Stories from childhood have taught us that transformations can be exciting! Like Cinderella going from rags to a beautiful ball gown.
Nostalgia hit, anyone?
But we don’t all have fairy godmothers as fabulous as the late Mrs. Houston. The rest of us have to work hard to successfully transform a product, service, or brand. In this episode, find out how Amazon’s Alexa has worked to rebrand after being well known for its website ranking list but now offering a suite of SEO tools.
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Episode 12: How a Legacy Brand, Well, Rebrands – Show Notes
This week’s question is:
- Alexa Blog
- How to Repurpose Your Most Successful Content [blog post]
- BONUS: Example Kim from Alexa sent over that illustrates how they educate people with best practices supplemented with step-by-step how-tos on their product.
When an established company has to rebrand because of new offerings, messaging becomes crucial. Here’s how the marketing team at Alexa is pulling it off.
Alexa is a brand that’s been around for 20+ years, meaning it has a lot of authority. However, originally it was known for its top sites list, a trusted compilation of all the most trafficked sites on the web.
Now, Alexa offers a suite of paid tools for competitive analysis, keyword research, and more for marketers.
So how could Alexa make it clear to anyone who might be a potential customer that they don’t only offer the ranking anymore?
I spoke with Kim Cooper and Jennifer Johnson from Alexa’s marketing team to find out.
The key is to carefully craft the way you communicate with your established community and alter the messaging so any potential customers understand Alexa’s new value add.
Kim and Jennifer did this in multiple ways.
One of their priorities is to create content that serves multiple goals. They’re a small team, so content that can be on the blog, used to train new customers, and used in the sales process would be considered a success.
For this reason, they focus on how-to content that features a problem and then a solution that involves an Alexa tool.
While they said some might consider this self-serving, it’s actually extremely valuable to their readers and is some of the most successful content they produce.
How do they see what’s working? They look at which posts get the most visits and social engagement — that’s how they know they’ve hit a topical (or format-related) nerve.
They emphasized that it’s not enough to create the content — promoting the content is key for actually reaching relevant audiences.
First, they promote their content through some paid channels. Their most successful campaigns are run through Facebook by targeting those interested in marketing, though they have some success with LinkedIn ads, as well.
But a lot of the magic happens through their email list. Because people have signed up from their site (by seeing some content and signing up to get access to a more comprehensive piece of content), they’re already in the sales funnel and more receptive to Alexa’s message.
So their strategy is to send bite-sized value adds every week, causing email recipients to expect this value and opening the emails.
In this way, it’s almost like developing a habit, Jennifer said, and it’s a large lead driver for them.
All in all, while developing an effective content production and promotion strategy involves a significant amount of work, they advise that you always look at the big picture — don’t forget why you’re creating the content and whom it’s serving, and that’ll help lead you down the right avenues for content types and how to get that content in front of the right eyes.
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Amanda Milligan: Welcome to Ask Amanda About Marketing, a podcast in which I, Amanda, or occasionally a special guest, answer your questions about inbound marketing. Straightforward, right? If you want to submit a question, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you. Let’s get right to it.
This week, I’m excited to have Kim Cooper and Jennifer Johnson on the show. They make up the marketing team at an Amazon company called Alexa and they’ve been working with Fractl for I think more than a year and a half now correct me if I’m wrong, guys.
I’ve really enjoyed getting to understand their marketing goals and working with them to achieve that. The reason I’m really excited to have them on the show today is that they have an interesting goal in terms of what Alexa used to be known for, which was their website rankings list (you’ve probably seen this before).
What they have tried to rebrand it as now which is way more tool focused. If you haven’t seen Alexa’s marketing stack, they have a lot of tools now for marketers might include competitive analysis tools and keyword research tools and a lot of really cool stuff. So in this episode, we’re going to talk a little bit about their journey doing that rebranding, some of the tactics they used, and maybe some of the insights they’ve come across along the way.
So first of all, welcome to the show, Kim and Jennifer!
Kim Cooper: Thank you. Thanks for having us.
Jennifer Johnson: Thanks very much.
AM: So just to get started, I gave you know, my little recap but maybe you can each talk about what your roles are and give a little more context to how you’ve been approaching this rebranding.
JJ: Hi everyone. I’m Jennifer Johnson and I’m a marketing manager with Alexa. I’ve been with the company [for] almost three years now and my primary role is to create content for most of our digital marketing initiatives. So I have a hand in creating, writing, and implementing most everything for our marketing team.
