Close-Up with Christine Heckart, CMO, NetApp Inc.

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Christine Heckart is the chief marketing officer at computer storage and data management company NetApp Inc. She joined the company about 20 months ago after serving as general manager-marketing for Microsoft Corp.'s TV, video and music business. Her mission: to take market share from such major storage competitors as EMC Corp., Seagate Technology and Western Digital, boosted by a message that makes storage and data management “bold, provocative and sexy.” Heckart is using customer-focused “epic” stories to show the impact of storage, highlighting business innovations built on the NetApp platform. CMO Close-Up: How would you describe the state of the storage industry? Heckart: The industry is in a state of transition into virtualized environments and cloud computing. Any time you have that kind of change, there are opportunities along with potential threats. When I came aboard, the company believed that marketing could make a big impact on its growth. CMO Close-Up: Tell us what you feel is NetApp's unique selling proposition? Heckart: We think there are two big reasons companies choose NetApp. One is that our efficient solution translates into cost savings in both resources and time. We help budgets go further—by 50%, guaranteed. The other reason is our ability to deploy applications very quickly. CMO Close-Up: And what about those “epic” stories that are a central element of NetApp's marketing outreach? Heckart: The key idea here is not to talk about storage but rather its mission and impact on business. The topic of storage may not be interesting but, when you look at the true differences it makes in how we work, live and play, that starts getting real interesting. Because of digital storage, we're changing the face of entertainment, saving lives and [are] able to bring new types of energy and renewable resources to market. We wanted to show compelling examples of business innovations. One example is Australian financial services company Suncorp Group, which is getting mobile banking applications to market years ahead of its competition. Another was our work with the 3-D film “Avatar.” With the magnitude of cycling data into a rendering engine, that film was able to be made in a reasonable time frame. CMO Close-Up: How are you structuring and delivering these stories? Heckart: Each one has a rich set of assets, with different ways of interacting with the stories. We want to show both the technical and business benefits in each story, through print as well as video, social media and on our website. In some cases we feature interactions with particular people who led their company's initiatives. Also, we have created a vibrant, unconventional visual language that spans every element of the marketing mix. We realized that visuals within the industry had become similar—the use of blues, for example, and literal images like clouds. We wanted to recapture our separation from competitors through new visuals. We decided to use hand-drawn illustrations, very much like on a white board, very humble and often with humor. We've rolled that out in our PowerPoints, websites and ads. CMO Close-Up: What internal changes were required to make this possible? Heckart: There wasn't much broken at NetApp when I joined. We had a very dynamic team. But when I walked in the door and asked what the company wanted to do, we got two big responses. One was to have marketing have a material impact on the growth of the company. So we came up with a project that makes marketing a cross-functional company project, led by marketing. Secondly, we felt there was a huge opportunity to get more integration, not just within marketing but also with sales. We call these pathways, working with other service providers, systems integrators and, in some cases, OEM partners. One big theme was that we wanted to do more with less. When we looked at the pieces of content created with each product launch, it was a boatload. We set out to reduce that. Our last launch had a 50% reduction in the amount of content, but we felt there was a big improvement in mapping that content to our real objectives. CMO Close-Up: What has been the payoff for NetApp to date? Heckart: With a full year under our belt, company revenue has grown 25% year over year, product sales are up 32% and we've gained three points of market share. We've also had a 30% improvement in click-through rates and almost 300% in online engagement. I love measuring everything within marketing that we can; and there's still a lot that we don't measure and wish we could. But that might just be information to help marketing run better, falling into the category of “Who cares?” What business cares about is if we are growing revenue, exceeding the industry growth rate and taking market share. CMO Close-Up: How is the future shaping up for you? Heckart: We have a pretty simple road map. It's about continuing to do more of the same, but up the bar a bit. We have a great marketing checklist. Last year our big theme was integration. This year it's acceleration, with our cross-company program driving more growth.
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