Sara Larsen
September 6, 2019

How Brightcove Spurred Company & Category Growth

Guest: Sara Larsen - CMO, Brightcove

If someone ran up to you and said, “Congrats, you’re now the CMO of a $165M tech company with about 500 employees,” what would you do? First, maybe celebrate a bit—that’s a pretty significant achievement—but next, you’ve got to form a plan. Are you pursuing growth? Acquiring companies? Rebranding? Pivoting away from tech and towards producing artisanal hand soaps?

Granted, Sara Larsen, CMO of Brightcove (a $165M cloud video platform with about 500 employees), didn’t just get her role from some random guy on the street—she’d stepped into it after an extensive career in tech marketing at companies like IBM and SAP—but hopefully, that thought exercise gave you just the slightest glimpse into the sort of decisions that need to get made when you take the helm of a ship like Brightcove.

Coming into the role, Larsen wanted to aim for growth, but not just for the company; the entire category of online video could be expanded with the right approach. Now, ten months later, the company has grown and is hard at work pushing its category further. Tune in to this interview to hear how they’re approaching that, as well as other insights regarding career management, successful acquisition, customer experience, employee engagement, and more. For more about the short-term tactics that can lead to demand generation and growth, check out Renegade’s B2B demand generation guide, here.

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Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in Conversation with Sara Larsen

Drew Neisser: My guest today is Sarah Larsen, the CMO of Brightcove, which is a $165 million company based in Boston, 490 employees or so. It’s a cloud-based video platform. Perhaps you’ve heard of them. And what I’m really excited about is that Sarah is my first guest from Fargo, North Dakota. Sarah, first of all, welcome to the show.

Sarah Larsen: Thank you. And thank you for calling out Fargo, North Dakota.

Drew Neisser: Yeah. Let’s talk about Fargo. I mean, first of all, can you. Did you sort of ever imagine growing up in Fargo that you’d sort of be on this podcast here living in Boston?

Sarah Larsen: No. I had I didn’t know where I’d end up. 

Drew Neisser: But you don’t sound like Francis McDermott. I’m waiting for a little bit of the Fargo to come out. Does it?

Sarah Larsen: Sometimes it does. I’ve been. I haven’t lived in Fargo for many years. However, the second I land at the Fargo International Airport, the accent comes right back.

Drew Neisser: Yeah. What are those key sort of Fargo isms?

Sarah Larsen: The Fargo-isms. “Oh, for sure. Oh, for Christ,” everything is “Oh, for.” It’s almost a little bit of a Canadian accent.

Drew Neisser: Yeah.

Sarah Larsen: North Dakota’s bordered on Canada. So there’s a little bit of a Canadian accent. 

Drew Neisser: All right.

Sarah Larsen: I have to tell you, you will not find nicer people than in Fargo, North Dakota.

Drew Neisser: There you go. Have you watched the TV show?

Sarah Larsen: I’ve seen the TV show. I’ve seen the movie. I will just jump to the punch line. I do not own a wood chipper.

Drew Neisser: Well, I wasn’t gonna ask about that.

Drew Neisser: My son said you got to watch the TV show. It’s great. My wife doesn’t really like violence and he said “Oh, it’s not that violent mom.” And of course, it’s brutally violent just for anybody who hadn’t seen it. That was when my son lost his ability to be a picker of shows for my wife. But that’s all cool. OK, so since you left Fargo, you’ve had an amazing career. You worked a couple of years at Accenture, six years at IBM, eight years at SAP. All these big companies. I’m curious, and I think a lot of folks that aspire to be CMOs wonder about career management. Talk a little bit about the building blocks of your career, and maybe one or two things that you learned along the way these from these experiences.

