In some fantasy world, growth marketers have all the cash, corporate support, creative assets, and analytics they need, and can do their jobs in splendid isolation. In the real world? No marketer is an island, every team is an integrated component of the overall organization, and marketing alignment is a tough challenge.
Which means that kindergarten lessons still apply.
And marketers need to play nice with others … for their own good.
Marketing alignment in fast-growing companies
That’s exactly what we recently discussed with key executives at fast-growing Lyft, LinkedIn, Poshmark, and Calm during our recent UNIFY conference.
Specifically, we asked them how marketers should align internal teams to achieve ROI.
On the panel: Esther Hwang, Director of Growth at Poshmark, Ben Shanken, Director of Product and Growth at Lyft, Jake Bailey, Senior Manager, Digital Marketing and Strategy at LinkedIn, and Dun Wang, VP of Product and Growth at Calm. Fabien-Pierre Nicolas, Head of Marketing at SmartNews, moderated.
Here’s a summary of their insights.
Aligning with executive teams
Aligning with the executive can be challenging. Most CxOs don’t know growth marketing, and they may also have a different time-frame for decision-making than campaign-driven marketers. Achieving marketing alignment requires tight coordination.
“At Calm we have three KPIs,” says Calm VP Dun Wang. “It’s purchase conversion, subscriber engagement, and subscriber renewals, so all of the conversations come back to those three metrics.”
That simplifies conversations, because those three key performance indicators are identical all the way up and all the way down the organization. Every decision can be weighed by how it contributes to at least one, and hopefully multiple of the top KPIs.
At Lyft, with 1,600 employees, alignment requires structural thinking.
“We actually invest a lot in building a structure for how we think, and disseminating that structure across the whole company, so that people can be in line with how we think,” says Ben Shanken, Director of Product and Growth.
But it’s also about investment, and investment carries risk.
And that’s something else to consider at the executive level.
“We think about things in terms of how much risk we want to take in terms of learning,” says Shanken.
Aligning with finance teams
Marketing alignment with finance and the CFO matters too. And it’s often not without some history.
“Historically the relationship between finance and marketing has been kind of contentious, because one is the money-spender and one is the money-protector,” says Poshmark Director of Growth Esther Hwang.
That means marketers need to educate finance.
Finance teams typically don’t understand growth activity or marketing, and nuance escapes them. For example, when one channel is killing it, finance might think: invest all your dollars there. Growth marketers, on the other hand, might know that channel, understand its capacity, and understand that there is not enough scale there to withstand doubling or tripling the budget.
But finance often sees things that marketers don’t.
“At the same time the finance team is a really great ally,” says Hwang. “From their vantage point they have a really great way of looking at certain blind spots that the marketing team might have. For example, at Poshmark it was the finance team that pointed out to us the difference in very long LTV for our male users versus our female users … which the growth team, operating much more short-term, weren’t keeping as close an eye on.”
That’s relevant at LinkedIn too:
“From a finance perspective we have to understand the full evolution of a user,” says Jake Bailey, Senior Manager, Digital Marketing and Strategy at LinkedIn. “We have finance partners that are very baked into our everyday engagement.”
Lyft does the same thing: add a finance executive to the marketing and user acquisition group, says Ben Shanken. It’s easier to run the numbers on LTV and budget allocations — and ensure tight feedback loops — when finance has a seat at the table.
Aligning with engineering teams
Science and art. Data and creativity. Marketing and engineering.
Sometimes it seems like marketing and engineering are oil and water. One promises, and the other has to deliver; one builds, and the other has to market. And they don’t always speak the same language.
That’s not the case in the world’s best companies, however.
“We’re fortunate to have very commercially minded engineers,” says Calm’s VP Dun Wang. “They want to know … if they’re going to spend a week working on a feature, how does that affect the user experience and how does that tie back to more revenue for Calm? So we’re super-transparent with that.”
For Poshmark, it’s all about the relationships.
“Our VP of Growth is an ex-engineer … who has a lot of personal relationships [with engineers],” Director Esther Hwang says. “He still makes it a habit to set up unstructured time with engineers … and that’s proven to be very helpful.”
