It can be a daunting task, stepping into the role of CMO for the first time, even if it's an industry you're familiar with. Imagine doing that in a whole new sector! That's why we spoke to Aidan Casey, freshly-minted CMO of Paintru, about how she's been approaching her new role and how she's found the jump from the healthcare sector to the art world.

Hi Aidan, can you tell us a bit about Paintru and your role as CMO?

At Paintru, we’re revolutionizing the way consumers can commission fine artwork. The company was born from a desire to make commissioning original art accessible–this allows people to elevate moments and memories beyond that of which photo prints can convey, in a streamlined and accessible way.

The traditional process of commissioning art involves sourcing an artist through direct outreach or a gallery, then having to manage all contracting, project specifications, and payment. Paintru allows consumers to simply upload a photo (or idea) and we handle everything from sourcing an artist, managing communication, revisions, quality control, framing, and shipping. With a vast network of incredibly talented artists across the globe, we can have, essentially, anything painted for our customers. This allows more people to experience the magic of fine art and supports independent, talented artists around the globe with a platform to reach consumers and build awareness.

I joined the Paintru team in the fall of 2020 as their first hire beyond the founding team. Bringing an entirely new solution into the market, especially one so flexible and with so many different market vertical opportunities is a marketing challenge I was eager to dig into.

I currently manage all marketing efforts including product-market development and positioning, brand strategy, SEO, digital and traditional advertising, digital analytics, affiliate and influencer marketing strategy, brand partnerships, content strategy, and development, as well as social media. However, at a startup, roles flow beyond anything outlined on paper and the entire Paintru team works collaboratively across departments.

As someone new to the role of CMO, what have been three main challenges you’ve faced in the role, and how have you gone about meeting them?

As I mentioned, our product is extremely flexible. A big challenge (and thus, opportunity!) for us is testing different markets to determine the most viable channels worth our investment of time, effort, and budget. We are constantly prioritizing and re-prioritizing based on results. Within these tests, I always try to ask myself and the team 3 questions:

  1. What are the challenges to this being a sustainable and scalable market?
  2. Have we put in the effort we believe is required to fully-vet this opportunity?
  3. Have we exhausted our network in terms of seeking insight that might guide the test of this market?

Secondly, resources are limited at a startup. You have to get scrappy. And, you have to be quick in determining what is worth your time, and what isn’t. Time is money. Effort into one task is time, and thus money, not put into another. Prioritization is key and a continued area of focus for me. Easier said than done…

Marketing is so broad and expansive, a good comparison might be to compare it to the vast known, and unknown, of an ocean. You absolutely cannot know everything. It’s important to be confident in what you do know and be discerning with what you think you need to know.

Especially since 2020, I have seen many companies essentially preying upon the insecurity most marketers face around not being an expert in XY&Z. Yes, there is a LOT to know and it’s essential to keep learning, but don’t let these companies lead you to believe that you must master everything and that if you pay $X, you’ll learn it in X days.

Having spent my early career exclusively in healthcare, I’m quite new to the e-commerce world. Every industry has its nuances. It is important not to be overwhelmed or intimidated by a sector you don’t feel an expert with, but to lean into your strengths and the opportunity to learn. I surround myself with e-commerce knowledge from email newsletters, to books, to podcasts. Several of my schoolmates either work for or have started successful e-commerce brands and I find a wealth of knowledge on LinkedIn.

What were the skills and working practices you’ve developed in your career so far that allowed you to make the jump to CMO?

Without confirming with my team, I would say a broad and varied knowledge of the marketing landscape that’s come from working across several agencies, startups, and small companies, married with leadership skills and the mindset to “get it done” has gotten me to where I am. You can have all the ideas in the world but not know how to execute alongside a team, and that will get you nowhere.

Another aspect of my experience that prepared me for this role was having worked at an amazing tech startup for 3+ years before. There is nothing like the knowledge and skillset you will soak in by working within this challenging and rewarding environment. A former colleague of mine, very successful in the tech and startup world, stressed the importance of prioritization. From the first day I stepped foot into the office. I’ve carried that with me.  

Were there any skills you realized you needed to quickly develop as CMO? How did you go about that?

I feel fortunate that many of the skills I feel have enabled me to support the company in this role were developed over the past several years of my career. However, there are a few areas where I have prioritized learning.

The first is customer segmentation, something absolutely essential to e-commerce, especially within a D2C space. We obsess over our customers, we want to know everything they want, everything our product means to them, and how we can best serve them. Part of the obsession over customers includes ensuring their experience is as tailored to them as possible. This is where customer segmentation comes in.

