How to sell more? By earning the awareness, trust, and respect of people who could buy from you. This is, in essence, the core of Rand Fiskin's inbound marketing philosophy. In this episode, Rand Fishkin shares his step-by-step guide to selling online using inbound marketing.
Rand Fishkin is the Co-Founder and Ex-CEO of Moz.
Rand Fishkin is one of the best and most transparent marketers. During this hour we talk about the type of marketer that Donald Trump is and what Rand would do if he only had $100 and 6 months to generate $1000 in income.
Rand also tells a personal MOZ story that applies to managing people. Along with reasons why bad marketing stands out, and how to win your customer’s trust.
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Louis: Bonjour, bonjour, welcome to everyonehatesmarketers.com. I’m your host, Louis Grenier. everyonehatesmarketers.com is a podcast for digital marketers who are sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I interview no nonsense marketers who are not afraid to cut through the bullshit and say things as they are. During this show, we’ll learn how to get more visitors, more leads, more customers, more long term profit by using good marketing, by treating people the way we like to be treated. Head over to everyonehatesmarkerters.com to subscribe to the email list. We’ll notify you before anybody else of our future guests, you’ll also help us to come up with great questions for the future guests, you’ll also get access to the number of listens and downloads of the podcast. Also quite simply, to have great one to one conversation if you need any help.
What’s up everybody, this episode is probably the most honest, and transparent, and open conversation I ever had on this podcast. It’s with Rand Fishkin, the cofounder and Ex CEO of Moz, the SEO software. Rand Fishkin is known to be one of the best marketer out there and one of the most transparent. During this hour, we’re going to talk about a lot of things. We are going to talk about Donald Trump and what type of marketer he is. I also asked Rand what he would do with $100 or €100 in one month or six months to generate $1,000 or €1,000, the exact things he would do if he had to generate 10x return.
Rand is also sharing a very personal story that happened over a few years ago in Moz and that’s worth a listen if you’re ever managing people. He’s also going to explain why mostly we remember shady marketing and not good marketing and exactly how to win awareness, respect, and trust of the people who would buy from you.
As usual, have a listen and let me know what you think.
Hi Rand, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today.
Rand: My pleasure. Thank you for having me. I look forward to it.
Louis: You’re very welcome. First question, if Donald Trump was a marketer, what type of marketer will he be?
Rand: He is very effective at playing on people’s fears. He’s a very effective group segmenter. He sorts people by their identities and then creates either great love for him or tolerance for him because the hatred of the other group is stronger. I would say he is a powerful marketer but a black hat marketer. He uses dark patterns in people’s psychology and psychosis to manipulate them, to support things that they don’t actually want.
I think a lot of the US media has focused on how the people who voted for him have a very different impression of what he and the congress will do than what they are going to actually do or what they have been doing. They support for him very strong among his voters but support for his policies, I should say it’s also very strong but only because of him. Support for those policies in the absence of this Demigod is quite lacking. Fascinating individual.
Louis: That’s the answer I was looking for. I think it’s a good introduction for the episode. He’s definitely a black hat marketer, isn’t he? I’m trying to find a better term for it but I think black hats in the world of marketing is quite a good term for him. Thanks for that. Second question I have for you, let’s say I gave you $100 or €100 around the same. I gave you that to generate 10x the amount, $1,000 or euros in sale online for a new software that I’m selling and all of that within a month, let’s say. How would you do that?
Rand: No. Within a month, no.
Louis: Within six months.
Rand: Yes. Six months is totally possible. I’ll describe the way I would go about it if I had to but it’s a low success rate, very low odds of success in that first month. With $100, I would probably spend something between $20 and $50 on three different platforms. One would be retargeting and remarketing. I’d probably split that a little bit between Facebook and the Google AdWords network. Some of it would be direct on Facebook ads for lookalike audience, for some people who already bought the product. You say, “New software product.”
Hopefully, there’s at least 10 to 20 buyers who you’ve gone through in your MVP that you have and so you can basically create profiles of around 50 to 100 people like them, upload that to Facebook and say, “I want more people like this, show my ad to them.”
The third one would be bidding on AdWords ads for people who search for the particular terms and phrases that you think are most likely to be your customer audience. Hopefully, you’ve done research where you actually talk to people who wanted your product and said, “If you are looking for a product like this, what would you search for in Google?” And then you did some pure research based on those answers.
Those three platforms are where I spend those dollars. I would not expect to get 10x return, I would expect to barely break even but to learn enough so that the next month, I could go spend some money and improve my ROI.
If you gave me six months to do it, I would take those $100, I would buy myself a great bottle of whiskey and then I would sit down, and I would start writing, and illustrating, and doing surveys, and gathering data, and doing research, and putting together what I thought was high quality content. I shouldn’t even say high quality content because I think people think of just, “Oh yeah, I should just write some really good content.” No, no, no. You shouldn’t just write some really good content, what you should do is you should talk to your audience and figure out who their influencers are.
