Thursday, July 11, 2019

Deep Dive Interview with FireEye CMO Vasu Jakkal

The following is a condensed and edited version of my face to face interview with Vasu Jakkal, CMO at FireEye.  I love digging deep into the thinking of business leaders, and their words are a constant source of wisdom and insight.  Enjoy the interview!

Kevin: Welcome to Deep Dive!

Vasu: Thank you for having me on the program!  I’m Vasu Jakkal, CMO of FireEye.  I'm an engineer turned marketer. I was born in India where I studied and grew up with an amazing family.  I came to the United States for my education and earned two degrees, engineering and marketing.  I moved into marketing because I really, really believe that marketing has the power to change the world, and to drive compassion, kindness, magic and great storytelling!

I have three kids.  Two human and one fur.

I love sci-fi.  I love Star Trek.  I wanted to be on the Starship Enterprise. Perhaps in my next life.

Kevin: You have spent a great deal of your career in marketing.  What part of your job do you like most?

Vasu: I love all things marketing! I wish I could pick one thing! Marketing is one of the most misunderstood functions today.  Some people think of marketing as communication.  Some people think of marketing as lead generation.  Some people think of marketing as brand.  I believe that what makes marketing special is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Marketing is a business function.  It is driving strategies.  It is about understanding your company’s North star.  It is about understanding who you want to be.  It is knowing what your company’s DNA is.  It is knowing what inspires us to do what we do.  It’s first understanding what all those things are for your company, and then understanding that same thing for your customers.  I believe that is what marketing is all about.

When you understand your North star, when you understand your three to five-year strategy, then you work toward that to add value for the people who you care about - your employees, your partners and customers.  That’s how magic happens.

Marketing is about inventing something, which is truly worth inventing.  It's about telling a story that is worth telling.  It takes all of these functions including: great business strategies, great communications, great demand generation and great product marketing.  All of these tied together cohesively.  It’s hard to pick just one thing.

Kevin: How have you seen marketing evolve as a result of digital transformation?

Vasu: I don't think human behavior has really changed that much over the years.  We still wake up with our own hopes and dreams. Some of us want to open coffee shops.  Some of us want to work with animals.  Some of us want to change the world.  Those are our hopes and dreams. I don't think that has changed much. Having said that, pretty much everything else around us has changed.  For example - how we consume information. If you look at how we make decisions today it's very different than in the past.  When I look at the world through the eyes of my 13-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son’s eyes, it's different.  The beauty of it now is we can use the power of data to understand what is working and what is not. In the past marketing was more art, but today it is about art, science and emotion all bundled up and measured by data.

Let’s talk about marketing technology (MarTech).  I think there is close to 8,000 companies in MarTech. There are more companies in MarTech than Cyber Security!  That is insane!  You can measure pretty much anything you want to measure. However, you must be careful, because it's that art and science thing.  Not everything that is meaningful is measured, and not everything that is measured is meaningful.  You can segment your market in many different ways, using demographics, psychographic analysis, customer lifecycle, etc.  You can understand what share of wallet you have.  You can understand customer emotions. Everything that can be
automated today is getting automated.  Us humans then add our value and our innovation on top of automation.  It's a fascinating world. It’s about serving the right content, at the right time at the right watering hole.  For me marketing is about winning hearts first, then winning minds, and the dollars will follow.

Marketers have to be there for their customers.  We must be useful.  I think that's the power of digital.  It allows us to have these great channels that we can amplify through and then serve really meaningful content.

Kevin:  …And today the content is personalized. Doesn’t that require a lot more content than in the past?

Vasu: Yes, you are right! If we look at our world it's a super noisy place.  We are constantly bombarded with information from all angles. Ours attention spans are declining, plus all of this information is coming through and we don't know what to believe. The more we personalize, the more it is relevant to our customers.

What is the one thing we don't have enough of today? It's time.  We want to spend time with our family.  We want to spend time on our hobbies.  We want to spend time on new adventures.  What personalization really does is allow us to save time by seeing what we are interested in.  Today we can create the best experience for you through technology.  Using technology and strategies like account-based marketing we can personalize content and provide authentic stories about things you are interested in – without wasting your time.

Kevin: Let's talk about FireEye.  What are the key messages you want to drive home in 2019?

