November 5, 2020

Marketing a Complete B2B Transformation

Shifting an entire B2B organization from a traditional to a cloud-based selling motion is no walk in the park. Throw in a global pandemic and a sweeping digital transformation, and you’ve got yourself a real marketing challenge. CMO James Whitemore and his team at NetApp were up to the task, ripping up their marketing playbook and transforming business from the inside out.

James tells all in this episode of Renegade Thinkers Unite, sharing how the company has shifted to a real-time marketing approach that enables sales teams to close quickly, as well as how it revamped its messaging with humor and grit to engage and entertain a new audience of potential users. With NetApp’s 180% plus YoY growth in cloud services, 5-day sales cycles, and messaging campaigns that have significantly increased click-through-rates, this is an episode you won’t want to miss.

What You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • NetApp’s transformation from traditional to cloud-based services
  • How to enable sales during today’s digital transformation
  • How NetApp’s messaging combines grit and humor

Renegade Thinkers Unite, Episode 213 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned

Time-Stamped Highlights

  • [0:28] On Transformation and Superpowers
  • [4:30] Shifting from Traditional Services to the Cloud
  • [9:03] NetApp’s Internal Marketing Transformation
  • [15:35] Enabling Sales During the Digital Transformation
  • [26:29] NetApp’s External Marketing Transformation
  • [30:45] NetApp’s New Messaging Focus: Specialization, Grit, Humor
  • [37:18] Measuring NetApp’s Success
  • [42:01] James Whitemore’s Dos and Don’ts for Marking-Led Transformations

Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with James Whitemore

[0:28] On Transformation and Superpowers

“#Transformation is the primary aspiration of just about every #RenegadeThinker.” @DrewNeisser #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Thinkers! Transformation: A four-syllable word that packs a punch. Now that I think about it, transformation is the primary aspiration of just about every Renegade Thinker. In fact, if we think about past episodes, we’ve talked a lot about transformation. It’s not just to improve or enhance, but to flat out transform your brand, your organization, from something old to something new, from something modest to something amazing. That’s it. That’s what great CMOs do.

Now, as kids, we are naturally drawn to stories of transformation, whether it’s Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man or Ray or Luke becoming Jedi. In those stories—classic hero journeys—the plot is set in motion by a cataclysm of some sort. Peter loses his uncle. Luke’s home is destroyed. And then our hero faces a series of tests, of challenges, and usually some setbacks. Those plot twists keep the story interesting.

Then there are the sidekicks who add a little humor, acting as a foil for the otherwise overly earnest hero or heroine. Now, this is fiction. This approach is tried and true. You deviate too far from that structure and you’ll lose your audience.

But what about real-life business transformations? How do those stories unfold? Are they triggered by cataclysmic events? Who are the heroes? Who are the sidekicks? What are the setbacks? Well, let’s find out, shall we? My guest today is James Whitemore, the CMO of NetApp, a company that is not only in the middle of its own transformation from being a hardware company to a software company, but also one that is riding the tsunami known as digital transformation. James, welcome to the show.

James Whitemore: Hey Drew, thank you for having me. Appreciate it.

Drew Neisser: First of all, how are you and where are you?

James Whitemore: I’m in Boulder, Colorado. I’m doing good, thank you. I’m enjoying a period of being able to stay at home and not the normal travel schedule, but yeah, doing good. Thanks.

Drew Neisser: Well, of course, the audience will pick up on the accent. I’m curious, having grown up in England, did you have a favorite superhero growing up?

James Whitemore: Batman. Always Batman.

Drew Neisser: There was a simple transformation. What was it about Batman that appealed to you?

James Whitemore: I think it was the English butler. I could relate to him.

Drew Neisser: Speaking of sidekicks. Yes. Alfred was one of the greatest of all time. In early episodes of this show, I used to ask CMOs if they had a superpower. When you’re asked that question, do you think, as a CMO, you have a superpower? Is there one area that you’re particularly good at?

James Whitemore: Listening, I think, is my superpower. The ability to shut up and listen, which isn’t that normal amongst my peers, I don’t think.

Drew Neisser: No, you’re right. My father who was the featured hero of episode 100 would agree with you completely. It’s funny, I took acting at one point in my career thinking maybe that would be a fun diversion. The thing that shocked me is that, you know, acting isn’t acting, acting is listening. You think about that, “Okay, wait, acting is listening,” but managing and leading is listening, both to your customer and to your employees. Listening it is.

