How Notion Does Marketing: A Deep-Dive Into its Community, Influencers & Growth Playbooks
PR & Marketing

How Notion Does Marketing: A Deep-Dive Into its Community, Influencers & Growth Playbooks

We peel back the layers of Notion’s multifaceted marketing strategy, diving deep into three distinct channels that have helped power its meteoric rise: community, influencer marketing, and growth and analytics.

It's hard to believe now, with tens of millions of users and a $10B valuation to its name, but back in 2015, Notion was teetering dangerously on the edge of a cliff. The startup had raised some funding from angels (and an early check from First Round) a couple of years prior but had failed to capture much attention and burned through most of its cash. With the bank account dwindling and no product-market fit in sight, founders Ivan Zhao and Simon Last faced a harrowing fork in the road. 

The product vision remained the same: to give anyone the ability to customize technology and solve their own problems, even if they weren’t “technical.” But the app they’d built was buggy and frequently crashed, and the user experience needed a complete overhaul — so they started from scratch entirely. 

As the story goes, the co-founder duo painfully parted ways with the small team they had assembled and Zhao and Last decamped from pricey San Francisco, booking a one-way trip to Kyoto. Neither co-founder spoke Japanese, resulting in the perfectly imperfect conditions for the duo to hunker down and focus on coding all day. 

After three years of meticulous designing and late-night programming, Zhao and Last emerged with a revamped Notion, a flexible, all-in-one productivity tool, and were ready to share it with the world. They launched on Product Hunt in 2018 — quickly watching it shoot up the rankings and capturing the attention of users, tech insiders and investors alike. 

There have been plenty of write-ups on Notion’s product strategy: This one from Lenny Rachitsky is excellent, for example. And if you’d like to hear the founders tell this story more directly, they unpack it in this excellent video. But we spotted an opportunity to tell a different story. 

From clawing its way back from the brink of failure to growing into a widely used product loved by users in and outside of Silicon Valley, Notion has become one of the biggest Cinderella stories of the product-led growth movement. And here at First Round, we’ve been privileged to have a front-row seat from the very beginning, as seed supporters in Zhao’s lofty vision all the way back in 2013. (To port yourself back in time, we highly recommend checking out this quick demo of the product circa 2013, where you can see the initial sparks of the magic that would later emerge). 

Fast forward to today and even a quick scan of Notion’s current internet footprint will unfurl no shortage of YouTube channels with user-generated tutorials on how to master the product, Etsy stores selling bespoke Notion templates and devoted Facebook groups for users to geek out over the product in almost every language. 

The common denominator is that these efforts emerged completely organically — there was no Notion-appointed moderator leading the charge in the early days. It was, and remains, the joy of using the product that brings these fans together. Through a seemingly inexhaustible word-of-mouth engine, Notion has catapulted its brand out of startup lore and into the mainstream. 

But don’t be fooled here — this didn’t happen by accident. While it’s true that Notion relied heavily on organic marketing and product-led growth, what seemed like effortless growth was, in fact, quite effortful behind the scenes. Over many years and after many experiments, several different teams pitched in to help both enhance and expand beyond the product’s virality, rather than resting on that growth lever alone. 

“Just go viral” is not a strategy — and it wasn’t Notion’s either. 

This work continues to this day, of course, supporting the product as it scales to include new features, like the more recent Calendar and AI-powered assistant additions,  (As a small example, the marketing team recently shared their own AI launch lessons.) 

In this article, we peel back the layers of Notion’s multifaceted marketing strategy, diving deep into three distinct channels that have helped power its meteoric rise: community (its bedrock channel), influencer marketing (its take on brand partnerships), and growth and analytics (traditional digital marketing efforts). After sitting down with three leaders who helped build these separate arms of Notion’s marketing units, we’ve put together a playbook for other founders to learn from as they refine their own marketing strategy: 

  • Ben Lang, former Head of Community (and one of the early marketing hires)
  • Lexie Barnhorn, Head of Social and Influencer Marketing
  • Rachel Hepworth, CMO (and former Head of Growth & Enterprise Marketing)

Together, this trio pieces together a picture of how the product-led growth company marries traditional marketing tactics with more unconventional approaches. Let’s dive in.

Curious to learn how Notion’s Marketing team uses Notion? Read their insights and grab their templates here.


When Notion’s founding Head of Community Ben Lang first heard of the tool, it was because he accidentally stumbled on it. “I had seen Notion on Product Hunt in 2018, and after trying it a couple of times, something just clicked for me. With Notion, I felt like I could visualize my brain, and it was a game-changer for how I worked and lived my life.” 

He quickly became one of the most prolific creators of Notion templates, and one of the earliest vocal champions of the product. “I started to tweet about the product regularly, and I would share different ways I used the tool,” Lang says. “Pretty soon after, I started getting an influx of questions, with folks asking me, ‘How did you build this?’ or if I could share certain pages. That was the spark to launch” 

Lang’s template-sharing hub Notion Pages still exists today.

Motivated entirely by his own passion for the product, Lang started the website as a side hustle. “This was when Notion started to take off, and I was just so enamored with it. I was buying all the domains I could think of that started with Notion. I launched a Facebook group about Notion. I’d hop on calls to help people set up their Notion workspace. And I was doing this for fun — purely out of passion.” 

