Fireside Chat with John Pollard
John Pollard talks about his journey in setting up The Donuts Inc.
Know My Team
How big is your team and what drives them to succeed in meeting small-term and long-term goals at Donuts
We are a lean, scrappy organization here at Donuts. Fewer than 10 people manage all of our channel sales, marketing, advertising, branding, and PR. It’s a terrific mix of super-experienced people who have “been there, done that” in high-growth startup environments, combined with some very young but super-smart and motivated folks that have come to Donuts as Stop #2 in their very promising new careers.
We share a common drive to win, be the best, be the most admired and most successful domain company in our industry, and to do our own personal jobs with excellence. Plus, we motivate each other – it’s great working with very smart, very passionate people; we demand the best of each other, and of ourselves.
How tech-savvy is your marketing, sales and branding teams? How do you rate them on a scale of 1-10?
I’d say they’re pretty good, overall. The younger members of the team are – not surprisingly – the most proficient, but I’m a total tech geek, and my interests and capabilities definitely set the tone for others on the team.
How do you think young sales professionals should train themselves to master MarTech skills?
I have found that deep, meaningful collaboration (where it’s needed) is the most effective way for sales teams to learn and grow. Our salespeople won’t take no for an answer, and if the obstacle involves mastery of new technology, they’re all over it. And they’re excellent at knowledge sharing.
Which industries are fastest adopters of domain registration technologies?
Because Donuts has the world’s largest portfolio (we have 6x the number of domains, as compared to our nearest competitor), which spans most key verticals and functions, we see people and businesses everywhere embracing new top-level domains. Not surprisingly, most tech companies are early adopters of just about everything, but we have lots of end users in just about every category you can conceive.
B2B Marketing Strategy and Customer Acquisition Models
Tell us about your role at Donuts and how you got here.
I’m the Executive Vice President for Donuts Inc. Registry – the larger of our two business units. So, I lead all teams in this business, including R&D / Engineering, Back-end Operations, Product Management, Sales, Marketing, Communications and Business Development.
I was recruited to the company, but once I met the other execs, we realized we knew lots of people in common, so I was able to conduct a lot of informal due diligence through my personal networks. The result was that my comfort level was extremely high when I decided to jump onboard at Donuts Inc., and it’s proven to be a great career choice for me.
Prior to Donuts, I was CEO in Residence at Madrona Venture Labs, after having run Amazon’s Customer Reviews and Answers team. Before Amazon, I was the co-founder and CEO at Elemental, which was acquired by Porch.com. I was also co-founder and CEO of Jott, which was acquired by Nuance Communications, and served as VP and General Manager of Nuance’s Voice to Text Services division, which during my tenure grew to over 80 million unique users worldwide.
Before Jott/Nuance, I was Senior Director at Microsoft in mobile, an early manager at Expedia — where I led its global expansion and started its Corporate Travel Business Unit — and ran Microsoft Sidewalk’s international business. Before Microsoft, I was a consultant with Cambridge Technology Group and a program manager at Harvard’s Institute for International Development. I have a B.A. from Kenyon College and an M.B.A. from the University of Michigan.
Tell us about the importance of new top-level domain names with the emergence of voice technologies.
Voice technology still has plenty of challenges regarding natural-language search, online advertising, and digital branding. That’s because what you say is so very different from what you type into a browser. While every big player in voice tech is building out ‘voice search libraries’, the brands themselves need to manage their digital identity more fully and consistently, so that any consumer can ask a simple question and get what they need in a voice interaction.
That’s why branded short links and new domains are so critical to this emerging ecosystem. Brands need to embrace what we call ‘real-word’ links and new top-level domains (such as www.peets.coffee or www.tmobile.careers, for example), so they connect with speaking consumers in real-time, with the right words – real words – and NOT with strings of typed characters. Amazon itself is already ‘walking the talk’ (say the words, ‘amazon.store’ to Alexa and hear what happens).
But the payoff for brands could be huge. When consumers are captive to Alexa, imagine a whole new way for brands to think about virtual “shelf space” or retail end caps, or in-store displays – only they’re all interactive and contextual. The wonky, text-based “click to buy” call to action is no longer; it just became a much simpler “buy it now” voice interaction. What’s not to love about voice tech?
What would be the top branding tips for entrepreneurs?
It is a complex process to name your company, but more difficult now to name your company as you think about all the evolving online endpoints of your customers. Here are the top three things an entrepreneur should know about branding
- Names matter. A lot. When Larry Ellison started Software Development Labs in 1977, he had no idea that his product name, Oracle, would soon become THE brand identity of the entire company. It took him 5 years to recognize this mistake and rename the company Oracle Corporation – but then again, those were the pre-Internet days. Today, a company doesn’t have 5 years to get it right: it has about 5 minutes. Make sure your name is the right one. Before you launch.
Key considerations about a brand are meaning, what it sounds like, how easy it is to speak it, whether it’s trademarkable, memorable, and most simply, whether it’s ownable — can you actually get the name?
