In this episode

In this episode, Norman Guadagno, the CMO of Mimecast, discusses the intersection of marketing, leadership, and team dynamics with Gabe Cohen. Norman emphasizes the critical role of marketing in capturing attention and fostering resonance with customers, emphasizing the pivotal moment of engagement that opens doors to new opportunities. He also dives into the significance of pattern recognition in leadership, explaining how this skill can elevate individuals into more strategic roles by identifying cross-industry patterns. Don’t miss this compelling discussion about marketing strategy, profound leadership insights, and the evolving landscape of brand management within the competitive cybersecurity sector. Tune in!


About Norman Guadagno

Norman Guadagno, appointed Mimecast’s Chief Marketing Officer in November 2022, brings over 20 years of B2B and B2C marketing experience. He leads Mimecast’s marketing organization, driving the company’s product-led growth strategy through revenue generation, customer acquisition, storytelling, and channel partner initiatives. Prior to Mimecast, Guadagno was CEO of Norbella, a media agency serving brands like athenahealth, Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Cybereason. He also served as Chief Marketing Officer at Acoustic, overseeing corporate marketing, branding, and GTM efforts. Guadagno holds a Master of Arts in Psychology from Rice University and a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Rochester.

Read the episode transcript

Hi everyone. Welcome to another episode of the brand enabled podcast. I’m here today with Norman Guadagno, who’s the CMO of Mimecast. Welcome, Norman. It’s great to have you on.

It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for inviting me and I look forward to chatting.

And where are you joining us from today?

I am at home in a quiet corner of Connecticut, northeastern Connecticut, literally 4 miles from the Massachusetts border. Our office is just outside Boston.

Let’s dive right in because we have a lot to discuss today. You have a fascinating background. You gained valuable experience at Oracle and Microsoft, and now you’re the CMO of Mimecast. Today, we’ll focus on brand transformation, a topic you’ve successfully tackled at three different companies. We’ll explore the similarities, differences, and the playbook you’ve developed along the way. To begin, could you share a bit about your background and the key milestones in your career that led you to your current role?

Yeah, absolutely. It’s always intriguing to reflect on the path that brought me here. Sometimes I’ve jokingly referred to myself as an accidental marketer because I sort of stumbled into this field along the way, though perhaps it was always my destiny. I started early on in the technology sector because of my passion for technology itself. While I was in graduate school, I had the opportunity to work on software and human-computer interaction, and I was captivated by the impact of technology on people’s lives. This passion drew me into the business world.

I began my career focusing on product management and product marketing. In the software industry, if you’re not a software developer, you often end up in roles like marketing or sales. As a tongue-in-cheek expression, I used to say that if you lack real skills, you become a marketer, even though I firmly believe that marketing is indeed a valuable skill. However, I discovered that I not only enjoyed the software industry but also found fulfillment in marketing—particularly in the challenge of convincing people why they should want our product, especially when there are numerous other appealing options in the market.

I progressed through various roles in startups and spent time at Oracle and Microsoft, continuously refining my skills and focusing on building connections and resonance between businesses and potential customers. Over time, I developed a knack for thinking strategically and holistically about how all the pieces fit together—a natural progression towards more senior leadership roles where a broader perspective is essential.

When I had the chance to lead a marketing team for the first time, I embraced it despite its challenges. After a few experiences in this role, I gained a deeper understanding of the complexities involved. Curious about agency work, given my history of employing agencies, I transitioned to working at my first agency. This unique opportunity allowed me to gain insights from both agency and client-side perspectives—a relatively rare combination, especially for someone in the CMO role.

Returning to the marketing side, I leverage my strengths to focus on brand and marketing transformation—integrating brand building with performance marketing, a topic I suspect we’ll delve into further. It’s been a long and unconventional journey, but at its core, my passion remains in persuading people to be interested in and invest in the products or services I represent. And when it’s something I truly believe in, like cybersecurity, it adds an extra layer of fulfillment to the work.

So there’s a couple of things I want to dig into what you just said, but just talk a little bit more about what Mimecast actually does.

Yeah, definitely. Our role is straightforward. We are a cybersecurity provider offering solutions for email collaboration, security, and tools for security awareness training and human risk management. Essentially, for our 40,000 customers worldwide, we scan their emails, Slack, or Teams to ensure that malicious content is intercepted and prevented from infiltrating their systems.

