Hey Paralee. Thanks so much for joining me today. Really excited to have you here on the SaaS breakthrough podcast. Really excited to talk about everything today, there's so much to talk about. So many great questions. So let's just jump right in. Why don't you start us off, tell us a little bit about Kapost.
I definitely will. Thank you so much for having me, David. It's an honor to be here and, have an opportunity to talk about Kapost. What Kapost has done in the last several years has been really amazing and I must say that I was a customer before I became an employee here, so it makes me even more excited to talk about the amazing places that it has gone. So, I'll just start at the very beginning. It was a text bar company and they graduated in 2010, under the original, not so wonderful name of Grogger actually. And it was sort of this platform to help, syndicate news for different media organizations and where it went from there is all of those giant complex companies were saying we need a better way to manage our content process. So they transformed into Kapost and now it's all about the entire management of the content operation and that's where we are today. It took quite a few steps to get there. They raised several successful rounds. They went through all kinds of your standard startup growth spurts and stops. And yeah. So we are where we are today at around 13 and a half million in annual recurring revenue. A couple of years ago when I first started, about two years ago, we were at $9 million and it's just been a wild ride.
Definitely. That sounds like a wild ride. And it sounds like even in your short tenure there, you've already got a lot of growth and probably a lot of initiatives under your belt. So with that 13 million ARR, who are your general customers, who's actually coming in utilizing your service? And what specifically with content marketing are you guys doing?
Yeah, I love our customers so much. We love to say that our customers tell our story better than we do and it's customers like IBM and GE and some other really amazing companies like Synopsis and Datavail. We really go from mid market up to the biggest, biggest enterprise companies and they are using us to tackle that challenge of a content operation, which we'll get into. But that specific piece of like why Kapost says content operation, not content marketing is because it's bigger than content marketing. Everybody really jumped into content marketing, which we're so happy about, content is the customer journey. And especially as more and more of the customer journey becomes anonymous and unknown before they tell you they want to know more about you. So building that content to be the right content for the right person at the right time on the right channel is especially challenging for very large organizations that may have teams all over the world and making sure that everything is aligned, everything is on brand, on message and really performing to the best level that it could be. That's a challenge no matter what size company you are, but imagine if you have thousands of marketers, you know, who is creating that blog post and should it be out there, should it be approved?
Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. Totally. And I think, you know, not only that, but there's the questions of what content do we create, you know, what metrics are we testing is actually performing, are we just doing content for content's sake, which is something I hear all the time people do and it's, it's almost a waste of effort if you're just doing content for content's sake. So it sounds like you kind of control that whole process and make sure that it's not only streamlined and like you said, a proper operation, but also done well and we're going to go into a lot of the details on that in this call, but when you were coming in, you said two years ago, were there any specific challenges that Kapost was looking at and looking to bring you in for?
Oh, certainly. As, as any startup they had gone through a couple of those starts and stops. I think they took on growth a little, let's say it was a little unwieldy. The amount of growing that they did before I came along. So like a lot of startups, they had to take a step back. There was a riff, so there was a lot of turnover before I came in. So I was really tasked with building up a fairly new team here in the last two years. I've gone from a team of three to nine, which is, which is wonderful, but it did require a real transformation of how even Kapost as a marketing software company saw the responsibility of our own marketing team and that meant not creating content for content sake, not turning out an ebook every single month, but really taking a step back to analyze what were we doing that worked and what were we doing that did not work?
Let's fix those things and go from there and plan strategically. It was, it was tough. There was a total transformation from being this young cool boulder startup, you know, where there was a beer tap in the corner and you took breaks to play ping pong. And that was the persona that we presented to the world. That's not going to impress the IBM's out there. What we really needed to do was mature past content marketing, churn of content up to an enterprise ready company that has the reputation that other companies are going to respect and say, you guys really know what you're doing. It sounds, you know, we can see from the content you're putting out there that we can trust you to help us refine our own content operation. And that was, that was tough. You know, we have, we still, I still have my content marketing geek tee shirt and I wear it all the time, but usually when I'm hanging around the office.
