Kieran Flanagan

About Kieran Flanagan

Kieran is currently a VP of Marketing at HubSpot, responsible for leading the marketing efforts for our sales products, free tools and growth team. Before working in HubSpot, he was at Marketo working on their marketing in EMEA and prior to that he worked in as their Inbound marketing manager for EMEA. In that role, he launched their #SocialSuccess site in the UK, which reached its annual traffic target in 6 weeks. The site has since been launched in Germany, France and Japan.

In his Learn Inbound talk, Kieran discusses audience acquisition tactics that businesses of all sizes can use to ensure the work they’re doing leads to continual growth spurts.

Key Takeaways

  • You need to focus on the right targets. Small marketing teams are often guilty of trying to focus on too many targets at once.
  • You can easily find out who your competitors are with SEMrush. Find both common and uncommon keywords you can target, and identify what organic keywords are generating traffic for your competitors.
  • You can use Ahrefs to find out what content is attracting inbound likes and social shares for your competitors. BuzzSumo is also incredibly powerful at showing you the types of content that are performing best for them.
  • Run brainstorm sessions using Google Docs to gather ideas from insights. 30 minute brainstorms with everyone set to anonymous will make people feel more open to contributing any ideas they may have.

Video Transcription

So the question I ask myself is we all hear that good things come in small packages but is that really true? Well, if you're a dog lover like me, then small dogs for me are always better. This is one of the smallest Chihuahuas or something like that in the world. There's an ulterior motive. As marketers, we always have ulterior motives. To using a small dog in my presentation, studies have shown if you use small dogs or babies in your presentations, sentiment towards your presentation actually increases, but the dog is cool.

But there are times when big is just better. And I have like an addiction, this is really pathetic, to water parks. I love water parks. I don't know why. But like big slides are just better than small slides. This is the biggest slide in the world. It's actually in Brazil. It helps that it's in a country that's just amazing. And for marketers who are really focused on growth, there have never been so many opportunities and challenges in terms of growing an audience.

So the one thing we have access to is tons and tons of content that teaches us how to acquire an audience. And we also have access to lots and lots of tools. So we have access to I think over 2000 marketing tools. I think there was an infographic out recently that showed how many vendors there are in the marketing tool space. The problem for us is our competitors have access to all the same tools. So competition for audience has never been so fierce.

When I think about that, I think what is acquiring an audience for your brand like? It's a lot like acquiring wealth, or so I'm told. They tell you your first million is the hardest million to get. After you've got that initial million, you can leverage that to make wise investments and actually build on top of the money you have. And that's kind of like how I think about establishing your audience. Once you've acquired your audience, it's easy to leverage that audience to keep on growing.

And one of the examples I'll give is recently at HubSpot we launched... I've been saying for like two years I think we've been talking about it internally in HubSpot that podcasts are back. They are now really back. And we launched this Growth Show at our CMO, Mike Volpe. He talks to other CMOs from high scale growth companies about tactics and real-world things that have helped them scale. We use our audience to actually launch the podcast. I mean, two weeks ago it was the fifth most popular business podcast on iTunes. And then that podcast helps us to acquire a further audience and we keep scaling. So it’s way easier to do this stuff when you already have an established audience.

So let's talk about growth. How do we actually do these things? In my mind, there are four key components to a really great growth strategy.

The first one is goals and targets. Goals is do you understand the goal of your product or service or product and service? And do you understand who your ideal fit customer is and how you solve their problems? Target is do I understand what are my most important measurable targets and how am I actually going to execute against them at any given point in time. We want to gather insights across the websites that we have and our marketplace across our competitor's websites. We want to pull in insights to help us get really great ideas and experiments we can run to actually gain a lot of leverage and outgrow our competitors.

Experiments are one of the most important things you should be doing if you want to be a good marketer who actually outgrows your competitors. If you're just doing the exact same thing as every other company in your space, in your market, if you run the exact same tactics, the winner's going to be the one who actually adopted those earlier. There's an inherent advantage of being first in marketing. It's way easier to be out in front in marketing with all these new different things, and that actually is to try to catch up.

