Jennifer Houston
September 10, 2021

B2B Branding IS Rocket Science

Guest: Jennifer Houston - CMO, D-Wave Systems

If you build it, will they come? Not necessarily, especially not if all coverage and conversation about your brand is negative. Case in point—three years ago, D-Wave Systems had a 30 percent negative brand sentiment in the market, and the brand’s team of quantum physicists all turned to marketing to save the day.

In this episode, learn how CMO Jennifer Houston faced challenge head on without dwelling on the negative, developing instead a powerful new brand promise to highlight D-Wave’s practical quantum computing capabilities. Effectively decreasing the brand’s negative sentiment from 30 percent to less than 3, this is a remarkable story about the power of B2B branding—don’t miss it!

What You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • How D-Wave got its negative brand perception from 30% to 3%
  • How Jennifer established D-Wave’s B2B brand story
  • How D-Wave brought its new brand story to life

Renegade Thinkers Unite, Episode 257 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned

Time-Stamped Highlights

  • [0:00] Cold Open: The Renegade Marketers Book!
  • [1:02] Tackling D-Wave’s B2B Brand Perception Problem
  • [7:14] Winning Over Quantum Scientists with Marketing
  • [12:48] Identifying D-Wave’s B2B Brand Story
  • [16:14] D-Wave’s New “Practical Quantum Computing” Brand Story
  • [23:50] How D-Wave Made its Brand Promise Real
  • [27:54] How D-Wave Competes with Mega-Brands
  • [32:34] D-Wave’s Marketing Metrics
  • [36:15] Jennifer’s Lessons for B2B CMOs

Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Jennifer Houston

[0:00] Cold Open: The Renegade Marketers Book!

Drew Neisser: Hey, it’s Drew, and I’ve got some exciting news. My second book, Renegade Marketing: 12 Steps to Building Unbeatable B2B Brands, launches October 5th, and is now available on Amazon for pre-order—hint, hint. And for super fans of this podcast, you’ll be happy to know there’s an audio version recorded by yours truly.

I’m grateful for the many kind reviews. I’m hoping that you all will want to read it and write your own reviews, and that you’ll visit renegademarketing.com for details, for special downloads, and all sorts of other goodies. Now let’s get to the show!

[1:02] Tackling D-Wave’s B2B Brand Perception Problem

“I walked into an environment where our narrative was not our own.” —@JHouston89 @dwavesys Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Thinkers! One challenge that comes up a lot in CMO Huddles is what to do if you, the CMO, are surrounded by rocket scientists or brilliant engineers who are amazingly rational problem solvers who, if they bother to think about marketing let alone branding, dismiss these as trivialities?

As the center of their own universe, they often subscribe to the “If you build it great enough, they will come” theory of business development. And funny enough, this approach often works… until suddenly it doesn’t. And then the call goes out: “Help! We need a CMO.”

One marketer, who found herself amongst a quorum of quantum physicists, is Jen Houston. Joining D-Wave Systems in 2018 as SVP of Marketing, Jen became CMO in 2021 and is here to share how she helped a heavily left-brain leaning company come to understand the power of some right brain thinking. Hello, Jen!

Jennifer Houston: Hi Drew, thanks for having me. It’s great to be here and I loved your intro.

Drew Neisser: Thank you. When we prepped for this interview, I believe that the Washington State fires weren’t too far from you? How is that going out there?

Jennifer Houston: We ended up having to actually evacuate and go back to Seattle. We were evacuated for about two and a half weeks, but the good news is that I’m back in the beautiful town of Mazama.

Drew Neisser: Wow. That must have been pretty scary.

Jennifer Houston: Well, it was. It’s this weird combination of amazingly fascinating—the science, the smoke, the fire, the beauty—and being scared out of your wits. We did have to have a lot of those moments.

Drew Neisser: Just in case there’s any doubt about the impact of a fire in Washington and California—yesterday I was finishing up with recording my new book with an audio engineer who was in Salt Lake City—I’m sorry, I mean in Albuquerque, New Mexico—and his eyes were burning and he could barely breathe from the smoke from California. It’s crazy. It is really crazy how these things are connected.

