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CMO Confessions Ep. 20: Arity’s Lisa Jillson

May 7th, 2019 ON24

Hello and welcome to another edition of CMO Confessions, our weekly podcast encapsulating what it means to be a marketing leader in the B2B space today.

This week on CMO Confessions we have Lisa Jillson, Marketing Leader at Arity, join us to discuss what it’s like working for a spinoff company, why today’s experts should have the courage to take a stand and why the concept of right vs. right now is so important in marketing today.

If you’re interested in discovering what else Lisa has to say, you can find her Twitter profile here. If you’re interested in her background you can check out her LinkedIn profile here.

If you’re interested in listening to our growing podcast series, you can find all of our episodes right here in podbean. Alternatively, you can also find us on both iTunes and Google Play stores.

Without further ado, welcome to CMO Confessions. Let’s chat.

Table of Contents:

How Arity was Built
Lisa Jillson’s Thoughts and Experience Behind Building Arity
The Evolution of Marketing Skill Sets Over The Last 20 Years
Where Can You Have Persuasive Advertising Power
Brands That Succeed Are Invested in Thought Leadership
Authenticity, Conviction and Controversy
Building the Right Brand With the Realities of Growth

Joe Hyland:        

Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of CMO Confessions, a weekly B2B sales and marketing podcast, where we explore what it really means to be a marketing leader in today’s business world. I’m Joe Hyland, CMO here at ON24 and joining me this week from the chilly Chicago area is Lisa Jillson, a marketing leader at Arity. Lisa, how you doing?

Lisa Jillson:

Hi Joe. How are you?

Joe Hyland:

I am doing great. Thanks for being on the show.

Lisa Jillson:

Thanks. Thanks for having me.

How Arity was Built

Joe Hyland:        

All right, cool. Let’s dive into to things that you love doing in your day-to-day. So this can be what you’re doing on the team or just kind of broader marketing things. What are you, what are you passionate about and what do you love in marketing these days?

Lisa Jillson:

So I will start with what I am loving at Arity. I really have the unique opportunity with Arity to build something from the bottom up. You know, it’s kind of almost a marketer’s dream to be able to start a business and design and build all of the components of that business from the bottom up. So, little history Arity is, it’s a relatively new, we’re about two years old, data and analytics company. We were somewhat probably used the air quotes here, somewhat, spun out of Allstate, when we realized that the data and analytics that we were using around transportation data actually could be used in a lot more areas than just an insurance company. But we had nothing, so we got to really build the brand and the mission and the vision for where the company was going from the get-go.

Lisa Jillson:

So I don’t know that I would necessarily equate it to a true startup in that we certainly didn’t start off with anything. We started off with some assets in the tank, which is great, but we got the opportunity to be able to do things like really map out how we wanted marketing to contribute to the business. But nothing existed. So for me it’s really exciting to kind of be building everything from the bottom up and delivering some of the foundational marketing aspects without having to like either undo or build on top of things that maybe weren’t working ideally at the get-go.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, that’s incredibly exciting. And it’s, it’s nice to do it out of a spinout of such an established brand. I’ve started from scratch at a true startup which was wonderful, I loved starting with nothing, right? You’re not wallpapering over and over existing wallpaper. What I don’t miss is the, “are we gonna make it to payroll in two weeks and we need to do another round of funding and financing?” So you do have the luxury of not having to worry about that. What’s it at? So you’re building, in a lot of ways, correct me if I’m wrong, you’re building a brand within a brand. You’re your own entity of course, but what is that like as a spinoff of Allstate and then building out this brand from scratch?

Lisa Jillson:

That’s a great question. You know, I think while we had a good overarching vision for where we wanted this to go, there were a lot of questions that we had to dive into. You know, we are a wholly owned company within the Allstate Corporation, but we had to make some decisions on how closely we wanted to tie ourselves to the overall organization. In some aspects, especially from a sales perspective, that was a huge benefit. And in other industries, it was a huge hurdle for us. So we had to think through as we were mapping out how we wanted to go to market; how we were going to play both sides of that coin. So we had to think about, you know, gosh, for these constituents, for these potential prospects, they love the fact that we’re connected to Allstate because it says credibility and history and security and data integrity and all of that. On the flip side, in some cases, we were the dinosaur and you know, I think some would say spinouts out of established companies have a high likelihood of not having success because you’re burdened with some of the more traditional stuff. And, and frankly, we were also going to be, and we are, selling to Allstate insurance competitors. And how comfortable are they going to be buying from an entity that is actually owned by somebody that they would traditionally see as a competitor?

