221: The Big Pivot for 2021? Category Creation!
Anthony Kennada knows a thing or two about ANA’s 2020 word of the year: “Pivot.” In just 4 years, Anthony “pivoted” from Business Development Associate (BDA) at Box to CMO of Gainsight—an astounding feat for any marketer—and during his 6 years at the startup, he helped establish a category, growing the brand from $0 to over $100 million in revenue.
Now, he’s at Front, a start-up customer communication hub with a high-level story to tell. In this episode, Anthony shares how his experiences at Gainsight have informed his community-building, demand-generating efforts at Front—from how to develop a long-term, growth-focused brand strategy to how to bring employees, customers, and prospects together under one purpose-driven cause. Check it out!
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
- How Gainsight became a leader in customer success
- What it means to produce high-quality content
- How Front built its brand
Renegade Thinkers Unite, Episode 221 on YouTube
- [0:28] How to Get from BDA to CMO in 4 Years
- [7:33] Identifying Gainsight’s Target Community
- [14:29] How One Event Turned into a Long-Term Growth Strategy
- [18:36] How to Provide Real Value with B2B Content
- [24:05] How Gainsight Knew They’d Created a Category
- [29:28] Telling Front’s Story
- [35:49] How Front Brought Purpose to Its Employees and Customers
- [39:43] Leading Indicators for Brand Growth
- [44:28] Content Creation 2021 Dos and Don’ts
Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Anthony Kennada
[0:28] How to Get from BDA to CMO in 4 Years“I think the biggest lesson for me is meeting great people in your career and really valuing the relationships that you've developed.” @akennada @FrontApp #RTU Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Hello Renegade Thinkers, and Happy New Year! Welcome to 2021. That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Never has a single year been entered into with such high expectations. Perhaps there will be a return to his so-called normalcy, or more likely the pandemic has changed how we work, live, and play forever. I’m not being a pessimist. I’m just saying, we’ve got some big changes that have happened to us.
In recognition of all this change, the ANA recently named “pivot” as the word of the year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the agility marketers showed in 2020 will be equally tested in 2021.
But here’s my question: What are you doing to make sure your brand is differentiated? Or more specifically, how are you going to distinguish your company, brand, or product from all your competitors?
Sure, you can pivot from physical events to virtual events, but that’s a small pivot. What’s your big pivot? Are you going to rebrand? Are you going to change your name? Are you going to create a new category? Are you going to introduce a new product that will radically change customer set perceptions and or make it easy for them to try your product?
This is a show about big pivots, and for that, I have the perfect guest—Anthony Kennada, the CMO of Front. Anthony may well be the youngest CMO we’ve had on the show and his meteoric rise from Brand Development Associate at Box in 2009 to the CMO of Gainsight four years later is nothing short of astounding.
During his six years at Gainsight, he helped grow this startup from $0 revenue to over $100 million, and in 2018, he wrote a book titled Category Creation: How to Build a Brand that Customers, Employees, and Investors Will Love. He joined Front in November 2019. Anthony, welcome to the show.
Anthony Kennada: Thanks so much, Drew. Excited to be here.
Drew Neisser: Well, I wish I had a big drumroll there. I mean, man, without the applause, it’s a pretty big introduction.
Drew Neisser: Let me first say, I know you stayed on as an advisor at Gainsight and I saw the big Vista acquisition putting out a billion-dollar valuation, so congrats on that.
Anthony Kennada: Thank you. Yeah, thank you so much. It’s been awesome to see it from now the other side. I think it’s exciting validation, not just for Gainsight and what we were able to build there, but really around customer success being an actual fashion and one that companies are willing to put a hat on and willing to really bet on. I think, from the marketing perspective, we were really excited to help establish that. I know we’re gonna probably cover a little bit of that here on the show.
Drew Neisser: We will definitely get there. Did I see, where you like employee number 18 there?
Anthony Kennada: 19. A few of us, a good proportion of the team was based in India, so it felt smaller. About 10 or less of us in the US when I joined
Drew Neisser: Wow, okay. Alright, so first of all, how are you, and where are you?