Jennifer Houston: It is, and you don’t even think about it. You don’t ever imagine that you’re going to get ready to evacuate. We had our bags packed etc., but you still have to leave. When the ranger comes, you leave.

Drew Neisser: Well, it kind of puts marketing challenges in perspective.

Jennifer Houston: It does.

Drew Neisser: But that’s okay, we’re here to talk about marketing challenges. I want to go back because I want to understand: How does an International Relations major with a minor in Spanish from George Washington University end up working in Seattle for a bunch of genius engineers?

Jennifer Houston: It’s a long and circuitous path. I actually tell people that all of those crazy, different experiences I’ve had over my career, could only have uniquely brought me together to find D-Wave and find these quantum engineers. I think, honestly, the one thing I took away from my International Relations degree is: You really have to learn how to speak to the audience. You have to know the different cultural and global differences, and you need to meet people where they are. That’s transferable to the job I do today.

Drew Neisser: Alright, I’ll buy it. I’m a big fan of, look, I’m a history major and I find a way to make that relevant all the time. It’s all good.

Let’s set the stage—what was the brand situation like? And we can start with when you were CMO or if you want to go back to the earlier period that’s fine, too.

Jennifer Houston: When I joined D-Wave three years ago, D-Wave was a company that had amazing—you can imagine—deep technology. We’re building a quantum computer. And the company had been working on that for 20 years. For the last 10 years, very commercialized. But you can imagine that people can get super excited about early tech and get ahead of their skis. And years before there had been a bunch of promises made and no delivery. That’s what I walked into.

Drew Neisser: Uh oh, this was a classic sort of vaporware scenario. As a result of having made this promise early on saying, “It can do amazing things, it’s going to be amazing” and then not being able to deliver, how did you recognize that? Give me a sense of the scale of the problem in terms of reputational damage.

Jennifer Houston: Let me start with, the good news is that I wouldn’t have taken the job if they hadn’t fixed the technology and gotten to the point where it was no longer vaporware. I walked into an organization that had an amazing set of technologies that, because of earlier mistakes, had just never been able to break through. And as good competitors do, the big guys who compete against D-Wave used that as an opportunity.

So back to your question. I walked into an environment where our narrative was not our own. The headwinds… In fact, we did some measurement of what the environment looked like. About 30 percent of all coverage and all conversation about D-Wave included negative sentiment. And there was an internal impact on that as well. These amazing scientists and technologists felt that as if it was a really massive hangover.

Drew Neisser: There are so many things I want to break down there that are really important. First of all, I think there’s a moment for the CMO listener where they’re going, “Oh, my situation isn’t that bad. We only have 5 percent negative comments.” You start in a hole, so you just made a number of people feel really good.

Jennifer Houston: Good. I’m glad I could do that for you today. [Laughter]

Drew Neisser: Yeah, thank you. I’m sure that while they’re working out, they’re working with a little more sense of relief now. “Our reputation is only 5 percent bad!”

[7:14] Winning Over Quantum Scientists with Marketing

“There's a science to mapping influence.” —@JHouston89 @dwavesys Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Let’s talk a little bit about the internal. How did you get to understand that the employees and the engineers were feeling that negativity and that it was impacting any number of things, whether that’s retention or performance or just coming to work?

Jennifer Houston: It was like having a big weight on everyone’s shoulders. First, I mean, I’m a people person. You can just see it in people’s faces right. You hear it in their voices. I had one of our senior scientists pull me aside who had earlier sent a note saying that he would never speak to another marketer again, and I got him in a room and said, “Okay, how can I change your mind?” And he said, “There’s no plan B for me. This is my whole life’s work. You’ve got to help us find that path forward.”

And so, it was listening, it was sitting in conversation, but my favorite story Drew is… I was invited to a scientist “Jen Meet The Scientists” meeting. All these people sitting around and they all introduce themselves and I’m thinking “Oh my God, they’re going to ask me to write an algorithm on the board and I’ll be fired on day three.”