[4:30] Shifting from Traditional Services to the Cloud

“That was the mandate. Go build that cloud-based selling motion, not just sell new products.” @Jwhitemore @NetApp #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: You’ve been CMO at NetApp for a year and at the company for four. Take us back to November 2019—what was your mandate?

James Whitemore: What was the mandate? Wow, there was so much going on at that time. If you think about NetApp, it’s a 28-year-old company and has been very consistent in what is at the core of its business for the last 28 years. About six years ago, we started on this journey of putting our technology into the hearts of the world’s biggest clouds. That was a multi-year journey from a technical and an engineering perspective, working with the likes of Google, Microsoft, and AWS, and all the other major cloud players around the world around really integrating our technologies into their clouds.

About a year ago, all of those products really came into commercial general availability. They’ve been through all the engineering phases, pre-release beta type of phases. About this time last year is when they all came into general availability, so my primary mandate was, “Hey, you’ve got to support that business. You’ve got to go drive revenue. We spent five years making this a reality, now let’s start to see some revenue happening behind those products. That was really the prime mandate.

Drew Neisser: Your mission is to drive revenue for new products. Talk a little bit more about what that meant from a marketing standpoint. What were the challenges that you had to overcome to start to do that?

James Whitemore: If you think about it, Drew, it’s so much more than new products. Basically, you have a company that’s entire history has been selling in a traditional, data center, enterprise, hardware, and software type of way. The mandate was really about, “Hey, we’re now selling cloud services.” Completely different.

If you think about a traditional sales cycle for data center solutions, it’s 120 days, there are hundreds of touchpoints with a customer from the first section of the deal process to actually getting systems installed and into production. There are many, many people who touch that deal, and everything that we did was geared around those classic enterprise selling type motions. And here I have a brand-new portfolio of cloud services where people do not want to go through that selling motion; they want immediate access to those products and services.

They want trials when they want trials. They don’t want to talk to field-based salespeople. They want to have access to information when they want it, how they want it, a completely different selling motion. That was the mandate. Go build that cloud-based selling motion, not just sell new products. That was really what we set out to do a year ago.

Drew Neisser: Just for folks who may or may not know what NetApp does—and this is me sort of helping out here—you’re not competing with Amazon Cloud or Microsoft. In fact, you facilitate, you help companies get the most out of those. Is that how it works?

James Whitemore: Yeah, exactly. You can think of NetApp as a data storage company, and over 28 years, our data storage solutions are in the world’s biggest data centers. Every industry, every vertical, every geo around the world, companies rely on NetApp’s infrastructure for their data storage in their data centers. Five years ago, we took that technology and we embedded it in the world’s biggest clouds so that it sold through Amazon, through Google, through Microsoft, and other cloud providers.

That enables our customers to move those workloads into the cloud as they need to, to really use the technology, which they are very accustomed to in their data centers, into the public clouds. It’s a software platform; ONTAP is the platform, and it extends across data centers into the cloud environments, which is really important when customers are looking to migrate workloads into those different public plans.

[9:03] NetApp’s Internal Marketing Transformation

“We basically had to rip up the #marketing playbook, which had been pretty consistent for at least 10 years, and really start again.” @Jwhitemore @NetApp #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: I want to go back to something that you said about this changing of the selling motion because it reminded me, I’m thinking of a recent episode I recorded with Brent Adamson of Gartner, and he talked about the B2B customer and the problem that marketers are set up with this handoff from marketing to sales. The customer doesn’t want a handoff, doesn’t care who talks to them. They want what they want, so the whole structure in his mind was wrong. The whole thing was all messed up.

I’m curious—as you were shifting and you’re saying, “Okay, we’re not in this traditional selling hardware, we’ve got to be a cloud-based company,” what did that really mean from a marketing standpoint? Did you have to change your structure, your relationship with sales? Talk a little bit about some of the big changes that this mandated.

James Whitemore: We had to change everything. We basically had to rip up the marketing playbook, which had been pretty consistent for at least 10 years, and really start again. Everything from the way we define the lead processes, the waterfall models that we use to articulate the marketing investments, and the marketing contributions to the business, all of that had to go. This concept of a linear lead flow was just completely thrown out the window to a model today where our intention is to get a visitor to our website or someone to interact with our campaigns.

To basically put up their hand and say, “Hey, I’m ready to talk,” not to put that person through a lengthy qualification process and pass it from marketing to inside sales, from inside sales to outside sales. When that person is ready to talk, we connect them with an expert who may be a salesperson, and SE, an inside salesperson. That takes place in seconds rather than in the days it would take to move through a classic lead process. That was a pretty fundamental thing, and then the budgeting process had to change as well in line with that.

