The Human Centered Design Podcast with Gerry Scullion

John Collins 'The business of value-led content marketing at Intercom & beyond'

John Carter
November 25, 2022
Join our CIRCLE Community to discuss this episode

Connect with other ethically driven change makers from all over the world.

Learn more

John Collins 'The business of value-led content marketing at Intercom & beyond'

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Pretium est ipsum dictum lectus mauris netus. Diam sed sit quisque facilisi luctus feugiat.

Episode shownotes

I recently caught up for coffee with John Collins, also based in Dublin, and the former Director of Content for Intercom and now an independent consultant working in content marketing for businesses around the world.

In this conversation we chat about the role of Content Marketing vs Product Marketing and chat about the massive growth of Intercom over the 7 years that John was there. I put John on the spot (you’re welcome John!) and asked him for the 5-key learnings during this period and also the things that they did that led the business to generating over 1/4 million business leads in that time.

Episode Transcript

This transcript was created using the awesome, Descript. It may contain minor errors.
Note: This is an affiliate link, where This is HCD make a small commission if you sign up a Descript account.

[00:00:00] Growth is amazing, but it's double edged sword. Like everyone wants growth. I get it. But it can be tough in an organization and so I think getting a lot of the fundamentals in place, like such as your company values and like what you believe in, like sometimes people think that stuff's a bit fluffy, but really, really helps you when you grow rapidly, is like understanding why does your company exist other than to make money.

[00:00:22] You know, and I think so, so getting your, your values nailed.

[00:00:28] Hello and welcome to this estate cd. My name is Jerry Schoon and I'm a designer, educator, and the host of this estate CD based in the wonderful city of Dublin, Ireland. Now, our goal here is to have conversations that inspire and help move the dial forward for organizations to become more human centered in their approach to solving complex business and societal problem.

[00:00:51] Now I recently called up for coffee with John Collins, also based in Dublin, and the former director of Content for Intercom, and is now an [00:01:00] independent consultant working in content marketing for businesses around the world. And in this conversation we chat about the role of content marketing versus product marketing.

[00:01:10] We chat about the massive growth of Intercom over the seven years that John was there. I actually put John on the spot, and you're very welcome. John and I asked him for five key learnings during this period, and also the things that they did that that led to the business to generating over a quarter of a million business leads in that time.

[00:01:29] That's pretty cool. Now, before we jump in, I'd love it if you could help me out a little bit, if you could leave a review for the podcast, wherever you listen to the podcast. It only takes a couple of minutes, folks, but it really, really helps. Growth gaps, new listeners and helps find ability of the podcast, those algorithms and Spotify and Google and Apple truly love your input.

[00:01:49] Now you can go one better, of course, and become a patron of the podcast, and you can get an ad-free stream of this podcast for as little as one year or 66 per month. You get a shout out as well as thanks on the [00:02:00] podcast. Now, there are other plans there where you can get a super cool hoodie that I have.

[00:02:04] I'm wearing it right now at the moment, with a design for humans logo that's nicely embroidered, and all the money goes directly to editing, hosting, and maintaining our website, which as you've. I heard before is now a repository for human center design. Goodness, with over 220 episodes, folks, so please do your bit and try and help us.

[00:02:24] Let's jump straight into this episode. It's a really good one. John is an epic guest and I know you're gonna enjoy it. John Collins, a very warm welcome to this estate cd. How are you doing? I'm doing well, Jerry, thanks for, thanks for having me. No worries. We're, we're almost neighbors in Dublin City and we're just after having a, a whole kind of bout of technology problems trying to connect, which is kind of ironic when we probably could have just met up for a coffee and we're on Zoom calls to the US and the UK and all sorts of places, uh, nonstop, but yet we try to do call with someone down the road.

[00:02:56] And I know technology doesn't play ball. It is kind of crazy. [00:03:00] Technology, um, you, you've been involved in technology for the last, um, well, that 15, 20 years probably, and I'm looking at your LinkedIn here as well, but, we'll, we'll get to some of that stuff. How do you describe what you do, John? That's , that's a tough one.

[00:03:18] I mean, uh, make it simple for people. I mean, I kind of say, listen, I, I'm, I've done a lot of content marketing and communications, uh, but really what I talk about is, um, you know, it's really like building community. It's, it's, it's anything that's like organic top of funnel. Like get people aware of your company, get people, uh, interested in your company.

[00:03:41] But I think a big thing, and I think like what we've talked about before, Making sure that. You know, the experience that you have with marketing is also very similar to the experience you have in the product. I've always worked with very product, uh, product driven companies and like a lot of product led growth.

[00:03:56] And I think , not at least, cuz it makes your job [00:04:00] so much easier as a marketer to, uh, work with, with the great product rather than, you know, I think we see some organizations are very sales led or very marketing led. Um, you know, I think if, if, if you're doing marketing where you've got a really strong product, it just makes your.

[00:04:14] So much easier. Absolutely. And it's funny because in, uh, the world of service design that I primarily, um, position myself in, we, um, sorry, you might have cut out there a little bit, John, in the world of service design that we kind of. I'm involved in anyway. We often talk about the pre-service experience and the service experience and how mm-hmm.

