Norman Guadagno
October 9, 2020

Spinning a New B2B Brand Out of IBM

Guest: Norman Guadagno - CMO, Acoustic

Imagine a globally recognized brand (say, IBM Watson Marketing) decides to spin out and gets packaged up and purchased by private equity. Imagine said brand not only has big name recognition, but also a handful of acquisitioned companies with some seriously loyal customers. So, you’re a brand-new company with 1,000+ employees, 3,500+ customers in 21 countries, and 5 major products; you need to build an infrastructure, culture, and brand from scratch. Top that all off with a worldwide pandemic, and you’ve got one seriously big challenge ahead of you.

Enter CMO Norman Guadagno. Joining Acoustic in 2019, Norman’s mandate was to create a brand, build a marketing organization, and build a company for the IBM carve-out. Daunting, yes, but in this epic episode, Norman shares how Acoustic has made a name for itself. From partnering with HR to establish a distinct culture to selling the new brand to existing customers, this jam-packed episode is a must for courageous B2B marketers everywhere.

What You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • How Acoustic built its brand
  • Why B2B branding needs to start with employees
  • How to balance old equity with a completely new brand

Renegade Thinkers Unite, Episode 209 on YouTube

Time-Stamped Highlights

  • [0:29] The Power of Brand
  • [4:10] Carving-Out Acoustic from IBM Watson Marketing
  • [7:20] Building a Distinct Culture to Build a Brand
  • [12:06] Acoustic’s Brand is About the Art of Listening
  • [17:47] Acoustic’s Employee Ambassador Program
  • [21:42] Bringing Acoustic’s Brand to Market via Existing Customers
  • [29:39] Balancing Old Equity with A New Brand
  • [39:14] Wrapping Up: Lessons Learned, Employee Engagement, Transformation

Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Norman Guadagno

[0:29] The Power of Brand

“The power of brand is vast.” @DrewNeisser #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Thinkers. Let’s talk about brand and its vast power. Great brands are often worth billions more than their lesser known generic brethren. The power of brand is vast. It impacts employees: why they started working with the company, why they stay, and why they become brand ambassadors. It impacts customers: why they come to you, why they stay with you, and why they might even refer you to others. And yet, while I’m saying this, “brand” is still a fluffy word and “brand” is not a welcome word in many boardrooms in many companies across the country. It’s incredible to me. Obviously, it’s a tough market right now and it’s probably not going to get any easier in 2021, so every CEO is focused on their quarterly earnings and it’s about revenue. It’s about net new logos. It’s about pipeline.

I get it. You’ve got to drive your business forward. But to think that brand and demand are not interconnected is folly, to think that you as an organization can succeed as effectively without brand is folly. And I know it’s war time and I’ve used this analogy a couple of times. There’s something called a wartime CEO versus a peacetime CEO. A peacetime CEO is the one who’s in a growing market. Your investments and your notions change. The wartime CEO right now is saying, “I’ve got to reserve capital. I’ve got to give myself flexibility.” I think wartime CMOs are doing the same thing. They’re keeping their powder dry waiting for opportunities. They might be outsourcing more. All of that is fine. I get it. That’s really smart. That’s what a wartime CMO needs to do.

But to think a wartime CMO just says, “We don’t need brand” to me is problematic and more than just shortsighted. You’re really probably hurting your organization. All right, now, where’s this going and why is this such an interesting podcast? Imagine for a moment you’re a really well-known brand, like say IBM Watson Marketing. You’re really well known. Everybody knows you. There’s nobody listening to this show who hasn’t heard of IBM and hasn’t heard of Watson. I mean, those are two of the most ubiquitous marketing, well known brands in the world. Now, spin those out of IBM and you have a brand-new company called Acoustic. The CMO of that company is Norman Guadagno and he’s here as a guest today. We’re going to talk about what it means when, suddenly, you don’t have a big brand anymore. So Norman, welcome to the show for the second time.

