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Digital Velocity Podcast Hosted by Tim Curtis and Erik Martinez

57 Why Category Design is So Beneficial - Mark Donnigan

This week on the Digital Velocity Podcast, Mark Donnigan of Growth Stage Marketing joins Erik and Tim to discuss why category design marketing is so beneficial when launching, building, and scaling a business.

There is one vital question that brands need to have identified as they develop their marketing strategy. Mark says, “Well, let's just be really honest. When it comes down to a lot of the things that we might be building, there's hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of companies working on it. One of the really critical things is that we need to get crystal clear in naming what is the problem that we solve, not how are we better, faster, cheaper. So, the comparison game that does not work anymore. It doesn't work. There's so much noise in the marketplace.”

When businesses can distinctly answer the question of what problem they are solving, it eliminates the need to compare their product or service to others who are similar. Mark explains, “In a lot of markets, you go to a website of the top three, four, five, six companies in the space, and literally you could strip the logos off, and if you were to sort of homogenize the colors, like make them all grayscale, and in other words, de-brand them, you'd be like, well, it's the same website. The messages are nearly identical. Everybody's saying the same thing. So, how can somebody make a buying decision? And a confused mind is always going to say, I better wait….But the point is that we can no longer market and differentiate and sell based on a better, faster, cheaper. That's the comparison game. Instead, we need to be different. Different wins every time.”

Mark says, “But the problem is, there's a dozen other competitors, there's a hundred, there's 10,000. So, the reality is we have other companies in our space. And by the way, their products are largely like ours or even identical. In fact, they might even technically be better than ours. So, well, now wait a second, Mark. How can I be different when literally I have the same product? Same features, price points, everything's the same. This is the magic of category design.”

Listen to this week’s episode to learn why category design is so integral to helping businesses grow.

About the Guest:

Mark Donnigan designs and executes marketing programs and go-to-market strategies that build markets and establish disruptive innovation companies as a category king. With 20 years of experience as a transformative and strategic B2B marketing and business leader Mark understands what’s required to succeed in today’s winner-takes-all market.

Leveraging marketing and growth tactics that work, Mark produces real business results for early and growth-stage technology and disruptive innovation startup companies. Being well-versed in SaaS, software licensing, wholesale, and retail distribution models, he helps companies build nimble, highly efficient marketing teams that routinely outperform larger marketing groups.

Mark is passionate about extracting the most value from every marketing dollar invested. He provides startup founders in the early stages of building their sales engine with high-impact marketing playbooks so that they can reach their revenue goals and scale sustainably.


Erik Martinez: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the Digital Velocity Podcast. I'm Erik Martinez from Blue Tangerine.

Tim Curtis: And I'm Tim Curtis from CohereOne.

Erik Martinez: Today, we have Mark Donnigan on the show. Mark designs and executes marketing playbooks that produce real business results for early and growth stage technology and disruptive innovation startup companies.

With his 20 years of experience as a transformative B2B marketing and business leader, Mark understands how to succeed in today's winner-takes-all market by building categories and thinking differently. Mark, welcome to the show.

Mark Donnigan: [00:01:00] Hey, it's great to be here. Thanks, Erik and Tim. Really looking forward to the conversation. A lot to talk about in this topsy-turvy business climate that we're in.

Erik Martinez: Yeah, it was very interesting. I was having a conversation with my business partner, and we were just talking about we've got this pipeline and it looks really, really good, but nobody's committing and everybody seems to be waiting for something. We're waiting for the economy to turn or interest rates to fall, or the government to shut down or Congress actually to do their job.

Mark Donnigan: Yeah, fill in the blank. But there's something right. There's an action, an activity. You know, to this point, and I think this is actually a really good and important point is that, you know, we all work in our respective industries and markets and ecosystems and, you know, it's natural to think like, oh, it's just us and either grass is greener. Like, oh, if I was just over in this other market or if I was in this different geography, or if I was, you know, again, fill in the blank, it would be better.

Let me tell you, it does not matter [00:02:00] if you're selling paper if you're selling engine oil, if you're developing advanced technologies, or you're trying to land rockets on Mars. It doesn't matter where you are. This is a common theme. I guess for any listeners who might be thinking like, oh, but my market's different. No, your market's not different. Listen to what we're going to talk about because I think you'll find hopefully some help and some ideas.

