CMO Q&A: Julie Parrish, NetApp

NetApp CMO Julie Parrish talks about the company's partnership with the NFL and its corporate positioning.

NetApp SVP and CMO Julie Parrish speaks to Lindsay Stein about the company's partnership with the NFL and its corporate positioning.

Your first four and half years at NetApp were on the channel sales side. How does that experience benefit you now?
The key is understanding how sales thinks and how they operate. They have a level of urgency around them that is crucial. Every week, month, and quarter, there is a number to be made. They are under pressure, make decisions quickly, and have to be crisp and clear on priorities.

My ability to bring that into marketing and drive a sense of urgency so we could be more aligned with sales was one of the main benefits.

How is communications and marketing structured at the computer storage and data management company?
We are much bigger than we were a few years ago. I wanted to put an organization in place that could really scale, so we did not need to add so many people every time we came out with a new product or went into a new market.

There is a product and solutions marketing group responsible for what we say about those products and services and how we message them. I have a brand and demand team responsible for our brand assets, corporate identify, branding and awareness, as well as demand generation and campaigns.

I felt strongly that those two be under one leader, especially when it comes to how much you want to weigh awareness and branding relative to demand generation. When you split them into different groups, tension comes between people as opposed to everyone looking at the strategy.

I have three different teams that take the content and get it into the market in different ways. The global communications team, which is PR, internal and executive communications, and social media, mainly massages the content and figures out how to optimize it for various vehicles.

The digital marketing unit has the same principle – taking content and massaging it for digital formats. That’s everything from the level of clicks people want to experience to find the right data, to managing the website. The third is customer engagement, which includes our executive briefing centers, presence at industry shows, and user conferences.

And the marketing teams?
One each for the Americas, Europe, public sector, and Asia-Pacific. They develop the marketing strategy for their geography, field those priorities to the rest of the corporate functions, and then execute.

The last piece is marketing operations, which is a combination of driving the CMO strategic planning process, and analytics and dashboards of how we measure what we are doing, as well as driving our marketing technology and automation requirements.

What is the focus for 2014?
A crucial element of marketing is being consistent over a long period of time, so doing that with messages and thought leadership is important to me. We’re focusing on launching our technology and we’re going to continue to drive brand awareness, leveraging NetApp and the NFL.

We did a deal that started in late 2012 that people often mistake for a sports sponsorship, but we are the official storage provider for the NFL. We had the opportunity to use the league’s logo on our advertising. This has given us an opportunity to turn it into a big customer story.

We were able to drive awareness by developing creative content, such as the IT Combine and Protection Index, which accurately predicted the Seattle Seahawks as the winners of this year’s Super Bowl. NetApp is the storage footprint in the NFL’s headquarters and we have created stories around how the league can use and serve up data quickly at the Super Bowl on everything from security checks to statistics that the announcers use during the game.

What about corporate positioning?
The missing piece for NetApp has been that customers have been a bit confused about who we are. In the last three years, we have gone from having one platform to including something called the E-Series and Flash. Now, NetApp can compete in a lot more areas.

We have not taken the time to reposition the company around that. NetApp would come out with concepts, such as unified architecture or storage efficiency – interesting consumer propositions – but they are muddled in the minds of consumers.

In the last year, we have worked to reposition the company and make sure we are doing our full product portfolio justice and ensuring we’re not just talking technical to storage architects. The decision to purchase storage has moved up. On average, you will see six to eight people involved in a purchase decision.

Part of the strategy is to make sure NetApp is relevant to all of those people. It is a big effort. We started to roll it out in spring, and we will align all of our product launches and thought leadership around it. 

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