Andrew Dumont, VP of Marketing at Bitly, got hooked on growing and scaling companies when he was only 18 years old. Since then, his impressive list of accomplishments includes tenures at Tatango, Moz, and Seesmic, successfully acquired by Hootsuite. He also founded and took Stride as a side project to a ProsperWorks acquisition.
Prior to Bitly, Andrew served as the Entrepreneur in Residence at Betaworks, the startup studio in New York behind companies like Digg, Giphy, and Bitly. He is also a member of Forbes 30 under 30 class of 2014 for Marketing and Advertising.
Here are some of the themes covered in this episode:
Digital Advertising Has Direct ROI
The cost of implementing growth channels such as SEO, Content Marketing, and Social media can sometimes be difficult to measure. It’s even more complicated to calculate exactly how much revenue each one regenerates. In the best case, the ROI on most marketing channels is subjective.
The beauty of paid is that it is really the only channel where, if you fine tune and you really nail it, you can give it $1.00 and it can produce a $1.50. It’s rare in marketing to find channels like that, where if you get it to that point you know with a pretty high level of confidence and if you invest in it, it’ll produce the outcome that you want...I look at it as it is that constant channel for us that has that predictability to it, more so than others.
Using Digital Advertising as a Long Term Strategy
Digital advertising is not only for quick wins. It’s an essential part of your long-term strategy in conjunction with the rest of your growth channels.
The people that fail with it are the ones that think they are going to be able to give paid money and it’s going to produce money back to them immediately, just like any other channel. I think that the ones that don’t succeed with paid are the ones that have that mindset... It really is a longer term channel and a longer term investment because it does take so much refining to really nail it.
It takes an investment of time, energy, and money to fine-tune your targeting and identify what works.
Account-Based Marketing for Freemium Products
Founded in 2008, Bitly is one of the more mature products in the marketing technology landscape and has become the household name associated with link shortening tool.
Rebranding your product from a free tool into an high-value enterprise level software solution is no easy task.
That’s one of the big values of having a freemium model, is that you can leverage a lot of your free user base against paid, against content, or against email marketing specifically to really drive those exact accounts.
Andrew’s team uses account-based marketing to target against the specific users who may have low brand awareness of Bitly’s new tools.
Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ander: It’s always fun to do podcast interviews where I get to interview somebody that I interviewed previously. Pleasure to speak to you once again, Andrew.
Andrew Dumont, VP of Marketing at Bitly. How are you doing?
Andrew: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me.
Ander: Yeah. We’re so happy to have you on. Here at Instapage, we talk a lot about advertising, we talk a lot about personalization, and we love hearing from people like you who are running marketing at organizations like Bitly about how paid is integrating into other marketing channels… how, on a macro level, how everything is working together. But, before we dive into that, Andrew, let’s hear a little bit about you.
You’ve got this really, really cool background with companies like Moz, another company that you built that ended up being acquired, you spent some time at Betaworks. But how about in your own words? What is the thirty-second nutshell of your professional journey?
Andrew: Yeah sure. I’ve been doing early-stage start-ups since I was 18 and I got hooked on building companies and scaling companies. It’s been something that I’ve been addicted to and I’ve loved the process ever since. I started my career there and I’ve essentially moved around to a number of companies, some of the companies that you mentioned. really have been focused in that growth stage portion of the company and it’s been a lot of fun. So like you said, now I’m running marketing at Bitly which is one of those household names that I kind of grew up on the internet with.
Ander: Exactly right.
Andrew: But yeah, it’s been a ton of fun and a great challenge to try to grow this business now. So, yeah, always in a growth sort of role or a marketing sort of role and, you know, I generally like B2B and software and services businesses and that’s kind of where I’ve spent most of my time.
Ander: Awesome. So, given that we’re talking much of this in the context of paid acquisition and digital advertising, do you remember in your journey as a marketer, as a growth marketer, or however you want to define yourself, the first time that you really encountered advertising and paid media as a growth channel?
Andrew: Yeah, I think it was in the first start-up that I did, actually, and it was just really just poking around I think with Google and trying to figure it out back then. Obviously it’s matured a lot since then. But that was my first introduction.
