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Jun 16, 2020

Mai Tran, CRM Manager at Blinkist, gives us a glimpse into the Blinkist company mission behind snackable insights. We also delve into the shift we're seeing in KPI focuses, and the power of personalization and recommendation engines. *Hosted by Taylor Gibb and PJ Bruno LIVE at LTR 2019*






Taylor Gibb: Are we recording?



PJ Bruno: We're live. We are fire right now. So whenever you want to give us the kick off.



Taylor Gibb: Oh, fire flames. All right, here I go. I'm going to probably say it wrong. Welcome back to Braze for Impact. Remember guys, this is the MarTech Industry Discuss Digest, and we're right in the middle of our humanities series. This means we're talking to some really interesting people who use Braze. We actually are at LTR right now recording. My name is Taylor Gibb. I'm a CSM on the Braze team. Across from me here is Mai Tran who was at Blinkist as a CRM manager. Mai, it's so good to meet you.



Mai Tran: Nice to meet you too.



Taylor Gibb: And to my left, as ever, we've got PJ Bruno who runs Client Education of Braze. PJ, how's it going?



PJ Bruno: Very, very well. Glad to be back here with you, Taylor.



Taylor Gibb: Well, excellent. You didn't see everybody, but I just got a salute from PJ. That's a new one.



PJ Bruno: I was thinking about it as I did. I was like, "No one's going to hear the salute."



Taylor Gibb: Oh no. When you're with me, everybody will hear the salute. I'm going to make sure to keep you honest on that one.



PJ Bruno: What a pal. Friend and coworker forever.



Mai Tran: Sounds great.



Taylor Gibb: Oh, that's right. Mai, thank you again for joining us here today. As we've been going through this humanity series, we've been talking a lot, not only about the ways that you use Braze, your marketing tech stack, but about you, how you got to where you are right now and about the company you work for.



Mai Tran: That's nice.



Taylor Gibb: I know. Well, that's what we're hoping for.



Mai Tran: Cool. I'll start with a little bit about myself because I think it's connected very well to how I ended up at Blinkist. I started out my career quite traditionally. I study creative writing and I wanted to work for publishing because I realized very quickly that I wouldn't be able to write so much or make a living writing, which is very, very tough.



Taylor Gibb: That's a tough [crosstalk] The starving artist.



Mai Tran: Exactly.



PJ Bruno: Diverse the skills. I get it.



Mai Tran: Exactly. Yeah. You really have to have a very specific personality to be able to pursuit art in any kind. So yeah, I decided to ... Very early on, I wanted to devote my life to supporting artists and being able to work with authors that I believe and I loved. I started on my career in publishing and it was not an easy industry to get into. It's a very old industry. A lot of things doesn't move as fast as the startup world that we have nowadays. Yeah, kind of at the one year after I graduated, I discovered Blinkist. It was a very nice discovery because I was a little bit fed up with the corporate world and how things are being done there. I started to look more into the startup world and see how people work differently, how products are being put together in a different way. Blinkist is like a happy in between, because everything that they do in terms of culture there at Blinkist, I truly love. Then on top of that, they have a product that I do believe in and it's very much connected to my heart, which is books. [crosstalk]



PJ Bruno: I love that so much. So the publisher you came from, was that in Berlin as well?



Mai Tran: No. I actually used to work for Random House here.



Taylor Gibb: Really?



Mai Tran: Yeah, in New York.



PJ Bruno: Cool. Welcome back.



Taylor Gibb: You're an ex New Yorker. Well, I mean once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker.



PJ Bruno: For life.



Mai Tran: I guess so.



Taylor Gibb: But we're glad to have you back. It sounds like you move from publishing because it was, as we know, a slightly more traditional industry. You said it's more slow moving, to something that's a little techier, it is an app, a software. Blinkist does that as well, right? If I understand correctly, Blinkist is taking something that's intimidating to some people, these big, oftentimes nonfiction, tomes, quote unquote, and making them more digestible.



Mai Tran: Exactly.



Taylor Gibb: Can you talk a little bit more about that?



Mai Tran: Yeah. So Blinkist, we like to believe that we're on a mission to be the leading destinations for the modern lifelong learner. It's a very, very nice mission statement that I always hold dear to my heart because I truly believe that our product is going to that direction. Everything we do is to help people learn more, not necessarily finding shortcuts when it comes to learning or finding shortcuts when it comes to reading, but ultimately you have to face the reality that nowadays people don't have that 10 hours in their day so that they can just sit down with a good book and read for 10 hours straight. It's not going to happen. The reading and the learning is going to happen on the subway, on your way to work. It's going to happen in the 10 minutes that you are trying to dress your kid to go to the nursery school. Yeah, and Blinkist does help those people with a very, very busy lifestyle to be able to squeeze in a little bit of learning and a little bit of reading into their day.



Taylor Gibb: I love that. It's not offering shortcuts, but it's making this learning and this wisdom accessible, no matter how much time you have.



Mai Tran: Exactly.



Taylor Gibb: PJ, you earlier said that you were intrigued by Blinkist.



PJ Bruno: I am. I mean, I unfortunately likened it to CliffsNotes, which is incorrect in terms of the mission, because CliffsNotes is like shortcut, here, now.



