Kevin Sellers
December 11, 2020

Awareness Matters: How One B2B CMO Cut Through

Guest: Kevin Sellers - CMO, Ping Identity

What happens when you pair an identity security company and Terry Crews? An impressive, wildly successful influencer marketing success story, that’s what. It was the final piece of the “Let’s boost our brand awareness” puzzle that Ping Identity CMO Kevin Sellers was looking for. They had already identified their new brand identity and got internal support, now it was time to go big.

This episode is all about the courageous, artful, thoughtful, and scientific marketing that goes into building brand awareness, all in the service of driving new customer acquisition. As Kevin shares, “You can’t win business if you don’t even get a chance to bid on the deal.” Tune in for an inspiring story about brand differentiation, with ingenious marketing executions and measurable results.

P.S. Here’s one of our favorite videos featuring Ping Identity’s Chief Identity Champion, Terry Crews:

What You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • How Ping Identity differentiated its brand
  • Ping Identity’s influencer marketing success story
  • How to measure a brand awareness campaign

Renegade Thinkers Unite, Episode 218 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned

Time-Stamped Highlights

  • [0:28] Why Brand Awareness Matters
  • [6:17] How Ping Identity Identified Its Brand Story
  • [11:59] Involving Employees When Differentiating Your Brand
  • [17:07] Brand Execution I: Content
  • [22:03] Brand Execution II: Influencer Marketing
  • [33:30] Ping Identity’s Awareness Metrics
  • [38:22] Getting in Front of Prospects and Customers
  • [45:27] Kevin Sellers’ Brand Awareness Building Dos and Don’ts

Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Kevin Sellers

[0:28] Why Brand Awareness Matters

CMO #KevinSellers on #BrandAwareness: “You can't win business if you don't even get a chance to bid on the deal.” #RTU #podcast @pingidentity Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Hello Renegade Thinkers! Longtime listeners to the show are familiar with my Cool CATS model that distinguishes highly effective CMOs. In fact, if you go back to Episode Zero—that’s way back there over four years ago—you can actually hear me talk about CATS.

Well, it’s an acronym for courageous, artful, thoughtful, and scientific, and it’s an acronym that I developed after having interviewed 200 CMOs. I was finished my first book and folks said to me, “Hey Drew, what makes a CMO special?” I started thinking about it and isolated those four characteristics.

Well, here we are now in over 400 CMO interviews, and I am more convinced than ever that these are the essential characteristics of a highly effective CMO. And you’re going to hear it right now, today. In today’s episode featuring Kevin Sellers of Ping Identity. What you’re going to learn is how we move from a courageous strategy to an artful ideation, which in turn grows thoughtful execution that is being measured scientifically. With that, Kevin, welcome to the show.

Kevin Sellers: Thank you, Drew. Happy Friday. Thanks for having me.

Drew Neisser: Happy Friday indeed. Now did you realize you were among the Cool CATS?

Kevin Sellers: Well, no, but thank you. I guess I’ve got something to go talk to my wife about after this, so thanks for including me in that

Drew Neisser: Yeah, you know, you can add that to your happy hour celebration. “I’m a Cool CAT! I heard it from Drew so it must be true.”

Kevin Sellers: I’ll put it right on my CV and it’ll be part of my remit now.

Drew Neisser: There you go. All right. Well, speaking of that, you arrived at Ping Identity, gosh, just about a year and a half ago?

Kevin Sellers: Yeah, just under a year and a half ago. Summer/early summer last year.

Drew Neisser: And what was your mandate?

Kevin Sellers: Well, the mandate was you’ve got this company that’s post-startup, it’s a couple hundred million dollars of ARR, but yet not growing at the rate it could, mostly because it was still so unknown.

One of the big things they were looking for was somebody that could come in and really help to find a brand platform and strategy with them and really help drive them into the much broader awareness of the technology they deliver and who they are. That was the biggest part of the remit among, of course, all the other things like grow revenue and all those things you’ve got to do.

Drew Neisser: What’s interesting to me here is that, many times, CMOs on this show, when I asked them what their mandate was, it was to drive demand. And what’s interesting about your background is, you have the brand experience because you spent—what—12 years at Intel?

Kevin Sellers: Actually, 23 years. A lot of it in brand, both international and global, and also in advertising and so forth.

Drew Neisser: To me, when a CEO asks for awareness, what’s interesting there is that one of two things happened. He checked into a hotel and they hadn’t heard of the company. He went to the country club and somebody hadn’t heard of the company or the sales guys finally complained, and said, “Nobody’s heard of us. This is costing us business.”

