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Brenna Loury is the Head of Marketing at Doist, the company behind the popular to-do list app, Todoist, and Twist, a team communication tool for remote companies. 

Brenna met Amir, Doist's founder, in 2011 in Santiago, Chile where she was working as the Head of PR and Communication of Start-Up Chile, an accelerator program created within the Chilean Ministry of Economy. In 2012, she left Start-Up Chile to build her own tech PR firm, catering to companies – including Evernote, Songkick and TrueCaller – expanding into Latin America. Amir, in the early stages of Todoist, was one of her first clients. Brenna has been with Doist full-time since 2014.

Today, she lives in Seattle with her husband and daughter. 

You can Ask Her Anything about:

- How Doist used PR to ignite Todoist's early growth

- Product-lead marketing

- Cross promoting different products under one umbrella

- Content marketing

- Doist's different acquisition channels (app stores, content, SEO, etc)

Past interviews: 

-Remote Marketing Podcast

-Running Remote Podcast

-Remote Working Hub Podcast

-Crossing Borders Podcast

-Nailing the Niche Podcast

Follow her on Twitter and Linkedin

 

  • MZ

    Matt Zerker

    18 days ago #

    How would you suggest doing growth marketing for an early stage startup without financial resources to do paid advertising.

    • BL

      Brenna Loury

      12 days ago #

      I love this question, Matt :) Though we’ve been in business for the last decade, we only recently started exploring paid acquisition channels in 2020.

      Tactics that’ve worked for us include:
      - ASO: keyword optimization, beautiful images, localized versions (including localized keywords/descriptions), well-timed “please share a review” prompts in the app
      - Content: what all the experts say has been true in our case. Write the best damn version of the topic for a rankable keyword and traffic will come.
      - Giveaways: In the early days of Todoist, we’d almost always do a giveaway when launching a big feature/update (e.g. an iPhone for an iOS update). These giveaways built both a ton of excitement and user generated content.
      - Localization: Since the early days, we have always localized our app and all of our marketing and support materials (and have had a team of multilingual Customer Supporters). This makes the app more approachable to those outside the English-speaking market which can then drive geographical expansion.
      - Positioning: find your unique angle, own it, and don’t shut up about it :) This was one of our go-to-market strategies when we launched Twist (vocally anti-Slack, anti-real time communication). The folks at Basecamp are pros at this.

      3 Share
  • DH

    Daniela Hurtado

    18 days ago #

    Hi Brenna! What was your PR strategy for Todoist? Did you use a more traditional approach or a mix with growth hacking tools? If yes, which ones? Thanks!

    • BL

      Brenna Loury

      12 days ago #

      Hi Daniela! The PR landscape has changed *dramatically* during the eight years I’ve been working at Doist.

      In the early days (circa 2012-2013), we did things very traditionally – I’m talkin’ press releases, PR newswires, etc. In those days, we did have a pretty strong advantage: Todoist was one of the very first digital to-do list apps on the market, which meant that we tended to secure PR coverage relatively easily. Over the years – and by consistently releasing new features and innovating on our product – I had regular contact with journalists who came to use and love Todoist themselves. Of the few things that have stayed constant in PR, the importance of cultivating respectful relationships with journalists has remained as important as ever.

      That said, there were journalists that *did* take convincing… I suppose you could consider the following as my “growth hack”:

      I had alerts set up for competitors’ press mentions and almost any time a journalist would write about them, I’d reach out and explain all the (genuinely true!) ways Todoist was superior, and would offer them a few months of Todoist Premium to give it a try. This turned out to be extremely effective and is something that we practiced for many years.

      2 Share
  • SB

    Stefanos Bournias

    18 days ago #

    Two questions:
    1. How do you envision the modern tech PR firm?
    2. How is content distributed between content that drives traffic/content that drives leads/content that drives opinions at Doist? E.g. does it look something like 80/10/10?

    • BL

      Brenna Loury

      12 days ago #

      Thanks for the questions, Stefanos!

      1. How do you envision the modern tech PR firm?
      PR these days – IMO – is far more multifaceted now than when I was working in PR. Today, press coverage is much more difficult to secure (higher competition from more startups, fewer journalists, fewer media outlets, etc) which means that traditional “press pitching” now constitutes only a small portion of our PR activities. Right now, we work with a PR agency that does everything from reaching out to users for testimonials, securing speaking engagements in conferences, collaborating with business partners, etc. Modern PR professionals should be comfortable expanding outside the “comforts” of the media landscape.

      2 Share
    • BL

      Brenna Loury

      12 days ago #

      2. How is content distributed between content that drives traffic/content that drives leads/content that drives opinions at Doist? E.g. does it look something like 80/10/10?