Anthony Kennada: Thanks so much. I’m here in Phoenix, Arizona, where we now call home after about a decade living in Silicon Valley. Doing well and just excited for all the, hopefully, I’m pretty optimistic, so hopefully some of the good things to come from 2021.
Drew Neisser: So, here’s the big question. I mean, I know there’s a lot of CMOs in the audience, and they know that it took a long time for them to get to that role. You went from BDA to CMO in four years. How does one do that?
Anthony Kennada: Yeah, totally. You know, I think the biggest lesson for me is meeting great people in your career and really valuing the relationships that you’ve developed because relationships are, I think, our biggest currency in business.
For me, yeah, I started my career out of college actually as a tech recruiter but used that as a way to find my way onto the sales floor at Box back when it was, I think, 35 employees or something along those lines. I had a chance to come in early. And again, I think you have to give a little bit to luck from that perspective of getting an opportunity with a company that would end up being as iconic as Box has become.
After about a year and a half, two years at Box, I left to join a company called LiveOffice, and I’ll spare the full story here, but that CEO was the eventual CEO of Gainsight, so that comes in play in a second.
We built that business we sold it to Symantec. At Symantec, I transitioned to a product role. Actually, I was one of the younger product leaders at Symantec for a while. I love the big company thing, but I’m getting back into startups.
As I was doing that, Nick, our CEO from LiveOffice, was drawn to this new opportunity for our company based in Missouri that was tackling the customer intelligence, customer “something”—we didn’t have the language around customer success quite yet—problem, and he was going to come in as CEO. He remembered me, I think like from a PowerPoint presentation I gave at LiveOffice or something in the early days.
He gave me a call on a Sunday evening—I’ll never forget it—asking me if I wanted to be a part of that with him. I jumped at the chance to work with him again, and from that point on, my job at Gainsight was obviously to build a marketing engine, but beyond that, I wanted this CMO role. I did not want to be hired over, I wanted to grow and scale because I was told, like all of us are, not everyone scales. Not everyone you know scales up with the business. I’m the outlier there and Nick just gave me a lot of encouragement and feedback along the way when I was moving off course, and gave me the opportunity to do just that.
Drew Neisser: It’s so interesting. I mean, clearly, one of the great advantages of going to a small company is that you can learn on the fly. You took a big chance leaving Symantec and going to a startup again, but clearly, you have the startup fever, I guess. You’re attracted to them and they are attracted to you.
[7:33] Identifying Gainsight’s Target Community“If we can keep fostering that feeling of belonging within these personas, within these people, hopefully we can build a great software company, but surely, we can do something that'd be meaningful for them.” @akennada @FrontApp #RTU Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: So, as you’re starting up at Gainsight, had you really built a demand gen engine before? Where were you getting your information to guide what decisions you were making?
Anthony Kennada: The answer is no. In fact, I had to Wikipedia what demand gen was to sound smart in my 30/60/90 to Nick. But I think he knew what he was getting into.
No, I was a first-time marketer. I’d done product before, so I had pretty good context on the product marketing side of the house, positioning engineers, talking to customers, and building customer empathy. Then on the sales side, the business biz dev side, understanding a bit more of the commercial side of the business and how the revenue funnel all worked. So, I had exposure to marketing, but I hadn’t done the job.
I think what was interesting about our journey there is, had I had a lot of the context or bias around how to do marketing, we might have taken more of the traditional approach to building Gainsight, from building a Gainsight brand to growing the company. We might have done the paid search effort, we might have done the, quote, “textbook” marketing, our company might have failed.
Instead, we really chased a lot of our principles around how do we radically serve this persona we had identified called the customer success manager? How do we champion them? And we looked to our intuition and do a lot of things that only now looking backward really helped serve to build this market and then ultimately to monetize the thought leadership we have developed into growing the company.
And that’s where I think the confidence came from ultimately it was that we started to see that our intuition was working and that maybe there was a playbook that we were co-authoring here as we were building the company.
Drew Neisser: I just remembered—you mentioned the PowerPoint that you had done that the CEO had recalled, and he calls you on a Sunday. I love that story. And it just reminds me to remind younger listeners that, you know what, every presentation matters, particularly early in your career. You may think it doesn’t, but man, look at how opportunity knocked here for Anthony on a presentation. I’m sure you didn’t think at the time that this is going to lead to a tremendous opportunity.
