I had the pleasure of interviewing Natalia Shirshova. Natalia is the Communications and Marketing Manager at REINNO, a Stamford-based fintech company that won Startup World Cup regionals and made news in the beginning of 2020 by completing two commercial real estate tokenizations worth $107.5 million total. Having lived in Russia, Bulgaria and the USA, she has a global mindset and understanding of markets around the world. Her goal as a marketer is sharing useful quality content rather than doing mere advertising.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, or readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ihave always been equally drawn to creative and analytical tasks. I have done video production and economic research. Both can be exciting for some time but doing the same thing over and over again gets exhausting after a while. For me, marketing combines the best of both. I can express my artistic side and experiment through content creation as well as work with data, analyze trends and customer lifecycles. It never gets boring. Right now, I am working as a Communications and Marketing Manager in a fintech/proptech company so my double degree in Business and Economics comes in handy.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started, I wanted to show how independent I was. Once I was asked to create an article showing how to use our platform. My supervisor offered me to collaborate with the company’s designer if I needed help with the visuals. Of course, I decided to do everything myself. I spent quite some time doing a terrible Photoshop job. Luckily, the designer created alternative images without me even asking. I ended up loving and using them but I couldn’t bring back the time I had wasted producing subpar visuals. Now I know that it is important to ask for help. Collaboration enables us to produce superior results, so why avoid it?
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
I believe it is important to set realistic expectations for both yourself and the company you do marketing for. Because of that, I can say that I have always seen success in my career. I cherish every achievement, every successful article, every new subscriber and every converted customer. Whether you are starting from scratch or picking up an existing strategy, there are always new milestones to reach and things to improve. The key here is staying open to new challenges and learning from your mistakes.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think REINNO has a unique image. We are disrupting conservative industries — commercial real estate and finance — with blockchain, tokenization and instant lending. We have to maintain a certain level of professionalism and sophistication in our messaging to be respected and taken seriously by potential partners and clients. However, we also like to have fun and experiment. For instance, for the company’s New Year campaign, I had an idea to make a parody of the biggest hit of 2019 — Bad Guy by Billie Eilish. I got full support from the co-founders and in a matter of 24 hours I wrote the lyrics, recorded the vocals, created the track and recorded a music video. Yes, it turned out a little silly but I am yet to meet a person who didn’t like the final result. Now one of my goals is balancing out formal messaging with light-hearted content. After all, everyone wants to have a little laugh from time to time.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
At the time of this interview, everyone at REINNO is concentrated on the launch of our own marketplace for tokenized real estate. It will allow people from all over the world to invest in fractions of commercial properties in the United States. The process is fully digital; there is no need to do paperwork or travel to close a deal. Investors get regular passive income with returns exceeding national averages. I can’t wait to share more information about the marketplace when it goes live.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
Try to plan ahead and automate tasks you don’t have to do manually. Social media plan? Write it for the whole month and schedule your posts through Hootsuite. Newsletter? Build it as you get the information so that you only need to make a few fixes before sending it out; then use Mailchimp or Sendinblue. There are so many tools available to marketers, you have to make use of them.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
As cheesy as it is, I have to say — my parents. They always believe in me and support me. When I was a kid, I was even a little mad that they weren’t forcing a career on me because choosing one myself wasn’t easy. However, now I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to do what my heart and brain tell me, not what other people think is right.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There are hundreds of memorable marketing campaigns that have become part of the lexicon of our culture. What is your favorite marketing or branding campaign from history? Can you explain why you like that so much?
I am a fan of Heineken’s Sunrise campaign. It includes multiple marketing elements: celebrity ambassadorship, Times Square placement, a concert and most importantly — a social message. This might be the only ad where the protagonist explicitly rejects the product that’s being promoted. For those who are not familiar with this campaign, in the main video a guy says no to the bartender giving him a Heineken and takes a water instead. Why? Because “sunrise belongs to moderate drinkers”. I love when companies and brands acknowledge potential harm that can be caused by excessive use of their product and address the issue, instead of pretending that the danger does not exist.
If you could break down a very successful campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.
- Define your goal. Are you increasing brand awareness or promoting a specific service? Are you trying to attract clients, investors, or partners?
- Know your target audience. This is especially important when your company offers multiple products and you have to promote one of them. You need to ask yourself: “Am I sending this message to our general audience or a specific sub-group? What sets these people apart?”.
- Set a budget. The channels you use can differ significantly depending on the amount you can spend on a campaign. If the budget is small, you might have to scratch your great idea for a Forbes article and think of ways to expand organic reach. If you have a huge budget, you must find the best way to deploy it, which can be even harder.
- Establish a timeline. You have to know how much time is available for idea generation, resource creation and implementation.
