Marketing is sometimes sensationalized, especially when media publications feature huge brands with huge budgets. In reality, most marketers come from small brands with small budgets. They need to be scrappy to get noticed, but with fewer resources.
Today’s guest is Andie Coupland, product marketing manager at Totara Learning. She describes how small brands with small budgets can achieve colossal results by avoiding makeshift marketing.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
- Game Plan: Strategies for marketing goals, product fit, and brand messaging
- Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) vs. Objectives and Key Results (OKRs): Different approaches for deliverables to measure results of goals and objectives
- Stop Fighting Fires: Stay agile to remain focused on your quarterly priorities
- Keep on Track: Processes in place to stay organized and meet deadlines
- Productivity Pressure: Marketing is getting more done with fewer resources
- Shift in Mindset: Always ask why you’re doing something as a leader/manager
- Andie’s Advice: Find the right tool(s) and learn how to use them to meet your company’s marketing needs right now
Eric: Hollywood just love to sensationalize a story, people, a place, or even a stereotype. I’m from Fargo, North Dakota. If you’ve seen the Coen brother’s movie, Fargo, it’s not quite like that. We don’t all have wood chippers and we don’t all say, “You betcha,” although some of us do. In the same way, marketing can sometimes get sensationalized based on the media publications we might read.
I love Adweek, but talk about huge brands with huge budgets. The reality is, no, we don’t live in that world. Most marketers have small budgets. We are coming from small brands and we have to be scrappy. But we still face the same challenges. We’re still trying to get noticed but with less resources. So, how do we do it?
That’s what I want to focus on in this episode of the Actionable Marketing Podcast. Today’s guest is Andie Coupland. She’s the Product Marketing Manager at Totara Learning. She just provides some real solid advice from an everyday marketer who is just grinding and finding success and also finding some […] in certain ways.
She shares what works from her, coming from these small brands and her experience to really get traction, like how does she fight some of this makeshift marketing narrative that we’ve been talking about, where marketers can become disorganized leveraging a couple of technologies together, the copying and pasting, how do you fight that and be productive? How do you actually get results with the limited resources you have, and just really fascinating ideas and tips for measurables and goals, who doesn’t use the traditional KPIs we’re all typically used to using?
It’s a really good conversation. I can’t wait for you to meet Andie. My name is Eric Piela. I’m the host of the Actionable Marketing Podcast and the Brand and Buzz Manager here at CoSchedule. All right, buckle up folks because it is time to get AMPed.
Hey, everyone and welcome to another action-packed episode of the Actionable Marketing Podcast. I’m excited for today’s episode. We have a really great guest. Her name is Andie Coupland. She is the Product Marketing Manager at Totara Learning. Andie, welcome to AMP.
Andie: Hey Eric, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having me on the show.
Eric: Yeah, absolutely. I’m excited to get the chance to talk to you as we continue our Makeshift Marketing series here. You bring tons of experience in the learning technology field but as well just a lot of experience working with smaller budgets and how to be scrappy in smaller brands. You bring some wonderful perspective to the show. I appreciate you coming on. This is going to be a great time.
Andie: Let’s do it
Eric: You’re hailing from England, that’s correct. I love when we have international guests on the show.
Andie: I’m here. It’s not very sunny. I am drinking tea.
Eric: Way to live up to the stereotype. I love that. Thank you. This will be a lot of fun. I know you’ve been a listener of the show, and I’ve actually followed you on social media. I love your posts, I […] in the social world, and just what a small world it is―you’re over in England, me here in North Dakota―that you’re able to come on the show. This will be great.
Let’s hop in. Andie, you’ve got a good career and history in the marketing field as well in the learning technology. I love to start my shows with people just getting to know you as an individual and as a marketer. If you could just share with us a bit about your history in the marketing world and how you ended up there in Totara.
Andie: I’ve been in marketing for around 10 years now. The majority of that time has been working in the learning technologies field. I joined a startup back in 2011 as a sales and marketing exec. I had a real attitude for the marketing side of things, really enjoyed the fact that it’s creative, and technical, and it’s all about problem-solving, and all the fun stuff. The learning tech industry is a wonderful industry. It’s doing some great things. I am a millennial, so I do have a desire, a want, and a need to feel like I’m making a difference, and industry-wise, it’s always been a really good one for me to be in, therefore.