Taylor Gibb: Right. I don't want to read Romeo and Juliet. Who dies?



PJ Bruno: Exactly. They both died. Got it. Got the whole story understand it.



Taylor Gibb: And we're done.



PJ Bruno: But Blinkist, it's actually more distilling those valuable insights when it comes to those books. So for someone like me, I do love to read Malcolm Gladwell and Simon Sinek. But when it's not a narrative, sometimes I end up just reading the same paragraph over and over again. For some reason I will find mental blocks where I get stuck. Because in a narrative, a story can exist somewhere. Even though it's in my mind, I can feel the physical space. When you're talking conceptually about things, and Simon Sinek is just explaining page after page his thoughts, letting them unfurl. That's something that sometimes I get lost or I just get distracted. So something like this from Blinkist, it can keep me on that path. It can keep me focused. Sometimes you feel like you're waiting around for the big payoff with some of these writers, because Simon Sinek, just like all these guys, they have a general idea of their arc, of what the book should be, A, B and C. Then it's like, "It's time to stuff 80 pages in each of these." So sometimes some chapters are a little long winded. I'm just, I don't always have the patience for it. So something like Blinkist for the ... What did you call it? The forever learner or ...



Taylor Gibb: Lifelong learner.



Mai Tran: The lifelong learner. Yeah.



PJ Bruno: So good.



Taylor Gibb: Get that alliteration in there.



Mai Tran: That's great.



Taylor Gibb: Remind me, when did you start at Blinkist? How many years ago?



Mai Tran: It's been a little bit over two years now.



Taylor Gibb: That's great. Have things changed. So going from the world of publishing, where everything took a million years to move forward, I bet here things move a mile a minute. How have things changed in terms of your tech stack, in terms of even your marketing strategies since you started?



Mai Tran: Well, quite a lot. When I first started, it was literally just me and another person in our team. Now we've grown to be a small team of four, but in terms of the capability of what we do within CRM has changed so much. Originally, when we first started, we focused, because we only have limited human resource. We focus a lot of things on conversion because that's what everybody cares about. That's what marketing cares about. We're under marketing at that point. I spend most of my time talking to very new users who are soon to be customers and trying to help them understand the value of Blinkist and try to find a price point that makes sense for them and convert them. It's very interesting. It's my first time working with more conversion-based communications. It's very different from the kind of work that I do at publishing. But it was very fun. I think what I appreciate the most is that it's very easy to understand that funnel, because the KPIs are very clear. You either purchase or you don't purchase.



Taylor Gibb: That's true.



Mai Tran: It's very simplistic in some ways. Now, about a year ago, I started to move to the engagement space because as a company, we realize that we grow in such a high pace that we started to see a drop in retention naturally, because you started to acquire more customer or more users that have less intent, doesn't understand Blinkist as well. Because of that, people are less likely to stay on for the product.



PJ Bruno: Just from the general volume you guys are doing, it's balancing.



Mai Tran: Exactly. Yeah.



Taylor Gibb: Makes sense.



Mai Tran: We decided to put a lot of focus on customer engagement and customer retention. I decided to move into that space. I thought that it's a very nice comeback to the publishing world because then, again, it's about getting people to engage with content and getting people to know what is new, what is relevant to them, et cetera, et cetera. It was very exciting for me. Then it's also a big challenge because with engagement, it's not as clear cut as conversion. There's a lot of KPIs out there. You don't know which one makes sense. You always optimize for the immediate one. So open rate, click rate, which copy makes more people engage with that content. But it's not necessarily that, because what you want to impact in the end is renewal. So how many people stay on over time? That's such a long time span that you start to test with different KPIs. Okay, what exactly is it? Is it reading five books that gets people more likely to stay? Is it spending more time in the app? Is it spending more time listening over reading? All of that is very exciting and challenging for me.



PJ Bruno: Just that shift from the understanding of conversion event to being a goal to renewal, that in of itself, that's an infinite minded [crosstalk 00:00:10:50]. That's looking to the future as opposed to like, "Oh, it's ..." sometimes, I don't want to put salespeople in a bucket, but you have a quarterly goal so you obsess over that quarterly goal. Sometimes you do things that actually do not help you long term just to hit it.



Mai Tran: In the long run, exactly. Yeah.



PJ Bruno: So I love that you guys are looking so far down the line. It's great.



Taylor Gibb: One thing I wanted to talk to you about as well, so as you are moving forward with these new KPIs and a more fleshed out, perhaps forward-looking attack towards getting users to ... Getting that retention further, how are you looking at the data? Have you guys engaged with anyone in a tech stack or are you just kind of looking at the numbers as they come through? On top of that, you spoke a little bit about actions like listening or reading books, what kind of actions are you looking for people to complete in your app that you think lead to that retention?



Mai Tran: Yeah. I thought that you would ask that question.



Taylor Gibb: I know.



PJ Bruno: Were you scared that she would ask that question?



Mai Tran: Yeah.



Taylor Gibb: Oh gosh.



Mai Tran: I was kind of.



Taylor Gibb: Not meant to be a scary one.



