Ian Mathias: Q&A Session

Q&A Session: Ian Mathias

Ian Mathias Q&A Session is happening on October 8th 2020 at 10:00 AM PST (1:00 PM EST)

Ian’s a creative director and strategist who works at the crossroads of marketing, copywriting, PR and design. He’s responsible for the creative output of Strava’s marketing team, was one of the early stewards of the brand, and is a member of Strava’s marketing leadership group. With a background in writing and media, Ian also works closely with Strava’s executive team on key communications to their 60+ million athletes all around the world. Ian’s a mission-driven marketer and had a career in non-profits before Strava, namely at The Nature Conservancy and Johns Hopkins University and Hospital systems. He’s excited to talk about the creative, branding and strategic aspects of marketing, but also more than happy to spend this entire AMA on running and cycling banter or gear obsession.
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Ian Mathias – Transcript

AMA with Ian Mathias @ Strava

October 8th, 2020

Hello! Good morning from my old couch home office in San Francisco. It’s really a pleasure to meet you all, and thank you to David for the warm welcome. I work on the creative and branding aspects of our industry and speak those languages most fluently, but of course will try to answer as many questions as best as I can. If you’re not familiar with Strava, we’re the #1 app for runners and cyclists, with more than 65 million athletes on the platform from all over the world. Before this, I worked for some great non-profits, The Nature Conservancy and Johns Hopkins, so would be happy to share what I’ve learned about NPO marketing as well. And I’m a copywriter at heart and can talk and listen with you about that all day long. Thank you all in advance for your time.

And before I start, above all just want to wish everyone well. 2020 has been tough! I hope you have been able to find health and happiness this year.

Hi!I use and love Strava! Nice to have you here. I don’t have specific questions now, but welcome here!

Thank you Laura! We’re lucky to have you in our community.

IN such a time where people have been limited from going outside and exercising how has Strava tackled this issue and continued to grow?

Great question Ryan! We integrate with lots of indoor workout partners, like Zwift and Pelton. So for those not able or not comfortable getting outside, there’s lots still to do on Strava. And in most cases, our athletes are able to safely get outside and remain socially distant. It’s the year of the solo runner!

Thanks for doing this. I have a couple questions, here’s my first: I’m very much an “artist type” who tends to be more on the creative side of marketing, but my job also involves growth/analytics/etc. The “not so fun stuff” that matters a lot as you know.

How do you strike this balance?! Creative vs. analytic marketing, do you delegate the “less creative” stuff? Learn to do it because it’s gotta get done?

This might not be the best advice, but I say: Do what you love amigo and keep your passions close. Life is achingly short. So I would hire/partner with those who offset your weaknesses, learn from them and watch them be great, and focus on doing and learning what makes you leap out of bed in the morning. There is PLENTY of work out there for great creatives.

What does Director of Marketing mean at Strava? What are your top priorities and what do you care about passionately when it comes to marketing at Strava?

Thanks Abdul. Mostly what it means for me is building trust and loyalty with people already on Strava, showing them the ways Strava can be useful and is working in their best interests — all with the hopes that if they love their experience, they will tell their friends. We have grown largely by word of mouth, and I’m really proud of that.

How are you getting the brand out to the public? I remember the kits from a few years back but don’t see much off-line effort?

Hi David! I think my answer to Abdul’s question covers that mostly — we are focused on being great for those on Strava now, in faith that if they love it, they will spread the word for us.

What’s one thing that you did early on in your career that you wish you did more of?

That’s a fun question Heather! I would say: Be more open to learning and less convinced that I’m smart. I would have just asked, like, a million more questions and been more fearless in seeking mentorship.

What is your best advice for steady user growth… what’s the number 1 thing you focus on at Strava?

Focus on the users you have. If they absolutely love the product and trust you, they will become your growth marketing team!

What do you believe is the current biggest challenge you find when developing digital brands?

Noise. We as people are just so exposed to so much media. And we as marketers have so many different opportunities. It can be very hard to hold the line of simplicity and focus. But try! Better to be an inch wide and mile deep than spread too thin.

How do you split your resources and focus between performance and brand creative marketing?