Otherwise, it feels like the world of technology and marketers is about “come in, drive demand” as if awareness was not a part of that, as if brand recognition wasn’t important. It always cracks me up that there is this notion that you could generate demand without awareness.

Kevin Sellers: I totally agree. It’s interesting because I don’t think people appreciate what awareness does. It’s not a vanity play. What awareness does is, especially in a B2B world where awareness actually gets you into the shortlist, you can’t win business if you don’t even get a chance to bid on the deal. Initially, it plays into the demand that way, but it also does so much as a multiplier to your demand gen efforts.

If you show up at the door, knock on the door, and say, “I’ve got this really cool product, will you buy it?”—yeah, you’ll sell a few. But if you’re showing up at the door and people know who you are and a lot about what you are all about and you say, “I’ve got this really special thing I want to sell you,” your effectiveness goes way up.

It really is—it’s not just about being more known. It’s about making that funnel much bigger and ensuring that your demand activities are more effective as a result.

Drew Neisser: It’s funny, as you’re telling that story, I actually thought back to my first client in advertising way back when. I can age myself; I don’t care. 1979—my first client was Century 21 Real Estate, and at that time they had over 7500 offices and every single agent and broker wore a gold jacket.

All you had to do was put on that gold jacket and it’s like, “Oh, you’re that friendly guy from the commercial!” The awareness that they had with that jacket was unbelievable. And again, I know this seems obvious, folks, but what you were talking about there through the line I think from an awareness standpoint is so important.

It’s, one, you’ve got to get on the shortlist, but if there are 14 people involved in the decision—which they’re often are with a technology purchase—if one of them or five of them haven’t heard of you, the likelihood is they’re going to say no because they’re looking for excuses to say no. Anyway, we can beat this one up but, awareness matters.

[6:17] How Ping Identity Identified Its Brand Story

“A great brand is not about a clever catchphrase or a really creative position. It really is a process of discovery of the soul.” #KevinSellers @pingidentity #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Alright, so that’s your remit—get awareness, then build demand as a result of that awareness. Let’s talk about the process that you went to, because it’s not just about “Hey, we’re Ping Identity” and you just do ads that go “ping, ping, ping, ping, ping!” You could, but you went for some kind of strategic story. Talk about how you got to the story and then we’ll get to what that is.

Kevin Sellers: Sure. A great brand is not about a clever catchphrase or a really creative position. It really is a process of discovery of the soul. To be genuine and really authentic is the place you have to be and to get there takes a lot of work.

I have done this a few times in my career. We rebranded Intel when I was there, I rebranded when I was a CMO at Avnet for much of the same reason. We came into Ping and we said it’s not so much that it needs a rebrand, it just needs clarity, and it needs that authentic, unique position.

So, you go through the process of discovery and it’s a really gut-wrenching, painful process, but a fun process. The process that we deploy—we look at it through a litmus of three core things. One is your position needs to be really simple. You can’t break through that really complicated position, so we use the lens of simplicity.

We use the lens of unique and differentiated, meaning, “What does that secret sauce that makes me special and different?” And then the third thing is what is that emotional position and connection that you really ultimately are trying to make with your constituency?

If you use that as a filter, it guides you as you go through the process of learning what customers think about you, what the partners think about you, what your employees think about you. You look at how your products resonate in the marketplace. There’s a whole lot of things you do, but it leads you to a process that says, “What’s really true, authentic, and unique about this company is this” and then that’s when the art comes in as you do the artful workaround how to position and message that brand position. But that’s an important part of the hard work to do upfront, that soul discovery that you need to get your brand right.

Drew Neisser: Well, it’s funny that you use that language. In the courageous strategy—I’ve got my little 12 ridiculously simple steps to building a brand using it. Step 1 is Clear Away the Clutter, Step 2 is Dare to be Distinct, and Step 3 is Pounce on Your Purpose. All of those things you just described—we have to keep it simple. And what’s so hard is, in technology, there’s often an issue of, “But it does this, and it also does this, and we also did this.” This is where the marketer and, say, the product marketer or the engineer often butt heads. It’s “Wait, you can’t—you’ve got to talk about this” and the truth will get to that, but if you don’t have that clear, simple story, it’s very hard for everybody to wrap their mind around it internally and externally.

Simple, unique, and emotional—let’s talk about where you ended up in the articulation of that positioning.