If I say, “Oh, Rand Fishkin is someone in my audience.” Who influences Rand? I’m going to plug Rand’s Twitter account into Little Bird or Followerwonk or something like that. I’m going to see the people that he retweets the most. I’m going to see the domains from what he shares URLs the most. I’m going to go try and influence those same people because I know that’s how I’ll get to my customer, Rand. That’s exactly what I’ll try and do. Create not high quality content but content that those outlets and those people would be most likely to amplify.
I would give them a great reason to do that because it supports some theory that they’ve got, it supports some message they’re trying to share or it reinforces something that they’ve been proselytizing out there on the web already, fits with their audience. We’ll help them get more followers, whatever it is. I try and work to their needs and I’d probably spend four or five of those months developing a bunch of those pieces of content and then running them by those people and building those relationships with no expectation return. I’d spend the last 60 days maybe doing a little bit of [00:08:30] and promotion and a lot more outreach to get those directly in front of the folks I care about.
Louis: For the listeners who are quite confused about the whiskey, it doesn’t have to be whiskey. You can buy beer or vodka, it works.
Rand: Whatever you want.
Louis: But you have to use that, it’s the step one anyway, in your tactic. That’s a fantastic answer to start the podcast. I’d like to take a step back and say how much I think you are one of the people out there who give marketing a better name, making it a better place. I know you’re a very humble guy, and a very transparent guy, and a honest guy but I’m truthfully telling you that yes, I think you’re one of the persons I admire the most for this particular reason.
Rand: Thank you. That’s very kind. I assume that means like Donald Trump and I are opposite ends of the marketing spectrum.
Louis: Absolutely. You’re a modern white hat, you’re this kind of Gandalf in Lord Of The Rings, that’s how I see you.
Rand: Oh boy, I hope I don’t have to fight any balrog soon because I’m feeling old and weak.
Louis: I think you did with Google a few times. You’re also pretty vocal about a lot stuff you care about which I also admire. You’ve been in the business for more than 20 years, I don’t want to make you feel like you’re an old guy, you’re not, but you have a lot of experience in it. You started Moz by doing consulting and then moved on to software and you’ve been very transparent as well about how you struggled to start with, how many years you struggled financially, how your wife, fiancé, or girlfriend at that time was very supportive of you.
You’re the type of person where I think a lot of people know about you and feel like they know you and then you talk to them like, “Who are you, anyway. You know everything about me, I don’t know nothing about you.” I’m coming up with a question very soon. I’m curious to know, first of all, what type of kid were you at school and in your daily life?
Rand: One of the tragic things about me is I have terrible memory which works in my favor in two big ways. One, I love going back to places I’ve already been because I don’t remember them that well. Two, I can watch a TV show or movie 5 or 10 years after I first saw it and be totally surprised by the cliffhanger ending again, which is also great. But it’s terrible for when I to recall my childhood or the past.
I was a very tiny kid which the American school system, especially American public schools, that means you get beat up a lot. I didn’t get beat up a lot but you remember those. I definitely got bullied and harassed good amounts. I was a fairly shy introverted kid but someone who also craved the affection and attention which I think is pretty obvious even now.
It’s clearly like, “What’s driving Rand? Why does he keep writing all the stuff? Why does he keep creating all those out there? He doesn’t need to. Moz is doing fine. It doesn’t add that much more to his business or his life, why is he doing it?” It’s because I have this giant hole in my chest that can only be filled by the praise of people on Twitter going, “This is the best thing I’ve ever read. Thank you so much for helping me.” I think that continued from childhood on.
I care a lot about other people. I want them to be healthy, happy and to be able to find love, growth, career success, and whatever it is. Those are traits I carry from high school. I probably told way too many people in high school about someone else who had a crush on them when I wasn’t supposed in the hopes that they would eventually make out behind the gym.
That didn’t go as well as you’d want it to go, people generally didn’t like that. But you learn, you build some emotional intelligence, that’s something that served me really well as a marketer, is to have that understanding of what makes people tick and what pisses them off and what attracts them and interests them.
I think marketing is very much, especially broad scales digital web marketing is a lot about that individual empathy applied to coherent groups. That’s a practice that I certainly urge other marketers to invest in.
Louis: Do you think that because you’re a quite shy or introvert kid and therefore you took a step back from others and observe them from your own point of view, do you think this is how you developed the empathy that you have today for people?
Rand: I don’t know. I’m not sure whether the introversion and the shyness was a result of feeling uncomfortable and then that created this strong desire to get more comfortable with people and understand them or whether it’s a correlation but not causation.
Louis: You had to mention causation and correlation in the first 10 minutes, didn’t you?
