How RSA’s CMO Navigated Stormy Waters
What does leading through a crisis look like? Drew covered the subject in depth in a recent episode, but if you want a real-life example of leadership in action, look no further than Holly Rollo, the CMO and SVP Transformation at RSA Security (and avid sailing enthusiast). In the past few months, Holly has taken the helm, steering her team through the COVID storm from her #WFH office in South Lake Tahoe, California.
Tune in to this week’s episode to hear how Holly has shifted priorities and helped transform the cybersecurity organization for the better: anticipating new security threats, building community through authenticity, and aligning sales teams with digital marketing efforts.
Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Holly Rollo
Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Thinkers! The words of the day are “silver lining.” It’s a term I’ve been hearing a lot lately, so I looked it up, hoping it might somehow be related to my hero, Ben Franklin. But no, John Milton, back in 1634, said something similar about sable clouds having silver linings, and the closest Franklin came was the line: “Out of adversity comes opportunity.”
So yes, this is a time rich with adversity. Many CMOs—and I’m talking to many CMOs right now—are facing budget and staff cuts they’ve never seen before as revenue drops like they’ve never seen before. Yet even these folks—I talked to one CMO who’s stock went from 42 to 2, another CMO who’s full business went to full stop—even these folks are finding silver linings, and it’s inspiring. I outline six of those silver linings that CMOs have been sharing with me. I’m going to list them quickly and then refer you to where you can find the rest.
- Separation has brought us closer as people. Suddenly we’re seeing empathy in leaders that we have never seen before.
- Murky forecasts have increased leadership transparency. Leaders are saying “We don’t know, but here’s what we’re going to do.” It’s an incredible time.
- Cessation—as in certain business activities that have stopped—has encouraged actions and we’re going to end up talking about that because that’s directly relevant to my guest today.
- Disruption has inspired agility. Lots of new products have been launched in an incredibly short period of time.
- Uncertainty has tuned up plans. Almost everybody has thrown their 2020 playbook that they had planned nicely and was all set and approved by the board in December or January out, those are out the window and it’s amazing how quickly folks have regrouped.
- And then the last one is a silver lining that is very tactical. It’s that renegotiating works both ways. When I talk to CMOs, of about 30 that I’ve pulled on this subject, nine out of ten said that their customers had asked to renegotiate contracts. What the savvy ones are doing is saying, “This is an opportunity to finally get that testimonial that I was looking for or get an ROI pilot that they weren’t willing to do before.”
Anyway, as I said, I’m not going into the details of these six here, but I will link to the newsletter from the show notes on renegade.com. We need to get to our amazing guest today, Holly Rollo. Holly is the Chief Marketing Officer, SVP Transformation at RSA Security. On the off chance you don’t know RSA, they have more than 30,000 customers worldwide, including half of the Fortune 500 who rely on RSA to help them manage their digital risk. So, first, Holly, welcome to the show.
Holly Rollo: Thank you so much for having me.
Drew Neisser: Just because we’re all working remotely, where are you?
Holly Rollo: I am actually in our house in South Lake Tahoe.
Drew Neisser: Okay, that’s not a bad place to be. I don’t know if you’ve seen this group, and you may love it. On Facebook, there’s a group “From My Window,” and it’s cool, it’s gone nuts. Have you seen it?
Holly Rollo: I have seen it. I just joined it I think two days ago, actually.
Drew Neisser: Did you share your picture?
Holly Rollo: Not yet.
Drew Neisser: It’s amazing. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s people just taking pictures—and they’re not all palaces—of what’s going on from their window all over the world. Amazing. Brilliant idea. Anyway, let’s start with silver linings since that was where I started this episode. Do you have any personal or professional ones that you can speak to? Things that have happened where you go, “Wow. That’s amazing.”
Holly Rollo: Silver linings. This is a great theme for this podcast, actually, because at least in cybersecurity, I think one silver lining of all of this is there’s a lot of vulnerabilities that are taking place and unfolding right now as the attack surface grows with everybody going remote. If you’re in the cybersecurity business, it’s a great place to be because we’re continuing to solve problems that have come about because of some of the changes that are happening.
The bad news is there are more threats now than there were, but there’s always going to be more threats no matter what as any kind of digital transformation takes shape, and certainly moving to a remote workforce is one of those. But the good news is there are a lot of great companies and technologies to help solve that problem, so I think that’s a silver lining.
