It’s no secret that building a community takes a lot of work. But in today’s highly competitive landscape, the benefits of fostering a strong and engaged community far outweigh the challenges.
By providing valuable and compelling content to a community, a business can enhance its reputation, brand awareness, customer retention, and long-term profitability.
Our sister community, Community-Led Alliance spoke to Bryony Pearce, Chief Marketing Officer at Customer Marketing Alliance and The Alliance, about how her role helps to support community-led growth in the organization, and how engaged communities can impact traditional marketing strategies.
Bryony chatted to us about:
- What her day-to-day role looks like as a CMO
- Her professional background and how she ended up at The Alliance
- How a CMO at The Alliance differs from a CMO at a traditional company
- What community-led growth really means
- How to identify a gap in the market for a community
- The main barriers and misconceptions regarding CLG
- Her top strategies for community engagement
- How her role as CMO has evolved during her time at The Alliance
- Her top three tips for starting a community
Check out the highlights of our interview with Bryony below, or watch the full podcast episode here!
The day-to-day life of a CMO
Hi, Bryony. Welcome to the podcast. Please introduce yourself.
Thanks so much for having me. I'm really excited to be here. My name is Bryony, and I'm the CMO here at The Alliance.
What does your day-to-day role look like as a CMO?
Very busy. No day is ever the same. In fact, no hour is ever the same. There’s always lots going on.
For a bit of context, in my role as CMO here at The Alliance, I oversee the marketing department, which consists of the straight-up marketing roles. We've also got design and UX in there, as well as the content team. I also oversee the customer success team and the course team as well.
So, three very different departments there. I try to split my time as best I can across those three business areas.
At this current moment, being the end of November, we’re very thick into the planning season for next year. We’re looking at budgets, how that transcends into KPIs, how that transcends into strategies, and then how that transcends into recruitment in terms of how we deliver on that. So that's very high up in my priorities at the moment and where a lot of my time is being spent.
Outside of this hardcore planning season that we're in right now - obviously, there's a lot of that going on year-round, especially on the KPIs, the numbers, and the data side - that's something that's obviously very much a day-to-day job.
I'm also trying to keep on top of revenue for courses, revenue for memberships, and leads for partner products in the marketing department.
It sounds very number heavy.
Yeah. We’ve got customer success, churn. We've got a load of metrics in there.
And on the course side of things is actual course delivery, course feedback, and all that kind of stuff.
So there's a very big day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month piece in making sure that I'm across that for every single community that we've got, so we can keep on top of those peaks and troughs. So that's very, very big for me, day-to-day.
Also, I mentioned that at the moment we’re in planning and strategy season. Once we've built those strategies, it's not then off my plate. I’m also working very closely with the teams to make sure that we're executing on time, executing well, there are no hiccups, and if there are any other opportunities - figuring out what else we need to do there. I'm still very involved in those conversations.
I've also got quite a few people reporting into me at the moment. That’s everything from 1:1s to reviews, to just being that support mechanism that anyone needs who’s reporting into me. That obviously eats into a fair bit of time as well.
And because of the size of the company, the amount that we have to deliver, and the little resource that we've got at the moment, we've currently got lots of recruitment going on.
We haven't necessarily filled all of the roles that we need to yet, so we’re still very much in the thick of a lot of the marketing campaigns and I’m rolling my sleeves up, building the emails, getting the emails out, and building social posts.
That's hopefully more of a temporary stopgap at the moment until we’ve got that recruitment in place. But due to the size of the team and the growth at the moment, I’m still very heavily involved in that.
And I guess the final one is meetings. Meetings with direct reports. But we've got a lot of communities on the go so I’m still involved in some of those community meetings - more so some of our really new communities as they need the most support, direction, and guidance to get them to that next stage and mature.
So I do try and attend as many of those as I can to guide them.
So I'd say my day-to-day is a healthy blend between data, meetings, campaigns, and people management - it’s a constant juggling act.
Transitioning from copywriter to corporate executive
Walk us through your professional background and how that led to your role at The Alliance.
My background is originally in content. I studied journalism at university, and then straight out of university I went into copywriting roles, and that was where my first two to three in-house roles were.
After I'd been in-house for a little while doing copywriting, I then went freelance for about a year and did some traveling on the side, and that's what led me to The Alliance.
It was Josie, our now COO, who reached out to me on LinkedIn, and I started just by writing a few blog posts a month. That then increased to a day a month, two days a month, then to a three-month contract, and then to full-time employment.
My background is definitely very heavy on the content side, but I think that has definitely lent itself well to what I'm doing now. We'll probably touch on this again later, but we're very much a content-led company and when we're growing our communities, that's the first hire we'll make and what we'll prioritize. That's where we start to grow those communities.
