Brand Narratives and Awareness in Cybersecurity

Kyle Flaherty is the SVP of global marketing for Cybereason and a tech marketing executive who is known for launching high-profile technology startups with four successful exits. Flaherty served as a CMO and VP marketing for a variety of companies on his journey to Cybereason, including notables like Rapid7 and spent several years on the other side of the fence for folks like the Horn Group in San Francisco. His passion is to not only message technology and branding of an organization, but to build award-winning marketing teams that work in lock-step to rapidly produce demand, partner with sales and drive measurable results to impact the bottom line.

As a tech marketing executive, Flaherty has worked with early-stage startups to hyper-growth public companies, changing the worlds of big data, IoT, BYOD, SaaS, open source software, network security, fraud detection, data analytics, marketing automation and network management. Flaherty uses his experiences to weigh in on brands and how metrics feed different audiences:

While brand feeds demand gen, demand gen is the engine that you should be focusing on when it comes to things like ROI or CPL and all the different metrics that you need to take, back to the board to show that this is happening. … This is one thing that we do, you can look at the effect of brand on minimizing the time spent in the sales stages.

In this episode of Cybersecurity Unplugged, Flaherty discusses:

  • How Cybereason has been impacted by its brand;
  • The importance of brand campaign awareness;
  • Effective brand campaigns to focus on and how to create one.
CLICK HERE for a full transcript of the conversation.

This episode has been automatically transcribed by AI, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors.

Steve King 00:13

Good day everyone, I’m Steve King, the managing director of cyber theory. Today’s episode is going to focus on branding and what that specifically means in the cybersecurity space. Joining me today is Kyle Flaherty, SVP of global marketing for cyber reason. And the guy who brought us the province of owls, cyber reasons, highly effective brandstory. Kyle is served as a CMO and VP marketing for a variety of companies on his journey to cybereason including notables like rapid seven, and spent several years on the other side of the fence for folks like the horn group in Portland Valley. And he’s the only Bates College alumni that I know. So welcome, Kyle. I’m glad you could join me today.

Kyle Flaherty  01:00

Thanks, Steve point of clarity though it’s a parliament of owls. We gotta we got to make sure that we’re calling them the right thing.

Steve King  01:07

Oh, did I say province? I do that I been doing that frequently. So

Kyle Flaherty  01:15

I started researching als for the branding initiative. I really didn’t know myself

Steve King  01:19

now. Okay, great. Providence it is. So speaking of Providence’s, how did the our theme come to be? And maybe you can describe the journey through several reason that alternately arrived at your launch?

Kyle Flaherty  01:34

Yeah, I mean, I think that if, if folks have seen, you know, kind of our advertising and our creative that that’s out there, obviously, the owls are prevalent theme of that. And, really, it came from the beginning parts of the company. I mean, the owl has been in the low row since our founders brought us all together 10 years ago, and they had the idea for this company. And as we looked at it, and the team looked at what I was meant to us, and you know, from a branding perspective, it was really important for us to show that these creatures are hunters, you know, they’re mercenaries, they’re hunters at night, you know, there are a lot of the things that when you think about our mission, and what we were founded on, and which is the core of the brand is to reverse that adversary advantage and to really champion the defenders, and you know, that those owls and if you honestly, I did so much research more than I ever thought I would, on any sort of species, it was really amazing to hear about how protective they are, and how just brutal they can be when something is in, you know, when they’re put in danger, and they’re being attacked. And so that really was the kind of genesis of bringing those hours to life and then providing them and giving them a futuristic future ready, you know, feel overall, that really kind of tapped into the the whole, you know, I’ve been in cybersecurity, you know, pretty much since 1997. And our audience loves really cool things, you know, and really dynamic technical aspects. And so we took those owls and made them into some ferocious beings.

Steve King  03:15

Yeah, so the theme kind of premise the server isn’t personality, I guess, right?