Tim Curtis: Yeah. Your market's not different and you're not special. Let's just start there.

Mark Donnigan: Yes, yes. Bingo.

Erik Martinez: Half the listening audience, they're gone.

Tim Curtis: Yeah. They just clicked off. Right. Yeah.

Erik Martinez: Before we dive into that wonderful topic, Mark, would you mind just taking a moment and telling us a little bit about your career journey into becoming a virtual CMO and focusing on digital transformation?

Mark Donnigan: Yeah, for sure. I started as sort of a technical, curious kid. Which is to say that when I was 12 years old, I discovered my school's Apple II computer and [00:03:00] taught myself Basic, and you know, it was just, I mean, mind blown. Now, my dad was retired with Hewlett Packard, HP, and actually worked in the clean room producing some of the, not the earliest generation silicon, you know, chips, but, it certainly was many, many, many years ago.

So, I grew up in a technical household. Anyway, started there. Then decided, you know, I wanted to play music and be a rock star. So, I ended up dropping out of the computer science program, which really delighted my father and going to music school. And then figured out, uh oh, my path to stardom was probably going to be a whole lot of sleeping on couches and McDonald's jobs. Which nothing wrong with working at McDonald's, but I wanted to do more.

So, seriously, I started just in sales, was working my way, even through college, a part-time job, and figured out, wait a second, if I get good at sales, I can earn commission. I can work 10 or 12 hours a week and some months make as much as a full-time job. That got me on the path to business. [00:04:00] Started growing my career, ended up not becoming a rock star, just in case anybody wondered.

But started growing my career in sales typical path. Became a sales manager and then, you know, you grow and get more reps underneath you and you start building. And along the way, you know, I guess it's that left brain, right brain thing, you know, figured out that, wow, marketing is a really kind of a critical component and can be a little bit like jet fuel, you know, to sales.

I guess looking back, you can say, well, you know, I took this opportunity and I did that, but in reality, I was just trying to do the best I could with the tools I had at the time. So, began to just say, Hey, I really need to learn this discipline of marketing, and some, it was just pure, you know, I would say almost like intellectual curiosity, you know, like, wow, how does, marketing work? What really is the job of marketing? What does good marketing look like? I'd seen plenty of examples of bad marketing, as many, many salespeople.

So, just began to study, became a student. One [00:05:00] opportunity led to the next, led to the next, led to the next. And what I found is, and I think this topic's going to come up, is that I really believe today business is as much, whether you're a marketing leader or sales leader, you're the CEO, you're the founder, wherever you are, you know, or just an individual contributor working on a marketing team, working, you know, as a seller in the field, product manager, et cetera, it's about problem-solving.

When you really net out, like, Mark, what do you do? What is a virtual CMO? I was telling someone this just the other day. I said reality is I drop into companies and there's just a set of problems to be solved. Starting with, we're not earning enough revenue, or we feel that what we're investing in marketing isn't connecting to the market. Which ultimately then, leads to, we're not generating the sales, we're not building the market.

So, ultimately, I think a combination of my abilities to look at a business challenge and understand, like, how you [00:06:00] might address that to achieve a mission and then using the toolkit of marketing, but also a special tool I have in my tool belt is knowing revenue. So, kind of bring that all together. That's where I am today. And ultimately, I engage with companies to build their existing efforts, help them build.

I just work with a real small number of companies. I don't have one of these business models where, you know, I'm sort of a call me if you have an issue and I deal with 10 or 12 or whatever companies. I really just deal with one or two, you know, always am sort of helping advise.

I know that when you serve the market, good things come back. So, I've got at any one time, probably three, four, five, six companies that, you know, the CEO will call me up, the founder will call me up once in a while, we'll be at a trade show or a convention or something and they want to pick my brain on something and I'm an open book. I serve everybody and it's worked out.

Erik Martinez: Awesome. Awesome. Mark, in prep for the show I was looking through your background and some of the [00:07:00] things that you talk about, and you talk about problem-solving. You are a proponent of the idea of category design, which is a topic we actually learned about earlier this year. We talked with Kevin Maney from Category Design Advisors. He really introduced the concept, which I think is really an exercise in problem-solving. Right?

Mark Donnigan: It is.