I’ve worked my way up from early days to being a Marketing Manager. I’m currently a Product Marketing Manager which is a new role to me. I’m still trying to get used to it and getting used to a lot of product terms with my teams. It’s really great. I’ve worked in offices in the UK with global teams, franchises. I’ve gone through acquisitions. These days, I’m working from home as part of a remote team, but lots of challenges and experiences along the way. It’s been a great ride.
Eric: No kidding. I feel like based on your background, we could have taken this conversation a million different ways, just with your experience, your acquisitions, working remotely, and you’re learning a new role, the Product Marketing Manager. Obviously, as marketers we’re all growing and learning in our careers, and we take different positions. I think of myself as the Brand and Buzz Manager here which is a brand new role that I had not experienced, and you learn so much and you gleam so much. We’re all finding our way through this crazy marketing world, aren’t we?
Eric: I can’t wait to jump into our conversation. We’re really talking about, again as we continued on this Makeshift Marketing journey hearing from what I’m calling everyday, wicked smart marketers, who are in the trenches. We’re doing these things, coming from a variety of different industries. Last week, we just talked to an individual who was in the agricultural and construction industry. Now, you’re coming from the online learning industry.
One of the things that we talked about before the show, Andie, was not everyone has the same set of resources. Whether that be financial resources, technologies, or they’re not working for a really large brand with tons of global recognition, and sometimes we have to be scrappy with what we’ve got. I’m really looking forward to talking to you about, on small budgets and smaller brands, how do processes change? How do you focus on different strategies and different tactics to try, get some of that market share, and trying to get some of that traction with your efforts? This would be a great one to dive into.
Every marketer, we can really get lost in tactics, but stepping back and thinking through about how do we start to figure out our goals? What’s our game plan for this? We talk about the importance of documenting strategy. Again, there’s tons of stats to support. The more often you document your strategy, the better off you’re going to have in being successful.
I’d love to hear, Andie, as your role as Product Marketing Manager and with your ecosystem, how do you game plan creating a marketing strategy? Is it something that you build out for the year? For the quarter? Are you guys practicing any agile marketing methodologies there at Totara? Love to hear what your process looks like today.
Andie: It’s actually a really exciting time for us at the minute because we are doing some great new product work. We’ve got some new things coming out next year. It’s actually why I’ve been brought on board and why I’m now Product Marketing Manager. It’s just to manage those processes and get the strategy in place in terms of going to markets and how we adjust product fit and our brand message for, what is a bit of a new audience for us in some respects.
I’ve joined the team that’s been together for quite a few years. We have a director of marketing who heads up everything that we do. There is a marketing strategy there that we will work together on. Here and in places where I’ve been previously, there is a way to strategy because you need that. You need to have the north stars and get the key bits of information that you can refer back to when you’re making all your decisions for all of the smaller things that come up. We have quite a robust strategy that we have for the year.
Alongside that, we’ve got a content marketing side of things. We’ve got a partner, channel manager side of things. We’ve got the product side which I look after. We work together to make sure we’ve got an ongoing, really strong set of plans to help us deliver on that overall strategy. Some of the things that we’ve done are actually quite different here.
Historically, I think a lot of marketers will work to KPIs, and you might have growth targets or revenue targets or whatever. It’s different everywhere you go. We actually switched to using OKRs—objectives and key results—for our quarterly goals as individuals. It’s been different. Obviously, getting your head around what is more traditionally a product approach to measurement and direction.
Eric: Let’s talk more about that. That’s really fascinating. Let me break that down a little bit. If you can elaborate a little bit more on that, Andie. With that kind of unique set, how are you measuring that and are you reporting back to management? How are you accountable for some of those things, then?
Andie: Each of us, as I’ve mentioned, the content side, the partner side, the product side, we’ve each got particular targets; all of the team has. There are five of us. We all work on our own individual initiatives. Some look after regions, some look after broader areas like product or content. We’re responsible for our own OKRs which will be the things that we’re going to focus on for that quarter, which might have two or three objectives with them. For example, increase market share or deliver a really great user conference in the area, in the region that we’re in.
