001 | Being Human with Anthony Kennada, CMO of Front | Studio CMO
The Episode in 60 Seconds
Our world seems enamored with AI. Should our marketing be?
- Brand is the human bridge your prospects and customers cross to get to you
- Category creation is, at its core, a human process
- Anthony Kennada's thoughts on human marketing
Plus, we tell stories about what happened at The Dead Rabbit, at a private dinner with a start-up founder, and on a plane back from Manhattan.
Anthony Kennada is Chief Marketing Officer at Front. His team is taking on email. He said, “Email is the workplace communication standard that has not seen much innovation since Wilson Phillips was on top of the global music charts.”
Prior to joining Front, Anthony was the founding CMO at Gainsight where he created the Customer Success category.
He calls himself a “B2C marketer trapped in a B2B body.”
Anthony is married and the father of a sweet daughter.
Category Creation is not for the faint of heart. It's also inherently human.
John Farkas: “Anytime something new happens, you have to mark the moment. You have to say, ‘Think about this differently.'”
Allen Gannett, The Creative Curve: “You always have to mix the novel with the known.”
Listen to the entire interview with Anthony Kennada.
Download a free excerpt from Anthony's book, Category Creation.
John Farkas: “Brand is the human bridge.”
John Farkas articles on Category Creation:
John Farkas: “Don't miss the handshake.”
Mark Whitlock: “I learned about The Power of One through my radio experience.”
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Mark Whitlock Hollywood has been enamored with robots and AI.
John Farkas Yep.
Mark Whitlock But should our marketing be robotic or not? We’re going to talk about that today on Studio CMO. Welcome to Studio CMO. I’m Mark Whitlock, and I’m here next to the host of the show, John Farkas.
John Farkas Hello everybody.
Mark Whitlock Co-host, Angus Nelson.
Angus Nelson Hello. Hello.
Mark Whitlock We’ve got a segment from an interview happening today that I had a chance to sit down with this gentleman a while back and talk about a number of things. Angus, who’s going to be on the podcast today?
Angus Nelson Today we are talking with Anthony Kennada and he is the CMO at Front, which is an innovative email platform and it’s more than email. So they’re rethinking the inbox for the business communications in its entirety. And let’s be honest, email is a real critical component to all of our business needs.
John Farkas Still is critical somehow.
Angus Nelson Always, right? And so this is the heartbeat of a company’s communication within their walls, with their customers, et cetera. So what they’ve done is they’ve supercharged email to help teams work happier and more effective. And his pass, he was the former CMO at Gainsight where he defined the category of customer success. In essence he’s actually written a book all about category creation just released by Wiley not so long ago.
Mark Whitlock And category creation is one of those massive things that, John, you’ve had the privilege of shepherding many through over the course of your career. Why is category creation something to pursue? Why is it something to aspire to?
John Farkas It’s all about helping people understand. I mean, you have to have a clear way to understand a new product or service. Technology inherently invents new things. It invents new ways of doing things, it invents new ways of addressing problems. And when that happens, you have to usher people into a clear understanding of that for them to know how to engage with you. That’s not easy to do. People have ruts that they fall into. They have ways that they are used to interacting with their world and solving their problems.
John Farkas And so anytime something new happens, you have to mark the moment. You have to do something that says, “Hey, think about this differently. There’s a really good reason to think about how we’re going to approach this problem differently.” That’s what category creation does. It’s inherently human. It’s all about how we move people from the way they currently think to a new way of thinking and being, and you have to understand people at a deep level. You have to understand how people make those transitions at a deep level and be willing to jump into that and work hard to achieve that understanding and not assume it.
Angus Nelson Yeah. Allen Gannett said in The Creative Curve, he said, “You always have to mix the novel with the known.” You can’t just take people to something completely strange. You have to take them from where they are to where they’re going. And I think that’s what these guys have done at Front is they’ve taken email, which we all know intimately well, we’ve been using it for 20 some odd years or whatever, some longer, but now they’ve turned it into something that we’re listening. We see a different way. This is how your teams can be more collaborative, they can be more connected. Let’s try it different. And all of a sudden here we go. We’ve got a category creation.
Mark Whitlock You’re right, and we talk about doing things differently and finding that inflection point that got to the clip that we have with Anthony today that we want to interact around. And you’ve seen this multiple times, you’ve seen it where a company has something drew up, maybe it’s a product, maybe it’s a service that they have and all of a sudden that becomes bigger than the company itself. It becomes the new point of interaction with their customers.
John Farkas The flagship, it’s the thing that they have moved to that is now leading their charge.
Mark Whitlock And at that moment when the flagship comes sailing up on the horizon, it’s time for a company to do something. It’s a shift. It’s time for a new brand emphasis. It’s time for a new marketing strategy. It may even be time for category creation to be on the minds of the leaders.
