This was a talk transcribed from one of our sister community events. If you’re interested in seeing these kinds of talks in person, we’re coming to New York, December 3rd.

About our panelists

Margot Leong: I'm Margo Leong. And I'm the host of Beating the Drum, a podcast about the art and science of customer advocacy. I’m so thrilled to be able to interview my good friend Lindsay Molina. She is an absolutely breathtaking, incredible customer marketer, but I'm gonna let her introduce herself.

Lindsay Molina: Thanks, Margot. I don't know what to say after that lovely intro, but I'm Lindsay Molina. I currently the Director of Corporate Marketing at Webflow. Prior to that, I was head of customer marketing at Slack for two and a half years, I led customer marketing teams at MuleSoft, and I was in customer marketing at Poly, previously Polycom. I’ve been in the customer marketing biz for about eight years now, and I just love learning from and networking with other customer marketers.

How COVID changed the world of customer marketing

Margot Leong: Lindsay and I were thinking about what would be the best topic to focus on amidst all of these other amazing topics. What we landed on was the future of work and how engagement has changed now we're all interacting remotely.

As we all know, this has been an insane time. COVID has changed everything, but when it comes to customer marketing specifically, it's changed not only the way that we tell our customer stories, but also the ways that we engage with them in the first place. That's where I would love to kick off the conversation.

Lindsay, I’d love for you to take us back to when this all started and give us a sense of how you and the team were feeling and how you thought things might change.

Lindsay Molina: If I transport myself back to right before lockdown happened for us in San Francisco, we were about to do our big global sales kickoff. That pivoted to a virtual conference, which was a taste of what was to come for the rest of the year.

But I think the biggest shift for us, and what we had to realize overnight, was it was less about the stories we wanted to tell and more about how we rally around our customers during this difficult time.

There was no playbook for how to operate your businesses during a pandemic, so the first thought was, “How do we support our customers? What do they need from us right now?” We made that priority number one and tabled some of the other stuff. As an organization, Slack did a great job of that, so it was reassuring to be part of that culture.

We used it as a time to reach out to a lot of our champions like, “Hey, how are you guys doing? What do you need? Can we give you guys some tips?” No one had done fully remote work before, but at Slack, we had some experience with remote and hybrid offices, so we were able to help set customers up for success.

Through that process, we found some hero stories. A couple of weeks in, some of our customers were like, “We got this. We have what we need to make our employees feel connected and be productive,” so there were some interesting stories around the shift to remote work and how these businesses rose to the occasion.

After the initial trough of despair, these customers were kicking butt, so we needed to tell those stories through this new lens. We saw certain customers responding to us quickly to do these things because they knew this was a unique opportunity to get their brand story out there. So yeah, it was a little terrifying at first, as it was for everyone, and then we found a way to pivot.

Another thing we started to think about as we realized this was not going to be over in a month was that people didn't want to consume stories in the way they had before. We needed to dig into the heartfelt human angle and celebrate wins in a different way. We should probably have been doing that before, to be honest, but we hadn’t been forced to.

It made us look at the ways we capture stories and think about whether we were reaching audiences in the ways they want to be reached. We had to rethink our strategy there too.

Sharing hero stories

Margot Leong: I definitely want to get into the piece around how your audience likes to consume stories, but before that, can you talk a bit more about the hero stories you mentioned? I'm curious about how you guys were able to weave in stories of adaptation that painted customers in an interesting light.

Lindsay Molina: Yeah, I can give a couple of examples. Emma Telfer, who's on my team. led this. I think it started on Twitter, where customers were talking about what they were doing and how they were pivoting.

One of these customers was the Transport Agency in New York. As you can imagine, everything they did shifted. They had to make all their employees remote, but they also had to figure out how to safely operate the subway and keep up with the latest guidelines. That was like a hero story on how they adapted while still working with their service teams to get the latest information out there.

Customers are doing great stuff every day, but they don't always want to brag or publicize their good work. I think that's another lesson to remember: we as customer marketers are a third party that can come to the customer and say, “This is exceptional. This is something we should be celebrating.” We give the customer the opportunity to celebrate that win.

Another story that Emma got to work on was about Shipt and how they were able to do same-day grocery delivery and triage all their operations through Slack. That was a great story because it was all about how they were servicing their customers when they weren't able to go into stores and do their normal shopping.

