#Exceptions 5: Moving From Traffic to Audience to Community: Why Buffer Treats Their Customers Like Humans

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This is a podcast episode titled, #Exceptions 5: Moving From Traffic to Audience to Community: Why Buffer Treats Their Customers Like Humans. The summary for this episode is: On this episode of #Exceptions, we’re going inside Buffer. Buffer sells social media management tools for marketers, allowing you to schedule and analyze everything. It’s used by companies like Shopify, HelpScout, the Denver Broncos, and thousands more. The entire company is run on a platform of radical transparency. They’ve been publishing their revenues, metrics, and even employee salaries for years now. They’re truly walking the walk. Buffer doesn't just pay lip service to transparency. Buffer takes action. Buffer is creating something deeper than traffic. They’re starting conversations and then following through with their community. Through their public slack channel of over 5,000 members, they’re moving customers from traffic to audience to community. Think about your own company. Do you treat your customers as humans? Or merely as transactions? If the answer is the latter, that’s okay. These are changes that any company can make.

Jay Acunzo: Everywhere on the internet there seems to be another marketer who cares about traffic. More visitors to the website, more views for the videos, more downloads, more clicks, more impressions, more followers, more, faster, now, and it all comes back to this idea of traffic. But some marketers know the truth. This work is not about how many people arrive, it's about how many people stay. This is Exceptions, the show about why brand matters more than ever in B2B today. I'm your host, Jay Acunzo, author of the book, Break the Wheel. And I'm partnering with Drift to bring you this 10- part documentary series, because Drift is all about putting the human element back into B2B sales and marketing. They and I believe that brand is the opportunity to grow your business. It's the differentiator in a crowded market. The lone competitive advantage is your emotional experience with a customer in this world of infinite choice and product feature parity. So we're going inside some of the world's best at crafting their brand in B2B. These are the Exceptions. Today, we go inside Buffer. Buffer provides social media tools for marketers. They help you schedule posts, analyze their performance, and manage all your accounts in one place. And I should disclose that I've been a user of their free product for a while now. But later, we're going to talk to somebody who decided to upgrade and pay actual money for this freemium product and we're going to learn why she did so. Buffer is used by companies ranging from Help Scout, who we heard about last time on this very show, to Microsoft, to Shopify, to the Denver Broncos in the NFL, and 80, 000 other organizations. The company's revenue run rate for 2018 is set to exceed$ 18 million, and I know that because their CEO, Joel tweeted it. Yeah. Along with a handful of other metrics like their number of paying customers, monthly revenue run rate, customer churn rate, and revenue per customer. See, the entire company which is also a fully remote team runs on a platform of radical transparency. They even publish a blog entirely dedicated to culture and the way teams work. And it's that outlook and that attitude that helps Buffer push beyond this idea of traffic, of caring about how many people simply arrive. They are masters at that part, sure. But at something else, something far deeper that drives their business forward. It's a familiar word that we'll later explore. But for now, like every other B2B brand we profile, we have to start our exploration of Buffer with the core of their business. Every brand we talk to is customer- centric. So, let's hear now from an actual paying customer. For a lot of people, working remotely comes with an important trade- off. Sure, it's great to wake up, get ready, and commute literally 30 feet to a home desk. I should know that's literally where I'm recording this episode. You get to set your own terms while avoiding everyday stresses like traveling to an office or running from conference room to conference room. In an ideal world, you get more done working remotely and you're happier while you do it. But the downside is social because no matter how much more productive you are or how much money you save on transportation, it can still feel like you're missing something. It's hard to replicate those conversations that coworkers have face to face. There's a certain amount of communication and comradery that a video chat or a phone call just doesn't capture. Call it a sense of community. Today, millions of people work remotely at least part of their week. It's a number that's on the rise. And there's also a growing set of professionals who work remotely all the time. I'm actually one of them. Some companies even have all of their employees spread out in different locations, and Buffer is one such company. So, why is all this noteworthy for us? Well, that trade- off I just mentioned, it started to disappear as companies like Buffer made it easier for people to work remotely. Not just internally for Buffer's own employees, but for all people with non- traditional careers, people like Kristi DePaul.

