Don't Cheap Out on Your Brand Plays | Ali Jawin
Justin Keller: Welcome to Revenue Talks, the show where we get real about what it takes to build pipeline and drive expansion as a go- to market team. I'm Justin Keller, the Vice President of Revenue Marketing at Drift. And on this show I'm here talking to folks across the entire go- to market organization, which means marketing, sales, and customer success, about how these conversations, technology and cross- functional alignment to build more pipeline and drive expansion because revenue, it's everyone's business now. Hello, it's Justin and we're back with another episode of Revenue Talks, and today I am thrilled to be joined by Ali Jawin, who's the Vice President of Global Marketing at The RepTrak Company, which is a cloud- based corporate reputation intelligence platform that provides businesses with ongoing performance data on how stakeholders evaluate them when it comes to the corporate reputation, their brand, and ESG, using online surveys and media. Ali, I'm going to ask you in a minute to unpack exactly what that means for us, but you've got a long career that spans a variety of different roles. And today we're going to talk about how those roles have helped to develop the campaign strategies that are backed by data and that are proven to convert. And fun fact, Ali made our top marketers to watch list this year. So if you haven't checked out that blog post, make sure you do. It's linked in the notes. There's a lot of really great marketers in there, but let's get into it. Ali, thank you so much for joining me on the show. Before we get into the nitty gritty of all this marketing stuff, I want to know something. We were creeping your LinkedIn profile and not only have you been marketing for a few minutes, but prior to that you were a professor, you were a production assistant at CNN, you worked with Hillary Clinton. Like unpack, okay, give us a little bit of your journey and then how did that all end up in marketing and do you think that was the right decision for you?
Ali Jawin: Well thank you so much for having me. I'm thrilled to be here. And yes, my career arc is very nontraditional. Marketing is actually my third career. My first was that I was a professional ballet dancer with an opera company in New York City. And I think a lot of it sort of ended up being that I was interested in everything and didn't really know what I wanted to do. So when I ended up in college, I just thought everything was really cool. So I was like, let me intern at CNN, let me intern at MTV, let me see what politics is like. And I wasn't really entirely sure. However, that didn't really matter when you graduated in 2009 because there really weren't any jobs anyway. And I really had enjoyed philosophy. So that was probably the only moment in the history of the world where going to grad school for philosophy was a really good career move. But I got funding to go do my masters in Scotland. I got funding to do my PhD in the US and I really enjoyed just the logic of it, how mathematical and technical it was. Except around 2013 I realized that in fact any other job was going to be better than becoming a philosophy professor. And I had no idea what I was going to do, what would anyone pay me to do anything. So I think I applied to about every single job on LinkedIn in the Boston area and kept on getting a lot of BDR roles back. And I remember thinking that it was really interesting, but the idea of being held to a number really stressed me out, which is of course hilarious now because that's what I signed my myself up for. So I knew I wanted to be close to it but not in it. And sort by accident ended up at Yesware with an accidental interview with a VP of marketing. Loved it. He saw how sort of my analytical background would be helpful and never looked back since there.
Justin Keller: I love that. And I agree, I would agree as well because I think people with non- traditional backgrounds oftentimes make the best marketers. If you're just dyed in the wool, like you came out ready to be a B2B marketer, I feel like you're going to produce marketing that feels so bland. I think B2B marketing's got that problem already where everything's generic and navy blue and everything. So I'm interested to hear how do you think that has shown up for you? And I forgot to ask by the way, at RepTrak a little more about how they do what they do and then how does your background inform or influence or both the way you go about thinking about B2B marketing?
Ali Jawin: Well the thread that connects all of it is that it's lots and lots of data. So before I started at RepTrak if you had told me what do you think about when you think about reputation, I would've been like Jane Austin, period dramas. Maybe a young woman in a bonnet not being able to do something fun and reasonable because it would ruin her reputation. And those things are all entirely valid. But when it comes to corporate reputation, it's entirely different. So every company has a reputation whether you tend to it or not. And basically the way we look at brand and reputation is your brand is the promise that you make and your reputation is whether your stakeholders think you're keeping that promise. And we measure that with online surveys and a massive data science team, AI, machine learning, all that cool stuff. But basically taking a scientific approach to what do people think about you? Do they think that you're doing a good job? Do they think that you're a good corporate citizen? And what we've shown is that that correlates to your bottom line. So that's very data heavy. And then sort at RepTrak, one of the things that's super interesting in philosophy and that translated really well to marketing was this notion of causation versus correlation. So in causation A causes B to happen, whereas in correlation, A happens and then B happens. And it sounds really, really nuanced, but when you're in marketing, let's say one month you generate a ton of pipeline and you want to know what caused it and you're like, wow, the month before we spent a ton of money on Google ads campaign, that's what caused it. However, if you're not careful, maybe it wasn't, maybe the Google ads campaign didn't have that much influence. Maybe it's a trade show from six months prior, but the leads were really cold, needed that time to be nurtured. And if you're not careful with telling what that difference is, you could easily the next year say forget the trade show, spend all the money on Google ads. But it's not going to get you where you want to go. So for us there are really three main steps when you look at what we're going to do. The first one is always what's the objective? And our CEO is a former sales guy. So like 99. 99% of the time it's pipeline, however other ones can sneak in. But it's just always, I think really important. And I always have to remind myself, don't get stuck in the tactics. The tactics come after the strategy. The second is, what of interest do we actually have to say? And here at RepTrak we are super lucky, we have a world class data science team that every day is coming up with insights that are of interest to our market and we can't keep up with them, we never will. But what's even better is they actually get how important their data is to our marketing efforts. So they work with us when they're doing their analysis. So for us, one of the hottest topics in our market is ESG, environmental, social, governance, you hear it everywhere. So they do lots of extra analysis for us on that topic, which love them to death. And then the last is always going back to the data. Do we have intent data, keyword data to really prove that this is something that's going to resonate? Is it going to work on this channel? Have we run previous campaigns? So just really trying to get granular because while you can never prevent a campaign from not working, generally we have enough data where there's a very good chance it's going to.
Justin Keller: Yeah, I love that. And I think there was a moment there where I think you scared me and you scared a lot of people listening to this because, for us marketers, there are so many things we do that are immeasurable and that we can correlate but not causate. And I think you kind of introduced the fact that even the things you are measuring may not be adding up the way you think they are, which is scary for marketers. Our butts are on the line to drive pipeline. I think everyone listening to this is in the same boat as you and I are, where at the end of the day it's pipeline. We want to do fun marketing stuff, we want to listen to our customers, we want to go out on a ledge, but we don't always get the luxury of doing it because pipeline comes first.
Speaker 4: Interrupting this episode of Revenue Talks, to let you know that Drift has been named a leader in the Forester New Wave Conversation Automation Solutions, Q3 2022 report. This report consists of detailed findings from Forrester and how a vendor is scored against 10 specific criteria as well as where they stand in relation with one another. We're thrilled to be included amongst such a stacked group. To learn more about this recognition, click the link in the show notes.
Justin Keller: But what's your approach to finding that? Sounds like you guys have tons of data. You yourself are great at measuring the data. How do you balance that with wanting to introduce provocative and compelling stories and messages to the marketplace?
Ali Jawin: So I have a great example and usually it's sort of two ways that I really do think about protecting me and my team. Because very often that is what it comes down to. And the first is of a law and order approach. No matter what happens with this campaign, can I defend why I ran it and why it seemed like a good idea? And an example that really comes to mind is this past Q1 we ran a campaign called Metrics and Martinis. I mean first of all that name alone, how could-
Justin Keller: I'm in. Sign me up.
Ali Jawin: And the concept of it was that we sell communications and no one went into comms to get measured or be held to numbers. But similar to marketers, CFOs are coming saying, " You spent all this money, where is it going?" There's a lot of anxiety around this topic. So we thought let's do this fun series, four fireside chats about how comms can become friends, not foes with your numbers. And to show them that this wasn't going to be your average boring webinar. And also just because numbers can be a scary topic and everything is better with a drink. We were going to send them a themed martini. So there was one week that was wake up and smell the metrics, and it was an espresso themed martini. It was a flop. I was shocked. I could not believe that this camp, that there was just no demand. We were like, we're going to send you four free martini kits, you're going to learn something helpful, you're going to have fun. But it didn't. However why it was okay for us was everyone thought that this was going to be effective. Everyone internally knew that this should work. Everyone knew this was a good channel. So while it was at least head scratching, it wasn't like why did you go off on this wild clip? But the other was that we started small, sure we lost a person's man hours and sure$1, 000 on martinis. But in marketing those are rounding errors and we were able to pivot quickly. So I think a lot of it is before going full throttle into something, one, making sure you can defend it no matter what happens. And then two, if you can test it on a smaller scale, that's ideal. However, I know that's not always possible. It's one of the reasons why field marketing terrifies me. But you just have to have a strong stomach and a strong spine for that. I come from field marketing so I fully appreciate it. But yeah, that is one area where I will acknowledge you just... Yeah, you can go small and get certain results or go big and you're just never really going to know. So it's just very important that the company has a good understanding of that type of thing.
Justin Keller: I fully cosign on that. I think some of the best marketing is the stuff where you're like, what if nothing happens at least we did it and this was the right thing for the spirit of the company. But it's also, I mean it is terrifying. That's one of the hard things about being in marketing. And I want to get your opinion on this, and this is actually pretty meta because your company measures like the employer brand and you are using that to then drive more brand for your company. So it's kind of this weird cycle. And we are in a potentially rocky economy, there's lots of... If you're on LinkedIn, you're seeing a lot of people getting laid off. And there is a study that I'm blanking on the name of the author on. Elizabeth ping me later will put this in the show notes. This is a valid study. But in the eighties a research company studied about 600 B2B companies in the recession that happened in the early eighties and found that the ones that really invested in brand during that downturn grew, outpaced the competition. But then when the recession ended was kind of like a rocket boost for them, they jumped way ahead. And that's like the scariest time of all to make these big brand investments. So what's your take on that? When you're thinking about balancing how brand affects the bottom line, what can you tell the people? What can you tell me first of all, and then what can you tell our listeners to give them some Rolaids on this podcast?
Ali Jawin: So the first is that brand is so much more than your font and your colors. And it can be very easy, I think when you're in marketing to forget that because you just live and breathe it so much. But your brand is, and I know I'm saying this to marketers so it's obvious, but it's your personality, your authenticity and your consistency in every single communication. And it's just so easy to reduce it to pretty pictures and share a voice metrics. And I promise this is not going to be a RepTrak pitch, but as I was saying earlier, we look at branded reputation as peanut butter and jelly. They're different, but you really can't talk about one with talking about the other. And you control your brand. Your brand is the promise that you make. You have a lot less control over your reputation and your reputation impacts things such as people's willingness to recommend you, say positive things about you by your products, give you the benefit of the doubt in a crisis, invest in you. So while it's really important to manage that, you have less control over that, whereas you have full control over your brand. So I think when it comes to brand, people need to make sure that one, they're speaking authentically. Because these days authenticity or not lack of there can be sniffed out like that. But the other part of it is are you making promises that you can live up to? Because if you're not, you are going to be punished for that. So in this time, investing in brand for me isn't just investing in dollars though there is a part of it, but it's really is every single communication expressing your values and expressing your purpose? Which I mean is so, so hard. Especially as I feel like we've been pivoting on a dime since March, 2020. How many more times can we keep on doing this? But just sort of realizing that the promises that you're making to your stakeholders, they have to evolve as we all evolve. So just really maintaining that consistency, even if you don't have the dollars behind it. If you can maintain that authenticity in making the right promises, that's going to go much farther than a lack of authenticity with dollars.