Kevin Sellers: Sure. Well, really quickly, what Ping Identity does is it’s an identity and access management provider, meaning we secure identity for both employees and for the customer to enable them to transact with you securely anywhere, anytime, any device, again, whether it’s an employee accessing the network or whether it’s a customer transacting with you digitally.

We do that to authenticate and authorize, so you create robust security, but you also do it in a way that allows for a frictionless and very seamless experience. We all know that experience is the new currency of this digital-first economy, so the technology that we provide allows for both have a great experience but a robustly secure one as well.

The process led us to this place—some of the things we learned about who we are and what’s really authentic about Ping is, one, we champion identity. The company was founded in 2002 back when it wasn’t even a thing, so we pioneered this notion of identity and managing and securing at the identity level.

What that means is, instead of building walls to keep the bad people out, break the walls down, we don’t care about the walls anymore. If I know that it’s Drew, and I can authenticate that it’s Drew, then I can enable you to have a great experience with me, a secure experience with me, whether you work at this place or whether you’re trying to transact with me.

We champion identity and we also have this amazing customer support. Our NPS scores are world-class and have been forever. We’re well known to take care of our customers, so what we came up with—and I’m obviously shortening months of work into a few sentences here—but we came up with this position of “We champion your identity to enable secure, extraordinary digital experiences.”

That’s a two-part statement. Who are we? We champion identity. And what are we about? We’re about securing that identity to enable secure, extraordinary digital experiences.

[11:59] Involving Employees When Differentiating Your Brand

“Marketing isn't about showing up saying what everybody else is saying.” #KevinSellers @pingidentity #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Kevin Sellers: When we got to that position, what was great was that the management team and the employees just were like, “That’s it. That’s who we are.” When you see the light bulbs go off, you know you’ve done your work right because you didn’t just think of something clever in a smoke-filled room. You did it because you found that soul, and that’s what was special about that position.

Drew Neisser: So, the end-end benefit of championing identity is better experiences.

Kevin Sellers: Better, and secure. Secure and better experiences together. You’ve got to have both.

Drew Neisser: Those are great words. That’s a strategy and it’s a clear positioning that the employees can rally around. How did you initially communicate that to your employees and then customers and prospects? And in what order did you communicate it?

Kevin Sellers: We had a fairly inclusive process. As you would know—and all the CMOs you’ve interviewed—marketing is an interesting animal. It can’t be too participatory because everyone’s an expert on marketing, right?

But in this case, when you’re doing this kind of work, you want it to be participatory because it’s like, again, you’re discovering something, and they’re helping you discover what that soul really is. Our work was to get the language right, but once we did that work, we started rolling it out to the employees in larger groups and getting some feedback.

Again, there was such a positive reception and a lot of very important top-down support from the board to the CEO on down. Of course, the CEO was involved every step of the way, and that’s one of the important learnings when you’re doing this kind of work. Don’t do the work and then present it. Make sure the CEO is involved in this because it’s so important. Obviously, the light bulbs turning on was really, really gratifying, so we kind of knew we had it. What I liked too is no other player in our space was talking like this. That’s an important thing.

I remember when I presented this to the board, there was one board member, particularly, he said, “But we should just tell everybody that we’re the trusted partner.” In my head, I thought to myself, “Hey, how do I take on this board member without having an open debate?”

But that’s what everybody says, and marketing isn’t about showing up saying what everybody else is saying. You’ve got to have yourself a position that is uniquely special to you, so I kind of took that feedback and quietly and politely ignored it.

That’s the thing. We found something not only that was true and unique, but it was also very differentiated. It was language, it was tone that was not what everybody else was saying, because everybody else talks about their products and they talk about you know how trusted those products are.

This was a different approach. We’re about championing you, championing your business, championing your customers. We knew we had that right, now we had to get an execution.

Drew Neisser: I’m going to pause you there because we need to take a break, but I want to just summarize that. First of all, key thing was you weren’t the hero of the story; you’re helping others. This courage part is this moment where you dare to be distinct. This is the moment where the board guy says, “Well can’t we just say what everybody else says?” and that’s the courage moment, folks. That is what I mean. You have to be able to stand up and defend distinctiveness. If you can’t do that, if you’re not going to fight that battle one way or another, you are not going to help your business.

CMOs don’t have that much time generally, but if you don’t have the courage to dare to be distinct, you’ve got a very short window because you’re just going to be saying the same thing as everybody else.