Anthony Kennada: I can’t even remember which one it was, to be honest.
Drew Neisser: Right, but obviously you showed some enthusiasm if nothing else. I’m curious—you talk about intuition. One of the things that I heard was that you were really focused on a very specific target. I think that’s such an interesting thing because a lot of startups really struggle to find their focus.
It’s sort of, “Well, let’s try this, let’s try this,” but they don’t really know who their audience is and as a result is very hard to put an effective plan together. Talk a little bit about the audience that you were going after at Gainsight.
Anthony Kennada: Yeah, so we had observed—and this is the first couple months in the job for both Nick and I—that there was a persona that existed called the customer success manager. And we didn’t name it, Salesforce gets the credit for actually coming up with that term, but this is a small group of people who would meet in different office buildings around Silicon Valley for these meetups.
They would meet for a peer-to-peer best practice exchange, and what we had observed was that they were responsible for the ongoing relationship with the customer after sales closed the deal, but there wasn’t anyone in the marketplace that was really fighting for them, that was building educational resources, the networking, to really give them a platform to more effectively do their job.
And as a result, what we saw was that this was a group that, while it was still emerging, didn’t have a lot of influence within the organization, or technology, or really a seat at the executive table. So our big thesis was, what if we could be that brand that fought for them?
By no means would we come in and say “We are the experts in customer success,” but with humility, say, “Can we facilitate that discussion as a brand?” and then be the place people come to talk about world-class customer success. That was the early hypothesis that we tested by doing an event. We said, “Look, there are these events, these meetups that we’re observing, what if we hosted our own event? Would people come?”
Imagine, basically barely a Series A company with 5-10 customers hosting an industry conference for customer success. We had about 300 people show up, Geoffrey Moore and Aaron Levy were speakers, and really people were left thinking, gosh, there’s a movement starting here around customer success.
And then for the folks in the audience, they found a community that they could belong in, and that was the compelling moment where gosh, if we can keep fostering that feeling of belonging within these personas, within these people, hopefully, we can build a great software company, but surely, we can do something that’d be meaningful for them.
Drew Neisser: Perfect. You had me at community.
[14:29] How One Event Turned into a Long-Term Growth Strategy“We didn't talk about our product and yet, all of a sudden, we had folks that were curious like, ‘What is @GainsightHQ? What do you all actually do and why are you hosting this event?’” @akennada @FrontApp #RTU Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: We were talking about the early stage where—every startup dreams about having a moment where they say, “There’s an underserved target that has a lot of commonality across the board. They’re are underserved in terms of the product, they’re underserved in terms of the content they’re getting, and that’s where the business opportunity is.”
And somehow or other, this is where you found yourself 6, 7, 8 years ago. Anthony, talk about how did this event and that showed you that, “Oh wow, there’s a lot of interest in this topic. What happened from there?”
Anthony Kennada: The most interesting piece was, at this event, we didn’t talk about our software at all. We didn’t talk about our product and yet, all of a sudden, we had folks that were curious like, “What is Gainsight? What do you all actually do and why are you hosting this event?”
What we found is that thought leadership didn’t just generate like buzz and awareness and excitement, but it also turned into some leads. People wanted to talk to us. That’s where we said, “We need to triple down” because this is our marketing strategy, or at least we believe this is, and we obviously can’t host an event every quarter, so we have to find ways to really scale this idea of leading with thought leadership, leading with value to this audience. And then over time, looking to monetize that once they’ve developed enough intent.
The quick—we can dive into some of these, but we launched the online blog and content resource for best practices around customer success. We did a series of virtual events every year, obviously they were much easier to scale. We developed even like a career program, so an online certification pathway for people that want to get certified in customer success, a place to connect with job seekers and hiring managers so they can grow their career. We wanted to develop the oxygen around customer success and have all of those different programs be things that we provided as a brand.
That single event turned into an entire 6 to 7-year marketing strategy for how we were going to grow the company.
