Rethinking Your Brand Promise…In a Hurry
Right around mid-March 2020, every brand, B2B or B2C, had to take a cold hard look at their brand promise and consider its relevance. Was the brand promise that seemed so right in the go-go months before the pandemic suddenly tone deaf? For Jakki Geiger, CMO of Reltio, a Silicon Valley-based data management platform, the answer to that question was “yes.” Practically overnight, the idea of “winning” seemed out of step with their customers, many of whom were focused more on surviving and less on thriving. So, what’s a savvy marketer to do?
In this remarkably frank episode, Geiger shares exactly how she and her colleagues shifted gears and found a new, more relevant message around “serving, protecting, and retaining.” It’s a story of agility, determination, customer-centricity, and fearless leadership that almost any marketer can learn from. Drew and Jakki cover a lot of ground including the role CMOs can play not just in driving leads (which she did) but also driving social change in areas like diversity.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
- How Reltio pivoted their messaging during COVID
- Why customer centricity should be a top priority for B2B brands
- How CMOs can influence company and social change for the better
Renegade Thinkers Unite, Episode 197 on YouTube
- White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, PHD
- Drew’s newsletter “Breaking the Algorithm” on anti-racism
- Reltio’s Fast Start package
- Renegade LLC’s demand generation guide
- [0:28] Should You Pivot Your Messaging in Response to COVID?
- [4:04] Anti-Racism and CMO Leadership
- [8:10] Shifting to a Virtual Management Style
- [9:34] Mining Honest Input from Your Team
- [13:54] Why Reltio Changed Its Messaging During COVID
- [16:36] How to Get Internal Buy-In Quickly
- [18:31] How Reltio Tested the New Messaging
- [21:41] Why Responsiveness is #1 for Reltio
- [23:59] The New CMO/CFO Relationship
- [26:23] Events and The Future of Webinars
- [29:14] How Reltio is Generating Leads
- [32:40] Jakki Geiger’s Repositioning Dos and Don’ts
- [34:27] Drew’s Wrap Up: Agility, Purpose, and Message Testing
Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Jakki Geiger
[0:28] Should You Pivot Your Messaging in Response to COVID?
Drew Neisser: Hello Renegade Thinkers! Here’s the situation. You’re 11 months on the job, you’ve built your team, you’ve rebuilt your brand and your website, you’ve raised $117 million in venture funding and all eyes are on growth to get that to that magical hundred-million-dollar annual revenue threshold. If you’ve been at a startup, you know how important that one is.
Then…Kaboom! All hell breaks loose. The pandemic not only shuts down your city, but also much of the world’s commerce. Physical events are canceled. Events that you depend on for leads are just gone. Some of your customers are hit severely, some not so much. The big question is, do you pivot? Do you change your messaging and, if so, to what?
To answer these and other pressing questions, including how you can juggle being a CMO and having to homeschool your 10-year-old, my guest today is Jakki Geiger, the CMO of Reltio, a customer data platform. Hi, Jakki. Welcome to the show.
Jakki Geiger: Hi, Drew. Thanks for having me.
[4:04] Anti-Racism and CMO Leadership
Drew Neisser: You’ve joined a couple of the CMO Huddles that we’ve been doing since April, the beginning of April. What’s amazing is that every single week, it feels like there is a new transformative issue that we need to cover as a group and really talk about.
You just mentioned the latest in terms of how CMOs have to help guide their companies in the area of what I like to call anti-racism. Talk a little bit about that and how that your company is confronting that challenge.
Jakki Geiger: Sure. I’ll take it personally first because, for me, I grew up in Canada, so this like deep-seated racism wasn’t something I grew up with. I have African American friends. We don’t talk about racism. It’s just not something that we put on the table as a topic of discussion.
Well, I would say, for the last two weeks I’ve been engaging with them all and saying, “Tell me what it’s been like for you. Tell me about your experience. I want to learn.” For me, it’s been listening and learning and seeking to understand a lot more than I ever have before. The second piece for me was like, what can I personally do as a CMO of a mid-sized startup in Silicon Valley? What can I do to make a difference?
