On this episode, I was joined by Theo Hopkinson, Head of Customer Advocacy at Fivetran. Theo was previously VP of Digital at Archetype, a brand agency, and has spent his career working on the agency side. He’s a super creative guy and very passionate about brand building. So for this conversation, we decided to do something a little bit different and talk about some of our favorite examples of how brands are doing modern B2B customer storytelling from website testimonials to videos to content marketing. If you’re interested in shaking up how you tell customer stories or just looking for a little inspiration, I think you’ll really enjoy this episode. I’ve also included links to everything we mentioned in the show notes, which you can find at beatingthedrum.com. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Theo.
Margot Leong: Hey Theo. Thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. I’m really excited to have you on.
Theo Hopkinson: Thanks for having me. It is fun to be on this side of the table for once .
Margot Leong: Yes, we were just talking about that and there’s a reason I prefer to be on the other side of the table. So it’s really nice to have you here. So first question, just tell us a little bit about your background and your journey to where you are today over at Fivetran. I know that you actually have a bit of a non-traditional background, that’s part of the reason why I reached out. So yeah, just feel free to share with me about your journey.
Theo Hopkinson: I’m a big fan of weird backgrounds because I think it’s key to bringing all of these inspirations into the work you’re doing. Yeah. So I started a while back in London at this tiny little boutique marketing agency. And we were focused on content marketing right at the heyday of when brands were basically just working out what content marketing was.
Before that point, they’d really just been producing brand messages and no one realized that you could do this content focused approach that Red Bull spearheaded and then it flew on from there. The idea that brands can also be publishers, they’re not just entities that need to sell you things.
So I started at this tiny little agency and we got acquired by a much larger agency in the US. And as part of that move, they offered me a job here in the US. And so obviously I was like, yes, I would love to move.
So I’ve been here for seven, eight years. And really across that time, I’ve done a bunch of different things. So I’ve worked as a kind of creative director. I’ve worked in sort of a marketing function within a larger PR organization. I’ve worked with Fortune 500 brands and tiny little startups, Series A, Series B startups hoping to come out of stealth. I’ve probably seen a lot in my time and I’ve worked with a lot of different brands with different creative teams and I bring that work with me in the work I do with Fivetran, working with customers today.
I worked with this incredible leader called Yefa Christensen, who I worked with from the agency days. And he knew that I’d been building communities on the agency side. So I’d been working with these Fortune 20, Fortune 50 brands to build communities, and then also tell brand stories. So what we were looking for at Fivetran was a program and what we wanted to create was a program where our customers could become the brand storytelling and we could also build a program that would give back to our customers.
This is the first time I’m working in house. So I bring a different perspective than a lot of other people on the team, because I’ve worked with different brands and I’ve also worked in as a service role. So I think of our team on one hand, like a kind of service function within the organization, but also as a leader and a brand driver. So that balance is really interesting for me. It’s been interesting to find that.
The advantage of working in agencies is that you can be working on, five, six accounts and the projects aren’t very long, depending on what you are working on. So you can draw inspiration from everywhere. And that has truly been something I’ve taken with me. Let’s say you’re working with Microsoft and you’re working with Adobe and you’re taking learnings from all of those different teams and applying them everywhere else. If you’re a good marketer, like a magpie, you’re taking the best bits and applying them to the work you’re doing elsewhere.
And ultimately that’s why people go to agencies. They touch so many different brands. So they can if they’re doing the job right, really take the best practices from everywhere and combine them. So if you’ve been in house for a long time, sometimes you can do things the same way or you don’t innovate as quickly. The pace of innovation is very quick on an agency side. .
Margot Leong: I’m a huge fan of remixing, right? Like all of the collection of influences that you’ve had over the course of your professional career, or just even in your personal life, all of that combines and remixes to create something totally and wholly new. Talking to, or having exposure to a bunch of different companies and the way they’re doing their marketing, you’re just naturally going to start remixing all of that and bringing it to whatever project you’re working on, wherever you’re going next. And that’s really like where innovation comes from is taking a few things that exist and then just smashing them together and being like, wow, like I never would’ve thought about this. And everyone’s like, where did that come from? It’s just mixing influences.
Theo Hopkinson: I use a lot of chef metaphors. Yeah. You’re like a hibachi chef. You’re chopping and dicing pieces. You can throw them together, seeing what works. You can experiment a little bit with what you’re doing and that is my real drive.
