Customer Marketing Community Is a Powerful Resource to Tap Into—Here’s Why

Community matters when you’re in a brand new customer marketing role and figuring it out as you go. SlapFive VP of Customer Experience Dana Alvarenga talks about the importance of community in customer marketing—and where to find it.

Interview with Dana Alvarenga at SlapFive

Why is the customer marketing community so close-knit?

Customer marketing is still a fairly new role. This means it’s often a solo role that involves doing a ton of creative problem-solving and spending time educating customers—not to mention your own team—about what customer marketing entails. 

Figuring everything out on your own can get lonely. This is one of the reasons why Dana Alvarenga, VP of Customer Experience at SlapFive, thinks customer marketing has such a generous community: 

Leaning into a community of people who have gone through the same thing definitely helps. People want to know that they’re not alone in their struggles, that other people are facing the same challenges.” 

Dana Alvarenga, VP of Customer Experience at SlapFive

I recently had the pleasure of chatting to Dana about SlapFive’s community initiatives, which include the CustomerX Community and CustomerX Con.

Keep reading to find out how Dana ended up in customer marketing, where to connect with like-minded customer marketers, and what advice she has for anyone trying to break into customer marketing or advocacy.

Looking for a customer marketing solution?

Check out 29 Best Customer Marketing Solutions to Drive Customer Growth and Retention (2023)

Dana Alvarenga interview

Name: Dana Alvarenga
Job title and company: VP of Customer Experience at SlapFive
Hometown: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Degree: BA, Philosophy and Communications

Fun facts about Dana Alvarenga:

⛱️ Vacation you’re dreaming about: Italy
📺 The show you’re binging right now: Workin’ Moms on Netflix
⚡ If you could have one superpower, it would be: To clone myself
🌴 Your ideal vacation includes: A beach, a drink in hand, and a babysitter (or no kids at all LOL)
👪 You’re a parent to: My beautiful 5-year-old daughter, Sophia, who’s heading to kindergarten in the fall
🛫 Last place you’ve traveled to: Disney in Florida this past February

Tell me about yourself and what you do

Dana Alvarenga: My name is Dana Alvarenga and I’m the Vice President of Customer Experience at a company called SlapFive. We provide an all-in-one customer marketing solution, helping customer marketers mobilize their customers to drive customer-led growth. 

My role involves leading the post-sales customer function, which includes working with customers, onboarding and helping them with implementation, and coaching on building out advocacy programs. 

I also lead our SlapFive-adjacent Slack community, which is called the CustomerX Community. We host webinars, meetups, other events, and an annual event called CustomerX Con.

How did you end up in customer marketing?

Dana Alvarenga: It’s an interesting question because nobody goes to college for these types of roles—you just build it along the way. 

I started my career in sales and retail at an Enterprise Rent-A-Car, where I learned management and customer service. From there, I moved into sales training and sales consulting. 

Eventually, I stumbled on a customer education and success role at a SaaS company, where I was partnered with a customer marketer, which was a brand new role—she was one of maybe five people with an actual “customer marketing” title at that time, probably in the world.

At the time, this company wasn’t doing anything with customers, so we came in and “rallied the troops”. There were 8 different products, with 8 different product managers, sales engineers, and all that, and we built a whole post-sales system from the ground up. 

We built an academy and a training process, and put together a whole NPS procedure. We also built customer success and provided education and resources. I built the customer marketing program, built the customer list and reached out to the customers, and organized webinars and all of that. So it was a great experience in getting into this world.

How did you end up at SlapFive?

Dana Alvarenga: I was actually looking for a customer voice tool to elevate our NPS program at my previous company when I found SlapFive. They had actually cold outreached me for a meetup and around the same time, my role—and all of the customer success team—was unfortunately eliminated. 

So I was in the job market and let my now boss and CEO know that I’d been laid off and asked whether I could network with him and bounce some ideas of jobs I was looking at off him. 