Drew Neisser: That’s really interesting. I know that everybody suddenly having to work remotely created a major challenge for your organization. Let’s go back to when you all started to see that this was going to really stress out your customers.
Holly Rollo: I think we started to see a surge for us just in the beginning of March. That’s when I would say it unfolded. Everything was current course through February is what I’m remembering, but the beginning of March, there was just a sudden surge of interest and inbound communication from both customers and non-customers, and our partners, to figure out what people needed to do to function in a lockdown situation.
Drew Neisser: Suddenly, for all these companies that had these wonderful fortress-like security situations at their offices, their workforce is entirely remote. I know that created enormous security challenges. Did you all have to create new products on the fly or new solutions or was it really just taking your technology and applying it in different ways?
Holly Rollo: No, I mean our company’s been a go-to company for authentication for decades. It’s sort of the tried and true solution if you will, so I think just in the speed that everybody was working in terms of setting up the remote workforces, we were lucky enough to be there to help our customers extend their current licenses and contracts in addition to just helping get them more, in some cases, hard tokens. We obviously do soft tokens and other things as well, but I think people were really comfortable with what we had have done over decades and turn to us immediately. So, that’s one thing.
I think the second thing is, we see it in terms of waves. There was this initial wave to just get everybody set up in some kind of safe and secure way. I think the second wave everybody’s in is trying to assess what that means now in terms of how much they’ve opened up their environment to security risks. I’ve seen a change in people’s risk appetite. Things that they once wouldn’t tolerate suddenly they are becoming okay with and I think some of the video conferencing examples are good ones.
Drew Neisser: Yeah, it’s a fascinating period. I think I read today that Zoom hit 300 million from 10 million a month ago. It’s just unimaginable growth, and at the same time, there are push backs from educational folks in some cities or governments saying no, which they’re, of course, trying to address really quickly
Now, when we talked before there were some things that you were seeing, that you felt this whole situation had forced upon you a certain level of agility. You had this initial wave, now as you’re thinking about your business in this new world, what kinds of things have you seen or actions have you guys been taking to sort of go: “Okay, what now? What do we do now?”
Holly Rollo: Well, I think that is the fundamental question. I think everybody on the planet is trying to figure out what’s next. What comes next? How long does it go on? How do I prepare my business? How do I prepare my infrastructure? Will things fundamentally change and to what degree, either in terms of how people work or collaborate, to how people go to concerts and restaurants and do normal things in their life? I think everybody’s asking that question, right?
What we are trying to do for our customers is map out some waves to prepare for. There’s certainly addressing the immediate crisis, getting up and running, getting your employees up and running, making sure that they can work remotely, assessing the vulnerabilities that you’ve now introduced into your environment, and understanding what your risk appetite is going forward, because that may have changed. And then, how does that change your overall risk strategy for your company and risk management?
We’re trying to help our customers take one thing at a time instead of trying to address everything at once because everybody’s functioning in crisis mode. Even in the marketing that I’m getting for myself, personally, it’s overwhelming. Just the barrage of information that’s not useful right now. For our customers, we’re trying to walk them through “worry about this later, worry about this now.” You know, where are you in this and then helping them understand what they need to be focused on.
Drew Neisser: Interesting. Well, we have a bunch of marketers here, and usually, we don’t talk about security much, but I recall that marketing is one of those sources of a lot of security challenges. I’m just curious—since we have some marketers here in this new era, are there any challenges from a security standpoint that marketers should be thinking about right now that they probably weren’t thinking about three months ago?
Holly Rollo: This is a great question and a topic that I am personally so passionate about and I’ve been trying to get the word out in the last, I would say, three years or so. I’ve done seven marketing transformations through business transformation and also have the benefit of working in the security industry. What has happened—and I’ll get to the current situation in a minute—but what has happened over the years is the explosion of technology that marketers can use, and because marketing is underserved traditionally, it’s all delivered via cloud so that we can circumvent IT.
We consume these cloud technologies and what we’re doing actually is building our own infrastructure in the cloud that a lot of IT teams may not necessarily be paying attention to—because once you get through the security audit you’re off to the races. They kind of think of them as tools because we talk about them as tools. We don’t talk about them as this whole other integrated infrastructure.
