Ty Magnin’s “Fewer Things Done Better” Approach to Marketing
The marketing world constantly sells us the narrative of more.
More hacks. More campaigns. More tools. More more more.
It’s overwhelming, to be honest.
The bigger problem is more doesn’t always translate to results. Sometimes (most of the time?) fewer things done better is the way to actually move the needle.
Ty Magnin, the Director of Marketing at Appcues, knows this first-hand. His “fewer but better” philosophy has shaped the way he approaches blogging, email sends, customer stories, and life. It also helps him never to half-ass anything.
Here’s the story behind how Ty developed this approach, and became the marketer he is today.
The road to marketing
Ty’s journey to becoming a marketer started out the way most people’s does…by having nothing to do with marketing.
In high school and college, Ty was big into poetry and majored in film. The latter led to his first startup gig—shooting videos for fast growing-companies while studying the craft at Boston University.
Getting good at poetry also set the stage for his future marketing career and his fewer but better approach. In Ty’s words: “Most of marketing is writing. I think if you have a love of writing, you get focused on the particulars. That attention to detail plays out when you’re writing marketing copy and orchestrating campaigns.”
Case in point: Ty’s The 5 Best Walkthrough Examples for Web Apps. The writing is clear and engaging, with zero fluff. It does more with less.
After college, Ty became the first marketer at Work Market, an on-demand labor platform in New York City. He put his poetry and words skills to work—translating complex technology developments into end results customers actually cared about.
During his time at the company, Ty also learned first-hand how the “aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous” by giving the sales team what they needed to close deals.
Ty also dabbled in coding (what growth marketer doesn’t?), spinning up little boxes to communicate with customers and deploying those changes himself. Until, that is, they “grew too big to let some hack like me loose on their database.”
After a good three year run, a small startup out of Boston caught Ty’s eyes with its solid product—that let him create those same little boxes, code-free—and its fewer but better approach. Enter Appcues.
How Appcues gained early audience traction
Content marketing usually starts out the same at every company.
Fire up a blog. Even if you don’t know where it’s going or why it exists. Write a bunch of boring product updates and “Hey World!” sentiments. Figure it out along the way with little direction and lots of iterating…the perfect metaphor for life at a startup.
However Appcues—in fewer but better fashion—did not start with a blog.
Sure. They launched with the obligatory press-push. The TechCrunch mention, et al.
But co-founders Jackson and Jonathan had something different in mind…The Onboarding Bible. (Not the name, but that’s what it became.)
The duo created a 16-lesson in-depth onboarding academy that covered every facet of how user onboarding should work, including how to successfully activate users and grease the wheels for future retention.
The content was evergreen, laser-focused, and the perfect gateway drug to learning about user onboarding then using Appcues to do it. Unsurprisingly, years later the academy is still one of the company’s best converting channels from email address to new customer.
“The upfront work extended the value and the life of the content,” said Ty. Instead of haphazardly throwing a blog together and pursuing a more more more quota, Appcues made a strategic decision to create less content that accomplished more.
So what lesson can we learn here? In Ty’s words: “Our time and energy only goes so deep. We need to focus on the few things that are going to make a big impact, because we just can’t do it all.” These are wise words from someone who’s figured it out on the fly, after life got complicated when he least expected it.
When invention is the mother of necessity
Ty was a serious lacrosse player growing up. His teammate and co-captain was an All-American, and Ty was “his wingman.” (The Goose to his Maverick? Except, you know, without the whole tragic death thing.)
Ty’s sights were set on playing in college, too. Until the unexpected happened…
He had a son at the age of 17.
The parents out there (myself included) know that parenting is like an early-stage startup. Exhausting. Overwhelming. But then you have these sweet moments where you realize how lucky and fortunate you are to be doing what you’re doing. In the process, you learn how to cut things out, adjust your priorities, and do more with less. You have to. That’s just how becoming a parent works.
It’s events like these where the personal meets the professional, where a life philosophy translates into a work philosophy, and where we should just let the the two bleed into each other because they just do, dammit.
Fewer but better at Appcues
Today at Appcues, Ty finds himself saying “no” more often. He recognizes that there’s only so much time in the day, only so much energy to go around, before he has to head out the door to pick up his son from school or coach his lacrosse practice. So every marketing initiative needs to count.
For example, Appcues used to send out a weekly newsletter. The format included three or four blog posts along with product updates and a few other miscellaneous items, too. Ty’s favorite miscellaneous section (and mine!) was Ted’s Terrible Jokes, compliments of Ted, the company’s in-house comedian and Account Executive.
Ty also curated articles from around the web to include in each newsletter. But, admittedly, the “curation of posts was a little weak.” Over time, and after numerous terrible jokes, Ty realized that the weekly format wasn’t the most effective way to get people to the blog.
So he switched it up. Ty killed 99% of the newsletter, and now just sends a single email each time a blog post goes out. “More people are visiting the blog, and the single email format sets a high bar for each piece. The only downside is Ted’s jokes aren’t going out. People miss those jokes.”
Trimming the newsletter freed up time to devote to other projects. This is fewer but better in action.
Another example: Ty scaled back on social media after the numbers showed the channel didn’t bring in new first touches. Most companies would never consider posting fewer updates since the “social media is amazing” narrative is so pervasive, especially in the tech space. But, the investment wasn’t paying dividends so he cut it. Awesome. Fewer but better.
Last example: Appcues used to have use-case specific blog posts targeting queries like user retention software, user engagement software, and more. Lots of keywords, lots of pages. In Ty’s words: “We half-assed those pages. Their conversion rates were OK, but not as high as other pages we put a lot of love into. They just ended up sitting there.”
So what did he do?
“Instead of adding more, I decided to trim the fat and cut those pages. I spent a few months getting new customer stories and user feedback to create a brand new customers page. The end result was more beneficial and helpful than all of those other pages were.” Fewer things done better, again.
Applying fewer but better
What does fewer things done better look like for you? How can you apply this to your company? Ty says to start with a different mindset. “Adding something new is what our brains default to in order to get the next win. If we want 12% more leads, we think we have to do 12% more spend or 12% more blog posts or 12% more whatever. But that’s not always the right thing to do.”
Ty also recommends starting with your gut, then confirming it with the data. “A lot of marketing decisions start with data. But even before that, I believe they start with realizing that the quality of your marketing isn’t where you want it to be and your brand isn’t giving off the impression you want it to. Are you proud with what you’ve released? Or is your marketing subpar because you’re trying to do too much? Start there, then look at the numbers.”
But most of all, it’s about getting real. Ty goes on to say: “You have to look in the mirror at the campaigns, channels, and stories and decide which ones you’re going to double down on, because by saying yes to some things you’re saying no to other things. It takes an honest approach.”