[17:07] Brand Execution I: Content

“Our engagement rate was 2x and 3x industry benchmarks across all asset types. We felt really, really good about that first round of creative yet, in my head, I knew that we were still missing something.” #KevinSellers @pingidentity Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: We’ve been talking about the need for a creative strategy, which you defined as being simple, unique, having some kind of emotional hook. As it turned out it also meant making your customer the hero of the story as opposed to your brand. Now let’s get to execution. Oh, and one other thing that I wanted to mention is that marketing is a game of “we,” but you’re right. You can’t just say, “Hey, everybody, submit your ideas” because it just doesn’t work—then you have this mishmash of too many cooks in the kitchen.

But they need to feel like they’re part of the process and they need to embrace it, so somehow or other you have to get them involved in the beginning. I love the fact that your CEO was involved. You’re absolutely right—when it comes to rebranding, if the CEO is not involved, then what happens is you go out there with it and the CEO just ignores it and it dies.

Let’s talk about execution now because I know there are two things that you did. There’s the first step and then I want to get to the really fun stuff that you ended up doing after that. Let’s talk about the first step you did.

Kevin Sellers: Well, the first step was, okay, how do we take this and turn it into a story that can be told across multiple channels? We went off and created some very, very unique content that really focuses on championing identity and demonstrating what it means to have a really great experience.

We did it, you know, through all of the different types of assets that you can imagine. The best, most gratifying part was when we put this whole idea into a manifesto video as a kickoff and showing that to all the sales force at our sales kickoff in January of this year. We got a spontaneous standing ovation. Again, it was because we tapped into that emotional connection. We talked about identity—it’s an interesting thing because there’s only one Drew; there’s only one of you. That’s the only thing that you actually authentically own.

Now somebody may say, “Well, I can get my identity stolen.” Well, really what you’re getting is your identity mimicked. No one can take your identity, and it’s the only uniquely personal thing that there is. There’s already built-in an emotional thing there, and when we talk about how we champion that identity to enable the next generation of business, it’s a powerful, powerful concept and it’s already built-in with emotion. We just told that story and we showed how identity can come to life and it was a powerful thing.

And then we built a campaign and what was great about it is, because it was so distinctive and distinctively different than the tone and the types of language that our competition was using, the performance was outstanding. Our engagement rate was 2x and 3x industry benchmarks across all asset types. We felt really, really good about that first round of creative yet, in my head, I knew that we were still missing something. We were still missing something, and that led to that second chapter.

Drew Neisser: January, you do that manifesto to the employees. Then I’m imagining there was some communication to customers and getting them involved. Now COVID hits in March and April, and that’s gotta mess things up a little bit. Did you have to adjust as a result of that?

Kevin Sellers: Well, we actually ended up launching it full scale in April, right in the middle of COVID. We did some tweaks, obviously. It was funny because everybody stampeded to the space of “in these unprecedented times” and “we’re in this together” and so we thought, “Okay, let’s not go there” because it’ll be a sea of sameness that we want to avoid.

We did a few minor tweaks, but we stepped back, and we had to reevaluate. Okay, we’re in the middle of a pandemic—is this the right message to send out?” We came back and said, “Yes. It’s incredibly human. It’s very optimistic, and it deals with the foundation of what COVID is really saying, which is, ‘You better be, as a business, able to engage both customers and your employees digitally or you’re going to die.’” Digital transformation because of COVID moved from important to strategic and then from strategic to existential.

That’s kind of the evolution, and the good news is, our message fit that narrative well, but it did it in a way that was very humanized, very optimistic, and very positive in its tone, which is exactly what I think helped it perform so well, especially in a COVID environment.

[22:03] Brand Execution II: Influencer Marketing

“#InfluencerMarketing done well can be exceptionally powerful and it's all based on science.” #KevinSellers @pingidentity #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: So, what I’m not hearing is the big idea that gets you a lot more awareness. Content is great, you can put money behind it and so forth, but as you were saying, something was missing. I feel like there’s another level here for this campaign.

Kevin Sellers: There is. Simplistically, you can do these types of things, and there’s one of two paths you have to take. One, you can take the Geico route where you just buy eyeballs everywhere that they are, and your message is just constantly streamed in front of those eyeballs. Most of us can’t afford the Geico approach, so when you’re in a smaller budget situation like we’re in—I came from Intel which was a big-budget spender but Ping’s obviously a much smaller company—it really leans heavily into that content had better really work and it had better travel.

