I’m excited to bring Emily Hackeling to you for Episode 1 of the What’s Working Now podcast! Emily is Content Marketing Lead at Front, a collaborative team email SaaS company based in San Francisco that supports over 6000 customers. They’ve received $138 million in venture funding, and they’ve been featured in a variety of news stories, including by the New York Times.
I’ve been working with Emily and her team for a couple of years now and I’ve watched them just crush it — both from a product standpoint and with their marketing. I know you’ll enjoy hearing what she has to share.
(3:25) Focus on the customer for successful rebranding.
[Two branding agencies] helped us to craft our narrative to uplevel our brand and come up with something that actually matched what our true customer base is and was feeling. The platform has really evolved, and our brand did not reflect the new offerings. This was a really cool process to discover what our users are truly getting from Front and how we can convey that with our brand.
(6:52) Become a leader in your industry by providing resources that help your customers get better at their jobs.
One of the things that’s part of our brand ethos is to help educate the people who are in our community. We’re evolving ourselves into, hopefully, a leader in this customer communication and customer relationship space.
(11:14) Maintain your brand voice by working with content creators that are aligned with your culture.
The way we handle voice and tone has evolved over time, over the last several years. We do have a style guide with a vocabulary of the words that we use, words that we don’t use, bad examples, good examples, all that fun stuff that you would typically have in a style guide. But what it really comes down to is finding people whose opinions and perspectives align.
(15:00) Accessible training content creates marketing opportunities and advocates for your brand.
With Classroom, customers have a dedicated place where they can find a learning pathway, depending on what team they’re a part of. If you’re a part of a support team, a sales team, success team, etc., you can find all the content you need and find examples from other customers on what they’re doing with Front.
(18:06) Tell your stories in different ways to attract new audiences.
We’ve really worked on expanding the ways we tell different stories. Sometimes just changing the format can give you a totally new piece of content or a new audience that is looking at the same content. I think my advice would just be to not get stuck in a rut of telling the same types of stories in the same ways.
(20:56) When your product serves different types of users, use cases highlight the features most beneficial to a particular group.
We have many verticals, and they all use Front in a different way and have a different set of features that they love. So we have to break that down for people rather than overwhelming them with this product that can use for many different things.
(23:12) For great content, write from a unique, strong point of view.
Something that I would leave with everyone is that great content comes from that strong point of view that makes your content different than others. And if you can find a way to share your point of view with your writers, you’ll be able to scale much more quickly.
(Laura 0:51) Welcome to Episode 1 of What’s Working Now! I’m excited to bring Emily Hackeling to you for this episode. Emily is Content Marketing Lead at Front, which is a collaborative team email SaaS company based in San Francisco supporting over 6000 customers. They’ve received $138 million in venture funding, and they’ve been featured in a variety of news stories, including by the New York Times.
I’ve been working with Emily and her team for a couple of years now and I’ve watched them just crush it — both from a product standpoint and with their marketing. I know you’ll enjoy hearing what she has to share. Emily, thanks so much for coming on today!
(Emily 1:37) Hey, Laura, thanks for having me. It’s great to be here. Happy Friday!
(Laura) Happy Friday to you! Let’s start with a snapshot of what Front offers and the role that you play there.
(Emily) Sure! So Front is just like you said, a collaborative email product for businesses. Teams that use Front are those who rely on email for their everyday processes and need to collaborate in shared inboxes or via comments and through complicated workflows and automations. Front is really a customer communication platform — you can manage more than just your email in it. You could plug in SMS texting, live chat, and any other messaging channel that you might use to message your customers.
At Front, I lead the content marketing team. We are a small but mighty team of two in-house. But we rely heavily on freelancers, such as Laura, who does an amazing job helping us out.
I help manage our blog at Front, which is called Front Page and has newly launched in the last two months. I also manage the rest of our lead-gen content. We have a video series that we’re launching soon, and we have a podcast coming out. I help with a lot of our product messaging, and just generally any words that need to be written.
(Laura 3:19) And Front rebranded recently, right?
