Why this CMO sees sensors, social and virtual reality as key to B2B marketing

We chat with the global marketing leader of B2B vendor, Pure Storage, about marketing's reliance on technology and the impact digital connectivity is having on providing customer value

Pure Storage CMO, Jonathan Martin
Pure Storage CMO, Jonathan Martin

The explosion of sensor technology is set to turn every product and service around us into a digital experience.

And according to chief marketing officer of enterprise storage vendor Pure Storage, Jonathan Martin, such connectivity, as well as the data provided by it, is opening up a world of opportunity for brand owners to transform interactions with customers.

“The world is rapidly digitising through sensors and if your whole marketing experience isn’t digitally oriented – for example, how someone interacts with you on a trade show stand, or how they consume your content – and if you’re not thinking about integrating digital into every piece of marketing mix, you’re behind,” he claims.

Whether it’s Google Nest thermostats and smart fridges in the home, or sensors in utility networks, roads and enterprise IT networks, the Internet of Things environment is kick-starting a wave of proactive customer management and service firsts, Martin tells CMO.

As an example, he points out Pure Storage added sensor technology to its storage hardware, generating data updates every 5 seconds on how the array is performing. This information is pushed into the cloud and analysed to help predict the potential for a customer to experience a failure in the near future.

“That wouldn’t have been possible even five years ago,” Martin says.

What sensors also triggers are new business models, he adds.

“If you buy a Nest thermostat, then over time that builds a set of information about you. For example, it knows when you’re at home, and when you’re not,” he says. “That information could become really interesting to an insurance company. The risk profile for someone at home 365 days of the year, versus someone who spends 30 days at your vacation home, is different.

“Over time, the ‘value’ moves from it being just about the product, and to the information the product creates. It’s a pretty exciting concept. And the opportunities are endless – whole new industries are going to be built off the back of those few simple concepts.”

Being a data-led marketer

Data analytics and cutting-edge technology are at the heart of Martin’s approach to marketing at Pure Storage, which he joined as CMO in July last year. He became the vendor’s first marketing chief after a four-year stint with rival storage player, EMC, and boasts more than 20 years as a marketer in the technology sector, working for the likes of HP Software, Salesforce, PortWise and Veritas. He also holds a Masters in Computer Science.

Martin suggests the disruptive shifts CMOs are experiencing right now represent the biggest changes to marketing in 50 years. The first is that traditional techniques of interruption and broadcast are getting less effective because no one’s listening to them. These well-worn methods have actually triggered chemical changes in the brain, Martin explains, causing people to skip TV commercials or screen advertising out.

The second challenge is around how people buy products today, something Martin compares to a game of Snakes and Ladders.

“Everyone starts on square one, which is Google, and does a bit of research, whether it’s on a camera or storage array,” he claims. “They’ll go along until they get to square eight, where they read an article from a source they trust, and go up the ladder. They go along, read a review online from a source they trust and… go up another ladder. Then they’ll talk to someone who bought the last version of that product and who says it sucked, and down the snake they go.”

Martin points to a recent Google Shopping report, which found 3000 people all buying the same product took 3000 individual paths to reach a purchase decision.

“They’re looking at the same websites, reviews, analyst reports, but the way they string them together is completely unique,” he continues. “If you’re someone used to marketing in a linear, nurturing kind of way, it’s very difficult to model the buyers’ journey.”

The third challenge CMOs must overcome is the lack of control they have over perceptions of their brand thanks to the rise of social media and digital communications.

But at the same time, as the buyer journey becomes fully digitised, marketers have a better chance of understanding and tapping into these individual experiences, Martin says.

“People are leaving a trail of breadcrumbs behind them in the form of likes, dislikes, ratings, cookies, tweets and so on,” he says. “That’s not just around what they think of your product or service, but what is going on in their lives.

“If you can capture all these little bits of information, if you can correlate them in some way, and blend them with data you already own, then you have an opportunity to build the most extensive psychographic profiles of individuals that we have ever been able to do before.”

All of that changes who is going to be good at marketing of course.

“CMO doesn’t stand for ‘chief megaphone officer’ anymore, it’s the person that’s going to own customer interaction, behaviour, and gets a deep understanding of the way customer interact with and buy products and services,” Martin adds.

Technology's vital role

Martin’s own approach is to put analytics and technology at the core of everything he does, and he’s appointed two data scientists to his team to help. He notes he set up his first marketing science lab four years ago to help EMC capitalise on big data.

“We began to blend together sales information, service and support data, all our marketing and clickstream data, and blend with as much social and digital content as we can, put it in one place then run analytics on it,” he explains.

