Digital Marketers at JetBrains: Advertising, Analytics, and Data-Processing Experts
Roman Prokashev, the Team Lead of Digital Marketing, shared his vision of internet marketing at JetBrains with Artem Sarkisov, a PMM for IntelliJ IDEA.
Roman Prokashev, Team Lead of Digital Marketing
I’ll begin with a very basic question: what does your team do?
Our team does digital marketing in all its forms, which at JetBrains has three facets. First and foremost, it’s digital advertising through a variety of communication channels.
Second, web analytics. Our team is most interested in ensuring that our web traffic is measured accurately; otherwise, we would not be able to make sense of anything. Historically, we’ve been handling web analytics together with the WebTeam. We not only track campaign performance but also help the product teams with exporting and configuring reports.
Third, search engine optimization. I’d say here we act more as consultants. SEO is based on the content that the product teams generate, and our involvement comes down to things like keyword research, competitor analysis, and technical audits. But recently, we’ve been helping out more with organic search, and I see this as a big improvement. It’s not all about researching keywords or competitors either. For example, we are now working to improve the organic ranking of one of our YouTube channels and helping our colleagues reuse the content.
How and where do people get trained in digital marketing? What kind of background and personal qualities does this require?
That’s a tough question. Most people I know who work in this area are self-taught. They do projects for friends, make websites and put counters on them, launch ad campaigns for businesses they know personally, and gain relevant experience in that kind of hands-on way. Another way is probably to get hired for a junior position and gradually grow within a company, but companies that have junior openings are few and far in between.
I studied marketing at university about 10 years ago, and “digital marketing" was not a part of our vocabulary. The specific field already existed, but our teachers knew nothing about it. Perhaps things have improved since then, but it seems to me that most people still learn to do digital marketing through practice. Today you can find all sorts of courses that sound too good to be true, like “Learn Digital Marketing in 5 Days” or “Become a Marketing Guru in an Hour”. I’ve only taken courses provided by vendors, such as Google Ads courses, and this was a while back. They can be useful, but if you don’t get to apply the knowledge on a real project, it won’t stay with you.
If we talk about personal qualities, I think the key thing is just wanting to do digital marketing. People come to marketing from many different fields, including technical backgrounds, humanities, and other areas.
Among other useful qualities, I’d name analytical thinking, attention to detail, and the ability to connect the dots. We work with lots of services and applications that often have complex user interfaces, and if you click the wrong button or tweak something in the wrong place, tens of thousands of people may see something other than what you want them to see.
As for specific skills, marketing competencies (both general and digital) are important, but you also need to be able to process large volumes of data and generally be well-versed in analytics, such as writing SQL queries, interpreting data, and configuring tools like Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager.
You’ve mentioned three big areas of digital marketing: advertising, analytics, and SEO. Is this work mostly routine or can it be creative, too?
I would say the majority of our tasks, like setting up campaigns and tracking their results, is routine. This work consumes a lot of time and takes attention to detail and evaluating things logically. But there’s a certain degree of creative thinking in choosing the most appropriate tool or the best communication channel in each situation. We have lots of opportunities to try out a variety of channels, formats (including interactive ones), platforms, measurement methods, and approaches to different audiences.
I believe that managing all of our tools involves quite a bit of creative thinking. We find ourselves working with multiple categories of software products, each with its own specifics. For instance, IDEs are a lot different from team tools when it comes to digital marketing.
How has your team and its functions changed over time?
When I joined JetBrains more than four years ago, the team was going through a transformation and many of the processes were still being set up. Initially, I was supposed to only run banner campaigns on the Google Display Network, but after a few weeks, I also got involved with web analytics, a few other channels, and even took on some administrative responsibilities. I was surprised that the company had just started adopting certain tools, but that also meant we had our work cut out for us and many interesting challenges lay ahead.
