On this episode, I was joined by Anya Pratskevich, Product Marketing Manager at Mixpanel. From time to time, I like bringing people on the show who don’t work in customer marketing, but can share valuable perspectives and help us better understand different departments that we work with closely. Anya has quite a bit of experience when it comes to earlier-stage companies and she loves to geek out over marketing. We talk about Anya’s experience running content marketing, how she’s incorporated customers into content in the past, and some of the more unconventional ways that she’s measuring success when it comes to ungated content. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Anya.
Margot Leong: Hey, Anya. Thank you so much for joining us on this Thursday night.
Anya Pratskevich: Hi Margot! So excited to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
Margot Leong: I’d love if you could start off by introducing yourself. So can you share a bit about your background and how you ended up in your current role over at Mixpanel?
Anya Pratskevich: Sure. I am a product marketing manager at Mixpanel. I’ve worked in marketing for about eight years now, the first couple of years in the consumer segment and the last six years, I joined the dark B2B side and never looked back. I think I’m one of the few marketers who actually think that B2B marketing is more fun than B2C marketing. I was a content marketing manager for a while, so I worked with content for very technical products. I worked in advertising technology. I worked with the email service provider. I worked with mobile programmatic and now product analytics, so the challenge of writing about technical products was exciting to me. So I think the audience is much more narrow than the consumer segment that I started with, so the strategies that you come up with can be more effective, but yeah, excited to be here and chat about all things, product, content, customer marketing.
Margot Leong: I know that you spent a good chunk of your time focused on the content marketing side, have you always really enjoyed writing? Like, what was it about content marketing that sort of drew you in? And one caveat is that I know that content marketing does not mean blog posts only.
Anya Pratskevich: What drew me to content marketing and what I enjoy about content marketing is the strategy piece, and that’s where you need to really find a good fit in terms of the leadership at the company that understands that content marketing is a lot more. For marketing organizations and companies that understand the value of the strategy behind content marketing, where it’s a puzzle, like who is the audience? How do they buy? Why they don’t buy? What is the price point and how do people get to the pricing page? Is it like high risk? Is it low risk? Can you buy with a credit card and expense it? Do you have to go through procurement and all these types of things that you need to know to get into the head of your end user? And solving this puzzle, trying to figure out how can you craft content for each step of the journey? That’s the part that I found fascinating.
Margot Leong: You know, within customer advocacy, a lot of us have worked with content marketers, but we may only have a certain understanding or lens of what content marketing does. Probably in the way that like, Oh yes, we need to supply a customer for a piece that content marketing is doing, but I know that content marketing is so much bigger. How do you define content marketing? What does that touch, essentially?
Anya Pratskevich: Content marketing became a thing like maybe five, six, seven years ago. So like there was no content marketing. There was just marketing and blog, and blog was a channel. And then people started from the blog and went from there. I think content marketing is this umbrella term, which means all the ways that we can create conversation around the product. And it could be the blog. It could be some ebooks and guides, email content, producing content across different channels, including paid media as well.
I don’t think there’s a set definition of content marketing and I think content is just a vehicle for having a sound marketing strategy. That’s why it’s so critical to see the broader picture, but ultimately I think marketing in itself and content marketing is a conversation that you have with your user and the relationship that you can build.
Margot Leong: Are there specific things that you’ve done in the past where you’re really proud of when it came to the impact that you see content marketing having?
Anya Pratskevich: Yeah, it was at the intersection actually of content marketing, but also like many other teams, including customer marketing, content marketing, and product marketing. The most recent piece that we actually published at Mixpanel is The Guide to Product Analytics, which is kind of our flagship book, coming from a company that sells product analytics software. So for this book, we actually collaborated with the whole organization, from like product managers to customer marketing.