Kristi DePaul: So, my name is Kristi DePaul. I am the CEO of a fully remote content marketing firm called Founders Marketing. We work with startups, think tanks, and educational and training organizations across three continents.

Jay Acunzo: Kristi and I have never met in person, but we've communicated online for the past few years. In her Twitter bio, she explains that she's all about the future of work. A fitting description for someone who runs a multinational company with remote workers. She's also been a paying customer of Buffers for almost four years, using the product to help her clients share their stories. And as I quickly found out, Kristi is more than just a regular customer. She is a devoted reader of the Buffer Blog, has interacted with a number of employees face to face, joined their public Slack group, and even helped them land more customers. In other words, Kristi has become an advocate for Buffer. Even though Kristi's relationship with the company has developed over time, Buffer stood out to her from the very beginning.

Kristi DePaul: I think what initially resonated with me was the fact that they were so candid about the way they run their business and about being mission- driven, but not just talking about it, but actually demonstrating it through all of their blog posts, through commentary that I felt was... People talk about radical transparency, but they were actually living this as a company. And it was really fascinating to watch from the outside, learning about how they were growing their team, how they decided to structure certain areas and then restructure them. I just had not previously witnessed a startup evolving from the outside in such a way.

Jay Acunzo: Let's just lock in on that idea of transparency because it's going to come up quite a bit in this episode. A lot of companies strive to be transparent after all, but why? Because they want everybody from customers to investors, to future employees to trust them. But for a lot of brands, this kind of becomes trite. They throw some copy about brand values up on the corporate website and that's that. But Buffer doesn't just pay lip service to transparency, Buffer actually takes action. They've been releasing their growth metrics to the public for quite some time now and they share how they reorganize their teams as a result. In December 2013, they even published all of their salaries. That was almost five years ago and it still seems unheard of. That is how you walk the walk.

Kristi DePaul: Really, their engagement levels were something that impressed me quite a bit that the fact that you could write to their team either on Twitter, or through their blog, and get a quick, timely, and most importantly, candid response. That kind of sold me on the team and their culture first before I even cared so much about the product.

Jay Acunzo: The sequence of events is crucial here. Before Kristi even cared about the product, Buffer's brand was making an impact for her.

Kristi DePaul: It makes people feel like they're part of a community rather than, well, I bought this thing. The relationship is no longer transactional, it becomes something much bigger than that. But I do think that a lot of B2B companies tend to sort of posture. They put their customers either on a pedestal above them or frankly somewhat below them. They don't always speak to customers at their level. And then, it's less of a dialogue and it feels more like they're using a megaphone to talk about themselves. It feels like a promotion rather than a conversation.

Jay Acunzo: What Buffer did is tricky. Buffer decided to talk about themselves a lot, but the key to doing so isn't that they did it in a self- serving way. Instead, they took topics that people weren't talking enough about and brought them up with honesty. This is that idea of advocacy that we explored in the last episode of Exceptions. Buffer starts conversations and then follows through with their community. For people like Kristi, that philosophy starts to show up in their work as well. Once she was comfortable and familiar with everything that Buffer had to offer, she started to pay it forward to others in her network.

Kristi DePaul: When I'm sharing Buffer with someone new, and let's say they have no experience with a competitor, a competing product, or they've never used a social media management tool before, I get excited. I feel like I'm giving them a gift. But it doesn't feel like, here, I'm going to do you this favor and you can scratch my back someday. It feels like, I'm going to do you this thing that is going to totally change the way that you either operate your business, or try to elevate your personal brand, or work with your own clients, and you're going to look back on me and feel grateful. And that's wonderful. I just want people to feel as if I've helped to ease their burden in some way. That is really the most important. I know that sounds kind of schmaltzy and altruistic, but I really mean it. And with Buffer, it doesn't... Because their own promotional efforts, if you can even call them those, don't feel sleazy. I never feel that way when I'm evangelizing them.