Drew Neisser: I want to go back to the first part of this, which is, basically, again, I’m going to sort of repeat so I can understand. We’ve got to get the customer to raise their hand and say, “I’m ready to have a conversation.” All the work that everybody’s been talking about for the last few years where it said, “Look, the customer does their homework before they call, but when they call, they’re ready. They’re ready to talk.” What did that mean to you from a staffing standpoint? What were the challenges of doing this?

I guess I’m trying to understand. I get that we’re changing the flow and the customer raises their hand and in some ways, it’s easier because, hey, they’re raising their hand and they’re ready to buy. We just now have to make sure they get connected with the right person in real-time. I made that sound like it’s easy,

James Whitemore: It should be, right?

Drew Neisser: It should be. This doesn’t happen overnight either. How long did it take to move from the model you described to the new model?

James Whitemore: Well, it’s taken me four years to get where we are today. I mean, it’s not something I started a year ago when I got into the CMO chair. I’d been working on this for three years previous to it. There are a few big things. Firstly, several years ago we started the process of insourcing critical marketing services. NetApp, like many big tech companies, have outsourced things like email automation, paid media, a lot of the web properties, the management of those have been outsourced around the world.

In my book, those are all things which are critical skills to me. Websites are not something you update on a monthly or quarterly basis, that’s something you update on an hour by hour basis. Paid media execution is not something that you plan on a quarterly basis. You plan it on a daily basis and you’re constantly adjusting your media strategies.

The technology stack that we used had been in place for 8+ years and was extremely good at operating in those legacy enterprise ways, but not particularly agile in terms of what I needed to do. We started three years ago to move a tech stack. All of those things were incredibly important and then with staffing and the types of skills we had on the team, there’s been a big shift over the last three or four years to having a different approach to content production teams.

You have people who are really looking first at what people are searching on, looking at external signals, what content needs to be produced versus traditional methods, which are going and talking to product teams and engineering teams and asking them what you want to say and then producing content around that. Those were some of the big shifts.

[15:35] Enabling Sales During the Digital Transformation

“Our #salespeople are smart people. They sell complex technology to some of the world's biggest companies.” @Jwhitemore @NetApp #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: We’ve been talking about the transformation from a legacy approach to a real-time marketer approach in a sense. That requires all sorts of different skill sets, both internally from who works for you, but also for yourself. I’m curious, what did you do to get yourself up to date on what needed to be done?

James Whitemore: My background, it’s pretty mixed between large scale, traditional enterprise, tech companies like IBM and Sun Microsystems, and then startup companies that are much more cloud-oriented. Prior to joining NetApp, I’d been part of three very successful startup companies that were operating in the mode that I needed NetApp to do. For me, I had a ton of confidence in what I was trying to do, really figuring out how to scale it on a global basis. A $6 billion revenue stream versus a startup type of environment, how you take those startup best practices and scale it on a global way. It wasn’t really learning what needed to be done.

Drew Neisser: You’d already done it at a startup. It’s just so funny. When you’re in startup mode, you’re scrappier, you’re agile. And of course, it’s really hard at a big company to bring that to it. I could see it would take time. In some ways, the good news is that this is an aircraft carrier. It’s got its own momentum. I seem to recall it takes five miles for an airplane to actually come to a halt. You’ve got a lot of things to do. What would you say, as you were looking at this transformation from a marketing approach, what were some of the biggest challenges that you had to overcome internally to get it to happen?

James Whitemore: You’re bringing the sales teams along with you. You’re disrupting the traditional relationship that marketing has with sales, particularly with things around lead flows where you’ve got a 20+ year legacy of salespeople expecting to receive qualified leads, which they deem worthy to go follow up on. You suddenly blow all that up and say, “Hey, you’re going to get a whole bunch of triggers and alerts. You’re going to have to work with us to figure out how to interpret those and how to work within your prospects. [Dogs barking] Sorry, are you picking up background noise?

Drew Neisser: Yes, but not to worry about it, this is in the COVID era. We have all sorts of things added into the show. Yes. You heard that right, there are some dogs in the background. That is just fine. We’re bringing the sales team and certainly, this new model requires a lot more. [Phone ringing] Oh my gosh. My turn now, hang on. Pause.

No worries at all. Dogs in the background, phones ringing, this is just real-time real stuff here. We’re talking about trying to get this alignment with sales. Suddenly you’re not necessarily giving them that pristine sales qualified lead, and you’re not giving it to them with, “Hey, take your time.” This is a real-time moment. How did they take this and what were their requirements?

