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The inside track on brand building

Christine Adams
"Brand is the one area where innovation can flow out to create positive change right across an organisation. It’s not just marketing, it’s not just sales – brand is what you should always come back to when you’re thinking about your next strategic move."

Nathan Anibaba is joined by Christine AdamsDirector of Marketing for Cloudmore, a leading SaaS company that streamlines the buying, selling and management of recurring services worldwideChristine shares her insights on the importance of brand, the challenges she was brought on board to face at Cloudmore, and her experience building a career as a leading marketer.  

Transcript:

Announcer: This is ClientSide from Fox Agency. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: Christine Adams is head of marketing for Cloudmore, a market-leading software as a service company, streamlining the buying, selling, and management of recurring services with a global customer base. She is a Charleston Institute of marketing fellow and a charted marketeer, held for 11 years, with 18 years experience in adding values to organizations through developing and implementing brand strategies and associated campaigns. Christine also has a number of postgraduate qualifications in business analysis, marketing, digital marketing and leadership after completing a BA honors degree in business. Christine Adams, welcome to ClientSide. 

 

Christine Adams: Hi, how are you? 

 

Nathan Anibaba: Really good. Thank you. Thank you very much for being on the show. Super excited to speak to you. You’ve got such a varied and colorful background. Everything from retail, marketing, fashion, sports, insurance, legal, tech. You’ve been on the agency side. You’ve also got several professional level marketing qualifications. How does that background affect the way that you approach growing brands in general and for Cloudmore specifically? 

 

Christine Adams: Well, I’ve always moved into different sectors when I’ve looked for a new role, as I always kind of believed that that really allowed me to feel the organization through the eyes and the ears of the customer. I feel like sectors develop norms and therefore when you move within a sector, you bring that sectoral baggage with you to the new role, whereas when you’re moving into a new sector, you can bring innovation and real change to an organization, challenging the things they do and helping them stand out from the market. You get to be inquisitive as you are a fresh pair of eyes, and kind of challenge that status quo. Although you definitely have to be a quick learner and get up to speed. There’s only so much slack people will allow you, but I’ve always enjoyed that aspect. And you can see that I’ve generally always enjoyed learning new things, whether that be qualifications or new sectoral experiences. 

With Cloudmore, although I’m now in the tech sector, it’s such a varied sector with so many sub categories that you really have to know and engage your market and your audience, and develop that strong brand narrative in order to connect with them in a really busy marketplace, where you’re selling a service again, rather than a takeaway product, which adds a different element to the mix. And I really think that that sort of differentiation for an organization can only be brought in through marketing. So, that’s why I have chose to move into different sectors. It’s exciting for me, but I also think it actually adds value to the organization. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: Really fascinating. I’m sure it does. So let’s talk about Cloudmore then, in more detail and how you added value to them. Although relative in a very short space of time, because you’ve only been with the company four months, you recently joined us as head of marketing. Tell us more about the company, who are your clients and what problems do you solve for them? 

 

Christine Adams: Well, Cloudmore, as you mentioned is a software as a service company that enables businesses to manage the recurring services, including billing and subscriptions. Our platform enables customer self-service, which we are seeing, and the market’s really saying is a key element now in the customer relationship management for businesses, and our platform also integrates with existing business systems for seamless end to end service. We work and listen to our clients in the marketplace, generally to add features to our platform, to ensure we’re always providing clients with what they need now, but also what they’ll need in the future, which is very important for us. We work in partnership with our clients and their success is our success. So we’re always thinking ahead and how to enable that success for both of us. Our clients come from across the globe, but generally fall into two categories. So we’ve got the Microsoft cloud service providers, so CSPs, which have painpoints within their business managing recurrence services that our platform can solve exceptionally well and transform how they work in the future.

But we also then cater for the general managed service providers who are looking for digital transformation. So we enable their strategic development through helping them to scale, be agile, increase their business valuation through recurring services model and help future proof their business. So there’s a lot of different clients, a lot of different narratives to take in, and a lot of different audiences. But what attracted me to the company, which I was quite nervous about moving from my last role, I’d been there seven years, was the company ethos. It’s a Swedish based company and it’s very socially focused, not just about making money. It’s about making life better for those companies that we work with and allowing them to compete and thrive and create a positive working environment for them and our growing team. So that kind of give me the comfort that I would enjoy the environment as well as enjoying moving into a new sector.

