Ever tried to buy from an online store but end up confused by the myriads of options? Take Noodles, for instance. There are so many brands and you can’t tell which is which. Just like this Amazon search shows:
Because of the sheer number of results, you click back and forth but can’t seem to buy. There’s just no visible difference. The products look similar. You end up not buying. You get away from the website frustrated and unfulfilled.
This was the exact situation customers found themselves when Drift, a conversational sales and marketing platform, came on the scene.
Competition was stiff. The number of tech firms had increased from a few hundred in 2013 to 6829 in 2018. Updated figures for 2020 is 8000. Business tech entrepreneurs are shipping products and sharing the stories behind them. But, they all sound the same. It’s hard to breakthrough the noise.
Drift tried to help customers by setting themselves apart. They tried to differentiate their technology solution from the others. They achieved this with content marketing, done right. Suffice to say, Drift is crushing it with the stories they’re telling.
Today, 50,000 businesses use Drift and they have a 30,000-strong insider community. Revenue also grew from $0 to eight figures within 24 months!
So, How Did Drift Achieve Success through Content?
1. Built a Community of Insiders
Drift gave customers and prospects a sense of ownership by calling them insiders. This group has free access to sales, marketing, and customer experience resources from the tech brand.
Unlike other companies that have their communities as Facebook or LinkedIn groups, Drift has its community on its website. To participate, insiders must visit the Drift website. Resulting in multiple exposures. Culminating in brand loyalty.
Made up of Drift employees, customers, partners, and business professionals., the Drift community seeks to create a culture of respect and trust. It also aims to push for higher standards and be a curious learning machine.
Marketing TakeAway: People love to belong. Creating a group or tribe, as Seth Godin calls it, fosters a sense of ownership in your brand. It’s a powerful way to nurture your audience. The 2019 B2B Content Marketing report by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) says 23% of marketers nurture their audience primarily through community-building/audience participation.
2. Created a New Niche and Worked to Dominate It
Drift created the ‘Conversational Marketing’ category. It didn’t exist prior. That was basically to set themselves apart in a crowded market. It was an untapped niche which they stepped forward to own and dominate.
At the time, chat bots were being used for customer support but Drift saw it could be used for sales and marketing. The reasoning was simple: sales reps would talk to customers that visit their store. So, it shouldn’t be difficult for marketers and sales reps to talk to the customers that visit their website.
Drift, then, coined the term and used it on their website, social media, videos, podcast, etc. They also wrote a blueprint on it. Spoke about it at conferences. It was simply everywhere and the conversational marketing movement caught on like wildfire.
We searched ‘conversational marketing’ while writing this post and Drift is number 2 on Google’s first page:
Marketing TakeAway: Creating a new category sets your product apart but you must do this carefully. If there’s no need to, stick with your category but have a strong positioning for your product. This enables customers to spot the difference between your product and others in the market.
3. Broke the Rules of Gated Content
What do you do, as a marketer, when your boss asks you to unlock your content? How are you going to get emails? How are you going to hit your numbers?
That was the dilemma Dave faced when David told him to give out their lead magnets without asking for email addresses. He did as he was told and growth exploded. As you can see from the video below:
But, how did David convince the team to buy into his non-gated content argument? He simply said:
“I think marketing has kind of lost its way a little bit. We’ve lost the importance of a great story and truly connecting with people. We live in this world where it’s all about content, content and more content. And SEO. And ranking for this keyword and that keyword. And algorithms and conversion rate optimization. Pieces of that stuff are still important to marketing, but overall, I think we’ve lost our way. Marketing today has become more about gaming the system and get rich quick schemes.”
Marketing TakeAway: You don’t always have to follow convention to achieve results. You can choose to be different, like Drift, and still achieve results.
4. Combined Text, Audio, and Video Content
Drift uses a combination of text, video, and audio content to achieve maximum results. There’s the blog and other learning resources which offer rock-sold sales and marketing advice.
There’s also the Seeking Wisdom podcast which airs on a weekly basis. It features business-building lessons the team has learned, growing Drift. It’s hosted by David Cancel, the CEO.
The podcast now has close to 600 5-star reviews and 50,000+ downloads a month! It contributes phenomenally to promoting the company’s annual HYPERGROWTH conference.
There’s also the video content on YouTube, LinkedIn and Instagram. Dave was particularly famous for making short videos with his iPhone and posting them on LinkedIn. Some of these “selfie videos” garnered over 100,000 views within the first 7 days without any form of promotion. One of the videos went viral in October 2018 and got 200, 000 views and 2,000 comments from B2B marketers. Dave talks about this and shares video marketing tips here.
