How Pluralsight Put Connection First with Heather Zynczak

The biggest question that CMOs are asking themselves during this time is, “How can we market ourselves while keeping in mind the current state of the market?”. The answer is simple: create a connection with your audience. Without a connection between your brand and your consumers, the traction to your marketing strategy won’t be as apparent as you had hoped.

In this episode of The Casted Podcast, we had the opportunity to speak to Heather Zynczak, the CMO at Pluralsight. As a company, they are using this time to their advantage by offering a variety of training courses to help those unemployed in the technology field learn skills for potential job opportunities once the job market starts to settle. Listen in to hear more about Pluralsight's strategic endeavors.



Digging into Key Takeaways

In each episode, we like to highlight the key takeaways from each show. Think of it as a podcast outline or live show notes. Here are just a few of the takeaways that really stood out to us in Heather's episode.

Turning a live event into a virtual one

As we all know, conferences of all types and any in-person events had to either be canceled or held virtually. In Pluralsight’s case, their annual conferences that take place all over the world were no exception. Their London conference that was scheduled for March had to switch to be virtually held online which meant they only had two weeks to pull it off. From their speakers creating unique content and the marketing team using the authenticity of homelife to their advantage, Pluralsight saw more engagement than they hoped for even when the event was scheduled to be in-person. The key lesson to takeaway is that even though companies have to transition to their plans being held online, it doesn’t mean that it’s a death sentence to its success.

Start preparing for the future of marketing now ⏲

Now, we all know that no one can clearly see the future, but that doesn’t mean that marketers can’t plan for it. Just because it’s currently a time of the unknown, does not mean for certain that there are still not people interested in your content once it is over. Begin planning ways for how you can have traction in your market so when the economy starts to stabilize, you can hit the ground running with your ongoing strategy.

How Pluralsight is putting connection first with #FreeApril #️⃣

This is the time to take advantage of the cards dealt to us and see how we can use them to help others. Pluralsight launched a season of learning called #FreeApril. This is a campaign that holds over 7000 free courses to help those who are unemployed gain new skills to help them be more marketable for jobs when the unemployment rates start to decrease. Market your services in a helpful angle instead of only a tactical one.

Advice for marketers moving forward‍

First, focus on how your brand can help not only itself but more importantly consumers in the market. If it can serve as a solution to those in need of one in light of the pandemic, your brand’s awareness can skyrocket. Next, is to shift your marketing plan to fit the standards of the time. By this, we mean to focus more on online marketing tools such as social media, online seminars, audio content, etc. Create innovative ways to market your brand. Every other marketer is in the same boat as you. Find a way that can make your strategy stand out.

Interested in more from Heather Zynczak?

Check out the All Hands on Tech podcast here and Heather on our bonus episode of The Casted Podcast: Behind the CMO: Heather Zynczak below.



Interested in skimming through the entire episode? Access the full transcript below.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: If now isn't the time to get creative, to turn the status quo on its side and rethink things, I don't really know when else that would be. You know, things may feel tough, even insurmountable. But they don't have to stay that way. Even in a time where there is so much outside of our control, there are almost always things we can do to help others and to really take lemons and make lemonade. I'm Lindsay Tjepkema, CEO and Co- Founder of Casted, the first and only marketing platform built around branded podcasts, and this is our podcast. Here in season three of the Casted podcast we're talking with CMOs and marketing leaders to see how they're rethinking their marketing strategies in light of this COVID- 19 crisis. I'm hearing inspiring stories from leaders and teams across the country who are taking this as an opportunity to really work together and explore new ways to serve their audiences. Today we're hearing from Heather Zynczak, the CMO of Pluralsight. That's a company that offers a variety of video training courses for software developers, IT administrators, and creative professionals. As you will hear,Heather's energy and enthusiasm is so refreshing and motivating right now. She eagerly shares a couple of initiatives that Pluralsight quickly launched as this crisis started to emerge and really serve its audience. Listen and hear from Heather as she shares the massive projects- they're huge- that she and her team and colleagues jumped into without a whole lot of hesitation simply because they knew it was the right thing to do both for their audience and for their company.

