Marketing Yourself with Heart & Soul -- yes, it's possible!

It was music to my ears when Andy Didorosi, Head of Marketing for Basecamp and HEY.com, started talking about the soul-less-ness of traditional Marketing (with a capital M, as he called it), versus the impact of marketing when your heart is in it.

Here's my favorite part of the conversation -- you'll hear me literally laughing out loud: 

Marketing with metrics would be like going to a conference or a party and having a clicker in one hand and with every person you talk to, you're clicking the thing. "I've got 34 impressions at this party." It's just lame and it, and it's gameable, you know. So let's say you're trying to get the most clicks on the thing. You would speed run around that room, shaking people's hands and clicking the clicker. And that's what a lot of this  Facebook ad BS feels like -- it's like trying to click this stupid clicker, thinking that each time you get in front of someone it's all equal and it's just not. Whereas, if you had 30 people in a room, but you spoke to each one of them about what they care about, and what their troubles are and what they're thinking about, they're never gonna forget about that. They're going to keep that interaction forever. That's what we're trying to do. 

There's so much more to our chat -- so listen here (or below) and scroll down for the episode's transcript.

 

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Transcript of Podcast Episode #414 with Andy Didorosi

ilise benun
I had no idea where the conversation would go, when I got on with Andy Didorosi, Head of Marketing for Basecamp and Hey.com, but immediately we were on the same page, despite the fact that my focus, as you probably know, dear listener, is marketing for creative professionals, and Andy does marketing for, from my vantage point, a pretty big software company.

ilise benun
It was music to my ears however when he started talking about the soullessness of traditional marketing, with a capital M, as he called it, versus the impact of marketing when your heart is in it. And he talked about the power of writing as a marketing tool, and the marinating and thinking that comes first, and especially how, if you think something through before taking action, you often don't actually need to do it. Plus, he's a great guy, very down to earth and accessible. So listen and learn.

ilise benun
Hello Andy welcome to the podcast Please introduce yourself.

Andy Didorosi
I'm Andy Didorosi, I am a Detroit native, and I'm the Head of Marketing at Basecamp, and hey, calm, excellent,

ilise benun
Give me a little of your background before Basecamp, in terms of how you have marketed yourself and your services over the years.

Andy Didorosi
Yeah, you know, being a head of marketing is actually like a super new thing for me. I've never had a professional marketing role before Basecamp. Before this, I was, and still am, an entrepreneur, I started a number of small companies here in Detroit, doing different things. I think I've had as many failures as successes, but the successes way outweighed the cost of the failure so that's positive. But I got into Basecamp because my experience is atypical for software, you know, and for marketing, a company like Basecamp that has told its story for a long time very successfully. There's not a lot that Basecamp did poorly so I'm working on bringing new stuff to it, and just trying to shake marketing up a little bit

ilise benun
Let's not assume everybody knows what Basecamp is and especially Hey.com. Give us the elevator pitch for those two software companies.

Andy Didorosi
Basecamp is project management software, and it's also the company. Basecamp is a place online where you can keep everything, you can stay organized. It's a place you can manage your client relations. We find a lot of creative people use it to keep their agencies running and keep other projects straight. It's great for project based work where you need to work with other people. We're all remote, we've been remote since day one and Basecamp helps us work that way. We believe in what we call asynchronous communication -- a lot of people work that way, where you don't need to be in a constant meetings all the time to work with people that you collaborate with, and you don't want to do it all in chat or email. So it's it's a bunch of tools made to run the company. It basically started as a web design company called 37 signals and Basecamp was the product that tried to make it less crazy. We emphasize that we try to run a calm company,

ilise benun
I love that, actually.

Andy Didorosi
Yeah, interesting way to work, when you're not used to it, right, like as a small business owner, everything that I've ever done is very much in person and very live. You know, every moment is is critical. And so, to think asynchronously means slowing down, being more deliberate, being more thoughtful, less knee jerky. And so it was a change of pace. I've been there just over a year, and I still have my small businesses here in Detroit too, so working asynchronously helps me do both. It lets me have my small shops and also market for this excellent company.

ilise benun
And, actually, I do want to get back to Hey.com, but that I feel like is a more robust conversation. So before we do that...I love this idea of being a calm company, especially because there's so much drama out there. So I'm curious how this calmness, or this attempt to be calm, manifests, whether in the marketing or in how you approach the marketing for Basecamp. Can you share that?

