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CMO Confessions Ep. 37: Evy Lyons of Traackr

January 14th, 2021 Andrea Bartman

Happy New Year, Webinerds! We‚Äôre back with another episode of CMO Confessions, our B2B podcast with today’s¬†marketing and sales leaders. Today‚Äôs CMO Confessions features Evy Lyons, CMO at Traackr.

In today’s episode, Evy and Cheri Keith, Head of Strategy and Research at ON24, discuss Evy’s career from and back to Traackr, authenticity, and the future of influencer marketing.

As always, you can find the full episode of CMO Confessions on Podbean here an edited transcript of our conversation below.

You can learn more about Evy’s background through her LinkedIn page here and her Twitter feed here.

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

Welcome to another edition of CMO Confessions with Cheri and Evy!

Table of Contents: 

Ecology Major to CMO
Authenticity in Marketing
The Unsolicited Email Pet Peeve
Marketing In a Political Age
B2C to B2B Trends
2021 Customer Community

Cheri Keith:

Hello and welcome to CMO Confessions, the B2B marketing and sales podcast, where I speak with amazing guests about what it really means to be a marketing leader in today’s business world. I’m Cheri Keith, Head of Strategy and Research at ON24. On today’s episode, I’m joined by Evy Lyons, CMO at Traackr, a data-driven influencer marketing platform. Evy, thanks so much for coming on.

Evy Lyons:

Thank you. I’m excited.

Ecology Major to CMO

Cheri Keith:

Great. So I want to jump in by first asking a little bit about your background and how you ended up in the role you’re in now at Traackr.

Evy Lyons:

Yes, great question! It was not straightforward by any means. I actually studied ecology in undergrad and my path where I wanted to go was in natural resource conservation around the world. And I did that, but along the way, I was forced into communications functions, donor relations and marketing of these nonprofits that I was a part of. I don’t really know how it happened, but I started liking that side of my job a little bit more versus living in the jungle and counting trees. It was very interesting, of course, but it was interesting to me that I found this path sort of circuitously.

Then I ended up going back to graduate school and was focusing on marketing. What really sort of jumped out to me was that this profession has a horrible reputation. We really started as marketers and advertisers. The impression was we were just trying to manipulate people using a lot of false claims. Maybe even trying to sell things to people that maybe weren’t healthy.

I started to just look at the landscape of marketing and brands. Ten years ago, I was obsessed with this notion of authenticity in marketing. And I actually spent a lot of time just looking at how brands played this role in shaping opinions, shaping society and the norms that we have. I saw this trend towards brands and marketing in general becoming more authentic because as consumers, we were forcing them to. You think, “Okay, well maybe in B2B, this isn’t really the case or something like that. This is a B2B show so it’s different.” But I have seen booth babes. I have been to conferences where there are no women speaking. Even in our world, we were perpetuating these things through marketing.

Anyway, I was completely obsessed with this concept. Maybe five years later, I was introduced to the CEO of Traackr and I was so interested in what Traackr was doing because this was 10 years ago. This was before Instagram. This was a company that was trying to create authentic relationship building as a form of marketing. For me, it aligned with this passion I had for improving the field of marketing. And so, yeah, I have an interesting history too. I was previously with Traackr. I am one of many boomerangs at the company who left and came back and I’ve been here for the last four years.

Cheri Keith:

That’s really interesting. I love your story about not studying marketing initially. It’s so funny, you look at job descriptions, right? For like the most junior of marketing people to the most senior. Most descriptions do say a degree in marketing or related fields. I mean, I haven’t had that asked of me and in over 10 years in a job interview, but I was a French major in college. To be a good marketer, I think there’s something that’s more intrinsic to either your personality or your worldview that leads you to be a good marketer and to think about communications.

Authenticity in Marketing

You bring up authenticity and I mean, gosh, the world we’re living in right now and what it means to be a leader and communicate in an effective, truthful and transparent manner is really something that can get lost on people. People get really kind of drawn up in the theatrics, like you were saying. What bad marketing is and was, is very relatable to people because there’s still bad marketing. I mean, you brought up booth babes and the “man”el as you would probably say, right?

Evy Lyons:

Yes!

Cheri Keith:

And things like that, but I think we’re making strides, like CES got rid of that a long time ago now. But yeah, I’ve been at those shows too and we’ve made progress, but I think there’s still a ways to go for it.

Evy Lyons:

Yeah, no, absolutely. I think marketing comes with great responsibility. A lot of people will say, “Well most of us in B2B marketing are not curing cancer” and implying that our jobs aren’t important. I think that “No, we’re not curing cancer, but we are shaping opinions.” Good B2B marketing is usually thought leadership driven. You’re creating a category. You’re educating people. Hopefully you’re adding a lot of value to them in their professional lives. And if you’re not doing that in a responsible way, I think that’s a problem because people start to believe this, the things that we put out, if we’re successful, become¬†best practices. So I think there is a lot of responsibility.

