Building a Scalable Media Machine

April 25, 2023

In this MasterSaaS Live, Alice De Courcy, Chief Marketing Officer at Cognism, talks about her journey in marketing and her recently released book, “The diary of a first-time CMO”

She highlights the importance of taking risks and being willing to create one's own playbook, as well as the success of using a clear content framework for creating educational content and promoting it through paid channels.

Creating Your Own Playbook

One of the key takeaways from Alice's journey is her willingness to take on something new and create her own playbook.

This is a crucial mindset to have in today's constantly changing landscape, where there is no one-size-fits-all approach to marketing.

As Alice mentions, there is no real playbook for the work she is doing, and the structure she has in place will likely change again in the next six months.

So, what does this mean for marketers? It means that we need to be open to experimenting, taking risks, and creating our own strategies that work for our unique situations.

It's important to stay informed and educated, but ultimately, it's up to us to take action and create our own path to success.

The Importance of a Clear Content Strategy

Another key insight from the interview is the importance of having a clear strategy and narrative when creating content.

Alice highlighted how the media machine Cognism has been building has been successful due to using the Easy Mode content framework by Todd Clouser and Obaid Durrani.

This framework has allowed them to create educational content with a structure, rather than just random ideas that someone has, it's unlocked a scalable way for them to continue to build content.

As marketers, we know that content is king, but it's not just about creating as much content as possible.

It's about creating quality content that speaks to your target audience and aligns with your overall marketing objectives.

Having a clear content strategy and framework, like the Easy Mode framework, can help ensure that your content is not only high-quality but also scalable.

The Four Buckets of Educational Content

Finally, Alice discussed the four buckets of educational content that Cognism uses in their paid motions: thought leadership, content, social proof, and product.

Each of these buckets has a different objective and is promoted to their audiences through their paid channels.

This insight is particularly valuable because it highlights the importance of having a diverse range of content types and objectives.

Thought leadership content, for example, is designed to position your brand as a leader in your industry, while social proof content is all about building trust and credibility with your audience.

By having a mix of content types and objectives, you can ensure that you're engaging your audience in different ways and achieving your marketing objectives from multiple angles.

Full Episode Transcript

Alice De Courcy: While I think we have a great structure right now, today, I definitely think that will change. I think we'll change it probably in the next six months because, as I said, there is no real playbook for what it is that we're doing. We're trying to do things very differently.

I'm very

Alina Vandenburghe: excited to, Alice, to have you. I feel like I've been listening to every podcast you put out, every video that you put out. By now, I feel like I know a lot about the work that you do, but there's still a lot of things that, uh, I'm curious about. And, also, there are a lot of things that I admire, so we're going to cover a lot of the education aspect of your marketing and, um, we're also going to cover a little bit about your journey as a marketer. And I know that you just wrote a book about it. How was, uh, that

Alice De Courcy: process?

Yeah, thank you. I'm really excited to be here. And, um, yeah. The book, um, was interesting. I think it was really nice in a way. Kind of four years, um, into my journey at Cognism to look back over everything that we've built and all of the change that's happened, um, and going through that process was actually, um, really beneficial, as well. Just to kind of take stock of where we've come and, and looking back on it all. So, it was exciting to do. I'm very glad that it's out in the world now.


Alina Vandenburghe: what got you started in the first place? What got you started into marketing?

Alice De Courcy: So, originally my background from marketing perspective is I had, had worked in sort of, um, news and journalism outlets. And that was because I thought, I did a degree in international relations and politics, and I came out of university thinking I'd love to be a journalist. Um, and so got a role as a marketer and thought well, I can just sort of get my foot in the door doing marketing, and then I'll, I'll, I'll sort of progress into journalism.

However, I realized, like, very early on that I loved doing the marketing piece and all of the creativity that came with that, which I also realized was very important to me as a marketer to be interested in what it was that I was marketing. I realized that maybe journalism wasn't where I wanted to pursue my career, but to stick with the marketing side of it. So I went from there into Thomson Reuters, but the Reuters side, so obviously much larger organization. Um, and then from that I went on to the tech, sort of legal tech, um, and then on to marketing and sales tech and SaaS. And fell in love with sort of scale up and start up.

Alina Vandenburghe: What, uh, do you think were your two, uh, the two skill sets that, um, made you successful in climbing the marketing

Alice De Courcy: ladder?

I think one thing that definitely has always come out of, um, I think most of the roles I've had have been through recommendations and I'm, people here have recommended me into the roles. Has always been because of my sort of bias for action. Um, and this is definitely a quality that I look for in everyone that I hire into my team, as well, because I think it's so important. But, um, you can sort of underestimate how vital it is to be able to take something from an idea to actually being, like, live in the world adding value. And being able to do that quite quickly, as well, and not blocking yourself. And I think that that bias to action, that sort of is within me, um, has definitely enabled me to progress because it just means that I'm consistently always delivering things. I think the fact that I'm just getting through a lot of volume has always helped me, uh, enabled me to progress.

