Brands With Opinions Are Better Than Brands With Marketing Models
Where I crap on marketing models and go all-in on brands that rock the boat.
I’ve been an active Asana user and evangelist since 2012. Many clients and colleagues swear by Asana now, thanks to my passionate support.
In other words, there is no reason for me to switch from Asana. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and my project management workflow is definitely not broken.
Still, the other night, I spent more than an hour inside Basecamp, wondering if it’s time to switch. The journey that led me there, to what marketers might call the evaluation phase of the marketing funnel, was jumbled and messy. But it wasn’t out of the norm.
We have so many channels from which we can interact with a brand; it makes sense that how we get from Point A (stranger) to Point B (customer) is, well, complicated.
My own experience with Asana and Basecamp is evidence of that. This is why subscribing so blindly to marketing models, like the marketing funnel, can be shortsighted and harmful.
But first, some context.
What is the Marketing Funnel?
I won’t waste your time defining the marketing funnel. There is plenty of content out there, including this post from Neal Patel (more on this article in a moment).
Here’s a brief look at what the marketing funnel is.
- It contains several stages representing the journey we take as consumers.
- Below is a good example of a 6-stage funnel:
As you see, the top of the marketing funnel is wide. The funnel then narrows with each ensuing stage.
That’s because many people can and will become aware of your product. But from that vast pool of people, a smaller amount will be interested.
From those who are interested, a few will consider your product, and so on.
This is all quite logical and commonsensical. But I find two issues with this model.
1. You end up filling the funnel with crap
Subscribing to this model has inspired companies to assume the best approach toward growth is to fill the funnel with more leads. The more people aware of your product, the more who will become interested, and so on.
Again, sensible. The issue is this kind of thinking leads brands to spend millions of dollars on ads to fill the funnel because it’s a quick and easy way to increase awareness.
This has been my least favorite aspect of working on growth teams. Growth teams fixate on more, often while disregarding what happens post-acquisition. So long as folks convert, growth has done its job. The rest is up to some other team, right?
Not really. I’ve always had a huge issue with how organizations hand off customers to different teams based on where those customers are in some disenfranchised funnel. This always results in incongruous experiences.
It’s also worth noting that ads with pithy ad copy are by no means a natural way to connect audiences to a brand. If I were ever to convert via an ad, I can assure you that every step of the way (including post-conversion), I’d be looking for reasons to abandon ship because an ad convinced me in the heat of the moment to convert. It didn’t allow me to make up my mind at my own pace.
2. This doesn’t represent how people interact or want to interact with brands
I don’t know about you, but I don’t walk a straight line from stranger to customer with any brand. I’ll make this point in a moment, but for now, let’s revisit a portion of Neal Patel’s marketing funnel blog post. Below he outlines how the marketing funnel works in real life, as well as online:
My god, that’s a linear theory reliant on weak assumptions. While there are times when I walk into a store, look at products, and buy, there are just as many times when I walk into a store, look at products, leave, and maybe come back some other day.
And sometimes it’s messier than that. Let’s take a look at the journey I took to consider leaving Asana for Basecamp’s project management tool.
My Messy Non-Marketing Funnel Journey to Basecamp
The point of this rundown is to show the many back-and-forth steps we as consumers take in our purchasing-decision process. And how many of those steps aren’t easily measurable the way marketing-model advocates would love them to be.
1. I accepted a new role as the head of content for Slab.
This milestone moment (the job at Slab) inspired me to get more engaged — and potentially active — on Twitter.
Through following some key voices in the spaces I was interested in, I discovered @DHH, founder of Basecamp. I didn’t follow him because he was the founder of Basecamp. I followed him because of tweets like this:
This tweet has nothing to do with Basecamp, at least not overtly. It’s about data and privacy — which I’m passionate about. I thought to myself, heck, maybe he’s worth following. So I scouted his Twitter feed and profile.
I liked how he wasn’t afraid to post politically charged tweets. I can’t stand people who ignore things that actually matter in life just because they’re afraid to offend.
I view that as either cowardly or, worse, apathetic. These are not times to be indifferent.
2. I also learned he wrote a book that struck a chord with me:
I agree — work doesn’t have to be crazy. The way people assume 40+ hours during specific hours, and in one particular location, is a practical approach to work — for everyone, is inane.
After evaluating all of this, in a matter of seconds, I thought to myself, @DHH was worth following.
Keep in mind — I did not buy his book. I haven’t yet. I might if I find the time, but following him on Twitter was the only conversion point I was interested in at the time.
By the way, kudos to him for not flooding his feed with tweets masked as ads for his book, or Basecamp. That would have resulted in my disinterest in everything else he had to say. That’s not why I or anyone else go onto Twitter. Twitter is a marketplace where folks can exchange ideas.
Ideas. Not elevator pitches.
3. Through Twitter, I learned about his other content: blog and podcast
Basecamp has a blog called Signal vs. Noise. I learned of it through @DHH’s Twitter feed. Not because he posted something elementary like: “Check out my latest post.” Here’s what led me to the blog:
DHH tweeted this during the recent shakeup at WeWork. The tweet made sense from him. He’s been quite vocal about open offices before, which is why he included a link to an article he wrote back in July of 2018 regarding open-plan offices. To let folks go more in-depth on his perspective if they wanted.
His tweet intrigued me, so I read the article. It made me a bigger fan of his, and now of the blog.
Still, I didn’t subscribe. Why? Because why would I subscribe to a blog after one post?
