016 | How to Nail Storytelling in Marketing with Ken Rutsky | Studio CMO
The Episode in 60 Seconds
Ken Rutsky, President and Principal Consultant at KJR Associates, Inc., joined us on Studio CMO to talk about the power of balancing both the analytic and data-driven side of marketing with great storytelling.
An accomplished speaker, mentor, and author, Ken has spent 20+ years in B2B marketing roles and believes it’s just as important to fit in as it is to stand out.
This interview delves into:
- Why Great Technology Isn’t Enough
- The Power of Storytelling in Marketing
- Driving Your Buyer’s Epiphany
- Your Most Worthwhile Audience
- An Expert Marketing Consultant’s Advice to CMOs
- What has Changed in B2B Marketing
Ken Rutsky, President and Principal Consultant at KJR Associates, Inc., helps B2B growth company executives in Sales, Marketing, and the C-Suite breakthrough and grow leadership in new and existing markets.
Ken launched the Intel Inside broadcast co-op program in 1991 and the Internet’s first affiliate marketing program, Netscape Now, while at Netscape from 1995-99. Since then, he’s been CMO at several start-ups and ran Network Security Marketing at McAfee. He now leads his own consulting practice, whose clients have generated over $10B of shareholder value through IPOs and acquisitions.
Ken is also the author of Launching to Leading: How B2B Market Leaders Breakthrough, Lead, and Transform their Markets and host of The Marketing InSecurity Podcast.
STEEP Analysis: Society, Technology, Environment, Economics, and Politics. What are all the things going on in your buyer’s world across those dimensions?
One of Ken Rutsky’s favorite short stories: What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
Communicate Without Technology Bias
Technological founders often live and breathe the products they’re bringing to the market. It’s great if you love to talk about your product, but you must provide context to the potential buyer.
“I don’t care about cool. I care about value.” – Ken Rutsky
If you have value in your product, then chances are you want to exchange two things:
- Time and Attention
Why makes time and attention more difficult to achieve than money? Getting the attention isn’t going to happen because you only talk about your technology. Great technology isn’t enough to stand out. Providing value is critical.
The Power of the Story
Providing Return on Investment (ROI) is now table stakes. The ROI won’t get you into the deal. What will is your Return on Strategy (ROS). Technology is about transformation. Think: “What problems aren’t I solving?”
You must first address your buyer’s pain points. Only then can you introduce your technology.
The story you provide your buyer should consist of four chapters:
- Chapter One: Today’s reality.
- Chapter Two: Identifying the pain gap.
- Chapter Three: Introducing a new approach, new mindset, and new technology.
- Chapter Four: The transformation.
If you want to test the strength of your story, try removing Chapters Two and Three. Focus on the From-To. Is it still meaningful, or is it now generic?
Chapter Three: Leading Your Buyer to the Epiphany Moment
“The epiphany must belong to the customer. We cannot steal that epiphany. We can’t force it. The buyer must be the hero.” – Mark Whitlock
Driving the customer’s epiphany is twofold:
- Identify the mindset, and frame your approach.
- Push the innovation into a what, as opposed to a why. What makes your approach different, and how will your technology solve their unique problems?
Choose Your Conversations Wisely
Who is making the buying decision? That’s the person you want to tell your story to.
You may be thinking “But, the technical buyer doesn’t care about the business transformation.” Actually…
“When the technical buyer falls in love with your tech, they have to consult the person who cares about the business transformation. They better know that story, or else they’ll never make the sale for you.” – Ken Rutsky
Ken Rutsky’s Biggest Piece of Advice For CMOs
Successful marketing starts and ends with narrative and story. If you do that well, you already have 80% of the work done.
“Don’t tell your story, tell your customer’s story. Create context for your value.” – Ken Rutsky
If the person you’ve been engaging with can’t repeat your story within the organization, you’re not telling it right. Your story must be memorable.
B2B Marketing: What Has Changed?
The story has gotten lost on a lot of marketers. The idea of growth hacking has exploded, the idea that you can test your way to success. Well, your test is only as good as your hypothesis, and you can’t test your way to a hypothesis. You have to think your way to it. That’s where your story comes in.
CMOs are disappearing. The role is being split between a revenue focus and a corporate focus, and all of a sudden, no one is thinking holistically.