Sarah Larsen: Well, a couple of things. You’re right, I have been so lucky and I’m very grateful to the career that I’ve had and to work with some really amazing companies and some really great people. I’ve learned so much along the way in terms of some wonderful mentors and some great bosses and wonderful teams. I think that as I’ve gone from sort of place to place and even now at Brightcove, everyone is facing the same types of problems. How you can solve them becomes a little bit different depending on the environment you’re in, if you’re in a multinational, or if you’re in a smaller company or a startup. But the problems that people are having in business today and the opportunity that people have. There’s a commonality in the thread around really quickly changing customer expectations. Even if you think about a decade ago to today, how quickly customer expectations are changing. Whether you’re in retail or you’re in any type of commerce or any type of building of products or solutions or services. Those expectations are changing very quickly. How companies can solve it becomes a little bit different. In marketing, it is that change agent within an organization that is understanding that probably first and has had to carry a lot of the water within most organizations on helping to drive the change, internally to meet some of those customer expectations.

Drew Neisser: It’s funny, I was doing some research for a speech I was writing, actually for someone else, and one of the things that was interesting is this shift with particularly with Gen Z and to some extent, millennials. They don’t aspire to own cars. They know almost everything that they’ve experienced from audio, music, video, all of it is just sort of ephemeral. It doesn’t have any physical being. They live in a virtual world and all of those things change what marketers need to do. It becomes it’s all experience, is not about possession.

Sarah Larsen: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Drew Neisser: It’s such an interesting time.

Sarah Larsen: It really is about the experience. If you think of any product or service in your life, your lens now starts to look at the experience around that product or service. I think that’s something we didn’t think about a decade or two decades ago. You really thought about, what’s the best product I can get? But now the service around it and the overall experience is what matters. That’s a huge change.

Drew Neisser: Oh, it is. It’s funny because we work with a lot of software companies and their goal from a business perception standpoint, particularly if they’re V.C. funded, is to be about getting the software, not about the service, but it’s the service that creates the experience as much the product does. It’s one of these kinds of things where I look and say, “Wait a second, guys. This service is your secret weapon. I don’t care how great your software is, because that’s the experience.”

Sarah Larsen: I’ll give you a mind meld on that. It is the services, the software, the software as a service. It really doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, you have to deliver an experience. I’ve spent a lot of time on that topic, obviously, here at Brightcove when we think about the video experience. In my previous roles, as I was taking companies that had a really great product, whether it was in, you know, ERP and payroll and data and analytics design software and figuring out how does that become much more of an experience.

We think about how we do our jobs today. We don’t do just one piece of work. We have to have data and information across an organization to be able to do a job. Someone who’s designing a product, they can’t just design it in a vacuum. They need to understand a lot about what’s happening across your organization. How will it be marketed and sold? How will it be manufactured? What does that total experience look like? So, how we do our jobs is different. I think that the marketing function in organizations and I’ve seen it in a few larger companies and I see it here at breakup really lead that discussion. They understand what those customer changing requirements are. They understand what those people need and they help to try and, you know, within the organization drive that change management, whether it’s in marketing or across other parts of the business. For example, I work really closely with product, I work, really closely with sales. Those are the key customer touchpoints.

Drew Neisser: When you think about the various experiences you’ve had is there one sort of renegade accomplishment or accomplishment that you would say that was a renegade moment for you at one of your earlier firms? You look back and say, this was just the way we killed it on this one.

 A renegade moment? I’ll tell you, it’s a little bit of a personal moment and it probably harkens back to some of my experience of coming from North Dakota. When I started at IBM, I had a really interesting job and it was to help the various countries and regions where IBM had built their own commerce platform. This is back when IBM was the e-commerce company. Well, they weren’t even running their own product. They were running these sort of homegrown or external products. So I had to go across the world and help these countries move from their homegrown e-commerce solution to the corporate solution. So here I’m charging in from corporate to tell these countries that they needed to move on to find a solution. I had an opportunity to visit Tokyo, Japan for the first time, and to really understand, especially as a younger manager within IBM, as a woman, you know, within the organization, how to navigate that culture. That was a big cultural moment. Migrating IBM to Japan and onto the corporate solution was probably one of my accomplishments. In the scheme of IBM, it probably wasn’t a big deal. But for me, it was a huge learning. How do you navigate a different culture? How do you communicate? Why is a change important and how do you get people through that change?