Lang was radiating enthusiasm for the product — so much so that it was spilling over. “At a certain point I reached out to Notion’s founders letting them know I’d be in San Francisco if they wanted to meet up,” Lang recalls. His evangelist work had already been on their radar, and not long after, Lang was brought on board as one of the company’s earliest marketing hires, working right alongside Notion’s founding marketer Camille Ricketts (who was the founding editor of The Review itself prior to joining the startup).

Fast forward to today, and you can see Lang and Ricketts’ fingerprints all over Notion’s global brand. The two of them steadily built out Notion’s robust template gallery, which still serves as one of the company’s tentpole resources today (and was recently revamped). The duo also worked meticulously to craft a global community that pulled in users from both online channels and offline events all over the world. While both Lang and Ricketts have since passed the torch in their respective roles, ( Lang would go on to break the internet with his viral couple's home base template) the foundation they built would go on to scale dramatically from a few dozen evangelists to millions of Notion fans.

In this section, Lang walks us through two of the bedrock community programs that have been instrumental in accelerating Notion’s product-led growth. Additionally, he breaks down the biggest mistakes he sees startup founders make when attempting community marketing, sharing his suggestions for how to avoid these traps. We’re going to spend plenty of time with Lang and the community team because the strategy truly forms the foundational center of the rest of Notion’s marketing engine.

How to tackle community from the bottom up

While no one at Notion could have predicted the groundswell of organic customer obsession for the post-pivot product, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t still room for an intentional approach to cultivating a lasting community. 

If your product has started to generate some initial buzz (or you plan to leverage word-of-mouth as a part of your growth strategy), it may be worth honing in on one or two community initiatives, and then slowly dialing up your team’s participation and engagement, Lang says. 

“One thing we’ve done on the community side at Notion pretty consistently is identifying trends within our user base and building on top of that,” Lang says. “Templates and ‘superusers’ were two of the earliest things that were clear to us.” 

Here’s how Lang, Ricketts, and the early Notion team supercharged these two early programs (along with tactical advice for how you might find similar success with your own). 

Decentralize community efforts: Notion’s Ambassador Program 

Once Lang officially joined the team at Notion, one of his first projects was to design an ambassador program that would pinpoint other “superusers” of the product (like himself) and bring them together. “We asked ourselves, ‘Could we create this group of top-tier advocates who can spread Notion exponentially?’ We thought that if we could bring all of these people together and connect them more closely to the Notion team, maybe they would inspire each other and encourage even more people to get involved with the product,” he says. 

That was the initial seed for Notion’s Ambassador program — a global community of 300+ Notion enthusiasts across the globe that helps to run or moderate Notion-related groups, discussions and events. 

More tactically, Lang revisits what launching the Ambassador program looked like at the beginning — and it was a rather simplistic approach in the early days. “The first thing we did was tweet out a forum calling for folks to get involved as an Ambassador,” he says. “If they wanted to, they could help contribute to Notion somehow by either hosting Notion events, starting a YouTube channel or producing their own templates. We probably had a thousand people apply within the first few weeks.” 

Pretty soon, Ambassadors were leading the charge on their platforms of choice all over the globe, like “Notion Korea” on Facebook, “Notion for Artists” on Telegram, or “Notion for Solopreneurs” on Twitter. Notably, Notion stepped back and let Ambassadors own each program, offering support from the sidelines with anything they might need. 

While Notion was keen to let ambassadors take the lead, there was plenty of opportunity to grow this early spark with a little kindling. Lang recommends lending your best listening ear. “We tried to understand what we could do on our end to be as helpful as possible to the ambassadors,” he says. “That could be anything from sharing their feedback to the product team and making them feel heard, providing grants for people to host local events, or validating and sharing testimonials from the Notion team to recognize that this person was doing incredible work.”

If you’re scratching your head wondering what other low-lift ways could ignite your own community, here are some real-world examples of how Notion delivers value back to its Ambassadors: 

  • Early access to new features
  • Special AMAs with Notion team members 
  • Provide a Notion Workspace for them to work out of
  • Access to an exclusive Slack group for ambassadors to connect 
  • Prioritized support 
  • Exclusive swag

The ambassador program is one of the longest-standing marketing programs at Notion and the community team continues to expand its footprint. “It’s gotten to the point where there’s a community-led Notion event almost every single day around the world,” Lang says. It’s really powerful because our customers can go and check out what’s happening on the ground and meet other Notion fans — and it’s not even something we are doing ourselves.” In something of a full circle moment, Lang has now joined the program as an Ambassador himself since leaving the company.

We never had this top-down approach to community that constrained people in a box. Our approach has always been to encourage people to do amazing things with Notion and empower them to share what they’ve built and be a part of this with us.

Any great product, especially in B2B SaaS, has a bit of a learning curve. The “blank page” problem was particularly acute for Notion. But while it may seem like it falls on the product team to educate the user, leaning on community marketing can provide a top-notch learning experience for customers — and save your team time as an added bonus. 

“We knew it could be challenging from a user experience perspective to hop into Notion, be confronted with all these building blocks and no clear idea of what to do with them or where to get started,” Lang says “So it made sense for Notion to have its own hosted template gallery.” 