- Decide on the elements and channels you want to use for the campaign. It is usually a good idea to have a variety. If you are promoting a product — post about it on social media, send out a newsletter, publish a press release, appear on a podcast, give an interview to a respected media outlet, make explainer videos… the options are countless! Make sure your audience has more than one way to learn about it.
- Define the metrics you will use to measure the success of your campaign. It is necessary to establish them before the start of the campaign and track them throughout so that you can make adjustments as needed.
Of course, these are just the guidelines some might find unnecessary but they make a marketer’s life easier in the long run. There are times I have to jump into a campaign head-first without much pre-planning but even then, I try to establish some order as soon as I get a chance.
Companies like Google and Facebook have totally disrupted how companies market over the past 15 years. At the same time, consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. In your industry, where do you see the future of marketing going?
I believe that the future of marketing is in honest messaging. I often see sponsored content from companies that shamelessly exaggerate the benefits a product can provide. Luckily, as you said, consumers become smarter and more careful. More and more people do their research before trying a new financial or investment product. I believe companies will be more modest with their promises in the future. With the speed at which information spreads, one negative review can completely destroy a company’s reputation so it’s better to stay on the safe side.
Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started? Can you please share a story or example for each.
- It’s ok to take a break. The world won’t end if you delay publishing a blog post by 15 minutes. Sometimes I still get fixed on the idea that I really have to do something. Now. In my mind, our brand image depends on it. The whole company depends on it. In reality, it’s not that serious. Plus, you never know what comes out of it. Maybe postponing your post by 15 minutes will actually bring better results. A few weeks ago, I was replying to emails at 11pm to make sure an interview with our co-founder came out as soon as possible. The result? It took a few weeks for it to come out. Surely, sending those emails in the morning wouldn’t have hurt.
- Numbers aren’t everything. Even if the hit count is going down, the quality might be going up. Generating one lead that turns into a customer is better than 500 views from the people who will never use your service. When you market a niche product, reaching your target audience is the key to success. Be critical and try to see the bigger picture.
- You can’t grow if you don’t challenge yourself. It feels good to stay in your comfort zone but you will never improve your skills there. You have to face difficulties to develop both personally and professionally.
- Know your worth. If you question yourself, people can use it against you. This can be reflected in many aspects — your position, salary and general attitude of your colleagues or boss. You bring something unique to the company and should be getting what you deserve. Unfortunately, those who can “sell” themselves and talk the talk often get more praise than those who deserve it. Don’t let it happen.
- Stay creative. Don’t let yourself get into a routine where you use the same marketing plan and tools over and over again. Even if it’s working, you might want to try something new from time to time. Otherwise, it will quickly get boring for you and your followers.
Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners to become more effective marketers?
- Mailchimp or Sendinblue — email marketing tools. I mention two because I have used both and each has its pros and cons. I cannot pick a favorite. Both are powerful tools that can help you with everything from creating a template and designing your email to analytics and remarketing.
- Hootsuite — a social media scheduling tool. It works great and enables you to post on all networks at once. It saves a lot of time on the daily and is a great way to keep your audience engaged while you are on vacation or sick leave — just schedule everything in advance. Highly recommend.
- SimilarWeb — a tool that provides online traffic statistics. It is useful in many ways — you can track your own website or your competitors. As a marketer, you can also check traffic to news websites and media publications to decide where to publish your article or press release. You can use it for free or unlock extra features with premium.
- Google Search Console. Everyone knows about Analytics for in-depth analysis of your website traffic. However, I don’t see many people talk about Search Console. It helps you track search performance and traffic, notice errors and estimate website usability. It’s a good source for evaluating your keyword and performance.
What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skils?
To be honest, I don’t consistently check any particular sources. I usually search for a specific topic in Google or even YouTube and go through a few websites and channels. I also like to see what other businesses are doing with their websites, ads, newsletters, etc.
Who is your hero? Can you explain or share a story about why that person resonates with you?
When I was a student, there was one professor that truly inspired me — Didar Erdinc. She is an incredibly smart, beautiful woman who always gives relevant examples and teaches more than required by the curriculum. She manages to teach economics in two cities and work on her own research at the same time. She is friendly and inviting, even when times are rough. She is a remarkable person and economist, and I truly admire her.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love education to be more accessible and affordable, and I am not talking about just science courses. I hope to see more character education where kids learn how to be kind, giving, curious and passionate. A friend of mine is the head of an NGO that promotes this initiative — Character.bg. I had a chance to join him at a few workshops in primary schools and the work he does is truly incredible. I believe it is essential for our society to thrive.
How can our readers follow you online?
Connect with me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shirshova/
Follow REINNO on Twitter: https://twitter.com/reinno_io
Visit our website: https://reinno.io
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.