At LMA, we take the “practice what you preach” ethic very seriously. We simply cannot champion ideas, tools and technologies to the industry at large if we’re not willing to try them ourselves. The same holds true for local media companies, and their expectations of both their advertisers and consumers.
This is exactly why visits to Entercom Communications and HubSpot on the recent Boston Innovation Mission were so resonant. Both companies (one a radio broadcaster and the other a marketing technology platform) vigorously practice what they preach to cultivate influence and impact with internal stakeholders and external customers. It’s a guiding principle in fostering and maintaining cultures of innovation.
They simply aren’t willing to bring new technologies or products to market, or implement new processes, without first testing and iterating themselves. After all, if it’s not good enough for them as a first customer, how could it possibly satisfy other customers?
HUBSPOT: RELENTLESS EXPERIMENTATION WITH CONTENT MARKETING
HubSpot has practically patented the concept of “inbound marketing,” a marketing approach focused on “attracting customers through content and interactions that are helpful and relevant, not interruptive.” Their marketing automation software enables brands and digital agencies to create, publish, test and optimize content in a variety of formats across a spectrum of channels, leveraging an Attract<>Convert<>Close<>Delight framework.
In order to champion this methodology to the market, however, HubSpot believes it must first “dogfood” its own techniques. Thus, the company produces massive volumes of content that adhere to the structure it recommends for its customers. This entails creating “pillar pages” for subject specific content that also have related blog posts linking back to this primary page, boosting the authority of the page for search engine optimization.
As VP Marketing Meghan Anderson shared, “having a high volume of content works, but with diminishing returns. You need to create a good amount of content, but structure it well by making sure it’s all tied in together.” How did HubSpot make this discovery? By relentlessly studying the performance of its own content and constantly iterating to improve it. As proof, the company hired a senior research analyst to do its own content consumption research to then build more content off of it. It also introduced the “historical optimization project,” an initiative in which HubSpot utilized its own software to figure out which content is generating the lion’s share of engagement, and then invested in keeping these pieces of content fresh to maximize their traffic lift.
The byproduct of this optimization obsession is an ever-expanding set of experiments with new content formats, and on new platforms. Here are just a few of their latest tests:
• Worried that Google’s “rich snippet” boxes at the top of search results could discourage users from actually clicking through to its website, Hubspot ran snippet tests for several pieces of content and discovered that, in actuality, these increased their traffic.
• Subscribing to the “email is dead, long live email!” philosophy, Anderson’s marketing team has made several changes to the email subscription interface. These include allowing readers to sign up across different platforms such as Slack and other emerging messaging apps. They have also tested a variety of different themes and content types, and even dropped the daily email format in favor of weekly, hand-cultivated communication.
• Although HubSpot rose to fortune through search based content marketing, it also acknowledges that social networks that now keep users on-platform pose a potentially significant threat. Rather than retrench, though, the company has instead embraced the challenges that relative newcomers such as Facebook Instant Articles and Twitter Moments offer. “Our philosophy has been ‘if there is a threat or challenge to our way of business, we’d sooner dive into it and try to figure out how it works instead of fighting it’,” Anderson explained. “So, we decided to put our content Instant Articles, knowing that we would lose some traffic back to the site. But we were okay with this for the sake of experimentation.”
“We have a low-grade paranoia about being disrupted by companies that are smarter & faster than us, Anderson said. “We develop ongoing experiments to stay abreast of what’s new and changing.”
ENTERCOM: “OUR GREATEST CASE STUDY IS OURSELVES”
While HubSpot invokes “practice what you preach” around its content marketing principles for business customers, Entercom concentrates its “walk the talk” approach on its internal customers first: the radio station operators and on-air talent that comprise its core business.
VP Digital Audience Engagement Kim Reis tests new tools and technologies internally while simultaneously coaching programmers and personalities how to use them effectively. The importance of “coaching” cannot be overstated. “When we hired Kim, there were two non-negotiables in the role,” Entercom VP Digital Strategy Tim Murphy said. “This must be someone who has walked in their shoes, and they have to be a coach first. Subject matter expertise is nice, but optional. We can teach that.”
Reis created the “Digital Power 8” to give Entercom’s stations a focused framework for digital audience growth and engagement. And paralleling her coaching of programming, promotions and digital teams to utilize tools such as email marketing, text marketing, social networks, on-demand audio, and more, she also uses the same tools herself to convey her messages and understand what resonates with her internal customers.
With email, Entercom has a stated goal to grow its registered users and engage them to become more active. Similarly, Reis does A/B testing on her internal emails, starting with the subject lines to generate higher open rates (they typically average between 40 and 50 percent). There is also a weekly internal email newsletter.
She also operates an internal blog for digital tips and tricks, testing engagement methods such as text codes and social sharing buttons, closely monitoring the analytics. Entercom “dogfoods” its own tools for all of these tests.
“Our greatest case study is ourselves.”