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B2B Marketing Strategies and Trends: Jack Ford Shares His Expertise from Hive HR

Jack Ford , Head of Marketing at Hive HR

In this episode of Wytpod, Harshit Gupta interviews Jack Ford, the Head of Marketing at Hive HR. Jack discusses his marketing journey, emphasizing sector-focused campaigns and content production based on unique data and expert insights. He highlights the effectiveness of paid search, content refresh, and AI tools in their marketing strategies. The conversation explores Hive’s role in amplifying the employee voice for organizational performance. Jack shares insights on SEO strategies, leveraging data-driven insights, and upcoming trends in HR technology, including the impact of AI and the significance of people analytics. 

Hive HR is an employee feedback platform that offers survey tools with people science insights to enhance organizational performance

Jack Ford
Head of Marketing at Hive HR

Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of Wytpod. My name is Harshit, and I’m the Director of Business Alliance at Wytlabs. We are a digital agency specializing in SaaS and e-commerce SEO. I’ve got Jack Ford with me today. He’s the Head of Marketing at Hive HR. Now, Hive is an employee feedback platform, and they offer survey tools with people science insight to drive organizational performance. A big welcome to you, Jack. I’m so happy to have you here with me today.

Yeah, great. Thanks, Harshit. I’m excited to have this conversation. It’d be interesting being sort up on your previous episode. But yeah, hopefully, I can keep up the good guests that you’ve had so far.

Now, before we dive into all the awesome things you do at Hive can you please let the viewers know a little bit about you and your professional journey so far?

Yeah, no problem. It was quite fun. I always think about my start in marketing coming when I was young because I used to love the adverts on telly. I’d be watching programs and a cut to an ad break. I’d be engrossed in the ads that I’d be showing. I still remember some of my favorite ones now. I used to be engaged with those. While everyone was nipping off to go get a drink or something else, I’d be staring, watching the adverts. So that was my first introduction to marketing, perhaps. But then when I went to school and university, focused on business, and I got a taste for the science behind it, the theory, making sure that you understand who’s buying, the targeting. And that drove me towards the business side rather than advertising. Yeah, an early start, you could say, but refined through school and university. Been in marketing for over 20 years now. I know it makes me question quite where those years have gone. But yeah, so 14 of those have been in SaaS and software. The first five of those 14 were for a FTSE 100 company. So the 100 biggest companies traded in the UK stock market.

 

And that was great. That was great learning and training on digital channels, email, and content production. I’ve got great ground in there. But I think what I found was that because it was such a big company, the roles ended up being quite narrow. It was great to learn. But when I got up to speed and wanted to advance and push boundaries, it did feel like I wanted to do more than my role and the structure would let me do. Since then, I’ve moved into scale-up-sized businesses, working in SaaS, working in e-commerce, live video streaming, and now in HR tech. So, yeah, a different array of target audiences and marketplaces, but I’ve managed global teams, and produced live video content, and shows. It’s been It’s been amazing. I had some great experiences and worked with some great people. I think I found my strength and what I enjoy doing is working in a scale-up-size business where you have a small team to manage, so your output can be more, but I’m still doing the work. I’m still involved on a day-to-day basis in the market and still on the tools, if you like, as well as setting the strategy. It’s a good mix of both for sure.

Yeah, I’m sure. Because this phase gives you the real kick, to be honest. It’s much more exciting compared to a mature business, for sure. That’s an interesting place to be. All right, now let’s talk about Hive. I would love to understand what marketing strategies have you found most effective in the B2B space, especially in the niche Hive is in.

Yeah, no problem. I think to introduce it and to caveat, I’d say the current vision I’ve got for my team is to produce commercially efficient, fridge-worthy marketing. That’s like trying to blend two, the science and the art of marketing into one. I want to make sure that any marketing that we’re doing is driving the key goals for the business, which is annual current revenue. If we’re doing marketing that’s not attributed to that, then we’re wasting our time. And then the fridge-worthy piece, that is harking back to when you were at school and if you did well on your spelling test or you drew a lovely picture and it came back and your parents would stick it on the fridge. So it’s been producing work that you’re proud of, whether that’s because of how it looks, because of the results it’s achieved, but making sure that pride is going into our market. And so really, the campaigns and the strategies that we do hang off that vision. And it dictates the channels, the strategies that we use is make sure in there. I think at the minute it went high, and to be honest, in the past three roles that I’ve had, focusing on sectors has been a key success.