Jay Acunzo: Eventually, Kristi reached out to Buffer and asked to join their public Slack community. It's a community that's now grown to over 5, 000 members and it's a place for collaboration, conversation, and networking. People can gather together to set goals, talk about challenges, and learn about the product. So in many ways, it's almost like a digital office for Kristi. Think about that. Her digital office is provided by a B2B brand, not a behind the scenes community group of like- minded practitioners, not a group of existing friends, not a" community organization," it's Buffer. And Buffer sells software. So, Kristi dove in. She offered advice to other people, found information she needed, and connected with interview subjects for her own articles.

Kristi DePaul: I didn't look at it as, hey, this is going to be a place where I'm going to go and just waste some time and chat with people. But I'm going to go interact, laugh about some memes, and then also deliver value and receive some.

Jay Acunzo: Kristi could have turned to hundreds of companies for help with social media, but she kept going back to Buffer for a reason.

Kristi DePaul: We're always searching for community and connection, especially I think now in this digital era. Even if you're based out of an office or a coworking space, to have a place you can go even though it's not physical to connect with people, especially from all over the world, that was really appealing to me.

Jay Acunzo: As you process these words, think about your company. Do you have customers like Kristi? Or, to ask it in a slightly different way. Do you treat your customers as humans or as transactions? If you're not satisfied with the answer, then that's okay. As two of Buffer's marketing leaders are here to explain, coming up shortly, it's possible for any brand to foster these kind of relationships with people, as long as you're focused on something beyond traffic. So, let's explore this week's big idea for doing exactly that. Today's big idea is evolve from traffic to audience, to community. Everybody seems to want an audience today. Not just big companies either. Mid- sized firms, small businesses, freelancers, Instagram models, even that guy on Twitter making terrible puns, who probably hosts a podcast, which is probably called Exceptions. Hey, did you hear about the kidnapping at school? Everything's fine. He woke up. See, terrible. Yet today, that lousy comedian can pursue an audience whether on Twitter or maybe in a podcast. However, when it comes to marketing our businesses, I think the way we understand this concept of an audience has gotten a little muddled. See, when some companies say they're going to grow an audience, what they really mean is they want a community. And when other brands think they're building a community, what they really have is just traffic. Those three terms, traffic, audience, and community are all related, but each means something different. So before we dive into the story of how Buffer found its brand identity and built a community, I'd like to define those three terms for the sake of consistency here. Let's start with traffic. Now, traffic is sort of the base level in our work. It's what happens when B2B brands or any brand really starts creating a ton of content. There's no established relationship at this point between you and the other person. The connection, if you can even call it that, is pretty transactional. Let's say you wrote a how to post on your blog. Readers might arrive by clicking a link on search and social, find some value that they extract, and then leave to go about their day. I like to visualize this as cars passing through, or cars lining up at a drive- thru. It's a fleeting moment that tends to be pretty passive or pretty forgettable. You're one of several sources that could have delivered that how to blog post and maybe they never even realized it came from you. Traffic is important in a vacuum, but it's not going to build your business on its own. The next level down in depth is audience. We associate audience with the word captive, a captive audience. And as a public speaker and an author myself, I think of this as being on a sort of stage. I'm projecting something out to you. I'm giving something to you. There's more of a connection here than with the traffic example because you know who I am and there's more of a time commitment involved for you, but it's still very A to B, B to U. For a real life example of audience, look no further than marketing leader, Seth Godin. Many of you probably know Seth Godin. He's extremely well- respected and has cultivated a huge audience who buy his books and read his daily emails or blog posts. But the communication with Seth flows one direction. He has more than 659,000 Twitter followers, but he only follows one account, which is just for his own altMBA program. He also doesn't use social media to reply or engage. And he rarely if ever replies to emails or mingles around events where he speaks. The point isn't to say that Seth isn't doing it the right way. I'm not passing judgment on whether audience is good or bad, but it's distinct from the next level, which is community. A community knocks down the proverbial stage. It's not A to B. It's A to B and B to A, and also A to C and C to D and G to E and F to Z. All of these different parties involved, whether it's two or many are equal sort of peer to peer levels. This is where people have conversations. A brand can talk with its customers and develop a long- term relationship. And most crucially, people within that community can talk to each other. This, as we'll soon hear more about, is the holy grail. If you look around today at a lot of known B2B brands, you'll notice that most of them have traffic, and some of them maybe capture audiences, but very few have true community. And since we're focused on Buffer in today's episode, think about this through the lens of social media, just about every brand is active on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. A social media manager might post a few times per day on each network. At its best, social media is supposed to be, well, social, but a lot of brands especially in B2B forget that. Just filling their feeds with links to blog posts while ignoring the conversations they could be having with their audience to turn that audience into true community. Sure, there might be some support outreach going on between customer service and your customers, but that's still transactional. There just aren't a lot of consistent conversations happening on social media in B2B. Why is that the case? I think it comes down to goals. The goals that marketing teams have. The contrast between short- term goals that are easy to quantify and long- term goals that are more qualitative is a major theme of this whole series. We've already heard how exceptional brands like Wistia, Gusto, Help Scout and InVision approach those goals. When it comes to engagement, traffic is such a popular metric because it's easy to quantify. However, if we took a step back and thought about the big picture, we'd realize while it's fine to get traffic as a goal, it's not necessarily the goal as a marketer. Think of how you feel as a customer in your own life. It's like the difference between talking to someone and talking with someone. The term customer experience gets thrown around a lot. And while the best of the best start with this idea that a great experience means great emotions, they then build real community around that feeling. They know that to build a powerful B2B brand today means evolving from traffic to audience, to community. So, let's explore this big idea with two different people from Buffer. Their Head of Marketing, Kevan Lee, and their Digital Media Strategist, Brian Peters. If you were taking bets a few years ago with me, Kevan would have seemed like an unusual pick to eventually lead Buffer's marketing. He had an editorial talent about him, sure. But as he tells it, social media interaction wasn't exactly his passion when he joined Buffer.