Norman Guadagno: It is a pleasure to be back, Drew. That was quite a great introduction as well. You nailed it with the description of the challenges I am and our company Acoustic face, and frankly, the bigger landscape as well. I’m eager to dive into this with you.

[4:10] Carving-Out Acoustic from IBM Watson Marketing

“Build a brand, build a marketing organization, build a company, and there's probably 28 sub-bullets under all of that.” @ThinkTone @goacoustic #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Let’s set the stage here, dial back a little bit. How long has Acoustic been Acoustic?

Norman Guadagno: You’ve got to turn the dial back to July of 2019. That’s when Acoustic was born. We are a carve-out from IBM, as you mentioned. There were a number of different capabilities inside IBM Watson Marketing for a number of different reasons. It really wasn’t the best fit for where IBM is going, so that was all packaged up and purchased by private equity. The new company was born, as I said, in July of 2019. I joined in September of 2019, so it’s been a little bit over a year now. Just had my one-year anniversary. Fortunately, it’s been a year when there’s been no challenges in the marketplace whatsoever.

Drew Neisser: Exactly! This is easy-peasy time. What’s so amazing is we can probably divide up your world from September to February. You know, life is good, we’ve got a lot to build, and then March comes and suddenly, oh my gosh.

Norman Guadagno: Everything changes. I actually was recalling recently that March 4th of this year, I returned to Boston from a trip to London where I was there for a couple of days for some meetings with our team there. Last time I was on an airplane. Last time I left my home in Boston. It was a lifetime ago.

Drew Neisser: It was a lifetime ago. So, you get there September 2019. What was your mandate?

Norman Guadagno: The mandate really came in a few parts. First was create a brand. Obviously, nobody had heard of Acoustic and we needed to position it in the marketplace. Second was build a marketing organization. There were a handful—and by handful, I mean under a dozen—that had come along with the carve-out that were marketing people who had been part of IBM, but there was no marketing leader. They’d all been sort of plucked from different parts of IBM Watson Marketing, which didn’t mean that they’d ever actually worked together. The third thing was to really contribute as an executive team member to building a company. That’s one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do and I’m sure we’ll talk about that. So, build a brand, build a marketing organization, build a company, and there’s probably 28 sub-bullets under all of that.

Drew Neisser: Just a small mandate because any one of those could be all consuming, but to have to do all three at the same time is substantial. I also want to just make sure that folks understand the scale. We’re talking about starting a brand-new company that has over a thousand employees.

Norman Guadagno: That is correct.

[7:20] Building a Distinct Culture to Build a Brand

“Marketing needs to be actively engaged with the human resources function in terms of helping with messaging, recruiting, onboarding.” @ThinkTone @goacoustic #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: So suddenly you’re a startup with a thousand people and this sort of history legacy of the way IBM did things. I’m wondering if it makes sense to start with the third thing first because, to me, you suddenly had to build a culture. You had to build something that was distinct from IBM. You didn’t have their resources and probably didn’t want them either. I mean, you really had to build something new.

Norman Guadagno: I think it’s a great place to start actually, to start with building a company, building a culture because, as you described, when the carve-out happened, it was over a thousand employees, 3,500+ customers operating in 21 countries, and 5 major products that were all packaged together. “Here you go. Here’s a brand-new company.” Now what’s interesting about this, Drew, is that the bulk of those employees were not actually Acoustic employees at that point in time. We could spend forever talking about how these deals get structured, but if Acoustic was born on July 1, there were no systems. There’s no infrastructure. A company can’t run without Salesforce and ADP and NetSuite and Coupa and Microsoft Office, you name it. The way it was structured was there was a window in which we had to implement all of our infrastructure so that the bulk of the employees could end up becoming officially Acoustic employees. For many, many months, in fact, from July all the way through from most employees until April 1st of 2020, they were actually IBM employees working on behalf of Acoustic.

Drew Neisser: Wow.