We met up for lunch and ended up talking about where SlapFive was going with its company, and I found my place at SlapFive. I built out really what I loved about what I was doing in my previous role and took that and elevated it to make it my own. 

I really like to build processes, build programs, build plans—so that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 4½ years.

What do you love about customer marketing and advocacy?

Dana Alvarenga: I love that it’s such a flexible and creative role. There’s no one right way to do things, and that really allows you to make it your own. 

I don’t think there are two customer marketers out there doing the same exact thing—everyone has their own unique approach. 

I also love that it’s such a collaborative community where people are constantly learning from each other and taking ideas and initiatives and making them their own. 

It’s great that customer marketing allows you to be creative while leaning into what your customers want in your industry and your vertical. With it being a new role—and often a solo role—it has its challenges. But when it’s done right, when there are clear goals and objectives and your customers are involved, you can really build something amazing that can live on even after you’ve moved on to a new role.

Why is there such a strong sense of community among customer marketers?

Dana Alvarenga: I think the close-knit community is a result of the small team sizes or teams of one in many companies. I think a lot of the customer marketer communities grew from the remote world that we were all kind of dropped into for the last couple of years. 

The other aspect of it is that the role of customer marketing and customer advocacy often gets shifted to different departments. I know one customer marketer who moved from marketing to customer success to product in the space of three years. 

You have to really adapt to being that team player and selling yourself and your program internally, and leaning into a community of people who have gone through the same thing definitely helps.

People want to know that they’re not alone in their struggles and that other people are facing the same challenges. 

One day I got off a call with a client where I was basically her therapist for 30 minutes—we didn’t talk about the product at all. I told my CEO about it and from there we spun up a Group Therapy for Customer Marketers webinar series for the CustomerX Community, which we run as breakout sessions at CustomerX Con too.

Where can customer marketers and advocates connect with like-minded individuals?

Dana Alvarenga: LinkedIn is a great platform for connecting with others in the field. There are a lot of people who regularly share helpful content and resources. 

There are also online communities like the CustomerX Community we run in Slack, which currently has about 1,600 members. We’re always running webinars and different weekly chats, and we have quarterly group therapy sessions led by various practitioners we bring in.

And then there’s the in-person CustomerX Con, which we’ll be running for the 4th time in October. 

It’s not a conference where you just listen and watch a slide presentation all day—we offer interactive workshops where you learn tangible skills like how to build a customer journey map, or how to track metrics and ROI. As a community, we all talk about these topics, so we try to find the best of the best to teach others these skills face-to-face. 

What’s really cool about it is that we bring the Group Therapy sessions to life as table breakouts, where people can meet with 8 to 10 other people to talk about a particular challenge and talk about it for an hour and come away with new relationships and new ideas.

Are there any other learning opportunities that customer marketers should know about?

  • Captivate Collective organizes really awesome creative events like Customer Advocacy Vendor Speed Dating for all the things that fall under the umbrella of customer marketing and advocacy—from community to reviews and referrals to reference management. They also offer educational courses. 
  • Referential is another platform that provides educational courses. 
  • The Advocate Marketing Academy (AMA) has an annual conference that brings some top-level customer marketers to the stage. It’s not a huge conference where you get lost in the crowd—it’s really close-knit, so you’re able to actually meet the person who’s speaking on stage, which I think is great about AMA. It’s held in a theater, which is a really cool venue, and this year they’ll also be doing some breakout workshops. 
  • The Customer Marketing Alliance also runs summits where they bring together customer marketing, customer success, and product marketing but they use a different format—they’re more high-level and less hands-on.

What advice would you give someone who wants to break into customer marketing or advocacy?

Dana Alvarenga: I would say keep at it and use your network.

There are definitely going to be good days and bad days of struggling to break into it or looking to level up within your role or move up to a higher level, so find a peer—find a mentor—use the community to your benefit. Reach out to people—just message someone on LinkedIn or Slack to do a quick 15 or 20-minute chat. You just have to ask. No one’s going to say no.