Kevan Lee: I was in an interesting spot when I joined Buffer. I didn't have social media profiles before I joined, so I was starting literally from zero when I joined Buffer. I was amazed that they hired me. I like to work at a social media company with that background. So it was a lot of work learning on the job about what I was writing about, and then also becoming a better writer as I went along. So some of my first posts were how to get your first 1000 followers, and all the mistakes I made on Twitter when I joined, and things like that, which ended up becoming somewhat successful posts. So that was one way that I felt like I could stay close as I was actually learning all these things for the very first time. And then, I would just turn around and write about them as I was learning them. And that process was, it worked wonderfully.

Jay Acunzo: While Kevan was writing four to five blog posts per week in the early days, each around 1500 words, he wasn't the only one learning. The growing audience was learning with him. Remember how Kristi DePaul fell in love with Buffer's transparency? Well, Kevan's lack of assumptions, habits, and preconceived notions as a B2B marketer paved the way for that very approach.

Kevan Lee: So, I had a lot of trust and faith in my role and in the work that I was doing. And so, I didn't feel compelled to always be checking signup numbers and things like that. But I think the most helpful perspective might've been seeing the content as fully serving the audience and then seeing the structure of the blog as serving the signup numbers. So it wasn't the content's job to convert, it was the design and the nature of the blog to convert. So we had CTAs in certain places and buttons in certain places, and I was just there to write and to get people connected to Buffer. And hopefully, they can... We're a freemium product. So hopefully, they would sign up and experience it that way. And that would be their entry point. So, I was more about building trust and authority. And if we built it in the right industry and in the right way, then we had a lot of confidence that it was going to turn into signups. And fortunately, it did.

