CMO Kevin Sellers - CMO Dan Lowden
June 4, 2021

Oh FUD, Say Goodbye to Fear-Based B2B Marketing

Guest: CMO Kevin Sellers - CMO Dan Lowden - CMO Armen Najarian, Ping Identity - HUMAN - RSA Security

FUD, you ever heard of it? No, not Elmer Fudd, the Looney Toon set on hunting that wascally wabbit Bugs. We’re talking about FUD, the acronym for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt, a marketing tactic that focuses on the dangers customers face if they don’t adopt a product. In the B2B cybersecurity world, FUD-based marketing is quite popular, and while it’s effective in many cases, the negative approach can have unintended consequences on company culture and brand perception.

Enter Dan Lowden of HUMAN, Kevin Sellers of Ping Identity, and Armen Najarian of RSA, three B2B CMOs in the cybersecurity world set on throwing FUD out the door and selling instead through values-based marketing. Tune in to this fascinating episode to learn how these brands have found ingenious ways to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive market, why B2B brand values are essential to success, and more.

What You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • Why B2B brands should leave FUD-based marketing behind
  • More effective alternatives to FUD
  • The true business value of values-based marketing

Renegade Thinkers Unite, Episode 243 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned

Time-Stamped Highlights

  • [0:00] Cold Open: This is Renegade Thinkers Live
  • [1:37] How HUMAN Keeps It Human
  • [8:56] How Ping Identity Markets Cybersecurity with Humor
  • [15:12] Shifting from FUD as an Enterprise Cybersecurity Company
  • [21:56] The Business Value of Positive Messaging
  • [28:22] On CMO Huddles
  • [29:59] How B2B Brand Values Can Close Deals
  • [42:46] How to Optimize Data Without Being Creepy
  • [49:38] The Future of Cybersecurity Marketing

Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Dan Lowden, Kevin Sellers, and Armen Najarian

[0:00] Cold Open: This is Renegade Thinkers Live

Drew Neisser: Hello Renegade Thinkers! Drew here—I mean, who else would it be? This week’s podcast episode comes from Renegade Thinkers Live, our livestream series where savvy, agile, brilliant B2B CMOs come together to discuss the hottest marketing topics.

This week’s episode features three superstars: Dan Lowden of HUMAN, formerly known as White Ops, Kevin Sellers of Ping Identity, and Armen Najarian of RSA Security. [They’re] all CMOs in the cybersecurity world, a place where FUD—those of us who’ve been in the business a while know that’s Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt—is a tactic that is really relied upon heavily in this space, but not by these gentlemen and I think that’s so interesting

These are cybersecurity marketers who elected to be purpose-driven, to be values-based, and what you discover in the course of the conversation is how much these values inform their marketing and how much value their marketing has on the business. I think you’re really going to enjoy this episode. Give it a listen. Let’s get on to the show.

[1:37] How HUMAN Keeps It Human

“To call a cybersecurity company HUMAN is a little bit crazy when you really think about it, but it's really exciting and it's who we stand for and it ended up being the perfect choice for us.” —Dan Lowden @WhiteOps Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: I’m your host Drew Neisser, live from my home studio in New York City and as I like to say on the podcast, hello, Renegade Thinkers! Now when I was growing up, Sunkist Growers deployed an animated ad featuring two kids talking about an unbranded orange with one warning the other, “If it doesn’t say Sunkist, you don’t know what’s inside.”

Now sure enough, a purple dragon pops out of the orange—it was terrifying in a funny way—and reinforced the somewhat scary notion that if you didn’t have Sunkist, you might get poisoned by a purple dragon.

This was my first encounter with FUD-based advertising, FUD as in fear, uncertainty, and doubt. When I first worked on IBM in the 1980s, the expression “No one ever got fired for buying IBM” was still very much in play. In fact, Gene Amdahl, who left IBM to start a competing firm is one of the people credited with FUD and he said this: “FUD is the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that IBM salespeople instill in the minds of potential customers who might be considering Amdahl products.”

Today, FUD is still a widely used tactic—think about any home security product—and often used in cybersecurity. So why are people doing all this FUD? Well, sadly, it works on a primal level. It sort of affects the brain, our reptilian brain.

It really makes you wonder sometimes what can constrain a brand. How can we get an enlightened CMO to not use FUD when they’re in the security category? What’s incredible about today’s show is we have three CMOs from three cybersecurity-related companies, and FUD is not the central tenet of their marketing. That’s very cool

The first one is Dan Lowden, the CMO of a company now called HUMAN, formerly known White Ops. Hi Dan, welcome to the show.

 Dan Lowden: Hey, Drew. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it, my friend.

Drew Neisser: So first, congrats on the new name. That’s kind of huge news.

Dan Lowden: Yeah, it’s a major thing for the company. Calling the company HUMAN goes back to something that we’ve been wearing on our shirts since 2015. Our mission is to protect the integrity of the Internet and keep engagement with customers in a way where it’s a real human. You ensure there’s a real human on the other side, so it’s who we’ve always been, who we protect, and it stands for the employees of the company. We did a search of a thousand different names and kept coming back to HUMAN, and we’re really excited we landed there.