And the last thing is promote like hell. It's never been so important to be really great at promoting the awesome stuff you're doing. You really need to nail promotion. Go back to what I said earlier, lots of competitors, access to the same content, same tools. How do you promote the things you're doing so you get way more visibility than the other sites, the other competitors in your market space?

So in terms of goals and targets, you know as a marketer, your goal should always begin with who is your dream customer? Who is your ideal fit customer for that product and service you have? And how do you actually solve their problem? And how do you make their lives better? As a marketer, you should ask yourself that every single day because it's going to influence everything else you do.

And the companies who figure out those things are usually the ones who are able to scale really fast. So has anyone heard of Slack? Everyone should have heard of Slack. They've actually just opened offices in Dublin. They're still pre-IPO. You should still go to HubSpot first, but they're actually a good company, cofounded by the guy who did Flickr. They are growing phenomenally fast, building instant messaging application. Over 500,000 users at last count, over 170,000 of those are paid users. They're adding one million of ARR, Annual Recurring Revenue, every 11 days. That's scary numbers. And their goal is simply to solve the problem of information overload in the marketplace, and I'm sure everyone here experiences that in their daily lives. As knowledge workers, you actually lose 28% of your day; it's a horrible number, to constant interruptions. That's 2.1 hours every day you lose of productivity to all of these constant interruptions through email, all of these different channels. Slack are trying to solve that.

The interesting thing about Slack is they don't actually have competitors because generally their ideal fit customers don't know there's a solution that exists. They know they have a problem. They're like I've got so much noise in my daily life, my daily office life, but they don't know actually how Slack or any other product solves that problem. So Slack is simply trying to educate them on how Slack can enrich their lives, make their lives better, solve those problems.

So our perfect example of a company who has a very simple goal, they understand what their goal is. They understand their ideal fit customer and they understand how they can educate them on how their product makes their lives better.

Uber, I'm sure we all know Uber, taxi application, same as Hailo. They're valued at $41 billion. Holy shit, we wish we had shares in Uber, that's amazing. Still a privately owned company, very simplistic goal. They want to solve the problem of how horrible it used to be to actually get a taxi. Everyone's experienced being outside. For me, on Camden Street, empty pockets, trying to get a taxi, no money, in the rain, it's a really bad experience. Uber simply made that a lot better. The smart thing they did in their early days is they actually just went to people who would appreciate that service and share it with their network. So they sponsored tech conferences around San Francisco and gave those people free rides because they're digitally savvy and they're going to be out there sharing that experience on social, and that's exactly what they did. They tweeted about it, they showed people, hey, this is this cool app. You should try it out, too, and word of mouth just spread.

Again, a company who understands their goal enriches the life of their ideal fit customer. And HubSpot, we obsess over how can we help marketers and salespeople grow their business? We really obsess over the goals and challenges of our customers. Dharmesh, who's a co-founder of HubSpot, all he tells everyone to do is soul for the customer. Every decision starts with soul for the customer.

And we have these things called buyer personas. Bryan talked about them earlier on. We understand who our ideal fit customers are. This is Marketing Mary. She's a fictition representation of a certain segment of people that we sell into. They have all of these goals, challenges in common, and we understand why our product makes our lives better. From the marketing team to the services team to the sales team, we all know these things. And that's helped HubSpot grow pretty fast as well. This is out of date. We're with 13,000 customers now for your offices. But, again, we understand what the goal is of our product. We understand our ideal fit customer and how our product makes our lives better. It's a really important part of having a growth strategy.

So growth spurts happen when you understand the goal of your product or service and educate your ideal fit customers on how it solves their problems.

The next thing is targets. You want to have measurable targets and know which ones you should be prioritizing at any point in time. The problem with small marketing teams, this is what I've experienced anyway, is that small marketing teams are trying to do it all. If you take a typical B2B funnel, or like trying to get visitors or trying to get leads, you're trying to get sales qualified leads, customers, or trying to improve the conversion rates of all those points across the funnel, and a small marketing team will go, well, we'll try to do a little bit of all of this, and they don't make any real impact against any one of those metrics.

