How Drift Uses Category Design to Ignite Growth w/Dave Gerhardt

Reading Time: 23 minutes

Who better to interview about category creation than someone who’s in the midst of building a major new category right now?

That’s why I asked Dave Gerhardt, VP Marketing at Drift, to join me on the latest episode of the #categorycreation series on the B2B Growth Show.

In case you haven’t encountered Drift in the wild, they’re the company behind the “conversational marketing” category – and their growth has been phenomenal.

To hear just how powerful category creation is when pulled off correctly, have a listen.

You can also find this episode in Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, or Spotify.

John Rougeux: I have been really looking forward to this interview, because with me today is Dave Gerhardt, category creation guru, and all things conversational marketing.

Dave Gerhardt: Isn’t it amazing how you can do things once? People, this is what’s wrong with marketing. You do thing, you do something once, and then people say you’re a guru. I don’t know. I just did it. You know? So, yes. I’m not giving you a hard time. I’m just saying.

John Rougeux: All right. Good deal. Well, all right, so today we’re going to talk about Drift’s journey on conversational marketing, and I’d love to hear more about this journey that you and Dave have been on, but to kind of kick things off and set the stage for us, just tell us what conversational marketing is. 

Dave Gerhardt: So, conversational marketing is a whole new way of thinking about marketing and sales, where the traditional way of doing marketing and sales is all about later. Come to my website, fill out this form, and somebody is gonna reach out with you later, when it’s convenient for them. But the big shift that’s happened in marketing and business over the last five, 10 years is customers have all the power today, and so you can’t make people wait. Information is free now, I can find anything I want to know about a company without ever having to go to your website, so it’s crazy to think that you’re gonna have … you’re gonna force people to go to your website, fill out something like a form, wait three days to hear back from your sales team, and then get a demo.

Dave Gerhardt: So, conversational marketing is all about connecting you now with the people who are ready to buy now, while they’re live on your website.

John Rougeux: So it’s very much a kind of a reaction to the way buyers and sellers have been connecting, and people’s needs to connect with humans have- 

Dave Gerhardt: Yeah, you said the most important word there, which is to me, it’s not about buyers, it’s not about sellers, it’s not about sales, it’s not about marketing. It’s about people, and that’s how people all communicate online today. I press one button and I get a … I got a Lyft here this morning with one button on my car. I ordered something from Amazon while I was here this morning, to send back to my house, and it’s gonna be there tomorrow when I get home. There’s countless examples of that. That is how we all behave online in our real lives today, but then something happens when we’re on the B2B Growth Show, right?

 Dave Gerhardt: Especially in B2B, something weird happens, then we go to our jobs in B2B, and none of the tools that we use match how we actually buy as real people, and so that’s the most exciting thing to me about conversational marketing is it’s really closing the gap between B2C, B2B, whatever. We just call it B2P. Marketing to people.

John Rougeux: Nice. So, you guys are promoting this as a category that’s bigger than just Drift itself, and I’d love to hear, what do you guys. 

Dave Gerhardt: Yeah, that’s an important point. By definition, it can’t be a category if you’re the only company in it.

John Rougeux: That’s right.

Dave Gerhardt: And so, you can’t be like, “I am the … I created the category of iPhone cases. We’re the only people that do it.” Then it’s not a category, that is something you do. There’s a great book called Play Bigger, by a guy named Christopher Lockheed and a couple other authors, and it’s all about category creation, and he talks about the importance of category design in that book, and he uses an example like Apple and the iPad. They created … There are countless other companies that have tablets, right? But Apple’s the leader, and so as a result, they pull forward the whole category. It’s only gonna work if other companies can exist, and it can create a bigger category than just that company itself.

Dave Gerhardt: Another example, a great example in the book of a company that failed to create a category was Jawbone, the Bluetooth headset company. They just said, “This is our product. This is a feature of what we do. Blah, blah, blah.” Right? They didn’t actually go out and do things to elevate the category, and so ultimately what we care about is growing the category of conversational marketing, not necessarily you have to use Drift.

