Values Spotlight: Betterment

For the second installment of our series on UpBuild’s company values, let’s talk about Betterment. From our Values page:

“‘Will this make someone’s day better?’ We use this question to make decisions on a daily basis. Will this strategy or recommendation I’m working make a client’s day better? Will getting this website to show up well in Google make a searcher’s day better? Will testing this CTA placement make a website user’s day better? Will giving a team member feedback in this way make their day better? If the answer is no, we have to ask if there’s a better way. Sometimes there’s not, but usually, there is.”

Making the World a Better Place

When you’re a marketer who’s also an idealist, it can be easy to feel disheartened by the very idea of marketing sometimes. After all, the cynical side of us says, isn’t marketing just figuring out how to manipulate people into buying something?

The other side of that coin, though, is that marketing can just as easily be about helping people find the things that they want and need, in ways that feel easy, pleasant, and even delightful. I’ve long said that one of the best things about search engine marketing is that unlike some more broadcast-focused mediums, SEO is all about helping people find things they’re already looking for – it’s selling people things they already want.

One of the things we take into account during client voting is whether not a client aligns with our value of Betterment. We’ve turned down plenty of potential business because it was in industries we believe are harmful to society or the world we live in. We’re also excited to work with people who are working to make the world a better place, which is why we give a discount to B-corps and nonprofits.

Making our Clients’ Lives Better

Our client engagements at UpBuild are highly relationship-driven. We spend a lot of time trying to understand our client stakeholders: what’s stressing them out at work right now? What are the metrics they’re being measured on? Most people don’t just wake up one day and decide to hire a digital marketing agency, so what’s happening right now that’s prompting them to engage with us?

Sometimes, this drive to make our clients’ lives better means that we end up doing different work for them than we thought we were going to. If we get under the hood of a website and see that they’ve got glaring technical flaws or data collection errors, we’re not going to throw up our hands and say “Well, all you’re paying for is keyword research, so that’s all you’re getting.” Instead, we’ll work with that client to make sure the serious issues get addressed, then get back to the work of improving and marketing the site.

Working at an agency, it can be easy to develop an adversarial relationship with a client. I think we’ve all had clients that we found frustrating to work with, who we found too abrasive or demanding, people we felt didn’t truly understand the value of what we were doing. It can be tempting to write that client off, or to start tuning them out. This usually results in an unhappy client, and often means losing the client altogether.

Approaching each of our client stakeholders with the initial question of “how can I make this person’s day better?” helps us build empathy. Usually, a difficult or demanding client isn’t acting that way because of anything you’ve done. They might be stressed out responding to internal pressure from their boss; they might be seeing the line item for your services on their P&L every month and not feeling confident about what they’re getting for that money. They might be so busy that even though you’re doing good work for them, every phone call with you stresses them out because they know it’s going to result in action items for them. By exercising empathy in our interactions with our clients, we can understand what the underlying issues are and attempt to address them at their sources.

Empathy is also key to defusing the classic conflicts that can arise between SEOs and web developers, or between SEOs and copywriters. It’s easy to tell someone “I’m the expert, and I say we need to do it this way,” but that’s an easy way to make people feel condescended to and disinclined to collaborate with you. When we get pushback on an item, we try to understand why – will this be too expensive? Too much work? Interfere with another, more important project? Once we understand the objection, we’re better able to provide alternate suggestions, or defend our reasoning for why things do need to be implemented in the way we recommend. Taking a collaborative approach makes our collaborators’ day better, because they’re not being talked down to or ordered around. It also usually results in better solutions, because everyone is bringing the full weight of their expertise to the problem at hand.

Making Our Team’s Lives Better

Thinking about “will this make this person’s day/life better?” when giving feedback is a core tenet of the way we manage at UpBuild. This doesn’t mean that we don’t give constructive criticism, or that we avoid difficult conversations. On the contrary: if we let mistakes slide because we didn’t want to hurt people’s feelings, we’d be robbing them of an opportunity to grow in their roles and address problem areas, which is the opposite of Betterment. I’ve been in positions where my manager never gave me any feedback, and I always found it very stressful – if I never hear about how I’m doing, how am I supposed to know if there’s a problem?

Instead, we try to exercise empathy when we give feedback. We want the team to know that when we give feedback on a piece of their work, it’s because we want to support them in doing their best work.

I’m not going to lie, coming on to work at UpBuild can be kind of intense. Even if someone already has several years of experience with agency-side digital marketing, they’re probably not used to executing to the high standard that we expect. Part of this is that at many agencies, digital marketers have so many clients and billable hours that it’s all they can do to get their work done at all, let alone to any kind of quality standard. With only four clients per person, each with 30-40 billable hours per month, we have more room to thoroughly QA work before it goes out, and it’s not unusual for a deliverable to have undergone multiple rounds of edits before it gets sent to clients.

When people first start at UpBuild, this level of in-depth critique of their work can feel very disheartening. This is why we try so hard to make sure that we’re delivering it from a clear place of empathy and support – we wouldn’t be spending the time to give this level of feedback if we didn’t wholeheartedly believe that our team was capable of executing to that level. Time and again, we’ve seen people emerge from that crucible as incredible digital marketers, who really understand the ways in which our work provides value for their clients.

The folks at Distilled refer to their former employees as “alumni,” and actively promote their projects and celebrate their successes. I love that attitude, and while I kind of hope that everyone who works at UpBuild keeps working here forever, keeping Betterment top of mind means that we also want to make sure that UpBuild is setting our team up for success in their next role, and for the rest of their careers.

Maybe marketing is more about selling things to people than it is about large-scale change for the better. That doesn’t mean that we, as digital marketers, can’t work to make people’s lives better with what we do.

Previously in this series: Transparency.

Written by
Drawing on over a decade of digital marketing experience (both in-house & agency-side), Ruth leads the team to drive client strategy forward.

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