Erik Martinez: You know, I find it interesting that you are a proponent of the methodology. What do you think are the key elements in creating the category and what are the benefits? What are the long-term benefits of doing so? Because I think it's a very interesting process. Could you elaborate a little bit on that?

Mark Donnigan: Yeah, let's start, we will talk about the key components, if you will, of category design, but I think, this would be a whole standalone session. Frankly, if we were just gonna kind of talk about, okay, how do you design a category? Just to be really, and I mean this in all humility, Kevin, look, he was co-author of the book, [00:08:00] Play Bigger. He is absolutely an OG and I would feel like, who am I to talk about category design when you've talked to Kevin Maney?

So, we'll focus less on okay, how do you build a category, but why to build a category and what the benefits are. The reason why I think this also is good is that there's some misconceptions around, what category design can do, especially if you're a smaller company. Maybe you're a startup. Hey, I get it. Everyone loves to use the Apple iPod as an example of category design, but come on Apple.

Even Apple, when they introduced the iPod 20 years ago, they were still Apple, right? They weren't the Apple of the day, but they were still Apple. And for many of us anyway, it's like, we're so far from being Apple like I can't even relate. So is this relevant to me? The short answer is it's very relevant, and here's why.

I think the easiest way to think about category design is this, the old [00:09:00] way of comparison marketing or comparison sales positioning, we talk about universal value props and what's our value proposition. We need to really nail that, so we can tell the market. It always comes back to we're better, faster, cheaper. What's our value prop? Oh, well, we're better, and here's why. We developed this thing, this approach, this technology, and nobody else has it, and it's going to take them 18,000 years to get it. So, we're so far ahead, right?

Well, first of all, look, come on, there is just nothing, including landing rockets on Mars, that there aren't more than one person working on it. What's the most far out there? You know, you talk about literally moon shots. Well, guess what? There's two companies and there's even more that are working on that. So, if there's two companies working on the hardest problems in the world.

Well, let's just be really honest. When it comes down to a lot of the things that we might be building, there's hundreds, [00:10:00] thousands, tens of thousands of companies working on it. One of the really critical things is that we need to get crystal clear in naming what is the problem that we solve. Not how are we better, faster, cheaper. So, the comparison game that does not work anymore. It doesn't work. There's so much noise in the marketplace.

In a lot of markets, you go to a website of the top three, four, five, six companies in the space, and literally, you could strip the logos off, and if you were to sort of homogenize the colors, like make them all grayscale, and in other words, de-brand them, you'd be like, well, it's the same website. The messages are nearly identical. Everybody's saying the same thing. So, how can somebody make a buying decision? And a confused mind is always going to say, I better wait.

 What did we just start the episode with? The comment that it [00:11:00] feels like everybody's in wait-and-see mode. Now, I am not suggesting that, for those of us that are struggling with this, that it's because, oh, our buyers are confused. There's a lot of good macro reasons, and many not-so-good, reasons why people are waiting. But the point is that we can no longer market and differentiate and sell based on a better, faster, cheaper. That's the comparison game. Instead, we need to be different. Different wins every time.

But the problem is, there's a dozen other competitors, there's a hundred, there's 10,000. So, the reality is we have other companies in our space. And by the way, their products are largely like ours or even identical. In fact, they might even technically be better than ours. So, well, now wait a second, Mark. How can I be different when literally I have the same product? Same features, price points, everything's the same. This is the magic of category design.

Let me [00:12:00] illustrate it this way. It's an easy illustration because everybody understands the CRM space. Salesforce, HubSpot. Right? Again, there's like 5,000 CRM vendors, I think there's even more now, but, a really, really, really, really crowded space. And so, if you have a friend that calls you up and says, Hey, Erik, I got this great idea. I am going to build a CRM. You're going to laugh, right? You're going to put the phone on mute because you don't want to, like, laugh literally in their ear. You're going to laugh, laugh, you're going to unmute and go, well, Mark, so tell me about your CRM.

It's going to be, we're going to be cheaper than Salesforce. Salesforce, you know, and it would go down the list, right? So, crazy idea, except, what if I called you up and I said, Erik, I'm going to build a CRM? But before you laugh, you know what? My family was in the roofing business. My dad wished that I would not become a roofer, so I was lucky enough to go to college, and you know, I'm now in technology, but you know what?