I felt like I couldn’t do anything at first, and then I realized, I can. This is about human beings. This is about being human to each other. Every interaction counts. Every interaction is an opportunity to drive change, so I realized that my voice on this topic is really important. As a leadership team, we must address this, and it can’t just be a post on social media. We really need to take a good look within our organization say, “Let’s examine ourselves. Are we doing everything we can? How can we have discussions about this in small groups?” So, that’s what we’ve done.
We decided that we’re going to start within our own organization, start bringing this up as a topic of conversation in small groups where people can just share their experiences. But we also want to bring this to customers and our partners and make sure we’re all doing our part.
The second piece was donating—donating to the causes we believe are helping, to those people on the front lines who are fighting against the racial discrimination that’s going on. We’ve made a couple of strategic donations that we feel really good about as well.
Drew Neisser: It’s such an interesting conversation and one that I’ve been giving a lot of thought to, particularly in the context of what CMOs can do. I shared an email with a bunch of CMOs recently on it, including a reading list. On the top of that reading list is a book called White Fragility. It’s fascinating and I’m about a third of the way done, but there are a couple of things that just strike me—if you are white, you just have no idea. You may think you are absolutely the most un-racist person, but you’ve never had to deal with color. It doesn’t matter if African Americans or blacks are your friends. You just haven’t had to deal with it. So, one of the things that’s really struck me, and it is a new term, is the term “anti-racist.”
It’s not enough to just acknowledge it. You have to do something about it. And that’s an acknowledgment and a step forward that I think feels a little different than previous times. Look, this has been an issue for 400 years, but it’s really come to the forefront and I think a number of folks have stepped back and said, “Whoa, this is so systemic that, if people who are in a position to make a difference don’t do it, what are we doing here?” Anyway, I’m off my pulpit and we’ll be publishing it on renegade.com shortly, so you can go and check it out. Actually, by the time this episode airs, it’ll already be on there.
[8:10] Shifting to a Virtual Management Style
Drew Neisser: You said that you had to change your management style a little bit as a result of being virtual. Talk a little bit about that.
Jakki Geiger: I’m a big fan of being in person because you can see the verbal nonverbals, but even on calls with my teammates who’ve been remote, it’s usually been on the phone. What I’ve decided to do is really make sure that we’re visible on video. It doesn’t matter if our hair isn’t done or makeup isn’t done, we’ve just kind of forgotten about all that.
We don’t need to be dressed up, but we all can see each other, and we can see each other every day. I think it’s so important for leaders in particular to make sure that we have a physical presence and that we can see people and see how they’re feeling. That’s another challenge through the global pandemic and everything we’re going through—really making sure your teams are okay, taking a look at them, and saying, “Are you sure you’re okay? Is there anything I can do?” because it’s a very stressful time
Yes, working remotely has been a challenge, but I actually think it’s brought us closer together. I have a theory that going to battle with your team creates the strongest bond and that’s how I feel. My whole team came together; my last three hires were January, February, March, and we all work remotely. We haven’t had a planning meeting in person, but we seem to be doing really well as a team, figuring it all out virtually.
[9:34] Mining Honest Input from Your Team
Drew Neisser: An interesting dynamic that I keep hearing about is: how do you make sure that your direct reports are actually being honest with you in the Zoom setting? If a meeting happened in person, at the end of the meeting, one of your direct reports might have said to you, “I’m not sure I agree, but I didn’t want to bring it up in front of everybody else.”
How are you making sure these little sidebar conversations and this input is happening, that you actually have good discussions and good and honest input from your team?
Jakki Geiger: I have three leaders who manage teams of about three people. What we do is we have a regular weekly team meeting and we do it scrum style where we say, “What did you accomplish last week? What are you working on this week? What’s blocking you? Do you have a solution or do you need help? Do you need my help, in particular, to help eliminate any obstacle?” We have that kind of discussion.
We also operate on a weekly cadence, so the teams share what the plans are every single week. We provide input, “Have you thought of this, thought of that?” and have a good team dynamic. I also have weekly one-on-ones with each of my leaders and some of the people who don’t report directly to me have bi-weekly check-ins with me as well.
