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Generally speaking, someone with a title like Chief Marketing Officer has a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience in all aspects of marketing. Because of this, a CMO is the perfect person to know what is more and less likely to work. So what are the top 5 tried and true marketing strategies that executives recommend to other business leaders? As part of this interview series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Karyl Parks

Karyl Parks

Karyl Parks

Karyl Parks is Chief Marketing Officer at Axiomatics and has led marketing at many of the world’s leading IT companies in their respective fields. Her career has taken her from Quest Software to Dell to Titus. Most recently, she held the role of CMO at Stealthbits Technologies. In 2020, Karyl was named a Bronze Stevie Winner for Female Executive of the Year in Canada from the prestigious The Stevie® Awards.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! To start, can you tell us a bit about what brought you to this specific career path?

The path I started on was not supposed to bring me to this point, but I am glad it has. My post-secondary education is in Public Relations, and I had visions of working in the PR department of a Global 100. However, that’s not the path that was laid out for me.

I started in a sales role in a hardware technology company, then grew a customer service organization, which then led me to marketing. I can honestly say I grew up in marketing and led many marketing functions from global, field-facing teams to corporate communications, creative design, and web teams. I worked in startups, mid-size technology and Fortune 100 companies. Every opportunity I have been given has led to my experience in the next, and every person I worked with or had the opportunity to lead taught me something and all of those experiences have led me to where I am today. You could say I am proof it takes a village to raise a child.

I remember being asked at one point what my five year plan was and surprisingly, I didn’t have one. Looking back at it now, I’d say I didn’t have a plan for the future as the roles I had were incredibly fulfilling. I embraced every opportunity I had with the same energy and enthusiasm as any other role, and through that, opportunities presented themselves for me to continue to grow and be challenged.

While the path shaped the leader I am today, it has not always been an easy one. There is a certain fortitude that is required to keep your head above the noise and stay focused on what is important. For me, what is important and has always been my true north is my husband and two sons. Everything else comes second in my mind.

At one point in my career when our children were under 12, I was doing a lot of international travel, and was away from home often two or three weeks each month. At that time, there wasn’t Zoom, or Facetime, or even good mobile plans that allowed easy access to stay connected. I often did homework with kids sitting in a hotel room while my team was at dinner or stepping out of a meeting to call before bedtime. My team respected it, they understood that our boys were first and enabled me to be able to find a way to balance which in turn made me a better and more effective leader.

This leads me to the importance of building teams and culture. I have lived through multiple acquisitions and have experienced first hand the power and importance of creating a positive team culture. During acquisitions you often merge two or more cultures together. To be successful you need to quickly identify the behavior, activity and communication style that aligns to driving your goals.

There is a lot of truth to the saying 'one bad apple can spoil the bunch.' There is no difference in terms of a work environment. Build your team based on three attributes: Ability, Activity and Attitude. Whether you realize it or not, having the right attitude is more important than having the right level of ability, knowledge and experience or driving a lot of activity and being super busy. If you have a team member that doesn’t have the right attitude, the other two attributes carry any weight.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you're grateful for?

I have been asked this question before and it’s a really good one. None of us are successful on our own; it takes the support and guidance of others at some point in our journey. There are at least ten people who I am grateful for, but, if I had to highlight one it is Aggie Haslup. I reported to Aggie for six years at Quest Software and of all the lessons she taught me, there are two I draw on often:

  1. Be comfortable using data to drive recommendations and action. In her words, “Data trumps emotion.”
  2. It is important to be an authentic leader. Another Aggie-ism, “People may not remember what you say, but they will remember how you make them feel.”

Such simple and pragmatic insight stuck with me and has made me a better leader.  

What do you think makes your company stand out?

Axiomatics is in a market with a lot of other smaller companies with a lot of noise and confusion as the market develops and matures. We have great technology and deep roots both forming and informing the space, where the company had lacked in the past was in execution. We have changed that in a short amount of time. Our marketing team is made up of functional experts who have a broad range of experiences, having worked in large companies, have experience in adjacent markets, and delivering growth. While we have fantastic tech, amazing people and resources in our organization we also have the deep and rich experience of how to build and deliver programs that engage, grow and nurture business growth. It’s a winning recipe.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? Tell us about it!