Cheri Keith:

Yeah, because in B2C marketing you’re selling someone something. And guess what, if the shirt or jacket I purchase off of Amazon does not live up to the marketing that was on that product page, I return it. I grumble potentially and that’s it. But in B2B marketing, like you were saying, yes, you might not be selling the sexiest stuff on earth. We can acknowledge that. But people’s careers are at stake here. When you think about some of the purchasing processes, if you’re selling a highly considered product and if the dream you’re selling doesn’t come to fruition, people’s jobs can be at stake if they’re not really delivering on this major project and things like that. So I think there is that middle ground of considering why it’s so important to have that as one of the tenants in B2B.

Evy Lyons:

Yeah.

The Unsolicited Email Pet Peeve

Cheri Keith:

So one thing I want to ask you about is just a little bit more about what’s making you tick. As a marketer who is marketed to extensively, I am sure you¬†must have some pet peeves. What are you feeling about some things that might be top of mind for you right now with respect to that?

Evy Lyons:

Yeah, absolutely. I have a list. There’s an easy one that I’m sure most people in our positions would share. But just as sort of an exercise, I calculated how many emails I get in a month. I get over 2000 emails and I am a CMO of a small company. At the end of the day, we’re about 70 people. We’re not that big. I don’t have the world’s largest budget. And yet, here I am getting 2100 emails a month. I’m also the type of person who literally does not read or organize their email. I scan, I look for, “Are you a customer or somebody important that I need to respond to?” Other than that, I just archive once every six or something. So anyway, I read this great book “Algorithms to Live By”¬†and it changed how I think about organizing email, documents and that kind of thing.

So, for sure, unsolicited SDR emails. What really bothers me the most about it isn’t so much the email itself, it’s the fact that some B2B marketers all over the world created the best practice of doing this sort of thing. They’ve ruined this channel for people who are truly trying. And so even if you are putting in the quality research to understand who somebody is, understand their needs, come to the table with insights that they might find useful. You’re trying to build a relationship with somebody. Your chance of getting through is just non-existent because everybody else ruined it for you. So that’s one.

My second one though is, and I think this is actually my biggest pet peeve, is that in B2B marketing, I think somehow we forget when we’re designing our strategies and our programs, we somehow even forget that we buy. It’s like we never really stop and think, “What is the last software you purchased and why did you buy it? How did you buy it?”

I was listening to the podcast episode that you had with Jen Horton. And one of you mentioned the fallacy of controlling touchpoints. And I think that we always try to map out this journey, and then control this logical path that somebody is going to follow, which is never the case. It bothers me that we are somehow still ingrained to think that way and that if we’re not doing that, we somehow feel like we’re not strategic.

And what I am trying to do at Traackr and with myself and with my team is to start thinking more along the lines of influence of actors. Who are the people and what are the institutions impacting or influencing how somebody makes a decision and then trying to be present there. Trying to be relevant there, but not thinking about it like, “I need to become aware. I need to make you aware. I need to make you consider, I need to make you click. I need to make you…” That framework just seems to be stuck. It seems to be stuck as a best practice, which kind of bothers me.

Cheri Keith:

No, that’s really good. And yeah, it’s hard. Recently, the email side of it almost feels like a publicity stunt now. The CEO of Barstool got a bad pitch. She posted about it on Twitter and now it’s spun out of control into people defending the STR for sending the email, the CEO for why they’re calling out this person who’s trying to do their job. All this crazy back and forth. I’m sitting here thinking, “I had never heard of that company before, but gosh, they’re getting some free PR out of this.” Like now they have a pretty influential person with a checkbox on Twitter talking about their company. And not all press is good press, but it feels like they are somehow making out in this deal and they secured a call with Barstool at the end of the day. So it’s funny. Related to emails, there’s also a lot of people shaming those emails as well. I think that kind of drives the point that you were saying, which is the¬†clutter on the channel ruins it for everyone.

Evy Lyons:

Yeah.

Cheri Keith:

But I’m also an inbox zero person, so very different than your approach.

Marketing In a Political Age

Evy Lyons:

That’s funny. Yeah. Yeah. It’s crazy. It’s interesting what you said about shaming. This is obviously data from a totally different world. We’re in influencer marketing. We recently produced a study where we looked at, the content generated by beauty and fashion influencers globally over the last two years. And one of the interesting data points we found is that there has been a 1,000% increase in conversations on cancel culture. So, we see this a lot in the consumer space where an influencer or a brand will get canceled by society at large for whatever reason. But that’s interesting to see it as well in business. This calling out of this SDR I presume is interesting. It’s tricky.