And that makes a lot of sense. That story, I think it's so easy to fall in love with the idea of what a startup is, especially first time founders or younger founders and stuff like that, falling in love with the ping pong table, the kegs and stuff like that. We're going to have a fun office and you fail to really deliver the value on the other side. So there's a little bit of a maturation that takes place when you hit those hard moments. And it sounds like you've done a great job coming in there. Obviously growth speaks for itself over the past couple of years. You guys have already increased growth a lot. So how did you do that? What was the major focus then when you coming in with a marketing team, you're saying what worked, what didn't work? Talk to me a little bit about how you dialed in on that content for yourself and then expanded it out maybe with offerings to your customers.
Yeah. Well, I'd say first I didn't say let's trash the ping pong table. We definitely still have it, but showing everyone that if you spend a double or quadruple the amount of time planning than you don't need to spend as much time creating. Everybody likes the idea of creating less content if it matters more. So if you create 100 blog posts but only one of them performs the way that you want it to, then you've got a one percent success rate. Wouldn't you rather create 10 blog posts and have a 90 percent success rate? That was very appealing to quite a lot of people on my team. I want my work to matter more. I don't want to do more necessarily. I want more time to play ping pong and go on the hikes just outside the office here. But, it took, it was, it was fairly hard process to get down and spend a lot of time in a room to say, all right, we really have to go through an audit our content, we need to see what strategic context are working for us.
You know, so what personas, what buying stages, what buying groups, you know, even what companies, what target accounts, what's not working, why, what is so different about that content that's not working? And let's look at the content that is, can we revamp that bad content or do we just need to get it off the website and say, Ooh, let's pretend like we never did that. But in, in most cases you can find content that just needs to be tweaked. And for example, we're publishing one coming up in a couple of months called the content operations hiring guide. And that comes from a book we put out several years ago called the content marketing hiring guide. And so back in the day it was all about you need a managing editor and you need a social media manager and, you need a video production person and today it's all about you need a content operations administrator. You need a center of excellence, you know, board member in all of these different things that really bring in that collaboration across teams, a centralized taxonomy that everyone believes in so that it all ends up on the same page. And but that is a piece of content that we had to take down for a while because it was just so irrelevant to what our ideal customer profile was.
When you talk about content and bad content versus good content, what's the context there? What out of the 10 bad pieces that you want to revamp? What can people look at when they're doing an audit, a personal audit of their own blog? Or where can you find the gaps that you feel like you're, you're not filling it correctly. How do you find or look at data is, is it specific KPIs? Is it just, you know, where the performances, how do you make that assumption?
It's a nitty gritty process, I'd say for most teams, but first step of course is knowing which contacts are most important to your business. For us, we like to start with buyer persona. Of course we're incorporating buyer groups into that so we know that it takes more than one person to make a buying decision at it, at a major organization. So what personas build up that buying group and are we hitting all of the topics that each of the people in that group really care about? And same with the buying stages, right? If we're just creating top of the funnel thought leadership kind of stuff, that's great, but when someone is ready to move down to the next level and say, well, how are other people, you know, tackling this problem that I'm dealing with, we need to have that and it needs to be related to the piece that was higher funnel.
And then below that, when someone is like, okay, well how can you help me? That's when they're finally ready to hear about our product. And if we don't have that product centric content, people get lost and they drop off on the buyer's journey. So what my team does is whenever we, or quarterly we have a closed loss journey mapping session where we look at people who decided not to buy and we see what their content journey was along the way. And of course we include sales in the sales marketing alignment is my number one priority to make sure that we're all on the same page and we're all working towards the same goal and we have been able to identify a couple of different pieces of content specifically that are correlated to closed lost deals. And so let's take a look. What is that content telling them? It must be confusing. And so we're having to go around and fix this inconsistent message. And it's just been amazing the amount of progress we've been able to make, identifying that content, those drop offs in the buyer journey.
That's such a great idea. It's almost like a retrospective of the dropoffs. You know, typically I haven't heard that before. And that's such a great, great idea. So congratulations on that good idea. But what about the pillar model itself? You guys do something really specific with content marketing. You guys do this specific model, the pillar model. Maybe give us a breakdown of what.