Okay. A couple of things I want to dig into in what you talked about. You talked about the first marketing leadership position you had. It was really hard. Talk more about what made it hard.

You know how they say that when you transition from being an individual contributor to a leader, you have to let go of being the expert and instead become a team leader? It’s easier said than done, especially if you’re making this shift relatively early in your career. When I started leading a marketing team early on, I didn’t realize what I didn’t know, so I relied more on my strengths rather than doing what was truly right. I’ve observed this pattern in many leaders who revert to their natural strengths and comfort zones rather than acknowledging the gaps in their knowledge and skills. Usually, it takes a few setbacks before you realize the importance of learning and seeking input.

The first time I took on this role, it was a bit of a failure. It made me realize that I wasn’t thinking strategically or holistically as a marketer. However, I saw it as an opportunity to learn and grow, which I hope I did.

And oftentimes when we have this type of conversation, what I hear often is the notion of, first you have to consciously decide what you’re going to stop doing even before you can decide what you need.

Well said. That notion of developing habits, patterns, and relying on known skills is important. I still catch myself wanting to engage in copywriting today because I’m good at it and enjoy it. However, I have to remind myself to step back from those tasks and focus on strategic leadership. Ultimately, leading a team means acknowledging that one person cannot do everything. As the team grows larger, the leader must learn to step back more and allow team members to excel in their areas of expertise.

At this point in my career, I’ve found that saying less and doing less can be more effective. I empower my team to leverage their strengths while providing gentle guidance and input along the way. I understand that even a subtle suggestion can have a significant impact in a large organization. It’s crucial to be comfortable and confident in this approach.

You talked about the role of marketing, which is about trying to convince customers/prospects to choose ours versus others that are very similar, is that something that you use internally as almost a North Star for everyone in the team that’s codified or is it just something that we’re just talking about that you just talk about?

It’s a good question, and I believe internally that fundamentally because I know that at the end of the day, we need to convince somebody of something. However, I don’t necessarily make it something that the team adopts as our north star because I aim to take a broader approach. Personally, I’ve always believed that marketing serves a unique function by convincing individuals to pay attention and creating a sense of resonance in the moment. In today’s world, where numerous distractions compete for our attention, marketing’s role is to capture that attention briefly. Once captured, we can direct individuals to a qualified seller or another appropriate action. This capturing of attention is, to me, incredibly powerful.

As a marketing team, we engage in various activities such as moving prospects through the pipeline and producing content—all aimed at creating those moments where individuals think, “Ah, Mimecast, yes, let me consider them for a moment.” These moments of attention capture open new opportunities for us.

When you discussed how you obtained your first marketing leadership position, you highlighted your ability to make connections. Could you elaborate on what you mean by that? Many individuals in mid-career or more senior roles are interested in transitioning to leadership positions. Can you provide insights into how one can progress from their current role to a leadership standpoint?

This discussion parallels my own career journey perfectly. At a certain point, I recognized that I excelled at pattern recognition. Having had the opportunity to work under many great leaders, I’ve observed that the best leaders are often exceptional at recognizing patterns. I’ve sought to emulate this skill, understanding that with experience comes the ability to widen one’s perspective and identify recurring patterns. Even when transitioning across industries or audiences, familiar patterns tend to reappear.

As a leader and when evaluating potential leaders, I’ve noticed that while someone may excel in a specific role or function, they might struggle to apply their pattern recognition skills to other areas. Those who ascend to higher leadership positions not only recognize patterns within their own domain but also extend this capability to understand patterns outside their immediate scope. This self-awareness of pattern recognition has led me to recognize it as a critical criterion for advancing into larger, more strategic leadership roles, whether leading a large or small team.

As leaders grow in their roles, they become adept at abstracting patterns to a higher level, akin to the titans of industry we often admire. If you delve into the principles behind their success, you’ll often find that pattern recognition plays a central role. Sometimes, success involves recognizing and defying existing patterns—similar to how Steve Jobs approached innovation by going against conventional trends. This ability to discern broader patterns across markets, industries, people, and society is key to strategic leadership.

How do you identify those traits within members of your team? Say, all right, these ten people are really good at patent recognition, these ten people aren’t.

Yeah, it’s not easy, let’s be clear about that. I wish I had a magic metric for recognizing those patterns, but I don’t. What I do observe is that I spend a lot of time observing and listening to how people react when faced with the unexpected. It’s in these moments of surprise that individuals reveal whether they respond with, “I’ve never encountered this before, so I’ll default to what I know,” or with a mindset of, “This is similar to something else; perhaps I can make adjustments to address it.”