Kyle Flaherty  03:22

I mean, it has to, I think, you know, when I think about brand, which is obviously the topic that we’re talking about, the hours are great, the creatives great. And if you if you look, we’re evolving it even more, we have some unbelievable talent that’s joining the organization. And it’s taking the hours to another level, at its core brand continues to be the promise that we make to our customers and our partners and our employees. It’s when I first interviewed with cybereason, I was with our our CEO Lior div. You know, I asked him what the definition of brand was to him just to kind of understand it from the very top. And he had a great way of explaining it, you know, brand is what people say about you when you leave the room. And that’s what we want people to think about when when we leave the room, you know, whether they are going to buy or not whether they’re going to partner or not, or whatnot. It’s alright, those guys are champions of security defenders, and we really believe that they have our back and they’re first to our fight. And that is what we try to do, whether it’s visually whether it’s through verbal, whether it’s through hosting events, that that permeates through everything and that when you’re looking at brand, that has got to be important. You have to always go back to the promise that you’re making.

Steve King  04:32

When you were sowing this internally. We I’m sure you had some resistance in places was the fact that the CEO was behind this a big part of why that actually came to be or what did you do to get this push through essentially?

Kyle Flaherty  04:47

Yeah, that’s a great question. I think so there’s, there’s three things that I would highlight one certainly yes. I mean, it it starts from the top Lior and the leadership team as a whole truly believe that It was time. And you know, now we’re talking about early 2020. and into the fall of 2020, when we kind of did this refresh of the brand, you know, they understood and wanted this to happen. And so that was certainly important, right? You need, you need that behind you. I think the second kind of perfect, no congruence here was, we also have a CMO and my manager, so I’m not just sitting here trying to butter her up if she’s listening to the podcast, but it was important that we had a CMO who, you know, in Mega Leary who has been there, done that, right, she understands what it takes to build a brand, whether it’s a large brands like RSA, or smaller startup brands, you know, she really understood how to make that happen, as do I, and the partnership, I think, between the two of us was really critical to allowing that to happen. But the third part is the maybe the more broad part, and I would encourage anyone who’s looking whether, you know, insecurity, or any sort of b2b Tech, you know, you also got to be at the backing of the employees. And so one of the first things that we put into place, and that I led was kind of cross functional committee of folks who, before we even, you know, had a first you know, drawing of the labels, or the color palette, or the verbal brand narrative or whatnot, we’re bringing those folks together, so they were part of it, right. And the group would, you know, eventually grow to about 5060 people, which, you know, is a good segment, and you got to manage that correctly, obviously, and have good breakouts and make sure people are different, quote, unquote, committees within that to really help with that. But, you know, if you focus on making sure that people buy into it throughout the organization, it’s not only going to allow you to get what you need, quote, unquote, but it’s gonna allow you to roll this out in a manner that everyone’s behind it, right? The whole company is feeding off of that brand, and they become as excited if not more than you by the time it goes out the door.

Steve King  06:58

Right. One of the things that most of our audience is curious about is how you chose the distribution channels for the promotional videos that you guys have created. I think I’ve seen you guys on national TV campaigns, streaming campaigns, to a NFL audience, and maybe the Ohio Valley or something. For example, what’s the decision process there?

Kyle Flaherty  07:20

The decision process is like a lot of things in marketing, you test and you iterate. And so if I if you, if we brought up our media buy plan in q4 of 2020. And then I brought up the q4 2021 plan or that January, you know, the q1 plan that will enter into in a couple weeks, it’s vastly different. You know, we learned a lot about where we were making the most mark. And so, you know, we started kind of regionally on cable from a TV from a linear TV perspective, we’re doing a lot of Ott, so over the top that streaming stuff, so if you’re a Hulu subscriber or Amazon, firestick, etc, whatever you’re using from that. But also, you know, does an NPR sponsorship work in certain regions? Does Sirius XM work? Well, you know, what type? You know, again, we were in the midst of quite a lot of political conversation at the time, when we launched, there was a presidential election going on, I’m sure you remember. There’s a lot of things happening in the fall of 2020, that you have to consider in that both in terms of where the audience is, but cost, right. So being on CNN last year, at this time was a lot more costly than it is this year, or Fox News or whatever it is. And so we we constantly are iterating. And I think where we’ve kind of ended up and you, you talked a little bit about the NFL, I think news and sports continues to be a dominant position from a medium perspective. And that’s pretty simple. They’re both the things that you watch live, that you don’t necessarily fast forward through. So advertising, of course, is going to have a larger foothold there. And then I think, you know, we have found nice pockets of digital advertising on some key podcasts, it could be something like darknet diaries, or our own malicious life podcast, I’ll get a shameless plug in for that. But, you know, we we tested, and we looked at it, we looked at the numbers, and we looked at what we were getting from returns and all that, and we’re gonna continue to do that. And we’re gonna figure out kind of what works and, and now our linear TV by is a national cable by so you, you know, you don’t have to be in Ohio Valley, you could be anywhere in the United States as well, as you know, throughout Europe, we’re running campaigns to and we have to think about that from a global perspective, what that means from the buy, but also what that means creatively. There’s a lot of kind of layers into that, but ultimately, it goes back to let’s, let’s test, let’s iterate and let’s test again.