 

That’s narrowing down where we’re succeeding, where we’re winning and retaining our customers, and doubling down or leaning into those sectors. That’s producing case studies, producing content specifically for that sector, maybe looking at channels and media that sector specifically is looking at. That could be, I think, about healthcare being a key sector for us. It’s where those people are specifically looking. It will be a journal or a publication specific to that sector. It’s narrowing down that sector. All our approaches help as a key strategy. Then content production. We have three areas in which we want to produce content. It doesn’t have to be, but we try to aim for unique data. We’ve got employee engagement benchmarks. We come out of our platform from hundreds of thousands of employees across the UK. Anonymous data, but we can provide benchmarks for companies and HR leaders to level themselves against. Whether it’s expert insight for our people science team. These people are very qualified. They work with our customers every day. They are the ones who got that expert insight to pass on. We want to make sure we can amplify that, and get that into the marketplace.

 

Or if it’s use cases, how do people take our product and use it and make a difference in their business? If we can cover those three areas, then that’s what our content needs to be around. We find great resonance within that, whether that’s sector-specific, whether that’s use case-specific, and to a pain point. But yeah, those three pillars of content are what we’re aiming for. I’d say paid search, performs well for us. Sometimes feel like it’s a bit of a dirty word to say when it comes to the B2B market. I know B2C, that’s where it works well. But in B2B, yeah, we’ve got a great model. We’ve got a digital market manager here at Hive who has worked well on that paid ad side of things, and we generate a lot of interest at different levels of the funnel, the awareness, and the different levels of buying intent. So, yeah, that is another key strategy for us.

Okay. And How many touchpoints does it need through the paid campaign? Let’s talk specifically about that. For a prospect to convert into a customer on your platform.

Yeah. How long is a piece of string? That is the quite trite answer there. But it does vary. Just today, we saw someone coming via a Google ad, to fill out a demo request form. They then spoke to our sales discovery team, and they’ve got a demo booked for Friday, so in two days. That process might be massively shortened. We see ones that take months to come through. They might come through from our paid landing page, it might be a challenge that they’re aware of. They might need to know that they need to improve well-being in their workplace, but they don’t know that it’s going to be survey-driven. That type of paid ad lead will take months to convert, and we bid accordingly and put the right resources behind that. So yeah, it’s quite varied between Which campaign are they showing real buying intent? Because that is, as expected, a lot fewer touch points before they come into our enterprise sales funnel. And if they’re coming in on a challenge, then yeah, We’ve seen people be in the nurture channel for up to two years. They’ve consumed loads of content.

 

They’re signed up for our newsletter, but the timing’s not right. Either they’ve not secured the budget, maybe within a contract with someone else, or they’re just not ready to engage in that sales process. But I love those people. The people that signed up to our newsletter and read everything that we send, they’re the type of people for sure.

That makes sense. Gives your prospect a good brand recall as well. So makes perfect sense. Now, because you’re Now, your platform focuses on amplifying the employee voice. How do you incorporate this USP overall in your brand development strategies?

It’s a real careful consideration. We’re targeting HR leaders. A typical job title might be Chief People Officer or H. R. Director. We’re supporting them to achieve organizational goals, not necessarily H. R. Departmental goals. It’s looking at the business as a much wider thing, and that’s usually driven around change. That could be a change that’s happened. Maybe they bought another company and they’ve got Hundreds of new headcounts coming in and different cultures coming into the business and trying to assimilate those. Or it could be that actually they’re about to go through a restructure and maybe they’ve lost some people or they’ve lost resources. There’s a change that happened and they need to drive the business forward they need to measure how employees are feeling, and what employees’ inputs can be. That can be change has happened, or where we do well, where we can provide the value is the change that’s planned. People know that they want to Organizations know that they need to change, I don’t know, way of working, the head count, the department structure. By including employee voice in that process, they can uncover loads of information that wouldn’t be seen on spreadsheets or reports.

