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Marketing Post-Covid: Dux Raymond Sy, Chief Marketing Officer at AvePoint

Transcript

Brian Erickson:
Thanks for joining the Cardwell Beach Marketing Podcast. My name is Brian Erickson, Chief Strategy Officer and partner at Cardwell Beach. In this series, we’re interviewing senior marketers across industries to develop perspective on what marketing will look like in a post-COVID-19 world. Today’s guest is Dux Raymond Sy, chief marketing officer at AvePoint, a software firm that assists Microsoft SharePoint and Office 365 clients with migrating, managing and protecting data in the cloud and onsite. Dux is also the author of SharePoint for Project Management and host of the #ShiftHappens podcast. Dux, thank you so much for joining us today.

Dux Raymond Sy:
Well, thanks for having me, Brian. It’s a pleasure.

Brian Erickson:
Awesome. So, let’s talk about weathering the storm. In the tech world, it was, I’m sure, quite a storm indeed. So, AvePoint provides cloud backup and data management solutions to clients using Microsoft SharePoint and Office 365 among other products. In the past six months, we’ve seen, pretty much everyone would agree, an unprecedented shift in the way many companies and individuals are working. So, how has this changed the way that you’ve approached marketing communications around AvePoint services?

Dux Raymond Sy:
That’s a fantastic question and all this, like all of us, came at a time that nobody was expecting it. So, really it changed four different ways, so from how we message our products in our value proposition, how we position our products, how we approach digital channels and how we approach sales. So, just to kind of zero in on these four key areas, when we think about messaging is, in the past, we messaged the value proposition of our product, especially for a customer who’s about to embark on their cloud journey. So, this is the idea that customers can plan well and how we can support and augment their journey. But when COVID happened, everybody just jumped on the cloud. As people are working remotely, they need to take advantage of what Microsoft offers. So, for us, we had to pivot our message to partake in that situation where we are essential. As customers go to the cloud, a lot of data are going to be stored there, it’s essential for them to appropriately back it up and essential for them to manage it appropriately, especially with this remote workforce.

We position our products in a way, understanding that obviously there’s a lot of economic turmoil that’s going to be happening. So we want to make sure that our solutions, other than being essential, it’s something that customers, even if they’re cutting budget, can have a reach for. So we looked at how we bundle our solutions. In fact, we even gave away some of our solutions to support the remote work phenomenon. We had buy one, get one offering. So, again, that kind of pivoted how we used to have our marketing and how we position our products.

We doubled down on digital. So, we’ve done a lot of digital marketing already from content marketing, webinars, PPC, improve our SEO, but we increased that further. As there’s no more field events, a lot of people are online. They’re relying on learning about different products online, educating themselves. So, we increased our channels, we increased content across different regions and different languages.

And then lastly, from a sales perspective, certainly tied to marketing as well, is at the end of the day, organizations have burning needs to keep their company going despite the pandemic. So, what we focus on is, first and foremost, our existing customers on making sure that they’re okay and our technologies are supporting them, and how else can we help them? And then for other potential customers, we provide tons of guidance and thought leadership around how to quickly adapt the cloud to enable remote work. So, those are just kind of the four things that we quickly pivoted to and ran with during this time of COVID.

Brian Erickson:
Had to be a very interesting shift. I’ve been using the term pandemic time warp because I feel like certain trends have just been accelerated dramatically by everything that’s going on. And certain things, obviously, have just ground to a halt. So I would imagine that you’re more in the category of things just taking off like they never happened.

Dux Raymond Sy:
Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, especially now, right, you see that technology is front and center across different organizations, different shapes, different sizes. And despite that we’re in this situation, it’s good to see that technologies that link that keeps organizations going, able to order food, we’re able to still do online banking and online shopping. So yeah, we’re in the thick of it.

Brian Erickson:
Cool. Part of your role as CMO, obviously, as you’re in the thick of it, is to act as an educator and an evangelist for digital transformation, especially in the realm of Microsoft software. So, I guess, have you found that prospective clients have been seeking a higher level of education and awareness right now? Or is there a change in the way that you’re reaching out to the marketplace in terms of not being as sales-forward and more education-forward? Or how does that look with everything going on?

Dux Raymond Sy:
That’s a great question. The good news is, even prior to the pandemic, we were focused on being that industry expert that customers and the industry can trust. As we all know, customers want to buy, they don’t want to be sold to. So we’ve invested a lot in the last few years, I would say, around thought leadership content, educational content around the Microsoft Office 365 ecosystem, on things like how do you migrate to it? How do you take advantage of it? How can you save time? How can you empower your organization with Microsoft 365 platform? So we’ve been doing that. And then, our messaging is really around now that you have the Microsoft 365 or Office 365 platform and if there’s additional needs you have, here’s how we can help as AvePoint. So, our solutions, our technology is always secondary. Our first and foremost focus is to educate the customers on why their investment in Microsoft can be valuable as they move forward with their business.