Norman Guadagno: Very sort of legally well-structured, complex in the doing.

Drew Neisser: What role did you play in the development of the culture and the company and why?

Norman Guadagno: Interestingly, on the day that I started in September of last year was the same day that our brand new CHRO started. We brought on a head of marketing and a head of human resources. We both started on the same day. She and I have become great colleagues and good friends. It turns out that we were both looking at this through the lens of “companies’ cultures brands are born with people” and if we don’t figure out a pathway to not only help them understand the culture we want to build, help them transition into that culture—and this was all before the pandemic, by the way—help them become part of something, how could we ever go to market? How could we ever attract and hire? I’ve found from my own personal experience, at a previous company and certainly here, that marketing needs to be actively engaged with the human resources function in terms of helping with messaging, recruiting, onboarding.

Building a brand starts on day one with an employee. In fact, it starts before day one the first time they find out about a company and they’re recruited. Our head of HR, Rose, and myself, we partnered up and we were very engaged in, “Okay, let’s make sure we’re going to define the vision mission values for the company. We’re going to figure out how we establish a cadence of communication for the company. What are the channels in which we communicate? How do we talk with each other?” Each of those things were in place from the original team that were carved out, but they didn’t have a marketing leader and they didn’t have an HR leader. We brought extensive operational experience to the table and we knew we had a partner and we did right from the start.

Drew Neisser: It’s so interesting. The other part of it, the advantage that you had, you had no IBM baggage. You didn’t have any sort of, “This is what we had to be, or this is what we were,” you actually had a really unique, clean slate opportunity to build a productive culture and brand, which is so cool, actually.

[12:06] Acoustic’s Brand is About the Art of Listening

“It's not just listening. It's also, to whom are you listening?” @ThinkTone @goacoustic #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Were there any things that where you said, “Okay, this really helps from an employee brand standpoint in the purpose, mission, vision and that stuff,”—which you know, I tend to obsess about—that really helped you and your HR partner think about the brand?

Norman Guadagno: There were a lot of things that were built into that. One of the things that I was key—and I want to give full credit to the team that was there before I got there that helped create the company name and the overall approach to the company because they did really fabulous work to lay a foundation. One of the things that’s important is to think about the company name, Acoustic. It really comes from the science of sound and, we think, from the art of listening. From day one, the company was born with a belief that we needed to listen. We needed to listen to the market. We needed to listen to our customers, and that was going to be deeply embedded in who we are as a company. From that, there’s a lot you can do to springboard into, “Oh, here’s a way to approach who we are and how we operate and how do we listen each day.”

Drew Neisser: It’s such an interesting thing. So, my dad was episode 100 of Renegade Thinkers Unite, and he is famous for being a good listener. He really talked about that on the show of just how much more interesting life was because of that. My sense of listening is, it is a skill that you can teach and get better at. I’m curious—to build a company around that is a fascinating choice. How do you make listening—because people are either naturally good listeners or they are just talkers—but how do you build on that idea?

Norman Guadagno: It’s definitely a challenge. I think one of the ways in which you need to think about it, Drew, is it’s not just listening. It’s also, to whom are you listening? When listening, well, you’ll hear all sorts of stuff. The cacophony of life surrounds us and that’s the world we live in. But if you’re listening to your customers, it changes your orientation very quickly and you do things in a very different way. If you’re listening to your partners, if you’re listening to your employees, each of those things causes a series of behaviors, actions, perspectives that you say, “Oh, okay, if I’m listening to my customers, how do I reorient everything so that we start from the perspective of what they need? If I’m listening to my employees, how do we create forums for them to speak to us rather than us just speak to them?” Each of those types of engagements informs listening as the foundation of, “Okay, what’s my next step? How do I do the right thing for our customers? How do I help make the brand a little bit better? How do I just even write a piece of copy, if I’m creating marketing copy, that starts with the notion of who’s the audience, what am I listening to and how am I open and expansive in what I want to hear?