John Rougeux: Sure. So, when you guys sat down and started going through this process, did you say to yourselves, “All right, we are going to create a category, and we’re gonna name it, and we’re gonna evangelize it, and this is the plan,” or was it more organic, or how did that come up 

Dave Gerhardt: It was a little bit of both, like I think … I think David and Elias, the founders of Drift, they had a big vision from the start, and so … and if you go back and look at, if you go back to that Play Bigger book, there’s some great data that they have in there about basically, like almost all of the successful IPOs in the last decade, 20 years, have all been category creators. He calls them category kings. And so, to build a company, they had a … They have a big, 10 plus billion dollar vision for Drift. By nature, you have to build a category in order to have something that big, and so they knew, but nobody was sitting around saying, “What’s our category?”

Dave Gerhardt: Because I think that’s where you get paralyzed, and you don’t make any progress. We just started going, and working with customers, and getting feedback, and it was along the way, people started to talk about it. Oh, this is like conversation driven marketing. This is conversational marketing. This is conversational selling. It’s like having a conversation.

Dave Gerhardt: So, we kind of started to see these same phrases bubble up, and we just kind of played around with all of them, and we said, “Whoa.” We actually call it, if you go back to probably three years ago from Drift, you see us call it conversation driven marketing, because we hadn’t named conversational yet, because we got too caught up on trying to find this perfect name. We wanted a sexy name for it, but conversational marketing is what it was, and it really became a category when other people started saying it back to us. So, it wasn’t so much us saying, “This is what it’s called.” It’s saying, “Oh, I’m doing conversational marketing. 

Dave Gerhardt: Oh, whoa, okay, all these people … Then, all these people writing in, talking about it, blogging about it, podcasting about, whatever, became obvious to us, “Okay, this is the category, now we need to own it.” And so, then it became a messaging exercise in marketing, where everything … We gotta mention it, right? Every podcast, every blog post, every video, it’s just like we call it reps and sets. It’s just about … Messaging is all about repetition.

John Rougeux: So you almost looked at is a necessity, given the aspirations of the company. You guys weren’t building a better mousetrap.

Dave Gerhardt: Exactly. Yeah, we … They started the company, David and Elias started the company to rewrite the playbook for sales and marketing, and so, that’s not gonna get done by a feature. That’s gotta get done by a category. And look at any industry, right? Look at Tesla and cars. Did they invent electric cars? No. But are they the ones leading the category of, and if … Now, you think of electric cars, what do you think of? Most people don’t think of a Prius. They think of a Tesla, because they’ve built this whole company about it, and they’re a good example of now pulling the category forward, and you see lots of other companies. There was a Super Bowl ad the other night, I think it was Audi, that said by 2020, all their cars are gonna be electric.

Dave Gerhardt: So all these people are going in the market now, and nobody thinks of, “Well, how is your electric car different than Tesla?” They’re just thinking about this category of … The future of cars is electric cars. For us, the future of marketing and sales is conversational marketing. 

John Rougeux: So, do you still have a perception that Drift is just a live chat company? Because I remember, when we-

Dave Gerhardt: Do I have that perception? No.

John Rougeux: No, not you, but like people that are looking at the space, because I remember a few years ago, when we were looking at Drift, we had a limited understanding. I think maybe the product wasn’t as fully evolved, and we thought, “Okay, there’s a bunch of companies that do live chat,” and it really came down to pricing, in many ways. Because it’s kind of a commoditized product, so-

Dave Gerhardt: Yeah, I think … Yeah, there’s some people that still think that, but it’s definitely not … If you did a poll of our … the people that use Drift, they would say it’s not a live chat. Because by nature, the reason sales and marketing people … Go talk to any sales and marketing people. Live chat has almost never worked in their business, and so we came into this market knowing that we have to … What can we learn from that, and how can we make it scale? The biggest problem we heard over and over was, “It actually is a good sales channel, but I can’t sift through the noise.”

