The True Art of Bold B2B Branding as a Challenger Brand
If you’re a fan of renegade thinking, then you’ll probably be a fan of David Thompson, CMO of Freshworks, and serial bold marketer. His marketing has historically been fairly subversive—think responding to competitions’ hiring of Cindy Crawford with a RuPaul-led Superbowl commercial (in the early aughts). Or hiring a blimp with “#failsforce” written on it to circle Salesforce Tower, the tallest building in San Francisco, and home of Freshworks competitor Salesforce.
When asked about being afraid of backlash to his marketing, Thompson responded that, if you aren’t a little afraid of your marketing, it’s probably not worth putting out into the world. He likes to partially gauge this by seeing how his CEO reacts to the pitch—if the CEO immediately mentions that the board will need to take a look, you’re on the right track. Learn more about bold, tactical marketing, rapid rebrands, bartending for Meryl Streep before a performance (her go-to before performing is whiskey), and more on this episode of Renegade Thinkers Unite.
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Full Transcription: Drew Neisser in conversation with David Thompson
Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Thinkers. Let’s say your competitor is 100 times your size and they dominate the category. Do you quietly chip away by finding your niche and staying under the radar? Or do you take a big shot? Well, this is a David vs. Goliath story so, of course, we’ll be talking about slinging a rock of sorts. Now, Goliath in this case is Salesforce with over $10 billion in sales and I just checked, a current market cap of about $130 billion.
Now, David, well, that’s the company called Freshworks, which tops $100 million in revenue in 2018. And that’s not exactly tiny, but it is 100 hundred times smaller than our Goliath, Salesforce. Now, the field of battle, you might ask?
Well, perhaps you’ve heard of Dreamforce. You’ve probably been there. It’s a San Francisco based conference that attracts over 170,000 attendees, which some say would be a $5 billion brand all on its own. Anyway, you’re at Dreamforce, you’ve attended this event, you happen to be in San Francisco. You look up into the sky. Is that a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a blimp. And it’s not the usual Goodyear or MetLife banner. No, this one slings out #salesfail.
David Thompson: Failsforce.
Drew Neisser: Oh! I screwed up. #Failsforce. Which is—okay, Failsforce, not Salesforce. Huh. Now, it’s not exactly a giant killer, but it did generate a killer amount of PR. And would you believe there’s actually a David behind this campaign? Yes. Today’s guest is David Thompson, CMO of Freshworks. David, welcome to the show.
David Thompson: Drew, it’s great to be here. Thanks for that intro.
Drew Neisser: And thank you for the correction because as I was drafting this little intro this morning, I went, “I hope I have that hashtag right.”
Before we get to this, because it is a really good example of guerilla marketing and I love talking about this, but you have a long history of what we’d call, on this show, Renegade Thinking. Whether it’s an over the top Super Bowl ad featuring Ru Paul for WebEx or establishing a new category for Domo—which I think took a shot at Tableau in the process. Anyway, have you ever been afraid that one of these efforts would blow up in your face?
David Thompson: Oh, totally. And if I weren’t afraid, then there would be something wrong with the idea.
Drew Neisser: Love that. And now, it’s true. There’s no way, if you’re really going bold, and we tell this to our clients all the time, “If you’re not a little bit afraid, then we just we didn’t bring a big enough idea.”
David Thompson: You know how I acid test that, Drew? The way I acid test that is if the CEO doesn’t first react like, “Wow. But oh, my board.” If they don’t take it to the board, it’s not good enough.
Drew Neisser: Right. Right. If they don’t because they’re so worried. Now, what’s funny is—one of my favorite stories—I think it was the CEO of Aflac the night before they launched the Aflac duck campaign. He decided not to tell the board and just figured, you know what, we’re going to run this thing and I will either be fired or a hero probably by tomorrow.
David Thompson: That’s gutsy.
Drew Neisser: Yeah. And what’s amazing about that story is that at the time—people don’t remember this, but Aflac and Colonial Life were exactly the same size. Ten years later, Aflac was double. It had like 40% share, versus 20%. I mean, they had doubled Colonial Life. Sometimes, taking a big risk definitely pays out, but I’m curious—as someone, and again, your PR folks shared like five different examples, this feels like taking big chances are part of your personal brand. I mean, this is just sort of a mentality you bring to the role.
