June 22, 2021
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10 minute

Driving go-to-market for one of Canada's fastest-growing companies: a marketer's journey navigating startup twists and turns

Inside Harvest

Builder Story is a series where we get to know members of the Harvest team and their roles. We sat down with our Growth Marketing Lead, Brenna Devlin, to talk about her experience steering Neo Financial’s go-to-market strategy and her advice for founders when it comes to mapping out goals, staying focused and remaining flexible.

Q. What has been your path to Harvest?

A: After completing my Bachelor of Commerce in marketing, I worked at a media agency, True Media, in paid ad management and saw the connection of marketing to revenue. Later, I moved to managing accounts where I was crafting strategy and responsible for million-dollar media budgets. This allowed me to gain experience taking lead and sales goals and determining the right approach, channels and tactics to meet those goals.

I then made the move to client-side and led digital media strategy and execution at AppDirect, a SaaS cloud commerce company. That's where I began to understand how crucial it is for sales and marketing to work together. In my experience, strong sales and marketing alignment is something that can have a positive impact on a business. When information from sales is shared back to marketing, the team can adjust targeting and/or messaging over time, and a higher percentage of qualified leads can often be generated. 

Q: What was your experience like when freelancing for startups?

A: After working at an agency and client-side, I started freelancing by offering digital marketing consulting to a range of startups from e-commerce to oil and gas. During the time I was consulting, I drove the Pan-American Highway with my now husband and our dog. We lived out of our truck for a year and a half all while I was working remotely. I was incredibly lucky to have clients that supported this life-changing adventure. 

While driving the Pan-American Highway, we travelled through the US, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. The experience helped me slow down and live in the moment as I tend to be constantly planning and thinking ahead. While that can be useful, it’s impossible to prepare for everything. Taking time to pause allows you to appreciate where you’re at and become more clear on the next step forward. This is something I try to carry over to my work.

If anyone's ever considered balancing travel and work simultaneously, I am always open to chatting more about that! 

Q: What does a typical day look like in your role at Harvest and how do you approach working with a wide range of startups?

A: Right now, I work with a variety of clients through our Studio Services to develop their marketing strategies. Since my experience is in demand generation and paid media, I also help plan and execute cross-channel outbound and inbound lead generation strategies. This involves understanding the business, and figuring out the right combination of channels, tools, tactics and timelines to have a successful go-to-market launch or improve revenue growth. 

We work with a diverse group of startups (B2B and B2C) at different stages and across various industries. Some are pre-revenue, some are still building their MVP. At Harvest, we spend a fair amount of time at the discovery phase. This is how we start each engagement and it’s where we dive in, ask questions, and have deeper discussions on the business, current challenges and goals. There is also a research component, especially when we are working in a new industry. I’ve always been a fan of a good research session, and love working with new clients and learning about their businesses.

Q: How does Harvest’s marketing team collaborate with different teams within its Venture Studio? 

A: Harvest has a very collaborative environment. This is one of the strongest teams I've worked with. We have subject matter experts in specific areas, such as performance marketing or talent management, and we often pull in these SMEs when developing plans and strategies. For example, a go-to-market plan may require content strategy and recruitment components to meet the client’s goals. Ultimately, everyone at Harvest truly wants the startups we work with to grow and succeed. 

Q: What is Harvest’s approach to building targeted marketing strategies for startups versus an agency’s approach?

A: As someone who's worked agency side, one of the main differences with Harvest is our experience around venture building. We have a playbook that we use and many of our team members have worked with, built and led successful startup exits. We understand the KPIs such as customer acquisition cost (CAC) and lifetime value (LTV) that businesses need to get funding and gain customer traction.

In addition, agencies often aim to work with clients longer-term and hold on to the business. At Harvest, we want to empower founders and enable startups to get the resources they need to build the infrastructure and processes to become self-sufficient.

For example, our talent management team can help with hiring roadmaps for the unique stage your business is in. Our marketing team can help build a targeted go-to-market strategy with the content plan, market research and brand messaging needed for launch or revenue growth.

Our work gives startups the lift they need to get started and makes sure they’re on the right track. We're always available to provide guidance and make sure that founders have the resources needed, whether it’s tools or people.

Q: What was your experience building the go-to-market strategy for Harvest’s first fintech portfolio company, Neo Financial?

A: Working with Neo over the last year has been a tremendous experience and it's been exciting to be a part of this hardworking team. One of my main tasks was building the waitlist through different channels and initiatives. When I started working with Neo, it was pre-launch and the waitlist was just set up. By launch, we were able to generate a waitlist of over 35,000 people.

We worked to drive traffic to the website, focusing on finding traffic that was likely to convert. This involved a combination of organic and paid digital channels to get waitlist sign-ups.

A fair amount of organic sign-ups came from referrals. This was because of the waitlist tool, Prefinery, which partially gamified the waitlist process. It showed where someone was in line and people were invited to refer friends to move up the waitlist. When you made a referral, not only did you move up the waitlist, you would receive a credit at launch. Encouraging referrals was a great way to leverage the existing waitlist to reach more people. Using out-of-the-box marketing tools or platforms such as Prefinery proved to be an efficient way to turn a sign-up into a more engaging experience.

