How I Approach Digital Marketing at Buffer as a TOFU Marketer

One of the most exciting things about working at a startup or small company is that every employee wears multiple hats.

That means at any moment I might be working on our next social media campaign, writing content for the blog, interviewing a guest for our next podcast episode, hosting a workshop, streaming Live, or editing a video in Adobe Premier.

It can also mean, though, that more formal strategies and long-term thinking take a back seat to shipping projects today. After all, if we sat around and thought about it too long we might never ship anything at all!

But this year we’re taking a more strategic approach to our marketing at Buffer. We’re planning out content weeks in advance and making sure it aligns with our various business objectives.

In other words, we’re growing up.

Each teammate is responsible for delivering content or assets within a certain time frame for his or her role on the team. Whether it’s PR, Community, Social, Content, Growth, Email, or Data, we’re all focusing on working together.

This year, I’ve had the privilege to take on an expanded role: Top-of-the-Funnel (TOFU) Marketer. Essentially it means that a lot my day is based around getting as many people (potential customers) into the top of our marketing funnel as I can through digital and offline content.

To do so, I needed a strategy.

What processes should I prioritize? Which marketing activities will drive the most growth? Which ones won’t? How will I know if it’s working?

And so I put together what I’m calling my Digital (TOFU) Marketing Strategy for 2017. It’s based on the incredible work of Brian Balfour and other professionals who have written about digital and growth marketing in great detail.

I’m still learning as I go and this strategy is nowhere near perfect (plus, it’s changing every day), but I thought it might be useful to share it with you all.

Here it is in its entirety. I hope you enjoy!


What is Buffer’s vision? Why do we exist?

To give people a greater voice on social media and to create a workplace of the future.

What is TOFU Marketing?

The main goal of TOFU Marketing is to attract more quality customers to a product or service.

(Quality is key when deploying TOFU marketing strategies. 4,000 leads doesn’t necessarily equate to 4,000 long-term customers ((or even 4 for that matter)).

And it doesn’t stop there.

On small teams, TOFU marketers also need to take into consideration the entirety of the marketing funnel. In other words, once we get the customers in the door, where do they go? Do they stick around? Purchase more products? Leave a review? Tell their friends?

In that light, TOFU marketers take on the roll of what we might today call a Growth Marketer.

“Finance owns the flow of cash in and out of a company. Growth owns the flow of customers in and out of a product.” — Andy Johns, VP of Growth, Wealthfront

Where does TOFU Marketing fit into the Buffer vision?

In order to give people a greater voice on social media they must:

  1. Know about our product
  2. Decide that our product is the best fit for their job to be done
  3. Understand how to use our product to the fullest

I am approaching TOFU marketing as a delicate balance between traditional awareness + acquisition marketing and retention + revenue + referral marketing. (See chart below Growth vs. Marketing vs. Product)

This equates to creating content and prioritizing marketing activities that not only look to attract a large amount of new customers, but also to guide customers along the marketing funnel in a cohesive and strategic manner.

[In my current TOFU-focused role, many of the activities will be geared towards awareness + acquisition. However, understanding and implementing MOFU & BOFU marketing processes is important in the success of retention + revenue + referral. This may come in different forms such as email marketing campaigns, “how-to” videos, targeted Facebook Ads, growth experiments, and more.]

Growth vs. Marketing vs. Product (via Brian Balfour)


Note: These are generalizations. Implementation of growth strategies within companies can vary widely.

We are in the unique position at Buffer to be able to move quickly between growth and marketing. This allows us to conduct data-driven experiments, while also thoughtfully planning campaigns that will help to drive overall brand awareness and product conversions.

Much of our marketing success depends on the process of seamlessly integrating our growth goals with awareness + acquisition goals. It also depends deeply on the ability to deploy a fast, data-driven process to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

For example:

We might test 4 to 5 different email sets (headlines, subject lines, audience, images, wording, length, CTA, etc) on any given day while working within the framework of our overall email marketing campaign. That email marketing campaign would be within the framework of our overall email goals such as blog traffic, open rate, CTR, etc.