Joe Hyland:

So how’s it going?

Lisa Jillson:

Actually, so far better than I had anticipated. I had expected that there would be far more hurdles put in our way. And I think it helps that the senior leadership of the corporation believes in the vision. And to your point earlier, we’re not worried about keeping the lights on or making payroll in two weeks. So we’re well-funded in that respect. We’ve been actually seeing a whole lot of success given that we’ve really only been around for two years and a few months.

Lisa Jillson’s Thoughts and Experience Behind Building Arity

Joe Hyland:

Okay. That’s fantastic. So you come from the advertising and agency side. So you’ve worked with a lot of big CPGs and kind of household names. How, I’m curious how that experience has shaped how you view and your philosophy on building a brand for such an established company? Whereas now even as a spinout, you’re still in early entity and you know, you’re only a few years old, so what’s the brand vision and what are the thoughts behind what you’re building?

Lisa Jillson:

So, I believe that there’s one more component in there that we’ve had to think through. And make and keep conscious as we were building out different components of the business and the brand and that is what the markets that we play in are decidedly B2B. And you know, to your earlier point, most of my career has been on the B2C side. So frankly, when I came into this role it was a little daunting. I mean do I really have the skillset to work in a B2B setting? It’s very, it can be seen as very different. I think what I’ve learned thus far is that it’s not as different as people make it out to be. Actually, if anything, I would say in the last 10 years our society has made it with the advancement of digital and an ability to use digital to communicate and persuade people.

Lisa Jillson:

There’s much less of a difference between B2B and B2C than there used to be. And when you have companies like IBM spending millions of dollars on a brand like Watson, which is a B2B entity, it kind of changes the equation of how you think about what you need to do. So, I would say our vision continues to be, two years out is that awareness is still a big portion of what we need to build. And, and that doesn’t change whether you are selling a, I dunno, laundry detergent or soda pop or you’re selling a business that’s going to be to other businesses. If you don’t have a share of mind, you can’t build some credibility around what your brand is going to stand for, then it’s going to be hard to drive them down the funnel, whether they’re going and buying a dollar item at a convenience store or they’re spending millions of dollars on a software-as-a-service contract. Both of those require the same kind of tools.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, I totally agree. I think these long-held notions of pretty rigid walls between the consumer side and the B2B side of they’re crumbling. I mean, what it’s all about the scenarios you just walked through. The most important thing is you know everything humanly possible about the person at the other end of that decision or that purchase, right? And as long as you can do that and you have true empathy and you really understand what drives them, obviously there are other different levers; there’s obviously wildly different personas. That’s okay, but that’s what, to me, that’s what great marketing is about. There’s no like one-size-fits-all marketing philosophy. You have a different business than, I have and we have here. Right? And so we, you have different challenges, but you came over here and ran marketing for a webinar company you would adjust based off of what people are looking for when they’re thinking of digital marketing and buying webinar software. Right? Like you just got to know the other person, that persona.

Lisa Jillson:

I will have to say that, you know, in the last, well it’s been about three years that I’ve been kind of functioning in this role as a head of marketing for Arity. I love the flexibility that you get and the innovation that you get in the B2B world. You just have much less opportunity to do that, I think, in the B2C world. And maybe it’s because they, there’s more at stake, but I actually think it’s just because your target is so much broader that you’ve got to use more of like blunt objects to try to get the awareness built and whatnot. Whereas on the B2B standpoint, you’re a narrower target gives you actually an ability to try so many different things to figure out what levers going to get that person to be persuaded to, you know, listen to your pitch and actually sign a contract.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, I agree. I think focus is a beautiful thing, right? So, and the more narrow you can get with your audience and your user more targeted you can be in your messaging and you generally have more success. What’s interesting, what I was always jealous of, so I’ve never done B2C, so while I have opinions that really they’re not grounded in experience on the consumer side. I was always jealous of how quickly data would come back. So you ran a sale or a special and you know, really quickly you can analyze sale data and behavior data and you can determine if it worked or not. And on the B2B side, 10 years ago, you just didn’t have that, right? Like it was, it was a little more of a black box, but yeah, you just started talking about the digitalization of everything we do. I mean, it’s so cool. We just get so much information back so quickly. We really should be making pretty informed and targeted decisions. And I think that’s true in the B2B side right now.