We loved what we were getting out of it, but I just needed a little more media push to really get the reach and frequency that I needed, and I wasn’t going to do it with my budget. So, what was missing is, how do I really activate this to be a much more earned media-friendly type of a campaign, which is obviously all marketers’ Nirvana, which is obviously easy to talk about and really hard to execute. That’s where we sort of went into phase two of this.

Drew Neisser: We had the launch in April, and then, when does the new campaign start?

Kevin Sellers: We launched in early October, so it’s been live now a couple of months.

Drew Neisser: We will share the video, the Terry Crews video in the show notes. For those folks watching on video, well, you’ll have to go to renegade.com to look at the video. But anyway, talk about how you got to the decision of actually creating an identity champion or whatever you call it.

Kevin Sellers: Identity champion. Well, I’ve been looking at—and I’ve used before— influencers. Influencer marketing, we all know a lot about it. We’ve seen great examples and some bad examples and everything in between.

Influencer marketing done well can be exceptionally powerful, and it’s all based on science. People generally respond more favorably when they hear someone they know and trust talk about a brand more so than when they hear a brand talk about their own brand.

We started off talking about our own brand, and we did well with it, but I knew that we weren’t going to get the reach we needed, so we looked at this influencer concept and, again, it’s all based in science. The brain lights up differently when an influencer gifts the message that you have rather than you, but the key, obviously—and I think everybody that’s used this knows this—you have to find an influencer that really fits you, fits your brand, has the personality, has the credibility and the authenticity that fits with what you stand for in the marketplace.

You can just hire a pretty face. They don’t tend to work very well. When that alignment is really good, that’s magic. It’s a magical place to be. We knew that influencer could be a very powerful concept for us, and we also know that the idea of creating a character—I mean the insurance companies do it all the time, a lot of companies. Allstate’s Mayhem Guy or Flo with Progressive, there are interesting ways that you can bring a story about a company to life through a character.

We looked at a ton of ideas, as you can imagine, but this idea of a Chief Identity Champion as a member of the management team. Literally, in fact, Terry Crews, who we ended up selecting, is on our website as our Chief Identity Champion. It’s just started to resonate, and it started to resonate as we looked at all the different people that we could go and get.

Terry, specifically, he is just this infectiously optimistic and very positive person. High energy, but he’s a champion himself. He’s a Super Bowl champion, but he also champions a number of very important causes. He’s a very vocal supporter of a number of important issues, and it just felt so good, that alignment.

We created a character, and we went and cast Terry Crews in that character and created a bunch of a whole mass of content around him and we’re and it’s performing exceptionally well.

Drew Neisser: Well, we’ll get to that in a second. First of all, I think you had to shoot this in the middle of COVID. There was a period where you couldn’t shoot anything. Talk a little bit about that. That’s a story in and of itself. Honestly, there aren’t that many shoots going on. Talk about that, you know, the good news/bad news and all of that.

Kevin Sellers: Well, the timing was great. Had it been in the middle of summer, I’m not sure we could have pulled it off anywhere. It happened to be September and things were starting to slowly turn back on, so we were able to secure Terry and we were able to secure a production crew and a location and all the things you have to do and do a shoot. We ended up doing it in LA to make it easy for Terry and our workaround calendars.

What was interesting is, most of the people that we cast in the spots hadn’t worked in 6, 7, 8 months. The industry was just starting to come back to life a little bit. Our timing was exquisite, and I’ll call it luck. I’m not gonna take any credit for it, but we were able to actually be able to do the shoot, and we had 400 submissions for a handful of extra characters to shoot with Terry, and some really big names. I mean, people that are on TV shows, movies, have done multiple commercials. These weren’t just bit actors; they were some big names.

And then Terry himself, obviously. He was so excited to get involved with this. He loved the concept, loved it, loved it, loved it, and just engaged with it so forcefully. And then the timing was right for him too. We pulled the shoot off. It was very COVID strict, as you can imagine. We all had to show up with our negative test results before we could go in. There was strict observance of the six-foot rule, everyone wearing a mask, we washed our hands every 10 minutes. It seemed like we had hand sanitizer everywhere, so Hollywood took this very seriously.

But it just turned out phenomenal and mostly because Terry was so magnetic. He was so wonderful in the role and he just owned it. He lived it and honed it and it was awesome.

Drew Neisser: Yeah. I just decided as you were talking that we’re going to edit the whole spot into the video version of this show and part of the reason is, as I’m watching this, I’m really a fanboy here because as I was watching it, I marveled at his acting skills as he was going from character to character.