Drew Neisser: Well, I love it. For those who haven’t seen us talk together, we did a podcast together, Episode 174: Finding Your Brand’s North Star, and the funny part is the promotional image of that is the two of us wearing our HUMAN shirts. We were back in Las Vegas in January of 2020. What I love about this story is it’s almost like the t-shirt became the transformative campaign which swallowed the brand. I’ve never heard a story like that.

Dan Lowden: Yeah. I mean, we have so many people who want to wear the shirt, whether it’s customers, whether it’s the press, analysts, partners, you name it. When we said we’re here to protect humans, we’re here to ensure there is a great digital customer experience with humans and stop these bot attacks. We actually have shirts that say “robot” and we have shirts that say “human,” and we turn that into something much bigger.

On our website, we actually use real humans of the company to promote and talk about our products and services as well. It’s really who we’ve been from the beginning, and we felt it best represents us going forward. To call a cybersecurity company HUMAN is a little bit crazy when you really think about it, but it’s really exciting and it’s who we stand for and it ended up being the perfect choice for us.

Drew Neisser: It’s really just a wonderful story of the profound role that a really big marketing idea can play in a company so much so that it becomes the name. And I keep thinking about that as really the antithesis of FUD. I mean, in some ways it’s there because it’s baked into the story—”I’m human protecting you from bots.” But it’s not, “Beware of the bots.” It’s about letting humans in.

Dan Lowden: Yeah. It’s about keeping it human and knowing who is real, right? That’s what it’s all about. For us, it’s really come together in a very special way, and the whole company is excited about it. For all the feedback we’ve gotten so far, it’s been fantastic,

Drew Neisser: Which is not surprising. And it is so unusual. It’s funny, we had David Friend at the Super Huddle, the founder of Wasabi, and he talked about how that name has been so helpful in differentiating the brand. His criteria was, short, memorable, unexpected—and boy, you hit all of them with HUMAN, right?

Dan Lowden: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. On all those fronts. It’s been a great journey for us to really go and look at all the options that were out there for us. We felt we wanted to do a lot of due diligence. It took us about six months through the process. We talked to a lot of different experts in the industry, and we kept trying all different types of things, but we kept coming back to HUMAN. It’s who we’ve always been, and I think everybody’s gotten really excited about it.

Drew Neisser: Well, I think before we leave and bring on our next guest, I just want to make the point—you all made the decision to leave the name White Ops behind. I think that was a pretty profound post that you all had written. Can you just share the highlights of why you all felt the need to leave that name behind?

Dan Lowden: Yeah, I mean, it’s a big part of our history and the company has been around for over ten years and White Ops meant something very different back then. From a cybersecurity community perspective, I think there is an awakening of, “Hey, we have to be very careful about all words that we say and what meanings are behind them.”

Over the past year, and especially our CEO, Tamer Hassan, we all agreed, hey, with all this going on in the world, we felt we should come up with a name that’s exponentially better than what we had today with White Ops.

We felt what would best represent the company going forward and keeping all the things, again, that are going on in the world in mind, that’s why we decided to make the move. We were proactive in publishing that blog post and we got a lot of great responses around it.

Drew Neisser: Very cool.

Dan Lowden: Since then, it’s been a journey and, again, fully supportive of everybody with the new name.

[8:56] How Ping Identity Markets Cybersecurity with Humor

“What are we really trying to do? We're really trying to rent a little space in the mind of our target audience.” —@KevinSe51736624 @pingidentity Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: We’re going to move on, and we’ll be back with Dan, but we’re going to speak with Kevin Sellers, who is the CMO of Ping Identity. Kevin is the star of Episode 218 of Renegade Thinkers Unite. Kevin, welcome.

Kevin Sellers: Thank you, Drew. Good to be back.

Drew Neisser: You know, it’s been about five months since we spoke about your Terry Crews videos, which I thought were very funny. In fact, we might just use it at the break while we’re getting our gin ready. I’m curious, in the last five months, what’s the latest with the campaign?

Kevin Sellers: Well, interestingly, I just got back from another shoot. We’re going into another round. I think for us, it was an interesting thing. I mean, Dan talking earlier—in the space that we’re in, we’re kind of in the cybersecurity space, too. You look across that landscape and you see how people talk about themselves and how they present themselves to the marketplace. There’s a lot of sameness in that. There’s a, “Hey, we’ve got to be really bold and strong and professional.”

And, of course, that’s important, but we chose this route as a means of kind of highlighting some of the challenges our customers and prospects might be dealing with, to bring a little bit of appropriate humor and also leverage a person who we think aligns with our brand really well with strength, optimism, very positive energy flow.

So, yeah, we launched it. It’s gone very well. We’ve gotten great reception. It’s definitely a unique and differentiated way to talk about our products and services and how we can help. So far, so good. Like I said, we just finished round two and I think they’re going to be much better than [inaudible].

Drew Neisser: It’s interesting. I mean, certainly, when you go into round two, you know what worked, what didn’t work, but it’s also a voice of confidence that, gee, it worked well enough that we got to keep going with it.