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Our theme is created by some of Nashville’s greatest musicians. Bigger Story Music is born out of a longtime friendship, a deep, talented community, and a real love for what we do. Whatever story you’re trying to tell, we have the perfect music to make it better. Really. Check out their production library and explore their custom options at biggerstorymusic.com.
Mark Whitlock (00:00): The following interview for Studio CMO was recorded at RSA Conference in February in San Francisco. Enjoy.
Mark Whitlock (00:07): Sometimes marketing feels like a “Where’s Waldo” piece of art. Where is my company? Where in the world, in this landscape, is my company? Sometimes if we do it right, and we’re a little bit lucky, we’re going to be like that famous painting of all the black umbrellas and the one umbrella standing out in the picture. You’re listening to Studio CMO.
Mark Whitlock (00:30): Welcome to Studio CMO. As I said, I’m Mark Whitlock, alongside our host, John Farkas.
John Farkas (00:50): Welcome. Welcome.
Mark Whitlock (00:51): My fellow co-host Angus Nelson. And Studio CMO is the podcast dedicated to B2B tech marketing leaders. We want to help those in financial technology, health technology, cybersecurity, business intelligence, to figure out the best way to make their products and their solutions shine. And we’re going to have some, a real conversation today with another marketer. Angus, who do we have with us in the white chairs today?
Angus Nelson (01:16): We are talking with the president and principal consultant at KJR Associates. He’s a speaker, mentor, and author of Launching to Leading and he’s the host of Marketing InSecurity Podcast. Please, welcome to the show Ken Rutsky.
Ken Rutsky (01:30): Hey, great to be here.
Angus Nelson (01:31): Welcome, welcome.
Ken Rutsky (01:32): Thank you.
John Farkas (01:33): Thanks for joining us today. And, uh, you know, one of the things I know from our interaction,s something that you’re passionate about, something that we share passion on is just the ability to help technology companies get out of the way of their technology.
John Farkas (01:47): And what does it mean to position to message toward the market? You know, understanding where the problem sets are and what does that look like? And we’ll jump in and get to that. I would love for you to give us a little bit of backdrop on who you are and what led you to this place.
Ken Rutsky (02:02): Sure.
Angus Nelson (02:03): I want to go all the way back to Netscape.
John Farkas (02:04): Did you say Netscape?
Ken Rutsky (02:09): The funny story about Netscape is I was working for Intel, my very first marketing job on the Intel Inside program. If you you’ve ever heard doo doo doo, I worked on that program. I launched that program actually. So anyways, I’m sitting in my cube and Intel was okay, but I wasn’t like thrilled with my job as entry level marketing job and a colleague and my Debbie, she comes over and she says, Hey, look at this job, Ken, cause she knew I was kind of looking around and I go to her computer and she’s got this job for Channel Marketing Manager at this company called Netscape, which I never heard of. And I just looked at her and I said, why does Intel let Netscape put their job listings on your computer? I didn’t know what the internet was. And she goes, Oh no, it’s this thing called the world wide web and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So that’s how I found out about my job at Netscape. From there it’s been a long journey, uh,
Ken Rutsky (03:00): You know, and, and, uh, I went through the.com bubble here out in Silicon Valley. I lived down in Menlo Park. I’ve been there for 20 plus years. Then I was running product marketing and demand gen for Secure Computing. We got acquired by McAfee. This is about 12 years ago. That was great, great acquisition because we got acquired in the last week of August of 2008. Now, if you can kind of wind your head back on that, the first week of September in 2008, the stock market went down 30% or 40% in one day, right? Financial crisis, we got an all cash offer. So our stock was trading at $8. It’s secure. We got an offer for nine bucks and here we were when the market went down 40% and we didn’t go anywhere because we had an all cash offer. It was a beautiful thing. Uh, so anyways, uh, after McAfee acquired us, uh, I started looking for my next VP of product marketing job and I wandered into a consulting gig. And then I got a second consulting gig, and I said, Hey, this is kind of fun. Maybe I’ll just do this. And here we are 11 years later.
John Farkas (04:00): So you’ve been on your own terms for 11 years.
