Why We're Not Marketing Our Enterprise Knowledge Base Software

When I first joined HelpDocs a few months ago, my experience with support docs, and enterprise knowledge base software was pretty limited.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in marketing in some form for many many years. I’ve worked in big data and enterprise companies. I have experience in tech and telecoms, and in service and CSR roles, I’d used internal knowledge bases to solve problems—be they mine, or those of a customer.

I guess I wasn’t entirely clueless about enterprise knowledge bases, how enterprises work internally, what constitutes great customer service, or how marketing should be done in general.

But I had no idea how much thought and attention went into creating articles, or even how to go about marketing a knowledge base. To me, knowledge bases were simple—It’s just a webpage with Algolia, right? 🤦‍♂️

It also hadn’t dawned on me that documentation can be used in so many different ways, across many different types of business, from user guides for gadget makers to internal documentation for international corporations.

In that sense, when I took a marketing role at HelpDocs, I guess I was pretty clueless. Little did I know, I had a huge learning curve ahead of me, but perhaps not in the way you might think.

I did what I would do with any new role, and jumped in with research. I read pages and pages of best practices around documentation. I learned how HelpDocs works. I shadowed Jake and Jarratt’s responses to incoming support queries, to find where user pain points were.

When I felt confident, I also jumped in on a few support tickets myself, learning directly from our amazing customers—something I’ve kept as part of my role in the team.

But marketing was always going to be a little different.

We don’t do PPC, which is fine, because I hate PPC. In fact, I’m a massive Scrooge when it comes to spending money on ads, so where possible, we all strive to keep cost to a minimum.

We also don’t do landing pages. Or at least, we try to avoid them as much as possible. I knew this would make things a little trickier. On the plus side, it meant my focus was more content-based—like blog posts and videos—than on conversion rate optimisation.

What it really meant is I would be getting behind the keyboard, or the camera, and making stuff. It also meant I’d have a huge amount of autonomy when it came to deciding what we create and publish. Which was amazing! For me, a dream come true—a couple of months in and it still is!

It had been a while since I’d had that kind of autonomy, so the research continued. I decided to spend a little time going back to basics and familiarising myself with the various content and social best practices and strategies that float around the internet.

I also took a look at our competitors content and social media game, to see what they’re doing and how we could add value to existing conversations—side note, if you’re not already following Help Scout’s HelpU blog, you’re missing out!

All this research gave me a little insight into how content marketing, social media, and SEO should be done, and how it is being done in my new industry.

There were a few recurring themes. Everyone, across the board, seemed to agree headlines were important. As was creating actionable content with prescriptive advice that had a definite conclusion.

Generally speaking, this came in the form of listicles, often with scientific (or at least pseudo-scientific) basis. And often included various different brands, or comments from influencers.

The theory, I guess, is it gave you something shareable for your social media profiles and increased the likelihood of your content being shared—by the mentioned companies and their followers. Basically, find influencers>incorporate them in listicles>share on social. It’s a basic reach and growth hack.

There were a few other best practices too, but I won’t go into detail. Sufficed to say, while there were a few controversial practices, there was a lot of consensus around how to do content and social well.

After all my procrastination research, I decided to spend a little time working out what our strategy would be, but ultimately just wanted to get some content out there to see what happens. So I started writing and posting blog posts.

Two months and twelve (or thirteen) blog posts in, and things are going well. We’ve had an amazing response. People are leaving comments; newsletter subscriber numbers, open rates, and click-through rates are at the highest they’ve been; and things on social are on the up too. And all the while, revenue is still growing steadily.

📯 Not to toot my own horn, but by all accounts, things are going pretty darn well. Which is incredibly surprising!

It’s surprising because we’re pretty much breaking the rules. I’ve more or less ignored many of the best practices, particularly around content. We don’t publish listicles, we write more story based editorial—like this one.

Our headlines are usually reflective of the content and avoid anything too clickbaity or spammy. We post quite regularly, but we don’t have a schedule or a calendar. In fact, going into this week, I had no idea I was going to write this post. I didn’t really know until yesterday morning!

I’ve come to realise, it’s very easy to get hung up on ROI of things like content and social media. As a company, though, we came to a decision that we are happy where we are. The business is thriving, and our growth rate has been steady for months.

That makes everything a whole lot easier.

It means we’re not concerned with attributing specific sales or revenue growth to marketing. While this is a completely new thing for me, it kind of works, jarring as it might have been at first.

As I mentioned, I’ve worked in many environments, most of which have attributed the success of my role to something quantifiable like the number of new signups, reach, or engagement.

This role is different, instead attributing my success to a balance of output—the amount of good content I produce—with something intangible like my happiness.

I’m not going to lie, it has been strangely challenging. In the back of my mind, the traditional marketer is shouting at me to check analytics goals. I’m finding it particularly difficult not to do a bunch of keyword research around “enterprise knowledge bases” and related keywords, to try and figure out what I should write about.

The thing is, that kind of content wouldn’t work for us. What’s “worked” so far has been less about creating content that helps us rank higher in SERPs, or generates a bunch of traffic, or increasing our reach. Instead, we’re sharing our culture through personal stories.

We don’t want to cultivate a culture of manipulation and hard selling at all costs. Success in spite of others is a short-term strategy that degrades the GDP of the internet.

Much as we think ours is the best product on the market, we know we’re not a good fit for everyone and that’s ok. We’re not marketing “the most powerful knowledge base software for enterprise”, we’re marketing a brand and a culture. One of honesty, openness, and respect for our customers and others in our industry.

Has this resulted in more enterprise knowledge base customers? The truth is, I don’t really know. And to be honest, it doesn’t really matter.