I love that at the very beginning of the video—again, we’re going to we’re going to see that in a few minutes—they have fun with the problem, right? They laugh; it’s sort of this kind of inside joke. You’re still presenting the problem in some ways, but you’re just so over the top and I think that in this world that, as you said, the idea of getting to distinctiveness is so important.

And the use of humor—just how few B2B brands. Can you just share a little bit about how important humor has been in differentiating your brand? How that has actually added to business value if you will?

Kevin Sellers: Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of like you said around—you’re trying to create some distinctiveness. At the end of the day, what does a marketer really—what are we really trying to do? We’re really trying to rent a little space in the mind of our target audience, which is a hard thing to do with our audience getting bombarded with, depending on the study you read, 5 thousand, 10 thousand, 15 thousand messages a day. So how do you create that opportunity where you can grab a little mindshare and actually stick?

That’s the universal challenge that all marketers are dealing with in this very media-saturated world. So the idea here was, humor, particularly in this space where it can be a little, you know, you’ve got to be careful with it… But the idea was, how can we play off of some of the frustrations and challenges that all of us as customers face in engaging with our favorite brands digitally, but not do it in a way that’s kind of over the top.

At the end of the day, the people that buy our products, they get fired if they get this wrong. Literally, their livelihood depends on whether they can keep their network protected and safe, whether they can create safe, secure experiences for both employees and customers and so forth. We don’t want to lean too heavily on that; we just want to have a little bit of fun so it becomes more memorable, but it plays up some real-life experiences that they deal with.

So, from that perspective, we’re definitely seeing that the receptivity and the effectiveness and the engagement of that content is really starting to play. Now, it’s not driven—I can’t point to specific deals we closed yet, but I could certainly point to an enormous increase in our top-of-funnel activity, which is a precursor to what we would expect to be a better business down the road.

Drew Neisser: Got it. So sometimes the internal audience is harder to sell on having a lighter touch than the external audience because they forget, as you said, they could get fired if they do this. Did you have any pushback internally?

Kevin Sellers: Oh, yeah. For sure.

Drew Neisser: Let’s be real, yep!

Kevin Sellers: I remember my session going to the board talking about strategy and there was this universal perception like, “No, no, no, you’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to tell the world that we are the trusted solution. You’ve got to tell them that we’re the trusted solution!”

And I thought to myself, this is where—because all board members are experts and marketers, we all know that, right?

Drew Neisser: God bless ‘em.

Kevin Sellers: What was interesting is it really came back to—where I was able to get them over that hump was, look, if I show up at the end of the day and I say the same thing that everybody else is saying, and I do it without a Geico-sized budget, it’s not going to work. It’s not hard to make that case.

Once they got a sense of what we were doing—we were trying to play up some smart humor and just have a little bit of fun but do it in a way that captures and elevates the essence of the challenge and how we then become the solution to the challenge—they were much more comfortable it.

But just the notion of using an influencer and all that that entails and then not being that down the middle of the fairway like, “We’re the strong, trusted partner you want,” which is again, not that that’s a terrible message. It just happens to be what anybody else says. So that’s kind of the difference. I had to kind of nuance it through lots of cycles back and forth, but we finally got them there.

[15:12] Shifting from FUD as an Enterprise Cybersecurity Company

“I'm seeing a bias toward really embracing the positive, the business enablement side of the equation.” —@armennajarian @RSAsecurity Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Let’s bring on Armen Najarian, who is the CMO of RSA—relatively new in the position—who was at Agari, another security company, when we recorded Episode [139] back in June 2019. Hey, Armen, how’s it going?

Armen Najarian: Going well. June of 2019 feels like so long ago, Drew, we were like actually meeting in person then.

Drew Neisser: Oh my, it’s another lifetime ago.

Armen Najarian: It really was. Can I just give a quick shout out to Dan? Like Dan, amazing that you were able to time the launch of your new brand just in time for this event today. Like how cool is that? Perfect timing.

Dan Lowden: We did it just for Drew. Just for Drew.

Armen Najarian: Yes. You should be flattered, Drew.

Drew Neisser: It’s amazing. Yes, I’m excited. Very cool. You’re two years at Agari. Was FUD a part of your thinking at all when you approached marketing?

Armen Najarian: It was actually nearly three years, and I would say we went out of our way to try to not buy into fear-based marketing. I think it’s become a bit of a cliché in the cybersecurity world to lead with fear and at least inject some negativity into the narrative.

We went out of our way—our brand promise was the confidence to trust your inbox. Trust your inbox became kind of a theme. It was email and marketing had stopped—I’m sorry, email security. Our primary value was basically removing all identity, impersonation, and deception from reaching your inbox.

We went out of our way to really try to lead with the business enablement. If you could trust your inbox, you can be more productive. You can work without second guessing. Your workforce would be unleashed from second-guessing everything that hits their inbox. We went out of our way to focus on the positives and really tried to avoid falling into those clichéd pitfalls.

Drew Neisser: Yeah. And, you know, I remember walking into your office in the days when we would actually go to an office and have an interview in an office and the values were up there. You just felt that this was a values-driven company and that just wasn’t one of the values to use scare tactics.

You’ve now been at RSA, I think, all of three months. And just by comparison, in that time, President Biden promised to vaccinate over a hundred million Americans and seems to be well on target. What have you been doing?