Each of those objectives have some key results aligned to them. It needs to be measurable so it needs to be a metric. At the minute, they’re quite often website metric-based, so the number of new visitors to certain areas of the site, increasing conversion rate on certain pages. We’re trying to grow in certain regions then we’ll have targets around metrics to show what we’re doing and delivering in those regions. This is quite different to what might previously being when you got a KPI.
Eric: Have you enjoyed the difference? Do you think it’s a practice that other marketers should consider or what is your experience been with that change, that shift?
Andie: I think it’s early days for a shift. It is sort of a practice that come across from more on the product management side of things. We are a software vendor. We are a development company. Similarly, we use a lot of product technologies like Jira rather than what many marketers might use like Asana or Trello or…
Eric: Or CoSchedule.
Andie: The new tool, it was great. I was looking at it the other day; all in one.
Eric: In comparison to traditional KPIs, things are still developing a little bit. You’re still waiting to see how it feels. I’m always intrigued when there are different processes or different measurables that marketers are coming up towards. The north stars are a little bit different. That’s just really fascinating to hear that.
Given those OKRs, I feel like we are shifting constantly as we fill out the market, as we fill out what our customers want, as we adjust our product, our positioning. So, things pop up. Maybe it’s an unexpected fire drill or it’s another team that is asking for something, or we’re completely changing focus based on a new product feature that we have which opens up a whole new target demographic we can go after now. Based on that measurement, do you feel like you’re able to stay nimble and stay agile? If yes, how do you manage that, and if no, what have been some of the frustrations?
Andie: Using OKRs on a quarterly basis is a really useful tool in keeping you focused. If anyone’s read Gary Keller’s The ONE Thing, it’s kind of like that. It’s having one thing that’s really going to make a difference for the separated time that you’re doing. But you don’t just have one. You have a couple of things. That really helps to keep you focused on what really matters to you and what your priority should be in this quarter. That in itself actually really helps when it comes to those firefighting scenarios because everybody, no matter what world they’re in, however the size of the business is, people are just spending most of their time firefighting […].
These OKRs are really great. They state your structure. I’ve always been quite an advocate for time blocking, so putting deep time, deep focus work in my diary to make sure I’ve got time to work on the things that really matter so I can get into them, get my head in the right space, and really focus on things. The OKRs help structure what those time blocks should be for the month, for the quarter, and then the fire fighting kind of slots in and around that. As they say, you can’t spend a lot of time firefighting. Anyone who’s done anything with Google Analytics will know. Somebody asks you a question and four hours later your like, “What was that again?”
Eric: I’m laughing because I’ve been there. I love that idea. Talk about a process that helps you stay focused. As marketers, we are distracted by other team’s objectives. We’re distracted by new technologies or whatever it might be, but having those things that keep you accountable. We call up the one metric that matters, that’s a Garrett Moon at the 10x Marketing Formula. Here’s the one thing that I’m going to stay laser focused on, that’s going to determine what is “successful” or “not successful,” and maybe you’ve got a couple of them but it really sets your priority and keeps you focused. I haven’t heard of that. I think there’s other ways of thinking of it, but it’s a really good piece of advice and awesome to hear that it’s working for you there.
Speaking of that, it sounds like the OKRs are a good way to keep you marking in the right direction. How do you stay organized? We’ve talked about organizing, it’s something that’s important here in CoSchedule. The more organized marketers are, the more successful they are, and not every marketer thinks of it that way because organizers are now sexy and fun. Marketers like to be creative or analytical, and sometimes that idea run process is, instead of organized, gets lost in there.
As you work, it sounds like you’ve got your time blocks that you like to set aside. Not only that, how does your team stay organized so that you’re making sure that you’re on track, you’re hitting your deadlines or you’re reaching those OKR objectives?