John Farkas And if it’s category creation, you better be ready because that is a big lift and you also need to make sure that what you have is something that is legitimately different to think about. I mean that’s what category creation’s all about. It’s about helping people see things differently, helping them understand a new way of doing things. And the category is what helps them into that understanding. But it can’t be esoteric and way out there. It has to be something that is a legitimate path where you have lots of traction and the ability to create that story for people and help them into your understanding.
Mark Whitlock Let’s listen to this clip from Anthony that talks about some of those issues and then we’ll come back into the studio and interact around it.
Anthony Kennada Every product is, regardless of industry, is sort of on a path to, I believe, commoditization. So it’s becoming easier to develop technology, to host it on AWS. There’s this whole no-code movement now that’s really getting folks the ability to build applications and test and iterate before hiring even a technical co-founder. So the bar to bringing a product to market is getting lower and lower. So leading with product IP as the differentiator for the business is a challenge. And so any company in new markets or maybe operating in crowded spaces and are seeking to break out really could benefit from building brand IP. And so brand has been something that we didn’t talk about in B2B, at least it was your trade show booth and the swag that you created, that was brand, or corporate marketing or something that’s completely away from growth and disconnected from growth.
So I think the answer to that question for companies who are looking to reinvent themselves is how can we build affinity with the market at large through a concentrated brand effort. And the idea is that customers, whoever they are, FinTech, whatever space you’re operating in, it turns out this is controversial, but they’re humans at the end of the day. They want to get promoted, they want to provide for their families, they want to self actualize and be fulfilled in their careers. And your product is a big part of that. But a bigger part of that is what you can do to as a company to help them on their path to self actualization. And so that could be things like content marketing like we’re doing right now in this conversation. It could be and this obviously being a podcast is so much different than an ebook or a white paper or some of the traditional tactics that have driven short term outcomes like web conversions and all these sorts of things.
There’s events, and I’ve talked about it already, the community and getting together with other people in the market as a brand, you have an opportunity to help facilitate that on behalf of customers or on behalf of the market. And there’s putting them in a position to advocate. How can you make them be heroes? The folks that are realizing success and have a story to tell. How can you help capture that story and then distribute it out into the audience? So these are all things that, again, I don’t think you need to be in a new category to really go and focus on, but they’re this next gen marketing approach that’s at the convergence of B2B and B2C, at the realization that we’re all people and we don’t check our humanity at the door when we go to work everyday.
Mark Whitlock That’s Anthony Kennada in a recent interview with me about his book Category Creation. That whole interview is available at StudioCMO/001, click on the link to listen to that interview, read the transcript or even download an excerpt from Anthony’s book. And John, I saw your head bobbing over there. Several things resonated with you. What’s something that jumped out of that clip for you?
John Farkas Brand as we think about it in the context of B2B is the human bridge. We have these solutions and people just ignore this a lot of times in B2B solutions because it’s all about the technology, or it’s all about the how. At the end of the day when people are shopping B2B solutions, it has to be something that connects with them. I mean, you have a lot of these people who are buyers, who are staking a giant chunk of their reputation to bring the solution in. They’re not just looking to relate to a gizmo. They want to know that this solution has something behind it, that it has a soul, that there’s people that are associated with this brand that are going to be there to walk alongside them in the implementation of a solution and ensure success.
A gizmo doesn’t ensure success by itself in the context of a complicated B2B grid. You’ve got a lot of moving parts. You’ve got a lot of elements that are having to interact together to bring a new solution into the mix. People want to know that there’s something there to relate to, that they’ve got a person that they can talk to, that there is a brand that stands behind it, that stands for something more than the tech that it represents.
Angus Nelson Like empathy.
John Farkas Yeah. You want to know that there’s somebody there. That to me is becoming increasingly important. One of the trends that we’re seeing really frequently is the critical nature of implementation. It’s one thing to promise solutions, it’s another thing to be able to implement it at scale. And so you’ve got these buyers who are increasingly concerned with what the onboarding framework looks like. They’re increasingly concerned with the ability for a product to be able to scale to meet the needs once they’ve implemented it and there be people there to walk alongside them to ensure success. Super critical component, all of that, all of it speaks into brand because the brand is what carries that confidence. It’s what assures people that there’s something there and something they can rely on. And if you ignore that, if you just show up with your tech, you’re going to fall short.
Angus Nelson And he said something that goes through a little bit of the philosophy of the hero’s journey in marketing where the brand itself, so oftentimes we fall in love with our technology, we fall in love with our solution or our brand story or company’s story. And what we forget about is that the customer on the other end, they’re really the hero and we’re the Yoda. They’re the Luke Skywalker. It’s our job to come alongside them, support them in these career pending decisions. And I loved what he said about helping them self actualize. They have a goal, they have a problem they want to solve and you’re helping paint a vision that this is possible, and we’re the vehicle to get you there.