The company has been very focused on developing best in class platform and the best in class customer service. So now it’s time to focus on the brand and try and ensure it’s best in class in order to effectively communicate with our partners that we already work with. And also obviously talk to new clients and tell them about what we can do to help them achieve their strategic objectives and their success. We already have, thankfully, lots and lots of proof of this as we’ve been in business for many years and have great case studies and client feedback, but we’ve never really focused on our brand. We’ve always been looking to build our platform and build our customer success teams, so now we need to let businesses know how we can work with them to create success together. So that’s where I have been brought in and that’s now my objective over the coming year. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: Okay. So that leads me onto the next question then, what are the specific marketing challenges that you were brought in to help solve? And it sounds as though it is the focus on building the brand, getting greater awareness at the top of the funnel, generating that awareness with clients, but also a demand gen piece as well, of converting that interest and that awareness into clients and opportunities.
 

Christine Adams: Yeah, I think generally it’s a challenge for many successful businesses that they’re so focused on delivering an excellent product, excellent service, that it’s hard to find time to tell people about the great work you’re doing. So that’s now my challenge. It’s building that brand architecture, our verbal visual identity to create two-way communication with our market and with our current clients so that we can reach more businesses, to show them how we can help them transform, future-proof their business. It’s about making sure that we’re able to tell our story with the way that resonates with potential customers and the ecosystem in which we operate in a simple, powerful, beautiful way, which are three words that Cloudmore really live by. Simple and that our platform is easy to use. Powerful that it’s next generation best practice technology. And beautiful is simply that, it’s pleasing to the eye. It looks good. It’s easy to work with. It’s very intuitive and there are things I need to bring into the brand and push out to our customers.

So for me, it’s not just about pushing out a message or we’re the best. It’s very much that two way communication of how we can help those potential clients and our current clients achieve success, because going back to that social values, it’s not just about making money, it is about creating that ecosystem, it’s about creating something bigger than just Cloudmore. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: Hmm. Really fascinating. So tell us then kind of what success looks like in your role for the first six months, because you’re four months in now. How do you approach, how do you think about prioritizing your work and your workload? Because there must be so many things to do when you’re coming into a brand such as Cloudmore, a lot of legacy, a lot of clients, a lot of history. There are many different ways that you could approach building the brand architecture and building the brand, and prioritizing your wider workload. How do you think about the most important things to do in the first six months and how do you prioritize your work? 

 

Christine Adams: For me going in when we’re kind of looking at the brand, it’s about building the foundations, the brand, the research, the team capabilities. So we’ve set out about trying to understand what messaging we want to put across, what our brand means, what our values and what is our mission. And we’re working with a creative agency then to help us achieve that. In terms of building research foundations, it’s about kind of getting all the information we already have within the team and within the wider organization and sharing that and analyzing it to actually show, I suppose, the strategic direction that we need to move in, and also looking at any information gaps and how we’re going to fill those. And then building out the team and the capabilities, and that’s both internally and externally, what agencies do we need to use? What skills gaps do we have? Where do we need to up-skill internally in the long-term? And where can we go externally in the short-term to build up those capabilities? 

 

Nathan Anibaba: Hmm. Really interesting. So just on that then, how do you think about how best to build the team both internally, externally? Let’s start with internally first, what are the main skillsets and attributes of the team members in marketing that you need to help really drive the brand forward? And what have you learned about how to hire and attract and work with an agency, outside third party that can help you deliver on your strategic objectives? 

 

Christine Adams: I suppose when I think about my team, I never just think about it as my internal team. I’ve kind of learned in previous roles that my team is also my external agencies, because I work extremely closely with them. So for me, building a team is about getting the right mix of left and right brain thinking, because generally marketing is a blend of science, technology, art. So it’s my aim to find the right people to fill each of those requirements. And that may be internal, but it could also be external, using specialist agencies or even freelancers. For me the diversity of thought, experience and skills is what can set your efforts apart. So when I’m kind of managing my team might try and use the right skills at the right time to deliver the maximum results for any investments and take a flexible approach with the agencies I work with.

