An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Make your customers superstars. Across our entire revenue team, from marketing to sales to our customer success team, we say our mission is to get our customer champions promoted. As a B2B brand, we hold deep conviction in the value and return-on-investments that our offerings bring the businesses we serve. When our champions get a win, we celebrate with them. Nothing makes us happier than celebrating our own customers’ success stories and giving them the tools they need to tell a great story within their own industry.
As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Renée Cohen.
Renée Cohen is the VP, Worldwide Marketing at Lucidworks, a B2B SaaS search & insight engine provider. For almost 20 years, Renée has led demand generation, social marketing, branding, and market research in software startups and agency environments. Prior to joining Lucidworks, Renée was the practice area leader for social and marketing programs at professional services firm, Trellist Marketing and Technology, leading sales and delivery for brand refreshes, product launches, social management and campaigns for Fortune 500 clients and some of the world’s largest private companies. You can frequently find her in coffee shops around the greater Philadelphia region, where she lives with her husband, two children, and Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In college, I was a political science and history nerd, thinking I’d apply to law school. But during school, I had to pay the bills. So I took a paid marketing internship at a start-up B2B software company, and that turned out not to be a short term gig. I continued in my marketing role there for three years, and upon graduation, I knew this was a career path where I’d grow and thrive.
Earlier on in my career, I had fun talking about how a double major in history and political science prepared me to be a well-rounded marketer. For both of those degrees, you do a lot of research and writing — particularly persuasive writing. The most well-rounded marketers I’ve worked with are analytical, know how to research, form conclusions, and, of course, write to move an audience.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The one that still makes my cringe inside was a technical mistake. Early on in my career, we were testing personalized email sends for some high-touch field marketing promotions (rather than branded email sends). This was long before tools like Outreach.io or Sales Loft existed.
I was setting up a simple mail merge using Excel, Word, and Outlook — which works great for what I needed to do on the cheap, by the way. And while I was setting up the send, I still had some “test” email copy in the set up while I was working on merging the send list from Excel into the Word app. One wrong button choice, and my test email copy started sending out to the real email recipients, our customers and prospects.
I was mortified. The fastest way I could think to stop it was to pop the battery out of my laptop to get the emails to stop mid-send. The “whoops” email went out to about 20 people before I yeeted my laptop battery, and I sent personalized apologies to each person.
Lessons learned: Order of operations matters. Risk mitigation matters.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Lucidworks is a leader in AI-powered search technology. That sounds…jargony…doesn’t it? So the cool stuff comes in when we talk about what search can do when you’ve got powerful machine learning driving it.
Every user interaction, every customer behavior, can be tracked digitally. Your customers are sending you “signals” all the time about what they like, what they want, what’s relevant to them, and what’s not. You can use these insights from customer behavior to drive really delightful and seamless user experiences.
This can manifest in a number of ways.
One of our customers, Regeneron, is using Lucidworks to power a research app, making it easy for their employees to access the most relevant, publicly available COVID-19 data sets.
For our retail customers, in 2020 it became critical to improve online shopping experiences during quarantine. This year for Cyber-5 (Black Friday through Cyber Monday) we supported over 1 billion search queries on our many retail customers eCommerce websites, including a top athleisure brand and one of the world’s largest big box retailers. This technology makes the holidays merry and bright for all of us, from the safety of our homes.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
The marketing team at Lucidworks is very busy right now (when are we not!) with the launch of our new search-as-a-service platform, Springboard, and the availability of our first SaaS application on that platform, Connected Search.
We’re taking search engine technology into the future. Springboard is a search engine that works really, really well and is really, really easy to use and maintain. With other search solutions, highly relevant search experiences have been notoriously labor-intensive to manage and require lots of technical expertise to get it right. With Connected Search, our first app on the platform, we’re making it easy for any marketer to set-up and manage a superior search experience on their own website to delight their customers and drive conversions and loyalty.
Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
Brand marketing is hard to measure, but nearly every business leader and owner knows it’s important to achieving growth. Brand marketing is about building recognition, affinity, preference, and loyalty, which are measured with longer tail metrics. Your audience is not only people who are in-market for your solutions today, but the people who will be in-market for you in the future. Brand awareness is important for ensuring people think of you when they do need what you offer. Also, how does a relationship with your brand (or a potential relationship with your brand) make your audience feel? Do they feel safe? Do they feel they’re getting something superior? Do they feel you are real and down-to-earth, honest? Depending on your target market, what you want your audience to feel will differ, based on what drives them rationally and emotionally. But getting it right is key to driving future affinity and loyal customers who return again and again.
Product marketing is more easily measured with direct response metrics. Your audience is people who are in-market, now, today to purchase your solution — or soon will be with a bit of nudging. Here you’re promoting the superior benefits of your product, and either overtly or covertly contrasting the differences between your product and competitors’ (whether that’s quality, price, breadth of solution, etc.). You want to be at the right place, at the right time, with a compelling offer to induce a sale. You want to convince them that they will miss out by not taking action now and with you.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
Creating a strong brand is an investment that pays off in future growth. As I mentioned, well-executed brand marketing should reach and resonate not only with the people in market for your solutions today, but the people who will be in market for your products and services in the future. This will pay off dividends as your business grows, creating a memorable connection with people so they remember you when they are ready to buy. If you’re tapping into the emotional drivers of your audience, you are not only one of the first brands they think of when they are in market to buy, but you also become their biased first choice when evaluating options (whether they consciously notice it or not).
Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.
Well, I believe a company should have one brand strategy.
The defined brand strategy should support your business goals in terms of growth, acquisition plans, exit plans, and more. For example, a company that’s building a diverse portfolio of products that meet the needs of notably different demographics may choose a product-branding strategy (house of brands) over a corporate branding strategy (branded house).
At Lucidworks, we are building a corporate brand that reflects the strength of our past and articulates the vision we have for the future. The new products we’re launching this year push search and customer insights technology into the future, and we are expanding the accessibility of superior on-site search, browse, and discovery to new markets.
Once that brand strategy is identified, these five tactics are crucial to building a trusted and believable brand:
- Before developing or refreshing a brand, start with documenting a well-defined company mission and vision. Why do you exist? How is the world better because of what you do? You’d be surprised how often this is murky and muddled amongst senior leadership in an organization. It’s important to bring the business owners and leaders together to define this. Creating a brand without first knowing, with conviction, why your business exists, it will be difficult to convince anyone externally of your brand values.
- Showcase your own people. Humans buy from humans. People want to connect with the real voices and thought leaders driving a brand’s mission. Midyear our social team implemented an intentional plan to feature quotes and voices from our own team on social media. The result? We’ve generated a 94% increase in impressions and a staggering 200% increase in engagement with our social content since highlighting the real people behind our brand.
- Stop talking about yourself. Who do you exist for? Why are you making their lives better? How passionate are you about that mission? Too often marketers fall into the trap of forgetting about the perspective of people outside our metaphorical walls. And I get it, we’re in the weeds every day. We see inside the sausage factory. Keep your message focused on the outcomes you’re promising to deliver. At Lucidworks we create really technical search engine software for companies to make finding information a seamless and easy experience. It’s really tempting to geek out and talk about all the artificial intelligence that powers our product, because we have massively smart people building it. But our customers care about solving their own business challenges. We’ve started to evaluate all of our marketing promotions through how well we’re empathizing with the pain and joys of our customers.
- Invest in initiatives that align to your brand values, even if they’re not overtly targeting your buyers. For example, Licidworks recently partnered with RetailROI, whose mission is to connect foster children with resources while in and after leaving the foster system. A healthcare biologics company I supported rebranding a few years ago is heavily involved in promoting tissue and organ donation and breast cancer research. These initiatives create strong engagement within the organizations because employees feel connected to the causes and the passion extends out into the marketplace.