      Great question – we don’t operate with strict percentages but we do tend to divide our content into 5 categories. Most often, these categories serve multiple purposes simultaneously:
      1- Thought leadership: these tend to serve the dual purposes of Doist branding & building interest in Twist
      2- SEO-friendly content: clearly these are meant to rank high & drive organic traffic but we also are very meticulous about which keyword/content we pursue. For example, our post on asynchronous communication ranks #1 on Google but it’s also a very brand-forward post (+)
      3- Productivity-related content: We like to say that this is our bread and butter :) While we dole out super useful productivity advice that anyone using any app (or even pen & paper!) , we’re also providing tips on how to best implement these strategies with, surprise, Todoist. Another 2x1!
      4- Product updates for Todoist and Twist
      5- Todoist and Twist user stories

      2 Share
  • JN

    Josh Nicholson

    18 days ago #

    What is the main driver for the growth of your to-do list platform? How you convince your free users to convert to the paid plans of Todoist?

    2 Share
    • BL

      Brenna Loury

      11 days ago #

      Hey Josh, thanks for writing in!

      I’m a firm believer in the crossing the chasm phenomenon . Early on (2010-2012ish), our founder, Amir, had a blog that was popular in very specific tech niches. There, he’d occasionally post about his work on Todoist and, among early adopters, the app started to gain popularity. From there, our growth has almost been almost exclusively organic and product-led, expanding out from this small initial niche to the mainstream (25M signups) over a period of ~10 years. Over those years, our growth has compounded via SEO (from our landing pages and press mentions), word of mouth, Todoist’s multi-platform availability.

      In terms of converting paid users, our freemium model has proven to be quite effective. That said, while it’s effective business-wise, we are currently undergoing the process of asking ourselves if it’s effective for UX. Hitting Premium-upgrade pop-ups all the time isn’t the best for our users and we are exploring ways to improve it :)

  • DF

    Daniel Foster

    12 days ago #

    What works best for you in using an established, beloved brand to help build a new brand under the same umbrella? Are there certain moments in the customer journey where you cross-promote? Moments where you actively avoid cross-promoting? Are you working toward offering a combined solution that spans multiple products and how/when in the customer journey would you introduce that to prospects?

    • BL

      Brenna Loury

      11 days ago #

      I *love* this question, Daniel.

      We had so, so many long conversations about this in the early days of building Twist. There were seemingly endless questions to grapple with:
      - How tightly woven should the branding be considering that they’re very different products?
      - How much should we leverage the Todoist brand without spamming our existing Todoist users with a tool that they may not want/need?
      - How similar should the names of the products be and what role should our overall company brand play?
      - How do we go from marketing one brand to marketing three brands without growing our marketing team?!

      Todoist already had already been spinning its own narrative for nearly a decade so it never really made a ton of sense to tie those brands very tightly together. It didn’t feel natural. Ultimately, though, it turned out that telling the Doist story inevitably means telling the Twist story and vice versa – so that has come in useful :)

      While Todoist and Twist live in somewhat different worlds, we *have* implemented a few extremely specific triggers to cross-promote Twist to Todoist users while being very mindful of our users’ time and attention. For example, sending an email when (1) a Todoist Business admin adds an Xth member to their team, or (2) a Todoist Business admin posts the Xth comment in a shared project, or (3) a Todoist Business team has been active for over X months.

      In terms of a combined solution… we’re still a small team and have our hands very full at the moment :) Maybe it’s something we’ll pursue in the future but it’s not currently on our roadmap.

      3 Share
      • DF

        Daniel Foster

        11 days ago #

        Makes a lot of sense. Thank you. I have a couple of follow-ups if you're willing/able to share more:

        1. Do you have tech (e.g., a marketing automation platform) that handles these triggered cross-promotions or is that more of a manual process?
        2. Are you using heavily data-driven processes to fill in those Xs or is it more intuition/experimentation?

        We have this challenge, too, as the makers of strong, established brands like Snagit, Camtasia, and (until recently) Jing. Many entry points and perceptions that people bring along with them. Also barriers in the form of internal systems not optimized for automated cross-promotion and fluid product adoption. We are working toward being able to tell top-of-funnel prospects a compelling story that spans multiple products as the long-term solution. But that also involves working to evolve the WoM stories told by existing customers since those do so much to influence first impressions. Long road ahead...but satisfying to see progress along it. :)

  • TR

    Ted Rosén

    19 days ago #

    Hi Brenna! Organic growth is crucial... what has been your best growth hacks? Do you have any specific growth loops you can tell us about?

    • BL

      Brenna Loury

      12 days ago #

      Couldn’t agree with you more, Ted!

      Like I mentioned to Josh, the majority of our growth has been organic and I believe the root cause of that is our dedication to creating a great product that people really come to rely on and trust (which in turn drives all-holy word of mouth). Honestly, this may sound a little facetious (!), but one growth hack we have is staying independent and not selling out?! So many of our competitors take on all this VC money and lose control of their company and have to answer a board of directors whose skin isn’t in the game or they simply sell out to the highest bidder (Wunderlist). We’ve stayed the course for a decade and have no exit strategy, which, nowadays, is something I think really resonates with our users (and inevitably brings in new users when apps shut down or stop getting updated).