David Thompson: Yeah. Yeah. It really is. I think there’s nothing I’m more terrified of, Drew, than being bored and there’s nothing more boring in most cases than B2B marketing, so I just can’t stand most of it. I have this kind of theatrical consumer approach to things. I was a theater major in college, for heaven’s sake.
I just look at everything through that eye of what story are you telling, what’s the conflict, and how fun is it and how much does it stand out? If it doesn’t stand out, it’s just not worth doing.
Drew Neisser: Right. Well, you mentioned theater in college. I mean, you were at Yale. There must have been some famous actors that came up with you.
David Thompson: Oh, gosh. You know, I was a bartender at the Yale Repertory Theater and got to hang out with James Earl Jones and Meryl Streep and Diane Wiest.
Drew Neisser: Yes, there you go. I was thinking Meryl Streep spent a lot of time there.
David Thompson: Oh, yeah. Yeah. She likes a good whiskey before she goes onstage.
Drew Neisser: Well, there you go. The secret to all of this is a good whiskey or a good gin. All right. I mentioned that you had a bunch of past experiences. Maybe you could elaborate one you look back and you go, “Okay, that was a huge chance, but there was a huge payout and I’m really proud of taking that risk.”
David Thompson: Gosh. Well, the thing I’m probably most famous for is the RuPaul campaign because at the time that was just incredibly edgy and incredibly kind of socially unacceptable in some ways. You know, it generated a lot of hate mail and also generated a 10x growth in our revenues in the year that we ran that campaign and also took the company public at the same time that was happening.
My favorite thing to say about our financials at WebEx is, we went public on two and a half million on trailing revenues. Massive losses. But then in that one year that we went public and with the RuPaul campaign behind us, which, by the way, was called “meetings used to be a real drag.” Ha ha ha. We took our revenues from 2.5 to 25 million. And that 10x growth at the time, even though it was the law of small numbers, was extremely exciting to the market, caused a lot of excitement in the market, and certainly excitement among our shareholders.
Drew Neisser: What’s interesting to me is, it’s funny because looking back now, WebEx was a challenger brand and acted like it. I don’t see that now.
David Thompson: WebEx is IBM now. WebEx has become the safe choice as opposed to Zoom.
Drew Neisser: Right. Speaking of Zoom, we’re using that to record the show, I had Janine Pelosi on the show.
David Thompson: And by the way, the Zoom guys are all WebEx people who left Cisco.
Drew Neisser: There you go. It’s so interesting. So, okay, that must have taken some big courage. But at the moment, here’s the interesting part, it was $2.5 billion. You really needed to take a risk to get noticed.
David Thompson: Absolutely. I mean you have to just rewind to 1999. It was the craziest of crazy time of the .com bubble and advertising: you had the sock puppet and you had other brands shooting gerbils out of a cannon and you had another brand with Cindy Crawford as their supermodel. Actually, that was the thing that kind of inspired us to say, “Hey, let’s make fun of all this stuff. Let’s hire RuPaul as our supermodel glamazon spokesperson. Let’s kind of make fun of the whole thing.”
The other thing we did—this is kind of the unsung heroism of the campaign—we also changed the name of the company. So the company was called Active Touch, which I always teased the CEO that it sounded kind of like virtual porn or something like that. I was like, “Dude, I hate that name. We have to change that name. It’s horrible.” And he’s like, “Well, what are you going to call it?” I literally woke up in one morning, got in the shower, and I said, “It’s like FedEx on the web. It’s WebEx.”
We changed the name of the company just literally on the spur of the moment so that we could position around web, because web then was like the coin of recent vintage. Anything that had the name coin and it was hot, anything that had web in the name was hot. We changed it to WebEx, we bought the domain for $15,000, and then we hired RuPaul to take it to the moon.
Drew Neisser: When you think about that one, it was a smaller company, so finding a CEO to approve that? A little easier than some of the other later ones. Do you find that you have to make a connection with your CEO? I mean, they have to understand what they’re getting when they get you.
David Thompson: It’s all about the relationship and it’s all about whether the CEO has the guts and the derring-do to go out and really make a splash and really tell a story that pops through the noise, which is obviously an extremely hard thing to do in our media environment today. Renegade marketing is only as good as the renegade mentality of the CEO, for sure. And I’ve been very lucky to work with people who get it, like Subrah Iyar, who is the CEO of WebEx. The reason he and I connected so much is he grew up in Bollywood.