As I mentioned, prioritization is a key skill to success. This has never been more apparent to me than now, when it’s absolutely essential to prioritize effort and resources. This is a skill I aim to continue to improve on.

Previous to this role, I didn’t have a lot of experience in affiliate and influencer marketing. In the D2C consumer world, this channel cannot be ignored. A lot of my experience came from trial and error in outreach, but I do try to keep up to date by listening to podcasts hosted by experts in this area.

Did you have clear goals in mind when you started the role? How have you gone about communicating them with the rest Paintru and making sure everyone is aligned to meet them?

Honestly, my goal was to be the best marketing leader that I can be, jumping in to build the company to success with the founders. To me, personal success equates to the company’s success. Success within a team equates to being the player everyone wants on their team. Success within my role equates to making a measurable, meaningful difference within KPIs.

What do you consider to be your main achievements as CMO in your first few months?

  • Drove 4X revenue growth for Q4 through advertising tactics.
  • Increased organic site visibility threefold, getting us from having only our brand terms and those irrelevant to our business on page 1 of Google SERPS to having over 25 keywords with high buyer intent on page 1.
  • Developed a content strategy that blends customer education and engagement, SEO-driven content, and thought leadership.
  • Led the launch of 2 new products and multiple B2B market verticals.

A lot of your previous experience was in the health sector. How have you found the jump to the D2C arts world, particularly at such a senior level? Do you have any advice for people looking to make a similar move?

It has been quite the career shift. I had consulted independently for several clients in 2020, specifically one D2C e-commerce brand, as I knew I needed to expand my experience there, along with the desire to explore lifestyle brands.

Art has been a lifelong love of mine, so finding myself in a career where I am engulfed in the world is pretty amazing. Although I absolutely loved working in healthcare and am very passionate about it, working within an industry that gives me complete joy is something I feel lucky to have been able to find for myself.

My advice is the advice my dad gave me as I packed my bags and headed off to college. “It’s not about the money. Find what you love, and the money will come.” I wish I had taken that advice more seriously from a younger age. Find what makes you passionate.

Find what makes you want to get up at 5 am and work on. Find what makes you come back from a walk around the neighborhood full with ideas and excitement to explore them.

You came into the role when a lot of the world was still dealing with COVID and the pandemic. How did that kind of onboarding experience shape your first actions as a CMO?

I started working with Paintru as a content strategy, digital advertising, and SEO consultant. Very quickly my involvement ramped up and I was offered the role of CMO. It was honestly a perfect transition as I could see what the company needed, and how I could bring them to the next level.

Our team is entirely virtual at Paintru, aside from our COO and customer service team members who work out of our warehouse in Ohio. Having worked remotely since May of 2019, the transition was fairly easy for me.

Was there any tech you’ve introduced to Paintru that’s been particularly helpful at this time?

There are a few platforms I’ve found very helpful and introduced to the team:

  • SemRush - Far beyond just SEO, this is an amazing platform to gather insights that guide content strategy, advertising, and competitor insight.
  • All Google Business suite products (Search Console, Google Ads, Google Analytics & Data Studio)
  • The editorial calendar - Not necessarily tech, but anyone who works with me knows my love for a well-organized editorial calendar, it is essential for the development and execution of an effective content strategy. Editorial calendars can be managed well via project management systems such as Trello or Airtable, however, I prefer a good ‘ole Google Sheet.
  • GoAffPro - This is a great free (for the basic plan) affiliate management platform.

Many CMOs are starting to plan for their “post-pandemic” strategies. What’s going to be important for yourself and Paintru?

Our company’s runway started in 2020, unknowingly actually as the brand officially launched late 2019. The was the perfect timing for a platform that enabled independent artists to make an income by bringing custom fine art to consumers.

As far as a post-pandemic marketing strategy, I’d say I am trying to focus on making sure we understand our consumers and how we can best serve their needs.

I am hopeful we can engage in more face-to-face networking opportunities in the coming year, both with potential B2B channels, our customers, and our artist network.

What’s the main thing you’re eager to learn as a new CMO?

In this role, I have exposure to so many facets of marketing strategy. I am most eager to soak in all of this knowledge and be part of the growth of my company.

What’s the best advice you could give to people who are about to start or freshly started at their first CMO role?

A few pieces of advice:

  1. Prioritization is key - you cannot do everything, do what matters and not what doesn’t.
  2. Don’t be overwhelmed by what you feel you should know (see question 7), but be hungry to learn.
  3. Be a team player.

Thanks, Aidan!