Data from the 4 to 5 various email sets must quickly be measured, analyzed, and reported so that we can work the learnings back into our next email campaign.

Another example:

We might experiment with 3 different video lengths and topics on Facebook while working within the framework of our overall Facebook marketing strategy. Our Facebook marketing strategy would fit within our overall social media strategy which is to educate, entertain, and drive traffic to Buffer assets.

Data from the different video lengths and topics must quickly be measured, analyzed, and reported so that we can work the learnings back into our next Facebook video.

Choosing Our Customer Acquisition Channels


Customer Acquisition Channel Priority Matrix

From Brian Balfour’s “5 Steps to Choosing Customer Acquisition Channels”

Cost — The upfront and ongoing cost to acquire users in this channel

Targeting — The depth of ability to target different audiences

Control — The control you have over turning the channel on/off at will

Input Time — The upfront time required to start running experiments with this channel

Output Time — The time it takes to start getting data around your experiments

Scale — The size/reach of the channel

The chart above shows the top 6 marketing channels that fall under our marketing growth strategy. In a perfect world, the channels would look like this:

Targeting — High, Cost — Low, Input Time — Low, Output Time — Low, Control — High, Scale — High

Operating under this framework will help to prioritize marketing channels in order of importance. It’s crucial to remember, though, that this is only meant to be the beginning. At this point we have a hypothesis about a customer acquisition channel. We’ll benefit from setting up and running a number of experiments to prove out the viability of the channel in relation to overall growth goals.

Building a Process for Growth, Not Tactics


“Tactics first is putting the cart before the horse. You need a process that will help you build a scalable, predictable, and repeatable growth machine.”
— Brian Balfour

What the TOFU process may look like at Buffer:

  1. Setting BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) against the areas we’d like to grow in
  2. Continually feed the machine with new ideas and experiments
  3. Measure experiment data (did it work or fail?)
  4. Sharing our learnings with team and iterating on experiment process/implementation

Digital (TOFU) Marketing in Action


Social Media

One of the biggest strengths of social media is its ability to drive a huge amount of word-of-mouth marketing in a short amount of time.

It’s also a great tool for providing educational & entertaining resources that are timely, easy-to-digest, and unique to individual platforms.

Due to the changing landscape of social media algorithms and a decline in organic reach across the board, every piece of content that we put out on social should have a purpose. Those purposes are as follows:

  1. Provide value (education or entertainment) unique to the channel its shared on
  2. Provide content so valuable/relatable that people are moved to share it with their network
  3. Humanize the Buffer brand through authentic and transparent learnings

Email

As organic reach on social media continues to drop and social platforms move to more “closed” environments, it’s important for companies and brands to have “owned marketing assets” of their own.

A blog is one great example and another is a company’s email list.

Our email newsletter (and list) will serve as an important peripheral marketing channel with a focus on driving additional traffic to our blog outside of organic search and social media.

Email strategy and success will focus on three factors:

  1. Quality and segmentation of our subscribers
  2. Efficient and data-backed A/B tests
  3. Valuable, unique, and interesting content delivered consistently

Not only is email a great way to “push” out information to our current and potential customers, but it’s also a great way to “pull” knowledge about our customer database and enrich our insights into content preferences and demographic information.

(We also might consider running email drip campaigns — leading subscribers to certain pieces of MOFU or BOFU content aimed at converting customers at certain stages of their journey)

Video

Data from 2016 points to the fact that video is one of the best ways to reach our audience on social media and provide value to current and potential Buffer customers.

Video content will be one of our content cornerstones with a focus on marketing thought-leadership, social media education, company culture, and entertainment.

