5 Lessons for Growth Marketers from Synapse 2019

Jameson Pitts
Managing Director
October 4, 2019

It’s been about a week since I made the trip from Austin to San Francisco for Segment’s user conference, Synapse 2019 — just long enough for the presentations by speakers from Y Combinator, IDEO, Udacity, IBM, Forrester, Instacart, and more to marinate and begin bursting out of me.

What is Segment anyway? It’s a tool, a data platform, that integrates with your website or product and then allows you to connect your customer data to your entire stack of marketing and analytics tools. This let’s you get more value out of your data, and has been adopted by many of the world’s leading marketers, companies, and startups. The annual Synapse conference brings these leaders together to talk about how they are using data and integration to make a bigger impact.

I attended the talks, took notes, braved the unusual SF heat, and ate all the delicious free food so you don’t have to — here are the top 5 big ideas from Synapse 2019 for growth marketers and agencies:

Organize your business into a conscious, data-driven marketing machine.

Data-driven sounds almost trite these days, but hear me out. The major themes were to make data accessible, so that your teams are empowered and thoughtful when choosing and approaching projects.

Consider the UX of data within your organization.
The last talk of the whole conference was perhaps my favorite.

Lex Roman

talked about how if the experience of data in your organization is bad, that is, inaccessible except by a few technical people, then all members of your organization will tend to make assumption-based decisions instead of ones backed by data.

Instead of trying to summarize it further, set some time aside to read the complete blog post version of her talk here, where she covers strategies in depth to improve the data experience.

Organize teams and projects around the metrics you want to move.
This one comes from Whitney Steele of Thumbtack. She talked about how smart teams are able to focus on the metric they are responsible for, and easily evaluate the results. Why are we doing this thing? Specifically which metric should this move and what is our definition of success?

Growth Marketing Panel. Photo: Segment

Choose projects by evaluating the impact it will have and your level of confidence in that impact.
Doesn’t it always seem like there is more to do than what you have time for? Speaking on a growth marketing panel, Edward Li from Instacart explained how his team not only chooses projects they are confident in with the highest impact, but reserves part of his budget for projects with high impact but low confidence, or “big bets.”

Your organization will never learn what works and what doesn’t without experimenting, and it’s key to return to your impact and confidence matrix after you complete a campaign.

Growth teams are about People, Process, and Data.
Rebecca Kline of Pagerduty spoke about how she created a growth team in an existing company by hiring for new roles like analytics and growth engineering, giving those people powerful B2B marketing tools like Segment, Pendo, Demandbase, and Optimizely, and also implementing agile project management in the growth department.

The agile sprint structure allowed the Pagerduty growth team to be proactive instead of reactive, and the new expert roles tools created ownership and value from their data.

Get smarter about attribution.

How can you understand the value of your advertising dollars on each platform when users consume ads from multiple platforms?

Evaluate ROAS over time.
All marketers evaluate the ROI on their ad spend — Harini Karthnik at Shipt took it a step further to explain how her team runs cohort analyses on each channel to determine which channel’s ROAS grow the fastest over time as revenue from that group of users increases.

Startups should switch to first-touch.
Karthnik also stressed that any company with low brand awareness would be better served by using first-touch attribution instead of last-touch model. The significant event for a startup is breaking through the noise.

Consider dynamic spend per acquisition.
Guillaume Cabane from Growth Ex Machina explained that the problem with using an average CAC to optimize your marketing is that you are overspending on users with high-intent, which need fewer marketing dollars to convert, and unable to convert high-value, high-cost leads.

Using tools that are able to train advertising optimization algorithms, like MadKudu, allows you to spend less on leads likely to convert and more on high-value leads — allowing you to outspend your competition on the most important accounts.

Measure product-market fit carefully.
Gustaf Alstromer from Y Combinator talked about the importance of identifying the unit that shows the value users get, and then monitoring for optimal repetition of that unit. Instagram measures Active Daily Users to show fit, while Airbnb looks at annual stays.

There doesn’t have to be a privacy/personalization paradox. Take privacy seriously.

Photo: Segment

Privacy headlined the event, and both keynote addresses were dedicated to exploring it. First, Segment rolled out a new Privacy Portal, a free product to help teams identify and block PII.

On the second day, Fatemeh Khatibloo of Forrester covered research that showed evidence for different Privacy Personas, a spectrum of attitudes toward privacy that modern shoppers fall on to. This spectrum is a better picture of consumers than the privacy/personalization paradox, which claims that shoppers want both highly personalized experiences but also don’t want to share their data.

She cited that 45% of people will back out of a transaction because of privacy concerns, proving that safeguarding customer data is something marketers need to take into consideration.

Create delightful, personalized marketing experiences.

Certainly on the personalization side of the paradox, Cabane of Growth Ex Machina used his talk to cover ways to personalize outbound and inbound marketing. He argued that today it’s not enough for marketing to be good, it needs to be delightful. People expect to be delighted by your marketing.

In outbound, this means using lead intelligence and lots of merge fields in your outreach to personalize automated sales communication.

Inbound landing pages can also be customized. AI tools like Intellimize allow you to go beyond split testing copy on a landing page to creating dozens of versions of each element — every button, image, headline and paragraph. Then, the AI tool automatically chooses the best combination for each visitor based on contextual, demographic, and firmographic data.

A slightly more fun example was using firmographic and intelligence with a chatbot to create a delightful experience. Instead of asking if they have any questions about the product, a chatbot asks, “How do you like your coffee?” Then after choosing from the options, the chatbot automatically places a Starbucks order through Doordash to have the coffee delivered to the firm’s office in 20 minutes. Sure, that all costs about $20, but $20 is a crazy low SAAS CAC.

Use qualitative research and experimentation to grok what you don’t know you don’t know.

Qualitative research often gets a bad rap, so I was thrilled to see a speaker from IDEO next to all of the startups on the list. In fact, many sessions covered the value of research.

Use ethnographic discovery research to learn new things.
A/B testing and survey instruments can only numerically confirm things you already suspect. Patti Chan from Imperfect Produce discussed how her team values discovery experiments to find new ideas, versus cosmetic a/b tests.

Diana Tobey, a principal designer at IDEO, talked about the value of asking “how might we?” to frame open ended design questions. IDEO was once tasked — How might we improve compliance with taking medication among elderly patients? They decided to perform in home ethnographic interviews.

In one, they asked an old man if he had trouble opening his pill bottles, suspecting that shaky arthritic hands might be the cause of being unable to take his pills. He emphatically answered, No. The researchers were stumped until they finally asked him to show them how he opens a bottle — He took them into his kitchen to show where he used an industrial deli slicer to slice off the caps of his pill bottles.

In a written survey, the man would have said he had no trouble…

That’s it for Synapse 2019! Go forth and create dynamic, private, delightful marketing experiences, and share the data tools with your whole team while you’re at it.



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