And, HubSpot, when we launch in a new country, we don't focus on anything else other than traffic and subscribers, 12 to 18 months, traffic, subscribers. What are traffic subscribers? What are we doing to acquire traffic subscribers? Because we're trying to acquire an audience that we can leverage to grow into that market. So we launched in Germany and Spain just last year. We already see huge growth because we only focus on two metrics. We don't worry about anything else.

Big marketing teams, this drives me crazy. Talk about best practice, I fucking hate best practice. Talk about strategy, blah, blah, blah, blah strategy. That's all they do. They just sit there, process documents. And they think you should be executing against all of these metrics. Eighty to ninety percent of your time should be execution of marketing, not waffling about best practice and strategy.

So growth... Growth spurts need constant execution against measurable targets. If you don't have those, if you're not doing that, you're not going to scale. In HubSpot, we use something called Trello. Everyone heard of Trello? Such an awesome application, and we have these things called Trello Boards. Every month we work on monthly cycles, new goals, new targets, what other things we're trying to influence. And we have a traffic light system. Green means we're on target. We're going to hit this goal target for the month. Orange means that we're slightly off, need to talk about this. If we're actually going to try to hit this goal, we should actually get some extra resources to make sure that this happens. Red means we're like dead in the water and we should talk about why that is to make sure it never happens again.

So after goals and targets, we want to gather insights. Insights are the things that are going to help us come up with ideas to really help us scale. Here's a horrible secret about marketing that marketing never really talk about. And that's that not everything we do works and that's okay. It is more than okay to fail. I've had some shocking campaigns since I joined HubSpot, like things that just died, did nothing. I'm perfectly okay with that. I've learned a bunch of things. And what works sometimes actually surprises us.
So back in my core SEO days, when I think it was about 12 months of experience, I had about 15 affiliate sites. Only like two of them are actually successful. And we had this site, me and my brother, that sold sneakers. We thought we were fashionable. I still do but... And we occupied a lot of the first... A lot of the first page of Google, our site had a lot of good rankings, but we wanted to get an extra listing in there. So this was before... What's the big shoe site that everyone goes on about customer service? It's before Zappos started doing their awesome videos for shoes. I'm taking full credit for that. This is probably five or six years ago. And we just bought shoes and filmed ourselves wearing the shoes and built huge amounts of links to those pages, because, hey, Google aren't going to penalize themselves. And they worked really well, so we sold the site, but to date, those videos, those crappy videos, and some of the runners and sneakers are beat up. They're pretty beat up. It generated over like 1.8 million views, just tons of traffic, got us a lot more money when we actually wanted to sell that site.

So not everything we do, some of the things actually surprise us. But we can really stack the cards in our favor to validate our ideas before we actually go ahead and invest time and resources. Has anyone heard of The Best Game of All Time? It's a video? No. Shit. Just me, okay. Subbuteo is like a table football game, like flick the guys. I was so competitive I wouldn't play with anyone else. I'd to like flick against myself. The cool thing about Subbuteo is that they first advertised Subbuteo in Boy's Own Magazine. This is the actual advertisement for the game. It didn't exist. No game existed. It was a thought in someone's head. They got 2000 orders. This is like what the first one looked like. It looked better when I actually had it. So they had to make the game. They made the game the latter half of 1947. It was really successful; they sold it for a lot of money, validating ideas before they ever go live.

Today it's never been easier for us to actually do this. It's criminal if we're not actually doing these things before we invest time and effort in different projects. SEMrush is one of the best tools for doing this in terms of search. It has way too many things for me to actually go through. Some of the things I really like is it just tells you who all your competitors are. Could you imagine doing this in previous years, having to go through all the yellow pages, trying to figure out who your competitors are? It just gives you all of them in a table. There are all your competitors. It gives you things like common keywords, all of the keywords you both rank in Google for, the top 20. It gives you things like SE keywords, which are all the keywords this site ranks in the top 20 of Google for, tons of amazing information. I can start to dig into, hey, where do we overlap in terms of keywords in Google but also what keywords do they rank for that I don't? Maybe there's some things that I should be taking note of, investing some time and effort to make sure I appear in Google for those things.