Margot Leong: Tell me a little bit then about how you see the charter and the vision for what you’re focusing on for advocacy over at Fivetran
Theo Hopkinson: Yeah, I define it in two ways. The first is telling customer stories. That’s our bread and butter. The second bit is slightly trickier and that’s building programs to help our customers tell those stories. And that’s it. We are very lucky in that the team that I lead is focused specifically on customer storytelling rather than customer expansion. And obviously, people use stories in other ways, but that’s the core of what we do. Telling customer stories and then building programs to tell their stories.
Because of that, I think that we’ve got a mandate from our leadership to help expand what it means, what those customer stories mean.
Margot Leong: And I think you have some examples of that. I think, we talked in our pre call about JetBlue and how you have this sort of philosophy of approaching customer stories like short films. Can you share with me a little bit about that?
Theo Hopkinson: In general, my approach has been do fewer nicer things. So invest in these really incredible materials, whether that’s a film or a written story, and then build a campaign around that asset. So JetBlue is a great example of that, where we have this customer film that’s rooted in Ashley Van Name’s story. She’s a customer of ours. We start actually by talking about her background before JetBlue. So Ashley has a background in astronomy, which is really fascinating for a data person.
And our business is in the modern data stack. That’s fascinating for a data person cause she brings this unique perspective into the role that she has. And so the story that we tell with JetBlue isn’t just our business’ story. It’s all about how Ashley got to where she’s got today. And at the end of the day, it’s this kind of emotive human story that helps to contextualize what our brand is. And that’s been my goal with these films in general, working with the incredible brand design team that we have, putting that customer at the heart of our marketing, because they’re the best vehicle for our storytelling. But don’t tell 20 stories, just tell three really incredible stories and then create a lot of different assets that ladder up to that one story.
Margot Leong: I really like how you talked about contextualizing the larger Fivetran story via your customers. How does that narrative unfold and then ultimately, how does that contextualize the Fivetran story?
Theo Hopkinson: When we break it down, we actually look at the key beat. So every story that we tell has these fundamental things, everybody has the classic brand, before our complications, solution, outcomes set up.
But what we’ve done is fundamentally apply the heroes journey to that. So with each of these videos, we’re telling a slightly different hero journey concept. I’m not sure if the listeners have heard of that. If you haven’t, just Google it. It’s a great idea, but the idea that there are only a set series of narratives and each story can close that arc. So that’s what we’ve done with our hero videos.
So the key beats that we have for every film: the intro, the conflict or the obstacle, what our hero needed to overcome. That’s first. We start off with this is what I want. It’s really important that your films start with I want this because then the whole video you’re like, okay, we get it. Our hero, she wants to achieve this.
Then we go into the backstory, set up how did they start?
And then you are into the confrontation. So what does our hero want? Or how does our hero specifically achieve the want that we’ve established in the conflict? Then we look at our brand impact. So Fivetran’s impact on the customer.
Then we dive into a specific use case of how we’ve solved that. And then we have the resolution. So it follows this really clear arc where we’ve put the human as the core of that. You don’t start with the product and say, list off the product features. We start with the person because we find that in general, people are much more interested in following a human story rather than a brand story.
Margot Leong: Got it. There’s like a few categories of narrative that stories fall into, and the hero’s journey is definitely a common archetype. The important thing for most narrative structures, there always has to be like a want or a need or a point of change, right? And bringing it back to human part of it, it allows for real emotional resonance because you can put yourself in their shoes. That’s like the whole point of stories in general is you can sympathize versus reading a journalism article or something like the story piece is so important for that to happen.
Theo Hopkinson: Yeah. And picking out your hero is important. You want someone who is gonna connect with the audience at the end of the day. And it’s important that we have representation in our storytelling as well. We’re not just telling stories of identical people all the time. It’s such a joy to work on these films, but again, you have that story, but the trick is in then how you package it and use it afterwards.
So obviously my background is in brand content and the idea that brands can be storytellers too. They don’t have to be entities that sell you things. What we’ve done with these hero films is we’ve also cut them up into short clips. We’ve also built sales decks with those materials. We’ve built pitches for our BDRs and SDRs with those materials. We’ve made sure that if we’re investing in this story, it filters through to every aspect of our story, to every aspect of our marketing on the website, on our product pages. We’ve imbued all of that existing content with this customer story spice.
Margot Leong: This is a perfect segue into what we wanted to spend the majority of the time talking about, which is how are companies doing modern customer storytelling? What are some of our favorite examples?
