10 Questions with Ryan Bonnici on Inbound Marketing
When it comes to marketing, there are so many articles and resources for what you search, but the chances of finding what might actually help you are quite rare. There is so much wisdom out there that it can be a little exhausting.
That’s why we came up with Freshmarketer 10. This is our own humble attempt at fighting this marketing clutter and delivering a little value. We ask 10 questions each to marketing professionals who’ve been there, done that. So you can learn from the pros!
We’ve talked about different marketing topics with marketers who’ve had hands-on experience. We go over marketing campaigns that worked and didn’t. Also, there are great tips and advice in there as well. All of that in 10 questions. No more, no less.
10 Questions with Ryan Bonnici on Inbound Marketing
Our next marketer is Ryan Bonnici. He heads marketing at G2 (formerly G2Crowd). Before this, he was senior director of global marketing in Hubspot and also worked for huge brands like Salesforce and Microsoft.
1. You wanted to be a CMO even at the age of 10. What about marketing appealed to you at that age?
My dad told me that when I was 8, I used to tell him that I was really jealous that he had a mobile phone and was receiving all these emails on his mobile phone. He told me that once you’re older and you start getting emails, you are not going to want to receive them. And I said “no dad, I love this idea”.
So, I think I just always really liked the idea of business. Marketing is a big business driver in a lot of organizations today, and that’s one of the reasons why I really enjoy it. Also, today, I love the data side when it comes to marketing, but I just love the creative components of marketing too. When I was younger and I was seeing big ad campaigns and creative campaigns, I got excited by that and by the idea of connecting with people through content.
2. You’ve had an incredible career path and had the opportunity to work with huge brands. What do you think helped you through this journey?
If you don’t like change, then you would hate having my career path. Even staying at a company like HubSpot for three years felt like three different companies each year since we were growing as a company so quickly. And I can say the exact same for ExactTarget, SalesForce and G2. Being able to adapt really quickly and always willing to learn new things is the key to my career journey.
3. Tell us about your role as the chief marketing officer at G2 and the challenges you face?
I joined G2 a little under 2 years ago. When I joined, there were about 5 people in the marketing team. So the challenges that I faced then were quite different than what I’m facing now. But back then, it was really just about building a team because the company hadn’t really put as much investment into marketing. So if I look back to where we were and where we are now, I think there are almost 70 people in our marketing team. From 5people to 70 in two years is crazy growth. We needed to do that because we have 3 big projects that we were working on when I started, and we’re still working on.
The first is around bringing website traffic to our site because we’re a marketplace. We have software companies like FreshWorks, HubSpot, SalesForce, etc., that are on G2, and then we have millions of buyers coming to G2 every month. So when I joined, I think there were about 1 million buyers coming to the site every month and now we have maybe 3-4 million coming every month. So growing traffic has been really, really important.
The second big thing that I’ve been focusing on is building a demand-gen machine and funnel for our sales team. So, that’s much more of your traditional B2B marketing. So, we run events, we do digital advertising, we create content.
Then the third and final big priority for me over the last 2 years and still today is, looking at how we build a brand that companies all around the world know and love. Because I think we’ve got a really good cut-through, visibility, and awareness in the software landscape. Most tech companies know about G2, they’re on G2, they’re generating reviews on G2, and we have almost a million reviews on the site.
So they’re the three big things that I have been working on as a chief marketing officer, and I guess I probably will always be working on.
4. What are some key factors for achieving inbound marketing success?
The most important thing, and where so many people go wrong is, choosing the content topics. Too often people take ideas from their company or their colleagues and they don’t really validate its need. They don’t go to free tools like AHREFs or SEM Rush, or other SEO keyword research tools to look at.
We have a very SEO-driven content approach where our SEO team identifies what are the keywords that we want to rank for, and they set the direction there. Then we loop in the writer who does all the research and creates amazing content that’s beautiful and interactivity, and then they work with our link building team to generate links for the content.