Now, during the pandemic, we’ve increased that. In fact, we’ve seen a lot of customers jumped on Microsoft Teams sooner than they thought they will. And as a result of that, they didn’t have enough time to put together training. And so, what we’ve done, we’ve done tons of free online webinars. In fact, a couple of days ago, I just did a LinkedIn Live on Introduction to Microsoft Teams. I did a two-day LinkedIn Live, people jumped on and I just showed them the basics. And we believe that as customers get educated, they use more of the Microsoft platform. And as they grow, they may find areas that they have needs for that the platform doesn’t offer. And we’ll always be top of mind because it’s not just a one-time, they attend our webinar, we keep them in the loop with eBooks and blogs and really thought leadership in very practical education that they can use today.

Brian Erickson:
In the midst of all this, from a marketing perspective, did you pivot at all or was it really just about serving the market faster and keeping up with demand?

Dux Raymond Sy:
Yeah, I would say we did pivot. We pivoted from a perspective of the messaging is more around now that you remote work, here are all of the remote work capabilities you can take advantage of that Microsoft offers and how we can help with remote work. That’s now front and center of how we’re messaging and positioning our solutions. Whereas in the past, remote work was there, but it wasn’t really front and center. In the past, our messaging was primarily around, “Hey, in your journey to Office 365, allow us to be a part of that as you plan and take this step-by-step process.” We did pivot a bit just shifting the focus more on how we’re essential in their remote work initiatives.

Brian Erickson:
That definitely makes sense. So, I guess coming out of this, and who knows what the timeline will be to fully come out of this, but I guess let’s look at maybe next six, 12, 18 months for the clients that you’re working with, do you anticipate a return to pre-COVID reality in terms of their digital workflows or a new normal that’s going to incorporate some of the lessons learned from the pandemic? How does that translate to where the focus will be? I mean, do you think remote work is going to be front and center in terms of how you’re selling and marketing the brand in the next year or two?

Dux Raymond Sy:
I say, once a sense of normalcy comes back, I think it’s not going to be the same as how we work, how we engage with customers will be in the past. I think the next normal would be really this idea of hybrid work. I don’t think that everybody will be a hundred percent working remotely nor a hundred percent working in an office setting. In fact, even traditional organizations or highly regulated organizations like the government or healthcare, where we’re seeing that shift of opening up to the mindset that, “Hey, we can get stuff done, even though we’re not physically in the office.” So as such, right, from a marketing perspective, I don’t see a drastic shift as to what we’re doing right now.

We’re still going to push and double down on digital, on content, but then we’re going to hone in more around engagement and nurturing a lot of our customers and then our prospects as well. And not from a perspective of blasting them with spam emails, but more of thought leadership in how can we build the community? Because one thing that we see and we hear now from customers is there’s so much noise out there. Every other day, every company and their cousin, they have a webinar and there’s tons of videos out there. So, there’s just so much stuff, right? So now people are seeking a more intimate, a more personal, a more community-based engagement where, not only can they learn and continue to learn, but also have somebody that they can trust, knowing what to do and helping them through this journey.

Brian Erickson:
Definitely makes sense. So I guess, how will that be affecting your marketing mix on a tactical level and how might that differ from your original 2020 plan coming into the year? What sort of tactics are going to be in focus that might not have been previous to this?

Dux Raymond Sy:
Sure. So, coming into 2020, we have a wide array of marketing activities that we typically plan for. So, digital obviously is a big part, but we did have a lot of physical and field-level events worldwide. So, from attending big conferences to hosting local workshops, so all those are gone. So, what we’ve increased, obviously, is our digital and content marketing. But we’ve introduced a lot of activities through that, try to emulate that in-person, face-to-face activity.

So, for example, we hosted a workshop one time to our European customers. And we did it in the morning. So, we sent them breakfast food. While they’re remote, we still have that sense that we can enjoy this breakfast workshop because we sent them food, right. And then some of our customers here in North America, we had virtual happy hour with them where we engage a winery in Napa Valley, we just did wine tasting. So, we’re going to do more of that in bridging that physical type of engagement through virtual. And we’ll continue to do that. So, at a tactical level, I think we’ll introduce more of that, complimenting a lot of our digital and online type of activities.

Brian Erickson:
What would you say has been the effect on your split between let’s call it performance marketing and brand marketing, have you shifted more toward bottom of funnel activities during all of this? And I know that that has kind of been a trend that we’ve seen across the board is some pull back on the branding side and emphasis on just really converting short-term business.