There were two approaches the team could have taken here. The first would be to have Notion’s own team build out sample templates for all the countless use cases for the product. The second would be to comb through all the existing templates that users had put out there, and compile the best ones into a one-stop-shop. Unsurprisingly, Notion took the community-driven approach here. 

“That was a big moment for Notion because at that point people started producing their own templates and it enabled more folks to get started with the product in a much faster, easier way,” Lang says. Fast-forward to today, and Notion’s template gallery boasts tens of thousands of templates, featuring everything from B2B SaaS processes to recipe guides and vision boards. While the Notion team now curates and creates some of their own templates in the gallery, it’s still an overwhelmingly community-driven effort. (You can even spot a few of our own templates from the First Round team.) 

Ben Lang, former Head of Community at Notion

Letting the community take the lead on customer education and experience can also be a high-impact way to get buy-in from the rest of the business for more programs in the future. Take Notion’s more recent “Consulting Partner Program” as an example. 

Here’s how it came to be: As Notion became a more widely-adopted tool for companies, some Notion super-users built out side hustles as Notion consultants, helping these BigCos get their entire teams onboarded. Rather than take on the work of building a Notion-run consultants program, the community team assembled a directory of the folks who were already providing these services. 

Of course, Notion still has its hands in some parts here. To make sure those offering onboarding services were up to Notion’s standards, the marketing team quickly spun up a certification process for these consultants to go through. What started with two to three folks on the directory blossomed into 60-plus. 

“We did this pretty early on, maybe a year or so after launching our Ambassador program,” Lang says. “We even hired one of these Notion consultants to help us build out the certification flow/exam/assessment, we figured they would know best.”

By making these consultants part of the Notion community, they now offer a full service of trained and passionate customer success-like folks helping people experience the platform — with low cost to Notion. 

“It graduated into this robust program where our customers are now able to submit their projects and needs, and get access to folks who, frankly, use Notion in ways that we probably never would’ve imagined,” says Lang. 

Mistakes to Avoid When Doing 0 to 1 Community Building

Community marketing can certainly be game-changing for startups that execute it well. But like every other element of company-building, there are plenty of potholes along the way (and lots of abandoned communities out there that never took off).

Lang outlines three of the biggest mistakes he sees startups making in this area and offers up clear paths to take instead. 

Expecting short-term success

Community is a squishy topic. It’s hard to pin down what exactly makes it successful, and it's even harder to measure and track success on a spreadsheet, much to the chagrin of more data-obsessed leaders. Because of this, some startups may steer clear of investing in any community marketing altogether. Or worse — impose impossible metrics on its community leads. This is the first mistake, Lang says. 

Many early-stage companies want to see metrics from day one. They want to understand from very early on how something is impacting the business,” Lang says. “But the way we looked at community at Notion was as a long-tail investment. We might not see clear metrics off the bat, but instead, we’re building a moat that our competitors don’t have.”

The trick to achieving any healthy community strategy is to view it through a long-term lens. “Leaders should have the outlook that community is a differentiator for the company and that it will eventually be the thing that makes them stand out against their competitors,” he says. 

Duplicate on Notion

While it can be tempting to assign a stretch KPI for the community team, Lang cautions startup leaders from doing this too early on. “Over time, we did start incorporating metrics to track our work, but it was important to us not to rush into measuring the wrong things. We wanted to be thoughtful,” he says.

Think of ways you can tie this into your early business goals from day one but don’t make the decision on whether or not you’re going to invest in community based on metrics alone. 

Spending too much time on tooling

Another hiccup to watch out for when scaling community efforts is getting bogged down in what you’ll use to run the program. 

“Tooling in the community space is pretty challenging. There are a lot of people building different things — you could easily spend your days testing and migrating from tool to tool,” Lang says. 

That’s why it’s important to set limits with your team on how much time to spend trying out different tools — and knowing when to say enough. “You can always say, ‘Hey, I know this might not be the most optimal tool right now, but we are gonna stick with it and build towards where we want to go,’” he says. 

Don’t worry so much about centralizing the tools you use or having the exact right platform. Instead, Lang says to have a scrappy approach. To get started, Lang shares a few of his favorites: 

  • SwagUp - For automating swag drops. “We send out so much swag to our community programs. It can be surprisingly tedious and manual to go to the post office and do it yourself. So we use this to house our inventory and deploy automated shipping.” 
  • Tremendous - For sending grants. “We’re processing quite a bit every month to support the global Ambassador community events, providing funding for buying food or renting space — and it's surprisingly tricky to do that if you are doing it in multiple countries.” 
  • Luma - For events. “We even have a widget in our community dashboard powered by Luma that lets anyone on our team see all of the different events going on any given day. Everyone in our community program also has access to their own dashboards to help organize and share the events they are attending.” 

Hiring the wrong community lead 

This might be the most prevalent mistake, mainly because there is no clear-cut blueprint for what the first community hire at a startup should be. “What I see the most is companies that hire someone for the role without fully understanding what it is they need from that person,” Lang says. “This can end up being really costly.” 

To complicate things even more, there’s also no exhaustive list of traits that make up the perfect formula for a community hire. A lot of it comes down to the magic of your product, how folks interact with it and then who on your team can keep stoking the flames, Lang says. 

However, there are some common threads in each successful community hire. Lang shares three non-negotiables for an early community hire. 

