On March 3, 2023, Gary Drenik, a contributor to Forbes Leadership Strategy section, interviewed Primer’s founder and CEO, Keith Putnam-Delaney. The interview focused on the key challenges that marketers face, Primer’s unique approach to helping the industry evolve, and where Keith thinks marketing tech and advertising are headed next. Read the full interview below or listen to the audio version on Forbes.
Marketing isn’t slowing down. Even in the current economic downturn, the industry continues to grow at a rapid pace as the average company spends about 10% of their overall budget on marketing-related activities. Consumers are seeing thousands of ads every day, so businesses must navigate how to create continuity throughout every touchpoint in a noisy, complex environment. They must also understand how to track, customize, and evolve every interaction to create maximum impact.
Keith Putnam-Delaney is the founder and CEO of Primer, a company that’s taking a new approach to helping businesses offer “hyper-precise marketing” to “reach the right person at the right time.” In this interview, we dive into challenges marketers face, how Primer’s technology works, and where Keith thinks marketing tech is headed next.
The journey that led to starting Primer
Gary Drenik: Tell me about your background and the journey that led you to starting Primer.
Keith Putnam-Delaney: To be perfectly honest, neither me nor my cofounder Juan wanted to start this company. The last space that seemed like a blue ocean was martech,... 7,000 apps and counting? No, thank you.
I’ve spent a lot of my career in consolidating data and tools into coherent workflows as part of the early marketing and growth teams at Dropbox and Eden (YC’15). When I talked to growth leaders at Segment, Samsara, Dropbox, and others, I realized that a lot of B2B go-to-market teams were working on internal, data engineering tools to stitch together data sources and deploy them in various ways. That was when I saw the opportunity to create a better solution.
Meanwhile my cofounder, Juan, was looking for a new adventure after a career building trading algorithms at Blackrock, patented 3D visualization software at Modsy, and founding several YC startups.
Together we realized many of the things that had prevented a company like Primer from existing previously had changed. The modern data stack movement created a foundation for ingesting, making sense of, and moving complex data sets around; no one had yet applied it to go-to-market teams. In mid-2019 we started part-time work on an MVP, launched it bootstrapped in 2020, then raised a Seed round in 2021 led by Craft. Craft continued on to lead our Series A in 2022 because they believe in the promise: Martech needs a single, better source of truth.
Drenik: Marketing and advertising has changed a lot in the past few years as technology evolves. What are some of the biggest challenges you see for marketers as a result?
Putnam-Delaney: It’s a perfect storm for B2B demand gen marketers right now. There are big clouds on the horizon. As a rule, marketers have it tough. They are always tasked with hitting unrealistic goals, and now in this macro environment, their budgets have been cut and they have fewer resources.
At the same time, CPLs have gone up and channel efficiency has gone down. It’s hard to know where to invest your budget. This is for three reasons. First, there’s more competition than ever. Every market is crowded. SaaS is on the downward slope of its technology curve. Second, there are fewer new places to get in front of customers. Said another way, a few platforms dominate and they have a lot of pricing power. Google Ads is beginning to remove all targeting control from users. Lastly, increasing concerns about privacy are making digital advertising more challenging and thus more expensive (see iOS14 ad tracking opt-out rate of >90%). This is only going to be exacerbated in 2023 with the “cookie-apocalypse.”
The B2B go-to-market playbook hasn’t changed much in a decade since HubSpot introduced B2B to the idea of producing content and throwing it into the digital ether. At the same time, it’s harder than ever to get people’s attention. According to a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics survey, more than half of adults spend time evaluating products and services all while on their smartphone – and they’re coming across tons of advertisements. Hyper-targeted ad strategies are crucial to standing out.
There are thousands of tools but more tools is not the answer. We expect that martech will also start consolidating. Similar to what Ramp is doing in B2B financial services and Rippling is doing in HR tech, perhaps marketing is next?
On one hand you have questions about what to do and where to invest. On the other hand, you don’t have a lot of net-new options, outside of TikTok. That’s where we come in – we want marketers to put the audience back at the center of their efforts.
We’re not talking Seth Godin empathetic marketing or more buyer personas. We think the next unlock comes from aggregating, synthesizing, and better leveraging data to identify, target and reach the right buyers. The data is there. It’s available but it’s hard to wrangle across such a distributed, scattered martech stack.