Dave Gerhardt: And so everybody had to shut it off. Not everybody, I’m just doing what marketers do. I’m overstating things, right? But you had to shut it off. You have 100 conversations, and you get two deals out of it. Those are good deals, but you can’t spend your time worrying about the 98, and having to filter them out. So, our product team started thinking about, “What could we do, then? How do we surface only the two good ones? Oh, what if we use bots to actually answer questions for you and route?” Oh, these are support questions, they go here. These are sales questions, they go here. So then the only questions that the sales person’s gonna answer are sales questions, and so we started to basically re … I don’t know if re-segment is the right word, but we started to reposition live chat, right?

Dave Gerhardt: And I remember writing a sales letter, sales, old school, copywriting style sales letter, that was like, “This is … Drift is not your traditional live chat, here’s why.” Something like that, right? It was like, “Look, I know that you think live chat is this, and this, and this, and this, but here’s how it works with Drift,” and so, totally fine if people have that perception, but also we had to … We did gravitate towards something that they’re using, and so we had to say, “It’s like live chat, but imagine it scaled.”

John Rougeux: Okay.

Dave Gerhardt: Or imagine you had a 24/7 assistant that was managing your live chat for you. Then would it be a good channel? Yes. Okay, so it’s just about positioning like that. We did have to reposition how people thought about live chat. 

John Rougeux: So, how do you know if you’re succeeding in building conversational marketing as a category? I guess like KPIs around this, do you track Google trends, or-

Dave Gerhardt: Yeah, we do. We do. I mean, we care about … There’s a couple things that we care about. So, we care about the people who ultimately create categories, for better or worse, in this industry, are often analysts, and so we care … We have relationships with a bunch of the top analyst firms, and we’re working with them to help shape the category of conversation marketing, and so we have some KPIs internally about analyst relations, for example.

Dave Gerhardt: All the other stuff that is important, right? SEO and search is important. Google trends is important. Mentions of conversational marketing. How many articles are written about Drift, and then also mention the phrase conversational marketing? But, all that stuff is great, and people want to measure that, but ultimately it’s one of those things that you know when you know. When some stranger comes up to me up there, I’ve never met in my life, I don’t have anything from Drift on, and he says, “Man, I love conversational marketing.” Put that in a spreadsheet, right? Measure that. I don’t know how to do it, but you know it when you see it.

Dave Gerhardt: The biggest thing, I think the biggest mistake people make with categories is if nobody else is talking about it, then it’s not a category. It’s something you say. It’s something you … The way you position your company. And so … But it’s great when other competitors start talking about it, so there’s a lot of those things that don’t fit in some perfectly quantifiable spreadsheet, but that you know. Another example is last spring, G2 Crowd added conversational marketing to their review website. Pretty good. That’s a good measure, right? I don’t know how to quantify that, but I know that the leading consumer reviews platform in B2B added conversational marketing as a category for people to review software.

John Rougeux: Was that something that you guys drove, or did they do that on their own?

Dave Gerhardt: A little bit of both. 

John Rougeux: Yeah.

Dave Gerhardt: Yeah. We sent them lots of customers. Look at what people are saying. Look at what people are saying. You should add this. You should add this. I’m not gonna take credit for it, but we helped educate them on, “Hey, here’s what people are doing,” so.

John Rougeux: Sure. So, you mentioned a scenario where you’re the only ones talking about it, but it’s not something really bigger than you. Do you see that as … If that was the way things played out, would you see that as a really negative situation? Or is that just, “Hey, we ended up with a unique way of talking about ourselves. It didn’t turn into a category, but at least we have some of our own language that separates us apart?” 

Dave Gerhardt: Yeah, I think you don’t have … I mean, not every company … Not every company can create a category, nor should you. Because that … Think about how annoying that would be as a consumer. Oh, what does your company do? We are the category creators of laptop cases. You know, there’s just too many … You can go too small. 