But you can’t really optimize something which isn’t required to begin with. So optimization is only important if you’ve created content around the right topic in the first place. I think that’s where most people go wrong.
5. $64 million in revenue from a $6000 marketing budget. How did you make that happen?
It kind of comes down to content marketing ultimately. I wrote a pretty long blog post about this. A couple of years back, I was heading the HubSpot Sydney team. We noticed that our leads as a company were starting to slow down. We basically did a ton of research into working out what were the different content categories that we had published, which content were we ranking in Google for,, and where were the opportunities.
Long story short, we had created this tool for $6,000 as an agency in Sydney. It was an email signature generator, which really has nothing to do with HubSpot’s core business. But I think the big insight that we had as a team, and that I still drive with my teams at G2 today is — you need to think about stuff that will attract your bio-persona regardless of whether it has anything to do with what it is that you sell as a company. Because if you can pull the right people in, you can get their contact information, you can nurture them and then sell to them later.
Most companies kind of think about creating content or free tools only around things that their product or product teams can sell. I think that’s an OK strategy, but if you want to increase the top of your funnel and generate more revenue, you need to think broader than that.
So, while email signatures have really nothing to do with marketers or sales people, everyone in the business has an email signature. We can validate really quickly that — hey, there’s 50,000-plus people searching for “email signature generator,” etc. every month. If we can create a free tool that’s better than all of the other paid tools out there, people will use ours instead of the paid tools.
And then lo and behold, a few months after we had created that, we were generating something like 50,000 or 70,000 leads a month organically for this tool, which then obviously those folks moved down the funnel into revenue.
So my big advice for folks that are interested in doing such a thing is — creating content, marketing content, adding value and helping buyers that might be looking for things in relation to your product and elsewhere is a good thing. You should be doing it. But once you start to build that blog and your content marketing on your website, starting to diversify and thinking about free tools is a really interesting way to start to generate more leads and more revenue.
6. Can you tell us about some of the successful campaigns that you’ve run?
There have been a few different ones. When I was at SalesForce and ExactTarget, a campaign I was really proud of was when we ran this ‘Future of Marketing tour’ all around Asia-Pacific. And we kicked it off with this C-level, CMO kind of event beforehand, and we basically took 50 CMOs skydiving, because we were launching this new cloud marketing platform. This was a long time ago, back when cloud marketing was still new. We basically wanted to take CMOs to the cloud.
So naturally, the legal team that I was working with wouldn’t approve of us actually throwing CMOs out of planes, but they did approve us to do indoor skydiving. It was like an enterprise B2B event, but it was about connecting our sales leaders with these prospects and customers. So for the customers, it was about strengthening the relationships that we have with them, and they were spending millions per year with us at the time. And then with the prospects, it was about getting our customers to sell the value of our platform to these prospects.
So there was a really tangible value and we drove a lot of revenue from the event itself in terms of creating net new sales opportunities out of it and then helping increase renewals of customers that attended. But I think what I really liked about it was that we had a video crew actually come and record the day and turn it into this video, which is on YouTube.
We showed this video at this Future of Marketing tour that we did all around Asia-Pacific — we ran events in Sydney, Singapore, Melbourne, Brisbane, everywhere — and we showed this video of all of our customers doing skydiving and talking about why they loved about ExactTarget and Salesforce. This helped us influence and drive a lot more business at these events because people could see really famous CMOs speaking about how much they loved our tools and being a part of the community that we had created.
So that was a campaign I was really quite proud of.
7. Tell us about some of the campaigns that didn’t do so well.
There is one campaign that didn’t probably do well but I think that we still executed it really well.I just don’t think our product was right. This was a long time ago, when I was working at Microsoft. This was back when Microsoft was still number one, but Apple was starting to rise in the consumer space.
We ran a campaign with universities around Australia where we would basically fit-out. We would rent a room on campus and turn it into this Microsoft lounge where they could test the new Surface Pros and tablets. It was meant to be a way to connect with students and show them that Microsoft still had cool tools.