Ken Rutsky (04:03): 11 years. Yeah. It’s the longest job I’ve ever had. So yeah, I like to say my boss is kind of a jerk, but I know how to negotiate with him.
John Farkas (04:12): Nice. Very good. Well, tell us a little bit about how you see this world.
Ken Rutsky (04:17): Yeah, I mean, something Mark said really stuck out for me when you’re talking about the umbrellas. One of my mentors, a guy named Matt Church out of Australia, uh, runs an organization called Thought Leaders Global. He, he said this once to me and it’s really stuck in my head. He says the big challenge for anyone in this information overloaded world is how do you fit in and stand out at the same time? And I think when you think about it, like if your analogy Mark, you know, you still have to be an umbrella. If you want to solve the problem of keeping rain off of someone’s head. But if you’re the white one and to see a black one, you stand out. So fitting in with the way buyers think and into the buyer’s world is critical, but you also have to stand out and be different. And so that’s really hard. And if you go in this trade show, right, you walk on that floor, it’s a sea of sameness. And it just changes from year to year, you know, five years ago, it was, uh, advanced malware protection this year, it’s AI, but everyone’s AI and there’s 600 or the 800 booths or AI. So you’re not standing out.
John Farkas (05:16): So what do you think makes it hard for people that are living, breathing, the products that they’re pulling in the market? What makes it hard for them to carve a clear channel? What makes it hard for them to communicate clearly?
Ken Rutsky (05:28): You know, I have four kids. Would you like to see their pictures? How many pictures of my kids can I show you on my phone before your eyes start to glaze over? Right. We love our kids, right? Our babies are the most important thing in the world to us. Nobody else cares really that much. And so that’s what I think, especially technical founders do with their products, right? It’s like, how much can I tell you about my product? Let me show you a thousand pictures of them and the buyers just kind of by the third picture are glazed over. Yeah. Because you’re not relating it to anything that matters to them. Now, if I said, Hey, my daughter is a journalism major at the university of Oregon. And you say, Oh, my daughter is a journalism major too. We could have a really meaningful conversation about my kid, but then it’s got a context. And so I think we lose context. We don’t have context for the conversation we try to have with buyers.
John Farkas (06:18): Yeah. So what leads to that? Cause I think it’s a little bit more pervasive. It seems to me to be more pervasive with technology companies than some others. What is the formula? What leads down that road and why is technology end up finding its way to center stage?
Ken Rutsky (06:32): I think part of it is the technical founders, right, are really proud of what they’ve done and they should, be by the way. Right. I mean, they do some amazing stuff out on this floor for really cool tech, really neat. One of the things I like when I talk to CMOs and the end product marketers, you know, one of the things I say is like, you know, I don’t care about cool. I care about value, right? And so if we focus on value to the customer–value to me is measured by one thing, well, they write me a check for it, right? Because I’m X, if you think about a market in general, if I zoom really, really high up to be theoretical and sound like consultant for a few minutes, right? A markets just a conversation between buyers and sellers. And when you’re having that conversation, you’re talking about the exchange of value, right?
Ken Rutsky (07:16): And I’ve got some value in my product and I want you to exchange two really important things for me. One is your money, but this actually the less important one, the other is your time and attention, right? Because if you look at a CISO here, a Chief Information Security Officer, here, you got 900 vendors on the floor. You’ve got another 300 floating around in trucks and suites in here. And how many products can that team absorb in one year, maybe a half a dozen. So getting attention, isn’t going to happen because you only talk about your technology. You go back to that again, you know, you can’t stand out because technology isn’t enough.
Angus Nelson (07:50): And one of the things that you’re really big on is, is the story element, right? And that’s part of that differentiation. Can you kind of unpack a little bit for us, like how the power of the story transcends just those benefits and just those elements that connect with your customer, where they live.
Ken Rutsky (08:05): Yeah. You know, if you look at those 800 vendors on the floor, I bet 780 of them have a great ROI argument. Right? You buy my product, you’re going to save this time. You’re going to save this money. You’re going to relieve your stress, head count, you know, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And here’s the ROI. The problem is that’s not enough. That’s like table stakes now. So how do you become more than table stakes? Right. So if I think about cybersecurity, there’s probably, I don’t know, maybe 20 sub segments of products out in that, you know, network security, endpoint detection, or SIM, you know, you just keep going on. The first battle I have to do is I have to be strategic to the buyer, right? And how do I become strategic to the buyer? Because it’s not the return on investment that’s going to get me into the deal — it’s having a return on strategy.
