Camille Ricketts: Former Head of Marketing at Notion
MM.05 Creating unique content and the human-specific skills of marketing
I talk to people and record it! Some call this sort of thing a podcast. I call mine Moth Minds and the premise is “interviews with high-agency humans." Subscribe to hear the latest on a bi-weekly(ish) basis: Spotify, Apple, Google, Amazon, and Pocket Casts.
The best content is designed for the audience who will get the most impact out of the product — everything from the format, where it shows up, and what it’s trying to make people think and do. The most powerful and trustworthy content usually tells the stories of the people genuinely enjoying and making the most of the product.
Some marketers are artists and others are scientists — but both should know what is grabbing and motivating the most audiences and be able to come up with creative solutions that capitalize on what people are responding to.
Two marketing skills that will be increasingly valuable in the decade to come are 1) being willing to break the mold and 2) understanding an audience well enough to stay ahead of them and market to the way they make decisions.
MM: Hi everybody. Today I’m joined by Camille Ricketts, the former Head of Marketing at Notion. Previously Camille led content and marketing at First Round Capital, worked in digital services for the White House, and helped manage communications at Tesla.
Our conversation covered content marketing strategies, the unique skills needed by different kinds of marketers, and the areas of the field where humans are still needed. I hope you enjoy.
MM: Hello, Camille, and welcome to the podcast.
CR: Hi, Molly. Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.
MM: Amazing. My first question for you is how would you define the through line to your career? What threads have you kept pulling?
CR: Oh my gosh. It's a big question. And also one that becomes so much clearer in hindsight.
MM: Yes, absolutely.
CR: I would say that number one, writing. The ability to write something that you feel pretty good about pretty fast, I think, is an underestimated skill, and something that I got very lucky to build through being a journalist, starting from really early on, and then figuring out how that would translate to comms, and then marketing. But I do think knowing how stories are constructed and being just curious about new ways to tell stories has been something that's shown up in everything that I've done.
MM: That's wonderful. How have you seen that evolve throughout your career? Has it been something that you have noticed in the environment around you to be shifting? Or is it more something that you've dug deeper and discovered more historical examples that you've been inspired by?
CR: Oh, that's a great question. I think that, definitely looking historically and being a big reader, and I know that that is advice that is very commonly given to anybody who is excited about writing in whatever form factor or story creation, but truly cannot be over pronounced how valuable it is to see how other stories have been told throughout all remembered time. I think it's one of the reasons that I was a history major in college, even though there was no clear sense of what that was going to lead to professionally. Because history at its core was really about understanding stories about things that had actually happened.
But I think that the number one thing that's changed just during my career has been form factor. Just so many movements in that. Started out as a long-form feature journalist, obviously went deep with that at First Round Review, where we went into tactical storytelling, and often those pieces would be 3,000 to 8,000 words to really get to the essence of what was being relayed. But now, seeing how podcast and video, and shorter, and shorter form video are now being utilized to tell really robust stories and to really convey personality and lifestyle, I think all of that is so interesting. And so, I've really tried to just stay on the edge of what the audience is finding most engaging, depending on which audience you're speaking to.
MM: How do you think about differentiating content in a sea of all these different new content types and everyone is trying to find an edge? What is your secret sauce? You don't have to reveal it.
CR: Well, I think it's going to be not entirely non-obvious when I say it. But I also think that it's a step that can often be glossed over. But it really does start with figuring out who that person is, who you're trying to move with whatever content is you're trying to create. And I say, move because it could be moving them emotionally, it could be mobilizing them to take an action or obviously to make a purchase. Getting them to believe something in particular. So, having a really precise sense of who that person is, and I say, person and not people, because I think it can be a really helpful tool to actually distill it down into what that type of individual is like. And then, figuring out what it is you actually want them to do or how you want them to change. I think that all of those ways that you can move somebody comes down to what change do you want to make and how they think, or how they act, based on what you're telling them.
“I think that all of those ways that you can move somebody comes down to what change do you want to make and how they think, or how they act, based on what you're telling them.”
And so, doing as much thorough research as you possibly can, about not just what those people want, because I think that, oftentimes people don't know exactly what they want, and you end up with broad conclusions around they want to be entertained or they want to be helped in some way.