As you know, all of the bad things happen in the nooks and crannies, and in our case, it’s all the APIs and connectors to all these systems. Because marketing people aren’t necessarily IT people and aren’t necessarily security people, unfortunately, there are ways to leave yourself really vulnerable to security issues and data privacy and governance issues.
In this current situation, it’s no different. It’s just like going through another digital transformation. Whereas maybe companies were redefining a customer experience or changing a core business process or expanding their supply chain to new areas and introducing third party risk, this situation is no different. It’s just a different type of digital transformation if you think about it. We, marketing, need to take a very active role in making sure our organizations understand what risk is associated with adopting some of these technologies.
I mentioned video conferencing, but there are others. It calls out the need for marketing people to really have an understanding of the security threats and the risk of that is being introduced into organizations, both because of the digital regulations and also because of the need to have these technologies integrated into your core systems.
Drew Neisser: If we got really practical—because I hear you, I’m a marketer, I’m thinking about risk and I know philosophically that every time I add to the stack, I’m adding another API. I’m creating a thing. On the other hand, I’ve got all this technology in the cloud, which means my whole team could keep working when we had to go remote, so that was pretty cool.
What is a practical thing that a CMO can really do other than being aware that they’re creating risk and bringing in a CSO or whatever when they integrate these things?
Holly Rollo: Yeah. Well, sometimes the problem is—and I’ll use this recent video conferencing example—if we bring in a CSO, they may not fully understand how we’re using it and what’s happening in a way that exposes the company because they aren’t in the guts of what we’re trying to accomplish.
Understanding the specifics of where the data gets stored, what the potential vulnerabilities are in the actual practical use case is really important to communicate to the security person. In addition, the security teams may say, “Well, that’s not an actual risk, it’s a potential perceived risk,” but in marketing, we live in a world of perception. We manage perception and fundamentally no one even cares about facts anymore, which is disheartening but it’s the truth.
In some cases, and even when we have these recent discussions, we created all of these workarounds and manual processes to actually make the application secure—as secure as they can be, right, because nothing’s fully secure—but by using the application itself because it had had security issues, now you’ve opened up your brand to being affiliated with something that is fundamentally perceived as not being secure.
This is the challenge, I think, especially, of course, if you’re a security company and risk company. That’s part of the challenge, so I think just being really specific with how you’re using information. We’ve seen this in other places. We went through the GDPR wave when we were all getting back to some of these privacy regulations and data governance. We had to get really specific with our security teams on how we were using the data and where the data was going and what we were doing with it. Until we got to that level of detail, they didn’t necessarily fully understand why there was a problem.
This communication between the marketing teams and the IT teams and the security teams is just critical to get to that level of detail and I worry that, because these functions are sort of in silos and the marketing people say, “Oh, well, that’s your problem. It’s IT’s problem or security’s problem to make this thing secure,” and then the security team just runs it through the security assessment. That doesn’t mean that you’ve addressed the real problems and vulnerabilities.
Drew Neisser: What’s interesting to me, as I think about it, what we’re really talking about is massive brand risk. I mean, you spend all this time building up your brand and your reputation and trust, and it can be destroyed overnight by a data breach connected with your brand. Now the good news is the American Consumer Release seems to be very forgiving. I mean, we’ve already forgotten about so many big data breaches.
Holly Rollo: That is true. Yeah.
Drew Neisser: But nonetheless, it’s a brand risk and it needs to be on the CMO’s radar screen. Okay. It’s a great place to take a break. We’ll be right back.
Drew Neisser: Okay, we’re back with Holly Rollo, CMO and SVP Transformation at RSA Security, and we’ve been talking about security. But I want to shift the conversation a little bit because I thought it was really interesting that, in our prep call, you talked about how this was a unique opportunity to build community.
I thought that was enlightened because one of the things that I’ve been emphasizing to CMOs, particularly for the ones whose businesses have stopped, is: this is a moment where, if you had any community, you really need to rally them, and if you don’t, you really need to build one and think about how to do it. You have an opportunity right now to stay engaged and to help these people one way or another. I’m curious about what kinds of things you guys have done in community.
Holly Rollo: Yeah, that’s a great point. The analogy I’ll use is, if you’re doing the stay at home order properly, you’re hunkered down with your family, and what you’re doing is you’re taking some time to get back to basics. You’re maybe playing board games or cooking together. Maybe you’re spending time in a way that you just never found time for or forgot about.