Drew Neisser: It’s amazing the various things that a marketing job can take you into and the challenges. I’m wondering if you had any mentors along the way that were particularly instructive that you could share.

Sarah Larsen: Oh, I’ve had so many great mentors and I couldn’t even start to name them all. A lot of advice, I’ll take you again, this was another great IBM story and it was early in my career and I had a great idea for a project. I walked in and I had this fantastic presentation. I had a business case. I had beautiful charts. And I walk into a general manager at IBM, which is kind of a senior role. I said, “I have this idea and I just I need a little bit of money to do it.” General Manager says, “Not a problem. No problem.” I said, “Great.” He said at IBM, and this is true of many large companies, money isn’t your problem. I said, “Oh, well, great. So you’re gonna give me the money?” He said, “No, I’m not going to give you the money.” So now I’m really confused because I’ve been told money is not a problem. I have this great presentation and help me understand. We don’t understand the priority of that project. So it’s not the money that becomes a problem. It’s how do you prioritize something that really, again, talks to how do you tie what you’re trying to do in marketing, I think is really, really tied into this. How are you trying to tether what you’re trying to do to a business priority, to a customer need to something that’s relevant to the organization so you can have tons of great ideas and there can be a lot of money. But if you don’t put together the priority, really well, it doesn’t happen. So that was a really big learning. So I went off and then I had to research what our priorities and how do I position this and eventually went back and was able to get that program funded. That really taught me at an early age that money is in the budget. Which in marketing, is really our bread and butter is where cost are in most organizations and we really have to manage our priorities and get our budget aligned to the organizational priorities.

Drew Neisser: I think that’s such an interesting story. I thought it was going to go someplace else because so often the lessons that marketers learn are that ideas are hard to sell. The reason they’re hard to sell is not just priority, but it’s also ownership. The notion that you have this idea, I thought, you know, where your boss was going to say this isn’t you know, it’s not his idea. All ideas need to be shared across the organization and they have to have a sense of group ownership. I think that’s what priority really is. Is aligning this idea with something that is bigger and therefore, fits into a broader scheme of things? I think that’s one big challenge and one lesson that I have for a lot of CMOs. This came up in two interviews I remember in particular, I think one was David Edelman of Aetna. He walked in and he was pretty sure he knew what the idea was. He stopped before he pushed too far because he realized the process mattered, getting people along the way, bringing everybody with them. It wasn’t about him being right or wrong. It was about organizations sort of realigning, as you said, against certain new priorities. You can’t do that by simply saying here it is. It’s really quite a methodical process. I think people underestimate that in great CMOs, or great leaders, leadership involves not telling us, hey, there’s the hill and take it because this isn’t a war. This is something very different. This is getting humans to align against a common purpose. So enough preaching on that for me, I think this is a perfect place to take a break. When we come back, let’s talk about the marketing challenges that you’re facing at Brightcove. So we’ll be right back.

BREAK

Drew Neisser:  When you arrived roughly 10 months ago. What did you see as your top priorities?

Sarah Larsen: Well, one of the top priorities that I have and the leadership team has here at Brightcove is to really continue to build a breakout growth model for video. That includes both for us, in terms of how we’re growing as a company, but also growing video as a category in a way people are engaging in the world. That could be how marketers are engaging. How companies are engaging their people to communicate and how media organizations and really any content organization is reaching people. Thinking through that, what does that mean internally? How do we organize our priorities? Where do we put the emphasis? What potentially to deemphasize? Because you can’t do it all centered around that goal of bringing video to the forefront in the industry.

