Building Brand Awareness and Defining Your Goals with Lola.com's Mike Volpe
Building Brand Awareness and Defining Your Goals with Lola.com's Mike Volpe
Today’s conversation is with Mike Volpe, Chief Executive Officer at Lola.com, and host of The Agile Operations podcast. Before Lola.com, Mike Volpe was the Chief Marketing Officer at HubSpot and Chief Marketing Officer at Cybereason. While there, he started The Growth Show to create brand awareness among c-level executives Throughout his career, podcasting has always an important part of his marketing puzzle, even now as CEO. He believes in the power of audio and video as a marketing tool that can build a community and make a better brand impression. For Mike, podcasting is a different way to reach his audience, establish a deeper connection, and add personality to the brand. Hear about how to define your goals and use podcasting as a tactic to build awareness for your brand in today's conversation.
Mike VolpeCEO, Lola.com
Lindsay Tjepkema: How human is your brand? Does it have a personality? An opinion? A voice? Maybe even a raspy voice, like I have right now as I struggle my way through a cold? No, but really. Does your audience have a reason to trust your brand, to rely on it for valuable, relevant information? Do your buyers feel like your brand is really speaking to them? That it knows them? Your content tells the story of your brand and shows, like this one that you're listening to right now in particular, have the power to build real relationships with your audience. But how? I'm Lindsay Tjepkema, CEO and co- founder of Casted, the first and only marketing platform built around brand podcasts, and this is our podcast. Mike Volpe, as you will hear, is someone I have personally followed for many years as I navigated my way from first time marketing director to now as marketing leader turned CEO. He was one of the first marketers at HubSpot, then he became their CML. Then he became the CFO of Cybereason, And now he's the CEO at lola. com. He knows a thing or two about growing a compelling magnetic brand, and one thing that has been a common thread over the years since his earliest days at HubSpot, it's serving his audience with innovative, relevant shows they'll love. Why? Well, you'll hear Mike explain, but it all comes back to humanizing your brand and building relationships that last and that also lead to conversions. How do you do it? Well, Mike and I get into that too.
Mike Volpe: I'm Mike Volpe, the CEO of lola.com.
Lindsay Tjepkema: So Mike, I am excited to have you here. I've told you in the past that I've actually been a big fan for a while. I actually go back to, I think, 2011 watching a weekly video show that you were doing at HubSpot with Karen Rubin. I think that's a great place to start this conversation because reaching your audience in myriad different ways has been a thing for you for... it's not new. It's something you've been doing for almost a decade if not longer. But I found you almost a decade ago. So tell me how that... I guess let's start with video first and just kind of looking at different ways to reach your audience. How and why for you? What did that look like?
Mike Volpe: Yeah, that was the first, let's call it, podcast. Because I sort of feel like the lines between video and audio are kind of blurred to a certain degree. But the first one that I was really part of and it came from a couple different places. The first thing was that HubSpot, which at the time was a small company, no one had heard of. It's a little different now for a lot of marketers, many salespeople have heard of it now. But at the time we were trying to a name for ourselves and build a market and sort of create a movement, and we had done a lot of blogging. We had a really successful free tool called Website Grader, but we hadn't done much in either audio or video aside from some webinars. Around that time was when live streaming of video was sort of just getting going. It wasn't like today where you have a YouTube app and you hit a button or Instagram and you hit a button and inaudible live streaming. That was not how stuff worked then, but there were a couple dedicated platforms, like Quick and like Blip TV. I'm trying to remember what they were, but people were figuring it out. But I remember we had to buy this special server and it was hard work to figure this out. But it was at the point it was like you actually could do it and for the first time you could actually have a live video show. So not recording a video and putting it up, but a live show that people watch synchronously, and I think that the rise of Twitter was a key thing that fed into it because we use Twitter as a key discussion point during the show. So many people would watch the video stream live and comment on it and talk about it, and we would ask questions, we'd get questions from the audience and sort of go back and forth. So I think that the rise of this real time discussion social media platforms like Twitter fed into everything was happening. So in any event, it was just one of those things where we just wanted to try it. There's a woman at the time who was newer at HubSpot named Karen Rubin, and she thought that was interesting idea at the same time that in marketing my team and I were trying to figure out what to do more with video and how to be more interactive. It's sort of like chocolate meets peanut butter, coming together with [ inaudible 00:04:52]. I was like," Great. We should do a show," and in classic way it was like," So you go figure all this out and let me know, and who else do you think should be on the show?" She was like," Well, I thought it should be me." And I was like," Great. Why don't we do the show together?" We just kind of started, and the first couple of episodes were frankly terrible and super embarrassing, but by doing it, we got better and better over time. By watching ourselves, watching the recording of it, you're like," Ooh." You cringe a few times and you get better. And the next time you ask questions in a better way and you become more engaging and things like that and we iterated with over time. I think we did something like 200 episodes.