John Farkas It’s super important. It’s so often that technology companies waltz in with their tech and say, “Here we are to save the day, we will fix your problems for you and we are so awesome.” And that may be true. They may have awesome technology. At the end of the day, those buyers don’t want the technology to be awesome. They want to be awesome. They want to be the hero in their scenario like you were saying, Angus. That’s a critical component to remember as you frame your brand. It’s not about being this heroic thing because most of the buyers are not interested in giving you that seat. They want to make sure that they end up in that seat, that they’re the ones that the light shines on when this all gets wired together and the switch gets flipped on and it all works better than anybody expected. The spotlight better be shining on the buyer at that moment.
Mark Whitlock And we talk every day within our walls about the importance of understanding the customer. We call our proprietary system, the buyer matrix, for helping understand who the audience is. And it’s something from my background that I love, learned the audience of one from probably day one sitting behind a radio microphone that I wasn’t talking to every listener in the audience; I was talking to a single listener. And Anthony alluded to some of that talking about, hey we’re human at the end of the day and even though the human side of things and the human bridge, John that you talked about and our buyer matrix process and everything that we talk about here, we saw that lesson come home pretty hard within the fall of 2019 at an event. You want to tell us what happened up in New York?
Angus Nelson Oh sure. Yeah. A lot of it is really getting to the actual customer, actually having interface and interaction. And so we actually threw an event for some of our potential clients as well as our clients at a dinner up in New York City. And I went down to the financial district and went down to a place that was in the center of the heart of the place where it happens. We went by Hamilton’s, where he was buried and it was all this cool stuff because it built a motif-
John Farkas Angus may have taken a selfie at Hamilton’s [grave]
Angus Nelson I did, got to admit. And so we brought everybody together.
Mark Whitlock You weren't going to throw away your shot.
Angus Nelson Yeah. Right. And so here they are gathering at the Dead Rabbit, which you’re like, “The what?”
John Farkas The what?
Angus Nelson In this, the name of this restaurant, it’s a pub and the food was phenomenal and it’s a throwback to Irish cuisine with a modern flair.
John Farkas You see more dead rats in New York than dead rabbits in general.
Angus Nelson Reality. And so we brought everybody together because we just wanted to have an actual conversation and feel what they’re feeling, experience where they’re experiencing. And so we had a speaker, Scott Monty, who was formerly the head of [communication] for Ford Motor Companies. And it was so great because we had people of so many different shapes and sizes of companies, all the way from NASDAQ and WeWork and PayPal and Venmo were all there from their areas all the way to these other startups like Brightside Incorporate and others who from the scale it’s like looking at the same mountain from a different perspective. And they’re all facing similar problems. But the way they’re articulated and executed might be very unique. And so to have them exchange and have this collaboration gave us such great insight into speaking into their world. And that’s something that I think a lot of brands forget, is actually listening to your customer and finding those human pain points, the human element of what is challenging them in a very conversational tone.
Mark Whitlock John, I’ve seen-
John Farkas Mark.
Mark Whitlock I have seen you-
John Farkas Just trying to distract you before you surprise me with another question.
Mark Whitlock That’s my job. I’ve seen you have the epiphany moment or shepherd someone to an epiphany moment time and time again at our workshops.
John Farkas So many times.
Mark Whitlock And so many times that epiphany comes around seeing whether it’s their company or the solution that the platform provides for the customer, et cetera. What has been some of the response once these folks have had that epiphany about being human and marketing human? What are some of the results of that? How have you taken the next step with some of these companies?
John Farkas We try so hard to help organizations gain clear differentiation. And one of the ways that especially for technology companies, and this is so fun, I mean and such a clear opportunity to help organizations move into empathy and understanding how they can relate to the buyer, meet the buyers where they are and lead them on a journey that makes meaning and builds relationship for both parties. That is an opportunity. And so part of what we do and part of what we work on in the context of the workshops that we have with the folks we work with is we have the opportunity to bring them face to face figuratively with their buyers.
John Farkas We really work hard to mine the real needs that are there. We really work to understand how, what their solution provides, knits in with their need matrix and we bring that together and make some observations. It’s not rocket science. The world doesn’t change its axis. But what does happen is people understand what their offering does in a different way because typically they are focused so much on the solution and solving, solving, solving, which is great. That’s what a solution ought to do. That’s what a platform needs to do, it needs to solve. But you can’t focus on the solve side until you have a really clear articulated understanding of the need side. And that’s what we do.