Rand: It’s an important principle, right?
Louis: It is. Absolutely. Just to make you breathe, causation is when there is an actual cause and effect, when something actually caused something else to something. Correlation, I’m going to try to explain it and you’re probably going to explain it better, it’s a weaker link, something happens and then something else happens but it’s difficult to find the cause. Is that it?
Rand: I think correlation can mean that the two things are causal, thing X caused thing Y but it could also mean that thing X and thing Y happened together but maybe totally unrelated. For example, one of the things that I think a lot of folks use is ice cream sales are highly correlated with hot weather. But if lots of people go out and buy lots of ice cream, the weather will not warm up. The causation actually runs the other way, it’s when the weather warms up that the ice cream happens.
Likewise, I think, if I remember it correctly, ice cream sales and murder rates are highly correlated with other. When you see a day where there’s lots ice cream sales in the city, you also see a day when murders go up. But neither one is causing the other one. It’s not like people take a bunch of licks of chocolate and like, “Okay, that’s it, get me the gun.” The causation of both of those is a secondary thing which is heat. It turns out that when weather is hot, people tend to stay out later, people tend to be angrier and more frustrated, and violence often comes from that.
It’s kind of sad in Seattle when we have a 95 or 96 degree day and I’m like, “Ooh. Man, some ice cream sounds great today. Get to wear shorts and flip flops. Shoot, somebody is probably going to die.” You have to train your brain not to go in that direction. But those things are all connected. Correlation and causation are important principles for marketers to understand because when we look at data, we will often see things that look connected and then we have to experiment in order to figure out whether they are actually causal or whether they’re merely correlated.
This happens all the time with folks falsely attributing an investment that they’ve made or something that they’ve done with a result in their business and then getting thrown way off track.
Louis: Quickly, how do you test that causation or correlation?
Rand: This is one of the things where correlation is awesome for forming theories. What you want to do is you want to take a look at two data points and you say, “Gosh, we have been producing content at a rate of a new post a week for last 20 weeks. But the last three weeks, we doubled that pace. We wanted to see what would happen. Boy, it sure looks like to us that our traffic has gone up from that.” If that is your hypothesis, then you can verify that in one or two ways. You can go look at the data and say, “Here’s the post that we produced. Are they the ones that have actually gotten more traffic or not?” Or you could experiment by cutting down your post quantity back to the original level, watching it for another few weeks to see if the traffic falls commensurately and then bring it up back and see if it rises commensurately.
I think those types of experimentation, it’s awesome to draw the hypothesis from the correlation. It’s terrible to draw a conclusion from the correlation. It’s almost like a scientific practice. You don’t want to assume, you want to verify.
Louis: You try to test one thing at a time or to remove one part of the equation at a time. That will make sure that there’s causation.
Rand: You try and limit your variables as much as much as possible. Granted in a complex business scenario where there are a lots of inputs, that can be a challenge and you have to use your best judgment. There have been plenty of times at Moz where we gone well, we know it’s best practice to do to this but this is having such a positive effect and we really need this positive effect right now. Let’s just not change it for the time being, we’ll go and measure the data and let the data lead us to a conclusion rather than actually cutting our post in half again or something like that.
Louis: Because I suppose you don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot by testing things that are walking and just stop doing them just to test them, that makes total sense. As I mentioned before, you’re probably one of the most transparent marketer I’ve ever come across. You’ve been sharing content. You’ve been sharing about your mental health. You’ve been sharing about your financial situation. You’ve been sharing about why you move from CEO to the wizard that you’re today and how you almost regretted the decision. It’s mind blowing how honest and transparent you are.
I’m going to try to attempt something almost impossible today. Can you share something you’ve never told anyone about Moz or yourself in the work you’ve done?
Rand: I’ll share a story that really frustrates me that I haven’t written about and haven’t talked about publicly but would like to in the near future. Maybe in the next few months, maybe I’ll try and write something about this. We’re recording today on March 9th, yesterday was International Women’s Day, my co-founder at Moz was my mom, our first investor was Michelle Goldberg from Ignition. For many years, our Board of Directors and our executive team were more women than men or were balanced with women and men. Moz has always been a very gender balanced company at least in the leadership. We’ve struggled on Engineering for sure just like I think every other tech company.
This is something that’s really important to us. Nevertheless, despite a deep passion for feminism and equality at Moz, we, a few years ago, hired someone who had worked at a big company previously, came highly recommended. Someone at Moz really trusted them and liked them, brought them on to their team and this person unfortunately turned out to be someone who is extremely good at playing politics, internal company stuff politics.
