A chief marketing officer at a startup is a rarity, but at Slack Bill Macaitis, is playing a core role in shaping a two-year brand that has already become the fastest-growing B2B company in history.
Valued at $3.8bn, Slack – the chat room for offices – has prospered from the tectonic shift in communications and now wants to appeal to as broader audience as possible. Unlike at many other startups, Slack’s brand – and not just the product – are at the forefront of its pitch, which eschews the traditional B2B sales-led approach in favour of more customer-driven practices.
To that end, sales teams aren’t commissioned on each deal they sell; instead, things like customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Scores are rewarded.
It might seem a logical path for any business dealing in communications but it’s usually only been the tech team that would buy and use technology like this. Now, anyone can bring services like Slack into business and, more importantly, they are being integrated across more and more divisions.
This is what makes Slack unique among other B2B services; it’s one of the first mainstream business applications in the sense that it's used by small companies as well as global enterprises like Samsung and Dow Jones. Having such a broad audience is more akin to B2C rather than B2B, making advertising a very efficient means to build affinity with the brand.
“A brand isn’t just a slogan or what the company projects out,” opined Macaitis, justifying Slack's no frills way of marketing.
“The brand is every single experience the customer has with you and we want to maximise those experiences and provide ones they recommend," he continued. "In my mind, brand is long-term lead generation; it’s a way to establish an affinity with your company but also have a great experience with it and if you get it right then plays right into word of mouth.”
Word of mouth has driven that strategy to date, though Slack's success has given it the confidence to launch its first national TV campaign (see below) in the US so early on into its lifespan. Created by UK-based agency Nexus, the humorous (and surreal) ad features a group of animals coming together to develop a new product. That quirky, fun tone sets the scene for future campaigns, selling organisational transformation.
For a business tipped as one of the most exciting in tech, Slack has an uncomplicated approach to brand building. On the advertising side, the usual metrics like sentiment, search results and brand resonance are regularly assessed, while the performance piece watches aspects like acquisition costs, how much revenue was created and cost per lead.
Despite Slack's growth, there are no plans to diversify into new revenues like advertising, even with an IPO on the horizon.
“Slack has a great business model”, claimed Macaitis, whose ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ view of the app reflects its focus on fine-tuning products and partnership over pursuing an advertising model. Instead, part of this expansion could come from how many popular apps it can partner with to sit alongside others, including Google Drive to share documents and Giphy to share fun memes without ever having to leave the platform.
“We don’t look at it like we’re trying to outflank this competitor or trying to lock something in because all we’re only ever focused on is what’s for the customer," Macaitis continued. “We’re not selling features, we’re in the business of selling organisational transformation and improved transparency. They’re huge areas for many of the leading companies now.”
Part of that drive would do good to explore the app’s role in agile methodologies, breaking down silos and enabling the sharing of information across client and agency teams for example.
“To overcome these barriers Slack should develop partnerships with other providers like Google and Dropbox – creating a deeply embedded ecosystem that simplifies business processes and enhances the user experience,” said Matt Wills, client partner at Syzygy. After all, any company that makes it easy for organisations to communicate better is on to a good thing.”
The ‘always on’ approach works for some, but for others the constant distraction just isn’t right. A tailored transformation might be the way forward.
"In terms of product, in an ideal world Slack would be able to give you data around time spent project by project as granular as time spent discussing a particular issue, or time between discussions," asked campaign producer at Roast, Bob D’Mello.
"After all, the beauty, USP and reason to use Slack has always been it’s streamlined approach. It allows you to spread information seamlessly and efficiently which is in sharp contrast to long email chains that copy in vast amounts of people. Adding extra features and distractions would alienate the audience that bought in to the tool in the first place."
Unsurprisingly, Macaitis is tight-lipped on Slack’s plans to that for the rest of 2016, though teased voice and video updates.
Over the last 15 months, Slack has grown from around 50 people to 375. And in that time the business has gained a clearer view of the commercial impact its having, something it believes in term will play a bigger role in what the brand represents. Companies that use Slack typically see internal company emails fall by nearly half (48.6 per cent), according to the business.
“When I moved to Slack it felt like most companies were using a B2B playbook that was made 40 years ago,” revealed Macaitis. “It was all about ‘do marketing’, ‘get a lead’ and then ‘hand it over to sales’, who would call them up and try to sell it fast as they could. I just thought there was a better way to do this and marketing and tech have come a long way… we’re really building a marketing tech stack that allows us to give a great experience but also target the right people.”