Ander: And even though you’re not in this stuff day-to-day – I know you have a Director of Demand Generation or someone who’s in a similar role over at Bitly – what is your philosophy of paid acquisition that’s evolved over the course of your career so far?
Andrew: The beauty of paid is that it is really the only channel where, if you fine tune and you really nail it, you can give it $1.00 and it can produce a $1.50. It’s rare in marketing to find channels like that, where if you get it to that point you know with a pretty high level of confidence and if you invest, it’ll produce the outcome that you want. Obviously it takes a while to get there but, I look at it as it is that constant channel for us that has that predictability to it, more so than others.
It’s fantastic and, you know, when you think about the split between the different channels that you leverage, paid has to be one of them and generally, from my experience, about 10-20% of spend goes towards that paid channel. That’s kind of where I’ve seen the sweet spot.
But in terms of the way that it’s evolved… For modern marketing organizations that are doing content marketing, it’s obviously a great boost there as well. So, you can kind of think about it obviously from the direct demand and capturing new customers but you can also see it as this kind of longer life-cycle marketing piece to boost and get exposure for the content marketing pieces that are obviously, I think, a key piece to most marketing orgs today.
Ander: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. As much as anything, it’s a distribution channel.
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely.
Ander: You said something interesting about how it’s one of the few channels you can really invest $1.00 in and get $1.50 out of it, assuming that you’re testing appropriately, that you’re targeting the right audience, that you have your personas really locked down, and you’re continuing to test.
Ander: There are some marketers out there who say that paid is a waste of money in an early-stage company. In a late-stage company when you’ve got this massive budget, maybe it’s worth experimenting more. But, to kind of play devil’s advocate here, why do you think some people are really not doing well with paid or investing their resources poorly and getting poor results?
Andrew: That’s a good question. I think a lot of it is just sophistication, actually. Number one, there’s a huge number of platforms that you can leverage. Picking the platform is part of the process, which is challenging. Number two, once you find the right platform, finding the right segments, finding the right messaging, is challenging and it takes a lot of time.
Also, generally what you see in an early-stage company is that the amount of free time, or the amount of time that you can invest in growth, is fairly limited unless you have, some good and sophisticated resources there. I think that the challenge is really just an investment piece and a sophistication piece that is hard to find, frankly.
Paid is just one of those channels that… It’s not easy. It takes time and it takes testing and it takes maneuvering to what the market is telling you or what the channel is telling you.
And I think it’s really tough to nail it. That’s the TL;DR.
Ander: What I’m hearing you say, and what I’ve heard other people say as well, is that when you’re in this very, very early-stage company and you really need to get growth now… It’s possible that paid might not be the lowest hanging fruit if you’re not executing on it appropriately.
Something that you’ve spoken and written about in the past, is the difference between going for the long gain versus going for the short gain. And of course, you can look at this in terms of content, in terms of SEO, in terms of a number other growth channels.
How do you view paid acquisition in relation to the long versus the short gain?
Andrew: I think it’s the same kind of mindset. The people that fail with it are the ones that think they are going to be able to give paid money and it’s going to produce money back to them immediately, just like any other channel. I think that the ones that don’t succeed with paid are the ones that have that mindset.
To your point, it really is a longer term channel and a longer term investment because it does take so much refining to really nail it. And actually, we’re still working on it, frankly, because it is such a challenging thing.
But yeah, I think it’s really just a short-term mindset that prevents people from being able to leverage it and I think that’s why you get people that kind of have that negative sort of mindset towards it. It’s because they’ve thrown money on Facebook ads or whatever and they’ve haven’t gotten any money out of it and they say paid doesn’t work. Those are the same people that write a blog post and say content marketing doesn’t work. Same kind of deal, you know?
Ander: Yeah, yeah. I’m very familiar with hearing that story as well, about content.
Ander: You briefly mentioned Bitly, so let’s shift towards what you guys are doing there and some of what you’re dealing with at the moment.
This is obviously a conversation that marketers in pretty much every company that has any sort of freemium business model are dealing with, and it’s one of the things that I see you guys working with at Bitly. You have these new enterprise tools, which frankly look awesome.