After they had introduced themselves, they leaned in and they said, “We have one question for you.” Okay, here it comes. “What do you do when someone writes something bad about you in a blog?” Then they all lean back. And I thought, “My job here—we’re gonna have a lot of fun.”

So I think you listen, but I also think it is the number one thing to think about when you’re facing those kinds of headwinds.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, and that comment that one of them said “I had never planned to speak to another marketer again.” It doesn’t say a lot, necessarily, about our profession, at least in the eyes of engineers.  But the fact that they were so concerned about their reputation on a blog is so interesting. What was your quick response to that?

Jennifer Houston: I said, “Do you have third parties who will say good things for you?” And they all said, “Uh, what are third parties?” So, we moved very quickly to: “How would we begin to map where influence was, where it traveled, and how bad was the problem really?” And I think that was part of it, was understanding how bad the problem was.

Drew Neisser: And mapping influence is an interesting topic. We’ve talked about influencer marketing, but when you say “mapping influence” be a little more specific. How do you look at that?

Jennifer Houston: Sure. There’s a science to mapping influence. It’s identifying the key—and there’s a lot of fascinating software out there that you can use—the key conversations, who those influencers are, who those brands are that are driving those conversations via association with those concepts, understanding that heat map of sorts, building that heat map. And then literally building programs that move from Point A, when a heat map looks like this, to Point B, when the heat map associates the right words and concepts with your brand versus the other brands.

Drew Neisser: And are you doing all of this work in-house?

Jennifer Houston: I did some of it with an agency.

Drew Neisser: There’s a lot of heavy lifting involved in a process like that.

Jennifer Houston: There’s a lot of heavy lifting. Yeah, I actually did two things. I did the qualitative and then I did the quantitative, and I actually then also dug into the really specific science influencers and did a lot of manual work on understanding where they were influencing, what channels they were using, and who they were influenced by.

Drew Neisser: I think while you can outsource part of this, I think it is incumbent upon the CMO, particularly when we’re trying to get a reputation to recover—this is not something you just turn over because you really need to understand deeply, not only what matters in terms of this influence change, but also what your internal audience, what matters to them? Because there might be some people that they just dismiss. “I don’t care what he thinks. But this one, I do care about and that hurt.”

What’s also interesting to me here is that you kind of identified the quick win. Not that you can change a reputation overnight, but without necessarily—and we’re going to talk about this in the next section about some of the brand promise changes you made—this was more of a tactical thing, right? I mean, you could do this quick.

Jennifer Houston: Exactly.

Drew Neisser: Alright, we’re gonna take a quick break. And then when we come back, we’re going to talk about how you tackle this bigger brand notion, and how you help folks start to understand what it is you all do relative to your big competitors.

Show Break

If you don’t mind, I’d like to plug CMO Huddles for a second. Launched in 2020, CMO Huddles is an invitation-only subscription service that brings together an elite group of CMOs to share, care, and dare each other to greatness. We just reached 75 subscribers. It’s such an exciting time! One CMO described Huddles as “Timely conversations with smart peers in a trusted environment” while another called it “A cross between an expert workshop and a therapy session.” If you’re a B2B CMO that can share and care with the best of them, visit CMOHuddles.com or send me an email to see if you qualify for a guest pass.

[12:48] Identifying D-Wave’s B2B Brand Story

“Let's not start with, ‘How do we compete against the negativity?’ Let's start with, ‘What is our unique value proposition?’” —@JHouston89 @dwavesys Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: We’re back, and we just talked about that quick challenge that you faced, which is not a quick challenge, but the reputational issue. Let’s step back now and say there’s a bigger story that you wanted to tell. Let’s talk about the process that you went through to identify that story.

Jennifer Houston: I always believe that the boogeyman isn’t as bad as you think it is, but you need to understand what it is. That analysis that we did on really understanding where influence lived, understanding who owned what and the market conversation, and understanding how we were perceived as D-Wave in the market was really the starting point.

