The Startup
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The Startup

How to turn an ROI-negative marketing campaign on its head

His palms are sweaty.

Knees weak; arms are heavy.

There’s vomit on his sweater already.

So raps Eminem in the film 8 Mile, describing his character’s nervousness while performing on stage.

These opening lines perfectly represent how I felt before hosting my first webinar for Ahrefs — minus the vomit, thankfully.

I’d decided to experiment with webinars as a marketing channel after hearing about their high potential to convert.

So, I did what any responsible internet marketer would do:

I spent countless hours writing the best script I could and creating a few dozen good-looking slides to accompany it. I also followed all “webinar best practices” to create a landing page, follow-up sequence and “special discount” offer for webinar attendees.

When it came to show time, my hands were trembling. My heart was beating out of my chest. And my crisp, clean shirt revealed some very appealing pit stains. Good thing that I didn’t turn on my web camera — I only showed slides.

Since I foresaw that I would be stressed as hell, I didn’t even bother rehearsing that webinar beforehand. I just printed the entire webinar script and read it, word for word, to the two hundred people that were listening to me live. Imagine how generic my talking sounded.

But wait, that isn’t even the worst part.

Let’s just say that this isn’t one of those motivational tales about how facing your fears leads to success. After a significant amount of work, and huge stress, my 60-minute webinar was a flop. I made a disappointing total of five sales of our SaaS software — and that’s after giving out a substantial discount.

Additionally, I had committed to providing complimentary SEO consultations with every purchase; something a webinar guru had suggested I offer as an “urgency sign-up bonus” to drive sales.

So I had to schedule 5 Skype calls with the buyers and provide as much value as I could to these people over the following week. Cue more stress.

To add even more salt to the wound, even my private consulting wasn’t enough to keep these customers from canceling their Ahrefs subscriptions a few months later.

Translation: the Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) and the Lifetime Customer Value (LCV) of my webinar sucked.

As Ahrefs’ CMO, my goal is to generate the highest possible ROI in exchange for the lowest amount of marketing effort. And after this experience, I was convinced that webinars were a waste of time.

However, my opinion changed while interviewing Bryan Harris for my Blogging for Business course…

How to scale your marketing channels

Bryan told me about how ConvertKit founder Nathan Barry managed to turn webinars into a scalable system.

In fact, Nathan is still relying on webinars as his core marketing channel. Webinars helped him to grow ConvertKit to $15 million in ARR. Here’s what he said in his recent article “15 lessons from our first $15 million:”

After speaking with Bryan, I immediately asked for an introduction to Nathan — I wanted to understand how he experienced so much success with a marketing channel that had failed miserably for me.

Here’s what I learned from a private Skype conversation with Nathan:

  • Nathan distilled partner-webinars into a repeatable process.
  • Three full-time team members are responsible for executing different stages: Nurturing relationships with affiliate partners, managing the technical setup of the webinar and delivering actual webinars.
  • They relied on the success they had from running their webinars with their first partners to pitch more and more people (with their target audience) to co-host the same webinar.

I came to realize that I should have fully expected my first webinar to fail.

All I had to do was learn from my mistakes and re-use all the resources that had already been invested in to run subsequent webinars until they become ROI-positive.

The first step is always the hardest, as they say. I can’t believe I gave up on webinars so easily.

  • I had the entire webinar content ready. All I needed was to find the weak spots and improve them.
  • I had the landing pages ready. I just needed to play around with the copy based on what resonated with past attendees the most.
  • I had all email follow up sequences and the technical setup ready.
  • I had my discounts and bonuses set up.

In other words, every subsequent webinar would perform better than the previous one while requiring vastly less effort on my end.

Hell, I’ve even seen some people running automated, pre-recorded webinars where they jump in only for the live Q&A at the end. Some don’t even bother with that and have a company employee do the Q&A instead.

Talk about ROI.

I believe this applies to almost every marketing channel you can think of: if you do it just once, the ROI won’t be great.