Drew Neisser: I love it. And I’m going to pause and break some of those things down, but I’m reminded of early on—so we’ve been hosting these CMO Huddles since April, and one of the things I’ll never forget one of the CMOs saying—and this is about June, as they were doing some of the things that you’re talking about—they said, “The less we sell the more we sell.”
It was great to hear at that moment because there was so much pressure in 2nd quarter, 3rd quarter on CMOs: “We need leads! The pipeline is closed. We need it.” The traditional solution would be more webinars and more emails and assaults and ABM, and in fact, what people really needed was help in certain ways.
The other thing that I wanted to mention is, this whole category that you’re talking about, we at Renegade call it marketing as service, where the marketing has inherent value to your prospects and customers such that they want to consume it. And what I love about all of this is these pieces work together, as you said, to build oxygen. The blog, the virtual events, and even the career. What’s so interesting in this is, you know you are a category—here’s one of the things—when you are the guys who are training people on how to do the category.
That makes sense that you went to certification. I mean, in some ways, the playbook that HubSpot wrote for inbound—they created the whole thing of inbound and then they certify you on inbound and you know, next thing you know they have this really big share among small businesses in the space.
[18:36] How to Provide Real Value with B2B Content“This idea of centralizing customer communication prescriptive with how this works and maintaining a good customer experience, it's a good set of accountabilities as you go off and run some programs.” @akennada @FrontApp #RTU Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Let’s talk about each of these things and individually and what you learned because, you know, look—having a blog is not a big deal and doing virtual events are not a big deal, but you’ve got to do them well. What did you learn, and how did you make sure that your online blog continually added value to this community?
Anthony Kennada: I think there are three major earnings that we had. The first is that quality. We had to make sure that we were delivering that value. To use your language, marketing as a service had to be valuable to the audience and couldn’t just be a commercial for Gainsight or anything that’s extremely biased.
The second is, we wanted to make sure that the best practices weren’t coming solely from Gainsight, but that we are coming from customers or from just other companies in the market that had a story to tell. We took a posture of facilitating this discussion versus necessarily being the ones to lead it and I think that helped us build trust out in the market.
And the third thing is cadence, and this is something that people, I think marketers take for granted. We came up with an idea to launch a podcast or something, but by Episode 6, 7, or 8, we’re on to the next priority and we’ve de-prioritized it.
People expected to hear from Gainsight. We became like a TV network or programming network and people subscribed and wanted to be a part of getting their news from the industry from us. We wanted to make sure that we were constantly releasing new content through all of our different channels so that we were this alive and thriving kind of brand and not just a passive brand in the market.
Drew Neisser: You know, that’s a great summary. Quality is a little tricky to define, but you can sort of tell relative based on consumption, did the folks read it or download it or whatever. I want to call attention to a couple of things.
One that you don’t have to be the expert on everything. In fact, it’s hard for brands to do that, so to the extent that you can get 3rd-party voices, particularly customers, to be the ones who are sharing the content, that’s awesome. The cadence thing is interesting to me. I think I read somewhere that podcasters, something like 80% give up before like three months.
We’re well into our Episode 200+ on Renegade Thinkers Unite. And by the way, I just wanted to mention that I recorded 30 episodes before I got 5 that I was happy with. I mean, it takes time sometimes to get these formats to a place where you can get them to really be as good as you want them to be. If you go down a content-heavy road, particularly like a podcast, brace yourself. Yeah, you know, this is a big commitment.
I love those things. The expectation—I want to talk about cadence. What did you ultimately decide was the right cadence for you all?
Anthony Kennada: I’m smiling a little bit because I don’t know if this is a best practice necessarily, but we were dropping emails weekly, in some cases, several emails. We had monthly newsletter that went out. We had certain webinars, and every other week, when we’re promoting our events, you know, email is effectively the best driver of attendees for us.
I wish it were not true, but we sent a ton of emails to get folks to our event. There were moments where we were probably sending three emails a week to folks that were in our subscriber base.
I think what’s interesting, and this is a point you brought up earlier, if you think about the brand that’s sending this content as almost a lifestyle brand for your profession, like “In order for me to be plugged into what’s happening around my career, whatever, I need to follow this brand.”