He literally grew up in Mumbai in an apartment building with actors and directors and producers running around all the time, making all kinds of noise and color and song and dance like literally on the stairs of his building, so he got it. He got the fact that making an emotional connection, creating drama, creating conflict, and then resolving that conflict in the story is key to breaking through.
Drew Neisser: Now, one of the things that I can hear some of the B2B folks thinking about in this moment is, “All right. You’re just talking about getting attention.” Those are moment in time things. As you think about these attention-getting things, how do you make sure that there’s more to it than the gorilla and the jockstrap, which is the legendary means of getting attention, right? All you have to do is put it a gorilla in a jockstrap and you can get attention. Easily done. Works every time. But unless you’re selling jockstraps or gorilla suits, it’s probably not going to be very effective. As you think about these sorts of big stunt-like things in the context to B2B, how do you rationalize them strategically or make sure they hold together?
David Thompson: So, Drew, it’s all about the payoff, right? And it’s all about the product. The reason we were so sure of ourselves doing the RuPaul campaign or even doing the #Failsforce campaign, flying it up against the Salesforce Tower, and Dreamforce, was we had great payoff.
In the case of WebEx, even in the RuPaul ad, if you watch the RuPaul ad, she’s actually talking about the benefits of how much more productive you can be using WebEx. I mean, it’s all wrapped up in very high comedy and high camp, but the message is there, and then once you got to the website, it all paid off in terms of a free trial. In the case of #Failsforce, what we did is we worked with Forrester to really find out the deeper meaning. We’re not just doing random acts of marketing guerrilla action against Salesforce, we’re making a real point.
And the real point with #Failsforce—and by the way, the link is still alive at Failsforce.com—there’s actually an S in there, it’s kind of hard to say—we worked with Forrester to survey Salesforce users. As it turns out, Salesforce users are miserable. And not only that but their managers are on the verge of getting rid of it in the smaller and medium-sized businesses. They literally said we’re gonna get rid of this thing. 69% said we’re gonna get rid of this thing within two years.
We were using the campaign to point people at that data, and when you summarize the data in the survey, we actually derived the ground action campaign, which was expensive, frustrating, and complicated: who says you can’t have all three?
Drew Neisser: Well, look, I’ve got a lot more questions about this, but I want to back it up a little bit. Let’s take a quick break, and when we come back, we’ll dive into what you do your first 100 days. Stay with us.
Drew Neisser: We’re back. My guest is David Thompson from Freshworks, and we’ve been talking about outrageous stunt driven—but there’s more to it than that—campaign that is properly called #Failsforce as in, rhymes with Salesforce. I want you to go back to day one when you arrived at this company. What did you do those first 100 days? Do you have a 100-day plan?
David Thompson: By the way, I do a lot of consulting. I’ve done a lot of consulting with companies, so I’ve got this kind of down to a science. But the first 100 days is all about strategy and positioning and getting to the core truth of the story. What is it that’s really driving a company whether it’s Domo, whether it’s WebEx, whether it’s Freshworks? Let’s just take the Freshworks example.
David Thompson: At the core of Freshworks is this incredible ambition that the founder has. But beyond that, the ambitions of India to emerge beyond being perceived as a back-office nation, as a BPO nation, and truly as an innovation nation. Freshworks is an incredibly innovative company that’s really running circles around a lot of its competitors in terms of SaaS software and the way it approaches engineering problems. But it’s quite humble and this is something that I’m always pointing out to my Indian colleagues, like, “Why aren’t you talking about that? Why aren’t you sharing that? Why aren’t you publicizing that?”
They just have this engineering mentality of just digging in and doing great work and then assuming people will notice. That’s my job, to say people will not notice. You have to simplify the story. You have to translate the story. You have to put the story together in a way that people will understand. In the case of this core philosophy of Freshworks, and India, we actually wrote a book called Indian Democratic Design, which brings together the essence of what it means to be innovative in India. You can actually see the book online. It’s demdesign.in. and it tells the story of how the democratic history and culture of India is driving a whole new wave of innovation in terms of making products easier to use, more accessible, simpler, and yet scalable at a cost that’s extremely attractive.
Drew Neisser: There’s a lot there. A lot to—as some of my colleagues will say—unpack. I hate that expression, but I wish I could come up with something. To dive into. How’s that? We need to dive into some of those things.