  • They have an authentic passion and interest in the product. “This is the number one thing to look for in a community hire,” Lang says. “In a job where you are talking with people all of the time and attempting to build real connections, it can be difficult to do if you don’t feel a certain level of passion for what those connections mean.”
  • They have a certain level of scrappiness. “In my previous life, I had been a startup founder and had built many side projects. I had a pretty scrappy personality. That's an important mindset for community building, which requires a lot of iteration and creativity. You want to be able to have that level of independence where you can create and build on your own. When I think of a lot of the work we’ve done at Notion, we’ve been able to be very scrappy and get things off the ground quickly.”
  • They are natural community builders in their free time. “Outside of Notion, I’ve been doing community-building events on my own for some time. I’ve hosted all sorts of dinner series, I’ve started different Facebook groups, etc. It wasn't about making money or starting a business, it was just something I loved to do — I enjoy connecting people. If you can find someone who does that in their personal life as well, that’s a strong hiring signal.” 

If you are still on the fence about hiring a team to work on community full-time, Lang offers a cheat code that worked well for his team: contractors. “Our approach early on was to work with contractors when we weren’t quite sure what we were looking for out of a new role,” Lang says. “It was a great way to fill that knowledge gap as you try to understand who it is exactly you want to hire.”

Nearly all of Lang’s projects started at Notion were a direct result of his involvement in the community before even joining the company. He’s a poignant case study for the power of product evangelists and seeing what they could do for a business. “I saw the long-term value in what an energized and supported community could do for Notion because I was a part of it myself,” Lang says.  

If you are interested in hearing more about how Lang landed his dream job at Notion, check out our podcast episode with him here.


Just because you’re building a SaaS product, doesn’t mean you have to market it as one.

Lexie Barnhorn, Notion's Head of Social and Influencer Marketing, has lived by this principle since joining the company in December 2021. She was brought on to pioneer Notion's influencer marketing strategy, leveraging her experience as the former Director of Influencer Marketing at the skincare brand Curology, and now oversees anything at the intersection of storytelling and creative content that leads to top-of-funnel growth.

It might have seemed like an odd jump, going from a full-time role building relationships with beauty influencers with massive platforms on TikTok and YouTube to a SaaS company. But Barnhorn is a fierce advocate of the power of influencer marketing, especially as a growth engine for B2B companies.

And she’s got the numbers to prove it — with over 80,000 videos,  #Notion hit 1 billion views on TikTok back in September, which is an astonishing feat for a SaaS product on the platform, but also an incredible milestone for any brand, particularly when you consider that it was largely the result of partnering with creators on the platform. 


the real mvp @Notion #notionpartner #notionapp

♬ simple. - coldbrew

One of Barnhorn's favorite collabs is with the popular TikTok personal chef wishbonekitchen.

In this section, Barnhorn shares the rationale and origin behind Notion’s influencer marketing strategy. She also opens-sources her playbook for how to run an influencer marketing campaign from start to finish, sparing no detail. Her tactical advice can help inform founders or executives who are maybe a little skittish to leap into a full-blown influencer strategy, as well as marketing leaders who are looking for advice on how to get larger buy-in from the business. 

Let influencer marketing thrive in its own channel 

To lay the groundwork for the influencer program, allow us to briefly page back to Ben Lang and the community team.

After the ambassador program was established, one of the next projects the team tackled was partnering with “superusers” who had large followings — mainly creators on social media platforms (like YouTube) that were showing off how they were using Notion in creative ways. 

Ali Abdaal is an example of a Notion “superuser.” While his channel isn’t dedicated to Notion, he regularly posts videos full of how-to guides and tutorials on how he uses the product, seen above. 

The community arm of the marketing team decided to double down on this creator strategy. “In the beginning, we would manually reach out to all of the creators we wanted to partner with,” Lang says. They leveraged contractors with deep expertise in certain markets (European YouTubers, or Spanish-speaking influencers on TikTok), but quickly realized that dedicating someone full-time to the role made sense. Enter, Lexie Barnhorn.

Influencer marketing (sometimes referred to as brand partnerships) typically seeds native campaigns with creators who have larger, engaged followings on social media. Because it touches so many different parts of the marketing org, one of the biggest misconceptions companies have around influencer marketing is who gets to own the channel, Barnhorn says.  

“The thing that always gets me fired up is within a marketing team, people think that the social team should own influencer marketing, or that the content team should own influencer marketing,” she says. “But when you think about it, content and social are both channels owned by the brand. They’re operated by someone internally and their goal is to communicate the brand’s messaging and values from the brand’s perspective.”

For an influencer strategy to really work, you’ve got to loosen your grip on the wheel. “This means you have to be okay with partners not saying everything correctly and in your exact words — or even saying something you don’t totally agree with. All of this is an entirely different strategy than a content marketing team, which is used to owning every single detail about what is put out there.”

What sets influencer marketing apart is that you’re taking your message, and you’re portraying it through someone else’s voice. That adds a layer of authenticity to the messaging that a brand can never have. 

The middle-man strategy 

When Barnhorn came into the influencer marketing role at Notion, the field was ripe for experimentation. 