HEATHER ZYNCZAK: Hey Lindsay, this is Heather Zynczak. I'm the Chief Marketing Officer at Pluralsight and looking forward to the conversation today.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Thank you so much for being here Heather. I wish it was under slightly less stressful circumstances. But I'm glad to have you on and to hear how you and your team are adapting in the light of everything that's happening right now. How have things been for you ? We're on the beginning of week four, at least here in Indianapolis. A little bit longer where you are. What has that looked like for your team How have you all adapted?

HEATHER ZYNCZAK: So I live in Park City, Utah, which is currently one of the top 10 most infected counties in the nation. So we're a little bit ahead of you guys. My kids are starting week six of no school and I think we're starting week four or five of complete isolation at home. So definitely been an interesting challenge on the personal front for myself, just like everybody else in the country. From a work perspective, we're now in our fourth week of mandatory work from home, which adds challenges just to the general work setting. But really, this has been one of the craziest and most rewarding times in my career as a marketer. And it's bizarre that this happened, but we saw the situation we were in and said okay, how do we need to shift. And I've been working harder... My team has been working harder than we have in a really long time and have had some really amazing positiveness for our company and for our brand that's come out of this. I'm happy to share any of that.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Absolutely. I think that we could all use some positive news, and some advice. Because there's...We're not alone. Unfortunately this is something that we're all going through right now and marketers in particular are really starting to wonder... Not starting, have been wondering how do we get through this, what does this look like. So I would love to hear that. Let us have it. What's been working well for you and your team ?

HEATHER ZYNCZAK: Just a couple first. The first one is, we do an annual user conference every year. In person, thousands of people. We do one in North America and one in Europe. Eventually we'll have one in Asia as well. Our Europe one was scheduled for March 22, I believe, in London. Unfortunately we waited too long. We waited until just a couple of weeks before the event to make the decision for it to be virtual because in February a lot of people, including our sales team,couldn't have predicted what London would look like on March 22. They wanted to keep this event because it's such a wonderful event. We have 90% close rates out of customers that come to this. We have a ton of our best customers there. Lots of pipeline in the room.It's gives us, as marketers know, in person events give you benefits the whole year long. So they were hesitant to make the decision based on what was going on in the world. So we had two weeks to turn it into a virtual event. It was phenomenal. The paid speakers that we had, the celebrity speakers, their willingness to do unique and creative content for us was awesome. We had double the amount of customers that were willing to do virtual interviews or virtual sessions on what they're doing with our product, than we did in the in person version. So our content actually was even more amazing. Now, we had to hustle to get it and some of it was people from home. You could see kitchen counters in the background. But it was the stories that mattered. And the thing that was really cool about this is the team hustled and we created a virtual event in under three weeks, more like two weeks. And the exciting thing were the results. So we saw almost four times the number of attendees the week of the conference on a virtual platform versus the in person. And almost more exciting than that is we saw three times the amount of pipeline with those attendees. And that's really, for our sales team, what matters. And people were willing to take customer meetings virtually. We actually had the same amount, if not more, customer meetings that occurred with our executive team. So it was actually, from a pure results perspective, more successful than our in person event, and it's the gift that keeps on giving because now we have this content that every week people are still viewing. And one of the really interesting things for us out of it was even though this was a Europe event, and when we have the event in London it's 95% of the people there are from Europe. We don't see people travel from the US. They wait and go to our US event.It's a rarity unless that already happen to be in town for something else. But we actually saw the US had as many people" attend" the Europe virtual event as Europeans. So we got global reach with it. So I'll pause there on that one and I have one that's probably as exciting if not more that we've done. But that's one way we've been able to kind of shift our business and really create a great brand experience for our customers.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: That is so great to hear. I know a lot of people have been thinking about taking their events online or creating one that wouldn't have existed anyway.We're actually getting talked to a lot about that at Casted too and saying how can I harness this content for podcasts. Like you said,it's the content that keeps on giving. It doesn't have to stop at an event. Like how else can you use it ? How can you turn all of that great content into podcasts or webinars or content that can be consumed long after the fact as well. So that's really great news, especially for a lot of people who are considering doing that as well. Any recommendations that you have for how to do that? Where do you even get started?

