At our recent Customer Marketing Summit, Ari Hoffman, Vice President of Customer Marketing & Advocacy at Influitive, and Gillian Farquhar, Vice President of Global Transformation: Market Readiness at Qlick, sat down to discuss the steps you and your CMO can take to prioritize customer-centricity to make your marketing strategy “anti-fragile”, or “recession-proof”.

While you can check out the video, we’ve written up a summary of some of the key points from Gilian’s presentation and the discussions she had with Ari.

Ari Hoffman and Gilian Farquhar

Ari Hoffman

As the Vice President of Customer Marketing & Advocacy at Influitive, Ari’s human-first approach to work and passion for customer success are fixtures of his approach to his role and career. He is a seasoned veteran and trusted advisor for customer-centric businesses, primarily in the enterprise SaaS industry.

A natural organizer and people-connecter, Ari leads with empathy and relentlessly shines light on others. When you come across Ari online or in-person (please say hi!), you’ll find him championing customers and building a community among Customer Advocacy professionals globally.

Gilian Farquhar

Gillian Farquhar is the Vice President of Global Transformation: Market Readiness, formerly the Vice President of Global Customer Marketing at Qlik, which encompassed Customer Reference and Advocacy, Customer Experience, and all Community programs. With more than 20 years in the industry, Gillian specializes in building customer-centric organizations inside SaaS-based businesses.

Prior to Qlik, Gillian ran global communications at Egenera and PR at Red Hat. She began her career in technology public relations and was a founding Vice President at Greenough Communications in Boston.

Gillian attended Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and has completed comprehensive post-graduate studies in Sociolinguistics from Georgetown University.

Why do you need an anti-fragile marketing approach?

At the time of recording, the world wasn’t in a recession, however there are several indicators showing it might head that way. And with these indicators, it’s inevitable that budgets are cut, teams reduced, and plans scaled back. And it’s often marketing that gets the first cuts.

Some important stats on why the talk is taking place.

The purpose of Ari and Gilian’s discussion is to give you the tools you need to take a proactive approach to shoring up your marketing budgets, making them anti-fragile and recession-proof.

At the end of the day, trying to predict the future is hard, so preparing for every future is better.

Strategy 1: Focus on community

Overview of strategy 1 - Community

When Ari and Gilian discuss marketing, there’s one constant: the complete need to focus on community. A lot of companies approach their conversations with customers as a one-way process.

Furthermore, the strategy of just putting your content out there and hoping that someone, somewhere decides to consume it or share it, isn’t a good strategy.

For Gilian, That’s where the power of community comes in. It needs to underpin everything that you do in customer marketing or even customer experience as a whole. Not only are you deepening the relationship with your customers, but you’re allowing those customers to engage with others.

By having control over a community you’ve created, you’re producing a space where these kinds of organic relationships can develop, which allows you to then leverage them effectively.

Community is no longer a “nice to have”. Think about it in terms of people’s buying habits, particularly online. Once you’ve found a product that interests you, while you might go to a professional product review site, you’ll still go to a source you trust to find out if it’s good or not. While this might be a professional product review site, a lot of the time you’re in there you’ll ask a person you trust for their thoughts on the product, or check the organic user reviews.

With communities, you’re the one providing the space for your customers to build up networks with other customers they trust.

But it can go further than that

At Qlick, Gilian was a driving force in reinvesting in their community strategy. At the time she said, “You know, if we do this right, then eventually the key components of our business will be built into our community.” And her prediction was true.

Today, Qlik’s community is the heartbeat of the company. Support ticketing goes via their community. Along with ideation, advocacy platforms, events strategy, and so much more.

Community can open up amazing opportunities for customer marketing.

Strategy 2: Champion authentic stories

Overview of strategy 2 - authentic stories

Authenticity is a big word that gets used a lot. For Gilian, it underpins her leadership style, how she thinks about customer experience, and especially how customer stories are told.

When someone asks Gilian what the main contribution customer marketing has to the business, she has this to say:

“I always think about it as we activate, and then expose our customers out into the market -  the places where decisions are being made.”

