by Brian Sun, Senior Manager, Content Marketing, Autopilot

5 Marketing Lessons Learned From Liftopia, Yelp, and AllTrails

Mad scientists don’t just build scary monsters and plot to take over the world. They also turn hard data into real business results.

At least, that’s what Ron Schneidermann did as Head of Growth at Yelp Reservations.

With over 15 years of marketing and business development under his belt, Ron has seen his share of wins, losses, and unexpected discoveries.

He fell into marketing while building his own company, Liftopia, in 2005. Eight years later, he went on to Yelp, where he achieved 10x growth in reservable inventory in his first 12 months. And now, as the CMO of AllTrails, he helps people explore the outdoors with the largest collection of hand-curated trail maps, reviews, and crowdsourced photos available.

That’s why we sat down with Ron and asked him to share his most valuable lessons from the front lines.

Here’s what he had to say.

1. Harness the power of first-party data

In the mad scientist’s lab, first-party data is the secret ingredient.

When Ron joined AllTrails, for instance, the company already had an SEO machine that was pulling in tons of free traffic. They just didn’t know how to optimize their funnels and truly control the process.

That’s where data came in. Ron saw an opportunity to optimize the platform’s 50,000+ trails by hand-curating each one with the proper keywords, thumbnails, and calls to action.

Each page was also assigned relevant attributes, such as “dog-friendly,” “kid-friendly,” and “wheelchair-friendly.” With all of these data-filled pages, AllTrails could then create nearly endless programmatic page types.

all trails

For instance, they could automatically pull trails into lists such as “The Best Hiking Trails in California” and “The Best Kid-Friendly Trails in San Francisco.”

“It was a brutal process, but our data set became much richer,” Ron said. “Now we have this beautiful structured data set. And on the SEO side, it allowed us to create so many new page types which is just sucking in more traffic.”

2. Focus on empathizing with—not manipulating—your audience

If data is the science of marketing, empathy is the art.

As Ron said, “The single most important thing that I can bring to the table as a marketer is empathy for the end user and really understanding what the day-to-day looks like for that person.”

The single most important thing that I can bring to the table as a marketer is empathy.

At Liftopia, for instance, Ron was committed to helping skiers find better deals at ski resorts. But he knew there was no shortage of lifestyle companies in the ski industry. So he needed to find a way to differentiate his business from the horde.

The only way to do that was to truly understand his customers’ lives, challenges, and needs. This way, he could tailor his messages accordingly and reach people in just the right place at the right time.

3. Teach users how to win with your product

If you’re selling a software or B2B product, remember that people don’t want tools; they want results. If you don’t walk them through the product and help them see the light at the end of the tunnel, they might just get frustrated and give up.

That’s what Ron learned at Yelp Reservations.

yelp reservations

When he started, the company had a marketing page inviting people to sign up for a free, week-long trial. Restaurateurs were biting, but they weren’t converting at the end of the trial. Why? Because the product was complicated to set up, and they didn’t put the time to make it work.

As Ron said, “They never configured it properly and so … the potential customers were drawing false conclusions about the quality of the product based off of an incomplete sign-up.”

The natural solution was to scrap the free trial and offer guided tours with sales representatives right off the bat. This way, prospects didn’t have an opportunity to get lost and frustrated while using the product. They were able to see the potential of the platform at first contact.

4. Give your users the tools to build a community

Once you’ve hooked your customers, you can turn them into devoted advocates and help them spread the word about your company.

That’s why AllTrails just released a new social sharing feature for its community of over 4 million hikers. When users record their hikes, the tool shows their total route and distance on a map, complete with an overlaid graph of their elevation. This allows customers to enjoy an even richer product experience, and it allows AllTrails to build loyalty with its user base.

All Trails sharing

“[It’s about] listening to the users and figuring out, what else can we put in front of them that’s going to either reduce a roadblock or make it that much easier for them so that when they’re at peak interaction and peak excitement?” Ron said. “We’re not hacking anything. It’s just … let’s listen to our user.”

5. Earn executive buy-in

“Head of Growth” is a sexy title, and C-suite executives love to throw it around. But, as Ron said, “if it’s a not a value that’s in the company’s DNA or a true mandate from the executive team, you’re going to fail.”

At Yelp, for example, Ron held weekly meetings with the executive team and even joined in on the earnings calls. This didn’t just keep the C-suite updated on his growth strategies; it also helped him garner support for his initiatives and convince other departments to share their resources.

If the data tells us to move on, we're moving on. That's how you make an impact.

Still, if you’re having trouble getting that backing, just remember to use your data. It’s hard to argue against concrete numbers.

“I don’t give a shit how you feel about that design, about that product,” Ron said. “If the data tells us to move on, we’re moving on. That’s how you can actually come in and make a positive impact. But if people are territorial — if you have these fiefdoms and they’re just going to put a wall up — you’re screwed.”

No growth hacks—just solid strategies

Computers can be hacked; people can’t. That is to say, there’s no quick fix to building an engaged audience of customers and enticing people to buy your product. People have to be nurtured and guided along the way.

That’s why Ron doesn’t offer any sneaky tricks for generating leads. Instead, he shares valuable lessons from years of perfecting his marketing strategies. Use first-party data to build an SEO machine. Understand your consumer’s wants and needs. And make sure you have support from the C-suite.

So now it’s your turn. By applying these lessons to your business, you can build better solutions for your customers and maybe even start a mad science lab of your own.

Tune in to the original interview to hear more of Ron Schneidermann’s lessons, and let us know about your own marketing challenges and wins in the comments.

Author Brian Sun, Senior Manager, Content Marketing, Autopilot

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