What’s the most important trait for a marketer? Which brands do retention-focused professionals look towards for a dose of copy inspiration? How big a role does data play for the advertising platform needing to set themselves apart from their competitors? But first and foremost – What does a retention strategy look like for a half-a-billion-dollar company with over 16 offices and more than 600 employees?
That’s the main challenge that Outbrain’s Head of Customer Engagement & Retention Lauren Pica overcomes every day. We reached out to Lauren to learn more about her role, why she thinks all marketers should roll up their sleeves and embrace a scrappy mentality, and which superstar influenced the company’s decision to highlight the employee hustling the hardest each month.
Let’s get right into your background
“I’ve been working since the day I graduated. And every company that I’ve worked for has always been in some kind of growth stage, or the opposite, so I’ve had to bring an element of scrappiness to the table. Up until this point, I’ve always focused on all-things marketing, from PR to retention to acquisition. And I would say that that background has really set me up to thrive at Outbrain. We have a lot of offices, we have a lot of employees, but if you’re not scrappy, this might not be the place for you. Even high-level executives are rolling up their sleeves and getting into the nitty-gritty of things. And that’s what’s so awesome about our team here – we’re all working hard, and working hard toward a common purpose. For me personally, retention is all-encompassing, so I get to embrace the scrap, and open myself across teams and projects, globally.”
What did your former companies do?
“I worked for two extremely different companies in two extremely different industries; one in video gaming, the other in commercial printing and packaging. One that was a bit tech-forward, one that was a bit old-school. And to me, that was the exciting part, because in tech you always have to be ahead of the game. But in a more old-school environment, you have to really prove yourself and the power of marketing to begin opening forward-thinking eyes. For me, it’s always about understanding the end consumer, how they think, and why they make decisions that they do. I studied business administration, marketing, and psychology. And I gotta say, I think I learned more in psychology than any of my other classes. The more knowledge you have about the brain and why we do the things we do, the better marketer you’ll be.”
Let’s talk your current role. How long have you worked for Outbrain and what initially drew you to the company?
“I’ve been at Outbrain for a little over a year now. I saw the opportunity to work on what was then the Customer Success team, and it seemed fascinating to me. I originally came in as an Email Marketing Manager, and we quickly adjusted my responsibilities toward Retention after realizing my role was so much more than email. Now, I’m the go-to for all-things retention.”
What did Outbrain have in terms of retention before you arrived?
“Before I started, I was told, ‘We’re in the middle of a re-org. Would you like to start afterwards?’ And I said, ‘You know what? No.’ Change happens, and that’s a great thing about being a marketer, the sense of agility. Before I took the position, they were in the midst of revamping the role, so when I got there, I was able to put my nose in everybody’s business. I was meeting with all of the teams to see what our biggest pain points were and how could we solve for them. I decided to drill into customer lifecycle management, starting with our newest clients. They should be our number one priority. If we give them a great experience in the beginning, there’s a greater chance they’ll stay with and advocate for us over time.”
You see a lot of copy in your role, but also as a consumer. Is there anything in particular that really stood out and grabbed your attention?
“As a consumer, my Gmail promotions folder is stacked, and not particularly because I want to hear from all of these brands every five seconds. Rather, I like to see how other brands present themselves, and how I can draw inspiration from them. There are a ton of brands that I really, really enjoy. Casper or InVision’s simplicity and kitschy copy is what I adore about marketing. It makes me smile, and that’s always my goal with my copywriting and how we retain our customers. Anytime I’m writing anything, I want people to roll their eyes and smile… that’s the moment I’ve truly grabbed their attention, and our brand has resonated with them. Let’s talk to them as humans, you know? Let’s try not to pitch them because you find that a lot in B2B. Anytime I see a brand conversationally speaking with their customers, not to them, it really excites me.
What does a typical day look like for you now?
