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Over the next 18-24 months, traditional sources of cash will be meaningfully restricted – fundraising will be more difficult as VCs hedge risk, and net-new sales revenue will be impacted by budget freezes across the global economy. In this group session, DigitalOcean Co-Founder and Clubhouse CMO Mitch Wainer discussed ways founders can reimagine how they target content work and spend less, while strengthening market position with content. You can watch the video below for Mitch’s full talk or read on for a summarized transcript.
A little bit about me, prior to Clubhouse, I co-founded DigitalOcean, a cloud structure provider based in New York. It’s doing north of $300 million in ARR, it has over 600 employees now and it’s doing very well. Content marketing, or “Content” was one of the key channels, if not in many ways the key channel in driving new customer acquisition for us. We saw that 75% of new customers hit a tutorial or hit an article before they converted, so it’s a really powerful stat when telling the DigitalOcean marketing story.
I was there for six years as the CMO, I built the marketing team up from scratch, went from 0-25 folks across different functions– product marketing, brand, demand gen, content, community, DevRel, PR, and comms– you name it. I built a fully integrated marketing team from the ground up and learned a lot through that whole journey. We acquired over a million developers worldwide. Software engineers were the target audience and they still are.
After six years at DigitalOcean I joined a project management platform company Clubhouse. I’ve been there for the past two years and set the brand foundation, rebranded the company, hired a handful of folks across different functions, and content was one of the most important hires I made. Since I joined, we 10x our user growth and traffic and saw tremendous success from just the investment that we made in marketing over the years. Come 2020, obviously a lot of things have changed for a lot of companies. I know my budget got cut as well, as many other marketing budgets got cut in the tech community.
With that, you definitely need to double down on your organic channels to get more efficient as you continue to invest in marketing, to create awareness, and to drive top of funnel activity for your business. How can you, in today’s environment, double down on content marketing to make it work for your company? What are some things that I’ve learned in the past that you might be able to apply to your business? How do you build a really sound content strategy, which is step one?
Many companies think, “In order to build a content engine here, we need to first do an SEO audit, identify the best keywords and start to write the content around those keywords, and then distribute the content.” When in fact the better approach I’ve seen work is to first write content that solves the problem for your audience. Once you write a bunch of content and distribute that content, then you’re in a position to really pick out and identify the keywords that are performing. Start by identifying those problems first with your target audience, and then conduct an SEO audit later, once you’ve already established organic search traffic to your site.
The way I think about a content strategy is through a lens, a simple lens. The question that I think everyone needs to answer for their own company is, “How can I create ‘give first’ content for my audience?” And what is ‘give first’ content? In DigitalOcean’s example, we created agnostic content that taught developers how to install software on different Linux servers. You can use a Microsoft Azure instance, you don’t have to use a DigitalOcean server to run the software, and we would provide a really simple how-to tutorial on how to set it up in three to five steps.
Over time, we made thousands of tutorials on the site that now generates over three million unique visitors to the site. To put that in context, there’s only 20 million-ish developers globally. We were able to saturate the market pretty quickly through the content, and now when people search server tutorials, they search DigitalOcean on Google first and then a space before whatever they’re looking to find. We became this go-to knowledgebase resource for many software engineers.
‘Give first’ mentality is an important lens to think through, not just for content, also for programs that you’re looking to create within your marketing team to generate awareness. What are the common problems that they’re facing every day? The way to figure out those problems is you talk to your customers, talk to your audience. I can’t tell you how many times I talk to CEOs, I talk to marketing leaders, product leaders that don’t spend enough time with the customer. They don’t ask questions on a weekly or even monthly basis. That information that you’re going to collect from speaking with your customers is going to help inform your content strategy and understand their daily challenges and pain points.
When you’re getting started, don’t overthink it. In DigitalOcean and Clubhouse’s example, it’s mostly written form, but obviously content now can take many different shapes and forms. People are becoming less patient, so audio and video sometimes work better. You don’t have to work weeks and weeks on a piece of content and then hope that once you publish it and distribute it, it’s going to generate millions of visitors to your site. You have to just believe in the process, know that it’s going to take probably a couple hundred articles before you start to figure out what’s working. Aim to produce three to five per week. Just get into that cadence as quickly as you can.
