Why This B2B Company Just Launched an Entire Network of Shows: Inside a Growing Marketing Move
It’s foolish, I think, to make too many assumptions from the outside looking in when it comes to marketing analysis. For instance, when we look at something that appears to work and appears beloved by a given brand’s audience, we don’t know just how long it took that team to earn the necessary attention and trust over time in order for the audience to celebrate a new announcement. How much do we credit success to the thing that was launched versus the smart distribution of that thing versus the years the team spent developing brand affinity to set the table for all things? In other words, maybe we should look at equal parts history and current news when trying to understand the current news from a given brand. Right? Right. Good talk. End of post.
(If only marketing was that easy, eh?)
Last week, the analytics software company ProfitWell showcased the power of building brand affinity over time, as well as the power of announcing the thing — a thing that’s both timely and desired by their audience. Let’s take a look at what the thing was, and try to theorize why it both worked as an announcement AND will continue to work as they roll things out. But before I use a lot of words on this, let’s use just a few so we all kinda just “get it.”
Imagine an entire network of shows dedicated entirely to YOUR job.
Think about your favorite streaming service. Think about your favorite traditional channel. Picture the variety of shows, the personalities and characters, and the pure binge-ability of it all.
Now imagine someone invented that … but for your career.
ProfitWell’s New Network of Shows: CNN for SaaS?
In a blog post discussing a slew of new things coming from the brand, ProfitWell revealed that they’ll be rolling out a network of original series. The network is called the “Recur Network,” which is a nod to the software-as-a-service industry’s focus on recurring revenue. On Recur’s landing page is one of the most useful yet oft-overlooked approaches for marketing showrunners: a trailer. (Admittedly, it’s a little heavy-handed for the casual viewer. But for their audience? It’s perfect.) Most notably, this trailer conveys what any announcement of a single show or entire network should convey, but often doesn’t: “There’s a lot of exciting stuff here, and it’s all for YOU.”
My source inside the firm tell me that both podcasts and video shows are in the works, but it’s mainly video. The same source told me to refer to him as “Patrick Campbell, CEO and cofounder of ProfitWell.” Because we’re #NotANewsWebsite, but #SometimesBreakNews?
For those unfamiliar with ProfitWell, the more you look into this rising tide of marketers making shows, the more you’ll hear about them. They’ve been blazing a trail worth studying for years now.
ProfitWell began existence as a company called Price Intelligently, which is still a major product for them. Combining that flagship product with their new suite of software tools, ProfitWell effectively provides an end-to-end system of measuring the health of a SaaS business. They help their customers reduce churn, optimize pricing, and grow their software product subscriptions.
A longtime proponent of longform editorial, ProfitWell moved into the showrunning space several years ago with the launch of Pricing Page Teardown, a fast-paced, data-ridden video series looking at famous brands’ (and, sometimes, Kanye West‘s) pricing strategies. Now entering its fourth season, the show features Patrick and ProfitWell GM Peter Zotto debating which competitor got it right or wrong, gesticulating at mountains of data (which Patrick deftly deconstructs into usable information), and generally having a grand ol’ time of it.
On an original series.
From a brand.
Talking about … pricing.
(I slowly remove my hat labeled Objectivity and place it on the desk.)
Y’all. ProfitWell’s topics are boring!
I mean, pricing? Churn? The back-end systems of measuring the operational efficiencies and various drivers of revenue and customer retention for businesses fully entrenched in what’s become known as the subscription economy? ProfitWell is NOT (and please excuse the over-used examples from the marketing echo-chamber here) Red Bull, Marriott, Apple, or Taco Bell!
But here’s the thing: ProfitWell’s shows don’t feel boring. That’s because ProfitWell’s team has a long history of carefully crafting genuine shows, not yet another series of “interviews with experts.” Most crucially of all, however: To ProfitWell’s audience, this stuff is not boring. It’s riveting. It’s business-altering. It’s the most foundational thing of all, in the words of Patrick: truth.
Underpinning their shows, regardless of topical area of exploration, or whether it’s video or audio, guested or co-hosted, ProfitWell clings to that one idea of truth. They don’t talk about the nitty gritty of installing analytics tools or publish stuff like 7 Tips for Being More Data-Driven. Instead, they search for truth. They hunt for it like a pack of wild dogs, if those dogs decided to shower, throw on some flannel and white-rubber-soled sneakers, and film their discussions on the latest trends in catching rabbits.
ProfitWell focuses everything they’ve got on finding the truth about stuff their customers care about, in a way that’s both nutritious and delicious. Their product does that for their customers, and so naturally, their shows do that too.
And that search for truth, as well as their first two shows (PPT and a docu-style video show called Protect the Hustle) both set the table across several years for the company’s huge new announcement. If a few years ago they decided, “Enough with pieces of content, let’s make shows,” then last week, they concluded, “No more standalone shows. We run a NETWORK.”
(I should add: Not only does ProfitWell deals with “boring” topics, they are not a huge company, either. They can’t just throw money at problems. So between the supposedly boring topics and the definitely limited budget, I think we’ve just about covered 99% of why we as marketers typically claim we can’t do something … and yet ProfitWell does those things, and does them well.)