But then, what do you do with it? Once we established a baseline and everyone said, “Oh yeah, that is what we’re facing.” Some of it wasn’t as bad as we had thought, and some of it was worse than we had thought. We began to ask the question “What is our unique value proposition in the market?” And let’s start there. Let’s not start with, “How do we compete against the negativity?” Let’s start with, “What is our unique value proposition?”

Drew Neisser: It’s interesting because defining that problem that you’re trying to solve is one that marketers often do on their own. But really in this case it’s critical, given the skepticism about marketing, given the pain that these folks… you had to get buy-in even on—I’m imagining you had to get buy-in on the definition of the problem. Is that correct?

Jennifer Houston: That’s absolutely correct, and that’s why that research was so important. Because I was able to go back to the team and say, “These are the problems that we’re really solving, and this is the order. We have 15 problems”—I’m making that up— “We have a large number of problems. These are the three that we’re going to tackle right away.”

Number one is “How do we establish our own brand and our own voice and our own positioning?” because we’re giving it up to the competition. Number two is “How do we get credit for the innovation and the technology that we have built that is real?” And number three is ‘How do we continue to build our business as we are addressing points one and two?’”

And that was what we went and did. I kept it very focused and, yes, every year there’s a whole new set of challenges. We’ll talk a little bit more about how we’ve continued to evolve the business, but I think focus and getting buy-in so people know what we’re working on together really was a key.

Drew Neisser: I love the simplicity. Of course, that’s sort of Chapter One of my new book Clear Away the Clutter. We’ve got to get everybody focused on a very, very small set of goals that are actually achievable. So you had three: Own your own brand—own your story that you wanted to tell. Get credit for what you wanted to do. And then sort of build out, I sort of missed that…

Jennifer Houston: Use one and two to begin to establish a real business around quantum. I think that’s the other part of the story that we haven’t talked about, is that there are lots of different types of quantum computers out there and some are 20 years away. D-Wave’s is here now, so there’s a business to be built.

If we had just wallowed with researchers for the next 20 years that would have been a different set of problems. But we have an enterprise, we have a B2B opportunity here, and if you don’t solve for one and two you won’t get to three. But you better have three on your list.

[16:14] D-Wave’s New “Practical Quantum Computing” Brand Story

“If you look up the word ‘practical,’ the definition says: ‘Of or by something that is actually delivered.’ Actually real.” —@JHouston89 @dwavesys Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: One was to own the brand. What was the story, what did you end up with?

Jennifer Houston: What I did is in typical obsessive CMO manner, I started just reading everything, interviewing people, talking to customers, attending customer events, and started creating… Because listen, when you’re in deep tech, you can’t—I am not a quantum physicist. I will never understand how all these things work, but what I could do is I could take the data and the information that existed around the company, and I could assess that and turn it into a landscape.

After we did that, I had some extra help outside, but it was mainly me—at this time, it was me and one other marketer—building this model. And then I looked at what our unique value proposition was. No one had ever written anything of this down and we realized really quickly that real people were building real applications on our quantum computer. And we were the only ones that you could do that with.

So, I was like, “Okay, well people don’t really like to talk about spending money on things that are 20 years away.” They’d rather be able to see real… and what we found is that our customers were so excited to talk about it. That quickly drove—our customers’ view of us drove what that brand promise ended up eventually being.

Drew Neisser: Interesting and so important, because obviously, if you go out to market with a story that the customer doesn’t embrace, there’s a massive disconnect. And you can’t prove it, so you can try to lead the customer but it’s really hard. If this is not only coming from customers, but also in service of them, which is an ideal scenario, because it sounds like you’re about to make them the hero of the story.

Jennifer Houston: Absolutely, and in fact, what we ended up coming up with was this wonderful oxymoron: “Practical Quantum Computing.” Now, the two don’t seem to have anything to do with each other, how can you be practical and be using quantum mechanical effects in computation? Turns out that what that means and our brand promise is, is that we are always going to be delivering things that are usable and for the person on the other side.

