As marketers we can do everything possible to demonstrate the value of our product and position it as thoughtfully as possible.
But when a user who’s made that investment can talk about the impact, results, and the increase in happiness in the folks that are using your solution it has a much bigger impact.
Alrighty folks, welcome to another episode of the State of Customer Storytelling podcast. I’m Sam Shepler, your host, and this is the show that is all about helping you, as a B2B marketing leader, get the download on the most current practices and strategies related to all things customer marketing and customer storytelling.
The State of Customer Storytelling podcast is brought to you by Testimonial Hero. Testimonial Hero helps over 300 B2B software companies easily create stunning video testimonials that close deals faster. You can view examples and find out more at testimonialhero.com.
Today on the show we have a fantastic guest. Virginia Bryant is Director of Customer Marketing at GitHub.
Virginia, it’s great to have you on. Welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me. I’m very excited to be here.
To start it off, we’re talking about customer storytelling and customer marketing. At the end of the day, why are customer stories so important? Why do customer stories matter so much in B2B?
As marketers we can do everything possible to demonstrate the value of our product and position it as thoughtfully as possible.
But trust is so critical, and without the voice of your customers, and your super fans and advocates it doesn’t really matter how shiny your marketing assets are. It’s really easy to say something works and something’s amazing, but when a user who’s made that investment can talk about the impact, the results, and the increase in happiness in the folks that are using your solution it has a much bigger impact.
I know that I GitHub you know, you have this thing called the read me project. tell me a little bit more about that and what is the reading, the project, you know, what was the idea behind it? And, and, you know, how does it kind of fit in to this customer marketing conversation?
Yeah, it’s a great question. So about a three and a half years ago, when I joined GitHub we didn’t have much formal customer marketing. And so, you know, initially we really made an investment in our enterprise marketing, you know, talking about the value of our enterprise products and solutions as time passed.
I was actually in a meeting. With my leader and our CEO, a former CEO at the, at the time. And we were talking about all of our success with our enterprise kind of storytelling. And he said, okay, but how do we start telling our developer and our maintainers stories? Because that’s ultimately what get hub is where a platform for software development.
And so the reason the project was really launched as a way to. Begin capturing those stories. And so what it really is, is, you know, it launched as a home to celebrate the voices of software developers and maintainers, and really draw attention to those, you know, unique challenges, those incredible successes of folks within that field in the open source community.
Unlike traditional enterprise storytelling. This is not a marketing platform in the traditional sense. We almost think of this more as a ezine, you know, a celebration of the folks who are already advocates and fans of GitHub and already, bought into our brand. And, you know, from from those humble beginnings of telling me developer stories is grown And grown, and now we have our own podcast.
The read me podcast, we tell a developer stories. We tell feature level stories, which is more of. Almost more of an editorial. We work with a amazing journalist Clint Finley who used to work for wired magazine, and now writes these incredible pieces. Each month we have guides which are best practice learnings from developers, for other developers.
And it’s really become this incredible hub where we can let people inspire and educate those and lift up their peers and lift up the community. And from a marketing perspective, you know, there is a brand impact because we can really demonstrate that we are the home for develop.
And I, we’re going to link this in the show notes. I highly encourage everyone to check it out. It’s github.com/read me. And, it’s interesting that you said you have a wired journal. Involved or, you know, our leader from wire because I, when I went to the site, I was like, this is like a wired.com, but honestly, even better designed.
And it feels like a media site. It doesn’t, it feels completely, you know, fresh and different, you know, it feels, it feels like a media site and it was that always like the plan
You know, you’re spot on. one of the bits of feedback that we were given from our leadership was, you know, don’t build a marketing function, build a media company and. It really caused us to pause and think about what that could mean and how that could manifest. And, you know, so as you can see on the site, we’re making really heavy investments in high quality, digital photography of all of our developers and maintainers that we spotlight using. A team of illustrators that we contract with to really build that distinct style. And we spent a lot of time kind of breaking the mold of maybe what the rest of the GitHub site looks like and using it as a bit of a testing ground to develop something that felt truly authentic to our audience and authentic to this, you know, media platform that we want to.
And I think this is it’s so timely right now because, I mean, that is like, kind of like the prevailing narrative. You, you know, we hear as marketers, it’s like, you know, don’t just do marketing and be a media company, you know, you all have actually executed on it. what kind of tips or perspective, can you share for other.
