Maintaining Connection with Hushly's James Kessinger
Lindsay Tjepkma: When the world gives you a pandemic, make messaging that is still relevant and meaningful to your audience. That's right. We're a few weeks into this quarantine and one thing remains the same today as it did when the pandemic hit, as well as long, long, long before that. Empathy. Know your audience and what is important to them and empathize with them. That's always been important, but now more than ever, it's critical. I'm Lindsay Tjepkema, CEO and co- founder of Casted, the first and only marketing platform built around branded podcasts. And this is our podcast. Here in season three of the Casted podcast, we're talking with CMOs and marketing leaders to see how they're rethinking their marketing strategies in light of the COVID- 19 crisis. I'm hearing inspiring stories from leaders and teams around the world who are taking this as an opportunity to explore new ways to serve and connect with their audiences. And today we're hearing from James Kessinger, the CMO of Hushly, the company that helps you leverage your content to strengthen your relationships with your audiences all the way through to that critical conversion point. He and his team have looked for ways to serve their audiences today in ways that will serve the Hushly brand longterm. So listen in to James, as he explains how a company that is built around conversions has managed to maintain connection in the time of COVID- 19.
James Kesner: Hi, I'm James Kessinger and I'm the CMO at Hushly. And if you don't know what Hushly is, well, we're a content engagement and conversion platform and we're powered by AI. So what that really means is we really care about conversions, we view content as a means to an end.
Lindsay Tjepkma: So actually that's a really good segue. Conversion, which is changed a lot over the last, I don't know, few weeks, and you're in marketing. So not only does conversion matter to your company, conversion matters to your customers. Conversion matters a lot to you. How are you and your team responding to what's what's going on right now? What are some of the things that you've done?
James Kesner: Once you get over the initial shock, the interesting thing for us was in January, we, we took a pretty big approach and once 50 million people in China got quarantined, I was like," Whoa, this is a little bigger than the average thing that's coming out." So we said," Look, we need to..." We're a profitable company, so we haven't taken any VC money. So as a bootstrap company, cash is going to be king. And we kind of knew that. So we really started to hunker down, started cutting some things immediately. A lot of it was really just starting to focus on the core of what we can go do and hoarding cash. So we planned for six quarters down and said," Look, we need to make sure we can preserve cash and be in business for six quarters, at least if nothing else." Right? And assuming no new businesses coming in. So that was the, I think, the one big for us. I mean, really through that, we went through everything, not knowing at the time that all events were going to be canceled. So that was interesting. Right? We assume that something, and I was actually traveling in January, I was on a road show with Six Sense, actually. So we were together. We were doing a CMO thing, like CMO breakfast in different cities. So we were traveling to multiple... Of course the worst, right? Traveling to multiple cities and doing these morning breakfasts. And the last two we had left were Boston and New York. And those got canceled right as things really started to flare up. But for us, it was let's focus on getting better content. Let's really pivot everything we're doing back at the customers we've got, because I think that's going to be, for us, for sure. And probably for a lot of companies, right, especially on a renewal business. Let's focus on the customer you've got, let's make sure we're taking in and being attentive, but also looking all the... They've got a lot of things that they're looking to do enhance and how can we now better enhance our platform to go help them? Right? So when they have requests coming in, let's dig into those a bit more, and let's understand what they're trying to use it for. Is that something that we can do as a broad fix, or is that something that we can do as a broad enhancement to the platform for everybody to go use and what do they use it for? So we really started to kind of look at engineering and pivot engineering into a lot of those things, which actually really helped us. We're redoing a lot of stuff and we're on two week sprints from a diligence standpoint. So we actually roll stuff out pretty quickly for folks. And it's really helped us kind of ground where we're going, but also focusing... So as we pivot out of this thing, the pandemic aspect, we're going to be better aligned to hopefully take some market share and grow our business with a much more solid foundation what we've got with both with customer base, but also with the platform within itself, and then slowly turn on tactics and things that probably are nice to haves, not must haves.
Lindsay Tjepkma: Yeah. So what I'm hearing you say and the way that I've heard other people's kind of summarize it is that you're kind of thinking about how can you serve Hushly a few months from now? Like what can you do today to be stronger when you emerge from this? And then like kind of slowly turn things back on as we kind of come back out of our homes.