So, if you’re a data scientist or you’re a CTO or you’re a CMO and your business problem is that you need to make sure that your offers are optimized around the globe, let’s speak to you on those terms. Let’s not talk to you about the way the quantum system works.

Drew Neisser: I personally love the simplicity of the three words “Practical Quantum Computing” and I, based on my conversations with you, understand the oxymoronic nature of it because there is so much hype and so little real… I wonder how the engineers and the physicists initially responded to this language and how you got them to warm up to it?

Jennifer Houston: The first thing I heard was, “Well, the word ‘practical’ is really sort of boring, isn’t it?” And I said, “Yeah, but it shows that we deliver.” If you look up the word “practical,” the definition of the word “practical,” it says: “Of or by something that is actually delivered.” Actually real.

And I was like, “You’re facing this old narrative where people don’t think you’re real. Let’s be real.” I had to debate and debate and debate, and test and debate, and ultimately, “Practical Quantum Computing” won.

Drew Neisser: One of the things that I talk about in the book, when you’re looking for what we call a purpose-driven story statement is… You have to understand where your brand is in the marketplace and if D-Wave Systems isn’t really known beyond much, having the language “quantum computing” in your purpose-driven, first of all, helps drive the category.

And then there’s that qualifier, right? What’s the qualifier? And you could have done “Forward thinking, cutting edge,” you could have done a cliche of “brilliant.” You could have added any number of modifiers to it, but in some ways by understating it, in some ways, you really went after the industry and punched them in the face.

Jennifer Houston: Yeah and, in fact, the concept of practical quantum computing is being consumed by others. I hear people talking all the time about the need for practical quantum computing and it just makes me grin.

Drew Neisser: Let’s talk about that in terms of—I think you mentioned that it’s Google and IBM or…

Jennifer Houston: IBM, Google, Microsoft. You know, the little guys. You may have not heard of those people before.

Drew Neisser: So, in theory, if I hear “practical,” if I’m understanding it, you’re essentially saying that the marketplace is impractical?

Jennifer Houston: Mhm! A little bit of extra hype out there.

Drew Neisser: A little bit of extra hype.

Jennifer Houston: And what’s really important is that when you live your brand, then everything you do has to avoid the hype. Every time we make a product announcement, the product is there and ready and live. Every time we talk about roadmaps, we have examples of things so that they can start seeing why it’s going to be real. Every time I have a spokesperson out there talking about the company, it is things that you can show via science or show via other evidence points. We are hardcore about it. And frankly, for a Canadian company, every person there is the most practical person. It’s just a bunch of practical Canadians, it’s fabulous!

Drew Neisser: I forgot that you were Canadian owned, of course you’re practical.

Jennifer Houston: I’m not, but I repped my Canadian colleagues.

Drew Neisser: Yes, if ever there was a practical people, it would be Canadians. So yes, it even speaks to your roots. You know, it’s funny, I have to tell a story but I’m not going to name the three-letter brand that I’m thinking of.

There was a moment where we were actually working on a launch of theirs for a software system many years ago, and they basically took four different products, put them together, renamed it, and called it this amazing thing… but it wasn’t integrated yet. But they launched it like it was real, and they actually somehow or other had a customer that was real too, which I always marveled at. How do you have something that isn’t really real, but you have a customer that can already talk about the benefit? So, being practical is really unusual in this space, isn’t it?

Jennifer Houston: In technology. I mean very broadly. Take quantum off the table. I’ve spent the last 15 years of my career in technology and it’s really refreshing to be able to work in a technology space that you’re delivering upon what you say you’re building. I tell people that I have the best job in the world and that’s one of the reasons.

Drew Neisser: I would have to say that, in a lot of categories where a lot of brands are delivering, that would not be enough. But in your case, in a category where it’s primarily hype and promise and forward thinking and “20 years from now, quantum mechanics and quantum physics are going to put every person on Mars.” That kind of thing, right? Because when you just hear the word “quantum” it’s like “Oh, we’re 30 years ahead of ourselves already!”