It was kind of awful in the way that they treated not their team but people around them and people they interacted with. The kind of sexism where it gets reported to HR, that person is tired that day, just awful stuff. I didn’t find out about it for probably six months after it happened. Even when I did find out about it, when I brought it up to other people at the exec team and our folks, they basically said, “We need the people to whom this happened to actually go and report it.” That was not the case, they didn’t feel comfortable bringing it up.
Eventually, this person got let go for other reasons. It drove me bananas that you can care so deeply about this issue that you can build so many structures to try and prevent it and that it still seeps into your organization. This is one of those things where I am deeply frustrated about it and I don’t necessarily have a solution to it. I have yet to discover how do you weed out these cancerous people inside your organization who do a great job of making themselves look good to their managers and to the executives of the company and their particular team really likes them but they are poisonous to large units around them in the company. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in sexist kinds of ways, it could be in other ones.
I wish I had a good answer to that. I think that’s a downfall of many, many companies. I know that this person caused at least one very talented person to leave Moz and I wish she was still there. I don’t know what to do about that.
Louis: Let me share my thoughts. Thanks for sharing, first of all. I really appreciate it. What I think is happening is, I would consider a company to be a human body and the CEO is the brain. The brain is not aware of all the little things that your body does every second. Your brain doesn’t actually tell you actively that your system needs to work or that your legs move. It all happens in the background. I think it’s a little bit like you as a best CEO where the people in your team are the autopilots function of your body. They work on their own. They don’t really need you to actively do things.
But very much like the analogy of cancer, even the best brain, even the best body sometimes can’t help having cancer cells coming up. I don’t think that this is something that is the brain’s fault or that body’s fault. It just happens because with the millions of cells or billions of cells you have in your body, sometimes, somehow, some bad things will happen. Evolution is just the way cells mutate. I think it’s the exact same thing for you, you shouldn’t beat yourself up because it just happens, it’s just probably. You can’t have 100% certainty about things. It can be pretty close but sometimes it will happen.
Rand: It was a great analogy, actually. You need a process where you train your white blood cells to know what to attack and what not to and run that process semi-regularly and try and flush out. You go into a doctor for a checkup for a regular basis and hopefully they find stuff.
Louis: Yeah but sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it doesn’t happen. Sometimes your white cells discover a new type of virus or microbes they never seen before and they just don’t know what to do with it and you just need to come up with a solution after that. It took you six months, it’s not a bad amount of time. I’m not going to name the company recently that has made a news for this particular reason but it took them longer.
Rand: If we’re talking about Uber here, they clearly, intentionally crafted a body built of cancer. They used that as a tool in their arsenal to fight the powers of law enforcement and government. It’s not a surprise that an organization like that would have a sort of system, more black hat tech startup growth hack methodology there. I think that it’s pretty amazing to hear such wisdom and comfort just a few seconds after I told you the story, that’s really amazing.
Louis: My pleasure. Just for the record, it’s coming from the book called Incognito: The Secret Life of the Brain and the author there is actually making this exact analogy between the CEO being the brain and the body being the people. It’s not as if I came up with that on my own, I’m not that smart. However, I do remember stuff and sometimes I make analogy between things. It’s a very good book. I think you’ll really like it.
Moving onto more marketing related topics, why do you think marketers have a bad reputation in general?
Rand: I think that the vast majority of marketing that we as consumers, business consumers or B to C type of consumers, are faced with and the types of marketing that we remember that we’re exposed to are almost exclusively the negative ones. You don’t remember great marketing like, “I heard a podcast. There was this really interesting guest so I went and checked out their blog and I love what they were doing so I subscribed and them a few months later, I actually needed the product that their company offers and so I bought it.” You don’t even think of that as marketer.
That doesn’t create the association of, “Wow, that was really good marketing. I like marketers.” The associations that we build are, “I got spammed, I got this crappy email, I got hoodwinked, I saw these terrible ads, I got interrupted when I was watching this television program by this junk, I was at a conference, and I had someone treat me like I was just a piece of meat in an auction and they were just trying to sell me actively.” Those are the associations that people actively remember with marketers.
I think that when you’re exposed to good marketing, you don’t even recognize or remember this marketer that gave you cognitively process that when you think about it you’ll be like, “Oh yeah, I guess that technically is marketing.” But bad marketing is the one that sticks. Hence, marketers get the reputation that’s associated with what may only be a fraction of the actual marketing professional world but we all get tagged with it.
Louis: Actually, I never thought about it this way. Good marketing is invisible, really, unless it’s the fantastic experience. Let me contradict you a little bit. I do see a lot of shares on social media or even people and I do hear a lot of friends or family members who would talk about the very good experience they had, just out of the top of my head, I remember this letter that this kid sent to Lego recently about the fact that he wanted to work with them. They answered back with this very sweet letter and the post went viral.