Steve King  09:48

Yeah, and historically broadcast audience demographics, you know, might argue against promotional spin targeting those, you know, I don’t know 98% of the unknown personas in In the demographic target, what? How did you? Do you have an ROI formula that you somehow developed that, then were was able to carry this internally and say, Hey, no, no, here’s, here’s why this is going to

Kyle Flaherty  10:12

work. Yeah, there’s a lot of, you know, term ROI with brand is always an interesting conversation for sure. I worry less about, quote, unquote, ROI, because there’s never going to be a simple way for me to say, All right, I spent this and we got that back. But what I can measure are a few kind of influencers and indicators. And so, you know, the first of course, is you got to have your brand awareness surveys in market, you got to be doing it on a regular basis. For some companies that might be every year, every six months, every quarter, depends on your size and your scope, and what you can do from that. And so one of our main objectives was to really increase that dramatically in our key regions. So we track that just absolutely religiously. And it’s something that, you know, the senior management team and the board are all aware of right, and so that that is what we are reporting back to them. The other indicators are things like brand searches. So how many people since I started 18 months ago, however, we increase the amount of times people search for cybereason. It’s a real simple metric to look at. And it’s also a reflection of a lot of the brand work that you’re doing. We look at things like direct traffic to the website. And we segment that by region, if we’re doing regional advertising, let’s say we’re really trying to hit the southeast, in we can look at that, and we’re making sure that we’re reporting back into the business. The other thing to look at is, and it’s a more fun one, and maybe it’s not something that people talk about, but is how do your competitors react? Are they starting to buy up your brand search terms? Right. And once that does start to happen, you know that there’s an impact happening, both from an awareness standpoint, as well as a sales standpoint, right, you’re getting into more deals, you’re on the shortlist more and more and more. So you know, and the digital marketing folks who listen to this will, will appreciate, of course, as your competitors start bidding more on your own brand search terms, and we’re doing the same, of course, with our competitors, those CPCs go up, it becomes more costly for everyone. So it’s this interesting arms race that we’re all dealing with when it comes to paid brands, or on brand paid search terms. But it is a great indicator that a lot of the work that you’re doing is actually having a a benefit. And it’s being heard in the market.

Steve King  12:29

Those metrics, interesting to your board of directors, I mean, is that part of your sort of whatever your frequent presentation is on how, how the brand programs going?

Kyle Flaherty  12:41

Yeah, I would say it’s a secondary point, I do think it’s a nice, you know, especially in security, you know, I, again, been doing this for a long time, you know, this market as well, if not better than I do. It’s a great community. And so while we do have competitors, we’ve all worked with one another, we’re all here to help from that. But it’s a business at the end of the day, and you do have competitors. And it’s it’s one of those talking points that I think a board. And this is not just my experience at cybereason. It’s other places too, it’s the experience of you know, the board does love to hear that, you know, we’re not, you know, only being hammered by the competition, they’re reacting to stuff that we are doing as well. So it’s more of a talking point and less of something that we present. But internally, Steve, like and this goes back to the cost structure, quite frankly, it’s something that we’re focused on all the time, my digital marketing team, my growth marketing team, like that is something that’s super important to make sure that we’re seeing where things are. So they don’t necessarily get out of control from a bidding perspective, because your budget can get can get out of whack real fast. If you’re not following along.

Steve King  13:47

Have you tried to map your revenue growth sort of back to the timeline of the of the campaign in any way?

