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The Uncommon Art of Creating B2B Brand Champions & Super Bowl Ads

This episode features an interview with Joanie Wang, Director of Marketing at Expensify. Since joining in 2014, Joanie has helped grow Expensify into the most recognizable expense management platform in the space, spearheading the launch of some of the company’s biggest marketing initiatives. She has been named one of the Top Women Leaders in SaaS and one of the accounting industry’s Top 20 Influencers under 40. 

On this episode, Joanie discusses how Expensify’s relentless focus on end-user experience turns customers into devoted champions of the product, how they work to cultivate a positive brand experience in every consumer interaction, and the process of launching their massively successful Super Bowl ad campaign.

Tune in to the episode to hear Joanie reveal her demand gen strategies, including:

  • Relentless focus on the end user experience
  • How to cultivate brand champions through word-of-mouth marketing
  • When and why to do something as big as a Super Bowl ad

Want to skip ahead to the highlights? Check out these can’t-miss moments:

Episode Highlights

(2:11) Joanie’s Career Path

  • Her first role was a partnership development manager at a nonprofit created leadership development curriculum for middle and high school kids
  • A demand gen skill this taught her was how important partnerships between marketing, business development and sales are
  • Now she leads marketing at Expensify, which is expense management software that simplifies the process of getting your money back
  • Expensify is used by over 8 million people worldwide, from the solo entrepreneur to Fortune 500 companies

(4:50) How She’s Helped Grow Expensify 

  • Expensify focuses on word-of-mouth marketing, it’s the heart and soul of their business
  • They are very end user-centric in how they build, market and sell the product, they straddle the B2C to B2B grey area since they can sell to individual employees
  • Up until actually their Super Bowl campaign in 2019, they did zero traditional like outward bound marketing or demand gen.
  • They make champions out of their users; letting them do the talking 
  • Strategy centers on a hyperfocus of always making sure that the product is solves users’ problems

(9:02) Her Org Structure

  • Expensify is very flat, there’s a CEO and a group of directors, and then everyone else 
  • It’s a company of generalists that are focused on problem solving
  • There two golden rules: get sh*t done, and don't ruin it for everyone else.
  • They are able to maintain the flatness by kind of creating an atmosphere of accountability and self-driven management 

(11:49) How Expensify Creates a Bottom Up Adoption Model

  • Expensify believes in amplifying the network effect of individuals
  • These days, individuals are just a Google away from a new product or a tool that can help us be more efficient, streamlined, organized, so Joanie’s marketing org focuses on finding people when they are fed up with their current way of doing things
  • Expensify makes it easy to share the product with people you know, which helps plant the seed from the bottom up within a business
  • This is a people-first type of movement, which matches the world that we live in...more than ever, employees get to have a say in what tools to use to do your job
  • The sales team doesn’t work that much with outbounding since their word-of-mouth model means a constant influx of inbound leads
  • When in full alignment with a user’s pain points, it’s a very easy and natural process from a sales standpoint

(22:25) Joanie’s Uncuttable Budget Items

  • Brand is a very important factor from a top of funnel perspective
  • Her first item focuses on creating very positive experiences, setting the foundation for a lot of the demand gen work that they'll do later on
  • Their Super Bowl commercial had to be a brand play that would drive word-of-mouth, but they also coupled that with a product experience in the ad
  • Within the music video commercial, they taught people how to use Expensify 
  • Second item is budget for surprise and delight tactics
  • They launched an initiative called Swipe to Win; every time you swipe the Expensify card, you're entered for a chance to win a surprise and delight gift 
  • This can be sent to someone you love, or someone who needs a pick-me-up, which makes the first experience that non-users have with Expensify a positive one 
  • The third item has historically been trade shows, where they focus on building a commuity

(27:25) Joanie Opens Up About Making a B2B Super Bowl Commercial

  • Deciding to do a Super Bowl ad starts with pinpointing the exact problem you're trying to solve 
  • Your best audience might be a small group of people who are super enthusiastic about your product where you want to cultivate those relationships 
  • But sometimes you’ll want to scale that up and get the word out Expensify didn't do this until 10 years after founding; prior to that, their focus was small, thoughtful marketing tactics
  • A top goal was to make something the Expensify team was super proud of
  • Second goal was to have significant earned media, although the exact number wasn’t too concerning to Joanie - she really just wanted to see engagement and positive sentiment
  • The downloads, engagement numbers, and amount of articles and reviews showed them that they completely hit it out of the park, great for a 1st time advertiser
  • Ultimately they saw a 1400% increase in new customers from their Super Bowl ad

(33:45) Joanie’s Take on the Expensify Website

  • They focus on users in the buyer journey that are looking into pricing or functionality, using the website to engage in chat and keep that conversation progressing
  • They use their community.expensify.com forum to engage heavily with their community
  • People tend to engage a lot when it's a user led forum, to help answer each others’ questions
  • So that forum is actually a relatively successful sales tool 

(38:55) Why Old School Thinking is Out

  • Joanie’s team approaches customers fundamentally differently than traditional enterprise thinking, which stands out in an industry that they believe lacks forward momentum
  • Since their Super Bowl hip hop music video ad they’ve seen a lot more brands employing rappers and hip hop artists and TikToK stars to represent the brand
  • Joanie believes there’s a shift in companies finally understanding that Millennials and Gen Z are savvy individuals having major impact on the workforce who will make or break your business in the long term

(41:14) Quick Hits: Getting to Know Joanie

  • She’s never been a runner before but the Covid quarantine made her one!
  • She uses podcasts as an escape, so one favorite is Who Weekly, and another favorite is Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell

(42:50) Advice to a New CMO

  • Get your hands dirty, figure out how everything works yourself
  • Even if you're going to hire the best demand gen professional out there and build a team around them, it's always important to know and understand what the dynamics are at play and develop your own opinion

Episode Quotes

“We've been very end-user centric in how we build out our product and who our ultimate consumers are. There are a lot of similar apps out there that focus on the person buying the software, not necessarily the person using it. What we realized is that when you focus on the end-user experience…they really become huge champions of your product.”
“At the heart of it, demand gen at Expensify is essentially a partnership between marketing, business development, and sales. We focus our efforts on entering and growing new markets by accelerating our word of mouth business model. It's been the heart and soul of our business since day one, and it's something that's been really effective for us.”
“We focus a lot on creating experiences–whether that's at trade shows, in product, etc–creating experiences that are memorable and everlasting so that people not only believe in your product and love it, but become champions of it.”
“I recognize that brand is sometimes the opposite of demand gen, but I do think that it is a very important factor– from a top of funnel perspective–to stir interest and to create that initial awareness about our product.”
“We picked the Super Bowl because we knew that it was a moment in culture that everyone is paying attention to. In terms of meeting the audience where they are, that was kind of our moment. Everyone's paying attention. In fact, people are always on the lookout for commercials…We wanted a super large audience who is receptive to this kind of brand play, this sort of this messaging, and we wanted to meet them where they are.”
“I think there is a shift in people understanding that Millennials and Gen Z are the super savvy ones who are starting to enter the workforce and they'll be the ones to possibly make or break your business in the long term.”

Ready to hear from more Demand Gen Visionaries? You can subscribe and find all episodes here.


Posted on
February 3, 2021
by
Corinne Pearce

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