“The equation we’re still trying to solve right now, is: If you can understand the context of where someone is on that journey, or that snakes and ladders board, if you can understand their intent. You can predict, based on nine other people you’ve seen that look like that person, the thing they’re most likely to do next. If you can do both those things in as near real-time as possible, you have the ability to put highly targeted, highly personalised offers in front of people.”

That requires a “tonne of marketing technology”, Martin says, and he stresses marketers must fully embrace IT if they’re to be successful.

“You have to understand architecturally how it all comes together, and what it does, the value proposition and how to utilise it,” he says.

Leveraging new customer-facing technologies, and shifting the vendor’s marketing strategy to become digitally oriented, are other priorities. One such burgeoning tech is virtual reality (VR), and Martin claims 2016 is the year VR finally becomes real thanks to the launch of HTC’s Vive headset late last year, Microsoft’s foray into the space, and Oculus Rift’s impending launch.

“That provides a completely new way of providing experiences to customers - everything from the car showroom, where you can sit in the front seat of the car of the future decked out how you want it, to buying a vacation home on an island you’ve never been to,” Martin says.

“For us, it will help us take people inside our products and experience them in a way they’ve never been able to do before.”

Bringing social into B2B marketing

On the more traditional brand and communications front, Martin is working to ensure Pure Storage takes a conversational tone and voice to market – something that’s not often apparent in B2B marketing.

“We’re looking at how can we take things out of consumer playbooks and use them in B2B,” he says. “For example, we’re looking to have more fun, be less formal and more edgy, and we’re happy to make fun of ourselves and be more human, then do things that will make people interested in what you do.”

Helping this cause will be social media, which Martin believes is just as valuable for B2B brands as it is for B2C organisations.

“You need to work on everyone getting behind the story and value proposition. If you can do that, then social should be woven into the fabric of everything you do,” he claims. “It provides interesting and new ways to engage people both in terms of long term, around awareness and education about you and your brand, but also it helps you create relationships you might not have been able to foster before.”

Building a brand proposition

The quest to be more consumer-led ties into Pure Storage’s efforts to positions itself as producer of next-generation and simplified technology for modern IT orchestration. In fact, its co-founder, John Hayes, recently stated the vendor was looking to become the “Apple of the datacentre”.

This is driven by a new approach to enterprise storage operating off flash-based storage technology, rather than traditional spinning disk, coupled with a proprietary data reduction technology to improve storage capacity efficiency and management.

The six-year-old business has had a rapid growth trajectory, going from startup to public listing in 2015, and is now recognised as a successful player in the tier-one storage arena with about 1300 customers worldwide.

There are plenty of challenges to overcome, however. One is persistent perceptions of flash as a more expensive alternative to traditional storage. There’s also a lack of proactive interest from IT leaders and CIOs, who’ve not historically seen storage as a business growth enabler.

“What we do tend to find is that a lot of people buy us in a pain killer, in a Vicodin situation,” Martin admits. “For example, Microsoft turns off compression in Exchange, and a customer’s 2TB of information grows to 12TB overnight. Because email compresses very well, our data reduction technology helps them get that back to less than 2TB, and it’s very fast to deploy.”

With added capacity at their disposal, these organisations then look at other ways Pure Storage’s offering can improve business workloads. In one example, Martin says a retail customer moved an analytics workload analysing all store purchases made during the day to determine future promotional offers onto one of Pure Storage’s boxes. This cut running times from seven hours to 42 minutes, opening up the opportunity for more business-led analytics projects.

That story of moving from “Vicodin to vitamins” is very common across Pure Storage’s customer ranks, Martin claims, and it’s one he’s looking to actively tap into in his marketing this year.

“We’re moving from taking a challenger point of view, where anything we could do to poke or annoy Goliath we’d do, to telling our story through the voice of these customers,” he says.

Martin’s other priorities are helping Pure Storage continue to chalk up rapid growth, both in terms of top-line revenue and new business internationally, as well as improving profit margins.

Top attributes for the modern CMO

While he might be a tech aficionado, Martin says the ability to think creatively is still important for CMOs. He also believes marketers need a deep understanding of analytics.

“This includes regressional analysis and statistics to really get into buying behaviour,” he says.

“The third element is you’ve got to be dangerous enough on technology. I’m not just reliant on technology to get my job done, I’m wholly dependent on technology to achieve my mission.”

As an example, Martin reiterates the ever-complicated and individual journey every customer takes on their path to purchase and advocacy.

“I can’t model the buyers’ journey – I don’t care how many people I throw at it, the only way is with tonnes of cutting-edge technology,” he adds.

Check out more of CMO's coverage of the issues facing B2B marketers today:

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