Thank you for that question Henrique! I think it’s a good reminder to stay really connected with your leadership team. If you are listening to them, the priorities should be clear. And if they are telling you “do everything!” then you have to build the right kind of relationship to gently push back and seek that focus. It’ll change from year to year, but it’s about doing what the business needs most.

Are you planning on giving some free subscriptions to Online Geniuses members?

Ha, I can appreciate that Rob! We’re hoping that we make a product that’s so good that you will be happy to pay for it. If we’re not there yet for you, that’s totally ok — we will keep trying and improving, and have a great free product for you to use in the meantime.

Fangirling over here, I love Strava and have been using it since 2014! My question is about content marketing strategy: how many people are on your content-specific team, and how do they generate your content calendar every year? Is this done on a quarterly basis, and how do you determine which channels to prioritize?

Tiffany! So grateful to have you in the Strava community. Thank you. The team focused only on content is small but mighty — just 3. They do so much! Their secret seems to be having a tight focus on just a few objectives each quarter, mostly focused around what products we are launching and major moments in sport (like the Tour de France) and being very open to what happens in the world and UGC that comes our way. That’s the beauty of sport — someone always has a great story to tell!

What kind of misconceptions (valid or not) about Strava do you end up having to focus marketing efforts on, and how do you handle that ethically?  For example, “Strava’s going to put me in danger because it tracks my regular running route, etc.”

Terrific question Scott, thank you! Actually the biggest misconception I face on the brand side sounds something like, “I’m not fast enough for Strava.” We do a lot of work to assure people that if you are out there trying, no matter how fast or fit you are, you are one of us (not just marketing talk, we really believe that!). Related to privacy, we respect athlete privacy enormously and focus heavily on education during onboarding to be sure athletes know they are in control of what they share and how to use and access those controls.

Thanks for joining us! Curious as to how the team at Strava is looking to create a more inclusive, personalized experience for users that addresses the unique needs between different communities (whether that’s based on gender, race, and other things related to identity). And beyond product, does that factor into the marketing strategy as well?

I love this question Chantelle, thank you! There are a hundred ways to answer it and the team is doing so much, so in the interest of time I’ll just share my own biggest focus on inclusivity: for me it’s about looking within. Are we learning and doing the right work as individuals, as teammates, as a company to be inclusive? Who we hire, how we show up for each other, our internal conversations and celebrations, and so on. I really believe that culture begets brand, and want to build a maximally inclusive and anti-racist culture within Strava, with the hope and belief that this will become the foundation for the Strava community around the world. It feels disingenuous for me to start anywhere but there.

What are some tech trends that you’re excited about that you think will benefit Strava, whether from a product or marketing standpoint?

Thanks for that question! I’m excited about the trend in digital subscriptions, or perhaps more simply, paying for digital products you love. I think it’s best for the industry and for its customers.

thanks for taking the time to answer our questions! What tools or resources do you recommend for aspiring copywriters?

Dillion, a fellow writer! I’m sorry if this is an unsatisfying answer, but my advice is fewer tools and more writing and reading. Just write like crazy and read people you admire. I think a lot of writers get hung up on “hacks” to get better, and at least for me, the only thing that ever really helped was writing more and more and more, being really open to feedback about my work, and trying to get closer to writers I admire, either through their work or personally.

I found Strava earlier this year when I took up mountain biking here in Colorado! I have an amazing group of women and we bike 3 times a week, it’s an awesome app! I see your firm is hiring in Denver? Thanks for being here and sharing your knowledge. Stay well.

That’s so nice to hear, good for you! I love mountain biking… so fun, and I especially love to see women riding together on Strava. We’re hiring in all our offices currently: https://www.strava.com/careers

What new features did you debut lately we might not immediately recognize? What are some features that we can expect in the near future you are excited about?

We recently rolled out a new way to compete on segments called Local Legends, more on that here: https://www.strava.com/local-legends

How do you evaluate partnerships/affiliate relationships?

Thank you for that question Janice! I’d say it’s a mix between portfolio and chemistry. There should really be something in their book that makes you thrilled to work with them, something that is just so damn good and exciting. And then I want to meet the team working on it and do as best as I can to see if they are kind, hard working and hungry to get the gig. No jerks! It’s so important that they vibe well with our internal teams.

