This is the latest in a series of interviews I’m conducting with startup marketing veterans, in hopes of helping Triangle entrepreneurs better market their companies and find the right marketing leaders.
For this installment, I sat down with Kieran Wilson who was just named business development manager at Automated Insights (Ai), but for the last two years has served as the tech company’s digital marketing manager.
Kieran began her career as a television journalist, transitioned into sales and eventually found her way to marketing. Her early marketing roles included some sales responsibility and she later became a director of marketing at a New York-based nonprofit and philanthropy consulting firm, Changing Our World Inc. From there, she relocated to North Carolina to join Ignite Social Media and in May 2014, Ai.
We sat down recently for a cup of coffee and a lively conversation.
You started your career as a journalist?
I started my career in Grand Junction, Colorado as a television news reporter for the local NBC affiliate. That’s the same town where Penn Holderness first started his career. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the Triangle Marketing Meetup and we traded war stories, from news in CO to marketing in the Triangle. Reporting was a ton of fun and I learned a lot, but I wanted to get out of the news because it can be wearing.
The skills you learn in news lend themselves to marketing and PR very nicely. After I left, I sold T1s and phone service and then I sold leads to real estate agents as well as marketers. Now, as a marketer, my main task is to generate leads.
I also used to be a journalist and now with Ai, we are automating some articles for the Associated Press. It’s funny how it came full-circle.
I wasn’t going to say anything about that. So, what does Automated Insights do?
Ai is the company behind Wordsmith, the software revolutionizing the way professionals write with data. Wordsmith makes it easy to generate thousands of stories, reports and articles in the time it takes to write just one. It helps data-driven industries, including financial services, e-commerce, real estate, business intelligence and media, achieve scale, efficiency and personalization in the writing process.
For the AP specifically, we automate financial earnings reports so their reporters can work on more interesting and challenging stories. Before the AP started using Wordsmith they would only cover the quarterly earnings of about 300 publicly-traded companies, and now they cover more than 4,000.
How did you make the jump from selling to marketing?
I had a couple of jobs in San Diego and Las Vegas where I did some business development and selling. When I moved back to New York, where I grew up, I started working for a consulting firm, and that’s where I really began marketing full-time.
While I was visiting some family here in Raleigh I landed an interview with Ignite Social Media and decided to relocate. I did inbound marketing for the agency for about a year and then I left to join Ai.
Tell me what you are working on day to day at AI?
Ai, like Changing Our World and Ignite, had never had a marketing person before, and so I was building their marketing function from the ground up. I love doing that, and it’s kinda my thing. Now, after two years at Ai, we have a director of marketing and a head of communications.
On the daily, I live inside of Marketo and Salesforce. You need to be a jack-of-all-trades when you are starting a marketing department.
Does that mean you can code emails?
Yes, I can code HTML and CSS. I like to get my hands dirty. In two of my three marketing jobs, I have been responsible for the website. Along the way I have picked up a variety of skills.
Are you proficient at coding any other language like JQuery or Bootstrap?
No…while working at a tech startup I am sure you will run into those but I am a Salesforce admin and a Marketo power user. Being a Salesforce admin can be a full-time job by itself and so can running Marketo.
What other marketing activities do you use?
We recently started doing two-week marketing sprints. I know our customer acquisition costs and we worked backwards to generate a pipeline of demos and to understand our ROI. We also run SEO, social media, email and many other types of campaigns and programs.
The day-to-day can be really challenging. We are getting ready for a trade show and it can be pretty hectic. We once did two trade shows in one week. I don’t recommend that!! My back was hurting for three weeks after the events. We did a two-day event in New York and then two days in Vegas.
How have you segmented the market?
I have been marketing and selling professional services for a long time and I wanted to have that “Request Demo” button. I wanted to work for a product company. We originally were doing what we do with Wordsmith as a professional service but now we’ve productized that service.
Lots of verticals can use the product. From a marketing standpoint, right now we’re focusing on e-commerce, financial services, media, business intelligence and real estate. Honestly, though, there are dozens of different industries currently using or exploring Wordsmith to automate business writing of all sorts. That’s an interesting mix.
Where is the opportunity with business intelligence?
Businesses are drowning in data. The term “Big Data” in the business world is more common than Starbucks in Seattle. Charts, graphs and dashboards are popular “solutions” for getting a handle on Big Data, but those are often packaged for looks rather than relevance or ability to drive action and understanding. In order to effectively communicate insights, data requires narrative. Natural language explains data with words, making insights easier to understand and act on. While charts and graphs require interpretation, words leave nothing to guesswork.
How do you position your brand for three defined verticals and one that you are still exploring?
We’re effectively creating a new market for self-service natural language generation because Wordsmith is the first product of its kind. People aren’t searching “how to automate writing” or “automate content creation,” so we’ve been doing a lot of research into who our buyers are.
Our marketing efforts start with personas, and we update them as often as we need to. Many aspects of our marketing and content focus on a specific industry, because Wordsmith may be addressing unique pain points for each industry we work with. Wordsmith is a very flexible product and solves the problem of producing targeted content at scale extremely well.
Any competitors in this space?
We are the first to market with a product like Wordsmith. That comes with its fair share of pros, but also some cons. We know we have to keep innovating and keep delivering more and more value to our growing user base. We have an aggressive product roadmap and release new features weekly.
What are your most effective communication channels?
Email, without a doubt! Social media is something that we use to get awareness, and ads are also effective both through FB and Google.
Could you use Wordsmith to write the PPC ads?
Yes! The ads are short and you would use the ad parameters to establish guidelines for our program. Then use demographic info, combined with keyword data, to make the ads super personalized.
Let’s talk pricing.
Okay, let’s change the subject a little. When you aren’t working what do you like to do?
I like to play softball, dodgeball and kickball. You know, really adult stuff. I also love ultimate Frisbee and anything that gets me outside.
What is your favorite restaurant in the Triangle?
I like Coquette in North Hills.
What is your favorite local beer?
Raleigh Brewing’s Hell Yes Ma’am. I was there when I decided to move to the area. Everyone was there with his or her dogs and it was really cool. I have a 10-year-old border collie, Rocky, and I love to take him outside and enjoy the weather.