It is written by our customers in a sense, a lot of examples we have for each chapter, from like defining your metrics, to like ways you can segment your users to deeply analyze your product. All of these examples come from our customers and the work in itself was content. Yes, we were producing a piece, but it was very intersectional. I think the work that I’m most proud of is when I got a chance to really use content as that vehicle, but include a lot more stakeholders outside of maybe a writing contractor and a designer who puts it together on a PDF.
I think the value of customer marketing for any type of content that you produce is twofold. One, you can get really good stories. So if you’re looking for a good story, there’s no better way to get it around your product than talk to a customer, because it becomes a lot less abstract than some marketing collateral one pager, when you can actually show like an use case and a real life example from somebody in the weeds using your product.
And second, the value that is more like implicit, it’s relationship building. And it’s less for like marketing and more business as a whole. I have an example where I was working on a customer story at a small startup with a client and we did this customer story and it was great and it sparked this relationship that we had with the company and that champion for a while. And later on this person helped us secure funding by being a reference with our investors. Obviously, the foundation is great customer support and a great customer success organization, but I think customer marketing and content marketing can work in parallel to help and grow this relationship as well.
Margot Leong: Something that I think is so sort of intrinsic to customer marketing and advocacy, but also just any sort of role in which you do get a chance to touch the customer in this really interesting way. Basically, it’s not necessarily about supporting them in the sense that you’re like trying to walk them through the product, but it’s actually that you’re trying to uplift them by making them realize that they have wisdom to offer.
I think that a great example of that was some of the things that we worked on together at Mixpanel, you put together this great blog series called Metrics That Matter. Can you share a little bit about the work that you’ve done on that?
Anya Pratskevich: So I launched a series which I guess is an intersection of customer marketing and content marketing, where we talked with our customers around the metrics that they used, Mixpanel or not Mixpanel, just like in general, what types of metrics are you tracking? That was the question. I asked a bunch of folks from different verticals and the metrics can be a great way to understand what the business is about and what the roadmap is about. Because that lens helps us uncover a lot of interesting stories around different businesses and how people thought about growing their business, but like startups, or maybe expanding to new markets for more mature organizations and just using metrics as a lens of looking at their business.
It was like, okay. We are promoting our product in a sense because they’re tracking those metrics in Mixpanel. But on the other hand, it’s more thought leadership because it is a story about people building a product and growing a business. And this is sort of their North Star metric they’re looking at as they’re doing it.
We chat about a bunch of topics from like, why you choose this or that metric. And then like, what is your monetization strategy and how do you think about metrics in that sense? It was so much fun learning about different startup founders and just like marketers and product managers and their jobs. And it’s a little bit about them as like people, you know, like what their day starts with, looking at their dashboards, and how they communicate that they’re the stakeholders and how they grow in their careers. So it was a fun series that we did.
Margot Leong: What’s really interesting about that series is that it hits on a few different things. One is, of course, that you’re featuring the customer, it’s also not explicit in terms of, buy me, buy me, like buy Mixpanel. Of course, it’s hosted on the Mixpanel blog. But it’s really more about the customer and I think specific wisdom and advice that would be helpful for other people in their shoes.
And I think also the fact that you’re really focusing in on this metrics piece, which I’m guessing, maybe pulled that idea from understanding the persona and the customer, that they probably really struggle with this. I mean, I remember at Mixpanel, I was talking to customer success, all the time they would come back and say, our customers, one of their biggest pain points is that they actually don’t even know how they should be measuring, what metrics they should even be looking at. This is a really good sort of intersection that answers that question, gives people those answers and at the same time gets to showcase that person as a bit of a thought leader, right?
Anya Pratskevich: Yeah, a hundred percent. I think that series and just like any type of customer stories, whether it’s a case study that you publish or an interview, like Metrics That Matter. Ultimately, we’re trying to get to that social proof. With any type of product, people are always wanting to know like, what are other people in my role doing elsewhere, right? What are their challenges? Am I worse? Am I better? Am I doing the right thing? Those are very foundational things, whether it’s B2B or B2C. The goal is, first of all, share experiences with other people and how it relates to our product, and then provide that social proof that yes, you can trust us, and those are the people who trust us.
