Interview with Alexander Billington – Growth Frameworks From A Former Soccer Player – Episode #71

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      • Alex is a former professional soccer player turned growth marketer and now works as a community growth manager at Funnel, a marketing data platform with over 1500 customers including Adidas, Samsung, and Havas. Prior to Funnel, Alex worked agency-side at Brainlabs building cross-channel digital growth strategies for brands such as Digicel & MARS.Questions and topics covered:
        • The story on how he became a Growth Marketer.
        • Why did he join Funnel.io?
        • What are some of the weekly and monthly challenges Funnel’s marketing team faces?
        • What is his approach for testing several different marketing channels?
        • What are some go-to mental frameworks that he uses to help him develop and refine his marketing strategies?
        • What are some of Alexander’s marketing resources that he can’t live without?
        • Alexander’s list of favorite MarTech tools.
        • Characteristics he likes to see in job candidates.

 

Full Episode Transcript:

Kenny Soto  0:01  

Hi everyone and welcome to the people Digital Marketing podcast with your host Kenny Soto. And as always, I’m very excited about today’s guest, because he’s going to help us out with a lot of career advice today. His name is Alexander Billington. Hey, Alex, how are you?

 

Alexander Billington  0:21  

I’m good. Thanks. How are you? Thanks for having me.

 

Kenny Soto  0:23  

Of course, I’m doing great. And before we started recording, I just gave you a little background on the audience and the podcast. Again, this is a podcast that’s not only about marketing strategies and tactics but also about career advice from professionals such as yourself. 

 

So I think a great way for us to paint a picture of your career is just to start off by asking you, How would you describe your current job?

 

Alexander Billington  0:49  

Good question. I think what it boils down to ultimately is that I’m a growth marketer. In that, I juggle various different growth initiatives that try to affect positively affect our marketing funnel. So I don’t just operate within the kind of upper funnel or lower funnel, I try and operate throughout that. 

 

I a trying to assess what is gonna have an impact on those different parts of the marketing funnel. So I don’t have a job description, per se. But yeah, looking for those opportunities. And then, you know, trying to figure out, Okay, what’s a creative way to solve this? Because I think sometimes the most obvious ways, are not always the right way, especially because we have a quite lean team. 

 

So someone might say, oh, we need more of this? And the answer is, Oh, of course, just do this. And it’s like, that would be great if we had 10 more people, right? So a lot of it is getting a little bit creative with what we do too, and figuring out what are the other ways to solve this problem that may be a bigger company, you know, aren’t gonna go up because they just have the resource. 

 

And that, and I spent quite a lot of time in front of the camera. So I do quite a lot of our kind of thought leadership video stuff, we have a series on LinkedIn that we do that we also push on YouTube. So yeah, a bunch of different stuff on camera, which is a lot of fun to

 

Kenny Soto  2:08  

Do you always start off as a generalist, my assumption is if you say you’re a growth marketer, you’re doing many things that you always start off as a growth marketer, or did you have like a specific function that you dive into first?

 

Alexander Billington  2:22  

So the first approach was when I was in New York, and I was working on the brand side of things, then I started looking into experiential marketing because the startup I was working for was kind of in that space. And then I transitioned into digital. And then I started working for a paid agency in London. 

 

So that was when I moved back from New York. And that was, I mean, that was the real test and learn agency, it was really data-driven, they were one of those agencies that people started going to the big companies and started leaving these big network agencies and saying, I want to work with those guys. 

 

Because those guys, you know, it was all about testing and learning, it was all about being data, informed by data, and making those decisions. We talked about kind of hiring scientists and teaching marketing and all that kind of stuff. So so that was really cool. So yeah, I started off with like, a paid background building, you know, building digital strategies for various companies.

 

Kenny Soto  3:19  

Why did you join funnel.io?

 

Alexander Billington  3:23  

So the agency, I was working at that was super data-driven all about testing and learning, and trying to harness the power of data into marketing, which now feels very second nature. But a few years ago, it wasn’t as popular, right? Some people, marketers, we’re still going around saying, we should do this. 

 

And people will say, you know why you’re doing it? And the answer was like, Well, I just think we should. And somebody else would say, Hey, I’ve looked at some data, and it actually feels like we should go ahead and test this. 

 

And so they were really harnessing the power of data, not just through data people, but also through marketers. And the way they were able to do that was actually by using a funnel. So funnel was a really big part of enabling account managers to harness the power of data and do better marketing for clients. So that’s where I first came across the funnel. And then when I decided to move on, I spoke to funnel, I was deciding to move to Stockholm, and we kind of made it happen. So I made the transition.