Jay Acunzo: According to Kevan, another reason it worked out is because the marketing team wasn't afraid to try new things and to be honest about what was working. Back around the time he started, Buffer's blog had more of a general inaudible. It covered productivity and life hacking, which was a space that was more competitive and had a less specific bent than social media marketing. Then, the company made the decision to intentionally pivot away.

Kevan Lee: Yes, the content that was life hacking spread far and wide, but it didn't convert into Buffer customers. And the content that was social media focused did not spread as far and wide, but it did convert. And at the end of the day, we realized we're a social media company. We're a social media product. It makes sense to have a blog that helps build our authority in that space. So from day one, that was the type of content that I wrote.

Jay Acunzo: Following this change, part of the audience began transitioning into a community. Blog posts started racking up 30, 40, or even 50 comments each. And Kevan would respond to some directly while the support team would handle the rest on social media. Now, to be clear, just because Buffer has built a community over the years doesn't mean it's blind to traffic and audience. To this day, it has to be careful about cultivating all three, because there are always going to be new people finding out about the company and that means it's okay for your brand to still care about traffic. 85% of visits to Buffer's blog still come via search. Buffer helps people solve specific problems, but they may not be ready to stick around just yet.

Kevan Lee: It comes back to this fundamental shift in what we're writing about. We write our search content in order to solve a single problem. We write our subscriber content in order to tell part of a grander story that's going to make a difference in this person's life as a social media manager, for instance. And then, the community side of things, we tend to see that as helping connect people to each other.

Jay Acunzo: As anyone at Buffer will tell you, accomplishing these three different objectives at the same time requires more than just helpful content, because social media today, if done well is about interaction, it's about human to human, peer to peer connection. And that is the key to build real community. To find out how this works at Buffer, I spoke to Brian Peters. Brian oversaw Buffer's social presence for almost three years. First as the director of social media, then the digital marketing manager. Today, he is the strategic partnerships manager and hosts the brand's very popular podcast, The Science of Social Media. Through it all, he's been involved in everything from email marketing to video, to social channel growth and paid advertising. Brian's main currency is trust. And he had to use that currency at first to guide Buffer away from just traffic towards caring more about audience.

Brian Peters: That audience piece is when people start to say, okay. Like BuzzFeed for example, if I'm looking for entertainment right now, I know I can trust BuzzFeed to provide that entertainment. If I'm looking for tech news, I know I can trust TechCrunch or Wired for that really quality tech news. So I think going from traffic to audiences, building an audience means they start to know, understand, and trust your brand for quality information and things that they would feel good sharing or good reading.

Jay Acunzo: Try to count how many companies give you that feeling. Do you even get to double digits? We're presented with so much content on a daily basis that our brains just filter out what feels irrelevant. Unless you do something really unique to stand out, moving from traffic to audience is going to be really difficult. And moving from audience to community might be impossible. So, what does Brian do to help Buffer stand out?

Brian Peters: I think the one thing that we've done throughout the whole history of Buffer that's really helped us to grow that audience is to first have an opinion on a subject, have a strong opinion on a subject. And so, that comes out in our writing, it comes out in our research. You can get the news anywhere, right? You can see news anywhere. You can find it on your phone within 30 seconds. People go to certain brands and to certain influencers because they want to know their opinion on a subject, not just the cold hard facts. And so, that's something we try to apply to our content marketing at all times is to have that opinion and to bring something to the table that you're not going to find somewhere else because people want to relate to that. They want to know if what we're saying aligns with their worldview. The second thing that we do is then actively engage with that audience after to be traffic audience. We actively engage with the audience to then bring them into our circle and make them feel as if they're a part of the Buffer, I guess, sphere, ecosystem or community.

Jay Acunzo: This is something that's so many B2B brands struggle with, having an opinion. How do you have an opinion on manufacturing or the technical aspects of insurance, right? That's the stereotypical response for why you can't. A lot of marketers just think that they're teaching somebody how to do a task. There's a right way and a wrong way. It's pretty straightforward what's all this opinion stuff. And anyway, how do you get somebody to passionately care about all of these ideas if I'm not writing about politics or sports? But whether you're writing a blog post, drafting social copy, or responding directly to a follower, there's a method to standing out no matter the industry.