- Make your customers superstars. Across our entire revenue team, from marketing to sales to our customer success team, we say our mission is to get our customer champions promoted. As a B2B brand, we hold deep conviction in the value and return-on-investments that our offerings bring the businesses we serve. When our champions get a win, we celebrate with them. Nothing makes us happier than celebrating our own customers’ success stories and giving them the tools they need to tell a great story within their own industry.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
One that I’ve had my eye on for a while is startup Gong (gong.io). Gong is a saas company with a platform that offers sales teams automated insights into sales call performance. They’ve created a delightful human voice for their brand, they know their audience (sales leaders) really well. They know what drives them, they know what frustrates them, and that comes out in their brand voice. They’re a bit humorous, a bit irreverent, but always focused on the business value they provide their customers.
In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?
Brand building requires longer tail metrics, to be sure. Branding absolutely needs to support the growth of the company. However, the metrics to measure success tend to be softer and leading indicators of growth.
Social media followership is one proxy. How is your audience growing? Also web traffic, particularly branded keyword searches (searches using your company and product names) and direct website visits. Are these two numbers increasing? These KPIs are all indicators of people seeking out and following your brand, and they’re metrics that any marketer can easily access and track.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
For a B2B company, especially, it’s really tempting for brands to fall into the trap of trying to define social success through direct response metrics. Did we create leads from this post? How many downloads of that new whitepaper?
If you stand on that trap door, you’re going to miss the real opportunity. It’s stepping over dollars to pick up a penny. Social media is an opportunity to communicate genuinely and create a conversation with people. Success needs to be defined as growing reach and impressions (awareness, recognition), engagement (resonance) and followership (affinity). If you see these numbers growing exponentially, you know your brand voice is landing well, and you can use these KPIs as a proxy to measure growth in brand awareness (which is hard to measure directly without paying for expensive surveys).
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Marketing is a job that is very difficult to “turn off” at the end of the day. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had what I describe as a “shower thought” — an idea I was mulling over during the weekend or overnight that pops into my head while getting ready in the morning. Or waking up from sleep and having to write down an idea in my notes app to come back to it.
For myself, I’ve learned to embrace the fact that my work brain doesn’t turn off after 5pm at night, so I try to create enjoyable “work-life integration” into my day. For example, my local coffee shop is a 30-minute walk from my house through wooded conservation trails. A couple times a week I’ll walk the trails to get coffee and use that as thinking time. If I need to write, I’ll start processing my outline while I walk, and sometimes record myself talking through the outline. This time away from my desk, walking and sitting at a favorite coffee shop, gives me that little serotonin boost and does wonders for my mental health to avoid burnout.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The US public education system needs a massive overhaul, and we’re not setting up all socio-economic backgrounds for success in the future of the labor market. I’d love to see a movement toward integrating deeper engineering and coding curriculum, as a core standard, starting with primary school and throughout the entire K-12 experience.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One I’ve ascribed to for a long time: Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
This is not a pass for sloppy or lazy work. However, if you’re not constantly testing and floating new ideas, you’re going to miss out on growth opportunities. Inaction can be a failure. If you’re measuring with rigor, you can quickly determine what’s working and build on it from there. Trying to perfect a tactic that you haven’t yet proven out will result in slower speed-to-market and missed opportunities for growth. I like to challenge my team to quickly evaluate ideas, quickly refine them, and get them out in market to test and learn.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Some people who know me well wonder at my obsession, but won’t be surprised to read my answer: Ira Glass, the creator and producer of the NPR radio show This American Life is top on my list. The format, the human interest storytelling, and the journalism he brought to the medium has had a huge impact on me since I was 15 years old. I’ve listened to most of the 25 years worth of episodes at least twice, some three or more times.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
LinkedIn is the best place to catch me on the regular: https://www.linkedin.com/in/renee-cohen/
And I do occasionally lurk on Twitter: @cohen_renee
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.
Renée Cohen Of Lucidworks: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.