Right now we’re a team of seven, and each one of us is responsible for one major channel: search advertising, social media, and so on. Each team member also monitors the analytics for their channel, among other things. I’m trying to promote the idea that every teammate should be able to do tasks from different areas so we can fill in for each other if need be. This also helps expand your perspective and makes work more interesting. Of course, we can’t expect everyone on the team to be able to do it all, as people have different work styles. But some of us have embraced this practice and often take on certain tasks that are out of their usual scope.
How has your focus shifted and your workload changed since you took charge of the team?
At first, I didn’t notice any changes. I had dealt with organizational matters before, like employee training, onboarding, and task management, so the realization that I’m now a team lead did not come right away.
After some time, it became clear I had an opportunity to streamline the workflows between our team and other departments, so I focused on setting up communications with our numerous counterparts. These include product teams, regional marketers, designers, researchers, event managers, and the WebTeam.
Around the same time, I realized that it was important to establish not only external communications but also communication within the team. I believe that teammates should feel comfortable working with each other. Everyone should have an opportunity to share information, voice their opinions, and suggest new ideas.
Recently, we’ve been building campaigns that use a lot of different communication channels. I’ve stopped launching single campaigns as I’m now focusing on coordinating larger projects. But at least a few people on the team can do that without my involvement, and that’s great.
Oh, and I couldn’t help keeping some of the analytical tasks to myself. It’s what I really enjoy doing, and it’s nice to be able to switch from communications and management to analytics once in a while.
Tell us more about the teams you collaborate with. What kinds of tasks come your way?
First and foremost, we work with the product teams, who give us all sorts of tasks. Each team is unique and requires an individual approach. Some teams have very concrete requests for us. And then there are teams who come to us and say they have no tasks per se; they have feature and release roadmaps, but no marketing plans or digital marketing activities. Then we try to tell them more about ourselves, we try to listen and understand their global objectives, build hypotheses, and suggest an action plan.
Could it be that some of the teams just don’t know how to make digital marketing work for them?
Could be. I’m just describing how things look from my perspective. But in the end, whether a team comes to us with specific tasks or not, we do all we can for them.
When we work on concrete tasks, we don’t just accept the data we’re given and simply do the work as and when requested. We try to take a closer look at it and consider if maybe other tools may potentially be useful. When dealing with less concrete tasks, on the other hand, we try to educate the requesting team about what we have to offer, and we try to get a clear understanding of that team’s overall goals.
Sometimes we get tasks that are not product-related. For example, when we work with the Market Research & Analytics team, and we do collaborate a lot, it’s a two-way street. Sometimes, we ask them to help us better understand our audience. Other times, they task us with things like promoting a survey. The approaches, channels, and even frameworks we use for such projects are very different from the ones we use to promote products.
Product teams and other internal customers, such as developer advocates, come to us with other kinds of web analytics tasks that require different approaches, too. We have the option to draft a report manually – or provide the customer with a reporting tool. For example, we’ve partnered with the Marketing Automation team to make a tool for exploring blog post statistics. Thanks to this tool, a developer advocate or PMM can generate a report on their own, meaning that we don’t have to compile data manually every time. This is a good example of how our workflows evolve and save us a lot of time.
Any projects you’re especially proud of?
I don’t know if I can single out one particular project, but I find myself feeling proud of my team quite often. OK, for example, we’ve devoted a lot of effort to improve the situation with search advertising. We increased budgets, conducted many experiments, and managed to increase the traffic – all while keeping key indicators at a very good level, including Cost Per Download (CPD) and Return on Ad Spend (ROAS).
Another achievement that I can highlight is how we learned to promote the surveys conducted by the Research team at a reasonable cost. This has allowed us to reach out to developers from around the world and get plenty of answers for the JetBrains Developer Ecosystem Survey. Three years ago we had no idea how to approach this task.
This brings us to the biggest marketing pain point, which is measuring the effectiveness of marketing activities. You mentioned ROAS, Return on Ad Spend. Can you measure the effect of advertising on sales? Is it always possible, and if not, what other metrics can you rely on?