 

It’s really into the themes of the feedback. Yeah, making sure that we support HR leaders with that change how they can measure the impact of that change, and what next steps they can take. That’s really where we want to try to drive that within our brand positioning. It can sometimes get conflated with employee engagement, which is great, but it’s something slightly different. It’s making sure that feedback goes into those goals, the change the business is trying to make, not solely for the HR team to make sure people respond to surveys. It’s really about that insight and the change that comes from those surveys and that employee feedback. Yeah, it’s supporting those advanced HR leaders that want to drive the business forward, have their level at the G suite around that director, sitting next to the CFO and the sales directors and operation managers, heads of operation, and make sure that they’re driving the business. It’s crucial, and it’s something that we’re trying to help drive with those HR leaders.

Okay. I’m going to be a little biased here and ask you some SEO-specific questions. That’s our background. Okay. What is any specific SEO strategy that you would like to highlight that has done wonders for your new lead generation, increasing your visibility traffic on your site?

Yeah, I think I talk about our overall SEO strategy and dive into some specifics. We try to split our time in two, really, from targeting keywords to producing new content, where we can try and fill some gaps. I’m sure every marketing team out there has this content plan. They understand where the content gaps are for keywords, and they’re trying to fill those up. We’re looking at those and prioritizing those, but we know what our resources are. We’re not a vast haul of writers who are going to be able to produce hundreds of blogs every day, week, or month. That’s just not our resources. We do a good job of prioritizing what we’re going for, whether that’s a difficulty, competition, whether that’s keywords that we’re actively here within the buying cycle as well. They jump up their priority. But we all spend a really good amount of time revisiting the content that’s already on the site. The content machine at Hive has been going for several years now, and we’ve got some well-established pieces that an hour, or two hours of updating, will perform well. So making sure that we spend enough time to go back into the archives and pick up what’s been performing well before and updating it.

 

They’re key points. Some stuff that’s worked well for us in the past, quite recently, has been unique research. So we researched employee retention rates and the production or the analysis of that data, and that worked well. We were able to employ retention everywhere, and particularly in the UK, where we focus. It’s been a huge challenge. Was it the great resignation that has been a key term? It’s been in the popular lexicon for the past couple of years. But yeah, from a business point of view, we tapped into putting some unique, doing the research, analyzing it, producing it in several different formats. Within there, we got key insights that people have linked to. We’ve got some good backlinks from there. But we’ve also then been able to take off the key pain points our customers are feeling We can bring brought up and we can answer questions. We can show them why people are thinking of leaving, and what people have done when they’ve left. There’s some great research in there. I think the way that we took that to market helped produce some real keyword targeting by pain point. Then also the links that were generated were something that we hadn’t done before in terms of that research piece.

That’s brilliant. Then you mentioned a very good point about content refresh. Most of the SEO professionals miss out on that opportunity. It’s a big opportunity. I would love to understand the mechanism that you follow, which content piece you should pick, and it’s time for the refresh altogether. Do you follow any process for it, or is it just looking into basically some analytics, maybe the content piece is fading out. What do you do?

Yeah, it’s not particularly stringently structured. We take a bit of an agile approach to it, but things that we’ll look for Are blogs, which are the posts that appear in our top 20 organic traffic. And then look at the age of those. So are they more than six, or nine months old? If so, then If they’re performing that well for that amount of time, we’ve got new data, and we’ve got new UX experiences on our blog pages that we can improve. We’ve got new data we can add in there, which I’ve mentioned. We look at ones that are performing well despite not being our newest way of producing content. We look at that. Again, I mentioned the keywords that appear in our buying cycle and our buying journeys. That’s key as well. One of our top-performing posts, both from Direct and organic traffic, is the link between employee voice and organizational performance. We know that one, that we include in our sales cycle. That’s a real key piece of information because as we talked about, that’s what the USP is. But it’s great to see that both the organic traffic and direct.

 

We know people were serving it, but it’s also a keyword that people are searching for. So stuff like that can help validate what we need to go back and update.

Got you. All right. Now, with your background in data analysis, how does your organization leverage data-driven insights to shape marketing decisions and strategies? What are the main KPIs that you’re looking at?