The execution of that was very good, but it was unfortunate that at that time Apple was just crushing it with the consumer-student persona, and they had a lot more creative options of products.
So I think marketing sometimes is only as good as the products that it’s promoting. Although it was a good experience that we provided for people at universities, I don’t think it was able to drive the amount of revenue that we intended it to drive because Apple was just doing so well and we couldn’t beat them.
8. You’ve been recently talking about mental health in the workplace. Tell us what inspired you to do this.
Mental health is something that everyone knows about, but everyone doesn’t really think about it enough. Right? We think so much about our physical health, but not about mental health. And we don’t often think of it as the same thing.
For example, yesterday I had a sick day and it was like a mental health day off work. Typically in the past, I probably would’ve felt like I couldn’t have that, but now I know my mental health is as important as my physical health. If I don’t feel great mentally and I can’t do my best work, then I’ll take the day off.
The reason why I share this example is because there’s a lot of people that feel similarly to how I used to feel. they don’t feel like they can talk about their own mental health. They probably didn’t even think about it. They just tried to avoid it.
It’s a challenge that I have faced personally and I want to share that publicly with people and talk about that so that they feel like they too can do the same.
I think everyone could benefit from having a therapist, because often times it’s when you are pushed to your limits and when things are tough, issues that you may not have worked through from childhood come through. Oftentimes we can manage ourselves pretty well, but when work or finances get too stressful or things add up, then people just break down sometimes to their more juvenile selves.
I joined a non-for-profit called Bring Change to Mind that was founded and is still led by Glen Close (the actress and activist). It’s completely focused on reducing the stigma around mental health, specifically in the US at this point. It’s something I’m really passionate about and I’ve seen a lot of benefits for myself. I love talking about it with people and share some of the tips and tricks that I’ve learned in my journey to better manage my own mental health.
9. What you think is the best approach when it comes to relationship and team building?
I’d be curious to hear what my team thinks but I just try and be authentic with them. If I’m a bit snappy in a meeting because I’m annoyed about something, I’ll often times ping them afterward and say, hey, apologies if I’m a little bit more annoyable or irritable today and this is why.
Today in leadership you don’t have to be fake. You don’t have to create a wall between yourself and people. You can be authentic and tell people how you feel. I think a lot of leaders are afraid of that. Like when they’re on a panel or they’re speaking in front of their teams, they try and project that they know everything and that everything’s okay. In an ideal world that’s great. But I think at the same time it’s fine to not know everything and to be able to say — hey, this is what I think; I’m not sure if this is right, but I’m working through it; I would love your feedback, let me know.
I focus on hiring great people, because then you just need to get out of their way and they do great work. So my biggest tip to leadership is to hire great people around you. And if you do that right, really, you have accomplished half of the challenge of leadership.
10. What advice would you give to marketers who are just starting their careers?
I was thinking about this recently. If you’re a marketer starting your career, or in your early stages in your career, I think the best thing you can do is to try and work in a regional office of a multinational company, or work for a small company. Basically a place where you can own more of marketing.
But if I think of my own trajectory, what helped me get to becoming a CMO before I was 30 was that I started as a marketing manager in the region, in Asia, and was able to own all of marketing in my regions. While I wasn’t a CMO, I still was able to run PR, social, email, digital sales, marketing, everything. So it kind of exposed me to so much more than if I would have just worked for a big company in, say, the US, where I would’ve had a very specific role.
So I would say to folks that are starting out – try and get a lot of breadth of experience and get to work in a lot of different areas with a lot of really great people, and you’ll learn really quickly that way.
That’s not to say that it’s not important to specialize and get a good depth of experience, but I think breadth and depth are something you need to balance. Because depth in one area can kind of pigeonhole you. And if you just want to stay in one area, then that’s fine. But if you want to become a CMO, you typically need to have a balance of both.
That’s our 10 questions on inbound marketing with Ryan Bonnici. Do you have more questions apart from what is discussed here? Just leave your question in the comment section. We’ll get them answered by experts. Make sure they’re related to inbound marketing 🙂
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