HEATHER ZYNCZAK: We had a little bit of an advantage. We used our own product because as you know, Pluralsight is a platform that we have over 7000 courses online that people can use and virtually can watch from anywhere, any place. It's remote learning. So we actually were in the process. We were at the in person event. We were launching a new product line that we have called Conferences. And basically we've gone around the globe and partnered with some of the world's best conferences and recorded their content and put it on our platform. And as part of your subscription to being a user of our platform you could also view these conferences. Some of the world's best tech conferences are on our platform. We made that free with this because of COVID- 19. The first thing we did- and I'll talk about the second thing we did in a minute because it's the thing I'm most excited about- we gave the conferences piece free. So with the launch of our user conference in March, in mid to late March we said hey, everybody can view any of our conference's data and you can come to Pluralsight Live: Europe for free as well. So we had our own platform. But we're now looking into... because it was so wildly successful we're looking into future experiences. Because we're going to be doing a lot more virtual conferences going forward and we're looking into different vendors. But what I would recommend all marketers is even after we're through COVID- 19, and I don't know when that is or what that looks like, the world will be different. And I believe virtual experiences, remote experiences, on demand content, content that you can consume how you want it from anywhere, is going to be even more important to your overall marketing strategy. So I would encourage all marketers to be thinking about what does that look like and what tools do I need to really have an amazing virtual marketing experience from an event and a content perspective. We had some of that already in house, but we're doubling down and we're looking to massively optimize that part of our tech stack.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: That's great.That's great. And it sounds also- and paraphrasing your story and your advice here- just do it, just get started, look for opportunities, and look for what you might have already in house in what your company does or just in your tech stack and just look for ways to keep on going.

HEATHER ZYNCZAK: Yeah, and I would recommend everybody start now because that way when we do come out of this, A-you'll probably, like us, we got a lot of traction in our market with this already. So you could get traction now. But even if you feel like your audience isn't ready to do some of these things, when we start to come out of this as a global economy you will be prepared and primed. So I would encourage all marketers to think now, what does the future look like.It's just like after- This may be dating myself.- but for those of you that were old enough to be working during 9/ 11, almost 20 years ago. Think about how travel changed after that. Think about your experience at the airport with TSA and just in general. We're going to have...There's going to be so much in our world that's going to change after COVID- 19 that will just be the new norm. So just be ready for that. So work on your plan now. Work on your strategy now. What tools do you need ? What content do you need ? What workforce folks do you need ? You can get ahead of the game. We launched a free April campaign.It's honestly probably one of the biggest things I will do as CMO during my time at Pluralsight. So it started altruistic, just what can we do. We sat down as a leadership team, myself and the CEO basically and said what can we do during this time. Like how can we help people? And that's really where it came from. We looked at the unemployment rate being the highest in a single week since the Great Depression. We looked at people. People are out there struggling. And how can we help them? We can't deliver groceries. We're not in the pharmaceutical business to help with testing or in the manufacturing business to help with more protective gear for front line workers. But what we could do is we could help the individuals out there that are either home and struggling with staying at home, like what do they do while they're staying at home and how could we encourage more people to stay home, because we believe that staying home is one of the more important things we can do right now for the health of our country and for honestly, our economy. And then also for those people that are unemployed, how can we help them get new skills so that they're more employable in the future ? How can they come out of the other side of this with the best opportunities? So we provided our entire platform for free, all 7000 courses. No limits on watching. Anybody anywhere can access it. We didn't require a credit card. This isn't a play to get you to become a customer. We did this with just all you have to have is a valid e- mail because for piracy reasons we had to have some type of validation. And anybody anywhere across the globe can sign up. We started this called Free April. So hashtag Free April. We are going to lose millions of dollars in revenue this month. We put a lot of money into promoting it because we wanted people to know about it. And this is our way of giving back. So what started out as a way to give to the community has just been unbelievable in terms of virality on social media and in terms of brand awareness.That's not why we did it, but it's been unbelievable. So I'll give you a couple stats. We normally do free weekends that are promotional. So we do a free weekend once or twice a year to kind of encourage more people to try out Pluralsight. Those are totally promotional,they're trying to get more customers. On a typical free weekend, we have about 5000 people come in and use the platform for free. In the first 36 hours, we had more than 250,000 people coming in to use our platform for free.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Wow.