I don’t generally like fixed retainers with fixed outcomes. I prefer a more agile way of working and choose agencies that I know can pivot with me and offer an agile approach. So one week we could be focused on creatively, and the next, analyze our marketing data to help strategic decision-making. While it’s great to find an agency that can offer a wide range of services, it’s also very important that they offer the best delivery of these services. So sometimes, it’s better to use multiple agencies, which obviously comes with its own set of challenges. But I take the same approach, we’re managing external agencies as I do when manager my internal team, because for me, they’re just an extension of this and the more aware they are of what we’re doing internally, the better they can help us achieve success generally. So it’s very much about communicating, ensuring there’s no overlap if you’re using multiple agencies and that they’re also communicating with each other, and that any outputs can be optimized in all fronts to deliver best returns such as your digital campaigns, working alongside your PR campaigns.

There were key element for me in success when I’m working with external and internal teams, is to upskill and knowledge transfer from agencies to the internal teams to ensure that we don’t have to use the agencies for operational tasks, that we could be doing ourselves, but that we use the agencies for their specialist skills and the resources, which we don’t want to bring in house to ensure that our budget goes as far as possible. So while there’s a lot of management involved, I think if you get the right fit internally and externally, it’s not a difficult management task, it’s just kind of making sure that everyone’s driving in the right and same direction, and that there isn’t overlap, that everyone’s doing the thing that they are best at, and to get the best out of any budget. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: Hmmm. Let’s talk a little bit about your education and experience and background a little more, because you said earlier that a marketer is a combination between left brain, right brain, art and science and technology. And it seems as though you’ve got a lot of background in history in all of those areas, your experience is very wide ranging. You also have a fellow with the Charleston Institute of Marketing. You completed a mini MBA this year. You’ve got a degree in Masters in Business and Business Analysis and Consulting. Why did you feel that you needed to have those qualifications and what has it added to your impact as a marketer? 

 

Christine Adams: The qualifications I’ve completed over the last number of years have been a move away from straight marketing into strategic and leadership learnings. I feel if marketing is to have a seat at the top table, then the person in that role needs to be able to think and act in a strategic manner for the benefit of the business as a whole and not just their own department. You need to be able to speak the same language as the other leaders at the table and bring them more strategically focused, kind of innovation to help that organization thrive. My experience to date, my qualifications has provided me with the confidence and knowledge to add value to those high level conversations. And it can be difficult at times, but I always try as much as possible to ensure my suggestions are based on facts, and that I analyze and measure and continuously improve to deliver on them.

Think of marketing as just a department led by normal marketer will never achieve its full potential. With its mix of, as you say, science and creativity, marketing can be an innovation capitalist within an organization enabling greater customer and employer market engagement. And through those interactions, you’re able to find your company’s unique position and your unique voice. So for me, it is very much important to understand the basics of marketing, to have those strong foundations and the qualifications and experience I have in marketing. But to take on a leadership role, you have to be strategic, you have to understand the business outside of just your own marketing department. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: That’s really interesting. So when we spoke last time in the pre-interview you, you said that being on maternity leave really affected your confidence. I’m sure that’s something that a lot of women who are developing and growing their careers can identify with. Can you talk a little bit about that? 

 

Christine Adams: Yeah. I find it, I suppose, slightly nerve-wracking coming back into a new organization and a new position, but I have, just suppose, just jumped into it. I have taken on a mentor recently who has been very valuable just in making sure that I understand, I am a specialist in this field and that I know what I’m doing. And she’s provided me with just a sounding board to, I suppose, to have those conversations with and make sure that I am confident in my approach, which even in the short term that I’ve been in the new role, I feel like my confidence has come back and I’m a lot more secure than I was. I’m sure a lot of women feel like that coming back off maternity leave, but it’s something that I suppose organizations need to support women with as well. And there’s been a lot of that, even in the wider ecosystem with peer-to-peer support, it’s something now that can be easily spoken about. And I think it has affected everybody, so I’m certainly not alone in how I feel, but I would say you talk to kind of your peers or get a mentor because it really has helped me just understand, I suppose, my worth and the value I can bring to the organizations I’m working with. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: What’s a specific piece of advice that your mentor has given you that’s really stuck in your head that you can share with us. 