John Rougeux: We don’t need 10,000 categories. 

Dave Gerhardt: We don’t. You can’t have 10,000 categories, and so there’s lots of different marketing, and positioning strategies, right? You could be number two in a market, but you do it this way. Look at what’s happened with Uber and Lyft, right? Lyft didn’t create the category of on demand ride sharing, but they hung in there, created a great product, and then there was … Some stuff happened with Uber, and a lot of people now are using Lyft, and then most people actually have both apps on their phone. So, I think you can’t say … I think you have to have a big enough addressable market to create a category, verse, “We are the only people that do blah.” That can just be … That’s a little bit more of just a feature differentiator. We’re the only people that make it this way. Great. Doesn’t make you the category creator of that.

John Rougeux: So it’s more of like a niche positioning play, versus a category creation play.

Dave Gerhardt: Yeah. 

John Rougeux: Yeah, yeah. So, obviously-

Dave Gerhardt: But, ultimately you will know, whatever I say about categories doesn’t matter. You will know when … You’ll know when you created a category when other people outside of your company are talking about it, other competitors are trying to come into that market, right? People are asking for it. People are asking for education around it. People are asking for resources around it. Those are all little signs of warm spots that you should run towards.

John Rougeux: So who else in Drift is talking about conversational marketing and evangelizing it, besides you and David?

Dave Gerhardt: Everybody. The company. That is what we create, right? It’s like, you work at Tesla, who’s gonna … Look it, that guy’s got a book right there. See?

John Rougeux: I think that’s a good sign, when people are buying your book.

Dave Gerhardt: It’s a good sign. Wrote the book. Everybody. It’s a fundamental position. That’s the company’s job, right? Everybody needs to be talking about it. It’s not just us.

John Rougeux: So, walk me through-

Dave Gerhardt: But at the same time, some people have to do actual work, right? So, I’m the one that gets to go do a lot of podcasts, but most people have much harder jobs.

John Rougeux: Sure. So, walk me through how you guys educate the rest of your team on what conversation marketing is, how to talk about it, why it’s important. 

Dave Gerhardt: I mean, there’s a lot of ways. You should know before you come into the company. We’re not like, “All right, company. We’re gonna now tell you about conversation marketing.” People join the company, now know that Drift is conversational marketing, and so … We have a lot of things, like just regular company rhythms, like in the onboarding process, we tell a, “Why Drift? Why conversational marketing?” There’s a ton of content we’ve created that we give to everybody, and put them through training on it.

Dave Gerhardt: It doesn’t mean that every single person is a marketing expert in the company, right? Our finance person isn’t gonna tell you about how to optimize your funnel and double your conversion rate, but she can competently speak to why conversational marketing is better than the traditional way, and so it just kind of … I don’t have a good answer for you, which is why I answered this way, because it’s integrated into everything that we do. You know, it’s like … You can’t be at the company without understanding why the company exists, and so there isn’t like a, “On this day, we do this thing, and we train them this way,” just it happens everywhere. It’s what we talk about. It’s the content we create. It’s the podcasts … interviews we do, it’s the books that we write, it’s the onboarding we talk about, it’s the places we go speak. It’s integrated into everything.

John Rougeux: So, you mentioned that it’s part of the DNA now, but there was probably a time when it wasn’t part of the DNA, and you guys had to kind of pitch that internally, and make people aware of what that was. How did that play out?

Dave Gerhardt: We just told them. Yeah. There is no secret answer, like we said, “Here,” we said, “Hey, we got a name for this thing. Here it is.” And we had an index card, or like a little one pager that we put on every single person’s desk, once we kind of had nailed down the tagline and the mission, and we said we’re just gonna rev on this, and we’re just gonna like, “Here it is.” Look at it every day. Read it every day. We’re gonna randomly quiz people. But then, also, being inside the company, you see the marketing team and sales team start to create all this content around conversational marketing. By osmosis, you just learn it, too.

