Evolving horizons: Elevating your brand for a new era
In the ever-shifting landscape of marketing, adaptability and innovation are key. Join us in this episode as Gabriela Henault, the Chief Marketing Officer at AlphaSights, discusses how brands can leap into a new era. With a passion for collaboration and an eye for detail, Gabriela shares how brands can navigate the complexities of client-side demands while staying true to their core identity. Discover the critical role of collaboration, the power of feedback, and the nuances of crafting the perfect brief. Gabriela also emphasizes the need for marketers to be well-rounded before specializing, as the modern marketing landscape demands an understanding of various disciplines, from digital to design. Tune in now and learn how to take your brand into a new era of success.
In this episode, I’m here with Gabriela Henault who is the Chief Marketing Officer of AlphaSights. We’re going to be talking to someone who’s gone through an increasingly common situation, which is a transition from the advisory side to the client side journey that we see more and more people embarking on to get under the hood in there. Gabriela, thanks for joining us, and welcome.
Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
Let’s jump straight in. Let’s start with the fact that you’re at AlphaSights. Probably a lot of people haven’t heard of AlphaSights. Tell us a bit about the company, the industry, and who you serve.
AlphaSights is a medium-sized business with about 2,000 employees. We were started in 2008 by two cofounders who still run the business now. The best way to describe us is a knowledge-on-demand platform. Essentially, what we do is provide professional investors with access to individuals who are experts in an industry, geography, or company. They then speak to those experts in order to gather information and get smarter.
We’re basically in a subdomain of primary research. One of the interesting things about the way AlphaSights has approached the industry is that about a few years ago, AlphaSights started to heavily invest in technology so they took what was originally created as a professional services industry and have transformed it into a tech-enabled company. That’s been an incredible journey and fascinating to watch and be a part of.
If I’m in management consultancy or if I’m a private equity and I’m looking to make an investment or if I’m serving a specific client and I need that quick hit expert insight, then AlphaSights helps pair me with someone who can then speed up or accelerate my knowledge on a specific topic. Is that roughly the proposition?
That’s exactly right. It helps accelerate and deepen your knowledge because in our client’s industries and in consulting for people who work in hedge funds and private equity funds, they’re always trying to move faster than the competition. A lot of funds are chasing the same deals. They’re also always trying to find a unique angle. It’s about the speed of access to information, but it’s also about the depth of information and becoming an expert quickly so you can find the best angle over your competitors. It’s cool because we’re in the business of helping to utilize the tacit knowledge that is stuck in people’s brains all over the world and democratize the sharing of it.
It’s not fully to democratize because you’re only one of a few people to have it. Otherwise, how do they get the edge?
That’s true, but we want to make sure that anybody who wants to access it can. What’s interesting is you start to see what’s the level of rigor and diligence that different companies put into their knowledge discovery work. We’ll be able to observe those kinds of research patterns and how they change. Also, on how one consultancy may talk to three experts for their insights. Another consultancy from the outside looks like they’re probably working on the same deal because they want to speak to people with similar profiles. Maybe they’ll have it five times.
You also start to notice really interesting things like that about the patterns of how different companies and different people work. Also, how knowledge flows go. In other words, in which part of the world do the experts sit and in which part of the world do the knowledge seekers sit? It’s very cool that way from a macro trend observation perspective.
I bet if you could even listen to conversations with the same expert, you’d probably get to see a difference in how they ask the questions and the type of questions they ask as well.
I’m sure you would. We obviously can’t listen to their conversations, but their compliance officers can. You would see a difference. You know this as an interviewer. You need to know how to ask the right questions in order to get good information. The quality of the interviewer probably does vary from one client to another.
It’s interesting because a friend of mine is a CFO of a healthcare company. It’s something that he has done in increasing amounts over the last years because every week, he’s like, “I had to do this paid interview. I acted as a subject matter expert for something or other.” A) It feels like a growing trend, but B) You mentioned that technology is a big differentiator. How does that help as opposed to like, “We’ve got a huge network of connections, so whatever question you have, we can go and find the right expert,” but how does technology become a differentiator? How do you distinguish yourself in the space?
