Picture this: You’ve been hired as the CMO of a tech startup with a great product but relatively little to no brand recognition. Your chief competitor started years before you, established the market you want to serve, and now dominates that market.
In short, you’ve been out-branded by a first mover with a Goliath-like marketing budget. So, little David, how do you compete?
Unlike the biblical character, you don’t go straight at the giant. Winning—in the form of a respectable market share—won’t come from one action. Rather, a series of small actions done well will give you a fighting chance.
That’s been my experience over the past year and a half as CMO for Cybersixgill, a cyber threat intelligence firm established in 2014. We’ve landed major news coverage in outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg and consistent editorial coverage in global cybersecurity publications covering different verticals. We’ve seen significant jumps in engagement in social media, paid, and owned digital properties.
The overall effect: 69% of net new annual recurring revenue from 2022-2023 is attributable to our marketing activities. By sharing my approach with you, my hope is that the actions we took will be useful for your company as well.
A Word About My Company And What We Do
You may not be aware, but there are websites–inaccessible to the general public–on which criminals do business with each other. Collectively, these sites are known as the “dark web.” These bad actors exchange money (often cryptocurrencies) to buy stolen items and illegal products and services and communicate with each other about new attack vectors and other ways to advance criminal activities.
These dark-web sites are also valuable to cybercriminals—individuals, alliances, and even state-sponsored agencies that look for the tools of their trade and the data they can exploit. My company, based in Israel, monitors the dark web (as well as the surface web and deep web) more thoroughly than anyone else.
We process, correlate, and enrich these mounds of data with automation and AI. We alert our worldwide customers’ security teams to those threats but only share the ones that are relevant to each company’s digital infrastructure. That lets them quickly preempt threats before they materialize into attacks.
When I started with Cybersixgill, I knew what we offered was a superb product created by brilliant technologists. Yet our marketing and branding efforts didn’t reflect our solutions' technical excellence or seamless user experience. That brings me to the first order of business.
1. Hone Your Messaging And Share Your Story with Key Audiences
We first needed to not only look as professional and ready for business as possible, but we also needed a strong message. That meant understanding what differentiated us from others in the CTI field. What are we providing that others are missing? How do we say that as clearly and consistently as possible?
Content marketing is a great way of building trust in complex technical products and services. Done right, you’re explaining to readers the intricacies of the topic in ways they likely don’t understand and taking an educational approach rather than a self-promotional approach. By creating eBooks and reports that explain complex topics and offer practical guidance, we established credibility as a knowledgeable resource that our customers and prospects trust to deliver valuable information.
Beyond prospects, you can use in-depth material to build brand recognition from analysts and the press. Analysts are keenly interested in the technology you’re using. Their reports provide an objective measure of the viability of your product. Reporters are eager to share with their audiences what’s new in the ever-evolving field of cybersecurity. Gradually, you begin to show how your product stands apart from that of the dominant player.
2. Monitor And Take Advantage Of Trends And Events
As much as our engineers and tech people focus on what’s happening on the dark web, we on the marketing, sales, and product development side need to monitor activities relevant to our functions. In the cybersecurity industry, there’s been a growing sophistication among target buyers and business leaders. Not only do those with security responsibilities in companies understand the value of good CTI, but so do executives who ultimately must ensure their businesses are prepared for cyberattacks.
Beyond that, new regulations are forcing boards of directors to take cybersecurity seriously because they can be held accountable for breaches if it’s shown they didn’t take adequate defensive measures. And with cyberattacks not easing up, everyone in an organization remains highly aware of the ongoing danger. Consequently, our marketing efforts can and should reach all employees, not just those in technical positions.
Unfortunately for chief information security officers (CISOs), the job pressures are compounded by a lack of qualified employees to perform cybersecurity functions. This worldwide shortage has been ongoing, and automation tools are filling gaps. That leads to another external trend we’ve tapped into: the sudden appreciation for the power of generative AI, due to ChatGPT and related platforms.
In our case, we’ve developed our AI-based product to help these security officers overcome staffing shortages. And we’ve quickly pointed out that it’s not like ChatGPT and other large language model programs. Remember, we’re developing our knowledge base by gathering information unavailable through traditional means. ChatGPT would be left speechless if asked to describe what we’re addressing.
3. Know Your Customers Well–And Keep Learning About Them
This might sound odd coming from a marketing person, but I’m grateful that our target audience is cynical. They don’t fall for fluffy language or slick sales presentations. They want good, solid reasons for buying.
As I mentioned at the beginning, our product is solid and highly differentiated. From the first sales call with a client, our technical people are involved to answer any questions a prospect has. Of course, initially, we had to elevate our brand to the point that those prospects were eager to have the sales call, thanks to everything I’ve listed previously.
In addition to those actions, we pay strict attention to sales calls, debriefing after every single one to see what we can learn about the market. What were their concerns? What did they like about our presentation? What wasn’t working?
When we first started refining our marketing strategy, we coached the sales team not to make customers feel they had to pick either our product or the competition's. Rather, they could pick the competition’s product AND use ours to fill in gaps they might have.
But as market conditions changed and cybersecurity departments had to reduce their spending and consolidate their tools, we shifted our sales strategy. Our product not only had cost advantages against our competitors, it also wasn’t as complex. You didn’t need to buy a series of separate modules. Just one product did virtually everything you needed.
4. Come Together As One Team–Marketing, Sales, And Product Development
There’s a tendency of some CMOs to get excited about a new project or product, conduct a successful launch, then walk away from it, letting the sales team take it from there. Not good.
As the CMO, you need to understand every step of the customer journey and monitor how the actual journeys are or aren’t following your planned path. Don’t leave it to the sales team to make the needed adjustments on their own. Rework the material, process, information-gathering and sharing, and everything else needed to make it a more successful customer journey.
Beyond that, you have to get tight with your Chief Product Officer. In Cybersixgill, he’s one of my best friends. We coordinate everything: strategy, packaging, release timing, feature sets. I bring information from the marketing side about digital news or sales data, and we discuss it together to make the best decisions for the company.
The same applies to the Head of Sales, the CEO, the CFO, and other executives. You want to understand their role, encourage contributions, and be united in your purpose.
This is a luxury that the Goliaths of the world don’t enjoy, burdened as they are by too many people for one leader to track. As a David-sized company, you can move quickly and nimbly.
And this is where your strategy differs from that of the biblical hero. You’ll succeed not with a slingshot but a pair of track shoes. See where you need to go, run there, do what’s needed, and keep moving.
Plan. Monitor. Act. Repeat.
Keep learning as you go, unite as a team, stay creative, and enjoy the ride to success.
Enjoyed this article? Follow me on LinkedIn to see how we continue to gain recognition for Cybersixgill and get ideas on how you can do the same. And be sure to subscribe to The CMO newsletter and look for future posts from me.