Three to five is a lot, by the way. How do you augment that? At Clubhouse and at DigitalOcean, we launched two outsourced content programs. At Clubhouse, the Write Earn Give Program and at DigitalOcean, the Write for Donations program is all about paying folks in the community to write for you. As a way to incentivize them or reward them for writing the content, we would pay them a fee, plus we would match that fee and donate to an open source project or a nonprofit of their choice. Both programs have generated a ton of inbound interest, especially during this time.
This could this could go a long way for your company. Along the lines of $200-400 is what we’ve structured our programs around. There’s been great ROI from each of those pieces of content. At DigitalOcean, the outsourced content generated 40% of the articles for the business, and also contributed over one million visits per month to the community section on the site. This could work really well at scale. Eventually, you’ll need an editorial team to manage this because there’s a lot of review, maintain, and operationalize. But these are effective tactics and programs that you can roll out quickly at your company to start to pipe in and plug in some more content contributors on a regular basis.
Once you create the content many companies think that’s the finish line when it’s actually not. You need to take it a couple steps further and distribute the content across different channels. Luckily, there’s organic channels and social channels that you can distribute it through, which doesn’t cost anything. For every piece of content, the more that you could distribute to your audience through different social media platforms, as well as your own internal newsletters, the quicker you’ll start to build shareability and awareness. It could be a written format on your blog that you share to Twitter and LinkedIn. You can upload the audio format to Spotify or iTunes. If there’s a video, you can publish it on YouTube. You want to build not only your content publishing and production center, but you want to also establish your distribution center as well.
When you get to that couple hundred benchmark, in terms of number of content pieces created, you want to start tracking to see what’s working. At both companies, we’ve applied more of a multi-touch attribution model to understand what’s in between the first click and last click of the customers’ journey. What happens in between those interactions with the site? Do they read a blog post? Do they leave? Do they click an ad? Do they find you through a press article? If you have no tracking in between the first and last click, you can’t really properly attribute the success of your content.
When I threw out the stat that 75% of customers clicked or hit a tutorial before they converted at DigitalOcean, that stat was produced through this multi-touch attribution model. To build out a multi-touch attribution model, we used a time decay model at DigitalOcean– from first click when they read the first blog post, leaving the site, seeing an ad and coming back, reading a press article, reading a second blog post– we would gradually give credit to each one of these sources and attribute a conversion credit to that source.
You can use tools like Google Analytics or Segment. Once you build this multi-touch attribution model, you want to track your content success in driving organic traffic as well. You can see that over time, if you continue to double down and focus on your content, the proof’s in the pudding. It will start to scale and ramp.
But don’t forget to track your content success all the way down to the bottom of the funnel. We’re not only tracking our trials and top of funnel traffic, we’re also tracking it all the way down to the paid conversions and sign ups. When you think about the quality or the success of your content, you should look at not only the traffic, but also if you’re driving MQLs and SQLs and customer conversions. That should also help inform your content strategy. If you’re able to build a theme over time in terms of what cluster of articles or content is driving the most paid conversions, there’s an opportunity to expand that, invest in adjacent categories or topics.
When everything above is in place, you’re now in a good position to hire your head of content to start to build out your own internal media agency. This is how you take it up to the next level. After you raise your Series A/Series B, this team is going to be one of your most effective teams in driving awareness and conversions for your business. You want to have someone building content internally, you want to have an editorial team if you’re outsourcing content to review it and approve it, you want to have a social media team to manage that whole distribution process, and then you want to have your production team and creative team.
Then you’ll hopefully build a billion dollar company, and the rest is history.
We’ve been pulling together resources from industry experts and go-to-market practitioners to learn what teams can do to better adjust their revenue strategy or preserve runway this year. Check out our post on COVID resources for devtools startups for a complete list of COVID recovery content.