you can do to get better.  Here are some tactics I’ve used to become better.

Do your detective work on successful companies

You probably know of the brands that have done well, and specifically those that are similar to your business.  You can learn a TON by simply doing research on these companies.

Start with Similarweb or Alexa.  These tools are far from perfect, but they give a general sense of where a site’s traffic is coming from, what keywords they’re going after, and where their site stands in terms of traffic and bounce rate.  Keep in mind that since it’s all modeled, it’s often very wrong.  But they’re good for directional data points.

similar-web

Then experience what their consumers are experiencing.

  • Look at their landing pages for key search terms – they likely have invested a lot in these
  • Join their mailing list – I have an email account solely dedicated to email marketing intelligence
  • Go through their signup process and drop off, then see what they do to get you back
  • Call their customer support line and see how they answer questions
  • Use Ghostery and/or Builtwith to see what tech they’re using
  • Turn off your adblocker to get retargeted, and take notes on their campaigns

This is a great way to generate ideas and inspiration. But, you still don’t really don’t know what’s working for them.  You could be in a test bucket, or they simply may not know what they hell they’re doing.

Now you’ve gotten a lot of ideas, and fortunately there’s an easy way to learn what actually works…

Form personal relationships with the best

I previously mentioned that most of my learning has come from personal relationships – not reading.  Getting in touch with the people at whatever company you’ve been ogling over is more valuable than you’d ever imagine.  Especially if you can find the person who grew from the stage you’re at to the next stage.

Finding the right people to get in touch with is a fairly easy task on LinkedIn.  I like to also check Conspire to view your connections to that person.  Then craft a concise forwardable email using the double opt in politely asking for the intro.   (On a side note: if you don’t use the double-opt in for intros, you’re a terrible person.)

conspire-introductions

 

For funded startups, asking your investors for intros is super helpful.  For one, they have already bet on you and are willing to spend social capital making intros, not to mention they have a financial incentive to do so.  VCs are especially helpful.  They are well connected, have insights into companies that have been through your stage, and also carry a lot of klout.  Use them.

Having a personal introduction is infinitely more valuable than all the reading you’ll ever do, and here’s why: Nearly every succesful startup success has two stories: the public story and the real story.  Airbnb’s public story was that they weren’t seeing much growth, so they went door to door talking to customers, then took professional photos and nudged their hosts to lower pricing a bit.  The real story?  They hacked Craigslist and used it to recruit both the supply and demand side of their marketplace.  Getting in touch with the people who were there gives you the real story.

Whenever you chat with the person you want to meet, be sure to provide value.  The easiest way to do this is just appear smart, likeable, and knowledgable about their business.  Don’t waste a 30 minute call with a legend asking about the basics of SEO.  I always like to end every conversation asking for specific ways to be of help.  Be sure to followup later on and let them know how things worked out.

Form your own mini-communities

Every month I have breakfast with a handful of the best marketers in Austin, and that hour is more valuable than all the reading I’ve done combined.  You get to hear and share what is and isn’t working, as it happens in real time.  Keep your groups small, and be highly selective on who you invite.

Note this is different from going to generic, public meetups or networking events.  I hate meetups for a number of reasons.  For one, I have ADHD and can’t stand sitting through presentations.  But more importantly, I’ve found that public meetups generally get infiltrated by salespeople and people who aren’t serious and would rather attend meetups than do real work.  (Apologies if I sound cynical…just my experience.)

marketing-meetups

Slack channels can be a way to get access to a large variety of people, but I’d found that like meetups, most eventually get overrun by the masses and end up just being a distraction.   The one exception I’ve found is Test and Tell put on by Experiment Engine – they’ve done a great job of growing a community while maintaining quality and intimacy (probably because they charge for admission).

Listen to interviews

AMAs and blog posts written by marketing people are cool, but since they’re written and edited, you often don’t learn secrets.  On recorded podcasts / interviews, there’s more of a chance someone will “slip up” and reveal something valuable.  My friend Nathan is notorious for pushing for actual information on his podcast The Top, check it out.

Read with your bias meter on

There’s a ton of great content out there, but you have to recognize when it does and doesn’t apply.

This post about Building a Growth Machine by Brian Balfour is all about process, and is gold for any marketer.  Some channels, like SEO and SEM are fairly straightforward and most of the good content applies to everyone.

Other topics, such as inbound / content marketing are much different in B2B and B2C.  Following advice of a Marketo case study if you’re a transactional consumer startup isn’t all that applicable.

Only you know your business, and you have to actively determine whether it’s applicable or not, based on your own intuition.

Filling the void

consumer-marketing-void

So, while there are still many ways for us consumer growth people to get better, I still maintain that there’s a big void.  So going forward, I’m going to attempt to gear my writing towards consumer marketing and growth.  I hope other fellow consumer marketers will join me.  If you want to hear what I have to say, enter your email below.


 

 

Do you know of any hidden gems in the consumer space that I might be missing?  Sound off in the comments below.

 

 

[1] Of course there are exceptions, notably the personal finance space.  Companies like BankRate, Mint.com, and Self Lender have a consumer audience that’s super passionate about the subject matter.  Another is personal health, such as Human Data Project a company that matches patients with clinical trials, using content about chronic conditions to attract customers.

[2] This might not be completely true.  Many of my favorite VC bloggers, Paul Graham, Mark Suster, Brad Feld, Alex Iskold probably write mostly to give back and also get personal fulfillment  But their writing undoubtedly has helped build their brands of their firms.  I fall into this category.  I write 1) because I enjoy it and to give back 2) to grow the brand of LawnStarter in the marketing community as a recruiting tool and 3) because watching GA realtime is just oh so addicting.  Mostly, but not wholly altruistic.