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AMAs

Mia Mabanta is Quartz’s director of marketing and revenue products, leading cross-functional efforts to develop the company’s growing suite of bold, differentiated advertising offerings. Mia has spent her career bringing innovative strategies to different industries, first at the Brookings Institution, where she advised private and public sector leaders on underserved markets, and later by helping to start HelloWallet, an award-winning fintech company that was acquired by Morningstar.

Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Harvard Business Review, and others.

Mia has a BA from Colgate University and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

You can follow her on Twitter at @miamabanta

She will be live on June 7 starting at 930 AM PT for one and a half hours during which time she will answer as many questions as possible.

  • TS

    Terence Strong

    about 4 years ago #

    Hi Mia:

    Thanks for doing this!

    How should startups defend against competition in a hyper competitive field?

    -Terence

    • MM

      Mia Mabanta

      about 4 years ago #

      Hi Terence,

      Big question! The details totally depend on the startup, the competition, and the field—but generally speaking, honing and evolving your narrative is key. You should be able to articulate the industry context, and how your offering is a differentiated one. More importantly, your users should be able to do that.

      And if you're an incumbent, don't get too comfortable.

      Mia

  • YS

    yassin shaar

    about 4 years ago #

    Mia, thank you for doing this AMA!

    Hellowallet is big on designing products to change user's behavior (lead by Stephen Wendel)...

    So during your time at hellowallet, what were your biggest takeaways when it comes to scientifically designing products to change user's behaviors and how have you leveraged that knowledge/expertise in your current position at Quartz?

    Thank you

    • MM

      Mia Mabanta

      about 4 years ago #

      Hi Yassin,

      Great question. Stephen is a great guy!

      I haven't worked at HelloWallet for several years now, so take this for that it's worth:

      Changing user behavior is probably one of the most complex product challenges you can have. My big takeaway from trying to do this at HW was: Identify the points of friction that are within your control, remove them, and work on multiple fronts to do so. So at HelloWallet, for example, it was obviously important to get the actual UX right. But almost as pivotal were the partnerships we established with large, Fortune 500 companies who distributed the product to their employees. That gave us enormous traction very quickly.

      Quartz is a totally different kind of product (content-based, and ad-supported). The tactics are different—the content voice, for instance, plays a much larger role—but ultimately the strategy is the same.

      Thanks!
      Mia

      2 Share
  • AL

    Ariel Long

    about 4 years ago #

    Hi Mia:

    Thank you for joining the AMA. I am a big fan of Quartz.
    Will and How will Quartz use machine learning for pushing personalised news?

    And how do you see AI is changing online marketing, how should us marketers react to it?

    Thank you!

    Love from Amsterdam, the Netherlands

    • MM

      Mia Mabanta

      about 4 years ago #

      Hey Ariel,

      It's great to be here, glad to hear you're a Quartz fan!

      Personalized news has always been really interesting to us. At the same time, because of the technical complexity, I think it's tough to get right. It's something that we'll keep our eyes on, for sure.

      On how AI changes marketing: any efficiency that can be gained through machine automation is great, if it's a process that makes sense to automate. Marketing is tricky because you're ultimately trying to connect with humans; there will always been an emotional component so it's important to acknowledge that.

      Best regards from New York,
      Mia

  • PK

    Paul Kenjora

    about 4 years ago #

    I've been told that I need to befriend reporters to pitch stories. Although I see the value of this I find it impractical to manage that many connections or risk that much time on any single one. What are some tips for building reporter / outlet relationships faster?

    • MM

      Mia Mabanta

      about 4 years ago #

      Hi Paul,

      I work on the business side, so my perspective on this is second-hand and anecdotal. That said, it seems pretty universal that the thing to NOT do is rely on generic press releases. Rather, providing the macro context for your pitch—why it matters beyond the success of your own company/project—will likely help the reporter towards what the interesting angle is, if there is one.

      Thanks for the question,
      Mia

  • MM

    martín medina

    about 4 years ago #

    Mia,

    Great having you today on GH!

    Quartz's daily brief is something that is very helpful for people like me that want to be filled in on what's important. What was the inspiration behind this and how do you guys choose which topics to cover?

    I also love Atlas, how do you guys decide what data to visualize and what are some of your favorite charts and graphs?

    • MM

      Mia Mabanta

      about 4 years ago #

      Hi, Martín!

      Great to hear that you're a regular Daily Brief reader and Atlas fan.