I grew up [00:13:00] roofing houses when I was 12. And I'm using this as an example. I know the roofing business, and you know what I found is that I didn't know any roofers that got above about 1 million, 1.2 million dollars a year. And you know why? Yeah, they had a hard time hiring people, they had a hard time keeping people. Yeah, all that stuff's true, but that really wasn't why. It's because they were always scrambling for the next job.

But you know what was interesting was, it's not because there weren't people who didn't need roofs. It's not because the market's shrinking. It's not because they did bad work and the word got around. It was because they're roofers. They didn't have a way to manage their marketing. So, they would run a Val-pack coupon. They would run this. They'd hire an SEO for six months and they'd get a few leads, but then that would fall off. So, they'd fire that person. And it was all this disjointed marketing. And I think there's an opportunity, I know there's an opportunity to build a CRM, a marketing automation platform for roofers.

Now, if I told you that, [00:14:00] I'm guessing, even though you may know nothing about roofing. I put a new roof on the house at one point. That was expensive. But now, all of a sudden you're going to have a different response. And now, I've defined the market. Now, I know very clearly who am I selling to. I have some domain knowledge around it. I can develop those handful of very specific features that might be needed for that particular market.

Now, when I'm out and I'm talking about why you need a CRM, I'm able to be very specific, very explicit about what is the problem. The problem is that 98 percent of roofing companies don't grow beyond 1.2 million a year, and here's why, and here's the solution. And then I build content around that. And all of a sudden, am I going to build the next Salesforce, you know, at whatever their market cap is today, you know, 40, 50 billion? I don't even know.

No. But could I build a [00:15:00] highly profitable 50 million dollar a year CRM company that becomes the category king of CRM for roofers? You know, it's a lot of work involved in getting there, but the odds are pretty good that I could do that. And if I do this without raising 50 or 100 million dollars, and I build this 50 or 60 million dollar company raising 10 or 12 million dollars, I don't know, that's a pretty darn good exit for me in probably 10 years. This is category design.

Tim Curtis: Yeah. Because you've given us the why of category design. Maybe a little bit more of a concrete example, you know, getting inside like the family business, the roofing. But you've also emphasized that importance of that engineering and go-to-market process with that. So, how do you then flip that on its head and take that analogy through a go-to-market process? How do you then set that up?

Mark Donnigan: Yeah. So, category design is interesting because there also is a little bit of a fallacy of category design is basically [00:16:00] building a community, community kind of lead growth. And community and B2B is really hot right now. A lot of people are writing, a lot of people are talking about it.

By the way, there's some people that are using this term dark social. This notion that buyers are now self-organizing. They're effectively joining communities and then they're asking each other, Hey, Tim, we're thinking of investing in this. Well, what are you guys using? Hey, Erik, what are you guys using? And then kind of correlating that way.

The strategy behind the go-to-market is first of all, category design is not this, I sprinkle this activity. It's one of the reasons why I actually don't like to start with how do you design a category. Because how you design a category, if we just jump into the mechanics of it, what can get skipped is a strategy behind it.

For example, if we just jumped into how to design a category, but if the founder of this mythical CRM company, you know, this new co [00:17:00] CRM, maybe thinks like, oh, you know, my family did come out of roofing, but you know what? I want to sell to everybody. I'm going to sell to everybody. If they still have this mindset that they are going to sell to everybody or that their product is for everybody, or that our product is so good the world's going to beat a path to our door and that's how we're going to win, well, they're going to lose.

Because guess what? They're going to position themselves ultimately, their new category on taking on Salesforce and HubSpot and, you know, go down the list. Right? You have to look at what is your go-to-market. How are you approaching that market? And then how do you use the tool of category design to form like a foundation, is the best way to think about it. And then from that foundation, now you begin to execute very specific strategies, very specific tactics, both on the sales front and on the marketing front.

Erik Martinez: What you're starting with is really about [00:18:00] audience definition, to a certain extent. Who am I serving? What problems am I solving for them? First, before you really think about how to go-to-market and structure the category so that you can be the king of whatever that niche is that you're that you're going after. Is that a reasonably fair statement?

