Learn how three ON24 customers transformed webinar programs into fully integrated campaigns. 💪  Register Now

Back to Blog Home

CMO Confessions Ep. 40: Danielle Levitas

March 18th, 2021

Hello, Webinerds! We’re back with another episode of CMO Confessions, our B2B podcast with the top leaders in marketing and sales today.

Today’s CMO Confessions features Danielle Levitas, former Executive Vice President of Global Marketing and Insights at App Annie and former Head of IDC’s Consumer Digital and Mobile Practice.

In today’s episode, Danielle and Cheri Keith, Head of Strategy and Research at ON24, discuss Danielle’s career and life at a startup, what makes a marketer a marketer in today’s world and what the future may hold for large trade shows and tentpole events.

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 Danielle’s background and experiences 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 in Podbean. Alternatively, you can also find us on both iTunes and Google Play stores.

Welcome to another edition of CMO Confessions!

Table of Contents:

Transition to App Annie
Adaptability and Life at a Startup
Traits and Characteristics of Marketers
Empathy and Pulse Checks
Marketing Plans for 2021 and Beyond
The Future of Trade Shows and Large Tentpole Events
Virtual Event Sponsorships and ROI
B2C Marketing and the Gaming Boom

Transcription

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 am joined by Danielle Levitas, former Executive Vice President of Global Marketing and Insights at App Annie and former Head of IDC’s Consumer Digital and Mobile Practice. A little bit of a mouthful there, but Danielle, thank you so much for coming on with us today.

Danielle Levitas:

Well, thank you so much for having me, Cheri. Excited to be here.

Transition to App Annie

Cheri Keith:

Awesome. Well, you know I’m excited to speak, especially about your time and all of your research background, but I first just want to set the groundwork by understanding more about that background and what led you into that marketing leadership role with App Annie?

Danielle Levitas:

Yeah, great question and one that I get a fair amount. During my time as an analyst, I think those that have been there, like you, sort of know how diverse it can be, especially once you’re in a more senior position at a market research firm. You’re working with fortune 500, 100 companies and with executives. I worked a lot with companies, not just for traditional market research, but as a consultant and that would range on issues for product feature function to pricing and packaging, to go-to-market, to assets to support their go-to-market. So, a lot of the content, a lot of how you use data to inform decisions, how executives in these vendors think was something that I was steeped in for years.

With App Annie, the transition there really happened quite naturally. We had been working as partners for some time while I was with IDC and an opportunity came up to join. I was really excited to join what was at that stage a late stage startup, I would say, that was growing fast and that was this dominant leader in mobile data and analytics and to really play a leadership role.

In my tenure there, within two months I was basically running communications, content and events and by the end of the year sort of global marketing and it sort of grew from there. So, it was this huge opportunity I think that you can get if you’re somebody who likes that startup culture. If you’re bored or if you don’t feel challenged, I kind of feel like that’s your fault because there’s so much opportunity to do more, take on more and have a ton of impact.

Adaptability and Life at a Startup

Cheri Keith:

That’s really interesting, especially if you think about that transition from IDC to App Annie. They’re two pretty different organizations. Can you talk about whether you knew that the startup environment was going to work for you or once you landed, you got your feet in, you knew that it was right?

Danielle Levitas:

I think for me, I think one of my greatest personality assets is I’m super adaptable. As long as I feel challenged and I’m growing, I like to, I guess, make myself uncomfortable a bit, maybe not extremely all of the time, but I do like that. I think it suits my personality well. And so I went in thinking this is going to be different, right? There’s not going to be the same kind of structure and operations and so forth, but I got to be there to help build some of that. Which is what’s so fantastic as an organization is maturing and it needs more process and it needs more systems and it needs more measurement.

And so, I like being uncomfortable and I think having an impact, there’s nothing like it. And I think the smaller the organization, in some ways, the easier that is.

Cheri Keith:

Yes, there aren’t a lot of places to hide, but if you’re looking for that limelight, startup life is definitely the place to go.

Danielle Levitas:

That’s the other way to look at it.

