The Marketing Mandate

Written on 09 April 2021

Should we focus on growing the traffic or the number of product signups from the blog?

This was a question Ash Read and I kept asking ourselves when we were managing the Buffer blog around 2016 to 2019. The two goals were often at odds. For example, writing about Instagram marketing can bring us a lot of traffic but it might not drive product signups directly. But it does reinforce our brand in the social media space, which would help increase product signups indirectly. At that time, we decided to focus on writing relevant content and growing the traffic, believing it would help with product signups eventually.

A few years have passed, and I realized we might have misled ourselves with that question. It isn't traffic or signups. It has to be both.

Growing the brand and the business

I came to this realization when Jon Stona, Head of APAC Marketing at Stripe, talked about his team's mandate in an AMA with the APAC Marketers Roundtable. He said the marketing team at any company has two main functions: grow the brand and grow the business. How the team goes about achieving them varies. For instance, Stripe's APAC marketing team doesn't run billboard or tv ad campaigns to grow their brand but make sure everything they do, from ad copy to swag at events, adds to the brand.

Coincidentally, the marketing team at Buffer has been planning our Q2 OKRs, so I bought this concept back to the team. The team felt the concept put our work into a nice, simple framework. And the concept made it (a bit) clearer what types of projects we should be working on and how we should collaborate with the rest of the team.

We have been great at the first part of the mandate, growing the brand. We built a well-known brand through educational and non-salesy content, engaging online events, transparent sharing, and great customer service. (Though I have met many marketers who have never heard of Buffer!)

Where we could improve is the second part, growing the business. Our company's main goal now is Monthly Active Users (even over revenue). So for us, growing the business means growing MAUs. This led the marketing team to define two new goals:

  1. Increase the number of small businesses that are ready to sign up
  2. Increase the traffic to the product through helpful content

We have been doing things in these two areas but mostly haphazardly. Understanding what we are trying to achieve at a higher level and knowing how things tie back to the company goal have been helpful. Giving them "names" also provided more clarity. Since then, we have been brainstorming project ideas according to our Q2 goals.

What does this look like in practice?

Going back to the Buffer blog example at the start, what could or should Ash and I have done?

There are three ways I'd look at it:

  1. Product-led content: Ahrefs is my favorite example here. The team has managed to grow their blog to more than 1 million sessions a month through helpful product-focused content. They grew the brand and the business. Tim Soulo, CMO at Ahrefs, likes to prioritize content according to its business value. Their success has inspired us, the marketing team at Buffer, to think more about creating educational content around our product. In my mind, this feels like layering "business" on top of a brand play.

  2. Layering brand on top: The opposite could also work. This seems to the approach Jon Stona has taken with Stripe's APAC marketing. From what I see, their marketing efforts are focused on driving the business. Webinars, events, partnerships. But they kind of layer their brand on top of it by making sure their copy, swag, and other marketing materials add to their brand. I believe having a consistent messaging and style guide will be helpful here.

  3. Balance across marketing team: Finally, I might try to think beyond just the blog. Back then, I was working on the blog full-time and didn't consider how other marketing areas can contribute to the mandate in different ways. For example, perhaps the blog team could focus on growing the brand (such as having helpful content that doesn't mention the product) while the product marketing team could run product demos and webinars. I'm inexperienced with such an approach. If you know more, I'd love to learn from you.