Just one example: Poshmark has set up car pool routes that intentionally mix staff members across departments. In one case, a growth marketer complained to an engineer about the cost of marketing on Facebook. The engineer brainstormed a solution that involved using Facebook social logins as part of the registration flow. It was super-easy to implement, and had a significant benefit.
“That low-hanging fruit improved our registration conversion rate by about five points,” Hwang says.
Lyft engineers collaboration right into standard workflow and employee organization, says Director of Product and Growth Ben Shanken.
“We have a social pod which is an engineer, a data scientist, a program manager, and a marketer,” he says. “We want the engineer to be a channel manager [and] we want the manager to be a marketer.”
First of all, Lyft has changed the career path of engineers from building technology to making an impact. And secondly, they’ve empowered engineers with ownership of metrics.
Marketing alignment … with other marketing teams
It may sound silly, but marketing does need to align with marketing. Growth marketers have different imperatives, techniques, technologies, and budgets than brand marketers. Performance marketers and user acquisition marketers look at the world differently. Creative teams are not always aligned with marketing managers.
It’s about size.
“As you scale you’re going to run into these more siloed teams in the marketing space,” says LinkedIn’s Jake Bailey. “You have to find a way to bring those together.”
One way LinkedIn has done it is by creating an internal digital agency.
The agency is horizontal, and flows across silos. It leverages what is working in one team with the others, and derives a whole-company number for ROAS, return on ad spend.
“[This] allows us to work together to grow the business as a whole,” Bailey says.
Lyft has a different way of solving a similar problem, and it involves sometimes intentionally building inefficiencies into the system. It sounds paradoxical — or nonsensical — but it’s actually necessary.
“We have huge brand dollars that we do not control,” says Ben Shanken, Lyft’s Director of Product and Growth. “We can try to align our roadmaps … but every time we do that it sort of fails. It all comes down to agreeing on goals … if you do that, then it becomes easier to sequence how we do things.”
One example: brand marketers tend to like the most efficient ways of buying brand: national advertising. But, if you want to be great at measurement, local spend is the way to go.
The solution: sometimes being less efficient at one goal (in this case, brand advertising) to enable long-term efficiencies in another goal (in this case, local performance-oriented advertising).
Aligning with creative teams
Mistakes are great teachers, and Lyft saw this first-hand.
“We did a really bad thing … we gave the marketing team and the creative team a goal to replace all creative within four weeks with winning creative,” says Shanken. “They started cranking out huge amounts of creative, but the downside was they were cutting a lot of corners on analyzing this stuff … and rolling out creatives that weren’t that amazing.”
Lyft adjusted team OKRs (objectives and key results) and fixed the problem.
But this isn’t easy, as Calm also learned.
“For us it was really hard to align creative and UA,” says Dun Wang. “[There were] too many opinions on what ads we should launch and why … most of it not founded on data.”
What helped Calm move faster was empowering user acquisition directors to lead creative as well. Each UA team received design resources … and UA managers were given some leeway in marketing.
“We’re not so precious about the brand,” Wang says.
Aligning with BI/Analytics
Growth marketers live and die by the numbers. So it’s no surprise that the best marketers want super-tight relationships with business intelligence and analytics pros.
“Incorporating biz analytics into your process early is the key to success,” says LinkedIn’s Bailey. “Include them early and include them often. For us, they are the core of the team … without them nothing else would exist.”
Lyft’s Ben Shanken agrees:
“Data science is hugely important to each channel for us, especially as we start to automate and build programmatic,” Shanken says. “Because they’re building the models … they are arguably the most important part of the pod. They are the person making the actual model and algorithm working with the engineer and the marketer to translate logic into model.”
The same is true at Poshmark and Calm, where Wang says that data analysts work on every project and with every team.
It’s not often that you can get some of the world’s top marketing experts and user acquisition leaders to open up about the core challenges of their jobs. Watch the whole video to get every last detail.
And one more thing: