How humor drives marketing for a cloud data services company
Sniffing through the NetApp blog, you’ll find an unusual correspondent: Umi the IT dog. Having authored 5 posts since August 2020, Umi provides a tongue-in-jowl view of what’s happening in the cloud storage space. The chief marketing officer behind Umi is James Whitemore, who says “The best way to engage this audience is to entertain this audience” in a traditionally serious industry.
NetApp has led with humor across a wide array of content while simultaneously introducing a new type of cloud services that required “a completely different selling motion.” That’s a lot of change for one organization, especially during the pandemic. As it turns out, the timing couldn’t have been better. NetApp's efforts attracted a whole new class of customers and generated 180% year-over-year growth in cloud services. Umi’s tail is undoubtedly wagging.
What was your mandate when you became CMO in November 2019?
About six years ago, we started on this journey of putting our technology into the hearts of the world's biggest clouds. That was a multiyear journey from a technical and an engineering perspective, really integrating our technologies into their clouds. About this time last year is when they all came into general availability, so my primary mandate was, "Hey, you've got to support that business. You've got to go drive revenue. We spent five years making this a reality, now let's start to see some revenue happening behind those products.”
What was the main challenge?
Here I have a brand-new portfolio of cloud services where people do not want to go through the traditional selling motion; they want immediate access to those products and services. They want trials when they want trials. They don't want to talk to field-based salespeople. They want to have access to information when they want it, how they want it, a completely different selling motion. That was the mandate. Go build that cloud-based selling motion, not just sell new products.
How did you do it?
We basically had to rip up the marketing playbook, which had been pretty consistent for at least 10 years. This concept of a linear lead flow was just completely thrown out the window to a model today where our intention is to get a visitor to our website or someone to interact with our campaigns—not to put that person through a lengthy qualification process. When that person is ready to talk, we connect them with an expert who may be a salesperson or a customer service rep. That takes place in seconds rather than the days it would take to move through a classic lead process.
How did you transition to this model?
Several years ago, we started the process of insourcing critical marketing services. Websites and paid media execution are not something you update on a monthly or quarterly basis; you plan them on a daily basis and you're constantly adjusting your media strategies. The technology stack that we used for 8+ years was not particularly agile in terms of what it needed to do, so we moved a tech stack 3 years ago.
There's also been a big shift over the last three or four years to content production. Now, people are really looking first at what people are searching on, looking at external signals versus traditional methods, where you’re producing content around what internal product teams and engineering teams want to say.
How have these changes affected the relationship between sales and marketing?
The environment we've been in for the last 6-plus months has been an absolute godsend in some respects. If I think about trying to do what we've done in a normal selling world where those people were very much more out on the road in person, it would be much more difficult. They've been really welcoming to these new digital tools that we've given them because it's really helped them understand what's happening within their customers.
Our typical salesperson has somewhere between 8 to 15 accounts. They're not calling on hundreds of different customers. When you can show them all of the web interactions happening within those accounts, what content is being consumed, which people from those accounts are requesting content, they really understand the power of digital marketing. They've been very, very receptive and we've been very thorough in teaching them how to use this new technology.
How did messaging change?
What was evident as we looked at all of our audience research is, basically, our audience values specialists. The first thing that we focused on is making them aware that NetApp is a true specialist in what it is that we do. The second thing that was obvious is they hate to boring tech marketing, like overinflated claims. They don't respond particularly well to that your very aspirational kind of marketing. Get it very gritty; speak to them in the language of the problems they're trying to solve.
Then the third thing is, my personal belief is that the best way to capture someone's attention is to make them laugh or crack a smile. You have to have some humor, the best way to engage this audience is to entertain this audience. We've seen an entirely new personality of NetApp emerge, one that's very tongue-in-cheek and very much about having fun.
Can you give an example?
The audiences that we were really trying to get to, we know that they respond well to things which entertain them, which have some humor to them. We came up with a campaign that starts by showing all the things that we're not good at before introducing the thing that we want them to know us for.
We introduced wholly different themes, some very topical about work from home and not being able to teach them how to bake a cake or not being able to teach them how to homeschool kids—just things like, "Hey, we can't do that for you, but there's one thing that we really can do." It has been just incredible at how that's helped us reach those audiences, drive engagement with those audiences.
What were some of the results?
These programs have really matured in market. Right now, 84% of all coming into netapp.com are first-time NetApp visitors. That's higher than it's ever been in the past. Conversion rates, our click-through rates on social are now astronomical compared to what they used to be and that shows me that these programs are working. New customer acquisition on our cloud services within these audiences we're targeting is higher than it's ever been.
Our cloud revenues are growing ahead of plan. In our last quarterly results, you show 180% plus year-over-year growth in cloud services. You're seeing it flow through to revenue. For me, some of the key metrics are things like days from lead to close, which in our traditional business had always been measured in 120+ days. In our cloud business, it's now down below five. The average touchpoints it takes to get a deal closed in that cloud business is less than four compared to hundreds in traditional business.