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Kristina Wallender, former VP of Marketing at Ticketfly/Pandora and current SVP of Marketing at RealtyShares joins Hailey Friedman for a fireside chat at Temple Nightclub in San Francisco, CA on July 13, 2017.
– How to use automation and customer loyalty to drive your business and build your brand
– The biggest mistake most growth marketers make (and how to avoid it)
– How to use your brand identity as a strategic advantage
Kristina, named one of Billboard’s 40 Under 40: Top Young Power Players in Music, led the team that built the Ticketfly brand that was purchased by Pandora for $450 Million in October 2015.
Over her tenure, Ticketfly grew from a small startup to a leading live entertainment brand serving over 1,800 venues and promoters across North America. Prior to Ticketfly, Kristina spent 6 years driving topline business growth at Amazon in marketing roles on both the consumer and business sides of the marketplace.
She is currently SVP of Marketing at RealtyShares, working to build a brand that transforms the real estate investment landscape. Originally from Upstate New York, Kristina has found her true home in Marin County, CA, where you can find her on her bike every weekend.
What follows is the transcription of the live event (in case you’d prefer to read it!)
Hailey Friedman: Hey guys. Thank you so much for coming. Some of you may not know but the reason that we are all here is because Josh Fechter put together this is organization called ‘Badass Marketers and Founders’. And it started as a Facebook group online that now is 13,000 people strong. Josh was hosting the event like this, twice a month and he recently move down to LA and I’m taking over the San Francisco portion of this group. So I will now be hosting these events twice a month. My role is to find the most incredible, awesome, inspiring speakers to bring here. My goal is also to kind of make it a little bit more fun and bring us to badass venues like this one. Facebook recently made it possible to create subgroups within a group. So we created a San Francisco subgroup -if you’re not already in it I would love for you to join. Just request on Facebook and we can connect there. The goal is to just grow this community and share our knowledge. I think as marketers and founder and entrepreneurs and hustlers we’re all trying to educate ourselves. In this extremely fast changing community and there’s new tools all the time; there’s new strategies and we’re just trying to share our knowledge. Let’s share what we’re learning, let’s connect in person- that’s what this is kind of all about. So without further ado I’m going to introduce our guest for today. Her name is Kristina Wallender. She spent six years working at Amazon which is one of the largest companies in the world and then she dove headfirst into a start-up – she helped to build Ticketfly from a disorganized startup into something that became worth $450 million when Amazon acquired them. So she built that with a team of awesome of marketers at Ticketfly – and now I’m super lucky to have her as our new fearless marketing leader at RealtyShares which is where I work and she’s joined us very recently. So let’s give a round of applause for Kristina. So Kristina and I had a really really good – day. Before this I think I gave like the largest presentation in my whole career to every executive in our company. [she crushed it, totally crushed it] At 4 o’clock today and then it ended at 5 and then I ran here. And then Kristina you were not feeling very well for the past week or two.
Kristina Wallender: Yeah so I thought I had a cold…and turns out that I have pneumonia. Which I guess prior to the learning that I had pneumonia I thought that it was life threatening, and I think it may be for certain people for for me fortunately it’s not, but anyway, so yeah. So it turns out it’s a little fluid in your lungs and with some antibiotics it goes away. There’s a lot of coughing so thank you for saying that, but yeah it’s not contagious so hopefully I will not get you sick.
Hailey Friedman: So I’m glad we got to cover that important topic first, but yes I think everyone’s probably wondering you who you are and how you guys…. So let’s kick it off with that.
Kristina Wallender: Yeah well maybe I’ll just start by saying one thing about the Badass Marketers and Founders….I actually heard about it through Hailey and I just think it’s so great that this community exists and then we have a space like this for coming together with one another. So just want to echo my thanks to Josh and to you for grabbing the baton and helping us deepen in our connections here in San Francisco. Because Josh moved down to LA and with that there was kind of a “what’s happening” and what’s happening is that we are now under Hailey’s leadership.