There’s a challenge associated with getting people from the free tool to the paid tool and obviously that’s where your revenue comes from.
Where does paid come into play with upgrading users from the free to the paid tool in conjunction with the rest of what you’re doing in a marketing organization?
Andrew: So I’ll just pause on the challenge, I think, that exists for Bitly. The inherited sort of perception for us is that, you know, we’re a free link-shortener for Twitter. And it is, I would say, very, very difficult to get people from that general perception to an enterprise-level software product that is in the $1000-dollar-a-month sort of range. I think that’s one of the exciting challenges for me frankly, from a marketing perspective. That was one of the things that got me over here. It’s just such an interesting challenge where people have broad, general awareness but, they you don’t really have great understanding of what the product offering is today.
To your question specifically, the way that we’re thinking about paid in our world… The first focus for us was really building this sort of in-bound machine and building the channels that build repeatable, consistent, lead volume.
Over the past six months, we’ve shifted more towards an account-based marketing approach. And I’ll get to why that plugs into the paid side. But what that has allowed us to do is take these in-bound channels that we’ve built and basically turn them towards more of the accounts that we want to talk to.
That’s part of the sophistication around who our current customer is today, who we want our customer to be, and creating an ideal profile of our ideal customer. And that’s kind of what makes up our account that we’re targeting today.
Now what we’re doing in terms of leveraging our free product and paid acquisition is taking those named accounts that we have and doing some remarketing stuff on the free users that log in on named accounts and doing direct paid acquisition against named accounts for the people that are not using the free product. We have this really cool split and that’s one of the big values of having a freemium model, is that you can leverage a lot of your free user base against paid, against content, or against email marketing specifically to really drive those exact accounts.
So that’s kind of how we’re leveraging it – we’re leveraging free usage, essentially, against paid acquisition and trying to expand visibility to those named accounts with paid acquisition, which has, actually, been pretty effective for us.
Ander: That’s really cool to hear that. I’d love it if you could elaborate on exactly what you mean by advertise against those who are using the free version of the product.
Andrew: We’re basically taking our free usage data, right, so we have our named accounts that we’re going after and, you know, we have a number of those named accounts are free users and they are active free users. But their awareness of our enterprise product is probably pretty low. So we’re taking that usage data and we’re basically targeting those people and those accounts through paid acquisition.
Ander: Gotcha. It’s no secret that there are other link-shorteners out there. I’m over-simplifying the product and there’s a lot more that you guys have going on.
And this is something that I imagine you experienced at Stride as well, when you basically built this CRM in this incredibly crowded market and you got it acquired. Ultimately it was a success for you.
How do you approach advertising and marketing in general when you are in a crowded market where there are so many marketing technology tools, so many enterprise tools available?
Andrew: Yeah, I think it’s super tough but it’s… the way that we’ve thought about it is, you know, we don’t want to play in the link-shortener market. Even though that’s the thing that I would say we own today.
We really want to step into a new market and we’re kind of actually more in the customer experience world now. That’s kind of where we’re focusing and where I think our enterprise product sits really well within.
I think the key thing there is finding the segments outside of what you own today or where it’s very crowded and kind of stepping into potentially emerging markets or newer categories and trying to establish yourself there. That’s kind of how we’re thinking about it, actually.
Ander: One of the things that we believe here at Instapage is that every promotion needs a page and this is the lowest hang fruit for lowering the cost of customer acquisition. And that landing pages function natural extension of an ad to articulate the unique value proposition of a product to a specific segment of target personas.
Ander: And what that comes down to for us is an increasing level of advertising personalization. And obviously, truly getting into one-on-one advertising where marketing is not something that is easy to do. But I think we can both agree that the one-size-fits-all approach to advertising really does not work anymore. How does personalization fit into how you think about growth and marketing in general?