I think it makes it complicated for an organization and for a marketer. You have to be agile. We have to be constantly putting out content. We have to be entertaining. We have to be timely. And at the same time, we have to know where our values are and we have to sort of figure out where our organization is comfortable taking a stand or having an opinion and publicly. Then we have to be prepared for that backlash.

An example for Traackr is, before 2020 we’ve had this series we call Trend Lately where we hire influencers to produce content for us and to talk about touchy subjects in our space. And it could be something like child influencers, for example. Where is the line there? Is it good? Is it bad? We explore both sides.

After the Black Lives movement began really taking full force in June, we started writing even more content around diversity and marketing and just all sorts of topics. We would send these out. They’re relevant. It’s about the practices of influencer marketing. We would get responses back from people who were very angry, that we would talk or have a position as a company on racism, which I thought was very surprising. But I think it’s something that as marketers, we have to be very in tune with. We need to understand the complexity of these situations and help our organizations create a message, more than a message actually. I think the most important thing is to have a true platform that goes beyond a message. We’re the carriers of that message. So it’s become complicated this year.

Cheri Keith:

Yes, for sure. It’s an interesting point because the flip side of cancel culture is pandering and feeling like a brand will say something and actually not have the authenticity behind it or not actually put the practices in place. A lot of this comes out when it comes to algorithms and AI related to biases. And if you’re a company that sells technology that might somehow be used in the wrong way, how do you take a stand on the use of your product like ad platforms? Gosh, think about human resources with applicant tracking platforms and how you can use those in ways that create bias and drive behaviors that you as a company might not want to happen, but the users of the technology could do it in a different way.

I think it’s really interesting that there’s that side of it, but then also when you say you’re in support of something because it’s what you should be saying, but potentially you as an organization are not walking the walk and talking the talk and actually following through with giving things like giving employees time off to go to vote or to take time off to give back to the community. So I think it really gets back to that. A company should have values because a company is just a collection of humans at the end of the day. Companies aren’t being spun up by robots so as far as I can tell on this day in 2020. How do you feel about that kind of line of thinking? It goes back to authenticity, like you were saying earlier.

Evy Lyons:

Yeah. By the way, authenticity is not a buzzword. It is a real word. It bothers me when people are like, “Oh, I’m going to say it, but I hate to say authenticity.” It’s like, “No, it’s a real word. It has a meaning.” Maybe it’s overused and maybe [blip] who pander to the word if you will. But it’s definitely a word that I really love. And I hate when it gets grouped into the buzzwords that people want to get rid of. But I absolutely think we at companies have to have values. Yes, companies are a collection of people. We are a company that is part of society and it has to play a role in society. You’re playing a role one way or another.

I think that silence also says something. Even silence is saying something. It’s something that we’ve seen a lot this year. And yeah, when the pandemic first hit, we at Traackr started our podcast The Fast Track¬†and our first guest was Katie Martell. The whole topic was pandering to the pandemic. Like how do you not pander to the pandemic? She has spent a great deal of time helping marketers avoid pandering and I think that was a really interesting way to start off.

I think it’s exciting because it sort of elevates marketing within a business because as custodians of the message, if we are trying to make sure that the message aligns with actions, then we have to be more involved in the business as well. We need to be making sure that as members of our management teams, we are bringing together the different groups, whether it’s product or finance and human resources or whatever it may be. We have to be involved and project manage to some degree, depending on your organization, the various initiatives that will back up the messages that we want to convey.

B2C to B2B Trends

Cheri Keith:

That’s a really good point about how marketing ends up being in the driver’s seat for those types of cross-functional products that are so clearly marketing, but aren’t necessarily always outlined in the way you would expect with the org structure within marketing, but that work needs to get done. In my opinion, there’s no better place in the org for that to start than here. So I’m curious because I’ve always been intrigued with Traackr as a consumer of so much of this influencer marketing you’re talking about. You definitely have your finger on the pulse of B2C trends in a lot of ways so are there any ones that perhaps you’re seeing starting to move over to B2B? Or things you wish maybe that B2B marketers would adopt that you’re seeing from your role in influencer marketing?

Evy Lyons:

Yes, I think something that is really interesting that we’re starting to see a lot of in the influencer marketing space, and it’s only been accelerated in 2020 due to the lack of in-store, in-real-life shopping that people can do. We’re starting to see the rise of not just e-com. I mean, e-commerce has been here forever, but social commerce. Social commerce is truly taking off and what’s really interesting is in this world we aren’t going into stores, we don’t have this retail experience to try on clothes or try on makeup or experience the products in real life. We are looking to influencers who we trust already, who are in our feeds to help us understand a product. For example, in 2020 in the beauty space, the biggest winner is skincare.