Dux Raymond Sy:
That’s a great question. And that’s exactly what we’ve done, especially with the uncertainty when COVID happened, on what the next couple of months would bring. There’s a little more certainty, I would say today versus back in March, but still, we can only see as far as a month or two. So, from our top of the funnel branding type of activities, we’ve scaled back a little bit, but we’re already planning for next year. We go by calendar for our fiscal year as to what some of our brand strategy and brand activities would be. And I think we’ll have a better balance come January.

Brian Erickson:
So, if you could give one piece of advice to mid-market and small business marketers in your industry specifically right now, what would you say is going to be important for them to keep in focus for the next, let’s say, six to 12 months? And of course, nobody knows exactly what’s happening, but at this point, what would you say if you had to give one pointed piece of actionable advice there?

Dux Raymond Sy:
Sure. I think, be it a smaller organization or a large enterprise, we have to realize that every company is a digital company. And if you’re thinking, “What are you talking about Dux? I have a restaurant. I’m not a software company.” Well, today, from any type of business, think about this, right? Customers learning about what you offer, you need a website or procuring your product from an app or paying you online, every business needs to go digital to not only thrive, but it’s paramount to survive.

So, my advice is you got to think about what going digital needs. So, if you’re in retail or you’re a restaurant, is your website up to speed on a modern type of SEO so search engines can find it? Are you listed in key marketplaces and directories out there? So, if you’re a restaurant, you are on Yelp. If you’re trying to sell product, are you offering it on eBay or Amazon? And then is it easy for your customers, not only to see what you have, but also procure it? How’s the shopping experience? Can they order from an app? Is there a delivery mechanism if you’re providing food? So, think about what being digital means for your business, for your organization. It’s not just about marketing. So, it’s a full array that covers marketing, sales, customer success and customer fulfillment. That’s my piece of advice, make sure your digital strategy is on point and would meet customer’s needs in this time.

Brian Erickson:
So, if that’s the goal from the business side, I guess, as we’re nearing potentially record-breaking levels of unemployment, what advice would you give to marketers who find themselves as free agents right now? Obviously, with respect to what you just said with the focus on digital transformation, how can folks best position themselves and their skillsets for this moment as many people are looking for a job?

Dux Raymond Sy:
Sure. So, three things. I would say, so certainly it’s a very difficult time and in any organization, marketing departments or marketing resources are typically among the top of the list that get let go. So, I would say three things, right? Number one, while you’re in the midst of hunting or looking for your next opportunity, still put yourself out there, again, customers want to buy, they don’t want to be sold to. So how can you position yourself as that thought leader, knowing that everybody now is online? So maybe put out content pieces or thought leadership on how can you improve SEO? Or how can you build your personal brand? Or how can you start engaging in social? Because there’s a lot of companies that would need that advice and guidance. So, that’s the first thing, right? Provide thought leadership, share content out there and share your expertise as a marketer.

Number two is network. And it’s so fascinating that building networks today is I would say in a way easier because of technology. And when I say network, don’t randomly follow or add people on LinkedIn or Twitter and what have you, have an authentic way to engage with people. So, for example, on your LinkedIn, you find somebody through a mutual connection, you can reach out and say, “Hey, I’ve been following you, I’ve been reading your work or learning about your work. Would love to connect and continue to learn from you.” Because you don’t know, through these networks, it keeps you on top of other people’s minds, especially as you continue to provide your thought leadership.

The third advice I would have is always be learning. We don’t stop learning. There’s so much to learn out there. Certainly if you’re passionate about being a marketer, you can learn a whole lot of new stuff around marketing. But I challenge everybody. If you can pick up and learn about technology, and I’m not saying that if you don’t have a technical background, you go learn coding, but learn something about technology that a lot of organizations may need today. So, concepts around the cloud or AI that’s applicable across a wide range of industry that can set yourself apart from all other potential candidates.

Brian Erickson:
That’s something that we’ve certainly heard a lot too, is try to develop a T-shaped skillset, right? You have a deep, narrow area of focus, but you can also kind of move cross-functionally.

Dux Raymond Sy:
Absolutely.

Brian Erickson:
Great. Awesome. Well, Dux, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today.

Dux Raymond Sy:
I’m grateful for having you invite me.

Brian Erickson:
Yeah. Well, hope to have you back. And definitely make sure to check out some of Dux’s content. He definitely practices what he preaches in terms of personal branding and providing value and participating in many conversations out there. So, make sure to reach out to him, check him out on LinkedIn, check out his podcast.

This is Brian Erickson with Cardwell Beach. Thanks again for listening. And please make sure to check back for more senior marketers sharing their perspectives on what marketing will look like in a post-COVID-19 world.

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