“I’ll be the first to admit that because I do involve myself with so much cross-functionally, fire drills are an absolute norm for me. My daily to-do is very much a mixture of strategy and execution, which I think many marketers can attest to. Even though I’m leading it, I’m also the one executing on it. Everything from the big-time strategy of actually sitting with the managers and going over the business plans, to setting up email templates and writing copy. High-level strategy and low-level execution. And that’s where the scrappiness comes in. Although time-consuming, I love that level of involvement. My fire extinguishers are always ready to go.”
We want to circle back to what you said before about kitschy copy. Where did that appreciation for fun copy — making it more personal — come from?
“Ever since I was younger, I used to rip apart commercials. I always used to dream of a job where every single company would come to me, show me their commercials, and I could tell them whether they’re allowed to air it or not. As marketers, there are so many things that are up to our own discretion, as we know our brands more than anyone. But we also have to know our end customer. Just as we see inspirational brands doing it right, we also see brands and think to ourselves, ‘you could do so much better.’ And that’s where it ignited for me.”
What kinds of customer engagement tactics do you use to distinguish yourself from other content distribution platforms?
“This comes back to the data. The data we have on our users is based on their truest interests. No search intent, or social selves, but your true self – who you are (and what you like) behind that smartphone or computer. Somebody that could like sneakers might also like flowers. These are little things that you just wouldn’t think would go together, but that’s what has and will continue to make a big difference for us. Especially as we’re releasing huge features such as Lookalike Audiences.
From a retention standpoint, it’s definitely a challenge because we work with so many different types of individuals and brands. We’re marketing to marketers who are then marketing to their customers. Being able to give them information that they couldn’t find anywhere else, and help them gain new customers as a result, is a game changer.”
Excuse me Eleanor Roosevelt
Let’s move on to a couple of lighter questions. If you hadn’t chosen this particular career path, what do you think you would be doing instead?
“I’ve been told that I would’ve been a fantastic lawyer. When I see a fault that we could fix and it’s an uphill battle that I have to fight, I always say, ‘I’m going to make this happen.’ And I don’t easily give up. So I think some kind of trial law would have been a lot of fun. But I’ll stick to marketing for now.”
If you could trade places with any other person for a week, famous, non-famous, living, dead, fictional, whoever, who would you choose and why?
“You know, my instinct says Beyoncé.”
So does mine.
“Let’s go with that. One thing that we started last year at Outbrain, that has been quite amazing, is a group that we call WE, which stands for Women’s Empowerment. I’m on the Communications Committee, and we started a monthly newsletter where we spotlight a Beyoncé-of-the-month. We all come together as the women of WE and vote for the woman who we think flipped her hair extra hard that month, killing it at her job. And it’s taken on a of a life of its own. The group, and even people who aren’t in the group, look forward to seeing our Beyoncé each month. She’s so much to look up to. She’s killing it in business. She’s a leader. She’s a mom. She’s doing it all. She’s also in the spotlight. So, I’m sure many women would say the same answer, and I wish I could’ve given you somebody like, “Eleanor Roosevelt,” but I simply love Beyoncé.”
Fair enough, she’s certainly someone to aspire to. Okay, last question. What advice would you give for someone who’s just starting out in marketing and looking to develop a career, whether it’s retention or any other aspect of marketing?
“I would tell them to stick their noses in everybody’s business. The more that you are able to see and experience starting out in your career, the easier it’ll be for you to transition from there. The first job that I had, my boss at the time threw me right into the wolves. She had me writing copy for the back of video game boxes at 18 years old, when I was a mere intern. Did we have to re-write it 10 times? Of course. Red pens became my best friends. But the fact that I was able to get legitimate experience, and I wasn’t just there to get coffee or sit on my hands, proved to be incredibly valuable. Inserting yourself and jumping right into the weeds really helps. And if you’re a marketer, do everything. Everything. Always ask a lot of questions, always be eager to learn, and I can promise you’ll end up a better marketer as a result.”