Drew Neisser: Several thoughts as I’m listening to what you’re saying, an important one was, to whom do you listen? There is no shortage of noise in the marketplace and any perspective right now. And there are also those classic Henry Ford, “If I listened to other people, they would ask for a faster horse.” I almost used the lens, wrong metaphor. The ear that you listen with is important in all of this. All right. What I like is, it’s a perspective. It explains the name, which is an important place to start. It gives you something to build on, and it’s a pretty powerful idea in and of itself.

[17:47] Acoustic’s Employee Ambassador Program

“We really wanted these ambassadors to focus in on being that connection for all the other employees.” @ThinkTone @goacoustic #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: What were some of the concrete things that you and your HR partner did to help establish this employee brand? Any concrete programs that you executed? And I’m thinking about things before COVID now.

Norman Guadagno: Yes. Before COVID. Well, that’s sort of interesting in that early on, as we started to build out the vision, mission, values, and we tried to figure out how we were going to engage with people, we also realized that one of the things we want to do and we did very quickly is we created an ambassador program with our employees. When you have a large organization with lots of different levels and people who come out of IBM—so they had traditional reporting structures—and you’re trying to meld it all together, you really need to have a set of employees at all levels that you can trust to be eyes and ears and a voice. We established the ambassador program, and also keep in mind, even before we went into lockdown, the company was geographically fairly dispersed. IBM had a fairly liberal, widespread work-at-home policy for its employees, so we had lots of employees that were already working at home.

That will be a good thing later on when we talk about going into lockdown. We established this ambassador program. We had our own application process. We recruited these ambassadors so that they could become part of the process. At first, it was really to help transition employees because, going back to the discussion we had just a few minutes ago, all those employees who were still IBM employees would soon become Acoustic employees. For many of them, they’d been IBM employees for a long time and used to a certain way of doing things. Acoustic was not IBM. IBM has a 100+ year old company with 400,000 employees. Acoustic is a year-old company with 1,000 employees. We had to make sure that that transition, whether it be as simple a transition like how to stop using Lotus Notes and learn how to use Outlook, or how to a manage 401k plan, or what happens to their mobile phone. These are all these examples of serious things that mattered to employees, so we wanted to be able to help guide employees through the transition and get them onboarded so that they could become Acoustic employees.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. All of this is really helpful. What percentage of employees of the thousand were you hoping to have as ambassadors? Just give us a sense of scale.

Norman Guadagno: I think our initial goal was to have probably about 80 ambassadors in total.

Drew Neisser: Well, that probably almost covers most of the company.

Norman Guadagno: Yeah, and different concentrations in different groups, obviously.

Drew Neisser: Was there any plan ultimately that these ambassadors would be more than internal ambassadors, but they would also end up being brand ambassadors and help promote the brand externally?

Norman Guadagno: Great question. Actually, the answer is no. We really wanted them to be focused on internal. We definitely want to figure out ways to get every employee to become a brand ambassador and that’s an ongoing part of the program. It’s like, it’s okay to post things on social media. We had to encourage employees to learn how to do that, but we really wanted these ambassadors to focus in on being that connection for all the other employees.

[21:42] Bringing Acoustic’s Brand to Market via Existing Customers

“As marketers, we sometimes forget that we have to make sure our brand is as relevant to our existing customers as it is to our prospects.” @ThinkTone @goacoustic #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: That was one of the three parts of your mandate. The other two, as I will remind myself, were to build a marketing team and then create a brand. I’m going to skip building a marketing team for the moment. We might be able to come back to it, but let’s just talk about the process from September ’19 to March 2020. Give us a snapshot of the process that you went through to help bring this brand to market.