Different players in the space use technology in different ways. A lot of our competitors use technology to essentially identify experts and create a massive database of experts whom they can tap into. Having said that, because the experts are identified often using AI, crawlers, and things like that, they’re not necessarily pre-vetted. It’s the equivalent of you or me going into LinkedIn and typing. We have access to lots of names, but the filtering hasn’t been done by a human. That’s the use of technology, which is incredibly powerful in this industry.
The way AlphaSights is using technology is that we have a smart human vet for every single expert, and we only recruit experts for people’s projects. The quality of the experts that we recruit is higher because they’re each hand-picked for existing client briefs and projects, but we then use technology to codify or structure a lot of data about those experts’ knowledge areas on the backend.
We then store that and then it’s much easier for the client to access that structured data or their colleagues or future individuals who want to refer that expert. Essentially, we’re able to act as the brain of a large organization. If you think about a huge management consultancy, they’re doing globally thousands and thousands of these calls a year. For them to keep track of all of that knowledge and not let it go to waste, it’s incredibly hard because they have these calls happening in different geographies, languages, and employees.
Maybe those employees are storing them in their hard drives and leaving and all of this. Whereas, we can then store all that information and we can structure it so that then if individuals from that consultancy want to say, “Let me go through the transcripts of those calls and see what I can find about XYZ company through keyword searches,” all that information can get structured and they can refer back to it. It’s their information. They paid for the access to that expert and they should be able to refer back to it. That’s an example of one of the ways that AlphaSights is doing things differently and in a very innovative way. It’s all about structured data.
It’s interesting because having been in consultancy for so long, one of the questions you often ask is, “What business are we in? What business are you in?” Oftentimes, consultants get hired when the client says, “If you asked ten people, you get ten different answers.” I’ve heard from you, “You could say that you’re in the knowledge management business or you’re in the structured data business. How do you describe what business you’re in?” There are so many parallels to what you’re saying that almost sound very similar to what a modern talent or recruitment agency has in terms of some of the core skillsets.
I thought a lot about that because one of the first things I did when I joined AlphaSights in 2020 was to do a brand repositioning in a visual identity refresh. The reason for that was because we were ready to go to market with this much more tech-enabled solution. We need to figure out how to signal the change.
What we landed on was all the individuals who worked on the project together described ourselves as a knowledge-on-demand platform because that describes the benefit to the end consumer or the end user. It’s accessing the knowledge of experts on demand through a digital platform. Now, all the other things that we’ve talked about like structured data, etc., are the enablers. Those are the means to an end. The bits of IP that we’ve created enable us to provide on-demand access to this tacit knowledge.
That’s a great segue then into the fact that you came into this role a few years ago. Let’s go back a couple of steps and talk about them. Tell us about your journey in consulting and advisory. What led to that moment where you’re like, “I’m ready to make the jump. I’m ready to lead.”
I started in advertising. I worked very briefly at AMV BBDO, which is a great London-based ad agency. I then moved to the brand consultancy arm of BBDO and spent about two years there. I learned consulting and business. I had studied Political Sciences at university so I had a lot of basics about business to learn. Once I had gotten those in my belt, I went to Prophet Brand Strategy where I spent fourteen years. I grew up there professionally. I absolutely loved it.
I joined when it was 100 people. Michael Dunn, the CEO, interviewed me. He was interviewing everyone at the time. I traveled a lot. I formed strong bonds with my colleagues and with my clients. There are tons of variety in the work. I had the most amazing time. After fourteen years of that, I thought, “I want to become a little bit more well-rounded as a marketer.”
I’ve been doing a ton of strategies like design strategy, digital strategy, brand strategy, and org strategy. It was so much strategy work. I want to see what it’s like to be an operational marketer. That’s when I started to look around and I found AlphaSights, which is a great business. It’s a business that I knew a little bit about. I had used the service before as a consultant. It’s a founder-led business. It’s still a good size. It was about just around 1,000 people or maybe 900 when I joined.
It’s not too big and not the Fortune 500-type atmosphere. I took the leap. I thought, “They’re willing to take a chance on me and I understand the business. I’m passionate about it. I know they need to do a brand repositioning. I’m sure I can help with that bit, and the rest, we’ll see.” To your other part of the question, was I ready? No, probably not ready, but I think one never is ready for these changes. You just have to go in. I had the confidence to know that at least one of the things in my mandate, I was going to be able to do well. That’s probably what gave me the courage to say, “Let’s try.”