Andrew: Yeah. I mean, so it totally makes sense. I think this is where marketing has to go and it’s where it is going. The days of receiving a promotion or an advertisement that is not relevant to you or your interests or the platform you’re consuming it on, all those things… those are going away. I think that’s better, actually, for the internet as a whole. So, when I think about personalization as a marketer, I think it’s the thing that you should always strive for. And, we’re getting closer. I think the tools are still relatively immature on this stage. Optimizely is doing some really cool stuff and there’s players that are definitely producing cool tech for this.
But, that’s where we always want to get to. If I could have a page specifically for every named account that speaks specifically to their challenges, to their business specifically, to, call out the company that they’re with by name… Having that sort of experience is the thing that’s really going to change conversion rates significantly and also better the experience for the people that are landing on the page. That’s where everything has to go and that’s where I think, as a marketer, you need to consistently and constantly kind of push yourself to become more personalized, become more targeted to the individuals that you’re speaking to.
Ander: Could not agree more. And on that note, what else do you think is coming in the future of this space, in the future of spending dollars on your marketing efforts?
Andrew: I think there’s gonna be a lot of consolidation of tech. If you look at the space it’s been super interesting to watch… I mean, I’ve essentially been in marketing technology for ten years now. Just in number of tools that exist and how specialized those tools are, has been amazing to me. If you look at the LUMAscape of all the marketing tech, it’s incredible, right?
Andrew: So I think there’s gonna be a consolidation in software, which I think should be good for marketers.
But I also think that, you know, to your point on the personalization… It’s something that we’re thinking about as well. We have interesting data on consumption patterns of millions of individuals. What types of links they like clicking on, the category of those links, when they click on them, what device that they’re on… And that gives us a really interesting picture on, you know, the way that we can help marketers have better communication to those people. I think that’s a huge thing that you kind of nailed with that question.
Ander: Awesome. Now, as somebody who is in a leadership role at Bitly, you’re overseeing everything that’s going on with marketing. Obviously you have a lot of other things to think about outside of paid and you have somebody who manages all of your digital advertising efforts themselves.
What advice do you have for other VPs, or CMOs, or people who are in more of a strategic marketing role when it comes to working with their paid channels and incorporating that into the rest of how they think about what they’re doing with their marketing?
Andrew: That’s a good question. I think the first thing is you have to find very, very talented people for every one of the channels that you invest in.
I was lucky enough to find somebody great there and he’s been a huge asset. I think having somebody, number one, that just has a sophistication and has the knowledge to think about paid in the bigger picture and has the capacity to think that way is critical. Because, like you said, it’s now a key distribution piece for everything that you’re doing from a marketing perspective. It’s obviously easier said than done but I think that’s a big piece.
The other piece that we recently took on was, you know, I took over the sales development team which is, essentially, the first touch on all the leads that we bring in the door. I think that’s been very powerful as a marketer.
So, anyone who’s in, like, enterprise SaaS or anything where you capture leads and then you don’t really know what happens after that point, I think it’s really, really important to understand what’s happening once the lead comes in the door, what that conversation’s like, and what’s happening on the front lines.
That’s been a really powerful thing for us frankly as a team to understand what we’re doing, how it’s working, and how it’s not working, and being able to adapt from there. I’m a huge advocate of marketing, owing or at least being heavily involved in the sales development process in an enterprise assess sort of environment.
Ander: Well, Andrew, we share many similar philosophies which is one of the reasons that it’s especially enjoying to interview someone like yourself. So, once again, thank you so much for coming on. It’s been a real, real pleasure having you on our flagship podcast here at Instapage. We like to ask everyone who comes on the show, is there anything that anyone listening to this interview, is there anything that they can do to check you guys out specifically? Maybe something they should specifically look at on your website or whatever it may be?
Andrew: Definitely swing by Bitly.com and check out the enterprise page. I think it’s interesting to get some background of what we’re trying to do there. That’s a good place to start. We actually re-platformed all of our tools – the free product, the paid product on Bitly – so if you haven’t logged in for a while, it’s a beautiful interface now. It’s awesome and the team has been hard at work on it. Definitely check back in. I know it’s been around for a while and it’s cool to kind of see it evolve.
Ander: Awesome. Andrew, once again, thank you. Thank you so much. Pleasure having you on the show.
Andrew: Yeah. Thanks for having me.