Lindsay Tjepkema: That's crazy.
Mike Volpe: So it was years that we did it for and something that grew, not a giant following, but I would say a really, really loyal following. Karen and I would go to marketing conferences and stuff. People would stop us and say like," Hey, you're Mike Volpe. I watch that show," or," Hey, you're Karen. I watch that show." So you knew it was having an effect. It was hard to measure in those days, but you knew you were having an effect that it definitely had a small, but very passionate audience.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Myself included. I was a first time marketing director and I learned a lot. You knew your audience very well and there might not have been millions of me, but there was me and you converted me. I went on to convince the president of my company to buy HubSpot.
Mike Volpe: It's funny because the show wasn't about the product. Right?
Lindsay Tjepkema: No, not at all.
Mike Volpe: About marketing and the effect that we were trying to have with... again, the whole inbound marketing movement forced us to become the world's best case study in inbound marketing, and that meant by doing inbound marketing, not just through blogging, but in other ways. That show was... while you can argue with the quality of it and all sorts of things of it, it was pioneering in its time for doing something live, for being such a micro topic kind of show, like very, very focused with their marketing and a certain community, even within marketing. So a lot of people like you would watch it and we also know that marketing teams would watch it together, marketing agencies were watching it together. We knew because it was four o'clock East coast. We know some West coast companies would do lunch, but then the marketing team would sit there and watch the show and then talk about a couple of the things we talked about. Like," Oh, maybe we should work on this part of our blog," or whatever. So it was one of those things where it never... the actual numbers that you could measure were never these giant, giant numbers, but there were so many stories like yours of," Oh, I learned so much in that show that made me trust you and Karen and made me trust the company, made me follow the company." Then you keep pulling that thread and all of a sudden you're convincing the CEO that you want to buy this product. Right?
Lindsay Tjepkema: Yeah.
Mike Volpe: There was a lot of that activity that happened qualitatively. Quantitatively, it was always really hard to measure, but quantitatively, there was a ton of that that happened.
Lindsay Tjepkema: For sure, and here we are almost 10 years later talking about it still.
Mike Volpe: It's one of those things where it makes a brand impression on people in a way that blog articles don't, audio and video. You read a blog article and you're sort of vaguely aware of who wrote it maybe. So maybe you know the brand that it's from or what site it was on or things like that, but you don't connect with the author in the way that with podcasting or video or webinars that you really connect with the presenter in a new way. I think that that more personal connection was a key aspect of how we, as a company, connected with lots of marketers. Some of it was these great blog articles and free tools and some of it was the product and the book that we had. All these different things that we did as a company. But I think HubSpot TV was an important piece of that whole, because that personal connection that a lot of people felt with Karen and I, and frankly that Karen and I felt with a lot of people, it was a two way thing. Because we'd have people that watched the show a lot and would tweet in questions every week. We would have people that had watched every episode, but maybe after 20 would then write in a question or something. People would give us... they would email us and give us topics they wanted us to talk about, things like that. There was a community around it, which was really cool. A lot of it had to do with more of a personal connection than just a brand to kind of dry written content connection
Lindsay Tjepkema: Podcasts. So you launched... was it your first podcast? I mean, it'd be pretty hard to do one before that because it was 2015 when you launched The Growth Show. Tell me how that got onto your radar. Because podcasting was... people were like," What's a podcast. Do I play it on my iPad? Do I have to download it?" That was still the days of people not knowing what a podcast was. So how did that get under your radar?