Dave Gerhardt: You know, there wasn’t … There’s not like this military style training on conversational marketing, and there was never a day where David stood up on a table and said, “It’s conversational marketing, and you need to learn it,” it just happens. This is why we go to work every day. Everybody knows that products, like the product team, product design, engineering, they know that what they’re building is for conversational marketing. Marketers know that they better get smart on this and figure out how we’re gonna talk about it. Sales team, same thing. CS, and so it just was … There wasn’t a day, it was not like September 5th, 2015, where he said, “This is conversational marketing,” but there was a moment when it was in the first press release, and it was in the first blog post, and then it just becomes now, those two things have to be associated together, right?

Dave Gerhardt: When we talk about Drift, we talk … It’s conversational marketing. And there’s a lot of stuff that comes with that. You gotta write the framework, the how-to guides, the webinars, the videos, and so it just … Everybody’s always thinking about how are we creating stuff that’s gonna help people understand the category more? 

John Rougeux: Sure. So the big takeaway is you don’t have to come down on high with some stone tablets and announce it to the world- 

Dave Gerhardt: No, because I think that’s where people get caught up, is they … because the problem is, when you have that big declaration moment, then if it doesn’t work, people are like, “Well, we can’t go back on it.” And so, I think it was a simple exercise of we wrote a one liner, and then we had a 100 word version, and we gave that to every single person in the company. Here’s what we are, here’s why we exist, here’s the thing to take back to your desk with you, and from then on, it was like, “Drift is conversation marketing.” 

Dave Gerhardt: But it doesn’t take off until other people outside the company say it, and so if you’re just the CEO, or a marketing person who’s like, “This is the category,” trying to beat it into your head, your team is never gonna pick that up. It’s when they go to a conference and somebody says, “Oh, you’re the conversational marketing company,” right? Or when they’re on a webinar and they say, “Hey, does anybody have any resources on how I can roll out conversational marketing in my business?” So people have to feel it firsthand, and by definition, unless people are talking about it, you don’t have a category anyway.

Dave Gerhardt: So, it’s more important what other people outside of the company are saying, than having a CEO that’s saying, “Guys, Drift is conversational marketing. Remember.” No, it’s gotta come from outside, and that’s hard, because you can’t have one thing without the other, right?

John Rougeux: Sure. So, you mentioned the product team a little bit earlier. How does the thought process around category effect your product roadmap? 

Dave Gerhardt: I think it just is like … It’s kind of the why behind most of the product stuff. I’m not on the product team, so I don’t have the perfect jobs to be done, or whatever framework, that we use, but here’s how I think about it. We have an email … I’ll just give you one example. We have an email product, we have a landing page product. Black and white versions of those, people would say, “Everybody has email. Everybody has landing pages.” Our thread on that, though, or the thing that ties all those things together is conversations, and so that forces us to think about, well, what is conversational email? What is conversational landing pages? What is conversational whatever, right?

Dave Gerhardt: And so it’s just like that one word forces the product team to try to think about, “Well, how can we change this?” If our fundamental stance for the company is that the internet should be one conversation, then how does that weave into everything that we build.

John Rougeux: So, is that why you guys do emails in kind of a plain text version? Because that’s more of a conversational way of emailing, versus a really polished newsletter?

Dave Gerhardt: Yeah, that’s where it started. That’s where it started. That was just from a design perspective, but ultimately what we care about is that email becomes a conversation, meaning the way that marketers have had to use email the last decade is a one way channel. Email is meant to be a two way channel, but marketers have been using it as, “John, come to my webinar,” and what happens if you actually respond to that email. 

John Rougeux: Probably nothing.