For me, the key indicator I look for is how individuals handle the unexpected—how they process and approach it. These reactions and thought processes are the signals that help me identify someone who truly understands these dynamics.

That’s a fascinating insight, how people behave when confronted with the unexpected. I think that’s also, if I’m listening to this, that’s something that I can self-reflect on as well. Think about the situations that I encounter. Anyone listening to this, when they encounter them, how do you deal with them? Because it feels like there’s a parallel or that there’s a natural correlation between this notion of being able to connect the dots and looking at pattern recognition, also with being a divergent.  Personality tests, and I’m dumbing it down, but the Myers-Briggs, all of those, you can take those and actually see, okay, are you a divergent?

And that’s a great question, too, because I’ve personally developed and refined this mindset over time, and I’ve given a lot of thought to it. I believe that anyone, at any stage of their career, must engage in self-reflection and ask themselves: when faced with a new challenge or unfamiliar situation, how do I respond? By posing this question to yourself, you can identify your typical reactions—whether it’s panic, stepping back to analyze and strategize, seeking assistance from others, or employing other approaches.

Interestingly, as you progress in your career, you’ll encounter familiar patterns repeatedly, yet you’ll also face unexpected scenarios more frequently. The key is being able to navigate these seemingly paradoxical experiences effectively, which I believe is essential for long-term success.

Yeah, that’s fascinating. One last thing from your introduction that I wanted to touch on is the idea of having experience on both the client side and the agency side. How did your experience working on the agency side influence your role and your approach to working with agencies, especially when you transitioned back to the client side? Additionally, how did your client side experience influence your approach when you were working on the agency side, and how did this differ from your peers’ approaches?

It’s something I’ve actually reflected on quite a bit because I feel very fortunate to have experienced both the client and agency sides multiple times. For those watching and listening today, if you’ve been on either the client or agency side, you understand the dynamics. As a client, you hire multiple agencies to perform various tasks, making assumptions along the way. Conversely, as an agency professional, you get hired by multiple clients to do different projects, also making assumptions about their needs and operations. Before I joined an agency for the first time, I had many assumptions about how agencies operate, only to find out that many of them were incorrect.

Like what?

Well, I think first off, we often assume that the operating model of the agency is perfectly aligned with the operating model of the business. However, it turns out that this isn’t the case. The operating model of an agency is primarily driven by client success, but it also revolves around optimizing costs, investments, and timelines—factors that clients are looking at from a different perspective. Clients typically want unparalleled success as quickly as possible within their budget and timeline constraints. These natural objectives can sometimes conflict, yet we often overlook this conflict.

Another critical aspect, in my opinion, is the availability of information to both the agency and the client, which tends to be drastically different. Clients often assume they’ve provided all necessary information to the agency, which is almost never the case. Conversely, agencies assume clients have disclosed everything they need to know, which is also rarely true. Much of the conflict or disappointment in client-agency relationships stems from this mismatch in information and assumptions about what each party knows.

I’ve witnessed numerous instances where someone within a client organization says something like, “Oh, we didn’t think to share that with the agency,” when in reality, it might be the most crucial piece of information to convey. However, agencies often work with the information they have, which may not always be complete. Additionally, individuals working in agencies have different motivations compared to those on the client side. Agency employees manage multiple clients and projects simultaneously, whereas clients are often singularly focused on achieving specific outcomes tied to their career advancement or organizational success.

Reflecting on my transition to an agency for the first time, I gained a deeper understanding of how agencies operate and how my behavior as a client may have influenced our interactions. This experience prompted me to consider what I would do differently in future client-agency relationships.

So now that you are a client, what do you do differently now when you work with agencies?

I make sure that they are as engaged with the information that’s available as possible. I want to bring them into the team. I want to break down every barrier I can so that they get full transparency and that they’re not treated as just the agency, that they’re treated as truly an engaged partner, and that they know as much as anyone on the internal team. I also want to make sure that they are super clear on what my deadlines are, what my priorities are, what my budget is, what resources I have, what resources I don’t. I don’t want anything. I lay it all out as transparently as possible.