The same is true with our customers. Now is a good time to hunker down and really understand if there’s a desire for you to jump in the trenches with them to help address certain challenges that they’re having in new and creative ways. This is not a time to go on autopilot and just wait until things evaporate and we’re all back to normal because it’s going to be some time. Fundamentally, it’s a time to really galvanize your relationships with your customers and make sure that you’re communicating the best either in terms of what you’re doing to help address the crisis in general as a company—there are lots of big brands doing great things—or helping your customers address new challenges that they may not have had before and creating new digital transformation opportunities to help them.
Now, of course, I’m in B2B, so I know I can’t speak to consumer specifically, but in B2B, I think there are a lot of really fundamental new ideas and even market opportunities being created that you won’t know about if you’re not in the trenches with your customers really understanding what they’re going through. What we’ve done is, we’ve really leaned into our community. We have a pretty strong community. We call it RSA Link. We’ve leaned into that more and it’s been on the back burner to modernize that experience for RSA. It’s certainly something that has been high on the priority list, but in security, a lot of things come and go on the priority list.
Now we’ve elevated that as a core initiative that we’re taking on. Also, because of the business surge that we’ve seen in our identity and threat intelligence and threat detection business, we are finding new ways to link customers to information they can get quickly and easily (vs. having to call and talk to somebody, which they may or may not want to do), new ways to get them information that they need to do more with what they have. This really creates loyalty and an important customer connection.
Drew Neisser: A couple of thoughts on that. One, I was on the phone with a group of CMOs and we were talking about content that they had created. One of the CMOs reflected that they had created a ton of non-salesy content that was just really useful and timely and in the moment, and it was the most effective content that they’d ever created. Immediately the words that came into my head were, “If you want to sell, serve.”
Holly Rollo: Exactly.
Drew Neisser: That is this moment, if ever there was a moment. And I know that we talked a little bit about not being tone-deaf, but you have products right now that this community needs or could need. I’m curious about where you have any outbound marketing activities going to your community, and how you walk that fine line. How you’re not being an ambulance chaser, but this is a real issue.
Holly Rollo: Exactly. Beyond the obvious identity and authentication solutions, we have a fraud action team that looks at types of fraudulent activity happening on the internet and what kinds of surges we’re seeing. That buyer is for fraud and risk intelligence systems. They’re banks and really large institutions that do a lot of e-commerce and transactions online.
That fraud action team is seeing things happening and trends happening that they’re pulling into a threat report that we can communicate to our Threat Detection and Response customers in the Security Operations Center to help them understand new behavior that’s going on online due to COVID. A crisis for us is an opportunity for them. If we can use the information to communicate to our customers on things to pay attention to, I think this is an example of the types of things that we’re trying to do.
In addition to the blueprints that I mapped out on the waves—what to pay attention to first and when it’s time to get to addressing certain aspects of your security and risk program—we’re just trying to pave the way with the blueprints and then offer useful information so people can direct their attention to the right sets of things right now.
Drew Neisser: Now, one of the ways brands build community is through events. You were fortunate enough that you were able to get your big community event done right before the crisis hit, which is amazing timing and an incredible thing. I’m curious though, knowing that there are probably no physical events of size going to happen in 2020 as nobody wants to liability risk, what have you done from your own event marketing plan to adjust to this new physical event absence.
Holly Rollo: I have two perspectives. RSA, the company, we have an event for our customers and prospects called RSA Charge, that’s our RSA customer event. RSA also hosts an industry-wide event called RSA Conference, which, if you’re in the security space or close to it, you’ve heard of Conference. It’s been around for decades. RSA Conference was the one you were referring to. Every year we traditionally have 45,000 attendees. It’s in San Francisco. It’s a huge event. We do a version of that in Singapore in the summer, so, yes that RSA Conference event in San Francisco happened in mid-February or around mid-February. We were working really closely with the city and the authorities, and everything was a green light going into that event, so yes, it was able to be completed that week, but had it been a week later, I think we would have had to cancel it.
So, what we’re looking at are a couple of things. For our customer event, for RSA Charge, we are still working through—and anybody who’s a CMO right now is feeling this pain—a lot of the event vendors are not wanting to renegotiate their contract because they are saying, “Well, we’ll just push it out and keep your money.” Events cost a lot of money, so what we really want to do is redirect that funding to do different types of things. That’s super frustrating and I know I’m not the only one who’s dealing with that.
Drew Neisser: No, you are not.