So, how did he achieve this feat? Dave says there’s no secret than the fact that he was willing to experiment with the channel as soon as it launched. In his words, “I hate to admit it – and I wish I DID have some secret hack – but the real secret behind the success on LinkedIn is that we got there early. LinkedIn video launched in August 2017 and I started posting videos there immediately to see what would happen. And sure enough, the first video I did had something like 6,000 views. I thought “no way this is real; LinkedIn is probably just juicing my stats because they want me to post more. So at the end of my next video, I said “if you’re watching this right now, I want to test LinkedIn video so email me firstname.lastname@example.org.” Within hours I had HUNDREDS of replies. It was crazy.”
Aside LinkedIn, the official YouTube channel has over 7000 subscribers with several branded videos.
Marketing TakeAway: Content Marketing has several moving parts and buyers have preferences as to how they like to consume content. Some prefer audio, while others prefer video. You just have to incorporate all these formats and see which works best for your brand. Also, you must be willing to experiment with new channels, like Drift did and succeeded with LinkedIn video.
5. Prioritized Helpful and Quality Content
Quality trumps quantity when it comes to content creation for the Drift team.
Dave says, “there’s only one way to build an audience with content marketing today: you have to create stuff that people actually want to read. At Drift, I wish we really hammered on this from day one. And it’s my fault — I fell in the trap of wanting to crank out more content. Some of it was good, some of it wasn’t. But when you publish a post and two days later no one has read it, the natural reaction is to go and write something else. I guess it’s human nature. But now, it’s crystal clear that quality content (over quantity) is the only way to grow today.”
Marketing TakeAway: People love to learn how to do stuff. They’ll love you if you can provide information that will help them achieve their goals. This is what Drift set out to do and you can also do for your brand. Providing helpful content is powerful in the content marketing mix.
6. Focused on Topics Instead of Keywords
Instead of hunting a list of keywords to write about, Dave says they decided to “focus on topics that were relevant to our target audience (like product marketing, growth marketing, product management and sales) and then building out a library of great content around each particular topic.”
The process involved researching a topic thoroughly and creating a definitive and highly resourceful guide on it. This process works, as Drift’s product marketing post currently occupies the second spot on Google’s first page:
Marketing TakeAway: Looking at content creation from Dave’s lens enables you to create content that people would actually read but there’s nothing wrong with going the keyword route.
7. Promoted the Heck Out of Their Content
Dave believes organizations should spend time creating content and promoting it. He said they worked hard at content promotion and this eventually paid off.
Aside promoting through their social media handles, Dave says they tapped into the power of online communities like Reddit, Inbound.org, and GrowthHackers.com. They also established relationships with influencers who talked about their brand. Email marketing also worked even though they initially didn’t get the email marketing mix right.
So, how did they promote through online communities?
Instead of blasting their links all over the communities with the hope of getting people to visit, they tried to start real conversations. An example is this post on Inbound.org that had 138 upvotes, 73 comments, and was at the top of Inbound.org for a full week:
Why did this post work so well? The topic was relevant to the community and the link was not blindly posted to everyone for self-promotion. The result? 600+ new people visited the Drift blog through this post alone
Dave says communities can be amazing but you’ve got to treat people with respect, respond to their comments, and post your link in a subtle manner.
With outreach and influencers, Dave says they’ve learned to ask for permission first, instead of just cold emailing strangers and asking them to promote their content.
Here’s an email he typically uses:
Most often, recipients would ask for the link and willingly share. Why? Just because the Drift team asked for permission.
With email, Dave confesses they initially made a big mistake, even though it’s their number one source of blog traffic. He said they initially sent emails with several CTAs and links. This confused their subscribers. Once they realized the mistake, they started sending just one email (with one link) per week, except they had a special product announcement or something cropped up.
Marketing TakeAway: This reminds me of Social Triggers, Derek Halpern who said: “Content Marketing’s 80-20 Rule states: Spend 20% of your time creating great content and 80% of your time distributing that content to reach as broad an audience as possible.”
8. Engaged their Internal Customers Powerfully
Drift does a lot of employee advocacy. They understand that engaging their external customers is just one piece of the jigsaw. The internal customers also need to be engaged. To this effect, Drift celebrates its employees and allows them to share their thoughts on the company blog.
They recently published the profile of #1 power user, Eve, who is on the Drift sales team. The piece details real interactions between users and customers and offers helpful insight to readers while putting another face to the name.
Also, Drift doesn’t do stock photography. Instead, they use real employees and customers everywhere in their marketing.
Marketing TakeAway: Sharing real stories and real people can enable your brand to stand apart from the thousands of tech companies vying for attention. Just like it helped Drift. Just like it helped Groove.
Drift has built an extremely profitable company by giving marketing a human face. You can also do the same, just by learning from their mistakes and the things they did right.
So, which of these tips are you going to begin with?
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