This Won’t Scale: How Drift Defined a New Category with Content

Drift is a leading conversational marketing and sales platform. It allows businesses to talk to their website visitors in real time.

In 2016, the CEO of Drift, David Cancel, called his Head of Marketing, David Gerhardt, with an odd idea.

“I think we should get rid of all of our forms,” he said.

He believed that content (even then) was focused entirely on collecting leads than solving audience pain. And it only takes a few moments to notice the trend.

Here is our take on why Drift’s conversational marketing worked so well.

What Content Marketing Looked Like in 2016

In 2016, most content marketing examples were riddled with one of three things:

#1 Using Content as Lead Generation Engines

Let’s pull out some numbers from the past. 

There were over 2000 active Martech companies at the beginning of 2016. And according to the 2016 B2B Technology Content Marketing Survey, 95% of them engaged in content marketing efforts. Of those, 92% used blogs, 75% used infographics, 91% published case studies, and 83% produced whitepapers regularly. 

Can you guess what the goal of these content efforts, according to about 91% of marketers, was? 

Yep, you guessed it right. It was lead generation. And so, every single copy of content was accompanied by web forms. It was a go-to tactic of the time. 

#2 Creating Long-Form Content for SERPs

This time period was marked by multiple SEO studies like What is the best length for a blog article in 2016 for SEO?” by Snap Agency. 

Here’s a graphical representation showing the relationship between SERPs and word count. 

Source: Snap Agency,

In most of these studies from 2015, it was found that content with a length of over 2500 words was more likely to rank on SERPs. 

Soon after, brands started hyper-focusing on content length. They were creating long-form content extensively for lead generation. This resulted in a lot of fluff writing, and the quality went downhill from there. (In fact, recent studies suggest that adding content for the sake of content doesn’t do anything for ranking!)

While that was the case for most, there were others who were creating long-form content to provide real value to ‌ readers. 

#3 Trying Out Alternative Content Marketing Channels

Around the same time, companies also began exploring alternative channels for content marketing. It started creating podcasts, sharing webinars, and building a presence on social platforms like Snapchat. These efforts aimed to meet prospects where they were and connect with them on a one-on-one level.

At Drift, too, Cancel wanted to adopt a new content marketing approach that put people first. 

Drift’s Conversational Marketing Strategy 2.0: A Consumer-First Approach


By the time Cancel decided to remove all the lead generation forms from the website, Drift’s marketing team had built and documented a successful strategy for content

For over a year, the company published new blogs consistently. And saw their visitors grow from a meager 200 to 27,000 in just under a year. This initial success can be attributed to a few things.

One, Drift focused on content marketing from Day 1. For instance, their first hire was Gerhardt, who became the Head of Marketing. Soon after, the company started uploading content to various social platforms, including Twitter. The idea was to show what Drift was doing and build a demand for the product in the market. 

Here’s a glimpse of what Drift was creating and publishing in 2015! 

Secondly, Drift put out targeted content. It found a USP for the product and contacted the right buyers: sales and marketing. 

According to Cancel, Drift was built to allow sales and marketing to talk to the people visiting their websites. This was not something many marketing and sales folks were doing at that point in time. And so, the founders decided to tap into the neglected audience and gave it a name. 

This was how “Conversational Marketing” as a category was born. 

Their Company-Speak Became the Customer-Speak

To get the conversations rolling around ‘conversational marketing,’ Drift took some new strides. 

It started a newsletter to curate and share content its target audience would like. And to get more sign-ups, Cancel even personally reached out to users over LinkedIn and Twitter. Fortunately, his tactic worked. Many times, subscribers would share the newsletter with their networks, resulting in a rapidly growing email list. This only quadrupled the reach for Drift.

Thousands of subscribers signed up this way, and soon enough, Drift had a direct audience that wanted to consume their content. So, from then on, it expanded its content efforts to a blog, shared content on third-party websites, and even formed a Slack Group. All these platforms shared different content, and all of them started conversations.

It took some time, but soon enough, the concept of conversational marketing took off. From Drift’s staff to their customers, everyone started to use the term as their own. And it became customer-speak in no time.   

Then one day, Cancel decided to take down lead generation forms from across the website to make conversions more human. Here’s everything Drift did to support it.

It Got Rid of the Forms

Before Drift got rid of its forms, it created blogs linked to gated content. The goal was to push customers to give up their personal information and boost lead generation. But such blogs didn’t bring any value to ‌readers. 

When the company removed forms, it stuck to creating 1-2 high-quality blog posts per week. The goal was to create blogs for branding and building an audience rather than generating leads. The company supplemented this by measuring success differently. 

Instead of solely focusing on the number of leads generated, Drift also measured qualitative metrics like responses for a blog post. This helped them determine if a blog post was truly share-worthy and effective.

As for lead generation, Drift’s own product came to the rescue. Essentially a bot, it was a more interactive way of meeting leads where they were. Unlike a form or an email marketing sequence, leads can enter their queries and get answers to questions in real-time. Not just that, the bot reduced ‌ response times and helped increase conversion rates. This makes it an excellent replacement for forms.

Chat by Drift
Chat by Drift

Epilogue: Changes in Drift’s Approach to Content Marketing

Drift 2.0’s content marketing approach focuses on facilitating human-first interactions. And here are four things the company does to ensure its content efforts stay relevant, high-quality and drive ROIs consistently.

Source: Drift

#1 Optimize for conversations

Customer engagement is an excellent way of measuring marketing success. And Drift measures this by the number of conversations it can generate through its content.

This means the emails are personalized and come from a human sender, including human CTAs, and prompt conversations.

Similarly, the company responds to prospects over social channels and makes its webinars interactive. All of these efforts boost customer engagement and drive conversions as a result. 

#2 Retain humanness

When Gerhardt formulated Drift’s marketing strategy, he believed that the brand’s ability to tell stories authentically would help it stand apart from its competitors. That meant ensuring Drift had a recognizable brand presence, a feat that extended ‌to brand communications.

The communication language is clear, easy to understand, and human-like. The videos are often shot on hand-held devices, and even the images in the blog headers showcase real humans instead of stock photos. All of this reinforces the authenticity of the brand.

#3 Document rather than create

Visit Drift’s blog page, and you’ll notice that the company speaks a lot about its experiences as a company. 

This includes everything from marketing tactics to revenue generation. The idea is to document experiences rather than spend several hours brainstorming and creating original, long-form content. And this works in the company’s favour.

And this approach isn’t limited to blog posts. Drift routinely documents their learnings in various formats, from tweet threads to podcasts. It also repurposed older content to increase ‌ reach furthermore. 

The End 

Drift built an inimitable SaaS content marketing strategy around its conversational marketing tool. 

It not only created a new category but positioned itself as a thought leader with foresight. And showed the world how successful lead generation could be even with a non-traditional content marketing approach. 

But most importantly, the company ensured its content efforts were centered around solving its audience’s pain points and making their lives easier. Such human-focused content was ultimately the secret to its success.

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