Experience Series: Marketing

This post is part of my Experience Series where I share opinions I have formed from building companies and running product. Each posting is a break down of a company function. This post focuses on marketing specifically.

General Opinions

Your messaging should be clear and focused on outcomes. What value will a customer get for using your service? Why are you the best solution for them to use? Be concise and to the point.

  • It’s easy to fall into the trap of describing features of your product instead of how you’ll make your customer’s life better. Keep this in mind when you are generating copy and recognize that even something simple like a registration is an exchange of goods––your customer is giving you their information in exchange to learn more or use a portion of your product.
  • Within cybersecurity today, it feels like everyone is touting the same outcomes, which almost renders the copy useless. Focus on understanding your audience and let your product do the talking.

Respect the “fold”. Use services like Hotjar to measure how users engage on your website and pages in order to optimize what users see first.

  • When I first developed PassiveTotal, “above-the-fold” was a foreign concept for me. Fortunately, modern frameworks like Twitter Bootstrap protect you and help to fill in the gaps or provide responsive viewing, so we never suffered too much.
  • With NinjaJobs, I had exposure to a lot more tools and ways to optimize a website. I leveraged Hotjar in order to build heatmaps and observe user interactions within our product in order to optimize specific elements. Our first landing page concept lacking any major calls to action (CTA) and buried our recent job postings below-the-fold. Hotjar was able to show me that job postings received the most interaction and helped drive an alternative––and more effective––conversion path.
  • For Backscatter, I again leveraged Hotjar to optimize my landing page, though this time around instead of 5–10 iterations, I easily did over 100, tweaking pixel-by-pixel until I felt every element lined up perfectly. The website needed to load fast, tell a good story and encourage registration.

Much like your product, measure as much as you can on the website. Do users download materials prior to registering? Do those who read your blog progress faster within your sales pipeline? Traffic patterns can be very important.

  • For PassiveTotal and NinjaJobs, we originally used Google Analytics to track major events from the website to our applications. It’s a great free product and if instrumented properly, you can easily track specific events and maps those to goals.
  • Pre RiskIQ, PassiveTotal leveraged home-grown measurement tools and Hubspot CRM in order to map interactions back to users. This information later fed into Mandrill for transaction emails and Mailchimp for standard marketing campaigns.
  • Post RiskIQ, PassiveTotal was moved over to Marketo for marketing capture. I personally find the platform to be clunky and a bit too expensive for the value we get from it, though it does integrate with a number of other solutions and scales quite well.
  • For NinjaJobs, we track behaviors and interactions using a combination of Intercom, Datadog, Google Analytics, Hotjar and Mailchimp. Ideally, these would be all within one platform, but outbound marketing for the platform is lower and so a manual approach is okay.

The best way to tighten up your messaging is to employ constraints. Describe what you do in 500, 250, 100, 50, 25, 15 words. Be consistent with your copy and use this on your website, presentations and data sheets.

  • At RiskIQ, it feels like I have produced endless streams of copy and messaging for the work we do within product. I don’t always follow this exercise for every effort I take on, but tend to do it on the larger features or product launches. It’s such a fun and effective way to really hone your messaging.
  • NinjaJobs employed this approach and apart from keeping consistency, it’s also made running the platform easier. New inbound asking about services, copy/paste. Question about what we offer, copy/paste. Filling in sponsorship details, copy/paste. You get the idea.

Make sure you have a data sheet that clearly describes your product and it’s value. If your presentation is successful, someone is bound to ask for it. They plan to send it to their peers or boss in order to begin the purchase process.