Lisa Jillson:

Yeah, definitely. I think as we all lean more into using analytics to help make smarter decisions, again, I don’t know that it changes. To me if you’ve got the right instincts to do well in marketing, it almost doesn’t matter what you’re marketing, it matters how you lean into those instincts of understanding what’s gonna persuade that user to move in a certain direction. You have to start with what are those instincts; let’s get those nailed down. Let’s get those documented and then how are you going to measure whether or not those instincts are right? Then you can drive the analytics to actually help you make those decisions. And for as much as I would say even in my early career of getting data, yeah we’d run ads and get to see the Nielsen sales data coming back. You never were quite sure where advertising played in that. Now there’s an ability on all sides to say, [inaudible]

Lisa Jillson:

Hey, stay out. You’ve got this instinct that if you pull levers, let’s say like a webinar and an email and a banner ad, you’ve got an ability to say, we think it’s going to work this way. How do we make sure that we can get some reaction or some idea of what that data is going to tell us whether our instincts were right? And if you go in, and I’ve told this to my team, we don’t have to be right; we just have to have an opinion and we have to be able to measure whether that opinion is right. It’s worse if you say “Oh, I’ve got to be right” and so, therefore, I’m not going to measure it because I don’t want to know if I’m wrong. That’s, that’s not a good position to be in.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. No, no, I agree. Yeah, where we could, where you can move from correlation to causation and really see that the drivers and the levers that are working or to your point or not, I would rather know that something’s not working than be unsure if something is working.

Lisa Jillson:

Yes, that’s exactly right.

The Evolution of Marketing Skill Sets Over The Last 20 Years

Joe Hyland:

So this is, for me, this is always a fascinating topic is so a lot’s evolved in marketing and as marketers, it’s cool because things change pretty quickly. I’m curious to get your sense on the evolution of skill sets that we as marketers have seen over the last 20 years. Because you’re right, there’s so much — there’s a wealth of information in seas of data which can be problematic as well. But you know, understanding how to make sense of that data and make smart decisions is imperative. Yet that said, there’s, I don’t think the art of marketing is going away anytime soon, but I’d love to hear from someone who has a strong agency background.

Lisa Jillson:

Yeah. You know, what was interesting when I started off at, in, some of the more traditional ad agency types out there I struggled to explain to my parents what it was that I did. And I worked in the account service side of the business, the client service accounts service. “Are you in sales?” I’m like, yeah, not really. “Are you doing ads?” No, that’s not really what I’m doing either. “Well, are you in the media on NBC?” No, that’s not me either. I finally hit on what I was doing and what I equated my skill set was almost like being a diplomat or a translator that I could understand what the client’s product was, understand who the user was — the end user, the buyer — and then try to coordinate all of the people that would help us get the product into the hands of the user in the fastest way possible.

Lisa Jillson:

And so a lot of what my skills were is to actually try to translate that equation to be able to articulate that. And I really don’t think that’s changed. I do think certainly there’s a ton of different skills that you need now that you don’t need, that you didn’t need before. I mean I’m well enough long in years that when I started in the industry, I did not have a computer. I was given a yellow legal pad and I have pointed down the hallway and said, there’s your secretary. If you want to write a memo, you can write it on this yellow legal pad and walk it down and that person will type it for you. And I’m like, oh my golly, I actually had grown up using computers, but this agency hadn’t converted. They didn’t have anything, they had some word processing typewriters. And I couldn’t think that way.

Lisa Jillson:        You know, some of my early products suite were packaged goods, but inclusive of that was actually some liquor products, which was fun — for a short time before it wasn’t fun. And you couldn’t advertise everywhere. So we actually had to get creative about what is advertising, what is it other than a message that persuades? So where could we have that persuasive power? And I think I was lucky enough early on in my career that I never was dialed into, well, the only thing that’s going to work is a, you know, a 30-second television ad or a magazine ad or what not. That there was an ability that there were all kinds of things that could persuade and that you had to figure out as those new things came to market, what they would do to change the equation.

WHERE CAN YOU HAVE PERSUASIVE ADVERTISING POWER?

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. By the way, I’m thinking of, I have this vision of your first office as a very madmen-esque office or where most of the work was done on legal notepads as you’re sitting on a couch, you know, about to have brandy or something.

