Episode 8: David Fallarme – How the Best Companies Do Content Marketing

June 28, 2019

David Fallarme is the Head of Marketing for HubSpot in Southeast Asia and India. David has achieved exponential product growth for several global brands across several industries. During his time with Electronic Arts, he led customer acquisition for several of its video games with millions of users. As the former Head of Marketing for another B2B SaaS startup, he oversaw the growth of the company as it grew from thousands to over several millions in annual revenue.

What’s covered in this episode:

  • The questions you need to ask to best decide if a content strategy is right for your company
  • An effective content marketing framework that you can apply to your own business, from startup to MNC.
  • How to holistically measure and track the performance of your content marketing efforts.
  • How to build and scale content teams, from strategy all the way to specific tactics.

Podcast Transcription:

(This transcription has been redacted for readability.)

Alexander: Hi everyone. Thanks for tuning into the Fullstack Marketing Ninja Podcast. Glad to be with you guys today. I’m coming to you from Hong Kong, as I’ve been back in Asia for a bit and I’m so glad that we have a chance to speak with David Fallarme, who is the Head of Marketing at HubSpot. David, maybe you can give us a little bit of your background, what you’re currently working on and anything else that you’d like to add to that?

David: Sure. Thanks for having me. My name is David. I head up marketing for HubSpot so for those who may not have heard of HubSpot, we have a growth platform for folks who want to get more traffic, who want to close more deals and if they want to improve customer service, we’ve got tools for that as well.

My background is kind of interesting. I started off in Canada where I was doing marketing for big brands like Toyota, Hershey and ended up in Asia through… well, that’s probably for a different podcast, but I ended up back in marketing in Asia. I did some work for some Chinese companies and then I ended up back in tech marketing. I’ve previously worked at App Annie, Electronic Arts, a video game company and I’m in Singapore now at HubSpot.

A: Awesome and obviously, I hope everyone’s heard of HubSpot before. I think if you’re a marketer you’ve probably had a good chance to use Hubspot, whether it’s the CRM or maybe even using HubSpot as a website [platform].

I think one of the great things about chatting with you is that you’ve done a lot of different things in your background on the marketing side and at HubSpot. What I know that you guys are really good at is relationship building, but more so through content, being a very content-focused and driven company. I wanted to ask, how is content perceived differently maybe at HubSpot, from some of the other companies you’ve worked at? Is there anything that you think makes content “King” at the company?

D: It’s a good question. I think the main thing is that we view content in several ways. One thing is we have the entire company built around this notion of inbound [marketing], right? Which is really the belief that you shouldn’t interrupt people when they’re doing their thing and that’s not how you should market to them. We don’t believe in things like cold-calling – that’s not the way to grow a business. We don’t believe in what some companies do here in Asia, which is they go to the ground floor of a building, take a photo of the directory, go back to their office and then dial them up – that’s not the way to grow. The inbound way is you figure out how you can help your target customer – your persona – what you can do to add value and then you create content that will show up, add value and help them. So then over time, you build a relationship with them and they want to seek you out when there’s a problem that they encounter that your company can help solve. In general, that’s how we view content. It’s a way for you to add value to the customer experience instead of extracting value. That’s kind of the theoretical side to it.

I think the thing we do at HubSpot that makes us really good at content is building on that foundation of making sure that we are doing that to add value to the target audience. But we do it in such a way that we’re creating content and we trace that line from, “okay let’s create a blog post all the way down to this cluster of blog posts, how much of value and how much revenue did these posts produce?”

Not to toot our own horn, I think we’re best in class at that because that’s what we sell. So I think those are the two things that really separate us from a lot of companies that do content. One is that we’re not just creating blog posts for the sake of creating blog posts. We see the business value and we hold ourselves accountable to that. And then there’s that foundational layer of, the reason we’re doing content is because we want to help people at the end of the day. We want to add value and we want to help our target audience.

A: It’s great that we’re able to have this chat today because, you know, when I think of content and the companies I’ve worked at. Some of the smaller ones where we just kick-started our marketing efforts, all the way to large corporations. I think this probably might be an, “it depends” question, but let’s just start at the small end of this scale. When you’re a company that’s just starting out, when do you think content can become a big part of your marketing strategy and how does the way you should look at content and content creation differ from when you’re a startup versus when you’re a large company like HubSpot? Maybe we’ll start with that. There is a second follow up question but maybe if you could touch on that first?

D: Yeah. I think the way I would answer that question is, let’s say there’s a startup that says, “Hey Dave, I notice HubSpot’s good at content. How can you advise me to write content?” Before I even answer that question tactically such as, here’s the keyword research strategy you should do, here’s the way you should write blog posts and here’s where to hire freelancers to write that blog post, before I would even answer those questions, I would take a step back and think, strategically, does content apply to your business? Does it make sense for you to grow your business through content?