So anyway how I got into marketing; I’ve always been interested in the human factors that influence human behavior especially the things that sometimes don’t seem rational. So as an undergrad I was doing a lot of research on behavioral economics and in my thesis but like I didn’t really know how to apply that to a career. So at a college and banking and financing things at JP Morgan and so I think you know perhaps a lot of folks in this room have the experience of meeting someone who irreversibly changes the trajectory of your life and your career. So for me one of those people, the woman named Jennifer Acker She was one of my business school professors and she taught a class on branding. And I guess before the class I always thought that a brand was kind of like logos and some colors and you know all sort of packaged up in a nice way and those sorts of things things. But what I learned is that a brand is kind of how people feel and you know I think as a company you can’t control how people feel if you never practice that you probably know doesn’t go over very well. But even with that through absolutely everything you do, literally everything; what website looks like, the information it does or does not have, how you answer the phone, the products you do or do not build. All of it is part of your brand and brands have value is the other piece and so I guess with the huh I was like huh, why would someone pay more for a branded product than a generic alternative that’s effectively the same thing but it’s not the same thing. Because the brand we associate with they’re part of our identity. People, parents who buy Chlorox bleach feel good about making the best choice for their household, and like at a deeper psychological level that makes them feel better and I wanted to be a part of creating that. So that’s how I got into it.
Hailey Friedman: I love how you bring up the psychology of it. I studied psychology in college and I’m also super fascinated by it; the language you use and how it make people feel – it’s part of what makes me excited about marketing and what makes it fun for me.
Kristina Wallender: I think like I guess is some deeper level, I feel like when we do great work as marketers, people feel better. Like at the end of the day and being a part of that is just like that’s really special. So yeah.
Hailey Friedman: That’s awesome. So you felt passionate enough branding –?
Kristina Wallender: Passionate about branding, yes and that’s what led me into marketing…
Hailey Friedman: Got it. Okay so the first big giant huge enormous stop you had was Amazon and Amazon is as you know it’s super structured, process oriented,…place to work as you’ve explained to me in the past. So they managed to build a kind of customer loyalty and customer centric company. Can you tell us a little bit about what their secret sauce is?
Kristina Wallender: Yeah I think so. How I found myself, so post business school Amazon was my first stop. I wanted to be a part of one of the most customer centric company and it was definitely incredible period of learning. It also is my as my favorite Manager said a great darwinian struggle for survival. Has anyone here in the crowd work for Amazon? Okay alright. So then you guys are not yet or perhaps you’ve heard about the Jeff Bezos question mark. So there is no better definition of customer centricity than the Jeff Bezos question mark. So I’ll explain to you what it means. So there are these daily reports that are automated and sent out to all Amazon’s leadership. For the most important metrics that everyone needs to be monitoring at all times. And if Jeff Bezos sees something that he does not like in the metrics he sort of pulls out that section of the record and forwards it to a head of the category with nothing but a question mark. Literally no additional text. It’s as if he’s so utterly disappointed that he cannot even muster words. So that gets forwarded from the category leader effectively down to the person who’s responsible for that metric. You know I think like all those who have received emails from execs, usually you put together a thoughtful response and you’re done. But at Amazon you are not done. You are held accountable for the inertial period of time and you know – into exactly the root cause of the problematic metric and coming up with an action plan to ensure that there is an immediate turn around. So one of the jobs I had in Amazon, I was in operation movies category and that was where I received my first Jeff Bezos question mark. So I’ll remember forever because I was responsible for the Gilmore Girls complete series. So disc number 24 out of a 42 disc set was defective.
So it’s actually a cool program – it’s actually borrowed from Toyota production systems. At Toyota – if you’re on the manufacturing line you see the the same defect twice pass by you, there’s a physical cord you can pull to stop the line. So we can go back and take a look at you know whether there’s some root cause is coming out from that unit and stop more from being produced. So at Amazon, in other words pull if the same customer receives essentially have the same problem twice; so they purchase the product it has a defect, something’s wrong with it they return it in a free replacement and that free replacement has the exact same defect. So the equivalent of pulling the cord is the buy box is removed from the detail page. So then no other customers can purchase a product that could potentially be defected. So the value results in lost revenue and becomes problematic. So anyway so I dug into the report and all our stock had disc #24 defective, and I was responsible for a plan to fix that. I could go into detail around that. But suffice it to say that it you know resulted in cleaning our inventory and also the very insist on high standard customer centric solution which was to work with manufacturer 7,000 disc #24’s to proactively ship them to all customers who have purchased this series because many of them had not yet gotten to this 24.
Hailey Friedman: So how do you feel about Gilmore girls?
Kristina Wallender: Yeah it’s funny because I actually forgot what was happening in Rory’s life at the time you know – in the whole series. But it actually up until this incident had been one of my favorite shows in college and I think I do think about it a little differently.