- If you want to be anywhere, you have to be everywhere. That said, with myriad social channels (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, WeChat, Weibo, etc.), and different devices (mobile phones, laptops, smart watches, smart cars, voice devices, etc.), it’s a huge challenge to maintain your brand online. The keys are consistency, simplicity, and ubiquity. On the web, legacy domain spaces such as .COM or .NET are played out, making it difficult to secure something clean, descriptive and memorable. New top-level domains can help people and businesses manage their digital identity more effectively and more uniformly.
Having a new domain such as .SOCIAL, .LIVE, .GROUP, .EXPERT, or SOLUTIONS helps you bring your brand to life online. Whether it’s for a website or email address, or redirects into social platforms, or for use as a branded link in advertising campaigns, new top-level domain names are empowering people and businesses to present a unique, consistent identity – wherever it appears online.
- Make Your Brand Relevant and Easy to Comprehend. With the pace of change and tech innovation approaching the speed of sound, it’s easy to get caught up in acronyms and jargon. But having a brand that your audience can relate to, directly and without explanation, is worth its weight in platinum. Especially in an age of voice-activated devices, “real word” names will connect you more rapidly and easily than complex terms. Some of our recent favorites: animations.live and aaa.capital.
Are marketing technologies pushing the boundaries of present-day brand engagement and customer experience? How often do you measure the performance of your marketing analytics and sales reporting?
Martech is having its moment, for sure. It started about 8-10 years ago with the likes of Marketo, etc. And Salesforce has been an ecosystem driver, too, as well as an industry consolidator. The beauty of martech is its measurability, and that capability just gets better and better. We are Hubspot fans here at Donuts, and our usage will only grow.
What are the dynamic elements driving your B2B customer engagement model? How do you execute Engagement Economy vision, Strategy, Product and Corporate development at Donuts?
You have to consider your audience carefully, and tailor the product to fit. For some products, perhaps that means trivial changes. For others, it could be quite extensive and non-obvious. When I took Expedia into the UK initially, we had to offer privately negotiated fares, packages, last-minute travel, and perhaps most importantly, a different “voice” in the product that wasn’t American at all.
A combination of addressable market, competitive environment, operational complexity, but critically, the degree to which it would be a distraction to our initial core market. It’s easy for an entrepreneur to get overextended.
Marketing and Sales Alignment: Social Media and Content Marketing Strategies
What are the tools and strategies you use to create effective video content at Donuts? Could you provide us a sneak peek into your MarTech acceleration strategies?
We believe that authenticity is the most important driver in the video. So we’re embarking on a new strategy (new for Donuts, but tried and true in some of my other experiences), which is to engage our end users in developing video content for us. They love the exposure and we love their voices. That, and keeping it all short. Today, a 1-minute video is too long. Instead, we look for ultra-short, 20- or 30-second ‘moments’ that help to underscore what we are trying to communicate.
What are the types of content (web and social) you create in a day, week, month, and the quarter?
In addition to the end-user-generated video, we love longer-form Q&A for our blog posts, and we are happy to retweet and share high-quality, third-party content. We stay away from “posting for posting’s sake.” We believe in fostering online conversations, but we speak only when we have value-added things to say. We LOVE to listen, however, and we do spend time doing just that – listening and reading important forums, so that we stay smart about our audiences.
Out of all marketing collateral, including the whitepaper, brochures, e-book, playbook, case studies, webinar, research reports and infographics, which resonates the most with your customers?
We like showing audiences examples of real-world usage of new domains “in the wild.” And that’s also where customer videos come in.
Customer Success and Technology Insights
Do you see sales and marketing technologies unifying or evolving together to deliver higher ROI to CMOs?
We have been very successful at introducing some novel digital advertising techniques to our registrar customers. We’ve been able to make some strategic keyword buys, that then funnel visitors to dedicated landing pages that display compelling choices in new top-level domains, which we then triage to participating channel partners’ websites. We’ve shown that we can drive high-value buyers into our registrar partners’ funnels. This project is still in test mode, but early results are exciting for us and for our registrar customers.
What is that one piece of advice you received that you would like to pass on to the MarTech industry?
When it comes to building website content, branding is everything.
If you want to be anywhere, you have to be everywhere.
That said, with myriad social channels (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, WeChat, Weibo, etc.), and different devices (mobile phones, laptops, smart watches, smart cars, voice devices, etc.), it’s a huge challenge to maintain your brand online. The keys are consistency, simplicity, and ubiquity. On the web, legacy domain spaces such as .COM or .NET are played out, making it difficult to secure something clean, descriptive and memorable. New top-level domains can help people and businesses manage their digital identity more effectively and more uniformly.
Having a new domain such as .SOCIAL, .LIVE, .GROUP, .EXPERT, or .SOLUTIONS helps you bring your brand to life online. Whether it’s for a website or email address, or redirects into social platforms, or for use as a branded link in advertising campaigns, new top-level domain names are empowering people and businesses to present a unique, consistent identity – wherever it appears online.
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Thank You, John, for answering all our questions. We hope to see you again at MTS, soon.