Marketing trends are always changing, and it's so important to stay relevant. What are the latest trends, and how does one stay abreast of them? Is it better to be an early adopter or to see which trends stick? To address these questions, we’re asking experienced CMOs and marketing executives to share their “Top 5 Marketing Trends That Leaders Need To Know.” As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Evans.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! To start, can you share what brought you to this specific career path?
I guess you can say the computer aspect has always been a part of me. In high school, we had four computers that used cassette tapes as mass storage, and they had to be programmed in BASIC. I took to it like a duck to water. In fact, when all the math teachers were required to teach a two-week section on programming, my trig teacher asked if I could do it for them because none of the math teachers had ever used a computer.
When I went to college, I chose to get a degree in computer studies. Next up was a five-year stint at CompuServe, which in many ways was the predecessor to the internet, except you connected using a modem. I was a product manager there and at my next two companies as well, but at Attachmate, I was exposed to product marketing, which is my passion. I love personas and positioning docs. From there, I went to Aelita Software, which was acquired by Quest, and I have been working in marketing for data security software ever since.
It has been said that our mistakes can sometimes be our greatest teachers. Can you share a funny marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? What did you learn from it?
Let me start by saying that when you’re in the midst of a mistake, it’s rarely funny—the humor comes with 20/20 hindsight.
Many years ago, my company decided to go big at an industry event. It was one of our first events in that space and we had little experience with that particular event. Our presence was underwhelming to say the least—we missed the mark in terms of both messaging and our visual presence.
Was it funny? Not at the time, but we learned our lesson and went on to host one of the best booths at the event, and then we were able to look back and laugh—with ourselves, the organizers, and others in the industry.
The lesson learned is “do your homework.” Study, ask, discuss, research and ultimately understand your goals and the path forward before embarking on an event, campaign, investment, or whatever.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you're grateful for?
That’s easy: the VP of Marketing at Attachmate who exposed me to marketing—real marketing. For one thing, she showed me how to actually measure marketing, unlike at her previous job at P&G where they calculated the impact of a dollar on percent market share within regional markets.
She also taught me the emotional side of buying. For example, she had been the brand manager for Crest toothpaste, so one buying driver was “pantry pressure” — basically, you are more likely to throw away a nearly empty tube of toothpaste instead of squeezing out the very last of it if you know you have another tube in the cupboard. That’s why they sell two tubes together.
Understanding the emotional side of marketing is powerful. It’s the difference between saying “our product installs quickly” and “our product installs so fast that you don’t have to work late and miss your kid’s soccer game again.”
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different?
I think things started to go better for me as I worked more closely with my sales counterparts. Sales and marketing are like Batman and Robin or peanut butter and jelly. If those groups are not aligned, well, it won’t be good. So I meet with as many sellers as I can on a regular basis in order to get anecdotal feedback to improve our products.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
It’s the people. Look, Netwrix is a software company. We don’t have patented materials. We don’t differentiate on our cutting-edge supply chain. We don’t utilize a new manufacturing process. All we have are smart people who make great decisions based on current information. So in order to go the extra mile, we hire smart people who love working with other smart people. We delegate and collaborate to solve problems and make decisions fast.
How do I know it’s working? Well, it’s not unusual for me to find out we are doing a campaign (a webcast, for example) about topic X from a “secret shopper” account as opposed to directly from the team. When I ask for the details regarding registrations, attendance, attendance rate, pipeline—they are all provided along with a commentary regarding whether the topic, target or speakers need to be altered for better results. I just write back, “Good job, carry on.” Empowering the team to do great work is how we differentiate.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? Tell us about it!
There are two areas where we are strengthening our muscles. The first is solution messaging. Netwrix used to be a one-product company, however, we’ve made a bunch of acquisitions over the last 18 months, so we are now going to market with solutions to problems as opposed to products for admins. This has caused us to revamp our enablement, our website, our sales tools, and, most importantly, our analytics.
As a CMO, you’re at the forefront of the marketing space and leading diverse teams. What resources or tools do you use to you stay abreast of the ever-changing landscape?
It’s funny you mention diverse. Our marketing department has people ranging from Los Angeles to Pakistan, and that’s taking the long route. So the tools we use religiously are Microsoft Teams for video calls and to stay connected, and Asana for task and project management. With a global workforce where our efforts follow the sun, having the ability to track activity and pass tasks between people and departments is instrumental to our success.
As for tools to stay connected to the market, I don’t think there’s anything special here. I read a few industry publications as well as analyst reports. But conversations—we technical people and our friends in sales—are essential to our planning and execution.
In your experience, is it possible to forecast upcoming trends? How does this process work?