Lisa Jillson:

Pretty much that was it without the brandy because we were all too busy to do anything else. And frankly, the agency I worked for was phenomenal. It was a great training ground. I got a really good experience there. But it’s, and I still have a lot of contacts you know, in the agency world. And I don’t think it’s too much different, but I think having the right people succeed regardless of whether you’re on, you know, client side, agency side, B2B, B2C or even ad tech is having the openness to be able to see what might be coming next and how you might choose to incorporate that because there will always be something coming next. There will always be, you know when we talk about, you know, social and things like blogs or Snapchat or whatnot, you know I look at my kids and I try to think about like, what are they going to do in the next five years? I usually don’t know. I don’t know what they’re going to do in the next five minutes, but at least it keeps me open to what’s changing.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. And what I’m hearing as you’re talking about this is like it’s always about, one, never, never fight change, right. And like never, never fight evolution. And, two, the more you can understand about the behaviors and actions and habits of others — particularly if those others are going to be your audience, the stronger you’ll be with your marketing. But I want to go back to something that there was a word that you kept using over and over a few minutes ago and it was what persuades persuasion, the art of persuasion. And I’m curious to get your sense on what feels like a bit of an epidemic right now amongst content marketing, which is more of this BuzzFeed-esque, clickbait, just do anything you can to get someone to take an action, even if it’s truthfully pretty misleading and it won’t actually persuade. I see this as a huge problem, hence using the word epidemic, amongst B2B marketers we’re just so desperate for clicks or likes or some sort of action, that we seem to be losing a bit of the art for persuasion.

Brands That Succeed Are Invested in Thought Leadership

Lisa Jillson:

I completely agree with you. And I’ll give you two anecdotes where I think this is going to play out sooner rather than later. One is — again, I’ll go back to like looking at how my kids interact with different media — they are so cynical at the things that drive them in to interact with, that I think that comes back to bite you. Even from the BuzzFeed standpoint think about it … and I’ve had some interactions with BuzzFeed, you know, in some of my previous roles. They know that is going to be important that they have credibility. Otherwise, at the end of the day, they’d become a fad, not a trend, not a credible source of information. So if as a brand leader or brand owner, all you’re looking at are things that are that don’t help build your credibility, you lose. So the other piece that I would say is evidence that will go by the wayside is that the brands that do succeed are really invested in thought leadership and the ability to be able to drive some information that your organization feels passionate about. You can’t just provide information that is nice to know. You have to kind of take a stand, and I use that term that actually that was a that’s been a key component of Allstate’s marketing for several decades. But that ability to like take a stand is very impactful and I think that…[inaudible]

Lisa Jillson:

Has a lot of impacts whether you’re an end consumer trying to decide to buy a product or your a customer deciding which vendor is going, you’re going to steer a hundred thousand or a million dollar contract to. You want to feel like whatever you’re doing it is bigger than just that one action. And if as an owner of a brand, you can’t help your organization to take a stand within its ecosystem, I think you lose the power of marketing, frankly. You don’t get the ability then you’re always looking for, you know, what’s the Jack in the box? What’s the ClickBait that is going to get you to click this time? You’re always looking for some new shiny object as opposed to having a bedrock of where you’re going to really take a stand on an issue.

Authenticity, Conviction and Controversy

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, that’s brilliant. I think authenticity just cannot be commoditized. It is something that marketers should never, ever sacrifice and unfortunately, it feels like more and more of us are. Yeah. Take a stance, say something real, say something authentic. To your point earlier on, even if you have a point of view on what’s going to work on a marketing tactic or campaign and you’re wrong. Okay, you can get that information and make an informed smart decision. Same thing for your marketing and your content. There’s nothing wrong with being wrong. At least you start a dialogue. People can sniff out BS. Like kids can do it, we can do it as grown adults like and I think we need to move away from, you know, just trying to scratch the surface with content and let’s create some real meaningful stuff. I think our audiences will appreciate it. And that’s how, you’re right, that’s how you build something that, that will last. You need to be a thought leader. You need to be an expert.

Lisa Jillson:

Yeah. And, and frankly, you should push to be an expert in something that actually has some controversy to it.

Joe Hyland:

Exactly. I love it.