Rand: Let me interrupt you real quick. When people talk to you about it, when family members or people outside of marketing world, did they say to you, “Gosh, Lego’s marketers are so smart and good.” Or did they say, “I love Lego, they’re such a great company.” I think when it’s good marketing, the credit does not go to the marketers. Even if it’s not invisible marketing, the marketer themselves becomes invisible a lot of the time, not all of the time, I’m not saying this is 100%. But much of the time when there’s those positive experiences, people associate it with the brand experience or the product experience rather than the, “Oh, that’s really good marketing.”
Louis: That’s a good point.
Rand: There are some counterpoints. An example, in the United States, we all watch one football game a year, the Super Bowl. Many people watch it just for the advertisements and those advertisements often receive both sides, positive praise and negative attention, but when it does get positive praise I think that’s one of the few times when marketers get recognized just like, “Oh wow, that’s great marketing.” But outside of great advertising, I’m not sure that marketers get much credit for their work.
I think that unfortunately, that actually biases a lot of startups and entrepreneurs and people who are building companies to think that marketing either isn’t important or shouldn’t be part of their early processes. They think of it as, “Hey, if I build a great product, that’ll do everything I need it to do.” Instead of, “A lot of people build great products that never go anywhere. Why is that?” They never got in front of enough customers or the right customers, they couldn’t build attention.
I think, on the flip side of that, there’s a lot of people who are able to get in front of tons of folks, don’t have that great of a product but because people know them and have an association with them, they’re able to sell a lot of their product and often times they can improve that product over time. I actually think Moz is kind of that way. We were a marketing for startup and we had a really crappy little product in 2007 but lots of people subscribed to it because of the right audience was reading our blog and paying attention to us and visiting our site.
That snowballed into this, “Hey, now we have some money to turn this into a real product and let’s go build a LinkedIn next.” We were one of the first folks to do that then we launched it. There was this big revolution. Now we have more substance of competition and I would say we’re vying with a few folks out there for best in class at particular SEO product X. I think it was very much marketing first as opposed to our product for a startup.
Louis: I think you talked about a very interesting point and that explains a lot why a lot of people will be biased against marketing because good marketing is almost invisible, the good marketers are almost invisible. As marketers, we want to do good. It should be to almost disappear so that the brand speaks to itself, the expense speaks to itself. It seems seamless but it actually takes a lot of work. What’s so called best practices are just plain wrong in the field of marketing do you think?
Rand: I think one of the best practices that I see all the time and I think is totally false is that folks basically will build a product and then they immediately think that paid marketing channels are how they generate their initial traffic and in trust. There’s been some great research, I think one of the folks who put it out there was WordStream actually, what they looked at is they looked at brands and content that performed very well and paid marketing channels, AdWords, Facebook, I think retargeting and remarketing ads, display ads, all these kinds of stuff.
What they found is that if you already have a positive association with the brand, if you visited the website a couple of times already, then it is very likely that those paid ads will have high ROI. But if you have no experience, if you haven’t heard of the company before, you’ve never seen their website, your paid ad effectiveness is crap. It’s awful. As a result, that makes me think that the best practice should be don’t invest in paid ads until and unless you know you have some brand equity and affinity and some organic traffic to the audience you’re trying to reach with those paid ads because you can dramatically lose the effectiveness.
You can spend half the money and get twice the return if you can get in front of that audience in organic ways first. I think that I would urge companies, not just marketers because I think a lot of this is like solo entrepreneurs and small product teams, that kind of stuff, I would urge them to think about how am I going to get in front of this audience and their influencers, why will they amplify me, who are the people doing that, before I think about how am I going to go spend money to get new customers.
Louis: The listeners don’t see that but I’m nodding constantly for the last 10 minutes. The reason why is that DHH from Basecamp told me something quite similar, I like when I hear two people I respect a lot saying the exact same thing. He was saying that remarketing, retargeting, paid ads, unless your brand is very well known and you have a lot of respect for your brand, those channels generally don’t bring incremental customers, new incremental customers, they’re just helping but they would’ve come out anyway.
Rand: I’m on the Board of Directors of a company here in Seattle, it’s a small startup called Haiku Deck. They do presentation software. They’re like a PowerPoint but for teachers and educators and presenters who don’t want to learn PowerPoint or don’t have time to build a formal PowerPoint. It’s a very easy drag and drop, you don’t even have to drag and drop. The challenge that they’re having is exactly this where essentially it’s like a chicken and egg problem. We can spend this much on paid ads and get this many customers but the cost is quite high. How do we get in front of these people first?
I think they built up a very, very powerful and impressive paid marketing system, they’ve finally tuned all those channels, they’ve got their conversion rate optimization dialed in, they’ve done tons of pricing tests, they just optimized the heck of this. I think they’ve really done the 80%, gone to that 80% and the last 20% is going to be lower returns and incredibly hard to make incremental progress on.