I think companies are getting better, but I think could be a lot better at, so you’re saying like sprinkling the customer spice, everywhere, right? Yeah. And I still notice too often, especially like, if I’m looking at your typical B2B SaaS website, it’s often that the customers don’t get that much coverage when at the end of the day, it’s really important for there to be social validation that there are people using your product.
So it’s like, okay, you look at the typical page. Where do customers live? All right. You got some logos. You have maybe some testimonials on the homepage. And then you have the customers page and that’s where your stories live. And I think most companies just relegate it to that in terms of prospects looking at your website. Those are the areas where you’re like tick the box. That’s where customers live.
And I like the concept of when you’re designing a website, anything where you’re like this product is so great. I wanna see customers in all of those places.
Theo Hopkinson: Oh, it should be everywhere. Every, to a limit, obviously don’t want like five customer stories on one place. Customers can fit in everywhere. They are a heightener of your existing content. They can contextualize things in a way that you can’t as a brand.
So our job as marketers and as customer marketers is to build libraries that enable people to then sprinkle that throughout everything that you’ve got, make it easy for people to find that content.
Margot Leong: I think something that I probably wish I would’ve done more was not just think about ourselves as we produce content and then teams can go through and pick at it, right. And use it for their own purposes. I wish I would’ve actually pushed more on other teams to be like, we have this stuff, you know, why don’t we think about if this is gonna live on the website or wherever else, I see that there’s this type of messaging.
I have a perfect story for that. Even just like a little quote at the bottom of that, do you think that’s possible? I think it can only help. So I would think about that too, as, just as having more of an opinion, trying to wield more influence in that arena, that’s really valuable as well.
Theo Hopkinson: Yeah, you gotta be the customer salt bae. Sprinkle customers everywhere. That’s the thing. And then you can do fun stuff. You can A/B test, you can say, okay, this page has a customer reference on it, or it has three and this page has none. And what’s what are our click through rates? What’s our time on page? How far are people strolling and where are they staying on the page? Like that kind of stuff then gets really interesting, because you can take those learnings and use those to validate production of more assets in different directions.
Margot Leong: As customer marketing has evolved, you’re starting to see an evolution in the way that people are using and telling these stories. Marketing is only as effective based off of what people are used to. And so you have to also see what other people are doing in order for you to evolve and make sure that your stuff is interesting and new versus doing what everybody else is doing, right. I can click on a million customers pages, and they’ll all look the same. What are the ways that you can do to add more creativity into that balance and be like, if you’re gonna read this, this will actually be enjoyable for you to read.
So the format is totally different than what I’ve probably done with most people on the show, but we both went back, did some thinking about what are some of our favorite examples of modern customer storytelling. People love examples. And so I just wanted to discuss a few of them.
Theo Hopkinson: Yes, we are remixing ourselves. Yeah, I’m ready to go, Margot .
Margot Leong: Okay. So the first one I wanted to talk about is this company called Yac.com. And so what what I found that was interesting right is customer storytelling, you’re basically providing that sprinkle of validation. sometimes quotes they kind of look a little static. What can you do to bring it more to this is a real person talking because at the end of the day, I know that all your quotes are nicely crafted. It’s all approved by the big PR machine.
So how can you increase authenticity? Some people are doing this via video testimonials, but what are other ways to add that this is a real person talking to me. So Yac does this in an interesting way on their customer stories page. They of course have that typical format, right? The before and after.
But what they do for some of their stories is actually they embed an audio clip into them as well. It’s pretty short, the quality is not even that good, literally just click play here. It’s a little audio clip of I think Yac is amazing for these reasons. Super short. It’s this little additional thing that I click on and I’m like, oh yeah, this is like a real person.
And then something else they also do, they use visuals a lot. And so they take screenshots of things that customers are saying, they take screenshots of tweets. They’re able to take different product screenshots and actually show how it works. What are the things that they’re doing? I think Slack does this pretty well as well, but if there’s a way to actually show real life screenshots of the product, that’s really valuable. Notion does this too. They create GIFs of how the customers are using the product.
For prospects, if I’m looking at your website, not only am I trying to understand, okay, why is this so great. I wanna understand and get inspired by, how could this make my team better? What are the possibilities?