Ken Rutsky (08:49): So my, and I’m going to get to the story in a minute. I know this long answer. So, I want to be strategic to the buyer. How do I do that? I have to be part of a journey for the buyer that transforms their business in a strategic way, not just provides an ROI. And so when I work with clients on story, that’s the story we tried to tell, what is your world like today? And what missed opportunities are you having? Because you’re doing what you expect to do, or what pain are you not solving? What problems aren’t you solving? And then if I had, if I could give you this magical thing, which now I get to talk about my technology, right? And so you have this magical thing. Now, this better mousetrap or this new, incredible thing, you can transform your world to a better place.
Ken Rutsky (09:34): And that promise with the transformation to the better place is really what can get an executive’s attention. Because if what they’re thinking about is the organization is asking me to ensure better compliance to X, Y, and Z. And I can say, look, you know, not only do I give you better compliance to that, but I actually make you compliant resistance. I’m making this up, right? I’m sure someone could use this. So if they’re listening, if I can promise you, like, it’s not just GDPR and CCPA, but it’s the next thing that we don’t know about that you’re going to be ready for and agile to respond for it. That’s a transformative promise as opposed to, I’m going to make your GDPR less expensive. Yeah.
John Farkas (10:13): What I see and I’m hearing, this echoed really loud and what you’re saying, I mean, technology is about a transformation, right? We are seeing something and taking it from where it is to where it needs to go. And that transformation, that change is, is the magic. How that all happens isn’t necessarily what we need to know. We need to understand what the from-to is really clearly. Cause if you can promise me that I’m going to get from here to there. Exactly.
Ken Rutsky (10:42): I don’t really care how it happens. In fact, somebody who’s going to be the technical evaluator who’s going to say, can they actually fulfill on this promise, solve this small little problem I have, or is it safe to use? But one of the ways I test the story, yes. I think of the story with four chapters, right? Here’s today’s reality. Chapter two is if you keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to have this pain gain gap. Chapter three is what if you had this new approach, new mindset and new technology, chapter four, then here’s the transformed place. I can get you to one way to test how good the story is, is tell it without chapters two and three. Here’s the way the world is today. Wouldn’t it be great if your world could be like this? The from-to — just like you said, right?
Ken Rutsky (11:25): So we always test the story by subtracting from the story and saying less and seeing if it’s still meaningful, that’s pretty hard because then it can sound very generic. It’s a really competitive world today and I can make you stand out, *snores* right? So you got to really dig in and find that unique story that’s going to be meaningful and connect to the customer’s world in a way that’s going to transform them in a way that they’re going to care and might not even expect.
John Farkas (11:54): So great premise, can you give us some examples? Can you think through some stories that you’ve seen that have been really particularly effective at illustrating that from-to?
Ken Rutsky (12:03): So FireEye, when I did work with them 10 years ago, we launched at the RSA conference 10 or 11 years ago. They were my second consulting client.
Ken Rutsky (12:12): And you know, the from-to for them was “the world of threats has changed. And we can protect you from this new modern attack that you’re going to see now.” And that promise of protection from modern malware was very transformative. It sounds really cliche now, right? Because within four years they had 300 of the 800 vendors out on the floor were saying modern malware protection or advanced malware protection. We were the first ones to say it. So being first to promise, that was very transformative. I have another client, a small little company called FastSpring. FastSpring does e-commerce for small software vendors. Uh, so they have a full eCommerce platform. When we started, their story was really about like, “we have all of these features and all these capabilities, and we’re much better than a Shopify or this shopping cart or this shopping cart.”
Ken Rutsky (13:03): What we actually realized is the real promise that we’re making is that if you’re a small software vendor, so their typical customer might be someone who sells a PDF converter that does $5 million of revenue of packaged software. And the promise we could make to them was basically “today to compete, you have to have a great product and you have to be great at e-commerce. You can’t afford to do both, but with our infrastructure, you can compete big, scale fast, and stay lean.” So that promise of being able to compete globally and scale faster, but still stay small and lean and profitable, that was a really transformative promise in that marketplace.