[00:04:36] that will ultimately affect the post-service experience if the pre-service experience is setting up an over expectancy. Um, so your role as Director of Content in Intercom in Ireland is probably a really good one to, to talk a little bit about because the, the product that in my mind when you were speaking there, um, That's, that's intercom.

[00:04:57] Okay. Intercom's regarded as being one of the, the [00:05:00] poster boys, so to speak, of, of tech in Ireland. When you joined Intercom, you were, um, there were probably two and a half, three years into their journey in 2014. Walk me through what that was like in terms of the product at that stage and also your role, what you were doing with them.

[00:05:18] Yeah. So I mean, uh, it was kind of an interesting one cause I had, um, you know, I'd worked, worked in, in, in, um, tech briefly during the go round. Um, you know, but then I, I'd worked as a journalist, uh, af after that and like always very interested in, in technology and business and, and, and, you know, I had a lot of contacts in the industry and obviously the, the, the media world.

[00:05:41] A great place to be in 2014 . And so, uh, Intercom Own, uh, the CEO at Intercom was one of the first people I kinda got in touch with him, was like, Hey, look, I'm looking to make a change and, you know, see you guys raise money. You know, surely you're, you know, you're gonna start doing some PR or look for, you know, someone to do comms, which was kind of the standard way that like people, [00:06:00] uh, got outta journalism, but actually, Owen and his co-founder Des very much had a vision of what content could be and, and how content marketing could, could really help, uh, Intercom grow.

[00:06:10] And I think it was like very different to a lot of what was around at the time, which was very much about SEO and about like churning out lots and lots of articles, you know, which were. On the face of it, pretty good articles, but like I always say, they're like kind of, you kind of have that Happy meal, uh, effect with, with a lot of SEO content in that, you know, you like, it looks good, you eat it, you feel full, but then like half an hour later, you, you realize you're still hungry.

[00:06:36] And so what we did was wanted to create something that. You know, would be much more about building the brand. Uh, but also, as I said, would reflect, you know, the, the, the, the, the experience people are gonna have right throughout, like their, their time with Intercom. Like we always said, you know, it was really important to sort of see the world through the lens of your product.

[00:06:56] Um, so, you know, we would talk about, it's not that you [00:07:00] would talk. What the product, like how to use the product, but you do talk about like sort of the universe the product plays in and, and, and see that through the lens of your product. So I'll give you an example. We, uh, Intercom had a customer engagement, uh, kind of platform, which, you know, allows you message your customers, but like, In the product and like, you know, this had been written in software was like, you know, it was almost impossible to send a message to the same message to all your customers all the time.

[00:07:24] Yeah. Like you had to choose filters for your message because like any message that you send to everyone is probably quite like, it's a spam message really. You know, messages should be targeted and directed at people. So like that was something that they'd written in the software and like that's what we wrote.

[00:07:40] In the content, you know, like how to target messages, how to write a good message, how, like what are the different kind of like, you know, and, and this was content that you could get value even if you used one of our competitors. Yeah. Um, you know, you could potentially get value out of it, but like the philosophy in that content was very much the philosophy of the product.

[00:07:57] And I think that's why it works, because it wasn't doing a hard sell, [00:08:00] but it was making it very clear, like, why would you choose a product like Intercom? Yeah. I remember at that stage it was, um, not, not coming across as the hard sell was the big thing. Um, I was in Australia at the time and I, I remember a wave of people talking about Intercom, had this blog, and I was like, why are they writing a blog?

[00:08:20] Like, you know, and then when we looked at it, there was some, some fantastic articles up there that resonated. Service designers and user experience designers and people that working within SaaS businesses and consultancies and stuff like that. And they started to talk about it and started to build a brand.

[00:08:36] But I guess, um, when, when you're, when you're at that stage of, of growth, was there resistance in the business to take this step? Or was it something that you all bought into quite quickly? Um, I think the, the massive advantage I had was that like, this came from the top, uh, you know, like Owen really believed in it, but like, not only that, but Des actually walked, walked the walk.

[00:08:59] [00:09:00] Uh, the first 93 of 100 blog posts written on Inside Intercom were by Des. I mean, literally, I remember meeting them for a coffee between the time I signed on. Signed my contract and actually started, and he was like, I can't wait for you to join. There's so much, you know, like, I want you to take off my plate.

[00:09:16] But like, he literally had it set up so that there was like a, an RSS feed from the blog to like an email marketing program, campaign monitor, whatever it was at the time, where it literally was sending out. The new blog post for the week every Wednesday at five 30, which meant he basically had to write, someone had to produce a blog post every week, or that email was gone out empty.

[00:09:36] And like there was that forced discipline of like, we are gonna create content. But it, it's an interesting one because I think like, you know, uh, content marketing is, it's, it's just become this thing that like every, every company wants to do out out of the blocks. But you know, somehow there's, there's sometimes can be this reluctance to invest in it or it's like, we'll, we'll hire a junior person, or, you know, like, it, it's not maybe [00:10:00] seen as sort of, um, something you need to invest as much in as, as other parts of, of marketing.

[00:10:05] And I think that's real, a real loss. And I think actually, you know, we're, we're kind of at an age now where it's. I actually don't bother doing content if you're not gonna do quality content or stand out in some way. Cause it's just so much, there's so much bad content out there, you know, it's so much Me too kind of content.