As bad as the pandemic was, I think that being remote helped to create this amazingly generous customer marketing community because everyone wanted a sense of community in different ways.

Everyone in this customer marketing and advocacy space wants to give. They’ve all received some form of mentoring or best practices sharing over the last five or six years, so everyone wants to be able to share what they’ve done and the successes they’ve had. 
There are also some great, quick, easy, digestible resources you can use to educate yourself. Find people on LinkedIn whose style of content you like and take a look at some of the resources people are putting out. For instance, Leslie Barrett has a great newsletter you can subscribe to, and Kevin Lau has a few courses he’s put out with CMA.

Thanks for spending time with us!

Thanks to Dana for taking the time to talk customer marketing and community with me—and thank you, reader, for spending part of your day with us. I hope you found my interview with Dana as inspiring as I did. 

Here’s how you can connect with Dana:

Want to read more about customer marketing? 

Check out these related Uplift blog posts: 

P.S. Want more customer marketing insights?

If you’d like access to more customer marketing insights like this, sign up for our newsletter to catch all of our interviews with customer marketing leaders. 

No spam, we promise—just two value-packed newsletters about customer marketing and case studies every second Monday. 

Plus, if you’re also interested in content marketing, you can opt-in to receive two more monthly newsletters on alternating Mondays where we chat with leading content marketers.

And just in case you missed it, check out our 2024 Customer Story Trends & Insights Report, where we surveyed 115 customer marketers to gather their insights and experiences with customer stories.

Here’s a preview:

Conducting Original Research for Content Marketing? Avoid These 5 Mistakes

Done well, original research can be a powerful content marketing tool with the potential to earn organic backlinks, drive PR, generate leads and much more. Michele Linn of Mantis Research shares the 5 biggest mistakes to avoid when conducting and publishing original research.

Interview with Michele Linn from Mantis Research

Founder of Mantis Research and CMI-alum, Michele Linn, sees a lot of content marketers making the same mistakes when conducting and publishing original research. Keep reading to find out what she considers the 5 biggest research mistakes and how to avoid them.

You’ll also learn how she got where she is today, why she thinks content marketers should be paying more attention to original research and her top tips for anyone wanting to get started in —or get better at—conducting original research.

Michele Linn interview

Michele Linn, Founder of Mantis Research

Name: Michele Linn
Job title: Founder of Mantis Research
Hometown: Detroit, Michigan, USA
Degree: MBA, Marketing; BA, English

Fun facts about Michele Linn:

🥙 Food you’re craving right now: Pita with chicken and hummus with a side of cucumbers, tomatoes and feta cheese (with a dash of citrus oregano vinegar!)
⚡ If you could have one superpower, it would be: The ability to know exactly what I should be focusing on in the moment and doing that thing
🙏 The #1 thing you’re grateful for today: My husband, who is supporting all my crazy home improvement and vacation ideas
🗺️ Place you most want to live is: A house on Crooked Lake in Petoskey, Michigan
⛱️ Vacation you’re dreaming about: Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos

Tell me about yourself and what you do for work

Michele Linn: My name is Michelle Linn. I work for a company called Mantis Research that helps marketers conduct and publish original survey-based research. This includes trend reports, “state of X” reports and other types of content in which we survey people and then release those findings to help other people in that industry.

How did you end up where you are today?

Michele Linn: Very long story short, I was working in tech—in product marketing—and I quit that job to freelance soon after my first daughter was born. After a few years, I connected with Joe Pulizzi, who was launching the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) at the time, and he asked me to join the team.

I ran the editorial for CMI for many years, and one of the projects we worked on every year was an original research piece where we surveyed marketers to understand if and how they were using content marketing. 

When I left CMI in 2017, I initially strugged to figure out what to do next. I was kind of burned out on content marketing because I was always reading about content marketing, writing about it, speaking about it. And I thought the one area that seemed very untapped, yet really helpful to marketers, was original research. 

So I set out and created Mantis to help marketers do those research projects, both by working with them directly as well as teaching them how to do them.