Mike Volpe: Yeah, it's interesting because I... podcasting really, there were a couple big waves of it, right? There was an early, early, early wave around the original iPod. Not iPhone, iPod, that was audio based. You had to download these MP3 files. It was more of a geeky thing. Very popular, but it took more wherewithal to figure it out because you had to download them in your computer and then you had to sync them over to device with a USB cable. But then in 2015, what we started to see was a combination of being able to wirelessly sync and wirelessly get new episodes was a big deal, combined with Serial and some of the other mainstream, and I'll put mainstreams in quotes, mainstream shows made podcasts become even bigger. We had grown at that point as a brand that we were relatively well known within the market, and what we wanted to do was have more of a connection with the CEO. So it's interesting that you say your early exposure to HubSpot was marketer to marketer. It was Karen and Mike talking to Lindsay about marketing stuff and then inspired you to go to your CEO, and I can play that conversation forward. The CEO is like," I've never heard of HubSpot before. What are you talking about?" You were well educated on it and made a convincing sales pitch as to why you should buy it. Where we started to get to in 2015 was, well, we now have some products to sell the sales teams and so we're selling into marketing, really well known in marketing, starting to get well known in sales. But as you're becoming a platform for the whole company, we wanted executive level exposure. We wanted CMO, CRO, CEO, COO C- level to have heard of and know what HubSpot is, at least some high level and have a positive brand affiliation it. So what we decided to do was say," Okay, those folks have less time to read blogs. They're not going to go to webinars. Content specifically about marketing is not that interesting to them. What's interesting to them?" Growth, and who do they want to hear from? They want to hear from their peers. So The Growth Show was a show about growth and it was all the interviews were only with C- level executives. SVP, et cetera. But it was very senior people and we had some amazing guests in the first 10 or 20. We had the founder of Tough Mudder or one of those race things, which is just interesting story about how they built the brand and things like that. We had the CMO from Slack on. We had a bunch of CEO, CMO, CRO type of folks from really interesting companies and brands and just had them tell their story. That was me interviewing them in most cases. We had a couple other people that did some posting as well. That was something that, again, it was about what's the right format of content and type of content to reach that C- level person. It was really the first thing we had done at HubSpot that was meant to reach the C- level. That's something where five years later that show is still around. I think it's on fourth producer now. I think it's done really well because it was different and it was unique.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Absolutely. All right. So then fast forward and you... inaudible podcasting, so you've done more since then. So tell me why it has continued to be a piece of your marketing puzzle, even now as CEO.