Andie: I’m often told that I am very organized. Sometimes, I don’t feel like I am. That’s all the firefighting, that would do that to you. We have choices in place. One of the things that really helps us ensure that everyone knows what they should be doing and where they fit together, is we have a set of marketing process workflow. For each marketing activity we have, whether that’s a new piece of content, whether it’s PR, whether it’s website update or if we’re doing some bigger piece of work or an event, that type of thing, everybody knows what their role is in that process. We can each see where each of those workflows are, where we’ve got bottlenecks. We can understand if somebody’s on holiday, somebody else needs to step in and they know what it is that they need to do. That’s all managed. That’s a new Google Doc to be honest. We don’t need to overcomplicate that.
We also have project management tools because we’re working alongside software developers. We use Jira. We have workflows in there so everybody knows what’s being worked on, who’s involved in the process, the conversations all in one place. We can link out to things. We share ideas there. We’ve got it on a Kanban board set-up so we everyone can see what’s been worked on, what’s coming next, where there’s backlogs, when things are finished. Having that kind of tool is imperative, really. If you’re going to be successful, you need to have that shared overview of what’s going so everyone knows what they’re doing.
But more important than that, I would say is the communication because you can have all the tools in the world, but if you’re not talking and communicating across the team regularly, it doesn’t mean anything because things shift so often that you need to make sure that everyone is always in the loop and knows where there are changes on that side of things. That’s where we’re finding success at the minute, using those processes. It is really just working into a lean and agile methodology.
Eric: One other thing that you talked about and again, maybe your OKR has helped with this, but one thing that we surveyed when talked to all those marketers in a survey that we did previously this year was everyone’s feeling the stress to get done more in less time and with the same headcount. Whether you’re a contributor or you’re a marketing manager listening, it just feels like marketing is taking more and more responsibility on. We’re doing this entire funnel.
Here at CoSchedule we started to think about […] education. How do we continue to even market and educate our existing customers? It’s more beyond just giving them around brand awareness and getting them through the funnel and lead generation. Now, it was for customers. They love to throw on a marketer’s plate, but we only have so many hours in a day. How do you feel the pressure to do more with what you have and how do you try and level set that? How do you try and stay as productive as you can with the time that you have?
Andie: It really doesn’t surprise me that there is a high reporting of being asked to do more for less going on now. I’ve never known a single marketer where that has not been the case. It’s been the case throughout my career. As marketers, in a way, we go into this as an industry because we like that challenge of being creative, pragmatic, and coming up with novel ways to do more with less, be that resource, maybe time or not having the right tools or the tools that you might want to have. As marketers, we develop and we find ways to make more of what we have and we have to try and not to worry too much about the things that we don’t have. I’ve always found it’s been better for me when I worry about the things that I do have control of or that I can impact, rather than the things that I can’t. That’s always something that’s helped me throughout my career.
You’ve got to constantly build your knowledge. As you say, the growth of the industry, the number of tools, and the things that marketers are expected to do has grown so much, especially in the last 5 and 10 years. If you look at the MarTech 150 as it was back in 2011 is now over 7000. It’s ridiculous. The amount of tools and things that you’re expected to know about, I don’t know anything else but it’s quite far spread because that’s just from the tools perspective. You need to know what tools are available. You need to figure out and stay up to date with how things work. Google change their interface all the time. If you haven’t gone into AdWords or Google AdSense for a month, you could be faced with a completely different interface when you go in. Just keeping on top of the tools that you use is really tricky.
I find that it’s really a case, and this comes back to the strategy side of things, what’s important because it’s too much to focus on if you try to do everything. You need to narrow it down, be more lean, and think about what really matters and focus your attention on that. I think that enables you to do more in less time because you’re not spreading yourself so thin.
Eric: Amen to that. I think that’s terrific advice. Maybe a follow-up question, Andie, would be what has been the single most, whether it’s a tool or a process or a person or whatever it is or a book you’ve read, that’s really helped you feel like you’ve been able to put the most output with the time you have? Is there anything that stands out to you? That’s like, “This is something I’ve really done or embraced to make sure I’m able to produce more and feel productive.”
