Why All Startups Should Start With Branding Instead of Content

Anthony Kennada, VP of Marketing at Gainsight, joins the Content Pros Podcast to share how he prioritized branding with content to create a start-up positioned for success.

In This Episode:

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Full Episode Details

Forging A New Path

Branding can be the last thing on many content marketer’s minds. We all know it’s necessary to maintain a cohesive message but it’s hard to justify setting aside time and energy for it when you’re under a crush of deadlines.

The problem is that content can have a clear connection to revenue while branding does not. In a time where metrics drive focus, pitching a fuzzy ROI to the top floor can be difficult.

But it’s definitely worth it.

In Anthony’s experience, branding is not only a necessary component to cohesive content, but it plays a pivotal role in brand and strategic innovation.

If you’re a startup, focusing on branding first helps guide everything that comes afterward. When presented with an opportunity to gain investors or customers, the ability to confidently pitch your brand can seal the deal.

From marketing to recruitment to event planning, understanding your brand on a deeper level sets you up for scalable success.

In This Episode

  • Why launching a brand new category means pitching it without mentioning it
  • How meeting with specialists but following your intuition leads to informed and inspired innovation
  • Why starting a new technology platform means focusing on the human, instead of technical, element
  • How putting the brand first when starting out leads to better retention, recruiting, and investment

 

Quotes From This Episode

“If I had tenured experience and all the biases coming into the role, I don’t know that we would have, collectively as a team, really developed the brand and developed the marketing strategy that we have.” —@akennada

We didn’t seek out to build a new category. It was a strategy that sort of emerged in time.” —@akennada

“No one was trying to invest in making them be heroes and build the industry foundation around that job.” —@akennada

“The decision we made wasn’t necessarily to build a category, but to just double down. Double down on the community, double down on content, double down on making these folks be heroes and pioneers in this brand new thing.” —@akennada

Customer success is the next big category of enterprise software.” —@akennada

“We were going to take a position where the problem wasn’t going to be solved by technology necessarily.” —@akennada

“We would grow our database as a result, grow our viewership, but also leverage the brand equity of what they were doing.” —@akennada

“The community effort was really based on a fundamental principle that we were going to put the people at the forefront of our positioning and our go-to-market, rather than the technology.” —@akennada

Brand is actually at the heart of everything that marketers do. But in the B2B world, we’ve kind of, for lack of better term, sort of bastardized it.” —@akennada

“When folks are engaging at the very top of the funnel with your content efforts, they’re establishing a relationship with you as a thought partner and a place to turn for advice on how they can be great at their job.” —@akennada

Brand is the entire customer experience from first touch through to close through to how to actually support them.” —@tylerlessard (higlight to tweet)

“You have to all be on the same page that this is a journey that we’re on together.” —@akennada

Resources

 

Content Pros Lightning Round

Who is your late night go-to? Are you a Fallon guy? Are you a Kimmel guy? Are you a James Corden guy? Where’s your loyalty? I have to side with Fallon on this one.

Are you the musician on the team or is that inspired by somebody else? No, the musical talent at Gainsight lies with our CEO Nick Mehta.

Transcript

Randy: Welcome to another episode of Content Pros. I am very excited to be welcoming a new guest this week. I’m Randy Frisch from Uberflip. I’ve got Tyler Lessard here joining us, as always, from Vidyard, and today’s podcast … We’re going to actually dig in. The cool way this podcast is coming up, we always talk about content here, but I actually met this guest through a piece of content that he wrote. It showed up in my LinkedIn feed. I couldn’t resist the headline. I’ll tell you what that headline was. It was “An Unapologetic Defense of Brand Marketing for B2B Growth.” That called out to me because I think brand is so important personally. It ties so much to content and that led to Anthony and I having a really great conversation online, and now we’re going to do the same thing on this podcast. So Tyler, why don’t you tell us a little bit more about Anthony and help him into the show.
Tyler: Well, it’s definitely great to have Anthony on the show here, and I’ve actually had the chance to work with Anthony for a little while and what he’s done at Gainsight. Partly because he’s been, I think, an inspiration to many of us in how he has helped to build not only a great brand within a technology segment, but also a category.