      1. From day one, we've had one and only one goal in developing the newsletter: to create the best global business email news experience that we can. A key part of that is making it a great self-contained experience—the user reader gets a comprehensive summary of what's going on that day, without ever having to click a link in the email. Having that as our singular focus has allowed us to craft and refine the email with only the user's experience in mind (as opposed to, say, using the email as a means of driving traffic back to our site).

      2. Thanks! The general rule of thumb is, if a story (or part of a story) can be more efficiently told using a chart instead of through text, make a chart. On the flipside, if your dataset is too small to warrant a chart and the story is better off being told in words, don't force it.

      One of the recent charts that jumps to mind is one contrasting the decline in TSA employees with the simultaneous rise of air travelers (https://www.theatlas.com/charts/NkcoP-B1b). Btw, we feature a "chart of the day" on the Quartz homepage (qz.com), too.

      Mia

      3 Share
      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        about 4 years ago #

        That is such an effective (and incredibly simple) chart - don't even need to say anything else - love it!

  • NZ

    noor z

    about 4 years ago #

    Hello Mia,

    Thanks for doing this AMA.

    Here are my questions
    1. Imagine you are new to the industry and have no followers, how will you market a product. What strategies would you implement to generate more traffic and awareness other than curating content?
    2. What's the best customer acquisition channel according to you?
    3. What are the most effective paid channels?

    • MM

      Mia Mabanta

      about 4 years ago #

      Hi Noor,

      Glad to be here!

      Thanks for your questions.

      1. I've been in this situation twice now (well, sort of—Quartz was 3 months old when I joined). At HelloWallet, which was a B2B2C product, press and partnerships moved the needle more than anything. Meanwhile, Quartz's success in what was a fairly populated business news landscape was predicated on the philosophy: "Each story starts with an audience of zero," the implication being that the growth of our site is determined by people sharing stories with one another. Our marketing mix contains all the other usual elements, too, but ultimately growth is socially driven (whether that's on Facebook, Twitter, "dark social," or something else).

      Speaking of Facebook...

      2. No surprise here, but our most cost-efficient channel for acquisition is Facebook.

      3. This is a little more nuanced. It depends on what your KPI is. If you're running a mass-audience, direct-response campaign and CPC is your metric, Facebook is probably a pretty good bet. If you're running more of an awareness-focused campaign targeting a certain demographic, you might be better off with something that allows for more creative license or can better reach those users. (The latter is a large part of what's driven Quartz's success thus far, fwiw.)

      Mia

      3 Share
  • AA

    Aldin A

    about 4 years ago #

    Hi Mia,

    Thanks for being here!

    1)What does your marketing stack look like when it comes to gathering and analyzing data? Can you list them and explain
    your rational for them?

    2)Aside from growthhackers can you mention some of the resources you used to learn and stay up to date with growth hacking
    and marketing? Books, podcasts, blogs, etc?

    3)Can you talk about some of the challenges of scaling the business and how you've overcome them.

    4) Do you use any programs like the 'R' language to analyze the data you gather from your marketing tools? In the process of learning to become a data-driven marketer do you think it makes sense to learn 'data science' and something like the 'R langauge'? If it doesn't do you have any advice on how to become a data driven marketer?

    5) When it comes to understanding the data is it enough to have knowledge in stats, or do you need something more? If so what do you need?

    Thanks

    • MM

      Mia Mabanta

      about 4 years ago #

      Hi Aldin! I love these questions, especially #4.

      1. We build a lot of these tools in-house, but the services we do use are: Keen.io (site behavior and event monitoring), Omniture (site traffic and behavior), comScore (user demographics), Parsely and Chartbeat (real-time data), Mailchimp, Fabric, Wordpress VIP, and Typeform (user surveys). Most of these are probably self-explanatory. Keen has been great for being able to comprehensively look at user behavior on qz.com, and Typeform has been a great tool for optimizing survey completion (here's a Medium piece I wrote on survey research if you're interested in more on that: https://medium.com/@mia/getting-real-survey-answers-out-of-smart-busy-people-778f5a98e4c6#.keh7skmu7

      2. There are a ton of resources on how to optimize different channels, which I usually just search for on Google (or ask one of our team members) when the need arises. But ultimately when it comes to engaging real people, there's only so much that can be automated. It's an art that begins when you craft your narrative and carries through all the way to adapting your message for different audiences and finally the channels, content formats, images, words, and other details that your target user sees.