Influencer marketing works best with a bottom-up approach. It can contribute to so many arms within a marketing org. It can repost the content we put out on social, and it ups our SEO because we have so many influencers posting about our content. Anytime someone Googles Notion, they’re going to see four videos from influencers right away. That’s why influencer marketing needs to sit in the middle and that’s what I’ve built out at Notion.” 

Technically speaking, Barnhorn sits on the brand team at Notion, but has carved out a path where she joins growth team meetings as well. “It’s a very, very cross-functional role, and I always try to make sure it doesn’t live in a silo. Influencers are a great way to contribute to an evergreen growth strategy. They are always driving new users to the product,” she says. 

Never write off any social media platform

While the traditional influencer marketing playbook that Barnhorn ran several times over at Curology was based on partnerships with video creators, influencer marketing can work for nearly every social media platform. It sometimes just takes a bit of faith and a desire to experiment.

For instance, one of the highest-converting campaigns that Barnhorn ever ran came from an unexpected place. When researching influencers to partner with who could promote Notion AI’s  launch, Barnhorn never would have guessed that a career advice newsletter would be their most successful campaign. 

“The playbook was to find startup leaders who had very successful newsletters that other founders were following,” she says. “After digging into the analytics, I saw that one called ‘Career Supplements’ was performing exceptionally well. It ended up becoming our best-performing influencer campaign for AI, which blew me away. All I did was ask to include an explainer section of a post on how to use Notion AI, complete with GIFs. And that one newsletter converted better than any of the 150 influencer partnerships I worked to build in that particular audience.” 

So many brands want to go after tech leaders but automatically write off influencer marketing. The reality is all tech leaders are watching someone’s content, so the job is to go and find out who those creators are and partner with them. 

When selecting the right channels to center your influencer strategy around, here are two tips from Barnhorn:

  • Find new (cheaper) opportunities. “I remember when TikTok was a new channel, it was the cheapest platform of all time because no one was advertising on it. I got the best deals. I felt like a kid in the candy store — I could partner with anyone. Any time there is a new platform where it's a little less familiar to your brand already, that’s the goldmine for conversion.”
  • Look for where your buyers are. “A good place to start, especially in the B2B tech space, is looking to see where people are buying software,” she says. For Notion, it became obvious that an emerging marketplace was Linkedin. “I reached out to about 100 thought leaders on Linkedin and asked them if they used Notion. If they did, great. I’d ask them to talk about how they used the tool and why they think it would be a great fit for other startups. It was a gamble to see if their audience was going to care, but it ended up doing so well and bringing in a high number of conversions.” 
Lexie Barnhorn, Head of Social and Influencer Marketing at Notion

How to run an influencer marketing campaign at scale 

According to Barnhorn, nailing a process that helps you stay organized and save time is key to unlocking influencer marketing as a growth strategy. She lays out all the nitty-gritty details marketing leaders need to know if they want to replicate a successful influencer marketing engine at their company.

Step 1: Identify your persona 

The first signal that your brand is ready for an influencer strategy is when you start to get a bit of customer traction. Maybe you even have a few influencers reaching out to you themselves to work together. Once your team is committed to taking the leap, the first step is to identify exactly which influencers you want to work with. 

“This process doesn’t need to be scientific, it can rely on gut feelings,” says Barnhorn. 

What she finds works well here includes: 

  • Put what you want on a page. “Ask ‘Who do we think is going to perform well for our audience?’ Look at data, past ads that went live, and nail down the age and persona of the audience you want to reach.” 
  • Aim for relevance, not a huge following. Don’t get too obsessed with follower counts here. “A creator in your field with a small, yet engaged audience is always going to be better than someone with a large following in a generalized field.”  
  • Ask for demographic data. “The number one question to ask any influencer before you partner with them is for their audience demographics. Every platform gives you a clear view of who exactly is watching what influencer and can tell you useful statistics like the age range of their audience, what cities they live in, some even go as deep as household income.” 
  • Look for high engagement rates. “Engagement is a very nuanced metric that can mean a lot of different things, but at Notion, we define it as the views a person gets, combined with the likes and comments they receive. I also like to go deeper and look at the qualitative stuff. What are the videos people are commenting on? What are they saying? What are creators saying back? Absorbing this and including it in your engagement metric will show you how loyal a person’s audience is.” 

Step 2: Lay out a CRM 

“If you think about influencer marketing, it’s very similar to a sales process,” Barnhorn says. 

With the lens that influencer marketing can mirror a sales pipeline, Barnhorn strongly suggests using a proper CRM database to track each step of your influencer efforts. Barnhorn uses the CRM Copper, and is a fan of its customizable features and Gmail integration, but says a Notion CRM and Zapier automation can also get you very far. To draw inspiration, here are a few Barnhorn-certified templates: 

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Use this pipeline to track each step of the process, starting with outreach. “Write down what the first email should be. A/B test the subject line to see what people will respond to. Little things like this matter, especially in the early days for a brand where the hardest part is just getting people to respond,” she says. 

After outreach emails go out, and agreements roll in, then comes the trial period. “Influencers have to try the product, the software, or whatever it is you are partnering with them for,” Barnhorn says. “That's why I love the CRM pipeline view. It shows me that I reached out to this person, they responded, and now they are trying the product, so let’s move them over to the next step.”

Step 3: Be prepared to negotiate

Set up a trial period for influencers to play around with the product and once that’s done, draw up a contract.“Negotiating a contract is the part of the process that takes the longest,” Barnhorn warns. 