(Emily 3:25) Yes, we did. We went through a really cool process with a company called 21st Century Brand Agency, as well as a company called, I lost the name for a moment. But anyway, we worked with these two great brand agencies, and they helped us to craft our narrative, do some user research, and talk to different customers around the country. What we wanted to do was really uplevel our brand and come up with something that actually matched what our true customer base is and was feeling. Because as Front has grown. We began as sort of a shared inbox tool, but the platform has really evolved into something different, and our brand did not reflect what that new offering was. So this was a really cool process to discover what our users are truly getting from Front and how we can convey that with our brand. And, how should that tone of voice come out in our content?
(Laura 4:37) Nice! And I love the focus on the customer. It’s easy to get carried away with all these ideas for branding. But really, it’s all about the customer, so starting there is a really smart strategy.
(Emily 4:51) Yes, I love that they did that. And it was just amazing to be able to speak to customers who we never normally would have been able to. Many of our users are companies that are very far away from where our offices are based, so it was really enlightening for us.
(Laura 5:09) So, let’s talk about Front Page. It’s a blog, but it’s actually a lot more than that. And storytelling is really central. So can you tell us a little bit about what you’re doing with it and the strategy behind it?
(Emily 5:22) Sure! I am thrilled about Front Page and what it is right now and what it should become. It’s really going to be Front’s media brand. So, right now, we have content on there that is mostly written. A lot of the projects we’re working on right now are in the multimedia space. As we grow and begin to launch some of these new multimedia projects, Front Page will really be the centralized hub for people who want to learn how to strengthen the heart of their business (that’s what we’re calling it), [and] for customer-facing leaders who want to strengthen relationships with their customers. They can come to Front Page and get inspiration, get tips, and understand how other companies are better serving their customers and strengthening those relationships. We aim to evolve it into something much larger. This is just the beginning.
(Laura 6:26) Awesome. That’s smart to base the education and information on the key pieces your product helps with. Helping them get better at their jobs.
(Emily 6:52) Absolutely. One of the things we wanted to do that’s part of our brand ethos really, is to help educate the people who are in our community. And by doing that, evolve ourselves into, hopefully, a leader in this customer communication and customer relationship space. Even if someone isn’t ready to buy Front right now, we want to be able to help them with whatever they’re working on and give them inspiration. And then maybe 10 years down the road when they are in a position, then they’ll think of Front as being the best solution. So that’s really the long term strategy with Front Page.
(Laura 7:37) Now, I know a lot of SaaS companies really struggle with thought leadership. I think because they have a hard time figuring out how to fit it into their strategy overall. But having a strong point of view can really help build your brand. And I know that your CEO, Mathilde, is doing a lot with thought leadership. So can you tell us a little bit about that and how it connects with your content strategy overall?
(Emily 8:08) Absolutely. Part of the reason I love working at Front is that the company is very invested in content. And that really starts from the top down. So Mathilde has, from the moment I interviewed with her, been very invested in the voice and the tone, and the thoughts coming out from the company — the points of view — and she remains invested in it today. Which makes my job very easy and extremely fun. Her platform is really incredible, and the position that she takes is very genuine. So her content comes straight from her. It’s all true things that she’s learning and feeling as she is developing this company.
And six years later, that remains true today. We’re not forcing her to publish things on behalf of the marketing team. I think that is really our take on thought leadership: if it’s going to work and actually inspire people, it needs to be real. So that genuine element is just something that we will maintain forever here at Front. And I think that’s actually what has made her content and her thoughts so successful here thus far.
(Laura 9:31) Yeah, that’s awesome. And it really comes across. You’re doing a lot with multimedia in that regard as well — featuring her thoughts in videos. And really, having her out there in front of Front, I think it really does something for your brand. So, that’s a really cool strategy.
(Emily 9:56) Thank you. Yeah. What has been really neat for us, is taking some of her point of view from her platform and translating that to the rest of the company. So, we think about it as separate points of view. Mathilde has her platform and her opinions, and then Front, the company, has its own opinions that are obviously very aligned with hers, but it’s a separate tone. And then Front Page that we are developing will have its own tone as well. And so there’s a lot of different ways there that we can share similar ideas from different perspectives. And that’s kind of the hope with the separate media brand is that we can develop another point of view there.