Drew Neisser: Ok. That’s one thing. I want to pause on that one because it’s really interesting because a lot of companies have to decide, are we growing? Are we just getting, you know, is this a share grab or is this a category growth thing? Obviously, if you’re the leader, traditionally speaking, you always have to grow the category. I’m presuming that this comes from a position of leadership. However, growing a category is not as easy as it sounds. I mean, Kodak was the leader in film and they couldn’t really do much to grow that category after a while. So what kinds of things, as you look at that, how does that manifest itself? I mean, what kinds of things we say strategically, all right, we’re going to grow the category, by doing what?

Sarah Larsen: When you think about the cake, that’s a really interesting comment about Kodak and that category. Well, the category shifted. People are still wildly engaged in visual content and in the moment photos and collection of memories through some sort of video or photo capture. If you think about it, the category shifted. The video category is expanding and shifting. When you think about how do people consume content today? On their phones? On the go? On their time schedule? If you think about yourself, do you ever sit down and say, I have to sit in front of the TV at 8 o’clock at night because a program is on? 

Drew Neisser: Never happens.

Sarah Larsen: Right. So your linear non-linear viewing habits have changed significantly. That goes back to this changing customer expectations. If you look at how are people consuming video? In analogy to Kodak, how are people consuming photos? There are probably more photos taken on any given day today, in a year, than ten years ago. Right? The category is expanding, but it’s expanding in a different way. I think our job as a category leader is to understand those shifts and to help our customers through that shift. So if you’re a media company and you’re a very traditional media company or you’re a publisher, how do you start to use video? Because your viewers aren’t coming to a pre-scheduled program. They’re not coming to a static webpage to read the content. They might not be buying a newspaper. 

I love the story we had recently at our customer conference, PLAY, last month in Boston. We had the head of media for Le Figaro, which is a very large media organization, one of the oldest media organizations in France. He talked about how do we engage our audience in a new way? He was watching his son, his teenage son on Twitch, and noticed how his son was engaged in this game, and watching people, and commenting. He said, you know, the news is like that. It’s not a static thing. Things are happening. So they’ve launched now a variety of life channels and they encourage audience participation on those live channels so that they’ll follow an election through a live stream or they’ll follow an event through a livestream and have online commenting. That’s an idea of how you take a very traditional category of news and content, which had been one way delivery, static format, and it becomes a live event that the publisher is now hosting. This is helping various people in different parts of the industry figure out what are those customer expectations? How can they get ahead of that curve? That’s really what our job is at Brightcove in the video category.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. So, really having to educate and bring them along in order to help them in their business. A tremendous sense. I’m wondering, is there a clear why for Brightcove? I mean, would you consider yourself a purpose-driven organization?

Sarah Larsen: When we think about our purpose, we think our purpose is to help our customers bring their stories to the eyes of the world. We do that through new ways, we are continuously developing new technology for how to do that in live scenarios and social scenarios, in all kinds of apps, whatever the newest format, you need to bring content for it. We do that with an experience that is consistent with a high degree of quality and trusted level of support and security. I think the piece that is becoming more and more relevant is how we can help our customers understand how video is working. So what are the analytics around it? What matters? What are the comparative analytics around, I might have had a great video experience was it better than someone else’s? That piece, I think is what we’re getting asked a lot about now because people understand the category. They understand they need to be in it, but they want to understand their relative success in it as well.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. So the purpose of helping your clients bring stories to the world is interesting there’s a lot of powerful words in there. If we break that down. First, my question is, do you think you all are drinking your own champagne, or are you the best of class when it comes to using video to market at Brightcove?

Sarah Larsen: I think we have a little ways to go. I think you could probably talk to any CMO and they would probably tell you that we need to drink more of our champagne. I would love to be drunk on Brightcove. How about that?

Drew Neisser: Well, you know, it’s funny because in the marketing automation world, traditionally, whether it’s HubSpot or demand based on ABM or Marketo or…

Sarah Larsen: Brightcove, what about that?