According to Patrick, ProfitWell has about 12 shows in the work. As of now, it’s unclear how many will be true originals and how many will be syndicated versions of an original. (Protect the Hustle, for instance, receives the syndication treatment, as Patrick and I discussed in a text exchange that he permitted me to publish right here. As with all their content, they’re smart about how they syndicate across mediums, preferring to tweak it enough to make it feel endemic to, say, audio, and not feel like a video show lazily repurposed to a podcast.) All of the new shows ProfitWell announced are part of Patrick’s recent thread on Twitter which also includes several product announcements.
In addition to the thread, and the various announcements made by both ProfitWell’s profiles and Patrick’s highly-followed social accounts all across the web, the team invited 600 of the company’s fiercest fans, customers, and select members of the tech community to watch the announcements live, before anyone else. Patrick called this their “Apple-style event.” It was held via Zoom and cost practically nothing to execute, but led to a halo of positive hype. On the back of that initial momentum, they did the expected stuff to promote a new announcement. (I’d also add: When he announces something new, Patrick likes to tell people to leave their emails and he’ll add them to the list. It’s an interesting and, I think, lower-friction way to both grow subscribers and play to the algorithms of all these social sites which tend to prioritize content with many comments.)
The Recur Network launches this fall. Of the things I’m looking for to ensure it’ll succeed are a few front-end things and a few back-end things. On the front-end, I wonder, can we subscribe to the network as a whole, like we would Netflix or Hulu? Is that a priority for ProfitWell? If not, how do they build audience around each show, rather than overwhelm viewers and listeners? Will they face the same issue as Mailchimp? The ‘kimp has similarly created a network of shows — rather than SaaS business owners and operates, they’re focused on entrepreneurs. It’s called Mailchimp Presents. I fear that these network plays can easily slip into vanity marketing, with “awareness” being the goal. So speaking of “front-end” (audience-facing) needs, I want to see more overt, better subscription options by Mailchimp, ProfitWell (maybe that’s coming when they launch), and other brands running whole networks. Like subscribing to Netflix, Hulu, or any streaming service, I want to get exclusives before others get them. I want to get alerts that a new episode is live. I want a way to truly subscribe.
Mailchimp has this option — kinda. You can sign up for “News about Mailchimp Presents.” The call-to-action is buried on the website’s footer, and the subsequent emails come infrequently, only announcing the launch of new series. It’s unclear, but also unlikely, that this is the correct subscription strategy to build a loyal audience, deepen relationships, and maximize the value of the network play. (To see our breakdown of Mailchimp Presents, go here.) So with ProfitWell, I’d like to see them focus on both show-level and network-level email subscription, not just announcements and total content engagement. Those latter two are necessary. All four are unstoppable.
On the “back-end” of the Recur Network, ProfitWell has a chance to do what Mailchimp does not, given that the latter brand has purchased every show from third-party creators. (As a creator, I love this. As a marketer, I’m less sure, but hopeful.) ProfitWell is creating its content entirely in-house, opting to work with third-parties only as they provide distribution power, as they are already doing with the show Tradeoffs, a co-hosted video series featuring ProfitWell’s Patrick Campbell and FYI cofounder and SaaS influencer Hiten Shah. Because ProfitWell is focused on in-house creation, not only have they hired a few former journalists AND created an in-house studio space, they can also cross-promote each vehicle inside their series. One of the most proven ways to grow an audience for a new show is to draft off another. On HBO, Barry is a hit in part thanks to its original spot following Game of Thrones. Serial got its start running stories inside the feed for This American Life. One of the advantages of networks are the network effects. I believe ProfitWell’s team is savvy enough to do this, and I’ve received confirmation from Patrick in the past that it was the interplay between their first few shows, the tumbling of audience between programs, that gave him the confidence to invest in an overt network.
At first, ProfitWell blazed a trail by creating shows that weren’t merely side projects. Their peers were pumping out one-off blog posts, chasing SEO through How-To posts and gated ebooks. The market got tired. The tactic grew stale. ProfitWell saw that and, long before stagnation hit, decided to refresh their playbook. When they did, the effort alone was enough to innovate. They made shows. Others didn’t. As competition catches up, and the audience just comes to expect this kind of thing from brands, the next wave of savvy marketing requires the strategic merchandizing of that endless content provided by a show across marketing channels (i.e. internal efficiencies), as well as the launch and interconnectivity of multiple series to continue to hold attention, grow an audience, and spur word-of-mouth (i.e., a network of shows).
If this post was written in 12 months’ time, I might be saying something entirely different: ProfitWell finally caught up. Instead, I’m saying this: ProfitWell is ahead of the pack once again. Sitting in the gap between those two statements is the opportunity that more marketing leaders need to seize.
Founder of Marketing Showrunners, author of Break the Wheel, and host/producer of docuseries about creative work. I’m trying to create a world where people feel intrinsically motivated by their work. Previously in content marketing and digital strategy at Google and HubSpot and VP of brand and community at the VC firm NextView. I write, tinker, and speak on stages and into microphones for a living. It’s weird but wonderful.
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