Yes, we’re at high. Everyone is driven. The number one KPI is annual recurring revenue. That’s refreshing. I’ve been in marketing teams where we’ve been quite removed from that because it was either hard to prove what marketing did or it felt like it was too hard to claim any credit for that. But yeah, I have everyone’s key KPIs, and that provides the guardrails of what we can look to do. Of course, we get smaller KPIs, sales sales-qualified leads. That’s the marketing KPI that we work towards. A lot of the data that I look at is how are the channels performing. Are they being cost-efficient to produce SQLs? Does the time taken to get to an SQL stage? Is it longer for one channel? Is it too long for some channels? Is it too expensive? There’s that channel awareness there when it comes to that data-drivenness. I’ve already talked about sector focus in terms of that’s one of the key strategies. That’s driven by the data that we have. We know what sectors we’re best at winning. We know which sectors we retain well or we can upsell into. Without that type of data, we’d be doing the best guess at the sector.

 

That really can drive a lot of information as well. How quickly do those sectors convert? If we’re in a position where we need to get some deals through the door before a certain time frame, there’s no point looking at the public sector or health care because they’re longer-term deals. But we can look at other sectors for us, which are more of a quicker turnaround time. So professional services, they’re often quite a quick turnaround time because they’re ready and ready to go as less layers of red tape. That type of data-driven stuff can help us pitch some short-term marketing tactics, but the data that we have decides where we’re going to play. It also helps us build in. If we know that we can achieve our targets, this year, for example, we know that we’re very confident that we’re going to achieve our targets, and my manager might not like me to call this, but a bit of a fun zone where we know that we’ve got something new to try. It’s innovation is probably the more professional term for it, is where we can look to use new channels or do something different without impacting on how we’re going to achieve our goals.

 

We’re in a good position there, I think, with knowing how we’re going to perform and being able to drop certain campaigns or push go on a certain channel if we need extra. There is everywhere within this market team. That’s why I love it. Probably an anomaly amongst a lot of marketers, but I love a spreadsheet. It helps drive our campaigns and I think success so far.

No, it makes sense. And what marketing technology or platforms that you leverage for your multiple channel targeting, which It’s reporting also?

Hubspot is the number one tech that we use, whether that’s in marketing, sales, or customer success, it drives our insight into our customer base and our audience. There’s a load of automation in there that triggers off behavior, off whether certain features are enabled in the product. Hubspot is, I like to say it’s our source of truth. I’m sure there are always some more updates that people can do in HubSpot. That’s the thing about CRM. But yeah, so that’s a real key part of our tech stack, and alongside that Zapia. To make sure all the other bits of information and technology that we use, connect to HubSpot and maintain the source of truth. That’s important. It’s a good example, actually, of how we use a system called Honch, which is a database if you like. Very well-kept database. I’d recommend it to people out there. They have a great connection. One of their strengths is finding new appointments and promotions in the sectors that you’re looking for. Using Zapier and HubSpot with Honch, we can trigger automation that provides people in their first 90 days with a great piece of content, It was specifically aimed at that challenge or at that point where we know that they’re new to the role.

 

We’ve got, I can’t remember the exact type, but how to succeed as an HR leader in the first 90 days or what you can get from an employee voice in the first 90 days. That’s been successful. That has generated sales conversations, leads, SQLs, and customers. So stitching those three together has been great. Google Ads, I mentioned paid ads before. It could be a miss not to mention that. It works well for us. Search console, AREFs as well for organic and SEO research. That’s some of our key ones. There’s always the odd tool we started using, OpusPro, which is guy video software. As we look to increase our video output. That’s, again, being aware of our resources within our team. I’d love to have a video marketing professional on our team. Not on the radar for now, but OpusPro can help us take existing long-reform content break it down, and produce much more content for us to use across several different channels. We’ve seen success with that already, helping more people within Hive be more active on social media. LinkedIn, for example, by breaking down clips to share more easily as opposed to a 20, 30, or 40-minute webinar, which realistically people aren’t going to sit through on LinkedIn.

 

That’s been a good new addition this year.

That’s amazing, man. Now, looking ahead, what trends do you foresee in the HR technology industry? And how do you plan to adapt to high marketing strategies to stay at the forefront?