My favorite part is it tells you that this is for Lovin Dublin. It just tells you all of the keywords you're actually ranking for. It tells you the keyword, tells you the position, tells you how much search volume that keyword gets, and also tells you the cost per click for that keyword. The higher the cost per click, the more valuable that keyword is. No one, unless they're absolutely terrible at this stuff, invests money in high cost keyword if they're not making something equivalent back.

The other cool thing is I can dig in and see all of the content from my competitor's sites in terms of what content is attracting the most inbound links? That is a great indicator that this content, this topic, is resonating with their audience, actually gather that information in and start to figure out should I be producing content like this?

It's way harder to get a link than it is to get social shares. But if you want to get both, there's a tool called... It's probably not called this, but Ares, that's what I call it. People call it different things. But I can go in and look at links each piece of content's got from my competitor's site and all of the social shares, gathering insights, figuring out what's working for my market, what's working for my competitors, help me make better decisions on the things I should be doing.

BuzzSumo is just an incredible tool. They've added so many different features to this lately. I can't go through them all, but some of the things I like is it shows you either by topic or by your competitor's site what are the average social shares the content's getting from your competitor's site, broken up by networks. Everyone always asks me, should I invest time in Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. Do not just make that decision. Go look at the data. Where your competitors getting most of their social shares? Invest your time and effort in there. And it shows you what content formats are performing better. Does the audience like long form content, How-To articles infographics, all of those different things. You can gather a ton of insights just by using these tools to help you make better decisions about the type of things you should be doing to grow your audience.

The next one is my favorite, experimentation. I know why I said that, it's the experimenting. How do you run experiments as a marketer to actually acquire more audience? You've gathered insights and you can start to feed that into your actual experiments.

I really love this quote from Niels Bohr. He's a psychiatrist, a Nobel Prize winner. He said an expert is a person who has found out by his own painful experience all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field. All of us as marketers should remember that because it means they fucked up a bunch and its okay to do that. I think the reason that we don't take risks and we won't scale is because we're worried about getting shouted at. No one should shout at someone for trying to do things, define tactics they can leverage to go faster.

Some of the things you want to think about is you want to distribute those insights across your team, figure out you can run some brainstorm sessions. I hate their traditional way of running brainstorm sessions with your team to come up with ideas, throw people in a room and then hope they actually come up with something creative. People feel way more comfortable doing this at their desk. Like spin up a Google Doc, add in what you want people to put in and set everyone as anonymous. People are going to be free to give really great ideas and they're also going to feel more free to give truthful feedback on the ideas that are in there. There are no bad ideas when you run brainstorm sessions, but honestly some of them are actually terrible.

Think about improving all the insights we gather from competitor sites. Think about improving on the content that they actually produced. Like it's already been popular. How can you actually improve upon it and make something way better. So if I'm in the fitness niche, I know CrossFit is really topical at the moment. It's getting a ton of traffic. Go to Google Trends, lots of people like CrossFit. I can go find an article using BuzzSumo that's got a ton of social shares. I can also see what networks it's successful in, probably helped me with my content promotion. If I'm going to run some paid campaigns, I can go to something like Open Site Explorer, see if it's attracted a bunch of inbound links. I can go, hey, this is a great article. I wonder if I can make this better. I look at the actual article that's doing so well. It's just this, less than 20 exercises. I can add imagery, I can add video, I can add way more in-depth content. I can make it way more actionable. I can create a downloadable tracker in Google Docs. People can track their progress. And I actually then can create a piece of content that's way better than the original.

So you want to think about what are the things you can actually improve upon. Can you make them longer? Can you make them more actionable? Can you make them more in depth? Can you add different formats there? That's how you'll leverage the insights you have got in this second step.