Cheri Keith:

Yeah. You can’t have it both ways though. As I will talk to people about it, they get excited for the new opportunity. They’re like, “Oh gosh, I guess I can’t just tuck away on Fridays anymore.” I’m like, “No, you can’t. I’m sorry. That’s not the way it goes.”

Danielle Levitas:

And even the stage of the company matters, right? Because if it’s a super early stage, you might be the only marketer for example, right? And if it’s mid- to late-stage, you’re building out that team. And so I wouldn’t say I’m a Series A kind of startup personality type, but since it’s Series C I think that that’s a great, exciting place to be.

Cheri Keith:

Well, especially because there are people who are really good in Series A and B and once you evolve to see they’re not ready for it. So, it’s also just like at large organizations, you can work at one of the largest organizations in the world, but be empowered within a specific type of unit where it does have a different feel for it. So, I think that’s one of the hard things to evaluate though, in any interview process is identifying where you are and if they’re really ready for that next stage of growth.

Danielle Levitas:

And I think that’s where the onus is on you to make sure you talk to who you need to talk to to make that decision. And I was fortunate. Like I said, we had done some partnership work with App Annie so I’d gotten to know the Head of Sales at that time, the Head of Marketing, as well as the CEO and co-founder Bertrand Schmidt at the time. And Bertrand, we had a relationship for some time where I got to see him at events and I think we even ran into each other at NWC one year, maybe even in Asia.

So, it was, in some ways, I think an easier opportunity for me to say, “Okay, now I want to talk to the CFO, or I want to talk to so-and-so or someone in the marketing team and the insights teams” to make sure that this was going to be a good fit. So due diligence is always really critical and don’t be afraid to ask to talk to either peers or other senior folks. And for that matter, if you’re going to be in a leadership role, people that would be working for you so you have a sense for how do they feel, what are they looking for next? What do they think the org needs? Or this part of the org needs? Right? And I think that’s really critical.

Traits and Characteristics of Marketers

Cheri Keith:

Well, I want to go back to one thing that you mentioned, which is that you said one of your biggest strengths is being adaptable. Which I definitely appreciate as someone who definitely has to go with the flow. I was not great at that younger in my career, but having children has led me to take a chill pill in some respects. But what are some of the traits you look for in marketers that are up and coming, or even members of the leadership teams that you assemble in the future?

Danielle Levitas:

I think there’re a few key elements, and this is one of those situations where I think what I would have said maybe 10 years ago is different than what I would say now. One thing that is really clear to me is even if someone’s not super adaptable and again, I think if it’s an earlier stage company and not a big enterprise of, I don’t know, 2000 plus people and a billion plus in revenue, I think that adaptability is important or just knowing that change is coming.

I’ve said this in probably every interview. I did it at App Annie. “This is what we’re looking for in this role, but I promise you in six months, it’s going to be a bit different. I don’t know how yet.” You have to not only be okay with that, you have to kind of want that in the next stage of your career.

So, I’m very upfront and I want people to be upfront with me. The last thing I think either party would want is to kind of get into a situation where had you asked the right questions or had a more straightforward conversation, you could have realized earlier on that it wouldn’t be a good fit.

I do think that empathy is critical. That’s something that became even more apparent to me over these last few years. It’s so easy to say, “Oh, they didn’t do that well. Or they prioritize X over Y. Or they just don’t understand Zed.” I’m usually the person in the room and my response to that is something to the effect of “maybe the reason they did that is because they were hearing XYZ from this other person. Or the data was leading them to this conclusion. Or maybe you need to have a direct conversation with that individual.”

And so I think this happens in any organization and not just the corporate world, right? But you could be in a nonprofit, you can be in education, you can be anywhere. It’s very easy to just point fingers and I think a lot of it comes from a lack of empathy. Put yourself in their shoes and certainly have a conversation about it. So, I think empathy is huge.

I would want to know from somebody, “How do they work through a difference of opinion that they had that was important to getting their job done?” I think that’s absolutely critical. And then of course core skills, right? Which are always going to be important, but we talk a lot about EQ these days in corporate America. To me, that empathetic side, that adaptive side, those soft skills are absolutely critical to be successful.

