A Conversation with Bex Shapiro
In today’s conversation, we speak with Bex Shapiro, head of brand at ultimate.ai, about how she's working to humanize the AI-led SaaS platform through engaging video content and challenging the traditional B2B marketing playbook.
Our product is a virtual agent platform. What that means is that it is a holistic automation solution. It is highly configurable and deeply integrated—we're really focused on automation as a concept that helps customer experience, not an automation-at-all-costs agenda.
What makes our platform so unique is how data driven it is and how all of the AI is used to help this data-driven approach to understanding what a company's customers are actually asking, and then creating automation around the most commonly asked questions. The reality is that most companies don't actually know what their FAQs are. So when they start their automation journey, they're actually not automating the right things for those conversations, and it's overall just not as optimized a process as it could be. Our aim is to make human agents have more rewarding careers by supporting their workload with virtual agents.
Our customers are usually B2C companies who get a lot of support requests every day. And we span a lot of different industries with our customers—everything from travel to healthcare and financial services to telecommunications.
We've been around for four years. We were founded in Finland: Three of our four co-founders are Finnish. And, actually, our multilingual AI capabilities are what we're really proud of. In fact, they're very much a result of us starting in Finland. Finnish is often regarded as one of the most difficult languages to learn, which really forced us at the very, very early stages to adapt and innovate. Once we mastered Finnish, we could master anything.
To be honest, it is not other automation players or chatbots that we're concerned about as competitors. Rather, we're very focused on the customer service and support space. Anyone who is working to make human agents have more rewarding jobs as well as taking repetitive and mundane tasks off their plate could be perceived as a competitor. But provided a company has positive and ethical goals in mind, and isn't pursuing that automation-at-all-costs agenda, and isn't just focused on costs, and is focused on customer experience, then I don't think we perceive competition in a negative way.
A lot of what we do in the marketing department is trying to build trust by actually showing our people and product. We're focusing on videos with our people, and we're not just focusing on videos of our C-level or our co-founders, but we're really trying to show how amazing the entire team is, and do it in a very transparent and dynamic way.
What we've really steered clear of, particularly in the last 6 to 12 months, is having that B2B playbook approach of gated content, SEO optimized blogs, and formal infrequent launches. Instead, we've been talking to our customers more and creating fun videos, and just adding a bit of playfulness to it—because people trust people at the end of the day. And if you're in the automation space, I think it's more important than ever that you are humanizing what you do, because the people signing deals are people themselves, and they want to feel a level of trust.
My head of brand role was actually brought in quite early for where the company is at, but I think it was quite a strategic decision. If you don't clarify your messaging at the beginning, and you're not really focused on your top-of-funnel efforts, then you can have the best product you want and the best technical performance marketing in the world, but that messaging isn't going to get across.
So, under me, we have social media from an organic perspective, LinkedIn primarily. We also have content. And for us, content is not just landing pages and blog contents and ebooks, but it's also that large focus on video. And then increasingly—and this is something that we haven't yet invested in too much—is the PR and thought leadership side of things. We really want to scale that because we want to make sure that we're using our platform for good. And by platform, I mean both our virtual agent platform and our AI itself, but also our influence as an innovative company in such a disruptive sector.
In terms of KPIs, we just break it down per sector. Because we have organic social under the brand umbrella, I'll be looking primarily at impressions, click-through rates, and more general engagement metrics. When we expand more into PR, we can look at things like media mentions. But that said, I am a strong believer that KPIs and numbers cannot capture all the work that a brand does, and you do just have to be comfortable with that. You can't expect a tangible ROI based on numbers; you actually have to look at your gut instinct and your emotional reactions to certain things.
We're a remote-first company, but I'm actually in the office quite a lot. So, if I can do one-on-ones with my team in person, then I absolutely will. We use HubSpot for the majority of the marketing functions—things like scheduling social content and looking over email content. Then I tend to have a good six to eight meetings every day, which I think is probably quite a lot. But, you know, they're fun because I'm working with everyone from our product team to our sales team to our design team. For more specific content tasks, we use Asana to brief and review particular projects. And we have a really events-forward approach as well. So we're always planning several events at a time.
We raised our Series A in November of last year, so, unsurprisingly, we're obviously on that roadmap towards Series B. From a geographical perspective, a lot of our early customers were Finnish and Scandinavian, and now the majority are in Europe. Now, we are looking at US expansion. We've started hiring in the US, particularly the East Coast. And in terms of the other company goals, it is just working towards becoming that holistic automation platform by really listening to what our customers are asking for. It's really just taking customer feedback to ensure that our automation platform is as user friendly and helpful as it can be.
Our biggest challenge, similar to many startups, is probably scaling resources to be in line with our ambitions. You can never hire fast enough is what it feels like sometimes. I've only been with Ultimate for six months and in that time our team has grown substantially. But we have big ambitions. We don't want to just be asked to be speaking at conferences; we want to be hosting conferences. We don't just want to be writing guest posts in publications; we could create our own content formats and more.
Case studies perform so well when there's compelling storytelling. What we've found is that if we put a little bit more work and effort into teasing out the story and honing in on an angle, that’s a massive win. Saying "This customer achieved an automation rate of this percent and it leads to this result," isn’t enough. Yes, people want numbers, but using numbers alone is dry—you need the story as well.
Trend-focused content also performs very, very well for us. At the end of every calendar year, we will release an ebook on customer service trends for the year ahead where we'll interview people in-house, but we'll also interview and speak to external influencers and thought leaders in the space. We call that our golden goose in terms of the top-of-funnel leads it provides. People are naturally curious—they want to see trends, they want to be ahead of the game, and they want to know where the industry is headed—especially post-pandemic.
And then, as I said, video-focus content is something that we've already seen tangible results with and we're really looking to double down on, because we want to humanize our products and people.
I think one of the biggest changes that I've seen is the increased demand that customers have towards seeing brands acting ethically and expecting them to have stances on social justice and timely topical issues. I don't think you can shy away from those issues. And for me, that's a really important part of brand marketing. Often, it means working quite closely with the people team and employer branding to say, "Are the messages that we convey externally really accurate internally?" And we want to make sure that we're using AI as a force for good and that we have a strong and earnest agenda here. So, we're always asking ourselves, "Are we looking at things like our carbon footprint? Are we looking at diversity across all aspects of our leadership?"
Another big change that I've seen is the focus on creating content more for social media as opposed to search engines. More and more people are focusing on making content genuinely digestible and genuinely short form as opposed to long form. And I think it's so important. You should write for people. You shouldn't write for search engines. We shouldn't be just focusing on processes and creating thousands of words on a topic just because we think we should.
Sometimes people in the content space want to be clever with puns and alliteration and wordplay, but sometimes—because there's so much complexity in SaaS products—simple is best. And people just want to know how this product is going to tangibly improve their lives.
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