[00:10:20] Yeah. Um, you know, and I think that's a, that's a, that's a big issue I see. Uh, particularly now that I'm kind of consulting with, with clients and stuff. And you know, I think people are like, We wanna tick this box sometimes, but they don't necessarily wanna like invest in it or have an opinion or really sort of, I suppose, like reflect, try and reflect their brand, you know?

[00:10:40] Yeah. You just wanna, yeah. Can you remember at that stage, and it's, I'm hopefully you're gonna be able to share some of this stuff, um, but how did you measure success? So, I think in the early days it was really just, um, in the first year probably, it was really just to see. You know, as I say, I've been kind of like the founders kind of driving this.

[00:10:58] I mean, they come from that [00:11:00] like, not to date ourselves too much, but that kind of Web 2.0 world where, you know, everyone was having meetups and you know, everyone was blogging and all that kind of stuff. So they, they very naturally sort of like, you know, told their story as the company group. And it was really like to see could we bring in like someone like me, like more professional editor, you know, to actually sort of, uh, scale that operation.

[00:11:22] And so like, You know, I've worked with people who are very data driven and really wanna like, we need to like measure everything within an inch of its life. But I always say, Listen in the first six months at least of a, of a content marketing program. Yeah. You should just know this is working. Like if you are, you know, starting to publish stuff, if you're not hearing feedback like either on social, where you're seeing people sharing your posts or like you're going to trade shows and people are actually coming up and, and talking about like your content or, you know, you're, they're responding to your email newsletter just with like, Hey, really enjoy this.

[00:11:53] You know, that kinda. And you're starting to see some traffic. And then once you start to build those things, then you can start to think about, [00:12:00] oh, okay, like we, we've got some traffic. Is this like what kind of articles are converting? Like if, if, if our goal here is to get, say leads or to signups, like are we seeing, are we seeing conversion and what, on what type type of articles are we seeing conversion?

[00:12:13] Um, You know, there's like, are we seeing like the types of people are coming to the website attracted by the content? Are they the right types of visitors? Cause actually, like a big issue, I think early, early doors with a content program can be what I call the, the high school projects problem. Uh, where basically, you know, you're, you're doing kind of quite definitional basic content around the space you're in.

[00:12:34] Um, but you know, say if you're a FinTech and you've got an article about like how to do a. Like, it's not finance leaders who are thinking of you buying your product, who are Googling, you know how to do a budget. They know how to do a budget. Yeah. That's why they're a finance leader. But there is high school students or other people, you know, other people entering the profession maybe, or whatever, you know.

[00:12:53] So, um, yeah, I think, I think you need to be very careful early on, you know, you gotta. Get to a point and content does [00:13:00] take about maybe like a couple of quarters to get there where you actually have enough data to be okay. Like we can now start to, to, to really dig into this and figure out what's going, what's going on.

[00:13:10] Yeah. I mean, um, it's pretty hard to. To justify like the, the amount of content without having any of those leads. And I think I read somewhere that the, the content generation for Intercom generated close to a quarter of a million leads. Is that right? For. For the business over the period of a number of years.

[00:13:32] Is that right? Oh, totally. I mean, uh, we're not getting too, too much into the, uh, I mean, obviously it's, it's pretty stark at this stage. But no, I mean, even, I think like our, our big thing was, uh, getting, getting email downloads and actually the way we, we did that, the, the very successful tactic we had that was, uh, by producing books.

[00:13:50] Uh, and like, I think, you know, I, you'll notice also I didn't say ebook, uh, we call them books physical. We did do a physical book, but actually even the, the ones that were digital, [00:14:00] we just felt like the actual whole notion of an ebook was very demeaned. And like, they're usually pretty light in like of lower quality and like these were like, you know, these were like 40,000 word pieces.

[00:14:12] These were like, They had an ISSN number, you know, you could download them from Amazon. They were available in like multiple, like digital formats, you know, not just a pdf you could get them on your iPhone. You know, we just wanted, wanted to feel like a quality product. Right. But yeah, the, the books alone, I mean, with our first book Intercom on, on product management, uh, was, was, has been downloaded over like, certainly while I was there over a hundred thousand times.

[00:14:37] And like literally it was, you know, It was being hosted in other people's websites. I mean, once a month I'd kind of have to Google it and, and, and, and, and email people going, can you please take that, take our intellectual property off to your website? Uh, but it's always a good sign that, that people are doing that.

[00:14:51] Yeah. Uh, but yeah, I think like the books alone would've, would've had over 250,000 downloads. Um, which, you know, to, to sort of buy that, that level of, you [00:15:00] know, Investing in content certainly can seem, um, a big expense upfront, but like, compare that to how much you would've to pay in, in Google ads or, you know, Facebook ads to get that, those number of leads or those number of email, you know, and they're not, they are leads cuz they're not just an email address, they're, they're someone who's actually shown an interest in in, in your content.