Mike Volpe: It's a great way to reach people. I think, again, it's like podcasting can be used in a lot of different ways, so you can use it to add more personality to the brand. You can use it to get a deeper connection with a smaller audience that was like the HubSpot TV podcast model. You can use it to reach folks that are harder to reach through other means, but people that typically have a commute or things like that. You can be trying to reach folks in a different way. It also can be a great way to add other voices to the brand. So at Cybereason, what we did was we looked around and said," You know what? No one's really told, from a slightly more technical perspective, the stories of all of these major hacks that have happened." So we found someone who was a computer programmer by trade and had written a book about the first couple of viruses that had existed and where they came from and things like that. So we created a podcast that went through... it started with almost the history of computer viruses, where the first couple of ones came from, where the name virus came from and fast forwarded to a lot of the more moderate attacks. It was very much a storytelling style. It was not a talking bit, two people interviewing each other kind of a thing. It was a we're going to talk about... There was an episode about the Stuxnet attack on the Iranian centrifuges that did uranium refinements and this joint U. S. Israeli cyber assault on those facilities. There's just so much to that story, and so there'd be six or eight different voices at different times during the episode. Some of it was narration, some of it was a short clip from an interview, all sorts of things that went into that. So it was a high production value. That was really meant to be something that security people from entry level analysts all the way up to chief security officer, CIO would be interested in listening to. So that podcast works really well, but again, it's like it had some different goals than the other ones. Then at Lola, we've tried to do a good job of connecting with finance professionals because that's who we sell to. So we do travel, expense management related things and our key buyer is someone in the finance team. So we needed to figure out a way, how do we get in front of those folks? How do we gain legitimacy with that audience because we're a brand new brand, we're early stage company. One of the things that I did was I started a podcast called The Agile Operations podcast. I'd say it's similar in theme to The Growth Show, which is that we wanted to connect with CFOs and CEOs on the topic of making their companies internally operate in a more agile way, faster, easier, so that they can enable more growth and more innovation and getting all the internal obstacles out of the way. So we found some cool, interesting folks that had, from a finance perspective or operations perspective, done things a little differently within their companies. So that's what we've been doing there too. I don't think there's one format or formula for what a successful podcast should be or needs to be. It's an interesting technology, but you can use it in a lot of different ways if you think about it and get creative with it.
Mike Volpe: The thing that people do for their job is rarely boring to themselves. Right? So you just have to find someone who's passionate about it or ignite that passion within yourself and that curiosity within yourself to really dig in and just ask people a lot of questions about it. So I really think again...and especially if your audience is other people like that person, right? So I don't know that a show about finance is going to be that interesting to a marketing person or a chef or whoever or a doctor, but to finance people, it's going to be super interesting, right? Everyone wants to know what their peers are up to and what things that other people like them at another company are doing that are better or different than what they're doing and why and where that stuff came from. So people love that stuff. So never assume that something is boring because to the right person, everything is interesting.
Lindsay Tjepkema: One thing that you and I have in common is that we have both gone from marketers to marketing leaders to CEO role. I'm interested to hear, yours has been in a much grander scale, and I'm interested to hear your thoughts on... you mentioned a little while ago about podcasts and shows in general being difficult to measure, difficult to always get your hands around and to understand the direct impact there is. It's going to be very rare and it should not be the purpose of your show to be a direct sales tool. First of all, has your perspective changed on how you should measure shows as you've gone from marketer to marketing leader to CEO? If so, how, and where do you stand on how you should be looking at it from a measurement perspective?
Mike Volpe: No, I don't think my perspective changed that much. I'd say some of the metrics have gotten a little bit easier to track and get, but it's always hard to know if the downloads, how many of those actually lead to listens and were they listens of a piece of the episode or the entire thing, and was it on in the background or were they taking notes while they're listening to it. So the metrics that you get are... they're useful and they're interesting, and they're interesting for maybe goal setting of," Hey, we want to get... after we launch a show, three months later, we want to get 5, 000 downloads or listens," or something like that. It's good to have some sort of a benchmark, but it's really hard to say that like," Oh, for every five episodes that someone listens to, they have a 10% chance of buying our product and therefore I can attribute 42 cents of revenue to each podcast that we publish," or something like that or whatever. It's just really, really hard to do that. So I really think that it goes more into the investment behind your brand is the way you should think about it. To me in the brand investments, they're sort of paid, earned and owned media. So paid media is you buy advertising somewhere to promote your brand, earned media is you were able to beg or borrow or beg your way into a publication because you got somebody in the media, on author or something, to want to write an article about you. Then owned media is this idea of creating your own channels and it's super cheap to do. What's changed in the past 20 years is how cheap it is, but also how much distribution you can get. So 25 years ago used to need to either just beg your way in with PR or you needed to buy your way in through advertising and those are the only places that audiences existed. Now, the audiences are on YouTube and in the iTunes podcast store and on Spotify and on the web and Google and all these things. I'm retelling a mashup of two things, which is David Meerman Scott wrote this great book back in 2003 called The New Rules of Marketing and PR, talks about that earned, owned, paid division, how that's changed. Then mash that up with the story of inbound marketing and the book called The Inbound Marketing, which is all this stuff as well. All that stuff is still true. Where the audiences are shifts a little bit over time and whatever, but it is very low cost to build your own content today and you can actually build an audience for it and the audience that you get is so much more highly engaged because they're paying attention to you. So again, it goes back to that HubSpot TV example of you became a dedicated fan of the company and user of the product and paying customer over time, and that show did not cost us a lot of money. I mean, it was two hours to three hours a week of time from Karen and I. We would take an hour to prep, an hour to do the show, an hour to debrief and do some other stuff. We hired an intern to do it, but the total dollar investment in that was not that high. While it wasn't millions of people listening to it, it was a big enough audience to make a difference. If you want the feeling of your CEO going to an industry event and people saying," Oh, hey, love your podcast," that's not$ 2 million of investment. It's a smaller amount of investment. You just need to do the work.