Margot Leong: What do you typically look for when it comes to customers that you want to work with or feature.
Anya Pratskevich: Well, there are a couple of ways to segment your customer base whenever you’re looking for a customer story. One of the most popular ones that I’ve encountered in my career is, let’s find the big brand and there’s nothing wrong with that. Totally understandable. And especially if that brand is your ICP and your target segment and you just want companies like this brand to join you on this journey, you can look for the biggest brands. That’s one approach.
A second approach is you can look for your biggest fans, your raving fans, especially if your channel is something like social media. It doesn’t necessarily matter the size of the brand and the sentiment that people share on social. You could benefit from smaller, kind of startup cost to customers, like sharing their love on social as a channel. You could look for customers who have a super interesting story. When your goal is like thought leadership, where you’re trying to share best practices. And one of your customers has this super interesting use case, or a way that they use a product that is unique. So that could be like the third angle that you can use.
Margot Leong: Are there other ways that customers can be utilized within content marketing that you’ve seen work really well?
Anya Pratskevich: Yeah, when you publish a big piece of content, there are many ways you can repurpose it, right? So, oftentimes it gets repurposed into events and this is how you can utilize your customers as well. So like if they contribute to a piece of content, you can have them on the webinar.
Margot Leong: Repurposing is so great. If you go into it thinking how can I repurpose this , it’s really valuable. So as you said, whenever I’m talking to a customer, I try to get a quote. I also think about it. Okay. Like how would this quote look naked by itself? Separate from the piece of content. So I remember something that I used to do with your Metrics That Matter interviews is that maybe we didn’t have our case study from that customer yet, or maybe be too much to ask them to do that. So then I would take a quote that mentioned Mixpanel in your interview, and then you could use that as a testimonial quote because the whole thing is approved.
It’s just like thinking a little bit ahead. When we, for example, send a quote to a customer to be utilized, think about all the ways that it can be utilized. Can it live alone on a website or like an ad? That is a lot easier versus having to go back to that customer and be like, can I tweak this or can I tweak that? So I love this idea of just repurposing in mind.
Maybe what we could do is step back and take a bird’s eye view, understanding of what the day-to-day looks like for a content marketer. And obviously I know that this is not one size fits all. There’s all different types of content, all different ways that this role would shape out. But just to get a sense, when you were running content full time, what that day-to-day looks like, and how you’re thinking about things strategically.
Anya Pratskevich: Sure. So my experience is mostly working for medium size and small companies. So it might look different for somebody working for a large corporation where you have a very focused niche that you’re doing on a day to day. If you work for a smaller company or even like 300, 400 people, is I consider medium size, not too big.
You probably are strategic, plus, also execute on a day-to-day basis. So it could be planning your content calendar for the next quarter. It could be organizing all the tasks. If you have some contract writers or something, arranging things and doing a little bit of a project management role. It could be research that you’re doing for a particular piece. It could be interviewing people, customers, maybe a call you have with your customer marketing manager or product manager. It could be writing a blog post. It could be collaborating with your design team on graphics for the post or web design for some e-book that you plan to publish. It could be meeting with your product team around the launch of a new feature and to help them help you understand the technicalities of this new feature that you might need to write a blog post about.
For smaller companies, and I worked for a smaller startup, the content marketer was also like an email marketer. So you could be building a newsletter, maybe even doing some segmentation in your marketing automation tool and building some workflows and stuff like that. It could be collaborating with a growth team because a lot of work around content marketing is distribution. So yeah, it could be very different. It’s all day fun.
Margot Leong: How do you come in and think about, okay, what content would be valuable to his audience? Where do you draw that sort of knowledge and hypothesis from?