That’s an interesting insight because embedded in that story were a few of those criteria. As you said, “If you’re going to do it, set yourself up for success.” It sounds like the biggest thing was great. It’s like you went in to look at the first 60 or 90 days and then decided that brand positioning needed to be done. That was already agreed upon and aligned on at a senior level inside because we all know that that alignment inside a company sometimes takes three years from the CMO or that repositioning is being done and is starting because a brand is one of those things that needs so much alignment.
Also, because they knew they wanted to do a brand repositioning, that’s why my profile was attractive to some marketers with very complete experience but perhaps less brand-focus than I had been in the past. You’re right. It’s very helpful to walk into a mandate knowing at least one of the jobs to be done because when you’re new to an organization, it takes a little while to figure out what should be on that roadmap. Everybody’s going to give you a different list of priorities. Everybody’s going to tell you that a different thing is broken. Sorting through all that information and understanding the business well enough to prioritize properly can take a little time.
I remember when I was at Prophet, one of the things we’d help a lot of CMOs with was their first 90 or 100-day plan. It’s hard to create one because you need to learn the industry and the organization so fast. You have to figure out how to prioritize, and that’s no small feat. I was very fortunate to have at least one big project earmarked for me so I could go in, sink my teeth in, and get a win on the scoreboard early.
Compare and contrast the experience of having gone through dozens of brand repositioning and brand evolution exercises on the consulting side and then having gone through your first one then the client side.
It was interesting. The first insight was when I was on the client side, there wasn’t nearly as much appetite or patience to do things and to do the strategy part as rigorously as we usually would have done it at Prophet for our big Fortune 500 clients. Trying to find that happy medium between knowing that it was important to apply a certain amount of rigor and knowing it was important to test and learn but not going overboard and also not giving up and doing none of it at all, trying to find that happy medium was a little bit challenging, but that was probably the first thing that surprised me.
When you walk in there and you say, “Do you mean you don’t want us to do focus groups, quant research, and then focus groups again?” I’d be like, “No. That sounds like it’s going to take nine months. We don’t want to do that.” That was probably the first surprise, the first thing that was different. I loved working with the in-house design team to create the visual identity and giving them the chance to create and implement it. I love doing that. It was so much more rewarding for them.
Also, the implementation of the visual identity went much more smoothly as a result, and that was also very different because when I was on the advisory side, we had brilliant teams of graphic designers coming up with something spectacular. Also, the design team on the client side starts to groan when they think about how to implement it and all the impracticalities. “You’ve just put an ombre color into my color palette. How am I going to put that into my email signature?” It was great to have the same team working on the visual identity and the implementation. That is something that was far more time and cost-efficient, to be honest with you. That was a big learning for me that I would try to take on in the future.
It sounds like some of the learnings or some of the differences were less about the fact that you’re working on the client side versus internally. Part of it was because maybe a medium-sized company like AlphaSights wouldn’t have had the budget to work with Prophet where you applied this. It indicates a little bit from an advisory side that you need to flex the process and the approach depending on the client.
Several years ago, it was very much a one-note approach to how you did a brand evolution project. As you said, it’s going to be these steps. It’s always the same steps. It’s going to take 6 to 9 months, but now, it feels like you need to be thinking about these types of brand projects in a more heterogeneous way as opposed to being very homogenous.
Anyone working in marketing now needs to constantly ask themselves, “What’s the right process? Just because I followed that process before doesn’t mean it’s the right one for this organization at this moment in time.” I would challenge what you said. You’re right. Historically, a lot of the large companies have been up for these lengthy rigorous processes, and that’s what I experienced as well.
However, I think that times are changing. A lot of these very large companies are saying, “We’re going to take a more agile approach. We’re going to be a little braver. We’re going to do things differently.” It’s important to be super adaptable and try it in different ways. The other thing that I remember from my advisory days is that people often hire consultants or agencies because they want good creative ideas, structured strategy, or incredible rigor and deep analysis.
Those are some very common reasons. Once you’re client side, you know what’s going to drive the smooth decision-making process quite well. That’s your job to understand that. It then helps you better decide, “Do I need an agency or not?” or, “I need creativity, but I don’t need rigor and I don’t need anyone to help me with stakeholder management. Maybe I’m fine with just some freelancers who are going to inject some additional creative firepower into my process.”