Hailey Friedman: So the secret sauce, so the secret sauce is having the founder have an eye on every piece of metric that goes through the company even if it’s as tiny as a Gilmore girl disc 24…
Kristina Wallender: That’s right. So our CEO a man at the time who is responsible for a 60 billion dollar company, who’s sending an email about a product that by our own sales ranking algorithm was not that popular. Like we only sold 6,000 units at point and time like DVD’s is like you know is the largest category on Amazon at the time and there’s like a lot of other priorities as you can imagine. I mean this is where it boils down to a kind of person who can work in environment where actually you can imagine pulling dvds. I had in a sort of a job and lots of responsibilities – and the number of hours of sleep that I lost over disc #24. The thing is because you’ve got a whole customer centric obsession it’s like a religion. So in doing the right thing for the customer we’ve got a lot of good stuff. We created a higher customer experience and high standard and everyone from top to bottom understands what that means and is accountable.
Hailey Friedman: I think there’s 2 things here it’s like first of all measuring, being able have the tracking and measurement in place to be able to identify that there is you know one disc missing or set -or really just like being able to measuring absolutely everything in your business so that you can identify what’s working and what’s not. And then the other thing is like – having a founder and people like that care deeply enough about the littlest things about customer experience right. Cause we want this – perfect customer experience for everyone.
Kristina Wallender: Yeah Amazon wasn’t like the metrics we were looking at like you can’t see revenue but the mantra is focused on the input. The revenues is output. Like revenue is a matter of having the greatest selection, having the lowest prices, having a product in stock when customers come to detail pages, having a great customer experience. And so we looked at things like contacts 4,000 units ordered in this term called fast-track which is like the percent of time customer comes to a product detail page and the receive a product and you know the shipping today – But the things that people are measuring on revenue they’re the inputs that drive revenue. So it’s measuring I guess like holding yourselves accountable to the right metrics.
Hailey Friedman: Yeah so I think for a lot of us we, I’ve never worked at a company as large as Amazon. I’ve only worked in startup world for a lot of these people I think they’re probably working in startups as marketers or some at bigger companies and you kind of have the opportunity to work at this enormous company that you know tracks everything and everything runs like really smoothly right. And then you kind of went from there and you went to the startup right. So how many people would think were at Ticketfly when you joined?
Kristina Wallender: About a hundred when I joined.
Hailey Friedman: So tell us about kind of that transition from an enormous structured company to a start-up; what was that like and like what did you take with you from Amazon and kind of implemented at Ticketfly?
Kristina Wallender: Yeah it was definitely, it was a bit of whiplash. It was very different and I guess like I realize how much I take it for granted… I worked for big companies JP Morgan, Amazon, Chase… these are big businesses that kind of like one of these policies and cost as an automation in place and then came to a place where they’re still building all that. And so a lot my of observation about Ticketfly in the early days were more observation about the company that stage in its lifecycle. But I certainly brought things although I’ll say that I learned things at Ticketfly that I never would have learned at Amazon and you know I talk a lot of friends that were still at Amazon and they’re like you know should I leave and go into a early stage company? What’s it like? It’s kind of hard to leave the stock money, I know. But I would make that decision a hundred times over. I mean it just a new way because the things I take for granted now is my job to build them. So all the time you start realizing how hard it is frankly – and there’s a lot of learning that comes with all that. But yes what I took. Well the thing I’m most proud of is leveraging core values as a strategic advantage. So Amazon has core values. They’re called leadership principles, there are 14 of them and talk at any Amazonian ever they can recite all of that of them from memory. They’re things like is this the high standard? Think big. Be right a lot. They were so deeply ingrained in the culture and the vernacular I think this is the basis on which… interviewing your – your interview the – signing out core values and you’ve got that – how many do you think… So you’re assessing people again – values for them and that’s for women in business promotions and you know it’s the course for letting folks go. So it’s just the language is like so infused and you can hear these words all the time. it’s always easy to remember because…you know rating the values that people have goals or need to work on. So anyway…we have values…document somewhere that it took me awhile to…actually. Like yeah – what are the core values here? And I’m like okay what am – hiring him…it feels – marketing functioning stuff I can do but like you know what – does. And yeah so – there is document somewhere and I’m like okay it’s – it out and it’s like you know some of the things I never but clearly like they’re you know they’re on a document somewhere not really budgeting that. So thing I’m most proud of is championing an initiative which took a while to really bring to life but to redefine our values and you know and sort of you know use them in sort of the day-to-day of the company.
Hailey Friedman: Totally and just to provide a little more context; so Kristina joined Realtyshares shares at a similar time in our life and a inflection point and a company that’s going from a start-up to you know a big company that’s 120 people big and now we need processes and now we need to know where our core values are and hire against them right. As a startup you’re kind of throwing things against the wall hoping some things, some doesn’t iterating testing quickly. So you know so Kristina is kind of helping us with that process right now and it’s incredibly helpful. So you were able to take a bunch of these learnings create like a process and structure and an organization at Ticketfly.