James Whitemore: Honestly, the environment we’ve been in for the last 6+ months has been an absolute godsend in some respects because, for me now to work with our sales teams who are, like us, sitting at home in front of their Zoom screens, engaged all the time and looking at those triggers and looking at those alerts, they’ve got time to actually think about what they do with it. If I think about trying to do what we’ve done in a normal selling world where those people were very much more out on the road in person, it would be much more difficult.

They’ve been really welcoming to these new digital tools that we’ve given them because it’s really helped them understand what’s happening within their customers. Our typical salesperson has somewhere between 8-15 accounts. They’re not calling on hundreds of different customers. When you can show them all of the web interactions which are happening within those accounts, what content is being consumed, which people from those accounts are requesting content, they really understand the power of digital marketing. They’ve been very, very receptive and we’ve been very thorough in teaching them how to use this new technology.

Drew Neisser: Some of this, it feels very much like ABM. I’m wondering—and I think we talked about this in our story finder call—are you using Drift or something for conversation marketing management in real-time? What’s the big tool here that’s really helping drive this?

James Whitemore: Drift has been a key tool and we piloted that basically for nine months and it just went live across all of our sites, all of our geos, um, on the 10th of October this year. That went through a very successful pilot. Again, sales teams love it. When they get the Drift records and they can see what questions were asked, what dialogue led to them actually receiving a trigger from the Drift platform, they love it because it’s so much more detailed than a typical lead that would be passed to them through a marketing automation system. They’re starting to really get it.

Drew Neisser: It feels like your salesforce can transform in some ways in that they used to be the hunter, right? They’re out there opening doors, banging on doors. Those people, I think, have been really struggling over the last six months because it’s really hard in a lot of cases to just find these people and get in front of them. Even if they do, there’s this problem of all these other people on the buying committee. They’re struggling. Here, suddenly, it’s like, “Whoa, wait, this is real-time. This person is interested. They want to talk right now.” It’s like, “Hey, thanks.” But it’s a different type of person. It’s not a door opener; it’s a relationship builder.

James Whitemore: Totally. I think the key for me again, though, is, when a salesperson gets an alert about a specific type of activity that we show them the complete picture. Not just what that specific alert is that this person accessed this type of content or accessed this type of question, but around that person, within that specific account, all these other signals are taking place.

Our salespeople are smart people. They sell complex technology to some of the world’s biggest companies. They can figure out what’s going on, whether it’s a buying group that they’re already engaged with, someone that’s tangential to an opportunity they may already have in progress. They’re starting to love it, but it has been a 12-month process of educating them on how to work with marketing.

Drew Neisser: You’re there?

James Whitemore: No. It’ll be a good while before I would say that I’m happy with where we are. I think we’re making great progress, that’s for sure. My big area of focus right now is with our inside selling teams and as we’ve basically transitioned those teams away from their more traditional roles of appointment setting to actually driving engagements with customers. We’re doing a lot of organizational planning and design there as well as shifting some of the marketing processes behind it.

Drew Neisser: We’ve gotten into the details of this a little bit. We started with this big notion of, we had to transform the way the organization was essentially going to market. Then we ended up all the way down to, essentially, a brand-new way for sales to start their interactions instead of having to open the door. The door is open, and you actually know who’s behind it. You’ve got a lot of information.

[26:29] NetApp’s External Marketing Transformation

“You've got to make sure that they know who you are, why you're relevant, and why the services are different.” @Jwhitemore @NetApp #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: We’ve been talking about this internal transformation of how you go to market. Was there an external transformation in terms of the way you talked about NetApp and the business? If I were to look at marketing four years ago, three years ago, two years ago versus today, what’s the big change in the story?

James Whitemore: There’s been a huge shift. Think about it. A company, 28 years, basically selling to the same audiences, the same type of products and services to the same audiences. Within our marketing audience, there were around 4.5 million people on average every month that we considered a marketable audience. We knew exactly what to say to them whether they were a new prospect or existing customer. After 28 years, there are very few people within your target segments who don’t have your technology in their data centers at someplace, somewhere. Most of the conversations are driven around refresh cycles and upgrade cycles. Really, really good at doing that type of thing.

And then here we go, we introduce an entirely new set of products and services into the public clouds. The people who consume those services are not necessarily your traditional data center, IT buying audience. Much more application-centric, much more developer-centric. We basically had to figure out how to talk to that audience. One of the fundamental things about that audience is they really don’t care about storage. When you’re a storage company, that’s quite a challenge, so we had to figure out what they do care about and how to speak to them, how to show them that they really do need to care about the applications and services that we have available through those public clouds, how to show them how the things that we offer through those public clouds are much better than the native services that they may have been consuming in the past.