It’s really interesting this year there’s been the rise of the “skinfluencer.” This is somebody like kids on their TikTok or on their Instagram, and they explain how skincare¬†works. And it’s interesting because the brands that are being touted as the best among these “skinfluencers” are drugstore brands. And what they’ve really done is broken down for people, “What do these ingredients really do? Do you need a $100 serum, or can you get by with this $17 one? Yes, you can.” Et cetera, whatever.

So anyway, we’ll come back to beauty, but what I think is really interesting is that we’re starting to not only get educated on social media about potential products that we want to buy, but we’re actually purchasing through the social platform as well. Whether it’s through an Instagram shopping sort of experience, or I think more and more we’ll start to see influencers actually becoming storefronts.

This is something that has existed in Asia actually for a long time and is sort of the model they have for influencer marketing in Asia and I think we’re going to start to see that around the world. So when I think about B2B, my tie back to that is ultimately I think that the referral in B2B marketing is probably the most important source of leads and of pipeline. I actually hope maybe, or expect to see more influencer marketing in B2B, actually. And I’m wondering if we’ll start to see the way that we discover software products will change and be more social.

Cheri Keith:

That’s really interesting. I mean, I definitely bought a sweater off of Amazon the other day based on someone showing me their Amazon haul on TikTok.

Evy Lyons:

Oh, wow. Ok. Wow.

Cheri Keith:

Yeah, that’s why I was like, “Oh, I never thought of it from the perspective of the influencers as storefronts, but yes, it’s happening.” But yeah, well, it’s hard, right? Because in B2B a traditional influencer, if you look at the echelons is analysts. As a former analyst at two large analyst firms, I was reading just today, that world has broken down so much. It’s really expensive to be subscribers to those services.

Then you see so many former analysts, obviously not me, I work at ON24, going on to start their own brands and do it in an independent way that is so much more cost-effective for organizations to be able to interact with that person. Because that’s what you’re getting at an analyst firm, and through influencer relations on the B2B side, is still really a person whose intellectual property, the analyst firm owns and puts up barriers around accessing.

Cheri Keith:

If that person’s able to build up on their own and do that on their own, it really actually makes it easier for brands to interact with them. The price point drops enormously. I don’t know if there’s really a correlation in B2C, but just seeing that B2B influencers are not affiliated with a master brand. It’s their own self that is the brand that they start to sell more of. Rather than a Gartner or Forrester owning their personal brand. They’re just out there on their own.

Evy Lyons:

Yeah, no, definitely. I think that’s an evolution that has been playing out for a couple of years. I think we’ll see more of that. At Traackr, we think of our influencers from the B2B perspective on who are the influencers of Traackr? There are influential influencer marketers out there. It’s a little meta, but they exist, and we try to build relationships with them.

We also see our customers as influencers. They might not have the online presence of a traditional influencer but they have the professional network. So thinking about how do you build programs to encourage your customers to speak more about you? I consider that influencer marketing.

We have another influencer person I called the CMO Whisper. I think some of these independent analysts would fit into that bucket. It’s like who is sitting on the shoulder of the CMO at Estee Lauder? At Procter & Gamble? Who is guiding them? And not all of these people are at large organizations like a Gartner or a Forrester so we try to find them too.

2021 Customer Community

Cheri Keith:

That’s really interesting. Well, we have time for one more question. So I’m curious since we are approaching the end of the year, if there’s anything that you’re really excited about for 2021? Maybe a new project that you’re about to kick off, or perhaps a challenge that you’re going to have to tackle in the next year? One that you’re looking forward to, if I can say it in that way, or excited to potentially be able to check it off your list? Is there something that you have there?

Evy Lyons:

Yeah. I’m really excited for 2021. I think we all have been since maybe March. I think one of the things that I’m most excited about for next year is actually this focus we intended to bring to our customer community. It’s not something that we’ve had the luxury of time and space, if you will, to do. Traackr has customers all¬†over the world. We are 70 people, but split between three or four countries. It’s been challenging. We’ve never been able to have a¬†Traackr customer event, for example, because everybody’s just all over the world. So anyway, the Forrester situation is going to enable us to build a community, I think in a way that we hadn’t really ever thought was possible before. So I’m excited about that.

Cheri Keith:

That’s awesome. Well, good luck with that. That’s a great place to focus. Certainly your customers can be your best advocates and I hope that maybe I can have you back in the future, and you’ll be able to tell us about what you learned in building out a customer community across borders.

Evy Lyons:

Yeah, definitely. I’m sure we’ll learn a lot.

Cheri Keith:

Well, thank you so much for your time today, Evy. I know I enjoyed our time together. I learned so much. And your thoughts on authenticity and cancel culture are definitely ones that I think our audience will enjoy. And thank you, CMO Confessions Audience for tuning in.