Drew Neisser: They were all really good, in fact, better than anybody else at using their own platform to sell their platform. I think it’s a mentality that they bring. It’s one that a lot of companies in that don’t get. You’re so busy servicing your clients that you forget, wait. One of the best ways we could show them how to do it is to be our best case history. So, there’s room to grow there.

Sarah Larsen: There’s always room to grow there.

Drew Neisser: We have these stories to the eyes of the world, which is your way of building the category. Are there some specific initiatives that you started, that have happened, or under your watch that you’re thinking are moving us in the right direction?

Sarah Larsen: Well, one of the things that we did recently and it’s a little back to drinking your own champagne was our customer conference. We reinvigorated our customer conference this year, ‘Play’, which happened last month in Boston. There were a couple of objectives I threw out to the team. I said, one, let’s have more customers than we’ve ever had at this conference. So this isn’t a conference about us. It’s about us hosting a conversation on video and the best way we can have that conversation is with the people that are using it today in really, really unique ways. We had more customers than we’ve ever had at our Play conference, speaking on the main stage and breakouts and practitioner sessions in workshops. We got tremendous feedback from attendees on that. The second piece I threw out was let’s have more video at our video conference than ever before. So, we did that. We live-streamed, we actually used our new live to social capability, had some great social engagement online. We’re able to capture a lot of real-time video and really started to think about how do we take an onsite experience, make it a live experience, but also build a video component to it. That is now available online in, we call it Replay, where you can basically Play and see all of the replays. We have packaged that into a way that you can capture a lot of information from the play event. That was one way where we wanted to bring the customer dimension and our own product together and a little bit more of a unique way. I think that stretched the team a little bit because they said, oh, I have to get out of my silo and I think a little bit broader. And so that was a good example.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. I love that for any number of reasons. In my conversation with Anne Lewnes of Adobe, we talked about her surprise. At first of all, how much money they were spending at Adobe on events and then ultimately come to realize how valuable they were. It’s funny, even in your business you want people to consume more videos which tend to be passive. From a marketing standpoint, human interactions are even more important than ever. I emphasize this a lot on the show because there is a lot of pressure on CMOs is to spend money on digital, which feels like something cool and new and different and measurable and all those good things. But it’s not the same. I just like putting a punctuation point on events, particularly user conferences, because if users don’t come to your conference, you have a product and service problem. But if they do come and they rally around you, man, does that create a lot of opportunities?

Sarah Larsen: I’d say a couple of things I’d advise marketers and CMO is around events. Because there’s always that debate on how much did you spend on an event. You’re sitting with the CFO and you’re debating line items every year. If you purely look at events, especially the company event, that customer event, on purely a pipeline ROI number, you’re missing the boat. You need to do that. I do think that these events need to be viewed through the lens of a business meeting. Absolutely. However, they become very large change events for the organization internally and externally. Again, back to the role of a CMO as the change agent in an organization, use that investment very strategically to help you change the mindset.

For example, I talked about how we wanted to change the mindset to be more customer-centric and more of a video led organization ourselves. The other objective we had, which was to grow our ecosystem and attract a set of sponsors that really start to build out the ecosystem in the industry. That was something we accomplished at the event. So use the event and that investment to yes, deliver on support for sales and deliver on pipeline and help with those business metrics, but also think about what are the change management metrics that you are putting forth around the event and call those out to the executive leadership team so they can see how a two or three-day event which takes many, many months to prepare actually changes the mindset and the direction of the organization.

Drew Neisser: Very cool. Perfect place to take a break. We’ll be right back.

BREAK

Drew Neisser: Ok, so my guest is Sarah Larsen, CMO of Brightcove, and we’ve been talking about the power of events, particularly customer events. Looking at different ways of measuring those, so you don’t simply look at it as how much are we spending on this? Relative to, wait, aren’t they customers already? One of the things that I think is cool about events and, that will be a big emphasis in my next book, is is the importance of employees. All of this and events are a fantastic place to get employees reinvigorated about the brand. It sounds like that happened at that at Play.