Norman Guadagno: The thing that I sort of dropped into when I got there in September was a lot of activity that had already been planned to introduce the brand primarily to existing customers. I want to emphasize this point because, as marketers, we sometimes forget that we have to make sure our brand is as relevant to our existing customers as it is to our prospects. In this particular case, for all those customers, they’ve been IBM customers. You can imagine a good deal of concern on their part over, “Oh, wait! IBM is selling this thing off and now it’s this company I’ve never heard of. How do I trust them? What are they going to do for me?” A lot of the initial efforts were really creating a sense of comfort in the existing customer base over Acoustic is real, it’s a real company, it’s a real brand. We’re going to support you. We’re going to deliver new value to you. We’re going to meet your needs. That’s sort of what I walked into, and there wasn’t a lot of thought towards an external start to build brand awareness, brand perception in the broader market. That’s where I picked up the baton when I came in with a, “Now we also have to do that as well.”

Drew Neisser: That’s so interesting to me on several levels. One is knowing that a lot of the companies chose these services really because they were connected to IBM. There was a great comfort in the old saying, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM” is still valid somehow. There is this overarching brand name that you’re probably not making a mistake. That’s part one of this thing. Part two of it is that one of those most interesting post-pandemic reactions, the companies that have been successful in this period have gone back to their customers and really hunkered down and done renewals and all sorts of interesting things. You had to do that in advance. In many ways, you had to go to your customers and say, “Hey, same stuff you liked, only better.” That’s the interesting part, right? That creates some interesting challenges from a brand standpoint, because you have to reassure them that this is still the company that you wanted to do business with, but somehow or other, you’re going to be better now that you’re independent and you’re 1,000 instead of 400,000. That’s a really tricky tightrope to walk.

Norman Guadagno: It is not only a tricky tightrope. I’m going to actually tell you that it’s more. It’s actually a tricky piece of very fine filament thread because of the following: it’s not only were they the customers’ customers of IBM, many of them had been customers of the companies IBM had acquired that became IBM Watson Marketing. In many cases, you had to go back to the original cool startup that somebody had become a customer of, that had been a customer of, that had been acquired by IBM. Then, during the however long they were within IBM, maybe that customer is happy, maybe they weren’t. Then, it gets carved out and now we are Acoustic. We’re not IBM. We’re not brands, previous companies like Silverpop and Tealeaf and Coremetrics that had been the foundation of the technologies. I almost had to determine, conceptually, am I speaking to somebody who really was attached to IBM or really was attached to the original thing or wasn’t attached at all because they had said, “Oh, okay, we’ll buy this” and we ended up with them? It was a tricky, tricky thing.

Drew Neisser: Oh my gosh. Really, again, we go back to the original part of this conversation, which was, how does brand matter? You’re saying that there were Silverpop customers who came in as Silverpop, who appreciated whatever it had, its secret sauce, that hung on, we might even say despite the acquisition. They were loyal to Silverpop and that’s just an ephemeral brand idea. How do we bring these pieces together then?

Norman Guadagno: How do we make this all work? Still ignoring the pandemic, how do we make all these pieces work? I’ve actually been through some similar situations because I’ve been in other businesses where we acquired assets that brought a brand with them and we had to make a decision: Do we keep the brand, not keep the brand? I happen to come from a perspective that is, honestly, I have finite resources. I can only do a small number of things really well. I’m going to double down on the brand that I have, and that, in this case, is Acoustic. We’re going to have to find ways at a macro level to build that Acoustic brand and I can talk about that. And then at a more micro level, with each individual customer, we do have to engage with them, and we have a great customer service organization.

We have to engage with them and help them see the value of coming from where they were through IBM to here—why is there value? And part of that is in the fact that we’re rebuilding all the products, we re-platformed all the products, we’ve modernized them. We’ve created what now is, we think, perhaps the most modern cloud-based MarTech stack out there, but we had to help customers understand the value back to them I saw it through the lens of, “Okay, I could spend forever trying to explain how we got from this company Silverpop to IBM, but right now, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to focus on Acoustic. We’re going to deliver value in market.” I began working with my team and with my agency partners to start to tell a story to the market about who Acoustic was. We did a bunch of planning. We’ve all been through the process—test ideas, do strategy, build some concepts, then start to go to market. Lo and behold, my brand campaign launched on March 16th of 2020.