Lindsay Tjepkema: What takeaways do you have for people that either are already doing a show and thinking about how to make it better or what should they be doing with it, or those who have yet to start? What kind of takeaways would you leave them with?
Mike Volpe: I think for both of them, the most important thing is to really narrowly define your purpose and goal. So launching a podcast is not a goal. That's a tactic, right? I think you need to think about who is the audience that we want to attract? How do we want to engage them? How do we want them to feel after they've listened to a few episodes? Do we want them to listen to a few episodes? Do we want them listen to every single episode? All that will feed into the style of show and what's on the show, how long it is, how frequently you publish. All those things. It's like before you go to write a book, is it fiction or nonfiction? Is it a long or short book? Who do you want to read it? What's it about? All these things. You need to figure all those things out. It's the same thing with podcasting. I do think that sometimes people start because they're like, "Oh, I heard all the cool companies are doing podcasting. Let's launch a podcast." You're not going to achieve what you want to achieve because you need to think about what you want to achieve. You know? So I think even if you've already started, it's like keep those goals really narrowly in mind and what you're looking to accomplish with it and why, and are you looking for something that... At Cybereason, we never much cared about being the most popular podcast in the world. If we could get a third of the top 5, 000 CIOs in the world to have listened to a few episodes, that was absolutely worth it to us. Right? HubSpot was different because we were playing the mass market, selling to SMB game and we needed volume because each customer paid us so little. But then with The Growth Show, to be honest, we were happy with a little bit more modest goals in terms of listenership because we really wanted to make sure that content was confined to C- level topics.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Yeah. That is the perfect snapshot of there is no one size fits all. There is no one goal. There is no one metric. You have to know who it's for you have to know why you're doing it and you have to understand your mission and at least a fuzzy idea of what success looks like for you, for your business, for your brand, for your show, for your audience before you dive into it. Because otherwise you're just going to be frustrated by metrics that don't matter for your... you're trying to do one size fits all and it just doesn't work.
Mike Volpe: And if you have multiple goals, you may need multiple shows, and that's okay. At HubSpot, you can easily envision a show for marketing managers that goes in the tactics and the details of like," Oh the 10 ways to optimize a webinar," and all sorts of things like that. That C- level person is not going to want to listen to that. Then you can imagine a podcast for the C- level, like The Growth Show, which is about how should you organize your executive team and what should the roles and responsibilities be like? Not as maybe somewhat interesting for a marketing manager aspirationally because they want to become CMOs some day, but not super interesting to them. Right?
Lindsay Tjepkema: For sure.
Mike Volpe: The length of those shows may be very different. The format could be different. One can be more conversational interview style, one could be more narrative. There's all sorts of different things there. But as a company, maybe you need multiple shows and that's probably a better way of doing it than trying to have one show that accomplishes every one of your goals.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Exactly. Couldn't agree more. That's our show. Thanks for listening. For more from today's guest, visit casted. us to subscribe and to receive our show as it's published, along with other exclusive content each and every week.
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