Sarah Larsen: Absolutely, I think this is a really interesting question. I was actually with a group of CMO the other night for dinner. And this came up, of what is the role of the CMO today in internal communications and employee engagement, employee communications function. A lot of times it’s been sitting in H.R. and it might make sense. However, when you think about what CMOs are doing today, which is understanding the customer, understanding how to translate those new expectations, understand how to drive some change management within the organization you’re increasingly seeing, CMOs being asked to take on these internal communications or employee communications roles. It was very consistent across the group that we were all being expected to take that on. They were all women, we’re all it was a women’s empowerment CMO group. It’s very consistent across the group that we’re all sort of being asked to take that on, because the change management piece, again, is sort of finding its way into the marketing function.

Drew Neisser: Well, I think it’s funny. And I’ve been tracking CMOs and all the things that they’ve been asked to do. I mean, it gets ridiculous because some are put in charge of customer experience, which often extends into support. It’s a fine line between suddenly you’re doing everything but finance and it can be a very difficult and almost unmanageable role. However, when it comes to employees, particularly today, when you’re in tech, where you have an incredibly low unemployment rate, there are lots of opportunities for companies, for employees to find work. You know, and the better they are, the more opportunities they have. So an employee brand, if you will, or the brand of the company is increasingly important. The only person in my mind that can drive the vision for that, they don’t really have to execute, but drive the vision is the CMO. I’m going punctuate this by saying this is why I think purpose is so important and being able to express the purpose to employees, to customers, and to prospects, in that order, is essential. I know where the conversations are happening. What I’m not seeing, though, is I’ll often talk to a CMO, this is off the record, and they’ll say, oh, well, H.R. has been there forever. And they say, hey, I got this. Leave me alone. And even trying to implement, say, for example, he said, an employee satisfaction study that you can use as a benchmark as you roll out a new brand can be difficult. In fact, one CMO said to me, “The first thing I did was make H.R. their best friend.”

Sarah Larsen: Yeah, you’re right.

Drew Neisser: You don’t want their job. You just want to help them communicate better and let them realize that the brand and the essence of the brand, which is purpose, will help them make a better culture. Culture equals better, ultimately, better marketing. It’s not that complicated. If you can avoid the turf war and you say, hey, we’re with you, I’m with you, I don’t want your job, I just want to get alignment.

Sarah Larsen: I think you’re right. I mean, I found at least in my last couple of positions, H.R. is like at my door knocking, saying, please help us. Especially, when we think about becoming that employer of choice because they realize there’s only so far you can go on salary and benefits in these things because if things are becoming much more competitive and employees join companies because they believe in the brand, they believe in the purpose and they understand that when they talk to people, they understand that internally. That’s a big piece of communication. H.R. can’t do it alone. The last few H.R. leaders I’ve worked with have said I can’t do it alone, help me. It’s definitely a partnership because a brand is successful externally if it’s successful it internally, you would not you will not find on that list of top 25 or top 50 brands, companies that don’t have a massively strong internal brand and internal communications. If you lined up, I think Amazon is now the number one most valued brand in the world. If you lined up 10 Amazon employees, they could tell you what that brand means.

Drew Neisser: Well, yes, they could.

Sarah Larsen: That doesn’t happen magically, that’s a work and that’s a lot of partnership between marketing, communications, and the H.R. teams to make that happen.

Drew Neisser: So we’ve talked about your top priority of growing the category and doing that by showing by example how video can really make a difference. We also talked about Play and how invigorated that for both employees and customers and how you framed it so that that the management could see the value of this beyond simply increasing revenue per customer. Is there any other thing is in your first 10 months, that’s a lot, but that you would sort of like to say, hey, I’m really proud of what we were able to do here from a marketing standpoint?