Mark Donnigan: Yes and no. The yes is obvious. The reason why I say no is it just simply defining, hey, sales team, I want you to go call up, you know, in this industry at this particular level, that's what we're going to go after. That in and of itself, that's not really a strategy. That could be as simple as, Hey, I did a survey of our last 15 deals and do you know, eight of them came out of this industry and of the eight, five of them came as a result of us interfacing at the CIO level.

Okay. Now, that's tactics, [00:19:00] right? And that should absolutely inform. You know, like, Hey, I need to get that information to the sellers. Because if the sellers are in a whole different part of the organization if they're pounding down the door of the CFO and they're in a different market, well, then, you might say, Hey, why don't we shift? Why don't you start calling into this type of company and call into the technical side of the organization, calling the IT? Stop calling CFOs.

But that's not category design. Category design comes before that. Because category design says when I get the CIO on the phone, does the CIO hear the name of my company and go, Oh, yeah. Hey, you're the guys, and then their little whatever comes after that, it's not, Oh, you're the guys that have the X, Y, Z widget that is 18 percent faster and 33 percent lower cost and so on. Oh, you're the guys who are, and they fill in the blank, right?

And then [00:20:00] you go, yeah, yeah, that's us. Hey, so how do you know about us? I don't know. You know, I think maybe I was on a webinar or a friend of mine just adopted you, brought your solution in, or whatever. That's the category design positioning. But it's not just, let's call into this level of the organization or into this particular office or this particular position or even this particular industry, necessarily.

Erik Martinez: It makes perfect sense. As you're going through this process, you know, one of the other things that you've talked about is hiring the right talent to support your vision of what you're trying to do. The quote that I saw was something to the effect that, just hiring a recruit from Frugal or Salesforce or HubSpot fill in the name, right, doesn't guarantee success. So, how do you go about finding the talent to support the vision and execute the plan?

Mark Donnigan: Yeah. Yeah. Boy, that is the 64,000 [00:21:00] dollar question, as they say. First of all, caveat my answer, and it's probably already clear as we're talking. I deal really exclusively with technical founders that are starting B2B companies, usually software companies, SaaS platforms, but usually deep technology, and the sales cycles are generally quite long, you know, it can be certainly two or three quarters to two years.

But these are big deals. So, when you get one over the finish line, you know, it can be very easy, mid-six figures up to seven figures. And in a lot of cases, even reoccurring annual licensing. So, that's the caveat. So, I only say that because if someone's listening and you're selling in a different context, you may hear some of this and be like, well, that's crazy. That would never work for me. Yeah, it probably wouldn't.

But when you're building a marketing team and when you're an early stage company, by definition, [00:22:00] everyone's heard the term product market fit. I've actually started to sort of migrate past using that. I think there is a reality of product market fit, but product market fit also is something that shifts. And the reason why it shifts is that if you think about it by definition, what I need to exist as a brand new company, when I just need to show traction to raise my series A, and I'm just looking for half a million dollars of revenue, that is a very different product market fit than when I'm now going after my series B, and I'm trying to get from 5 to 15 million, 5 to 25 million and as I progress, right?

And so, the one problem I have with product market fit definition is that it assumes that it's a single moment in time. It also assumes that once you have, you know, in air [00:23:00] quotes, once you have reached product market fit, that you're good, then it's all just scale from there. You know, it's pedal to the metal. Let's pour dollars in the LinkedIn ad account because we're just scaling this baby up.

It's certainly in the world that I work in, and more and more even in sort of more your maybe mid-market SaaS type companies, that is not the reality that anybody's in. And if people are still building business models and structures around that paradigm, I would just challenge you to really look very carefully at what you're doing.

What I have found in hiring early marketers, we can get in the whole question of, do you hire a leader first or do you hire someone who's a player-coach, who's very comfortable being a player and then scaling? Do you hire a good generalist? There's different strategies, and I found that in some cases it's not necessarily, do this, don't do that. It's more like, hey if you do this, [00:24:00] here's the trade-off. If you do that, there's a different set of trade-offs.

So, what you can do when you're hiring is first of all, and I'm talking about early marketers and building your first marketing team, you need to focus on people who can execute. By very definition, the larger the company that they come out of and the higher the level, the more strategic they have been. Now, look, that's needed. It's important. And guess what? It's important for startups too.