Of course, there’s a lot of the Old Spice sort of working as he goes through the scenarios but in the context of what you’re talking about it. You come away going, “Yep. Okay. Identity champion, I get it. And Ping? Hadn’t heard of you before. Now I have. Thanks, Terry.”

Kevin Sellers: Well, that’s exactly why, because it’s traveled so well too. We’ve had so many comments back to us. This is an industry, if you talk about identity and access management, a lot of people don’t know a lot about it. It’s in the cybersecurity superset. You go and you look at the content that exists in that industry, it’s pretty staid. It’s pretty technical, it’s pretty product-centric. No one’s actually trying to tell a story and bring something to life like this, so we’ve had comments come back, so many…

“I love your spots. I’m laughing I’ve never seen—you’re so much different than your competitors” and it was almost like a layup in many ways. This is a space that focuses on safety so, by definition, the marketing tends to be safe. Safe is easy and safe is easy to sell into your management team, but it’s also not something that’s going to really differentiate you in a way that’s going to create attention.

At the end of the day, what are we trying to do as marketers anyway? What we’re really trying to do with advertising specifically is you’re trying to rent a little space in the mind of your buyer. Ultimately, you’re trying to get them to know you and remember you, and you can’t do that by being really safe, especially when they’re bombarded with messages every day. That’s all of those pieces coming together and then just the great performance of Terry. It’s very memorable.

In fact, I have to tell you one little anecdote, Drew. You’ll love this. This happened just last week. I got an email to our CEO from a prospect CEO and he says, “Hey, we want to do business with you. We want to engage you. Can you connect me to the right people because we want to have,” and he quoted, “sweet secure digital experiences?” which is exactly what Terry says in all of our spots.

I just broke out laughing because I’m thinking we got a CEO at a prospect company quoting our Chief Identity Champion in an email to our CEO about wanting to do business with us. I just had one yesterday that came in, same thing. It’s really, really gratifying to see the traction that it’s gaining.

[33:30] Ping Identity’s Awareness Metrics

“Awareness investments are like the R&D arm of marketing. They tend to pay off, but over a longer period of time.” #KevinSellers @pingidentity #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: We had a great strategy, we had an initial round of execution that showed that the idea had promise but the execution wasn’t as distinctive as it could be. Find a spokesperson/character/influencer that perfectly matches the brand tells a story in a highly effective way.

Great. We have anecdotes that suggest the program that’s working. But I know that anecdotes alone, you know, you can’t eat anecdotes. Let’s talk about the measurements that you’ve seen so far. Brand tracking, for example, do you have that in place?

Kevin Sellers: Yes, we will do that on an annual cadence where it’s not only brand tracking, but we’ll do brand surveys to measure awareness and so forth.

Drew Neisser: Brand tracking is essential because if we’re really talking about awareness, now it’s not going to be against the entire universe but, against your target audience, did we move the needle? You have to have some kind of brand tracking in place if you’re going to sell on awareness.

The surrogate often for awareness would be some kind of a share of voice and website traffic. Let’s talk about those. What are your next metrics after awareness?

Kevin Sellers: Well, it all boils down to—especially when I’m talking to the CFO and the CEO—the conversation is, “Look, marketing exists not to do fun campaigns. We exist to acquire customers. Full stop.” Everything we do is about the acquisition of new customers. Now, there are different tactics and different things that you sequence in-market and a different choreography of messages and so forth that you construct in a way that sort of optimizes that, so we have a pipeline that we look at. We have all of the funnel that you know good and well that we cover.

The investments we make in awareness are not about making us feel good and not about having a good time and not even about hiring some famous person—we’re trying to expand awareness to drive new customer acquisition. What we do initially is, we measure our marketing ROI across the whole funnel and that is something we take to the board on a regular basis. We track our MROI very, very closely.

Now obviously this just started, so can I point to specific new revenue? Well, I can now, but it’s still pretty small, but I’m not gonna be able to demonstrate in 2020 that my 2020 investments in awareness are paying off yet. But there are some leading indicators that we now look at, and there’s a bunch of them.

In fact, I just reviewed a set of indicators this morning. We’re looking at all of our execution so, for example, we’ve done takeovers on the BBC or Wall Street Journal or the New York Times and other places as just one of our digital executions among the many.

We look at all the things. We have specific impression targets; we have specific engagement rates and click-through rates and traffic to the website. We look at all those indicators, we benchmark them, and we can see, “Hey, is this resonating? Is the content resonating? Are engagement rates what you want them to be, or are they trending above even the benchmarks that you want to see?”