Sarah Larsen: One thing that I’m proud of is we were able to bring into the organization one of our largest competitors. We acquired Ooyala, which was very, very much a very similar technology to Brightcove and a big competitor in the marketplace. We’ve been able to seamlessly bring Ooyala and its customers into Brightcove. We’re the process of communicating with them right now on our roadmap. We’ve brought employees in, we’ve had a really great response from those employees. That’s a little bit of inside baseball because it’s not, you know, wildly visible externally. That was a big moment for Brightcove because Ooyala had been a long term competitor for Brightcove; they started in the industry around the same time. It’s given a little bit of push and a little bit of wind behind our backs to say, OK, we are the category leader and now there are responsibilities as a result of that. We’ve been digesting that acquisition over the past few months. I think as we go into the second half of this year, we’re spending a lot of time now on how can we be thoughtful about this, how do we continue to help our customers understand where video is going and taking a little bit more of that category thought leadership role?

Drew Neisser: Yeah, it’s really interesting. I’m curious from a branding standpoint, are you a branded house? I mean, does that brand go away, the one that you acquired?

Sarah Larsen: Yes, the brand goes away. What we’re doing is bringing in some of the best parts of that platform that we acquired and we’re integrating it into the Brightcove platform. So we have overall a much stronger offer for our customers.

Drew Neisser: Was there any hesitation at all from in the organization in terms of the brand name? Obviously, Oo-oo-y-… I can’t even say their name but, they had equity in it. Was there anybody who was saying, “Wait, wait, wait, we acquired this company, we’re going to lose their customers because suddenly they’re going to…’? But versus the benefit of having a single brand and a dominant brand like you have now?

Sarah Larsen: Well, we’ve talked to customers and I think from a customer perspective, and that’s really where you answered those types of questions first. Right? What’s the customer’s understanding and expectation? Customers wanted to understand, and this is great advice for anyone working on the acquisitions, talk to your customers about do it matter? Does the name matter? And, what we heard is they’re really interested in knowing where is the technology going? What’s the support and service level? Because there are some very big differences between support and service services in these two organizations. And how would you help me with my business? That’s really what mattered. They understood that coming from Brightcove. So in the equity piece around name wasn’t as relevant as. Are we able to communicate value to those customers and we have been successful at that?

Drew Neisser: Yeah. I have a client CEO that I want you to call up because I think it’s important that he hears exactly what you said. I agree that you know, in most cases, when you acquire the loyalty isn’t to the name. The loyalty is to the purpose and maybe to the individuals, but not necessarily to the name. The benefits of having one big brand, particularly in a marketplace like yours or in most markets are huge. I can’t overemphasize this. I mean, because you have economies of scale, you’re building one brand, and all of that thought leadership and equity, you could pump into it. It helps employees. It helps customers and helps from prospects.

Sarah Larsen: It’s tricky, and again, we’re a little bit smaller organization dealing with this, but if you look at most recently where I was added to systems or even, you know, SAP, they’ve been doing a lot of acquisitions. How do you keep enough of that equity around a particular product or solution? And the people piece is really important because at the end of the day you’re acquiring these large organizations in some cases if you’re an SAP or an IBM or others in your acquiring very large organizations and people have a badge with the name on it, and there’s as we just talked about, they understand that brand. So, you have to go through a process to help them understand; what are they now part of? If you’re not thoughtful on that journey with employees, that can become a challenge as well. You need to do that with customers, but you also need to do that with the team that is coming in from the organization that you’re acquiring.

Drew Neisser: Yeah. You really make me think about that for a second, because part of this is where brand, culture, purpose, all these things intersect. If you’re the acquiring company and there’s a general attitude of positivity towards the company, it’s a lot easier. If you’re the evil empire, people are going to take their money from their stock options and run because your reputation is such. It’s one of those things that I think acquisitive companies don’t always think about, that their brand matters. I know IBM has been really good at this. Cisco has been really good at this. I mean, they have acculturation teams that are ready to bring people along. They’ve thought it through. What is our company? What are the values? And then they continue to pump equity into the master brand, the parent brand so that the people who’ve been acquired feel like they’re part of something big and good.