      1 Share
  • JI

    Jorge Inda Meza

    18 days ago #

    Hi Brenna, what would you focus on as the first growth tactic for an e-commerce DTC supplements brand that is about to launch? Thx!

  • JF

    Juan Pablo Florez

    18 days ago #

    How do you growth organically with ASO (app search optimization) ? What are the do's and don´t?

    • BL

      Brenna Loury

      12 days ago #

      Hi Juan Pablo! This is a great question. Before the last two years, we didn’t focus too heavily on ASO but once we did the results have been impressive (at least for the App Store).

      We were able to double our macOS signups and increase our iOS signups 50% by:
      - Maximizing our keyword opportunities in the name, subtitle, and keyword fields -> observing results -> iterating
      - Improving our screenshots by highlighting specific features/UI, and using warmer, more inviting colors
      - Improving our description: making it more readable with bullet points, text formatting, and reducing the overall length
      - Improving placement of the in-app review prompt -> observe results and users’ reactions -> iterate (we ran this test with 3 variations)

      Another thing to note, which I briefly mentioned to Matt, is that we localize all our App Store listings. It’s important to know that we don’t just translate these word-for-word but we closely collaborate with a team of ~20 translators on a one-on-one basis to learn the best keywords/phrases for their languages. E.g. in French, we first tried “Planning et gestion de tâches” for a subtitle but iterated to “Tâches, organisateur, planning” based on our experiments and advice from the translator on the ground.

      2 Share
  • JS

    Jesse Schimmel

    14 days ago #

    Hi Brenna - wonderful work with Todoist, love that tool!

    With SO many growth traditional and digital channels available to an app-driven company, what is your process for narrowing down the options and a) selecting what channel(s) to test, and b) assessing when to ditch a channel and test the next one?

    • BL

      Brenna Loury

      11 days ago #

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Jesse!

      In terms of channel exploration and iteration, I think it’s been a blessing in disguise to be such a small team. In the early days of Todoist, we were just a few people which meant that we could only focus on the highest performing channels which, for us at that time, were PR, SEO, localization, and app store distribution. As we’ve grown, we’ve slowly added more channels to the mix (content, partnerships, social, etc), but are always focusing on the ones that have the highest potential to scale with fewest additional resources.

      Due to the large size of Todoist’s audience, it’s often quite clear when a channel is underperforming :) For example, we used to have accounts with seemingly every social media platform under the sun, but now we only prioritize five: Twitter, FB, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.

      1 Share
  • MV

    Maja Voje

    14 days ago #

    Hey Brenn, thanks fo doing this AMA: What are some of the best ASO practices that your team has applied?

  • GN

    Gustavo Nunes

    12 days ago #

    Hey, Brenna. Thanks for being here with us.

    1) ASO is as much important for mobile app optimization as SEO is for content? What are the main difficulties? And what are your bets for next year?
    2) Every company should have an app? What are the indicators that we should be following to understand when its time to develop an app for our business?
    3) A lot of companies focus on the number of downloads on Apple or Google Stores, but how to prevent people from deleting your app just after downloading it? Can you share some ideas/hacks to increase retention in this case?

    Thanks

    • BL

      Brenna Loury

      11 days ago #

      Hi Gustvo, thanks for hosting this AMA :)

      Regarding your questions:
      1. IMO, yes, ASO and SEO are equally important for their respective acquisition channels. At the end of the day, the goal is the same: get people to engage with your product (whether it be an app or a piece of content). For ASO, our main difficulty is regularly dedicating the team resources that this tactic deserves – with our apps available in many languages and app stores, the amount of work to keep it all updated is substantial.
      2. Every company should definitely *not* have an app ;) Deciding when to create one is completely circumstantial which makes it difficult to make conjectures about appropriate indicators.
      3. It’s impossible to prevent people from immediately deleting your app. This is a good thing, though :) If the user doesn’t immediately encounter value upon downloading, it’s totally their prerogative to eliminate the app and move on. Increasing retention starts with impeccable and mindful onboarding followed up by providing a service that people want/need (all while balancing well-timed, not spammy user education).

      1 Share
  • DP

    David Plumridge

    12 days ago #

    Hi Brenna. What do you think are the fundamentals of effective content marketing? Bulletpoint's welcome :) Thanks for your time.

    • BL

      Brenna Loury

      11 days ago #

      Hey David! In our experience:
      - Long form really does outperform short form
      - Be mindful and tactical – but not overly obsessive or robotic – about SEO
      - Don’t be afraid to take a stand or have a strong opinion (but you better walk the walk if you talk the talk!)
      - Investing in beautiful designs and visuals makes a tangible difference
      - Set a high bar of excellence and don’t be afraid to reject content that doesn’t meet that bar (for us this has meant writing 99% of our content in-house)
      - Take the time to create voice, style and tone guidelines
      - Don't be afraid to experiment :)

      3 Share
  • BB

    Bjorn Bojen

    4 days ago #

    What's the one question which no-one asked, but you wish they did?

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