Brian Peters: I think there's a trifecta of having a good opinion. It mixes news, data, and then your take on the subject.

Jay Acunzo: As a keynote speaker, I think about this all the time. There's actually a few different types of talks that represent this in a nice, almost metaphorical way. First of all, you can't just talk about the what, right? That's just a news report. Here are the facts. Here's what's happening. That's not overly useful. And that's probably not a talk at any event regardless of the stage or the audience. So there's really three types of speeches, why, so what, and how. Now, let's reverse engineer those. Let's start with the how. This is what most people think a talk needs to be, the how to, the tactical tips, but that can easily be copied. All your competitors are also writing those how to tips and tricks or list articles on their blog as one example. If you're a how to speaker, you don't get paid, you get buried in some sidetrack along with 14 other speakers speaking against you at the same time slot, and you're easily forgotten. You're a commodity. But if you present the why, here's why this is happening, and here's why it matters to you. And then, you give your so what. Now, you're forming an opinion. So, what? Well, this is what I believe. So, what? Well, this is why this matters. So, what? Well, this is the change we need in the world as it affects you. You have that opinion, that stance. And the audience can grow to know, like, and trust you as a brand, or in my world, as a keynote speaker. As Brian alluded to, Buffer covers all of those things in their marketing, but they stand out by putting a particular emphasis on the so what, and they consistently convey what the company believes.

Brian Peters: The place where B2B brands fall short so often is that they have this really good piece, right? And they've maybe do it once or twice a month, even every six months. The reason it works so well for us at Buffer over the years, and the reason we were able to build this audience, and it's the reason that Seth Godin has an audience, it's the reason that Drift has an audience, is because if you mix everything we just talked about consistently, that's when you build the audience. You can't do it one off and you can't be sporadic about it. It has to be part of your strategy going in, and then also dedicated for a long time.

Jay Acunzo: I couldn't have said it better myself, but Brian's point got me thinking. When does a company actually transform from audience- driven to community- centric? Is there a single moment in time and how do you know for sure? You may not be able to pinpoint an exact moment, but Brian and Kevan both brought up the same idea when talking about this aha moment. And that idea is an instant feedback loop. Let's hear Brian break it down in more detail.

Brian Peters: What having a strong community makes easier for us is just the ability to quickly get feedback and iterate on things rather... Okay. So, to put that in perspective. The reason we had a bunch of traffic and no one to talk to, and we wanted to launch a new product like we are with Analyze. We wouldn't have the community and quick feedback loop or we wouldn't have the quick feedback loop because of the community without it. So as marketers, we have this sort of instant feedback loop that helps us to improve every single day. And I think without that community, or without that direct feedback or relationships that we've built over time, we wouldn't be able to do nearly as much as we would want to. We wouldn't have Matt Navarra feeding us new social media product updates from Facebook and Instagram, or Brian Fanzo mentioning us in all of his keynote speeches. So I think just over time, building that community has helped us. Number one, get a quick feedback loop. And then number two, talk about our brand in ways that we can't through blog or podcasts or videos or whatever it is.

Jay Acunzo: Instant feedback also serves as a type of data. Marketing especially in B2B has become obsessed with being data- driven, perhaps to a fault. And what we usually mean is put a number on it. We follow the conventional wisdom as a result. We stop taking risks. But when you're building a brand, you can't expect to quantify everything the way we typically do in B2B. And when I asked Kevan Lee about that exact idea, he explained how Buffer tries to keep a balanced perspective.

