Q&A: Twitter CFO Anthony Noto, What Are You Doing as the Company's Top Marketer?

Twitter Plans to Roll Out a Campaign to Win Users Later This Year

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Twitter CFO Anthony Noto took charge of marketing earlier this year.
Twitter CFO Anthony Noto took charge of marketing earlier this year. Credit: ABOSCH for Twitter

Twitter has a fundamental problem. The company has developed a product that many people love and many more people aren't sure they want to use.

Sometime later this year Twitter will roll out a campaign that aims to convince the holdhouts. Ad Age asked Twitter's CFO Anthony Noto what argument the company will make -- and why the former investment banker took the marketing reins at Twitter this year at all. On some points, Mr. Noto wasn't quite ready to spill.

The interview is a bit long, so you can choose whether to read the full version or a condensed version that's specific to Twitter's plans to hire a CMO and roll out a marketing campaign. Pick which version you'd like to read by clicking on the buttons below. The default is the long version.

I'm about to ask you a bunch of questions about Twitter's marketing plans, but you're Twitter's CFO. Why did the guy in charge of marketing Twitter to Wall Street become also the guy in charge of marketing Twitter to normal people?

What I'd say is that Dick [Costolo, who stepped down as Twitter's CEO on July 1] and the board really wanted to elevate the importance of marketing just given where we are in the phase of our company's growth and the necessary integration that we need marketing into our other initiatives. And when it came to Twitter, he and the board both brought me in to be the CFO but also to take on some other operating responsibilities. This happened to be one area that they wanted increased elevation and leadership against. I think they turned to me more from a leadership perspective than from a financial perspective frankly. And the task at hand was bringing together the most important groups to build one unified consumer marketing group, develop a strategy and go out and hire a world-class CMO. That's what I'm focused on.

Speaking of that, you said on the last earnings call that Twitter is in the process of hiring a CMO. Has the company picked someone yet?

We have not. We're really excited about the candidates we're talking to, and we're still in that process. The delightful thing that I have found is that many of the people we're talking to really think of the opportunity at Twitter as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I think of it as a marketer's dream. We have this incredibly impactful brand, but a significant amount of the world still doesn't use our product. Seventy percent of the people still do not use Twitter. It's an opportunity to take that great brand with all of that awareness and making it relevant and useful for everyone.

I'd love if you gave me the names of the candidates you're talking to. But if not, who are the types of people you're talking to: CPG marketers, entertainment marketers, agency folks? Who's in this group?

We are talking to a wide spectrum of people with different backgrounds. The things that we're focused on is: number one, a proven leader. Number two is someone that's really grounded in marketing strategy. Number three is someone that's really taken a situation that's similar to ours in some cases and really used and developed a marketing strategy to drive business results. And then of course our brand is global; it is digital; we're a quantitative-driven company. So those would be some of the characteristics that we're looking for. Backgrounds really span industries across tech and CPG and media.

During Twitter's most recent earnings call, interim CEO Jack Dorsey said "an answer to 'why Twitter?' must be articulated clearly" and indicated that is the rationale behind an upcoming marketing campaign, which I'm going to ask you about in a bit. But before that, in as few words as possible, what's the answer to this question of "why Twitter"?

We've been really focused on a couple of things to make sure we answer that question appropriately. We've invested a lot of time in understanding users' attitudes and behaviors and preferences and the choices that they have on a global basis in our most important markets, not just in the United States, because it is different by market. In addition to that market research, we spent a fair amount of time around our product roadmap and how we can marry making the product easier to use with marketing, with content choices and media choices and communication choices. And our goal is to bring the combination of those functional areas together to answer the question both from an awareness standpoint of why they should use Twitter but also when that user arrives at a location, they get exactly what they're looking for and they're incredibly satisfied. We haven't publicly said the answer of "why Twitter?" yet. It's something we're still working on, both from a marketing and a product standpoint.

Why haven't you publicly said it? It seems like that would be important. It may spoil a campaign, but it still seems important if you've come up with that answer.

Let me say slightly differently: We think we have the best aggregated real-time content in the world. And that allows individuals to see what's happening in the world right now, to have a conversation about what they find interesting, to find others that are having conversations about what they find interesting. So the value of Twitter is that we give people both the opportunity to find out what's happening right now, but also we give them a microphone to project globally what they find of interest and their points of view. And we're trying to encapsulate both of those value propositions into a marketing campaign that brings that message to the masses but also brings it to the individual use cases of why people should use Twitter and marry that value proposition, that unique point of difference, into every decision we make, from product choices to content choices to media choices.

We understand the value of Twitter. It's really about getting into a concise messaging and marketing campaign, as opposed to figuring out why Twitter. We have a good sense of why Twitter. It's really about the marketing challenge of putting it into an integrated campaign across all the various marketing outlets and making sure that's reflected in everything we do. In the past that hasn't been the case.

You're in the process of putting together this integrated marketing campaign. You've said that this will roll out by the end of this year and indicated that it'll promote Project Lightning, which is a live-event feature Twitter plans to roll out in the fall. What do you have in store for the campaign?

Our campaign will importantly answer the question for the consumer of why they should use Twitter and reinforce the reasons to believe that benefit and also pay off in an emotional benefit. Those are some of the important foundational elements of what we're doing. The campaign will start largely on digital and expand from there. We want to make sure we're achieving the type of success that we hope to, and so it will be a very methodical process in how we roll it out as we think about the different marketing vehicles that we use.

Is there a slogan for the campaign or a name for the campaign?