If I could forecast anything, it would be lottery numbers, not marketing trends. But you keep your ear to the ground and check out what others are doing. In fact, as I write this, we are looking at the AI-based ChatGPT and running a series of tests to see if that technology can speed our ability to produce search-optimized content.
I think there’s great promise for that technology; at the same time, it’s still unclear how search engines might detect and respond to AI-created content. So I read about it online and we are researching its viability for our department—what any smart marketing leader would do.
In marketing, would you say it’s better to be an early adopter of trends or wait to see if they stick before allocating resources?
I think this depends on your market situation and maturity. If you are working for a startup that’s well funded and has a truly unique product, then by all means, be an early adopter. As a more mature organization, we tend to make one or two marketing bets per year. We dedicate resources and dollars to try some new things to see if they work for us, but largely, we spend time and money on activities that have proven to drive bookings.
Can you share some of the past trends that you embraced?
Marketing analytics. I’m a big fan of measuring everything. At Netwrix, we have the most detailed reporting of any business I’ve been in. But when I got here, the marketing and sales departments were not aligned. The marketing department generated leads, gave them to sales and their job was considered done. We’ve changed all that.
This marketing department is now compensated (via bonuses) on pipeline created and booking achieved from marketing-influenced activity. It’s opened up communication between the departments and increased the quality of leads. In fact, in our core businesses, marketing-influenced bookings is between 80% and 85%.
Can you share a time when a strategy didn’t deliver the results you expected and what you learned from the experience?
In concert with Sales, we embarked on an account-based marketing (ABM) initiative last fiscal year. We licensed an ABM platform, enabled our sellers, and integrated the tech into our stack. But it didn’t work out. It just was not a cultural fit for our organization, and that’s okay. We’ll be trying a few new things in the coming year, as we always do.
What factors should leaders consider before jumping on a trend?
Companies, especially software vendors, tend to rely on technology to operate. Therefore, it’s imperative to realize that any change you make will have intended and unintended consequences on other areas of the business.
For instance, a sales leader may think that deploying the latest phone recording, transcription and intent-reading technology is just a sales tool. But by thinking the investment through with other leaders, they might find that it will break other systems or reports. Or it might add value for other teams beyond sales. The point here is that leaders need to communicate and collaborate with other leaders and system owners before making any new major investment, whether that be in tech or new marketing channels.
Based on your experience and success, what are the top five marketing trends leaders should know about in 2023?
1. Analytics. Maybe it’s not a new trend but being able to look at your data in multiple ways is as important as ever. Whether it’s a weighted pipeline, influenced, first touch, last touch, multi-touch, product or solution, having marketing analytics at your fingertips to engage your colleagues with data-based conversations and decisions is a key to a productive marketing department and a successful business.
2. Tools that scale — This may not be true for all organizations but as I mentioned, Netwrix is in a growth phase (organic and inorganic), so ensuring that any investment we make can scale is vital. And by scale I mean three things: (a) in terms of the number of people it can support; (b) regional scale, which means local language, time zones and currency; and (c) scale to integrate with the rest of the tech stack.
3. What’s old is new again — This one is all about physical events. For two years, we’ve done everything virtual, but now that we are emerging from the pandemic, trade shows are back. Regional events are back. I think virtual events will still play a vital role, but we need to acknowledge that most people want that in-person interaction.
4. Personalization — Let’s face it, we live in an app world. I can update my avatar on Netflix on my phone and it appears on my TV screen nearly instantly. We even had battery-operated, Alexa-enabled window blinds installed and I have a digital profile on that iPhone app. There’s an expectation that our cyber interactions will be tuned specifically to us. To that end, we are in the process of updating our customer and support portals to make them unique to each visitor. Will we ever get to the level of Netflix or 3day Blinds? Maybe not, but our customers and prospects will each have a unique experience when they visit us digitally.
5. Feedback — I think a lot about analytics and dashboards, but there’s a human element to them—namely, that the manifested information is only as good as the data it is based on, and often, that data is flawed. Therefore, it’s important to augment your dashboards based on anecdotal info gleaned from direct conversations with people on the front lines. This feedback should be part of your planning and decision making.
Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to many people, what would it be?
Appreciation and respect for other cultures. I have worked with people from Asia, Australia, Russia, the Middle East, Europe, Latin America, and North America. We all want the same things, but we all go about it differently. In the US, we tend to force our cultural biases onto colleagues from the rest of the world and that often results in conflict. Taking time to understand and respect that there are many ways to achieve success or complete a project can enable organizations to do so much more.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Check out netwrix.com. It changes almost daily as we enhance our products and acquire new technology to help rid the world of cyber threats by securing sensitive data. But to be honest, that’s really not so much me; rather, it’s the work of the best marketing department on the planet.