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Interview with Nick Portlance, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at Aqqaint

Nick Portlance is a Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at Aqqaint. Aqqaint is a trust networking platform that enables individuals and organizations with first or second-degree connections to exchange products, services, and honest reviews in a safe and trustworthy manner. Based in Washington, D.C., Aqqaint is revolutionizing how online reputations are maintained and conveyed in the modern sharing economy.

Your Journey as a Marketing Professional

My journey has been what you might call an unconventional one. Over the past 18 years, I have moved through a variety of seemingly unrelated jobs, but each of them has honed my ability to become a strong marketing professional. It started during my military service as an intelligence analyst and Korean linguist for the United States Air Force. I was required to comb through detail after detail, analyzing the minutia of behavioral or procedural changes looking for any kind of anomaly and would report it. At the time, marketing was the furthest thing from my mind, but this experience has paid dividends as it taught me how to focus on data-driven analysis. Something that is critical in marketing if you want to be effective.

Following my military service, I was hired by a technology startup, Kestrel Enterprises, Inc., where I ultimately served as Program Director for a particular group of government clients. I was thrown headfirst into the world of IT product development, software sales, and marketing. The core product was already established, but I led an innovation cell that provided customizations and expanded growth. I had the fortunate experience of spending much of my time at client sites where I was able to get first-hand user stories and customer experience with the products we were building. We would conduct surveys, build, test, deploy and get feedback from our customers on a bi-weekly basis which taught me the importance of a strong feedback loop. I also learned that adoption won’t occur without a killer product regardless of your marketing strategy. I successfully grew the revenue of that program from $250,000 annually to $20,000,000 annually over the course of three years. We were eventually purchased by the Boeing Corporation.

I learned that I not only had an aptitude for marketing and product development but that I also had a strong passion for it.

However, not long after the sale, I was asked to join a family business in Florida and took on the role of Territory Sales Manager. Although it was a strict departure from the IT world and product development that I grew to love, it did open me up to the world of outside sales, email marketing, cold calling, and a completely different sales cycle than I had grown accustomed to. After my four years helping to grow the business, we sold the company in April of 2018.

It was also during this time that I completed my MBA in Entrepreneurship and had the opportunity to learn some new marketing concepts along the way.

Following that experience, I went on to form my own software company and am currently co-founder and CMO at Aqqaint. I am back to my passion for developing products, marketing, analyzing feedback, and growth hacking. I have happily been forced to broaden my scope of knowledge to include graphic design, UI/UX design, social media marketing and more in this role.

As a social network platform, our biggest challenge is network effect, the product only gains value as more people use it. In order to tackle this problem, we are building partnerships with existing communities and creating virtual semi-private marketplaces for their members to exchange safely. At the same time, I am working to build a brand story and voice that is consistent across all of our social media, email and sales channels.

What are the primary marketing channels you have worked on? What will be your advice to young marketers on each of these channels?

Throughout my career as a marketing professional, I have used directly or had exposure to a variety of marketing channels. There are plenty of resources that cover social media, CRM, content, SEO, and the list goes on. So, I won’t get into each of them. Instead, I will highlight some I feel are important and often overlooked.

Mobile App Development – In my current role, this happens to be our product and a channel. Creating a killer app gets you engaged with customers and you can get honest feedback by watching your customers actions directly.

Advice: If it makes sense to offer a mobile app it’s worth considering. We are able to track every action in our app and feed it into our Google Analytics and Event Tracking system to get real-time feedback on exactly how users are engaging with the product. We can try to influence various actions and we use metrics to send emails based on activity, so our messages are timely and valuable.

Email Marketing – I rely heavily on email marketing to bring valuable information to my customers or remind them of an action they should take. For example, at Aqqaint, we send a member a notification email when they are invited to join someone’s trust network. It serves a reminder to take an action (approve or deny the request) and it mentions someone they likely know.

Advice: When sending emails, think is this valuable to the customer? It’s also a good idea to get their permission first.

Live Video – I have only recently started to implement live video as a marketing channel, but the results are outstanding. Typically, a live video post will receive twice as many views and engagements as my static social media posts. This is a great way to establish yourself as a thought leader on a particular topic and engage with customers and fans.