Armen Najarian: Well, I’m not one of those hundred million yet, but I look forward to claiming my place in line as soon as I am able to. It’s been a lot of learning. We are a truly global business operating on every continent in virtually every country, every major country on every continent.

Getting my hands wrapped around that reality and operating in different time zones—we start our week off every Monday with a 6:00 a.m. executive staff meeting, so I would say adjusting to the global reality of this business, and a business with a lot of heritage.

RSA is a 38-year-old business founded in Israel and has since kind of gone through many lives and many transformations including the most recent pivot where RSA had been under Dell EMC ownership for ten years and just last Fall moved into the world of private equity ownership. So, yeah, really kind of adjusting to this reality and embracing the reality, meeting the teams, understanding the business levers has been really how I’ve spent the past six to eight weeks.

Drew Neisser: So, you’ve been on the grand listening tour.

Armen Najarian: I have. The virtual grand listening tour, yes,

Drew Neisser: Yeah. I’ve talked to a number of CMOs who’ve started in positions after the pandemic and therefore everything’s virtual. You obviously you can compare that to other times when you’ve started. Is it a lot harder to get up to speed because of the virtual?

Armen Najarian: I don’t think so. I think, you know, we in the B2B technology space, I think, have adjusted and adapted very well over the past year, and we can have meaningful sessions and meetings and strategy sessions and introductions through Zoom. It’s been a Zoom first world, so I think we’ve kind of mastered that to an extent. Nothing obviously replaces meeting face to face, and I look forward to getting out and traveling, but I’d say overall, yeah, we’ve been able to adjust and provide a meaningful onboarding experience.

Drew Neisser: So, as you’re looking at the marketing and evaluating it, and I’m not familiar with RSA’s positioning over the years, was FUD a factor as far as you could tell?

Armen Najarian: I think to an extent it was. For a lot of heritage enterprise security companies, and RSA would certainly be part of that… It’s funny, as we started to prepare for today’s session, I started looking at some of the brand artifacts for RSA and there’s certainly language that I’ve seen around thriving in an uncertain world, high-risk world, all those scary-sounding statements that certainly capture the attention of a chief security officer or a CISO.

But I am sensing just a general, I’d say, proactive intent across the industry, certainly within RSA, to really embrace more of a business values outcome to the lead with messaging. That doesn’t mean some of these scary words don’t appear, but I’m seeing a bias toward really embracing the positive, the business enablement side of the equation.

Drew Neisser: Right. Raising the positive. It makes sense. How long do you give yourself in a new role before we should be back on this show talking about execution?

Armen Najarian: Yes. Yes. One major initiative that I’m tackling right now is actually we’re going through a rebranding and there’s four lines of business. I’m actually overseeing one of the lines of business and we’re going through a rebranding exercise, Drew, and I put a stake in the ground.

In June. We’re going to be launching this new business in June and it’s going to be a highly orchestrated event. To answer your question, between now and June, I will amass all the wisdom that maybe I will need to have a more meaningful discussion around execution and some of the big plays that we have invested in leading up to the June launch.

[21:56] The Business Value of Positive Messaging

“You can talk about stopping fraud from effectively ripping off your business of hundreds of millions of dollars or you can talk about all the business enablement of if fraud is not present.” —@armennajarian @RSAsecurity Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Let’s bring Dan and Kevin back, and then I’m going to ask, hey, Google, what is FUD marketing?

Google: On the website ChiefMarTec.com they say: “Instead, FUD is an intentional tactic of rhetoric and fallacy that has been used in sales and marketing, particularly in high technology, to dissuade customers from considering a competitor’s products.”

Drew Neisser: Interesting. So it’s even more than just going negative. It’s going, “Here’s why you shouldn’t buy your competitors.” And I’m just curious, as marketers, do you have to hold back your sales teams from going negative?

Kevin Sellers: Sure, I’ll comment quick. I think there are times when the sales team is actually brought in and they’re doing a lot of deep comparisons. This is real low funnel stuff where you want to arm them with not only why you think you have the best solution but be able to point out some challenges are with your competitors. But I think that’s very deep funnel stuff. I think if it’s a broad message from your company, then it tends to [not be] something that works really, really well.

Drew Neisser: Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about, in this world, I mean, there are what, how many brands in your category? Thousands? The larger thing of this, I’m trying to get a sense of—every time you sell a security product, you basically have to say because there’s a problem, right? And that problem is, you know, the lack of security.

So, I guess you’re in a place where kind of, by definition, many times you have to define the problem. I guess I don’t know how we ever get beyond, to some extent, and so maybe this is where we get back to you, Armen, and talking about business value.

Armen Najarian: A great, great question. So, there’s an analogy—I’m focused on what’s called the fraud and risk intelligence business here at RSA. It’s a meaningful-sized business and there are two sides to the coin is the analogy that we use internally.

You can either talk about stopping fraud from effectively ripping off your business of hundreds of millions of dollars, or you can talk about all the business enablement and good virtues of, if fraud is not present, you’re treating your customers really well. You’re removing the barriers for them to do business with you.