Andie: I can’t think so much of a tool as a mindset because there are different tools that have been more useful to me at different times depending on what my focus has been on. When I first became a manager, a leader, and took on that responsibility, I read Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, and that really changed the way I approached everything. I’ve always been that annoying person. I never stopped from being a kid asking, “Why? Why? Why?” I still do that now. That’s why the book appealed to me in the first place. But having read it, it just really helps you focus on, “Why am I doing this? What is it that I’m doing?” It changed the approach.
I know the book itself is more about the culture and the way businesses present themselves, but it’s getting people to take action. It just changed my mindset in terms of really understanding if I’m going to do something, why am I doing it? Does it fit with the purpose of the business? Does it fit with the purpose of my role? What am I doing? Why am I doing it? And how is it going to make a difference? Having read the book, it changed the way I do everything as a manager and as an individual.
Eric: That’s super sound advice as well. It’s great that you bring that up because it makes me think of a process here at CoSchedule that we have where before we go into any process, we really get down to the why. Why are we doing this? It sounded like a good idea, but why was it a good idea? Does it fit our key brand storyline? Is it going to reach the right audience? Is it going to help us move our metrics that we’re focusing on for this quarter, for this year?
For a while, I would see something great and would just think it’s a fun opportunity, but that does not go through the process. I literally have created a matrix where it’s like, “What’s the reach? What’s the impact?” I’m focusing on brand and buzz and getting our story out there. If it doesn’t meet this criteria and it doesn’t meet the right location on my matrix, then it’s just something I can’t focus on, I can’t do. I really appreciate that perspective and I think that a great, great book to read if you have it out there, listening, really impactful one.
I know we talked about what your experience has been working for smaller brands. You’ve had, sometimes, some smaller budgets. Given that scenario, how have you maximized what you have? There’s a lot of people who are listening here like, “I don’t have all these fancy technology, I don’t know all these tools. I’ve got a broken process and nobody knows who our company is, maybe a smaller niche does.” Everyone’s been there at some point in their career probably unless you just started at IBM or Microsoft.
What is your advice from your experience on how can marketers be scrappy and gritty with what they have? The follow-up question is given that, how do you try and show value to your leadership or to your manager or director with what you’re accomplishing?
Andie: It’s a great question. To give you a bit of context, I’ve worked in start-ups where I’ve been the person going in and setting things up from scratch, and I’ve joined businesses where there’s already been an established set of tools and processes and ways of doing things. It’s been a little bit different for each. Depending on the situation you find yourself in, you might be faced with one set of challenges over another.
The main thing is just making sure that if you need to do something, find the tool that will help you do it. Whether that’s a tool to help you manage your social or a tool like a CRM or an analytic tool. There’s probably foundational sets wherever you are, whatever you’re doing that you should have. Something to manage your website analytics. Something to manage your customer relationships. Something to manage social, probably, and I do use something to manage customer success. If you can get a system that could do all of that, you’ve got a single source of truth with a single customer view so you can see what’s going on and it’s all in one place. Beyond that, this is where the challenge is.
Because I’ve been starting from scratch, if I’ve needed something, I’ve gone out and looked at, there are over 7000 tools that are available. I have a quick look through and gone, “Hm, this is fit for what I need now.” The growth for us has really opened things up to people. It’s really actually changed the way marketers are able to go about choosing what tools they want because a few years back, you would be given tools or you weren’t, and you’d just have to deal with that.
Sales and marketing relationship has changed quite a lot over the years. Often now, it is actually the marketing team who get to choose and dictate the CRM that you use. One of them having to use what sales wants them to use. It’s really about making sure that you’ve got a tool that will do what you need to do. Then you can move on. You can start building the business plan around, “if I’m using a free trial now or an entry level, do I need a Pro version? Do I need an enterprise version of this tool? What value does it give me? Do I need two or three tools? Because actually I need the best in class and a solution for a certain thing.”
Eric: Your needs may change, as either the roles that you’re in or as your company evolves and grow. Whether you’re going back to your OKRs, if you do that, or if you have KPIs, what is the one thing that you need to measure in order to show you’re addressing whatever it is your KPI is or your OKR is? Find a tool that will help you measure that and prove your value and success in that field which I think is important and it’s a variety. If you’re in the social space, you need a social tool. You should be smart about how you do that. Thank you for that.