Big Strava fan here! Just logged a 10 mile run and saw your name pop up when I checked my phone. From a marketing POV, how have you handled the transition of many free Strava features moving to only the paid subscription especially in a world where people come to expect a lot for free? Were you able to keep the free subscribers engaged? How did that impact your growth goals?

Thanks Hansen, wonderful question. And I’m stoked for your run! Hope it was a good one. Some software companies put their focus on customers who are not their users. We are not that kind of brand. We want to make an awesome product to sell to awesome people, simple! I hope that everyone, more and more, starts to have that kind of old-school relationship with technology… they love it so much that they are willing to pay for it, and the company uses what they earn to make the product better for the people who love it, which delights those customers, who then continue subscribing and tell their friends. Virtuous cycle. And it’s also really a pleasure to be a marketer in that kind of freemium model. Our relationship with athletes is much more eye to eye and simple… it’s just about being useful and trustworthy. I know that can be painful to those who have been used to getting more for free, and we still have a great free product, but we really feel this is the best way forward — for us, and for our athletes.

Story time! How did you land this fine job

Kush! Get ready for a really uninspiring story! I found it online, applied “cold call” just like anyone else, then DM’d the hell out of my network until I found a way to talk to someone at Strava. I was also lucky to be at Strava early-ish (5 years ago) and have hung on for the ride and grown with the company. I’m very fortunate.

What was the feedback like when you rolled out the paid version this fall/winter and took away the top list for many users.

Thanks for that question! It was very fair and largely positive. Some people were a little upset, and I totally understand that and I don’t fault them for a second – it’s my job now to win them back and I’m happy to try. But most are understanding that we are striving to become a profitable company, and we chose a path to do so that puts our athletes’ best interests at the center.

What steps would you suggest for a new business (app&website) to do in order to grow it’s brand awareness?

Especially when you are new and don’t have huge budgets, I’d think about how you convert power-users into promoters and referrers. A third-party endorsement is so much more authentic and trustworthy than even the best advertisement (and a whole lot cheaper!). And along the way, you’ll make the customers you have even happier.

Hi Ian– marketing manager over at Cronometer here. We integrate with Strava and our growth is also a result of our users loving us and spreading the good word.

On that note, how does Strava foster that positive word-of-mouth to acquire new users and retain users?

Sarah, thank you so much for integrating with Strava! Very cool. This might sound overly simplistic, but it’s hard to beat just good old listening. What are they telling you in comments and forums? What are their big pain points? When you solve them, speak loudly! And conversely, when are they thrilled and most happy with you? That’s a great time for prompt-to-rate or referral requests. The last thing I’ll suggest is probably old news to anyone in sales: ya gotta ask, probably more times than you think. There’s likely a ton of people ready to be your promoter but just haven’t been nudged enough to go for it.

How did you compete with Runkeeper and other apps? What makes you stand out?

That’s the big question Hans, thank you for asking it! I’m totally aware that any mention of the word “authenticity” makes a lot of eyes roll backwards these days. But that’s how I want to see Strava stand out — that the experience is deeply useful, the marketing feels “legit” and made by athletes, for athletes.

How do you get Press? What are your suggestions for getting featured in the right publications and are you doing this in house or with an agency?

Regina! Thank you for that question. I’m not on our Comms team but work with them very often, so I’ll do my best. We absolutely work with agency partners around the world and appreciate them greatly. The team spends a lot of time building relationships – journalists will tell you what they are looking for and are also overloaded with press releases and seeking unique and trustworthy sources. In line with a theme of what I’ve said in this q&a, I think it’s best to be an inch wide and mile deep… develop a few key relationships, get those wins and build from there, rather than trying to get everyone’s attention all at once. Last thing: We also spend a lot of time honing our press narrative, in other words, figuring out exactly what our unique contributions are to the world and the proof points that back them up. So when that lucky day comes and the NYT is knocking, we are ready to be our best and have something fresh to say.

Thank you everyone! That was so much fun, and I have to admit, just a little bit stressful trying to keep up with all those great questions. A guy can only type so fast! Unfortunately, I’m plenty late for my next meeting and have to run. But thank you again for this… really a pleasure for me, especially to connect with those of you on Strava. Also (you know I had to say this, right?) Strava is hiring and we’d love to hear from you if anything on here looks like a dream job: https://boards.greenhouse.io/strava

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