Mark Whitlock (13:38): I want to go back to your four chapter story summary. Before we spun the disc, right, you brought up Joseph Campbell. One of the things that struck me as I was studying what Campbell had to say, and I think it’s important for this discussion. In the oldest of tales, there was a campfire. In newer tails, there’s the pub or the bar. And you always wonder, sometimes if you don’t have any understanding of the hero’s journey, you watch a movie or read a book and go, why are they taking a break? Why are they just sitting around being lazy? They’ve got a problem to solve. And what I realized in my research, and this is what happens, I believe, in your chapter three analogy, is there’s an epiphany, right? And it has to be the hero or the customer’s epiphany. We cannot steal that epiphany. We cannot force that, right? We can’t slap the customer across the face, either in marketing or in sales to say, wake up, this is the solution for you. We have to lead them to that place and have that campfire, or have that bar scene where they mull it over.
Mark Whitlock (14:40): Exactly. And then they have the epiphany and are able to move forward. How do you think through the customer having that realization?
Ken Rutsky (14:49): It’s a great question. And before I jump into that, the campfire thing is a really interesting metaphor, too. A lot of times, technology companies want to be everything to everyone. And, you know, Campbell was a master at articulating some of this stuff. How do you tell a great story now? You know, Steven Spielberg can make a movie that the seven year old, the 17 year old, the 37 year old and the 77 year old, all love. That’s a pretty rare skill. And I can’t do that. Most of my clients can’t do that. So one of the things we talk about is if you’re at a camp out and the person organizing the camp out says, Hey, Mark, or John or Angus, I know you’re a great storyteller.
Ken Rutsky (15:26): Can you tell a story tonight around the campfire? Probably the first question you’re going to ask is who is the story for? Is it for the kids or is it for the teenagers or is it for the adults? And the organizer will unfortunately say, well, I’d love everyone to like it. And then the next question I say is, who’s going to be in the front row? Who’s going to be in the back chatting and not really paying attention? Who do you want to captivate? And I think for business to business companies, one of the things they need to do, you only get to tell a story in the big sense in the marketplace, you’ve got to make some choices, and messaging and positioning is always about what you don’t say as much as it is about what you do say. So choosing that audience and the context of problem in port, And back to your question, Mark!
Ken Rutsky (16:12): So the epiphany, so back to Campbell, right? So one of the phases of Campbell’s 12 steps, right? You meet the God or goddess and you get this magical gift. And so I want my product or service to be a magical gift. Now technology is magic. Yes, but it lacks context. So the way I try to help with that context to drive that epiphany for the customer is twofold. One, what was the mindset I took? And this was a great place where the founder can work in his story. I started this company because I noticed blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Right? And then because of that, and because of the chapter one, the way the world is today, I took this different approach to solving the problem. Now, if you’re going to take that approach, you need all these really cool innovations, but you see how it pushes the innovation into a what, as opposed to a why.
Ken Rutsky (17:00): And when the innovation becomes a what and the approach and the mindset become the why, then I get kind of permission to say, if you agree with me on the mindset and you like the approach, I can actually get you to that new place. And that’s the epiphany I’m going for. Not that AI is super good. Not that machine learning is super good. Not that blockchain is super good, that, well, if I had this mindset, you know, I started eBay because my girlfriend was wasting her time trading Pez dispensers at swap meets. And I thought, why don’t we move this online? So my approach was to move it online, but what my girlfriend then said was, well, how can I trust John to sell that? You know, that he’s actually going to deliver what I buy from him online? Oh, well, let’s invent this new technology called online buyer and seller ratings.
Ken Rutsky (17:44): That seems like that would solve the problem, Would keep people honest. That’s the innovation stack: mindset approach, innovation.
John Farkas (17:51): So when you can, you have the opportunity then to define the approach, and you do a good job of articulating that, you become the guide. You win some trust and you win the opportunity to help them into a new understanding. Again, it’s not the technology. The technology is what’s making it possible, but it’s really about how they see the problem, right, and leading people into that view of things.