Many of us want to become category kings and define new markets, and I think Anthony is somebody who, with his team, has done a phenomenal job. So with that, Anthony, why don’t you quickly introduce yourself and maybe actually start with an interesting fact that you didn’t interview for a marketing role when you actually joined Gainsight.

Anthony: Yeah, that’s great. Thanks for having me on. So, my name is Anthony Kennada. I’m the VP of Marketing at Gainsight, and you’re right, that wasn’t a job I sort of interviewed for. My past history, I guess, from a professional experience perspective, has been both on the BD, kind of partnership side of the house, and then ran a product team at Symantec actually for about a year, thinking that I’ve found my calling in product management.

Then, I got phone call from our current CEO Nick Mehta. We had worked together at our previous company, Live Office, and he asked me to come aboard. So I put together this 30, 60, 90 plan. I was ready to go, ready to lead product, and he just pulled me aside and said, “Hey, how do you feel about marketing?” And I literally … I knew nothing. So I went on Wikipedia and I was like, “All right. How am I going to fake this whole fundamental understanding of what Demand Gen is to get this job?”

So, put together a great plan, and I say that in jest, with a smile on my face because had I had the sort of tenured experience and all the biases coming into the role, I don’t know that we would have, collectively as a team, really developed the brand and developed the marketing strategy that we had. Because, to your point Tyler, there aren’t too many great examples of companies that have built a net new category, but all the playbooks that exist are really around this disruption play where there’s an existing incumbent in the market and you have to steal their market share and you’ve got their list of customers and their value proposition out there to really position against, and we didn’t have that.

So it was this sort of series of experiments between Nick, myself, and some of the early folks on the team. Some that failed, some that did well, and that’s really kind of helped both position Gainsight from a brand perspective, but also helped me fall in love with marketing and decide that I had it all wrong.

Tyler: Yeah, it’s an interesting story and it’s funny to hear that both you were sort of on the spot to, “Okay, I’ve got to figure out this marketing thing and I need to figure out how to build a company and a category all at once,” which needless to say is a fun and interesting challenge. What was it like in those early days as you were thinking about the tactics? You mentioned, try a lot of things, but what were some of those things that were memorable to you in trying to build out a brand and a category in the early days and how did content play a role in building out that brand strategy?
Anthony: Yeah, so what was really interesting is we didn’t seek out to build a new category. It was a strategy that sort of emerged in time. The reason it did, one of the first acts we did in the job was reach out to the Gardners and Forresters and analysts of the world, and kind of pitch them on how we saw the world, how our customers were using the product. What analysts do really well is they take your value proposition, take your story, and they map it to a pre-existing research area that they have analysts writing for. So they were telling us, “Look, what you guys are building is customer service, but a proactive version or the next iteration of CRM or all of these different things,” and it just didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel like how we really saw this problem in the market.

But what we did have a lot of passion around and excitement around was there was a job function that existed called the Customer Success Manager, and I think Salesforce might get the credit for naming this role. They would meet on LinkedIn in this sort of peer-to-peer forum. They would meet in person once a quarter and share their scars, and we would go and just see these people. What was interesting is that they had so much passion, but no one was sort of marketing to them. No one was trying to invest in making them be heroes and build the industry foundation around that job.

So, our first bet that we did was, “Hey, if we held an event, just like the ones that we were sort of flies on the wall for, would people come?” Again, this was early days. Not a lot of … I think we had 10 customers at the time, and we held this event. We positioned it as an industry event rather than a Gainsight event, obviously. Gainsight was … Actually, we didn’t even have the brand defined yet at that point.

To our surprise, 300 people came. There was so much energy, so much excitement in the room. The important caveat there if we kind of put the content lens on it, all of the content was “early stage content.” So none of it was about Gainsight, the product. None of it was about the technology. All of it was about the job of customer success. How do you build your team? How do you justify an investment to your CEO or to your board? Those types of mission critical processes.