Advice: Keep it 100% authentic. Don’t make it a rehearsed theatrical performance, but rather have a candid conversation with your audience. If people jump in and comment or ask questions while you are broadcasting, be sure to acknowledge them and answer.

Word-of-Mouth – With any product, word-of-mouth can have a huge impact on conversion, but it’s often left to chance. The key to successful word-of-mouth marketing comes down to the product. The product, or marketing campaign, must have something that gives social validation to the sharer. The customer is essentially putting their credibility on the line by making the recommendation so your product and message should back that up.

Advice: Make it as easy as possible for someone to share your product with people they know. There are a variety of ways nowadays to make it easy for a customer to share a message, post, email, or even a download link for a mobile app. If you are interested in reading about what makes a share-worthy product check out Seth Godin’s book Purple Cow.

What are some of the important marketing software that you have used and found to be really useful for your company?

Finding the right marketing tool can be an overwhelming undertaking. There are so many options to choose from and no single tool to rule them all.

My advice would be to spend some time determining which features you can’t live without. The switching cost can be painful so it’s best to do your homework. Then find comparisons of the available platforms to help make your decision.

These are some of the tools I’m currently using at Aqqaint:

Active Campaign – this email marketing platform is a great value. I can set up countless automation, tag customers, send segmented emails, and it also includes a fairly decent CRM component with lead scoring and deal tracking. It has helped really keep track of how engaged our customers are and contact them at the right time.

I initially started with MailChimp, I tried AWeber, and looked at Constant Contact before settling with Active Campaign. Active Campaign had the broadest range of features for the price. Their onboarding experience was also amazing, they set up multiple calls with you and help you get things started for your specific use cases.

Adobe Creative Cloud – this is a suite of graphic design software that has been indispensable for creating advertisements, flyers, banners, etc. The learning curve for many of these tools is steep, but once you have them down you can do just about anything. I primarily use Illustrator and Photoshop, and Adobe Spark. Spark allows you to very easily create beautiful short videos or image posts for social media.

Agorapulse – I have tried a handful of social media content management platforms and this is my current favorite. It allows me to re-schedule evergreen content at intervals I set which is a huge time saver. It also has a pretty decent listening feature to see posts where my brand, or my competitors’ brand, is mentioned. I also really like the format the information is presented as compared to Later and Hootsuite, two other tools I’ve tried.

This is a very affordable tool for what they provide. Hootsuite was my first choice but the collaboration tools I wanted were too costly. If you are a large corporation with a big team it might be the right tool for you. I like Later for Instagram, but it’s not very versatile. Agorapulse has worked out so far.

Google Analytics – As I said I was a trained analyst, so I go by the numbers. Google Analytics allows me to track user actions with my products and see exactly how small changes affect growth, retention, sales, etc.

I haven’t tried any other services but have been eyeing KISSmetrics and Hubspot in this area. Just haven’t pulled the trigger.

iMovie – an easy video editing tool that comes standard on Macs.

I have used QuickTime which is great, and Adobe’s Premiere Pro which is a professional level movie editing software that I don’t need to take the time to learn. So, iMovie keeps it simple and does the job.

Segment.io – this tool is similar to Zapier, it tracks events and passes that information from your app or website to other tools in your portfolio. We can track specific user actions on our platforms and send that information to Active CampaignGoogle Analytics, FB Pixel and Ads, and more.

Sketch – a popular UI design tool I use when designing the app, much of your word-of-mouth marketing can be designed right into the product and you don’t need any developer skills to use this tool.

I first started with Adobe XD and then moved to Figma, but ultimately Sketch has been the easiest tool for me to use and has tons of excellent plugins that help get my mockups out to my team.

Stencil – a neat little tool that makes creating quick social media posts fast and simple. They have an extensive royalty-free image search built right in that makes it easy to find what you need.

Zepplin – this tool allows you to export and share UI designs with software developers and does the best job I’ve seen at conveying the actual design features, colors, and layout.

Your 2 line advice to people entering in the marketing domain.

Before you invest time and money on a fancy campaign figure out how you are going to measure the results. Understanding what is working and what isn’t is the only way to achieve meaningful change.

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