      So—all that being said—I try to keep sharp by looking to great storytellers and smart thinkers for inspiration. First Round Review (firstround.com/review) is a great example of that. I've also been enjoying Mark Suster's (@msuster) Snapstorms on tech and entrepreneurship, Sandi MacPherson's Quibb (quibb.com) for shared links, and the A16Z podcast. I also like to follow designers on Twitter for creative inspiration—Quartz's design director, Daniel Lee, has a great feed for that: twitter.com/_dlee.

      3. Great question. Quartz has grown incredibly fast, from under 30 employees in early 2013 to nearly 200 now. One of the biggest things we're focused on now is making sure that we're scaling our culture and company communications effectively, from once being able to stand up and shout something across the room to someone, to now being spread across multiple global offices. To that end, we've started investing more in training, being more conscious of how we choreograph all-hands meetings, and will soon be rolling out our company values. Ev Williams speaks to his experience on the difficulty of scaling in this great interview with Peter Kafka at Recode: http://pca.st/4Q9W.

      4. On my first day at my first job ever, I was sent to the SAS Institute in Rockville, Maryland. That course ended up being one of the formative experiences of my career. Sadly, it doesn't quite make sense for us to use SAS at Quartz, but ours is very much a data culture (see https://twitter.com/quartzthings, for example). We may start to incorporate Python into our marketing stack, which I'm told is the better choice over R. Here's some general advice on data-driven marketing: Know your numbers inside and out, know how to use them, and know their limitations. There's an emotional component to marketing that can't be measured. And always check your source notes.

      5. Piggybacking on my last point, I think developing an aptitude for using the numbers effectively—i.e., to strengthen your narrative—is an absolute must-have.

      Thanks!
      Mia

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        about 4 years ago #

        Completely agreed on #5. Building that narrative around the data has been a big learning for me. As someone in the weeds of the data its very easy to forget that others either don't care as much or don't have the context you do so creating that story around the data is critical towards communicating its impact and getting the team engaged around it.

  • LS

    Logan Stoneman

    about 4 years ago #

    Mia! I saw you recently shared Mary Meeker's 2016 Internet Trends report. After taking a look, what are your biggest takeaways? Anything that stood out to you that you'll be applying to Quartz?

    • MM

      Mia Mabanta

      about 4 years ago #

      Hi, Logan,

      Good question (and thanks for noticing!). I love paging through this deck every year (same goes for Benedict Evans' Mobile Is Eating the World).

      These are top of mind for me:

      Slide 42: Online advertising efficiency still has a long way to go.

      — It seems obvious, but it floors me every time when I see the large and growing size of the advertising market contrasted with stats about how much users hate so much of the advertising out there. It's a huge opportunity for someone to come in and create a better, smarter model.

      Slide 54: Each new marketing channel has grown faster than the one that's come before it.

      — There is a talk I've been giving lately, the thesis of which is: Mobile is exposing our long-held, incorrect assumptions about digital media—particularly around advertising. In marketing, we have a tendency to forget that the speed of today's technological innovation is a relatively recent thing. You can see that clearly in this chart. As a result, we tend to make the wrong assumptions in evolving our marketing approaches and ultimately have failed to keep pace.

      The section starting at slide 120: Our primary computer interface is about to go through an evolution.

      — Not that we needed a reminder, but this all just underscores how different, and how quickly evolving, the user experience is on mobile, and has implications for the assumptions you make as a product developer or marketer.

  • SA

    Shaker A

    about 4 years ago #

    Hey Mia,

    Awsome having you here!

    1)How do you go about thinking about and increasing retention?

    2)What is the best advice you you received from someone? What's something you learned the hard way?

    3) What are the key metrics for you?

    4)Some people say that you shouldn't rely on analytics very much in the begiining (as you don't have a very large sample
    size) which makes sense, they say you should look more at the qualitative data (like what they are doing on your site).
    What is your take on this? When do you think you should start spending more time and effort looking at quantitative data?

    Thanks

    • MM

      Mia Mabanta

      about 4 years ago #

      Hi Shaker,

      1. Retention is about providing a consistently differentiated product in response to user need. Beyond that, it really depends on the product—network-effects businesses, for example. But at the core, the details of that user experience and the value the user gets out of it as a result are critical.

