Vasu Jakkal says marketing is the best function to be in. This wouldn’t surprise you a minute into listening to her talk about marketing strategy and purpose-driven brand identities.
The current CMO of FireEye started her career in engineering, studying in the US after moving from India. It was a fascination with science fiction shows like Star Trek led Jakkal to pursue the engineering path. She says knowing the nuts and bolts of how something works is important, but business strategy delivers the freedom to make a bigger impact today on an organization and on the world.
Seeing the possibilities of this influence, Jakkal transitioned the trajectory of her career and hasn’t looked back since.
Through her experience with business strategy, Jakkal gained a deep affinity for marketing.
Jakkal believes marketers are in the best position to use the power of magical stories and deliver them through technology in unprecedented ways today.
She believes marketing as a “growth engine” is not only about demand generation, but about defining what the business stands for and inserting ourselves in the everyday lives of our customers, employees, and partners. She believes that marketing is about winning hearts and minds and driving growth.
In our interview, Jakkal talks about the role of the CMO, how to discover brand differentiators, and how simplification needs to be a core tenet for today’s marketer.
What excites you most about the future of marketing?
Marketing is becoming the most central role in organizations.
Today we live in a self nurture world where 70% of the buyer’s journey is completed before the first call. In addition we’re seeing the convergence of the virtual and the physical worlds. As someone who lives and breathes cyber security, it’s easy to see the dystopian and utopian possibilities. This coupled with the need to move from a materialistic society to a purpose-driven one provides marketing to lead the way.
Marketers today must drive the conversation around what the company stands for – our mission, our purpose, our authenticity.
For a brand to succeed, it has to insert itself into the everyday lives of customers, partners and employees. The role is about having the clear North Star, leading with business strategy, understanding the business imperative, developing an emotional connection between the brand the customer, and driving greater value in your offering. This is done through understanding why customers behave the way they do.
CMOs are responsible for understanding why the company exists, and what the company can do that no other can. CMOs are expected to drive the why narrative and then communicate that across all audiences and orbits. And CMOs are expected to drive growth in unprecedented ways leading with strategy, using magical stories and creating immersive experiences.
One of my first projects involved partnering with our CEO to develop a document called We Are FireEye. It outlines our mision and company direction so that our team can show up to work every day with a strong sense of purpose.
Through this document we have a very clear mission: to protect our customers and our society from the evils of cybercrime.
What kind of methodology do you use to understand your company’s differentiators and why it exists?
It starts with understanding your brand pillars and your history. Then ask basic questions. For example:
- What was the original mission when the company was founded?
- What are you best at?
- What do you do that nobody else does?
- What is your authentic self?
- What kind of company do you want to be? A simple example being do you want to be the Google of the networking industry or the Apple of the networking industry?
When you answer these questions, each team member may give different answers. And each answer implies a different kind of company, different competitors, products, investments, partners, and different talent requirements. We call each of these different paths future states.
For example, at Brocade, we built a future state map to understand what we need in order to get reach each possible future state. When we did this exercise, we built eight future state maps, all of which would took us to a different future.
Once you build the strategy then you can create and refine the story. It’s a fun exercise because the messaging that comes out at the end is clear and simple. Everything starts aligning after this point. This is a typical strategy workshop and, from a marketing standpoint, it’s very important. Strategy and brand are two sides of the same coin.
Brand is the totality of who you are. It’s more than a color. It’s your value, your intensity, your passion and your attitude.
I tell everyone at FireEye that they are the brand. Brand manifests itself in core attributes, it’s a story, and personality. It’s how we act, talk and behave.
There can be no doubt in who you are, who you are for, and what you stand for. That’s a high-level view. After this you will hone in on the roadmap and the details of the strategy. Leading this discovery process is how a CMO can play a pivotal role in business strategy.
What are your current marketing initiatives?
Our marketing plan focuses on five areas:
- Thought leadership: Driving industry leading thought leadership and expanding our influence
- Platform: Pivoting to our platform solution and building the connective tissue between brand and demand for the platform.
- Customer Base: Leveraging our base to cross-sell and up-sell
- Simplification: Simplifying our go to market to communicate our value more effectively
- Marketing organization: Building a world class marketing organization
The details in these initiatives are in are explained in a document that explains what success looks like, how we measure it, what are the programs behind it, and who are we going after.
I’m a big believer in the notion that if you see it, you can be it. When people read it, they know where they fit in, what they need to do, and what success looks like.
We have an annual process to iterate on each major initiative. We use this data and customer feedback to determine the changes we need to make to have success in the areas described above.
What’s your philosophy on simplification?
The greatest innovators and artists simplify the complex so everyone can understand it. Simplification and essentialism is at the heart of great strategy and great marketing.
From the security operations analyst to the CIO, the landscape looks like a lot of noise. It’s like any industry, including marketing technology which has approximately 7,000 companies in the space.
For practitioners or managers in any industry, they are thinking, “there’s so much noise here, what do I do?” We need to speak in human terms and simplify.
At FireEye we needed to explain our value proposition in terms that can be easily understood.
We had a very complex go-to-market, positioning strategy and even packaging design. And we needed to simplify everything. We understood the numerous acronyms we used, but did the customers?
We simplified our naming conventions to improve the customer experience. Customers should not be confused about what you do. People don’t have a lot of time and you need to break through the noise to explain the value straightaway.
It needs to be clear how you help them solve their problems or help them accomplish their personal motivations. We asked ourselves, how are we going to make them the best CIO in the world? How will we make them feel safe from cyber attacks? What’s the role we play in this?
Simplification runs through and through at FireEye, it runs across marketing, across product, and it’s a big deal to us, especially from a go-to market perspective.
What are examples of simplifying your marketing programs?
One example that comes to mind is in product marketing. When I first started and looked at our order book it was complicated. I asked, “I how long does it take someone to learn this?”
There were too many acronyms, all with different SKU’s. And we went on a mission to simplify!
We went from a complicated set of acronyms to a small set of core solutions: a network security solution, an email security solution, an endpoint solution, and we have a platform on top of that.
All this sounds simple, but we had to change our pricing, packaging, positioning. We developed a single source of truth for each solution, that source of truth is a messaging document. Marketing is the facilitator and works with engineers, product leaders, market intelligence analysts, and consultants to build and renew these messaging documents.
Through simplifying how we take our products to market, price it, position it, and package it, we’ve enjoyed strong consistency across marketing and product.
How do you simplify the brand message?
I’m a big believer in having brand truly reflect who you are as a company. It needs to be authentic to you. It’s easy for B2B companies to look the same as their peers. You need to have a strong and distinct brand identity which is authentic and unique to you! A big part of this is a visual language which stands out.
When I joined, we had all kinds of different images and a less coherent brand identity. If you look back at these different assets, you would think each asset came from a different company. We needed to simplify our visual identity in order to communicate a clear and consistent message.
What we created is a visual identity that is focused on our authenticity and our value proposition. In our photography we use FireEye employees and leaders in order to be authentic and communicate who we are as a company.
You’ll see on our website imagery that combines our people blended with machines to communicate how FireEye delivers value: bringing together humans and machines to solve ever-evolving security problems.