My goal is always to say, “I want to be transparent. I want to be direct. I want this to be the best career experience you’ve ever had, so please, be honest and open with me. Keeping things to yourself that could make a difference isn’t going to help anybody. If you disagree with something, bring it up. That’s why we’re all here together, because we have different viewpoints and we’re going to be better together.”
Drew Neisser: Have you found that the one-on-one conversations are different than the scrums and that you’re really getting at where there are disagreements? Again, I think the hardest thing for CMOS is to get honest input.
Jakki Geiger: I agree. In my one-on-ones, I really say, “The agenda is yours. This isn’t my meeting. This is your meeting. What do you want to talk about?” But I always ask the question, “How are you doing, how’s your team doing? Anything going on that I can help with or that you’re trying to solve for where I can provide some useful guidance and advice?” I try to encourage that kind of transparency with my team members and a couple of times things have come up where it’s like, “Oh my goodness. Yeah, that’s an interesting thing you’re dealing with. Let’s talk about how you can deal with that directly or how I’m able to help or how you can help this person come to some kind of decision or opinion.”
[13:54] Why Reltio Changed Its Messaging During COVID
Drew Neisser: You looked at your message when this pandemic broke and made a decision to walk away from it. Talk a little bit about where you were in that moment.
Jakki Geiger: We had just launched our new website. We had just launched our new positioning, messaging, our level zero, level one decks—our messaging was baked. We had our messaging guide, positioning guide. We sent it out. We were so excited. Reviewed it with customers, partners; got all the validation. And then the pandemic hit.
The key message was that you need connected customer data to win in the experience economy. We were associating ourselves with the winners, with the data innovators who were planning to win in this experience economy. When we looked around at what was happening around the world—I actually had a former colleague who was in Italy and died of COVID—so for me, it was a particularly hard time in March where I was like, “Oh my goodness. This is like affecting people’s lives. It’s taking people away who we really appreciate in our world and now they’re gone because of this. I don’t know if the right messaging right now is about winning and losing. It just feels tone-deaf.”
We took a step back and we said, “How can we reposition ourselves without getting too far away from our core to think about what people are trying to do right now? They’re not trying to win. They are trying to protect their customers. They’re trying to retain their customers. They’re trying to serve their customers as their needs change.”
We came up with a new main message that we put on our website and in our content that was all about serving, protecting, and retaining those customers. The way you were going to do that was if you had more data about them, if you could really understand their needs through data.
Drew Neisser: It’s so interesting—the game metaphor when this isn’t a game. It’s as simple as that. This isn’t a game, this is real life, and businesses are struggling for survival. And you’re right, I can see totally how the notion of competitive edge and so forth wouldn’t work. In some ways, serve, protect, and retain has that nice customer-centricity that I think would be somewhat refreshing, but also it’s like, when would it ever be a bad time to serve, protect, and retain your customers? Never.
[16:36] How to Get Internal Buy-In Quickly
Drew Neisser: How long did it take you to get from “winning won’t work” to “serve, protect, and retain?”
Jakki Geiger: I would say probably three days.
Drew Neisser: Wow. Okay, those were a long three days.
Jakki Geiger: Those were a long three days, but we wanted to make sure that we validated it with our field teams, the salespeople who are talking with prospects every day, the SEs, our CSMs. We wanted to do a little bit of validation and then, as a leadership team, wanted to make sure we had the buy-in. This was pretty significant. Winning in the experience economy was a several month process of all agreeing that this was our direction, so to make the change, I wanted to make sure we weren’t doing it in a silo.
Drew Neisser: Interesting. I had a somewhat similar conversation where the CMO actually went to her leadership team and said, “We’re not doing this exactly by the book. Are you okay?” In three days, you can’t possibly do the process that you went through to get to where you were, but in your gut, you knew you couldn’t go with what you had, and you can’t not have anything. What were some of the critical things that helped you sell this notion to the senior leaders of the organization?
Jakki Geiger: It wasn’t a huge pivot. The serve, protect, retain was built into what it would take to win anyway, so it wasn’t like I was asking for a departure. It was like, “Let’s just lead with a different message, a subset of the message of winning. Part of that is about serving, retaining, and protecting, so let’s elevate that and put that in the forefront instead.”
Drew Neisser: I see. We’re just deemphasizing the lead promise and bringing out the core pillars of that promise.