But on the flip side, very few people heard of them. Haiku Deck just doesn’t have a well-known brand. If they could build this association in the minds of a few millions folks, even a few hundred thousand folks that if you want a simpler presentation software than PowerPoint, you should try Haiku Deck. I think that all those paid ads would work that much better. I compare and contrast that to someone like Buffer who has done this phenomenal job of branding. I think millions of people who have never used Buffer and maybe never will, know who they are, like them, trust them, have this positive association with them and we generally know what they do. They’re like, “Oh yeah, they do the social media scheduling.”
I don’t personally use them because I do all my social media updates in real time which maybe is dumb, maybe I should try some scheduling stuff. But for my personal account, I should say Moz uses it for scheduling. That’s one of those situations where they can do paid advertising and they’ve done a few case studies around their paid ad effectiveness. You can see that it’s just pretty outstanding. They can really get high returns by being in front of people when they’re looking for that because people already have that positive association.
Louis: That brings me very nicely to the next thing I wanted to discuss. In this section, I like go a little bit more in depth so that listeners can take away a few actions they can genuinely do tomorrow or even today, to go towards their goals and reach their objectives. There is one quote I really like from you and it’s actually a tweet that is pinned on your profile which is, “The best way to sell something is not to sell anything, you need to earn the awareness, the respect and the trust of those who might buy.” I think it fits very nicely with what you just said.
Let’s start from the start. Let’s take the exact example you took from this startup you are and the both of [00:39:26]. They need to build awareness. They need to build branding, they need to create this brand equity so that people recognize them and associate them with one or two words. How do you that? Let’s try to find steps that people can take away today.
Rand: My favorite process is to identify the audience you’re trying to reach. Who are the buyers? In the case Haiku Deck, most of their buyers right now are educators of some kind. Some of them are online educators but many of them are classroom educators. A large number are at public and private schools in the United States. Once you’ve identified that audience, you want to find the channels, the media, the social accounts, and the individuals that influence them.
From there, once you have that set of people and channels and influencers, you want to find out how do I get in front of them? Then you’re essentially doing the hypothesis, execute, iterate.
Louis: Let me interrupt you. Let’s go back to step one, how do I find out what influencers or people influence my customers? What tools should I use to do that?
Rand: First off, hopefully, if you are building product in your early stage, you have a lot of direct one to one customer connections and relationships with those people. Adam Tratt, the CEO and founder of Haiku Deck, he personally knows a few hundred of Haiku Deck’s customers and many of their best ones. One of the things that I would certainly urge founders to do, product folks to do, is to have meaningful, in person or phone, email is okay, conversations with those folks.
Second tactic is surveys. Asking your customers to take a survey and give you some of their preferences and those kind of things. The third one is to use some of the social media tools to identify your customers. If you use a tool like FullContact, you can plug in an email address from someone who might have bought your product and you can get all their social accounts that are associated or you can just use Google Search and usually figure that out for a large number.
Build a spreadsheet with a sample set of 100 of your customers or 20 of your customers, if that’s all you got and then you can go manually if you have the time and then you have a small enough customer group, you can go manually, research who their influencers are, who are they following? Who do they retweet and amplify the most? What do they share on LinkedIn? What do they put on their profile page? What are they sharing on Facebook if they have a public Facebook account? Where are they going and doing and who are they following on Instagram? All that kind of stuff.
You can use some tools. If you want to pay a lot of money, there’s tools like Radian6 or Crimson Hexagon. If you’re looking at smaller or midsize amounts, you can use tools like Sprinklr, Sprout Social do some of that, Followerwonk is cheap and it’ll do some of that for Twitter. Side note, Followerwonk is still owned by Moz, we’re in the process of selling it but it’s still owned by Moz, I want to make sure I disclose that. There’s some other tools like that, I think Hootsuite has some stuff to do.
It depends on how big you are and whether you want to pay, you use a tool to do it or whether you can get a small enough group and you can do the manual analysis or have one of your product folks or an intern do the analysis for you. That is how you discover the answers to all those questions of who’s in my audience? Who are their influencers?
Once you have that set of influencers and influencers, I mean brands, I mean media outlets, I mean blogs, or podcasts, or whatever they’re paying attention to, or individual people that they’re paying attention to. Maybe it’s, “Hey, these folks are completely off social media but twice a year they always go to this conference.” That’s where my buyers are. I know they’ll be at this event. I know that they’ll be paying attention to these speakers. Those are their influencers.
I remember, a few years ago, many years ago now, I did work in the commercial real estate industry. Commercial real estate brokers, they are not on Twitter, they are not on Facebook, they are not on LinkedIn, maybe they’re on LinkedIn a little bit. But they’re like kind of in this invisible world but there is this one publication, I can’t remember the name now but there’s this one publication that they all read. They read it like physical paper read it. I think some of them get in email but that’s the publication at the end. How do I get the writers of that publication to talk about me in this commercial real estate journal on a regular basis?