CR: But focusing more on what they need. So, what are the things that they are actually missing in their lives? What are the things that are continually painful for them, or that they wish they had access to, but don't? Asking enough detailed and nuanced questions to get a sense of those things. I think that the differentiators that a lot of great content then rides on comes out of what gets exposed in those conversations. Yeah.
MM: How do you figure out who is the right person to focus on? Maybe less from a business and marketing perspective, but more, if you are thinking about marketing or reaching the people that you're trying to sell to or convince of something, how do you narrow in enough to get a clear definition of the... The version that will actually have the most impact in the long run, versus just like, "Oh, we have a bunch of different people and they all fall in this broad domain, but we're not really sure which one is going to actually drive the most in terms of just moving the needle for the company."
CR: Right. I think I will start from a business and marketing perspective, to get to some practical clarity. And then, we can romanticize it a little bit.
CR: But, I think that it starts with who is going to understand what you're doing or be so excited about what you're doing so implicitly that they're easy to acquire. And when I say easy to acquire, that doesn't necessarily mean, "Oh, I got them into my funnel." Or, they made a purchase on the website. But, you were able to get them to adhere to whatever it is that you wanted them to do fairly easily and painlessly, because they just got it.
MM: Yeah. True believers.
CR: Yeah, true believers. And then, if you cross-index that with how... Valuable is too mercenary of a word. But how important or impactful those people are going to be for you over time. So whether they are going to be on this journey with you for a long time, whether they're going to get more, and more, and more out of the service, or product, or content you're providing to them. But if you think about, "Okay, who is the easiest to acquire?" Like we said, "Who's also going to get the most impact out of what we're doing and impact us the most?" Then I think you start honing in on who that individual is.
“But if you think about, ‘Okay, who is the easiest to acquire?’ Like we said, ‘Who's also going to get the most impact out of what we're doing and impact us the most?’”
MM: That's lovely. It reminds me of Notion investing in students and examples such as that.
CR: Yeah. Absolutely. And I think that people were always questioning that, because students, by and large... Whenever I would talk about all of our efforts in that direction, I would be told that they churn so fast and they represent no revenue over time.
CR: But, when we realized how vocally and how enthusiastically they were carrying our message, it became a no-brainer to really invest in and support that audience.
MM: That's lovely.
MM: What are some misconceptions that you think people hold about this type of marketing and really targeting a unique specific individual?
CR: I think that some people go in with wishful thinking about who that person is. Like, "Oh, if only this type of person would be our audience member."
CR: We started out there when I was at First Round, it was really about prospective founders, and could the highest caliber prospective founders in the world raising seed funding be really engaged by the content that we were creating.
CR: I think that that's helpful to know what your ideal is, so that you can craft a strategy that potentially gets you there. But I think that you also have to be realistic about whether that is an audience that you can successfully speak to, with all of the resources and your current position in the market. And maybe it's several moves or a phased approach away. And so, you have to then, I think, be more practical about who that immediate audience is. So that's one misconception, is that, you can't go into it with like, "This is who we want to get and that's what we're going to do."
But rather, be a little bit more thoughtful about what is the most suitable for you in the present day. And then, I think that the other is not necessarily being open-minded enough about channel and form factor. I think, some folks, I've seen this quite a bit across startups, think about content almost entirely as writing. So like, "We're going to have a blog. That's the way that we're going to deliver this information." And there's no backtrack to, "Well, why are people going to come to this destination in order to discover more writing here?"
"Do the people that we want to have engaged with this have the time to read something like this?"
"Do they live somewhere else online or spend an inordinate amount of their time on a different channel that we should be exploiting?" So I think that making assumptions around what content looks like before really understanding that audience and designing for them specifically can be a costly misstep.
“I think that making assumptions around what content looks like before really understanding that audience and designing for them specifically can be a costly misstep.”
MM: Yeah. What companies have you been, or organizations more broadly, have you been inspired by their taking unconventional approaches to content and forming the form factor around who their audience actually is?
CR: I mean, I think that Figma has done just an incredible job with thinking through particularly how events and community can help them tell and amplify a story.
And knowing how designers like to interact with each other and learn from one another. And knowing that they didn't have to bear the burden of always producing content that tells their story, but equipping these community members with enough that they can then amplify it and carry the message on their own.
I think that that's really interesting. And something that we were certainly inspired by at Notion. And tried to do to a large degree as well. I'm trying to think if there's any others where I'm really excited by what they're doing. I mean, there are some that have really capitalized on TikTok and the social aspect of things. One that I've been so impressed by, and this is a really random one, is Duolingo.