Empathy and Pulse Checks

Cheri Keith:

I would agree with that and I also think that without empathy, if we think about the last 10 months of the world, I think that’s really stretched people who might not naturally be checking in on coworkers. I think you can tell so much about how someone’s doing or checking in on them when you are in-person.

I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone doing it perfectly yet when it comes to institutionalizing the pulse check, but it seems like this idea of EQ and empathy gets a lot more straining when you’re not actually seeing people, even if you’re on Zoom. I mean, you’re just seeing that little window of them. Like we were talking about earlier, you don’t see the dogs sleeping at their feet, the child who’s struggling with online learning in the next room over. Do you have any thoughts about maybe how this will all evolve based on what you’ve seen?

Danielle Levitas:

Yeah, and as someone who has two kids, I have a son that just started high school and a daughter who’s in fourth grade. I don’t have super littles, which I’m thankful for in this time. But even a high schooler starting at a brand new school where there’s 300 kids in his grade and he knew maybe a dozen going in, it presents different challenges than a kindergartener, which I can’t even imagine them doing Zoom for more than a half an hour.

But in terms of how to build it in, in the previous life, pre-COVID, I think even though I view myself as somebody that tries to schedule those informal let’s go get coffee, let’s go get lunch check-ins and not just have formal one-on-ones because we can’t do that now.

Everybody’s super busy, so it’s easy to forget this even outside of or during your one-on-ones for that matter, I think one of the easiest things to do is literally just schedule reminders to yourself. And maybe you do them all in a day. Maybe you spread it out over the course of a month, but make sure one of your one-on-ones for any given individual each month, very deliberately starts off with “how are you doing? How’s it going? How are you feeling?” Because I think so many people are so stressed, not just about COVID, but yes, many people may have kids at home and that’s challenging.

But I think there’s also just a lot of people that are stressed out with work, right? There have been reductions so there’s more work to do with less people. And so it’s easy to want to just say, “Let’s just get through what we have to get done for work.” But I think formally scheduling in that check-in time, is probably the best way to make sure it happens and that you don’t just get too busy and, kind of even unintentionally, forget.

Marketing Plans for 2021 and Beyond

Cheri Keith:

It’s usually not from a place of malice, but you’re right. Everyone is so focused on getting the work done, whether it’s more with less or just the companies that are super busy right now.

So, I want to shift gears a little bit and talk more about your views on the industry. You’ve worked a lot, you advised a lot of companies on their go-to-market approach. What are your thoughts on how companies have pivoted through this year and how they’re going to have to either rethink or revise their go-to-markets for 2021 and beyond?

Danielle Levitas:

So I mean, in terms of go-to-market, I think what gets really interesting is you have some companies in traditional B2B enterprises where I think the biggest shift has been, what do you do when there aren’t live events, right? And there’s only so many webinars people are going to attend. I mean the good thing is there’s so much great content from the last eight months because people have moved so many things online and some of it’s still available for on-demand or streamed or it’s on YouTube because it was recorded.

But I think it comes back to, what’s in my mind, fundamentally the core of marketing, which is who are you trying to reach? And what’s the right story to tell them? And that, in my mind, doesn’t change. What’s the right messaging for who you’re trying to reach? And then how do you put that story together? What are those touch points? What’s that content?

I think in the last several years, we know how important demand gen is. It gets so much attention in the organization and frankly, a lot of money is spent there. So it makes sense, right? And that’s where you figure out, this channel worked to get the right lead. This channel didn’t work as well. Or it was too expensive for what we got. Or it didn’t drive anything that converted. Or whatever it happens to be that you’re specifically measuring.

But, the fact of the matter is, demand gen without great storytelling, and for that matter, also the creative it’s packaged in, doesn’t happen. So you need that story. You need that content. You need that creative. And so I think for a lot of companies, it’s really just made that even more front and center of how do we get this story out?

And the reality is, it is harder to compete with noise, which means the good news is when you finally talk to somebody, and it might take a bit longer or be a bit less frequent, they’re actually in the market or think they’re in the market for what you’re proposing to sell them or the problem you’re trying to solve for them.

I think a lot of the people that might’ve paid attention to you eight plus months ago, now they really just aren’t wasting their time. And so I think when you finally find the right leads, they’re generally better leads. They’re harder to find, but they’re better and they convert better so that’s a real plus.