But the problem is that person had a team behind them, either directly or indirectly. So, they either had a team of folks that they were managing, or they could lay out these beautiful frameworks and roadmaps and plans, and then they could go hand it off to somebody and basically they can move on to the next thing. And in a startup, guess what? There is no one to do the work.

And so, the biggest pitfall in hiring from these big companies, it's not because, oh, that [00:25:00] person, you know, somehow hid out inside Google or inside HubSpot or Salesforce or whatever, and they really weren't good. No, no. I mean, by definition, if they stayed employed for more than about 12 or 14 months, they had to be doing something. They had to be providing value. But the problem is that they're too far away from hands in the dirt. And in a startup, hands in the dirt beats strategy all day long, every day. Period.

So, that's the first thing, is that if you're a founder, if you're running a small company, and you find that you're struggling, and if you've made some mishires where you're like, I don't get it. I know these people we hired were good. We did backdoor reference checks on them and they came in and they were credible, everybody loved them. But the reality was they didn't get anything done, so we had to let him go.

I find this a lot. I get called into many, many, many situations where this is the story. The founder is kind of like, well, fundamentally, we've [00:26:00] got a good marketing team, but it's just not working. And so, a lot of times there's just too much thinking and you got to get hands in the dirt. And so then you have to look at, okay, what are the needs of the particular marketing approach that your building? Like, if it requires heavy technical content where you really need to be able to publish content that's credible, that the buyers, the market, they're going to read and not just feel like, oh, it's fluffy, or read it and say, well, you know, that's so biased.

So, one of the things that I've stumbled upon, but it's a very, very effective is go hire a journalist in the market. Go find somebody who's writing in your space, who's maybe really well-known online. Let me tell you, even if you're at a startup and you feel like, well, you know, we can't possibly compete on a comp basis, with the big, you can compete with a journalist salary, and they will be very, [00:27:00] very, very happy.

So, this can work really, really well. They're a great writer. They know the market. They know the space. Now you're gonna have to teach them marketing because they're gonna come in as a journalist, like just reporting. And so, you're going to have to spend some time like reminding them and coaching them on the marketing side. But the point is, is that there's so much self-education in the buying process today.

And if you really think about it, what are we really trying to do? We're trying to make all of the information freely available, easy to understand, that our buyers need to grasp so they can make a buying decision. Well, isn't that journalism? That's what it is, right? We're writing stories, we're educating. We need to write very clear, very succinct. They need to be able to read it and go, ah, okay, now I understand. Versus kind of all this fluffy, high-level aspirational, where someone reads it and goes, I have no idea what you do, and I just read your sales page.[00:28:00]

Erik Martinez: You know, just listening to you talk and you have a specialty in startups in technology, but what you just said about building your marketing team applies to any small business. Doesn't really matter what market they are, whether they're B2B or B2C, those same challenges exist. The smaller companies need people who can do things and execute. And they don't need well, they need the strategy. They do need the strategy. Right? And this is where the virtual CMO comes in, right? The virtual CMO comes in provides the strategy. Hey, here's your list of things to do, and now you go out and do it and execute. Because really my experience is the smaller companies that execute really well, do really well and they grow.

Mark Donnigan: Yeah. Yeah. 100%. We all struggle with what's good enough, what level of quality. This can be, you know, even down into, oh, our website, you know, the [00:29:00] graphics or, you know, we don't like our brand colors. We don't like this. We don't like that. I'm just finding more and more and more that the things that marketers typically get hung up on are not the things that move the sale.

And if you want to debate me on this, I ask this one simple question. I say, you know, again, in this hypothetical conversation, you're suggesting that because we don't represent well at events, for example. You know, our booth is kind of a little shabby and, you know, we don't have the cool. But let me ask you a question. We just met with these three customers. One of them is the biggest in our field and they weren't embarrassed to come to our booth. They didn't say, Oh, well, we would meet you, but not in your booth. In other words, would we have had more meetings because of it?

In other words, when you ask yourself just a super practical question, all of a sudden you go, Oh. Yeah, we're going to get [00:30:00] to that, maybe in a couple of years our stand will look a lot better and, you know, on our website it will be flashier. And we're going to have all this really cool, great branding that's on point and all of our images are going to match and, you know, all that kind of stuff. But right now, it just simply does not matter. To put any real heavy focus on that is just going to take away from the core of what's actually going to move the needle. And right now, money in the bank moves the needle.