We’re finding the best angles for customers by being very in tune with their mission and what they’re trying to achieve. Anchoring the story in that value is really important to the customer – for the individuals and the brand too. That’s where you're going to find the most synergy.

Finding new ways to engage with customers

Margot Leong: I wanted to talk about how we engage with customers in this new era. How has the way that you and your team engage with customers changed?

Lindsay Molina: There's the bread and butter of customer marketing that most people assume you always do – case studies on the website, webinars, and having customers speak at events, then recording and repurposing that. At the same time, we’re getting more creative.

Video content is a huge focus for most customer marketing programs, and the traditional way you think about that is you go to the customer's office, film some interviews, and get some beautiful B-roll. It's a two-to-three-day thing, and truthfully, that's one of my favorite parts of my job. I love being on-site with customers, but obviously, that was off the table for a while.

As we started to find creative ways to film customers with drop kits – there are some cool companies out there that support that – we had to think about if this is even the way people want to consume content. Zoom fatigue is a real problem, so we had to think about other formats and ways to get the voice of the customer out there. We’ve tried to experiment with different things on social media, so you'll see some cool new formats coming out of Slack soon.

We’ve been looking at ways to do animated stories – shorter videos where you can either have a customer narration, or you can do things with captions and graphic animations of the product.

The great thing about this is that it’s a lighter load for the customer. They’re already so busy, so if they don’t have to take a half-day out while someone shows up at the office, that’s fantastic. Plus, this has a bit more of a creative spin to it.

These kinds of videos are also really cool for the customer to share. A customer’s probably not going to share a link to a case study, but if you have a cool animation or gif, or even just a beautiful headshot with a quote that we post on LinkedIn, customers want to repost that. That gives us way more reach than if we're only creating formats that are going to stay on our properties and website.

Margot Leong: I recently heard something interesting when I interviewed Sam Shepler, the CEO of Testimonial Hero. He was talking about how previously, you would have to fly out with a film crew, which, honestly, is very cool. I love the opportunity to fly somewhere. Plus, there’s room service, which is the best perk for me personally. Then, of course, people had to switch to filming stories on their laptops.

Now Sam’s seeing people filming through their phones instead of their webcams because the video quality is so much better. You can set it up with the phone pointing at the customer and then ask them questions. It feels very high quality but also authentic. You don’t have that grainy, rough feel that you get with webcam filming. That’s another interesting way for people to capture videos of their customers.

The future of customer marketing

Margot Leong: The last question before we wrap up is about the future of work. We’ve been working in remote and hybrid teams for a while now, and it looks as though that’s going to continue, with people coming into the office maybe once or twice a week. Do you have any thoughts on how we can maintain rapport with our customers in these types of working environments?

Lindsay Molina: That’s a great question. Obviously, coming from Slack, I have a certain perspective on this, but what we've heard from our customers is that they’re embracing this new way of work, and they understand that there’s going to be some sort of hybrid of employees working from home and employees in the office. In the years to come, it'll be interesting to see how that shapes their business strategies.

For us, it’s about finding ways to engage with customers; it's more relationship-based, I think. At Slack, we communicate with our customers in Slack. We don't use email or anything like that just because they're in the product and so are we.

I think there's something to be said for communicating with them that way because you get to know people on a more personal level, whether it's on a video call with their kids in the background or just being able to send them quick chats like, “Hey, how's it going?” or, “I saw that launched this thing – congrats!”

We're able to have that always-on kind of communication with our customers in a friendly way, rather than sending a long formal email asking if someone would mind being a reference. I’m excited for a future where that‘s the norm.

Margot Leong: Yeah. There are so many ways to develop relationships with customers now. It could be via SMS, Slack, Discord, or wherever your customers are. It helps to soften or even dismantle the barrier between the vendor and the customer and make it more friendly. That does so much to change the relationship, so you’re like your friends who have nothing but good intentions for each other.

Looking for more on future customer marketing predictions?

We’ve recently released our 2022 State of Customer Marketing Report.

With a birdseye view of the current landscape of this emerging function, we dive into all facets of the role, from the usual day-to-day, workflows and process to the perception of the role with the aim of giving you a better understanding of how your role is approached within a variety of business types.