Dave Gerhardt: Most times, you can’t, because it’s donotreply@, or it just goes somewhere, to some inbox, where nobody’s answering it, right? That is a terrible experience. Our belief is that if you reply, like, “Hey, actually, I can’t make it. Can you re-register my colleague, blank?” That should get handled, right? So it’s just … It’s thinking about that from an evolution standpoint, right? Same thing with landing pages. Landing page today, most of them are static. Go to the landing page, put a bunch of info in, you’re gone.

Dave Gerhardt: What if that was a conversation? Realtime conversation on the page? So, it’s just … That one topic has to weave itself into everything that we do from a product perspective.

John Rougeux: And other conversations I’ve heard you had, you talk a lot about the importance of branding in the B2B space, and how that’s been undervalued a little bit. Can you tell us a little bit more about that, and especially how it plays into category. 

Dave Gerhardt: I think branding is important for any industry, and for whatever reason, B2B has just been behind. Brand is more important than ever today, because back to what we said earlier about how people buy. Buyers are more … We are, as people, you and I are more skeptical than ever, right? Every … As a person. Don’t think of … Not talking about me as marketer Dave, and you as marketer John. As Dave, the dad, who’s gonna go home tonight, right? That guy. I don’t want to ever be sold to, and I don’t wanna be marketed to. Well, shoot. That creates a heck of a problem if you’re in sales or marketing, right?

Dave Gerhardt: But then we go to our jobs and we do all the things that we don’t like. So, brand is creating that emotional connection with getting somebody to trust you, and then you can talk about all the features. The other piece of it is every sales rep and marketing person in the world, I do this too, says that their thing is better, it’s faster, it’s easier to use, and so even if you are … Even if this is the best phone in the world, I don’t believe it, because that’s what everybody says.

Dave Gerhardt: And so, brand is your way to break down those walls, and to build a relationship, and build trust first. And so, the way we think about it is like, I want you to meet me at a conference like this and say, “You know what? I like that guy.” I want you to listen to the podcast. I want you to watch our videos. I want you to go to a conference. I want you to go to a webinar. I want you to like the pictures and words that we use on our homepage, and our swag, and our gear, and then we earn the right to tell you about the features. As opposed to … The traditional model has been like, “Here’s this thing, it’s blue, you can click it here, it’s faster, it’s easier,” no one believes that, and so brand is the thing that earns you the right to have the conversation, and just think about … Especially in tech today, everything is a commodity.

Dave Gerhardt: There are a million companies that claim to do what Drift does, or what Apple does, or what Tesla does, or what … Whatever. Why did I pick this sweatshirt versus different one? There’s too much competition, that brand is the only thing you’re gonna be able to win on. One lesson from David, our CEO, he’s like, “Go back and look at the consumer package good companies, right? Why did people pick one laundry detergent over the other?” Brand. P&G has cared about brand for 100 years, and that is just now coming to B2B SAS, because now that’s a commodity. 10 years ago there was only one or two companies that did landing pages, and so you could dictate the rules of that buying process.

Dave Gerhardt: Now, you could go here and find 15 companies that are doing landing pages. They’re all gonna tell you about the same features, 90%. How are you gonna pick which one you’re gonna work with? You’re gonna go to the one that you feel like resonates with you personally, and has a brand.

John Rougeux: Yeah. I think you guys are a great example of that, because I can speak from personal experience. When we were looking at the live chat space, or the conversational marketing space, and we looked at Drift, I didn’t understand all of the features, like some of the marketing automation stuff that you guys have, and there’s kind of a CRM component in there. I didn’t know that any of that was in there, but I knew that the chat … You know, the core product was really good, and the vision you guys had for where you wanted to go was really solid-

Dave Gerhardt: Totally. That’s … My wife and I, we just bought a new car like a month ago, and we wanted … We knew we wanted a bigger car, better in the snow, safe for kids, and a couple small features that we like. She really wanted the moon roof and heated seats. Okay. Other than that, the only thing that mattered is brand, and so we went with a Toyota Highlander, because that’s a very well known and well recommended brand. That’s it.