Kevan Lee: You've probably heard we're data- informed, not data- driven. So we check the numbers and we follow the numbers, but we don't let the numbers dictate the activities that we choose to do. And I think there's a lot of trust that comes with that. So a lot of our channels we're doing, trusting to that growth is going to come as a result of delivering value. And as a marketing leader, I have a bit of imposter syndrome on, what if it doesn't work? Or maybe it's healthy to have a bit of imposter syndrome like, what if it doesn't work? But so far, it has. So, I think maybe I should just trust the historical numbers. But yeah, I'd say we're definitely swinging to that side of the pendulum.

Jay Acunzo: If you ask most marketers where they swing on that pendulum, they'd probably put themselves on the other side. There are thousands of MarTech solutions out there that can help you collect more data and do more targeting. Crunching numbers and automating your process totally has its place. Don't get me wrong. But the point I'm trying to make here is that it's hard to automate a community because it's so based on human to human interaction. In fact, Buffer has taken more drastic steps away from what most brands are doing today.

Kevan Lee: We don't do a lot of demographic analysis of our audiences or anything. So we see fan of Buffer as a fan of Buffer, whether they're a free user, or a paying customer, or a community member.

Jay Acunzo: And then, there's the BHAG, that's B- H- A- G or Big Hairy Audacious Goal. This concept comes from author, Jim Collins. And this is what the team came up with for its BHAG, by the way. Be the most others- focused marketing team on earth. That doesn't exactly sound like the mission for a tech company hell- bent on growth, does it? It almost sounds like it could come from a nonprofit, right? Others- focused. Others could be your customers, your community, and even your own employees.

Brian Peters: No one has left our marketing team in over two years, so we're all sort of we know each other. I think-

Jay Acunzo: Wait. Say that again. Hold on. No one has left your marketing team in two years. That to me is a tacky. Two years is the max limit that most people have at a company, and you're saying you haven't changed teammates in two years?

Brian Peters: Right. No, yeah. Our marketing team has stayed more or less the same for two years.

Jay Acunzo: I don't think everybody listening understands how unheard of that is. That is shocking, seriously.

Brian Peters: Well, and that's what we were... We're talking about earlier, it's sort of that culture and values thing that we've sort of developed at the Buffer. That's one of the side benefits of it is you have this ridiculously high retention rate for employees.

Jay Acunzo: For Buffer, the BHAG is a North Star, the B- H- A- G. It informs every single interaction the brand has with the audience. And that turns the audience into community. And as Kevan tells it, the BHAG has given Buffer a reason to stand up for what it believes in rather than just follow the crowd.

Kevan Lee: I think it has inspired us to not just do what maybe expected to do or what is expected of traditional marketers to do. If we're doing something that is safe, or that is common, or is something that we feel compelled to do because it's the right thing to do, I think that's gives us the language to challenge some of those ideas.

Jay Acunzo: As you're examining your own brand, try to think of your core beliefs. What do you stand for? Because a lot of companies have cool products or good blogs, but only a few exceptions have the foundation for a community that keeps people coming back.

Kevan Lee: We see the culture and the sharing transparently side of things. We see that as a differentiator for us as a product. In our space, that's pretty competitive and you can differentiate with product features and positioning. And I think we've done it by telling people who we are and sharing a bit about our journey. So, I think that builds a lot of loyalty for the people who do join us. It helps people see us as real people and identify with us in a way that you don't often identify with other software tools or brands. So for that reason, it's been incredibly valuable for us.