That starts to tell you, okay, I can’t prove ROI yet, but I can start to prove that I’m on to something or I’m not on to something. What’s great for us is we’ve seen really high engagement rates. Our traffic to the website directly attributable to this campaign is up over 1,000%.

These are things that you like, “Yeah, okay, I’m getting people into my ecosystem now and they’re learning more about me, and now as I continue to have my conversation with them and I start to talk to them about my special product that I want them to consider buying, my effectiveness is going to go up.”

What I always tell people—and this is really important—awareness investments are like the R&D arm of marketing. They tend to pay off, but over a longer period of time. Now, I’m still accountable for every dollar I spend, and I don’t shy away from that, but I have parsed those dollars off and the CFO is comfortable knowing that we’re going to measure this not in-year for in-year, we’re going to let this have a two to three-year horizon where we invest in this, but we should start to see 2021 and 2022 really kicking in the increased effectiveness for all of our demand gen efforts and I have no doubt that that’s going to take place.

We do it that way. Totally accountable for the whole bucket, but we do view these dollars in a little bit of a longer time horizon than we do our direct demand gen campaigns that we have in market now.

[38:22] Getting in Front of Prospects and Customers

“We told the big story. We got the platform right then we told the story and engaged people with the story. Now I’m going to make it even more personal for our customers.” #KevinSellers @pingidentity #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Now I’m imagining—it’s so interesting, the takeovers. Even though you started by talking about earned media, in order to really get impressions, numbers, and get in front of people, you need to spend some dollars. It sounds like you did a fair amount of digital takeovers. You mentioned Wall Street Journal, BBC, any sort of other big ones? I mean, that would be enough, but…

Kevin Sellers: Yeah, we did a lot of targeted display banners, as you would expect. We did a lot of connected TV for video content, and then our digital was across a number of different channels. I just rattled off a few before, but we had some pretty good animated spots and some rich digital media spots, and some digital media partnership executions. Again, it wasn’t my old Intel budget where we had a lot of money to spend, so we’re not doing a broadcast TV, but we are doing a lot of connected TV, which is a great medium because you can target really effectively using the TV, but it allows you to use video to tell your story. It’s really all of those, again, mostly digital, some connected TV.

Drew Neisser: Just to make sure—we’re talking like a Roku, and are we talking where you can actually buy against email lists?

Kevin Sellers: Yeah, you can. And a lot of its programmatic and you tune that with all the indicators and variables that you want for your targeting, so it’s hard to say, unlike my broadcast media buys back when I was at Intel where you knew I was going to be on this TV show or I was running an ad on the Super Bowl, or whatever it was we were doing. Here, it’s hard to say because, again, it’s all programmatic and it’s related to where your target audience is going to be, but it’s been quite effective actually.

We’re seeing, for example, one of the things we look at—back to your metric thing—we look at the spots on YouTube, for example, and we look at, “Okay, great. I got a bunch of views, that’s awesome. But what’s my retention rate?” And retention rate really is how much of the video on average are people watching?

You may see a piece of content that has millions of views, but if the retention rate is 30-40%, how effective are you being? In the first month of this, our YouTube videos we’re getting retention rates north of 90% which is freakish.

Drew Neisser: People were completing the video.

Kevin Sellers: For the most part, completing the video, which is crazy, right.

Drew Neisser: I mean, because YouTube counts completions after like six seconds.

Kevin Sellers: That’s why the retention is really important because it gives you a sense of, really, on average, how much of the video is actually being watched. Anything sort of north of 40-50% is considered very good. Again, it’s just a fun and engaging spot that’s kind of different and unique, so I think that’s what’s really helping drive those numbers.

Drew Neisser: We’ve got the courage, by the way, to go after a character that is unexpected in the category. We’re artful in the way that was executed. I’m wondering, was there any other element?  We talked about the video a lot, but are there are other components of the Crews campaign that you could point to and say this was a great little version of that?

Kevin Sellers: We do. We also created what we call “Hot Tips.” We call them “Industry Hot Tips” and they’re really short vignettes where Terry comes in and talks about a very specific issue that an employee has with being productive working from home, or maybe one that someone who’s on the road (even though COVID, we’re not doing a lot of traveling these days, but it’ll apply at some point).

There’s another little vignette where this woman logs in to a website to buy something and then she wants to go back and buy something new, but the website forgets who she is, and she has to start all over. There are really funny little vignettes. We got a whole series of stories and vignettes of different lengths and so forth.