I don't know if you call it Duolingo at all on TikTok.
MM: They do do an amazing job.
CR: But it's certainly because it is a consumer audience that they're trying to get excited to not only try the app, but then come back again, and again, and again.
They've really leveraged a specific type of humor in order to do that on TikTok. And I think that that's been far more effective... Or I imagine it's far more effective than writing articles about learning a language.
MM: It's not where their audience can be found most definitely.
MM: Reminds me too, I feel like Browser company's doing an interesting thing with their YouTube videos and stuff like that
CR: They're doing an incredible job. And especially, exposure to the team.
So it's less like, "Oh, these are the people who are designated content creators on the team. But let's widen the aperture on who can tell the story."
And, Nate Parrott over there who's the engineer working on a lot of some of their cool stuff. He's such an incredible performer.
MM: Yeah. He's amazing.
CR: And they also are doing an incredible job building in public. And I think, leveraging content to make that story really clear.
MM: And it displays such an awareness of who their core audience base is, which is mostly people that really do care about craft details and the underlying just methodology of making good software too. And they are actually genuinely curious how decisions get made, and they're showing them out in the open, which is a very rare thing. And usually, it's seen more as a liability. But I think, for them, it really actually makes them much stronger.
CR: Yeah, I think that understanding that their audience is one that wants to be brought along on that journey.
MM: Yeah. Yeah. Totally.
CR: Right. And doesn't just want to be shipped to.
MM: 100%. At what point do you think that companies need to start thinking about content?
CR: Oh. It's different depending on what it is that you're trying to do. It's interesting. I was just in an advisory session this morning with a company that's going after pretty large enterprise clients from the very beginning. And in that case, I'm not sure that content marketing is actually going to be as valuable, particularly if you have very specific types of customers, as going after people very directly.
I do think that it becomes key when you have customers that you want to tell stories about. So I think that that's one of the first types of content that any company should think about pursuing, is, telling stories about people who are successfully using the product.
So whenever that becomes... Just resourcing that you have at your disposal, or some ingredient that you have. I think that putting those stories out there and making sure they're being told in the right way is important.
But increasingly, I think it's really important to pause and think through your own distribution, and whether you have a channel built up enough that the stuff that you create is going to find an audience. And if that's not the case, then I would say, you need to be cautious about overly investing in content. And are there things that you can do in advance of that around borrowing other people's audiences to get to the types of users you should be speaking to, whether that's going on podcasts, or being featured on substacks, or thinking through who the right partners could be to get you in front of those people. And at the same time being like, "Okay, well, if we were going to invest in one particular content channel, would it be social? Would it be a blog? Would it be our YouTube channel?" And, leaning in there, as opposed to taking a broad approach to like, "We should just be doing content, because that is a marketing lever that we've heard about before."
“Can you borrow from other people's audiences to get to the types of users you should be speaking to, whether that's going on podcasts or Substacks?”
Which, I think, is unfortunately a trap that some people fall into.
MM: A 100%. Are there any, in your opinion, underutilized metrics for success in this area? Because there's some more straightforward, "How many users are we actually acquiring through this channel, this content?" Whatever it is. But I'm curious if there's any more longer term metrics that you think are underutilized.
CR: Yeah. So at Notion, we have this metric, which speaks to what you just mentioned, which was blog influence signup. So, that meant if people clicked the signup button after being on a page that had some content on it, just so that we understood that pattern of consumption and signup.
I do think that looking at, and this is for many reasons, but net new visitors to your website and to your content. So how many people are out there who've never been there before who are discovering it, and magnetized enough to come see more? I think, that's really important. So you're understanding how content is aiding your brand awareness growth over time.
And then, the other one I would say is subscribers. So if you don't have a way of having people basically click a button that says, "I'm very interested in seeing more of this." Type of thing. Whether that's following type of content or subscribing to receive an email newsletter or something along those lines, I recommend building something like that in, because those are the people who I think are closer to the easily acquired folks.
And so, you get more of a signal on who they might be. But also, expands your marketable database of people who you could potentially go out to in different ways to try to mobilize them in different directions, whether that's inviting them to events, or sending them more material, or scoring them and sending them to your sales team to see if they should be reached out to in a different way. They are people who've opted into a longer-term relationship with you.