Yeah, the pillar model is what made me fall in love with Kapost in the first place and it goes back to that, make your content matter more by doing less. So what we like to do, and I'll, and I'll go into how it works the opposite way in a second, but the pillar model is you put all of this work into a major piece of content. You, it can be a field event, like we sponsor the Marketo marketing nation summit or the Serious Decision summit or something, you know, using quotes here, printable, like an ebook or a benchmark report. Those require hours and hours of time and writing and review and collaboration. It's a huge investment. So you can't just do that thing and then say, great, hope it works. What you need to do is take advantage of the entire buyer journey, the entire persona set that you have by creating small pieces of content from your huge piece of content without reinventing the wheel.
So I'll go to an ebook as an example. It's really the simplest is each chapter of that ebook can be a blog post. You don't really have to rewrite anything and each of those blog post has, you know, a dozen or 30 different social media posts that are just sentences from the blog post. You can create short videos using paragraphs from those blog posts. You can create webinars using quotes from influencers that you interviewed for that ebook. So what it ends up doing is spinning out this gigantic web of content that just gets bigger and bigger and bigger, and you've really only created one piece of central content. It's quite amazing once we get the ebook down, the rest of the content takes days. Whereas the ebook took months you know. We love the pillar model and if you're worried because a lot of people are like, well, how can you invest so much time in this huge piece of content plus all the derivative content for the pillar if you don't know that's what you're supposed to be doing, how do you know what's going to work? And that's where I say there's the reverse pillar, so sometimes we create a blog post or we'll do you know, like a Facebook live video or something on a specific topic to gauge interest with our target audience for that piece. And if it doesn't fly, you know, we say, okay, we need to tweak this a little bit and we'll try another small piece of content to test the waters. Again, once we find a piece of content that seems really hot, that's when we invest in expanding it into a major piece.
That's a great idea. It's almost like an agile process with content. What, again, going back to metrics, some tangible things we can take away. What can someone say is a good metric or a positive sign? That content is hot and this is something they should invest deeper in for their reverse pillar?
That is a really hard question and I think it depends on the channel, the content type, the audience you're going after. You know, I say there's, you know, there's this, I don't want to use the word hate, but everybody loves to hate on vanity metrics these days. I like to call them leading indicators instead, and no, you don't want to bet the House on how social media post performs. However, if you can test it in a few places and see that it did get a lot of engagement, a lot of clicks, a lot of likes, then you know that that's worth investing in something a little bit bigger. If you have a blog post that really drives people through your call to action successfully, that's a topic that you should probably look into and a connection that is proving successful. That blog post topic, your landing page and the content you're asking them to fill out a form for. That's a good journey. How can we replicate that elsewhere? But all of those are still, you know, vanity metrics, clicks, traffic, time on page. Those are leading indicators. For us, in the end, it all comes down to that journey map and associating content with a successful buyer journey. Now for a lot of companies, that could be a couple of days that you can look at the whole buyer's journey or for companies like ours, sometimes our deal cycles are two, three years long, so we have to be patient and that is very difficult in this age of instant access to absolutely everything, but it is super important to be consistent and hold on to something, be agile, but don't know like don't throw the baby out with the bath water because it didn't get a million clicks in the first week that you launched it. We have had several pieces of content including our latest benchmark on sales marketing alignment that the first week metrics, we're just not impressive.
