Quora's Organic Rise to the Top
Elisabeth Brier and Helen Min

Quora has yet to meet a question it couldn’t answer.

A platform for sharing and growing the world’s knowledge, Quora has built a massive community of curious, ambitious and inquisitive people. Today the site enjoys hundreds of millions of monthly visitors and is available in five languages and counting.

Yet despite Quora’s substantial scale, the company has grown rather organically.

Helen Min, the Director of Marketing at Quora, shares insights on driving growth - using strategies that go beyond traditional brand marketing

Min sat down with TechDay to unpack the fundamentals of establishing a strong brand, the value of experimentation and what she has planned next for Quora.

As a company that has become a household name, Quora was able to grow relatively organically. What would you say to founders who believe it is only through huge brand campaigns that a business can scale?

Founded in 2009, Quora's mission is to share and grow the world's knowledge. We want to democratize access to knowledge of all kinds so if someone out there knows something, anyone else can learn it. Today Quora has more than 200 million monthly unique visitors and is available in English, Spanish, French, Italian, and German.

With regard to using brand marketing to scale, it really depends on the category of the product or service your company provides. Most consumer-internet companies wouldn't rely on brand campaigns to grow, however a retail company or a virtual assistant might. If your company can rely on network effects and word-of-mouth to scale, that will always be a more effective and efficient way to grow. Invest in brand campaigns to the extent that you need people who are not connected to your product in any way to become familiar with your company.

Specifically, what are the ways to grow a brand without massive pushes? How is it possible to meaningfully grow, but in a way that is under the radar?

Brands take a long time to develop, so the best way to get a head start is to align on a set of simple brand values (things like honesty, quality, warmth are examples), and make sure product and policy decisions are consistent with those values. This approach will pay off in the long run because you're building brand equity over time through the experience people have with your product. Your logo, website, tagline, etc. will change frequently (especially in early stages of your company) so it's not worth your time to obsess over any of it. Just make sure someone is capturing learnings from each change.

Similarly, companies should invest in SEO from the very beginning. You want to make sure your website shows up in search results when people are looking for a solution that your company can offer and over time, search algorithms learn that your website is a good place for people to get what they're looking for.

To what extent does perpetuating a succinct brand play into scaling a company? How does content and voice work to establish legitimacy and growth?

Establishing a brand voice really comes down to the content and channels you use to develop it. Early on, the content is the story of your company—the history, founders, and most importantly, the mission. The channels are strategies and tactics to reach your audience—prospective customers or future employees.

I believe that founders should stay focused on the product and the target audience before worrying about the brand. And I say this as someone who self-identifies as brand marketer.

Many founders don't invest in marketing until much later in their startup journeys. What would you advise entrepreneurs who aren't convinced they need a comprehensive marketing strategy?

There are plenty of examples of successful B2C and B2B tech companies that put off investing in marketing as long as possible. If you find that you invested too early and didn't see results, or invest too late and are paying the price, don't dwell on it. Rather, put your energy towards setting up the marketing function to succeed from that point onward. This mostly means having clear alignment around goals, metrics, resourcing, and executive support.

Generally speaking, the less differentiated a product is or the more competition it has, the more marketing it needs. For example, your product might have a feature that makes it best-in-class, but if a competitor claims to also have that feature, buyers with short attention spans won't know the difference. Marketing can uniquely help with reach, highlighting differentiation, and changing audience perceptions.

What is the process of aligning a product with a specific marketing effort?

I can't stress the importance of developing your own communication channels as early as possible. Take stock of what is “free” before spending money to reach people through other channels. Even if you don't see immediate value in this today, you'll be glad you have these channels later on when you need them—and I guarantee you will need them at some point.

-Build mechanisms early on that enable you to do scaled communication with users within the product experience
-Set up and establish a few key external communications channels (e.g. blog, social media) to communicate with your audience, and grow that audience as much as possible

When you have news to announce—such as launching a new product—determine what levers you have to reach as many of the right people as possible. The more people you can reach through your owned channels, the less you have to pay (in money, time, priorities) to reach everyone else you're targeting.

Any general advice you could offer founders with no marketing experience?

1) Different marketing activities drive different goals and metrics. Be rigorous with conversion goals, practical about brand goals, and hold high standards for operational goals that support all marketing efforts.

2) Own the answers to fundamental questions about your business. Don't wait for a marketer to join to make clear to everyone in the company:
-Who your product is for
-What unique benefit you provide
-Why you're different
-How you want people to feel after using your product

3) Experiment and have a learning mindset as your marketing strategy takes shape. Don't outsource it all to an expensive agency or consultant, don't expect the right hire to magically solve all problems. Get involved, learn, and have fun.

What's coming up next for Quora?

We're expanding to new languages, building our advertising business, and testing new platforms and formats for asking questions and sharing answers. All of these activities support our mission of sharing and growing the world's knowledge.

Helen's bio:

Helen Min is a marketing executive with a track record of changing perceptions and driving adoption of new technologies through storytelling. She is currently the Director of Marketing at Quora, leading global Marketing, Communications, and Writer Relations teams. Helen has spent the last 10 years in marketing leadership roles at Dropbox, Facebook, and Brandcast (SaaS startup where she was among the first 10 employees).