What is original research and what forms can it take?

Michele Linn: Original research is actually a pretty broad term that can mean a lot of different things. There are various different research methods you can use.

What I do is survey-based research, in which we survey an audience to understand how someone is thinking about or approaching a topic area.

But you can also do qualitative research, where you can do a series of interviews to identify trends and take those trends to the market. 

Or, you could tap into your internal company data and figure out what your users are doing and share what you learn.

You can even tap in into existing datasets and share what stories the data tells. 

You can also do observational research. For instance, Andy Crestodina did a great study about websites. He looked at around 50 different websites and said “These are the things that this many websites include” and so forth.

We recently interviewed Andy to better understand how he gets over a million visitors and almost 1,000 leads per year—and never publishes more than twice a month. 

Curious? Read Why Less Is More for Content Marketer Andy Crestodina

What makes original research valuable for content marketers?

Michele Linn: Original research works on so many different levels. It works for the business because it can lead to sales—you know, I have clients who tell me it leads directly to revenue. It can help sales have new conversations. 

It helps for your marketing goals like earning backlinks, gaining email subscribers and generating leads. 

It’s fantastic if your goal is a little broader and it’s thought leadership—it can really help you stand out because you’re uncovering something new and meaningful, and that can lead to all sorts of opportunities. 

Research can also be used for PR. We recently had Becky Lawlor on our Research Power (Half) Hour (a monthly virtual meetup for marketers interested in original research) and she said she got really interesting speaking engagements as a direct result of the research they did. 

You can also get a lot of mileage out of a piece of original research. You can create a research study once and then repurpose it into a lot of different content assets and publish them widely. 

One of the things I’ve found when I work with marketing teams on this is that it re-energizes them. It gets them excited. They have something new—they’re learning something about their audience. So I love the energy that original research brings to marketing teams. 

And last but not least, as we’re all talking about AI and what impact that’s going to have on marketing, I love original research because it’s something that AI can’t replicate. It’s new information, you know, no one else can find out what exactly you’re finding out. So I think it works really well from that perspective.

Graph of reasons to use original research

Source: Mantis Research

What are the best ways to use original research in content marketing?

Michele Linn: I always recommend that you create one page where your research lives and then start creating a lot of different content linking back to that landing page. The content can be webinars, emails, videos, blog posts, LinkedIn posts, Instagram posts, Twitter posts and a lot of other different things. 

Last year, I did a presentation called How to Publish a Year’s Worth of Content from One Research Study that walks you through a framework and tons of different examples on how to use and repurpose your research report in different ways. 

Is gating your research a bad idea?

Michele Linn: No, you can absolutely gate your research report. You can certainly link to that gated asset on your landing page, but you want to make sure people who land on that page get something of value even if they don’t download the report.  

That said, if your goal is SEO, domain authority and backlinks, consider linking to a page that is not gated. And if you link to the PDF directly, you could be missing out on some of the SEO benefits of having that information live on your site. 

What are common mistakes marketers make when conducting original research?

Mistake #1: Doing the wrong type of research

I think Mistake #1 is choosing to do survey-based research when that’s not the right type of research to do. For example, if you don’t have enough people willing to complete the survey, survey-based research may not be the best choice for you. Instead, you might be better off doing a smaller qualitative study. 

Mistake #2: Trying to prove something or seek a very specific outcome 

A lot of people want to do research to prove the value of what they’re selling. They want to say, “Look at how valuable XYZ is!” 

I believe it’s a mistake to try to do that for 2 reasons:

  1. I think your readers see right through it, and it’s not going to feel very credible or useful.  
  2. You might not actually get the results that you expect.

So, I would take something like what you do with case studies (SaaS Marketing Case Studies: 2023 Trends and Insights) and say well, I just want to explore. 

How are people using these? Why are they using them? What are all the things going on here? 

I think you do that beautifully. You’re not trying to prove anything. You’re just showing “Here’s what’s going on in the world of case studies.” 

So basically, look at the topic with curiosity instead of trying to get a very specific outcome.