And I think you want to build that list over time.
MM: Would you define them as the potential true believers?
CR: I think that they get you closer. I wouldn't say that they necessarily all will be, because people come from all types of angles when they choose to click subscribe depends. Quick anecdote that I'll share there is at First Round Review, like I said, we were targeting folks who were going to be founders, and raise money, and be interested in potentially working with First Round. But it turned out that a huge swath of the audience that we saw, based on who was subscribing were people at Facebook, and Google, and Netflix. So, the FAANG companies. And we were so curious about why that was happening. And it was folks inside of those companies that were startup curious.
They were always on the cusp of thinking, "Maybe I go do that instead." And we were able to then send them more specific content or invite them into experiences that would meet them where they were, and help them make the decision to perhaps enter the startup ecosystem. So, I think when you do build a subscriber base like this, you're giving yourself that intel, that allows you to be more specific in your marketing approach.
MM: You were serving them entrepreneurship propaganda. I love it.
CR: Exactly. So great. Yeah.
MM: Pivoting a little bit to think more about the people actually doing this work. I'm curious, what you look for in a person when you're looking to hire for a content marketer role or something of the like? What are the qualities that you think are core? And then, which ones can be complimentary and interesting in different ways?
CR: I think that the profile has changed a little bit. Had you asked me this five years ago, I think I would've really emphasized someone who is an incredible writer, somebody who is not just good at compiling the information but has a certain amount of musicality to their writing.
MM: I like that.
CR: And, has a sense of how words need to snap together. And I still think that that is an incredible skillset. And so important, and such a gift, and such an asset. I think that it's an increasingly rare skill to have cultivated. So for anyone out there listening to this who wants to be a content creator, I still think it's worthwhile to build those competencies.
But I think increasingly looking for people who are going to be on the edge of what is grabbing and motivating the most audiences. So, folks who are really in tune with what people are responding to and are able to be creative based on what they're observing in the market.
“I think increasingly looking for people who are going to be on the edge of what is grabbing and motivating the most audiences. So, folks who are really in tune with what people are responding to and are able to be creative based on what they're observing in the market.”
So being able to synthesize a lot of different types of data around what people are watching, what people are responding to, what people make purchases based on. For lack of a better description of this, but understanding the meme-ification of some things.
Not just what memes are popular now, but how memes even originates, and the life of them?
MM: Make something memetic too. Yeah. If someone is able to analyze that, it's such an incredible gift. Yeah.
CR: Absolutely. And then, they're able to construct their own, I think as a result.
MM: Completely. Yes.
CR: Yeah. That's what I would-
MM: Reverse engineer.
CR: ... Yeah. And then, complimentary. I mean, I think that you want to pair people who have a little bit of both of those things. So somebody who is a really amazing storyteller and writing with somebody who is a wonderful visual storyteller. If you do have the ability to synthesize those talents, you can end up with some really magical stuff.
MM: How do you think the role will change and what skills will be required increasingly in the decade to come, or even five years to come?
CR: I do think that there is... And this is what we're seeing with the move towards social commerce. But people who are particularly good at equipping others with story, and amplifying through folks who are specifically chosen and very intentionally partnered with.
So I think, Notion has this truly incredible influencer marketing manager named Lexi Barnhorn. And I think that she is an archetype of someone who I see being the prototypical excellent content creator in the future. Not only is she able to produce her own work, but she also knows who out there in the zeitgeist and the ecosystem she wants to pull in. And then, what information to give them or what access to give them, so that they are able to convey what the company wants to convey on its behalf.
Because, I think over time, we've seen this, where first we had digital advertising as the first wave, and then content marketing emerged, because folks realized that there needed to be a more consultative approach, rather than just advertising. There needed to be more argument around whatever it was that you wanted to sell or get people to do.
And now, I think that type of movement is giving way to, "I don't want to hear that from the company. I want to hear that from the people benefiting from the company."
"I want to hear that from people who have truly used the product and who I can trust on that basis." And so, being a content person who is able to orchestrate that type of feeling, I think is going to be really interesting.
“I think that type of movement is giving way to, ‘I don't want to hear that from the company. I want to hear that from the people benefiting from the company. I want to hear from people who have used the product and who I can trust on that basis.’”