Ken Rutsky (18:15): And problem is a whole problem in and of itself, right? Cause you said, how do we get vendors to focus on customer problems? One of the big challenges with that is I tend to either take a really small problem that’s not interesting, because I do that really well, right? Or I take a really big problem.
Ken Rutsky (18:33): Like I’m going to protect you against every threat in the world. And then I lose all my credibility. So finding that problem, that’s a little bigger than me, but I’m still credible to help solve is also one of the big challenges I see for everyone. Right? So the problems, it’s a bit of a oxymoron, right? You need the jumbo shrimp and he’s big enough that it’s meaningful and strategic and small enough, but not so big that it’s not meaningless.
John Farkas (18:58): So related to that, you said a few minutes ago that it’s really important to figure out who it is we are talking to. We’re not talking to everybody. We’re choosing the conversations strategically to make sure we’re doing a good job. How do you work through that process?
Ken Rutsky (19:12): Well, I’m just a greedy guy, right? So I say who’s writing the check because when I’m telling my story, I want to be telling that to the person who can write the check, the person that can make an economic purchasing decision, not physically, right.
Ken Rutsky (19:25): I don’t care about procurement. We’ll deal with them later. Right. But the person who actually looks at the thing and says, yeah, this is important. I should put my resources on it. I should have my team do it. And I’m willing to invest time and money to get it. That’s the person I want to tell the story to. Every other story under that is supporting. Now, here’s the pushback I’ll get: “Oh well, but the technical buyer doesn’t care about that business transformation.” I say at the point, the technical buyer falls in love with your tech. They have to go to that person who cares about the business transformation. They better know that story or else they’ll never make the sale for you. So if you’re depending on the technical buyer, you still need that story because they need to represent it up in the organization.
Ken Rutsky (20:06): In my campfire metaphor, I want the people who can make buying decisions in the front row, paying attention. Everyone else is kind of like when I need them, I’ll get them.
John Farkas (20:14):
So what about in scenarios, because a lot of times B2B is like this, where you have needs that people that are the check writers aren’t really well acquainted with their process needs that somehow need to get solved. And people that are down the ladder a little bit are just dying and the check writers aren’t necessarily acquainted with it. How do you approach that?
Ken Rutsky (20:35): It depends.
Mark Whitlock (20:37): Thanks. You’ve been listening to Studio CMO. Thanks Ken Rutsky for joining us today again.
John Farkas (20:43): His new book is called It Depends.
Ken Rutsky (20:45): That’s not a bad idea. Uh, I, you know, you can’t copyright book titles, as you guys have said, even if you use it, I might too. So what does it depend on? In scenarios where I’m solving a very tactical problem, at some point, I still need some approval of it, but you know, go-to market, as you guys know, is changing dramatically. So I have bottom-up, go to market, top-down, bottom, go-to markets. So that’s one of the things it depends on. What is, what’s the go to market motion? So if the go-to market motion is purely, I’m going to sell a product to solve a tactical buyer, a problem to a user who can authorize a purchase to do that. That’s who I want to tell the story to. It’s a little bit of a different story, but I can’t then say, yeah, but I really want to, I’m going to do that, but I really want a story for the CISO. I know that’s going to be pretty hard to kind of knit those things together, back to the seven and the 17 and the 37 and the 77 year old. Right. So choosing is important and it’s got to match your go-to market motion. So if you have a total bottom up, go-to market, you know, your Atlassian and all I care about is getting a hundred users. And then I’m going to go to procurement and say, buy a site license for a thousand because you’re going to grow into that. So be it. Yeah.
John Farkas (21:56): If you had a seed message that you could bring to a CMO, what would be your big piece of big picture advice that you would offer somebody in that seat?
Ken Rutsky (22:05): It’s the story, stupid.
Angus Nelson (22:08): That’s the next book title.
Ken Rutsky (22:10): That is on the list of my next book titles, but I think it’s a little condescending, so probably not, but it’s story first and tell your customer story, create context for your value. Because when you do all this stuff, we’re talking about, why do you want to do that? Because you want to kind of push the customer’s perception of value towards where you can win more than your competition can. And so I think it starts and ends with narrative and story. And if you do that well, by the way, you’ve got 80% of the work done.
