How we do new marketing things at dbt Labs

Janessa Lantz
3 min readApr 27, 2021


dbt Labs is an extremely community-oriented brand, and this means we end up doing marketing in some fundamentally different ways. One of the biggest differences is in how we do new things.

We began planning the first dbt user conference late in 2019. At the time I was still marketer #1 and I had an ambitious plan that I was reviewing with our CEO — “We’ll get 1000 attendees!” — something like that, though I don’t recall the exact number. His response: “Let’s aim for much less and just focus on creating something that 300 folks in the dbt community absolutely love.”


This felt so awkward to me at the time. I liked having a big number to shoot for and rally people around! It felt certain. Like proof of my value.

As it turned out, we cancelled the in-person event. We hosted Coalesce 2020 online in December of 2020. We set a goal of 2k registrants and 1k attendees and ended up with 5k registrants and 3k attendees, but far more importantly, people absolutely loved it. Our NPS was something ridiculous like 80+.

The focus on creating something people love shifted our attention from promotion to the actual event experience. Overall, we actually did a pretty bad job of promoting the event. We sent only one email about the event to our database. We were slow on getting promo materials to our speakers. And our promotions were scattered and inconsistent until maybe a month before the event. But less time focusing on promotion freed us to work out the details on things like…

  • the chat experience (which all took place in the dbt Community Slack)
  • the content (offering an unusually high amount of feedback and support to speakers)
  • getting our internal team excited and involved in the event
  • how we wanted the event to feel (ended up doing no pre-recorded talks and opting for the potential mishaps but more “real” vibe of doing it live)

As we plan for this year, we are beginning to fully feel the benefits of that early focus on love. It’s so much easier to scale something that has good underlying mechanics.

This approach has become central to how the marketing team thinks about doing anything for the first time. If we create a podcast, the measure of early success isn’t downloads, it’s a few raving emails. If we run a lead-gen campaign, the measure of early success isn’t new leads, it’s hearing that the content sparked internal discussions as it was passed around a company’s Slack. If we start a video series, we want to increase the number of “thank you for doing this!” messages before we try and grow view count.

One of our company values is: Users are our best advocates. I used to think that was a statement about our product, dbt. Today, I see that value as applying to literally every aspect of the company, including marketing.

Marketers know all kinds of tricks to game the numbers, but optimization can only get you to the local maximum. Creating something that people love grows your global maximum.