We can always calculate ROAS. But sometimes we use several promotion channels, and it’s not always possible to identify which ones had a significant effect on sales.
Another issue is the long purchase cycles. Suppose a visitor lands on our web page after clicking on our link somewhere and downloads a trial version of a product. If they return to the website after some time with the same cookie and they buy a license, we can attribute this purchase to our promo. But if the cookie has been lost, or if the visitor’s employer buys that license for them, we won’t be able to link that sale to our marketing efforts. Quite a lot of purchases fall into this category.
As for other metrics, we rely on CPD (Cost per Download). This is a good metric that works for most of our communication channels. But again, we cannot always fully evaluate the effectiveness of a particular channel, so determining the maximum acceptable CPD can be tricky.
Can you tell us more about the communication channels you use?
We use different channels for different tasks. For sales and downloads, search advertising is the most effective channel. It works for all sorts of audiences, and developers are no exception.
When it comes to banner/display ads, their effectiveness is a lot harder to measure. They are more likely to have an impact on brand awareness, but that is almost impossible to measure accurately. For us, display ads work rather poorly because many developers use ad blockers. According to various estimates, 50% to 70% of our users use AdBlock.
We also use social media platforms in different regions, often aiming not to sell a product but to promote our content like surveys, infographics, blog posts, and tutorials.
Video is another format we’re still trying to figure out. Just as display ads, videos serve better for increasing brand awareness, and their effectiveness is hard to measure. I think videos are still better than banners because they can tell an engaging story and are less likely to be blocked.
I know you also use other, less conventional channels, such as podcasts.
Yeah, that’s an interesting format. We’ve seen companies actively invest in podcast advertising, and we’d like to know how they measure its effectiveness. This is usually very challenging, though recently we had an interesting experience with one of the products. We created a dedicated landing page for a voice ad in a podcast. To be honest, I didn’t think it would be easy for the audience to pick up on a complex URL phonetically, as they heard it in the podcast. To my surprise, the web page saw a fairly large number of visitors, which means it worked. But again, evaluating the effectiveness of podcast ads is very difficult: despite a large number of useful metrics, we can only get a fraction of the data.
You said developers use search a lot and block display ads. What are some other features specific to this audience?
Another distinctive feature of the IT industry in Europe, the US, and many other countries is that purchasing decisions are often made by developers themselves. We’d love to learn how to target decision-makers precisely, such as CTOs, but our advertising tools don’t give us this opportunity. When we tested this approach, it turned out this kind of targeting performs worse than simply advertising to developers in general.
I should also mention that our audience is both technically and legally savvy. We keep a close eye on how we set up analytics, what data we collect, and how we target ads to specific audiences. Whenever someone asks why we collect this or that kind of data, we have a clear-cut answer ready, as we comply with all the rules.
Things change pretty fast in digital marketing. Currently, there’s a lot of buzz around adapting web content for mobile devices. How do you manage to keep up with the trends? Do you attend digital marketing conferences?
The major trends are on the surface, and our teammates are up to date with what’s going on. At large digital marketing conferences, most of the content targets beginners. So we try to focus on attending analytics conferences instead, as analytics is a crucial element of our work.
Mobile visitors remain a small percentage of our overall audience. Still, we are working to improve this by adapting our website and ad campaigns accordingly. For example, when someone visits our website from a smartphone and sees a Download button, we now ask them if they’d like to leave their email address so we can send them a download link that they can later open on another device. This is helpful for them, and it opens up a whole new range of promotion tools for us to consider.
Are you a tight-knit team?
Yes, even though we are all very different people. Some of us prefer to work on their own, quietly. Others are more into communications and working with external parties. We’ve been getting involved in more and more company projects recently, so there’s a good chance that we’ll be expanding our team soon.
What do you do for rest and relaxation?
For me, sports and traveling are the best ways to unwind. To change the pace and get away from thinking about analytics and communications, I love touring the African savannah. I also do CrossFit in the mornings and lift weights at home.
Artem Sarkisov, PMM for IntelliJ IDEA