That’s where you do that hypothesis experimentation, iteration where you say, “Hey, I think if we produce this kind of data, the commercial real estate journal will cover us. They’ll write about it, they’ll include the graph that we came up with, they’ll site the source, and our brand name will be better known and maybe we’ll get a LinkedIn email.” Let’s go find that data and get it, produce it, email those folks, tell them we have it, tell them we can give them reproduction rights, that kind of thing. Ask if they want us to post the first version on their website, those kinds of things.
That doesn’t work? Okay. New hypothesis. Let’s see if we can do it by contacting one of their existing writers and build a relationship with that person. Okay, that didn’t work. Alright, let’s see if we can do some advertising with them. We’ll do straight up advertising with the journal, let’s see if that gets us the return that we’re looking for.
Whatever medium you’re trying to reach, whatever influence you’re trying to reach, you’ll come up with a bunch of ideas, brainstorm, we’ll write them all down, prioritizing by what you think will work best and then go through that list until you find the one that’s working for you with that person.
Louis: To summarize the first step, the [00:46:10] stage, what you want to do is to find out who are your customers paying attention to. If you had to summarize it in one question. Once you know that and you create an experiment and try to reach out to them and make them amplify your content in some way or another, how do you gain people’s respect?
Rand: I think that is a matter of what we talked earlier in our conversation around empathy. Empathy for people and emotional intelligence of knowing what kinds of folks you’re reaching and what they like and respect. If you’ve done some early customer development, you would likely have a good sense of who you are and who they are and where the match comes into play. I wish that I can give you a very technical process but I don’t think that’s how relationship building works.
It’s like dating. Please don’t read a how to go on dates book. Be a good person, treat others kindly and with respect, offer to help them, only do things with their not just full consent but that they actually strongly want you to do. That sort emotional intelligence, intuition. That’s what makes a great marketer at that respect building stage. Very frankly, there are different kinds of people who respect different kinds of activities and different kinds of companies and people.
That’s why you can have someone on this podcast who would give you an extremely aggressive, a Donald Trump-esque style of marketing. That can be effective too. This is not a Orion’s method or the one that we’re talking about right now is the only one that works, it’s definitely the one that works for me and I don’t want to pursue those that I’m at. But there are other styles that work. You’re going to figure out through that process what style works for you and your audience.
Louis: I’m going to contradict you here. I think that long term, this is the only way that marketing can be. Let’s take a step back and think about humans and the way we are. We are social animals, we are not this way for the last 100 years, we’ve been this way for million, hundred or million of years and there are reasons why we are this way. I think that if marketers do exactly as you say, build up empathy, emotional intelligence, connect with people, these are the first principles that will never change. People are the way they are. It’s not because Twitter is here, Facebook is here, Google is here that we changed.
I’m going to contradict you, I would take a stand and say this is probably the only long term way to genuinely make people care about what you do. You might have some shady hacks and tricks and tips that might work for a few months, however, I would question those approaches in the long term.
Rand: I think we agree on that. I like what Andrew Chance says where there’s this law of shitty click through rates. Essentially, when a new platform or new opportunities emerge, there’s this ability to be an early adopter, be very aggressive, be very hacky and succeed with it. As people start to use and abuse those systems and they get overrun, the click through rate or the engagement rate or the effectiveness rate drops and drops dramatically to a near zero level.
Remember the early days of the internet where you had the popovers and the pop unders, it’s worked for a while, it was effective enough that many, many people did it. Of course, we all started A, ignoring them and B, installing browsers that will prevent them from happening. Same thing happened with Google AdWords in the early days. You could be a company that no one had ever heard of but if you bought Google Ads and you appeared in the top, above the ordinary results, a good portion of people would click on you and trust you because they trusted Google.
They thought, “Oh okay, this person is advertising at Google, let me go check them out.” The conversion rates were decent. It got recognized and people got used to Google, they got used to advertising on the web. Those effectiveness rates dropped and now we’re having the conversation. If you’re not already getting in front of an audience that knows you and likes you and trusts you, your advertising effective rate is going to be dramatically worse. This was true in Facebook advertising too, it’s true in Instagram advertising.
It’s true when Airbnb’s spammed the shit out of Craigslist. I think it was true when Uber went and used the greyballing app that they developed to avoid all these legal issues and the bunch of cities that they went into illegally. Now those cities are going to be smart, if you’re Lift or you’re the next competitor and you try and do that, they’re going to be onto you. It’s that law of shitty click through rates. These hacks, these approaches can work initially but then it’s very tough to make it work long term.
Louis: We talked about awareness, respect and we touched on trust briefly. Are they any other things? Once I’ve done those two things first to build trust with customers, do I have to build a good product and a good service to earn trust?