Alina Vandenburghe: So it's bias to action and

Alice De Courcy: speed to delivery.

Yeah, I think that those would be two things. And also just not afraid of change. Um, and actually embracing that and being very comfortable, um, taking on something new that I've never done before, creating my own playbook, whether that be commercial high number one into a tech start up and buildings, like, from scratch. Or, um, shifting our whole marketing approach from something that is pretty well trodden to something where there is no playbook, this sort of demand gen motion that we're doing today. Um, and I think, again being comfortable to take those, um, I suppose you could say risks or, or chances, um, and being comfortable. You are able to execute on them yourself I think is, has also been very helpful.

It's a great skill

Alina Vandenburghe: to be adaptable, especially these days where everything changes from week to week almost.

[laughs] Yeah.

Um, I'm, uh, curious, um, what are some motions that are currently working well for you this quarter.

Alice De Courcy: I think probably, uh, our biggest thing is this whole idea of, um, a media machine that we've been building. And I think that this quarter, what it has shown us is that we've been able to overlay onto that media machine a bit more focus using this easy mode content framework, which, um, if people don't know what it is, Todd and Obaid are, um, two amazing content creators, and we've been working on this whole framework which they call Easy Mode, which is a way for us to have, um, a very clear strategy narrative, points of views around all of the content that we're building and then delivering through our media machine.

Because what we had been very good at at Cognism, I'm glad that you, uh, you were sort of alluding to that earlier, is that we were delivering a lot of educational content. But it could be quite random. It would just be kind of what we felt would be useful today, and what someone, it kind of depended on someone coming up with the idea and then having that continued, um, motion to, like, ideate. And we didn't have a very clear structure around it, and this has really unlocked for us a scalable way for us to continue to build that educational content, um, with a very clear narrative and clear points of views, and to see how that kind of falls out within the media machine. And I think really hitting on that predictability for it this quarter has been massive. We've seen huge uptakes in all of our subscriber channels because of that, I believe. Um, so I would say that's been a really big unlock for us.


Alina Vandenburghe: curious if you also could, uh, expand around the educational content that you use that's a lot less intent based, and it's a lot more, um, to more of a display and, um, type. How, how do you think about, uh, advertising that type of content?

Alice De Courcy: So we run an always on, all the time to everyone, um, ungated friction free approach. So what does that mean? Basically we have four buckets of content that we will run through our paid motions, and those buckets are, um, thought leadership. Now, thought leadership bucket for us is stuff that we talk about that's relevant to our audience, but has absolutely no tie back to the product we're offering. And then we have our content bucket, which is, this is, uh, topics which do have a dotted line into what Cognism does, um, but they're much more actionable. So that's a lot of the stuff that we talk about where it's the shift from lead generation to demand generation. That would be a really good example of, um, a content topic. And it would be us providing very practical resources, templates, guides, et cetera for people to access round that.

And then we have our social proof bucket, which is basically what it says on the tin. But, um, we try to get very creative with how we showcase the Cognism product, um, and service and how our customers also talk about it. And, and we do all of that through the social proof bucket. And then finally our product bucket. And this is one which, um, is actually really, really important. I think sometimes gets forgotten when you run this more ungated demand gen play, and this is where we spend a lot of our time focusing on. Um, and it's all of the content around what it is that Cognism actually does and how it serves up. So that, um, this is things like us creating, like, ungated product tours, workflows, um, all sort of creative ways to kind of showcase the value that Cognism can bring.

So that's how we think about educational content. We think about which of those buckets does it fall into, and that all of those buckets are being promoted all the time to our audiences through our paid channels. Each of them will have different objectives set up depending on the type of content that we're running, like, whether it be video, if it's document ad, it would be different, et cetera, et cetera.

I'm, uh,

Alina Vandenburghe: curious how you think about even a document, for instance, that, uh, you call them the dotted line action, actionable templates as an example in that particular market. How do you know if what you've written is helpful to your audience? Obviously the, the, you look at if they read the full article and, and so forth. But what, what are the, the insights to knowing that that's been

Alice De Courcy: helpful?

The main things that we look at are, um, again we benchmark our everything against, like, the performance of other content within the bucket and then performance over time, so we're able to see if that's, like, trending upwards in line with or below. Um, and you need to create your own benchmarks for your own organization. I think that's really important. But it also then, 'cause it gives you a point of reference, like, how is this doing in comparison to other things that we've put out there? And we'll have Google Data Studio dashboards which can show us, like, these are the top forming, um, pieces of content for time on page, lowest bounce rate, and also website journey started, which I think is really important.