 

Kenny Soto  4:17  

And for more context for the listeners, specifically, can you give an overview of what the funnel does?

 

Alexander Billington  4:25  

Yeah, absolutely. So funnels is a marketing data platform that allows marketers to connect their data from all of their different marketing platforms, and then transform it into like usable data that’s ready to be analyzed. So you can clean it, group it, map it, all the things you would do in a G sheet without having to like know all of those crazy formulas that are super hard to maintain. 

 

And then you can export that data to any of your destinations, like a lot of people send it to Data Studio, but you can also do two data warehouses for the Data Studio Google Sheets. So you can create those really Automated, really shiny dashboards that tell you everything you need to know to actually empower the marketer to be a data-driven marketer. Right?

 

Kenny Soto  5:09  

Can you describe some of your weekly and monthly challenges when trying to grow the funnel?

 

Alexander Billington  5:15  

Yeah, absolutely. So I think the first one is that, because we are growing so fast, sometimes it’s hard to make sure that all of the parts add up to the hole. So there are lots of different things going on at one time within the marketing organization. And there are lots of different initiatives running off in different directions. 

 

And it’s trying to make sure that everything adds up to the hole so that all of our efforts are as efficient as possible. That’s definitely one of them. Another one is to use a baseball analogy, like deciding which pitches to swing at, right? It’s like, I have ideas all day, every day. My colleagues have fantastic ideas all day, every day. 

 

There are always ideas coming in, but it’s trying to decide what’s the right thing to do when, and why. So we use a bunch of different frameworks to try and assess, you know, like, you know, how should we go? How should we approach it? Should we swing it this? Or is this one that we leave? And then we swing it to the next one? Right?

 

Kenny Soto  6:12  

I’m assuming that there are always new strategies that you’re incorporating into your marketing mix. In terms of channels? How would you recommend a new growth marketer to a new business approach? Evaluating several different channels? Is it the best way to go testing one channel at a time by testing multiple channels with different kinds of content formats? What would be your recommendation for approaching that?

 

Alexander Billington  6:39  

Yeah, absolutely. So I think the first place that I start is to try and make a hypothesis, of some kind. So it’s, you know, where is your market? Or where is your target audience? Do you think they spend a lot of time on YouTube on Spotify, they spend, you know, what they often search on Google? 

 

Do they exist in publications, you know, trying to figure out where your audience actually spends a lot of their time, I think is the first thing and then saying, Okay, I think a lot of my audience spend their time on Spotify. And then you kind of ask yourself, Okay, well, I can appear on Spotify in a few different ways that could be on podcasts, I could feature, I could also create my own podcast, or I could sponsor content on podcasts, or I could do audio ads on Spotify, on the feature on podcasts, and therefore different ways of saying, Okay, this is how I, this is where my audience is, and I want to be able to reach them. The question then is, how difficult is each one of those? And how much impact could it have? Because it’s all well, and a good saying, I’m going to start a podcast. 

 

But I mean, you know, more than anyone, it’s not the easiest thing to do in a world like people think it sounds super easy, but there’s so much work that goes into it, you’ve got to source people, etc, etc. So, I mean, there’s tons that go into it. But yeah, I think starting with a hypothesis, and then figuring out a way to test it. And the step in between is assessing, you know, what’s the potential impact here? And how difficult is it going to be to do it? So yeah, I think that’s, that’s where I go. 

 

Kenny Soto  8:04  

Since we’re already in this flow of the conversation. My next question would be, are there any other go-to frameworks that you use either by yourself or when you’re collaborating internally with other team members in order to grow your marketing strategy, figure out what’s the best way to do something and one?

 

Alexander Billington  8:27  

Yeah, for sure, there are a bunch of different ones. I’m always trying to like take these big challenges that we get given and try and break them down into parts, then expand them back out again, and then break them down into parts. And I can’t remember exactly what that one’s called. 

 

But you can kind of picture it, then you start super big, and then you go, you take it small, then you go back out again, and you take it small again. But one is actually you had done McGraw on here a few weeks ago, I think, and he has one device framework for landing page testing, and that’s one that I use. 

 

So it’s the velocity at which you can actually find out the result of your AB test. If you have super low traffic and you want to test something really big, the chances are it’s going to take you like 12 months to get an answer, which is probably not a great use of AB testing time. Right? And the AI is impacting or like how much impact is this thing going to have? Is it a little bit of copy at the top that you think will do pretty well? Or do you want to put a cool mobile hero image that’s gonna change the way people see your brand and see everything. 