I’m trying to do a side project in Softr right now, which is a no code website. I don’t even know where to start. So I started looking at all of the different use cases and they had this resource library of all these different customers that have built pages in Softr. And I spent so much time looking on that before I ever built a page, because I wanted that inspiration. So there’s clear things that I needed here. And so I really like that this can inspire people based off of real life screenshots or GIFs of what the product would look like.
Theo Hopkinson: I love it. If there’s one thing I could blow up, it’s the written 1200 word case study, the typical essay. And Yac does this well. So they also bring this concept, I’m seeing a lot more frequently, I think maybe inspired by TikTok. It’s that shorter 30 to 60 second interview format. Everyone’s seen them. And what I love about Yac is it feels like they’re actually putting clips from the interview itself with the customer into the final finished case study.
And why not? That’s a fantastic way to save time and repurpose the content that you’ve got. Lots of people do it with podcasts now. And we’re actually thinking about doing the same at Fivetran is you have this whole branded content on to tell customer stories. So you have this podcast, you bring customers onto the podcast, you interview for them for that, you cut that down into little clips, and then that becomes written stories and you never have to do a dull, dry scoping interview with the customer again, where it doesn’t go anywhere and you’ve all spent an hour sitting on the phone, talking about things.
I love that Yac does this and I’m actually dubious about how valuable 60 second or so clips are on YouTube, but other formats like Flicktalk where they’ll auto play, where you can snack on them really quickly, I think are brilliant and embedding them is a great idea as well.
Margot Leong: I like this concept of just taking existing content types that you are seeing out and about in the world and just changing them up a little bit. Something I noticed too, while listening to a podcast recently is that Klaviyo, the email marketing software, they had an ad, but the ad was a customer story. I don’t know if you listen to a lot of podcasts. I do. And it’s very clear what is an ad and what is not an ad. They kind of put on weird jazzy elevator music .
Theo Hopkinson: Oh yeah, it all came from one place. It used to be Gimlet Media and now it’s Spotify is they have a style at this point.
Margot Leong: Yes, exactly. But Klaviyo, I think I actually listened to the full ad. They started off with talking about a customer that I think sells jewelry and basically Klaviyo helped their business, but even just them starting with a customer, I was like, I’ll listen to this for maybe 10 more seconds, you know? And then it like pulled me into the story.
And the value of that is huge from a brand awareness perspective. Because can actually tell you how it helped their business in the course of maybe like a 30, 45 second ad when seeing the same thing maybe in a different format just served to me cold, it’s just very different. So you have to think about like context and relevancy and how to even frame it. But at least it worked for me. I was like, okay, Klaviyo, they go to the shortlist because of this ad, basically.
Theo Hopkinson: It’s just brilliant. Here’s a thought experiment. If you see a world in which you did away with product pages and you just had customer stories and then all of your product information was told through the eyes of the customer, why not? We’re probably going in that direction. This putting customers everywhere is a step towards that.
Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. I think in general, I think the landing page format needs to be blown up too, is that you think from a product marketing standpoint if I’m trying to build a landing page, I’m like, who came up with this format that you need X amount of sections. You need to start with this type of headline and you need to stuff the place with CTAs. If your customers want your product they’re not that dumb, you know? I can rant about this separately, but this also is in need of an overhaul.
Theo Hopkinson: I think this is a perfect segue into an example that you brought which is Linear and the way that linear does customer storytelling. They actually don’t seem to have a hand at all in the customer storytelling. It comes entirely from the customers in forms of short letters with signatures at the end of them and just a little bit of information on the page. I think that is one of the coolest things that I’ve seen. As soon as I saw this, I was like, that’s mine. I’m gonna nick that idea. It’s brilliant.
Margot Leong: If you look at the website, Linear, you go to their customers page, it’s very short letters. I think they asked them to draw their signature on something and then they digitally put their signature at the bottom. It’s relatively short. I actually tried to do something like this for my current company where I went back through all of the existing user interviews I’d done, found customers that were open to doing testimonials and then I drafted the letter for them. Because I think them writing the letters is gonna take too freaking long. But it’s still sort of in their own words.
And I found this so fascinating. The power of adding a digital signature at the bottom, it just changes everything because it looks like they actually wrote it themselves. Like that’s massive, even though like I crafted it for them.
Theo Hopkinson: Yeah. They all look suspiciously like one person has. Either that or every linear customer just has an incredibly good hand.
Margot Leong: They’re very eloquent. They’re very thoughtful writing this letter about this software.
Theo Hopkinson: Not you’re skeptical at all in any way. Not at all.