 

Christine Adams: You’re the expert. You know, I am in my company, the expert in marketing and looking at organizational change projects. And I have to remember that, and very much stand my ground if I think that the decisions I’m putting forward are right. So it’s just remembering that you were brought in because you are the expert. And that’s something that I just keep reminding myself, that it’s up to me. I am the expert in my field. That’s why I’m there. And that’s why I’m at the table leading my department. So yeah, just trust in yourself and that you’re there for a reason and you are the expert. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: Absolutely love it. Christine, last couple of questions before we end the interview. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation. It’s been super, super fascinating learning about your history and experience. Going back to the brand building piece for a moment. I mean, what have you learned, because of your extensive background in so many different industries, what have you learned about what it takes to build a brand now in new industries where potentially, we all know there’s a lot of noise out there. There’s a hell of a lot of competition, everyone’s sort of trying to educate the market, develop thought leadership, engage with customers, it’s harder and harder to do that because of all the noise. What have you learned about what it takes both resources wise, and from a strategic marketing point of view, to develop a brand that’s able to stand on its own two feet and really have a very clear positioning in the market? 

 

Christine Adams: Well, when I talk about brand, I’m not talking about a logo. I’m talking about an organization and its vision and its mission and its values. And I suppose we’ll call myself a fairly generalist marketer, which I think is a very valuable thing when you’re actually trying to lead a brand because she needs to be able to assess the broad spectrum of what needs to be achieved and how that marries up with the wider aims of the organization. I think if you’re too specialist, you can get caught up in an area and not see that bigger brand picture. Don’t get me wrong, I think specialists are great for managing in specific areas where you can get really granular about that area and how do you achieve the best results possible, but you still need someone to bring all those areas together under one umbrella, which is your brand, to ensure they’re all working to achieve those corporate objectives rather than strategic area objectives.

So I would consider my specialist area as branding, about creating a purpose driven organization, by connecting the brand and the organization’s vision, mission, values, culture to your customers, your employees, to the organization’s wider ecosystem, by adding value, by delivering and implementing brand and marketing strategies or ways to achieve your corporate objectives. And you can use your brands and your corporate culture as a catalyst for this innovation. So I would work with my internal and external team to provide those deep dive specialist technical skills to help me achieve the results. And I think it’s important to understand how those specialist areas work. So I can challenge what’s been done and drive continuous improvement. But if I was to focus on one of those areas, I think the brand piece would suffer. I think it’s very important that a business understands and respects the specialist areas.

And I’ve seen so many job descriptions looking for marketers that are experts in search engine, digital campaigns, content creation, research, data analysis, and these people don’t exist. They’re called agencies and it can be difficult when it’s assumed that a marketer should be experts in all things and have the time to deep dive into all areas, while making sure they all work in harmony and your brand is perfect. 

 

Nathan Anibaba: Right. 

 

Christine Adams: You can’t achieve those results because of a lack of time, resources, technical knowledge. Personally, I wouldn’t source my branding. Yes, I’ve worked with creatives to bring that brand vision into life. But for me, the brand is the heart of the company. And that’s where it should sit in the middle of the organization, influence everything that you do, from your product development, to how you deal with your customers, to how employees feeling working for your company. Like your brand’s your reason for being, it’s not a logo, but then this is an area of a lot of experience and knowledge in, and that may not always be the case for a lot of businesses and outsourcing may be the only option. So for that, I would say agency selection is key to success. You need to get someone who’s on your wavelength.

But one very interesting point is that brand and brand management is now the number one marketing priority for companies across the globe, which has been advised by enormous amount of reports from the big consultancy firms. And it is, it’s where everything flows from. It’s the one area where innovation can flow out to create positive change right across an organization. It’s not just marketing, it’s not just sales, it’s not just customer success. Your brand is really what you should always come back to when you’re thinking about your next strategic move, or you’re pondering whether you should do something or not. Does it match up to our purpose, why we are here? I think if you can define the purpose and define that narrative, then people will engage with your brand because it will resonate with them and marry up to what they want to achieve.

So a brand is very different to your marketing activity. It is important that that is the central function in an organization, and certainly overview all of the marketing activities. So that’s what I’m trying to achieve with Cloudmore, now just trying to work out what our messaging is. We know what our purpose is, how we communicate that best, so that our customers hear that and that it matches up with what they’re trying to achieve as well. So, hopefully we’ll get our brand project launch over the next couple of months and then move on to campaigning after that.
 