Kyle Flaherty  13:58

Not to the brand stuff, we could do it but I’m more focused on you know, I’m rent brand is one element of something that obviously I care about and do but I we really take a more stringent approach when it comes to the funnel metrics that we’re looking at around leads and lead quality and MQL is and of course, you know, the the meetings that are created by our BDR organization based on every campaign source, etc. So do we see some things that come through that are just classic brand a click through a brand ad went to the website went to a landing page that’s devoted to a TV ad? Sure, we definitely see that overall. But you know, if we started really focusing on that, I actually think that you’re wasting your time. You should be thinking about those things when it comes down to the real segmented campaigns and the lead generation stuff. And while brand feeds demand gen demand gen really is the the engine that you should be focusing on when it comes to things Like ROI, or CPL and all the different metrics that you need to take, again back to the board to show that this is happening. The thing you can do, though, in there is, and this is one thing that we do is you can look at the effect of brand on minimizing the times in the sales stages. And so you can see a direct connection, or correlation between brand awareness going up, and, you know, the the amount of time it takes for go nogo or negotiation phases in a sales cycle to actually go down. And why is that? Well, now in the procurement, you know, or the invoice or the P O or the contract, or whatever it is, gets in front of the C level, whether it’s the seaso as the signing power, the CFO, etc. If you’re not a known quantity, and you’re not a known organization, well, a lot of questions come back, right? Who is this? Who is that? It’s the old, you know, you never get fired for you know, buying IBM, right? Exactly, that that whole thing is about brand awareness. And so it’s the same thing of if we can minimize that time in that is a huge win for us, because it got in front of that C level executives, cyber yeah, that’s that. That’s the owl company, they’re all over the place check in it does simplify your force for the sake of the podcast, but you can really see that night encourage folks as they’re thinking about brand awareness to take a look at that,

Steve King  16:23

ya know, I’ve argued for that for as long as I can remember. And, and, nonetheless, you know, we run into folks that are, you know, they’re intrigued by what you guys have done in that direction. But, you know, the assumption is that it costs a lot of money, and it’s outside of our budget appetite, and how do we get our C CEO to commit to this? And he breaks down some of that? I don’t want to, you know, I’m not asking for detail here. But just rough, rough costs associated with each component of the plan, it was to the cost, like $100,000, to build that digital owl or less?

Kyle Flaherty  17:02

Yeah, I mean, I think that the thing that I would say is that, it all depends on what you want to do with it. So I’ve done brand campaigns that are in the 10s of 1000s of dollars, that do an enormous shift. And this is for larger public brands, right, you can find creative ways to do all those things. You can also be in a market where a lot of your competitors are doing traditional linear TV. And it’s very noisy overall. And so you have to compete with that. If you want to kind of continue that you could decide to produce an ad for, you know, a couple of $1,000, you can decide to spend a million dollars on it. I think what people who in the know, and who have done this for a while know, is, it’s oftentimes a lot less expensive from the creative side than you think it is. There’s some amazing talent out there some amazing agencies that can help you with these things, we are so fortunate, you know, to have several different agencies that we found to work with, who really can get these amazing and beautiful things done for for a fraction of what I think you think it might cost. And so and that’s part of the brand alert to write is, I want people to sit there and say, Oh, my God, that’s gonna cost a ton or, you know, cybereason official defenders of, you know, the New England Patriots and several other kind of NFL teams like that must just be it, it’s it, go and investigate it, go and look into it. You know, there’s ways to kind of make sure that you’re doing those things and looking much larger than potentially you are. Yeah,

Steve King  18:36

sure. And I think, talk to us about the cost of TV advertising today versus, you know, a year or two years ago. I mean, what, how much less is it today? Yeah,