Holly Rollo: We’re trying to set that event up in a way where—because we don’t know whether we’re going to do a hybrid type of event or purely virtual event or whatnot. What I have seen companies do very quickly, just taking a step back, I mean weeks after the lockdown started to happen, a lot of companies immediately pivoted to virtual events. What they did and what a lot of people are doing is—and this is not a criticism, it’s just an observation—they’re taking an in-person format and they’re putting it online. It’s a whole different expectation when you’re online, a whole different attention span, a whole different way of consuming information. I think everybody’s trying to figure out what to do differently because that isn’t working really for anybody.
Drew Neisser: I want to put a punctuation point on that. I was supposed to attend Adobe’s big event. I was going to record some podcasts there, I was looking forward to being in Vegas, always fun. Didn’t happen. They were one of the brands that rushed to virtual. Now, there was an article in Adweek that said, here are all the things that—and this is from the reporter standpoint—they learned, and they are showing some pretty good numbers in terms of registrations and so forth.
I’m going to share some things that I’ve heard from other CMOs about this thing to put a punctuation point on virtual events. If you approach it the same way, you will not succeed. Let’s just get clear on that. And the reason is, no one is going to sit there and watch eight hours of content. The ideal length? Think TED Talk. 20 minutes, maximum. Part two: Q&A. If you really want to get people engaged, it’s all about doing a Q&A and figuring out how quickly you can get to that.
Three. There are a lot of different staggered formats. Some people are talking about only releasing a certain amount of content every day, for example, so you spread it out, so it’s more serialized. There is some sense of people trying to replicate the live and this big moment. But that’s a real challenge, because if you have a global audience—and we were talking about this—if it’s 9 am in New York, what time is it in Singapore? I mean, it’s a problem. I think one of the challenges is, a lot of people took their events team, physical events team, and said, “Okay, you’re in virtual.” That’s part of the problem.
Holly Rollo: That’s right, that is part of the problem because—let’s think about why we do events. Why do we do events? We do events, for one thing, because it’s a huge industry, so there’s a lot of pressure to do events because everybody else is doing events. Secondly, we do events because they create excitement, and for sales teams, they’re tangible. They can shake hands and kiss babies. It’s something that gets the sales team excited.
But it’s very difficult to replicate that virtually, like you were saying, so let’s get back to basics. What are we really trying to do with these events? We’re trying to engage people. We’re trying to engage people in a conversation. Now, why do virtual events need to be an event at all? That’s why I go back to this community thing. For instance, for RSA Conference, our large event, the whole purpose of that event was created to build a community of security professionals that could help drive change and be an input to policy.
That has nothing to do with the bright lights and the glitter and the stage act, right? That has to do with creating meaningful conversations that drive important changes or innovations in the industry. That you can do 24/7. You don’t need to do that on a date circled in the calendar, so for RSA Conference we’re going through quite a bit of brainstorming to determine how we can create much more engaging, smaller online communities to address particular problems in certain verticals, or for certain roles or certain policies. We’re looking more at how to drive that that digital community in a very highly segmented way that you can do now from all this technology with micro-targeting, which is really, I think, what people are yearning for.
An example that I gave my team is from last weekend. I like to sail, so I’m part of this mailing list and group that gets together every once in a while to talk about sailing and weather tactics and that sort of thing. I ended up being on a web conference for 90 minutes on a Saturday. It was beautiful where I was and I was like, “Why did I spend 90 minutes on my computer on a Saturday when it’s gorgeous outside?”
It was because it felt so authentic. What I appreciate, another silver lining I’ll mention is, now, over video conferencing and the way we’re having to collaborate, you can suddenly see people’s home offices and kitchens and spare bedrooms and dogs and children, and it feels much more intimate and engaging and more like a personal connection, even more so than you would have on an event show floor when everybody’s dressed up. I think people are really yearning for that connection too, probably also because we’re all stuck at home. I think there’s something to learn from that.
Drew Neisser: Such a good point in a great place to wrap up this section. I watched a webinar the other day for a nonprofit that I’m involved in, and the special guest—I think a Professor from Harvard—the only place he could find to record from was his car. Halfway through the thing, the truck started to back up in the middle of the street and it was great. It was charming and here was this guy, the topic was green building, it was a very serious topic, but it’s wonderful. I heard the same thing from those folks who have done virtual events. Even in the Adobe case, they talked about where some people recorded from their kitchen or did it live from their kitchens, and those worked because there’s an authenticity to it, there’s a humanity to it, for all the reasons that you said.