Mistake #3: Not investing enough time in your survey questions

Something else I see is that marketers often jump right into creating survey questions, or they don’t spend enough time on survey questions. 

The issue is that if you don’t ask your questions correctly, you might end up without a story to tell, or the stories you get might be really boring.

Or, you might find that you’re asking questions in a way that’s not clear and the data’s not really clear so you can’t use them—or maybe you didn’t ask questions to check for quality or to actually clean your data, so you don’t know if you have good data. 

So spending time putting together a good survey is something I think marketers need to spend more time on.

Mistake #4: Failing to tell a cohesive story with text and design

I’ve seen a lot of research reports that are just not very compelling—they don’t tell a story, or you can tell that someone wrote it and then threw it over to the designer who put some charts in. 

So look at the report as a very collaborative effort between the writer and the designer to get a really strong story and a really strong design to make the story pop.

Mistake #5: Not promoting your research report

So many people go through all of the effort to do this research, and then publish it and just move on. 

But if you think about how to get a lot of life from one research report—which you can very easily do—you want to distribute it in a variety of ways over time.

I think there are a lot of missed opportunities if you don’t share your report in as many different ways as possible.

How can marketers get started with original research?

Michele Linn: I think it’s helpful to first make sure that you’re choosing a really strong research topic. 

I often joke that the world does not need another ‘state of content marketing’ report because if you type that in, you’re going to see all of these different results come up from all of these different companies. That space is very, very saturated. 

Just like with any other content, you need to figure out what topic you can study that’s going to be meaningful to your audience, that’s going to align with your brand and that’s going to say something new

Figuring out what topic to choose is really key if you want to get the most value out of what you’re doing.

One of the things I always ask clients when we kick off a project is “What are the unanswered questions that your audience would love data-backed answers to?” 

So instead of just trying to do something that just feels interesting, you really want to try to figure out where those gaps are, because that’s where you’re going to get the most value.

What advice would you give to someone conducting research for the first time?

Michele Linn: Get help with your survey questions.

I’ve talked to marketers who have worked with big research firms or done surveys on their own, only to discover at the end that they asked the wrong questions and didn’t get much usable data. 

And if you don’t want to talk to someone like me, talk to other people in your industry to fine-tune your survey questions. Talk to editor friends who have a really strong grasp on language, who can pinpoint mistakes in your survey and so forth.

You want to do everything you can to ensure you’ll end up with quality data that you can use to tell a compelling story. 

Test the questions before you launch the survey. et people to run through it and see if they stumble or misunderstand anything. You can even “soft launch” it. If you’re paying to get responses, you could launch it to 10% of that sample and see if you run into any issues when you’re looking at the data before you do a full-scale launch.

Do you offer courses?

Michele Linn: I’ve just started offering courses. I have a course specifically on how to write better survey questions. 

Check out Michele’s on-demand Build a Better Survey course.

I’m also offering a new survey review service that looks at people’s surveys to give them feedback before they launch. And then I also help clients one-on-one in really traditional engagements to actually do the research for them. It’s a constantly-evolving business model.

Any other courses you’d recommend?

Thanks for spending time with us!

Thanks to Michele for that inspiring conversation—and thank you, reader, for spending part of your day with us. I hope you found my interview with Michele as value-packed as I did. 

Here’s how you can connect with Michele:

Want to read more about research? 

Check out these related Uplift blog posts: 

P.S. Want more marketing insights?

If you’d like access to more content marketing insights like this, sign up for our newsletter to catch all of our interviews with content marketing leaders. 

No spam, we promise—just two value-packed content marketing newsletters every second Monday. 

Plus, if you’re interested in customer stories and customer marketing, you can opt-in to receive a two more newsletters on alternating Mondays where we chat with leaders in customer marketing.

Speaking of customer stories, have a look at our 2024 Customer Story Trends & Insights Report, where we surveyed 115 customer marketers to gather their insights and experiences with customer stories.

Here’s a preview:

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