KC: So I’m Kim and I’m the Director of Marketing at Alexa. I’ve been with the company a little over two years now and it’s been a really fun experience I have to say because it’s such a unique challenge. I don’t think there’s a lot of companies that have such a long history that Alexa does and so much legacy behind it. So it’s been interesting. But also there’s a lot of challenges that come along with that. So in terms of our branding issues, basically because of that long history which is you know, spans over 20 years—I think we’ve been around for like maybe 21 years at this point—that kind of mind-share that marketers have about Alexa rank is very deep-rooted for that long period of time, and over the course of 20 years, our business has changed quite a lot.
And now like you mentioned, we have a bunch of paid products that are geared around keyword research, competitive analysis, and audience analysis that helps marketers find growth opportunities. But you know, the problem for us is that that legacy of Alexa rank that’s so deep-rooted in our history outshines the valuable, more actionable product. So that’s really been kind of like the core focus is trying to get people to understand that a lot has changed. We kind of have a new offering above and beyond just the Alexa rank, which is free for everyone. And so that’s really been our my area of focus for the last couple of years.
AM: Great. So yeah, I think the good thing about discussing this is even if anybody listening isn’t going through kind of a big rebranding process, I think that there’s a lot to be learned from finding your audience, you know, identifying who that is, how to reach them, and honing your brand messaging.
So I think it did a lot of the things you two probably learned over the last couple of years is going to end up being really beneficial to other people listening.
AM: Yeah. Thank you for adding that additional context. So it sounds like your primary goal has been like you said to kind of raise the awareness which is part of the reason they had hired us initially as we were creating content campaigns that were, you know, putting the Alexa name out there in a different context—a context of more of a tool-focused or analysis-based approach. So we can talk a little bit about content marketing, but also I want to just in general talk about some of the tactics you’ve used in order to achieve that goal that you just described.
KC: Jennifer can probably add a lot of detail around this but I would just say at a very high-level, the tactics we really focused on the most to help us with our brand awareness issue is around as creating lots of content that ties marketing best practices to actionable how-to’s. The way we communicate that actionable how-to is via how it can be done in our product.
So we kind of take the reader of our content from an interest in a certain problem-space, tell them, you know, what they should be doing and why in the form of best practices, followed by how they can take action to execute on those best practices. So that’s kind of been the core of our at least content focus and then we do a bunch of promotion from different channels. I’m sure Jennifer has detail she could add to those tactics we’ve done.
AM: Yeah, let’s start with the content angle.
JJ: Sure, as Kim mentioned, we have some specific tactics that we’ve been focusing on recently like email and ads and SEO, and then we’ve got content partnerships and networking. Kim said that we focus a lot on step-by-step actionable how-to content and I think it’s important to color that tactic because some people would frown on it, feeling like it’s not as useful or perhaps a little self-serving because we’re talking directly about our product.
But I think that that content approach— the how-to content approach—is justified in a couple of ways. For us, our team is really small and so our content has to serve multiple phases of the marketing funnel. So in other words, we have to play the role of both marketing and sales, educators, and sellers.
So in this way, we address multiple needs with one piece of content. I think marketers listening that work for SMB’s can probably relate to that. And also that type of content as I mentioned is actionable and it’s concrete. You get the how and not just the what or the why. So it’s useful.
AM: Yeah. I love that approach. We’ve been doing that more internally at Fractl as well, where you realize that a lot of the questions you want to be answering any way really beneficial to potential clients or potential customers and using those resources for more than one purpose has been extremely useful. They kind of—you know inform each other as well. You get a lot of ideas when you’re when you’re thinking from one perspective that you can apply to another.
JJ: Definitely. I think that’s kind of a theme throughout what we’ve learned and the tactics that we use, that the learn-by-doing, learn-by-showing, is really good. That combination works really well.
KC: And it’s—you know, content is such an expensive thing to invest in, both in terms of just your time and even financial resources. So to be able to squeeze as much results out of it as you can, to be able to have it impact, you know, top of funnel awareness, but also, you know customer retention—It just helps you justify that spend and that investment.
AM: Absolutely so when you’re approaching content ideas and you’re trying to tackle all these different angles, how do you come up with your ideas?
KC: A number of ways, I would say. You know, to some extent, we use our own tool to do keyword research and look at what competitors are doing and we look for keyword topics that we don’t have a presence in and try to use that as an area to focus on because we—it’s easy to get kind of stuck doing the same topic over and over again. And so to constantly be looking for ways to expand the footprint of topics that we’re talking about that are still relevant to our audience, you know, a lot of keyword research and competitive intelligence, looking at what others are doing and Jennifer does this a lot too so she can probably add some more detail.