Nathan Anibaba: Yeah. No, I think it’s super fascinating and something that far too few brands actually do, or far too few organizations do actually, lead with a purpose based culture, focusing on their values and their mission and their purpose and why they exist and really making that a real core part of who they are, and they really sort of live that in the real world, as opposed to sort of having slogans on the wall, where people don’t really live up to it. So, the fact that organizations can do it and live up to those values, I think is it’s quite a rare breed to do that, but the ones that do it and do it well, go on to build not just good businesses, but great businesses.
 

Christine Adams: Yeah, it gives you a pathway of… In my last company, we very much had our brand purpose and when we were thinking about doing anything new, we looked at our brand purpose and it’s like, does it meet one of these strategic objectives? And if it doesn’t, why are we doing it? And you know, it’s always just bringing it back to the brand and it helps you stay on track and it helps guide you.
 

Nathan Anibaba: Sure, it’s your north star.
 

Christine Adams: Yeah, very much so.
 

Nathan Anibaba: Absolutely love it. Christine I can talk to you about this all day, but where we’re running out of time. Final question, we’re going to have to get you back on the show at some point in the future. Because there’s a million questions that I didn’t get a chance to ask you.
 

Christine Adams: Not a problem.
 

Nathan Anibaba: Last question. What advice would you give to other aspiring marketeers? Your background is so varied in technology and retail and insurance and legal, around sort of how best to guide their careers and navigate their careers, especially being balancing being parents or mothers, while navigating their careers, what advice would you give to other aspiring marketeers right now?
 

Christine Adams: I think there’s two ways to go. Normally marketing, you either specialize in one area and you know that area inside out. And I’m working with an agency where I’ve worked with their digital marketing director before, and she knows her stuff and she knows it in and out. And I know she is the best person for that role. That’s superb. Or else you learn and develop outside of pure marketing and develop a more strategic business focus, which is where I’ve tried to go. And in that way, you can understand how to use your skills and experience to help achieve organizational goals, rather than just marketing ones. And although I’ve always worked in marketing, my role was developed across any organizations I’ve worked with at a senior level into organizational change projects, clients, stakeholder, relationship management, special projects, innovation, driving continuous improvements through all of your customer touch points in an organization.

And this is what I really enjoy doing, but it’s about understanding where your skillset lies and don’t be pushing into areas that you’re not comfortable in, or you don’t think you can achieve in. So just take stock of what you enjoy and what you want to be the best in. Because if you really enjoy it and you want to learn more about it and you want to push on that way in your career, I think again, that should be your brand, and that should be what guides you. And it’s very much what I’ve tried to focus on when I did the mini MBA this year. Marketing was one of the elements, but it was very interesting for me to find out how all other areas of the business work and how you can add value to them no matter what department you’re in.

So it is always kind of about looking outside of your own department, up to that bigger table, understanding how your skills and experience can add value to the top of a business. And that could be that, you just specialize in one area and you are the best person in that area or that you are more generalist and you can see what needs to be done in a more strategic focus, but just find out what your brand is and what your specialists are and try and stick to that. Don’t try and be all things as a marketer to all people, because you only need to a few bits and pieces well, rather than doing one or two bits brilliantly, and again, that’s where agencies come in to help you, that’s for your internal team comes in to help you.

You need other people around you. No one can do everything and no one can do everything to the deep dives that a specialist person can, or a Head of Function can. So very much get a strong team around you and understand where your gaps are and fill those with really good people, kind of lead with what you know you can achieve. And as I say, for me, it’s very much that that brand piece and the organizational change piece, I enjoy it. And that’s kind of where I really want to focus and I’ve got a really good team around me now. So hopefully we’ll see some really good success for Cloudmore.
 

Nathan Anibaba: Hmm. Well said. Christine, I’ve really enjoyed the conversation. Thank you very much for being on ClientSide.
 

Christine Adams: Thank you so much. I’ve enjoyed it as well.
 

Nathan Anibaba: If you’d like to share any comments on this episode or any episode of ClientSide, then find us online at Fox.Agency. If you’d like to appear as a guest on the show, please email zoe@fox.agency. The people that make the show possible are Zoe, our Booker/Researcher, David Clare is our Head of Content. Ben Fox, our Executive Producer. I’m Nathan Anibaba. You’ve been listening to ClientSide from Fox Agency.
 

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