And what’s the flip side of that then, in terms of what makes an agency a good partner? It’s interesting because there are some similarities. Sometimes when I think about the dynamics of a software company versus an agency, you’ll find similarities in terms of specialization and structure. In a software company, you might have several individuals performing similar roles, and this can be mirrored in agencies where you encounter similar case studies, processes, and approaches.

Choosing the right agency goes beyond the decision-making process during pitches; it’s also about reflecting on the relationship and its effectiveness two years down the line.

Yeah, I think the best agencies, from my perspective and experience working with them, are those that prioritize long-term relationships and strive to deliver the best possible work. Even in shorter-term engagements, these agencies understand the client’s business and objectives.

Let’s focus on a specific example with creative agencies. Within the agency landscape, there are various types, but I’ll discuss creative agencies. The top creative agencies recognize that it’s not simply about producing the best creative work; rather, it’s about delivering the best creative work tailored specifically for the client. This means creating content that resonates with the client’s worldview, mindset, ethos, and values. While this concept may seem straightforward, in practice, many agencies become fixated on producing what they perceive as the best creative, rather than what truly aligns with the client’s needs and context.

How can you do that? How can you diagnose those pieces?

Yeah, part of it as a client is making it clear not only who is making the decisions and who is influencing them, but also what they are looking for, what they care about, and what they want. As a CMO, I often need to be sensitive to the CEO or the board. Let me share an example from my career. It has happened multiple times where I’ve presented to a board of directors, and although I try to avoid presenting creative materials directly, sometimes it’s necessary. Members of the board may sit with their laptops, browsing their favorite competitor’s or another company’s website, comparing us to what they see on their screens. If you’re not aware of this and haven’t prepared for it, you can end up in a difficult situation.

The best creatives understand this dynamic and anticipate it. They know that board members will likely be looking at XYZ site and tailor their presentation accordingly to explain why the proposed creative works in this context. I once had a board member, a very intelligent individual, question why our new website design didn’t resemble our competitors’ designs. They pointed out that our competitors all had a blue and silver color scheme, while ours was green. They asked why we didn’t align more closely with our competitors if that was our target audience. Unfortunately, there’s no perfect answer to that kind of question.

But how did you answer it?

Truly? I emphasized that the whole point is to not resemble our competitors. Our goal is to create something distinct and differentiated. I often use the example of going to a competitive set, removing the logos, and having employees from those companies struggle to identify which is which. How does that approach create an opportunity to engage with customers?

To be fair, it’s a challenging question to answer because it reflects a different worldview than that of marketers or creatives. However, this scenario underscores the importance of strong agency-client relationships. We must anticipate and prepare for these situations. For instance, we should be aware that the CEO might have a preference for the color green, and we need to address that in our creative approach.

Yeah, I love that. As an example, we often conduct what we call the “sea of sameness” exercise. In this exercise, we take the positioning statements and “about us” descriptions of four competitors within the same category, remove the logos, and ask, “Okay, who is who?” Similarly, we can apply this exercise to visual expressions by removing logos and asking if one can identify each brand solely based on the visual representation.

Yeah, you truly can’t. It’s a parallel discussion, especially in the B2B software business, although this applies to many other categories as well. I’m very familiar with the B2B software industry, and I’ve observed that it often focuses excessively on differentiation at a feature and function level rather than on creating distinctiveness at a brand level. This approach often leads to challenges for companies in standing out and resonating with their target audience.

So this brings us back to the original theme of our conversation. You’ve joined three different B2B software companies with the goal of driving brand transformation and elevating the importance of branding, correct? Did these companies already realize they needed this transformation when they brought you in, or were you initially brought in for more traditional reasons, and then you identified this need as an opportunity for brand transformation?

Yeah, typically I’m brought in to solve a performance problem—meaning the company isn’t performing as it should. Occasionally, I’ve been brought in specifically to build or transform a brand. You and I had discussed this before, the conversation around the brand versus performance marketing dilemma. Like many of us in similar roles, I receive calls from recruiters all the time saying, “Company X is looking for a new CMO and they want someone who’s a brand marketer,” or “Company X is looking for a new CMO and they want somebody who’s a performance marketer,” because the CEO or the board has identified either brand or performance as the problem that needs to be addressed.

My response is always the same. Brand and performance are two sides of the same coin. There’s no brand problem without a performance problem, and vice versa. You need to dig deep and understand the sequence of actions needed to address the issues.