The process typically involves so much back and forth because influencer marketing is still tricky to pin a set value to, she says. “You can try and tie it back to CPMs  — a commonly used influencer marketing metric for reaching 1,000 impressions — but a lot of the time it's just supply and demand. The influencer may have five brands reaching out and needs to select one that’s going to give them the best rate.” 

Barnhorn’s advice to winning here is to invest the time into figuring out a deal influencers are excited about, but will also benefit the company. If it looks like a deal is starting to materialize, make sure to cover your bases with a bulletproof contract, so no additional time is wasted. 

Here’s a quick checklist of things to look out for: 

  • Do the terms included make sense for the industry? 
  • Are there too many red lines that will slow your team down? 
  • Are there protections for both the brand and the influencer? 

Step 4: Automate anything you can 

When the contracts are signed, the magic can finally happen. The good news about influencer marketing is that the creator owns the production piece (they’re the experts after all), which makes this stage a good time to start zeroing in on the little tasks slowing you down that could be automated. “For every step of the process outlined so far, picture a little card that’s flowing through the motions. Where does that card get slowed down the most?” 

Once you’ve repeated the process a few times, you can start to automate things in your CRM (like moving an influencer from the negotiating stage to the production stage or connecting a UTM link generator to create links influencers can use in their copy).  

“That gives you the time back to focus on nurturing the relationships you are creating,” she says. “You’ll have more time to send them sharper briefs of what you are looking for, or to get on phone calls with them and make sure they feel good about the content they are about to film.”

It’s the processes you can’t put down on paper that end up being the most important to the success of your strategy. But you only get there with the right foundation.

Duplicate on Notion

Step 5: Tie it back to the business 

Whether you are just proving out influencer marketing at your company or you’re working with a big budget, at some point, you are going to have to show off your data. Putting the right data structure in place not only keeps you organized in front of executives but will help inform your own strategy moving forward. 

“My biggest piece of advice here is to make sure you have proper link generators that allow you to use UTMs and tag links specific to each influencer,” she says. “Don’t overlook this.” 

Some of the things that UTM links can track that will directly tie back to your data strategy: 

  • Sign-ups and conversion rates
  • Demographic data: web or mobile? Male or female? NY or SF? 
  • Where in the funnel are people dropping off

Barnhorn personally has a dashboard for all of her influencers broken down by UTM links. “Visualizing each partnership into charts and digestible metrics makes it easier to track performance for yourself, but also to help you advocate for more budget and resources,” she says. She recommends using or to create and track all these different links. 

So when should startups think about influencer marketing? 

According to Barnhorn, there is no such thing as being too early for investing in influencer marketing. “If I started my own company, the first thing I would do is outreach to influencers,” she says. “Even something as minor as sending a gift helps legitimize your brand. It gives your brand credibility in a way a traditional ad can’t.” 

Barnhorn also advises founders to think about influencer marketing through the lens of future customers. “If I’m a customer and I come across your brand, what’s going to sell it is seeing real people talking about it and using the product.” 

When you think about how brands grow in the early days, word of mouth is a huge driver. Influencer marketing is just word of mouth at a much bigger and more controlled scale.


So far, we’ve focused on the very top of the funnel — with the user community and influencers getting the word out about Notion to as many folks as possible. But heaps of users pouring into the product aren’t worth much if they quickly churn. That’s where growth marketing comes in. If the brand’s partnerships and social media campaigns are the creative right side of the brain, Rachel Hepworth’s growth team is the more quantitative left side. 

Hepworth is Notion’s CMO, a position she rose to after first joining the company as Head of Growth and Enterprise Marketing. She has deep expertise to draw on here from her previous marketing leadership roles at Pilot, Slack and LinkedIn.

As Hepworth puts it, she was drawn to Notion’s incredibly unique model. 

“The vast majority of our users are individuals using Notion on their own time, and we don't expect them to pay. But the personal side is what builds the buzz and awareness — millions and millions of people using Notion and talking about the product very vocally lets us play bigger than we otherwise would. The top-of-funnel is millions of people — it's just huge. And that's the benefit of that B2C motion that trickles down into B2B revenue through the land and expand model over time,” she says.

While it may seem like a dream to any other B2B SaaS company, Notion’s enormous top-of-funnel makes the marketing team’s job trickier when it comes to the back half of the GTM motion: How do you capture (and sell) lightning in a bottle? 

When I was at Slack, we had a very similar viral word of mouth engine, but it was more something that the company observed and said, “This is amazing. We hope it continues,” versus at Notion it was like, “This is amazing and we're going to help drive this.” 

In this section, Hepworth pulls from her rich experience as a product-led growth marketing leader to share a detailed overview of how she approached running the growth marketing team at Notion. From lessons on how to wade through a large volume of top-of-funnel users and retain them to techniques growth marketers can use to bring process and order to their organization, anyone who touches go-to-market strategy and lifecycle marketing will benefit from her sage advice. 

Differentiating brand vs. marketing at Notion (and why this matters)

But first, a quick and worthy detour to talk about org structure. In the debate between brand marketing and performance marketing, there are several different takes on how to best set up the marketing org. While it’s quite typical for all of marketing to be housed under one department, that’s not how Notion approaches it. Instead, the community team Lang helped build, Barnhorn’s influencer team and all of the other channels that reach top-of-funnel users don’t actually live within the marketing branch in Notion’s org chart — they’re under a brand org. 