First of all, I want to stop on the engineering culture thing, because I’ve noticed this a couple of times. Whenever the two founders are engineers, oftentimes a company will enjoy really good growth for a long time just on the strength of the product. But at some point, marketing needs to come in and brand needs to come in.
One of the things that struck me about Freshworks is it’s this sort of amalgam of branded house and house of brands. You’ve got Freshworks as in parent brand. You’ve also got Freshworks as a product. And then you’ve got all these other Fresh brands.
David Thompson: Yes.
Drew Neisser: I’m imagining that’s got to create some complications. Talk about that architecture.
David Thompson: Drew, that’s very astute. What we are in the process of doing, this is actually the evolution of the brand at Freshworks. The company was originally called Freshdesk, which was the name—and is the name—of its flagship product. Freshdesk is a support customer engagement center product. Once the company went multi-product and started building a platform, it changed the name to Freshworks because it would have these multiple names.
It was at that moment that Gi and I—Gi’s the founder and the CEO of Freshworks—realized we really need to shift the mentality from being a house of brands to a branded house. I will say that that’s still very much a work in progress. The reason for that is really interesting, actually. The way Freshworks has been run up to now, up to the first 150 million in ARR has been kind of like an incubator. Each one of these products has its own product pod, which goes to work in complete—almost like the Macintosh project at Apple. It was just off to the side.
Drew Neisser: Skunkworks, right.
David Thompson: It’s a skunkworks garage project, so each one of these products at Freshworks has been born that way, and then it grows up on its own. It proves product-market fit, you know, whether it’s Freshsales in the CRM space or Freshservice and the IT space or Freshchat in the customer engagement space with Freshdesk. Each one has its own market that it’s going after, so what happened from a strategy point of view is we realized that that house of brand strategy and that kind of product pod mentality was limiting our cross-sell.
The brand strategy is now to unify everything behind Freshwords to articulate the value of the Freshworks platform, which is enormous and something that we haven’t really talked about that much. It’s this Windows-level platform that we’ve developed for custom apps and so we’re now taking that to market under the umbrella of Freshworks and the customer for life mission that we’ve given ourselves.
Drew Neisser: It’s interesting. I’m going to just explain explore that a little bit. There are a couple of things going on in my mind as I hear you. You’ve got folks that have gotten to know one of those sub-brands, right? Freshdesk being the primary driver of revenue probably, and then you’ve got these other brands. And so if you were a product manager on Freshdesk or Freshsales, for example, you would say, “Hey, look, I’ve got different targets. I’ve got to get in, I’ve got to market those brands as brands.”
Then if you are a parent company person like yourself, the CMO, you’re thinking, “All right, I can’t afford to splinter my money and my budget and so forth, so I have to have this umbrella brand.” But even as you describe Freshworks to me—Freshworks now is a product brand and a parent brand. You’ve really got some challenges.
David Thompson: Oh, absolutely. Totally.
Drew Neisser: One of the things that we really try to help our clients do is simplify their offering, whether it’s a software product with lots of features or sometimes brands have a tendency to name their features. They have 17 different features within the product, so the customer just goes, “Wait, I just want this. Make it easy.” We push a lot, branded house. In fact, that’s all we do. We don’t do house of brands because it’s too complicated for us. We can’t wrap our formula around it. How are you dealing with this potential dilution of your brand, and then this larger brand?
David Thompson: The way we’re dealing with that at a strategy level, Drew, is to redefine the category. What we’ve landed on there is, if you look at it through a traditional positioning and categorization lens, we have a CRM product. We have an IT product. And we have a chat product. We have products that comfortably fit into existing categories, but what we’re doing is we’re using the unified brand to promote a single category that we’re calling customer engagement. The good news is, from a Gartner point of view, customer engagement exists.
It’s basically defined as the support space if you look at their MQs, but we and others actually, it’s not just Freshworks, we’re trying to grab onto that idea of customer engagement and expand the meaning of it. Actually, if you take it back to the campaign with #Failsforce, what we’re ultimately trying to do with that campaign is, we’re not only trying to say that SaaS as you know it today in the cloud, as you know it today in the enterprise, is failing the user, we’re also trying to say that the category is failing. CRM as a category, as this top-down, c-suite driven initiative inside of a company, is failing because when you design software—as they see in India—when you design software for the king, not for the commoner, guess what? The commoner winds a pretty unhappy and overthrows the king.