That was another big learning for me once I went client side to take that structure, which I was aware of and I was familiar with, and realized how depending on what you need, an agency can be the perfect solution, but sometimes it’s overkill. There are other ways to get that rigor, strategy, or creativity into the process.
Not to overdo the point here, but the other thing that even your role demonstrates is there’s a lot more brand expertise inside organizations and the client side compared to many years ago. As I said, it’s been this big trend of a lot of people who have done the brand work at an agency inside the client. When you have that high level of expertise, sometimes you must play that consultant role internally with that stakeholder management you mentioned, or you need an agency that’s going to work in a much more collaborative way as opposed to coming in and presenting at you, but instead, you’re working together.
You’re getting involved in the meat of the process, getting involved in the workshops and the co-creation because you’re going to have to live with it. That’s an aspect that’s important for agencies to adapt to the maturity level and the expertise that exists within the client organization. Beyond the brand repositioning more generally because you come in as a CMO, and not just to come and do brand, what are the skills that you felt that you’ve been able to bring to the role that you’ve seen now in the time that you’ve been there that have made a difference that you feel that you’ve acquired from consulting?
In consulting, you learn how to structure and break down problems. That was a very valuable skill. To learn how to project and process manage is also valuable. Also, stakeholder management. Even on the people management side, a lot of my leadership style, the way I provide feedback, the type of feedback I provide, and also the standards that I set, all that was very much defined in my years as a consultant. The skills that I acquired are very broad. They’re not just marketing skills, I’d say. If I’d left Prophet and taken a role in the learning and development team at a large corporation, I probably would have utilized the exact same skills as the ones that I took and translated into my role as CMO.
Let’s look at the other side of that. What surprised you? What weren’t you prepared for?
The thing that I was not prepared for, and I feel so naive saying this out loud now, is that when you’re on the advisory side, you know when you’re going to have a conversation with a client. You have it in the diary. There’s anticipation and build-up. You’re physically leaving your building or you’re getting on a Zoom call. You prep for it. You prep your team for it. I hadn’t fully understood that once you’re in-house, every conversation with any colleague is a client conversation.
Not only the conversations you’re having, but the conversations that the people in your team are having too. Every Slack, every email, every coffee chat, or every formal meeting, they’re all mini-client interactions. I had not thought that part through and did not totally understand that before making the move. You start to hear after a couple of weeks or months feedback through the channels of, “So-and-so in your team needs to learn more about XYZ topic.” You get little you know slivers of constructive feedback and you think, “That’s odd. Where did this come from?” You then start to investigate. That was probably the most abrupt change for me.
Are you saying that every informal conversation that you’re not formally recording or thinking about is either advancing the bull forward? Is it neutral or potentially going backward or it’s creating something else that you weren’t even thinking about is coming? Also, it’s not just yours, but it’s everyone on the team. How do you then balance that out especially because you have other people on the team having these conversations?
Also, balancing the empowerment of the team with being able to maintain some aspect of control around the narrative or the message or ensuring that you got people in the team who are prepared to be able to engage with those stakeholders and you’re not afterward then having to manage a fire because they explain something in a different way or the constructive feedback that comes through the grapevine.
It’s tough. I don’t think I have it down to a science yet, but certainly, explaining that to the people on the team and giving them that insight so that they understand what’s at stake and understand why they have to show up suited and booted every day ready to give 100%. They understand the stakes essentially. That’s the first thing that I’ve learned. Setting that expectation is already immensely helpful. The other thing that I try to do is not put people in a situation where they’re leading any kind of formal meeting until they’re about two years into the role so they have the time to practice, build their confidence, and watch other people present. They’re not officially responsible for meeting. In between, they’ll be having coffee chats with people.
They’ll be responding to people’s emails and Slacks and having interactions, but essentially trying to layer on those responsibilities little by little and not throwing them at the deep end on day one. Those are some of the things. We do presentation training and things like that for team members. Of those three things, giving them that awareness and explaining the importance of it is, in my experience, the thing that’s worked the best.
How have you seen that intentionality that you’ve put in payoff? If you compare now a few months on from where things were, what are you seeing that’s different from before?