 

Okay. And then you’ve got the C, which is probably my favorite part of it, which is confidence. 

And I think there are two ways to look at this. For example, one way is saying that I have data-informed confidence, let’s call that your quantitative confidence. And then the other way I like to look at it is your qualitative confidence because as a marketer, you also do have experience, and data is meant to inform, but it’s not meant to make the decision for you. Right? 

 

So I like to say to someone trying to balance, your, your kind of quantitative and your qualitative, don’t just say, I have confidence in this because of an eight because I read some data, or I read a study that said, this will do really well. It’s also what you call it, what’s your gut tell you what your experience of your customers of your buyer personas, what does that also tell you? 

 

And how much confidence does that give you? And then finally, it’s easy. I mean, is this like, super difficult to pull off a little bit? Like the example, I gave before? Is this? Is this a mountain to climb in building a mobile experience, as I mentioned, or is it changing ad copy? Is it a one out of 10 on it because hey, we can do this thing? Super easy, right? So I like that framework too.

 

Kenny Soto  11:15  

What are some resources you use that can be publications, YouTube, channels, podcasts, etc? To stay up to date on marketing, tactics, trends, etc.

 

Alexander Billington  11:26  

So I spend a lot of time on Spotify. I do you know, I have like a series of stretches I do every single morning, I’m in the gym most days, or I’m running outside or running on the treadmill. And then also, my girlfriend’s away quite a lot. So I have the apartment to myself quite a lot kind of walking around cooking. 

 

So most of the time, I spent a lot of time listening to a podcast. So my favorite one is it’s not a marketing podcast, but it’s a podcast that pushes me to think about things in different ways. And that’s the knowledge pod project by Shane Parrish. I’m sure people have said that one before, but that one’s super good. 

 

And then there’s the digital marketing podcast that’s by target internet. They’re pretty good because their target the internet or they teach marketers how to do marketing better, right? And so I think they’re, they’re quite good. Then drift has a few different podcasts that I listen to I really like Mark killings and the way he approaches to content and community and the mix of both, and really trying to understand what your audience wants. So yeah, I listened to those.

 

And then YouTube, I search, man, I mean, trying to find someone like if I want to know more about GA for and whether it’s the right time to switch over to GA for I’m searching for it in YouTube, I’m putting it on 1.5 speed, and I’m flying through two or three videos to get a sense of is this the right move right now? So yeah, I think earlier on I used to read a lot of articles, and I’ve massively transitioned into podcasts and video content.

 

Kenny Soto  12:53  

I’m glad you mentioned Google Analytics for this is a good sign. What are some of your favorite Mark tech tools?

 

Alexander Billington  13:01  

Well, obviously, I have, I have to start with a funnel, right? I think it’s pretty cool. And I jumped on sales calls from time to time, and I jumped on one today. And the person we’re speaking to just was like, it’s so cool that you internally use a funnel, right? So I was assessing a mini-campaign we did the other day. 

 

And I pulled data from a funnel and sent it into Google Sheets. And then I did a little bit of analysis just to grab some quick, quick ad hoc analysis, right? So we use a funnel internally. 

 

We also use Looker from a kind of like data visualization point of view as well. Internally, I would say it’s a little bit more complicated. And it’s like a little bit more difficult. Especially I can definitely lean on our data team or our BI team to help with that as well. We’re obviously HubSpot users. And then also for a B testing. We’ve kind of tested around a little bit with Optimizely. And also I don’t remember the other one, what the other ones were called. Yeah.

 

Kenny Soto  14:12  

Perfect. And this is another segue if you were to start hiring to expand your growth team, what are some characteristics you’d like to see in potential candidates?

 

Alexander Billington  14:27  

Personally, maybe it’s because I’m a generalist, but I like people that are open to jumping on to different projects that are important to the business. It’s obviously great to specialize and you always need specialists. 

 

But I like that, you know, scaling businesses need different things at different times. Right? My title is community growth manager but that doesn’t mean that I’m always doing things that are community-based. Sometimes it’s content. Sometimes it’s AV testing, sometimes it’s CRO, and sometimes it’s page strategy. 

 

I mean, there are tons of different things, because the way I see it is what does the business need at that time? And what are your qualities and being able to be flexible with that? I think that that’s a massive one for me. Because it, I mean, at a place like a funnel that’s growing these fast things change all the time, we have to, we have to be agile, we have to be willing to jump on different projects that are the most important thing to the business. So that’s I think the number one quality I think is important.