So it was a bit of an unintentional path, I guess, but one that's aligned itself really nicely.
Like Bryony, our State of Customer Marketing Report in 2022 stated that many customer marketers studied more humanities oriented studies like Journalism.
This year's version of the report launches this week, so keep a close eye out!
What’s different about being a CMO at The Alliance?
How does your role as a CMO at The Alliance differ from that of a traditional company?
I've not been a CMO in a previous company, so I couldn't compare it to anything else. But I've worked in marketing departments in previous companies before, and I think there are a couple of key differences - specifically to The Alliance as well, being an umbrella company - in the sense that there's just so much going on.
We have 14 communities and lots of different revenue streams within those communities. But also, community is a gigantic piece that sits over all those revenue streams.
It's a lot to get your head around, and I know certainly for new starters when they come to this company, there's a big onboarding process and you end up frazzled in those first few days and weeks. I feel that’s sometimes heightened at The Alliance because it's not just one or two products, it's five, six, or seven products across 14 communities, all at different stages.
And as a result of all that going on, I guess the way in which the company is structured will be very different to other organizations. And I think some of the roles that we have as well are quite niche in the sense of nothing is pigeonholed.
There are some job titles that we all have where it's not necessarily a job title, but it's a bespoke kind of role that we need. So you have to connect the dots between some of these departments and connect traditional roles to the community side of things.
I think that's very different. And again, in those onboarding processes and getting to grips with things, that’s a big piece that takes some people a bit of getting used to because it's just not like any kind of setup that they've seen before.
And then in terms of the actual marketing and campaigns that we do, I wouldn't say it's hugely different from a traditional company in the sense that we're community-first and most companies are customer-first. I guess it's kind of alternating between customer and community.
But I think one really big advantage we have that’s not just limited to the marketing team, is that we do have these communities within The Alliance. Some are at different stages than others, but for our mature communities that are really engaged, it’s such a great source of intel to tap into.
And obviously, as marketers, it's really important to be close to the voice of your customer. For us, it's so easy to be close to the voice of our community because we can see them talking and interacting day in and day out.
We know what the problems are, we know what the challenges are, and we know what the trending topics are. We know how they communicate with each other. So that then makes it really easy for us to get into the skin of that and also translate that into our marketing and content.
And then when we do go into these kinds of planning seasons, all of that is very front of mind, and stuff that we do translates into those plans.
Why community is such a valuable resource for companies
How would you define community-led growth?
It's a really interesting question and I think there are a few ways to look at it.
In terms of community-led growth, there's obviously one big piece of it, which is actually building that community and having an active and engaged community.
But I think outside of the community, as I mentioned, it's community-led and customer-led. It's ultimately feeding into the voice of what that community or customer base wants, making sure that's front of mind, and what you’re doing is very much in line with what they want, what they're asking for, and what they need.
So I think for me, in many ways, community-led and customer-led are one and the same. I think for companies who don't have a community, it's obviously customer-led, and for us, it's community-led.
And in terms of how that impacts our market, it's just making sure that voice is consistently fed into everything that we do and that we don't waste that resource. It's such a valuable resource for us to have. There's not a single department in the company that doesn't benefit from that.
If we're building events, what topics are people speaking about? What are they struggling with? Let's get some presentations on the agenda.
When we're building our content plans, what's coming up? What's not been covered? What are people asking to be covered? Let's create a blog or a podcast or a report for that.
The same goes for sales as well. They're having conversations with people and then asking, what do they want to know about? What do they like? How can we speak to these people in a way that’ll relate?
So every single department that we have in the company really benefits from that. And that's quite unique because as I mentioned, with the customer-led side, I think certainly from my experience in companies that I've been in previously, a lot of people speak about being customer focused and wanting to be close to the voice of the customer.
How often that actually happens and how easily that happens is certainly not as accessible as it is in a community-led company. As a marketer, you're not going to be on the phone every day talking to your customers. You're also not on the front line like customer support or customer success to actually interact with them.
What you end up getting is snippets of information, whether that's bi-weekly, monthly, or even quarterly. And that wasn't done in companies that I've been at previously. But we’ve got that. At any point, any day, we can go to that Slack community and we've got that information.
Spotting gaps in the market for a community
You’ve had a lot of experience starting communities throughout your time at The Alliance. How do you know when there's space for a community to be built?
When I came in, Product Marketing Alliance, Product-Led Alliance, and Sales Enablement Collective had already been established.
I think with product marketing, there was just a big gap in the market, and that was really evident with how quickly that community grew. I think it surpassed anyone's expectations in terms of Slack community growth, but also outside of that from an education and event perspective. It really flew off the shelves.