Yeah. So I guess following on from what I just mentioned about the new AI tool that we’re using within marketing. I think AI has yet to fully blossom in the HR tech space. There have been additions to current products and services, but it doesn’t feel like there’s anything that’s really opened the market’s eyes to AI and changed the game yet. I think it won’t be long. It certainly won’t be long until it just becomes normal that there are AI helpers or generative question banks within the employee voice space. That will be normal, but I think it won’t be long until a provider produces a feature that is a real game changer that shifts the balance to them, the balance power to those, to that provider. Yeah, I think we want to be there. We’re aiming to be there. I think the power of the market in that strategy that will impact will be that real deep understanding of the sectors. We found within our day, based on with our customers at the minute, that what they’re We use the software for may be similar on the surface, but actually, some of the key challenges do vary by sector.

 

If we continue to get that deep understanding of sectors, that will help. We’ll continue to help with product development and how we can benefit from AI. I  think the market in place will be how we get that engagement with customers or target customers to help generate and influence what the product will look like and what new AI innovation we can gather from those pain points. We were talking about it internally recently, Henry Ford’s famous quote about cars. If you ask people what they want, they’d say a faster horse. They couldn’t possibly imagine a car. That’s what it’s like for AI, and I suppose a lot of circumstances now is if we were to ask people now, they’d probably be quite small iterative steps that they think of with AI. I’m not sure anyone can quite yet grasp what it could do in the HR tech space. So yeah, definitely think that’s it. That’s something that we need to get that understanding. The second thing I’d say would be it’s probably not new to HR tech, but people analytics as a term has been popular in the past 12 to 18 months.

 

But I think as with any product or called trend adoption. We’ve got the early movers and the innovators on to people analytics, but there’s the early and the late majority that I think are going to follow the people analytics, get really up to speed with what people analytics, HR analytics will mean this year. I think people understand it as it’s data, it’s a number that I can put on something. It’s much more than that. It’s using that data, connecting it with insight, and taking the actions needed from that. That’s exactly why Our heart of our perfect place to do that. The platform can give the data. But we’ve got our people science team who absolutely that’s what they do every day is they take the data, they turn it into insight. We hear all the time from HR leaders, that I’m drowning in data. I’ve got so many spreadsheets. I’ve done a survey and it’s going to take me six months to go through the data. That’s no good for anyone. If I’m an employee and I filled a survey in six months ago and I’m only getting to hear about the changes six, nine months later, That’s no good.

 

It needs to be quicker than that. We find that all the time. I think that as the early and late majority move into getting to understand the real crux of people analytics, so it’s connecting data insight with action, then that’s going to be a big trend, I think, this year is people coming up to speed with that. That’s why I talked about that content before. I talked about unique data, insight from people experts, and use cases. That is connecting the data with insight and action. It’s not a coincidence. This is what we think is going to work. We see a lot of people move into that now.

No, I agree with you. Jack, we’re coming to an end, and I would love to have a quick rapid-fire with you. Are you ready for that?

Okay, yeah. Go for it.

Okay. What one word do you want people to associate you with?

Curious.

Interesting. Are you a private person or not?

Not really. No, I don’t think so. No, I like talking. You’re going to have to do some editing on this podcast. I could be talking for hours.

Are there any funny nicknames are your parents, your friends, your work colleague, or your Chicago?

The only slight one that I’ve had before is people have said that I look like, and I’m going to regret saying this, but people have said that I’ve looked like Finch from the American Pie movies. Yeah, they always love that one.

Now, because You should have mentioned it. Yeah, that’s correct.

Yeah. That’s the one I’ve had before, even being on holiday before, and people have mentioned that to me, which is always interesting.

The whole series of American, was awesome, man. Hi, what’s your last Google search?

Last Google search? Do you know what? Before this, I checked Google Trends on people analytics to see how that was trending. Yeah, quite boring, I’m afraid, but that’s what it was.

That’s interesting to me, at least. All right, what’s something you could eat for a week straight?

Chocolate. Every day, all day.

Okay. And you don’t gain fat.

I’m yet to test that, but I think it’s probably good.

All right. Thank you so much, Jack. Thank you for sharing so many useful insights about your experiences. I appreciate your time here with me today. Thank you so much.

Yeah, I appreciate the info. I enjoyed.

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