“The brand team is for top-of-funnel awareness building, and the marketing team is much more revenue-focused. Things like product marketing, growth marketing, demand gen, content and even international are all part of the marketing org,” Hepworth says.

The reason behind the division has more to do with the level of control each org needs to wield in order to be effective. “For the brand team, it requires a lighter touch,” she says. “You light a fire under it, give folks the resources they need and the community drives itself. The marketing programs are where we take a little bit more control.” 

That’s not to say there is never overlap between the two. “One example is our affiliate program, which gets a lot of ‘oomph’ from the community members who go out of their way to talk about Notion on their own channels or create templates of their own. While the community and influencer teams are involved in coordinating who gets affiliate links, we manage the compensation and tracking in a much more deliberate way,” says Hepworth. 

As a result, the marketing team at Notion is metrics-obsessed. “A lot of it is figuring out how we understand the value that we’re bringing to the business,” she says. 

Marketing doesn’t just have to be about top-of-funnel. It can also be about making sure the people who are coming to your product and trying it out actually stay. 

“This is one of the big challenges for PLG companies, because it’s very easy to sign up, but it’s not so easy to understand what you’re supposed to be using the product for and how you get value,” she says. 

Hepworth drills into her focused approach on converting and retaining paying customers, and shares a few of her favorite strategies on how to do this, walking through Notion’s entire marketing funnel piece-by-piece to show how it all fits together. 

Pick the right activation metric 

Before starting any kind of marketing campaign, Hepworth likes to level set by taking it back to basics. Whether it’s building up performance marketing, or considering investing in certain programs like affiliates or SEO, she always asks two questions:

  1. What’s the time and dollar investment that we are making there?
  2. What’s the value to the business that’s coming out?

The campaigns that bubble to the top of the list are those most likely to move the needle on Notion’s activation rate. A quick aside here: There are a few different definitions that marketers can use when they talk about activation: 1) People who initially sign-up, 2) people who “activate” into high-quality, engaged users, and 3) a portion of those high-quality users who become paying customers. 

When she talks about activation (and where her growth team concentrates their time), Hepworth is focused on the third group — free users who activate into paying customers. Here’s why: “Gains are easy to make in a PLG company. Let’s say you choose to focus on sign-ups. What inevitably happens is you experiment with something that spikes signups, but then you realize that your rate of users converting to paying customers went down because the quality is lower. So the signups didn't necessarily give you the business impact that you hoped they would."

Rachel Hepworth, CMO at Notion
For a lot of PLG companies, the signup metric can almost be a vanity metric. It's so easy to achieve — just add in your email address. The true company value comes later in the funnel through an activity or upgrade metric.  

When deciding on your own activation definition, Hepworth’s advice is to put down in writing who you’re focusing on and why. This will help hold you and your team accountable and make prioritization more straightforward, while also giving the rest of the org transparency into your day-to-day work. 

“You need to be careful that you're not picking metrics that are easily gamed or changed,” Hepworth says. “For example, a lot of companies have an activation metric and they change the definition of it quite frequently. It doesn't really matter if your activation rate is 70% or 30% in isolation. The question is what does that metric even mean? Because you can create an activation metric that's a pretty low bar and then think, ‘Oh, everybody activates, we have a great business.’” 

Optimize for quick feedback loops

But it’s not just about tracking what percentage of users move through the funnel and convert to paid users. With your strategy off to the races and centered around a sturdy activation metric, you’ll now want to establish a clear timeline for when users are actually activating. 

“The hard thing about PLG is that people can upgrade within a day, a week, or a month,” she says. “Which means you have to wait weeks or months to understand if you’re even attracting customers — or just freemium users who will never convert,” she says.  

So you want to get more granular than just whether folks convert to paid or not — which means taking a magnifying glass to the earlier steps in your marketing funnel. 

You want to find the metric the highest up in the funnel that is reasonably correlated to a free user upgrading to paid. In other words, what’s the earliest indicator possible that a person is likely to become a customer?

To illustrate what these indicators look like in practice, Hepworth divulges a few her team has noticed for Notion: 

  • A new Notion user inviting a second person into the product to collaborate on a doc
  • Editing a doc 
  • Creating a second doc within a day of signing up 
  • Signing up with a professional vs. personal email

“These are all behaviors that we deem valuable because customers who exhibit them are much more likely to convert to a paid subscription,” she says. 

What these leading indicators also have in common is they are quick feedback loops. Speed is of the essence here, Hepworth says. “To me, it’s important that it’s something people hit in a week — or even a day. The speed of that feedback cycle is so important.”

Now, the team has more levers to pull — with a clear strategy behind experimentation. “You don't wanna throw random things at the wall. How can you be disciplined and deliberate about where you invest your time to try new things? Is the volume even high enough to make a difference? What are you going to learn if this fails or succeeds?” she says.

Duplicate on Notion

Not everything can be measured — and that’s okay, too

But despite an appetite for measuring value, Hepworth is also a big believer in applying an equal amount of focus to what you can’t measure. “I feel quite strongly that not everything can be measured. I'd rather be very clear that there isn't a good measurement, instead of just jotting a number down and then people can feel good about hitting it or not, but it’s not actually getting to the heart of what’s important,” she says. 