MM: Yeah. It reminds me, it seems like a broad shift from very generalist content to more and more specific. And now, people are looking for... They want to see someone like them, basically.
CR: Yes. Yes.
MM: Showing them exactly how it could be used. And, it's interesting too. Yeah, it feels like the job is, like you said, increasingly one of being partially a talent scout, as well of, finding the people that are really spiky in particular dimensions that you know will resonate with other people like them. And then bringing them in, and giving them just enough to make that spike really appealing in a way that benefits your company.
MM: And that's super interesting and cool too. It means that, it becomes a small town of true believers in a bunch of different ways.
CR: Yeah. And I think that then the responsibility for the person who is doing this is to make all of those people feel increasingly connected to what it is they're doing.
And continuing to get them excited about what's new. And that is a non-trivial skillset and amount of time invested.
Particularly all the research, and then I'll stop rambling about this. I could talk about this all day. But I think-
MM: No, I love it.
CR: ... One of the primary strengths of that strategy is that you can do it internationally, and there's so many companies now that are international or global by default, just because they're self-served, and the internet has no borders, and so people across the world are discovering what it is you're doing, but your marketing team probably can't be talking to all those people all the time.
And if you do have the ability to bring in this village, like you said, of folks on a global scale, then you are able to have a voice in all of these markets that are really interesting, even when you have limited resources yourself.
MM: Yep. Decentralized.
CR: Yeah. But that requires a lot of care, and a lot of research, and a lot of figuring out who the best partners are going to be in all of those places.
MM: Totally. And building trust with them too. Getting them excited, being cheerleaders, but also making sure... Because you're setting them loose to a certain extent, versus the older company doctrine needs to be much more control the narrative. You want it always to be from you. Exactly your PR person should dictate the press releases. And now, it's much more like, "No, actually, we want to hear the authentic versions of the stories of people actually enjoying our thing. And have them just to continue to do it out of their actual real genuine passion for the thing as opposed to us paying them or dictating line by line."
CR: Absolutely. Or being so precious about your trademark, your verbiage, your brand, look, and feel even. It'd be very tough to find a company that takes its brand look and feel more seriously than Notion does.
It's obviously an aesthetic now, that is not just an aesthetic, but a movement. Huge kudos to everybody who's worked on that. But part of what we had to get comfortable with on our influencer strategy were people talking about us in all different ways through all different types of aesthetics. And knowing that the meta-message that all of that was rolling up to was one of just huge global love and passion for this thing.
And that was more important than everything looking just so.
MM: Yep. Reminds me of a fractal of, they'll get different things out of it, and you just have to let them enjoy those little reflections that come off of it.
CR: Yeah. If you're like, "That's not a shade of green." We would've necessarily-
MM: Yeah. How do you think about how strong a brand needs to be in order for that to feel more comfortable and for people to have their own interpretations? Is it putting a very strong stake in the ground? Is there guidelines that you should evolve over time? How have you thought about it?
CR: ... Yeah, I mean, ideally, you have a brand where its identity feels fairly memorable and fairly distinct. That can be hard to do, but I think it is worth iterating on until you feel like you've gotten close to it.
Just because you want people to, when they encounter you out in the world, have an immediate shorthand response to what it is that you're doing.
I know that that's very difficult for early and young companies in particular. For them, I say, get as close as you possibly can to something you love in that way, and then just be as repetitious as you possibly can.
Just be out there constantly the same way, consistently, all of the time. But I don't think that you should worry necessarily about losing your identity as long as you equip these types of partners, these types of influencers with just certain, still pretty flexible, high latitude brand guidelines. So, obviously, you want them to use the same consistent name. You would want to equip them with your branding and make it clear that they can't alter it in certain ways. But truly, when we did it, it was a one or two pager of like, "Please don't do these things."
"But for the most part, have at it.” So, like I said, that balance of like, "Okay. What's really important for people to actually see this thing and then come to our website without any confusion?"
And then, what can we give people that type of flexibility on that they can really be expressive on their own?
MM: I feel like they have some ownership in it. Yeah.
CR: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
MM: I love the quote that, "A brand is a promise that you keep over time." I think that's very true. Yeah.
CR: Truly, yes. And the consistency, I think, is what lives at the heart of that.
That you just have to show up the same way, not just visually, but in how fast you respond to people, and how informative you are, all of those qualities.
MM: And that's what builds the trust too. Yeah.