So, a lot of our emphasis, especially with that thought leadership based content is to start a website journey. To start an educational journey, like, within Cognism's website, so that people are going and engaging and finding out more. It doesn't matter if that doesn't necessarily, that doesn't lead to a conversion in that window of time, but we want to know that we're starting journeys. That's also something that we really look for. And then we do look at assisted conversions and then also just direct conversions depending on the piece of content that would probably be less likely or more likely. Um, and that's what, and then we just, again, like I say, benchmark all of that within its own bucket.

We also use a tool called Smartocto, which is traditionally more of a journalist, um, kind of analytics tool. And that can tell us things like, um, if this, if that content has had a lot of net new engagement, so we're bound to create new people coming in to consume that content.

Alina Vandenburghe: That's, uh, that's super interesting. So that's how you measure those, uh, if somebody has gone through the journey with you, with Smartocto? The net new

Alice De Courcy: engagements?

Yeah, we can measure all of that through Smartocto. It's a really, um, really clever tool and useful tool for people who are thinking about trying to take on this more, yeah, journalistic focus to content and are serious about it rather than, um, more traditional kind of blog based Google Analytics measurements.

So, in

Alina Vandenburghe: those, in the media machine bucket, um, you have, um, your team that is created, is creating this, uh, resources, uh, that have educational value. How do you look at their individual goals? Do you look at it as from an output perspective? Do you do, uh, output plus quality? Do you do a pipeline objective? How do you set up their, their OKRs?


Both at the team level and

Alice De Courcy: individual level.

So, how it works is in on demand gen org. So this media machine sits in demand gen org, and they operate in pods. So we have a pod, um, for each of our core sellers. So marketing, sales, and then ops. And their key objective really mirror, um, the objectives of, like, the organization, and then the objectives that I've been given from the CEO, as well. So the just number one thing is we'll have a revenue number and a pipeline goal we have to hit. But then on top of that, the two key, like, OKRs for us this year are to increase the percentage of that revenue and pipeline that's coming from the best types of customers, which is to find those growth plus organizations, and also to increase our retention. So, um, basically to get healthier CAC to LTV.

Alina Vandenburghe: And then they, uh, trickle it down to, uh, individual, uh, articles that they need to write. And then they trickle it down to, uh, exactly how they, the volume and the, the volume of articles and the engagement metrics for them.

Alice De Courcy: Exactly, yes. And that, so the plan then goes, so it starts at the deck, which is how do we increase the number of growth plus accounts engaged with our value leap. And then from there, they're also hitting pipeline revenue. And from there, it will be a whole set, a whole set of planning items against each of the parts of the media machine for how they're going to activate, um, that within it, which is another output based, um, output based goals. And then we're tracking that every, at the end of every month we have what we call, like, a DG report, which looks to see how we're progressing against all of that. Um, and that will happen across each of the pods, as well.

Alina Vandenburghe: So I'm going to take one of, uh, your team members that, uh, so that I can understand a little bit more clearly. So let's say that they're in the rev ops pod and, uh, they're an individual contributor that needs to create, uh, valuable content. How do they go about that? Uh, I imagine that first of all, it's hard to get into the shoes of a rev ops, since it's such a specific, uh, job

Alice De Courcy: description.

We always work with a subject matter expert. That's, like, one of the core principles of all of our content. So nothing will ever be, um, created or driven unless it's, like, been validated or, um, enabled through a subject matter expert. That's, like, vital to everything that we do, and that's how we keep the quality really high. So they'll have access to a subject matter expert through, they'll be able to use, utilize them in order to validate their ideas and help them output all of the content that they produce. They'll run a Wynter survey test. So we use Wynter very heavily, where they're able to engage with that whole segment, so they can just get a whole load of operations professionals, and they can ask them a whole, a whole lot of, um, host of questions around, um, what it is that the types of content they want to see, what they find most valuable.

And then they'll also do a lot of Gong discovery calls. So they'll be joining calls with, um, current customers. They'll be listening to prospect calls. Uh, and they'll spend a lot of time on Gong setting up alerts as well.

If you were

Alina Vandenburghe: to start from scratch again, and you, uh, have to, uh, do it all over again. What would be the ideal marketing

Alice De Courcy: structure for you?

I think that's a really interesting question. My honest answer on this is that, like, I actually train my team to be really open to change. And, while I think we have a great structure right now today, I definitely think that will change. Like, I think we'll change it probably in the next six months because, as I said, there is no real playbook for what it is that we're doing. We're trying to do things very differently.