Mark Whitlock (22:41): And let me bring a yellow highlighter to something you said earlier, just sort of back story. And that is if the person you’ve talked to can’t repeat the story and tell the story again, within the organization, you may not be able to press it down in. So you’re not only just your story. You have to be as good as you just talked about. It also has to be repeatable. Memorable and repeatable.
Ken Rutsky (22:59): Absolutely. In fact, this morning, I was talking to my friend, uh, who, where I was saying, uh, at my friend’s BNB. Uh, and I somehow, uh, I said, have you ever read Raymond Carver? He’s a very well known, short story writer who wrote amazing short stories. And he said, no, I’ve never heard him. I go, well, you got to read this story. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. And I can’t tell you the story. I just remember it’s a great story because I have the title. So it was repeatable and titles and hooks are so important. That’s another thing we spend a lot of time on: continuous vulnerability management, modern malware protection. Those are the hooks that can get people’s attention. So that’s really important too.
John Farkas (23:41): Is there a great resource you would point people to, or some defining resources that have been helpful in forming some of your perspective or that would be good resources for CMOs to grab that might help define an approach?
Ken Rutsky (23:46): That’s a great question. My blog, of course, of course. No. You know, I mean, as we’ve talked about, I’m a big fan of Joseph Campbell, just because I think it’s a transformative thing to know about you. You see every movie you watch, you’ll see it a little differently. You get your third eye right on the storytelling. Uh, I think HubSpot does some really good content, tactical marketing. I think they’re also a great model of how to build meaningful, good marketing content. So I would put the third eye on HubSpot and say, why are those eBooks so good? What do they do that makes their stuff so effective besides the fact that it’s effective? Right. So I think that they’re a good role model.
Ken Rutsky (24:39): Uh, you know, Zuora is a company that I’ve always admired from their storytelling, a Z-U-O-R-A. They do subscription billing. They talk about the spiritual economy, public company. Now, by the way, I talked about them a little bit in my book, they weren’t a client. Uh, but I’m trying to think like the, the marketing sites, uh, or the, or the, uh, other resources — it’s hard. It’s a lonely job.
Angus Nelson (25:06): That’s why we’re here.
Ken Rutsky (25:06): Studio CMO podcast is a great resource, absolutely emerging. Now I agree. I think there’s a dearth of places for, product marketing too, by the way, you know, there are some now product marketing communities, but I find all the product marketing to be very tactical, as opposed to strategic. And I think product marketing should be a very strategic role, but I agree for the CMO.
Ken Rutsky (25:33): It’s like, where do you go? Yeah, yeah, it’s rough.
John Farkas (25:37): I mean, we, weren’t in a hurry to start a podcast because there’s a lot of them out there. Right. But when we started going out there and saying, who’s really helping have some of this conversation, there’s not a lot. And part of it is, you know, because we, we tend to be the people that are doing this kind of stuff, tend to be the CMO types, you know, hosting these kinds of, and we’re, and we’re busy doing the stuff that we need to be doing.
Ken Rutsky (26:00): And some of the larger, like traditional marketing associations, I won’t name them. I go to some of their events and I feel like I’m back in 1987, you know, it’s like the content, the vibe, everything seems very dated and not relevant. Even when they’re talking about modern topics. I don’t know why that is, but it’s just the energy isn’t there in those associations anymore.
John Farkas (26:21): So let’s talk about that for a minute. Marketing: what has changed and what has stayed the same?
Ken Rutsky (26:28): I think what’s changed obviously, as it’s become more analytical and science driven, and I think that’s a good thing, but I think at the flip side, we’ve kind of overcorrected towards the analytic and lost the story thread, which is why I think story is so important still. And it’s kind of gotten lost on a lot of marketers, you know, this whole growth hacking thing, right? You can test your way to success. Well, if anyone’s a scientist, I’ve been raised as an engineer, right? Educated as an engineer, you know that your test is only as good as your hypothesis. You can’t test your way to a hypothesis. You have to think your way to a hypothesis. And so I think we’ve lost a little bit. And I think one of the reasons CMOs have a bad name right now is we’ve gone from kind of like the madman era, where the CEO said, Oh, that’s like just black art. Now they look at the CMO and say, that’s just black science. I don’t understand it. So we don’t communicate what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and the value we’re delivering very well. I think that’s one of the big challenges,
Mark Whitlock (27:29): John, I’m not going to let you get off that easy. I want to hear your answer to that question.