  • When we first started PassiveTotal, we managed to work up a decent presentation––though way too long–– that was received well. Our first stumble was realizing that the presentation was just one step of many in order to further the purchase. Without a data sheet, we were forcing interested users into describing the who, what, and why to their internal team; unless you are 100% required, no one will spend much time justifying the purchase of your product, so make it easy. Data sheets, copy describing your services and price listings are all needed.
  • Assuming you go more of the direct self-services route, you can likely ditch the notion of a data sheet. Your website materials and pricing should be easy enough to follow that you shouldn’t have to bother with mailing information around. This has been our approach with NinjaJobs, but in time, we decided to generate a data sheet just for the rare occasions when a recruitment department needed to get us into their systems.

You don’t need to be a designer to have a good looking website. Pay for a template and modify it to meet your needs. Same thing for a presentation or data sheet. There are plenty of generic templates out there. Truthfully, the design is less important.

  • Nearly every project I have worked on has started from a generic Twitter Bootstrap template, or was purchased from Wrapbootstrap. I can’t overstate how much time this process has saved me and how it’s made my final output not only cross-platform, but good looking too. The best part with the paid templates is that you continue to get updates year-after-year, meaning you can easily refresh your design.
  • For PassiveTotal, I purchased and used the Unify template.
  • For NinjaJobs, I purchased and used the Boomerang template.

Marketing is easy to spend money on and hard to get right. Pay for services to automate your communication processes.

  • When I say “automate your communication process”, what I mean is paying for services that can speed up your outbound marketing and help manage the data. Services I’ve used in the past with a lot of success have been Mailchimp, Mandrill, Hubspot, Marketo, Google Analytics, Intercom, and Sendgrid.
  • As an example of automation success, take NinjaJobs and one of our many uses of Intercom. When one of our customers posts a job on the platform, we track views, bookmarks and applications. From historic data, we have been able to identify the sweet spot for a job to perform well. If we observe limited engagement on a post, we have a system that can analyze the details of it in order to make suggestions. Jobs not doing well that could benefit from changes are flagged for follow-up using Intercom where job posters are sent an automated email from one of us suggesting specific changes for the job. If the user replies asking for more help, we can immediately engage, otherwise, no additional effort is taken part on our end. This may sound a bit removed or cold, but this style of automation has created countless engagements we would have otherwise never had.

Know your audience and how they want to be engaged. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach here. Let your metrics guide how you outreach to your users.

  • Within the cybersecurity industry, this is tough to get right. Security end-users tend to be sensitive about their privacy (rightfully so) and do not want to be bugged, especially by sales. I continue to see the industry evolve on the marketing/tracking/privacy front and it’s tough to know how to best engage an end-user. Beyond the different segments, I suspect the future of outbound marketing will be a less-is-more approach.
  • On the no one-size-fits-all approach, take Intercom. Many end-users have reported hating the pop-up dialog, and find limited utility in the in-app notifications. However, when they have an issue, engaging with a human directly is nice. With NinjaJobs, it’s the exact opposite (as illustrated in my above example), where users want to be engaged and interacted with––after all, finding a job is stressful and it helps to know someone has your interests in mind. For each company, we take different approaches to engagement and it results in completely different, yet successful, outcomes.

Generate a few different marketing tracks, so you can make your communications specific. Consider marketing, product updates, operational, nurture for users slipping away, nurture for users who may be stuck.

  • This is driven from my company experience, but also my own personal habits. Splitting up your outbound marketing by type ensures that if someone unsubscribes from one type of update, that they continue to get some form of notification from you. Of course, they could unsubscribe from all notifications, but the point here is to diversify your outbound channels around themes, so that you aren’t unnecessarily bugging your customers.

Social media is not a set it and forget it tool. If you want to look relevant, you have to maintain your accounts and keep them fresh with content. Find strategic ways to automate some of this.

  • I personally struggle with social media these days and the value it brings to a business. It feels like a necessary evil in which you need to participate, but it feels like 24-hour technical support.
  • With PassiveTotal, we made some attempts to automate postings and create chat bots on Twitter and Facebook, but those never really took off. All our social media channels became just ways for users to reach us directly for support or question answering, and disseminating platform updates or research posts.
  • With NinjaJobs, we get more benefit out of social media through automating the socialization of jobs posted within the platform. This effectively turns our social media presence into a running feed of jobs, but it’s a convenient way for our customers to interact with the platform and they seem to get value from it. Unfortunately, given the high-degree of phishing and spam, we find ourselves constantly appealing a ban in order to keep this functionality intact.