That’s definitely a challenge in a lot of people have faced, and I have in previous careers. I’ve kind of spoiled here at CoSchedule with so many wonderful opportunities here and even eating our dog food and levering CoSchedule here has been great. I can never go back now. As a tenured marketing professional you’ve obviously learned things and you’ve been through tons based on your experiences there. Maybe you think of yourself as coming of age and getting into the marketing world and industry, and you think about where you’re at now. What is one thing that you wish you had known when you began your career that you know now?
Andie: It’s not so much a thing as a skill or an area that I wish I’d spend more time developing which is spreadsheets. Everybody uses them, but everybody takes so much time over doing things that could be automated because they just don’t know how to do things that would speed things up for them. For me, it’s not so much a thing that I had known, it is that I have the time and I’d put more effort in the early days to learn how to manipulate data a bit more. Data is becoming more and more important for everyone. My partner’s an accountant and she’s an absolute Excel wiz and puts me to shame. If I need something to it, she can do it in 10 minutes what would take me 10 days.
Eric: That’s great. It’s such practical, real advice. I would agree. I would agree that spreadsheets are such an integral part of everyone’s career. Especially, usually in marketing you’re using the spreadsheet to manage something, and the more adept you are in navigating those tools, the time you save, get your time back, and be productive elsewhere. I love that.
I grew up in an era where keyboarding was nothing that was required, it was optional. I remember just before I graduated high school I thought, “Maybe I should take this keyboarding class?” and I can’t imagine if I had not. I’d be still pecking away with two fingers on my keyboard. The decisions we make, really do impact. I like that. If you’re listening, think of the tools that you might need to be successful in the future. Good stuff, Andie.
Last question is, I love hosting this show and I try to think of really good questions to ask my guest, but I know I always miss some. So, I always say, “Hey, if you can step into my shoes as the host here, what would you have asked yourself that I didn’t?”
Andie: With this one, I guess because I struggle learning and development—I’m in a learning background, I’m working in marketing—I would probably have asked myself something around, how marketers either might enter getting their first job in marketing or progress in their careers once they are marketing.
I myself don’t actually have any formal qualifications in marketing. It’s an area that I’ve developed over time. It came about over quite a few years of sort of touching on it and not being satisfied with marketing teams I was working with. I’m thinking I could do better. I have a background. I’ve done sales, retail. I’ve done telesales, customer experience and customer service, and I have a degree in psychology. I’ve got a lot of the skills that help me understand the full range of things that marketers need to do these days.
As a hiring manager in the past and as an individual, I really struggle with formal qualifications in marketing because the pace of change in the industry is so fast that by the time you’ve done your first semester, everything is out-of-date already. My advice would be to actually do more shorter courses, academy courses. All the tools out there run their own courses, which are really great ways to learn to use the tool, but they also give you broader knowledge around how to do content marketing or be great at social or whatever else it is that you need to do.
Personally, I find that those smaller tool-based learning courses and academies are a much better way because where I’ve hired people in the past who have gone through degrees in marketing or advertising, when it comes to doing the job, they don’t actually have the experience. They got all the theories but they never had to put it into practice. It never worked out as well as those who have been more self-directed and driven and generally have a growth mindset where they just want to learn and do more and they’re interested in finding out more.
Eric: That’s great. That’s awesome. I think one, you’re right. A formal education in marketing which I don’t have either, by the way, I’m more of a communications manager and I got all of my marketing chops on the job too, it’s great if you can get that degree because you learned the theory, but I think you’re right. Stay hungry. Be curious and learn those tools. I’m sure Totara has some good options. I know CoSchedule has a great academy where we teach not only the tool but also marketing fundamental basics that could be great. Stay hungry as a marketer which is sound advice. Andie, thank you so much.
This has been absolutely brilliant. Thank you so much for coming on the show, for sharing your story. There’s just a ton of good actionable stuff that you provided as good advice for our listeners. It’s been wonderful. Thank you.
Andie: I had a great time. Thanks, Eric.