It’s the two sides to the coin analogy and we are encouraging our entire go-to-market engine to really lead with the other side of the coin. Not stopping bad guys, but how to help drive a digital business that is free from restrictions for good customers because we know who those good customers are at the moment. And we can remove any friction from the equation and allow commerce to actually take place. And oh, by the way, we’re stopping the bad people from coming in. It’s a very deliberate notion that we’re trying to drive through the entire engine.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. Does that align with what you’re thinking, Dan?

Dan Lowden: Yeah, it does. First, and to your point about the FUD piece, when we maybe go in a bake-off with customers and things like that or with prospects, our sales team just says, “Let the results show how good we are.” We kind of just leave it at that and we’re really confident in what we do and every time we do, we feel we’re in a really strong position and let the product speak for itself.

I think one of the things that HUMAN thinks about is, how do we improve and protect the customer experience? In our world where there are sophisticated bot attacks, a lot of the current ways are testing humans to see if they’re a bot or not. We don’t test the humans, we test the bots to make sure we don’t get in the way of the humans, that we cause friction to the humans. We try to take friction away from the human experience, and that way, every company that we protect can have and offer a better experience for their customers.

The security teams and the CISOs have a play in that as well. They want to make sure the company is successful, that things that they do impact the business in a positive way, that impact the customer experience in a positive way, and that’s what we focus on.

Yeah, we stop bots so you don’t have to worry about it so that you can go focus on creating a great customer experience and drive better business results. That actually really resonates with the cybersecurity community and CISOs who are progressive saying, “We have a role to play here to make the company successful. We have to protect it, but we have ways that we can do that and help the company be more successful at the same time.”

Drew Neisser: Yeah, it’s interesting, I mean, it seems like all marketing is merging towards it’s about the customer experience and it’s no matter what angle we’re talking about, right?

Dan Lowden: Right. But when you share that with the security team, that’s a very new thing in my mind. That’s a very different approach. I think the key thing, as we talked about, there are thousands of cybersecurity companies, and it’s about features and products and feeds and speeds and that just gets lost in the mix.

I think business results, business outcomes, better customer experiences are where this impact can have the biggest benefit to the overall company and the security teams play a role in that as well. And that’s why we see a lot of cross-pollination of marketing teams and cybersecurity teams starting to work together because they know these types of attacks impact all parts of the organization.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, it’s like you’re getting to the fifth “why.” It’s, “Okay, what’s this do? Okay, why?” And then “Why” and then “Why” and then finally it’s really about, “Do you really just want to be a security guard, or can we actually get you into the business of the business?”, which is fascinating.

[28:22] On CMO Huddles

Drew Neisser: I want to take a quick little break and if you don’t mind, I’d like to plug Huddles for a sec. This was something that we launched in 2020. CMO Huddles is an invitation-only subscription service that brings together an elite group of CMOs to share, care, and dare each other to greatness. One CMO described a huddle as a cross between an expert workshop and a therapy session. So, Dan, Kevin, Armen, does that sound about right to you?

Armen Najarian: Absolutely.

Dan Lowden: It does to me. I’ve really gotten a lot out of it, Drew. It’s been a great experience and it’s just great networking and to learn best practices and share our pain and share our successes as well.

Kevin Sellers: I would add, too, Drew, just to plug it, there are so many CMO councils and huddles. We all get asked to join a bunch of them. But I will say that this one has consistently brought value to the table and it’s not just getting people in a room and saying, “Hey, here’s a problem, go at it.” But the way it’s curated, the way it’s disseminated, and just how the whole process works, there’s value at every step so I’ve appreciated every part of it.

Armen Najarian: I will also add, I think the continuity of familiar faces is also quite nice. You can start to form some deeper relationships and kind of pick up conversations where they left off in cases.

Drew Neisser: You guys are awesome. I love that. Thank you very much for that. So anyway, if you are a CMO who is really good at what you do and would love to share your experience and share, care, and dare with the best of them, visit CMOHuddles.com and see what you think.

[29:59] How B2B Brand Values Can Close Deals

“We can state what our values are, but it's really what is authentic and true in terms of how you actually exist as a company.” —@KevinSe51736624 @pingidentity Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Let’s get back to this important task at hand. Let’s just talk about the values of the company relative as an expression of your marketing. And I’m thinking about that, Dan, when you really think about how your brand evolved from White Ops and how the values of the company said that name wouldn’t work, but I’m really interested in this connection between how you think of yourself as a cybersecurity company and how you talk about yourself to the public.

Dan Lowden: Yeah, I think a big part of what we do as a company is it’s all about integrity. We protect the integrity of the internet by disrupting the economics of cybercrime, so integrity is a big piece of our mission and who we are and what we do.

The whole FUD thing just really doesn’t work for us, but we do things with integrity, and we also call ourselves internally—”humble badasses” is the way that I describe ourselves because we publish a lot of research that educates people and says, “Hey, this is what’s going on. This is some of the discoveries that we’ve found.” We have that very honest conversation with people as a human and say, “Hey, we’re here to help you if you have these types of challenges” and have that kind of a conversation.