That’s the fresh phenomenon of Freshworks where we’re designing the software for the user, and they don’t care about the reports that go to the board. They care about getting their work done more efficiently and engaging with customers more meaningfully. It’s that meaning of what is customer engagement that ultimately drives every business and moves across all of our products. In the process of doing that, it redefines the category.
Drew Neisser: Category redefinition is a tricky area, too. You don’t want to be in your own category because if there are no competitors, it’s not a category, is it?
David Thompson: Yeah. That’s why I think we’re doing some very interesting kind of kabuki moves on the categorization because customer engagement exists, but it exists as it is strictly defined by Gartner. What we’re seeing is, Gartner’s vision is too limited. We need to broaden that meaning. And by the way, to be very respectful and I have absolutely enormous respect for Marc Benioff. Marc Benioff is one of my marketing heroes, not to mention business heroes, but he did the same thing when he launched Salesforce.
CRM actually had nothing to do with SFA when he launched it. He actually grabbed on to CRM and said, “You know what? It’s everything we want it to mean.” What we’re seeing is, Mark, that was great, but that was 20 years ago and now you’ve become the new Oracle of the cloud. And guess what? No one wants Oracle in the cloud. They want something fresh.
Drew Neisser: I can’t wait for the next time I have Salesforce or someone from Oracle on the show, because we’ll just have so much fodder for them. As we think through this part of the thing—so you get there, you see this giant sort of colossus—what was the moment when you decided, all right, we can make this #Failsforce thing actually work?
David Thompson: When the CRM product, the SFA product—to go back to the old meaning of the word—when we realized that our SFA product was really beginning to take down deals against Salesforce, it was ready to go. More importantly, again, we have a platform, we have this common code, these common APIs, and common SDK that unites the products in a very meaningful way, but we just weren’t talking about it.
There was no real sales reason to have the unified brand, but once we realized, “Okay, well, we’ve got more synergy between the sales product and the support product,” it was time to go big with that message and there was no better way to put ourselves on the map than to go after Salesforce. Actually, the name of the campaign was Hit Refresh, and then #Failsforce was the air and ground activation aspect of that campaign.
Drew Neisser: Okay, very cool. We’re going to take a quick break and we’ll be right back.
Drew Neisser: We’re back. And we’ve been talking about this sort of guerilla campaign, but I know there’s a lot more to it and you just mentioned this notion of hit refresh and so forth.
So, you have this blimp, and I’m imagining you’ve already alerted the media because a lot of this kind of thing is about the press coverage that you got. But I think there’s more to it. I imagine you must have had SEO, SEM, articles—lay out the elements for us.
David Thompson: It was a fully integrated multimedia campaign. Outdoor, a lot of outdoor around the Bay Area here, which was a very target rich environment for us, especially among startups and medium-sized businesses, which is our sweet spot.
It was everything. We had outdoor, we had radio, we had digital. It’s that surround ’em mentality. Then we had the big PR lift with #FailsForce. I sent you some samples of the video ads that we did, which were really animated stories about this user frustration that we’d identified in the Forrester research.
Two-thirds of users saying, “I really find it very frustrating and hard to use and I don’t understand why my boss makes me use this stuff.” We wanted to bring that concept to life because it’s actually getting to the point where managers are so frustrated with their users being frustrated that everyone’s frustrated.
Drew Neisser: I want you to know—we’re going to link to the videos that you sent—but I had nightmares about that close-up of the gentlemen, the animated characters, whatever that is called.
David Thompson: The uvula. The wobbling uvula.
Drew Neisser: Yes. It is just a little too close for comfort.
David Thompson: Yeah. It’s very dramatic.
Drew Neisser: It is dramatic. You had some fun with a little reference to the 1984 famous Apple commercial, so you’re just, again, showing your challenger brand thing. As you were looking at this program, what were the key metric goals that you had in mind for it?
David Thompson: Oh, sure. Well, obviously, top of funnel was huge for us. We’re building our brand. We’re building our awareness. We’re very expert in digital marketing. We’re probably one of the best Google advertisers in the world. The thing that we’ve identified is, you know, we’re obviously always trying to get our cost per lead down, and finding the right balance between the investment in the awareness—because as you know, click-through rates on branded terms tend to be three to four times higher and more qualified than they are in generic terms, so we’re trying to shift that balance between branded term clicks and generic clicks.