Mai Tran: No. It's because it's still a learning experience for us. It's very difficult to find that tipping point or to find that one key action that actually will ensure that 99% of people who does that action is going to stay on. But it's very important to find that important action. We're in the process of discovering that. We're very much at the beginning, which is to define the baseline. What we're doing now is instead of trying to artificially scale up a certain action, like read five books, not knowing if that is going to impact at all the renewal rate in the end, what we're doing now is actually spread our efforts across all different KPIs that we consider to be baseline KPIs. We're looking at everything in terms of time spent in the app, time spent actually reading or listening. We call them content consumption. Then we look at the finished rate. If you start reading something, do you finish it? If you finish it, are you more likely to stay on? Are you more likely to engage further? We also look at discovery rates. If you discover more content, are you more likely to find value in the app? Yeah, all kinds of things. One very interesting findings that we recently discover was that was variety, which is very interesting because-



Taylor Gibb: That is.



Mai Tran: Yeah. Personalization is all about offering up what you like, what is relevant to you based on what you've read in the past. But we've come to realize that people who read more outside of their comfort zone are more likely to renew.



PJ Bruno: That's rad. That's very cool.



Mai Tran: Yeah. So it's really a fine balance between, "Okay, we know what you like, and we offer you more of that." And then introducing to you more new things that we think you might like. So things like taste breakers, essentially, is also very, very interesting to us. But going back to your question, yeah, right now it's finding that baseline and seeing where that blip happened.



PJ Bruno: I love that mission, the high-value-action mission, which all of us should be concerned with and doing. You said you guys are just starting your mission. The truth is it takes a long time to figure that out. Even when you figure it out, it changes.



Mai Tran: You're not sure.



Taylor Gibb: That's right. It's always evolving.



PJ Bruno: You're not sure, it changes. Like you mentioned, you just have so much data coming in. There's so many ways to look at it and splice it. All I can say is hats off to you on doing it and best of luck in doing that, because it's huge. When you're able to discern those two to three high value actions, that three X, five X, that LTV of a customer, I mean, it's massive. It's game changing.



Taylor Gibb: And surprising, it sounds like, the fact that variety has a part in all of this. It sounds like you did some testing and it's kind of fun when you're surprised by the results. That's really exciting. Final thing that I want to talk to you about a little bit here is what's on the horizon, both for you and your team and for Blinkist right now? Obviously don't talk about anything you're not allowed to. Unless we're all going to keep secrets here. But let me know what's coming up on the horizon.



Mai Tran: Something that's coming up for CRM at Blinkist is, I guess, ramping up our recommendation system and really leverage connected content and personalization at Braze to bring that personalized content directly to the user, instead of waiting for them to come to the app. This is something that we literally started testing last week. I'm still waiting for results.



Taylor Gibb: Oh, brand new.



PJ Bruno: Exciting.



Mai Tran: Yeah. I really hope it worked well Because I've heard many funny stories from our customers about personalization, because you never know how they're going to interpret that recommendation.



PJ Bruno: Interesting.



Mai Tran: We had one user writing in saying that, "Why are you such a racist company? No, not racist, sexist company. "Why do you offer me only female books?" We were really surprised because we don't know our user's gender. We never ask, we don't track that. Our data-



PJ Bruno: So you had to respond, "This was just based on your history."



Mai Tran: Exactly.



Taylor Gibb: This is what you've been reading.



Mai Tran: It was based on the last book that they read.



PJ Bruno: Do what know what was their response after that? Do you know?



Mai Tran: No. I didn't know.



PJ Bruno: They were like no response.



Taylor Gibb: Oh wait, no. Nevermind.



Mai Tran: But yeah, so recommendation, it's really cool for us and especially being able to bring that into CRM and to be able to offer up content when it's relevant to them is what I'm looking forward to.



PJ Bruno: Yeah. I mean, all I would say for connected content, I mean, it just works in terms of personalization if you set it up and if your systems are set up to handle the speed with which it's hitting it. That's when problems can occur. So make sure you're set up for speed. God, that's awesome. I'm excited for you guys.



Taylor Gibb: You're you're taking a crack at CSM-ship here, PJ.



PJ Bruno: I don't know.



Taylor Gibb: I love to hear it.



PJ Bruno: I hang out with you too much, I guess.



Taylor Gibb: I think that might be the problem here. Well, best of luck to you. I'll be so excited. I'm going to start trying, I think. I will not complain if I get too many female book recommendations because now I know.



PJ Bruno: It's just an algorithm.



Taylor Gibb: It's just the algorithm.



Mai Tran: It's just the algorithm.



Taylor Gibb: It's just ... And taste breakers, who knows. Next time we talk, I'm going to be full of wisdom. I feel it.



PJ Bruno: I'm going to hold you to that.



Taylor Gibb: I know. We'll see. Full of something. Thank you so much for joining us.



Mai Tran: Thank you for having me.



Taylor Gibb: It was so great to meet you. PJ, as always, thanks for joining me here on the mic.



PJ Bruno: Thanks again.



Taylor Gibb: On the ones and twos. And all of you guys out there, thanks as always for dialing in. I'll talk to you later.