I think length is a really interesting one. This is a study from a company called serpIQ that show there's a high correlation between long form content and the content that ranked in the top 10 at Google. That doesn't really mean that I should go out and start doing long form content because BuzzSumo actually gives you this by social shares. You can start to do some digging around to see what content length performs best for your audience, but definitely something to actually test and experiment on.

When you're small and you're trying to acquire traffic/subscribers because we're trying to grow our audience, you should still consider syndicating your content across bigger sites and blogs. That's how you get in front of a bigger audience than you actually already have. So Buffer app, people heard of Buffer app, I wish they would fix their site for mobile, but Buffer app, everyone knows their story. Buffer app did a lot of guest posts in the early days. The brand did very well. There's another company that shows how well this works as well. Groovehq, they make help desk software. Their blog is really cool. They're documenting their growth from 0 to a million in AR. I could have gotten that wrong, but something like that. But you can see all of their referral traffic they've got from some of the actual guest posting they've been doing, like phenomenal amount of traffic. So consider how I can get blogs to actually syndicate my content so I can access a bigger audience than I already have.

You use those insights, you use the same tools to find out what their audience is actually like, what resonates with them. If I'm doing this for Buffer app, I want to guest post in Buffer app. Well, I know their audience, like social, that's not that surprising. They like things with numbers in them. All humans seem to like 10 of these, 12 of these. We're hardwired to like those kinds of posts. They like a lot of information about Facebook and Twitter. They want to know the latest information in those. They want to know how they can use those platforms to actually scale their own brand and scale their own audience. They kind of like simplistic content; like things that are very just actionable. They don't have to think too much about 53 free image sources for your blog. It's not very in-depth or complex. It's just very helpful. So I can start to make great insights and content that's going to resonate with the audiences I want to post on.

The other thing is how do I turn that referral traffic into something good for my brand? Groovehq did something really interesting where they build specific landing pages for their referral traffic. So this is one for copy bloggers. You can see they build a whole landing pages for anyone who clicks through from their guest post and Copyblogger’s website and they try to turn that into subscribers. This only is worth doing if you're posting on a site that gets a lot of traffic and you're expecting quite a bit to come back to your site. But think through how do I capture this referral traffic and turn it into something valuable for my brand, my company.

When you're bigger, the great thing about it is when you're bigger you can get people to post for you. On a big site I've got lots of traffic and subscribers, I'll just wait for guest posts, people to actually want to post on my site. You should actually be proactive about this. What are the topics you're weak in? Go find people that are actually good at that. BuzzSumo, they have a report that shows top authors by actual topics. So I can go here are the best content creators on inbound marketing. Who's got a lot of articles published? What are their average shares? What are their total shares? And be proactive and reach out to these people and say, hey, we've got a big site. You guys are experts in this. I would love if you would create some content for us.

Does anyone know what time I started at? Five minutes, right. Yes, so if you wanted people to blog on inbound marketing, they're usually all going to be HubSpotters. These all work for HubSpot. We are pretty good at growing content on inbound marketing it turns out.

Okay, five minutes. I'm actually way behind where I should be. So Bryan talked about this. You're in a boring industry. You can't create content that's socially engaging. Leverage the art of chunking. I love chunking. It sounds weird. It's something from neuro linguistic programming, NLP. Chunking helps you think laterally really fast. I'll bring you through a really quick example. Chunking up means you're going to a more abstract piece of information. Chunking down means you're going to a more specific piece of information. So go back to my fashion example.

If I wanted to create a piece of content that reaches a broader audience than just people that are interested in high tops, I go what are high tops an example of? Clothes. What are clothes an example of? Fashion. What's fashion an example of? Tribalism. I go, okay, that's pretty abstract. I'm going to come back down. What's an example of Tribalism? Music. What's an example of music? Hip hop. Well, that's a pretty interesting connection. I can do an infographic that charts the evolution of sneakers as worn by famous hip hop artists.