Vasu:  I'm going to use a word that may surprise you. It is the word - calling.  FireEye is special because of its calling – cyber security.  Cyber security is something all society needs.  We are very mission driven.  It's about relentlessly protecting our customers, our world, and our societies.  I think that’s something important and worth fighting for. Today, cyber-attacks are a bigger threat than physical threats.

Here is an example of why it’s important.  When you go to another country you travel with a passport. The border agents can look at the passport and compare it to your physical being.  You are made of atoms and energy.  They can compare and identify you.  But what about in the digital world.  You can connect from anywhere, even a remote village in India.  How do I know it’s you?  Anything that can be connected to the internet can be hacked.  It’s simply a question of whether you are worthy of being hacked.

We catch evil.  It's as simple as that.

We have a trinity. We have our services people, and these are honestly the most brilliant people I've ever met in the world.  They are people who are out on the front lines.  They are in the trenches. They are the first called when there's a breach.

We have one of the largest intelligence organizations outside any government.  Our intelligence teams find bad and threatening actors, which are often state sponsored, and who are looking to cause damage.  We use pattern recognition and follow them around places, like the darknet, and figure out what they are doing.

We have a technology platform that completes the trinity. We have all of this great intelligence that comes in from our frontline service experts and intelligence analysts into our platform.  Our platform has decades of data about threats, bad actors, threat sponsors, and we have it all mapped into what we call context.  It is coupled with orchestration and automation.

As a cyber security analyst you can view everything you need in one place to understand what's happening.  We also have technologies like network security, email security and endpoint security.

To sum it up, our mission is to protect our customers by being the best line of cyber-defense and offering a platform which is a seamless extension of our customers’ high security operations.

Kevin: How have you seen the marketing profession impacted by digital transformation throughout your career?  And how is it different today than it was ten years ago?

Vasu:  Great question!  Let’s start with I don't like the concept of marketing funnels.  I don’t like the idea of people in a funnel.  I prefer the notion of a buyer’s journey.  I believe that no one wants to be pulled into a funnel to pop out the other side.  People want to be carried on a beautiful journey.

When I consider the buyer’s journeys of the past, it seems we used to live in a very linear world.  We used marketing brochures or flyers that promoted an event. At the event the buyer would meet the sales representative and engage.  It doesn't work like that anymore.  Today you have something like 70% or more of the buyer’s journey is digital.  Today people don't even want to talk to each other.  Now days customers and prospects have already done their own research when they connect with us.  They have already talked to their peers and networks.

Digital transformation has permeated marketing so much that I think people are surprised.  I don't think that marketing [successful marketing] can be done without the power of digital today.

Digital transformation in marketing means storytelling must also transform. We are bombarded by so much information today, that everything sounds the same.  Let’s use the Cyber security industry as an example.  Every company in this space promotes themselves as doing the exact same thing.  That means to be distinct you must be authentic to your essence.  A brand is not a thing.  It is not even a promise anymore.  A brand is the totality of who you are as a company.  It’s a relationship that you have with your employees, your customers and your partners.  It’s your narrative, your story of why it matters.  This must all come out in your story.

I'm a big fan of Apple. I think they did it right by starting with the why.  Why do we exist?  And then articulating that narrative to the people who they cared about.  That is why storytelling is so important, because with all the noise out there, I want to know if I can relate to you and your purpose?

Kevin: The content used in storytelling has also evolved. How have you seen the content consumption behaviors of your prospects and customers change?

Vasu: The trend is moving toward snackable content.  Where you know you have limited time, but you're curious and want a quick answer.  I think it was Google that said every seven seconds you are deciding where you should spend your time.  That's why I feel like we have to be great storytellers, because that's what captures our audience.  That's what captures their very short attention span.

I love the concept of simplicity.  We start with simple snackable content, but then once we capture their attention we can take a deeper dive into more details.

Kevin: If you were giving advice to a young marketer coming out of a university, what skills would you tell them to start building now in order to be prepared to lead in 10 years?

Vasu: One of my favorite people in the universe told me this, “To be a marketer it takes a lot of courage.”  Why? Because you have to try different things, and marketing is being redefined every single day.  What marketing used to be is no longer what marketing is today.   Marketing is becoming more about personalization.  It is more strategic and plays a bigger role in the company.  Marketing, however, will always be about storytelling.  The heart of great marketing is storytelling, so be a great storyteller.

Watch the full interview here:

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Kevin Benedict
SVP Strategy, Regalix Inc.
Online TV Channel RegalixTV
Website Regalix Inc.
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.