HEATHER ZYNCZAK: Yeah. So it's just been... I mean, I could give you a ton of marketing stats and geek out. That we trended on Twitter through organic. We had to shut down all of our paid efforts in the first two days because some of our systems were struggling to keep up with the amount of registrations. The good news was our product was fine, but the systems we have to get people into it, we shut down some of the paid efforts. This was predominantly the first couple days through mainly organic measures. We were really thoughtful in this campaign on how to reach people that would need it most. And we did probably 20% of some of our normal channels that we use. But 80% of our plan was new things that we hadn't tried before. So it was really exciting as a marketer to do this as well. So my encouragement to all of you out there in marketing is to first, just think about how can you help your community because truthfully those companies that are helping their community,it's the right thing to do. And I think people are recognizing that in this time. So there will be added benefits you get out of that. And then secondly, how do you market differently right now to take advantage of all the eyeballs that are at home these days. And that was a big challenge for us that I think that we really rose to the challenge, for sure.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Absolutely. And I love that.It's such a good story because not only is it heartwarming and inspiring for marketers, but I think it was Mr. Rogers that said" Look for the helpers." When there are bad things happening there are always helpers. Look for the helpers. And taking that a couple steps further, be a helper. We should all, if we haven't already, we should all be asking ourselves how can we help, how can we step up and serve and do what's right, not what is easy and not for revenue, not for business growth through what's happening right now, but to help. We all serve very very different brands and very different companies and very different industries, but there are ways that we and our teams and our products can help in some way. So I love how your attitude there and the state of mind that it sounds like you approached this with, which is hey, we have this thing, how can we help people right now. And in doing so, not only are you doing the right thing and actually fulfilling your goal with helping people, but you're also building goodwill and building relationships that will last through this whole thing. Which is great too.

HEATHER ZYNCZAK: I mean, it also was a great reminder. Only about a quarter, to date,we're only a couple days into this promotion. But only a quarter of the people who've signed up for Free April are from the US. 75% are from around the globe. We do have a global offering and it's used everywhere. But that was really interesting to me because this is a global pandemic. And globally how can you help people. So it's been awesome to see some of the different countries where there's refugee camps or other things where people are really struggling, to see this is a global issue. And when you have a remote solution, you can help globally.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Yeah. No, absolutely. Absolutely. And it kind of takes your breath away in how all in this together we really are. Not just locally in our community or around the state or across the country, but really globally. This has the opportunity to bring us together in a way that nothing, at least in our generation, never really has. What advice would you have for listeners seeking to do the same ? That just are scratching their heads with what in the world to do here, how to rethink their entire strategy ?

HEATHER ZYNCZAK: I think a couple things. First, I would think about do you have a product or solution that can help and how can you help. I think those are going to be the messages that resonate the most right now. I think everyone right now is kind of focused on are we okay, are we going to be okay through this. So most people's minds right now, from a mind share perspective, is going to be focused on things that can help, what can help me during this time. So if you have a product or a solution that can help, think about how to get it out in the marketplace. That will do more for brand awareness than anything else you can do. The second thing... And of course, it's the right thing to do. The second thing I would throw out there is how do you take advantage with your marketing plan with the way people are consuming content a bit differently right now. So everyone is from home.It's on demand.It's social media. What are the things that are really trending there ? So I think really thinking about your marketing plan needs to shift. The things that worked for you before definitely don't work for you right now during this time, but they also... I think the world is going to be different. I think we're going to... I think 200, 000 person conferences like Dream Force with cruise ships docked in the San Francisco Bay for extra hotel space, are a thing of the past. I think there will be a new version of that. So I would... Marketers are creative. Get your best brains together and think about what could this new reality look like and start planning now for it. That would be the other thing I would definitely put out there. And then I think you should look at your tools. What tools do I have ? Do I have the right tech stack and the right tools that we need to have virtual events ? Are podcasts a strategy for us and do we have the tools to use podcasts ? What are the things that you think will be in your strategy and do you have the right tools to implement it ?