John Farkas And what it does is it opens this door to seeing your market presence differently. Because when you come at it from the solve side, you’re being very assertive, you’re skipping a step, you’re skipping the handshake, you’re skipping the moment where you look at somebody in the eye and say, “I know you.” And that is the human part of this, that handshake, that understanding of who the person is and and being able to look at them and say, “I know you, I understand you. Let’s walk together.” That’s very different than saying, “Look at what I got, look at what I got.”
John Farkas I was on the flight back from Manhattan and I sat next to a guy who, super interesting dude, really wanted to tell me all about him and spent the whole flight telling me all about him. Never asked me a question.
Angus Nelson Bless his heart.
John Farkas And then got up at the end of the flight and walked out without even saying goodbye and I had a few thoughts. A few things occurred to me as that happened, like stuff I would say that Mark would have to edit out, but you know that’s what a lot of companies do. I mean they’ll sit down next to you and they’ll open up their door and throw a bunch of stuff out at you and expect you to think it’s awesome. I thought the first five minutes were awesome. Pretty interesting guy, but then all the trust went away as he had no interest in me. I didn’t have any interest in keeping going.
John Farkas So that’s not the kind of conversation we want to have, and it’s the kind of conversations a lot of companies bring to their marketing efforts. You can’t just open up the door and throw a bunch of stuff out. You have to invite stuff in. That interaction has to go both ways. And it starts with a clear empathetic understanding.
Mark Whitlock And you’ve seen it up close and personal in trying to get somebody to understand.
Angus Nelson I was having dinner with a founder of a startup and we were having a conversation about connecting with your customer and what does that look like? And I actually knew somebody that was using their product. I said, “There’s this guy that I know who loves you guys and he’s kind of almost an evangelist.” And I said, “These are the kind of people that you should embrace and connect to.” He was like, “Yeah, well how would I do that?” And he was not being dismissive, but just try to make connection. And so I picked up my phone, I flipped it over to video and I said, “His name’s Corey. Say hi to Corey.” And he said, “Well, hello Corey. I’m, insert his name, and I’m so glad you’re using our product. Really, I’m grateful that you’re telling other people about it too. If there’s anything you need, please let us know. Have an awesome day.” And I said, “What if you did that two, three, four times every week? Find a customer, find a client and just send them a quick video thank you.”
John Farkas A smooch.
Angus Nelson Can you imagine the power of just that? In addition, you’re inviting them to talk back and you actually listened. You send that thing and then let them respond and then whatever they tell you follow up, explore, do what’s necessary to connect with your customer in a way that’s human. Even in a B2B space, this is a game changer and a differentiator because everything in our world is becoming so automated and, as you started off our show, so robotic that we’re forgetting at the end of the day, all of us just want to be seen. All of us just want to be heard, and all of us just want to be understood.
Mark Whitlock And by doing so you helped this founder engage with empathy with that customer as well and that wasn’t the end of the story, right?
Angus Nelson Yeah, well they’ve continued to converse and so that’s the power, is that not only did, in that moment we had a dinner, let me show you a quick cute little trick, is they kept with it. They actually went and executed. So I’d love to find out actually, I’m going to be seeing them in two weeks. I’m going to follow up, so thanks for the reminder, and find out what has transpired. How has that changed some of their customer interactions?
Mark Whitlock And that’s one of the things that’s the heartbeat of Golden Spiral, that empathetic approach to the way that we interact with others. Whether that be with our clients, those that we’re selling to or those that we work in offices with or just being human. We want you to take an empathetic approach, so when you come to studiocmo.com/001, that’s where you’ll find the show notes and the transcript for today’s show. You’ll also find a link to a resource about that empathetic approach, we hope that you take advantage of that. studiocmo.com/001 and while you’re there, you might as well check out some other stuff too.
We have links to John’s excellent articles on the topic as well as links to the interview with Anthony Kennada, links to his book and link to a free excerpt that you can download there. That’s a lot to throw at you, so if there’s one thing we want you to do then that is to check out the stuff on empathy. If there is a second thing we want you to do, it’s to subscribe to our podcast. Now you’ve heard this on every other podcast you listen to.
Angus Nelson Why?
Mark Whitlock Click the subscribe button, click the subscribe button. It is so important, it makes a difference, especially with us as we’re leaving the launchpad and headed toward outer space-
Angus Nelson Awesomeness.
Mark Whitlock It’s going to matter. And as my dad used to say to everybody who came to his basketball camps, “If you like what you’ve heard here, tell somebody else. If you don’t, tell us.” And so comments are open. You’re welcome to share all that stuff with us. So thanks for joining us for today’s edition of Studio CMO.
Angus Nelson And remember our goals. Understand your buyer’s problems.
Mark Whitlock Let the empathetic understanding lead the way.
John Farkas And make your buyer the hero.
Mark Whitlock See you next time on Studio CMO.