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Want Inspiration? Start a Passion Project

Posted February 16, 2022
Brett McGrath

What Do Passion Projects Have to Do With Marketing?

Brett is a career B2B marketer and has worked for companies of all stages and sizes. He loves connecting with customers, solving their problems, and leveraging content–in other words, he enjoys his job! Brett joined as employee number two at The Juice, a content curation platform for B2B salespeople and marketers.

Before you panic, we’re not suggesting you pick up a second job. Brett discussed starting up a podcast at the beginning of the pandemic when he had more time on his hands. If you’re too busy for something like a podcast, you can channel your inner marketer when you’re using social media. Passion projects don’t necessarily tie back to monetary gain, but they require us to flex some muscles that may have gone dormant with a large budget.

When trying to scale visibility on a tiny budget, you have to be scrappy and innovative. That same innovation can spark an idea that can scale or force us to reevaluate our company’s strategy.

“I’ve spotted a trend in B2B marketing. Being in a role where I’m marketing to marketers, I felt I had to relearn the motivations and desires of marketing people. I had a bunch of conversations with my peers to learn what people were reading, watching, and otherwise consuming in terms of content.

“Right out of the gate, I noticed the rise of the individual creator. People in creator roles within brands are the most powerful distribution channels. I find it fascinating that individual creators provide real value at the frontlines. Their brands benefit from this trend.

“When I was with my former employer, I had more time on my hands. I reconnected with an old passion of mine: collecting sports cards. It has changed since I last collected many years ago. For me, as a creator, I felt there are a lot of people of my age and demographic out there who’re probably bored and want to explore sports cards again. I felt there was an opportunity to share what I was learning by hosting people on a podcast.

sports card collector

“I thought I could build a brand for the podcast. For two years now, I’ve met people worldwide and learned so much about my passion.

“I probably wouldn’t have been as successful as I was in my first years at The Juice if I didn’t run with this passion project. I had zero resources. I had to figure out how to build an audience and build a brand. It was a super-rewarding experience because it’s a passion of mine, and it’s helped me build many relationships. Most importantly, it’s made me a better marketer. It forced me to do things I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with or hadn’t done before.”

Historically, B2B marketing has gotten a bad reputation. The color schemes, graphics, and ad copy were safe, stuffy, and boring. However, quite a few companies have experimented with a more human approach to marketing. More color, humor, and empathy are sneaking into our content and ads.

“I’m a student first in everything. I like to observe what’s happening around me before I jump in. I listened to other creators in the space. They approached their platform from an ‘expert’ stance. They, being the expert, are going to tell you how to operate or how to buy. To me, it felt like funny business. I think we should be real people and share the good, the bad, and the ugly. Hopefully, by being real, other people relate.

“Brands like Gong and maybe Drift–these brands have empowered their people to be themselves. People want to connect with people. When I’m recording a podcast for The Juice or writing our newsletter or blog, people get to know who I am as a person and maybe learn something from a marketing perspective. What’s worked for me is being authentic. Sometimes, it might hurt you a little bit, but in the end, you’ll benefit the brand you work for.”

What Is Different About Marketing at a Startup?

Startups are fast-paced and, more often than not, under-resourced. Marketers have to decide where to allocate a budget carefully. They can’t deploy every tactic marketers at larger companies do by default.

“I think the one thing marketers, especially at the early stage, lose sight of are the elements you need to build a marketing foundation. And if you build that foundation, then your opportunities to scale are limitless. You have to know what to measure and what matters.

Houston quote startup

“For example, every Thursday, I author ‘The Blend,’ The Juice’s newsletter. When I go through this process, I’m writing an open letter about the content we found on our platform that particular week and what we learned from it.

“Of course, I want ‘The Blend’s’ subscriber list to grow. More importantly, I want people to respond to those emails. An email response to a newsletter is more important than new people signing up. The more we think out of the box and find metrics that matter to our specific business rather than the status quo, the greater we can sell brand-building activities internally.

“It’s a topic I’m super passionate about because you’ve to establish your brand and build that foundation. Very early on, measuring leads, subscribers, or other traditional metrics may distract from the progress you’re making today. You’ll miss opportunities to be creative. It’s creativity and the things that don’t scale, particularly in the early days, that can allow you to establish your market fit early on. These are the activities that are going to help you win the hearts and minds of the people you’re trying to reach.”

The same marketing playbook doesn’t work in all situations. When starting a new company, it’s important to assess what has been tried, has worked, and hasn’t worked. Don’t assume anything.

The upside to being a small company is that everyone is very interconnected. It’s much easier to get feedback and stay connected with sales. Getting scrappy, partnering with your sales team, and looking at different ways to do things are very important when you’re at a smaller company.

Lessons Learned From Podcasting

Podcasts are the ultimate test for a marketer because of small budgets and a lack of resources. If your concept doesn’t appeal, sound quality is off, or guest strategy isn’t sound, your podcast will not reach listeners.

“The biggest lesson I learned was the importance of finding the channels where people that you’re trying to reach are going to read up on the topic, even if it’s outside the box or uncomfortable.

“When researching my podcast audience, Instagram popped up. Back in the day, message boards were the place for card collectors. Instagram became the community platform for sports cards collectors to share what they’re doing and connect.

target audience

“I had turned off my Instagram several years ago. Once I found out that’s where sports card collectors spend their time, I had to get back on the platform and relearn it from the branding side. It’s such a powerful marketing platform.

“I learned that social media is key, and then how to build and develop a brand. Curating other people’s content and stories, building relationships, and exposure to knowledgeable experts was super-powerful. That led me to a search for where marketers that The Juice would appeal to spend their time. I went to Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and community channels. Communities were where I started to unlock B2B conversations and see what was trending.

“I knew what I did for my trading card podcast wouldn’t work for The Juice, but I used a similar strategy to discover where my audience spent their time. It allowed me to find topics that matter to modern marketers. Also, most importantly, I’ve met some incredible people, had amazing conversations, and recorded episodes with people that I’d never have talked to otherwise.”

For more details on being a scrappy, startup marketer, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.

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