John Farkas (27:35): Well, I think I, you know, I, I would agree with what Ken said. I think that there’s just a tremendous opportunity in the technology that exists right now and how we’re seeing things, the ability to view movement in the market and diagnose it and dissect it is golden and a tremendous tool. I mean, the tools that are available are they’re legitimising is what’s happening. So all of a sudden, what was a black art? No, now there’s numbers behind it — that’s changed. And it continues to change and will continue to evolve at levels that we are having a hard time guessing right now.
Angus Nelson (28:07): And the level of multidisciplinary and like, practice, like they have to know so many components to their role far more than other roles.
John Farkas (28:17): I mean, it’s, it’s turned from this black art, which was by the way, highly suspicious and people, you know, I still am overcoming a lot of objections about marketing from people who were poisoned by, or spend a whole lot of money on something that was completely ineffectual. But part of what’s lost is the art of how do we, how do we connect our humanity and what makes our hearts beat? Because at the end of the day, by the way, buying decisions are emotional.
Ken Rutsky (28:46): Absolutely.
John Farkas (28:47): And so if we are not connecting at that level, right, we’re missing a big part of the equation. And so that to me is a critical component. I think that there’s such an opportunity for when we’re, especially in this world that we’re talking about, when you can take the technology set of the side and you can bring home a message that is heartfelt, that has a passion behind it, that gets people’s blood pumping, that relates to them at a level that they aren’t accustomed to being related to. That’s going to get attention. And if you knit that together with a solution that has teeth, then there’s a good conversation.
Ken Rutsky (29:22): One of the things I’m seeing that really scares me, right? So I’m going to be a little cautionary tale here is I see CMOs disappearing. And I see the role being split between a revenue focus and a corporate focus. And what happens is the CMO leaves, and all the demand gen and the tactics and programs go under a CRO, Chief Revenue Officer, or Chief Sales Officer, corporate com either goes to like a director who reports to the CEO, or it goes somewhere else, product marketing goes into the product group, and all of a sudden nobody’s looking at it holistically. I think that’s a huge risk and a huge danger. And every time I see that happen, I cringe, because I think connecting the analytics to the story, to the programs, to the brand, is so important.
John Farkas (30:07): Yeah, I mean, if, if you’re, uh, getting me up on a soapbox. If your objective is a quick exit that’s driven by some high revenue that spikes at a certain moment, maybe that works. But if you’re in a competitive environment for some period of time, where you’re really wanting to see something take hold and resonate with the community and drive, it has to have a story. It has to have a soul. I mean, it has to have a heartbeat to it. And that’s where, you know, where we start coming back around to where you started: stories are a critical component.
Mark Whitlock (30:39): Well, unfortunately it’s time to put the soap boxes away. [inaudible] We have so many of them out today. If you want to learn more about the soul of a brand, which we barely put a brush stroke on the canvas today, please come to studiocmo.com, click on the Ken Rutsky interview. We will click you over to, uh, some information about the soul of the brand. We’re also going to have information about Ken’s book, uh, we’ll link to the Raymond Carver short story to some information about the justice. Absolutely. So, Ken, thank you so much for being a part of Studio CMO today.
John Farkas (31:14): Hey, I feel like we’ve got a, we’ve got a friend here and am so glad to be able to align on these subjects that we both feel passionately about.
Ken Rutsky (31:27): Thanks. I’ve really enjoyed our chat and it’s been great meeting you and getting to know you guys this week.
Mark Whitlock (31:34): You’ve been listening to a previously recorded interview with Ken Rutsky from the RSA conference in February, back in San Francisco. We hope you’ve enjoyed it. I just wanted to remind you to come to studiocmo.com/016 that’s studiocmo.com/016 to access any of the resources we talked about during today’s podcast, also to subscribe to Studio CMO on your favorite podcast app, leave us a message or find out any more information about Golden Spiral, the producers of Studio CMO.
Mark Whitlock (32:08): Until next time, remember to fully understand your buyer’s needs, lead out of that empathetic understanding, and always, always make your buyer the hero. We’ll see you next time on Studio CMO.