written by
Tanguy Verbelen

13 Content Marketing Insights from Mark Kilens, Drift's VP of Content & Community

Content Marketing Interviews 11 min read

Recently, we sat down with Mark Kilens, the VP of Content and Community at Drift to hear his in-the-trenches content marketing lessons and advice.

Drift is a revenue acceleration platform that helps businesses to convert more paying customers through chatbots and SDR prospecting prioritization.

Before joining Drift, Mark was the former VP of the HubSpot Academy, and he’s been in the inbound marketing game for over a decade now.

During our interview, we talked about the following:

  • The strategy behind Drift Insider
  • How Mark got into content marketing
  • What Mark learned from co-creating HubSpot Academy
  • How content marketers can improve their content
  • What content marketers should do to further their careers
“We use an integrated campaign framework to make sure that we're creating the right content for the right audience and that's going to get used, both on the digital side and the account based marketing side, to generate demand and pipeline.” - Mark Kilens

Watch or listen to the full interview:

Why did you and your team want to create Drift Insider?

Mark Kilens: ‘Think of Drift Insider as a masterclass for sales and marketing folks. So, we've got free certifications and hundreds of classes.’

‘We decided to rebrand all of our content underneath this Drift insider brand, to make it really easy, and digestible for our entire community—our customers, our future customers, our partners—to experience all of our content and connect with one another.’

Mark Kilens, co-creator of Drift Insider

How did you get into content marketing?

Mark Kilens: ‘A company I worked for was one of the first 1,000 businesses to use HubSpot. This was back during the Great Recession, 2008-2009. I was at a small startup type of business. I think I was the 10th or 12th employee. We were trying to grow the business during a very hard time. So, what did I do? I went to the internet, I went to Google, and typed in, "How to generate more leads". And guess who popped up? The HubSpot blog, which is famous now. It's getting six, seven million visits a month.’

‘From there, I was like, "Wow, this thing, inbound marketing, seems legit. Seems like there's a really big opportunity to rank on search." And this was 13 years ago, very different from today because you could rank pretty quickly.’

‘We did exactly that. We used HubSpot's marketing tools back then, and I saw major success. I was like, "Man, I've got to join this rocket ship. I think this is going to be huge, this inbound marketing thing." And sure enough, with the help of a lot of people around the world, and some luck, it's become pretty important.’

What did you learn from starting and building HubSpot Academy?

Mark Kilens: ‘HubSpot Academy is a big differentiator from all the competitors, because well, you basically as a marketing leader, a sales leader can have a wealth of free, high-quality education and enablement for your teams. That just comes with it. Right? So it's like, "Yeah, why wouldn't I want to use that platform, HubSpot's platform to do that?”’

‘We’re doing the same thing with Drift Insider. We give you all of this great stuff that's going to teach you about the future of marketing and sales, teach you about conversational marketing and sales, teach you about revenue acceleration, and then, I mean, of course, we recommend using Drift, but we're going to help you along the way no matter what.’

What can content marketers do to further their careers?

Mark Kilens: ‘A good lesson for me, as I grew from an individual contributor to a manager, to a director, to a VP, was the fact that you really have to take ownership of your career, and it's very important for a content marketer to do that.’

‘In fact, I had a small get together with Jimmy Daly, formerly of Animalz, now Superpath, just the other day. And he was saying something similar, where, "Content marketers, you've got to take some risks. You can't just feel out the status quo forever. You have to take some risks, no matter if you're at an agency or if you're in an in-house environment."’

‘So, I took a risk and said, "Based on my past experience as a HubSpot customer, I think there's a big gap in customer education, deep in the marketing knowledge, in explaining these concepts in a more framework based, repeatable way, a la the inbound marketing methodology."’

‘And I went on to create this experiment called Content Camp, and we later changed it to HubSpot Academy.’

How can content marketers improve their content?

Mark Kilens: ‘I'm all about impact. Ask yourself, "Why are you creating this piece of content? Who is it for?” Always start with the who. Who are you creating a piece of content for? How is it going to help them? Is it going to provide some entertainment? Is it going to educate them or going to inspire them? Or is it going to do all three things?’

‘I'm trying to ultimately get someone to feel something, so they probably take either some type of action or make some type of decision. I mean, if you want to simplify it down. I think as content marketers, we sometimes maybe lose that, and one thing that I think is really important when it comes to marketing, but especially content marketing, is talking to customers.’

How do you learn more about your customers?

Mark Kilens: ‘People think it's crazy when I say this, but I am joining as an active participant of at least 5 sales calls per week. Some weeks when it's crazy, end of the month, end of the quarter, it could be 15 sales calls a week.’

‘I'm literally listening and hearing back what people are saying, and the words they use to describe their problems, and how they think about their business and their solutions. And then it's like, "Great, how can we make our content, how can we make our messaging, and positioning better?" So, yeah, if you don't spend time with the audience you are creating content for, you're just missing number one a big opportunity, but you're also probably doing your content somewhat of a disservice.’

McKinsey found that B2B buyers value three things: transparency, expertise, and speed. - Mark Kilens

What are some other ways that marketing teams can align better with sales?