I think that’s a great place to wrap up this section because we started with community and ended with community. We’ll be right back.
Drew Neisser: I have several more things that we need to cover and we’re never going to get to all of them, but we did talk about how we don’t have physical events anymore and that was a source of leads. What are you doing with your salespeople who were used to showing up? That’s part one, and part two is, I heard this CMO say the other day to me, “You’re not going to close a $100,000 sale via Zoom call.” Let’s talk about that and what your salespeople are doing and how marketing is supporting them.
Holly Rollo: Yeah. This is another silver lining. I think that, for years, marketing people have been trying to secretly or maybe not so secretly wean salespeople off events, heavy events. Like I said, they’re tangible and in front of their face and I think they really like them. Without them, it forces them to come into our world because marketing does a lot of things that salespeople don’t even see. A lot of the digital and online. It’s like, what have you done for me lately? I haven’t had an event to go to, or a dinner or seminar or breakfast series. It’s really forcing them to understand what we’re already doing. In this way, it’s not necessarily doing more things, it’s helping them understand how to take advantage of a lot of the things that we’re already doing on digital or how we’re nurturing some of these leads or helping them understand some of the analytics.
One of the things we’ve been really trying to get off the ground much more aggressively is predictive analytics and helping sales teams understand where to find their white space. It’s been difficult to get their attention on some of these leads coming across and why they’re important, but now, suddenly, we’re getting attention on those kinds of programs. It has accelerated, in a lot of ways, our overarching marketing transformation to more digital. I think that’s a really positive thing.
Helping them understand the shift to account-based marketing, I’ve been working on that for the last 18 months, but the sales team is working on this model of the lead waterfall. We’ve been trying to shift them to account-based marketing and help them better understand an engagement-based model. That has also really helped accelerate us making that change as well. I think the sales team is leaning in now because they’re like “Hurry up, do something!” and we’re like “No, no, no. We’re doing all these things; how can you take advantage of all these leads we’re giving you that you may not even know about?”
Drew Neisser: Explain a little bit more. I’ve had several people on the show talk about account-based marketing, very familiar with it, and we’ve had one person from a predictive analytics background. But what does that really mean? What are you looking at and what are you predicting?
Holly Rollo: Right. I have to just say a caveat first. I think every company does this differently, so I’m going in with that assumption. We are trying to work with the sales teams on account plans and account strategies, so by linking our marketing teams to different segments of the market, whether it’s regional-based or customer segment-based, we’re helping them get a handle on the accounts that matter. Maybe they are existing customers to cross-sell and upsell or expand or renew, or maybe they’re new customers, new segments, or new industries they’re trying to get into. You have to go through a whole exercise of that white space analysis that includes pulling big data in and making sure that the sales teams and the marketing teams are aligned on the segmentation strategy and targeting and relevant messaging.
This is where a lot of the friction has historically happened between sales and marketing because they’re not speaking the same language. That exercise really forces everybody to be on the same page and, to me, segmentation is key. During that, in those analytics, if everybody’s clear on what accounts are going after we can get really specific on geo-targeting or door openers and everybody understands what marketing’s role is in the conversation and how to continue to advance and nurture some of those accounts.
I believe that segmentation is really key to these conversations and gets everybody on the same page, not only in terms of targeting and messaging, but also with what kind of analytics you’re looking for. Then we can pull in predictive data from how different accounts are interacting with information online and understand who’s searching for what kind of information or interacting with what kind of information, either your own, your competitors, or in completely alternate solutions.
That’s been fascinating for the sales team to have insight into because they have much more information and they don’t look at it anymore as just a plain cold call, they can have a much more relevant conversation. It’s been able to really scale up our ability to do lead qualification and get additional information that they can take into a conversation. This has been really exciting for them to see happening in real-time and exciting for us to finally see all this hard work pay off.
Drew Neisser: Well, it’s funny, as we circle all the way back to silver linings—one, we haven’t really talked about your Transformation title, but if we talk about how transforming that community wasn’t a priority, now it is. Getting sales folks onboard with the future of marketing automation and ABM that wasn’t a priority for them, now they’re coming in saying, “Okay!” It’s amazing that, in some ways, this has been a really good turn of events, if you will. That’s interesting.