The emails aren’t annoying. They’re not spam; they’re just part of doing life within customer success. Now we also had some unsubscribes so that wasn’t something that we took for granted. That’s where this focus on quality was really important for us to make sure that what we did send resonated and mattered, but we had to do a lot of air traffic control with our customer success team who send their own emails, our product that generated some emails.
This idea of centralizing customer communication prescriptive with how this works and maintaining a good customer experience, it’s a good set of accountabilities as you go off and run some programs.
Drew Neisser: Yeah, I mean, this is when companies get bigger, and then everybody wants to email the same group different things. I think the key thing here: It’s not spam if it’s of value and of interest to your target. And they let you know because you see it in your unsubscribes.
[24:05] How Gainsight Knew They’d Created a Category“We weren't setting out to create a category, but we started showing up as a reference for the category.” @akennada @FrontApp #RTU Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Let’s quickly—before we take another break—when did you sort of feel like you had created a category?
Anthony Kennada: That is such a hard question. There are probably two moments. First is, we weren’t setting out to create a category, but we started showing up as a reference for the category.
As folks were talking, they’d talk about HubSpot, obviously the classic and perhaps most iconic example for what they’ve done out in marketing, and then maybe, I think, Salesforce gets some credit for what they’ve done with the cloud in general, just kind of evangelizing the cloud. And then we’d hear our name. Little Gainsight mentioned with these massive startups.
That’s where we first started getting conviction and things like, you know, we ended up writing a book about this called Category Creation, we ended up speaking on it—Nick and I both—on different conferences and stages.
That’s the first signal, but back in December when the news of Vista and Gainsight kind of happened, that’s what where I think it really sunk in for me, that this wasn’t just something that we all believed as a community, but it was something that analysts and folks outside of our own echo chamber could really go and validate. When Vista dedicated their majority investment and committed, I think to me, personally, that was a big milestone for us.
Drew Neisser: Well, it certainly was validation of the idea. I would say, from other interviews that I’ve done on category creation, it’s not a category of one. It isn’t a category until you have competitors, and it isn’t a category until those competitors are using the same language, if you will, like everybody’s using ABM now. We could probably call that a category although you get 20 definitions when you ask anybody what it is.
The other sort of key measure in tech is, what are the analysts saying and where do you fit into their maps? If the analysts are breaking it out as its own thing, then the world will start to believe you.
All right. Well, I think the key though is, and this is so interesting, is, set out to serve a community, not to create a category. Creating a category is useless. It’s being of service to a community, and once you have that community, they’re the ones who will validate it. They’ll show up at your events, they’ll consume your content, they’ll want to be certified by you, and the more that you certify them, the more it becomes a category. It’s interesting. I hadn’t really thought about this that much, but we’re talking about big pivots, and the big pivot here is own a group of people and service them like there’s this is the only people in the world.
And if you do that through your marketing, you have a lot better chance of success than if you simply say, “Hey, let’s get a demand generation program that targets these three groups.”
Anthony Kennada: Totally agree with that. And I think that’s something that COVID in this year has really helped us kind of shine a light on why that’s important, not just from an economic value perspective, shareholder value perspective, but the loyalty that customers feel to brands that we’re here to help them during times of difficulty, in times when the business world wasn’t, things weren’t going as well as they should be.
Customers remember that, and it’s a chance to really build a lasting generational brand. I think it’s an important nuance to keep in mind.
[29:28] Telling Front’s Story#Branding101: “We wanted to be a strategic partner to the market at large that believed something.” @akennada @FrontApp #RTU Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Anthony, you took the job at Front in November 2019, so pre-pandemic. What was your charter, if you will, or mandate?
Anthony Kennada: I think there are a few things. Front, unlike Gainsight, serves a pretty [inaudible] market. At Gainsight, our job was to really help grow the [inaudible] of people in the profession of customer success; at Front, there are over a billion knowledge workers in the world who use email for work, so my job was to basically help us really do two things.
How do we tell a story that’s compelling, that can inspire literally a billion-plus people to use the product? And then how do we go and build the actual back end infrastructure and monetize that thought leadership? So not dissimilar from Gainsight, but on a much, much bigger scale.