But once you scale it into a repeatable process where you learn from your mistakes and polish it to perfection? That’s when the magic happens.

You’re probably thinking I returned to webinars at this point.

Well…by the time I realized I could turn webinars into a repeatable and scalable process, my ready-made webinar script and slides had already become irrelevant. I’d also already canceled all subscriptions to automation tools.

I was also busy with something else: somewhere along the line, I’d gotten an invitation to be a guest on a marketing-related podcast.

How I scaled podcast interviews

Similar to my previous experience as a webinar novice, I took the route of over-preparing for my first podcast interview.

Not only did I request for all the questions in advance, but I also wrote down my answers in detail because I knew I’d be super stressed on a call and might very possibly forget how to talk.

Now, did I sound natural when reading my answers “live?”

Probably not, but I definitely got all of my points across. And since the whole process took substantially fewer resources than doing a full webinar, I decided that I wanted to stick with it.

As of today, I have 20+ podcast appearances under my belt and three more interviews scheduled in the next week alone.

Interestingly, I no longer ask for questions in advance so that I can prepare some “smart” answers — I just hop on a call and be myself.

Sometime after doing my 5th podcast interview, I started to find that I was no longer as stressed out as I used to be. Plus, I already knew which of my stories and ideas resonated the most with people based on my previous interviews.

So I decided that in 2019, I would turn my infrequent podcast interviews into a scalable, repeatable process that would help me expose Ahrefs to thousands of new people.

The whole “scalable podcast process” was extremely simple:

  1. I asked one of my team members to find all relevant podcasts that talk about marketing, startups, entrepreneurship etc and create a spreadsheet with contact information and some details about the host.
  2. Once a month, I pick 10–15 podcasts from this list and reach out to the hosts, pitching myself as a guest. After sending a few of these pitches, I realized I could just create an email template that I’d personalize to suit each individual podcast based on what their show is about.
  3. If they agreed to interview me, I would hop on a call (without any prior preparation) and share many of the same tips and stories that I’ve shared on other relevant podcasts. I don’t obsess about being 100% unique with each of my interviews, because the audiences of these podcasts don’t overlap too much. And besides, repetition is the mother of learning.
  4. Once the episode is published, I share it with my Twitter followers, list it on my profile page at Ahrefs and list it in my future email pitches to boost my credibility as a guest.

In all honesty, I’m not sure how effective my podcast appearances are in terms of bringing new customers to Ahrefs and growing our ARR. But with the amount of time invested in each of these podcast interviews, I’d still be happy if the only value we got was “brand exposure.”

Building a Marketing Flywheel that generates compounding traffic from Google is the main priority of our marketing department. But I’m always looking for “secondary” marketing channels that we can scale and execute with little effort.

In fact, the Medium article that you’re reading right now is yet another scalable marketing process — my time is optimized so that minimal effort is involved with each post I publish.

But I guess this topic deserves an article of its own.

Work smarter, not harder

The key to building a successful scalable marketing process?

Just stick with it!

It’s extremely rare that a certain marketing tactic or channel will work for you the first time you execute it.

So instead of spreading yourself thin going from one marketing campaign to another, try to stick with one of them for a while and figure out how to get the most results with the least work invested.

You’ll then want to hire a few people, teach this process to them and move on to figuring out another scalable marketing process.

And if I were you, I’d figure SEO & content marketing first.

This is clearly not the easiest marketing channel to get started with. But in terms of ROI: once you scale it, it trumps everything else by a mile.

Check out Ahrefs’ YouTube channel for some cool SEO tutorials.

For now, I would love to hear about your experience with marketing campaigns. Have you created repeatable systems? What marketing platforms have you experimented with?

Tell me in the comments below.


Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this article, feel free to hit that clap👏 button a few times ( 👏👏👏👏) to help others find it :)

For more in-depth marketing articles, visit Ahrefs blog.




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