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Elain Szu

Elain SzuShare

VP Marketing, Sentry
Former VP Marketing @Narvar Former Head of Product Marketing, Exchange @Twitter Former EIR @Accel Accel Scout and Angel Investor
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Elain Szu
VP Marketing at Sentry April 9

Great question. I'd say the core of this problem is that Marketing has to play a role over the short, medium, and long term. And often time, brand marketing efforts require persistent campaigns over a longer period of time, so the key is to establish a baseline and come up with a few metrics to showcase along the way. Your end goal is to show that rising tide (your brand perception) is lifting all boats (including the revenue engine that is your GTM team). 

That baseline is often best established with a Brand Perception study. You can do a lightweight one yourself on your site, especially if you're a self-service product with plenty of eyeballs, but my preference is to use a 3rd party agency to do the research, define the target customers, and then anonymously collect how your company is perceived across product, service, values, and even confidence in your ability to deliver value. Intermediate metrics like Share Of Voice and NPS are common go-tos to capture that overall "how is the world feeling about our company".

Another thing that helps me explain this internally is to apply a simple framework around marketing's value in SaaS businesses (especially earlier stage businesses): 

  1. Support revenue formation: Tie your above brand metrics back to examples of how opportunities were won due to the awareness you drove
  2. Create brand awareness: Takes time and concerted effort to build an emotional connection with your company and create the "surround sound"
  3. Maximize engagement: Demonstrate that customers that hear about your consistently, understand your value/vision are more likely to spend and less likely to churn

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Elain Szu
VP Marketing at Sentry April 9

Your brand story is often rooted in how your company's core mission solves a critical customer problem. So in order to tell a unique and compelling narrative, you want to look at the company's core product DNA, tell an excellent story about how that landscape for that problem has evolved and continues to evolve, and link it to your audience's core need. 

  • Why do you exist - what's the core problem or issue
  • For whom is your product roadmap built - often times it's one of your founders in tech
  • How is your product vision going to deliver this uniquely and consistently - easier said than done

I said "core" several times here because often times, marketers and product leaders get wrapped up in the quarterly product roadmap or monthly Marketing plan. But brand story is about the larger vision, which requires you to zoom out and articulate for the world the landscape for your customers' problems, how it has evolved, and how your product direction is addressing the need. From a planning perspective, you need to have this foundation established in order to influence product roadmap prioritization -- which is the super power that I'm always looking for within great product marketers. 

Without this zoom out, it's often easy to get lost in a battle over semantics or feature commitment timelines -- none of which are helpful for customers to understand why they should believe your business and team are worthwhile partners past this quarter's roadmap (especially in SaaS). And, are also not going to give you long term differentiators to tell that unique and compelling brand story. Roadmap planning itself is really an output of the foundations above.

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Elain Szu
VP Marketing at Sentry April 9

You've hit upon one of the reasons why marketing in tech is a neverending challenge (and the fun part IMO). I think the best marketers have both strong analytical skills and grasp how to build long-lasting brands based on an emotional connection with their customer. If your goal is to one day lead marketing more broadly, you absolutely need to demonstrate that you can build a brand beyond the product marketing itself. 

I think a strong brand requires a consistent identity and tone that emphasizes:

  1. Specificity (what)
  2. Resonance (why)
  3. Emotional connection (how)

But the foundation of your brand can't be disconnected from your product. And product marketing in B2B tech at least, requires that you can deeply understand your customer's problems (based on both quantitative and qualitative data), evaluate fast-moving industries that evolve super quickly, and get deep on complicated products. You also need those analytical skills to understand what's working with your output and be curious about what to improve. So I'd argue, as a foundation for marketers, analytical skills are a requirement but brand marketing skills are what will set you apart longer term!

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Elain Szu
VP Marketing at Sentry April 9

This is one of my favorite challenges when you're developing brand positioning and you can apply to a singular product area, as well. You can't prevent them from copying messaging -- but you can establish that you are the only credible player to deliver that positioning. Credibility comes from all the core product (or platform) value.

This is better as a white board exercise, but imagine your brand positioning statement and your 3 reasons-to-believe (RTBs) underneath it. A competitor can copy one or even two of those RTBs, but the combination of all three should uniquely support your value prop. A good exercise is to look at your product offering today and for the next 12-18 months, and put all your features as supporting points under the RTBs. When the product actually delivers what marketing says it's going to deliver - voila, you have credibility.

To build uniqueness though, you need ot continuously come back to first principles and help your Product leadership think through a few options:

1) Consider your product's moat. What is unique about how you're solving your customer's problems but more importantly, what capabilities play off that uniqueness to create a virtuous cycle that reinforces your moat? Data is often an example here.
2) What segment of customers are you focusing on addressing? If the answer from your leadership team is too broad, you run the risk of trying to be everything to everyone... all at once. Yes TAM matters. But TAM doesn't take into account timing of when you go after each segment. Consider narrowing who you're targeting with both your Product and GTM strategy.
3) Be honest with your Product leaders. The trick here is that you have to believe that your platform or product will deliver on that positioning. This is where that PMM superpower of understanding the nuances of the product are almost as critical as understanding the customer. 

Credentials & Highlights
VP Marketing at Sentry
Product Marketing AMA Contributor
Lives In San Francisco
Knows About Brand Strategy, Product Launches, Product Marketing Career Path, Messaging, Product M...more