Margot Leong: A rule of thumb for me is when we’re working with customers, we gotta make it as easy as possible. And so if I were to go a customer and be like, Hey, can you write a letter about how great we are? It’s just a lot easier to be like, I have crafted said testimonial based off of all the words that you said, are you okay with this? It’s a lot faster of a turnaround and you’ll get less ghosting, you know? It’s not as scary of an ask basically.
Theo Hopkinson: Yeah, make it easy. I am obsessed with the idea of getting them to write notes on things as well. The one example I have of this, which is the most insane thing to cite is Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. But Harry’s just reading through the text and the half blood prince, his little notes in the side. I wanna do that for every customer story we have where you have this almost like your brand narrative and then you have the voice of the customer coming in. And I think what’s interesting about this example with Linear is they’ve done that. They’ve got really close to that.
Like what if you could have a customer cross something out and then write something else for your story and you could show that with inking.
Margot Leong: Oh yeah. I just thought of this, but what if, do you know Rap Genius?
Theo Hopkinson: Rap Genius. That’s the lyrics site right?
Margot Leong: The idea was that they would try to contextualize all of the world’s information. And so not only would they do things like, Hey, these are Kanye West lyrics, if you hover over a specific lyric on the right hand side, you have some sort of sidebar where people add in contextualizing comments. Like this is what he meant when he said this. They wanted to do the same thing for like Shakespeare or basically anything where you’re adding in footnotes. There was this author that wrote a book about his journey as a young man through San Francisco and he did this thing where the foot notes became their own story.
That’s really interesting too. Could you do something really entertaining where you write some sort of case study, like story or a customer story, and then you have footnotes in which you add in like additional color from the customer. It makes the thing more entertaining to read. It’s like a PS and people usually read those. And so it’s what can you do to get to know the customer better, but also just inject some personality that your brand is not this sterile thing. Just formatting things just a little bit differently has massive power as you can see from some of these examples.
Theo Hopkinson: I think what in general we’re doing, Margot, we are trying to legitimize like genuine, authentic brand exploration on customer materials. For so long, they’ve been locked into to something which is really boring and stale. And actual genuine brand exploration can happen in those things that affect how you speak as a whole company can happen on something as granular as the way that you tell a customer story. So I’m excited to see this movement emerge.
Margot Leong: I think you have some other examples of modern storytelling that you liked.
Theo Hopkinson: So I used to work a fair bit with Microsoft, so I’m a little biased there. And one of my favorite things that I saw in my time there was the Microsoft Story Labs. Story Labs are basically this place where they just tell stories in very different ways. So every story is almost like this interactive experience, but each style is very different to the other. So you have one, which is 16 bit like a video game and then one which is drawn, it’s all illustrated. And then another, which is incredible high end photography and then illustration over the top. And each page is very different.
So that’s my absolute top tip is go check out Microsoft Story Labs for inspiration on how you can tell stories a little bit more differently, or integrate media in a really interesting way into your brand. I think that’s also gonna be a huge trend over the next couple of years is interactivity in customer materials.
You mentioned Notion before. Notion really kicked off the idea of a brand could be illustrative. We can invest in really interesting illustrations. What came after that is film. Brands can invest in in film and tell customer stories through those mediums. I’m very curious to see how marketers are gonna start to tell customer stories in interactive ways. How can you bring user engagement into the stories themselves?
I pitched to a Fortune 20 brand, actually the idea of a case story. We’d partner with LinkedIn and create this interactive, choose your own adventure that tells the customer’s story, almost like a video game. I feel like brands more and more are gonna start investing in those kind of experiences because they have the budgets to do so. And they’re gonna drive the most engagement with audiences.
Margot Leong: I guess the question would be ultimately, why do we even do any of this in the first place, right? Yes, it is nice to tell customer stories, but really what is the value of telling customer stories? We’re basically trying to either increase engagement with existing customers or increase engagement with prospects, right? At the end of the day, you want to propel more growth.
Why not start to think about customer content as an active participant in this? Instead of just pumping out content, doing more quality versus more quantity. And I know that’s quite hard to think about because you have so many other demands on your time. If we think about what will move the needle for the business, creating like X amount of reference stories versus creating a few stories that somehow get disseminated out and shared a lot more times in order to increase brand awareness.
Can what you create actually be a piece of content that is not just shared in the ways that you’re like, okay, employees, please share this. Partners, please share this. But where it actually becomes potentially viral on its own.
