How customers helped a digital software company navigate the pandemic
After successive years of double-digit growth, Centro, a digital advertising software company, expected more of the same in 2020. Marketers and their agencies were spending heavily through the Chicago-based company’s digital buying platform and relied on company employees to help execute their buys. The partnerships were fueled by a near-weekly parade of face-to-face industry events.
When COVID hit, the events, travel and entertainment industries stopped spending overnight. Like so many others, Centro’s Chief Marketing Officer Katie Risch was forced to regroup.
The solution required multiple pivots. First, suspecting that the company’s messaging needed to evolve, Risch turned to customers for input. This led to the rapid development of a free product that helped customers deal with remote work challenges. Replacing physical events also meant rethinking Centro’s overall content strategy and approach to webinars. This combination of adjustments helped Centro continue in growth mode as 2021 approaches.
How did your story and messaging change post-COVID?
Coming into this year, we were very focused on talking about and marketing the business results that an agency was going to see when they installed our software and telling that story in a really loud way. Then, March 15, we all started working remotely and our focus and attention shifted pretty dramatically; it didn't feel right to tell that story anymore. While the year’s not looking the way we thought it would, I actually would say it's turning out, for us on the marketing side at least, a little better than we anticipated.
One of the first things that we did was survey all of our customers. What we wanted to do was listen to them, hear from them, hear what challenges they were facing, and ensure that we were bringing that feedback back to our product team. As a result, we actually developed and built and brought a new companion product on our platform, Basis, to market in July.
What were customers telling you?
The feedback that we got from our customers was that our platform was enabling them to be a lot more effective working remotely because of some of the collaboration and messaging tools in the platform. But there were additional things and additional asks they had that they felt could help them collaborate remotely with their teammates even better. Those were the asks and the feedback that marketing really captured and brought back to the product team.
The result was Basis Assistant, a companion product to our core platform. It enables users to capture all of the different notes on all the optimizations and changes they're making to their campaigns in real time using a Chrome plug-in. It allows other buyers on their team to log in and see all of that information in one place, really bringing everything together in one place.
Is this new feature free for existing customers?
We're in the middle of a free trial right now, so we have some new customers who are using Basis Assistant as well. And all of our existing customers also have access to it. The product’s been live for just about a month, so we've still got a lot to learn. But at the end of the day, the focus was really on building something that could help our users while they're all working remotely. We weren't necessarily focused on revenue when we built it, which may not be advisable, but during the pandemic, you’ve got to think outside the box.
How have customers responded?
We are a month into Basis Assistant being live and we have 200 customers who are currently using the platform. We're getting a lot of great feedback from customers so that we can actually continue to evolve and move this product forward with new features, new bells and whistles. Overall, I would say it was something that was not on our radar screen coming into the year, but it's something that the sales, product and marketing teams all really came together on. We were nimble, flexible, got it out the door, and now we're getting really great user feedback.
Were there any other changes you made in your marketing mix?
The marketing team became a content creation team for the company. We really saw our role as how we could provide educational and informative content, whether it's in the form of new webinars or in the form of research or infographics that we can provide to sales, to give them new ways to reach out to and connect with prospects and customers.
Across the team, almost everybody became a content creator of some sort. We also leveraged other folks in the company, subject-matter experts who could help us with getting new content created and out the door faster. It was just a way that we saw marketing being able to provide more value to the sales team and, frankly, to the end user, the customer, or the prospect.
What are the advantages of being a software company with managed services?
At Centro, we drink our own champagne. It enables us to be very nimble, very flexible and get user feedback in real time back to the product team so that we can adapt the product quickly based on how users are actually interacting with it. It also creates an option for clients to use the services in a flexible way to either supplement what they're doing in-house or to decide that they want to move to a completely self-sufficient model and do it all themselves. It’s a big differentiator. Now that we're a technology provider, what that does is it opens us up to work with anybody.
With so many marketers offering webinars, what are doing to make yours stand out?
First, we shortened the length of the webinars. Personally, I think 20-30 minutes is plenty of time. People want to move on to the next thing. Keep it short, keep it informative, so you can capture and keep people's attention. Focus on the content that's going to be helpful, educational, informative. It's about the audience first, before you talk about yourself. Maybe don't even talk about yourself at all. If they're attending the webinar, they may already know who your company is, and you can always follow up with more information.
Do you think marketing’s role has become more important in 2020?
It’s not that I think marketing is more important than it was before, but the priorities we've taken on it have changed. At Centro specifically, our lifeblood is really the technology and then the people. With our people, frankly, stuck at home, they’re not able to get out there at the various events and get in front of our clients. That's where marketing really has the opportunity to step up as the face and the voice of the company in leading and driving a lot of our communications.