Andy Didorosi
Most companies work in chat, or they work in meetings, that's when information is exchanged. And there are a lot of downsides to that, like Slack or Teams. It's this sort of flowing river of constant conversation and if you're not logged in at that minute, you can miss a lot of stuff. People could come to consensus around some issue, and all of a sudden that chat has moved on to like a new meme or a cat joke, and something about the company was decided in this chat. And see, you're constantly watching these chats fly by and you need to stay tuned, so it interrupts your focus. You just don't have any time to get any deep work done.

Andy Didorosi
Or it's meetings, and one meeting that's two hours long with six people isn't just two hours it's actually 12 hours of staff time plus the time to get your brain ready for it and to decompress from it,. It actually probably cost you 25 or 30 hours worth of actual productive work time just to have everyone staring at each other now in Zoom bubbles, and this is just the way companies work. Everyone doesn't like it, but it's the standard so that's what we do. And with the pandemic hitting, things have gotten remote and a lot of companies have taken this same strategy and they've just grafted it digitally. They just take all the same bad practices and bring it on the net. But Basecamp doesn't work that way. We write things up,. When possible we will write a well considered messageboard thread that goes out to everybody, or everybody on a team, so that you don't need to immediately respond with your input about a new idea. Ideas are super fragile. You shouldn't just blurt out the first thing you think about them. It's helpful to read a thread, take the night and think about it, marinate, come back, then write a response. Everyone gets to consider that response. Now, I'm making it sound like we're monks or something, it's not this like perfect literary society writing these eloquent notes to each other. We have chat rooms for social stuff and we handle quick things we have to do is like anybody else. It's about finding the right scale of conversation so that you can get across everything that matters, but not have it be heavy. It's very difficult to do creative work remotely if you're used to doing it all in one room, where you just turn to somebody, interrupt them and talk about your idea. There are a lot of benefits to that, and so it takes different tools to do creative or strategic work remotely, where you're working along with people. Also we still do calls but we try to keep these small, one on one, or two people, two to three. I don't know the last time I had a call with more than three people at Basecamp, because you're trying to have a high bandwidth conversation to get it done and get back to work. It's not about these 20-30 person. I've seen some big companies here in Detroit, they'll have a 90 or 100 person zoom call --what could you possibly accomplish in 100 little chat window boxes aside from a monologue. Once you work the Basecamp way. It's really hard to go back

Andy Didorosi
I love the phrase, "the Basecamp way" and actually several years ago when I interviewed Jason Fried, one of the co founders of Basecamp, he had, just that day, In fact, given the very first workshop called The Basecamp Way. Are you guys still doing that?

Andy Didorosi
I haven't heard of one. I don't think we've had one since I've been here like a year and some months, you know, I wasn't using that as like an official marketing term with a trademark at the end, a little TM. But you know I'm someone who read the books before I came to Basecamp. I read the handbook online. I like tried to emulate the Basecamp way, like the Basecamp method in my own small companies and found parts that worked and parts that didn't. You know it's a little different when it's not software, when it's like a physical thing like a boat, you know, I own a bus company, so it's very operationally heavy, lots of things happen in the minute. You can't write up a beautiful note about a bus that's broken down on the freeway. You know you're on the phone, and we have operations too we have servers that go down and all these things that need immediate conversation on the phone or on chat. These things happen, but all this stuff comes together and you can make as many conversations as possible, asynchronous, you find you have a lot more time, you just have a ton more time to think about stuff and to consider your next move and why. And what you end up doing is you end up finding out that a lot of work that you had planned is just not worth it. There's just no point because once you go through the process of thinking it through before you share it, you realize you can leave so many things at the curb, and then you have extra time, lots of time to consider. Maybe you have to be okay with stillness, you know, you have to be okay with gaps in productivity, where you're just thinking and writing, which is very unnatural for most companies,

ilise benun
You're saying all the right things and using a lot of my buzzwords, actually, especially the word marinating. You don't even know me and you used the word marinating, which I love. And you know one thing, I happened to chime in, or drop in I think is probably the right term, to a clubhouse room that you and Jason did the other night, and that helped me prepare for this conversation a lot. And one of the things I think he said that I loved and I'm curious about -- and you've kind of referred to it -- is that Basecamp only hires excellent writers. That no matter what your job title, you have to be an excellent writer. I kind of think that's amazing and so I guess one question is, are you an excellent writer?