[00:15:19] Yeah. And I rem I remember, um, Listeners in Australia anyway, in particular, the, the wave of information coming from Dublin to Sydney at that stage was, you're gonna be doing a world tour. I remember, I think that's how it was branded and I was like, Intercom, we're gonna do a world tour. My god. Like they are the rock stars at the moment coming out of Ireland and they're actually gonna do a world tour.

[00:15:41] What's gonna be involved. And I remember buying, actually, I think Adrian Tan actually bought a bunch of tickets, who's a product management, uh, consultancy owner, then in Sydney, who's a good friend of the podcast. And we all went to the world tour of Intercom in Sydney. Can you give us a little bit of background to that, because, you know, it just [00:16:00] seems like, um, a, a kind of a leap for a business Yeah.

[00:16:04] To, to, to, to start doing something like that. Like where did this idea come. Well, I'd just like to say as a decide, Jerry, I'm sure your first reaction was not what you said and was probably like pure notions on those lads . Well, you know, I hovered over that conversation in my head. I was like shiny Mac, the pi brass balls and these lads coming across and calling it a world tour.

[00:16:27] Uh, well, I mean, look, you know, the fact that even, you know, whenever, like four or five years later we're, we're, we're still talking about it is Yeah. Is testament to that. I mean, listen, um, you know, we, we, we, we all sort of felt like we wanted to do like quality content. We invested in content with big content team.

[00:16:45] At that stage, we had started to do events. You know, initially, like way back, we used to do just like small community events, uh, which just like meetups and bars. Yeah. But I mean, once we got to started to do professional events, like, [00:17:00] um, the, the, the, the team really empowered our, our Megan, she, our head of events just do really, really creative stuff.

[00:17:07] Yeah. Um, and so, you know, like we did the Mansion House I think was, was one of our first event. Um, and just to try and make it like, you know, at the time, like tech events were very associated with, you know, like pizza, I'm gonna go and some guy in a, in a bad suit is gonna present a bad PowerPoint in a, you know, suburban hotel somewhere.

[00:17:27] And you know, I'm going because it's like my boss asked me to go and attend this thing. But you know, there's zero joy. And I think really why we wanted to do it in many ways was kind of reflect. The content we were publishing both on our blog and on our podcast and, and sort of do a live version of that.

[00:17:43] And you know, I think, you know, as we talked through that, you know, probably Megan was like, we, we should do it like, call it like a tour. And so it was really just like, we literally looked in Intercom cuz Intercom used Intercom to run Intercom. Yeah. But, um, we looked in Intercom and like, like where are, like, where are most of [00:18:00] our customers?

[00:18:00] Like what, what, you know, what are the top cities? And so we went to, you know, it was, it was London, Berlin, Paris, you know, right across the us. Uh, Vancouver, Sydney went to Toronto, you know, and so it was really just like, where are, where are the, uh, the, the companies that use us most? And let's, let's actually go and, and visit them and try and deliver something of, of.

[00:18:23] I, it's a bit of a cliche, but deliver something of value that's like not your normal, just sort of, you know, come and talk about us and, and, and tell you what's on the, the roadmap. Yeah. But actually tell you some of the, share some of the stories and, and, and the vulnerabilities of like our own, uh, journey.

[00:18:37] Uh, because like at that stage, particularly, you know, less so now, but like at that stage, particularly Intercom was very much selling two startups. Yeah. So it made, it made sense to, to sort of share our own journey. Yeah. I remember at that stage though, Those events weren't free. And I remember that that was kind of a, a little bit of a, sort of a jolt.

[00:18:56] I was like, okay, there you have to pay to go to these things. [00:19:00] Um, That's something that we discussed in the last time about always having something there where there's value being exchanged. Um, what, how did you justify at that point, having a ticket price for that? Whereas, um, say that the blog items and the, and the podcasts.

[00:19:20] They're free as well. Like, you know. Yeah. Well I think there's, there's just a, there's a, a scarcity factor with, with a live event that there just isn't with a podcast or, or, or a, um, you know, blog. And so it was literally like, if we put these things out out there and make them for free, you know, we're gonna get literally a 25% attendance.

[00:19:40] Right. Like, that is, that's the industry average. Right. You know, because people just go. And then they go, oh, it's Wednesday and it's actually raining, so I'm gonna go home from work. All right. You know, I had a bad day, I'm gonna go home from work. Whereas actually, if you paid like 10 bucks, and I think that probably, probably about the average price, uh, wherever we went, it just, people go, oh, you know what?

[00:19:57] I paid for that thing. I'm gonna go. Um, [00:20:00] and it just made people think twice about it. It, it made people like, obviously the expectation is higher, uh, in terms of what we delivered, but, um, I think also, you know, people put, yeah, it just created a buzz about it, you know? Uh, and it made sure that like the, the room was full.

[00:20:15] You know, people had paid $10 to be there. They were gonna, they were gonna turn up and they were gonna be interested and they were gonna be attentive Absolut. Now, can you remember way back at that point when, um, you know, you, you got the, the promotions as the, the director of content at that stage mm-hmm.

[00:20:29] in Intercom, you were probably four years in or something like that, and they were seven years into their journey. Um, that would've been a pretty big, um, sort of a hockey stick of, have gone through that pieces. What, what was the. What was the feeling around, cuz at that stage, the shift in how marketing was, was being perceived within the business was probably, uh, changing a little bit more and you started to do, I guess maybe talk to that a little bit more like, but what was the, the shift, like from the [00:21:00] start to where you were at, to be made director of content?