[23:50] How D-Wave Made its Brand Promise Real

“Don't underestimate the power of truth.” —@JHouston89 @dwavesys Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Talk a little bit about how you made that promise real. I know you talked about it from a language choice, but other ways to make that promise real.

Jennifer Houston: Product marketing, product management, product delivery… I spend an inordinate and positive amount of time—in fact, later this afternoon I’ll spend three hours with one of the teams—understanding as much as possible the products, the timelines, what the value and benefits will be. And I bring customer feedback back to that group regularly: “These are the kinds of things people are looking for. What can we do?”

Part of it really is that intersection between marketing and product and ensuring that that’s a real tight fit. And so then, when we do deliver things to the market, there are things that people have asked for, they’re relevant, and they’re ready.

The second thing that I think is super important is how you show up each individual. Are we overpromising? Never. We always are super careful about saying, “We can’t do that.” The big conversation around quantum is cybersecurity. Nobody can do quantum, we’re not going to be breaking Shor’s algorithm anytime soon, probably 20 years from now. So don’t tell people that that’s why they should buy quantum—fear factor.

A small anecdote—we were doing a special event with some very senior quantum people in enterprises and one of the guys said, “I’m here today to understand how worried I should be about cybersecurity and the role of quantum.” And by the time he left, he was like “You’re the first people who have told me the truth.” Don’t underestimate the power of truth.

Drew Neisser: Amazing, the power of truth.

I want to go back to one thing—does product marketing report to you?

Jennifer Houston: Yes.

Drew Neisser: Okay, that’s really helpful. And then two, how does that voice of customer feedback get synthesized? There’s the famous story where, I think it was Dell, asked the customers what they wanted, they all said that they wanted a Linux laptop and then nobody bought it. How do you make sure…?

Jennifer Houston: Exactly. How do we navigate that?

Drew Neisser: Yeah.

Jennifer Houston: There’s a great term in technology, “bright shiny objects.” I think you always have to deliver the bright shiny object that is different from what the customer thought that they wanted or needed. We’re always on that path and that keeps us innovative.

But I also think that sometimes it’s the most simple. It’s not about, “How do we build a whole new quantum computer?” That’s not the problem we’re solving for. How do we make sure that there aren’t five ninjas in the world who know how to use this baby? We need to make sure that millions and millions of people who aren’t physicists learn how to use this. And so we’re constantly asking questions to the customer about those things. They are behavioral questions. They’re less “Do you want a Linux laptop?” I think that’s the difference.

Drew Neisser: Got it, behavioral questions. Alright, we’re gonna take a quick break and then I want to come back and talk a little bit about the David versus Goliath scenario that you’re facing and how you’re dealing with that.

Show Break

Have you thought about doing some market research but didn’t have the manpower or expertise on your team to make sure your research was methodologically valid, insight rich, and newsworthy? Research that can be a tentpole for an entire quarter’s worth of marketing activities? Research that your SDRs can use to help move a lead into a genuine opportunity?

It’s a lot to ask for market research, which is why more and more B2B marketers are coming to Renegade for help in this area. Renegade will help you craft the questionnaire, field the research, analyze the results, and even write up and design the report if your in-house team is too busy. If you’re a B2B CMO even thinking about market research, do yourself a favor and visit renegade.com and set up a time for us to chat.

[27:54] How D-Wave Competes with Mega-Brands

“I spend a ton of time getting great press and getting great storytelling and getting brands in front of analysts so that I open doors for my customers. That's the key.” —@JHouston89 @dwavesys Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: We’re back. So, you’re competing with Google and IBM and Microsoft. Let’s just say that’s kind of fun and some might be intimidated. This is in the land of, you are just a speck of dust in their giant universe.

Jennifer Houston: Let me first say I’ve had the luxury of working with and competing against all of them in other parts of my life. You asked me the question, “How does one get from International Relations to here?” All these years in between, I’ve been learning the technology industry, either competing with or working with these major brands. That’s, I think, really a luxury.