JJ: Yeah, I mean, Kim hit it on the head, doing a lot of keyword research and finding the gaps is very important and that’s something we’ve been focusing on trying to teach our readers from what we’ve learned, about looking where the holes are and looking at what opportunities you haven’t exploited yet. I think that’s a great tactic for just getting your voice out there in the space.
AM: Yeah, it sounds like a lot of the work. You’re probably doing to promote Alexa translates really well to your core audience too, right? Probably a lot of what you’re learning about, how to get the name out there, using the tools, is giving you a lot of inspiration inherently.
JJ: Yeah, that’s true. We do a lot of dogfooding of our own tool and it also kind of makes our job a little bit more fun because we get to talk about the things that we do. I think it would be challenging if we were trying to learn how to market a space that we had no idea, you know, about what it was. So, little bonus.
AM: So how have you learned more about your audience in particular, you know, what is your strategy there?
KC: So we do look at performance of past content. So like one of our strategies when we publish a new piece of content is that we always promote it in a paid channel. So, you know, mostly on Facebook actually, a little bit on LinkedIn. Then we’ll see if there’s a piece of content that really stands out, kind of an outlier in terms of its performance, you know driving at minimum clicks because when it comes to blog posts, that’s really what you care about. People showing an interest in that content. So from there, you can kind of get some signal about the topics that resonate with people the most.
Also sometimes we look at shares. So like, if we have a piece that gets shared and way more than others, that maybe we hit, you know, a nerve in some aspect whether it’s the format of the content or the topic of the content. So yeah.
AM: Yeah, I want to go back in a second to that type of content that resonates with your audience, but I want to ask about your paid channels. As you said, you use Facebook a lot and then LinkedIn for some of the time. Can you talk about how that how successful that’s been? It’s interesting to me personally—the Facebook approach—since Facebook’s more of a—kind of like, not as personal but you know what I mean? It’s more of like an everyday social media site whereas Linkedin is more professional. Have you seen a lot of success on Facebook for marketing Alexa?
KC: Yeah, definitely the success we’ve seen on Facebook has mostly to do with driving traffic to blog post content. So I don’t remember what our cost per click is, but it’s really pretty low. The thing I think that makes Facebook ads successful when it comes to promoting content is that you’re right, it is a very kind of “consumer-y” place; but also, Facebook knows so much about people’s interests that you can target based on interests. Even if it’s at the—you know, put my ad in front of people who like this other Facebook page. That’s one way that you can get good targeting and the reason I think the blog post promotion works so well is it people are kind of in a—just consuming content frame of mind when they’re on Facebook. So—and even though it’s a sort of consumer place where consumers are hanging out, they’re also real people who have jobs. And so those who have marketing jobs are good targets to put our content in front of them.
AM: Yeah, that makes sense. So going back to the type of content that has resonated, you said you’ll look at what the most popular content has been, whether, you know, it’s views or shares or what have you. Are there any other trends you’ve noticed aside from we talked about? How-to content has done really well for you guys. Is there anything else you’ve noticed about? What is really good at resonating with your audience?
KC: You know one thing I would say—I don’t know if this is answering your question directly because it’s not necessarily a trend, but I would say it’s just another data point that helps us feel confident about that how-to format that Jennifer talked about—is that we promote our blog posts through our email blasts. And then which makes it very easy to measure directly how many people end up converting.
So the number of people who click through from an email, consume a blog post and then go on to convert is actually pretty high. And so that’s just yet. Another data point that says, okay this format that we’re applying—start with best practices, give examples, and then show actionable how-tos in the product—really does, kind of, close the loop for people who are looking to learn something and then take action and they’re ready to sign up for a product. So, you know, I don’t know if that’s a trend so much as it is just a data point that justifies that format, that content format.
AM: Right. Do you think that the fact that you’re using that email list is like, a crucial complementary component? Because they’re probably way more of an engaged audience that you have on your email list or kind of expecting to see this type of content. So when they receive it they’re more likely to act on it.
KC: Yeah, yeah, and Jennifer has very strong feelings about this. But definitely.
JJ: Yeah, I think email is definitely been a crucial tactic for us because you know, we’re constantly engaging—that’s the other part of our like, branding initiative or general initiatives for this year. You know, on the one side, it’s awareness and on the other side, it’s engagement. To teach people, teach our customers and prospects about this new awesome set of tools that we have and how they’re applicable to what marketers do every day. So because we’re constantly engaging and providing this, you know, bite-sized value consistently done, right, it’s unobtrusive but still very informative. So we the goal is to create a habit.