That humbleness and that background of engaging with looking at us as all humans really works. The integrity piece of this seems to make sure—especially in this world of cybersecurity when marketing is not necessarily trusted, the integrity piece of it really works. You have to be real about it. You have to be honest about it, and I think it’s really having a great impact on our company and the people that we engage with because they see us as that type of human aspect of integrity. For us, it’s working well and it’s building that “trust” word, but it’s also educating the market and making them smarter, doing their jobs better.

Drew Neisser: Kevin, talk to me, tell me what you got.

Kevin Sellers: Well, building up against that, I think for really great marketing—I hate to use the term because it’s so overused—I’ll use it, but then I’ll try to deconstruct it. It is around being very authentic to who you are, so what is true about you? What is really unique and special about you?

That’s really built upon those values, but also, values have to be something that are actually demonstrated. There was a time when if you walked into the lobby of Enron, you would have seen on their wall the values of Enron. And on the wall, believe it or not, was the word “integrity.”

We can state what our values are, but it’s really what is authentic and true in terms of how you actually exist as a company. How do you interact with your customers? What do they say about you? What’s the experience they’ve had? [It’s] ensuring that you build off of what’s genuine. For us, the things that are very true are this idea of championing identity because we fundamentally believe that that is the foundation of this sort of digital transformation and allowing for people to have digital freedom.

We also want to champion the customer. One of the real great truths about the company is how it treats its customer, how it supports its customers, and it’s all reflected back in the net promoter scores as well as the feedback we get. We built a lot of our messaging around that idea of what do we hold dear, which is identity and the ability to champion the importance of identity, as well as just how we are so engaged with and supporting and championing our customers.

It works because those messages ring very true. If we stand up in the world and say, “Hey, I’m sexy”—and we’re just not sexy—that’s just not going to work regardless of how often we say it or how funny we say it. It’s got to be built on a simple truth and so I think it’s very similar to what Dan said. There really has to be a knowledge and an understanding of not just what your stated values are, but how do you live and what’s really genuine about you, and then finding ways to use that as a point of differentiation and uniqueness in the market.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, it’s interesting. As I am hearing you talk about it, I’m just curious. Because this is a really important part of—Dan, we can speak to this. I mean, you guys have featured your people on your website. They’re wearing the HUMAN shirts. And you’re making a statement about your company, as now, with the name that this is a human-run company, that humans are important to this company. It’s so interesting because it is the antithesis of a classic tech company.

Dan Lowden: Exactly.

Drew Neisser: I’m really struck by that.

Dan Lowden: It’s really true. I mean, you have to be different, you have to be bold, but you have to be who you are. I’ll give you a great example. We did a proof of value with the customer and they were looking at one of our competitors. Our product performed really well. We did some great things and showed them a lot of value, but what they came back and they told us is, “What we really liked the most about this whole process is we got to know your humans of the company”—that’s what we call the employees of the company—”and we liked your people the best.” Like, “Your people were great. They were so supportive.”

In the end, it comes down to this relationship you build with your customers, and they know that you have their back and that they like doing business with you. That counts for a lot, relationships. I still have relationships 25 years ago of customers that I worked with when I was at IBM and they’re still friends today. I think that still holds true in business today and stands true as a differentiator for us as the way we approach our customers and work with our customers with humility.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, but I love that humble badass part. I mean, we’re bringing it. We’re not just any kind of meek old folks.

Dan Lowden: Oh yeah, the product’s got to work. The product’s got to provide value. As we were saying earlier, Kevin mentioned, they’re making a bet on us that we’re going to really do a great job for them. And if we don’t, they could potentially lose their job. They have to be very, very comfortable with you in so many ways. The product’s got to be great, the service has got to be great, and the people have to be great to stand behind it.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I mean, the stakes are high. I think that’s part of this thing and why it’s such an interesting category in that if somebody either doesn’t buy or they buy the wrong thing or they implement in the wrong way, really bad things can happen. It is so interesting to think—and I wonder, Kevin, in your business, is there a people factor involved in the selection of the brand?

Kevin Sellers: Oh, yeah, it’s very similar to what Dan said. We talk a lot about B2H and the humanity and the humanness of this and, you know, sure, buying decisions in B2B are a little more complex, they typically take longer, there’s usually a committee of people, but they’re still people and there’s an emotional connection that’s always made.

Brand preference, brand loyalty is always built on an emotional factor, not on rational data points. There’s always a place for the rational and always a place for all the data points in the process, but your ability to secure and retain customers is, how do they feel about you? What is the trust that they place in you? And that’s obviously demonstrated through the interactions you have, but we get the same comments all the time.

We’ve often won some deals strictly because of the way we treated the people. You can have the best product in the world at what you do and lose the deal and vice versa. Maybe you’ve got some deficiencies relative to your competition, but the way you support your customers, the way they go to bed at night knowing that you’ve got their back will bring them back again and again. There’s always a people factor in everything you do. It’s really fundamental to a brand value proposition, and it’s always built on an emotional aspect, which is the human-to-human interaction.

Drew Neisser: It strikes me as just so fundamental to marketing yet in the tech world and in the security world, it’s so rarely talked about. One of the things that I’m curious from both of you on is, in some cases, you can create a fortress, if you will, that is impenetrable. I’m not talking about a wall. But there’s a tradeoff, right?