The bet that we had was if we can help companies define the strategy through our content, then eventually, hopefully, one day when they’re ready, they’ll look for the technology and we can be hopefully that trusted partner for it. So, that was sort of the vision and it became the whole framework of our marketing strategy for about three years, and even until now and content, in that early stage component, is really at the heart of it.

Randy: That’s amazing. First of all, to get 300 people out to an event that early as your building a category, and I want to come back to that point. This event I believe is called Pulse, and I think in your most recent upcoming event you’re going to have 5000 or more people? Is that right?
Anthony: Yeah, that’s the goal.
Randy: Amazing. Congratulations. So, you said at the beginning that you didn’t set out to create a category, right? And you started doing these events and you started educating and everything. When did you realize you were creating a category? When did you realize you were becoming that trailblazer in that sense and how did you start thinking about that in terms of what the brand was going to stand for?
Anthony: Yeah, it’s a really good question. It’s hard to pinpoint that moment, but I think the stark contrast between what we saw that first event and what we felt, to be honest, at that first event, seeing the excitement that people had around a B2B job. At the end of the day, enterprise software is enterprise software, but there was so much passion and empathy that was palpable in the room.

We left that event, and thinking of the stark contrast to the analyst conversations a few months prior, we said, “Look, there’s something here.” So the decision we made wasn’t necessarily to build a category, but to just double down. Double down on the community, double down on content, double down on making these folks be heroes and pioneers in this brand new thing. So a lot of our investments cut from there were really around rationalizing the words “customer success.” So we wanted to get folks to just say it by name and have the definition be accurate. So we took out a billboard, and we just put the words “customer success” with a core RRY statement there and the sentence for companies that are investing in this. We commissioned Forrester. So we actually went back to the analysts and said, “We want to commission you guys to write the executive primer for this industry,” and we can leverage their brand equity they brought to the table to help validate that the words “customer success” is a relevant term.

As we were starting to do those things and really naming it, that’s where I think we said, look, if we can just keep going and keep willing it into existence through a long tail search strategy with flooding the internet with content by getting folks in the community be the creators of that content, not just ourselves, and getting some of these third party folks that had the validation power, like Forrester and the others to say it, then we knew that we would have something. I think in that journey we said, look, I think customer success is the next big category of enterprise software.

Randy: It’s so exciting. I mean, you look back on it now and as you said, you didn’t know when things were happening, and I think that’s the exciting part about the part we want to really drill in on here is brand is as you’re building these categories, as your creating these community events that are filled with content, you’re shaping both your brand and the category and almost making them one.

If I can even speak on ourselves, and Tyler, I’d love to know how you guys thought about it at Vidyard too, but for Uberflip here, we made a very conscious effort at one point where at first we kind of said, “All right, we’re a subcategory.” We talked about experience a lot, and we talked about it being a subcategory, but eventually we realized it is a category on it’s own. And that pushed us about a year ago to have our first user conference. We also had 300 people or so, Just over 300, I think it was, come out to that.

We’re doing it again for the second time this summer, August 22nd-23rd in Toronto. It’s a great event. It’s all about the content experience. We put Uberflip second. It’s not a product push. It’s not designed for us to sell our software. It’s designed to get people talking and figuring out what that future looks like. I know, Tyler, you guys have done the same with a combination of virtual events and Viewtopia I know you’ve done in the last year.

Tyler: Yeah, we do. We’ve seen it to be a really big boost to the company and we’ve done … So from an events perspective, we host an annual event called Viewtopia, much like you’ve done with Pulse and others, it’s really designed to be community driven, and a big part of that has been going out and understanding, “What is the video marketing space really need?”

I love your point, Anthony, of really the sort of empathy with the community and thinking about, “What could we do in these programs to help make our target audiences not just successful but make them heroes in their companies?” We’ve tried to expand that from the live event to virtual events as well. So we actually have our Fast Forward Video Marketing Virtual Summit on April 11th, and a big part of the content for that event is helping our customers understand how to be heroes in their organization and to be big contributors.