(Laura 10:43) So that brings me to another question. Talking about voice and tone, I know a lot of companies struggle with it. If they have a style guide, they have trouble actually getting people to follow it and create cohesiveness. You mentioned that everyone kind of has their own unique tone but it’s cohesive. You can recognize this person as a Front person. How are you guys accomplishing that?
(Emily 11:14) That’s a great question. I think that’s something I’m always working to get better at. We do have a style guide. We have a vocabulary of the words that we use, words that we don’t use a lot, bad examples, good examples, all that fun stuff that you would typically have in a style guide. But what it really comes down to, I think, and what I’ve seen work in the past, is finding people who you align with, their opinions and their perspectives.
So for Front Page, for instance, we did a kind of initial search to find different writers and contributors. And in talking to lots of different writers across the country, and then some in Europe as well, we just found people who were really excited by the mission we have, which is to enable people to feel their impact at work and enable these businesses to become stronger and closer to their customers. When you find people who align with your purpose, and are excited by that, no matter where they’re coming from or what they’re doing for their work, or where they grew up, or whatever, they will bring a really cool perspective to the company. And that’s something we’re working to evolve on Front Page.
So, for instance, some of the writers we talked to — one was the principal of an elementary school. Some are classic B2B tech freelance writers, some are leaders at other companies who are leading customer-facing teams. We’ve talked to people who are in the logistics industry who are leading a shipping and trucking team. So, all these people have different perspectives, but they align with our mission, and that helps create a tone that we really like and that we hope to evolve on Front Page.
(Laura 13:31) So it’s really about the culture and not necessarily dictating all of the points in fine detail. If they’re aligned with the culture and where you guys are headed, then you know however they come across is going to be aligned with the brand.
(Emily 13:49) Absolutely. And on that same note, we use a lot of perspectives from within our company, which helps create that genuine feel like I was mentioning before with Mathilde. So, we have content from our head of HR, from our head of engineering, from engineers, who are just starting their careers. We have content from our workplace experience manager — she’s helping us write something right now, actually. So, support managers, people on the marketing team, salespeople — we tap into individuals at the company who want to share their perspectives. Obviously, they’re aligned to our mission by nature of working here.
(Laura 14:47) I also really love what you guys are doing on the customer side of things with Front Classroom. Can you share a little bit about that and how it works with Front Page?
(Emily 15:00) Absolutely. So, that’s an amazing initiative that was launched recently by one of our product marketing managers, Logan. She’s done a fantastic job with it. It’s our guided learning hub for people who want to learn how to get the most out of Front. The part of the strategy around this in relation to Front Page is that we wanted a place for some of our thought leadership content and our educational content around customer relationships, in general, to be separate from tips and tricks and in the weeds content about Front itself. We didn’t want to have a confusing experience of like, “Am I learning about Front? or Am I listening to a podcast with other leaders?” We didn’t want to confuse people in that way.
Customers, now with Classroom, have a dedicated place they can go to and find a learning pathway, depending on what team they’re a part of. If you’re a part of a support team, a sales team, success team, etc., you can find all the content you need. And find examples from other customers on what they’re doing with Front.
So, I’m really excited about Classroom because it’s an amazing tool for our customers, but it’s really great for prospects as well. On the lead generation side, if somebody is on the verge of buying and considering Front, we can send them a lot of that content, and they can get a really clear understanding of what they’ll get from Front from there.
(Laura 16:40) Very cool. And I love the examples from customers and how they’re using it. Seeing how customers are using it in unique ways, especially with all the different integrations and all of that, just allows people to get new ideas. And for prospects, get them excited about what they could do.
(Emily 17:02) Absolutely, it’s kind of like, let’s jump into the world of possibilities — here are some of the things you can do with Front. And that’s what we try to do for prospects when they’re close to closing. Really open up that world and say, you know, this could grow into something really big for you.