You’re so secure that, like, the site doesn’t load. There are some trade-offs here and I’m curious if that is a factor at all both in the product design and so forth, because at some point we could never transact, and if we didn’t transact, we’d be perfectly secure. Am I just sort of making that up? Is that a consideration in the product design of the things that you guys do?

Dan Lowden: Well, it’s definitely part of the product design for us because we want to make sure that the human has a great experience. And we don’t want to test the human. We want to test, in our case, the bot. It’s built-in from everything that we do that we ensure that we’re trying to be as secure as possible, but let the good humans through.

If we do that right, then we’re really going to benefit the customers that we work with. And the more that we work with, the better we can protect with them. We talk about something called collective protection, where we verify over 10 trillion interactions per week for some of the biggest companies on the planet. The more that we protect the ecosystem, the better we get at it. That way, it’s safer for everybody. That type of theme works really well when it comes to trying to enable security, but also enable a great experience for all their customers.

Drew Neisser: Got it. Well, that helped me. Thank you for that because it is this moment in the show where I do like to ask, what would Ben Franklin say? And this thought of his was when a number of young American citizens were willing to sacrifice their liberty for a little more security. The line that he uses is: “They give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty or safety.” So, keep that in mind when you’re thinking about monitoring yourself.

It’s an interesting quote in the context of cybersecurity. I want to welcome Armen back to the show. I was going to ask you—and now I’m delighted you’re back—this connection, as you’re doing your brand work, the connection from values at RSA—what role, if any, does that play as you’re thinking about brand?

Armen Najarian: It plays a big role. One could argue that it all begins with the values and so as we have been navigating through this brand strategy project, which we are in the throes of right now, we have spent a good amount of time debating values and really refining that. It’s my belief that we will really clarify that in the next week from which a lot of the messaging, the stories that we want to tell, the anecdotes that we want to provide will flow from there.

Drew Neisser: Got it. So, a fundamental part of the thing—if you’re rebranding, got to have those values. And if you want to not be a FUD brand, that probably has to be stated as a value I would think.

Armen Najarian: That is a good point. Good point, Drew. Yes.

[42:46] How to Optimize Data Without Being Creepy

“You can never win a deal on a first touch SDR interaction, but you can certainly lose a deal with a first touch SDR interaction.” —@armennajarian @RSAsecurity Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: So, let’s talk about AI. In this world, I’m imagining a world not too far from now where marketers would be able to tell if someone was more responsive to humor versus say, fear, uncertainty, and doubt. I mean, we could find that behavior. And at that moment, we’ve moved into a new level of marketing effectiveness, but I feel kind of like, “Okay, we’ve gone beyond into creepy land.” At what point with all of this—because you guys are actively involved in the marketing of products using technology—is there a point at which we’ve crossed the line?

Dan Lowden: It’s important not to cross the line. I think it’s important. That’s where the integrity comes into play. There’s a lot of things that you can do where you can cross the line and I think people realize that. I think especially in the cybersecurity community, they’re getting thousands of emails a day and getting pinged all over the place. I think if you overdo it, you’ll never get a chance again, so you can’t cross that line.

You have to be very careful. You have to be very intentional about everything you put in front of them. The thing that I tell and share with my sales team and my BDRs is every time you engage with the new prospect, you have to provide value to them, something that makes them smarter, better, better at their jobs, and more successful. If you do that, then that’s the right path. That’s not stepping over the line. I think that’s actually raising the bar in how you can help these folks.

And I think that approach works. I think going across that line, you potentially lock yourself out of that opportunity forever because they have long memories. A lot of companies do that and I think they fail.

Drew Neisser: I love the notion of providing value at every turn. Easier said than done. We’re certainly echoing back to The Challenger Sale and The Challenger Customer in doing those things. I’m curious, Armen or Kevin, if you have any thoughts in this area. How do you keep the technology that is available, which has the opportunity very quickly to get you that quick lead?

Kevin Sellers: I’ll just jump in. I think there are things you can do with the technology, especially when you’re testing and it’s known. For example, when I was at Intel, we used to test a lot of our consumer-facing marketing and we could do eye-tracking tests. We did a lot of stuff that was pretty creepy, but they knew it going into it. We could use that advanced technology to collect a lot of information, but we weren’t violating a trust or doing anything with the data.

In a broad sense, when no one knows it’s happening—look, we use AI on the website to chat and to do certain things that can kind of make things a little easier. But Dan’s right—there’s a line here. If there is a sense that I don’t trust you, if that there’s a sense I can’t trust you with my data or even trust you with any information about me, you’re kind of dead in a very digital-first world. I like to use the technology in my MarTech stack to help me get better at analyzing my data and trying to glean insights from the data; I don’t really do a lot in terms of direct interaction with the target audience. I’m not there.

Armen Najarian: I’ll share one anecdote, Drew. I’m a big proponent of the SDR function, the sales development function. The quote I like to use is, “You can never win a deal on a first touch SDR interaction, but you can certainly lose a deal with a first touch SDR interaction.”