[00:21:02] What, what kind of stuff were you doing at that stage with the content strategy? Yeah. Well I think, uh, you know, I think the big thing was, well there was a number of things. Um, I think like we'd just gone into to new channels, uh, and realized that actually, you know, much as I talked about the, the, the, the live events.

[00:21:22] You know, it's, it's basically a live version of the content we were putting, I'd say, on the, on the, the, um, blog or the podcast. But really it was just like trying, trying to get into new channels and realize that actually you just need to give your customers a potential customers like choice of how they consume your content.

[00:21:38] like some people wanna listen cuz they wanna like, they want to consume your content when they're at the gym or when they're driving a car. Other people wanna like do, read it at lunchtime, at their desk. So you still continue to produce a podcast. But it was just like, or continue to produce a blog. It was just, you know, move into new channels, uh, was, was, was a big thing for us.

[00:21:56] Give people that, those, those options. Um, Started to [00:22:00] really sort of move, move down the funnel, as I say, in marketing and, and get closer to sales as well. And really thinking about like what's the content that we need to produce to help sales close deals. So whether that's like, hey, we've got like a two pager here on like intercom security stance or you know, we've got like, uh, com, com document, you know, case studies of, of.

[00:22:21] Customers have moved from o from other solutions. Uh, all that kind of stuff was, was, was a really big piece for us as well. Um, but yeah, it was, I mean obviously and the, the metrics, you know, I obviously talked about at the start, uh, you know, it's kind of like you should be able to just see it, you know, you don't have to do huge amount of, uh, dashboarding or engineering to figure out it's working.

[00:22:41] But like certainly the, the, the metrics were very different at, at that stage. And it was very, was very much around, you know, it leads. Um, you know, obviously people felt like content really helped build the brand, but it was, you know, that quite often can be a bit of a F leaf in marketing. It's like, oh, this is great for the brand, but like, what's it actually delivering for the business?

[00:22:59] And so [00:23:00] I think there was definitely a case where we were, we were carrying a lead number, you know, we were actually saying, okay, this is how many leads we're gonna bring in this quarter. Um, so yeah, I mean it was spot, we had a much bigger team. It was much bigger investment at that stage. And it was interesting as well, like we had content.

[00:23:12] Like, we then had obviously content designers on the, uh, on the product side as well, that we, we were, you know, in a separate org. But, uh, like trying to figure out how to make content work throughout the, the journey, you know, so that, as you said, you know, you didn't have that sort of pre, you know, before you buy and after you buy, and a disconnect between the two, which you often we see, uh, in a lot of products.

[00:23:32] Yeah. For people listening here, like they may not have a decent understanding of the different types of marketing and the different marketing functions. You talk about content marketing. Um, how does that differ really to product marketing in your world? Because from my understanding of working with and speaking to other, um, people in the content design space, especially John Coleman who was there at [00:24:00] at Intercom, they may have been mainly working on the product side of things.

[00:24:04] Is that fair to say? Yeah, totally, totally. Um, so I mean, certainly, uh, at Intercom, the way it worked was like the content design sat in the product org. Um, but on the marketing side, product marketing general, like product marketing is, is is where you think about like, You know, the, well, I suppose the output is, uh, what is the positioning?

[00:24:26] Like, how are you gonna actually talk about this product? Who, who are you gonna, who, who is the target market? Like, what is your ideal customer profile? Uh, what are the key messages that, that we like, we have about this product? Um, and so, Like content marketing, you know, comms, uh, paid advertising, like whatever it might be.

[00:24:46] These are channels that then kind of sit on top of product marketing, uh, and, and pump the correct, you know, you know, figure out. Okay. Like if this is, if we're trying to reach, uh, you know, service designers in the financial [00:25:00] services, Well, like if that's our target market, if that's our icp, our ideal customer profile, well what, how do we, how do we reach them content?

[00:25:06] What's the voice and tone of the content if we're writing for those kind of people, like where do they currently sort of read and stuff? So I think that's how I very much think of like product marketing as that sort of foundational stuff. And I think, you know, very much, uh, in the startup world, I always say to people like, get a, get product marketing first.

[00:25:23] Um, particularly if you're in this. B2b, uh, space that, that I've mostly worked in, it's, it's essential to just figure out, because I can, I can create content for any business and, and sort of like make my best job at it. But if you haven't done that foundational work at thinking about like, what does the market want, you know, who are the people, who are the buyers in the market, all that stuff that product marketing does, and product marketing kind of sits at that intersection between, you know, sales, product and marketing.

[00:25:48] Mm-hmm. , um, And, and obviously represents the, the customer and what they see out in the market as well. So it's, it's, it's a, it's a really foundational role. Um, and as I say, they kind of, then you [00:26:00] layer, like at Intercom we had product marketing, content marketing, demand generation, which included all the paid advertising and then, Brand marketing as we call it.

[00:26:09] And, and it was great that like, you know, cause in a lot of places content marketing would potentially sit under product marketing or potentially sit under demand generation. But I think, you know, it was, that was why I think, uh, content was so successful was that we had that equal sort of, uh, billing at the, at, at the head table of marketing.