Justin Keller: I agree with that wholeheartedly. I think if you ask 20 marketers what is brand, you're going to get 20 different answers. And even depending on the day it'll change. I think one thing everyone can agree on is the phrase brand is what people say about your company when you're not in the room. And I think that you're exactly right. If you're leading with authenticity, you can at least trust that you're being genuine. People are going to hear that message and no one can disagree with you on that. So with that in mind, I mean how do you leave that in? Are your brand campaigns part and parcel of your general go to market campaigns? Do you think about this separately and it's kind of a layer above the campaign level or how does that look for you?
Ali Jawin: So I'd say, I mean there's a lot of ironies for this there. So one brand is in everything that we do. Every single email, every ad, every blog post. But for RepTrak we've been on a real journey because until April 7th, 2020 and I can remember the exact day because it was that exciting. But as a marketer traumatic, we were a reputation institute, we were boutique market research agency and now we're at tech enabled platform, the RepTrak company. And it was a huge, huge overhaul and we're still really managing that. What is the RepTrak brand? We all knew what Reputation institute was, but we come from such an academic background. How do we keep that academic rigor or not keep it. It'll always be there, but how do we communicate that without being intimidating? Because one of the things that we used to do is go to the market with, see how smart we are, look at our models, let's talk about R squared or lots of other terms I still to this day don't understand. And don't worry, we have smart people on our team who do. But our big theme for this year was become a brand that people want to spend time with. And then our theme for 2023 is going to be demystification taking the PhD out of it. So much for us has just been really focusing on that essential, what is our brand? I know what our promise is, but our authenticity, we have it in certain areas, but we really have to spread that throughout the rest of the company. Once we have that nailed down, I'm going to feel a lot more comfortable going to our CEO being like, we need to spread the word loud and wide. But to do it right now before we have that really buttoned up and have everyone from the interns, the people who've been here forever to everyone needs to be on the same page. And we're going to get there, but we're just not quite there yet.
Justin Keller: So when did that rebrand happen? How has that process been like for you?
Ali Jawin: It's been very... I mean, well one rebranding in a pandemic that's inaudible.
Justin Keller: Talk about, it's one of the toughest things a marketer can do. It's like...
Ali Jawin: Yeah. And it's been hard, but I think in some ways it's also been very freeing because when everything is kind of in free fall and it feels like the world is burning down, you're like, you know what, let's change our colors. And normally people might just absolutely lose their mind, but they're like, yeah sure, whatever. We've got real problems to solve. And in some ways I think it really put... There's so much in marketing that really matters and there's so much that doesn't. One of my taglines is that there's no such thing as a marketing emergency except in ops related and only our ops people can fix it. But everything else actually not a real emergency. We can all just take a deep breath. So I think in a lot of ways this gave us time to step back and think, okay, not just what have we always done because the world isn't what it's always been. It's all new, it's all different. Let's sort of lean into the moment. And we know we definitely pushed the company in areas that it was not comfortable with. And we've had to do it over time. But by starting to push the needle a little bit over and show them the data of how it works, we've really been able to show people that no people do want to be educated and entertained at the same time. Because one thing I always try and remind people is that we're not just competing against our competitors, we're competing against everything everywhere all the time. We're competing with against dancing animals on TikTok, their shopping list, texting their friends, trading on RobinHood, they could be doing literally anything else. So why is anyone going to give us the time of day? And that's where brand comes in. So it's a continuing education I would say.