Rand: Yes, certainly. Over the long term, if you want to keep people around, you have to actually provide a product that helps them and that serves them. However, I want to say that from a marketer’s perspective, because marketers very often don’t get to control much of the product itself, the product experience or what the product does. I think great companies do have series of conversations between product developers, the architect of the product, and the marketers who are going out and talking to customers and understanding their behavior (and what motivates human behavior), those kinds of things and they use that intelligence.
There’s a few other things that marketers can do to help with retention and awareness. Some of those are helping people to better understand the value of the product that they’ve already bought. If there’s things that the product does for your customers but your customers aren’t using those or they don’t understand them. Often times, it’s actually the marketer’s job to help showcase that.
I think far too few companies, Moz included, do a great job of advertising and promoting and showing off the, “You bought this, let me show you the thing that it does. Let me show you how to use this so that you can get a return. By the way, I don’t know if you checked this out but a month ago, we changed this other thing that I don’t know you need and want and I have to get in front of you again and keep marketing.”
I think that many times, marketers think that conversion is the last point of touch between marketers and customers. That shouldn’t be the case in a SaaS business. You have an ongoing team.
One of the things we’ve done at Moz is we actually have a retention marketing person full time on each of our products, Moz Local and Moz Pro. Kelly on Moz Pro is thinking only about how do I get people who already are customers of Pro to be aware of the things Pro is doing, to engage with it again, to show off that value. We built a customer success team internally whose job is to have a phone call with people who signed up. I think in their first paying month, we have a free trial month and then in their first paying month they have a phone call and they walk people through it and then they stay connected through email to them and try and help them out long term. That certainly affected churn rate positively for us.
Louis: I have two other questions for you. The first one is a lot of people are reaching out to me, they’re not necessarily marketing right now but they are really interested in it and they would ask me what’s my advice so that they can find a first job in marketing. What would be your advice to them?
Rand: Specialize, specialize. Find something that you love and are particularly passionate about, that could be a vertical area like I love the food and beverage world, or I love travel, or I’m really passionate about software, or B2B SaaS, or I’m really passionate about ecommerce, or whatever it is, it could be even more specialized. I really like to help people who do food and beverage ecommerce, super specific, great.
That specialty is one way you can go, the other way you can go is on a particular tactic. You could say, “I am the best Facebook advertising person you will ever find. I am the best technical SEO for side architecture and fixing errors and issues that you will find out there. I am the best retention marketer for physical subscription products out there.” I think that’s specialization, having that passion, understanding that particular realm is a great way to get hired by one of those companies.
If you can align your interest to a dozen companies who do that and you can have a blog, even if it’s a blog that nobody reads except your potential new employer where you are dissecting and analyzing and providing smart advice on your particular area of expertise, that’s a great way to show it off. Just like for an engineer or programmer, having a GitHub repository with a bunch of cool side projects is a phenomenal way to get hired even if you are completely crap at a whiteboard interview.
They can tell from looking at your projects, “Oh this person knows how to build software, I can see the thing, what they’re doing. Even if they can’t do a bubble sword on a whiteboard, that’s okay.”
Louis: Don’t be afraid to specialize and then learn. Get deep into the subject then get to know your subject better than most people.
Rand: And show up publicly someway. Give an interviewer or a recruiter, a company, a product person a way to go visit your work and see what you know and get excited about it from there.
Louis: What are the top three resources you would recommend to a SaaS marketer, digital marketer to read or consume?
Rand: I think it’s crucially important that marketers understand people and what motivates them and how they behave. I think that reading about psychology, there’s a famous book, Influence by Robert Cialdini. I’m sure folks have recommended that to you in the past but I would certainly add my plus one to that. There’s lots of other books in that category, I think Nudge is a great book on that front, Predictably Irrational from Dan Ariely, those kinds of things are great.
I would also suggest, as a marketer, from there I go and identify your areas of specialty and then I would go find two things. One, I would find a conference or event that resonates with you, that you love, and I will try to go to that event or events at least once a year. I would also try and find a blog, a few blogs, or a podcast or something in that realm of your expertise and I pursue that. If it’s SEO, maybe you say, “I’m deep in SEO, I really like Moz and Moz conf. I’m going to read the Moz blog and I’m going to go to Moz conf. I tremendously love SEO and so I’m going to read Search Engine Land and I’m going to go to the SearchLove Conference Series from Distilled or the SMX Conference Series.”
You find the one that resonates with you. If it’s social media marketing, you might say, “I’m going to go to Social Media World every year and I’m going to be reading the Hootsuite blog.”
Louis: Rand, you’ve been superb, you made me think about a lot of stuff I didn’t think about before. I’m sure listeners have learned a lot from you. Once again, thank you so much for your time.
Rand: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.