Sarah Larsen: Right. And they understand why they’re part of it. That’s the big piece of the why you can get a lot of the basics down, OK? What’s the new benefits package? What’s the comma? All of those things. But why am I here? Because at the end of the day, as I tell my team, there is not a lock on the door. We are not locking you into the building. You choose to come here every day and we want people to continue to know why they’re choosing to come. That’s a big piece of it is helping people understand what they’re part of.

Drew Neisser: Well, I feel like I could talk to you all day, but I know that my listeners have a relatively short commute and so we do have to wrap this up. I’m wondering if you could offer, for your fellow CMOs, based on the experience that you’ve had at Brightcove, two dos and a don’t.

Sarah Larsen: Two dos and don’t. Wow. This is putting me on the spot. Well, do listen. Listen before you speak. I’ve spent a lot of time listening in my 10 months here because there’s a lot to soak in. Be very clear about what you’re trying to accomplish. I think clarity of what are you trying to get done and the why behind it. Don’t be late for meetings with the CEO. Probably one of my worst moments when I was a little bit late to a meeting with the CEO. I got called out, I got the whole executive team texting me, where are you?

Drew Neisser: Yeah. I’m pretty sure my son’s not listening, but yeah, generally, don’t be late. And it’s funny. Early in my career, I think someone said, if you’re late to the client meeting, don’t apologize, because if you wanted to be there on time, you would have been one way or another. You would have planned. So I don’t apologize. No matter what happens. Just charge forward and take your medicine. All right.

Sarah Larsen: Well, I will say one other thing that just came to me, I’ve spent a lot of time on this sort of coming into the CMO role and a lot of stuff gets thrown at you. You mentioned that the CMO role, it’s like everything in the kitchen sink comes at you. I would say, don’t feel like you have to react to it immediately. I used this phrase with my team a lot, “The answer will appear.” I do believe that sometimes you just have to let things sit a little bit. I’m not the most patient person, so, it has not been a lesson that’s been easy for me to learn. But sometimes you just have to let the answer appear.

Drew Neisser: Let that sauce just sort of bear meld a little bit. Interesting. I love that advice. Love that advice. All right. I’m an attempt to do an instant summary of our conversation, which I can’t do because I thought it was so interesting. We covered a lot of ground. We talked about career and career management and how you pick up things along the way. We did not really get into a very good North Dakota accent, yet. I’m a little disappointed by that. I’m sure there’s a chance for recovery in your response. We talked a lot about customer experience and bringing something fresh to these experiences and why they’re so important. We talked about drinking our own champagne and how particularly for software companies that’s on your list. So we look forward to seeing how Brightcove proves things out.

One of the things we didn’t talk about is story and let me tell you why. I do believe it’s important. I’ve talked about it at length. I do believe it’s also the most overused and least understood art form in the world. I recognize its importance, and I know how hard it is. And God bless all of you out there who are students of storytelling, because I can encourage you to do it enough. So before you use that word, not you, but listeners. There’s a wonderful, great course on storytelling. It’s one of my favorites, I try to listen to it every six months. She’s a professional storyteller and she talks about storytelling through a story. I love that. And so that be my parting, parting gift to you all will include a link to that great course in the show notes. So. And her name is Hannah, by the way. I know that I can’t remember her last name anyway. It’s been amazing talking to you, I have really enjoyed this.

Sarah Larsen: As have I.

Drew Neisser: Thank you to all of you folks who are kind enough to listen all the way through. Thank you, as always. I wanted to let you know that you can always send me an e-mail. We’re very prompt. I think we mentioned in one of our videos that we have one of our commercials breaks, we have a new e-book that we just put out. That’s kind of cool just for listeners. And until next week, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.

Quotes from Sara Larsen

The answer will appear. Sometimes, you have to just let things sit a little bit.
Whether you're in retail, or commerce—really any sort of product, solution or service—customer expectations are changing. Quickly.

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