One example of this is B and H, which is a photography store, essentially, which those are in short supply. They’re not as common as they used to be. I think they’re based online.
They have these customer videos. And I don’t even think that they might think about that in that way because they’re consumer facing. So I think that they just are like, yeah, how do I tell interesting stories that get people to click on ads? But they run these pretty effective YouTube ads that are really fun and enjoyable. They’re typically customer story based. They had this one that had over 3 million views that has all these animations and graphics like spliced in, and it’s called “What did B and H have that NASA needed?”
And it’s the story of NASA needs this very specific type of equipment for this very impressive type of camera or something like that. Only B and H was the one that had it. The way they tell it is just really engaging. It’s actually fun to watch. I think I watched the whole thing and again, it has three million views and the comments are mostly just like, wow, this is really heartwarming. Like I love this story. I love B and H.
I think that this shows you that you can do stuff like this. You can get a ton of views. I don’t know how much money they spent to promote it, but I think the feedback and the reception that you got on this, and the fact that people were praising the quality of the story, it means that it can work.
I would encourage people to think a little bit more, look at these examples and be like, this content that I create, can it have a real effect in terms of driving brand awareness?
Theo Hopkinson: Yeah. And it’s also customers deserve to be everywhere. Customers deserve to be front and center on our big brand level campaigns because at the end of the day, customers want to hear from other customers.
Margot Leong: The Microsoft Story Labs example that you mentioned, it reminded me of something similar to Vice, this is not necessarily safe for work, but since we’re all working remotely anyway, it’s probably okay. Vice had this segment called Party Stories. And so they would interview celebrities and it would just be a celebrity speaking to the camera, telling a story from a party that they had been to. But the thing is most of it’s animated. Could you do the same thing for a customer story?
You have a customer speaking to the camera telling a story of how they recovered X, Y, Z data with X, Y, Z company. They’re the hero of the story. And this was happening and time was running out, but the vast majority of the video is actually the whole thing being animated with some funky graphics, something that’s like a little bit different.
Theo Hopkinson: I love this example, because it leans on that very early internet, when podcasts were very new and people were taking podcasts and just animating them into like 60 second, two minute clips and then Drunk History had the whole sort of Drunk History movement. These are so cool. I was thinking about how I would execute on this because the typical concern would be well, you know, this style isn’t very similar to our brand style or a fear that you’re kind of stepping outside of where’s a typical format. And I think that as brands, we don’t work enough with suppliers who actually just do this day in, day out.
You know, what I wish we did more is actually reach out to these kind of content creators and obviously pay them for the work that they’re doing as a supplier, but ask them to produce one of these materials for you and see how it goes and then to publish it. I think sometimes we’re scared of doing stuff like that because it we’re stepping our toe outside of what we know and what’s familiar with the brand that we’ve established. But I’d love to see this kind of animation a little bit more.
Margot Leong: I think this is actually where quality matters more than quantity even more. If all competitors offer similar products, and they can all talk about feeds and speeds all day long, it’s really more about what are you doing to differentiate? And I do think that the people that are pushing the boundaries around innovation or differentiation in terms of telling stories, for example, how they’re telling customer stories, you’re gonna win out in the end, but you have to be open to even considering the idea or else you’ll just be doing what everybody else is doing and maintaining the status quo, which is not great for the business as a whole.
Theo Hopkinson: Yeah. You’re also meeting customers where they are at the end of the day. If there is a certain style or look and feel for something and you know that your customers are interested in that, because you sat down with them or you’ve done the research on the sort of segments that your customers fall into, why not meet them where they are, rather than assuming that they’re gonna read your stale corporate nonsense. Yeah. Pardon my French.
Margot Leong: Something you would mentioned earlier, right? Customer content being seen as enjoyable and valuable in and of itself. This trend of companies actually becoming like media companies that they’re not just dependent on outside sources or channels for distribution of content. They create their own content. People look to them to be interested in their content. You see so many companies starting podcasts now as a way to try and capture that audience, old school content marketing, having your own blog.
Theo Hopkinson: Red Bull is the most fascinating example of this because they were a product, the Red Bull drink. But now they’re much more than that. They’re a media brands in and of themselves. So doing work early in my career for Red Bull was really exciting because there was this idea that if you actually do a good enough job of this, this could actually just be a revenue driver for the business. It becomes its own entity.