Particularly for customer marketers. So I think there’s a lot out there for, you know, just, you know, more, traditional marketing functions, but like for, for customer marketers and, you know, people in customer advocacy, what advice or tips can you share? And if they want to not just do customer marketing, but actually, you know, do what you all have done, which is really launch a customer media.
Yeah. You know, I think it’s a little bit of a change of mentality away from, you know, how do we leverage the voice of our customers to convert, to drive demand, to generate leads? It’s more, how can we leverage the voice of our customers and community to truly meet the needs? The our broader customer base. and so, you know, similar to how a lot of organizations are building blogs that try to kind of speak to the broader needs of their customer base. You know, maybe Airbnb would have a travel blog that gives tips for what to pack, right? This is meeting the needs of a developer, you know, who might want to grow into. Or her own career and reach upper management or leadership, or, you know, become a staff developer. But today there maybe a couple years out of college. And so by giving them guided perspectives on how they can invest and they can personally grow from those who kind of have come before them. it allows them to really find a whole.
For the, to meet their needs and in, you know, in a brand marketing perspective, by becoming a name that they just associate so much with their own growth and their own success and an investment in them and a true understanding of them and their needs. As they do grow, you know, there is a hope that they will be the technical decision-maker someday and then get help would be the only solution, you know, that makes sense for them.
Absolutely. And, in terms of the, I think one challenge that, you know, some folks might get as they start, this is always thinking around, this is a very long-term play. Right. So, it seems like, you know, you had a lot of support, from, you know, your leaders and, tell me more about that.
Like, cause you know, I think that’s, I mean that’s a key, right? You have to have people who are willing to play long-term and is it sorta like that? Is that kinda how you, you all think about it internally? Or is there a sort of like how, I guess, how do you think about the ROI, you know, to the extent that you do or you know, how those kinds of conversations take place, just cause like for some folks, those are there.
They will have to sort of answer some of that. If they propose this, I’m sure.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’ll be honest that doesn’t hurt that it was a CEO directive that we invest in the developer and maintain our community. We have. Support from the top level. And we launched it and really continued to sort of iterate as it grew. but it, you know, ROI. With any brand marketing play ROI is, is pretty elusive, right?
Your you’re making a, an investment and you’re hoping that it will pay dividends, but those can be quite removed. So, you know, data data indicates that investing in brand is worthwhile and that it will, you will outperform in revenue over the longterm. If you make that investment today. In terms of our actual, you know, tracking, we’re not looking at a number we’re looking at how is our readership month over month?
How does our newsletter perform? what type of content is resonating so that we can make more investment in that type of content? because at the end of the day, we’re trying to, truly meet the needs of our readers. But I understand that there are companies that this type of model wouldn’t necessarily work at, you know, because we have a robust community who are using our solution for free or within an enterprise team, or, you know, paying a small subscription a month to have access to, you know, some private software repositories. there’s a really unique community that comes from software developers. It’s it tends to be a job that isn’t really nine to five. It’s a lifestyle, it’s a passion. These are people who, who truly found their calling. and so we’re, we’re serving, we’re serving.
Hmm, that makes a ton of sense. And, and I agree completely with, you know, the point about, you know, brand and, you know, and even, you know, what’s the saying, like, it’s like not everything. can be measured, like just cause this can be measured doesn’t mean it’s worth doing. And just because it can’t be measured doesn’t mean, you know, you shouldn’t do it either.
Right. so true. with the read me project it’s, you know which again, I heard people needing check this out for inspiration. It’s it’s incredible. Like it’s obviously, know, more of a publication texts, you know, great articles, great photography, great original graphics.
In terms of other kind of, you know, media and mediums for customer stories on video, you know, third-party reviews, you know, case studies, how do you think about, you know, different mediums, and I guess kind of like the pros and cons of these different mediums, cause I know. You’ve had experience, you know, you were at send desk in the reference program prior. So you’ve had a lot of experience in reference and evidence and, and customer marketing.
Yeah. You know, I think we’re always going to be best served by doing a little bit of everything. there is always in my mind, there will always be a place and time for, you know, your traditional top of funnel customer for a, I think they validate that you really can live up to your messaging. They validate that you have trusted brands that trust you, and they allow you to really demonstrate how your various solutions products features work in the real world. Video is becoming increasingly important. It’s something that we’re going to make much larger investment in this year as a business, we’ve been growing a in-house video team and we’re kicking off some really exciting projects right now. and I think that that will be increasingly important as social media continues to drive.