So Kim and I were talking and I like the analogy of—it’s like going to a coffee shop. Like we all have our favorite spot and you may only buy one small thing each day. But after some time you’ve built this trust and established a consistent habit with the shop. So, that coffee shop is always top of mind when you have a need, whether that be a coffee or a donut. It’s always there and that’s where you go first and so building this relationship with a potential customer in a coffee shop or a customer for a SAS product. It isn’t so different, you know, as long as you’re providing this slow trickle of valuable information, you’re going to be top of mind and so I think that’s been hugely successful to us this year.
AM: I love that description of forming a habit because it’s like you said, even if people criticize the how-to format, it is valuable. You’re specifically giving instructions on how to succeed in some way. So if you’re able to continuously provide that to your email list, I can see why they would come to, you know, not necessarily depend on it but expect it, and if it’s been successful for them that they just continue to want it.
So it’s a really interesting perspective. So if email is a big portion of your marketing strategy, how have you worked to build up that email list? How are you converting people to sign up?
So our email list is built primarily with forms in exchange for a more in-depth piece of content. So we feel that the benefit of sharing this type of content becomes evident when we get to nurture this recipient. We’re able to convert them more successfully because they’re receptive to this nurturing content they receive after they can put their email and download this great resource from us. So because they’ve already received this valuable and comprehensive bit of information, we’ve established some level of trust.
Future interactions are better received and you know, they’re listening. And so we can nurture over time, providing these more valuable, bite-sized bits of content and then the end goal is to build enough trust that a reader becomes a customer.
Just to summarize, we give them something to start and say, this is what we can provide you and it’s very useful. Then they’re open to listening and receiving more information from us and then over time we continue to nurture that trust so much that they’re able to convert and see the value of our product as well. So it’s this nice little circle of life with the customer.
AM: Yeah. It sounds like you guys have a great setup where everything complements each other tactic. Which probably a lot of people struggle to achieve that—see how everything’s going to feed into, you know, the next tactic so that it’s all functioning really well together.
Another piece I think we haven’t talked too much about is the SEO component. How much are you getting from organic in terms of—is it the blog post traffic that’s benefiting you or what are your goals there?
So in terms of organic, I’d say organic is our second highest traffic driver, at least. We get a lot of direct followed by organic and then in terms of the blog, I wouldn’t call us super successful right now. But we’re definitely, you know, improving in terms of where we rank for some of our key target words.
The way I see our strategy around SEO is that you know, we do that initial promotion of the email in the ads which gives the content a boost right out that right out of the gate but then SEO is this kind of smaller incremental addition to our traffic. So with each new blog post, we optimize, we publish for search. We’re adding an incremental bit to our overall traffic and so over time, the whole thing grows. I think we still have room for improvement to get each and every post ranking higher, I would say our average is usually page two right now, which isn’t anything to be super excited about but it still drives traffic.
So, you know, I think one of our next—we’ve put a lot of effort into baking SEO into the content as we write it, but I think now we need to go back and, kind of, optimize the existing content to improve performance. That’s sort of our next plan of attack on the SEO front.
AM: Yeah. Absolutely. I think a lot of re-optimizing of old content and updating it has been really successful for other people. I keep seeing articles about that and that’s always interesting to see. So after executing all of these different strategies and seeing how they work together, has there [been] anything that surprised you about how things have you know, kind of, flowed or how people interact with your brand or kind of anything along this process that you weren’t really expecting to happen?
JJ: For me, I’m trying to think of what would be surprising. I have you know, one thing I’m surprised by in general about our brand problem, which doesn’t really answer the question about what worked or didn’t work. But when I investigated issues around our brand perception or our brand awareness, I noticed that searches for our brand name—so things like how to use Alexa rank or where to get Alexa rank or how does Alexa rank work things like that—we actually don’t have the biggest shared voice for those terms other sites. There’s about three or four sites that have a higher share of voice.
That was something that in the whole process of looking at our brand awareness challenge, it’s shocking that it can even happen because our domain is Alexa. So we should have a leg up just for that reason but it makes sense. We’ve been around for 20 years and marketing has been neglected except in the past few years because there was no marketing team. And so we never wrote content that answered those search queries.
So that was to me one of the biggest like shocking moments of this branding challenge and we’re in the process of creating content to answer those search queries, so we don’t have the results just yet. I kind of found that fascinating.
AM: That is really interesting is that you can’t just rely on your brand legacy. You have to still be doing what apparently others did in the absence, which is answering those questions in a comprehensive way.
