INBOX INSIGHTS, March 16, 2022: Four Year Anniversary Edition

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Trust Insights Turns 4!

Believe it or not, Trust Insights is now 4 years old! It feels like we’ve been doing this forever, while at the same time just starting. Every year we try to stop and reflect on how far we’ve come. Because we love our community, we decided to ask you if there were any questions you’d like answered about being business owners. This is what you wanted to know:

Todd: How did you know it was time to go out on your own?

CP: A cliche I believe strongly in is that change happens when the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same. The company I was working at had lost its way; the culture and the reasons I joined it in 2012 were lost in its acquisition. It was headed towards a place I didn’t want to be, rapidly. That coupled with a lack of time for me to focus on the area of study I wanted to focus on – data science and machine learning – meant that it was time to go. The risk – starting a venture and having it not succeed – was well worth the tradeoff of doing something for 12 hours a day that I hated doing.

KR: Like many things, there is never the “perfect” time – at least in my experience. I knew I needed a change when my professional goals no longer aligned with the work that I was doing or who I was doing it for. I wanted to move up, take on more responsibility. At every turn, I was told “no”. That, coupled with the general dissatisfaction of the value that I felt I was bringing led me to be ready to go out on my own. I worked for other companies for 20+ years and I was ready to be the rule maker. The real push was when putting together a business plan wasn’t a difficult task. I knew all the moving pieces, I knew who the customers would be, I knew what we would sell. It just clicked.

Matt: Curious how much time you spend pursuing new business, vs creating content/working on client project work? Do you find it tough to balance?

CP: It flexes. Part of my role is to make new stuff, to come up with things that don’t exist and bring them into existence in a half-assed fashion, MVP sort of stuff. Then with Katie and John, we refine, polish, and improve until we have something the world is ready to see – and even then, it’s always a work in progress. Most of my work is client-facing, but the wonderful thing about owning your own business is that you get to decide who the clients are. That means we have the freedom to choose clients who have interesting work, interesting problems to solve so even when I’m doing client work, I’m still helping to build the business in some way. Just last week, Katie and I had an idea on a client call that will eventually be brought into existence.

KR: In my role, creating content is part of pursuing new business. I use the time to (hopefully) create content that helps our audience not only understand what we do but help them to see themselves in the problems and solutions. It’s always a tough balance because client work feels like it should be prioritized above everything else. The goal is to treat your own business as a client so that it gets prioritized higher – which is way easier said than done. The company always gets pushed to the bottom of the list until you’re large enough to have dedicated resources – which we aren’t. Yet.

Todd: Do you still have to fill out timecards?

CP: No. One of the first things we decided on was that we would be a value-based business, not a time-based one. Timecards are indicative of a time-based business, and those scale much less well than a value-based business. Our work is such that if we deliver value, we are compensated for the value we create for you – regardless of how long it takes.

KR: No. I’ll never say never – but hopefully never again.

Ashley: How far are you willing to go to win the business? I find so often that agencies will practically hand over everything strategic before a contract is signed.

CP: One of my favorite quotes by Jay Baer is “Having the recipe does not make you a chef”. In the work we do, I could tell you exactly what I do and how I do it, and most of the time, people don’t want to follow the recipe. For example, figuring out how to calculate the lift of a public relations campaign is a matter of consolidating and normalizing your data, then you center and scale it, make sure it’s stationary, remove anomalies, then create a test period and run a propensity score model on it to measure median uplift attributed to the campaign. That’s the recipe. How many people want to cook that? When it comes to winning business, we tell people what we’re going to do and what the expected outcomes are, and we let them decide whether they want to cook for themselves or have us cook for them. The advantage of being truly data-driven is that you can’t “hand over everything strategic” because you haven’t worked with the data yet – so if the client is truly committed to being data-driven, they would have to analyze the data themselves and since they haven’t done that, there’s nothing for us to hand over.

KR: Having worked in a traditional agency, I understand the hoops that you’re asked to jump through for the new business process. One of the things we decided with Trust Insights is that as much as we could avoid it, we wouldn’t jump. We’re very transparent with our prospects about what we do and how we do it. Fortunately, so far, that seems to be enough. They come to us because they don’t know how to execute the plan we’ve outlined, or don’t have the time.

Ashley: How do you deal with tough clients who need training on the topic at hand but may not think they do?

CP: As best as we can, we avoid taking on “tough clients”. In the grand scheme of things, there are four types of clients: people who know what they know, people who know what they don’t know, people who don’t know what they know, and people who don’t know what they don’t know (but think they do). The first three types of people we can work with. The last category we usually weed out before taking them on as a client because their Dunning-Kruger syndrome leads them to believe they don’t need us anyway. Then we wait six months for that point of contact to quit or be fired, because that’s nearly inevitable with someone like that.

KR: I find it less effective to tell people what they don’t know, but help them come to that conclusion. For example, I’ll give the client the opportunity to sit in the driver’s seat to be the teacher to demonstrate to me what they feel they know. This often leads to a conversation to “well, I guess I don’t know how this work” or “I wasn’t aware that there was more to learn”. This is a skill I’ve been working on for a long time and is obviously helpful in this company now. It’s an exercise in patience. People have to be aware that they need help and then also want the help.

Tristan: Do you track your own marketing or rate yourselves on the achievements for clients?