I see that the reputation of certain individuals in the team has skyrocketed. They’re perceived better and therefore, the whole team is perceived better. I’ve also observed that they prepare differently for meetings. They’ll prepare a lot more. They’ll sync with colleagues more. They’ll make sure that they understand a topic because they’re more aware that at any given moment in time, someone could come to them with a question. They and the entire team will look better if they can answer it as opposed to having to say, “That’s not me. Let me go ask my colleague and get back to you.”
It’s spurred a lot more collaboration, team communication, willingness, and more intentionality, desire, and passion to be able to understand a broader array of topics and answer questions about a broader array of topics versus before, I doubled down on this. People were more siloed. They’re like, “No, I do demand generation so I’m only going to be able to answer demand generation questions. I’m not equipped to answer questions about the visual identity,” as an example.
When you came in, your first task was to do something that you had a lot of experience with like repositioning. After that was finished, what happened next? How did you start to think about, after that initial piece, how you were going to manage your perception or after the initial honeymoon was over and the excitement of bringing in someone who was an expert in brand repositioning where they were in their element? Tell us about the next part of that journey.
It was a little bit more chaotic than that because I came in January of 2020, and by March, everyone was in full lockdown. A full lockdown, with two kids at home, the homeschooling, and all of that chaos. My CMO covers internal comms, external comms, demand generation, design, and digital. It’s a bit broader. The brand positioning in that structure would have fallen into external comms, but I was still having to run demand generation, internal comms, and a whole bunch of other things. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as linear as I perhaps would have liked because there was so much to get done so quickly.
For example, in parallel to doing the brand repositioning, I was trying to implement a lot more structure and a lot more measurement in our demand generation email marketing processes. Effectively what happened is that was running in parallel to the brand repositioning. It was being pulled in different directions. As soon as a brand repositioning was done, then it was okay. “We now update the website. We update our EVP. We redo all of our talent marketing collaterals.”
That was one giant work stream, and as soon as one thing was done, there was another project on the horizon that was ticking along, but then you had three other work streams going on in different areas of marketing. It was a little bit chaotic or at least it felt a little bit chaotic in that first year, particularly with COVID, which made it a little harder.
As I reflect on your own side, the premise of my question was ultimately flawed because I was asking the question through this lens of that’s how an advisor or consulting firm thinks about it, which is ideally, you’re going to go through this process. I don’t know if that experience of yours of where you had all these other demands that were happening parallel is unique to Alpha or a big company or had anything to do with COVID.
The reality on the client side is that it doesn’t matter how big the brand work is. All the other things still need to be going on. Increasingly, there are more and more responsibilities especially when you have internal comms. The days of that ideal brand process have gone. You have to be like, “We are going to start the whole brand process now, but we’re going to launch the website in three months.”
You’re absolutely right. I suspect that it’s like that in every other business and every other CMO. As you said, before I went client-side, I didn’t necessarily realize that. Once you walk in somebody else’s shoes for a little while and do somebody else’s job, you then have a little bit more appreciation for, “These people on the client side are juggling so many different balls.” That’s another great reason why people hire consultancies and agencies. It’s to give them that fantastic leverage that they can keep so many projects afloat at the same time.
How is the role of brand different at a medium company versus a large company where a larger organization can have a dedicated brand team that’s at least focused on the brand all the time than a smaller more nimble team where you’ve got lots of different priorities? You can’t just be focused on the big brand strategy piece the whole time.
It’s an interesting question. I don’t know if I think about it exactly through the same lens as what you phrase because what I hear you getting at is a resource constraint that may stop individuals or teams from focusing on the brand more. What I experienced at AlphaSights is that we set the brand strategy. We defined it. We set the visual identity. We ran with both of those for about a year. We then made some tweaks to the visual identity and decided to keep everything stable. Why? It’s because it was time to implement and keep things constant. Also, do not confuse our audiences. We needed to repeat those messages over and over again.
The plan is quite literally to keep everything constant for probably the next few years not because of lack of resources, but simply because we now know what we want to stand for to our different audiences. We need to get them to internalize those messages. Repetition is key. That’s also because AlphaSights is medium-sized but also tech-enabled. We’re B2B because our clients are in management consulting and hedge funds.