JJ: Yeah, and it’s interesting because you know, there’s a lot of buzz around Alexa Rank and a lot of it is not accurate. So when you allow those other sites to have a louder share voice than you and they’re spreading things that aren’t fully accurate, then you know, that’s also kind of the root of a brand problem—when you let that happen and you don’t show up to the conversation. So, you know, that’s another focus for us definitely.
AM: So when you’re looking at the big picture here. You did a great job describing how you’re producing content promoting it and paid email and then kind of layering on SEO to get that additional benefit. If anybody’s listening now who’s thinking, how do I do this for myself? How do I even get started with this? What would your advice be to navigating this process?
JJ: Oh, it’s definitely a big long process but I would say in terms of someone who wants to execute on a content strategy that is going to help them with, you know, brand awareness and generating results in terms of conversions—I would say to think about the content holistically, not just what that piece of content is going to be, not just the topic but also, how are you going to go about promoting it.
This is something that you guys are really great at. So you might find a topic really interesting, you might have justification that your audience finds it interesting but is it going to be promotable? How are you going to get it in front of people? Because just publishing a piece of content that you are confident is good doesn’t always mean the traffic shows up. So taking the time before you even create the content to think about how promotable it is or are there influencers you can incorporate into it that might help share it once it’s published.
Is it something you’re going to be able to get picked up and by other publications or will you be able to write guest posts that are relevant to it and link to it—things like that, which I know is basically something you guys do all the time.
But back to that whole “it’s expensive”—in terms of time and resources to create content, you have to make sure you’re going to get the most out of it. So I would say really look holistically at not just the content itself, but how you’re going to promote it and kind of bake that into the content as you create it and spend more time with the promotion than the content creation.
AM: Yeah, like you said that is so much of what we do as well. I completely agree. The promotion’s aspect I feel is often overlooked by a lot of marketers. I think if the content is good enough it will speak for itself and you know you hope that through SEO they’ll find it. But obviously you have to do a lot of work in SEO to achieve that and if you’re not actively trying to reach those target audiences, it doesn’t just manifest itself to the right people.
So I think that’s a great tip if people are investing in content. It’s not worth investing in at all if you’re not doing the second (at least) half of the effort which is the promotional side. It’s not just creating it. It’s actually getting it out there.
KC: Yeah, I think there’s this sort of like this natural tendency to feel like once it’s published is done and then you have this anxious need to move on to the next piece of content. But really it’s the next phase needs to start of the promoting so you can get the benefit of the thing you just created. So yeah, and it’s such a noisy world, there’s tons and tons of content. Every piece of content no matter how great the idea is behind it and no matter how well written it is—it’s going to be in competition with thousands if not hundreds of thousands of other pieces of content that are pretty similar.
AM: Right, there’s almost no way it’s going to just show up to who you want to see it.
KC & JJ: Yeah.
AM: Doing that yourself, which is even more important. Like you guys were mentioning earlier, if you have content where you have multiple objectives for it, really trying to get the most of what you produce, then the promotion is even more important because you’re probably going to have separate tactics for the different needs that that contents trying to achieve. So I think even in that case, it’s more important.
JJ: Yeah, definitely. Yep, because you have to think how is this going to resonate with people who are just becoming aware of our brand and then how’s this going to resonate with the customers and then, you know, in what channels will we serve this content to both of those or how will those different segments of people reach the content? So yeah, you have to think about it from all sorts of different angles.
AM: That’s the fun part.
JJ: Yeah, it is actually.
AM: So I think something that might be valuable to the people listening is if you can you guys provide maybe an example of the type of content you’re talking about that I can link to in the show notes. Maybe a blog post that you promoted in certain ways that you know, we can demonstrate somehow?
JJ: Yeah, definitely. So maybe we’ll find one. That’s we have some sort of metric we can share with you and give you some of the success metrics along with it.
AM: Yeah, I think that would be great. It’s just, you know, always nice to have a tangible example to show when we’re talking about kind of broader theories and strategies. I know at least me personally, it’s nice to see an exact example of how it worked out. So we’d really appreciate that.
KC: Yep. No problem.
AM: Great! Well, this has been very insightful. I really appreciate you both being on the show and I’m looking forward to continuing working with you guys on content. But if anybody has any additional questions, please feel free to comment. I can even reach out to Kim and Jennifer if you have questions specifically for them, and I hope you enjoyed this episode
KC: Great. Thank you for having us.
JJ: Thanks, Amanda.
AM: Thanks again for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, click subscribe. Don’t leave me with the realization that I’m talking to no one and please rate and review on iTunes so I can keep making this podcast better and your lives easier. Take care.