CR: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
MM: A slightly different question, but I'm curious, how does the role of being a content marketer and just a marketer more broadly that is a little bit more able to flex in different directions, change across the different cycles of a company's lifecycle?
CR: That's interesting. I mean, I think about it in terms of order of operations of what you really need to be doing at any given time over the course of a company's life. And it'll be different depending on whether you're B2C forever, or if you start out B2C, much like Notion did, and then move into the enterprise, or if you're pure enterprise at the beginning. But I think, most companies, regardless of which path they're taking, there need to start with really strong product marketing.
So, being able to invest the revs in all of that user research so that you do know what these people actually want, and need, and what pains you're killing for them, and what gains you're enabling for them, and how your product actually meets them on all of those frontiers.
And then, being able to describe that on a website, let's say. Because I think the website is your home base for being able to get people to make any decisions. So, making sure that your story is really strong in that arena is so important. And, product marketing, positioning work, all of that, it has to start there. And then, has to articulate these value propositions that are actually hitting people where you need to hit them for them to make a decision. So that's one thing, I think. And content marketers, I think, can very easily flex in a product marketing direction.
Because a lot of them are natural researchers, and certainly strong writing skills, and being able to put things into words is the core competency there. So I've seen that like, "Oh, I'm both content and product marketing." Inside of the same individual quite a bit. And then I think, you move into, over time, the sense of scale. So, what are the one to many mechanisms for telling your story? And that's where we go back to what we were talking about before, where it's like, "Oh, what channels are going to actually get in front of the right people all of the time?" What types of content, what types of forms of content are they really going to be moved by? And that's where, I think, content marketers who are a little bit more versatile in how they think about media can be really, really instrumental. And then, if you are operating in the enterprise, I think, then it becomes about repeatable growth and demand generation, and being able to have these more detailed, nuanced conversations with the right types of customers.
And then you see mechanisms, webinars, and that type of thing, lead magnets becoming a little bit more popular, where it's like, "Oh, we created a data report about our particular area of operation. But you need to enter your email so you can download the data report. And then, we're going to use that list of emails to send to sales to see if there's anybody that they should reach out to." That becomes much more of the direction, I think.
MM: That definitely makes sense. What advice have you given to young marketers early in their careers about developing core competencies and figuring out where their little niche is?
CR: Yeah, I think that marketing is such a horizontal discipline. You really, truly do have some people who feel more like artists and some people who feel more like scientists. And knowing where you spike on that continuum is really helpful. And then, surrounding yourself with complimentary people, I think, becomes a big part of the skillset, and being a really excellent partner to the people who are a little bit more your other half in that respect.
“Marketing is such a horizontal discipline. You have some people who feel more like artists and some people who feel more like scientists — knowing where you spike on that continuum is helpful.”
That's something that I definitely spent a lot of time thinking about. And then, I think that you can choose to become industry best world-class in a very specific area. So I do have friends who are some of the best editorial leaders across technology, and that's really where they wanted to go. And they've been able to build toward those moments. And then, there are folks who want to turn that type of trajectory into being a marketing leader. So, being head of marketing, eventually VP, eventually CMO.
And I think for those folks who do want to get on that particular track, gaining the product marketing skillset and spinning your emphasis on content into understanding more of the specifics of that discipline can help you up on that springboard much. I think, product managers become proto-CEOs. A lot of PMs then go on to found their own companies, because they've run a mini organization inside of a company before.
Or they've been responsible for a product. I think that PMs similarly are the ones who assemble a lot of threads across a marketing organization, in order to launch things that feel unified and coherent. Or, who are able to, I think, work across the folks who are owning other areas of marketing and bring them into a united effort. So, they become, I think, the most natural marketing executives at a certain point.
MM: How do you think that the world of marketing and the roles required of it are going to change in the next 5 to 10 years? Other than the content forms. What about the more job duties and things of that sort?
CR: I mean, I think AI is going to shake this up in major ways that it's really hard to-
MM: To comprehend. Yeah.
CR: ... Yeah. Yeah. One thing that I hope doesn't happen is that AI can be used to replicate a lot of the work that gets done in one's early career as a marketer. So, when you're still learning to be an exceptional writer, or still learning how to generate non-obvious, really incisive content.