Just hold on, just wait a little bit. Maybe tweak a few things to see if you can move the metrics one way, but hold onto it for awhile and now months later we're seeing it really catch steam. It's a solid topic. It needed time to sit out there with our audience because it's a hardy piece of content. People probably said, Oh yeah, I like that. That's complicated. That's kind of like, I know I need to write a will, but not right now. I need to go do something about sales marketing alignment, but maybe later, so it's one of those things that's really catching steam later in time so you can't compare it to something that is as flashy as another piece we published earlier this year or later last year called the strategic planning templates. Those are super easy, amazing. You download them, fill them out, you feel really successful. You feel like a genius. You've got all these amazing ways to analyze your content and you can go through the whole thing in 20 minutes. You can't compare those. It's apples and oranges.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, especially when you're starting to look at what is the overall goal of this piece, so like you said, those templates completely different. That's a quick win, something that's tangible, that's downloadable right now versus something that's more of a strategy, a long term approach that needs to be digested, understood kind of model to your own business model that that takes time for people to understand and that's thought leadership too, it's breaking grounds into new ideas. Makes a lot of sense. That's super helpful. What about when you. So you're going to this reverse pillar and you put out the first post, you're getting a little bit of good traction, you tweak it a little bit, you put out maybe a video of it, you get more attraction, you tweak it again, you get more, you know, like, okay, this is looking good, we're gonna dialing onto this pillar model. So you go the reverse pillar. You bill out that major piece of content. Now what are you guys doing for content around syndication where are you pushing that big piece to? Because at this point, that's your piece of the resistance, right? That's your big content piece and we want as many eyeballs on it as we can. What's a good strategy there?
We really believe that. Just like, you, when you want to buy. Let's see, we were talking about our vacation. When you want to buy a new tent for camping, it's, you go online and you look for reviews, right? You trust people who know about these things. So we really lean heavily on influencers in our space. People like (inaudible) and Scott Abel. People really respect their opinion on what resources are best out there for them to use to better their content operations. So we have great relationships with a big list of you know, big names, people that are always speaking at conferences. It takes a long time to build those relationships, but it's always a give and take, right? Like they may be coming out with a book that they want you to promote. We're coming out with content that we would love to promote. We always include their thoughts around those pieces are our latest benchmark is full of quotes from all of these amazing people to get their perspective on certain metrics that we found. And that's a, that's a really easy example of the pillar model there. And we got these great quotes. We couldn't use them all in the Ebook, but we created cool little graphics of quotes. We shared them with those influencers so that they can share them on their channels and they look cool. They help promote their brand, their thought leadership, and they drive their traffic to our ebook. We also lean pretty heavily on our own employees networks. We have, a great employee advocacy program here and like any good startup, we do lunch and we do it on Fridays. So once a month, the person who gets the most engagement from post that they posted through our advocacy board get to pick who we order lunch from for the whole company. And it's pretty amazing because I think we've even gotten our engineers and our head of HR on it, their networks may not be our target audience, but they're, they're connections, know our target audience. So even if our head of HR shares to her HR network, they say, you know, I read this piece about this content thing, hey marketing person, you should probably read this. That's very hard for us to track, probably impossible, but it gets our message out there on two channels that we don't own. And that is our main goal there.
Those two strategies are seriously gold from this episode as are amazing. Really, really appreciate you sharing those. I love the advocate advocacy program. Love the reward for it. Like a very good cultural item internally. They're probably a lot of fun for the whole team to be a part of kind of gamifies that. But that's really, really smart and really loved the idea of, of, leading on influencers. There's longer term relationships, but you are also getting borrowed credibility from great, great people in your space. So that's amazing strategies there for a syndication. And one of the last things I want to touch on for content is, you mentioned this a couple times, which is the CTA is the funnel flow itself, and how the content actually works in your prospect journey. So do you ever do content without a call to action or when you do content, do you always kind of have a mapped out, a plan of where that content goes to next and it's being done for a specific purpose to just level them up to somewhere else?
I'd say that it's really a mixture of both. And I really depend on my channel owners to determine what the best choices for each piece of content that they're publishing. So there are certain things like, let's see, I published an article on Forbes a couple of weeks ago and there's no call to action there that's just paralegal from Kapost saying awesome stuff about content and martech stack. When my social media person publishes stuff that doesn't necessarily point to our own content, people respect us more. We're not just promoting ourselves all the time. Nobody wants that. On our blog as well, we may have CTA to other content or other blog posts or webinars, but often we say just subscribe to our newsletter. That's a CTA that people are really comfortable with since it allows them to choose when they take their next step in the journey. They don't necessarily want that specific ebook on blank. Right. But okay, sure, I'll, I'll give you my email address. You can email me some things and I'll decide what to click on later. But yeah, that's a tough question and I'd say that that's where it, it's so important to hire people who are truly experts at the channels they own and depend on them to make that best decision. I always say hire people who know more than you do about what they do and that helps me stay, well it helps me sleep well at night.