We’re looking very closely at that. We’re looking very closely at traffic. And of course, at the end of the day, we’re looking at deals. For us, one of the key metrics was getting our participation rate up because when you have low brand name recognition and you’re looking at higher dollar value deals, it’s obviously harder to get in those deals. For us, getting into MQs, you know, we added two MQs to our roster this year, as well as watching these leads that come into the website turn into actual participation in RFPs was a key metric for us.
Drew Neisser: Now, I imagine there was a huge spike. The blimp goes up and you get some PR. Were you able to take advantage of that and sustain it in any way?
David Thompson: Oh, absolutely. The sustaining is the baseline. You measure whether your traffic has achieved a new baseline after the campaign. Now, obviously, as any good marketer will tell you, you need to keep reinvesting in the brand to not only keep that baseline where you want it to be but also to grow it more and that’s what we’ve been doing both in North America and internationally as well.
Drew Neisser: It feels like you would really benefit if there were more Dreamforces.
David Thompson: Well, that is true, but the good news is, regular old branding works. It just works. It’s always amazing to me how running a 6-12 month outdoor campaign with a bunch of radio and a bunch of digital to support it—it’s just amazing how you just start seeing everything light up. You see your website light up, you see the leads light up, and most importantly, in a B2B environment, you see the eyes of the salespeople light up. They’re saying like, “Wow, this customer just told me they saw our ad on the train, and they were so excited.”
Drew Neisser: Right. I love the anecdotal stories. It’s amazing how powerful those are. Do you have an attribution model where you can say, “Oh, well, radio accounts for this and outdoor accounts for that”? I mean, that must be a little hard to distinguish.
David Thompson: Well, as you know, attribution models are notoriously difficult to fine-tune, and especially when you’re spending as much as we do on advertising across the board, being able to tease those sources of leads apart is always a challenge. But we’ve got a very sophisticated data model, we’ve got a very sophisticated team, that really knows how to help us run experiments, controlled experiments that are good at isolating the different elements of a campaign. Working very closely with the media buyer, if you flight things in a controlled way, you can have a better sense of how things are working on a per channel basis.
Drew Neisser: Very cool. Before I wrap this up, I did go to your blog and I saw—I think it was through search—but a wonderfully funny blog post about five reasons why it was Salesforce vs. Freshsales. The reasons and the writing were hilarious, like, “Well, if you’re into the 90s bands, then we totally understand why you want to stay.” I just thought it was hilarious, it was so refreshing. I sort of searched around. I said, “Am I going to find more of that?” and I said, “Well, I’ll be just happy to find that.” But that was, again, that had that tongue in cheek humor that is so missing from B2B marketing.
David Thompson: Absolutely. Yeah. The situation that we’re in right now calls for a very healthy dose of humor because SaaS and cloud have now been around for 20 years and have got a bunch of barnacles and traditional thinking that’s just kind of seeped into the business model and the marketing. it’s time to break all that stuff up. That’s what I think.
Drew Neisser: We’ll be expecting more humor. Now, I did notice on your LinkedIn profile, I got to find these now. Where’s this data? It was pretty impressive. I think it said that during your stay, you had grown revenue by 70%.
David Thompson: At Freshworks.
Drew Neisser: Yeah.
David Thompson: Yeah. We’re on a very aggressive growth path right now at the company.
Drew Neisser: And can you point to a number and say I can attribute 70% of pipeline to marketing?
David Thompson: Oh yeah. Obviously, you have to look at marketing holistically. There’s the branding investment, which is always a little fuzzier than the actual, you know, click through from a Google ad which led to a signup that led to a deal. Being able to relate those is one of the more sophisticated things that our data team is working on and we’re applying a lot of artificial intelligence and ML expertise to that. But we’re getting a much clearer picture of that full effect of the funnel.
Drew Neisser: Let’s see. Oh, right, achieved the highest enterprise growth in the company history which was 60%. That was what it said.
David Thompson: Yep. There you go.
Drew Neisser: Not everything when you do these programs goes exactly as planned. There must have been something in this #Failsforce program that you went that was unexpected or a surprise. Were there any surprises that you encountered along the way on that program?