Drew Neisser: Before we get too far, help explain in 10 words or less, what is Front?
Anthony Kennada: Front is a customer communication hub, and we bring teams and customers closer together. We use the email inbox as the design metaphor for doing that.
Drew Neisser: Customer communications hub. Okay. And it has to do with email, which is ubiquitous and painful and all those things. By the way, are you a zero-inbox guy?
Anthony Kennada: Thanks to Front, I’m much better than I used to be, but I’m still not completely there.
Drew Neisser: Yeah, there was a great book on getting things done and I tried to get there, and I couldn’t get it done, but I’m okay. I can live without the zero-email inbox.
Now let’s talk about the challenge of, first of all, give us a sense of how big—where is Front in the scale as a startup?
Anthony Kennada: Yeah. Think of Front, we’re about 200 employees at this point. I think I joined around 150, something along those lines. When I joined it was about $30 million of ARR and kind of growing from there. We’re about, in size, a Series C kind of business. By no means are we an early startup where we’re fighting to keep the lights on. I think there’s still a lot of opportunity to grow the business moving forward.
Drew Neisser: Right, okay. We were talking a little bit about your mandate of telling a story—what’s happened? What have you done? When you look back at the year of 2020, what’s on your greatest hits?
Anthony Kennada: Well, I think the biggest, the first step to really make it come alive was, effectively we had built tools that customers could use to better communicate with their customers, but we were really viewed as a toolset.
I think from a brand perspective, we have more ambition. We have more ambition than just being a set of tools, but we wanted to be a strategic partner to the market at large that believed something, that had this sort of emotional conviction that there’s something in the way that we work that should change, and that we’re not satisfied with the current status quo.
You talked about Getting Things Done and getting to Inbox Zero. That’s really, you know, the place where everything happens for us at work whether we want to admit it or not. And there’s stress there. There’s stress when our inbox piles up and there’s stress relief when our inbox is in much better shape.
We think that we have a right to speak into this inexperience with work and tell a bigger story, so we worked with a brand that helped us really articulate our “why.” We were in-market with the “what” and it got us to a to a pretty good place, but we knew that if we really wanted to build an iconic company then we’d have to do a better job of talking about the “why.”
We did a lot of research. We did ethnographic research outside of our bubble and in San Francisco, New York City. We went to Charlotte, we went to Minneapolis, and we tried to understand the human relationship with work.
We found that, ultimately, people were tired of prioritizing productivity and busyness and hustle and all of these different components that are so ingrained in how we work today in the modern economy. What they really wanted to do was make an impact. That was the highest emotional benefit people wanted to get from their work.
“I want to know that I made an impact, whether that’s on me and my career, my team and our ability to deliver a project, or my and my company’s ability to make our mission possible.” That’s something that we’ve started to really express through the brand. We did a rebrand’ we relaunched the website. We’re starting to talk a lot more about the “why.” We’re starting to develop a lot of the content platforms that we’re going to go and bring into the world.
And the idea is, again, not too dissimilar from Gainsight. If we can really own this message about graduating from productivity to impact—especially after 2020 and the year that we had there—I think there’s a big opportunity for us to develop a more emotional connection with the market.
Drew Neisser: Yeah, it’s so interesting. I’m thinking of Tom Peters’ line. His advice is, you know, focus on contribution. It’s such a simple notion, but it’s so difficult, because you have a million tasks and as any individual you always have to think—his advice was: How are you going to contribute? Your word being “impact,” how are you going to have an impact?
So many people think about what they are going to get done, and that’s fascinating. That’s such a great insight.
[35:49] How Front Brought Purpose to Its Employees and Customers“We had to design a process that was incredibly transparent so that folks across the company could feel heard, could provide feedback.” @akennada @FrontApp #RTU Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: I’m curious about how you brought that story—because it starts at home, right? I mean, you have to get your employees to also think about impact and not focus on action necessarily unless it leads to greater impact. Talk about that and how you brought this story of “why” to your employees.