The way I think about that is by digging down all the way down to the business model of the company.

Let’s take an extreme version here – two opposite ends of the spectrum. One is Company A which sells to enterprises or sells to big governments and then Company B, which is like a mobile gaming company or a social network which doesn’t really have one type of target customer. In fact, the target customer is like, everybody. As many people as possible. You take the two opposite ends of the spectrum and try to think, does content marketing work for these companies? In fact, let’s make this concrete. So for enterprise companies, let’s pick Salesforce or let’s pick Palantir. They’re not going to grow through blog posts. They’re not going to grow through, an article like, “Top 10 Ways to Grow Your Business,” right? Because you’re selling to the VPs and the CEOs of that company and you’re not going to get them through a really good LinkedIn post. On the flip side, Mark Zuckerberg didn’t grow Facebook by writing really witty Instagram captions. Or whatever Instagram was back then. He wasn’t on Friendster trying to get viral posts.

A: Not Tom off of MySpace.

D: Yeah, he wasn’t doing that.

So the first thing I would say to that person is, “okay, it’s great that you know that content is a way to grow. But there are other ways to grow your business as well. I have a blog post on this, where it’s talking about how to build different go-to-market strategies. And so, I would just be very aware of not trying to answer that question prematurely. If somebody says to me, “how do I grow my content?” or, “how do I use content grow my company?” I would first ask, “first of all, does content even apply to your business model and is it a smart go-to-market strategy?” That’s the first way I would answer that. Let’s just say it is appropriate based on the blog post that I mentioned that outlines when it might be appropriate for you and it’s based on your business model.

How do you get started with content? I think that’s really a couple of things and it comes down to your resourcing and the skillsets you have in your company. A lot of blog posts and best practices you’re going to see about creating content is going to go straight into advising you on how you should create content, but I think the first step is to really take stock of the skill sets and the resources that you have.

For example, if you’re a founder who’s very good at writing, then the advice I would give to you on content is going to be very different than somebody who’s, let’s say, I don’t know, not to stereotype too much here, but just for the sake of illustration, an engineer who’s not that great at public speaking and doesn’t want to post on a blog. The advice there is going to be different, but the foundational layer there is, let’s create a resource or let’s tap into a resource in your company that can create the content for you. My advice on that is that for most companies, the problem with content is not whether you are smart enough to create content or whether there is interesting content, but just the fact that you need to be publishing at a regular basis and you need to build up that muscle.

The first thing I always say to folks is, “okay, let’s just assume you already have a resource for creating content your company. Your first job is to make sure you can publish content and create content regularly.” Let’s just call it once a week. Publish anything – just build up that muscle and get that regular cadence out, get that habit out, because once you have that, then you can layer on the all the other skills, like keyword research. We can layer on SEO, we can layer on, but the first layer for anybody who’s getting started is making sure you can publish on a regular basis.

A: I think a lot of people think content is a great way to grow traffic organically, but, you know, it is something that’s a little bit more of a long term play, so if you can’t do it or if you’re doing it sporadically or you know that if posting every two weeks or something like that, might not cut it, it might not be something that works for you.

You know, with paid ads, the data is always present in terms of what is the Cost-per-click? How much ROI are we actually getting from our efforts on that? For content… I’ve always found content to be a little bit more difficult to measure.

How do you look at that from a more data/metrics-driven perspective and how do you gauge success through content when things aren’t as one-to-one whenever you’re working on those objectives?

D: I think it’s a good question and I think I’m going to try to answer that from several angles. One is that if you’re trying to compare content to something like Facebook ads where you can get a very high degree of resolution on how many people viewed the piece of content for how long, how many percent clicked on it and how many converted onto particular creative and A/B test that against 30 campaigns, it’s just not going to stack up against that because they’re so fundamentally different. So don’t expect content to be able to stand up to the same quantitative rigour that you demand from Facebook ads, SEM or Adwords – they’re just completely different. Similarly, if you’re trying to compare the awareness effect or the behaviour-change effect of a series of blog posts or a long-term branding exercise, you can’t boil that down into a cost-per-click. It just doesn’t work. I mean you can’t compare, it’s not apples to apples. So that’s one angle. If there are folks out there who are thinking, “okay, if I have a thousand dollars, I want to spend it on Facebook and I’ll get X result because if I spend it on content, it’s this nebulous, ambiguous outcome.” On the surface, that’s true, but if you dig down one level deeper, it’s because you can’t really compare them in that way. At least I would argue that you can’t and you shouldn’t.

