Mitch Causey, CEO and cofounder of Demandwell, and Brad Beutler, Director of Content Marketing at Terminus, were interviewed by Meg Yothment, Head of Client Success at Powderkeg, at Unvalley 2021: A 2-day virtual event that explored the untapped potential outside of Silicon Valley.
The topic? “How to Master Growth Marketing.” They discussed what it means, their experience building sustainable revenue streams from different channels, ROI of different channels, and much more. Here’s how the discussion unfolded:
Question: What is growth marketing exactly?
I love the title of this session – How To Master Growth Marketing. There was a wave in the last decade around growth hacking. But “hacking” has a very short-term, small mindset surrounding it, in my opinion. I think that’s a good point to contrast. If you’re going to master anything, it takes time, patience and iteration.
For me, growth marketing is all about creating sustainable, repeatable growth through patience and iteration. Frankly, if I’m running marketing, I like it to be really boring.
I agree, Mitch. I’m all about the boring levers of growth marketing. What I like to call “the plumbing” or “behind-the-scenes,” these turn out to be the most reliable and sustainable channels.
Question: Why is now such a hot moment for growth marketing?
I think now has always been the right time for growth marketing. We’re in a phase where we’ve got so many wild things happening across the world, from environment to politics to health. But tech has proven to be resilient during all the change within the last few years.
I think it’s the resilient folks, the folks that have patience and a long-term mentality that aren’t just trying to hack it. They are trying to think about how to create a marketing that lasts through all the change going on in the world.
Yeah, I would agree. I would only add that marketers have never been closer to owning a revenue number (or co-owning or sharing) than they are now, which is great. This is how it should be. With that comes pressure to perform. So, we are being more careful, more targeted, more thoughtful about which channels we use and levers to pull for our growth marketing strategy to reliably hit our numbers.
Question: Brad, what was your experience cracking growth at Sigstr.
I joined the founding team at Sigstr as marketer number one back in 2015. I rode that out all the way to 2019 when we were acquired by Terminus, which is where I am now. When I think about early on at Sigstr, it was scrappy, as I’m sure many can relate to. It was like “let’s get to work,” and we were pumping out brand content.
We were creating an e-book a quarter, two case studies a quarter, and three blog posts a week. It was a little machine that we were trying to build. We had that going and we had our outbound and sales machine going. We were building a category and building a brand that was relatable and fun.
We were at the top of the review sites. It felt like we were doing things right. But then I would open Google Analytics and see this crazy roller coaster ride of peaks and valleys, not sustainable growth. At that point, we were literally winning content awards, but I was still frustrated with how we were growing…that content wasn’t creating sustainable growth for the business.
At that moment I just hit my breaking point. I started talking to Mitch and his team, saying, “Alright, we invested heavily in brand and brand content early on. How can we level up with SEO to get more sustainable growth?” So, fast forward to 2019, we did. In a nine to twelve month time span, not only did we level up, but that emerged as our number one channel for both traffic and inbound leads.
Had we not built the brand foundation, I’m not sure if that last growth lever would have worked as well.
So, the takeaway with sharing this story is, when you think you’ve figured it out, you should look hard at what you’ve done and consider trying new channels.
Question: Some marketing activities fuel spikes in growth, others are more long-term, sustainable activities that build over time. Can you talk about that tradeoff or that interplay between those two different kinds of growth?
I love the analogy of peaks and valleys whether you’re looking at Google Analytics or whatever you use to measure success. There are peaks and valleys in every marketing program. Your peaks being that new PR launch, the new website, or a new video. Those are great and those are needed. Can you rely on those for sustainable growth? That is pretty hard to do, and the pressure only builds when you do try to do that. Going back to boring marketing, you need the boring channels to drive that steady growth.
At Terminus, search is our sustainable growth channel. Because we’ve invested so many hours, blood, sweat, and tears into that channel, and it’s working well for us, we can afford to take big swings on the spikes. This year we’re doing an event that’s called “Break Shit” with a Sasquatch playing the saxophone. We’re creating a board game, a card game, and we’re making a video game.
You can’t take those big risks without a reliable foundation in place. You have to have your sustainable channels in place in order to make those big, grand splashes.
Question: Mitch, I’d love to hear some of your experience cracking growth. Thinking back to your days at Lessonly, tell us what that was like.
From the outside looking in, it always looks like everyone is just crushing it. But behind the scenes, it was so much hard work. I was the third employee at Lessonly. That first year, I was the only marketer. I can describe it as scraping, scratching, clawing to find success. Then, I started to find some things that worked and did a bit more of those. Then a bit less of the things that didn’t.
I believe that there should be an iterative approach, especially in the very early stages – you have to try many things and see what works and what doesn’t. That iterative approach of having a game plan, going out and executing that plan, and evaluating that, and cycling insights back into the original plan to improve for the next swing, that is the key to success. From my perspective, that was the key to Lessonly’s marketing. We did this for every single channel.
It takes a lot of hard work and perseverance. You have to have the courage to keep going and sticking with it.
Great point about trying as many channels as you can. It’s all about the right combination of channels. You will fail with certain channels. We all have. It’s just important to notice the failure and adapt quickly. But with the right mix, with each channel complementing the others and working together – that’s really great growth marketing.
Question: I’d love to hear what channels are working, what channels were driving revenue for you as you scaled the business, and then what was like one example of one experiment that went awry?
Search, first and foremost, has been my best channel at Sigstr and Terminus. What was once a forgotten channel quickly became our biggest asset.
Going back to boring marketing: email marketing still works. We still have our email lists, and we’re on a consistent schedule, not a spammy schedule. We always try to be informative and share resources to grow our subscriber base. Email signature marketing also still works.
Display advertising has been successful for us, but we don’t just spray and pray. Instead, we are being thoughtful and targeted and efficient about it. And then, once people land on your website, you better have something thoughtful to get them to the next stage. For us, that’s live chat.
Those are our top four and they all tie together well, and we invest heavily in brand, so those four channels all work even better.
I’m obviously a huge fan of organic search. Of course, with paid search it’s the same search box. Your audience is typing in the same search box for both of those to meet the needs that they have. So, I think that it’s a no-brainer to have some paid search going on. Directories or reviews sites are sometimes overlooked, like G2 or Capterra. But I have found incredible success there.
That’s one experiment that we ran at Lessonly. We invested different amounts of money at different times in review sites. We found what worked and then we put it on autopilot. We expected it to be exactly the same forever.
Well, the effectiveness started to decay over time. We again had to iterate, we made some tweaks, and got it up again. The timing of when you invest in certain channels really matters also. Things that work really well early on might not resonate with buyers later on.
Question: We just talked about all different channels. How do you consider the interplay between channels working together to fuel your growth engine?
I think the best channels are the ones you can use to make others better. Organic search helps us make more informed decisions about messaging and strategy. It helps our paid channels to have a firm grasp on how people are searching for our solution. It’s making our brand content discoverable for prospects who’ve never heard of us.
Question: Mitch, I’m really curious to hear what kinds of lessons that you’re bringing with you into your strategy at Demandwell.
Absolutely. Iteration is just so critical. We have codified that specifically for our customers into what we call P.A.C.E. This is how we think at DemandWell. Every marketing campaign should have these four steps: Plan, Attract, Convert and Evaluate.
Every successful organic search program has these four elements also. Once you go through attracting and converting attention, you evaluate how well your plan worked, then improve your initial plan and run the cycle again.
The faster and more frequently you do that, the more successful you’ll be. I learned that viscerally at Lessonly in every channel. At Demandwell, we’ve really codified that for search specifically.