[00:26:27] Yeah. Yeah. I think my understanding of the content marketing space, and you can tell me to, to sit back down Jerry, um, is there's a correlation between, uh, like paid advertising and, and paid spend and all that kind of stuff, and Google ads and so forth. Mm-hmm. , was there a correlation between the cost for content marketing and reduc?

[00:26:53] The, the focus for the kind of the paid ad. Is that, is that, is that, does that make sense? Like Yeah, [00:27:00]yeah. No, absolutely. Um, like, totally, I mean, you should, uh, you know, in the early days, and I think, you know, it's happening less now because obviously the way, the way the online advertising spaces change, and particularly with the Apple's recent, you know, real changes last year, which mean it's, it's harder to do targeted advertising, but, uh, and it's.

[00:27:19] So, you know, but, but people do generally turn on paid advertising first if they're trying to like generate in inbound interest, get eyeballs. Um, yeah, exactly. Exactly. But I mean, over time, absolutely. You're, you're your organic, as it's known, your non-paid sources should be like 70, 80% of, of your business.

[00:27:37] Um, and that, that, that takes time though to, to build that. But I mean, that's ideally in the, in the B2B world, what you want, you wanna get to. You shouldn't have to be. You know, you, you shouldn't technically have to be, uh, paying for, for traffic for sort of your core, um, you know, product features or anything that are particularly anything branded where people are like, you know, searching for your company name and, and this kind of, uh, product or service you offer.

[00:27:59] Yeah. Um, [00:28:00] So Totally. You know, we never didn't quite get down to the point where we were analyzing, um, you know, cost per lead or like on the, on the, on the, at the content level. I mean, obviously we were at, at a, a company level or, you know, marketing department level. Um, you know, but, um, Yeah. I mean, should the cost per lead, uh, should, is significantly less for, for organic.

[00:28:27] Yeah. Um, than it is for, for, for paid generally if you're, if you're doing it properly. Yeah. And the, the noise, the signal to noise ratio tends to be a little bit better as well through, in my experience. I know with content marketing versus, yeah. Paid. So, um, can you speak to that a bit more around the conversion rates?

[00:28:45] Like are, were you seeing a, a higher conversion rate through, uh, contact marketing versus, Paid marketing. Uh, so conversion, it's, it's interesting conversion rate, like conversion rates were not quite as good as, uh, for, for [00:29:00] paid. Cause actually, you think about it like paid can be very targeted. Yeah. And someone's clicked on an ad, so the intent is quite high at that point.

[00:29:06] Whereas actually the intent. You know, I might down piece content and I'm definitely sort of bought into your philosophical approach, but I mightn't be as sort of, um, invested, primed to buy at that point. Yeah. But what, what we did see with content marketing was a huge difference was that basically those customers, Hung around a lot longer and spent a lot more with this.

[00:29:27] So, uh, the, the, the lifetime value of those, those customers that came through content was way, way higher. Wow. Than from, than from page. So, cause if you think about it, generally paid, you might be running a paid campaign that like talks about how you're. You know, cheaper than your, uh, your competitors are.

[00:29:45] You've got, you know, certain features that your competitors don't have, but you know, the competitor might get that feature. You know, and particularly depending on, on the nature of your product and how easy it is to, to, to switch or change, um, you know, those customers [00:30:00] can, can move. I think the reason, uh, The content was so successful and sort of getting these, like deeper customer relationships and these customers that hung around for longer and spent more was because, like, particularly at Intercom, the content we produced, we were really priming them for like, the way that the, the product worked, you know?

[00:30:19] Yeah. It was like, Hey, you know, you want, you, you actually believe that customer relationships are something worth investing in, in. The, the tool, uh, will help you to have those better customer. Absolutely. You know, there was, there was a connect there, you know. Yeah. I, I'd go so far and say if this didn't happen, like if, if the, the content marketing function wasn't as good as it was way back, and this is not me kind of.

[00:30:44] Blowing smoke. Um, it, it, it really changed how I thought of the business cuz I wasn't in Ireland. I wasn't around, I was in a completely different territory. I was watching it from afar and the only way of interacting was through the blog and through the [00:31:00] podcast at that stage. And it really led me to, to believe that the product was gonna be sensational.

[00:31:05] Like, you know, and, you know, it's, it's grown and it's, it's obviously a massive success story. So without that piece, it just would've been. Tech, tech business, really like a SaaS business that was, was trying to sell. Um, whereas this is a really, um, nice and passive way of doing it. Yeah. Yeah. Well, thank you.

[00:31:24] Thank you for that. Um, yeah, I mean, I think like it definitely helped us punch above our weight. Like there, there's, there's no doubt. And I think, I think, uh, you know, it's funny cuz like, uh, I get people, you know, I hear people talking about, oh, like we want, want to do what Intercom did with our, with our content.

[00:31:39] And I'm like, Well, you know, it's not like a formula that you can just recreate elsewhere. I mean, it was at a particular time, um, it was a particular market we were going after, like that we chose to do the things we did. It's not that it's a playbook for like, you know, if you're a B2B software company, just do these things and it'll work.