So Red Bull really started that way. They have those two sides of the business MailChimp is a really specific example, but an interesting one in how as marketers, your passion project can become part of the business’s core product and that’s MailChimp Presents, which is basically MailChimp’s media arm. They host short films. They have podcasts. I think they have almost over a dozen shows at this point and they sponsor events and some of them are tangentially focused on marketing, but lots of them are just interesting for people who are in this space themselves.
I watch shows on MailChimp Presents even if I’m not a MailChimp customer. Oh my goodness, I can’t imagine how tricky it must have been to have the conversation about ROI. That is a meeting I would’ve loved to be in in general for all of these things. Just being able to do nuanced ROI and then justify the work you’re doing from a brand level is a really powerful way to start these things because it’s tricky taking that first step.
Margot Leong: Absolutely. HubSpot is another really good example of this, right? They were one of the first to make content marketing a massive cornerstone. I mean, like they are the content marketing gurus. They have done so much. Anything you Google related to marketing, they own it. But they also did this really interesting thing recently.
They have this thing called HubSpot Creators where they have up and coming podcast hosts that then partner with them where HubSpot basically is like, okay, you create the content. That’s super valuable, but actually we can help you with distribution. We can help you with growth. They’re starting to think about these other pieces, which I think is really smart cause the impact that can have on so much of the audience that listens to all these podcasts triples their exposure to HubSpot that they may have never heard of before, because this person is like, oh, I wanna partner with a company that will take care of my distribution. That’s massive.
Theo Hopkinson: They’re like a record label now, HubSpot, that’s what it is. It’s that model of like an accelerator.
What’s fascinating is that that is also a meta trend I think is gonna be really interesting to watch is, and I talked about it at the beginning, which is I do see my role and our role as telling stories, but also increasingly building programs to tell stories. So how can you just get out of the way and let customers do their own thing and just enable them a little bit better so that your job is less actually like getting involved and more just building these accelerators or building the record label that’s actually gonna find the next Elvis from a customer perspective, a customer Elvis.
Margot Leong: We’ve covered this concept of, okay, how do you increase authenticity? How can I imagine myself in this person’s shoes? We’ve talked about more nontraditional types of video storytelling. How can you push that to new levels and actually make it engaging and fun to watch? I’d like to spend a little bit of time on general content and also your website too.
Something that I added to our list is that I’m a big fan of how the 37 Signals guys, how they think about marketing. And of course they’ve developed a massive following at this point built over the course of many years, but their marketing is very similar if you look at their different websites.
For example, hey.com is something I refer to quite often. And similar to Basecamp. So both hey.com and Basecamp, there’s massive incumbents in this area. And so if you look at their website, a lot of it is social validation of why should I even bother to think about you as a viable alternative? So hey.com is basically email that’s not Gmail, right? Or it’s not Superhuman. It’s just a different type of email. Basecamp is project management software, I believe. There’s so much saturation in these spaces.
But what I really like is they really make the customer front and center. So hey.com, their homepage it’s actually mostly all short testimonials. And there’s a letter from the founder, so authentic. And then like just volume of testimonials all over the homepage.
And then Basecamp has this page that I love. It’s called Night and Day. It’s their before and after page. And they said, we asked our customers what work was like before they used Basecamp and how it’s improved after switching to Basecamp. Thousands replied. Wow. What a difference. Then if you scroll down the page, they have a little bit of context of our customers tried all these things before switching to Basecamp.
And they show all these logos and then basically they say, did those tools work? Nope. Here’s a taste of what our customers said when we asked them how it felt to manage projects before they switched. So then they have some very like saucy quotes here about like Slack made me my laptop cry. I was a disorganized mess. And then after switching to Basecamp.
And what I like about this is volume versus having a long case study or a long story. I just don’t have the attention span anymore. What they do is they have really short quotes and they have the actual full name and the company it’s associated with. And then what they do as well is they highlight specific parts of the quotes. So my attention span is able to keep up with it because I’m like, Ooh, there’s a shiny thing here. There’s a shiny thing here. This yellow highlight is like making sure I’m focused on only the most important things.
And so it’s just this volume of little quotes and I’m probably not gonna read most of them, but it’s just the volume that makes it seem like, wow, so many people love base camp and this validation seems very powerful to me. Just prove that validation and just punch you in the face with it.