We have experienced a lot of growth in the last two years, and this has in part been the result of creating and implementing processes that didn’t exist before. We have focused on building the organization for growth and providing a simple business process to engage with our customers and partners. As a result, there is usually a healthy new project list in our backlog—prioritizing those activities is part of the agile process the marketing team follows to deliver the most relevant initiatives that align to near and long term business goals.

We are at a point now that rather than building for growth, we are fine tuning our approach and prioritizing projects based on a new model. We recently completed a significant web update focusing on customer experience and engagement. This project included an improved navigation, search and content structure. In the last two months we also upgraded our customer support portal to improve customer’s ability to engage with us, as well as our rich knowledgebase. The results are fantastic, early feedback from our customers regarding their experience is incredibly positive.

Currently the Marketing team is assessing the sales engagement funnel to understand the current prospect journey: getting clarity on priority use cases and priorities to ensure that we are providing the right information to guide their research and purchasing decisions. The outcome may take the form of a risk assessment tool or an ROI calculator as an example. We fully understand and appreciate that a prospect may or may not choose our solution, but we are committed to ensuring we are helping prospects and customers get the necessary information to make an informed decision that is best for their long term goals.

With so many different types of marketing out there, has any one area had a bigger impact on business over the rest?

This is a fantastic question. In my experience, the area that has the bigger impact on business over time is the one that matches the maturity stage of your company in your market. I know that sounds like a non-answer, however, I believe it is more important to align marketing efforts with the critical needs across the business rather than prioritizing focus on a particular channel. There is a significant difference in your marketing plan if your company is a start up versus if you are a market leader with a healthy pipeline and growth rate.

  • If you are a start up, you will need to focus first on creating a clear message that articulates your unique differences and consistently and frequently deliver that message to influencers, analysts and reporters covering your space.
  • If you are in an organization that has a healthy, repeatable revenue flow, you may focus more on NPS activities, reaffirming your leadership position and ensuring you are nurturing the repeatable business model.

A marketing leader needs to be aligned to the business strategy as well as standard marketing KPIs. As one of my early mentors told me, you cannot build or lead a business from behind a desk. In this context, that means you can’t only look at marketing as an isolated function within the business. Yes, you may have an amazing campaign, or be triggering some great activity in the marketing funnel. But, if that activity is disjointed from the needs of the business, you are not moving marketing value or the business value forward.

How often do you try a new marketing strategy, and which ‘boxes’ does it need to tick before you’re willing to implement it?

I love trying new strategies and learning what works in the process. I don’t expect every strategy to be 100% every time, out of the gate. You must be comfortable failing because that is how you learn. I’m sure you have heard of the term, “fail faster.” That perfectly describes how I believe Marketing should operate.

Often people fall into two camps of thought: 1. They over analyze every activity in such a way that they create analysis paralysis. They fail in taking any action because they are so anchored in the data or, 2. They create incredible campaigns, very thoroughly executed and beautifully designed that miss the mark in terms of business value. The sweet spot is that middle ground.

I like to be a team enabler: I am willing to try every new idea my team has if we are measuring outcomes and we apply learnings from it. The ticked boxes I look for are:

  1. Does this strategy align to our department goals (which in turn align to business goals)
  2. Does this strategy align to our current agile workflow and priorities?
  3. How are we measuring results?
  4. Have we defined what good looks like and in what timeframe?
  5. If this option doesn’t yield the results we want, what is plan B?

In your opinion, is it better to try out new marketing tactics or to stick with what you know works? How do you decide where to allocate your budget and resources?

There’s a balance that is needed. If you are constantly trying new tactics, it’s hard to get a baseline measurement of what works overtime. However, if you only execute the same tactic, you are likely not reaching as much of your target persona and base as you could. The right answer is balancing the mix.

The best approach to leverage the tried and true while mixing in new to evaluate what you learn from it. Also, don’t forget the most important element, talking to your targets. Ask them what they think, what is resonating with them and why. You open up all sorts of new opportunities by getting out from behind your desk and asking those questions directly.

Having reached this space, what are your top five most successful marketing strategies, and what results did you see?

1 . Establish your marketing goals based on sales targets.

