Marketing and technology are Chris Gaebler’s twin professional passions. He’s worked with consumer-based companies like Sony, where products are tangible, and for the last 10 years has focus on institutional technologies, platforms, and cyber security.
Chris Gaebler, CMO of NetScout, sees the core of marketing as making connections between the company and the customer through storytelling, helping to drive growth along the way.
Marketers have to be good storytellers, and oftentimes customers need to hear the story of what you do before they can benefit from the great product your engineers built.
That’s the value of marketing. That’s the promise of telling stories, explains Gaebler.
Chris Gaebler’s first job out of graduate school was at a record label helping them deliver music to customers digitally. He had just written a paper about distributed music, and at the time it was a provocative idea to send audio files across the internet to potential listeners. With this experience he knew a career in marketing and technology fit his passions for storytelling and bringing audiences forward.
Before NetScout, Chris Gaebler was CMO of Arbor Networks, a network security company. After it was acquired, Gaebler researched Netscout and discovered a tagline used for one of its marketing campaigns. The tagline was, “Guardians of the Connected World” and he loved everything the tagline stood for.
Arbor Networks invented tools and technologies to understand and stop anomalous criminal behavior over the internet. These technologies help companies understand internet traffic and stop what became known as DDOS attacks.
NetScout, whose core business is application and network performance management products, puts the customer front and center. The “Guardians” are NetScout, it’s their customers, and this focus on the customer is what Chris Gaebler loves so much about NetScout. He thought, why not make this tagline the forefront of our messaging?
In our interview Chris Gaebler describes how brand messaging threads the needle all the way through the customer experience, and how important messaging is during acquisition-led transformations.
How does brand message make its way down to the customer experience?
Featuring our customer in our tagline, “Guardians of the Connected World,” is a celebration of what our brand means.
Our annual conference is the centerpiece of our marketing strategy. It’s called Engage and the people we invite are not the CIO or anyone from the C-suite, the attendees are the users, i.e. the real champions. They are network operation professionals or applications professionals deep in the IT organization.
We are creating an experience for a group of people who may not be the budget authority or purchaser of our product, but we care about our users so much we created a five-day series of classes focused on advancing their careers and learning new technologies so they are better off when the conference ends. We want to create trainings that improve their careers.
The structure and content of our conference is a statement of our priority. We also tailor products and create special training sessions for customers.
In our marketing collateral we showcase photographs of customers, instead of product images and stock images. Using images of the NETSCOUT “Guardians” is a personal statement that connects our brand to the world.
While it’s true that NetScout needs to communicate the business value of our solution for the COO and the CIO, before that happens we need to be relevant and valuable to the people who use our technology. We spend so much effort on empowering the guardians so they can keep the connected world private
What does success look like for Marketing?
One day I’d like there to be a quote that says, “Fortune 500 Chief Operating Officers think of NetScout as one of the most trusted technology partners for their business.”
Right now we sell to the Fortune 500 or the “Global 1000”, we’re one of the many technologies they buy. But I don’t want to be just be on the list of vendors, I want to be one of the trusted technology groups.
The risk profile for COOs today is heavily weighted towards technical risk. In the past, COOs and CEOs worried about risks against physical asset like power plants, factories, and shipping lanes.
Today, a cyber attack and compromised network means the entire business slows down. Digital risk may be the number one risk today. If we can solve more of those problems around risk, then more value COOs will place in NetScout.
For a technology company with history, what were the keys to success for moments of reinvention.
It’s difficult for any company to survive for many decades, but to be an older technology company that has survived means that company has had to reinvent itself substantially.
For NetScout to have survived it has had to transform its identity, and acquisitions have been moments of reinvention. These moments mean a change in messaging and identity, which we need to navigate strategically.
NetScout has been known as a company of network probes and monitoring devices and now our messaging is focused on being a security company and a “Smart-data” company.
NetScout has a successful application performance monitoring business, but that’s a market that’s growing only 5-10 percent a year. After seeing what was happening in adjacent markets, it was clear we needed to see what we could do to create market opportunities for ourselves.
Three years ago, NetScout acquired four companies in one day to lay the foundation to become a security company and a bigger data company.
Marketers need to make sure they serve needs of their legacy customers. With transformations, long time customers ask “What are you doing? I bought you for a specific purpose,” while new customers are asking,“Why would I talk to NetScout? You’re not known for the security products I care about.” New customers may not have thought of NetScout as someone they would come to for certain solutions, but through acquisition we have new capabilities and offerings.
As a marketer, it’s exciting to meet this challenge of telling a compelling and clear story about your identity to many audiences.
How can marketers succeed during mergers and acquisitions? How do you bring different brands together?
We tripled the size of the business through acquisitions in order to go after new markets. This was a bold transformation through acquisition.
The exciting challenge has been adopting the best practices, the platforms, and working with the engineering teams from the acquired companies to build new products in the cyber security and data security space.
There are problems we can solve today that would not be possible if these companies had not been brought together. The products we can make are more interesting and it all leverages network traffic data.
There’s a common philosophy of how we solve problems, but the range of problems is much greater. For our transformation today the key to success is telling the NetScout story more clearly, improving the brand, and improving brand favorability in the market.
It’s easier to tell a story about a niche product. It’s more difficult to tell a story that bridges the different solutions, a story that’s interesting and relevant to each audience. That’s the opportunity and challenge I face every day.
We want to be relevant to each IT user. I want to avoid speaking so abstractly that we would be irrelevant. My team needs to connect the dots across these solutions and tell a bigger, unified story.
For NetScout this has been focusing on a smart data approach while still being the world leader in DDOS mitigation and network performance monitoring. That’s a cool challenge. We’re getting better at it every day and we’re better at it than we’ve ever been. NetScout needs to stand for something different than what it has in the past, while not alienating the people who have trusted NetScout for many years.
What’s one of the most important roles of Marketing today, and how does your team fulfill that role?
Marketing needs to reach “the right people with the right message in the right way.” This is a distilled, clear valuable message. However, Marketing can’t do as well as Sales in one-to-one relationship building, relationships that are built on multi-layered and contextual human interaction. Sales people don’t get into as many of these conversations easily, so marketing needs to help Customer Success and Sales be more relevant in more accounts.
For example, at our conference, survey feedback showed that attendees wanted more content around technology and more training. The value I can provide is using the conference to create a platform for technology teams to talk among each other so the technology and technologists can speak for the brand. It doesn’t need to be the CMO that is the one messaging to the market. Usually it’s best when the CTO and engineers are the spokespeople. With the communication platforms that Marketing creates, sales too can have more of these relationship-building conversations.
B2B marketers can really shine when they can communicate the value of the technology to a wide number of audiences, including the C-suite, end-users, and adjacent departments.
The better you can tell the story, the more value you can add for the engineering team and sales.