[18:31] How Reltio Tested the New Messaging
Drew Neisser: You mentioned that you had produced all this other work—you would have had to go through every single piece of content and revise it, right?
Jakki Geiger: Yes. Luckily, most of the content was on the web, so that was pretty easy to change, and some of the assets were in development, so wherever it said “win” we would just change the language. Because we had just repositioned, we didn’t have a ton of printed content or content that was not easy to change. While it was a laborious process—it took a while—there wasn’t as much as it would have been if we had had this messaging for a year, for example.
Drew Neisser: When did you have a sense that this new messaging was going to work? And assuming it has worked, what have some of the responses to it been?
Jakki Geiger: There was the macro-level message about serve, protect, retain. We also took a deeper look at our core value proposition and what differentiates us from the competition. We felt like it was important to double click on that a little bit. Where we landed was on this idea of responsiveness. What really differentiates our technology from all the other vendors out there is a data leader’s ability to respond faster, so that’s what we really tested.
We thought, “My goodness, customers need a change.” We have customers across life sciences, healthcare, retail, CPG, high tech, and in all of these cases, many of them had some digital initiative going on, some transformation going on, and boy, did everything just get accelerated. All the organizational barriers, the huge cultural change that happens in the Global 2000 to make something like that happen just disappeared. It was like, we need to make this happen because customers need to connect with us through digital channels.
Suddenly all of your customer communications are going through digital channels. For example, some retailers’ store associates couldn’t be in the stores anymore. The stores were closed. They were now working remotely from home. The customer call centers that were normally together, the sales teams that were normally together, are now all working remotely. This ability to respond quickly to your customer’s changing needs, that you’ve got to be where they are, was a big message that we used underneath that serve, protect, and retain. How you communicate with customers, engage with them, and interact has changed, so you need to be able to respond faster in order to be effective.
That’s the messaging we really tested. We thought, “Let’s just run a webinar. We’ll see how much interest we get from our Global 2000 prospect accounts.” We saw a really good number of people who registered for that and we thought, “Ah, there’s something there. This ability to pivot quickly is something people need right now, so let’s test a few more things before we make a big investment. We’re going to test, we’re going to learn, and then we’re going to scale it.”
[21:41] Why Responsiveness is #1 for Reltio
Drew Neisser: Did responsiveness become the big winner in this?
Jakki Geiger: Yes. It did. If you think about all the ways a company needs to respond today, the customer needs have been the most important, and then the infrastructure. If you’re going mostly digital, you need to scale up your infrastructure to manage all that digital engagement that’s happening with customers. Your infrastructure needs to be responsive. Your ability to respond to customer’s changing needs, you need to be able to respond to that. But there are also regulations, like the California Privacy Act. It’s been delayed a little bit, but it’s around the corner, so being able to respond quickly to regulations.
Organizational changes. Now you have a call center, store associates that are working from home. How do you adjust to that organizational change and operational changes?
There are all these different ways companies have needed to respond through all this, and if your data platform doesn’t support that, you’re going to feel like a snail, like you’re operating more slowly. You can’t be as responsive as you’d like and you’re holding your business back. That’s the type of messaging that seems to be resonating right now with the people that are our targets.
Drew Neisser: What’s interesting to me right now particularly in the world of software and B2B is that there’s a challenge in that business is up, down, all over the place and it’s certainly uncertain, so I’m only going to make investments in things that—one CMO phrased it as “speed-to-value,” something that I can get value out of right away.
That’s a hard thing to do because in a lot of software cases, showing value and ROIs are difficult models to prove in many situations. Implying and selling the notion of responsiveness to your customers could be more responsive, was there anything implicit in your software that would quickly be responsive to their needs?
Jakki Geiger: No, not at all. If you look at some of the research in CIOs, within CIO circles—what do you need right now, CIO—or chief data officers, what they need the most right now is this agility. They need speed, agility, and fast time-to-value.
[23:59] The New CMO/CFO Relationship
Jakki Geiger: If you look at the cost-cutting that’s been happening, CFOs have been working closely with CIOs and their data leaders to say, “What investments can we cut? We want to conserve cash right now.”