      2. Great question! I'm running against the clock here and can't think of the *best* piece of advice I've ever gotten—but one thing a very smart friend once said to me was: "The advantage of startups is that you're forced to look outside your own company and often your own industry for guidance when problem-solving. As you scale, you increasingly look inward when problem-solving—to pattern-recognition and to people with very similar day-to-day realities as yours." I've tried to keep that in mind as we've grown. As for something I learned the hard way—probably something in the realm of not investing enough time and energy upfront when hiring/training/onboarding someone. I now know that the ROI on that is substantial.

      3. On what? :)

      4. I'll echo a point I made in my response to Aldin, above: Data are important, but you should know their limitations. One of the limitations of data is that it's rare for a single data point to be able to tell the complete story, so it's important to develop the skill of being able to leverage multiple data points and knowing how much weight to give each. There are also times where it makes sense to scrap the data altogether, and rely on your gut instead. That's something Zach Seward, Quartz's head of product, embraces, and that approach is actually what led to our recent iPhone app (http://qz.com/613700).

      Thanks!

      Mia

      • MM

        Mia Mabanta

        about 4 years ago #

        Oh, I thought of another good piece of advice I got in the early days of my career. I was a research assistant at the Brookings Institution and trying to figure out my next move. Mark Muro, who's now a director of policy there, told me to "never stop reading"—especially things that have nothing to do with my job. That's had a huge impact on how I've shaped my world view.

  • HQ

    Hila Qu

    about 4 years ago #

    Hi Mia,

    Super excited to have you at GrowthHackers.

    1) In Quartz's business model, how much % of visitors are non-registered users vs. registered users? How do you deal with the challenge of drive-by users who will visit Quartz once from social media, and never return?

    2) From your experience working on Media & Fintech etc, how would you suggest a marketer to build transferrable skills between different industries? Do you do any side projects that helped your career development so far?

    Thank you!

    • MM

      Mia Mabanta

      about 4 years ago #

      Hi Hila!

      1. We don't have a registration wall on the site, so there's no real incentive for users to register at the moment. We'd love it if everyone everywhere read Quartz all day long, but we don't mind drive-by users at all. One of our product assumptions is that the user has an infinite number of things s/he could doing at any given moment, so we're going to treat any slice of time we're able to capture with appreciation and respect.

      2. The playbook varies between industry and audience, but there's a core set of marketing skills that cuts across categories. In simplest terms, these are: being able to shape a narrative; being able to adapt your message across user segments and mediums; and knowing how to read, use, and communicate data. I don't have any specific side projects per se (I spend that energy at work, to be honest!), but there are things I do that helps ground my perspective and strengthen my game: I like to stay creative (taking photos, going to galleries and other art-y things); run (this is when I have my best moments of clarity); and, this is pretty nerdy, try to keep up my own professional growth by reading, listening, and talking to people who are doing this well.

      Thanks,
      Mia

  • SR

    shahnur rahman

    about 4 years ago #

    Hi Mia,

    Being the director of marketing , what was that one significant marketing mistake you made recently? A mistake which could have caused a loss in business! And how did you recover from it ?

    Eagerly waiting for your reply

    Best,
    Sayed

    • MM

      Mia Mabanta

      about 4 years ago #

      Hi, Shahnur,

      Hmm, we're fortunate to have avoided any major disasters, but there have been a few close calls, almost entirely due to miscommunication between teams and individuals. One thing I've learned to never overlook is how different languages can be between disciplines (sales vs. engineering, for example), so it's important not to leave things to interpretation. I've learned to be suspicious of pronouns.

      Mia

  • ES

    Edward Stephens

    about 4 years ago #

    Hi Mia,

    Amazing job on Hello Wallet!

    1) When did it dawn on you that you could be the instigator of change for employee benefits and financial support via HelloWallet and do you think slaving away to grow it was easier because the company had social impact?

    2) Where would you aim your steer with mobile advertising spend these days?

    3) Which channels were unexpectedly effective for HelloWallet and did you ever have concerns over traction and retention?

    • MM

      Mia Mabanta

      about 4 years ago #

      Hi, Edward!

      Thanks! It's amazing to be getting all these HelloWallet questions here, given how long it's been since we started that project. :)

      1. The concept for HelloWallet originally came out of a white paper that HelloWallet's CEO, Matt Fellowes—then a fellow at the Brookings Institution—and I as his research assistant were working on in 2008. Back then, it was a policy paper on the multibillion-dollar market for basic, avoidable financial mistakes that US consumers were making as a result of the financial advisory industry failing to keep pace with the market and technological changes happening all throughout the rest of the finance universe. So the idea was always grounded in social impact, and it was a big motivator for us from the beginning.

