As an avid adopter of social media, John Brown gravitated to communications and media, enrolling at St. John’s University in 2011. Alongside his studies, Brown worked for a social media management company, his first exposure to the world of marketing.
While social media marketing is mainstream now, back then it was uncharted, unexplored, and novel. There were no best practices or industry-standard playbooks. Brown watched brands skyrocket on the back of innovative strategies and others disintegrate overnight following misguided or tone-deaf campaigns. Looking back, he describes the whole space as the “Wild Wild West.”
After graduating, Brown went on to secure a series of marketing positions: Digital marketing manager at Aspen University, integrated marketing manager at Kahn Lucas, and associate director of conversion and growth at Freshly. It was in this last role that he discovered his forte: lifecycle marketing. It’s a high-level discipline, tackling the entire customer journey from initial touchpoint to retention and advocacy. It’s a broad and ambitious field, one that can just as easily frustrate customers as delight them.
Now at BARK, a dog-focused subscription service, Brown is helping delight their customers and their four-legged friends. We recently caught up with the marketing maestro, who was only two months into his tenure at BARK, to learn about his marketing philosophy, impact so far, and his goals for the future.
[Freshworks] How do you define and describe what you do at BARK?
[John Brown] Lifecycle marketing looks at the entire time a prospect, user, or churned user interacts with the brand. How do we talk to them? What does the communication journey look like?
It’s not saying, ‘Hey, how do I get people to buy more?’ It’s asking, ‘How do I get them to be more integrated into the brand experience? How do we get customers to grow?’
If it’s good, it feels like you have a one-to-one conversation with users. If it’s bad, it feels contorted, hacky, weird, and overly automated. You’ve probably noticed bad lifecycle marketing because it jumps out a lot more than the good.
When did you first discover lifecycle marketing as a discipline?
I cut my teeth at Freshly, which is a portion-controlled meal delivery service. When we started looking at retention, we noticed that how many times a customer ordered in a row was less important than how many weeks out of the year they ordered.
You might get sick of the meals after a while, right, especially during the holidays when you’re going to Christmas parties. We started looking at it as a 52-week stack, rather than a basic retention rate. That was really helpful for us to say. Maybe if we prompt users to skip rather than having them cancel, they’ll be more likely to come back. Maybe their long-term LTV will be better because they’re not going through the friction of canceling and coming back.
What sort of challenges and problems do you help BARK solve?
Like any other company, we have growth goals. One of the big pieces that I handle is growth through email. We don’t do email prospecting the way people did 10 years ago. We don’t buy lists and blast emails out. All the users we email come to the site and give us their email addresses. They’ve seen a TV ad or heard us in a podcast. They’ve searched on Google or seen a Facebook ad. They’ve come to the site, went to check out, but didn’t. In terms of the acquisition funnel, we’re not at the top, we’re very much towards the bottom. That’s when we begin the conversation.
It does limit us in terms of growth, as we can only grow as much as the other channels feed us. But the nice thing is that there are six steps in our checkout before a customer enters their email address. We have a bunch of data about users. We use a program called Zembula that allows us to populate images with unique data. If you sign up for BARK and don’t complete your purchase, you might get an email from us with your dog’s name inside of a product image. That’s really cool.
How much does lifecycle marketing rely on data and technology?
Unified customer data is a big lift and not a lot of companies do it well. A lot of companies try, but still become siloed because they use systems and have different KPIs.
One of the tools we use is Simon Data, a customer data platform. It collects all of the data we have from CX, front-end, and social. It compiles all the data into a user data file that has where the user came from, what the user told us, what reviews they’ve given us, whether their dog has an allergy, everything!
For us, it’s really great to know your dog’s name. If you’ve reported other things like their breed, age, birthday, and so on, the experience becomes a lot richer. Maybe you’ve been with BARK and you’re getting a little tired of the themes. Something like a birthday card for your dog could be really helpful.
How do you bookend your work weeks?
Probably with Slack conversations. We do a weekly stand-up. On Mondays, everyone on the lifecycle marketing team gets together and we go over what everyone’s working on. A lot of times, you’ll share ideas, get some cross-pollination, and receive offers to collaborate.
At the end of the week, we have a Slack thread for what I got done this week, what I couldn’t do, and what’s blocking me. It keeps us sane.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Reading people’s reviews about how much they enjoyed something.
At Freshly we got a lot of really great reviews, especially during the pandemic: “My mom’s older and she’s scared to go out of the house. We are able to send her Freshly so she’s eating better. She really loves it. This was a Godsend.”
How has lifecycle marketing evolved over the past few years?
We’ve definitely gotten more integrated into other channels—push notifications, SMS, direct mail. One of the really cool things that we did at Freshly was that if you abandoned your cart, we’d get that data in Simon. We’d know your email address and we’d share that with our direct mail partner. If there was a matchback and we knew your address, we would send a personalized direct mail. It’s a lot more expensive than normal direct mail, but it is a lot more targeted.
How do you stay keep-up-to-date with the latest developments in lifecycle marketing?
I have a Mailcharts account, which is really cool. It allows you to look at other brands’ emails and see what they’re doing. You can see what their abandoning cart looks like. You can look at the code of their email and see what technical stuff they’re doing. It’s a really nice way to see what’s out there.
I also habitually sign up for other people’s emails. If I like one, I’ll try to look at their whole catalog on Mailcharts.
What piece of advice would you give to someone who’s looking to champion customer experience in their organization?
Try to integrate with other teams. A lot of times, CX becomes an island. This is a CX email. This is a CX initiative.
We did a really nice job of integration at Freshly. We had to. There’s a weekly delivery. There’s a lot of skipping. There’s a lot of unsuccessful deliveries. The back and forth with CX was huge. We do a really nice job at BARK, too. We have a shared Slack channel with CX. When I do a box insert, I’ll make sure to send the creative to CX.
‘A Day in the Life Of’ is a new series where we sit down with a CX practitioner and unpack their day, learn their methods, and draw on experiences.