I’m going to turn it back to you Anthony and ask you about that sort of community building exercise. You mentioned engaging that community as part of your content strategy and as part of the brand strategy is a big part. I’m seeing more and more of that with companies. How do you execute on that? What kinds of programs do you run or how do you think about bringing the community into the fold and getting them to contribute and be a part of this movement? I know it’s a broad question, but I think you’ve got some perspective on it.

Anthony: Yeah, I mean, I think a thought that we had pretty early on and one of our hypotheses in the early days was that we were going to take a position where the problem wasn’t going to be solved by technology necessarily. Certainly technology is great and it helps accelerate process. It helps standardized process. It helps ultimately the people that are using the solution to be more effective. But the problem was more of a people challenge, right? We wanted to invest in the people. So as we think about that, there’s so much of marketing today that is, we use the word automated, marketing automation and if we solved all of our problems by emailing everybody and growing the business that way, that would be a disservice to our core mission of enabling the people behind the job. The focus then turned to, “How can we get these people either together physically or feature them in some type of initiative?”

So tactically, one of the things we’ve done is every time we would release a blog post around a certain best practice, we would have somebody from the community respond, and we would feature them both as part of this content series. So if we said, “How to build a customer success culture at your start up.” We would then have a rebuttal or a response on Thursday of that same week saying, “How I built a customer success culture,” and we would launch both of those two around a campaign the following week. The kind folks at Zoora might have distributed that to their networks.

We would grow our database as a result, grow our viewership, but also leverage the brand equity of what they were doing. Sort of what’s in it for them on the, on the Zoora side, is they got to showcase one of their strengths in terms of serving their customers.

That all leads to Gainsight in general, whether digitally or in person, being a platform for people to either develop their professional brand or to position their brand with this new movement that was all focused on enabling customers and enabling them to be successful with their products.

So, sort of a long way of saying, the community effort was really based on a fundamental principle that we were going to put the people at the forefront of our positioning and our go-to-market, rather than the technology.

Randy: So I wanted to shift gears a bit here. Now that you’ve obviously built a category, but content and brand are still so important to you, how do you show ROI? And I’m pulling back to this blog post that I mentioned at the beginning. You can tell people where to find that. I found it ultimately on LinkedIn, this idea of defense of brand marketing. But how do you defend brand marketing form an ROI perspective? Because that’s where it gets tricky. At some point, we probably get almost a little too cocky that we’ve got a great brand and we got to now dig in to the stuff that’s going to work to convert, but how have you been able in your role to still keep brand at such an important level in terms of how the organization as a whole embraces it?
Anthony: Yeah, totally. That article you’re referencing, it’s LinkedIn. We also have it on a micro site that we operate called Category Dev, which is really kind of journaling a lot of our best practices around building new categories. That’s categorydev.com for the plug there.

But what we talked about in that article was that the folks in B2C have really figured out brand. It’s actually at the heart of everything that marketers do. But in the B2B world, we’ve kind of, for lack of better term, sort of bastardized it. Often times, people say, “We don’t have time for brand. We’re just so focused on growth right now,” or “I’ve got a junior employee that’s really thinking about it or an agency that’s sort of spinning up some brand campaigns for us.” The sort of underlying theory there is that brand is completely absent from the growth equation for B2B start ups. Fundamentally, I believe that that’s wrong and misleading.

For a lot of B2B companies and Gainsight, we’ve sort have seen this come true. Brand could be at the forefront of your entire marketing strategy, and what does that do? Well, not only will it help you grow the business, and I’ll talk about that here in a sec, it helps you create an affinity for your employees who find that they’re able to love the company that they’re working for. So it helps on the retention side, it helps on the recruiting side, helps us grow our investment, our fundraising side, too. So people feel like this is a movement or something bigger happening here than just sort of a point solution that we’re trying to sell, for example.

So what’s fueling that misconception, in my head at least, is a belief that brand does not drive revenue. Brand can’t be measured. Brand doesn’t have a clear ROI. I think that’s wrong. So, a couple of the things that we’ve done to really help quantify the value of brand … First of all, all of our content efforts that are … And we call this content marketing obviously in B2B, but that are in service of establishing a profession or investing in the creation of a new way thinking, that’s all brand. That’s all not your competitive data sheets that you’re enabling your sales team with down funnel, they can pull and leverage. This is all stuff that’s meant to create a halo effect around something and then, whether directly or indirectly, align your company with that movement. So this is definitely a brand exercise.