For example, years ago, when I joined a previous company and delved into the details, it turned out that the performance aspects were actually okay, but the brand aspects needed serious attention. Other times, I’ve entered a company where performance seemed great on the surface, but deeper analysis revealed underlying issues that needed fixing before investing in brand improvements, because investing in brand without a solid foundation won’t yield the desired returns.

The key is recognizing that brand and performance are closely linked and deciding on the sequence of actions to address them, ensuring they reinforce each other. When I joined Mimecast, I observed that our investments were overly focused on performance. However, you can’t simply reallocate funds overnight. You need to develop a strategy for reallocating budget across the top, middle, and bottom of the funnel, ensuring you achieve the desired outcomes. This strategy requires careful planning and a focus on pattern recognition—understanding the sequence of steps needed to achieve the desired balance between brand and performance and ultimately attain the desired outcomes.

And what was the insight or the indicator when you got into Mimecast that led you to that realization?

That one was straightforward. I simply looked at a spreadsheet, and not to make light of it, but I noticed that far more of our marketing dollars were being spent at the bottom of the funnel than at the top. For a company like Mimecast, which is an amazing business servicing customers globally for 21 years, it was evident that our brand awareness was lower than it should be given our size and scope. Additionally, our performance marketing showed high transaction volume, prompting me to question if there was a need to rebalance our marketing efforts.

Can I take a remarkable brand like Mimecast and elevate it even further as the competitive landscape evolves? Every company, whether mine or yours, operates in a dynamic and competitive environment. Nowadays, businesses face pressure from all directions—below, above, from the sides, influenced by macro factors, and shifting audience preferences. It’s essential to carefully consider that what worked just two years ago may not be effective in today’s landscape.

When you came into Mimecast and found that much of the focus was on performance marketing, how did you begin? Did you realize that you also needed to address some of the core foundations of the brand, such as our core positioning and purpose? Did you look into the creative expression, verbal identity, and other essential pieces as well?

Fortunately, the team had already accomplished a lot of good work in establishing an understanding of the landscape, defining who we are, what we do, and our unique position in the business. If you’re familiar with the cybersecurity space, you’ll know it’s incredibly crowded, with thousands of companies operating within it. As a marketer, it’s fascinating to consider the vast number of these companies, each offering something slightly different yet interconnected with one another.

And it’s not just the software companies. You also have additional aspects to consider, such as McKinsey and Deloitte, along with other consultancies. When you examine this from the perspective of your target audience and their share of attention or share of voice, you’ll find direct competitors, but there are also different concentric circles around them.

So well put, right? If you ask a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at a company to name ten cybersecurity companies, or even 25 or 50, some might be able to do that, but I guarantee you most of them could name 50 or more. If they’re in an enterprise setting, they likely already have 50 or more cybersecurity solutions in place. This isn’t a criticism of the CISO; it’s just overwhelming with the sheer number of participants involved. For a company to stand out, it really needs a clear, strong value proposition that is distinct and based on the value it creates. Essentially, we’re all in the business of stopping bad things from happening in cybersecurity. Because adversaries are constantly coming up with new ways to attack and breach companies every day. Every cybersecurity company is fighting against these adversaries, whether they are individuals, groups, or state-sponsored entities. The challenge has become even more significant with the advent of new technologies like AI, which empower adversaries to attack at scale. Human beings, being the weakest link, are overwhelmed with everything competing for their attention. Accidentally clicking a link in an email without thinking can open the door to ransomware or another type of attack. The problem is everywhere.

In this landscape, how can Mimecast help companies understand what we do? Mimecast focuses on the fact that ideally, people are at risk either due to their behavior or their position. We spend most of our time in communication and collaboration tools like email, Teams, Slack, and others. Adversaries know two things to be true: people make mistakes, and they spend most of their time in these communication tools. So adversaries find ways to exploit these mistakes. Articulating this in a way that makes our brand stand out is our challenge. We’re constantly working on refining our message, running campaigns, and focusing on core concepts like risk. We want to help people rethink risk so they can better understand how Mimecast can help them combat cybersecurity threats. It’s not easy, but it’s also part of the fun. We have a lot of legacy and history at Mimecast, but we operate in a dynamic, competitive landscape, and we have to constantly figure out how to address the latest challenges and trends in the cybersecurity space, especially considering the finite budgets that organizations have to work with.

One of the things I find really interesting in the B2B software world is that certain aspects of the core foundational brand marketing process seem to be universally adopted. One of these aspects is the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and segmentation. How important is this, especially when everyone is doing it?