So much of our lives and it’s all about attracting attention and attention spans are getting shorter, which means that the speaking, the talking head on a white backdrop testimonial, probably isn’t going to work where we need to find novel ways to capture the eye of our audience. And also. To deliver that authentic message and deliver something that provides value.
And these are problems that we’re constantly trying to solve for as customer marketers.
So true around like needing to find novel ways. I feel like every sort of year, the sort of like the bar is being raised around, differentiation, right? Like there was a time when a rack of logos and some quotes was like, oh, good, good enough. But like, obviously, it’s evolved a lot.
Speaking of that evolution, I’d be curious. Yeah. How have you seen, you know, customer marketing and customer advocacy sort of evolve, you know, over your career, what, what sort of trends have you noticed or, and, or, you know, where do you see it, you know, moving to in the future, in addition to it, as you mentioned, you know, more video.
Yeah, absolutely. So I’ve been doing this for little over seven years now, specifically in customer marketing and sort of the reference marketing world. and I built, you know, two programs sort of from the ground up. And it’s interesting, you know, handful of years ago. I feel like customer marketing programs were few and far between sort of the, the largest organizations had them, you know, folks like Adobe and VM ware, but many other companies were just starting to become aware that this was a function that could exist or should exist in that it could be distinct from the broader marketing organization.
And you know, now. It was listed, I think recently on LinkedIn as one of the, like the number third growing profession, according to their data over this past calendar year. And that is a resounding sign that people are realizing that trust matters and that the voice of their customer is how you access and gain that trust with peers and community.
I mean, we all, we all go on Amazon. To purchase things. And the first thing you do before you hit that buy button is you read a handful of through reviews and ensure that this is really what it appears to be. And this is even more critical when we’re talking about million dollar business decisions.
People don’t want to make that huge commitment and they don’t want to have to. Spend all of the time going through procurement and going through security review and going through install and then having to rip it out. And so they’re doing their due diligence up front, and that means making this.
Accessible be it written assets, video assets, peer to peer conversations are still so critically valuable. I I’m a strong believer that we should be making that a part of as many our sales processes as possible to really help accelerate that deal time to close, but the greatest opportunity that I’m seeing right now and something that my team will be focusing on over the coming year is really, you know, how do we infuse the voice of the customer?
Into places that maybe it hasn’t previously then served up. So, you know, everyone understands the value through the funnel, but how do we start to leverage it through the post acquisition nurture as we actually invest in our customers and help them deliver the best ROI and realize that this value of the investment they’ve made, you know, how do we let.
So those who are having immense success, sort of showcase that success in a way that’s, that’s a little bit more prescriptive. Maybe that’s helps guide others to adopt similar best practices or to understand, a way that they could automate us as that’s currently sticky and manual and time intensive for their team or, or even just how the.
They’ve changed and build a culture around their software development. So these are places that I don’t see the voice of the customer currently leveraged heavily today, but I think will be a really impactful opportunity moving forward.
Absolutely a hundred percent agree with that.
And, to that point, that idea of, you know, expansion, you know, revenue and using, customer stories to help, you know, communicate to existing customers. I know you were, you know, recently, got a new promotion or a new title, and now you’re focused on, you know, used to be customer evidence.
Now is customer marketing. I’m curious, kind of, you know, what sort of, if, if you can share, like, what was the, what kind of precipitated that and cause, and the reason I’m asking is because I feel like there’s a lot of, sort of, not inconsistency, but I guess like customer marketing means like a lot of different things sometimes at like different companies. Right. and I’m also curious about like terminology.
Cause I feel like customer evidence.
You know, sort of a waning term and yeah. Is that, I love to hear just like w why that happened. Like, did you feel like it just was a better fit? Like this is this is the term we’re going in on customer marketing How did, how did that come about?
Yeah, I, so, you know, at Zendesk, my function was customer reference, you know, get hub for the last many years, it’s been customer evidence and now we are making a pivot to invest in the organization as customer marketing. And I eat a lot of ways, I think for forget hub. Now, this is sort of a visual commitment to.
The extended impact that customer marketing has. It is not just, you know, serving a peer-to-peer call or writing a customer story. It is a function that really in an interesting way, touches a broader part of the company and the customer base. Almost any other action in the business. You know, I always think of customer marketers as, as sort of this hat that sits over, you know, your revenue organization, your sales, your enablement, your, your go to market, your product marketing, like this is a core stakeholder function for all of those parts of the business. And in the ideal state, your, the work that this function does is an input. Everything else that we do, there should be nothing that goes out to our customers that doesn’t have the voice of our customer infused within it. And so, you know, it’s, a bit of marketing itself to rebrand as customer marketing.