We don’t need to be running big brands and big ad campaigns that are not relevant to our audiences. There’s no real business need to change the creative strategy every season or year. For that reason, the brand for this business only has to get studied and analyzed to make sure it’s relevant, it’s getting cut through, and that’s representing the business every couple of years. However, not in the same way that a big B2C brand would be doing.
That’s how I think about it and getting our message across whether it’s what we stand for as a company, what we stand for as an employer, or even at the value prop level of a particular service. What we’re trying to do is get a flywheel going because we want people to come to our platform and to do a bunch of things on the platform. That’s where they’re going to get an upsell and cross-sell. That’s where they’re going to experience a whole bunch of other services. The point of our marketing strategy is to get a lot of people into our digital environment. That’s what we need to be focusing on. We just need to be super clear and repeat over and over again in order to make that happen.
When you go back and meet some of your colleagues and friends from the advisory world now that you’re client side, are there any observations that you make for them around things that when you reflect back on when you were in the consulting world that is different to the reality when you’re now client side? Are there any myths that you would dispel that are typical on the agency side?
As per what we discussed, my ex-colleagues and my friends who are still on the advisory side don’t always appreciate how busy people are on the client side and how they’re being pulled in many different directions. I tell them about that, and also how much work can often be required to manage the stakeholders on the client side to get that alignment.
Also, on how important it is for them to understand those power dynamics and for them to help whoever hired them to not take on the feedback of the stakeholders who matter and to have updates, quick wins, and things to share internally so they can show momentum. I share that back with my ex-colleagues because when you’re on the outside, I’m not sure everyone can necessarily and intuitively see all that.
There is this tendency sometimes to talk about client issues in a pretty simplistic way and say, “Let me talk about this client. They struggle to make a decision. They don’t talk to each other and they can’t get anything through.”
The question to ask is instead of saying those things, it’s more like, “Why are they struggling to get things through? Let me think about that. Let me try to help my client navigate that.” A good advisor should be doing those things. It’s not just about coming up with a great idea or a great marketing strategy. It’s about helping your client to make it happen, to get it approved, and to get it implemented.
Often the implementation, once your client side, is you’re implementing through individuals who are not on your team and who don’t report to you. You need to get people in other organizations, in recruiting, talent acquisition, and professional development. All these individuals who don’t report to you in marketing need to help you implement it so that it gets to the front line. A huge amount of collaboration is required in order to achieve that.
One of the interesting takeaways from what you said is this idea that, a lot of times, on the consulting advisory side, we see too much of our work being purely defined by the deliverable. It’s the PowerPoint presentation. It’s the visual identity. Whereas there needs to be more of a shift to thinking about, “No. The deliverable is advisory.” What does that mean? Advisory understanding these dynamics, helping these dynamics, and judging the performance so much on the success of those aspects other than just thinking about, “Did I deliver on the thing that was in the scope of work?”
I couldn’t agree with you more because you have to remember that the person who hired you is only measured on impact. Their whole purpose is to make things happen. As the CMO of AlphaSights, with my designers, we designed a great visual identity, but if it didn’t make it through to the piece of recruitment collateral of the website, then I failed and my team failed. It’s all in the implementation and impact. To your point, advisors need to help you get to that end goal. Handing off a beautiful presentation is the start of the journey. It’s not the end.
If you go and look at any case study from any of the brand consultancies, it will be, “This is the start and this is the end.” There’s very little that you see in those stories about, “The work is beautiful. I love it, but what happened?” How does that connect and translate into impact? Here is the last question. You were talking about your mandate where you got internal comms and talent marketing. Does that mandate change over time? Do you have your eyes on the next thing as well as part of the evolution of your role, the maturity of marketing, and how the brand is perceived inside AlphaSights?
One of the things that I’ve been focusing a lot on over the last few months is the collaboration between marketing and the product team. Within the context of AlphaSights and the fact that we are a tech-enabled company and our goal is to get our users onto this digital platform, it’s incredibly important for our two teams to work more and more together.
What that translates into is, for example, on the email marketing side, the beginning of my journey was, “Let’s set in place rigor, structure, and metrics. Now, let’s bring in a CRM and the marketing automation tool. Let’s now build workflows into that.” It’s a very typical process. After having run through that playbook, the next step is, “How do we get more and more of our users to go from, ‘I click on an email,’ to, ‘I go to the platform?’” We continue to engage with them on the platform as opposed to in their inbox.