Andy Didorosi
I don't think anyone's ever allowed to say that about themselves. It's a dark planet thing you have to have someone else like proof that. I've worked in in journalism, but I've had very little professional training or education in writing. I was the kid who, when I was going to engineering school, wanted to double major in humanities. And the humanities teacher had never been asked that before, because like, it was just like a class that they forced on people who really didn't want it. I felt it was far more interesting than mechanical engineering, to me, at least in the school sense. So, I would say if you ask people, they would say, Yeah, he's a good writer, but I still hate 99% of the things that come out of my fingertips. So you do with that what you want.

ilise benun
And maybe the real question -- I am sorry that was a fake question --maybe the real question is: What is an excellent writer?

Andy Didorosi
That's a good one. I enjoy writing, and I think that goes a long way towards having written based communication be something that you're effective at. I enjoy writing a big long thing, and then reading through it and then half of it gets shed, a bunch of it gets moved around. Generally like an extrovert and a talker, I like podcasting, it is very fun because I love just riffing on stuff. And when on stage, I met Jason speaking at an event for 99U in New York, like I'm really enjoying this. But when you write an idea -- writing is just thinking, it's just, you know, good writing is good thinking, it's clear thinking. So I try to tackle it like a little formula, you're opening something up, getting someone to be receptive to the idea, you're trying to save them the effort of decoding it. A lot of my favorite writing is twice distilled, you know, it's like, it's like super super high proof, writing where you have taken all the fluff out and all the crap, and you just get down to exactly what matters. I just signed up for a new newsletter by a writer, and the stuff that he puts out, you can tell that he's reprocessed these thoughts three or four or five times to get you exactly what matters, and that's the best kind of stuff. So I've found my fluff, my niceties on the front and back of my messages get thinner and thinner. Each month, working, because you just got to get it through, you know. Save the poetry for your literary projects but when we're talking business communication, it's not unkind to be brief. I used to labor emails and now I'm like an email machine gun, because it just shooting facts.

ilise benun
You're reminding me of that Mark Twain quote: "If I'd had more time, I would have written you a shorter message."

Andy Didorosi
He was really a genius. Yeah, our communications in Basecamp are fast and effective. And you get better at it as you go on. It's hard sometimes when you overexplain stuff, and you realize you just don't need to. You can drop links, people can define their own meaning from stuff. You know, when I share how our marketing is doing, I have some opinions in there but really it's like, here's the facts of how that thing went. And some of those facts might be perception, might be pretty subjective, as far as how people enjoyed a campaign or a project or a piece of material. We do very little as far as metrics go, we don't track much of it. We have some of it, as far as how many people are coming in through the front door, but that's not how we measure success. That's how a lot of our conversations internally go: Do we like this? Tetting that across briefly is hard at first but we get better at it.

ilise benun
Actually the name of that clubhouse room that night if you remember was "marketing without metrics" -- that was one of the things that was interesting to me. Also because I don't believe in most metrics either, and especially when it comes to email marketing, actually. So I'd love to chat with you a little bit about that, because I think email marketing is actually one of the most effective types of marketing, at least it is for me when I'm selling services or sharing content. But I don't look at my opt outs, I don't look at my opens. I don't trust the opens, and I don't really think it matters because I can tell if something is working. And as I was listening to you and Jason talk about that, you were talking mostly about, "Was it fun? Would we do it again? Did we like it?" But I am curious how you think about whether or not something works if you're not looking at the metrics. Because when I think about whether or not it works, I know if it's working, even if I'm not looking at my metrics and I imagine you do too.