Justin Keller: It is. And I mean what I'm getting from this conversation, which I am loving by the way Ali is, it's so all consuming. Like you say, it's everywhere all at once, that it can't be ignored. And whether you're investing a little or you're investing a lot, whether you're investing directly or indirectly, it's something that you need to give love and resources to money or otherwise. And so whether that's going your CEO, your CFO some combination of a bunch of people with C, their title, it's a tough conversation to have at the end of the day, they're fiscal stewards of the company and you're asking them for something that might not be directly measurable. What's your approach to either selling them or saying, look, this is going to pay off in the end. How do you I think about that conversation that I think myself and so many people in this conversation dread or have had and did not go so hot.
Ali Jawin: So I'd say on that, I'm actually very lucky that our CFO, David Stack, is the CFO that took HubSpot public. So he gets it in a way that almost no other CFO ever will. But for me I worry less about getting people on board. That's hard. But for me it's what happens when the music stops. Because the thing with almost all brand campaigns is the bills come in way before the revenue does. And that revenue can be hard to tie. And with certain CEOs it's entirely fine. I remember at a previous company, our big campaign for the year was around AWS reinvent and we were spending millions. And we knew we'd be able to track some of it, but I was getting a lot of anxiety. But our CEO who didn't have a marketing background was really good about saying, listen, I understand that there's going to be a lot that we can't track. That's okay. We're not going to be able to track every single person seeing our name up in lights. But that's fine. So for me it's less about getting the internal enthusiasm though that's hard for me. I always start with what's going to happen when the bills come before the revenue comes? Because even if you have a CEO, a CFO that's enthusiastic under and understands, I tell everyone, get it in writing. Because six months down the line, if the numbers aren't right, everyone's going to be looking for scapegoats. And this is going to be the first one. Why did you think it? So it's really important that you remind everyone all the time that this was a decision we all made, we all knew this. So you avoid becoming the sacrificial lamb. Because I've seen way too many of my own CMOs fired for this. So yeah, it's really knowing your CEO and just having everything backed up. Because there's a term I invented, collective amnesia. It turns out it's contagious.
Justin Keller: I think get it in writing is the biggest bullet point of this thing. You're so right, just what a good CYA. Yeah. Remember three months ago when we had this exact exchange. Copy paste it into the Slack. I think that's so smart and it's also a good way of reminding that you need to corral not just your CEO, but your whole go to market team and get them all to sign the same covenant that this is what we're doing together. Brand is one of those things, I think I'm going to probably butcher this adage brand is too important to be left to just marketing. And so you need to empower everyone that's customer facing on the brand. But then on the campaign strategy as well. And you've got a global team to do this with. How do you go about getting everyone on the same platform, marching in the same direction and saying, yeah, this is what we're doing. And all in the spirit of pipeline.
Ali Jawin: Yeah, it's super hard. One of the things that makes the biggest difference is that marketing is measured and our bonuses are tied to pipeline. And that was actually one of the first things I did when I got to RepTrak. RepTrak had previously been measured on M qls. And to me that's not necessarily a bad thing. However, when sales did not trust marketing at all, and I discovered why, which was marketing can decide what an MQL is and marketing decided that an MQL was any time someone opened or clicked on an email. So they were doing things like sending five webinar emails because anytime someone opened it was an MQL, marketing was doing the happy dance and sales, their eye rolls were doing eye rolls. So by making marketing 100%, having it tied to pipeline the end all and be all, they know that we're in there with them. Because we can't just toss them some crappy leads and say, our job is done now go do your work. We need to get them the right accounts with the right people interested in pains that we can solve. We have to make sure that the handoff is good. We have to make sure that they have enough collateral to get everyone else on the buying committee. So it doesn't mean that they love every single campaign that we run. And they absolutely wish that we ran more campaigns and they have plenty of ideas of things we could do, but they know that if we're doing it's because we really think that it is going to drive pipeline that we don't do things otherwise. And then the other part is that we invest heavily in our relationship with our revenue partners. Me personally, I'm in every single weekly BDR team meeting, new logo, team meeting and account management meeting. So it's like three hours of my week and if my team is launching a campaign, I'll have my content people in there. Whoever demand gen, whoever needs to be there is going to be in there. But it does mean that they know us, they know that we care and that they trust us. So there's that relationship and familiarity where they don't like, oh, I don't know who's over there. They don't care. They don't know. No, we're there. We know. And again, it doesn't mean it's all perfect, but I think just putting in that face time has made a really big difference.