Marketing’s role is to create awareness, drive thought leadership, support NPS, drive engagement—in general increase valuation of the business. I have found the most effective way to drive success for the business is ensuring that the team drives sales engagement and results. Marketing is an integral component of a business’ success but if the sales pipeline is not growing, marketing campaigns become irrelevant. Marketing functions must be aligned with sales because if the company is not closing deals, then it doesn’t matter what the marketing source or influence is. Marketing must help sales close. Full stop.

2 . Your strategic narrative never gets old.

A marketer’s narrative may evolve and grow but the core of it needs to be durable and relevant to endure over time. It takes time for a company’s position to be understood and if the narrative changes—why you are relevant and why customers should care—the value and differentiation the company brings over competitors will be lost. Be comfortable telling the story repeatedly but also be open to a variety of formats and distribution channels. Consistency in the narrative is what drives engagement.

3 . Marketers should gain market expertise.

Many smaller technology companies are product led—and they should be. They start out having a unique product to bring to market but what often happens is the focus is on the next new amazing feature or capability that can be added or built even when it is not what the market requires, or what will help the product to be sold.

Marketers should adopt an outside in versus inside out approach to be able to learn about what the market really needs. It is critical for marketers to invest in and nurture relationships to develop their market expertise. Talk to customers, partners, industry experts, analysts and influencers. These parties are talking to more people than marketers are alone and by engaging with them, being open to their input and weighing that against each other, themes will emerge that can be leveraged. Focus on what the market needs and why, not what the business thinks is cool. The best way to learn about what your target persona needs is by talking with them.

4 . Know more than marketing.

Marketers do not need to be experts in all functions of the business, but they should be adept at product, sales, finance, and business operations—knowing how those functions work and what success looks like across an organization. When marketers have relationships with these business functions, they can align components of each function into their initiatives for better business outcomes.

5 . Basics are better.

In times of economic uncertainly, it is best for marketers to get back to basics. Content is king and while that is an older adage it is an adage for a reason. Create compelling content and take a networking like approach to leverage partners, customers, SEO and distribute across a variety of channels to get more use out of assets.

Can you share a time when a strategy didn’t deliver the results you expected and what you learned from the experience?

Years ago, I lead a team who were launching a campaign in EMEA that fell short because we hadn’t accounted for the difference in country cultures. What worked in UK wasn’t going to be received the same way in Germany or France. Given the resources we had at that time, we took a one-size fits all approach and significantly underestimated the importance and need of regional translate to ensure that the campaign resonated in each of the target countries.

Thinking about it now, it’s so obvious, but at that time, I didn’t have the experience or pull to guide a different outcome. What I learned from this are things I’ve touched on earlier—get out of your silo, understand the business need (or in this case the target’s need), and build for what is required over what you think is fun and amazing.

What expert tips can you share with those who just starting to build out their marketing strategy?

Align with Sales, understand their challenges and work collaboratively with them to fill that white space. You can’t do everything you will want to do or that you are asked to do. So, identify the most important things you can do to help move sales engagement in the funnel, and what you can do to help your customers get more out of the products they own. Tackling those two elements are critical, not always creative, or fun but incredibly rewarding.

Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?

There are so many areas of need in the world that could benefit from some help and attention. If I could influence a movement, I would champion no cost healthcare for children. My younger brother had cancer when I was growing up, and my family was able to cover the costs for experimental treatment plans but not without help. As a result of their experience, my parents became very involved with Ronald McDonald House and participated in that program helping it get established in the town where I grew up.

We are blessed that my brother has been in remission for many years, but we spent time with many families where that is not the case. Lessening any type of burden for families of sick children, especially financial burdens would be my recommendation.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow me on LinkedIn.

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Stephanie Hood
By Stephanie Hood

Stephanie Hood is an experienced marketing professional and Editor of The CMO. With nearly a decade spent as Marketing Manager at Discover Holidays and Executive Editor at VIVA Lifestyle & Travel, she built her career leading editorial and marketing teams and strategies that turn six-figure budgets into seven-figure profits. She now enjoys connecting with the world's top executives to learn their secrets to business success, and shares those insights right here with her community of like-minded professionals. Curious what she’s uncovered? Be sure to sign up for The CMO newsletter.