[29:39] Balancing Old Equity with A New Brand

“Here's how I'm going to build my new master brand and make sure that it's getting the most weight over the longer term.” @ThinkTone @goacoustic #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: You launched the new brand. Talk a little bit about the essence of the brand and the story that you were telling with the brand on the 16th.

Norman Guadagno: Really, our story has been very high level first because I knew that I just had to start to get the name out there. We wanted to really focus in on the notion that we were re-imagining marketing technology and everything about it was going to be somewhat different than the other MarTech companies. If you follow the MarTech space, we all know there’s a chart that has 8,000 companies on it. Whether you believe that all 8,000 of them are of equal weight and value is irrelevant to the fact that there are 8,000 companies. How are you going to stand out in that crowded marketplace? We wanted to start telling a story.

We knew who our key competitors were, and we wanted to tell a story that was different. One of the things that made us different, going back to the discussions we’ve had—and when you start to say, “Well, what’s going to be better about Acoustic than IBM, than Silverpop?” Well, one of the things about Acoustic is we’re 1,000 people just focused on this set of marketing technology, on campaign automation, on experience analytics, journey analytics, personalization, content management. We’re not trying to do everything. We’re not trying to be a back office, solve every IT problem for a company. We’re trying to solve problems for the marketers from marketing, e-commerce folks. We’re trying to be very focused. I think that’s a great advantage and that’s part of our story in the market. We’re not those other folks. We’re Acoustic. We’re rethinking the whole problem of marketing technology.

Drew Neisser: One of the things I did notice on the website is that there’s still the “formerly IBM Watson Cloud Marketing” there. How long do you think you need that there as a reassurance? How long does that stay part of this?

Norman Guadagno: Smart minds now that it’s not just a little bit of reassurance, it’s also a little bit of SEO. You have to play all the cards around that and when you look at the website, you’re like, “Oh wow, they’ve been around since July of last year.” Turned out that the IBM website itself really didn’t transition until early in 2020, like they still had a website that was still redirecting people to our site. The short answer to your question is, for a little while longer, we are actually actively building a whole new website right now, a completely brand new experience that I think will be when we can leave behind most of that, “Here’s everybody we used to be and here’s who we really are.” When we launch that at some point in the future, it will be a good clean break from that. Now our field people, and this is an important point, when it comes to sitting down and talking to somebody and they say, “Oh, you were this, that, and the other,” of course, we want to be direct, clear and honest and say, “Yeah, here’s how we got from there to here. And here’s why it’s actually better.”

Drew Neisser: And for the listeners, you may remember an episode going way back with Jennifer Renaud where we talked about two specific experiences that she had, where the acquiring company abandoned the brand name. One of them was Oracle who abandoned Eloqua briefly. There was another big technology company that was a spun out of private equity, and they were a $4 billion company. They created a new brand name and they got rid of all their billion-dollar brands and business sank and SEO really sank.

I think the lesson here is, yes, you want to focus. There’s no doubt you have to build the Acoustic brand, but all of that equity that existed before in IBM Watson Marketing or whatever it was, to walk away from that is a very expensive thing. It’s not a rip the Band-Aid thing. You do not want to have that experience. Here’s the interesting proof of that. In both cases, in Jennifer’s experience—and she was talking about both of those after she’d left both companies—was that when they turned the website back on with those original brand names, business went back up. There was latent demand and loyalty to those brands, and I imagine that you probably have the same thing even with some of the other brands like Silverpop. You probably still have to make sure that people who type in Silverpop can find you.