Definitely. That's great. Great Advice. And it makes a lot of sense. I mean, content itself can span a variety of different areas, so it makes sense that you have to be strategic for whatever the channel or whatever the goal is there. And that makes sense. You mentioned webinars and we've talked before that you guys send a lot of your traffic to webinars themselves, which is a great option for content, so sending people to an upcoming Webinar that may be just purely educational, but just another step in that journey. I do love that. And let me ask you, what's your biggest piece of advice right now for content marketing or content operations?
I would say it is to map your buyer journey and that's the place where you really get started in getting to know your customer. If you talked to anybody who's ever gone to get their MBA or, or an official business degree of which I'm really, no one on my team has. I like to hire writers myself, but you have as a marketer, it's so important to know your customer so intimately. You need to know where they like to read their content. It's probably not your website or your social media channels. You have to know what a, what a perfect buyer journey looks like. I hear a lot of people say, oh, we have a prescribed buyer's journey. This is how we want people to go through the funnel. That's just not realistic. This day of age where the buyer is in complete control. You need to have this smorgasbord of content, of every channel, every format, and at every single time for every different person because that's what they expect.
And if you don't have a map of your successful and unsuccessful buyer journeys, you'll never know what content is performing at what stage. For example, there's this piece of content that I love to hate. It's called the white paper template and it's a three page word doc that we created to help people say like, this is what a white paper looks like. Fill in these faces, right? It's super basic. It's not what we want our customer to download. We want customers who are a little bit more mature than that, who are trying, you know, they're beyond what a white paper it looks like. This is one of our top performing top of the funnel piece of content. So I can't take it down, you know, it's where we get a lot of new names, so we really have to change our perspective and go look at the buyer's journey. Okay. I think people downloading the white paper template are too immature to become Kapost customers. Let's go validate that, look at the buyer's journey and you see that it may take them a couple of years, but they consume your content. They moved from that white paper template to the planning templates, to the distribution and pillar model concepts and then they're downloading your content operations manifesto and then they're requesting the demo and it may take a couple of years, but we were there creating a trusted resource for them across their entire transformation. And that's truly what content marketing was meant to be.
That was incredible. Love that, Is so powerful. Great Advice. Great Advice. And where do you see content marketing changing? Maybe for your team or just in general here in the second half of 2018?
You know, we next Tuesday we're actually spending the whole day doing a bunch of brainstorming around what works, what doesn't work, what are we questioning, and I think that we're going to really take a hard look at webinars and video and we have all of these assumptions about how well they work. But do they right, we're seeing an enormous number of drop offs on live webinar attendance. So are we doing it at the wrong time? Is there a better time? Do people just prefer to watch them whenever they want to. So should we switch more to an on demand webinar experience? Should we move our webinars to a more universities style? You know, learning platform, that kind of thing. And same with our events. Do our customers want to meet each other and just network with each other? Is that going to help renewal rates or should our events really be prospect focused, focused. And we hosted an event somewhere super cool and get them fancy drinks and smooths, schmooze with them so that they really trust us as awesome people who are going to take care of their business. Yeah, those are all things that we have to think about that I think a lot of companies in the past, and research we have done groups this, say that events are one of their number one cost centers for investment for marketing teams. And I want to know if it's worth it.
Yeah. The ROI is actually there. I would love to check in with you, you know, later this year after you guys go through some of these conversations and do some of these tweaks and tests, I would love to know, you know, what actually came from that, you know, what you've been able to see and shifted such an interesting conversation. I mean, it's one of those things we're always learning and adapting. But it sounds like you guys are really on the edge there of testing and paying really strict attention to the ROI numbers from events and webinars and stuff like that. And we'd love to hear that.
Conferences, trade shows, sponsorship levels are just outrageously expensive. One sponsorship of a decent sized food. It's gonna cost you $80,000. You can hire a person for that, you know, it's like, good grief, could you want to do one day of an event and you're going to get all, you know, hundreds of leads maybe. But what can one person do if you have a dedicated person maybe on target accounts, like creating custom content for target accounts or one person whose job is just to analyze every single step and every buyer journey that goes through your funnel. So that stuff drives me crazy.