David Thompson: Well, without divulging too many details, this was an upside surprise. And I have to say, Drew, the #Failsforce campaign and Hit Refresh campaign were an unmitigated success. It just worked exactly as we wanted it to and one of our fears, of course, is, look, we’re doing all of this in good humor. As I said, Marc Benioff is one of my heroes. I wouldn’t call him a mentor since I obviously don’t know him that well, but certainly his ideas have mentored me, so we went into the #Failsforce and Hit Refresh campaign with the mentality of—this is something Marc would have done when he was younger and so he’ll understand it.
What I was most gratified on the upside was, you know, there was all this fear, like, “Oh, they’re gonna get pissed off.” And they didn’t get pissed off. They loved it. Everybody loved it, and the conversations since then have been very warm and funny in and of themselves. It’s a good outcome for everybody.
Drew Neisser: Yeah. I think the last thing they would do, if we were working with them, the last thing you’d want to do is react at all other than—
David Thompson: Welcome to the party.
Drew Neisser: Yeah exactly. You only get attacked if you’re the leader. Have you studied challenger brand? Do you think about that in those characteristics of brand or is this just you and how you approach things?
David Thompson: Well, I have to say that a lot of this is very personally driven. I mean, this is, as I said, as a theater person and as someone who’s very easily bored, I don’t ever stay in any situation that’s boring. If I’m not able to create drama in a productive way that has a big payoff for the brand and the shareholder value, I’m usually onto the next thing.
Drew Neisser: Right. I love that. I used to say that you can never bore anybody into buying your product. It’s just true. I mean, just think about it. I’m curious—I imagine this had quite an impact on employees as well.
David Thompson: Oh, yeah. Oh, my gosh. I mean, people just love it. Their parents ask them about it, their friends ask them about it. It’s great for recruiting. We’ve had a bunch of Salesforce people come work for us since we ran the campaign and that’s awesome, as well as other competitors knocking at our door. You know, people working there saying, “Hey, we want to be part of this.” That’s always one of the ancillary payoffs of these things.
Drew Neisser: Yeah. It’s funny. We think about employees first in this, in a kind of program like this, and any kind of B2B marketing program, because if they’re not on board—and particularly in San Francisco, where the battle is talent, you can’t hit your numbers if you don’t have hire fast enough. Anyway, as we wrap up this show, I have a list of things that I want to share with listeners. But I’m curious if you have two do’s and a don’t for your fellow B2B CMOs.
David Thompson: Oh, two dos and a don’t? Don’t be afraid.
Drew Neisser: But be nervous.
David Thompson: Be nervous. I mean, as in—be afraid, but don’t be afraid. If you’re not doing something that makes you nervous, you’re probably not doing the right thing. But then the other thing I would say is, be substantive. Don’t just do something because it’s funny or sexy. Do it with a substantive payoff that delivers value to the customer.
Drew Neisser: I love that. And I think that’s so important in all of this. It is not just a moment in time. A gorilla in a jockstrap. There was an idea, a strategic idea, and an insight. In fact, you had research to back this up, but you dramatized it and took it to the nth degree. That’s really important here, too. If you want to cut through, you really need to go out on an edge.
Even in a B2B, here’s the thing. In truth, it doesn’t take much in B2B to cut through, just a little bit of edge. You put a blimp next to one of the largest buildings in San Francisco, which is, that’s right in their face.
David Thompson: Right in the face. Exactly.
Drew Neisser: All right. Well, as we wrap the show, definitely, as the listeners know, the CATS traits of being a great, effective marketer: having the courage to take a risk and be unique, number one. Being artful in the execution, and it was interesting to hear David talk about the message and how it was delivered. Thoughtful. If you go to their blog, I think you’ll enjoy some of these blog posts a lot more than you do others. And then we spend a lot of time, actually, despite the fact we spent 75% talking about the idea and how fun it was, there were a lot of metrics. There was a lot of thought to, “Okay, we’ve created this awareness. What are we gonna do with it? How are we going to manage it?” So, we got to the scientific part of CATS.
All right, David, amazing to spend time with you. Thanks so much.
David Thompson: Oh, great to talk to you, Drew. Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.
Drew Neisser: And to all my listeners, again, thank you so much for spending the time with us. I’m so grateful. If you enjoyed this show, besides doing something pretty challenging and outrageous, go ahead and go to iTunes, which is not outrageous, and rate the show. Five stars will be just fine. And until next week, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.