Kristina Wallender: Not everything worked, I would say. It’s a different company and a different culture that you’re experiencing that didn’t fit the culture at Ticketfly like live events.
Hailey Friedman: Maybe explain what Ticketfly is for people who don’t know.
Kristina Wallender: I know I’m like yeah okay Ticketfly is basically like Ticketmaster but nicer and better technology. So Ticketfly’s clients are vendors and promoters and so the reason they chose Ticketfly is it’s a great marketing platform. Actually folks – here to help me better and so and you know the fans of Ticketfly – can essentially buy tickets from them using Ticketfly technology. So it’s kind of b2b2c which as marketers really fine because our marketing is actually to both businesses and consumers. I wasn’t sure I kind of felt like two roads were diverging in the woods- like was I going to be a b2b or b2c marketer and I like them both. I did both at Amazon and so Ticketfly I didn’t have to choose.
Hailey Friedman: You don’t have to choose at Realtyshares either.
Kristina Wallender: So yeah one of the things that’s kind…so Amazon’s leadership principles dive deep. One of that ways that manifest itself is in these six pagers – are very detailed written documents. So there’s no problems, no one in Amazon is ever presented anything from the powerpoint – somewhere along the line…like PowerPoint is the tool for me…. I totally disagree by the way I just want you to know that I actually think PowerPoint’s a great communication tool. However at Amazon that…and everything was kind of printed out in sort of word document form and but I did like about that though is like the depth of thinking and analysis that you go into when you’re actually writing on the form it is you know it gives you more space to go deeper. And so meetings would begin with printing out essentially a copy of what. Maybe you’re investigating something or planning or whatever. Everyone on the table gets a printed copy. You spend the first 15 minutes in silence, reading through you know the materials that represent it and the balance of the time is spent discussing the material and frankly pushing Amazon and pushing I disagree. I think there’s something – you know those sort of things. But it makes you better and so as opposed to I think you know the thing I like about it is like the discussion. I think often when you are presenting you might be consuming.a lot of the airtime with like excluding your point and people could read faster than people could present. So you actually wind up using the time a little bit more efficiently but I did an early effort to introduce that sort of at Ticketfly…it just like we did a lot of presentations like that’s how venues and promoters of how we were communicating are you know sort of story to them and if – that was an important vehicle for us as a company that’s you know it was kind of critical for all of our sales conversations and so it was the place where actually PowerPoint is really valued or not Powerpoint – presentations were valued. And so anyway there were less one-pagers and sort of adapt to the tools that make no sense for the culture.
Hailey Friedman: I think, sounds like maybe that one tool or that one yeah like printing out for meetings didn’t work for Ticketfly but a lot of things did. Can you tell us a little bit about some “aha” moments you had around – and things that worked really well at Ticketfly or just in general as a marketer?
Kristina Wallender: My biggest “aha” moment was when someone introduced me to the know-feel-do framework for planning your communications. So essentially it’s before you starting interacting anything a word or presentation or an email you know whatever; you know something important – bringing out what do you want people to know, what do you want your audience to know, who’s your audience by the way, what do you want them to know, how you want them to feel and what you want to do. And it sounds kind of perfunctory. It’s not. I’ve seen firsthand the transformation that presentations that kind of feel like they’re all over the place but when you actually take a step back put on a whiteboard: What do we want people to know, how do you want them to feel, what do you want them to do and sure enough you find out that some of the places the presentations going bayward because we’re not actually, we’re not driving towards those things. And I found it significantly through my own presentations. I have literally never give a presentation without writing my no-feel-do out first. It’s also a great tool as a you know I’m here so you know if my team is so Hailey you write out your know-feel-do.
Hailey Friedman: This is my first fireside chat for Badass Marketers and Founders and Kristina help me write out my know-feel-do from what I wanted to happen here tonight.
Kristina Wallender: Exactly and so based on that then we can say that’s a real standard; that’s what we’re trying to shoot for. So then let’s say you put something together to the forum that I felt didn’t like missed one of the no’s.
Hailey Friedman: So I wanted you to know that Josh created this enormous community; I wanted you to know that there’s now a San francisco based community that will be meeting and there’s a Facebook group that I want you to join. I want you to feel excited, to be a part of this community and yeah that it’s local and that it’s accessible – and then I wanted you to do, I wanted you to first of all I want you like this experience.
Kristina Wallender: Sign up for the San Francisco chapter of Badass Marketers and Founders.
Hailey Friedman: That’s the do. I also have a blog called growthmarketingpro.com and I’d love for you to subscribe and I’m probably going to share a recording of this to everyone who is subscribed. That was the do. So that helped me plan for tonight.