Also, I didn’t go from that one post to another post. Why? Because I have other things to do in my life than read through a blog’s entire archive. So, I closed out the window after reading his article and moved on with life. I didn’t even bookmark the site, add it to my Feedly list, or anything else. I simply moved on.
Would a marketing team consider that a loss? Perhaps. But that’s shortsighted.
Just because I didn’t ‘convert’ (become a subscriber) didn’t mean this interaction didn’t make an impression on me.
Enough so that I thought it a good idea to listen to Basecamp’s Rework podcast. I wanted to hear more about DHHs ideas and perspective. At times he reinforced my own preconceptions. At times he challenged them. That’s the kind of person I want ‘in my life’ (albeit virtually, in this instance).
In other words, he helped me shape my view of the world and how I live in it.
I listened to what at the time was the most recent episode of the podcast. It was about fast fashion vs. slow fashion. I didn’t love it, because it’s got little to do with me. I don’t care about fashion. I don’t run a factory-based business.
But I didn’t give up on the podcast (although I didn’t subscribe). Because at this point, I had faith that something associated with DHH (still, not yet Basecamp) likely had quality content I’d be interested in.
Why? Almost entirely because of his Twitter feed. It’s authentic. It’s opinionated. It’s not a feed filled with salesman crap. He established a good rapport with me.
So I researched some older episodes and found one on healing the internet. This was the first time I heard DHH speak. There’s something far more compelling about listening to someone talk vs. reading their likely-heavily curated words.
This entire episode inspired me to be more proactive, both personally and professionally, when it came to data protection. It also introduced me to Basecamp beyond the product.
What I learned from this episode is that Basecamp recently ended its practice of using pixel trackers in emails, a move I applaud. But the episode wasn’t some infomercial on why Basecamp is best. It didn’t cheat me of the experience I expected. It delivered on its promises of introducing me to new perspectives and ideas about data protection.
So I subscribed to the podcast, not just because of this episode. But because of the constant positive content provided to me by DHH via his Twitter feed.
4. I got introduced to the ‘other’ Basecamp founder
Tweets, blog posts, and podcasts under my belt, I now felt pretty connected with DHH, and even Basecamp a bit. Yet, I still hadn’t visited the Basecamp website.
Why? I’m not in the market for a new project management tool. Asana works just fine for me.
Imagine that. I’m not just some automaton that mindlessly funnels through steps. I have a life outside of all of this. I don’t automatically become aware of a brand and jump into the interest phase.
I’m more complicated than that. You are, too.
Anyway, I carried on with Twitter (again, mostly because I started a new position). While on Twitter, I did happen to see a tweet by Jason Fried that caught my eye, enough so that I felt compelled to retweet it:
Notice how Jason commented on my retweet. Little old me with my 300+ followers. That two-word phrase was enough for me to feel connected to Jason, meaning I now felt even more connected to Basecamp, even though that was not my intention.
It took Jason seconds to do it. I know that. But that doesn’t matter. It was a meaningful connection.
5. If these folks are aligned with my perspective, then …
Here’s where all this messiness comes to fruition. Once again, I repeat: I am not in the market for a new project management tool. But, as with everyone else on this planet, I am always looking for new tribes to join.
DHHs tweeting, the book he and Jason co-wrote (that I’ve yet to read but have on my radar), the podcast, Jason’s comment to me: they all led me to wonder, should I look at Basecamp?
And that’s precisely what I did the other night. I spent more than an hour inside Basecamp, setting up an account and figuring out how I could make it fit my workflow and replace Asana. And trust me, it’s not a simple replacement. There are compromises I’d have to make, and adjustments to processes I’ve had in place for years.
If an ad or some gated material (please, god, end this push for gated content!) led me to try out Basecamp, these friction points would have been enough for me to stop trying.
But I came on my own, at a time of my choosing, after building a rapport with the brand behind the product. As a result, I am far more inclined to work harder to get this product, and this tribe, to fit into my lifestyle.
In fact, I went into it saying how can I make this work, which is almost certainly not what I’d have said if I were led to this conversion point via an ad or some other typical marketing tactic.
All this to say that opinionated brands speak to me. They spur me into action — and not necessarily actions that marketers can measure.
Along the way, if I had seen ads peppered on my social feed asking me to try Basecamp, I wouldn’t have clicked. In fact, I’d have been annoyed, because I would have known that Basecamp used my behavior (following its founders, visiting its blog site) to target me.
And that doesn’t sit well with me.
The good news is it doesn’t sit well with them, either, which is how I found myself inside their platform, pondering a mutiny against Asana.
Now, will I become a Basecamp customer? I don’t know. Asana is perfect for my needs, especially as a content calendar.
But I’d argue that my becoming a Basecamp customer is moot. Because here I am, dedicating a couple of hours of my life writing about how awesome Basecamp and its founders are. I’m linking out to their blog, their podcast, and their Twitter accounts.
Perhaps, somewhere, somehow, someone will read this and also follow the same messy path I took. And maybe they will become Basecamp customers.
And if they do, no marketer will have been able to know the exact origin of this conversion, because it didn’t happen as neatly as all these marketing models want them to happen.
It never does.
Don’t get me wrong. Data is empowering. But it should not drive the marketing vehicle.
I became interested in Basecamp because the people behind the organization have genuine interests aligned with mine. They share these interests in a natural way, not in some preconceived fake manner where it’s evident they’re looking to rank for some keyword.
They’re just true to themselves. As a result, I fell in love with their purpose, not their product. And so I’ve become loyal to their message.
In the end, that’s far more valuable than convincing me that their product is right for me.