Since then, with the communities that I've been more involved with, it's listening to those Slack conversations. For example, with the customer success community, we could see in our product marketing community that a lot of people were talking about customer success.
I'd been in a few conversations with product marketers. They were talking about customer success and they were saying, “There's just nowhere to go at the moment.” So I had a look into it and thought, Yeah, actually, there isn't anywhere for people in customer success to go.
We know it's an emerging role. We can see on platforms like LinkedIn how many people are in that profession. So in instances like that, we tend to gauge it based on what we're hearing in the market, what we can see is available to those people, and what the opportunity is in terms of how many people we know are in those kinds of roles. And we use that as a bit of a gauge.
We also test that before we look to roll it out. Before we launched the customer success community, we actually ran a couple of events with another community of ours, Future of Saas, just to see if we put something out there if it’d stick. And it did.
We did our first customer success event. We had thousands of people chomping at the bit and lots of really great feedback from people like, “This is the first time we've had something like this. It’s so great to have people to speak to.”
That must have been a great feeling to know that you were on to something, that people really do need this space and you're the one who’s about to create it.
Absolutely. And that's what we do with a lot of our communities if we think there’s something there. A lot of it’s conversation-based, whether we're speaking to community members or people just outside of the community. It might be vendors, it could be existing customers. People will validate any assumptions that way.
We'll never go straight in and create a community with absolutely no idea if the demand is there. But we've obviously got a portfolio of communities. And since my day one, there's always been three or four there. So we do tend to test them out on an existing community, and events are a huge part of how we do that.
And then once we’ve run a couple of events and we’ve validated it more, we then put the time, resource, and money into creating a fully-fledged community for that.
Breaking through the barriers to community-led growth
What are some of the misconceptions you've heard about CLG?
Not necessarily misconceptions, but I think what maybe puts some people off taking that community-led approach is thinking it’s more work than it potentially is.
But also one of the big offputting pieces is actually creating a community. It’s not an easy task. You don’t decide to create a community one day and then the next week you've got this really thriving community that you can tap into and make use of throughout your company.
It takes months of really hard, manual work, and dedication to make sure that you’re ultimately getting the people into that community and that you're making it a really valuable place for people to want to stay. And also that you're nurturing and instigating those conversations.
If you’ve filled a really rife gap, maybe it’ll take you a few months to get to that point. But it can take six, seven, eight, or nine months to get to a point where you've got this really active community of people that are self-sufficient, and where you don't necessarily need to instigate all those conversations yourself.
I think that can be a big drawback for some people, not necessarily wanting to put in that groundwork. But I think that once you do put in that groundwork, the benefits are so worth it.
So I’m not sure if it's a misconception as such, but I think it's maybe a little bit of a barrier.
Top strategies to enhance community engagement
Can you outline some community engagement strategies that have worked for you or some wins you’ve experienced during your time at The Alliance?
As I mentioned earlier, content has historically been and will continue to be a huge part of that engagement piece.
For a little bit of context, with our first community, Product Marketing Alliance, we didn't actually offer paid-for products for a good six months after it was launched. It was just blogs, reports, podcasts, whitepapers, and webinars, all for free, all adding value to make sure that when we did have those paid-for offerings, people had that trust and respect for us.
They knew that they could get value out of the free content that we’d produce, so then they’d have faith that they could get value out of the paid-for products.
And ultimately, without that content, we've not got a magnet to pull people into the Slack community. If we've got no content, what can we share with people in that Slack community? How can we get them to engage? And how do we keep them in there and keep them wanting to come back?
Ultimately, these communities are great marketing and content platforms for us to share all this, whether it’s paid-for products or free content. That’s where we want to be sharing that and that's how we want to make sure that we can get in front of people's eyes.
So content will always be a really key part for us when it comes to community engagement.
Outside of that, it’s not necessarily groundbreaking or revolutionary, but I think it's the small things that really make a difference when it comes to community. It's obviously all about putting the community first and building it based on what they want, whether it's courses, content, or events.
Going back to Product Marketing Alliance, we do a lot of courses on this community. When we’re building our course plans for next year, we'll put something out and ask, what courses haven't we got that you want? What do you want to see from us?
Before we made our courses live and online, we weren't sure of the best delivery method. Would it be one day? Two half days? Four few-hour sessions? There are so many ways you could slice and dice it.
We just put it out there and said, “We're thinking about doing this.” So we're getting them involved in future projects and letting them know what we're working on. “We're doing this for you. How do you want to do it? What options do you want?”
It definitely makes sense to make sure they're on the same page as you because they're the ones that are going to be benefiting from what you're putting out.
Exactly. I think communities also want to be in the loop and they want to know what you're working on. They don't want to just be told, “We've done this, go buy it.” Or, “Go download it and read it.” They want to be part of that process. And I think a big part of building those relationships with the community is having those open conversations and making it a two-way dialogue.