On the paid side, we tested a variety of channels and tactics to optimize for cost per lead (CPL). We saw the most success with Facebook Ads, however, Snapchat Ads were a close contender. 

For a new brand such as Neo, it’s especially challenging to determine what creative and messaging mix works best for conversion performance. This required us to continually adapt and improve. We initially tested Facebook Lead Ads (ads where you input your info but don’t have to leave Facebook) for the waitlist, however, we actually found greater success with sending people to the website to sign-up for the waitlist there. In order to grow the waitlist, we closely monitored CPL and other metrics (cost per click, click-through rate), and used that data to inform optimizations and spend as efficiently as possible.

Q: What advice do you have for founders on trying to navigate the constantly changing nature of digital media and ad formats?

A: Channels are going to change and that's the nature of digital marketing. When working with tools like Google Ads and Facebook Ads, it's important to surround yourself with experts who are passionate about these areas and want to learn about the latest trends and changes.

Given that Neo is in the financial services space, there are more rules and regulations. Additionally, ad platforms are also increasing restrictions and limiting targeting as there is more focus on privacy and transparency. In Fall 2020, Facebook rolled out special ad categories in Canada and this meant any ads promoting “credit” were restricted with limited targeting options. 

While we knew this change was coming, it meant we had to adapt some of our campaign targeting setup and structure. The digital media landscape is rapidly changing and I try not to rely solely on one channel, especially if it is a channel that is not owned by the business. Having a diversified marketing plan can help if there are updates rolled out that could impact your business. 

Additionally, when you're looking at your marketing plan and building content, don't just think of a content piece in isolation for a specific channel. Think about how you can adapt and reformat that content for other mediums, including video, audio and more. This will help you get the most out of your resources.

Q: What advice do you have for founders on trying to make the most of their limited marketing budgets?

A: First, prioritization is important. It is better to do fewer things well versus trying to tackle too many marketing initiatives at once, especially as a startup with limited resources. Ask yourself: what is your business goal? Second, consider what marketing channels will be most helpful in reaching that goal and start to prioritize. 

The other aspect is making sure that you have tools such as Google Analytics and goal/conversion tracking set up. This lets you see what sources of traffic are taking the desired actions on your website. By having tracking in place, you’ll make the most efficient use of your dollars. Ads don't always perform the way that we would like, but if you're tracking, reporting and monitoring them, you can quickly adjust your spending.

Q: What advice do you have for founders on building an effective go-to-market strategy?

A: Again, prioritization is important. There are many different marketing channels and initiatives you could pursue, but as a startup, resources are finite. As a founder, don't feel like you need to be doing everything.

It's important to assess who your target audience is and what action you want them to take. Then, consider what you need to do to get that desired action. From there you can select what to prioritize, knowing that many resources are needed to support a channel. Think about what's needed and what areas you feel could drive the metrics important to investors.

Track as much as you can, so you're able to determine the success of a channel. If you are going to run ads, such as a Facebook Ad, think through what you would like that ad to accomplish and how you will measure if it is successful. This will let you know if you should double down on your approach or pivot it.

Lastly, when you're communicating about your product, don’t just focus on the features but look at the benefits. It is easy to get caught up in focusing on features, but when communicating to your target audience it is especially important to highlight how your product will benefit them. 

Q: What lessons from travelling and working remotely best apply to your work?

A: Communication is key since you might not have frequent touch bases with team members. Follow up if you’re unclear and ask clarifying questions. Most people would rather answer more questions upfront to get a better result.

Email and Slack are valuable tools. However, having a phone call or video call allows you to understand the context or the why behind the action, which isn't always clear in written communication.

Travelling creates an environment of change and opportunity. It’s not that dissimilar to the startup world, where you need to adapt as things are constantly evolving. That's why I've enjoyed travelling and been drawn to startups, and possibly why after travel I joined Harvest. With startups, nothing is set in stone because you're always adapting to meet business needs and market needs, which keeps things interesting!

Q: What exciting projects are you working on at Harvest to add value to the tech ecosystem?

A: In the last year working closely with many different startups, we found many founders were interested in being more involved and hands-on in the marketing strategy development process. They wanted to develop their team's own internal expertise, plans and processes. This is what led to the creation of the Harvest’s Academy program. 

As part of the Academy, other Harvest SMEs and I will be leading interactive workshops that take our playbook(s), experiences and learnings and distill them into actionable steps that participants can take away and apply to their own business. By the end of our growth marketing course, participants will come out with their own marketing strategy, created by them and tailored to their business.

I’m excited to host our first Academy marketing workshop and begin to work closely with founders across the Prairies. Our objective is to not only help founders define their marketing strategy but ensure they’re set up for success by knowing what next steps to take after the course ends.

By determining business goals, staying focused and remaining flexible, founders will have the tools needed for a successful go-to-market. There’s a lot of uncertainty when navigating the startup world, but with the right resources, people and strategy, founders will be able to push through unpaved roads to reach their destination.

Interested in learning more from Harvest’s resident marketing experts? The Harvest Academy is a membership-only course that offers hands-on learning and interactive workshops.

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