David Thompson
November 22, 2019

163: Ambushing Goliath (The True Art of Challenger Branding)

Guest: David Thompson - Chief Marketing Officer, Freshworks

If you’re a fan of renegade thinking, then you’ll probably be a fan of David Thompson, CMO of Freshworks, and serial bold marketer. His marketing has historically been fairly subversive, think responding to competitions’ hiring of Cindy Crawford with a RuPaul-led Superbowl commercial (in the early aughts). Or hiring a blimp with “#FailsForce” written on it to circle Salesforce Tower, the tallest building in San Francisco, and home of Freshworks competitor Salesforce.

When asked about being afraid of backlash to his marketing, Thompson responded that, if you aren’t a little afraid of your marketing, it’s probably not worth putting out into the world. He likes to partially gauge this by seeing how his CEO reacts to the pitch—if the CEO immediately mentions that the board will need to take a look, you’re on the right track. Learn more about bold, tactical marketing, rapid rebrands, bartending for Meryl Streep before a performance (her go-to before performing is whiskey), and more on this episode of Renegade Thinkers Unite.

How important is connecting with the CEO, for you?

It’s all about that relationship. It’s really important. It’s all about whether the CEO has the guts and the daring do to go out and really make a splash, and really tell a story that pops through the noise—which is obviously an extremely hard thing to do in the modern media environment. Renegade marketing is only as good as the renegade mentality of the CEO. I’ve been very lucky to work with people who get it, like Subrah Iyar, who was the CEO of WebEx during my time there. An interesting thing about our connection, is it was a result of—in many ways—him growing up in Bollywood. He literally grew up in Mumbai, in an apartment building with actors and directors and producers running around all the time, making all kinds of noise and color and song and dance. Literally, in the stairwells of his building. So, he got it. He got the fact that making an emotional connection, creating drama, creating conflict and then resolving that conflict in the story is key to breaking through.

Do you have first 100 days plan?

Yes, definitely. By the way, I’ve done a lot of consulting with companies. So, I’ve got this down to a science. But the first hundred days is all about strategy, positioning and getting to the core truth of the story you want to tell. For example: What is it that’s really driving a company? Whether it’s Domo, whether it’s WebEx, whether it’s Freshworks, you want to ask that question. Take Freshworks. At its core, Freshworks is the incredible ambition that the founder has. Beyond that are the ambitions of India to emerge beyond the perception as a back-office nation, as a BPO nation. And truly as an innovation nation. And Fresh, which is an incredibly innovative company that’s really running circles around a lot of its competitors in terms of SAS software and the way it approaches engineering problems. But it’s quite humble, and we had to tell a story that went against that humble, engineering mentality of just digging in, doing great work, and hoping people will notice. That was my job, to come in and say: “People will not notice.” In that early phase, I’m in there discussing how you have to simplify the story, you have to translate the story, you have to put the story together in a way that people will understand.

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