Intel Security CMO: Why marketers need to think more about crisis management

Marketing leader also shares why she thinks cybersecurity awareness across brands is still a major issue

One of the first causalities of any cyber-attack is brand reputation. But when you are the chief marketing officer of one of the world’s largest cybersecurity companies, the stakes are so much higher again.

Allison Cerra took on the role of vice-president of marketing at US-based Intel Security Group in late 2015, following marketing roles with Hewlett-Packard, Alcatel-Lucent and other technology companies. Her group incorporates the assets of the former McAfee security software company, which Intel acquired in 2010.

As previously reported in CMO, marketers generally have shown little eagerness to engage in discussions around cybersecurity, despite their function having much to lose through a successful cyberattack in terms of brand reputation, and often being responsible for communications in the inevitable clean-up that follows.

According to Cerra, the lack of engagement may be due in part to the messages put out by the cybersecurity community itself.

“One of the things that we suffer here in cybersecurity is the complexity of it,” she says. “And we don’t do ourselves any favours. We talk to one another in our own echo chamber and it is hard for us to simplify that.

Allison Cerra
Allison Cerra

“I think that the industry has a responsibility to simplify this for the average lay person, who doesn’t spend their time in technology and doesn’t realise that they should care.”

While numerous brands including Target, Sony and Ashley Madison have recently provided proof of the huge impact cyber breaches have on brand and financial performance, Cerra says often these ‘canaries in the coalmine’ are not heeded.

“Truthfully, marketers are just trying to look through the windshield of what we can see in the immediate terrain and we’re not thinking about what is around the corner,” Cerra says. “Like any good crisis management, you don’t know you need it until it happens.

“But that goes to what your brand is. Because if you have a very transparent, authentic brand in the marketplace but you do suffer a breach and all of a sudden become very clandestine in how you respond to that, that could be completely counter to what your brand position is publicly, which will undermine your brand value proposition.”

As the CMO of a technology security company, Cerra is eminently aware of the added pressure she faces in terms of safeguarding her own company’s reputation in an environment where it represents a high value target. As a result, she remains in close contact with her technical peers.

“I’ve made it a practice of surrounding myself with our CTO, who has given me a crash course in the last eight months or so around how dangerous the adversary is and what we need to be thinking about,” she says.

“I don’t think CMOs understand that their role is to be at that table and engaged in those conversations, if not leading it from a brand promise perspective as to what the company should do in those cases.”

Cerra says Intel Security also has an advisory group of its most senior 25 customers that discusses engagement between marketing and cybersecurity, among other things.

“We talk to board members and CEOs on a regular basis, because cybersecurity has now moved from the back-office reality of IT into the boardroom, and even into the Oval Office,” Cerra says. “So we will elevate the discourse directly with those CMOs and try to educate them and expose them to why they should care and make it as plain and simple as we can.”

But she acknowledges that to drive engagement around such a complex topic, the message coming out of the industry itself needs to be easier to digest and rise above technologies and products.

“We are working now on how do we simplify the message,” Cerra says. “We believe there is an opportunity to raise the altitude of the message, so that c-level executives and CMOs can better understand the fight that is happening around them on a daily basis. Many of us don’t even realise the expanse of what is happening and how real it is.”

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