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Mm- hmm( affirmative). No, absolutely. Absolutely.Couldn't agree more.

HEATHER ZYNCZAK: I'm like, what can you do with that content and what e- mail campaigns do you need to have to follow up to it ? They need to be different. What content do you need to have to attach to this e- mail ?It's changing completely the way we market. So that's the thing.It's changing everything about your marketing strategy.It's not just going virtual events or virtual content or having more content. You need to be rethinking the whole way you approach customers.

HEATHER ZYNCZAK: Yeah.

HEATHER ZYNCZAK: And our sales teams aren't having in person meetings. The third thing I was going to talk about is just how do you help your sales team. Of my spend, the majority of it is to generate pipeline. So I'm having to come up with unique ways to generate pipeline in a remote, virtual world. But the other big chunk of my spend is how do I help sales close that pipeline. And historically that's been through in person events like dinners. But I've got to come up with new and interesting ways to help my sales rep.That's been a big challenge too. And I think that's the other...That's the second thing that I would hope marketers are thinking about. One thing that's been really big for us is we're tripling down on account based marketing and doing really unique marketing things, unique content even for our big accounts. Because we no longer can wine and dine them. So we have to come up with things that they'll still want to get access to. Like we paid for NCAA finals tickets and we had a ton of customers. We had boxes at the NCAA finals. It was going to be awesome. So what can we give customers to have conversations with us virtually. So we're looking at do we hire an author thatthey've wanted to meet forever and do a 20 person Zoom with that author where you can ask questions. We're trying to come up with stuff like what can we offer you in a virtual world that is the equivalent of NCAA finals tickets.It's just a really... And how do you help those sales people.It's an interesting time.What's also interesting, I sat next to the CEO of DoorDash at a conference a couple summers ago at dinner. I basically sat next to him at dinner.He's just super smart and interesting and loved our conversation. So we kind of kept sort of in touch but not really. We traded a couple e- mails. But when this all happened, their response with early onCOVID- 19 was how can we help you. And DoorDash for example, is coming up with really unique ways that you can give DoorDash to your customers. I can still buy you lunch or dinner. I can still... DoorDash is here to... There are questions around, some people don't want third party people delivering food. But they're coming up with unique ways to say how can we help you. And I think it's things like that...It's going to be the DoorDashes, the getting an author on a call, how do you still... Because look, at the end of the day we're human and we need connection. And without connection we don't thrive. So how can you, in this world that we're in right now, and the new world we're going to be in post- the most tragic part of this COVID-19, how can we still... What markets do is we create connections. So how can we still create connections? That's the most interesting part of our job. So I challenge all marketers to get creative and think about how to still create those connections in this trying time.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Absolutely. I could not agree more. That is what I have been shouting too, as far as people need connection more than ever before. This whole thing is human to human, so how can wedo that, how can we look for ways to do that now and ongoing. I couldn't agree more. Thank you so much for sharing the good news that's happening with you and with your team at Pluralsight.It's inspirational. I think it's a nice peak at the sun in an otherwise cloudy day for a lot of people. So thanks for sharing it. I appreciate it a lot.

HEATHER ZYNCZAK: No, great Lindsay. Loved the conversation.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: That's our show. Thanks for listening. For more from today's guest, including bonus content not included in this episode, like the stories you haven't heard about their career and the advice they have for you and your path to becoming a marketing leader visit casted. us to subscribe and receive our show as it's published, along with exclusive content each week.

About Season 3 of The Casted Podcast

We're back with Season 3 of The Casted Podcast! This season, we’re talking to marketing leaders from some of your favorite brands to discuss how they've been leading and directing their teams during these unprecedented times. We'll talk strategy, remote work, team dynamics, and everything in between.

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