Anya Pratskevich: Great question. I think it is so critical for any B2B SaaS company to have a really good onboarding process for all new employees. And I was so lucky at Mixpanel that we have two weeks where you get trained on product. Even for complex software, oftentimes you come into the role and you have no idea what the thing does and you’re supposed to market it, which is terrible. Like you can’t really market a thing unless you know what it does, and unless you can actually use it and be the end user and feel like the end user.
So, having some kind of product training is critical and should be part of any type of onboarding for any customer facing role, whether it’s sales. Marketers should be able to do a sales pitch and do a demo. So understand how the product works on some kind of foundational level.
The second thing, I think, being on sales calls helps a lot. So I like to listen to sales calls whenever I have time, even right now, just to understand the market and to hear like what your customers are saying, how they talk about things, what type of language they use when they talk about things. Like that is super valuable.
And just being curious. I’m pretty active on social, on Twitter and LinkedIn. And I talk to people in the industry every week or so, like I have friends who work in similar roles that are my target audience. So whenever I have like an informal casual chat, I’m just curious about what they’re doing in their day to day. And I think curiosity is so critical for a content marketer and marketer in general.
Margot Leong: Yeah. I think sometimes as a content marketer, basically your role is coming in to think about how do I craft content that would appeal to our ideal consumer, not having lived the life of the ideal consumer. So you always have to be like this interesting ninja that’s coming in and then being like, all right, I have to write in a way or put content together in a way that implies that I am an expert. But obviously you cannot be the expert, especially when you’re starting out. You’re writing in a way that implies expertise. Sometimes it implies a lot more expertise than your target consumer or persona would have. And so like in order for them to trust your content, it has to like walk the walk. Probably really tough to do.
Anya Pratskevich: I think you’re spot on. And companies are realizing that, that you really need a subject matter expert to write about stuff in a way that, especially for like a large B2B kind of product that are at a much higher price point where trust and credibility is super critical. Like you can’t just have a contract writer from an SEO agency publish two articles a week and expect quality leads to roll in and sign up and convert. That’s not going to happen. Similarly, you can’t expect just tracking your keywords and writing articles based on those keywords and stuffing them in and expecting people to use this information as their source of truth. It’s not gonna happen.
Companies and marketing organizations are realizing that. And one of the ways they approach it is you can hire a content marketer with, maybe not as much expertise, but somebody who can work with your internal experts. And this is one way to do it. You can, again, use customer stories, you can talk to your customers as experts and publish content around that. I know there’s also a trend like B2B companies are hiring evangelists or like influencers, basically somebody who walk the walk, were a customer from the beginning and is looking for something new to do. So they serve as content marketers of sorts with a different title, something like Evangelist. This way, companies can secure an internal expert who can write with confidence and credibility about the subject matter.
Margot Leong: Yeah. What are some of the misconceptions that you think people have about content marketing?
Anya Pratskevich: Ooh. I think I touched upon one where content marketing is writing blogs, right? Like some people think that like, okay, do we have a blog? Yes. Are we doing content marketing? The answer is yes.
Margot Leong: Check the box on the corporate blog.
Anya Pratskevich: Exactly. Channel covered. Let’s call it an integrated campaign and throw it the social media. But, I mean, it’s partially true. Having a blog is good. And it is part of a content marketing strategy. It is a strong channel. I think a misconception is that it is only limited to like one format, like a blog. It can be much more than that. It could be videos and it could be your content strategy for social and for email and just more of a contained view of things, more integrated view of things.
Another misconception is that content marketing is SEO. Content marketing is optimizing your website and your blog for relevant keywords, so that when your prospects are searching for say, a product analytics tool, they can come across your product analytics tool. And it is partially true. You do want to optimize for search. And I think earlier in my career, I was very dismissive of SEO and I’ve changed my mind since I actually think search engine optimization is super key and one of the ways content marketers should get quantitative data around like search intent and what people actually want to read about.
Margot Leong: I think in that vein, what advice would you have or what do you think would be good for us on the customer marketing side to keep in mind when we’re partnering with content marketing?