[00:31:58] So for instance, like we, we [00:32:00] wanted to stand out, like there was people like HubSpot and Buffer who were a social media tool. You know, they're probably the two most high profile examples at the time when I joined of like, people who were doing re like high volumes of SEO content and like, we were like, okay, you know, we can't compete with them.

[00:32:16] Uh, how, and like, you know, HubSpot in particular were like better funded and big, bigger than us at the time. It was like, what are we gonna do that's gonna stand out? Like how are we gonna create something that's that's unique? Um, And also I think it was the nature of who we were selling to. Like, you know, we were selling to uh, relatively early stage startups.

[00:32:34] Um, it was like founders, it was like product managers. It was designers in those companies cuz they were the people who were deciding, oh, let's put Intercom into like, let's build, like integrate intercom into our product. Uh, and so, You know, I think those, that kind of audience, they were quite willing to, they want, they would not just quite willing to, but they were only gonna interact with high quality content.

[00:32:57] Yeah. They weren't gonna read the, the, the [00:33:00] very sort of like, uh, SEO driven kind of very like tick the box, uh, type content. They wanted, they wanted to hear opinions from like our product team and opinions from our designer. Absolutely. You know, our take on the world. Um, and I think that's the big point. I think it's, you know, it wasn't created.

[00:33:18] By marketing for marketing people. It was created by, you know, the top talent in, in intercom for the top talent in the businesses who were, who were the person that was gonna influence the sale process within their business. Yeah. Absolutely. So like the, the Paul Adam Post that I mentioned to you ages ago, like, um, what was it called?

[00:33:40] It was a, it was a funny one. The, the, the, the ization of design, right? I, I remember being in a bank in Sydney and that being sent around through Slack and maybe wasn't Slack bank in that time. But, um, I remember kind of go, oh my God, that's, that's, they're an Irish business. And feeling a sense of pride.

[00:33:59] That's, that's the [00:34:00] ironic thing. I was like, yeah, they're Irish and feeling that there's something happening at home was, was hugely positive as an expat as well. But I think that's the, the main point. Now, I know you've. You, you've obviously exited Intercom a couple of years ago and you've been working on other stuff, and you're, you're an independent consultant at the moment.

[00:34:19] Maybe you can talk to a little bit of the, your key learnings that you took from the, the Intercom role and then you're working for RAMP as well. Um, if you had to do a, a kind of a, Say five things that you learned in terms of the, the growth period in Intercom. What would they be in terms of advice for startups who are going through that journey now and maybe want to invest more into content marketing?

[00:34:46] Yeah. Uh, well, I mean, I think the big thing for me was, uh, kind of really just kind of, it sounds corny, but like really fall in love with the customer, fall in love with the customer. But, but just really like, understand [00:35:00]like, I mean, in the first year at Intercom, any opportunity to go to like a meetup or, uh, like a conference or whatever, like, you know, I'll have to apologize if anyone like interacting me at that stage.

[00:35:11] But, you know, I was on the stand at like things like Web Summit and stuff, you know, actually trying to, you know, help sell Intercom because it was just like, you need to eyeball the people and really understand who are, like, who are your potential customers? How do they talk about your solution? How do they, like, what kind of, what do they read?

[00:35:27] What do they drink? What do, like, what kinda coffee do they like? You know, how do they dress? You know, cause these are all things that just really, really help you, like create something that's gonna resonate with the, the the, with them. And like, whether that's help them resonate on the, on the, uh, you know, product side or the marketing side or whatever it might be.

[00:35:45] You know? Cause even I think things like, you know, Intercom was one of the first sort of business products to to, to introduce emoji and support emoji. Yeah. And at the time I remember people were quite like, oh, this is kid stuff. And it's like, she's great. You know, now you're kind of start using a business product [00:36:00] and it doesn't support emoji.

[00:36:01] You're like, what the hell is wrong here? You know, like if it's, you know, so, and I think that came from just having that like, you know, Paul Adams, uh, who you mentioned, that, uh, VP of product or Chief Product Officer, I believe he is now. You know, he, he, he very much talks about this idea of falling in love with the problem, um, and really deeply understanding the problem that your, your customers are trying to solve, rather than like, rushing to, like, what's the solution and what can we create for them, you know?

[00:36:25] Yeah. Um, number one, one, falling in love with the, with the customer. Yeah. Number two, growth is amazing, but it's double edged sword. A lot of, uh, you know, like everyone wants growth. Um, I get it, but you know, it can be, it can be tough in an organization, and so I. You know, just getting, getting a lot of the fundamentals in place, um, like such as your company values and like what, what you believe in.

[00:36:54] Like, sometimes people think that stuff's a bit fluffy, but really, really helps you when you, when you grow, [00:37:00] uh, when you grow rapidly is like understanding what, what, you know, why, why does your company exist other than to make money. Yeah. Um, you know, and I think so, so again, your, your values nailed, uh, will be, will be number, number two, two.

[00:37:14] Uh, number three, hire a good marketing leader, as early as you can. Oh my God. Every company I've worked for, it's like, I dunno, I think marketing's just got so broad these days. Yeah. That like, it's very hard for like one like CMO to be across everything. Well, but like, I don't think I've worked under a marketing leader for more than about maybe.