 

Kenny Soto  15:27  

My next question is in two parts. What worries you about marketing, in general, this year? And what also excites you about marketing, in general, this year? 

 

Alexander Billington  15:38  

That is a good question. I think I might have to say the same thing for both. And that would be what I’m going to call the virtual world because I don’t want to get into any debates about what we’re going to call this thing. 

 

That is, seems, seems to be on the horizon. But I think the thing that worries me about it is I think that a lot of big companies are jumping headfirst into this kind of virtual world experiences, at least or at least, you know, putting some eggs in that basket. And I’m just not sure that their customers are ready for that yet. 

 

I’m not sure that a lot of customers are ready for big brands that don’t want to name and don’t want to get in trouble. But like big brands who are coming out with, with, you know, virtual experiences, virtual connections, whatever it might be. 

 

And I’m just not sure that their customers want that yet. I think that there’s still so much the in the world right now, from a marketing point of view that that is still going to capture people’s attention. I think people still love good content b2b and b2c, I think they really, like being entertained. 

 

That’s what we try and do with some of our content, we try and entertain people, like when I’m on camera, it’s not always perfect. We do have a laugh, you know, there is behind the scenes there. It’s not all about kind of, yeah, you know, full utility, you sometimes have to take a punt and entertain people. So I think that worries me. 

 

On the other hand, from a marketing point of view, it is also exciting to think of the potential possibilities that you can entertain if you open up a whole new sphere that we haven’t had before. And so I think, I think it’s exciting. I just don’t know how quickly the technology will move, I think you can already see that things are rapidly moving forward, how rapidly they will go, and whether they will open up opportunities for companies to engage in marketing in a slightly different way in a call it more meaningful, call it more interactive, whatever it might be. But yeah, I think that that, again, to stay away, but like virtual opportunities, I think it’s it’s both worrying and exciting.

 

Kenny Soto  17:55  

My last question is hypothetical if you had a time machine, and you can go back in time, at any point in your career, which point would you go to? And what advice would you give your past self so that you can make your career better?

 

Alexander Billington  18:10  

This is a slightly difficult one because before I had a career as a marketer, I was a professional footballer. And, I had a tough time with injuries. And it was a hard world to really succeed in. 

 

And I think what I now know about the world and about the game, is that I would kind of go back and tell myself to map out really the things that I’m good at and the things that I’m not and to try and work on like a more cohesive plan to show myself how to get better. I think now the in the working world, not in the kind of like the football world. 

 

It’s very, it’s much more concrete for me to map things down to create, to create, you know, mental models, to create diagrams to create frameworks and try and grade yourself to rate yourself to, to understand what your pitfalls are, what your weaknesses, what your strengths are. 

 

And I think you know, going back then you kind of looked at it in a very abstract or qualitative way. People kind of said things you took very anecdotal in a way actually people would tell you things and you’d say, you take it and you’d wait, it may be overweight or underweight somebody might give you a piece of advice or anything. Who cares about that, like, I don’t need that. 

 

But at the same time, someone says, Oh, here’s a piece of advice and you’re overweight and you overthink it over and over again. But if you if you’re able to put if I was able to go back and tell me, you know, to put things into two frameworks and to understand them better, so I knew what my progression path was. I think that would have been cool. Maybe I got a few more years out of the game and stayed healthy, etc. So So yeah, that would be cool.

 

Kenny Soto  19:52  

Amazing. And Alex, if anyone wanted to say hello to you online, where can they find you?

 

Alexander Billington  19:57  

Yes, they can find me on LinkedIn. I’m relatively active, and also our funnel account. There are lots of my videos, if you’re interested in going to find our kind of funnel Tip series on LinkedIn, it’s there. It’s also on YouTube. 

 

And I mean, stay tuned to whether or not there’ll be a funnel marketing podcast at some point. You know, it’s a medium that I massively value. I know you do as well, Kenny. And I think ultimately, marketers really value this channel as well. So if there’s great content that we can bring to them, then yeah, I guess stay tuned because they might be a place to find us there to

 

Kenny Soto  20:31  

Certainly. And as an aside, I really do believe that if a b2b marketing team specifically isn’t comfortable with video, then the next best place is audio. And that’s why podcasts are so amazing if you can sustain them and have consistent episodes. Again, thank you, Alex, for your time today. 

 

I really appreciate it and all of the wisdom that you provided to the audience today and thank you to you the listeners for listening to another episode of the people of digital marketing. And as always, I hope you have a great week.

 

Bye.

 

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