(Laura 17:19) Really everything you’re doing revolves around storytelling, and it’s such an effective way to do content. I feel like storytelling is a buzzword, but you rarely see B2B companies doing a good job of it. So many people stop at traditional case studies. And then that’s the end of storytelling. You guys are doing a really good job at that. So I was wondering if you could share any advice for other SaaS companies that are looking to do more storytelling. What advice would you have to share with them?
(Emily 18:06) Yeah, that’s a great question. I think we’re always working to do more of it, too, and expand the ways we tell different stories. Because sometimes, just changing the format can give you a totally new group of a new audience that is looking at the same content. I think my advice would just be to not get stuck in a rut of telling the same types of stories in the same ways. And a good tangible way to do that is to take your customer stories as they’re written on your website and just say, “All right, what’s another format I can put this in so that I can put it on a different platform and get it in front of a new audience?” And that might mean taking a clip from the customer while you were having the interview and saying, “Hey, can we post this on our YouTube channel?” Looking for new outlets for you to get that content out there. And it’s a new interesting way to tell the story.
Another thing I would say is, I’m continually looking at examples from other sites, but I try not to limit myself to companies that are like ours. So I’m not just looking through competitors’ blogs and things like that. I’m instead looking at how I can take ideas from B2C companies, or how I can take ideas from industries that our customers are in, like logistics or the travel space, or marketing agencies, and tell stories in ways that they tell stories. And that often brings a lot of cool ideas to the forefront. So, it might be like an animated infographic we made recently. Or writing up an interview and publishing it on an external publication. So those are some ways that we try to mix things up and tell stories in different ways.
(Laura 20:31) That’s awesome. In addition to the zoomed-in customer stories where you’re featuring a specific customer and how they’re using the software, I’ve noticed that you guys also do a lot with use cases — how different personas or different industries could use the product. Can you explain a little bit about how you’re using those use cases?
(Emily 20:56) Yeah, so one of the many challenges of marketing Front is that it can be used by so many different types of customers. And that’s also one of the things I love about it — it’s a very wide-open market. But in order to help people understand how Front would be valuable to them and create an urgency for them to purchase the product, we do have to do a lot of storytelling to animate and bring to life the possibilities for them in particular.
So that’s our reasoning for creating use cases and building content around them. We have many verticals, and they all use Front in a different way and have a different set of features that they love. So we have to break that down for them and make sure that we’re not overwhelming them with this product that can do many different things. For instance, we have customer support teams, customer success teams, operations, sales teams. On our website, right now, we also build content specifically for logistics teams, and marketing agencies, financial companies, things like that. We have all these different verticals. And depending on where each of them like to find their content, we build content for them in different ways.
For instance, the logistics use case — they like to attend conferences and events. So that’s something that we do more of now as well. We’ll attend events with them and get in front of their eyes there, rather than spending a lot of time creating blogs for them or creating ebooks, because that’s not their preference. I think creating that use case content allows us to tell the same story. It’s the same product, it has the same features, but we get to put it through a different lens for a different audience.
(Laura 22:59) This has been great. Is there anything else that you’d like to share that I haven’t given you the opportunity to talk about?
(Emily 23:12 ) You know, this has been awesome. I think that one thing I have been learning, especially over the last year is the importance of relying on external help when you’re scaling a content program. And that’s why I work with Laura here. But I think that has really enabled us to grow.
Also having a strong point of view at Front. We actually have a document that’s called Hot Takes that we’ve been building up right now — it’s all of our opinions on various things from anything like, “Is it good to hit inbox zero?” to “Do we like working from home?” So that’s going to be something that we share out broadly with all of our freelance writers in hopes that it can really help people understand where the company is coming from and be able to write content from that point of view.
So that’s something that I would leave with everyone: great content comes from that strong point of view that makes your content different than others. And if you can find a way to share that with your writers, you’ll be able to scale much more quickly.
(Laura 24:34) And that goes so much further than just a style guide, It’s like you said with the point of view and the thought leadership.
(Laura 24:48) Well, this has been amazing. Emily, thank you so much. I know that people will be really energized by the ideas that you’ve shared. And I thank you so much for coming on.
(Emily 24:59) Of course. Thanks for having me, Laura.