Mark Kilens: ‘I think content marketers just need to get closer to their sales teams overall, and we believe in a full lifecycle content marketing approach at Drift.’

‘There's just been this kind of friction between sales and marketing team, or teams in the past. I think it still kind of exists today. The good news is that Drift is actively trying to fix that, to solve that.’

‘We're not just trying to align the teams, we're trying to get them to act as one team, and what's the thing that brings the teams together? A conversation, right?’

‘If we as marketers can help the sales team to start conversations with people, and it's the sales team's job and goal to have meaningful conversations, we're working together with a common goal. And a common goal, more specifically with a business would be revenue and pipeline.’

Drift's Revenue Acceleration Platform - Mark Kilens interview

‘I mean, if you ask a head of sales, CRO, or any marketer today, that's thinking more on the performance side of marketing, they're going to say pipeline and revenue. So, if we can agree that those are the goals, then we should work together on identifying your ICP and identifying the target accounts.’

What do you say to companies who don’t want to get away their valuable knowledge for free?

Mark Kilens: ‘McKinsey found that B2B buyers value three things: transparency, expertise, and speed.’

‘So, if that's what B2B buyers value, it really is in your best interest as a content marketer to become more of a content broker, brokering the knowledge transfer, the wisdom transfer, between someone at your business and one of your future customers. If you're not going to do it, the chance one of your competitors is going to do it is pretty high.’

‘So it's like, "Why not?" Or someone else, on Google has already done it, and that person is going to go to that part of the web, of the internet to read about it.’

Get your team involved and make it easy for them to contribute. You do the editing, you do the design, you do the storytelling, you do all the teaching as a content marketer. - Mark Kilens

What is the strategy behind turning Drift employees into content creators?

Mark Kilens: ‘A content marketer is not going to know very much about a topic that requires a level of experience in doing, right?’

‘A content marketer is not going to know a lot about sales, because they're not a salesperson. A content marketer is not going to know a lot about manufacturing this piece of equipment for this particular industry, because they don't do that.’

‘Get your team involved and make it easy for them to contribute. You do the editing, you do the design, you do the storytelling, you do all the teaching as a content marketer. That process is then going to be good for everyone.’

Drift Content marketing - Mark Kilens Interview

What is your process for creating content?

Mark Kilens: ‘You need a good project management tool, you need to build capacity plans, and you need to be in really strong communication with one another.’

‘Every three months, we plan our upcoming content campaigns, and we use an integrated campaign framework to make sure that we're creating the right content for the right audience and that's going to get used, both on the digital side and the account-based marketing side, to generate demand and pipeline.’

‘We really try to make sure that we've created repeatable processes, almost like engines, if you will, to create content.’

How do you balance building brand with building pipeline?

Mark Kilens: ‘We have two brand campaigns right now, one is about revenue acceleration and one is talking about changing the face of corporate America. We very much believe in not just talking about it, but being the leader, in how we change the diversity, and the inclusion, and the equity piece of corporations, and businesses these days. We have a long, long way to go. But we're trying to do as much as we can. That's a part of our brand.’

‘When it comes to building a pipeline, we focus on pain points and solutions. We teach people about those, and help them understand conversational marketing and conversational sales.’

‘It's interesting when you think about the time allocation between what you need to do to create buzz or brand versus pipeline.’

‘At the end of the day, you're going to want to, of course, weight more heavily on like revenue and pipeline, but, you don't want to just ignore the brand. And if you do it right, a lot of the things that you do to build pipeline and revenue, are also going to help on the brand side, and vice versa.’

What content marketing tactic has been a game-changer for you?

Mark Kilens: ‘I think of content as this living type of thing that you could reuse across different channels, you can repackage into different formats, you can reposition for different audiences, and you can refresh when it starts to get a little bit stale.’

‘We created the Conversational Marketing Blueprint. It's a very detailed digital book, with a very comprehensive, interactive workbook, that teaches you everything you need to know about conversational marketing, and how it fits into revenue acceleration.’

‘We then turned it into a full-blown conversational marketing certification course. From there, we broke the videos up and used them in different parts of our website, on YouTube, and on Instagram. Then, we took some of the frameworks and turned those into LinkedIn posts.’

What is the biggest content marketing challenge for 2021?

Mark Kilens: ‘I think video can be intimidating for a lot of people. But, it's one of my predictions for 2021 that video is going to be so much more important. Especially with digital-first everything now. You have to take more of your content and turn it into video format. It's not even a question. You have to up-level your webinars, up-level your virtual events, up-level your video content, on Instagram, on YouTube, on Facebook, on your own website. And that's hard.’

‘Invest in the right people and the right equipment. It doesn’t have to be fancy equipment. With ring lights and microphones, even an iPhone camera can help you shoot really quality video.’

How can our readers get in touch with you?

Drift Insider is our free online learning community. It's the sales and marketing masterclass experience.’

‘And I would love to have feedback! Find me on Twitter or LinkedIn to give me feedback on Drift Insider—what could be better, what’s missing, anything.’