Kristina Wallender: So let’s say I’ve seen a little bit of what we’re going to present and I could say like you know like I’m not sure that we’re getting people excited enough here. Now we’ve already briefed that part of the field is they are excited. So instead of Kristina’s subjective assessment that like people should be more excited, in fact where it’s just upholding the content that were agreeing to all aline on – and you’re playing really important communication; actually find it’s effective across her team to perform. Anyone does any work just find the root of the problem because sometimes you see preconditions like 50 slides oh my God this is like a lot of content like I’m not even really sure exactly where this is going or where as if you started with the know feel do; we could have seen a lot of like you know superfluous slide creation.
Hailey Friedman: Yeah I also did a know-feel-do for the presentation I did just before this before now right like what I wanted is the stakeholders to understand. I wanted them to feel you know a little concerned about this one issue we have and I want them to feel motivated to solve it and feel like they were bought in to give me the support we need to move forward. Maybe we should see if the audience has any questions for you.
[someone in the audience] In a little tiny company and we have no money, so as a marketing person, What do you do first? What’s essential? how do you start making money?
Kristina Wallender: Yeah that’s a great question. So honestly this is actually this is sort of probably all of us are – because even if you’re a big company you have the same challenges like you know you think like okay big company like Amazon there’s a ton of resources like half the resources you need to achieve your goals. So the concept of kind of like figuring out where you start and what the highest things are is really important. I mean I guess I would say like the very first thing I would do is invest in really understanding your customers which sounds also kind of basic…also kind of – but like more than you know like your own kind of personal assessment of the you know their needs or whatever else. But like deeper persona research but really going deeper to understand your product. I’m not sure exactly what it is but sort of like ideas in their lives and all that. The reason I say that exercise interviewing customers essentially doing things to better understand their needs, where they’re spending their time if you can figure out that prior to more cost effectively and what languages they’re using. When they tell you about their problems that helps you write better marketing copy. So it helps you work smarter in addition to harder. I also think if you’re super early stage you know they say tomorrow’s actually like a really great way you know so… resources and time and all that. But you know if you have you know great content and you know even it’s not even that hard to do identify like who is breaking out of their state and you know reach out to them. You don’t necessarily need a PR firm or a PR person to try to establish you know relationships between Expedia and the CEO willing to offer themselves up to, like that’s really great as well. So yeah. Just a few thoughts.
Hailey Friedman: And just to piggy-back off PR being really important. I know that one of the first things you realize Mark, director marketing of Realtyshares one of the things he realizes is that PR is huge and how do you replicate that experience so a couple of things we tried at first is native advertising they’re like Outbrain and Taboola, Yahoo is native advertising just which means just you know people are reading a Forbes article – and you post there’s an ad that feels like part of the experience and not an ad or I think there are companies that have sponsored content. So if people like that when they’re reading other pages and they land on this piece of sponsored content that looks just like the rest of their content that’s another kind of another way to create PR.
[someone in the audience] When in the company lifecycle do see hiring a full time growth marketer?
Kristina Wallender: Yeah that’s also that’s a good one too. Because I think probably the thing I’ve spent the most time talking to other marketers about is organizational design. like how do you design your team and like what rules you hire first and you know it’s definitely a challenge all marketers face depending on your 5th employee whether or B2B or B2C it’ll take you kind of in different directions there. I guess so there’s a lot of different models for the sort of company life cycle stage development one that I sort of like is you’ve got the market validation phase, you’ve got the revenue phase, you have the revenues basically getting up to like 10 million revenue…people and then you got the scale phase…and so certainly if you’re hitting the revenue phase that is the time to consider a growth marketer. Growth marketing is a term that is native on the team. What I love about it is how action oriented it is. You’re kind of pivoting from the market validation. We already have a enough customers that people want and you’re trying to really demonstrate and scale your revenue that is definitely time to start thinking about it.
[someone in the audience] With your experience at Amazon and 2 startups, when you’re thinking of growth, what kind of key metrics that you were using and how do you determine those and when to change those metrics in later stages?
Kristina Wallender: Yeah. That’s a great question. I’m not sure there’s any one-size-fits all. So, for instance Ticketfly, honestly when I joined Ticketfly knowing it was B2B2C I guess I thought I was going to spend my time on consumer marketing. I thought wow! I was missing out so many shows and people should be tell me about these things. I don’t want to miss when my favorite artist comes to town. But what I learned about Ticketfly’s business model which was very B2B2C like holding tickets to sell the fans we acquire the supporters