And so you need to be very critical. And you need to be, like open to acknowledging where things are working, where things aren't. And, like, changing that, um, in order to, to do better basically. So, I think things I really, really like, and I would hope would stay true, are having, um, content persons sit within the demand gen pod or function. I think that's really, really important. That's really enabled us to, I guess, look at content in a whole different way. I think traditionally, this content role has been, like, a mixture of SEO blog writing, um, maybe a little bit of, like, video script writing potentially. But, like, when you look at the candidate and the people who are, who are doing those roles, they're very, um, yeah. I guess they're probably more, like, desk space research and that type of thing, as opposed to, like, wholly knowing your persona. Being able to turn your hand to writing a video script. Briefing a subject matter expert. Running a podcast.

You know, all of these types of content and all of it multiple formats. Creating an ad or writing copy for a landing page, which you really need to be able to do today. So I think that has been a real unlock, having that sit within the demand gen team. And I wouldn't really change that, I hope. I think going forward, we finally found a really great way for that to work. Similarly, I really like having paid sit separately and be basically like an agency for the demand gen function and having real experts, um, sit within that organization 'cause I think it's just so key. And especially at the scale in which we're running things. We need to, like, that daily focus, um, on all of our channels and our paid activities.

And I would also want to maintain the separation with that content SEO team, which I spoke about, and having them sit separately because the work that they're doing is very focused on capturing demand and all of that high intent SEO, um, piece that, that we're looking at. And again, it's very technical, it's very specific. They need to be focused. It's very different, the other content that we're producing. Um, so yeah. I think they're the things that, that I really like, and I would hope to keep, but I'm also very open, always, to changing things.


Alina Vandenburghe: always concerned that, uh, I'm an optimizer at heart and that is a bit, um, stressful for, for a marketing team. Um, but you seem to have nailed it and managed to, uh, equip your team to handle that kind of change. Um, how, how do you train that? Or do you just hire for it?


Alice De Courcy: I think it's about, it's hiring and being very transparent about it throughout, like, every interaction, really, with people. And then you kind of, it becomes a part of your DNA. There's a lot of parts of the Cognism marketing team DNA which I'm, like, really, really strong on. That action bias piece that I spoke about. But also, I will interview for being able to, being able to cope with change, and like, not finding that to be stressful, and not finding that to be something that will, um, intimidate them, or, or will make, will block them from being able to achieve, like,

Alina Vandenburghe: their work goals.

You started, um, uh, putting a Chili Piper, uh, as part of your work flow. I'm curious how you went about the purchase decision and how was the implementation and the output that you got from it, as well.


Alice De Courcy: so it's been really, so far, um, so good in that we basically increased our Quotify pipeline by about 50% as a result of implementing the Chili Piper direct A and direct MDR routing. I think our biggest barrier with it was getting buy in from sales, basically. Um, that was the biggest thing. Like, we want to create, we know that, like, the way that buyers want to buy, and, and how they want to go through the process has definitely changed. And the more that we can remove friction from that, the better. And this was definitely, like, a key part of what, where we felt like we had a broken leaky bucket and funnel.

Alina Vandenburghe: Who is inspiring to you in marketing right now?

Alice De Courcy: Uh, yeah, well, I guess I, I always have to say Refine Labs is, like, probably my biggest source of inspiration. I think, um, that was the reason for my mentality shift and the whole shift away from dGen. And I don't, just Chris Walker actually, does a lot of, like, the team there who, Sidney and Ashley, um, and Moe, who do some amazing content on LinkedIn, if you follow them, like, quite bit more actionable kind of stuff. Um, but I think anyone from Refine Labs, um, or any of their sort of resources. We, we are customers of the Bolt, which is also an amazing resource if you want to building this whole new playbook around how to do demand gen. Um, and, like, they're building it with their customers, as well as we're building it ourselves too. So, um, yeah, I would say they would probably be, probably be number one.

Alina Vandenburghe: Okay. I'm happy to hear, and I'm happy that you, we got the time to talk. I feel like we could spend hours and geeking out about all the things that you're doing.


Alice De Courcy: yeah. It's lovely to speak and, uh, yeah, let me know if you need anything. But thank you.

Alina Vandenberghe
Alice De Courcy
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Demand Gen Chat is a Chili Piper podcast hosted by Tara Robertson. Join us as we sit down with B2B marketing leaders to hear about the latest tactics and campaigns that are driving pipeline and revenue.
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About Mastersaas live
MasterSaaS Live is the interview series that seeks to answer the question: What does it take to be a badass CMO? For our host Alina Vandenberghe, Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Chili Piper, this question is personal. A CPO-turned-CMO, Alina is on a journey to become a badass CMO — and is building in public as she goes. If you're a current or aspiring marketing leader, this is your only chance to learn from top marketing leaders, innovators, and big thinkers about marketing in 2023 — from CRO to brand to music and so much more.
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