I’m wondering, as we wrap up the show, what you think. We both have been doing marketing a long time and—
Holly Rollo: Don’t remind me.
Drew Neisser: We think we’ve seen it all, and then this hits. I’m curious—from your standpoint, what’s been the biggest surprise or things that you’ve learned or been reminded of in this particular period with this particular challenge?
Holly Rollo: I think the thing that comes to mind when you ask that question is really around branding in addition to everything we’ve talked about. Sometimes, companies get way too formal and there’s a desire to be super professional and polished, and your brand can lose authenticity. I think, in B2C, it’s easier to draw outside the lines, it’s easier to have humor, it’s easier to be engaging, it’s easier to be quirky when you’re a consumer company.
But the same thing applies to B2B and certainly to tech. In tech, I’ve always been frustrated that a lot of companies want to present themselves in a way that just takes the personality completely out of the brand. As I mentioned before, with this desire for people to have authentic engagements, which we’ve been talking about for years and years, it brings it all back to what’s important, which is people, personalities, quirky attributes, senses of humor. You know, we’re all humans.
Taking this as an opportunity to take another look at how you’re showing up in your voice and your presentation in the market, it’s a great opportunity to do that. The example I’ll give is, I was watching some TV show and a commercial came on and it was for a big insurance company. The CEO of the insurance company came on, and it was a commercial, but he was just talking from his home office with this dog walking by. He was saying, “Hey this has really caused me to think about the current state of things and what you’re going through. I just want to tell you that we’re here for you.”
I thought that was just great because it cost probably zero money to record. All these companies spend all this crazy money on ads and whatnot, but I think it’s just about being earnest and open and human. That’s one big “aha” among the other things that we’ve already covered. I’ve definitely went back to my team and said, “We have to look at some things and we have to figure out how to be much more open and transparent.” We thought we were doing a pretty good job, but I think given the current situation and where people’s heads are and that need for that human connection, I think it’s a great opportunity to look at how you’re actually presenting your brand.
Drew Neisser: I think you’re right. One person I talked to said, “This is the end of slick.”
Holly Rollo: Yeah. Exactly. Perfect.
Drew Neisser: It really is in so many ways. And just for fun, I will link to it in the show notes, and I did this on LinkedIn—there’s a video of this guy named Microsoft Sam on YouTube who put together a compilation video of all these corporate commercials during COVID and they’re all using exactly the same language. It’s so painful. “We’re in this together!”
Holly Rollo: “Unprecedented!”
Drew Neisser: It’s hilarious, and as someone who writes a lot, I understand that those words just sort of flow because as you start to have a conversation, you want to provide context, and the context for every conversation right now is “unprecedented time.” I appreciate the challenges, but man, don’t do that. Don’t say: “We’re all this together.”
Holly Rollo: Yeah, this actually even goes back to the risk appetite conversation. Why do we do that? Why do marketers feel the need to strip out that stuff? It’s because, over time, more and more of our legal department has gotten involved in reviews of whatever it is. There’s a risk to everything and I think we’ve taken more and more on, so now, if you lower your risk appetite for things like this, even just in your voice, it really opens the doors. As marketers, we need to also push back and go back to basics when it comes to branding. Back to your point about us being in this for decades. I mean 20 years ago, maybe as longer than that, when video started to be used in marketing, it was grainy and terrible. It was usually the Head of Engineering geeking out on his stuff and people loved that stuff, so I think we need to get back to that.
Drew Neisser: Yeah, I totally agree. As a silver lining, this reminds us of a few things. One, keep it real. Slick is dead, keep it real. That doesn’t mean that you can get away with boring, there’s a difference between being empathetic and real and boring, thus the need for shorter content and so forth, and not taking your main stage presentation and doing all these big productions.
We’ve covered so much ground, and as I think about this, I want to try to tie everything up. This is a moment for CMO leadership like I’ve never seen before and I did an entire episode on that, but you really helped me feel it in this show because it’s about aiming your organization in the right direction, headed in a direction that everybody can speak to in a very human way.
Okay, I’m not even going to try to do any more because we’ve already gone on long, but Holly, I want to thank you so much for spending time with us. It’s really been an interesting discovery journey with you.
Holly Rollo: Thank you. Thanks for having me. Drew
Drew Neisser: Hey, my pleasure. And to the listeners, thanks for hanging in. As always, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.