Yeah, we have certainly invested heavily in building an ICP and understanding what that looks like and how we can reach them. To put it bluntly, it’s a necessary but not sufficient tool in the full arsenal of marketing tools. Asking that question really leads to another question, in my opinion, which is: Does the contemporary marketer fully understand all the things they need to consider in order to be effective?

It’s not simply about buying a bunch of keywords and expecting results. It’s not just about understanding the ICP and then going out to find people who fit that profile. It’s not solely about having amazing creative and pushing it out there, or having an awesome website and great partnerships. It’s the combination of all these elements that create the unique moment when someone says, “Yes, I want to talk to you about your B2B offering.”

In our experience, particularly in B2B, we often analyze data and find that customers who make six-figure software deals with us started their journey on our website two years earlier. They might have had 25, 35, or more interactions with us over that time span. Is there any one person or thing that can claim to have mastered this process? No, because the marketing landscape evolves over time. When customers start their journey, our marketing strategies might be different from when they eventually convert, but we have to guide them along this journey.

The beauty of it is that even if a customer fits our ICP at one point, they may evolve over time. They might have been part of our target profile then, but are they still now? I don’t know. The website might have changed completely since they first engaged with us, but they keep coming back because ultimately, the customer doesn’t care about whether it’s Mimecast or a competitor, or about the brand itself. What matters to them is that they have a problem to solve, and they’ll take the time needed to find the right solution.

Customers, especially CISOs and decision-makers, are good pattern recognizers like marketers. They understand that solving complex problems takes time and consideration. Their consideration set of vendors may grow, shrink, and then grow again over time due to industry consolidation or other factors. This dynamic, multifaceted system is what marketers are navigating every day—it’s far from static, and customers don’t make purchasing decisions as simply as clicking on an ad. It’s a journey that requires continuous adaptation and engagement.

So, when I elevate even to the brand with a big “B,” one of the things that I’ve observed and found fascinating is the role of what in other industries might be considered the corporate brand team. This team looks after brand strategy overall, deals with brand expression, both verbal and visual, and disseminates it not just through marketing, but throughout the entire organization. Associated with this is what used to be called brand governance, but today we refer to as brand enablement. It’s no longer surprising to me because I’ve seen it so often, even with the biggest players, those with 70,000 employees. It’s amazing how they may only have one person in that role, and when you compare their maturity cycle, the brand stewardship and management, the level of respect it receives is low. You often hear comments like, “Oh no, process and stewardship are dirty words or get in the way of innovation.” I’d love to hear your perspective on this. Is this how it operates at Mimecast and the companies you’ve been at, or do you see that changing? Is there an opportunity there?

It’s a complex question. Here’s the thing: the best brands make it look easy, and things that look easy are often taken for granted. I realize I’m simplifying this greatly, but that’s the reality of it. I’m fortunate to have an amazing brand and communications leader on my team, along with a strong creative team that supports her. We also have great external agency partners who help us with this, and we care deeply about our brand. However, brand management varies from one company to the next and depends on the stage of the company, as you mentioned.

You can look at big companies like Microsoft or IBM in our space—they have invested significantly in their brand perspective and experience, and they are ultimate stewards of their brands. But many companies do not understand what their brand means; they confuse brand with advertising, company culture, and various other things. Brand encompasses all of these aspects yet is unique and requires cultivation.

Brand management is my favorite part of what I do, but it’s also the hardest. I know that almost anything I do related to brand may not be as successful as I want it to be, often due to factors beyond my control. When I think about brand, I’m not just speaking to customers; I’m speaking to customers, partners, competitors, employees, investors, analysts, and even random people on the street who recognize our brand. All of them matter at some level, and each wants their own brand experience.

I often joke about the fact that our company website is a powerful tool, but in 2024, every visitor to our website has their own unique experience based on who they are. If I design it to cater to one category, it may not deliver the experience another category wants. This is one of the defining challenges for modern B2B marketers—how to navigate all these aspects simultaneously, especially in highly competitive spaces where multiple companies offer almost identical products or services.

One of the most memorable presentations I saw was from the head of brand at American Express a few years ago. She was discussing their brand maturation and shared an analysis of her calendar showing where she was having meetings and how that had changed over two to three years. When she first started, 80% of her meetings were internal within the marketing team. However, two years later, 80% of her meetings were with functions outside of marketing. This shift indicated that the brand was becoming more diffused and disseminated across the organization. But achieving this change required significant effort and determination.