The way to view content, in my opinion, is what I mentioned earlier, that you’re really building a relationship with your target audience and your target customer and until the day where Mark Zuckerberg and the Alphabet Company have all of your information, we’re just not going to be able to measure that and to some degree, you need to be okay with that. Gary Vaynerchuk has a very interesting retort on this when he’s being pushed for, “what’s the ROI of social media? What’s the ROI of content?” He says something like, “what is the ROI of your mother?” Which is kind of like, okay, that’s an interesting way to think about it, but his push is that if you were trying to put everything into this pigeon hole of, “it must have a dollar figure associated with it,” and I need to know the attribution timeline of that, then you’re just not going to be able to have a satisfying answer that’s going to be practical for you.

It’s going back to, does content makes sense as a strategy for your business model and viewing that as your growth engine? If it makes sense for your business model, then it will all fall into place. That’s kind of the theoretical answer to how I think about that. The practical answer of how we do that within Hubspot is that we view groups of blog posts because we organize our content according to topic and then we compare the performance of those groups of blog posts or those groups of topics against each other. We call them topic clusters. We have topic clusters around, let’s just call it SEO and there’s another topic cluster that’s about email marketing. Well, we could then compare topic cluster A versus topic cluster B and find out which has more leads. Which one’s got more conversions? Which one eventually ended up with more revenue? And that’s when and where you can compare things over time. Now, we have, just call it 20 to 30 different topic clusters that we compare, some of them outperform the other, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to cut off the ones that don’t have a dollar value associated with them, because maybe they’re higher up the funnel, right? But that’s just one example of how one company could measure content.

A: That’s really useful. I think it’s very tough, especially when everyone’s always asking for the numbers in your weekly meetings and you’re looking at some metrics on a weekly basis. It’s good to know that even at HubSpot there’s a bit more of a holistic approach when it comes to content and a little bit more of a long term kind of viewpoint in terms of where content fits and obviously helps by a well-known company for what you guys do in the content space.

D: Just on that point, that’s not to say that you should stay away from reporting on content. At the very base, you should be able to say, “hey, traffic is going up month-on-month, the number of leads is going up month-on-month. It depends on your business model and what matters to you, but there should be some metric that you’re watching, whether you can directly tie it to revenue or if it’s an input to some function that results in revenue. There’s stuff you can track that says, this is going in the right direction based on the efforts that we’re doing. At the very basic minimum, that’s traffic but in some businesses, if you have a pretty good tech stack and your CRM is all dialed-in, then you can boil that down to leads, which means it boils down to the number of sales opportunities that your team opened up to the number of the dollars that were brought in. But, definitely do not shy away from reporting on content and you should not let anybody get away with saying something like oh you know content is for building relationships. Yes, that’s the strategy, but there’s a tactical layer on top of that that you have to be held accountable to.

A: For sure. At HubSpot, do you look at it down to the revenue level or is it just does it stop at leads? Does it just depend on whether it’s an inbound function or whether it’s a top of funnel function? How do you guys slice that data?

D: We do our best to tie it to revenue as much as possible, because it’s just a sanity check on a lot of the stuff that you do. That being said, we’re kind of a special case just because we have so many different touch points and we have so many people who come to the blog a lot before they buy something from us. We now have a bunch of freemium offerings. So our attribution modelling can get very, very complicated because, of the 80 touch points they encountered before they bought something, which one do you weigh? That also changes and shifts over time. We’d drive ourselves crazy if we tried to model that to a very high precision and in fact will end up with false precision. But the takeaway is, yes, we just make sure that it’s all tying back to revenue on some level. And the advice for companies is to find a proxy metric that you can use to measure content and just stick with that until it loses its predictive power. Just make sure that everything is tying back to something that allows you to say, this is somewhat correlated with the output that we want and therefore we’re going to track and monitor it.

A: Right. You mentioned attribution and that’s something I just would love to get your opinion on. How do you guys look at the attribution of content? My last question was kind of tied to that as well, you know, revenue and leads. Do you assign a percentage to content or do you really look at a kind of a one-to-one or last-click attribute to examine whether or not there is that ROI coming from your multi-touch efforts?

D: I think that the short answer to that is we don’t obsess too much about the attribution model that we’re using. I think for most cases, we use first-touch, but that’s really just a sanity check to make sure things are okay in the big picture, like, we’re not diagnosing down to the page pass that says, “hey, if this visitor visits this page and visits this page, then they’re likely to – we don’t necessarily obsess about that. We find that there’s more value when we spend time and attention making sure the big picture things are working correctly, like is traffic going up? Month-on-month? Are we getting premium sign ups at the velocity and at the rate that we want? Are those converting properly? So we think more of content as a feeder into all these different things as opposed to obsessing about you know where it is and the attribution model. I think a lot of companies fall apart when they try to do that, because again, it shifts over time. There are always new channels popping up, rising and falling and consumer behaviour changes over time.