Erik Martinez: Money in the bank moves the needle.

Tim Curtis: Especially today.

Mark Donnigan: Yeah. Yeah. For some listeners, maybe you can feel a bit relieved in what I just said. Because, if it bothers you and by the way, it should bother you. If you're doing a survey of your own marketing or if you're looking at your website and you're like, Wow, our website is just, ugh, it should bother you. But before you drop everything to go run off and address that, just really ask yourself simple questions. Like, do we believe that we would have won that last deal we lost because we had a better website? I'll bet you nine out 10, if not 10 outta 10 times you'd say [00:31:00] no, had nothing to do with our website.

Erik Martinez: I would add to that. Many of our listeners will know I coach fast pitch and one of the things tell my team all the time, every day I come in here and improve one thing.

Mark Donnigan: The one thing, yeah.

Erik Martinez: Get better at one thing. Today it might be one thing on the website. Next time, it might be one thing in your customer service process, whatever it is, get better at the one thing.

Mark Donnigan: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. 100%. And, I don't want to leave it hanging out there. You know, I was talking about the website. Nobody should take away that, oh, websites don't matter or trade show booths don't matter. That's not by any means, what I'm suggesting. What I'm really just trying to illustrate is that we can get so hung up on and a whole team can orient and spend six months doing something. Launch it and it's like, Oh, wow, and everybody's happy because you've been heads down a lot of efforts gone in, maybe a lot of money was spent.

And then, did it move the needle on sales? And then, people are like, [00:32:00] uh, uh. Then the CEOs asking questions, and all of a sudden everybody's kind of running around trying to justify this thing they spent. Look, we have to do things in marketing that cannot be 100 percent correlated to an outcome. So, again, I'm not suggesting like, Oh, you know, if you can't correlate it, don't do it. It's just where marketing is.

And so, this is why knowing your buyer's journey is so critical because I just map it even back to that. Like, great. You want to go invest in this particular thing, whatever it is, a whole new website rebranding. A project, we're going to allocate half a million dollars to this. Do you know your buyer's journey and how is that going to help accelerate, how's it going to help bring clarity?

If you say, Oh yeah, Mark, absolutely. And here's where it's going to fit and here's why, and we really believe this, and we have evidence here. I'd say, shoot, maybe you should spend more than half a million. You've got it nailed. But if it's like, well, but you know, we've just gotten feedback that people didn't like our website, probably [00:33:00] understand the buyer's journey a bit better and figure out how you can help them move faster through it.

Tim Curtis: And understand their context. A B2B context is far different than a business-to-consumer context, you know if you're selling direct to consumer. Those issues are going to be much more forefront. B2B, you know, obviously more, more wiggle room.

Mark Donnigan: Hundred percent. Yeah.

Tim Curtis: Well, one of the last questions we want to ask, we were talking a little bit before the show, and I mentioned, I had just got done reading Eric Huberman's book, The Hawke Method. Part of his process, he kind of ends with the element of trust. And you talk about developing community for credibility, essentially trust. You want to give us a little thumbnail on your thought about community building and how that applies here?

Mark Donnigan: Yeah. Yeah. Love to. I haven't read the book. It's actually on my list. What an amazing story he has. Trust. The fundamental currency between a buyer and a seller today is trust. On one level, it's like, well, market's always been that way. You know, it was that way in 1950 when Zig Ziglar was selling knives [00:34:00] door to door, you know, in Georgia.

So, that's not new in and of itself, but what is new and different and so important to understand, and this is related to community is that trust, back then, was one person literally shaking hands in the presence of another. Sure, there was a little bit of, you had mutual acquaintances or whatever, but there wasn't all the electronic communication. There wasn't all the other ways for us to communicate. Nowadays, our brands are being talked about, and almost every time they're being talked about, we're not in the room.

And again, this is a B2B context, but frankly, this holds up, I think, even more true in B2C. Because what does not being in the room mean? It means social media. It means just Xing about an amazing experience they had, or a not-so-amazing experience, or an incredible product, or a not-so-incredible product. And yes, brands should be listening online and all of that, but the point is, is that there's the public expression of it, like on [00:35:00] X, and then there is, especially in B2B, there's organizations of video engineers, for example.