I do worry that AI is getting better and better at doing that type of work. And so, are we going to allow people to still grow throughout their careers into people who can do things that feel very, very unique? Because I think there's still going to be massive demand for that. So I think that those paths are going to change. I don't know how. But I do hope that there's still opportunities for people. And then I think, honestly, being able to prompt things really expertly, based on human understanding. The human understanding side of marketing is going to be so key.
So I know that there are already products in the work where you're going to be able to, in natural language, say something like, "I need a landing page that's going to really hit on these value propositions for this particular audience." And AI will generate the whole thing for you.
What I think it won't be able to do is get to that degree of understanding about an audience, where you're able to stay ahead of them and market to the way that human beings make decisions, as opposed to what is already known, which I think is what AI is really good at bringing together.
“What I think [AI] won't be able to do is get to that degree of understanding about an audience where you're able to stay ahead of them and market to the way that human beings make decisions, as opposed to what is already known, which I think is what AI is really good at bringing together.”
MM: So it's the people at the frontier.
MM: Hit again. Yeah.
CR: I think people at the frontier, and then people who are just really curious about people. Who really still want to be part user researchers, part storytellers. And, I think that AI is going to kick out just a bunch of stuff that sounds the same.
That follows similar patterns, and it's going to become even more pronounced over the next several years. So pattern breakers. I think people who are going to be pattern breakers are going to be very needed in this industry.
“People who are going to be pattern breakers will continue to be very needed in this industry.”
MM: Yeah. It reminds me too of because there’s more and more founders, just really the people understanding the relationships and breaking the norm in some interesting way. And that leads me to, I'm just curious, what are some of the common mistakes that you see early stage founders making with marketing?
CR: I think, not staying in it themselves long enough is one thing to really understand the story implicitly themselves. It's not something that can really be outsourced.
And I've seen this increasingly that there's this movement or understanding that, founders should stick with founder-led marketing and sales as long as possible, versus hiring somebody to just do it over there, while they figure out the product.
I think that that's really, really important. And it also prevents you from falling into this mindset of, "Oh, if the product is good enough, then it's going to really sell itself. And marketing is just here to maybe pour lighter fluid on it."
But rather, a deeper respect for what it is that marketing can do when it's really invested in.
I think that those are some key things that founders can pay attention to. And then also, not opting into growth too fast before they feel like they've really nailed their positioning and their messaging. I think that there can be so much pressure, so much urgency, so much impetus to be like, "No, we have to acquire users, so I'm going to hire a growth-oriented marketer."
But that person can only work as much magic as your story and foundation is going to enable for them. And then, it can often feel like a misfire, like, "Oh, we hired the wrong person." Even though, that person had very limited ingredients to work with.
MM: So do you think that, founders should be working on the story of the company and defining that magic thing that converts people from the very beginning? When should they make this a top priority?
CR: I think immediately, honestly. Truly, positioning should be one of the tools in your toolbox that even vets whether you're building the right product.
It's not exclusively about how you're going to talk about it, which I think a lot of people think positioning is about, where it's like, "Oh, well, that's the stem cell that becomes our marketing messaging." But I think it's deeper than that, and it's like, "Oh, are we actually building something that people are going to want, and need, and pay for?”
And, if you don't start with that germ of a story, I think, you're going to choose the wrong features to build even over time. So I think immediately, as you're even building the deck that you're going to use to raise your initial round or even tell anybody about what it is you're doing, is that positioning strong enough across all of these areas that you feel like.
MM: How do you test that? How do you get feedback on whether the story is strong and all that? Obviously, there's market demand, but I'm curious if there are other ways that you think are good at introducing a little bit more interestingness and not just a, "Will they buy or not?" More, is this subjectively interesting?
CR: Right. Yeah. I mean, I think you need to ask people who have no skin in the game for you. Right?
MM: That's great.
CR: Go to people who they don't think have skin in the game, but human beings generally to support and be positive with each other, it's just human-
MM: They do. Yes.
CR: ... So whenever anybody is asked for feedback, I think that the human brain just reaches for, "What is the most positive thing that I can say? Because I don't want to hurt this person's feelings."
CR: So not only do you have to find people who have limited skin in your particular game. But, I think you also need to prompt them with setting the scene with like, "Hey, I actually want this to be ragged. I want this to be-
MM: Yeah. Please.
CR: ... "Hard and Varnished. And for you to help me identify edge cases. Be really brutal on whether or not this is a true need.”