I personally know marketers at brands that most of the listeners of your podcast have probably heard of that have totally given up on attribution modelling. They’re just like, “yeah, you know, as long as the revenue number at the end of the day is going up, that’s all we really care about.” Otherwise, like I said, you end up with a lot of false precision and false confidence that says, “you know this thing is worth 25 percent.” Within this, if you put this under last click, it’s worth X percent and then you try to do some marketing voodoo around that, you will waste a lot of time with reporting when really, you could spend more time on making better content or making better campaigns with your sales team. It’s all about what is worth your time and attention. Usually, for most companies, they’re not going to be obsessing about their attribution models. There are some exceptions to that, but the variety of companies, especially startups, do not think about this until much later.

A: Where does content fit within a marketing team? I guess, if you think about when you first start your company, you’ve brought up a great point, it has to fit your business model in terms of, if you’re making content, then what purpose does it actually serve within your organization? But let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that content is something that you think fits within your organization or has been working for you. How do you scale a content team and where does the content team exist within marketing or just the organization in general?

D: I think it’s going to depend, again, based on the skills and the resources in the company. In my past experience, it’s set within the marketing team and there is a content marketing person or team dedicated to making sure that traffic’s going up to making sure that we have a regular cadence of output.

On scaling. There’s a pre-question to that, that you have something that’s working, so the assumption is that you actually have a process that outlines that if you create more content, you get more installs, or you get more revenue or whatever. So before you scale, that has to exist. That’s a checkbox that needs to be ticked. So how do you actually scale something? There are two ways that I’ve found that work. One is you hire more in-house people. The second way is you manage an outsourced army of freelancers. Either way, what you do is you come up with a strategy and then whoever executes it is up to whatever your skills and resources are available to you at the time. So, in-house, that means you’re hiring people who can execute the vision when you outsource it. It’s either going to an agency who ghostwrites a bunch of your stuff or you call them staff writers but they’re just not full-timers. The other option is to get freelance writers to do it.

A: Great, and I guess I want to be a little bit more specific to what content issues you see in your role and for marketers in Asia or a region. If you’re doing content in, for example, China, you just need to know Chinese, but if you’re across many different languages and different types of target audiences, how do you make sense about where do you kind of focus your efforts for your content? How do you decide what’s the best kind of way to expend your resources when you’re talking about content?

D: If I was a company listening to this podcast and I’m facing similar problems like, where do I expand next? My answer is going to be where you think the greatest revenue potential lies. Similarly, that’s how we think about content or where we put our marketing efforts and resources here in Asia. Where is the money coming from and where is the money likely to come from in the future? We make an educated guess based on that and we monitor just to make sure our hypothesis is in-sync with reality. So, similar to that, it doesn’t mean that you try to go and blast content everywhere, all at once. You look at the data that you have. Where are people visiting my content from? Where is the revenue coming from? Which languages, therefore, need to be prioritized? Which, sub-audiences, therefore, need to prioritized? You go from there.

If you take the language and geo lens away from it, it’s really thinking, which industry to go after? Which audiences do you go after? Which cities you go after? It’s the same kind of prioritization exercise. But, once you add languages and different countries, then you just need to be a bit more judicious about how your existing model would apply to those different countries.

A: Thank you for your time today David. For me this is really informative because I’ve been situations where I’ve had to think about where content fits within the companies I’ve worked at before and it’s always been a bit nebulous and kind of a lot of trial and error. So it’s really great to be able to chat with someone that’s been able to do it at the kind of level that you’ve been able to do it at at HubSpot. Before we go, I wanted to know, is there anything people should be aware of, like what you’re currently working on? Any developments that are happening at HubSpot that you’d like listeners to know about? How can people reach out to you if they want to ask you more questions or maybe have a chat with you?

D: One of the things we’re working on right now is a virtual summit for folks who want to better understand what marketing looks like in Asia. If that sounds like something you want to explore go to apacplaybook.com and you’ll be able to sign up there. If you want to connect with me on LinkedIn, please feel free to do so. I’ve also got a personal blog at themarketingstudent.com, where you’ll find that blog post I mentioned about the business models that fit a go-to-market strategy and in general, if you want to find out more about HubSpot, check out hubspot.com or check out our blog.

A: Great, thanks so much David. I’ll make sure to add those links to the show notes and on the website. It was really great chatting with you. Thanks so much.

D: Thanks Alex.

Podcast music by Ikson Music.

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