James Kesner: Which parts of the world, or which parts of the country and our current cities are going to turn back on? We know it looks like there's hotspots into the area. So we want to be mindful. And I think as marketers, you just have to be mindful of what's going on. I mean, people are more... They care more about losing their job and feeding their families or themselves to that matter, right, if they don't have a family, and paying their rent and everything else. So be mindful of that. Not everyone's going to be wanting to do some stuff. So things are definitely changing, right? So I think you just kind of have to realize that.
Lindsay Tjepkma: Well, and that's a good thing to dig into as well is messaging. So how have you either adjusted things or just put a pause on things because, to your point, people are not thinking necessarily about what we as marketers want to talk about. Right? Maybe they do, you never know how your intention is going to be received. So what has your team done with your messaging and with some of your campaigns? Have you kind of paused things, have you actually changed them, you changed some of the wording. What does it look like for Hushly?
James Kesner: We initially paused a couple of things and then we didn't change the messaging because I didn't want to get into pandemic and COVID and all this other stuff going on. Right? And I just didn't think that was... A, it's not appropriate and I don't want to try to go and change entire set of nurture streams. Because A, you don't know how long is it going to be? And I'm already tired of it. People say," Hey..." It's like now we get it. Events have been canceled and it's not what I'm going to do now a month later, what am I doing without my budget? That budget's gone, right? So I still get these messages coming in and I'm like," Come on guys. Let's get back into understanding either things that I truly need to care about, and it's not about sort of the next COVID thing." So for us, we adjusted messaging and scripts and that kind of stuff, just so that when we're talking to folks, we're mindful of what's going on, but try not to jam stuff down their throats. And again, some of the things, I actually find, we're seeing a lot more people doing... At least on our customer sites than ours, right? They're doing research, right? So they're actually still... Because they're home. So they actually got some time on their hands to actually sit down and do some things they probably haven't done in a while, even if it's just sort of like," Hey, my kids are probably calmed down. Let me just kind of see what's going on in the world." Right? So we're finding people are actually reading things and take more time to investigate stuff. Even if it's not to go buy something, it's still... I'm looking at it as look, we're going to be here for a while. So it's okay. Come check some things out. We're not going to call people right away and that kind of stuff. We're just trying to play it off, but move away from just disaster messaging and just trying to keep it more real. Right? The same business problems are probably still there. People still are doing ABM. They're still trying to get leads and contacts at the top of the funnel. They're still trying to accelerate what's through, depending on if they still can. Right? So I think just helping that message and, and making sure that we're doing it appropriately. And I think one of the CMOs I was chatting with, empathy. Right? Just making sure you have enough empathy out there.
Lindsay Tjepkma: Flipping things around. You and I both market marketing to marketers and we are marketers, right? So there's this... It's very, very meta, very how do you want to be approached right now in the midst of all of this? What advice do you have for others who are marketers that market marketing to marketers about what should I do? I want to reach out to people, but we're all kind of in the same mess.
James Kesner: Yeah. I think for me and it's... I like to read, I like to... Give me something that's interesting, like if I'm a customer of yours, right? Then don't reach out and just say you want to get an appointment kind of thing. Right? Give me something, hey, did you know that our platform also does these other things? Right? A couple of other marketers or CMOs or whoever right? are using us and they're doing some interesting things. Right? And here's what they're doing, and it's working. Okay, great. Those are the things that I want to go check out. But don't just name drop all the companies that are using you. I think there's the... When you're talking to people, you don't understand how someone's perceiving, because they're reading, right? You and I are on video, so we can actually see each other, and everything else. But I mean, if you're getting an email, you don't know what mood they're in, so you can't be pithy. You can't be... Write cutesy things in there. Because you don't know if they're mad, angry at this time, or whatever's going on in their life. Right? So just trying to be real, try to be straight to the points, and if you can help them, great. If not, that's okay too. Right? And try to be a little more matter of fact about it. And I think leaves some of the gimmicky things that were probably going on before, maybe leave those aside until 18 months from now or something.
Lindsay Tjepkma: Yeah. And it's a balance, right? It's a balance of being light, but also being relevant, light and relevant, which is what we all want anyway. But I think even now more than ever, because you don't know... You never know what the person on the other end of that email or the other end of that podcast or the other end of that marketing, whatever it is experiencing. You never know. Everyone is experiencing something very, very profound right now. And some are trying to do their jobs and trying to buy the things that you sell to keep things going and others just want nothing to do with it. So I think it's just being very cognizant of that, now more than ever.