And then we’re also using Terry in a personal way. For example, just today, we had two calls with Terry with two major customers of ours. Again, it’s another little benefit that we negotiated to get some time with him and he’s so good at it. He loves doing it, but we had one that’s a customer that’s contemplating a major purchase of a product and another one that just completed a major purchase of a product, and it was one of those just really awesome little touches that you can give a customer, that they could have a private conversation with somebody like this. They ate it up.

We’re using him in social, a lot of short vignettes, and social media that we’re recording. We use him in audio. We’re doing the podcast now we’re getting ready to launch and we’re using Terry on a lot of promotion on that. We’re using them in a lot of ways, and his energy and his magnetism just comes across. It makes things more effective than if it was just a standard anybody.

Drew Neisser: Right. We’ve covered courage in spades. Artful ideation, lots of interesting ways that you’ve executed. Thoughtful, it’s interesting to me, you did cover employees, we did cover customers and how you’re using that. And of course, in these little vignettes, to me, I would call them entertainment, but also service—edutainment. You’re measuring what matters; you’re automating.

What haven’t you done yet with this campaign that you anticipate doing in the near future?

Kevin Sellers: Yeah, great question. I think where we go next with this is even more personalized, getting industry-specific. We told the big story. We got the platform right then we told the story and engaged people with the story. Now I’m going to make it even more personal for our customers. We’re going to do more industry-specific vertical things, think of almost this type of campaign where we’re going to get one-to-few and even more one-to-one types of content and storytelling out of Terry that we think will be very, very effective especially in the product that we sell and who we sell it to. That’s kind of where we’re headed with the next evolution. This is even more refined and targeted and specific and customized.

Drew Neisser: Right. Create the halo, big idea, then we bring it all the way down and now it’s generating demand and it’s completely connected to the big idea.

Kevin Sellers: It’s that connective tissue that’s so, so, so important in all the marketing we do, and it’s easy to separate each piece of that. You really, really have to think about how they work together so that one plus one plus one starts to equal maybe four or even five. That’s what we’re driving for.

[45:27] Kevin Sellers’ Brand Awareness Building Dos and Don’ts

“There's great data out there that shows that companies that invest both in awareness and demand gen ultimately, over a three-year period, have a much higher growth rate.” #KevinSellers @pingidentity #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet 

Drew Neisser: We’ve got a bunch of CMOs listening and they’re going, “Oh man, I’d love to do something this cool that builds awareness. Let’s give them two dos and a don’t in selling in awareness to their CEOs and boards.

Kevin Sellers: I think the most important thing I did that was so helpful was rely on data. There’s a lot of great data out there that helps you make your case why awareness is so important. Always couch it. And this is what I mentioned earlier was so helpful with the CFO. He knows because he hears me say it all the time and we talked about it all the time. All of this is targeted at acquiring new customers. It’s all about growth. It’s just how you go about it, so don’t pass off an awareness campaign as this over here that’s our feel-good marketing. It’s not.

It’s all about creating an environment for you to acquire more customers and ultimately grow and there’s great data out there that shows that companies that invest both in awareness and demand gen ultimately, over a three-year period, have a much higher growth rate than if you just do demand gen only.

The problem is so many people are very short term-oriented with marketing, which is why CMOs have the shortest tenure in the C-Suite, because there’s an impatience that’s growing. It’s tough. It’s a tough sell because they don’t want to hear that you’re going to help drive demand over a three-year period. They want to know about what you’re doing tomorrow.

Well, we are doing things for tomorrow, but I’m also doing things for the longer term. And thankfully, if you construct that story well and you really work with your CEO and your CFO—they’re both big supporters of this now. When I go in front of the board, it’s actually gone very, very smoothly. That was a bunch of to-dos. Sorry—

Drew Neisser: No, that was perfect! I think that’s a great place for us to wrap up this show. Boy, Professor Byron Sharp who wrote the book How Brands Grow is smiling as he’s listening to this. Professor Sharp, here’s another case for you that shows that it works in B2B. All right, Kevin, thank you so much for being on the show.

Kevin Sellers: Thank you, Drew, for having me. It was great. Loved to do it.

Drew Neisser: And to all of our listeners, gee, I hope you got as excited about this idea in this show as I did. If you did share the show with a friend, don’t forget to rate us on your favorite podcast channel.

Show Credits

Renegade Thinkers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Audio production is by Sam Beck. The 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 quite possibly the best B2B marketing agency in New York City, visit renegade.com. And until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.

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