So when we think about the sum of all of those campaigns, those are top of funnel initiatives that are driving impressions to our website. They’re driving conversions of some of our content efforts, and they ought to be treated potentially a bit differently than somebody who fills out the contact sales form and says, “Hey, I’m ready for a demo.”

It’s sort of a different lens, but the fundamental kind of understanding there is when visitors, when prospects, when folks are engaging at the very top of the funnel with your content efforts, they’re establishing a relationship with you as a thought partner and a place to turn for advice on how they can be great at their job. So, the impact of what’s happening there is so much greater than simply measuring it as a conversion.

Now, the other kind of unspoken piece is how brand can help you close deals, or accelerate existing pipeline. We’ve done a number of things to help us take this message that we’ve evangelized at the top of the funnel where Gainsight is going to be your chosen partner for figuring this stuff out before you buy technology, and then we sort of transition into the sales process, which might feel more like a typical B2B sales process. But we want to carry that brand promise through all the way to close.

So we’ve done things like film videos that have our CEO featured or we’ve done crazy things. We filmed a music video for a prospect who we knew was in a competitive sale cycle with one of our competitors, to help win them over. And it’s hard to fully know if that’s what tip the deal over, but what people are able to kind of align mentally is, “Hey, the reason I filled out the form wasn’t this false impression I got of the business, they really kind of walked the walked too.”

Randy: Tyler’ll agree with you on that one. Anytime you use video; you’re right to Tyler’s heart there.
Anthony: Totally, and man we use video. Tyler knows this. We use quite a bit of video across all of our different platforms. But, fundamentally, what better way to generate an emotional connection with a market than to have your customers, have your executives, have honestly anyone really on the company who bears a relationship with Gainsight to look you in the proverbial eye through the lens and say, “Hey, we’re genuinely excited about having you be apart of this journey with us.”?
Tyler: I think what’s really interesting in how you think about that, Anthony, and I think it’s a lesson for many of us is when you talk about brand, you’re talking about things that I think are very different from many other people. You’re not talking about share a voice or you’re not talking purely top of funnel. You’re thinking about your content strategy, your video strategy. These things are part of your brand experience from top of funnel all the way through to the bottom, and I couldn’t agree more because I know we put a lot into our brand. But the purpose there isn’t just because we want name recognition.

The way I think about brand is it’s the entire customer experience from first touch through to close through to how to actually support them. We’re a big customer success believer as well, and when I think about brand, I think about how is our customer success team engaging with our clients post sale as much as I’m thinking about what does our logo look like on the website. Which I think is a great way to think about it. But putting that into practice, right, that’s the tough thing. I think, again for the audience, from a content perspective, how do you get your teams aligned to an overall brand strategy and a thematic strategy and how do you get, making sure your content team is thinking about not just top of funnel, but is thinking about the kind of programs and the kinds of messaging and the kinds of content you want to deliver throughout that entire brand experience? Do you guys create key themes for the year? Do you have playbooks or how do you put that into practice to get your entire team thinking about and on the same page with what that brand experience looks like?

Anthony: Yeah, so there’s a myriad of different ways. I’ll cover three. One is, something that might be unique to Gainsight from other companies is product marketing does not report into us. Product marketing is it’s own organization absent of a roll up to product or marketing, but directly to the CEO. The core idea that sort of led us down that path was our team has so much content, so much on the campaign side, to produce that is more along the lines of what we’ve been talking about here today, about the job, more early stage, that we need to spin out a different focus on down funnel type content. So we obviously work very closely together. But from a focus perspective, my team has the vision, has the understanding, of what our charter is.

