Future-proof your marketing in 2023 with Kieran Flanagan (Zapier CMO)

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Another week, another veteran, and this time we have Kieran Flanagan, CMO of Zapier. 

He was SVP of marketing at HubSpot where he helped the company reach 100k customers and $1 billion in revenue. Kieran also led HubSpot’s venture into the media space with the birth of HubSpot Media Group, which acquired popular newsletter, The Hustle

We’ve scoured all of Kieran’s publicly available wisdom to compile these top tips for future-proofing your marketing. 

In The SaaS Operator newsletter from 27 June 2023 you’ll learn:

  • The uncertain future of SaaS marketing.
  • 3 powerful marketing strategies to invest in 2023.
  • How to map the performance of your content marketing to your revenue.

Marketing in uncertain times

Marketing is going through a major shift. Apple’s data privacy updates, Google’s search result changes, the rise of AI, and changing consumer trends all make one thing certain: 

The marketing playbooks that made startups successful in the last decade won’t be what make startups successful in the next one. 

In a recent podcast, Kieran listed the strategies with headwinds and tailwinds for 2023. 

Let’s start with strategies that are starting to look like risky investments.

Marketing strategies with headwinds


SEO has been effective for decades but it faces a tricky future. Organic click-through rates have decreased to only 40% in recent years. With Google introducing BARD, their answer to ChatGPT, that number is going to look even worse.  

👉 Verdict: Maintenance mode (Maintain, but don’t double down on it)

🤝🏻 Co-marketing/partner channels

Economic uncertainty has made companies more cautious, making it difficult to make partnerships work effectively. 

👉 Verdict: Don’t get new partners

Now to Kieran’s top strategies worth investing in this year 👇🏼.

Marketing strategies with tailwinds

📹 Video Marketing

Short-form video is rapidly increasing in popularity. 73% of consumers like to watch a short-form video to learn about a product. 

The great thing about short-form videos is that you can re-use them natively on different platforms; Facebook, IG, TikTok, and YouTube. They even perform well as regular LinkedIn or Twitter posts.

🔥 Bonus Tip: FB Reels are on fire right now for us (EarlyNode). Our videos get 10-35x the impressions we get on YouTube, TikTok, and IG.

🖥️ Paid Ads

The cost of paid ads (CPM) has decreased as brands are cutting budgets due to economic uncertainty, meaning there’s a real opportunity for good ROAS if you have the dry powder.

📢 Brand Marketing

Digital media consumption grew 4x faster in 2022. People are consuming different types of media (newsletters, podcasts, etc). 

Companies building their brands via these channels by creating impactful educational and inspirational content (more on these later) are beginning to see more engagement from potential customers.

💰 If you have the pocket change to buy a media company, one major bonus is that you gain a whole new audience. But there’s an even bigger advantage…👇🏼

The real reason why HubSpot bought The Hustle

In a recent conference, Kieran shared that the main reason HubSpot bought The Hustle was not for the audience but for the talent. 

HubSpot noticed that people were increasingly consuming content from newsletters and podcasts in the B2B space. It was a different kind of content, something he didn’t see in blogs. 

Like many SaaS companies, HubSpot was great at creating educational content, aka helpful content that answers people’s queries. But they weren’t good at this other kind of content – inspirational content. 

Inspirational content influences your audience with storytelling in a more emotional and impactful way. This kind of content includes more stories, points of view, and news.

HubSpot wanted to own the best media team that excelled at educational and inspirational content in the industry. The Hustle had the talent for this. So they bought it.

And they hit the jackpot.

Within 3 to 4 months of acquiring The Hustle, HubSpot had over 17 newsletters and podcast shows with millions of monthly subscribers and listeners. 

✍️ Lesson: If you want to grow fast with a media team, invest in talent that can create quality inspirational and educational content. 

Of course, great content is pointless if you don’t get results. So how do you know if this strategy is bringing in revenue?

How to measure conversions in your media content

Improvements in martech tools have made marketing more data-driven. Marketers can now tie their efforts to revenue and justify investment in a strategy. 

The downside is that it’s made many marketers over-reliant on data. When it comes to brand building with inspirational content, they struggle to measure its impact on revenue.

Here’s how you can gauge ROI on inspirational content with 2 metrics: 

  1. Reach: The number of people engaging with all your media assets. E.g., how many people read your blogs, watched your YouTube videos, downloaded your podcasts, etc. 

Once you know your reach, figure out the cost in ad spend to get that same reach via a 3rd party, e.g. if your content reaches about 1000 people, and the typical CPM ad spend on Facebook or YouTube to reach 1000 people costs $50, it means that content created $50 worth of reach. 

  1. Direct monetization: The direct revenue generated by people engaging with your content. Set up a lead nurture workflow. That way you can track the people in the workflow that engage with the content and if they’re successfully moving through your funnel, e.g. clicks that eventually lead to a sale. 

The future may be uncertain, but your marketing doesn’t have to be. A little bit of testing and tweaking is all you need and you’ll be well on your way to future-proofing your growth.

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