“Take our content team. It's hard to directly measure the value of a lot of what content does. You end up with the number of blog visits or how many people viewed this piece of content. But this can encourage you to do things that aren't helpful, like spamming people,” she says. “I'd rather not have that as a metric then, because it's going to incentivize people to spend time on things that aren't important. Instead, do we believe it's more important that people understand a certain feature? Should we put together an educational video?” 

Sometimes marketing is just about applying rational thought and saying, “This is how I think this will move the business.” And honestly, sometimes that's enough. You can't measure everything — and sometimes trying to does more harm than good.

Get more granular with segmentation 

On a more tactical level, one practice that helps Hepworth’s growth team keep folks in the boat once they are reeled in is relying on segmentation. For B2B tools especially, Hepworth says it can be helpful to segment your users based on where they sit in an org chart at work. She notes she’s seen this work well at both Notion and Slack. 

“We started to think deeply about the goals that each individual inside a specific work function wants to accomplish and then how we could position Notion as the best product to achieve those goals,” she says. 

Hepworth’s team does this segmentation in two very deliberate ways. 

  • Targeted outreach. “A day-to-day task for a marketer might be to create a launch plan or organize a campaign. A product manager might have to write a PRD and build a roadmap around it. So in terms of outreach, optimizing for those terms and then placing the right template that’s geared toward achieving their work and putting it in front of them is key.” 
  • Customized onboarding. “The challenge with a very broad product like Notion is that it can do a lot of things. It’s hard for people to figure out what to do with it — it's that blank-page problem. The more we can narrow the world of possibilities and proactively suggest how they, as an individual, might get value, the easier it is for them to get started.”

“If you do this kind of targeted segmenting, from the point of acquisition, through your signup flow all the way through onboarding, people are going to activate at a much higher rate than they otherwise would,” Hepworth says. 

Keep the pulse on when to shift focus

Running an effective growth strategy is more than burying your face in analytics dashboards day in and day out. You also want to be sure you are operating a highly efficient team, putting all your top talent to use where they can best come up with business results, and maybe most importantly, being able to pull the plug as to not waste your team’s electricity. 

Hepworth has one distinct philosophy when it comes to measuring the health of her overall organization and it lays in the ability to say no. She shares a personal story from Notion on what this looks like in practice. 

“Notion has always invested a lot in startups. They are a bullseye audience for us,” she says. “They love the product and it works incredibly well for them for various reasons. Naturally, we assembled quite a large team of people who were focused on startups and a lot of their work was duplicative of some other functions. It wasn’t always clear what they were trying to drive other than ‘we want to startups to love us.’”

“While it’s true that we do want startups to love us, we didn’t need this large team of people focused on it. So we had an opportunity to redeploy people and move them into different areas that were really under-resourced. 

The underpinning of the this story is mainly to work smarter and not harder. Scan for areas in the organization where folks seem to be doing duplicative work and ask yourself: If I wasn’t doing this, what is the other thing I could do that might be even better and more impactful? “When you have a clear answer to that, it’s much less painful to stop something you’re working on, partly because what you are moving towards is more exciting,” Hepworth says. 

One simple exercise for growth marketers to try here is jot down your team’s three main objectives. Anything that lands outside of that, should fall on the chopping block. 

“This is an important type of gut check to do,” she says. “As a leader, can you actually articulate what you are saying no to? What the company is saying no to?” says Hepworth.

If planning doesn't feel painful and you aren't eliminating things that you really wish you could do, then you haven't actually made a choice. You’ve instead implicitly said, “We’ll do all the things!” and that's far from optimal.

One final tip from Hepworth here? When you’re hiring for your growth marketing org, keep a close eye out for someone impact-driven — and low ego. “Mainly, you want someone who is not afraid to be wrong,” she says. “You want someone thinking about what’s going to have the most impact, and who doesn’t throw random things at the wall. A great growth marketer is disciplined and deliberate about where they invest their time.” 

If you are hungry for more of Hepworth’s razor-sharp insights from a career working in growth marketing, check our podcast episode with her for more. 


As we’ve heard from the different corners of the marketing org that we’ve dissected here, there is undoubtedly a magic about Notion’s product and the marketing efforts that bring it to life. We also only focused on a fraction of what makes up Notion’s robust marketing org. Social media, design, product marketing and demand gen all have equally fascinating strategies and stories to tell that we hope to dig into soon. 

When it comes to crafting a marketing strategy of your own, all three marketers we spoke to shared different flavors of the same advice: Lean into what makes you unique.

For Notion, that was its outsized community and PLG motion. “The Notion community just dwarfs any other B2B company’s community, even if you combine them all together. It feels like a B2C motion for a company that generates all of its revenue from companies — that combination is really interesting,” says Hepworth. “It wasn’t something that everybody could instantly copy, which made it a much more interesting business strategy.” Finding that differentiator for your business will make marketing more like surfing a wave, rather than fighting against the current upstream. 

It's less interesting to do the things that everybody is doing, although some of that blocking and tackling is important and foundational. But what is unique to your business that gives you advantages — and how do you lean in? Because people can't copy them, they can't deploy them as easily, and it gives you a leg up.