Andy Didorosi
Well, you know, tracking with metrics takes a lot of the soul out of marketing projects, and people conflate marketing with advertising. They use them as synonyms but advertising is a narrow subset of what marketing truly is. Marketing is super broad. It's about everything your company does every time it touches a customer or an employee touches a supplier. That's marketing, and it can be overwhelming because then, well, everything is marketing, you know, and if you're not willing to improve those things you're not willing to really market.

Andy Didorosi
Marketing with metrics would be like going to a conference or a party and having a clicker in one hand and with every person you talk to, you're clicking the thing. "I've got 34 impressions at this party." It's just lame and it, and it's gameable, you know. So let's say you're trying to get the most clicks on the thing. You would speed run around that room, shaking people's hands and clicking the clicker. And that's what a lot of this Facebook ad BS feels like -- it's like trying to click this stupid clicker, thinking that each time you get in front of someone it's all equal and it's just not. Whereas, if you had 30 people in a room, but you spoke to each one of them about what they care about, and what their troubles are and what they're thinking about, they're never gonna forget about that. They're going to keep that interaction forever. That's what we're trying to do.

Andy Didorosi
We're trying to do things that we feel really proud of because that's really the only thing you can know. You can ask people's opinions after the fact, but when you're coming up with something new, it's really difficult to go out there and get certainty from people's opinions, ahead of time before the work is done. They're going to give me an opinion on what their image of that thing is in their brain. We had a big marketing project a couple months ago -- this dumpster fire that you could email and it would burn up your email. Whatever it was, and that project engendered strong emotions on both sides after it was done. But before the project hit, it would be really hard to explain what that looked and felt like. The way we delivered it was very bright and colorful and it was like a shared catharsis machine, you know, it was like a celebration. Describing that, some people pictured a very sort of Dickensian thing that was really nihilistic, like a big fire, they imagined it very dark in a morose way, and I can see how that project would suck and not actually be that fun. But once you saw the whole thing, then you can have a fully formed opinion on it, you know. So, the only real litmus test you have when you're doing new creative work is to ask, Do we like this? Do we feel this is exciting? Trusting your own experiences and abilities and acumen to call the right shot. And the more risk you take, the further out on a limb from traditionally you are, the greater the downside could be when you get it out to the world. There's a gap there between what your own experience is and how you think it's going to be perceived and what the actual outcome comes out to be. And you hope when you do more work, get closer to being able to read what comes out, but how many experienced people do you know that totally screw stuff up still? I don't think experience is like a bulletproof vest for this because that could lead you to more predictable stuff, trying to ship more work like he did before. So if you want to keep doing experimental stuff and you want to keep going out on a limb, you have to be comfortable with that risk and just willing to to roll the dice on it. I know I've covered a lot of things there. I'm ping ponging around but...

ilise benun
The thing I want to pick up on, before I ask you my last question, is about the attitude behind and underneath what you're describing -- this experimental attitude, "let's try this, let's just try this and see what happens" I think there's something about that that people can sense. And so they are curious and open to it and want to see what's going to happen, because there's so much out there right now that's fake and canned and planned. And don't get me started about automation, we could talk for a long time, I could rant. But I feel like what people want is what's real and almost untested. Do you agree?

Andy Didorosi
Yeah, yeah, people just want to see that you give a crap, you know? It doesn't matter if you buy some Facebook banner and you put a million and a half dollars behind it. You can't scale scale that care there, that you actually did something like worth sharing. You know, these numbers that we're pushing and everybody's trying to get through the same door, every brand out there, a lot of brands are trying to buy these constant campaigns, they are trying to get your email address so they can drip campaign the hell out of you, and they're surprised they're not getting results. Or the results they are getting are more and more expensive each year when they're renting their audience from a network. If you could clearly go out and just buy fans, the biggest companies would be the most successful, most popular, coolest ones out there. But the tool the little person has in 2021 is that you can grow the "give a crap." You can clearly, you can apply your magic, your voodoo, whatever you want to call it. And if you reach 50 people, but they clearly see that you're putting it all out there on the line, you're going to get a response, and most of the time it's going to be a good response, it's good. Every single time I phoned it in, regardless of the spend that we have attached to it, I've been punished for it. And every single time I really put my heart and soul into it and I know that I am I'm really like actually rowin', the public responds positively, like they know, they notice when you're putting your sweat into a thing. And there's no hack. There's no shortcut, you know?

ilise benun
Agreed. All right, now, my last question, thank you, and I don't think it's too personal, but if it is you don't have to answer it. But on this clubhouse the other day, Jason started out it by introducing you and saying, "we almost parted ways a couple weeks ago," Obviously you didn't, and nobody asked for some reason, what you decided to do or why you decided to stay together and not break up, if you will. So I'm just curious, what the plan is.