It’s a great example and also one of my favorite brands. I think they do an amazing job setting the standard in their sector. It’s true that everyone participates, and everyone should. But at what level should they participate? Everyone in a company participates in finance—we all spend money, make money, and make decisions that impact finance. But to what extent should we be deeply engaged in understanding the general ledger or other specific aspects of finance? Similarly, everyone in the company interacts with marketing. At what level should people actually be engaged in the underlying aspects of marketing? This is a challenge that marketers face every day.

Where does journey mapping or experience come into that? Because if you can explain it, then based on what function you’re in and how that touches the customer, is that something that is a conduit?

Yeah, it’s interesting because I think that things like journey mapping and customer experience are critical to delivery and to creating the right environment and journey for the customer. I’m not sure that people always see the connection between that and considerations around company branding or marketing efforts. At the end of the day, I’m happy to say that I am a brand marketer. It’s one of many things I do, and I’ve done it repeatedly with conviction and success. However, I don’t think most people actually understand what that entails, even if they are also brand marketers, because ultimately, it means something different to each person.

Reflecting on my current role at Mimecast after 14 months with the company, we’re very excited about the work we’re doing on the brand. But it is both similar to and distinctly different from what I did at my previous company, as well as at others before that. Branding is a truly unique, amorphous, almost organic entity that within each company requires learning about the culture, competitive landscape, customers, environment, and macro factors to effectively steward.

You can be in the same company and have everything change 180 degrees overnight if there’s a change in leadership. For example, you can have a CEO who sees the brand as a catalyst for their transformation journey. Then, overnight, a new CEO comes in and says, “No, we don’t want all of this. I don’t want to hear about this. I’m just focused on the spreadsheet.”

That’s right. That’s what makes it all the time. Yes, and it happens all the time. And you’re right in that our job in marketing is to be sensitive to that and to not pursue a path that’s going to end up hitting a brick wall.

Yeah, Norman, we could go on for hours talking about this. Let’s just wrap up with a couple of questions just to understand a little bit more about you and your style. What’s an example of some of the greatest advice that you’ve received in your career?

Yes, I’ve received lots of good advice. I’ve also received some bad advice along the way. But I definitely have received good advice that falls into a couple of key areas. One piece of advice I received long ago, early in my career, was to focus on gaining the respect of others, not necessarily on having them like or dislike me. Learning to differentiate respect from affinity or like/dislike is critical in navigating situations where not everyone will like you. But if they respect you for the ideas, value, and capabilities you bring, that’s important. I think this applies to everyone.

Over the years, I’ve codified my own philosophy based on advice and guidance I’ve received into three fundamental principles: trust, transparency, and communication. I aim to build trust in me, with me, and among my teams. I strive to be as transparent as possible in everything we do. In marketing, mastering communication is essential, and I believe proactive and appropriate communication is key, whether it’s one-on-one or to a larger audience.

There’s also a humorous piece of advice I received that I’ve passed on to others: “You’re never truly successful unless you have an enemy somewhere along the way.” While this advice is a bit tongue-in-cheek, it encourages putting oneself out there and pushing boundaries, even if it makes others uncomfortable, in order to achieve the best results.

That’s fascinating. The final question in a leadership role can be lonely sometimes. Where do you go for connections? Or what do you kind of listen to and also stay current.

It can be lonely. I am fortunate to have a good network of people in similar roles or at similar levels with whom I’ve built relationships over time. I use them as sounding boards. I also advise a couple of small companies, which helps me understand different perspectives outside my direct domain and keeps me informed about hot topics in those areas. Moreover, I am a voracious reader. I consume a wide range of content, which helps me with pattern recognition. For instance, in my field, cybersecurity is a pervasive topic, often discussed without people realizing it. We live in an age of anxiety due to threats constantly reaching into our phones and email inboxes. I try to look holistically at what’s happening in society and consider its implications for me as a marketer and leader. Ultimately, my goal is to create the best environment for my teams, my company, and our customers.

Norman, thank you so much for being on today. The time has flown by. It’s been a wonderful conversation.

No, it’s my absolute pleasure. Thank you. It is really a joy to be able to talk about the challenges we face because I think in our field as a senior marketer, there’s great opportunity, and I can’t wait to see what the next generation of marketers are going to do.