It’s giving it, maybe a little bit more level impact, you know, playing field with some of the other marketing organizations. And it’s not just something. That we’re going to tack on to the end of a project project. When we’re about to ship a campaign, it’s a core strategic function that is an input and a functional stakeholder with all of these projects as going, you know, from the day one.
Totally makes sense and mentioned, you know, it being a core strategic function for, for folks who are listening to this and, you know, maybe a little, earlier in their career, earlier in their customer marketing journey, what tips or perspective can you share around.
Actually kind of putting your, your customer storytelling strategy together and you know, if it’s fairly bare bones and has been, like, let’s say, you know, pretty reactive historically.
Yeah. How would you urge people to think about, you know, setting that, that, that strategy and, and what, tips do you have there?
Yeah. So I think it’s really important to understand what is coming down the pipeline, you know, as you’re working with the go to market function, as you were up, those you’re listening to sales, leadership, and, you know, just executive leadership in general, where does the company want to be in three, six months?
Because as I’m sure everyone who’s doing customer marketing knows that. Or the piece of content you start working on today, probably won’t see the light of day for a quarter. And if you’re working with, you know, fortune a hundred brands that could be half a year, that could be nine months. These relationships take time.
There are many layers of internal stakeholders within the customer that you need to bring along and to, invest in those relationships, to get that to the final level where you have out outward facing. so understand the messaging, understand the goals of the business and think about how you can be an asset and a value add to those goals. if you’re focusing on a new product, get in with those early beta users and develop. Some testimonial that you can inject in when you go to market. If you’re, if you know, you’re doubling down on, you know, a strategic investment in a new feature, really think about how you can demonstrate through that testimonial, why this is so critical, why you should adopt it and where you could bring that into maybe a new nurture flow.
I love that phrasing. Where does the company want to be in three to six months?
And like understanding the goals like that is such a good way to think about it. And like, fundamentally, like the more that we can align with, you know, the executive level, you know, strategic priorities like that is like, as you said, like that is makes that’s how we become assets. Right. And it makes a ton of sense.
One of the, I think one of the challenges you know, I think we all, as customer marketers run into is getting agreement from the customers to participate in customer marketing. And, you know, obviously there’s some principles around, you know, giving them a great experience and, you know, there’s some kind of, they were kind of more maybe, common sense things there, but you know, what have you found.
You know, any sort of tips or perspective, you know, for someone who’s like, okay. Like I think I figured out which customers that we should ask, like how do we actually go about, you know, making that ask, for that, you know, advocacy activity.
Yeah, well, first, you know, leverage the relationships that already exist within the organization. And sometimes that might be their account executive within the sales org. Sometimes that’s success. Sometimes it’s an executive relationship, ideally. You want to come in to that conversation with the customer as senior and as established and with as much good as possible.
So if you can come in, you know, I always talk about the, the level of objection. So, you know, there’s always someone in the company that has the right to say, yes, it’s someone in the company that has the right to say no. And those points of the Jeff objection. Legal, they could be procurement. It could be somebody who just doesn’t have time to make this investment right now.
Or maybe they’re having the best product experience, which you should know about well in advance, which is why you should have a, you know, be tied to your sales and your accounts. But if you can come in to, you know, someone within the organization who is a major champion, who can view this as an opportunity to demonstrate their own thought leadership who can see that this is a way to show that the investment that they made and the check that they signed is actually making their business more effective, making.
Attract and retain staff better. Any of these things that really truly resonate with them. And you should know what those are. Ideally, when you go into this, then you can really speak to that. You can speak to, you know, humans, nature to want to be praised and be shown that they’re doing their best and you can speak to the goals of their business.
And when you are working on any piece of customer testimonials, It should always be with the goal in mind of how you make that customer a hero and your product and your solution or whatever service you are offering them should be an underpinning. It should be, you know, X company is doing amazing work and look at these ways that they’re succeeding as powered by GitHub.
No. Yeah, hub is the star and everything we do is great and like, look how this customer uses it. If that makes sense.
A hundred percent. And you mentioned, know customer videos and video testimonials earlier.
And I wanted to circle back to that. get, get hub has a, you know, you have a lot of resources.
Why are you investing more in video this year? What’s kind of driving that.
Well, humans are drawn to humans, faces we’re drawn to unique storytellers. and we also are getting progressively shorter attention spans as I mentioned earlier. So I think we have to consider that our audience is going to consume content in different ways. Some people want to sit down and read.