Anya Pratskevich: I think the important thing to keep in mind is that content marketers really need customer marketing. And it is so, so important and it should be part of any content strategy, especially for B2B SaaS. It is that collaboration between customer marketing and content marketing that makes both branches of marketing much stronger.
Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that advice that I would have for customer marketers is, and this is something that I’ve had to learn throughout my career is, for some time I thought, okay, like, we are the sourcers of customers . But if people want to work with the customers, just come to us, we’re happy to do it.
And I think what I’ve learned is that, it really has to be like a bridge built between both sides where something that you can do when you’re joining the company is really to sit down with demand gen, with content marketing, different parts of the marketing organization that are responsible for different parts of the funnel.
And to really understand, similar to the conversation you and I are having right now, Anya, is, what is your day-to-day look like? What are you measured on, right. And how can having more customers be helpful for you? What is the value to you of being able to integrate in customers? And then really trying to figure out ahead of time when we do have customer interviews, when we are talking to customers, we have all this in mind already. So you’re already ahead of time understanding what the needs of the business are versus just saying, okay. I have this customer for case study, like one and done. I think really going proactively to those teams, versus waiting for them to come to you.
Anya Pratskevich: Yes, this is so a hundred percent true. And one other thing is I’m seeing organization actually, embrace and it’s great, is dedicated departments just for customer marketing is becoming a thing. And now that marketing is, in my view, is moving towards more improving customer experience, it’s less about promotion and ads and more about, how can we make our customer experience consistent and delightful across the user journey, and all these touch points create an impression and create customer advocates. It’s great to have this dedicated branch.
I think going back to the beginning of our conversation, when we said that marketing is a conversation, right. And content marketing is a conversation. And each touch point in that conversation with the users is important from the first hello, the first date, so to say. When somebody sees your ad on Instagram, for example. Or sees your display ad and you want to strike that balance between being personalized and not creepy. And you want to have like a good brand experience to the landing page and how it’s consistent with the overall brand and whether it’s representative of the ad that the person clicked on. Does it match? Because if it doesn’t, then the person loses trust. And once they fill out the form, do you provide the value? And after that, how do you follow up? What does your email look like? That’s part of the experience.
After your person becomes a customer, like what is their interactions with your brand look like, not just customer support and customer success, but also the person on the marketing team who reaches out about a webinar or about a blog post. Like those things are customer experience and content is part of it.
Margot Leong: Something that I wanted to get your thoughts on too, is when we talk about the value piece, right. This is definitely a struggle for customer marketing. It can be fuzzy. And hard to measure. When it comes to content marketing, how did you know that it was “working?” When you hit that stride, how are you measuring that specifically?
Anya Pratskevich: I love this topic of content measurement and I’m really passionate and geeky about it. The quantitative aspect for a while for content marketers, and I think, still, content downloads was a key measure of success. You would have a blog, you get people there, and then you convert them by having them fill out a form and get a downloadable piece of content. So we were doing that for a while, and the number of downloads was usually a measure of success. The more downloads you get for a particular piece of content, the more successful you are. This is not like 100% accurate, to be honest, is if you think about it, most of the traffic you drive to those pieces of content comes from paid channels, unless you’re just focusing on organic, but that’s no longer the case because it’s so hard to get people to read content. There’s so much of it. So most of it would come from paid channels.
So the number of downloads would actually be reflecting a combination of the effectiveness of the channel. Is the channel that you’re using to promote content good? Is it a quality audience? And second is like, is the landing page good? Is what you have on the landing page, the copy, enticing people to download, is it actually enticing? And plus a little bit of the idea, like the headline of the content, are people interested in this topic? So it would be a measure of that.