Norman Guadagno: Exactly. We spent a lot of time trying to find the right mix of that. I think the more interesting point in what you just said, Drew, is this notion of brand equity and brand value. I think for people who love a brand, brand loyalists, they only see the positive value in brands and brand equity. I think for marketers, those of us who have to manage a portfolio of brands, it’s more like equity is a commodity that has both pluses and minuses. You have to figure out how to build an equation that takes into consideration, yes, this legacy brand has some plus, but if I’m not building my new brand and where I want to go, it has some minuses for me. You have to figure out, yes, the brand is well known amongst the existing customers, but not amongst others. You start to put all those pulls and takes together, and you create a little bit of a, for lack of a better word, a calculus of, okay, “Here’s how I’m going to manage these legacy brands and their equity. I’m going to get the maximum value that I can from them. At the same time, I may be trying to sunset them. Here’s how I’m going to build my new master brand and make sure that it’s getting the most weight over the longer term.”

Drew Neisser: One of the big challenges that companies face often after an acquisition is what to do with the brand names. I think from a B2B standpoint, and IBM certainly are really good at this, being a branded house is really pretty much the dominant option right now. Even Adobe, who acquired Magento and Marketo in the same six-month period, $4 billion acquisitions each, sees themselves as a branded house, which I find fascinating. But they’re managing the transition very carefully. You’ll notice that it’s Marketo, an Adobe company, or Magento, an Adobe company.

Norman Guadagno: Back to as we spoke about—managing the pluses and minuses of the brands in your portfolio.

Drew Neisser: Yeah. And I think some of it has to do with the passion that people have for the brand. There are some brands that people don’t care about, don’t miss, and you can just walk away from them because it’s a very transactional relationship. But it’s interesting—in marketing technology, people were Eloquans, Marketo had a super fan name for them. These were people who were trained on it, were certified, they really appreciated it. And I’m imagining there was a community of Silverpop people.

Norman Guadagno: And Tealeaf people. We have a large community of people whose business card literally says, “Tealeaf Engineer.” That builds loyalty.

Drew Neisser: It does. And it’s part of their personal identity. I mean, they built their career on it and this is the stuff that is really tricky in what it is you do.

[39:14] Wrapping Up: Lessons Learned, Employee Engagement, Transformation

“The future is going to be built on transformation.” @ThinkTone @goacoustic #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Pandemic hits, how did that impact the last six months?

Norman Guadagno: Wow. How didn’t it impact the last six months? That is the question. There was some good. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of the folks who come out of IBM were already working at home, so we actually had a super smooth transition to working at home for many employees. That was a good thing. Many of the others just went to work at home and that worked out okay as well. I personally didn’t have to commute to New York because I’d been going back and forth to New York at that point in time. That made it a little easier, but what’s interesting is, and I want to be super careful in how I talk about this because obviously the pandemic has caused great distress across the globe, and it’s not done yet. We don’t know where we’re going to be. It’s something that has a very serious impact on social, business, every person.

At the same time, I think that we’ve become more efficient in some ways. We’ve become more focused, and although we’ve lost the ability to have that human connection of live people, one to one, I do feel that everyone in the company has worked hard to be focused and be able to operate with these new rules. And getting back to the listening as we try to do, one of the things that we started very early on in the getting ready for the transition and then having to go into work at home was, myself and our head of HR created an online forum. At that time, it was a once a week meeting for all of our employees. It happened twice because we had employees around the globe.

That was an opportunity for a discussion, a dialogue. It wasn’t another, just all hands “Let me tell you what we’re going to do.” It was a dialogue. We continue that to today. In fact, I’ll be running one just about an hour from now. We call it One Acoustic Live and it’s an opportunity for employees to come together. I serve as a moderator/host, our head of HR serves as my cohost, and we bring topics up and we have discussion and dialogue so that we can get the most out of people being online around the world.

