This past week, along with finally starting Succession and getting the frozen croissants at Trader Joe’s (two things friends had recommended to me for a very long time that I never did), I had another fun life milestone: On Thursday, I celebrated two years in my role on the growth team at Teladoc Health!
I haven’t written much about my time at Teladoc (formerly Livongo) and I think part of it came from a feeling that I still had much left to accomplish. But as I sit here and reflect Livongo’s growth over the last two years, I’m pretty proud of what we’ve done here.
We’ve enrolled close to 4x more members than when I started, launched more than thirty new campaigns, seen a regularly strong NPS and watched our product portfolio expand more every year. I recently had a meeting with a new leader who had worked with multiple subscription businesses and was positivity stunned at some of our churn metrics.
Is there a bigger lesson out of all this?
While not everything we’ve done at Livongo can be replicated elsewhere, I spent some more mulling over philosophies I’ve developed over the past two years and wanted to share a few top of mind:
1. Do boring things consistently over time.
I’m a huge sucker for a twitter thread on a sexy new marketing campaign or resplendent creative. We’ve had a ton of those. But one thing I’ve learned about some of my favorite work here is that a lot of durable growth isn’t always the campaigns that would make the front page – it’s the work at the proverbial bottom of the iceberg, unseen to the visible eye.
Things like marketing automations and flows running on a regular basis without bugs. Things like checks to make sure data is flowing regularly between platforms. Things like communicating issues to support and mobile teams quickly. Things like running minor subject line tests and tweaking every quarter. Atomic habits built to make the engines squeaky clean. If I think about a hierarchy of needs for a growth team, those are really the things at the bottom of the pyramid right above knowing your audience.
The best campaign we’ve launched will give us a solid week.
The best automation we’ve launched will give us a solid year.
2. Challenge bias and understand how the people you market to make decisions.
Lots of people have asked me over the years how to get better at growth marketing. Usually, my instinct is to send over some books that I’ve enjoyed, frameworks I’ve found useful, or acronyms to know. Traction, for example, is a great book to get an understanding of all the marketing channels out there.
But almost all of this is useless without context. Knowing the entire spectrum of options available to you is one step of a long process that involves understanding the information diet and environment of your audience.
What sites are they using to make decisions? What data jumps out at them in an everyday environment? What do they internalize from other authorities in their life? How often are they even online or opening envelopes in their mail?
Consider that the perspective your company or product has is one of ten that they are currently juggling. Its importance is ephemeral, largely liable to new influences that can arise every week.
Certainly, one way to better understand your audience is by interviewing them or testing out different channels and copy to see what resonates. But the end output won’t always be growth: the end output might just be you slowly challenging your biases.
Your assumptions about the world will shift. The campaigns you create in air-conditioned quarters won’t always be as seamlessly received. The copy you brainstormed won’t always do wonders. Over time, you get comfortable with being completely wrong.
3. Take your data with a grain of salt.
This is perhaps the most obvious one, but one that can often fall to deaf ears in a world where SQL, Tableau, Looker, and the behemoths of big data are screaming for marketers to use it everywhere. Data can fool you.
What people say and report isn’t always what they need. It’s easy to synthesize that “x customers asked for y” and implement a strategy that will use y. But this will often be confusing. People say they want new things all the time. It’s helpful to understand the action-intention gap – the actions people are taking that don’t reflect their intentions. My favorite example comes from Reddit, an anecdote where the team changed the algorithm for recommendations based on recent feeds that someone had gone to, versus the preferences they set when they signed up.
It’s also helpful to look at the context of the data to see whether it actually informs much. If we take a look at all our data from July to December 2020 to make decisions for 2022, for example, we’d look foolish. There were different constraints at play for the entire world. Some of it is still useful, but like everything else, the context is the key.
One useful heuristic I’ve found is to constantly ask myself and my team what the data isn’t telling us. Sometimes it’s a crux for new campaigns – other times, it can simply be a way to derisk our pie-in-the-sky thinking.
4. Balance quick wins with long returns.
My friend Eli Weiss from Olipop has a great tweet I love about retention, thinking about the core of three questions: Why people join you, why they would leave, and what would make them stay forever.
What’s interesting is that none of those questions are ultimately connected to money. Most people are with you not because they want you to get richer but because they have a core human need or experience to unlock and you give it to them.
Yes, I think you could certainly give people discounts and temporary giveaways to curb temporary unhappiness. But the “staying forever” or even staying for a long time means that you have to invest in the things that don’t give you quick wins or even a particular action in return: research studies, supportive SMS prompts, regular delightful content – lots of areas that feel like cost centers without a clear ROI.
Retention is ultimately the things you do that people don’t see as marketing, or particularly promotional. It feels like an extension of your standard experience. Olipop does a fantastic job with this (I’m still learning!) but the core philosophy is something I truly believe in.
Jeff Bezos has a quote about Amazon that I think applies well here: “When somebody congratulates Amazon on a good quarter, I say thank you. But what I’m thinking to myself is … those quarterly results were actually pretty much fully baked about 3 years ago.”
This means a lot of what you do today has to be considered in longer windows. Much longer than the quarter you’re currently in.
It’s hard to write a reflection piece with truly tactical advice and perhaps some of this high-level philosophy isn’t new – but I’ve always considered that not everything is inherently obvious.
Consider this one of many pieces I’ll continue to write as I share more about the work we’ve done and the way we’ve approached growth, with actual frameworks down the road on this blog.