Recently, we actually started ungating all of our content in Mixpanel, so if you want to get access to our eBooks, you no longer need to fill out any type of forms, and that was a huge shift in the mindset for the organization and it required us rethinking the whole idea of metrics that we use to measure content success. So right now we’re actually measuring engagement and depth of engagement. So we’re looking at like how many people land on the page, say like chapter one of the book, and they go to chapter two, and they go to chapter three, and they go to chapter four and they actually stick around for a little bit. That was not possible in the world of gated content. We don’t know what happens after people download a PDF. I, myself, download a PDF so many times and save them on the desktop to never come back and just like delete them.
Margot Leong: Exactly. And then I get annoyed when the rep reaches out too, after they have my email address, I’m like, Ugh. Go away.
Anya Pratskevich: How is this download related to this phone call? I once got a call from a salesperson at 5:00 AM. I think there were on the East Coast and they didn’t realize I wasn’t. It was actually a large company, huge company, 2000 or 3000 people. And they were calling me about a white paper. That’s terrible. That’s just not good marketing, but that gated world of content does not really allow you to measure the value, right? The quality of the content that you produce, because if you are trying to optimize for that customer experience, you probably want to focus on providing value, right? Creating that impression to the eyes of your end user. And you can’t track that by downloads because again, it’s ultimately a measure of your user acquisition.
So tracking engagement on the page and looking at how people interact with the content is a little bit of a better way to, understand that. The tricky part here is the conversion piece because, of course it is easier to capture information for your leads, if you have a gated form, right. With ungated content, the challenge for content marketers is how do you build in ways to capture intent on your ungated piece of content? And we’ve been trying some tactics.
We have an additional follow up, bonus content we can send you. That was effective. We were trying to build in some organic lead magnets of sorts. For example, with the Guide To Product Analytics, we had some examples of things you can do with Mixpanel that you can try in our demo environment. So for you to actually read the content and all the best practices that we outline and actually try it, you would need to sign up for an account. So we can measure conversion from that piece of content judging by how many people actually decided to go into that demo data set and look at the data. So conversion is still kind of the new frontier for this world of ungated content and something that is top of mind for us as we made this shift.
Margot Leong: Yeah, I do think it’s a valuable path to experiment and go down on because my understanding about where the buyer journey is going, is that there’s so much noise out there, and basically what we thought of as effective content marketing five years ago or basically valuable other channels, like paid, is that people are so noise heavy, they’re starting to tune out.
Whereas before maybe, you could really build domain expertise with content marketing, now, it feels like you really have to be constantly in all these different channels to even get someone’s attention. I do notice that there’s more of an interest for consumers and buyers in just being like, you know what I choose who I want to listen to, or who I want to learn from, which is newsletters and podcasts, that basically curation, from an audience standpoint. Is almost implying that we’re so inundated with content marketing or just like the perception of what that is, that you’re starting to see people narrow where they’re getting their sources from. It’s so interesting to me.
Anya Pratskevich: Yeah, I think you hit on one of the key trends in content marketing the past couple years. It’s really hard to stand out. In addition to that, content marketing is getting more expensive It is still a very high ROI channel, compared to other channels, but it is getting more expensive as companies are competing for the best design talent, the best writing talent and the promotion piece is getting challenging. So I think distribution will be key and understanding we can make it easy to find and consume. And then the conversion piece, how can we convert people from content without compromising user experience?
Margot Leong: Well, Anya, this was such a fun conversation. This is just a really nice way to get a different perspective than what we’re sort of used to on the customer marketing side, to learn about, some of the challenges and the wins for someone who works in marketing, but in a different side and to really understand, okay, how can we better partner together? So thank you for taking the time.
Anya Pratskevich: Thank you so much. It was a lot of fun.
Thanks for tuning into this episode of Beating The Drum. For more interviews with advocacy leaders and tips on creating customers that will sing your praises, head on over to our website, beatingthedrum.com. If you enjoyed today’s show, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to rate and review us. If you know someone that would be a great fit for the show, I would love to hear about it. You can reach out at beatingthedrum.com. Take care, everybody.