Justin Keller: Absolutely, preach. Ali, the tagline of this podcast is revenue is everyone's... Not everyone's problem. What is the tagline? Revenue is everyone's job is the tagline of the Revenue Talks podcast. How about this, as we start to wrap up, we'll end with the signature revenue talks question, which is, what is the number one thing that your team is focused on to accelerate revenue in the second half of this year?
Ali Jawin: So our team motto is data not drama. And we actually even have a team mission statement that has, we have an emotionless, data driven approach. So again, it is definitely a hard market out there. We sell to the Fortune 500s. So if they have a bad earnings call, their budget goes away. But we do know that what we know two things from our data, we know that ESG hottest topic out there. We also know that the internet cannot resist a rankings. So we are working with our data science team to combine that. We're going to do our first ever ESG rankings. Basically we're going to take the companies on the NASDAQ 100, look at their ESG perceptions and rank them. And again, it takes data science time. It's not something we've done before, but we know what we need to do. The data's telling us we're what to do. So that's what we're going to do. And then if the data says something else, we're going to pivot really quickly. But I really hope that doesn't happen because then I'd cry. That'd be a problem. But we would do it. We would find a way.
Justin Keller: Exactly. Well, but to your earlier point, there's never a marketing emergency. And if you've got data and not drama and you get it in writing, hey, your bases are covered. I've loved this conversation so much everybody, Ali Jawin from RepTrak one of Drifts top marketers to watch this year. I really appreciate you joining us so much. I had a great conversation and thank you so much for sharing all this wisdom with our audience.
Ali Jawin: This was great. Thank you so much.
Justin Keller: Thank you so much for listening to Revenue Talks. If you liked this episode, please consider to leaving a review. Wherever you're listening, you can connect with me on Twitter at Justin Keller and at the entire Drift Podcast network, at @ Driftpodcast. Remember revenue, it's everyone's business now.
Data, not drama. That's the motto of The RepTrak Company's marketing team.
RepTrak's marketing team uses data to inform the majority of decisions they make, but that doesn't mean they don't take risks.
Ali Jawin, The RepTrak Company's Vice President of Marketing, believes strongly in leveraging data to justify marketing spend - whether it's for a rinse-and-repeat campaign or a big bet.
In this episode, she explains how her team balances data with creativity, how she communicates the ROI of big brand plays (even when the results don't come until months later) to her broader go-to-market organization, and how, despite operating in countries all over the globe, all of RepTrak's go-to-market teams are able to stay aligned on the end goal.
- (1:47) Ali’s unique career journey to becoming a marketing leader
- (4:23) How Ali’s background informs her work at The RepTrak Company
- (9:33) How Ali balances listening to the data with creating daring marketing campaigns
- (13:48) Ali’s opinion on why it’s always worth it to take a risk on brand plays
- (16:46) How RepTrak’s brand campaigns fit into marketing’s larger campaign strategy
- (18:42) What rebranding during a global pandemic was like for The RepTrak Company
- (21:22) How Ali communicates on the ROI of brand campaigns before the numbers come in
- (24:11) How Ali leads a global marketing team to march in the same direction toward pipeline
- (26:52) The #1 thing Ali’s team is focused on to accelerate revenue for The RepTrak Company this year
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See who Drift's other Marketers to Watch are: https://drift.ly/MarketerstoWatch
Read the study on the importance of brand to revenue: https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/when-the-going-gets-tough-the-tough-dont-skimp-on-their-ad-budgets/
Learn more about the Forrester New Wave™ Report: https://drift.ly/ForresterWave