With this as your model it becomes clear why authenticity is important, as it’s the reason why your customer’s stories might be ingested and reshared, or just ignored.

It takes confidence in your brand to allow your customers to share their real stories, which can include the challenges they might have had with your products, as these are all important parts of their real stories. And real stories are always going to be more credible, making them more valuable and shareable for your own marketing.

For Gilian and Qlik, authenticity is the real strength of their entire marketing function. Their job isn’t to tell stories, it’s to provide a platform to shine a light on the authentic relationships and stories of their customers.

One of the most effective tools Gilian recommends are video testimonials and using platforms like Influtivie’s Upshot stories to provide customer-authored bylines, which can be far more compelling than the case studies they might produce internally.

And these customer stories aren’t just marketing tools! Ari knows that these storytelling feedback loops can be incredibly useful for other departments, particularly Product. By establishing these feedback loops, you’ll build effective alliances with key stakeholders in the company, giving you more leverage in the future to get things done while building a product your customers want to use.

Strategy 3: Rally your employees

Overview of strategy three - rally empolyees

When things are looking tough ahead, it’s essential to get your employees onside. And this often means you need to demonstrate why sticking with you is worth it for them.

And the best way to do that, according to Gilian, is to show that you’re a winner.

And that means not just sharing customer success stories externally, they need to be shared internally as well. If your product is helping customers to be winners, then sharing that success as evidence of the hard work your employees do can allow them to bask in the shared feeling of victory.

When sharing success stories externally, this offers a sense of victory to potential customers too, and  will spur them to become advocates for your business as well. In turen they’ll share these success stories on their own social media, introducing your brand to a whole new segment of potential customers.

But once again authenticity is important. Neither Ari nor Gilian want employees to just be an army of bots, spamming out the same messages. If the employees are properly invested, their enthusiasm in sharing stories with their own authentic voice will be a much more powerful tool than everyone sending out the same message. There are wonderful tools to help scale your employee advocacy that drive more than just a rinse and repeat model.

But really, the most important thing is to make sure your employees are still as excited and enthusiastic about helping customers in the bad times as they are in the good times.

Strategy 4: Mobilize your advocates

overview of strategy four - advocates

First off: let’s drop this bombshell: Gilian isn’t a fan of the word “advocates.” And by that, we mean the terminology for referring to a connected customer, not the notion of having a connected customer who espouses your value and how great you are! Gilian prefers to just refer to them as “customers.”

But as a means of differentiating standard customers from the connected ones who are the most valuable to your growth as a business (beyond the revenue you generate from them purchasing your products), it’ll do.

And those connected customers or advocates are incredibly important. As Gilian says “they affect every single revenue-generating function within your company.”

But leveraging this part of your install base is more than just saying “Great, we'll go ahead and start to do that in a willy-nilly way.” It takes organization and discipline. Mobilizing your install base and advocates takes the ability to scale through budget, resources and plans with clear KPIs.

And do that effectively, you need to…

Strategy 5: Level up Customer Marketing

overview of strategy five - customer marketing

Getting the resources you need for effective Customer Marketing isn’t about just adding headcount. You need to make sure all the teams have the right advocacy tools. Even then, you need to make sure everyone is properly trained to use the tool effectively.

But to get to that point, you need to be able to show clear business cases for their worth. You need to develop the confidence and perspective to have hard discussions about budget and how different marketing tactics intersect with key decision makers in the business.

For Gilian to reach her level, she had to really dig into how much revenue was being generated from Qlick’s install base, and how much more could be generated with the right investment vs focusing on acquisition.

Even then, it wasn’t an immediate switch, it took a long-term process over a number of years to rebalance budgets towards Customer Marketing.

But having those business cases ready could see changes happen much faster in the current climate, as it’s a much more economical model than one focused on acquisition. Perfect for recession-proof marketing…

What steps are you taking to make your customer marketing recession-proof? Need advice on how to be anti-fragile through customer-centricity? Share your insights and get answers to your questions on the Customer Marketing Alliance Community Slack channel. Sign up today to access a global network of customer marketing experts.