Anthony Kennada: Yeah, you know, it wasn’t easy. I’ll admit it. I think that, you know, coming in, especially as the new CMO, again, as the company’s mid-flight in, there are a lot of folks that had been there for four years plus. They were pretty happy with the story that was in-market. But I think the leadership team, and particularly our CEO, Mathilde, she had the belief that there’s a bigger story to tell, so we had some championing with her.
The best way I did it—first was, we had to design a process that was incredibly transparent so that folks across the company could feel heard, could provide feedback, and can get regular updates on how we were making progress. When we got to the final destination of really positioning Front as a customer communication hub, really talking about the impact more than talking about just simply productivity, they felt like they were along for the journey. They felt like they were co-authors of the story.
That was the biggest way we did it, but part of that activation happened when we were all working from home. I think it’s a lot harder to really kind of stir up the culture and the cultural element around that organizationally when we’re all from home. It’s something that we continue to develop the programs and the steady drumbeat today to make sure folks are well equipped to defend the brand strategy and to get excited about it.
Drew Neisser: I have to say, I mean we talked a lot about this on the show and in other rebranding efforts. The one regret that CMOs often have is they didn’t spend enough time with the employee target before they rolled it out. But it sounds like, in this case, you really brought them along, and I just want to put a nice little bow on that point because, if your employees don’t believe in the “why” and can’t execute against it and don’t see how it’s part of who they are and why they come to work, you’ve failed. You’re not going to get there.
It sounds like you got them along for the ride. I’m curious how you brought your customers into this, because you’re asking them to think about what you’ve been doing for them differently.
Anthony Kennada: Customers were a big part of the process for us. As we were doing a lot of our stakeholder interviews, we made sure that a lot of our kind of representative customers from different industries and titles and disciplines were all brought on board.
Then as we went to activate the message in the market, the first place we started was with a customer preview and getting some customer feedback, roundtables, that sort of thing. We were able to implement the feedback before we actually brought that out to the mass market.
The feedback we heard was that they were able to say it back to us. They were able to kind of feel the intended outcome that we were hoping to create by taking a more emotional approach to building the brand.
As a result, what we started to see in the market is people using the language. Going back to our earlier conversation—they talk about impact, they’re prioritizing impact more in their world, and we’re hopefully able to keep building on that momentum going to moving forward.
[39:43] Leading Indicators for Brand Growth“Are we able to generate more sales as a result of now going to be in-market more? The answer is yes, but it's nuanced.” @akennada @FrontApp #RTU Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Let’s just talk about measurement. You’ve used the term “emotional.” By the way, I love the fact that you previewed this with your customers. Again, it’s one of those things that folks often skip, and to be able to make an adjustment even better because, again, if your customers don’t believe what you’re putting out in the marketplace, you’ve got a real problem when you go for testimonials and they’re using a different language.
Emotions are kind of tricky to measure. I mean that’s tracking and brand studies and things like that. You’ve got investors and they want to see net new logos. As you’re doing this sort of emotional, teach people to think about work differently, how do you measure success in that context?
Anthony Kennada: Yeah, there are some leading indicators and then there are ones that we can you know more confidently point to on a board slide and say, “Hey, this is working.”
The leading indicators are, as we’re releasing our own podcast episodes, as we’re releasing other types of content, how folks are engaging with that? We went from basically very little blog views—our blog was basically a glorified company announcements portal, more than anything else—we started seeing an increase in traffic. We started to see folks downloading some of the gated assets that we launched on the blog. So that was helpful.
We looked at, you know, what are the company domains? Oh wow, we’re actually getting access to some larger, more up-market customers as we’re launching more of this low buying intent, high-interest pieces.
Ultimately, where does it show up in [inaudible], where the board’s most interested. The way we’ve set up Front today and the legacy of the business—it’s a trial-based kind of product, so it’s kind of this product lead growth motion where people can sign up for a trial and never talk to the salesperson and get going.
The first place that we wanted to look is, are we able to generate more sales as a result of now going to be in-market more? The answer is yes, but it’s nuanced. The nature of evangelical around a brand and starting a movement behind it, this stuff takes time. It’s less intent, but it’s high value to the audience. You are able to cast a wider net, get more traffic to the site, but the lagging in there is engagement on [inaudible].