We expect to see greater consolidation of the martech stack, a move away from the spray-and-pray/growth-at-all-costs mentality, a greater focus on efficiency, and an increase in personalized marketing that goes beyond digital ad platforms.
Drenik: Primer seems to be focused heavily on understanding your buyer and targeting them precisely across different works. How does the technology work that allows you to do this? Why hasn’t it been done before?
Putnam-Delaney: At the core of our product, we’ve built ELT for 3rd party data, which is unique. We are creating data warehouses for each of our customers, running workflows on top of them and leveraging reverse-ETL practices to sync data into downstream applications. This sets us and our customers up to leverage machine learning to extract pattern insights to help them further optimize their go-to-market motions. For example, we are looking at ML models that can help customers quickly identify highest-value prospects, best-performing channels, untapped segments and new datasets to consider.
We’re in phase one of our journey, which is to aggregate the go-to-market data (that critically requires third party data in B2B) and bring it together in a single source of truth (a data warehouse). We’re excited for phase two in the coming months, which is to build those ML applications and provide audience intelligence.
Simply put, data has never been as malleable as it is today - in terms of the ability to input and output it, clean it, store it, combine it and transform it. We’re built on the backs of a lot of the tools that make up the modern data stack movement. These provide us with off-the-shelf infrastructure that you would have previously had to hire engineers to build, which in turn has allowed us to create tools for marketers and sales teams at a much more accessible price point.
Shifting marketers to an audience-first mindset
Drenik: What platforms are your customers finding the most success with when it comes to their campaigns?
Putnam-Delaney: We’re trying to shift marketers to an audience-first mindset instead of a ‘channel first’ mindset.
Most B2B SaaS companies tend to have specific, niche audiences. Until now, marketers have relied on native targeting within individual ad platforms such as Facebook or Linkedin – which, in turn, has been largely out of their control. As a result, campaign, creative, or channel optimization have been the primary levers at their disposal.
People are way too focused on ad platforms when in reality that should come secondary. For instance, only 20% of those over 18 actually use the Facebook “Shop Now” feature advertised by brands on the platform, according to a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics survey.
Marketers need to focus on getting their audience right first, and then channel selection and optimization becomes easier. Don’t tell someone who wants a sandwich that you sell pizza.
As a result, the types of campaigns our customers have the greatest success with tend to be highly targeted, super-personalized campaigns across multiple platforms and channels.
As an example, one of the most successful campaigns we’ve ever run at Primer has been one in which we targeted Series A through D demand gen marketers on Instagram and told them we were targeting them in the creative. It was a cute and simple self-referential ad but it worked because we used Primer to create a highly specific audience and then the creative referenced the platform, which they weren’t expecting to see us on.
Marketing and advertising a decade from now
Drenik: What do you think marketing and advertising will look like a decade from now?
Putnam-Delaney: That’s a big question! I’m going to constrain my answer to the world of B2B marketing/advertising. Here are some predictions:
Salesforce will be dethroned as the source of truth for B2B go-to-market teams because it can’t handle the huge volume of complex data marketers need to do their jobs effectively. AI/ML will tell marketers what data matters and where to focus (data science literally means figuring out which of the hundreds of data points to sift through matter).
A lot of the unstructured data on the web - for example, which companies are GDPR compliant - will become structured and give marketers an ever-increasing ability to know more about their target audience. Companies put a ton of information about themselves on the web but most of it is currently uncategorized and unstructured. Over the next few years, all of that data will be ingested and categorized such that marketers will have a huge amount of information at their disposal to use to target prospects.
Prospects will have little patience for generic messaging and targeting. They’ll expect you to deliver value in every communication.
Great marketers make smart bets. But today, so much of their day-to-day is eclipsed by having to do a lot of manual, task-based repetitive work, like loading creative and adding emails to a sequence. This will change in the coming years. AI/ML will guide marketers, but they’ll have to know when to overrule the machine with their unique knowledge and insights. More of their job will be about making the right bets vs. doing the drudgery.
Drenik: Thanks for taking the time to dive into the biggest challenges marketers face today and Primer’s unique approach to helping the industry evolve. I’m excited to watch how the company grows and evolves over time.