That’s one example, but other examples are user journeys where people go from our website to our platform environment as well. One of the things that’s changed me as a marketer is pushing in that direction of, “How can I collaborate better with the product and engineering team? How can we think about the end goal of user engagement being on the platform and marketing changing strategies and messages in order to do that?” Also, it has a huge impact on our martech stack as well on how we think about using it in the future and what additional functionalities we then ask our tech team to build into our in-house tech stacks. I’d say that’s probably been the biggest shift in my mandate and focus.
How do you get feedback internally? How do you know how well you and the team are performing in delivering the objective? I was talking to a CMO. When she came in, she implemented an internal NPS score with the marketing team and with other business leaders. We could probably do a whole other session on the pros and cons of that. I’m curious. How do you know how you’re being perceived and how you’re doing as a team?
I love the idea of the NPS score. I didn’t do that. Half of my team is very focused on client marketing, and that is eminently trackable. We can link it back to certain client activities and revenue generation. Quite honestly, the numbers tell us if we’re performing well, and when the numbers are good, the sales team loves us. When the numbers aren’t good, they like us a little less. That part is a little bit more black and white and easier to get a temperature check.
The other half of the team, which is focused on topics that are a little bit squishier like talent marketing, internal comms, external comms, design, etc., it is harder to get a real-time pulse of how our work is going down. For every person on the marketing team, we run evaluations every six months where we ask stakeholders for feedback. That is generally very helpful because it creates a feedback culture where you’re signaling to the business, “We want you to tell us how we’re doing.” It creates that habit.
Very often, even though you’re asking for feedback on an individual, what you’ll get back is sometimes feedback on the department or me. That’s another way that I’ve been getting it. That way, you can get it from lots of different levels and geographies. Also, one-on-ones and catch-ups with the people that are roughly in my peer group or perhaps one level down and asking them how they’re viewing the work, what they would do differently, and what they think of how they were asked to collaborate. At least, the AlphaSights people when asked, are very willing to provide feedback. It’s about asking for it all the time.
How do you ensure you have that on the right cadence with the number of people? Do you have a digital spreadsheet? Is it set times like monthly or three months on the calendar with different people?
It’s every six months after joining. We decided on six months because that way, you have probation or integration and you are moving into a natural cycle. Essentially everybody’s managers are responsible for running those surveys. Therefore, I don’t have to be in total control of it all. I set that cadence and then everybody does it for their direct reports.
Let’s end with a quick fire round. As you think about your role or the marketing now, what gets you most excited?
I love working with people who are super passionate about what they do and who enjoy the process of doing the work a lot. That’s what gets them fired up. That’s what gets me most excited.
What about frustrated?
I get very frustrated when the vision or the brief is unclear.
We need to do a whole episode on better briefs. There’s a brilliant study that Mark Ritson who’s an author, professor, and writes a column for Marketing Week in the UK has been touting a lot about this survey that was done with agencies and marketing leads around the quality of briefs. That’s his biggest bugbear.
I understand and I get it. It’s very hard to know what you want. It’s incredibly difficult, but a lot of marketing teams struggle because someone goes to them and says, “I want A.” You start to develop A, you come back with it, and they are like, “No. I don’t want that.” You end up in these iterative processes, which waste a lot of time. They waste a lot of money. Also, they can be incredibly frustrating for all the stakeholders involved.
It creates almost a vibe where people think they’re not collaborating properly or where people think they’re not doing their jobs properly. It all comes down to the fact that a lot of individuals haven’t thought enough about what they’re asking for at the beginning and they haven’t understood that it’s okay to spend two weeks if that’s what it takes co-creating a good brief. It will save a lot of time further down the road. That’s one of my bugbears as well.
When you think about your team and talent, and this is advice for younger people as well, what’s your view on generalists versus specialists within the marketing function overall?