The investments that have been preserved are around digital and around customer experience. Those have gone mostly unscathed, which is great to see. What CIOs and CDOs have been challenged by their CFOs to say is, “Well, how can we make faster progress on these initiatives?” They need that agility, speed, and fast time-to-value.
In response to that, we actually created a package. We worked with our professional services team, we worked with sales, and we said, “Prospects need something faster.” Traditionally, the software takes longer to set up. We said, “What if, in one quarter, they could have connected customer data so that they could power these initiatives with an enterprise view of their data instead of a departmental view of their data. That would add value.” We created this package called Fast Start and so far, it’s been going pretty well for us.
Drew Neisser: We put out this B2B demand gen guide recently, and that is really a big component. If you can come up with a product that inherently delivers on speed with that promise, you’re going to get a lot of attention. Now, you did mention CFO and I’m wondering—were they even in the picture pre-COVID?
Jakki Geiger: Sometimes. One thing I should mention is that we sell enterprise data around customers. Typically, these aren’t really high-velocity deals. We don’t close these deals in a very short period of time. It’s usually about a nine-month sales cycle, there are multiple stakeholders involved, and sometimes the deal sizes are big enough where the CFO does sign off and give us approval, but in terms of pre-COVID and post-COVID, yes, CFOs are taking a much sharper look at all investments happening within a company right now. Even ours is. Every time I want to make an investment now, I review with our CFO whereas I didn’t do that in the past.
Drew Neisser: Exactly. They’re suddenly more involved and everything is about a very, very hard look at, do I need to do this now? Can I push this back?
[26:23] Events and The Future of Webinars
Drew Neisser: How important were events to your business from a lead flow standpoint?
Jakki Geiger: Critical. It was our biggest marketing investment. We had eight major events coming up, including our big customer conference. We were expecting to have 400 customers and partners, which is a great opportunity to bring customers together. They share their stories, they network; it also presents a lot of expansion opportunities. We bring prospects, so it drives pipeline. It gets partners more committed and excited to work with us. It was a critically important event that was supposed to happen in May in San Francisco. We’re supposed to be there just a few weeks ago and unfortunately, we needed to make the call to say, “It’s not the right time.”
Events are very, very important to our business. We had to quickly pivot. Webinars were not really a core part of our strategy. We were going to do a webinar every couple of months, but we decided to shift all of our physical event investment into virtual event investments, so my team quickly pivoted and we got six webinars done from late February until today. It’s actually been the second biggest source of pipeline for us. I’m really glad that we did that.
Drew Neisser: Are you seeing any webinar fatigue?
Jakki Geiger: Yes, we’re seeing fatigue on a number of fronts. I would say the database, email in the database, high-value asset offers, webinars. We’re seeing lower open rates. We’re experimenting a lot with things like what subject lines are resonating, what aren’t. For landing pages—how do we really optimize those to capture everybody who’s there? How do we motivate them to want to provide that information or register for an event? We’re definitely seeing fatigue across the board.
One thing that is loud and clear is that we really need to expand our database. That’s going to be a big focus for us in the second half.
Drew Neisser: Yeah, there are a lot of webinars. It’s funny because we’ve talked about virtual events a lot in our CMO Huddles and the first ones were just “Get them out the door as quickly as possible.” Now they’re getting better. I think the same thing has to happen with webinars. I attended one the other day and it was like 40 minutes of the brand and then 10 minutes of the customer. There was not enough time for questions. It’s like, “Let’s flip that! It didn’t get interesting until the end.”
But I also think the quality of the speakers, the way these things are produced, everything has to get better because we’re now competing with just—my email. A webinar competes with email. Same thing with podcasts. I could listen to the podcast or I could go do my email, or I could get on a Zoom call. Really, I think the quality bar is going to have to go up, which means the insight bar has to go up.
[29:14] How Reltio is Generating Leads
Drew Neisser: As you look ahead and you say, “We need more leads,” how do you see yourself generating those?
Jakki Geiger: Those eight events were supposed to be very big contributors to the expansion of our database, so we’re getting really creative right now. One of the things that we’re doing is exploring how we can get much more targeted with PPC. We’ve seen quite a bit of success with LinkedIn, in particular, because it has more targeting capabilities than just Google Ads, for example.