Some people want to see a series of, The stats that are really, really digestible. And some people want to see a funny video on TikTok that shows that this brand has good human beings working, you know, behind it. and it’s all about figuring out how to, how to meet customers, where they’re at and serve them, you know, whatever it is that they need at that time.
And I know we talked a little bit earlier about kind of, you know, atomizing content and I love that, that, phrase or that visual, just kind of breaking up, taking this larger piece of content and sort of splitting it off into its Addams to maximally useful and easy to consume. yeah. Tell me more about that.
Why is that important and how are you, how are you thinking about it? How are you putting it into, into action?
Yeah. So, so often, you know, the work that a customer market or station does doesn’t have its own sort of life, but we rely on our partners and our stakeholders to really make sure that it achieves its maximum value. And so in order to do that, That means that, you know, the customer story that might be five pages that lives on your customer stories page also needs to be a dozen quotes that can be dropped on product pages or in a nurture flow or on a header of a newsletter.
And it also could be. You know, a social media slide with a picture of the spokesperson where they can have their moment and talk about their own, you know, success. It also might be a slide that you put in front of your, your sales team that they can use as an addendum, to like their first call deck or any conversations where they’re speaking to prospects or pitching an upsell.
And, you know, the list goes on the less friction you can have. For your consumers of your content to take that and to use it in a way that full and extend its life, the more successful you’re going to be. And the more, esteem you will have in the business, the more people will come to you and trust you and recognize that like the voice of the customer is a item that should be in everything we do.
Absolutely. And, Virginia, this has been fantastic. Is there anything else that I didn’t ask that, you know, maybe would be a good topic?
Yeah. You know, one other thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot, you know, as I’m growing in my own career and my own agreement, and I think about, you know, maybe what my five, 10 year. Goal might be within customer marketing. I have a hope and a belief that this generation of customer marketers might be really well positioned to be the new path towards CMO. I feel like in, in historically there’s been a, you know, PMM path, there’s been a brand path and those are maybe the most traditional. Path to the C-suite. And as I spoke earlier about customer marketing and how it sits top, so many of these functions, I think about this, this, you know, the T-shaped marketers that we’re creating inherently and something that we didn’t speak about, which is that we speak to more customers than most anyone in the business.
Maybe, you know, excluding sites, but. There’s a very different relationship you have when you’re selling versus when you’re listening. And we have this immense ability to really reflect. The true customer experience back into the business in a way that can influence the product in a way that can shape maybe and change our beliefs about how our customers are using the tool and maybe understanding where their pain points are.
Where, where are we? Do better or, or really, talk about a value we didn’t recognize. And so, you know, in that regard, I think it makes folks really uniquely situated to, to start to grow in our remit like that, where they can look kind of holistically at the needs of the business and truly understand how to spin it and how to serve the organization better to serve their customers.
I love that. And, Virginia, for anyone who wants to get in touch with you, connect or learn more about you or GitHub what’s the best way for them to, to do that.
Absolutely. Send me a message on LinkedIn. I love to grow my network and learn from other customer marketers.
Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for joining. This was an absolute blast and that maybe we’ll have to do it around two sometime.
Yes. Absolutely. Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed our conversation.
Alrighty folks, that was another fantastic episode of the State of Customer Storytelling podcast.
A couple of things I want to underscore, some of my favorite parts are, this idea that you shouldn’t just build a marketing team or a customer marketing team, you should build a media company. Build a customer media company.
The concept of atomization; turning your customer marketing assets—and not just the case studies, not just the videos—into slides and so much more. Thinking about how you can deliver value through the content. Not just, “Here’s an endorsement,” but does the customer content stand alone as something valuable?
The path to CMO from customer marketing. What could be a better situation than a CMO who knows customers deeply? I hope and I believe it is a shift we’re seeing.
We also talked about the importance of video, video growing, and the ability of video to have emotional resonance, and capture people’s attention.
A lot of good stuff in this conversation about how we can infuse the voice of the customer, even post acquisition, in that expansion phase.
Then last but not least, in terms of setting a strategy, Virginia brought up some great points. Ask yourself, “Where does the company want to be in three to six months?” The more you can understand the goals of your business the better you can align your customer marketing activities and content around those goals and absolutely drive the best results.
Thank you, again, for listening.
I’m Sam Shepler and we’ll see you in the next episode of the State of Customer Storytelling.