Andy Didorosi
Well, a little bit of context is that people feel that when they're at a company, they want to have as much as much permanence as possible, right? They want to really hunker down and that's totally understandable, it's why you work a job versus being an entrepreneur -- you want the stability and predictability and all that. But truly unless you're in some long contract or something, each time you really are renewing your utility and worth and in both ways, your employer needs to continually provide value for you. And once those are out of sync,you should look at the relationship. Now, I love Basecamp as a company, I love Jason, he's an excellent dude, and I will continue, even if I didn't work here, I would continue to read and consume everything that he writes and totally be his friend. But I wasn't enjoying the work that we were putting out, I felt that it was far too traditional, we weren't getting a good result. I did not enjoy continually expensing for stuff that just seemed like it just wasn't working. When you know Basecamp had built an excellent business for 20 years without doing this capital M marketing, this the question I posed to him: Should we actually keep doing this at all? Is there a point to what we're doing? I don't really believe in it." We had like a three hour phone call, where we were just going around the block and he's like, "Well forget the ads, forget the stuff. What do you want to do?" I was like, "We gotta get something out there." It wasn't like we had this phone call and all of a sudden we had this glorious idea. I went back and I said , "Lets just do something nobody else would do. Let's build something." And I put out some pitches and I picked six different projects that I wanted to do. And one of them was a dumpster fire which also came with launching this Hey Email Research Lab, what we call The HERL, where we build stuff. We give inanimate objects an email address. The first one is the dumpster fire. The second one is a wildly ambitious project that is 10 times more complex than the dumpster fire, which was already quite complex despite appearances, you know, making this thing work automatically. And we're gonna keep doing them and we're gonna do project number two, probably do three, four, five who knows? And when that stops being fun, we'll do something else. But we want this to be fun for us, we want this to be fun for the team at Basecamp. We want this to be fun for our existing customers and our customers to be. And for people who will never work with us, you know, never sign up for a Basecamp account. We want to build some old school weird internet that is just fun, because so much is just hand to mouth, you know, they want $1 out and $10 to come back in, and it needs to be so predictable. And this is not how we're doing this. We're trying to make something that might mistakenly become art. That's what we're doing.

ilise benun
I love it, and you know one of the things that I love about what you're saying and what I know Jason believes, also, is that we -- I include myself in that -- are really lucky, I like to say fucking lucky, because we are in a position to try things and do what we want and there's no board that we have to report to. And that kind of autonomy is what I am trying to teach, and that's why I love having people on the podcast who embody that, I like to say who "practice what I preach." So, thank you so much, Andy for doing that without really even knowing it. And give us a URL or someplace we can find you online.

Andy Didorosi
Yeah, I'm on Twitter, my handles @DetroitAndy, and then you can also email me, I'm Andy@hey.com And if you have any questions you want to run something by me, I love answering things about marketing and small business that, you know, is a good practice. So, you know, hit me up if you're listening.

ilise benun
Awesome. Be careful what you put out there because I have a very engaged audience, Andy. Alright, thank you so much and I appreciate your time.

ilise benun
I do hope that was helpful and that you can sooner rather than later, test these ideas for yourself, you will see how they can really change the way you grow your business. It's the small things that can truly have a huge impact over time, but you have to be patient. Speaking of small things, if you need a simple framework that encourages manageable and repeatable actions that can lead to big marketing success, check out the new version of my Simplest Marketing Plan. It's packed with case studies, resources, and plenty of excellent examples from the creative pros I coach, you can find it at marketing-mentor.com. I'll be back soon with more conversations with creative professionals who are practicing what I preach to overcome, once and for all the feast or famine syndrome. See you next time.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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