Dave Gerhardt: I think people buy software the same way. You can’t buy software because you know every little in, and out, and spec, and tiny little thing, because also, the way people ship software now, that stuff is changing every day, so you’re never gonna know all the features. So you gotta be able to make a bet, and feel good about, “I wanna work with these people.” And I think the important piece, like one example we’ve done is we got rid of all stock photos. No stock photos. The pictures on our website are either us, or our customers, because we are real people. And that resonates into all of our marketing, like I want you to know me personally. Because that’s who I want to buy from. I want to work with the people that you feel like you know, and can trust, especially today, in the world of endless information and fake news, and just crap all over the internet. 

Dave Gerhardt: You want to do business with people that you like and trust, and so we believe that you gotta show your face. You gotta write like you talk. You’ve gotta be … I don’t care if I make a typo in an email, because I actually wrote the email, right? Obviously I’m not making typos intentionally, but if I make one, I’m like, “Ah, sorry. I probably rushed that out. I was running to a meeting and I really wanted to send it, sorry.” That’s real. We’re bringing all that realness back, where people don’t fall for, “Hello, John. As VP of Marketing at blah,” nobody falls for that stuff anymore. You gotta be real, you gotta be authentic, you gotta be human.

John Rougeux: There was a video I saw on LinkedIn, I can’t remember who did it the other day, but he basically took cold emails he got on LinkedIn-

Dave Gerhardt: Oh I saw it. He went to the mall?

John Rougeux: And he went to the mall, yeah. He’s like, “Hey, I’d love to talk to you about your Q4 business goals.”

Dave Gerhardt: It’s crazy. It’s something that we think about a lot, which is read what you are going to market and sell with out loud. Read it out loud. How’s somebody gonna react to that?

John Rougeux: Right.

Dave Gerhardt: What did you just say? And we still … I still do it all the time. I’ll read something out loud. I’ll write something, and then I’ll read it and be like, “Whoa. Why did I say synergy?” I never have used that word in my life, right? And so it just … It’s just dumbing things down, and the other thing that bothers me is people sometimes are still like, “I don’t know about emojis, and using them in business.” I’m like, “Look at every single,” we’re in a room right now with hundreds of people. I bet you every one of these single … Every single person in this room has used an emoji in the last three hours. Would you think that’s a safe claim?

 John Rougeux: Yeah, sure.

Dave Gerhardt: Okay. But … So why can’t you use that in business? Because it’s business? What’s the difference? That is how people talk, and so I think it’s all about understanding how people communicate, and then figuring out how to put that into marketing, and the best marketing today is marketing that doesn’t actually feel like marketing. I don’t wanna be marketed to. I want you to help.

John Rougeux: Yeah. So you talked about being human, you talked about the value of branding. What other skills that marketers in category defining companies … What are the skills that they should have to really do well?

Dave Gerhardt: You’ve gotta be able to tell a story. Like, you’ve gotta be able to speak to the shift, the big shift in the world, right, which is … This is something that I’ve learned from a guy named Andy Raskin, who’s awesome at helping companies kind of tell stories. Because you can’t … Back to the stuff we were talking about earlier. If you create this little tiny category about podcast cables, how are you gonna get up on stage and deliver, “The world is broken. We don’t have enough podcast cables.” It’s like, you’ve gotta be able to tell a story that punches people in the gut, and there’s some emotional thing there, and that’s … You gotta have … You gotta be able to do that, and then do it in a way that’s gonna inspire other people. Especially people inside of your company, and so back to your question from earlier, where how do we get people on the same page?

Dave Gerhardt: This only works if we can get … If I can’t get up in front of our company, the employees at Drift, and get them fired up about conversational marketing, how on Earth would I be able to get on a stage here?

John Rougeux: And it feels too contrived.