CP: We track our own marketing. When we do work for our clients, very often it’s behind the scenes, like fixing up their analytics infrastructure or helping them build models. It’s not stuff that’s publicly visible for the most part, so it’s not something we benchmark on. It’s kind of like a doctor – doctors market on fixing what’s wrong, and a campaign of “all these people are healthy” isn’t super compelling.

KR: I track everything. I think this is partly because I hate surprises and partly because in previous jobs I’d been shut out of seeing the metrics. We use the company as our sandbox for everything we do. We always test our tools and services on ourselves to demonstrate effectiveness first. That helps us clearly articulate the value of each service to our clients and exactly what to expect. So Trust Insights is the research and development of products end-to-end before anything hits the market. From there, we use our own R&D and client work to create case studies for the work we do. So it always starts with us. If we can’t consistently and successfully do it for ourselves and get results, we can’t claim we can do it for anyone else. It’s hard because it requires a lot of discipline to keep the company marketing a priority.

Sharon: What are your goals for the next 4 years (and how did you establish them)?

CP: To survive. And I mean that in all seriousness. In the four years we’ve been in business, two of them have been in a global pandemic and now massive global instability due to Russian invasion. Every day is a new adventure, and there’s literally no telling what’s around the corner. I’d like us to start releasing software at some point in addition to services, because software as a driver of revenue scales faster and better. Eventually, I’d like for our bench of clients AND our intellectual property – both content and code – to merit an 8 or 9 figure sale down the road. In four years would be great.

KR: To have a multimillion-dollar agency with a 40% profit margin that sells, allowing me to retire into the woods and rescue dogs.

In all seriousness and numbers aside, over the next four years I’d like to see us have less projects and more retainers. To establish our year over year goals, I think about the overall outcome we want to achieve and work backward from there. I’d like us to have more brand awareness. I’d like us to have more passive income to supplement the client work. I’d like to see us have clients that let us dive deeper into exploratory data analysis for them but I’d also like to see predictable services that are checklists and straightforward to execute. We’re on track for all of these things. I’m a fan of consistent, sustainable growth. This has allowed me to keep complete control of every aspect. I know that won’t be the case forever, or even by the end of this year, but for now I’ll enjoy it.

Over the next year you can expect more courses, content, and innovative ways to examine data. Thanks for all of your support!

Got questions you want answered? Let me know in our free Slack community, Analytics for Marketers »

– Katie Robbert, CEO

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Binge Watch and Listen

In this episode of In-Ear Insights (the Trust Insights podcast), Katie and Chris discuss the data available to marketers for social media analytics around TikTok, plus an in-depth discussion of influencer analytics and how to identify influencers on TikTok. Tune in to find out how – and get your copy of the new paper at today.

Watch/listen to this episode of In-Ear Insights here »

Last week on So What? The Marketing Analytics and Insights Live show, we looked at the February 2022 CMO Survey. Catch the replay here »

This Thursday at 1 PM Eastern, we’ll be discussing social media influencers, having a birthday party, and celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Bring the beverage of your choice (for our colleagues actually in Ireland, it will be 5 PM!), and we’ll see you then.

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In Case You Missed It

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Data Diaries - Interesting Data We Found

In this week’s Data Diaries, we look at something we rarely take the time to examine: the very big picture. What does our collective digital history look like when we take a big step back and look at everything that’s happened since the start of the company?

For example, here’s Google Analytics:

Google Analytics

Looking back, we see strong growth in 2019, the pandemic’s impact in 2020-2021, and now back towards more of a growth pattern in late 2021 – early 2022. When you look at your analytics on a granular level, such as day or week level, sometimes the macro patterns get lost.

We see this even more clearly in our lead generation:


Those big spikes? Those are conferences and events – and we see far fewer of them once the pandemic begins BUT stronger growth outside of events. This reflects the strategic change everyone had to make once the pandemic started.

What are some of those other things? Back in September of 2020, we started our livestream:

YouTube Livestream

On any given day, it may feel like not a ton of people are watching or listening to any individual episode of either our livestream or podcast, but in aggregate, we see a very clear difference in YouTube view data. Over the past year, more and more of you have been tuning in (thank you!).

Finally, in this big picture, are there things we could be doing better? Of course. Here’s one example:

SEO data

What we’re looking at is an all-time perspective of SEO data – linking domains and inbound links. We’ve got steady growth (note that the data starts in September of 2018 when we changed brands and domains) but it’s slowed down over the past year. Organic search is typically a critical part of any digital marketing plan, and inbound links are still the gold standard of successful SEO, so we’ve got some work to do still.

So what? What’s the point of all this? Taking a big step back in your analytics is essential for seeing the big picture, seeing macro forces at work. For example, the pandemic won’t really be visible in your day to day data, in your monthly reports to your managers and stakeholders. It’s very clear when you look at your digital marketing as a whole.

Looking at the big picture also lends perspective for programs like search, video, and content marketing where growth and success occurs in the long-term. When we look at our SEO data, for example, we really started to see success about a year in. When we look at YouTube, we started to see success after about two years, and saw measurable gains after three years. Absolutely keep reporting and analyzing your short-term marketing data, but remember to step back and see the big picture sometimes, too.

Trust Insights In Action
Weekly Wrapup

This is a roundup of the best content you and others have written and shared in the last week.

SEO, Google, and Paid Media

Social Media Marketing

Content Marketing

Data Science and AI

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