Lisa Jillson:

It can’t just be I love puppies or I think traffic accidents are bad because you know what, nobody is going to say that it’s that they’re going to be for the reverse side of that. It actually has to be something that you have conviction behind that may be a bit controversial. And then to think about it within the context of content marketing. If you have something like that, gosh, it becomes infinitely easier to develop 27 different avenues by which we can communicate about that one issue. If it’s vanilla or it is not really a stand, it’s going to be really, really hard to figure out how many different — it’s almost like how many different kinds of wrapping paper can you put around the same topic? It won’t feel different and it frankly won’t drive any kind of content marketing in the truest sense.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. And you know, that’s interesting, boy I could do this for hours, that’s an interesting topic for big established brands versus brands trying to make it in a new market, right? Or, or build a market. So, I think, for example, you know more about Coke’s brand than I do, but if you were the number one player, maybe you don’t take as many risks like you’re okay with the status quo. And you truthfully don’t want things to change. If you’re trying to disrupt a market, you damn better be loud. You better be controversial. Like you just need attention. Yeah, that’s how you start a dialogue. There’s nothing wrong with being controversial. You don’t want to sound like a total jerk, but get a discussion going.

Lisa Jillson:

Well, and you’ve even seen some of the big brands, let’s go back to Coke. They have taken a stand on things. They have been controversial. Some of the recent advertising that they even did on the Super Bowl pushed the envelope.

Joe Hyland:

It’s true, it’s true.

Lisa Jillson:

That have of that conversation more on a B2C standpoint. But I don’t think any brand can afford to be safe. Because of the way that users are interacting with brands, and I think that holds even from a B2B perspective, that a — if I’m expecting somebody to write a check to my company for services that we’re going to provide, it’s not just going to be about a price. It’s going to be because they believe that we bring something to the table, that we bring a lot of value and a conviction to the table. They don’t necessarily have in-house. Otherwise, why would they pay us?

Joe Hyland:

That’s true. Yeah. And to your point, they got to believe that they should believe in your vision, right? Like, no one wants to write a seven-figure check for something that you’ve done years ago. Right. Like they want to feel like they’re picking the right partner to bring them to the next chapter, whatever the chapter is going to be.

Lisa Jillson:

That’s exactly right.

Building the Right Brand With the Realities of Growth

Joe Hyland:

Well what about pressures to, what about pressures on growth? So this is a brilliant discussion so far on brand and the right way to do content. What do you say to marketers out there who would respond to us and say, “Okay, Lisa and Joe, that’s great, but like I’ve got an incredibly aggressive pipeline target like next month? Like I need to, yeah, maybe I’m getting out shitty content, but I’m doing it because you know, I got to have volume but I need to get things in the market.” How do you balance building the right brand with the realities of growth?

Lisa Jillson:

Yeah, I do think of it as a balance. I don’t know that there is one right equation for any of that. You have to calibrate it at the end of the day. As my boss, our president would like to say, you either are in sales or you work for sales. We don’t have jobs if we don’t drive growth. It’s that simple. So we can say that we want to go all in it for the bigger picture, but if we can’t also show that that will actually help us drive to growth, then you’re, you’re kind of SOL. But it is, it’s a hard balance. And I think it’s especially hard from a marketing standpoint because oftentimes I think, especially on the B2B side, it’s actually easier on the B2C side because they’re all run by, those companies are run by marketers.

Lisa Jillson:

You know, we’re a voice at the table and we know we have the experience to understand what levers will help drive forward. But you, you’re often trying to make sure that that voice has the credibility needs to have in the C-suite that you’re all kind of coming at it through the lens of your own viewpoint. And I’ve gotta be able to convince the sales team and the product team and the engineering team and the customer success team that the vision through marketing is actually going to have a net benefit and be helpful to them because it’s, if I’m a team player on this team, I’m not driving all the decisions. And you know, if there’s something that has to be done tomorrow, then it has to be done tomorrow that it, you know, that’s all there is to it. You do have to make that balance.

Joe Hyland:

First of all, I love that quote. You’re either in sales or you work for sales. I think it’s so true. And you just said that very well. As long as you’re looking through the growth lens that can, that can dictate, dictate and shape the decisions. I think where marketers get themselves in trouble is when they decide to be totally agnostic of growth at least in the B2B world. You will not be received very well on the sales side. And ultimately the CEO is held accountable for growth, right? So everyone is in sales.

Lisa Jillson:

Yeah. We, we actually even looked at our plans because a lot of what we’re still building is like the foundational components of how we’re going to do this in the future. We have two columns: the right, and the right now and we have filled both of those columns because if we just do the right. We’ll get screwed. We and if we just did right now, we will never get it right, so we actually have to have both of those columns filled.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. Wel,l that’s brilliant. I think that’s a perfect, perfect place to end. Lisa, thank you. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed the time. And, thanks. Thanks again for joining us.

Lisa Jillson:

Thanks, Joe. Was a lot of fun.