Kyle Flaherty  18:48

I mean, it’s, it’s, you know, depending on how much you’re buying, we’re talking millions of dollars less, you’re in a non election year, it’s going to ramp up, of course, next fall again, if you’re buying news, right? I mean, that that’s the thing, if you’re buying MSNBC or Fox News or CNN, then you’re going to have to go through those waves and you you should plan for that. Right? So go heavy in August and September, maybe in q4, you move that over, maybe you I wouldn’t say go dark. That’s that’s often not a great premise, but maybe you go more audio at that point, or podcast or something like that. And so you got to look at those things as well as and listen, I learned this to Steve and I, you know, like the Summer Olympics really snuck up on me this year. It’s like oh, we could have done you know, we ended up doing some some cool things around that. But we could have done more. We got the World Cup next year you got there’s big events that are very global and very aware if you’re, if you got the budget, you want to do something around the English Premier League and you want to do something around the Super Bowl or like winter Olympics are coming. So there’s things and moments in time where you can make a dramatic impact for a lot less cost that you can do. The other thing is and it goes back to TV is in unless you’ve done Before you’re just you wouldn’t know this, you know, you can seemingly, you know, look like you’re buying a lot more or you can buy regionally or locally on net, you know, on cable instead of nationally, there’s, there’s just so many different ways to kind of get in there, you know, and really make an impact. Without seeing, I mean, think about your local TV, and some of the ads that you see, that’s the local, you know, I mean, here, you know, we have our local furniture companies, or, you know, there’s a chiropractor or a lawyer that suits like, how are they on CBS? You know, right before the second half of the Patriots game? It’s like, well, that’s the local, you know, that’s the in ad that’s coming from the local. That’s a lot cheaper than buying it through CBS nationally. But, you know, the people in your market don’t know that. They just see that and say, Wow, that that’s incredible that, you know, they’re all over the place.

Steve King  20:50

Yeah. And I mean, that that is the impression that we all have, I’m conscious of the time, I want to ask you just one more question here. Before we wrap up, what follow on programs do you guys have in mind to keep the the owl momentum moving ahead?

Kyle Flaherty  21:07

Yeah, I mean, I think what you’re gonna see as we move into the new year, is, and this is thanks to, you know, that the amazing new talent that we have on this team and a new brand team that’s led by Matt and sarin, like, I think that this is a group that is going to take the owls and make them more oriented to the landscape in which the defenders live, I think you’re gonna see them, you know, more involved in terms of the humans aspects of this job and what we do at the end of the day, right? We’re working with humans, and we’re really like, focused on those folks. And so, you know, I’m super excited for folks to see that as well as then layering it on to something very specific. And that’s, you know, our kind of approach with SDR or extended detection and response. And so you’re gonna see a more direct tie in, I think, between the brand itself, and then what we’re providing the people who rely on cybereason every day.

Steve King  22:10

So more of an outcome based campaign than versus feature function.

Kyle Flaherty  22:15

Bingo. And that’s, you know, and that was, the beauty is, that was the strategy and the plan and things, you know, didn’t line up that way, which is great. And you know, and in our market, you also need to rely on the amazing talent that’s in the product organization. And so as they’re innovating, you, you oftentimes have to kind of position your brands with that. And so fortunately, it’s coming together at the right time. It doesn’t always happen that way, you know, but we’re at this moment in time. Now, as we move into the beginning of 2022, where SDR really has become the critical thing that a lot of organizations are looking for. And it’s an innovation that we’re excited about internally. And so why not get the owls behind that and, you know, set them to flight around that SDR motif?

Steve King  23:05

Yeah, we’re definitely looking forward to that flight to. And we’re huge fans of you and your program there and cybereason on thank you what you guys are doing. I really, it’s been remarkable. And, and so thank you for that. Because it’s paced setting for the rest of the community. And people need to take heed and to learn some lessons from what you guys have been able to do here and stop doing what we’ve been doing, which doesn’t seem to work. So anyway, we’re out of time. I do want to thank our guests, Kyle Flaherty, again for taking time out of his busy schedule to join me in giving your listeners something to think about I hope.

Kyle Flaherty  23:47

Thank you, Steve. I really appreciate it. I’ll pass those kind words to the team that really executed all this.

Steve King  23:52

Yeah. Great. Thank you. And thanks to our listeners for joining us and another one of cyber theories unplugged reviews of the weird world of cybersecurity technology in our new digital reality. Until next time, I’m your host Steve King, signing out.

Anna Delaney  24:14

Thank you for joining us for another episode of cybersecurity unplugged. You can connect with us on LinkedIn or Facebook at cyber theory, or send us an email at social at cyber theory.io. For more information about the podcast, visit cyber theory.io forward slash podcast until next week. Thanks again.

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