Any time you see a company that’s had a lot of success in a relatively short amount of time there’s a natural curiosity to understand how they did it. What can we learn from their path? And how do their experiences align, or not, with our own experiences?

The marketing technology company, Drift, definitely hits the mark here in terms of fast growth and success. 

CEO David Cancel and CTO Elias Torres, founded Drift in 2014. In the 5 years since, they’ve grown to a customer base of 50K+ and a team of more than 280.

The vision for Drift’s business centers around the concept of “conversational marketing”. It’s the idea to take the modes of communication we’ve all evolved to use in our personal lives — texting, chat, and video — and use them to make sales and marketing efforts more engaging.

Drift has now built a family of products around chatbots, video chat, and email that help companies build relationships with their customers quickly and in a more human way. 

In addition to their products, Drift is also very active in sharing marketing and business insights with the business community.

If you spend time in the online world of startups, entrepreneurship, and marketing you may have come across content from Drift’s leadership. 

In particular, David and Drift’s VP of Marketing, Dave Gerhardt consistently share their latest thinking and best practices through social posts, articles, videos, and podcasts. It’s a crystal clear example of a “rising tide lifts all boats” philosophy in action. 

And in sharing what they’ve learned during their journey, one topic they come back to again and again is the role that their brand has played in Drift’s success.

David in particular is extremely vocal about advocating for the importance of brand. Drift is the 5th company that David has helped found, and this year he was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young.

Needless to say, he’s had plenty of opportunities to learn lessons on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to building a business.

At Map & Fire our focus is on helping businesses define and develop their brand, so we were excited to ask David some questions about the role brand has played at Drift.

Q&A On Brand With Drift CEO David Cancel

1. How would you describe the impact that brand has played on Drift’s growth? How has the brand evolved over the past four years?

David: Brand has played a huge part in Drift’s growth. We made the conscious decision to start marketing before we started selling — because in a world of infinite supply, the customer has all of the power. And having the best product, the best brand, or the best customer service isn’t enough anymore. You need all three. So to truly solve for the customer, we decided to invest in all three from the start. 

Investing in brand from day one allowed us to build an early audience — which established trust before we even had a product ready to sell. 

A lot has changed since we started — and every brand now has a podcast, blog and newsletter. So we’ve tried to continue to provide value to our audience and our customers — through things like HYPERGROWTH and by putting out books like Conversational Marketing

One thing that hasn’t changed is that from day one we said we wanted to be real, authentic and human. We don’t use stock photography, we feature real people — like our employees and customers — on our website and marketing materials and we write like we talk.

2. With how quickly Drift has grown, how have you made sure the entire team understands, buys into, and upholds the vision and ideals of the brand?

David: We’re big believers in rituals at Drift. 

So we start each week with “Monday Metrics” and end the week with “Show and Tell.” Our Monday meeting is dedicated to outlining the goals for the week and Show and Tell is a time where people can talk what they worked on during the week and how it helped serve our customers. We also have a quarterly company meeting where we talk about the overall company strategy and vision. 

The goal of all of these is to help the entire time what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and how the team is contributing to those goals. Because in order to be successful and keep the team motivated, everyone needs aligned with our mission and goals — and understand how their jobs are contributing. 

We also have Leadership Principles at Drift, which guide everyone’s daily decision-making. For example, one of our Leadership Principles is to “Put the Customer at the Center of Everything You Do.” Any company will claim to be customer-centric, but unless everyone on the team believes in getting close to and understanding the customer, our values wouldn’t scale with the pace that the company is growing.

3. Are there any challenges that you’ve run into along the way that Drift’s brand has helped overcome?

David: When Drift entered the martech space, there were already 5,000 companies competing in the market. There are now over 7,000. Investing in brand from day one, creating the conversational marketing category and putting the customer at the center of everything we do, has helped us differentiate ourselves in a highly saturated market. 

4. What advice would you give to founders and business leaders who haven’t spent much time working on their brand?

David: There is never a perfect time to start marketing. 

But if you haven’t spent as much time, start now. 

Start by doing your homework — really do your research on the customer. Take the time to understand their pain before trying to provide a solution. And then do everything you can to provide value. 

Consumers have learned to tune out marketing that feels like marketing — and no one wants to feel like they’re being sold to. But if you are being authentic and providing real, tangible value, you can cut through the noise. 

5. What’s one thing you hope every person that interacts with Drift’s brand walks away thinking?

David: When someone interacts with Drift, we want them to feel like they’ve had a frictionless, enjoyable and human experience. We want them to feel like we’ve met them where they are — via chat, email, video or even social media — and provided value. 

6 Takeaways To Apply To Your Own Business And Brand

With all that great info in mind, the next question is how can you apply some of Drift’s practices and experiences to your own situation?

Here are 6 insights (and some of our resources to get started) from David’s responses that every brand can use: 

  1. Invest in your brand from day one so you can start to build trust between your audience and your business as quickly as possible.
  2. To build trust and a sense of authenticity, speak to your audience and message them with normal human language they can understand and focus on images of real people doing real things (not just stock photos).
  3. Keep your team aligned by sharing your company’s vision and values, and then find consistent ways to show how everyone’s work connects back to and supports that foundation.
  4. To stand out in today’s saturated landscape you have to take special care to understand and articulate your positioning and points of differentiation.
  5. Separate from your own product or service, you need to get to the heart of what’s motivating your customers’ decisions and think about how to provide value that speaks directly to those needs.
  6. To connect with savvy, modern consumers you need to shift your focus from straight selling to finding ways to provide real, tangible value to your audience.

BONUS INSIGHT #7: Do things that don’t scale. Take actions with your brand that create meaningful, personal engagements with your audience even if you think they can’t work at scale. Those things are often the most impactful for the long run.

This last one didn’t come from the interview but rather from a previous interaction I had with David on LinkedIn. 

The overarching takeaway is that to do all of this well, you have to invest some time and thought defining and documenting your brand strategy. 

If you and your team are going to work cohesively and effectively you need to be clear about your vision, positioning, and messaging. 

As David and Drift have shown, when you take the time to invest in your brand, you can cut through even the noisiest landscape and grow a business that both your customers and your team will love. 

Get Clear On Your Vision, Positioning, and Messaging

If you’re ready to build strong, authentic connections with your customers, reach out for a free consultation. We’ll help you transform your best business thinking into an actionable, shareable, growth-oriented guide. Click below to learn more about the Brand Guidebook process.