3 key factors that will help lead to video success:

  1. Consistency across all major video sharing platforms (daily video is optimal)
  2. Topic research, headline optimization, and thoughtful delivery of content
  3. Creativeness and willingness to think outside of the box

Due to the nature of video, we will be extra diligent in tracking the success of our video marketing efforts. What’s working? What’s not? Can we deliver video content in more effective and efficient ways?

think with Google put together a great chart on various video KPIs that we might measure in relation to each marketing goal:

Key Questions to Ask with Video Marketing Campaigns:

  • Question #1: What is your marketing goal for this campaign?
  • Question #2: What are the KPIs for that marketing goal?
  • Question #3: What are the best video analytics to measure your KPIs?
  • Question #4: How will you optimize for engagement?

Different Video Platform Opportunities Based on Previous Successes:

  • Pre-Recorded Video
  • Facebook & Instagram Live
  • YouTube Webinars
  • SkillShare Classes
  • Instagram Stories
  • Snapchat

Content

Content, when thought about under the umbrella of “Growth Strategy” has many facets. Growth content is optimized for SEO, has all of the parts required for social shareability (uniqueness, great headline, valuable), is optimized for click-throughs and email subscribers, and much more.

In this particular case, I am referring to content as a means to increase awareness. Therefore, content developed under Growth will focus more on virality (created and optimized for sharing across networks).

We will achieve virality through the following best-practices:

  1. Thorough topic research on current, trending topics using a tool like BuzzSumo
  2. Partnering with peer companies, brands, and influencers to leverage audiences
  3. Creating unique content assets for each social media channel (80% promotion rule)

Podcast

One highly “personal” TOFU content marketing strategy that has seen exponential growth over the past several years is podcasting. Audio content presents us with the opportunity to reach new customers where and when they want to be reached.

The Science of Social Media has received more than 160,000 downloads in just about 3 months since its release. Since being featured on Apple’s News & Noteworthy, numbers have leveled out to around 6,500–7,500 downloads per episode.

In order to grow both our core subscribers as well reach a significant amount of new listeners to the podcast, we will focus on the following activities:

  1. Identifying and securing quality podcast guests on a weekly basis (with a full backlog)
  2. Examining trends in our data and in the industry to formulate successful topics and headlines
  3. Experiment with and perfect show format to find “what works” with our audience
  4. Utilize essential marketing tactics to ensure maximum episode promotion
  5. Social media sharing (us and our guests)
  6. Email newsletter (us and our guests)
  7. Show notes optimized for SEO

Facebook Ads

Facebook Advertising works in a variety of Growth Marketing situations — from collecting emails to directly driving sales of a product. In most cases, however, Facebook Ads are effectively used as a supplemental marketing strategy with the goal of amplifying the various content pieces we’re creating.

It is very important for us not to use Facebook Advertising as a crutch, but as an amplification tool. In other words, our Facebook marketing and growth strategy will look to maximize organic reach before using ads to promote our content even further.

Our promotion strategy will look to boost the following types of content:

  1. Content with a high engagement ratio (engagement / reach total * 100)
  2. New or important product/company announcements
  3. Videos with a high video view ration (video views / reach total * 100)
  4. Partner/curated content that has organically reached more than 20,000 people

Summary


As mentioned in the beginning:

The main goal of TOFU Marketing is to attract more customers to a product or service.

Though there are dozens of different TOFU marketing strategies for businesses and brands, ours will focus on the testing and optimization of 6 main activities:

  1. Social
  2. Video
  3. Email
  4. Blog Content
  5. Podcast
  6. Facebook Advertising

We will look to strike the delicate balance between traditional awareness + acquisition marketing and retention + revenue + referral marketing. This allows us to conduct data-driven experiments, while also thoughtfully planning campaigns that will help to drive overall brand awareness and product conversions.

I hope you enjoyed reading through my Digital (TOFU) Marketing Strategy above. I would love to hear from you! Did I miss any thoughts or ideas? Please feel free to drop them in the comments below or reach out to me on Twitter.

-Brian