Interview with Cara Meiselman, Director of Brand Marketing at Skillshare
Cara Meiselman is the Director of Brand Marketing at Skillshare, an online learning community for creators. With 5 million members and 20,000 classes, they’re on a mission to connect curious, lifelong learners everywhere — and build a more creative, generous, and prosperous world. Previously at ClassPass, She led the strategy for social media, influencers, activations and content marketing. She is a frequent speaker at conferences including INBOUND, Social Media Week and WOMM-U and has been featured blog posts on sites such as Mashable, Inc., and Forbes.
Your Journey as a Marketing Professional
Please take us through how you got initiated into marketing as a profession and how you grew to be the seasoned marketing professional you are.
I began my marketing career working at a small social media marketing agency called Likeable Media. I was attending law school at night but didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket and was working in marketing to explore different career options. It became clear to me pretty early on that my passion was not in becoming a lawyer as my day job was a lot more fun. The agency I worked at specialized in social media marketing. It was essentially like a crash course in all things social media as it was just becoming a new channel for many brands and we were all figuring it out as we went. The company was small so I got the chance to work in a variety of different roles — account management, creative, strategy, etc. — as well as work with a ton of different kinds of clients. It was demanding, fast-paced but also a lot of fun.
After several years of working on the agency side and after taking the NYS Bar Exam, I began to think about what came next. My initial gut finding was right — I was not going to leave the marketing world to become an attorney. Instead, I turned my focus to working on the brand side. Now that I had experience working on a variety of client projects and accounts, I had a clearer picture of what I wanted to do and I accepted a role working on social media and content at a large company.
I absolutely loved being able to focus on the work with just one company and goal in mind. As opposed to working at an agency where I could potentially be thinking about multiple clients a day and be surrounded by people working on different companies as well, working at a brand gave me the focus I desired. What I was beginning to learn was that it’s not just a choice between a brand or agency. In fact, there were a number of other factors that affect the projects you work on and the culture you find yourself in. While I loved the ability to have big ideas and put my all into one brand, I missed the fast-paced environment and cultural energy of agency life. This desire led me back to working for smaller companies and startups.
In my next role, I found myself leading social media at ClassPass, a fitness membership that was beginning to get some buzz in New York City. I took a leap of faith leaving my corporate, safe job to work at a company many had never heard of but had a mission I believed in and a culture where I thought I could thrive. Working at startup gave me the ability to step outside my social media comfort zone and explore other areas of marketing I was passionate about. I began to think of social media as just one piece of our online community and from there began to expand the definition of my role and what impact I could be driving. From there I began to think about community as a whole and began looking at ways to activate the brand offline with events. Over time the role continued to expand as we began to experiment with more marketing channels — content marketing, influencer marketing, PR, etc. The ability to think about a brand more holistically, and not just by channel, was exciting and led me to where I am today.
Now I am the Director of Brand Marketing at Skillshare, an online learning community for creators, where I lead all non-acquisition B2C marketing initiatives to grow the brand by promoting our messaging in marketing and company communications. At Skillshare we’re taking this holistic approach to brand marketing, which not every company traditionally invests in. Thinking about marketing in this way versus a siloed, channel-based approach has been instrumental to our success.
What are the primary marketing channels you have worked on? What will be your advice to young marketers on each of these channels?
Brand marketing encompasses a number of different channels all with the common thread of communicating the brand story. Different channels are better suited for different things but they all play a role in the overall strategy:
Aligning with other brands with similar audiences to yours or audiences you don’t typically reach is hugely beneficial. Finding brands you want to work with can give you credibility and reach you wouldn’t have otherwise. When looking for brand partners, I would suggest trying to find brands that have as much to gain by working with you as you do by working with them. Make sure you’re not just asking for something but also have something great and exclusive to offer.
Social media as a channel for marketing has become commonplace but it should mean different things to different brands. The goal shouldn’t be to have a presence on every social platform but instead, it should be to find which platforms work for you. Create communities and profiles in the places your customers already have accounts and leverage stellar content to engage with them on a daily basis.
We often see content marketing in the context of social media but content plays a role across all your channels. Content can be in the form of a blog article, a social post, an on-site experience, an email, etc. Think about creating content for your customer that helps them solve a specific problem. When you think about creating content with a customer-first mindset, and not just creating content as a means for talking about your brand, you’ll find success!
PR & Communications-
Investing in media relations and an overall comms strategy is critical for all the other moving pieces of your marketing. This function helps all your other channels stay aligned to ensure that no matter where people are interacting with your brand, it still feels on message. While there are many amazing PR agencies out there, my advice is to hire someone internally for this function. I’ve seen the most success when you have someone full invested and embedded into your brand who knows the story inside and out.
Lifecycle marketing encompasses email marketing, retention marketing, and product marketing. These are all important functions that focus on what happens after someone becomes a customer. So much emphasis is typically put on acquisition marketing but it’s important to think about the experience a user has after becoming a member. Retaining that customer, promoting new product features, etc. all affect the bottom line of the business. My advice is to leverage stellar content here and think of ways you can make your customers engage with your product more. It isn’t about selling them at this point; it’s about helping them see the value in your brand.
Skillshare is a digital product but we still leverage offline marketing, such as events and activations, to engage with the community. Creating offline experiences and engaging with members face to face may not always be the most scalable but if done right (and supported with the other channels) it can have a big brand impact. My advice for these would be to identify cities or locations where you have a big customer base and test in those markets. Find success where your most active customers are before thinking about how to scale.
With scores of marketing software available today, how do you go about selecting the right software for your needs? What are some of the important marketing software that you have used?
I’ve worked with a ton of different tools and platforms at companies with varying sizes. There’s no one size fits all answer here. First and foremost, familiarize yourself with all the free tools at your disposal. Know Facebook/Instagram Insights inside and out. Know how to navigate and leverage Google Analytics. Develop a deep understanding of SEO and how that affects the content you’re creating.
When it comes to paid tools, it’s more about prioritization. In some organizations, you may be handling most of your customer support inquiries on social media in which case it would be critical to have a good CRM tool. In others, the priority will fall on PR and having a robust tool for tracking coverage and managing media relations. Identify what your goals are and where you can expedite growth or success by finding the right tool.
Advice for the marketing community
Your 2 line advice to people entering into marketing domain.
Don’t believe the myth that brand marketing is “hard to measure.” While the ROI may not be as direct as acquisition marketing, there are so many metrics and ways to measure success and how brand impacting the bottom line.