How did you find yourself in marketing… and now leading marketing at a startup?
I started my career in consulting with a large multinational company. After three years I left to get my MBA at Harvard where I discovered Marketing and Brand Management. From there, I went from a large company with great training (Johnson & Johnson) to a medium company with great on-the-job learning and accountability (Prestige Brands), then to a media company to get a peek under the hood at how media works from the inside, and now a start-up! I’ve always been passionate about education – it was even my major in college!
So I was thrilled to find a company like Kinedu using technology to bring a scalable solution to the most critical and most fragmented phase of learning: early childhood development. The brain development that happens in the first three years of life will mark our child’s future forever.
The company already had a marketing team in place, focused largely on design and performance campaigns through Facebook and Instagram. What I bring is the deep background in brand and translating insights into action. As is the case for all startups, we are seeking high-growth targets with strong efficiency metrics, so we’re constantly working to improve our performance through Facebook, as well as expand to other channels for user acquisition. We’re also embarking on a big investment in our brand asset, going through a rigorous process with a branding agency to build a new, strong brand foundation.
Turnarounds are very different from startups, but in some ways, they have a similar dynamic: the pressure is on to show results! In past roles, you’ve done an amazing job reviving brands, as well as successfully introducing new products and ideas to the market.
How has your experience at larger brands informed your thinking about the best strategy for Kinedu?
Whether it’s a turnaround or a new brand, the key is insights. Who are your core users, what is their experience/understanding of the category, and what are their barriers to purchase? How do we best communicate our unique value proposition to overcome those barriers? And then, where are they spending time so we can reach them? It’s a classic marketing playbook, but it works, and if you don’t have those fundamental insights right, you’ll never see success.
"Whether it’s a turnaround or a new company/brand, the key is insights."
What did you find is the most effective way to connect with "uncomfortable consumer categories"?
It’s nice to be in such a fun category like babies and brain development after my many years in “uncomfortable” categories, like gas and yeast infections! In those categories, typically it was important to show empathy and help normalize the condition. Three out of four women will experience a yeast infection in her lifetime. In creative, it often meant using real people and not illustrations to allow consumers to connect with the people they saw on screen.
Since you started as a marketer, what changes have you navigated that have shaped the new landscape? What are you most excited about–both at Kinedu and within the larger marketing world?
Marketers should constantly challenge the insights that led to their creative (messaging) and media channels. We automatically turn to Facebook and Google, but those aren’t always the right or best places to advertise. They are, however, signifiers of the biggest change I’ve seen in my career from heavily TV-dependent (2009 diabetes category) to 100% online (2020 early childhood development category). Back when I was working in diabetes, I was the first person to ever run a promotion online, which basically meant I put a coupon online for printing and redeeming. I thought our finance group was going to have a heart attack: what if they make 1,000 copies?
Now with mobile-first everything, and a huge reliance on digital, it’s extremely important to optimize creative for the medium: YouTube needs audio and you have about 5 seconds to tell your story, Facebook relies on the first few images of your ad and audio is not very important. This is where I see a lot of advertising fall down: the creative isn’t optimized for the medium.
In 2020 for Kinedu, we’ve suddenly been thrust into the spotlight as an EdTech solution for parents at home with young children who need playtime activities. I’m thrilled to be able to provide support to these families during these challenging times, as we have decided to offer Premium access to our content for free through April 15th. For me personally, these activities have been a lifesaver for my family. We’re excited to be aiding families during this period of adjustment.
I’m less excited, though, for the overall marketing landscape. I foresee more regulation of the big digital platforms, which is good for consumers but will make it more challenging for advertisers. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, our Facebook campaigns stopped performing as well because we didn’t have as much profile interest to use for targeting. GDPR and CCPA compliance are also adding a huge burden for data architecture that will come as a “tax” on many businesses, with 3rd parties completely uninterested in sharing the burden. For example, if you record a focus group session, the research agency will not carry any liability if one of those participants later requests his or her data from that session.
Your approach to scaling new businesses was developed throughout your extensive career path.
What can others learn from your experience? What advice would you give other leaders of brands in terms of how to be successful at scaling their brand?
As I mentioned earlier, it really comes down to insights. It’s not a new concept: know your user. You have to really know them, know their attitudes and barriers. And you have to stay current, these things can change.
When I first did the research for Monistat, we found that whatever treatment she used for the first infection was what she would use every future time, if she was so unfortunate to suffer a yeast infection more than once. Three years later, we determined that the “switch rate” between over the counter (Monistat) and prescription had gone way up to nearly 35% which opened up a whole new opportunity for the brand.
My advice for scale is to be open to making big bets based on insights. I’ve made a few big bets and they’ve usually paid off. For tech companies, in particular, know your funnel really well so you know where to focus energy: if 80% of installs complete registration, this probably isn’t the biggest issue. But if only 3% start a free trial or ultimately purchase, that’s an area that needs attention.