But I’ve also worked with companies that are more B2C oriented. And it really depends on the industry. If it’s media and entertainment and gaming, I mean, gangbusters. The gaming industry has just done phenomenally well and it makes sense, right? You’re at home for way too many hours.

But if you look at retail and travel and hospitality, it’s hurt, right? And so you hear about a lot of retailers looking at how much can they move to direct-to-consumer. And, similarly with those companies, it is about great marketing and a ton of advertising to find the right people. And some of them are even trying to pivot to, “Is it a subscription model for us, for our product?” Right?

And so, I think it’s been a pretty, I don’t want to say awful because it hasn’t been for everybody. It’s been a really challenging year, but I think the level of innovation is unparalleled because there’s nothing like necessity to be the mother of invention, as they say.

Cheri Keith:

That’s a great way to close out that thought because you’re right. I think when I get questions about how marketing will change, I just go back to the marketing that was done in March and April of 2020. Isn’t as good as the marketing that got done in September and October. Once people figured out how they had to move things online and what they needed to do, it really changed and really upped the game when it comes to the types of digital experiences that we can create.

It doesn’t have to be the slide only webinar. Everyone says webinars and it’s like a dirty word sometimes for people it’s like, “Well, yes, people can do bad webinars. Just like there can be bad podcasts, bad TV shows.” The audience decides whether or not they want to show up, to your point earlier about finding the right mix of how to get to people. But at the same time, I mean, gosh, how many times have we sat through meetings about we’re spending too much on events because they’re just so darn costly at the same time.

Danielle Levitas:

Yeah. Yeah.

The Future of Trade Shows and Large Tentpole Events

Cheri Keith:

So, I feel the company-hosted events will come back, but it’s going to be a lot harder to justify those large trade shows. And I know you had mentioned earlier a large trade show. What are your thoughts on returning to that way of life? Going to those?

Danielle Levitas:

I’m probably a little biased if it’s something like MWC in Barcelona, I’m in. If it’s CES in early January in Vegas, I’m out.

Cheri Keith:

Anything in Vegas, we’re out.

Danielle Levitas:

It’s interesting because I think it’s one of those where it will be harder to justify the spend. And yet I do think by the time it happens there’s going to be so much pent up, I don’t know if demand’s the right word, but like pent up wanting to be in a more social business environment because it’ll be 15 months, 18 months, 24 months or something, right?

I think the first shows back will be challenging, but I do think they come back. I just think they’re certainly not going to be as big out of the gate, but I don’t think they’re gone. It’s just sort of, how much do you spend on it? What is it really worth?

There truly isn’t anything like breaking bread with people and granted that tends to happen at later stages in either a marketing or sales relationship. Maybe the booths aren’t always the best use, but when you think about getting customers in one place, prospects in one place, getting customer dinners, because it’s easier to do it in those environments oftentimes. Those kinds of things I think are hugely valuable and that piece, I think we’ll definitely go back to with open arms. Just maybe not the booth thing quite the same way.

Virtual Event Sponsorships and ROI

Cheri Keith:

I mean, gosh, virtual sponsorships hasn’t exactly been something that people have embraced. I haven’t talked to a lot of marketers who are pleased with the ROI they received from sponsoring virtual trade shows either. Do you have an opinion on that?

Danielle Levitas:

No, I mean, I just have some anecdotal info. I’ve similarly heard like, “We did it on a couple of different events because we sponsored them last year when they were live.” And ROI is myth. But I also think depending on who’s sponsoring whom, sometimes it’s because there’s a relationship there, right? And it’s sort of like, “We need that extra sponsorship to get over the hump.” And so I know that there’s some quid pro quo that happens. But if your program budgets were pretty dramatically reduced, I don’t think those are paying for themselves. In maybe 90% of them? I don’t know, even 70% of the time are probably not paying for themselves.

B2C Marketing and the Gaming Boom

Cheri Keith:

Yeah. I would agree with that. And I mean, not that people did in-person event measurement perfectly before the pandemic, but I think it hits you in the face a lot harder when you’re not able to go back on the vanity metrics that you used to be able to receive from in-person events like booth traffic and badge scans. Just because you were able to get someone’s lanyard while they dove for a free pen doesn’t make for the best opportunity.