Drew Neisser: Building a brand starts with employees. You went through that process. Then it gets to customers. They have to buy in. They have to believe in the brand and the company. And then you can take this story out to the world. What’s so interesting about what you’ve gone through is you had to do those things, but what I’m telling the listener is, you have to do it too. Even though you think you don’t, even though you think “I’ve got to focus on acquisition right now,” I’m going to argue that now, more than ever, you have to focus on employees first and make sure that they understand the brand.

Then make sure that your customers do, because if they don’t stay with you, you don’t have a business right now. We’ve got to hold on to every customer we have. The businesses that are growing, a lot of them are able to get their customers to use their product better than they were before in a way that really addresses the challenges of the business environment, which right now is “Help me find a way to save money or drive revenue.” My question for you is, what are the biggest lessons learned for you as you’ve taken this non-existent brand, you’ve now had a year—I’m sure we’re way away from everybody in the marketing world knowing that Acoustic is the former IBM—but what are the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

Norman Guadagno: First of all, hopefully, all the listeners now know who Acoustic is. If not, please let me know and I will happily educate you on the value we bring as one of the largest independent marketing clouds out there. But plug aside, I think one of the key lessons I’ve learned is—and you just alluded to this—doing a brand-building exercise, taking a brand to market, and creating brand awareness actually has turned out to be the easiest part of my job. It’s not easy. Let me be super clear. It’s not an easy thing, but amongst all the things that I’m doing, it’s the easiest part of the job because, for professional marketers like ourselves, we know the way in which we go about identifying, doing this, and bringing it to market.

It’s all of the people, it’s all of the things we don’t expect. It’s all of the historical issues we mentioned. “Well, it wasn’t just IBM. It was a brand before that,” and there’s a long history of that. In our case, it was also building a company from scratch. For a long time on the demand side, well, I could get leads, but I didn’t even have anywhere to put them because we didn’t even have our CRM system implemented initially. Then our CRM system connected to our own campaign automation system. We had to build everything from scratch. You can’t say, “Oh, I can tell you what my demand generation is doing. I can tell you I’m handing leads off to our sellers, but I can’t actually track that all the way through.” Those are hard things to deal with, so the brand is like, yeah, let’s do that. That’s straight forward. That’s a piece of cake.

Drew Neisser: That’s funny. That’s really interesting. And you have the double challenge if you will, as you have to be the best user of your own software. I mean, that’s the thing that I’ve always marveled about marketing tech companies. I mean, Marketo, in the early days, I interviewed Jon Miller way back when. They were the best at inbound by far and using their tool to measure when someone was just about ready to buy. Eloqua was really good at and HubSpot was been really good at it. That must have been a challenge too, you gotta be really good at using your own tools.

Norman Guadagno: You absolutely have to. We’re still getting there. Honestly, it’s a journey that we’re on because we have to figure out how to take full advantage of not just what the tool does, but the fact that we’ve been improving the tool for over a year now, and that we’re free of the constraints that may have been placed on the tools or the people at IBM. We have a new go-to-market model that’s different than the IBM go to market model, so how do we make the tools shine in that go to market model?

Drew Neisser: Alright. I know that our listeners have run out of their exercise program because they’re not commuting anymore. We’re getting them on the stationary bike or on their run. I’m going to bring this to a pause even though I have so many more questions. Norman, what a fascinating challenge that you have ahead of you.

Norman Guadagno: It is. I appreciate that, Drew. I like hard problems, so I sort of naturally gravitate towards challenges like this, but I think it’s one that if we get it right, we’ll not only have built an incredible brand that will serve the market, but we’ll also have gone through a process of transformation that I think is tremendously interesting and useful to not just myself, but all of the team as we move forward. The future is going to be built on transformation.

Drew Neisser: It is. here, you have it. That’s a perfect quote to end the show. The future is going to be built on transformation. To my listeners, thank you for staying with us. If you got value out of this episode, of course, immediately go to your favorite podcast channel and give us a five-star rating or as the folks at Drift say, “Give us a six-star rating.” A five-star rating would be awesome. Share the show with a friend. Now I get to read the closing notes.

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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