But that means I know their playbooks. And so, you know that when you’re the little guy or little gal, you never use the same playbook. You have creativity, you have nimbleness, and the ability to make decisions that don’t have to go through a hierarchy. Those are the things that I use every single day. And if you go back to that brand promise, the combination of that “Practical Quantum Computing” being our light that we follow, and the ability to move super quickly and to do things that would never make it through those hierarchies… We just have so much fun.

Drew Neisser: I, having worked on some really big brands with three letters, I can tell you that moving fast is not a strength. So, speed, agility, creativity. But let’s get specific. What kinds of things have you done?

Jennifer Houston: Absolutely. When we go back to “Practical Quantum Computing” that means for us that there are applications that are being built today where people are using the quantum computer. You asked a question earlier about not just customer-informed but customer-led… All of our storytelling starts, begins, and ends with customers. It’s not the D-Wave story; it’s the customer story.

A very specific example is Volkswagen is a great customer of D-Wave’s, and Volkswagen early on started looking at traffic optimization before the system could do much. But they started looking at, “In China, how could you optimize the taxis in Beijing?” The answer was yes, but you couldn’t do 3,000 taxis, you could look at 150 taxis.

Fast forward… That relationship continues today, and 18 months ago in Lisbon they took buses and they quantum enabled buses at a big show, and the drivers who were very skeptical said, “I’ve been doing this for 30 years and my route was better than I could have ever imagined.” So you build long term relationships with customers and those are the stories that make these crazy things like quantum computing real. And I think that is a way that we get to compete that nobody else—they just don’t have that cadre of deep customer voices.

Drew Neisser: You would think that IBM and Google could chart out their customer stories, too…

Jennifer Houston: If they had any customers.

Drew Neisser: Oh yeah that practical thing again! Oh gosh. One of the things that—and again, I’m thinking of the CMO who’s getting to the end of their workout as they listen to this and they’re saying, “Yeah, I’d love to feature my customers but they don’t want to talk. They don’t want to share it. They see it as competitive advantage or they’re shy or they have a policy that they can’t do these things…” How do you get them?

Jennifer Houston: I’ve faced this, obviously, just like you, the CMO listener. We all face this. I always think about what’s the value proposition to either that human being that I’m talking with or the organization. In this case, the beauty of quantum computing is there’s a lovely halo to attach to your organization.

But there are other brands who really want to be leading edge, especially in this incredibly disruptive, pandemic time when people are sort of thinking that people are moving back from innovation. These brands are leaning towards. I think understanding what that person who you’re sitting and talking to, what their next promotion will be, and how you help them by telling their story in a way that’s safe for them, help them get that next promotion? How do you help that brand get that next space?

I spend a ton of time getting great press and getting great storytelling and getting brands in front of analysts so that I open doors for my customers. That’s the key.

[32:34] D-Wave’s Marketing Metrics

“I consider this to be this continuum of metrics, all of which, if you imagine a layer cake, all of which run together to get to the place where we are now.” —@JHouston89 @dwavesys Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Let’s talk about metrics. Share what metrics were the ones that mattered to you and share pre-, post-where we are right now and where we need to go.

Jennifer Houston: When I started the number one metric was perception and negative sentiment. We established a baseline—I talked about understanding the landscape—we established a heat map, and then we began to track that monthly. What’s changing? What words are associated with our brand? Are we increasing the negative concepts? Are we decreasing the negative concepts? That 30 percent number that we stood in fear with early, we’re down to less than 3 percent. So, in three years we’ve been able to go from 30 percent to 3 percent.

Now, are there still moments where there’s negative sentiment? Of course. And we continue to work on that. But I think that’s really been… I spend a lot of time sifting through the data and not just looking at the hard numbers but looking at the soft, like, “What is the sentiment that has been associated with us?” And looking at our competitors as well, because you want to understand which beachhead you have a chance to potentially pull through for yourself.