Jay Acunzo: As we conclude our adventure into Buffer's world today, let's now move to the three questions we can ask about our brands to make them better. Question number one, are you giving people a reason to trust your brand? I'm going to keep this one short and sweet. People trust people, not logos, not corporate jargon, not PR- approved sound bites, people trust people. And so, unless you're actually interacting A to B and B to A, back and forth with your audience, you will never evolve into actual community. And, guess what? That actually might be okay right now. But when you're not focused on right now, suddenly you see the benefits of community because community makes tomorrow's work easier. In marketing today, we're so obsessed with generating the result right now, but we forget that eventually the right now has to get easier. And the only way tomorrow's right now, or next week's, or next month's, or next quarter's, or next year's right now gets easier, gets better, goes faster, generates more results. The only way that happens is if we build something today for tomorrow. We can't keep digging holes in dry sand because the moment we stop exerting ourselves, all of our work caves in. But if we actually had a community, if we built something that help our future selves generate greater results, our work might stick. We would stop caring so much about how many people arrive and care about how many stayed. Are you giving people a reason to trust your brand? Question number two, if they do trust you, are you continuing the conversation? If you noticed, a lot of what Buffer did was kind of lob out ideas or lob out content or lob out stances on things and see if they got an emotional reaction. The comments in Kevan's early blog posts speak to that. He saw the passionate responses of a few people. Now, it wasn't everybody they wanted to reach. It wasn't final success, but it was a signal they were on the right path towards it even if that path took them away from some of the norms in B2B content marketing. If your audience trusts you, you can deepen that conversation. I'll give you an example from my world making podcasts. Every month I do a video call with five to six different listeners, one- on- one video calls. And that idea itself doesn't" scale." But, you know what scales beautifully? The conversations, the lessons I'm learning from those calls. Sure, it's a time- based commitment. I can only do so many of those calls every month and then I start to break my back. But I can rip out the meta- lessons, the things I learned from my listeners, and suddenly I'm building on what I did before to get better today and tomorrow. I'm building a better brand for myself or my show. If somebody trusts you, are you continuing the conversation? Do you go deeper? Do you ask for more time? Do you build on lessons from the past iterations of your projects or the past conversations you've had to do something better today? Are you continuing that conversation? And the third and final question today, and I'll leave you with this completely open- ended my friend, what is your Big Hairy Ambitious Goal? If you're struggling to come up with something, that's your sign. What is your Big Hairy Ambitious Goal? In the B2B world today, there's people clinging to the past precedents and the playbooks that serve us no longer and then there's those that evolve. And they evolve in no small part by building a human powered customer- centric brand. They move from traffic to audience, to community. And in doing so, they become the exceptions. Will you? This episode was written and produced by Jordan Ticer and hosted by me, Jay Acunzo. As always, it was brought to you by Drift, which is putting the people back in sales and marketing. And Drift cares about one idea for their brand above all else, which is now. A lot of marketing playbooks are built for later. We'll follow up later. Expect to hear from us in 24 hours. Drift believes this is broken. If people are arriving on your website and interacting with your company, you should be able to respond now, because that's what they expect to have a great experience. So, head over to drift. com to learn more about them or explore more of their great podcast series. That's right, multiple series running in their podcast channel, Seeking Wisdom. So, be sure to check that out. If you're not already in your podcast player, head on over and checkout Seeking Wisdom. The last thing I'd say is if you haven't listened to any Exceptions before, these lessons that we're learning from some of the world's best B2B brands are building on each other. So you are dropping into the middle of an ongoing exploration, and we're about halfway through. We're halfway home people. Fifth episode out of 10. So be sure to go back and check out the earlier episodes of Exceptions with amazing companies like Gusto, InVision, Wistia and Help Scout. If you have any feedback at all, or any comments, I'd love to hear them. We're trying to get better everyday with this show. I'm @ jayacunzo on Twitter or jay @ unthinkablemedia. com. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Exceptions. See you.


On this episode of #Exceptions, we’re going inside Buffer. Buffer sells social media management tools for marketers, allowing you to schedule and analyze everything. It’s used by companies like Shopify, HelpScout, the Denver Broncos, and thousands more. The entire company is run on a platform of radical transparency. They’ve been publishing their revenues, metrics, and even employee salaries for years now. They’re truly walking the walk. Buffer doesn't just pay lip service to transparency. Buffer takes action. Buffer is creating something deeper than traffic. They’re starting conversations and then following through with their community. Through their public slack channel of over 5,000 members, they’re moving customers from traffic to audience to community. Think about your own company. Do you treat your customers as humans? Or merely as transactions? If the answer is the latter, that’s okay. These are changes that any company can make.