No, we're not to that point yet.

Who are the people that Twitter will address with this campaign? And please don't say everyone; I'd love for you to get as specific as possible.

We've spent a lot of time really doing user segmentation by market in our most important markets and identifying those user segments that we can appeal to, but also understanding those user segments' attitudes, behaviors and preferences and who they use today and who's not satisfying those preferences today. One of the great opportunities that we have is we have this very high brand awareness but low penetration. Our objective is to get the 70% of the people that don't use our product but are aware of it to use it. The best way to do that is identifying very specific user segments and satisfying their particular needs and use cases. We're not prepared to share those specific user segments or those use cases, but that's the approach that we're taking. Ninety-plus percent aided brand awareness, 30% penetration -- of those 70% of people that don't use it, we know broadly that they don't use it because they don't know how to use it. Answering those questions is different for each user segment. We're taking that very targeted approach.

Does that suggest that this will be more of a direct-response campaign that some big, branded effort?

Our campaign will be a branded campaign across integrated marketing channels. It will rely on television. It will rely on digital video. It's not a direct-response-only campaign. It will be seeded with a core value proposition and a video campaign.

And it'll be related to Project Lightning, is that right?

We haven't said what specific product that will be marketed with a campaign. We have a significant roadmap that will roll out over the next 12 months. Project Lightning happens to be one of the opportunities to marry the marketing, the product and the content and deliver on that messaging.

You had said during the most recent earnings call that there will be an integrated marketing campaign tied to Project Lightning. Could there be two campaigns in the near future from Twitter, one for Twitter overall and another specifically for Project Lightning?

Let me clarify. There will be one campaign that will apply to Project Lightning but it will apply to other product initiatives as well.

The users that Twitter is going after are the more mainstream users. How do you market to this audience without alienating the power users already on Twitter?

The power users already on Twitter have already found the value of Twitter and have already answered the question of why Twitter. Their experience will be the same if not improved. We think we can serve both audiences very well. The product experiences for one do not have to come at the expense of the other. There's enough surface area within the product to meet both of those users' needs. And the marketing message would resonate with the heavy users just like it would with non-users, they just have already found the value on their own so it will be less impactful because they're already using the product.

An analyst during the last earnings call said that more than 1 billion people have created Twitter accounts over the years -- or maybe more accurately more than 1 billion Twitter accounts have been created over the years -- but Twitter only counts around 300 million monthly active users. What specifically is the plan to win back these potentially hundreds of millions of people that have tried Twitter and quit Twitter?

A couple things. One, our product has evolved over time, and those that tried our product in 2010 -- if our marketing message could bring them back today, they would see all the changes that we've made since 2010 plus what we're making today. If you came to Twitter in 2010, you couldn't see or upload photos or videos. You couldn't follow conversations easily. And if you didn't follow anyone right away, you had no content. Today when you come to Twitter, all of those experiences are there, and they provide a great use case today. But we're not stopping there. We're continuing to evolve the product to make it easier for the individual to understand the language of Twitter and hashtags and at-messages and favorites and replies and retweets. And evolve the product so that the individual that doesn't understand all of those things can show up looking for the content that we've marketed to them, and they're in an immersive experience of that content that we've communicated to them that they can find on Twitter. That's the next important evolution.

For the campaign and the marketing strategy as a whole, what kind of research have you done to make sure the campaign hits on the pain points for normal people as opposed to it being created in a bubble?

We will do all the typical marketing research steps that you would with any campaign from brand recall and attribute measurements and association and consideration. We've already done a fair amount of research prior to building the campaign. But as we build the campaign, we will go through all the gates and checks that someone that's been marketing for hundreds of years will go through. We're working with agencies that have great experience, and we're working with a team here that has a significant amount of experience with all of the appropriate market-research tests that you would do to validate the messaging, the brand recall and the association with the brand.

Speaking of the research, what have you found out so far?

In the terms of the campaign, that's not something where we're far enough down the path to share that with you yet.

What are the agencies you're working with? And I'm curious if Jack Dorsey's agency West is in that group.

In terms of agencies, I don't want to share that yet. Jack, before becoming interim CEO, marketing was a big focus of his. He was a key decision-maker in elevating marketing within the company and with it coming under my leadership. Since he's become CEO, he's become intimately involved with the process that we're going through. It's something he has a great passion for and interest in, as do I. And I've enjoyed the chance to work with him on it directly. It's been a great experience to have him involved.

Going back to the pending CMO hire, it sounds like Twitter's big campaign will have already been in development, if not launched, by the time the CMO joins. Will that limit or otherwise affect what that person can do in setting Twitter's marketing strategy?

Absolutely not. Marketing is a constantly improving discipline and function, and there's continuous feedback that allows you to improve marketing, both your strategy and your execution. We're moving aggressively on hiring a CMO. My hope is that they're here while we're actually in the development phase and the creation phase. But ultimately the question of why Twitter is one that is going to be an evolving marketing process. I alluded to earlier we're going to do this in a methodical way to make sure we're on the right path to get the types of benefits that we're setting out as objectives. And I think they'll be here to impact it in a significant way and continue to work with our team in evolving it to getting to the point that it's world-class, and I think that's a never-ending process.

What's the timeline for when the CMO will be hired and then when the campaign will go live?

We haven't share specifics on either. We're moving as fast as we can on the CMO search. I'm encouraged where we are and the quality of people that we have. And we're still in the process, so if there are others that want to raise their hand, we'd love to talk to them. We want to find the best person for Twitter.

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