      2. Totally depends on what you're trying to accomplish and whom you're trying to reach. For direct-response, mass-consumer campaigns, Facebook is pretty unparalleled in terms of cost efficiency and mobile UX. To reach premium and/or niche audiences via brand advertising, other environments may be better suited. Regardless of your objective, what you don't want to do is pursue scale and cost-efficiency at the mercy of a good, respectful user experience.

      3. It's been a really long time since I was involved in the company, so I'm not the best person to speak on this. But I will say that partnerships and press were big drivers for us.

      Mia

  • SI

    Sarosha Imtiaz

    about 4 years ago #

    Hey Mia! Thanks for doing this AMA.

    I'd love to hear your opinion on how AI can distrupt digital marketing and how marketers can effectively adapt to these changes!

    • MM

      Mia Mabanta

      about 4 years ago #

      Hi, Sarosha!

      Ariel had a similar question, so I'll revisit my answer to that: Any efficiency that can be gained through machine automation is great, if it's a process that makes sense to automate. But marketing is tricky because you're ultimately trying to connect with humans so there will always been an emotional component. It's important not to overlook that!

      Mia

  • KA

    karim Abd El Kader

    about 4 years ago #

    Hello Mia,

    Thanks for conducting this AMA.

    I am very interested to know and learn from you the following:

    - How i can generate organic growth for a two-sided market place?

    - How i can tailor a revenue model for a two-sided market place or e-commerce platform?

    It will be super great if you can share materials as well.

  • RB

    Ry B

    about 4 years ago #

    Hi Mia,

    Great to have you here!

    - what do you think startups should make sure they focus on to increase there rates of survival?

    -what do see startups screwing up that they really can't afford too?

    - how do prioritize what is the most important thing for you to focus on RIGHT now for your marketing efforts?

    Thanks

    • MM

      Mia Mabanta

      about 4 years ago #

      Hi, Ry!

      1. Hard to answer this without knowing specifics, but in the broadest of strokes: product-market fit, differentiation, and talent.

      2. a. Unit economics in favor of user growth. b. Failing to scale evenly, which is pretty unavoidable, but ignoring this for too long can lead to a vicious cycle of organizational debt.

      3. Yeah, this is an area that I'm trying to get much better at, and one that's become more important as we've grown. Everyday fires are inevitable, but I keep three daily lists to keep priorities straight: a. A list of the top strategic initiatives that I'm involved in; b. A list of the three big things I need to get done that day; and c. a list of ALL the things I need to get done. Lists A and B are written out on notepad paper on my desk. I use Gmail's starred items for list C. (The gs, gi system works really well for me: https://xph.us/2013/01/22/inbox-zero-for-life.html.)

  • SS

    Shaun Siddiqui

    about 4 years ago #

    Hi Mia,

    Quartz is my favourite news app at the moment! Keep up the great work.

    Any chance you guys might do a Growth Study on here?

    Shaun

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    about 4 years ago #

    Hey Mia - so cool to have you on!

    Having just done a growth study on BuzzFeed, I'm now more aware of the entire native advertising landscape.

    What does your data tell you about how people actually feel about native ads? Do they feel tricked into clicking/sharing them (read a few reports claiming this)? Do they not care? Can't get enough?

    Also, what are the biggest challenges - from a Quartz perspective and/or as an industry one that could potentially either kill this revenue model or make it less lucrative than it currently is?

    Thanks!

  • VK

    Vaishnav Kumar

    about 4 years ago #

    Hi Mia,

    If you had a healthcare startup, how would you go about generating qualified leads from social media?

    Thx!

    • MM

      Mia Mabanta

      about 4 years ago #

      Hi, Vaishnav!

      I don't have deep domain expertise in healthcare, so I'm probably not the best person to ask. That said, you can't go wrong with great creative and well-crafted messaging. Lately, I've been seeing Facebook ads for Capsule (capsulecares.com), a pharmacy startup based here in New York, and they always grab my attention.

      Wish I could be more helpful,

      Mia

  • DA

    Dimas Aji

    about 4 years ago #

    How do you manage what you are doing across all your channels on a daily basis? What's metric(s) do you usually use to measure engagement, conversions etc?

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