Well, you mentioned B2C trends so with our final few minutes here together, I’d love to just get your take on it. Because I focus so much on the B2B world, but I just love when I can speak with really smart people about B2C, too. And obviously your experience with IDC and App Annie led you to have such great insight into the consumer world, especially through the lens of mobile. So I’d love to hear from you about what you’re seeing and what you’re thinking about when it relates to B2C right now.

Danielle Levitas:

Sure. So, I will say as a marketer, I consider myself a B2B marketer. And so I do think B2C marketing is a very, very different beast. For example, one thing I would say as it relates to that is I think my pet peeve on the B2B side would be everybody else in the room that’s not in marketing thinks they know as much about marketing as marketing. On the B2C side, it’s not quite like that. There’s a lot more, I think, respect for the unique expertise of B2C marketers because, well look at the marketing spend for those works.

That being said as somebody who, yes, I’ve been very close to mobile and consumer and media throughout my career and in terms of the B2C space, what’s been really interesting is typically when we have a downturn, B2B holds up better than B2C. And in some ways that is still true, right?

Because at the same time, I think consumer spend has actually held up better than expected because we are home. This isn’t just the economic crisis of 2008 2009 or the dot com bust of the beginning of the 2000s. It’s different. We’re home and so you have to find some things to do. And that’s really helped to buoy consumer spend in a way that I think if this was a different kind of economic downturn, wouldn’t have been as strong for B2C companies.

I alluded before to content services, right? So streaming services obviously have been beneficiaries, obviously those that do B2C retail really well. I mean, your Amazons of the world are obvious. Target continues do well. Walmart’s competing more, but even if you look at some of these narrow, direct-to-consumer firms. I don’t think you can be on social media and not see an ad, probably every third post, that relates to what you’re into.

Like I started working out super regularly at the beginning of the pandemic. And I can’t not see advertisements for different equipment or plans, as well as weighted blankets. Apparently, I must have searched for something at some point.

Cheri Keith:

Stress relief.

Danielle Levitas:

Stress relief, yeah, there you go. They’re like she needs a weighted blanket. I didn’t even know it was a thing six months ago.

But that B2C piece, I think in the direct-to-consumer is fascinating. That was heating up before, but again, that acceleration. And then I think the industry is gaining. That’s probably the brightest shiny spot on the consumer space. And that’s a combination of both the mobile game space, which has been the majority of game spending for the last, probably four plus years since 2015, continues to do phenomenally well because we all have mobile devices and we’re home and we have quote unquote “extra time.” And I say “we.” It’s the collective “we” of all consumers, including my 14-year-old high schooler.

Then there’s also the console space. I mean, PC gaming is doing okay, but the console space. You just had the new Xbox launch. You had the new PlayStation launch. I don’t know really anybody who’s been able to get one that isn’t in the industry.

So, that space is doing incredibly well. And that’s expected because mobile and gaming, I’d say, are about as recession-proof as you get. And this particular recession definitely helps and not even slows those markets.

Cheri Keith:

Right. I mean, if you can’t leave home, you do need something to do, like you said. I do know one person with the PS5. That’s my best friend’s husband. That was his 10th anniversary gift that he bought himself. So, she and I went to the jewelry store and did the appropriate [blip] afterwards.

Danielle Levitas:

Well, he’s very lucky. Because back in the day, I would’ve probably had one by now. But I’m in a different place in my professional life. And so needless to say, literally, the only people I know are people that are kind of in the industry, right?

Cheri Keith:

This has been awesome, Danielle. I want to thank you first for your time together, but also I know the audience will love listening to this. I think there are so many great takeaways related to empathy and building teams and checking in on one another and systematizing that as much as you can, but then also just forward-looking when comes it to in-person events, when we’re going to get dragged back to Las Vegas again for trade shows and the gaming industry. So, thank you so much for your time and thank you, CMO Confessions audience, for tuning in.

Danielle Levitas:

Thanks, Cheri. Take care, everybody.