How a SaaS Marketer Used Content Marketing to Launch a Brand and Educate an Industry
project44’s VP of Marketing Ally Lynch joined the company at the beta stage – and she, like many who meet CEO and Founder Jett McCandless, was quickly sold on the vision and massive opportunity the startup was tackling. project44 has the lofty goal of disrupting the transportation industry – one that’s been slow to embrace innovation and technology. Launched in 2014, the company has quickly become the leading enterprise cloud provider of intelligent web-service APIs for the global supply chain.
When Ally joined in 2015, she was a marketing team of one, tasked with building out marketing and the brand from the ground up. Since she was starting with a blank slate, she faced endless options to prioritize. “Marketing can mean a lot of things,” she says, “at this company or any B2B company: it’s your external brand – you’re pushing out campaigns, managing PR, developing content, organizing events, building networks of brand evangelists – and it’s empowering your sales and product teams. Really solid marketing departments understand that they have multiple customers, both internal and external – and can serve them concurrently.”
As a newcomer to the logistics industry, she dug deep into how the industry operated and quickly realized that educating key players on how technology could revolutionize how they operated would need to be the first step: “this industry is still very reliant on legacy systems, so I had to take a step back to realize that before launching a bunch of promotional campaigns for a new product, we had to develop a need for a new way of doing things while also cultivating brand recognition. That’s where educational content came into play.”
Content is King, but it’s also a Long-Term Investment
“We’re lucky to have a founder who really understands marketing and has a deep knowledge of the industry,” Ally says. With Jett and the senior leadership team enthusiastically on board, they launched a large scale, omnichannel campaign with a dual focus on education and brand awareness, using the knowledge and existing personal brands of the company’s execs to gain some ground.
“Thought leadership content isn’t always something that people are willing to invest in from day one at a bootstrapped startup” Ally says “it can be slow going and requires a lot of resources. But as an innovative product up against an incumbent one, we needed to gain trust and build credibility for our movement. The best way to do that, especially when selling to high-level execs, was to educate and prove the value unlocked by our products.”
The learning curve to embrace new technology was an obstacle, to be sure, but the time invested to first educate the industry paid off. With a degree in neuroscience, Ally naturally gravitates toward exploring the how and why of decision making. She knows how important an educated consumer is, and knows that new product adoption can be difficult. “New products require companies to change their behavior, which gives rise to various conscious and unconscious psychological biases,” Ally explains. “A first touchpoint through a well crafted educational piece can help proactively minimize the underlying resistance to change and be the start of a long-term relationship.”
When she launched this effort, Ally was publishing two pieces of content a month, now her team is churning out more like 15. Over the first nine months, the education strategy worked. There was a point when hardly anyone in the industry knew what an API was, now the unaided awareness for modern technology is much stronger. “There was a risk involved. When educating the market and your potential customers, you’re educating potential competitors as well,” she said. “But I’m confident, that in today’s hypercompetitive logistics tech marketplace, a brand that gains the trust of their audience (while also introducing a successful new product) will flourish in the long-term.”
Content Dissemination at its Best
With a brand and thought leadership strategy in place, Ally knew it was important to maximize how their content reached their target audiences. That meant disseminating information through additional third party channels – journalists, analysts/consultants and respected industry experts.
She employed a strategy similar to what she’d already developed to build a network of brand supporters – act as a resource, listen to their needs and educate. project44’s “relationship 101 strategy” is simple – provide value 8x more than you take it.
Ally points out, marketers should consider all of their different types of “customers” – including industry experts. “You cannot become a trusted advisor and B2B market leader if you’re pitching your company 24/7. It didn’t happen all at once, but we started developing strong relationships. Eventually, we built a network of organic brand ambassadors and evangelists. Like everything else we focused on during that first year, it’s an investment but a worthwhile one.”
Ally’s efforts are evident on the news page of the project44 website, which includes dozens of pieces that, though they aren’t necessarily focused on project44, draw on the expertise of the company’s executives to position the company as an expert in the industry. With mentions in The WSJ, Fortune, Crain’s and others, project44 is now a go-to resource for logistics journalists, and the brand is widely recognized by potential customers.
As project44’s now armed with $10.5M in funding, the marketing department has grown from a scrappy team of one to a robust team of four. They have laid the foundation for the brand, developed the right relationships, and proven that the logistics industry is open to adopting modern and innovative technology. Advanced execution, product expansion and continuing to build the project44 brand are what’s next for Ally and her colleagues as the company matures. If you’re interested in learning more or joining the team, take a look at open roles here.
February 7, 2017