“Everyone Knows Us Now”: How One B2B SaaS Company Built a Steady Inbound Pipeline with Content and Brand
How do you know if your content is working?
This is an incredibly important question for content marketers. It’s one we address at the start of every program and keep asking as we go so we can adjust accordingly.
But according to Josh Studzinski, CMO of Element 3 Health, a supplementary benefit provider for older adults, a lot of marketers are measuring content wrong.
In fact, he himself was measuring content wrong. But in his role leading the marketing team at Caremerge (now Icon), which provides software to streamline operations in senior living communities, he had an epiphany that changed his approach to content marketing forever.
I spoke with him in January to hear all about it – read on, and you can, too!
The Moment it Clicked
It was the middle of the afternoon. Josh had just gotten an RX bar. Chocolate chip.
The VP of client success came over to him and said that the coolest thing had just happened.
For the first time, she didn’t have to explain the value of the company while they were going through an implementation process. She’d never had that happen before. In the past, even after a client had bought the software, the onboarding phase involved getting everyone else at the organization on board.
But that wasn’t all.
That same day, Caremerge’s CEO, who had just been at an industry conference, came over to Josh and said,
“Everyone knows us now.”
That was also a first: not only did other attendees know who Caremerge was, they understood what the company did.
It was a remarkable day at the Caremerge office, but it wasn’t a fluke. It was a turning point. After that, inbound leads doubled YoY, and the company saw ~30 percent topline YoY growth.
So what led up to that moment? Duh-duh-luh, duh-duh-luh, duh-duh-luh – to find out, let’s go back in time.
The Year Before the Moment It Clicked
When Josh started at Caremerge, the company’s marketing was weighted more toward outbound than inbound: SDRs, heavily targeted emails, calls. While these efforts worked for selling, they weren’t providing a pipeline.
So Josh invested in inbound efforts, including brand building and content marketing.
At the time, that wasn’t common in the industry.
For the first year, however, results were ho-hum. Or at least, they appeared ho-hum as measured by the metrics captured by Caremerge’s attribution software.
But then, suddenly, everyone in their target audience knew who Caremerge was and understood the value the company’s software brought to senior living communities.
To use Josh’s words, “Only brand and content can do that.”
And here’s the thing: Josh isn’t the only one who thinks so. Let’s take a look at the larger rumblings about the power of “unmeasurable” marketing efforts.
Very Accurate Measurements of the Wrong Things
Digital marketing is extremely measurable. That’s not a bad thing per se, but it’s created two real problems for today’s marketers:
- Executive leaders are now conditioned to expect precise ROI measurements from all marketing channels and to be skeptical of those that lack precise measurements.
- Digital marketing measurements are often wrong – or, more precisely, they’re misleading.
How do we know this?
Chris Walker, CEO of “revenue R&D” firm Refined Labs, recently posted on LinkedIn about the results of an experiment his company ran.
For a year, they asked every lead how they’d found out about Refined Labs. For leads who became customers, they then compared the self-reported source attribution vs. what their attribution software reported.
The differences were shocking: while the software credited organic and paid search with bringing in nearly 80 percent of customers, only three percent of paying clients said they’d found the company that way.
What's more, channels like social media, the brand’s podcast, and word of mouth were all strong sources of customers, according to the customers themselves. The software, though, showed almost zero performance from those channels.
According to Chris Walker, the inaccurate measurement happens because when people are ready to buy, they search, click, and convert. It’s really easy for software to measure that. What's hard to measure is everything that happens before that last search.
And while Chris Walker and Josh Studzinski both have a background in senior living (Chris was the Marketing Director at Eversound), they aren’t the only two sounding the alarm that highly measurable digital marketing channels may not be as powerful as they seem.
For example, one small UK company turned off all search engine advertising and saw absolutely no dip in traffic – just a big savings in its ad spend.
And then there's Airbnb, which cut its SEM spending during the pandemic to double down on investments in brand and PR and just had its strongest fourth quarter ever. The CEO noted that the shift away from paid search is permanent.
How to Reset & Focus on Marketing Channels that Really Drive Growth
So what's the takeaway here? How can other B2B brands recreate the success Josh had at Caremerge?
Here’s the playbook he’s following in his new role:
1. Talk to internal stakeholders about what's working and what's not
Sales teams and customer success teams often have a different perspective on what's working than marketing does. That’s especially true if marketing is optimizing for classic digital channels like SEO and SEM.
Rather than continuing to invest in content that appeals first to SEO, Josh recommends asking customer success teammates what customers are happy about and frustrated with. Ask the sales team what the easiest and hardest parts of their job are.
Then develop content to address those issues.
2. Talk to customers
Do what Chris Walker did and ask customers how they found your company (and compare that with what your attribution software is telling you).
Ask customers what they like and don’t like about your product. Ask them what they’d like to see next. Beyond that, ask them about their work and their lives and what kinds of problems they have.
“You have to leave your desk,” Josh added. “I drove and flew to meet with people in person. Not just Zoom.”
These problems are opportunities for your product or service to evolve – and opportunities to reposition and / or refocus your content.
3. Use your new insights to do a marketing strategy reset
“Internal marketing,” Josh noted, “is critical.”
The information you gather from your colleagues and customers will offer far more insight into what's working in your existing branding and marketing efforts than attribution software can.
Use this information to…
- Reshape your marketing plan.
- Allocate your marketing budget accordingly.
- Educate executive decision makers about why you’re making the changes, what kinds of outcomes you expect, and what your timeline is for those outcomes.
Josh noted that content and brand are a slow burn: he’d had an active content program for a full year leading up to the moment of “clicking.”
He also noted that “building a brand” is called that because it’s hard, gradual work: it’s building. It’s not the kind of quick win that’s possible from increasing an SEM bid, for example. But the longer-term work of brand and content, Josh emphasized, ultimately drives more revenue.
For example: after that afternoon where everything clicked, Josh reported that, instead of asking salespeople to explain what Caremerge did, prospective customers would ask how they could bring what Caremerge did into their communities.
For Best Results, Look Beyond the Metrics
In our conversation, Josh highlighted two things that really stuck with me.
First, he acknowledged that marketers can get hyper-focused on the granular measurements we have access to. When we’re not careful, we can dig deeper and deeper into these metrics and forget to ask whether we’re measuring the right things.
The second thing that stuck was the antidote: talk to people. Talk to colleagues, customers, and leadership. Talk to other marketers to see what's working (and not working) for them.
Because the reality of marketing and branding is that what works is what resonates. And as of right now, the only way to measure what resonates is to ask.