Think laterally fast, think outside of the content, your audience you have. Movoto are a really great example of this. They're a real estate blog. You can create content about real estate that went from 2000 monthly visitors to 18 million. And that's what they do. They leverage chunking. They create content like this that appeals for a wider audience, has lots of Marvel comic book geeks that are going to love this stuff. It performs well in social networks and you can see here it performs well in places like Reddit.

So the last one, promotion in four minutes. I knew this would happen. So I presented at a conference in The US last year, all about promotion. If you want to read it, you can go there, because this is going to be the very condensed version. So quick fire round, so steal all the people's content. Don't quote me on that. So, does anyone know is a very cool tool. You can use to overlay CTAs in other people's content and share in social networks. So I can go to BuzzSumo’s trending content app. I can look to see what's trending in my marketplace. I go to I add in that URL. I create a link. And when I share it and people click on it, you see the overlay down here? The CTA? I can actually cross-promote my own content on the bottom of those blog posts.

You want to create a social calendar that's based upon when your audience is actually active. It's really, really important. I use Followerwonk to find out when are my Twitter followers actually active on Twitter? When should I be actually sharing my content? Use Facebook insights to do the same. When should you actually be sharing this content on those social networks? Not that anyone gives a fuck about Google Plus, but if you can use Timings+, which is a similar tool, and go and find out when people are active on Google Plus, I can tell you that it's never but you can do it anyway. You can use Bufferapp, which I was trying to do. I think I'm actually tweeting about my own deck right now, but I'm 10 minutes behind, so it's all fucked up. But you can use Buffer app to actually cue up your content promotion at times when people are actually active and you can follow the 10-4-1 rule. Use 10 pieces of other people's content, but create links, 4 pieces of your own content and then 1 landing page, something you're actually promoting.

Amplification is great if you have a very small audience and you can get bigger reach. I'm going to go through this really quick. So Twitter ads, the beauty of Twitter ads, and they work really well, is you're just promoting your best organic content on Twitter. The rules of Twitter or visual tweets get five times more engagement. Stats get 17% more retweets; quotes get 19% more retweets. So figure out what works for your audience and then just promote it. The great thing about these kinds of ads is people engage with paid ads. Could you imagine people sharing a display advertisement? Never going to happen unless they're mental. People actually do that with social ads if you get them right.

Facebook, hard to get right, but worth putting the effort and time in to test. There's really two types of advertisements that you can promote content to. The right-hand column is good for retargeting. The news feed post is good for actually your core piece of content that you actually want to boost. We know only 6% of people will actually see our content and we just post it. We actually want to boost that. The retargeting one is good for custom audiences. So you can retarget people that come to your site, retarget your blog subscribers by uploading a list, retarget people at different life cycle stages in your database by uploading those lists to Facebook.

LinkedIn is more expensive than the other two. I just put it in here but it's really good for lead generation, not so good for content promotion but we're testing. If you're going to do LinkedIn, keep your ads really tight because your cost per click is quite expensive. The interesting thing about LinkedIn is 64% of all corporate social traffic comes through LinkedIn. So it's becoming a huge driver of traffic. They have their blog platform and they have groups. They've had groups for ages but groups are awesome. There a lot of discussions in groups, a lot of different members. If your content's relevant and you can add value, you should do that. There's over 200 conversations taken place per minute in these groups, like definitely leverage those. Remember all the people that shared that original piece of content that we made better?

Well, who linked to the original piece? Who shared the original piece? Create an outreach campaign and go, hey, I've created something way, way better. You should actually, guys, you should check it out. And the last thing I'm going to go through, not going through, but the last thing is when you have an audience it all becomes way easier. So go into things like Google Analytics or Marketing Analytics, web analytics, figure out what's your most popular content, what's getting a ton of page views, a ton of engagements, a ton of social shares, and figure out how you can cross-promote the new things you're doing. At HubSpot, we're always cross-promoting content on popular pieces of content. Boom, grow, boom, me. Thanks very much, guys.

you might also enjoy

Share your email address and we’ll keep you updated on all upcoming marketing related events and news so you never miss a beat...