It’s important to become a well-rounded marketer before you specialize. I would encourage any young person who’s interested in marketing to try to collect a variety of different experiences in the first 8 to 10 years of their career. It gives you a lot more insights and longevity in your career as well. There are some people on my team, and I love the confidence when I ask them, “What do you want to do later? What’s your aspiration?” They’re like, “I want your job. I want to be a CMO.” I’m like, “Great. If you want to do that, you’re going to have to collect a bunch of experiences. You can’t just do one thing. You need to get well-rounded.”
Do you think that’s a bit of a challenge now? With the rise of digital, you start to say, “I’m just a digital marketer. I do this,” even this idea of, “There isn’t a digital marketer. It’s just marketing because you’re a marketer and you need to understand digital.”
I would agree with you. You’re a marketer and you need to understand digital. You’re a marketer and you just need to understand design, and you need to understand branding. It’s the exact same logic. There will probably be limitations to how deep you can go in your knowledge in any of these disciplines. I’ve worked with graphic designers my entire career. I still can’t design anything by myself.
I don’t know how to use it in design, but I know how to work with design as well. I have an eye for design. If people look at marketing through that lens of, “I need to learn about all of those areas,” it’s incredibly useful if you pick 1 or 2 and you go super deep and you become a deep expert, but it’s not realistic to become a deep expert in all of them.
How do you stay fresh and current?
I listen to a lot of podcasts. I read books and magazines. I talk to a lot of friends and colleagues and things like that. That’s how I stay fresh and current. One of my favorite ways is to talk to people who are non-marketers about things that I see. I asked friends who are bankers and asked my kids about what they thought of Mattel’s marketing of the Barbie movie. That’s my favorite way to stay fresh and current because then you’re getting a more unfiltered perspective that I find helps me think versus reading twenty articles in industry rags that are probably all going to say roughly the same thing anyway.
You mentioned books and podcasts. I’m going to ask you for a recommendation of a book or podcast that you’ve listened to and read in the past that you’ve enjoyed.
I’ve been listening to the book about the founding of Nike. I haven’t I haven’t finished it. It’s Shoe Dog. I highly recommend it. It’s by Phil Knight. It’s about Nike. In terms of podcasts, I listen to ones that are not necessarily about marketing like Diary Of A CEO or Pivot. They’re not necessarily about marketing. Sometimes, they’ll have an episode related to the topic. Like everyone, I like to listen to podcasts where the host does a good job.
The big final question then is, what did you think of the Barbie movie?
I thought it was very good. I enjoyed it. I went to see it with my two kids. My favorite part of the experience was that in one part of the movie, America Ferrera gives this long monologue about how difficult it is to be a girl or a woman. After watching the movie, I asked my kids about it. My boy lives in London. He has a very sheltered life. He said, “It’s as difficult to be a boy. I don’t understand why she’s going on about how hard it is to be a girl because all the things she said are true for me as a boy as well.”
I thought that was interesting. It gave me a lot of insight into what boys in his experience with a very sheltered London life and the pressures that they’re experiencing. It added another dimension for me to the movie as well, which was a little bit less gendered and more about a generation and the pressures that a generation is feeling.
Maybe at the end of the movie, they do end up recognizing it. It’s not as explicit in that beautiful monologue that she had but in the whole notion that he is enough and that we are all enough.
You are right. They didn’t recognize it. I did enjoy it. I did like Oppenheimer more though.
I still have to see that one. Why did you like it more?
Christopher Nolan is a wonderful director, and it’s absolutely beautiful. His use of sound in the movie and the cinematography is more artistic. It’s more sophisticated visually. It’s a completely different style. You can’t compare the two, but it’s the style that I that I like.
Gabriela, we will end it there. Thank you so much for joining us. This is an insightful and interesting conversation. Time flew by.
Thank you so much for having me.
About Gabriela Henault
Gabriela Henault is Chief Marketing Officer at AlphaSights, a global knowledge on-demand platform that provides investment and business leaders with frictionless access to expert knowledge. With her deep experience in brand building and developing marketing strategies that drive commercial impact, she’s played a pivotal role in sharpening the brand and evolving the marketing function to support the needs of a fast growing business. After starting her career in advertising at AMV BBDO, she spent 13 years at Prophet, a brand and marketing consultancy, advising B2C and B2B businesses such as BestBuy, Samsung, UBS and ExonMobil. Gabriela grew up between the United States and Europe, studied political sciences at Georgetown University, and now lives in London.