A lot of early-career SDRs, they’re all over the technology. They’re looking at those magical moments, those signals when a prospect is actually engaging with the content, and there’s really an art for how and when you actually engage and reach out to that prospect. You want to avoid the creepy factor, yet you want to be present and responsive. There’s no perfect recipe book, but if it doesn’t feel right—if it feels too soon to call three minutes after someone downloaded an asset, probably not the right thing to do.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, which they’ll find out really fast. I think that’s a really amazing thing. I want to dig into that a little bit because sales development reps often don’t sit under the CMO, they often sit over in sales. Sales, objective, they’re measured by what sales they get, period. It’s revenue, and you’re often measured by how many quality leads you drive in and that end up getting closed.

The pressure on these SDRs is to move the deal forward. Again, how do we balance this? Dan talks about providing value at every turn. Armen, you mentioned how you could lose a deal, you’re rarely going to win one. What role can you, the CMO, play in making sure—and again, I’m trying to connect from no FUD, adding value to, “We’ve got to get a deal done here, folks, and now we’re starting a new quarter.” How do these dots connect?

Armen Najarian: I’ll just quickly weigh in. I think the incentive structure for SDRs matters a lot. Most SDRs are comped on setting up qualified meetings that the seller approves, and that’s basically the comp lever. If that’s the only lever, then the SDR is going to book as many of those meetings as possible and hope that the AE approves them.

What I have seen to balance that and drive more to the quality quotient is to provide a longer-term incentive for the SDR. So, yes, you want to book a volume of good meetings, but you also want to provide an incentive for when that deal progresses into pipeline. There should be some incentive there. And potentially, even when that deal ultimately closes, there should be some incentive there to provide that longer-term carrot to help drive more quality, even if that means lower quantity.

Drew Neisser: Right. So, it always comes back to, “People do what you pay them to do.” How you incent can often define the company, and I think this is where it gets so interesting because marketers aren’t necessarily the ones who set that, but I do think that they have a voice in it because, again, it comes back to the values of the organization and getting the right customer.

[49:38] The Future of Cybersecurity Marketing

“The future is going to forever change because of what we learned over the past 12 months.” —Dan Lowden @WhiteOps Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Are there any thoughts that you have as we’re going to wrap up the show. Any thoughts that you have on where all this is going from a CMO standpoint as you look ahead in your role in the cybersecurity space? What new is going to happen in the next year?

Dan Lowden: The pandemic has certainly created a whole lot of different challenges for marketers and a way to engage with especially the cybersecurity community because so much of that has been face-to-face and face-to-face events like RSA, like BlackHat, and all the types of activities that come together.

A lot of times, in those sessions, security teams meet with security teams and they share what’s working and what’s not, who they like, who’s up and coming, and things like that. I think now that we’re kind of hopefully towards the end of this pandemic—and we’ll never go back to as [many] in-face discussions like we had before, but I think people long for that. I think that will come back again and I think that’s what we’re looking forward to from a marketing perspective.

But we’ve learned a lot over the past year about how to engage differently digitally. Some of those things worked and some of those didn’t, and those things that worked we’re going to continue and we’ll continue to engage. Usually we’ve done dinners where they’re face-to-face dinners. We now do that virtually in a small format and whether it’s gin tasting or wine tasting or coffee making and things like that, you can still have a personal experience and get to know people digitally. I think the future is going to forever change because of what we learned over the past 12 months. Hopefully, marketers get better at it and continue to do the right things to engage with the prospects the right way.

Drew Neisser: Well, I, for one, am looking forward to getting together with you three gentlemen and perhaps having a drink actually face-to-face. Armen, Kevin, any other last thoughts on where all of this is headed?

Kevin Sellers: Sure. I think the other thing to just build on what Dan said was, the genie is kind of out of the bottle around digital transformation. If companies aren’t aggressively pursuing this, they’re going to have a tough road ahead. But I think that means for companies in general—we have to make sure that approaching our companies and interacting with us is easy to do.

Self-serve is not a fad. Prospects want to be able to come and learn about you and engage with you and try you. It needs to be easy. It needs to be frictionless. The more friction and tension and challenge that you have in that process, the more they’re going to get frustrated and go elsewhere.

This very digital-first engagement model has really blown up due to COVID and that will never change. And even when we start doing things more face-to-face, we still have to lean in heavily into that experience to make sure that how they engage with us is simple and seamless and very easy to do.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, such a great point. Amen. Any last words?

Armen Najarian: I will reinforce what Kevin said, but kind of flip it around and say, as a business or even as a marketing organization, if you are embracing tactics and approaches that feel like they’re from an era of the past, they will be more visible now than ever before. They will be more apparent now in a negative way than ever before, and that will materially impact your brand in a negative way. Now is the time to make those changes if you haven’t already.

Drew Neisser: I love it. What a great way to wrap it. Maybe where we are is at the death of FUD, the arrival finally of really values-based value delivery all the way through the marketing cycle. Gentlemen, thank you so much, you’re all great sports.

Show Credits

Renegade Thinkers Live is produced by Melissa Caffrey. Our botanical expert is Nicole Hernandez. Our intern is Charlotte McEvoy. For show notes and past episodes, please visit renegade.com, home of quite possibly the savviest B2B marketing agency in New York City. I’m your host Drew Neisser And until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.

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