[00:37:37] Uh, I think like six, no, 20 months, maybe August. Really? That like any tenure of any leader I've had. And I think, um, yeah, I think it's just a tough one. I think like it's, it's, it's um, so broad, you know, try and hard someone, yeah, try and hard someone early though, that can grow with the business, you know? Um, like it is hard.

[00:37:57] There's. It's, it's hard to hard good marketers. I get it. [00:38:00] But it's, if you get it, get it right. It's, it's massive. There's number three. So you got two more? Should do a drum roll here. Um, two more. Gosh, you probably, no, it's good. It's good. Just get off the top of your head like, you know, what are the, what are the things?

[00:38:12] Cause there'd be people listening to this who are in startups and who are maybe in the early stage, and they could be designers and they're saying, okay. We do have these things in place like, you know, um, what about the, the problems that were faced? Um, you know, what are the, the learnings maybe that, in that growth period, what are the things that you, you wish you'd done better or wish that you're glad that you did?

[00:38:39] Um, document everything. Uh, again, you know, you're, you're moving fast. Uh, you know, the, the, the, the tendency is not to document things. Uh, it was quite interesting actually, uh, hope and again hoping, not talking at school, but, you know, different parts of, say, intercoms got bigger, kind of, you know, had had maybe different sort of, uh, processes and [00:39:00] traditions and it was quite interesting in that.

[00:39:02] On the sales team in particular, cuz it was, you know, initially largely based in San Francisco versus the product team who was mostly based in Dublin. Like the product team was a written culture. Everything was like, let's create a Google doc, we're going to go in here. People will like, comment in detail.

[00:39:17] It'll be hold back and forth and like, You know, at the end of it, like we've got like our roadmap or whatever the, you know, whatever, where this document is, is being created to solve. Whereas, um, sales was very much about like, like, you know, get, you know, it was an oral culture and it was like, get everyone in a room and we'll figure this out and we'll like, you know, we'll figure out what the best solution for everyone is.

[00:39:38] Yeah. But you know, maybe then obviously, you know, there'll be some documentation, obviously what decisions were made, but you didn't have that really. Uh, ability to look back. And I actually think, you know, um, well, again, when it works on the sales side, I definitely think like, you know, for marketers in particular, like there's a tendency sometimes not to document and not to design processes and, you know, that [00:40:00] again can really, really kill you as as you grow.

[00:40:02] So, you know, I definitely learnt my lesson from that. That's a good one. And, and really make sure. Yeah. Try, try and document stuff. Um, And I think the last, last, last one was just like, don't don't compromise on hiring. You know, sometimes again, um, and hope, well hopefully this is changing cuz it, it's terrible to see, uh, people losing their jobs.

[00:40:21] What, you know, with, with, with big tech firms cutting back so much, I think it is gonna be easier for startups to hire. But, you know, I know in the past it was very hard for startups to hire and they were competing with the, the big tech companies, which looked very, very attractive for people. Yeah. Uh, and so people would compromise some, sometimes they'd go, oh, well this person, you know, don't take all the boxes, but we think they.

[00:40:41] And you know, when you make a bad, making a bad hire just sets you back so much further than like, if you hadn't hired anyone at all. Yeah. Cause it is just so disruptive to bring someone in for like three months or six months or whatever it takes, however long it takes. It's just, it's kind of just, it's kind of so destroying to you as well to Yeah.

[00:40:58] To have to, you know, let [00:41:00] someone go and, uh, you know, unfortunately it's a reality of startups that, uh, you will have to let some people go. Yeah. Um, Because not, you know, not ING's gonna work out, but I mean, I think it's, I think as much as you can, don't com don't compromise, uh, in terms of like who you hire, um, because it'll just make, make things so much, so much easier if you've, you've put people in to you.

[00:41:21] Yeah. They're, I know you said you put yourself on the spot there. I put you in the spot, should I say? Um, but they're actually very, very solid. Five, five points that you just made. John, I know, as I mentioned there, you're, you're working independently now, you're working with a number of businesses. If people are listening to this podcast and they want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that?

[00:41:46] Uh, I will find me on probably a, LinkedIn is probably easy. I'm currently a bit like the mechanic and the, the car, you know, I don't have a website as we speak right now, but I am working on it. So John Yeah. [00:42:00]Uh, will, uh, will be a good place to, to check out and just get over to you. Of what I did.

[00:42:04] I'm throwing to that in, in the show notes, John. Um, but again, listen, look, thanks so much for, for talking about your time, uh, you know, at Intercom and just generally in your experience as a, as a leading content marketer. Um, and thanks for your openness as well. Great. Great to chat Jerry. Yeah. No, it was great.

[00:42:22] Great to chat and, uh, thanks, thanks for having me on.

[00:42:27] And there you go folks. I hope you enjoyed that episode and if you enjoyed it and want to listen to more, why not visit? This is hate where you can learn more about what we were up to and also explore our course as whilst you're there. Thanks again for listening.

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ipsum blandit at sed a, vulputate eget. Integer in egestas rutrum risus tortor. Augue sed ac magna semper vitae, orci morbi auctor. Diam dui ut ut purus aenean volutpat.