James Kesner: Yeah. I think there's some marketers that they just can't. I mean, I think about the event teams right now, the event platforms inaudible doesn't let you go to events. Right? I mean, there's a lot of these companies that they won't have that capability to focus on other stuff, right? So the only thing they going to be able to do is, other than trying to re- pivot how they're talking to folks is look, build a relationship. You may not get a customer right now, but you can definitely try to build some relationships, and keep that for something down the road, assuming you can hunker down. Right? I think those are... Much like yourselves, right? I mean, we're sort of in an interesting... Because we're on the digital side. So we service, and so people have pivoted dollars into digital and people are... The website has become very important for a lot of people, right? Your content's become very important for a lot of people and reading case studies. Right? So that kind of stuff is very important, I think right now, because your sales people aren't meeting them. They're not doing the meet and greets, they're not out there talking to people as much. If they do it's via Zoom or it's on a phone, and not everybody can do the face to face meetings anymore. And marketing's the same thing. I can't have a keynote in front of an audience and have five people come up after the keynote and say," Hey, let's talk a little more about this or that." Right? This is going to be, how do you kind of do a one to many, but in a different approach? I think that's what we're trying to kind of wrestle with on our side is how do we make sure we do that? And for that matter, making sure we do it to the right companies, that aren't... The right industries that aren't affected as heavily as others, because that's some people are just not going to buy at all for a while.
Lindsay Tjepkma: Yeah. And it's knowing your audience. Again, going back to the foundations of know your audience, know them really well and how you can be relevant. All right. So before I let you go, so we've got a bunch of marketers listening, key takeaways. Like what are just a couple of things that you would really want listeners to know right now?
James Kesner: Focus on, I'll focus on marketing. So for me, it's get intent data because intent data is going to be more important now because you want to understand who's in market on what you care about. So if you're going to put a message out, at least do it directed and don't just spray and pray. And to that rethink your ABM, right? So maybe that list is too big, right? So let's make sure that you're bouncing that list, again, back on that intended who's in market. If you're going to do outbound, that's the only way I would honestly be looking at it now. Doing something broad campaign is probably not going to work. And I think the other most important thing now is focus on your customers because they're the ones that are going to help you. But also they're the ones that are going to sort of grow with you and be with you during the same crisis. And if you can help them in some way, they'll probably reward you down the road. So just be mindful of that.
Lindsay Tjepkma: Great advice. Well, thank you so much for taking the time right now to join me for this conversation, and hang in there.
James Kesner: Yeah. It's great to talk.
Lindsay Tjepkma: That's our show. Thanks for listening. For more from today's guest, including bonus content not included in this episode, like the stories you haven't heard about their career and the advice they have for you in your path to becoming a marketing leader, visit casted. us to subscribe, and receive our show as it's published along with exclusive content each week.
When the world gives you a pandemic, make messaging that is still relevant and meaningful to your audience. That's right. We're a few weeks into this quarantine and one thing remains the same today as it did when the pandemic hit, as well as long, long, long before that. Empathy. Know your audience and what is important to them and empathize with them. That's always been important, but now more than ever, it's critical. I'm Lindsay Tjepkema, CEO and co- founder of Casted, the first and only marketing platform built around branded podcasts. And this is our podcast. Here in season three of the Casted podcast, we're talking with CMOs and marketing leaders to see how they're rethinking their marketing strategies in light of the COVID- 19 crisis. I'm hearing inspiring stories from leaders and teams around the world who are taking this as an opportunity to explore new ways to serve and connect with their audiences. And today we're hearing from James Kessinger, the CMO of Hushly, the company that helps you leverage your content to strengthen your relationships with your audiences all the way through to that critical conversion point. He and his team have looked for ways to serve their audiences today in ways that will serve the Hushly brand longterm. So listen in to James, as he explains how a company that is built around conversions has managed to maintain connection in the time of COVID- 19.
🧑💻 Putting focus on helping the customer
✍️ Keep messaging real and empathetic
👥 How to market marketing to marketers
⚙️ Building relationships right now
🧠 What James wants marketers to know