Oh totally. I mean $80,000 in ad budget itself. I mean if you even have a little ROI on that, you're making more money than probably your worth event. But you know, I guess at that stage it's also like you have to understand maybe why you're doing if it's more of a branding play versus direct ROI. But I totally agree with you. We've done events in the past and just the ROI hasn't been there. So we've been very reluctant to do more events and stuff like that, but always interested to hear how other SaaS companies are doing and what they're seeing and how they're doing it. But based on time here, what I want to do currently is transferred over to our lightning round questions. These are five questions that I run through very quickly and you can just answer with the first great piece of advice that comes to your mind, What advice would you give for early stage SaaS companies starting marketing today?
Know your key contexts and that sounds pretty jargony. But Personas buying stages, at least get those down and get everyone in the company on the same page about what they mean.
Love it. That's great advice. What marketing skill do you think is vital today for marketing teams to improve?
Writing, like I said before, I only hire writers. I feel like you can learn marketing pretty quickly. It takes way too long to teach someone how to be a great writer. And if you're a marketer, people expect you to have the top level writing skills and be able to write something that people not only connect with, but you know, feels like it's changes their life in a little bit of way and a great writer can really do that.
Completely agree. And we just recently did a recap episode outlining the top 10 insights that we've learned through this podcast so far, and the number one thing that most guests, SaaS marketers have said, is writing is the number one marketing skill that marketing teams need to improve on. So that's incredible advice. Totally behind it. What is the best resource you'd recommend for marketing, educational resources?
So this is sort of a gimme question because I do believe very strongly that the Kapost resources library, is my go to place when I have a question about something. But I would say that the second place is wherever your personas live, if you know your personas read on certain forums or certain blogs, you should be reading that exact same content.
Yeah, that's great advice. And we'll also link to the Kapost blog as well so that everyone can check out that educational content as well. Sounds wonderful. What about a favorite marketing tool that you can't live without?
Kapost, I've always said that, you know, I may not spend my entire life here at Kapost, but I will never work in a company that doesn't have it. I just don't know how I would survive without it, but beyond that I would say Slack is absolutely incredible for health and collaborate across and just being able to peek in and see what other teams are working on. And then a good business intelligence sort of platform. We use Domo. I've used others in the past like Burst. I love them all. I spend every single day looking at the metrics.
That's wonderful advice. And yet both of those first two great great tools to use. And yeah, Domo, I've heard a ton about, but it's essential that you have those insights and analytics and stuff like that. And it's all data driven marketing these days is the word, to really follow there. But what about a brand business or team that you admire?
I have this belief that designers and marketers are going to unite one day. We have so much of the same job as being creatives who are tasked with building something that someone other than a creative connects with, and so I like to look at Invision. They inspire me every single day, not only with their beautiful design, but the way they built their journeys on their website and on all of their properties that feel very educational and very connected and I just, when I need to feel inspired, I go look at it.
Yeah, they're an incredible company. I absolutely love what they've done. I love their product. A really great company. If you guys have not seen them before, check them out. Definitely recommend you head over to their website and see what they're doing over at Invision. It's an incredible business, but that was a great answer. Paralee I just want to thank you again for joining me today. This was an incredible episode. Really. You gave a ton of great content. I recommend everyone to go check out the Kapost blog and resource center there as well as the product itself and you will have all the show notes together with things that we talked about today, but again, just want to thank you so much for your time. It was truly wonderful.
Thank you so much for the opportunity. I really enjoyed it.
Awesome, and we'll talk to you very soon. Have a great day.
Wow. Big shout out to and a big thank you to Paralee and the entire Kapost marketing team for jumping on with us and sharing so much of the great resources and strategies that they're doing over there. It's pretty incredible to hear the story of how they've taken this small startup from Techstars and grown into such an incredible content operation. I think that's the key word taking away from this episode, right? Content operations, how you can actually learn more about content than just using it for a small content strategy and definitely go to them, read their blog. A ton of great information over there to get you guys started. (...)