The second piece is starting with the values of the company. We have a number of values, but one of the things we talk about quite a bit is carrying the torch. What does that mean? Our customer success team is both sort of, forgive the football analogy here, but they’re sort of the defensive line. They’re protecting our customer base and ensuring that … Kind of doing the job of customer success, but they’re also kind of the star quarterback. They’re the ones who are learning and crafting and pushing on the job, pushing on processes, and helping us create innovative ways of delivering customer success. So we want to tell that story. So a big part of, even the management style, and even comp structure for our CSM team is creating content. They have to write content.

So there’s a lot there, but you have to all be on the same page that this is a journey that we’re on together. You have to have the resources and be able to prioritize the right resources to execute on the campaign side. But, the broad vision what we’re trying to do with all of this stuff, in summary, is to use Pulse, which is our name for all of these efforts, and convert that into a lifestyle brand, which is something that people don’t really mention in B2B. But we want to be the partners for folks in our profession, where they come to us for everything, to get certified, to find a new job, to become great in their current job, to be connected with their peers, all of the various sort of sidekick type things that we can provide for someone as the grow and scale their career in custom success. That’s kind of the central vision for what we’re trying to accomplish.

Randy: That’s amazing. I mean, that’s a great vision and I think something that, not just as you said earlier your employees can buy into, but your community can buy into. Which I think is really the key takeaway of this podcast today is this idea of the brand guiding the vision at the same time and then in turn, product, and everything else just following along suit with where you need to be leading in your community. So, it’s been great. I mean, if we’ve got a couple of minutes left here, because we’re running short, I want to get a little more dirt on you, Anthony.

So, in interest of that, we’ll keep it somewhat connected to what you guys do, but I want to get to know the you outside of work. I found on your LinkedIn, again, I found a video from Carpool Karaoke, which you guys did. It was really cool. CEO of Box with your CEO, lots of fun, but the question is who is your late night go-to? Are you a Fallon guy? Are you a Kimmel guy? Are you a James Corden guy? Where’s your loyalty?

Anthony: You know, if you went to our website, looked at all of our great videos that we’ve got on there, you’ll notice that we are definitely inspired by late night TV, whether that’s James Corden on the Carpool Karaoke side or a lot of the Jimmy Fallon type content. I have to side with Fallon, and one of the best things we did, at least that I think so, we did an acapella version of Taylor Swift Blank Space. Changed the lyrics to make it all about customer success, and we put a bunch of Chief Customer Officers on video in that Brady Bunch style thing that Jimmy Fallon does with The Roots?
Randy: Right.
Anthony: So I think, basically, we just watch too much late night TV and try to convert it to B2B because I think that’s the secret to our success.
Tyler: So, Anthony, you guys have done lots of music. Are you the musician on the team or is that inspired by somebody else?
Anthony: I think Nick, our CEO is. He has a secret talent that he doesn’t talk about very often. He is, first of all, fantastic at karaoke. No one would know, and unashamedly so. Fantastic at karaoke. And second, he has a gift of changing pop culture lyrics and “isms” and making them all about enterprise software. So every song we’ve ever touched, every campaign that’s been a spin off of a pop culture hit, even today he is the one launching the Google Doc and sending the lyrics our way. So, it’s pretty amazing.
Randy: That’s amazing. That’s awesome. I think if you made some sort of promise that he’ll perform at the next Pulse, we may be able to get you up to 10,000 attendees the next time around.
Anthony: Oh my gosh. I can guarantee you that somewhere around Pulse, there will be a karaoke machine. That’s for sure.
Randy: Amazing. Anthony, this is great. Thank you so much for taking the time to join Tyler and me on Content Pros here. If people have enjoyed this, I urge you to take a look at all the other episodes that we have. They live at contentprospodcast.com.

If you enjoy this, there’s a whole bunch of other great podcasts under the Convince and Convert Family of Podcasts, including Social Pros, including Today with Jay, a whole bunch of other stuff, worth checking out. Worth having a listen to to figure out what’s going to make your day from a podcast perspective.

Until next time, thanks so much for joining us. Please find us on iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play. Subscribe. Leave us feedback. And on behalf of Tyler from Vidyard, I’m Randy Frisch from Uberflip, and this has been Content Pros.

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