Drew Neisser: And how is that sentiment translated into leads, into sales, into pipeline, all those good things?

Jennifer Houston: I talk about my lifecycle here at D-Wave as a three-year journey. Year One was the establishment of our own positioning, our own brand, and taking head on these perceptions. Year Two was really about understanding, remember, we’re creating a market. Quantum computing is a nascent market that is being created right now. I spent Year Two really thinking about who is the potential target, who is the potential buyer, and what does product market fit look like?

We began to move from sentiment evaluation to message pickup or ad metrics and channel metrics like what content is resonating on which channels with which audiences. That was really Year Two. It was a bunch of—we were talking about this the other day in a Huddle—a bunch of trial and error and doing small things so that you didn’t fail miserably in large ways.

And then Year Three, which is where we’re in now, is really about pipeline. How do the volume of people who are now willing to talk to D-Wave show up to one of our special, hand-knit events and then turn into pipeline? I consider this to be this continuum of metrics, all of which, if you imagine a layer cake, all of which run together to get to the place where we are now.

Drew Neisser: Right and so now you can finally say, “Hey, we got pipeline and marketing’s contributing!”

Jennifer Houston: Exactly. And quite well! Yay!

Drew Neisser: And what’s interesting here is, a lot of CMOs don’t get three years.

Jennifer Houston: I’m lucky. I’m really lucky.

Drew Neisser: I think that’s the advantage of taking a brand in that negative space—there is an “Oh my gosh, we’ve got some recovery to do before. We’ve got to deal with this before we can start to think about that.” And I think a lot of folks forget that. Is that you can’t just leapfrog from negative sentiment to positive sentiment to leads without building a foundation.

[36:15] Jennifer’s Lessons for B2B CMOs

“It's good to have negative things that you're dealing with because it gives purpose to both why marketing exists, but also why the company together are going to solve problems.” —@JHouston89 @dwavesys Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: As we look back at these last three years, what would you say to an audience of CMOs are the biggest lessons that you learned as CMO?

Jennifer Houston: Care deeply about what those rational, deep thinkers care about. Understand your internal audiences as much as you understand your customers. I think the biggest mistake a CMO makes is thinking that their only job is external.

I think a key job is—and a key role of our jobs of making ourselves valuable within the halls of the companies we work for—is the understanding deeply about the motivations of the people who sit and do those jobs way outside of our space. I am so bought into that because, if I hadn’t been, I would have been gone. Because this was a science organization that didn’t believe in marketing.

Drew Neisser: Right, so all the more important. And if you just were wondering folks, in my book, step seven? “Engage Employees First.” Just saying that that’s out there. Okay, that was one. Is there another one that you want to share?

Jennifer Houston: Sure. I think the other one is, it’s good to be the underdog. It’s good to have negative things that you’re dealing with because it gives purpose to both why marketing exists, but also why the company together are going to solve problems. Instead of looking at them as woe is me and wringing our hands, let’s embrace the problems, let’s be loud from the mountaintops about the things we’re solving for, and let’s go do it together.

And that “together” thing, really puts all the right solutions… We just recently redid our website and I made sure that the entire company were bug testers before we went live. It’s the way that we work. We’re a science organization, so I’d say to find the deep dark things, don’t hide them, surface them, and make it our problem to solve for.

Drew Neisser: Make it our problem. I love it. Jen, thank you so much for being on the show and sharing your journey. I’m excited for the next three years and where you take it from here.

Jennifer Houston: Thank you.

Drew Neisser: For all the listeners, if you enjoyed this and you got some good value out of it, do us a favor and visit your favorite podcast channel player and give us a five-star review or share it with a friend. Because sharing is caring. Renegade Marketers… Jen, thank you, again.

Show Credits

Renegade Thinkers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Hey, that’s me! Audio production is by Sam Beck. Show notes are written by Melissa Caffrey. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and the intro voiceover is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, or learn more about the savviest B2B marketing boutique in New York City, visit renegade.com. I’m your host Drew Neisser, and until next time keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.

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