Close-up with Jay Kidd, CMO, NetApp

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Jay Kidd, CMO of enterprise storage system vendor NetApp, spoke to BtoB about how the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company adjusted its marketing in the face of the economic downturn last year and provided an update on NetApp's 2-year-old rebranding effort.

BtoB: What's your top marketing objective?

Kidd: In this environment, every marketing professional's top objective has to be, how do we find more revenue in an economy which is still struggling a little bit and then how do we find it at lower cost of operation and lower cost of execution. Just get more for less.

BtoB: So it's marketing efficiency? Can you talk about some things you've done?

Kidd:There are a few things. At a macro level, we looked at the segment of customers that we sell to—what NetApp builds is data storage systems for enterprise customers—and so we looked at where our customers are spending money and what are their top-agenda areas. The adoption of virtualization technology was a big trend with our customers, so we shifted a sizable chunk of our demand-gen and marketing money toward the segment where customers were looking to buy in this weakened economy. That was step 1.

BtoB:How did you get this customer intelligence? Was it research, interviews with current customers?

Kidd:It was a combination of things. We'd look at the analyst reports, and they would point toward some trends. We'd look at a lot of the trade publications in terms of what people are talking about. But the driving force was the hundreds and thousands of conversations that our sales force and our channel partners were having with customers every day—and the questions those customers were asking them. When every conversation with a customer starts with “My budgets are getting cut. How do I do more with less? I think I can do something with this virtualization stuff”—that points to a pretty clear trend.

BtoB:What things did you do internally to make your own marketing operations run leaner?

Kidd:We traditionally would market to three to five themes of trying to solve a customer problem, each with varying degrees of scale but an independent marketing program. [When] we saw this broad trend in our base of customers, we shifted to one main theme and two minor ones that complemented it, all about having the best storage for virtual server environments. That then drove efficiencies with the campaign development we needed to do. We really only had to do one major campaign instead of three.

BtoB:How have your media choices changed during this period?

Kidd:We've expanded the channels significantly at NetApp. We launched a major rebranding campaign [in 2008]—and we actually got out in a big way online and in print media in the U.S.—and a large search marketing program. We decided to maintain those, even in a down economy, because we believe corporate awareness is an essential thing to build. And while everybody else was pulling back on their channel spend, we decided it was a good chance to take some mindshare there.

BtoB: And that included print?

Kidd:Nothing dies quickly. And we absolutely believe print media continues to be a medium that particularly more of the strategic buyers, the more senior people in the customer organizations, still look to. There's unquestionably a shift toward online. We've also seen a shift toward social media.

BtoB:How are you leveraging social media?

Kidd:We've deployed a pretty big program in the big five of social media—communities and forums, bloggers, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. And we decided to attack social media in a concerted way. We had a particular theme we wanted to play in the social media space. So we developed a viral video that poked a little fun at some of our competitors and had some entertaining production value. We already had developed—and we developed a few more—five- to six-minute educational videos on YouTube, which the viral video would drive traffic to. The intent of all of these was to drive traffic to our Web site. And the net effect we saw, when we posted the viral video, we got between 10,000 and 20,000 hits in a fairly short period of time. The traffic that was going to our more educational videos tripled, and the traffic from there to our Web site went up significantly also.

BtoB:How has the rebranding effort worked out?

Kidd:We went through a rebranding effort in 2008, which was the first time NetApp had gone through the process of establishing a brand for ourselves. It was a broad-based program, centering on one name: NetApp. We were known as Network Appliance in some places, NetApp in others. But a huge part as well was just deciding very crisply, who are we building awareness with and what do we want them to know about us. This was an exercise, all prior to the downturn. We had a great reputation with the technical buyers who loved our products and technology, [but] we were invisible to the strategic buyers. And we made a very conscious choice to message to the strategic buyers, not about what we build but about “what we can do for you.” It was a very conscious and structured approach to telling this story to that buyer.

BtoB:Did this require you to use different media channels, ones you hadn't used before?

Kidd:It did. We traditionally would have thought any kind of advertising or demand-gen advertising was in the IT publications. We went big into the business publications—Forbes, Fortune, CIO, [The] Wall Street Journal, [The] Economist, which we never would have done before.

BtoB: How is it working with the IT titles these days?

Kidd:It's interesting. The print publications really are shrinking, and many of the traditional reporters we worked with from those channels now have online properties. It's a fairly chaotic set of online properties at this point. We've maintained the relationships. We've continued talking to the reporters in the space, even through their channels for communicating in the space are shifting. Maintain the relationship with the knowledgeable influencers, independent of what mouthpieces they're using. And related to that, on the backside of talking to the strategic buyers, we also launched as part of our social media program a very active blogging program. We have 38 people from NetApp actively blogging, reaching out to the technical buyers. So when we shifted a lot of the marketing voice to focus on the strategic buyers, we backfilled it with social media and online forums to continue to reach those technical buyers in media that, I think, they find more useful.

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