So, a market that I'm primarily focused on is like video streaming. So, like Netflix. Well, there's a whole engineering community around the technologies and around everything that's involved in making Netflix, Netflix. So, that when you plop down to binge-watch and you hit play, you know, it plays and it looks good.

Well, in those communities that are often happening, not out public on Linkedin, but they're happening in other places, that's where our brands are being mentioned. That's where we as individuals are being mentioned, in some cases. Hey, Mark's a great guy. Mark's not, I don't know about him.

Tim Curtis: Almost the informal community.

Mark Donnigan: Exactly. And so what I mean by the trust is that that's where the trust is established. And so now, how does this play into what we do is as business builders and as we're, trying to [00:36:00] build our own companies and establish ourselves as credible and executives and grow our careers and all the various things, what it means is that we have to assume that anything, any experience that someone's having in private is going to be public. It's going to come out. Right.

The second is that the more that we try and keep and protect and keep our arms around information, I've been a long-time proponent of getting rid of gated content. Now, having said that, yes, I have one place on my personal website where there's a form. Okay. So, I'm not suggesting that you can't have forms, but the old days of running lead gen where I have some sort of a white paper and I have to fill out a form to get to the white paper, those days are gone. Because guess what? People, in a lot of cases, just simply won't fill out the form.

We want to make as much information as available as [00:37:00] possible. Why? Getting back to trust. Because guess what? Somebody's going to read it. They're going to have some positive feeling. They're going to say, wow, I really learned something. Now, what happens the next day, the next week, the next month, when they're in one of these forums with a group of engineers, and somebody asks a question? And this person, who had a positive experience, they learned something from some content that I published, my company published, what are they gonna do? They're gonna say, Oh, hey, let me send you a link. I just read this fabulous article on that. Oh, there was this incredible resource. Hey, I'm gonna send you this link.

That is how trust gets built on a layer. Because by the very nature that we're in an engineering community and you're in a community, why would I not want to serve members of this community well? I'm not going to tell them something's good when it's not. Right. [00:38:00] And so, there's trust there. So, by me, as Mark Donnigan, as a member of this particular community that I'm in saying, Hey, I'm going to send a link. And for anybody else, you might want to check out what this company wrote. I read this article, that article, and this article, you might find it interesting.

Well, now what does that do? That drives traffic. Now, here's a group of people that this company maybe had never interacted with. Now, all of a sudden, what are they doing? Now they're coming in not because, Oh, I wonder if this company has a good product or bad product. They're coming in because they were referred in trust and were helping to facilitate knowledge transfer. And then knowledge transfer just continues to kind of get that feeling of like, Whoa, I can trust these people.

Why are teachers so trusted? Because they're a teacher, right? It's my teacher. They taught me. So, fundamentally, I trust that what they tell me is going to be good for me, right? It's going to be [00:39:00] right? That is kind of the loop. And this is a new, it's been happening over a number of years, but we are now in just this, very, very, very different relationship, especially, you know, in the B2B world.

But with B2C, I would argue it's exactly the same. The nature of the relationships are maybe more public, you know, in that you've got influencers and you've got these very public social networks, et cetera, but it's the same thing, right? If enough people are saying a lot of good stuff about a brand or a product, well, as a consumer, it's kind of like, Oh, Either I just need to go buy it, or I'm going to put that on my shortlist.


Tim Curtis: Well, you've certainly given us today a lot to think about in terms of maybe the whys behind category design. Going into some of those examples, which I think are a little bit more concrete, in terms of that go-to-market process. I like the angle of that credibility, but taking that credibility almost from within your tribe or your community, right? It's the internal communities that you're building. So, I definitely [00:40:00] like some of those thoughts. If someone does want to reach out to you directly, what's the best way for them to do that?

Mark Donnigan: Yeah, so my website is growth stage. marketing. So, just growthstage, all one word and it's a dot marketing domain. I've got lot of articles up there. I have some mini-books that are a little more graphically rich. So, check it out.

Tim Curtis: We'll link it in the show notes.

Mark Donnigan: Great.

Tim Curtis: Well, Mark, thanks again for coming on today. We appreciate you carving out the time. That is all for today's episode of the Digital Velocity Podcast. I'm your cohost, Tim Curtis from CohereOne.

Erik Martinez: And I'm Erik Martinez from Blue Tangerine. [00:41:00]

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