Dave Gerhardt: And get strangers to do it? And so I think if you listen to me talk, or David talk, or whoever, we are really passionate about it, because we do … There is a problem, and we’re trying to fix it. So I think you have to be able to tell a story. You have to be able to point to some bigger shift in the world, and you have to get really good at laying out what to do next, because the challenge now is people say, “I believe you, I know this is the future, but now what?” And so you gotta be able to tell the high level aspirational story, but then you’ve gotta be able to deliver and say, “Okay,” because in most cases, when you create a category, there’s a change for people, and so you gotta show them how to do it.

John Rougeux: Change in terms of the way they’re doing business? Or the way they’re seeing the world?

Dave Gerhardt: Yeah, whatever the category is, the way they’re doing business, the way they work, right? Hey, it’s gonna be different. The example that I use all the time is like, you don’t … And the challenge is, people want … Humans don’t like change. We don’t like change, right? I don’t like change, you don’t like change, but people want … When it comes to marketing, people want the new results, but without the change. And it doesn’t work that way, right? You don’t get to, “I wanna double my conversion rate, but I don’t want to implement conversational marketing.”

Dave Gerhardt: Okay, right? You don’t get to go out on the street and waive your hand and get a Lyft, or an Uber. There’s a fundamentally different way you have to call a cab now. You have an app, it’s gotta have your credit card on it, and your picture, and so it’s the same way for B2B and creating a category there. It’s you’ve gotta show people this is a shift, but we got your back. We’re gonna walk you through this shift, we’re gonna show you how to do it. It’s like when you go get a new phone or new computer, and at the Apple store they take you everything, like they transfer everything for you, they teach you how to use it, it’s the same thing for a category.

John Rougeux: So, sell the dream, but then help people see the steps that they can take, starting day one, to get there.

Dave Gerhardt: Yeah. You have two jobs. Number one is sell the dream, so then they ask you, “What’s next? Okay, I’m in. What now?” And then that’s the most important point, because then if you drop the ball there, your story almost doesn’t matter. “Dave, I’m in. I’m in. You got me on conversation marketing. I’m in. Now what?”

John Rougeux: Yeah. Yeah.

Dave Gerhardt: I better have some good case studies, I better have good examples, I better have good checklists, to walk somebody throw onboarding. Like, if I had nothing, then they’re like, “Well, good story, man.” I can tell you a good story about anything, but you gotta be able to connect the two to actually be helpful.

John Rougeux: Good stuff. Well, hey, I know we’re almost out of time, but you mentioned Play Bigger, obviously Conversational Marketing, your book.

Dave Gerhardt: Yeah.

John Rougeux: What other resources, books, authors, do you recommend marketers who are interested in category design check out?

Dave Gerhardt: I would go … Go listen to our podcast, podcast that David Cancel and I, he’s the CEO of Drift, and founder, we do a podcast together called Seeking Wisdom. We talk about so many books. We’re just big … I’ve learned from him to become a learning nerd, and so we talk a lot about books we’re reading, so that’s one good place. Great lesson in category creation, outside of Play Bigger, is the story about Salesforce, which is called Behind The Cloud, The Untold Story of How Salesforce, whatever, whatever. Great book. Probably written in maybe 2005, 2006. Mark Benioff, the CEO, takes you through all the plays about how they built the company, starting in 99, all the way through IPO. It’s a great lesson in category creation. 

John Rougeux: Good deal. Dave, one of our listeners wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do that?

Dave Gerhardt: I’ve been told that I’m not hard to find on social media, but if you can’t, it’s Dave Gerhardt everywhere. Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, everywhere you can find it.

John Rougeux: Good stuff. Thanks for being with us today.

Dave Gerhardt: Sure.

John Rougeux: All right.

Dave Gerhardt: Thanks for doing it.

John Rougeux: Take care.

Dave Gerhardt: All right.

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About the Author

John Rougeux

John Rougeux is a Partner at Category Design Advisors. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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John Rougeux is VP Marketing Strategy at BombBomb. Connect with John on LinkedIn.

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