So we're really intentional about doing that with our courses and with our content as well.
There are lots of ways we can build our content strategies. SEO is a big part of it. But you're not always going to get keywords for specific challenges that people in specific professions are facing. So the other way we can find that is by asking them and building on the back of that.
As I say, it doesn't feel too groundbreaking, but I think it's about that dialogue. It's about being transparent with what you're doing and it's not just dictating what you're doing. It's making sure that you're grabbing their insights on a regular basis and feeding them into the outcomes.
I think it's important to note as well that every community is free to join and always will be. And with the courses, the course team makes a real effort to reach out to the communities and make sure that they're giving their input as well, and they're even helping build those courses.
So it's really a collaborative effort right through to the end, and that's obviously a major part of the engagement because people will want to engage with something that they've had a real part in forming as well.
100%. As you said, in our courses, when we're interviewing experts for them, they’re experts from our community.
And when we're running events, they’re experts from our community, even for meetups and things like that. That's our community hosting that. They're so involved and so instrumental to what we do.
But the only way people advocate for you and want to do that for you is if you give them something back. And that maybe translates to the content piece we spoke about and the networking that they get in the Slack community. It's all just a never-ending funnel of giving and taking and giving and taking.
The evolving role of CMO
How has the role of CMO changed for you since you've been at The Alliance?
I think it's one of those where it happened so gradually yet so quickly. I can't even pinpoint a lot of the change. I just woke up one day and I was here.
I started very much in a copywriting role with PMA for the first six months. All we were doing was producing reports and podcasts and blogs. And that was all me. I was the only hire really at that time and I was producing all of that.
And that was also really instrumental for me in terms of how embedded I then became in the community because I was conducting all these interviews and podcasts. I was meeting so much of the community and really understanding them as individuals, but also it helped me understand the role and everything that entails. And that was so key for my understanding of the company as a whole.
After a few months of being a sole contributor for PMA, we then started growing the content team and we brought copywriters on board for some of our other communities.
Growing the content team has been a constant evolution. It started with just me three years ago and now we're a team of 19. So that's grown an awful lot in the last few years.
During the process of that happening, the first department I took on was the course team. So again, it was a one-man band. The course team started with just me building Product Marketing Core, which is our flagship course. And then we started to establish that course team again, and we're now a team of 9 or 10. So that's been gradually building in the background.
And then not too long after that, we started building out the customer success function. As we started rolling out actual paid-for products in the community, we knew we needed to make sure we had people to support that and make sure we had great onboarding experiences. I took that team on 18 months or so after I joined.
At the very start of 2022, I then took on my current role and had a more active role in marketing.
Prior to that, I'd always been very hands-on with the marketing of PMA, but less so for the other communities. But now, I’m ultimately responsible for the marketing of all the products and all the channels across all the communities.
So I've been through quite a few roles since I've been here and taken on quite a few new departments. But I've loved every step of it.
3 top tips for creating a community
What would your top advice be for people who want to start a community?
Be patient. It’s not going to happen overnight. It's not going to happen in a couple of months. It's going to be a long process.
It can be disheartening at first. When you've got a community and you're trying to drive that engagement, it can feel like you're speaking into a void. That's probably the critical point where most people just think it’s a waste of time and they’re not going to get anything out of it. But if you don't persevere for those first few months, you're never going to get to the point where you’ve got a self-sufficient community.
So be patient, I think that would be the big one.
The second one is to deliver value. Not all companies have the focus on content that we do. I've been in copywriting roles in previous companies and they didn't have a content mindset.
You feel like you have to constantly justify your value because content isn't the type of role like traditional marketing where you bring in x thousand dollars a month. That's not always the point of content. We obviously drive organic revenue, but there’s a lot more to it than that revenue-driving role.
So that can be a hard part if you're in a company that doesn't have that content focus, and you're not able to put the time and resource into building that great top-of-funnel content that delivers value to your community and brings them into the process.
But this is another way in which we bring our community in. For our blogs, we want to get their input and we want them to produce blogs on our site. We want a lot of contributed content and we don't just want it to be us speaking to them. We want it to be a joint approach.
So I guess my second piece of advice is if you're not sold on content or you don't believe in the value of content, start believing because it's essential.
As I mentioned, the copywriter is the first hire we’ll make when we create a new community, and we’ll never launch a new community without having a really rich bank of content for people to get stuck into first.
And my third bit of advice is, don't forget about your community as it's growing. Don't make plans in isolation. Make the most of that really valuable resource that you've got and make sure that you’re bringing them into it, using them as a sounding board, and making sure that you're headed in the right direction. Just give them that voice that they want and that you need.