We’re also exploring virtual field marketing events where we work very closely with the sales team to identify the key accounts that we want to get to the right buying center. It’s not just about one individual, but we want to get that whole buying center engaged. How do we do that, how do we research the right content, and really understand the account? As you know, different industries are impacted differently right now. Travel and hospitality? Not the same as life sciences in terms of what they’re focused on, but even within the hospitality industry there are some companies that are investing customer experience in digital and others that are just in cost-cutting preservation mode.
It’s really about being able to take a much more ABM or hyper-personalized approach. In general, marketers are realizing we need to be hyper-personalized. How can we learn as much as we can about an account, about a buying center? How do we get as much data in our hands as we can so that when we do get a message through, it resonates? That it resonates because they understand our business?
Drew Neisser: I think virtual field events is one of the more fun and interesting things. There’s a lot of more interesting things going on. I’ve heard of pizza casts and wine tastings and whiskey tastings and all sorts of really fun things. Have you come up with an angle that you’re starting to see work in field events?
Jakki Geiger: We are just dipping our toes into field events. We’re literally having our first one this month, so I will let you know. But Drew, I must say—when you invited me to that CMO Huddle, that was incredibly valuable. I think the challenge we have right now is that there’s no playbook. Webinars are good because you can learn things from other people, but what was really valuable about that huddle you put together was that we all got to talk and ask questions and discuss topics that were important to us.
That’s where I want my team to go with our events. How do we bring these really smart people together and have them talk amongst themselves and ask questions and find out how each of them are succeeding with various things? For me, I would like to go away from presenting and more towards creating engagement. Yes, the whiskey tastings and all that, I can’t wait to experiment with those and see how they go because I think it’ll make it a much more fun experience, but I think it’s just about allowing people that venue to talk, to network because they’re missing it. They’re not doing events anymore. That’s what we used to do at events.
[32:40] Jakki Geiger’s Repositioning Dos and Don’ts
Drew Neisser: What are two dos and a don’t for pivoting this quickly from one story to a new, improved story?
Jakki Geiger: I think it really starts with your core. One thing I didn’t mention is that we took a really hard look at our vision and our mission because when you’re repositioning, you don’t want to go too far away from that. Our mission has been to power the experiences of the future with the data that matters most to your company. We didn’t go too far away from that with our serve, protect, and retain with connected customer data. I think that’s something to really look at. Why are you here as a company, what purpose do you serve as a company, and how do you take the message you’ve got and tweak it so that it’s more in tune with the current situation?
Messaging is usually a one-year type of thing. We’re going to lock this in. We’re going to have it for a year and see how it goes. But I think this whole ability to pivot and moving from live events to digital and shifting our messaging, we’re just going to need to be more nimble leaders in general and be more open to revisiting things. It’s not “This is the way we’ve done it,” or “This is the way we do it.” I think it’s going to be the new playbook moving forward. It’s about having more agility ourselves.
I would say don’t go too far away from your core. It still really needs to resonate with that customer, that prospect. That would be my main advice. Stick to your values, what’s critically important to your customers about you, and don’t stray too far.
[34:27] Drew’s Wrap Up: Agility, Purpose, and Message Testing
Drew Neisser: Agility is an asset. Period. It always is an asset, but it’s a mindset that says, “I’m listening, I’m ready, and I’m able to pivot if needed.” You tied it back to your mission and vision. It’s not like we’re ricochet rabbit where we’re going, “Bing, bing, bing!” going from one thing to another. You’re grounded in something.
Another thing that you said that you powered through really quickly was, based on where you’re going, you then tested and used webinars as a way of message testing, which I thought was really interesting. I haven’t really heard CMOs talk about it that way. You put a toe in the water, “Oh, this one’s working, let’s go with that until that one doesn’t work.” I think that test and learn approach is really smart, again, assuming that it ties back to why.
Then, finally, at the very beginning of the conversation we talked about the need for CMOs to be aware of the world that we operate. No company is a bubble, no CMO is a bubble. If anybody were going to solve some of these big issues, like systemic racism, it’s going to be leaders like though the ones listening to the show.