We’re doing better, but I think overall, what we’re realizing too is we need a better pricing and packaging approach that can better capture this more value selling led effort that we’re going into. A sneak preview of the work on our plate this quarter is ensuring that our pricing/packaging supports the value selling motions that we’re creating.
Drew Neisser: Right. I want to call attention to one thing on this. When we talk about building a new brand that’s purpose-driven, the chances of you seeing that show up immediately on the revenue with net new logos is really hard.
As you said, it takes time. I mean, 6 months, 12 months to actually begin, to get people to associate an emotional idea with a brand and have them take action, particularly when you’re talking about something that involves new behavior versus just replacement behavior. That’s what category creation is all about—new behavior.
I think it’s interesting, and I think where you’re headed, to the extent that if you’re doing that and you’re building awareness, anything that you can do to generate trial without any friction—if you can be the Mongo DB where they can download your software for free, use it, get to know it, and then life is a lot easier. And then this one-two punch of brand building and free trial can come in make hay. Is that a good summary there? Does that make sense?
Anthony Kennada: Yeah. I think so. You find that that becomes an awareness game, and you want to get as many qualified eyeballs to your site as possible for them to engage with the product.
We also want to meet customers where they are, right? Some customers want to talk to someone, some customers, especially as you go further up-market to the enterprise—again, persona—but in some cases, they want to better understand how this fits into their existing strategy or into the problem set that they’re looking to solve. We want to make sure to create many different pathways for folks to engage with Front.
[44:28] Content Creation 2021 Dos and Don’ts“We're all hopeful that it's going to be a good year for marketers and a chance for us to really make a difference in our communities that we serve.” @akennada @FrontApp #RTU Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Well, this has been really interesting. I know I could continue, but I’m afraid that our listeners are finishing up their workouts there going, “Okay, Drew wrap it up.” I’m wondering—as look at 2021 and you’ve got a group of CMOs—give us two dos and a don’t when it comes to creating a category and the big pivot for 2021.
Anthony Kennada: First, let’s see, a couple dos. Do focus on the persona and an individual within an organization that you’re marketing and selling to, because we’re coming out of a year where we’ve all felt disconnected [inaudible] and if you’ve been a brand that helps facilitate that, now is the time for us to, hopefully, again, optimistic, get back together again whether that’s literally or figuratively.
The second is, try and develop a lifestyle brand for them. What does that mean? Develop the content programs, the podcast, the community. All of these different things are the strength of how you can go and actually activate that promise that you’re making these folks out into the market.
A don’t. Don’t lose hope. Have some patience. As Drew mentioned, this stuff takes time. You need to make sure that you keep the content cadence and quality high and that you’re understanding the data and the performance, but that you don’t give up when things don’t immediately convert into revenue in the first 30, 45 days of the program.
Those are the dos and don’ts, and I think just one thing in general for next year, I think we’re all hopeful that it’s going to be a good year for marketers and a chance for us to really make a difference in our communities that we serve. Use that as motivation to really aim big and get your pivot on for ‘21 in a way that will make a deep impact for you, for your company, and for your customers.
Drew Neisser: I love it. All right, that’s perfect. Thank you. Thank you, Anthony. for spending time on Renegade Thinkers Unite. I think that a couple of takeaways for me really are universal. The big pivot starts with, as you said, the customer and thinking about the customer and thinking about how you can add value, relentless value, through the marketing.
And in doing that, as those pieces start to add up, particularly if it’s “why” driven, right? Why are you doing this? If you can articulate it in a really simple 10-words-or-less way to help folks understand, “Oh, I get it. This is why,” you really are going to have an opportunity to do something amazing and 2021.
All right. If you’ve stayed with us this far, I really appreciate it. Give us a five-star review on your favorite podcast channel, share it with a friend, visit us at renegade.com. All right, Anthony. Thank you so much for being on the show.
Anthony Kennada: Thanks so much, Drew. Appreciate it.
Renegade Thinkers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Audio production is by Sam Beck. The show notes are written by Melissa Caffrey. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and the intro voiceover is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, or learn more about quite possibly the best B2B marketing agency in New York City, visit renegade.com. And until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.