Build out a media plan every quarter that gives you enough content or fodder to keep going on a weekly or bi-weekly release basis. It could be a blog, feature announcement, podcast, webinar, whatever. Better to have a schedule of ideas than scramble after 3 weeks of silence.

  • The notion of content creation sounds easy, but it’s hard to sustain, especially for years on end. Doing the prep-work before-hand ensures you always have something ready to post, promote or slot-in to keep your product in the spotlight.
  • In the early days of PassiveTotal, we employed an “earned media” technique of tacking value or additional information onto existing public media posts. If a research company posted about a new threat, we would use our product to add more to the narrative and then turn that into a blog posting, webinar or email we could send out. This technique was and continues to be highly successful not only in getting attention, but also keeping our materials up-to-date with relevant examples.
  • For several months, we attempted to build a marketing engine within NinjaJobs, but struggled to keep up with the content. Beyond analyzing job information, we would ideally be interviewing professionals, capturing their experiences and sharing that with others. Doing all of that takes an immense amount of work and could easily be a full-time position on its own. As a result, we ended up stopping our content creation for NinjaJobs in favor of focusing on platform automation.

Organic marketing has been the most successful method in all my companies. Paid traffic helped, but it typically brought an audience who was not my ideal buyer. If you can find a way to speak the language of your buyer in content, you win.

  • PassiveTotal and NinjaJobs largely grew organically from local peer networks and word-of-mouth. In the early days, we experimented with paid ads on social media and SEO-experiments in order to increase our audience. Those efforts were successful in getting us new conversions, but often resulted in the wrong “type” of user — their service, price and usage expectations didn’t match our organic community. As a result, we ditched the paid ads and focused on tooling.

Don’t bother trying to go viral, it happens or it doesn’t. There’s ways to hack at it, but your time is better served making your product better.

  • I fell into this trap several times with PassiveTotal. I’d come up with ideas or blog posts that I thought would take off and really change how we did threat analysis only to be underwhelmed with the response. Other times I would randomly quip on social media and have the post completely blow-up with interactions and feedback. After a few situations like that, I stopped trying to game the system and focused on generating good content that followed a regular schedule, and ensured my delivery of it respected my audience’s prime consumption periods.

Attend events, always have swag (stickers, shirts, whatever) and if ever given the chance to pitch, go for it.

  • Don’t bother in trying to find the next new shiny object to give away at a conference. Focus on good design or materials you know your customers will appreciate and deliver those. My all-time favorite swag was a PassiveTotal shirt that was just an image of our iconic heatmap that tied back to infrastructure for a Chinese threat group. The back of the shirt had a small “PassiveTotal by RiskIQ”, but aside from that, we kept a clean design. The shirts were well-liked and every now and then, I still see a few of them at events.
  • For stickers, I use StickerMule. For shirts, I use Custom Ink. For business cards, I use Moo.

If you have good marketing or appear to be gaining traction, expect for your competition to steal your materials or find creative ways to leverage them against you.

  • RiskIQ has been focused on external intelligence and monitoring the attack surface of an organization for 10 years now. Our messaging has not really changed, but in the past 1–2 years, we have noticed terms, phrases and other copy we have been using, showing up within our competitor’s websites or materials. I personally find this as helpful as it provides validation to what we are doing and ensures others are helping to educate the market.

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Brandon Dixon

Brandon Dixon

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Founder of @BlockadeIO, PDF X-RAY, and @PassiveTotal. Partner and developer for @TheNinjaJobs. VP of Strategy for @RiskIQ. Roaster at @SplitKeyCoffee.