I think most people who are listening to this probably have heard the vitamin versus painkiller dichotomy. But, are you building a product that makes life slightly nicer for people? Are you building a product that addresses a genuine problem that people really need solved? And so, asking people, ideally people who you would want to have want this product, who have no need to be nice to you, or sugarcoat things, and be like, "Hey, let me tell you this story. And then, you tell me where there are holes in this."
“Asking people who you would want to have want this product and who have no need to be nice to you, ‘Hey, let me tell you this story and you tell me where the holes are.’”
MM: I like that a lot. Yeah.
MM: Aspirational people too. Yeah.
CR: Aspirational people. Where it's like, "I would really, really want this person to want it."
MM: Totally. Yeah.
CR: And if they're like, "Oh, yeah, I would use it, but I would never pay for it."
MM: It's probably time to go back to the page.
CR: It's time to go back to the drawing board. And that happens so often. And then, I see MVPs being built, where people are going to use it, but as soon as pricing gets introduced there will be a huge drop-off.
MM: Yeah. Definitely. Ghosting.
MM: Yeah. Wonderful. My last question for you, CR, is, I'm just curious, what has been inspiring you lately? Or who do you learn the most from these days?
CR: Oh, gosh. I mean, I'm very engaged with media in general. So, I think people in my life know that I watch all of the movies and all of the TV. I am incredibly inspired by A24.
MM: They are great. Yes.
CR: And I think, not just as a media story, but a brand story, where it used to be that you would go watch a movie for a particular actor, or because the story seemed compelling, and you would be like, oh, incidentally, that's this type of studio's movie. But now people are seeing movies because it's an A24 movie, which has really flipped the script on the entire industry to a certain extent. And I think that they've done that through a lot of what we were talking about around really distinct identity, having a very specific and nuanced point of view on who their audience is.
And what an A24 movie represents, or stands for, or looks like. And then, it's just repeated super consistently.
MM: They've built a credential. If you see the A24 logo, it's a proof point that it's going to be good in a specific and interesting way that you're familiar with, but they'll probably do a weird new spin on it. And they're always pushing the bounds a little bit.
MM: And there's something about that brand promise that they're going to keep making things a little bit weird, but it'll be in a way that feels familiar, I feel like is very appealing actually, and exactly what the movie industry didn't have for a very long time.
CR: Yeah. And I think, one of the most interesting insights there too, is that A24 movies are not for everyone.
CR: They're not trying to be broadly popularized. And I think especially in the ecosystem of film and television that exists right now, where it's a lot of superhero movies that are supposed to appeal to the greatest number of people, having that narrower aperture has been their superpower. So for any folks who are like, "Well, what can I actually learn from A24?" Just not feeling like you have to be for everyone in order to be successful.
MM: Totally. Yeah.
MM: I'm really inspired by also how they were really quiet for a really long time at the beginning. They were not trying to become the next new success story on the pages of every paper. They were much more just like, "We're just going to prove through the quality of our output over time that we are doing something interesting, and weird, and different, and then let it grow in the right directions because of the stories, not because of us in the way we're talking about it." It was a very show-not-tell demonstration, which I think was very powerful.
CR: Yeah. I couldn't agree more. So, they are the number one brand I'm looking to right now, where I'm thinking, "How did they do that?" And wanting to be-
MM: Truly. Yeah.
CR:... Yeah. Wonderful.
MM: Well, wonderful. Do you have any parting words for the audience, CR, of things that you are looking forward to, or people should check out?
CR: I mean, I think I'll just say that right now is... Much like people are saying how right now because of just the market conditions, or what's going on with AI, it's such a good time to start a company, because there's so many ingredients to pull on. And also, there's just a lot of auspicious factors going on in the market for brand new things.
CR: And I think that that's true of content as well. That there is this clean slate feeling of, people being really responsive to brand-new, very odd, bizarre, and risky, and surprising, and bold things. And so, it's the perfect time to do something that you feel like is different, and challenging, and new.
MM: I love that.
MM: Wonderful message.
CR: I hope so.
CR: So good luck to everybody out there. Storytelling is such a beautiful art form. And I can't wait to see more of what folks produce.
MM: Me as well. Well, lovely. Thank you so much, Camille, for coming on the podcast. It was a delight.
CR: Thank you so much Molly for having me.