Theo Hopkinson: It is wonderful. I also wonder if it’s an SEO bomb as well. I wonder how effective that is at driving people. That’s a lot of stuff. It’s again, replacing a product page where it’s like, Hey, this is what we do. Don’t believe us, believe our customers. As a landing page, what a compelling experience. And imagine if you could show that visually as well. So you have these written out customer testimonials, what it would be like if you could visualize that customer pain.
So as a product, we deal a lot with customer architectures. What if you could show a slider left to right where you kinda slid and you saw the before scenario on the left and the after scenario on the right and you could move that yourself. It’s this sort of interactive element.
Margot Leong: Absolutely. There’s a lot of power too, is if you understand your personas which you should and then if you have collected all of this information, let’s say that, for example, if you’re Notion and you are really targeting EPD teams, you have a customer’s page full of short testimonials. I wanna filter tweets by types of persona and I’ve seen some other companies do that. That’s great. Everybody does the thing where I can filter a full customer story. I’m not gonna read the whole thing. I just wanna see a bunch of tweets about how great you are by like specifically engineering, or like specifically designers.
Theo Hopkinson: Plus ones on that. If you are playing around on the Slack customer stories page, actually, if you haven’t filtered the page, there’s literally a little popup that goes, Hey, would you like to filter this page by all of these criteria? I’m like, wow, I have never seen that before. The idea that even if you’re not filtering, there’s a popup that’s gonna improve the experience for you.
And then you’ve gotta imagine that customer engagement, you’re then actually secretly answering information about yourself. You’re basically qualifying yourself as a lead. You’re saying like I’m in this industry. My team is this size. These are my pain points and that actual engagement from the customers is qualifying them. You can put that information into the lead card. So it’s pretty clever stuff.
Margot Leong: One of the last things that I wanted to bring up as well is can your customers also be a part of effective content marketing. Could you do something similar to TikTok? Instead of me being the one to provide specific tips from B2B perspective, maybe my customers can do that for me. If you are Gong and you’re selling to sales reps, can you talk to your existing customers and be like, Hey can you record these two minute sales tips, all of your best tips on cold calling. Or you go to an in person conference.
And then you ask them the same question. Gimme your best sales tips in like 30 seconds, one minute, right? You are bringing in customers as part of creating that content.
Theo Hopkinson: Everything is a content opportunity. This is a sad factor today. As customer marketers, it’s like, where can I put my step and repeat? Where will customers be and what are they doing? How can I borrow 30 seconds to four minutes of their time for something there’s fun and interesting for them to do, but also that benefits the business so that we can use or put on a page or repurpose in some way.
Margot Leong: There’s so many times when you need, if you’re doing like a long form case study or even a quote, you have to get like official approvals through all the official channels. But if you do something like this, where it’s not necessarily related to this product is so great, but it’s 30 second sales tips from this person at this company, you probably have an easier time of getting around the very like time consuming approvals. It’s not you saying how great the company is.
So there’s something interesting too here is like, how can you think of ways to get that content? Without necessarily being like an outright endorsement while still getting the value of the association with the brand.
Theo Hopkinson: So what’s also interesting is thinking about your customer’s activity with your product as the advocacy, and that may seem insane, but bear with me. Because customers using your product is validation of what you’re doing. There’s a couple of great books on this, so like Contagious by Jonah Berger and Made To Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, where they kinda talk about these concepts. How can you take this private behavior, like using your product and make it really public?
Without knowing it, they’re actually advocating on behalf of your brand. And I used to do a lot of work with Nokia and one of the things that they did to do that is like you had these huge pages, but you just took the best photography that people were taking with the phone cameras. And put it in one place for people to see. How can you take the behavior that your customers are doing, or the proof points that they’re generating in the app itself and how can you use that as a form of advocacy?
Like proof points right now is something that I’m desperate to rebuild as an industry as a whole. How can we look at our product, take the customer’s usage and find a way for very simply to just approve us sharing the proof points of them using the product itself? I think that we forget sometimes that actually customers are advocating on behalf of the product every day. They’re just not necessarily, it’s not necessarily going anywhere and it could be if we connect it with the problem.
Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. And I think this is a great place to wrap up actually, Theo. Because this idea that everything is potentially content and that customer marketing can have more of a hand in that is a really good takeaway from this. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing with me and riffing off a lot of these really fun customer storytelling examples. Like I learned a lot, I didn’t know about a lot of these. It’s just really, really fun and something I’ve been wanting to do with someone for a while.
Theo Hopkinson: It was a joy. Thank you for having me. Thank you for being my fellow magpie.
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.