You’ve got to make sure that they know who you are, why you’re relevant, and why the services are different. You have to do that, basically without talking about the underlying technology you’re trying to get them interested in, so was quite a challenge.

Drew Neisser: How do you do that?

James Whitemore: Well, you first have to figure out what they are interested in. There was a ton of audience research that we had to do. In one of the focus groups that we were doing at the back end of the last calendar year—I think it was just right before Christmas—we had a focus group of a couple of hundred people, and they were asked some basic questions of who NetApp is and what NetApp means to them. The consensus of that focus group was that NetApp was a smart doorbell company. I was like, “Okay, we’ve got some challenges here.” That and similar experiences led to just a ton of audience type of research. There were a few common themes that emerged as areas of interest, both from a technology perspective and from lifestyle perspectives. We basically put all that to work.

One of the first things that I did was to go out and bring some agency support from people who had never worked in technology before. It was clear to me that we weren’t going to get the attention of that audience if we tried to approach it in a traditional, big tech way. We went out and we got some B2C agency support and set them the challenge. The end results are very different than what you may see in traditional tech marketing.

[30:45] NetApp’s New Messaging Focus: Specialization, Grit, Humor

“The first thing that we focused on is making them aware that @NetApp is a true specialist in what it is that we do.” #CMO @Jwhitemore #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: What was the story that they helped you tell? Was there a campaign line or promise that sums up where they ended up?

James Whitemore: Firstly, what was evident as we looked at all of the audience research is, basically, they value specialists. They value the best technology that’s available to them to get the job done that they are trying to do. The job that they’re trying to do is to harness all of the data around their organizations, to make the applications and services they are developing faster and more valuable to their organizations. They care about putting data to work in an application type of environment, and specialist services are very, very key to them.

The first thing that we focused on is making them aware that NetApp is a true specialist in what it is that we do. In a world full of generalists, NetApp is just about the only true data storage company that exists as a specialist in data storage. That concept of, “What you do is incredibly specialized; what we do is incredibly specialized” was a key part of that.

The second thing that was obvious is they hate to boring tech marketing, like over-inflated claims. Claims of changing the world, empowering global change. They don’t respond particularly well to that your very aspirational kind of marketing. Get it very gritty: “Hey, we understand that your challenge is this, our solution is this.” Speak to them in the language of the problems they’re trying to solve, which are, again, much more application-centric, much more software-centric.

Then the third thing is, just my personal belief is that the best way to capture someone’s attention is to make them laugh or crack a smile. You have to have some humor, the best way to engage this audience is to entertain this audience. We’ve seen an entirely new personality of NetApp emerge for that audience, one that’s very tongue-in-cheek and very much about having some fun. Those were some of the key things.

Drew Neisser: If I could, and maybe in the show notes, is there a video or something that expresses this personality that has a sense of humor?

James Whitemore: We can absolutely give you a few video clips and audio clips that you might want to link there.

Drew Neisser: Great. And give me a sense of what those are like. I’m so on board with you and it’s funny because we spent a lot of time talking about these individuals as pragmatic and so forth. Then when you finally got to humor, I went “Phew!” In honesty, our feeling is, for the most part, B2B is B2-boring. It’s still a feature/function kind of a thing, and I almost thought you were going there when you said—oh, I gotta go back to my notes here—that they like gritty, sell the problem-solution. I’m thinking, “Oh, that doesn’t get you very far.” The thing that distinguishes it is the tone. If you don’t have an interesting tone, you’ve lost everybody because these are people, aren’t they?

James Whitemore: They’re people, they’re humans. At the end of the day, we’re engaging humans. Yeah, that’s a really good point because what I had to retrain the marketing organization to do is think about people, not think about target companies.

We’re marketing to people. We’re not marketing to X, Y, Z corporation. We’re marketing to a hundred people, a thousand people within that company, but they are people. They have different interests. They respond to different things. But the audiences that we were really trying to get to, we know that they respond well to things which entertain them, which have some humor to them. We came up with a campaign that was basically very self-deprecating. It starts by showing all the things that we’re not good at before introduces the thing that we want them to know us for.

We introduced whole different themes, some very topical about work from home and not being able to teach them how to bake a cake or not being able to teach them how to homeschool kids, through to things which were very topical to their external interests, things like motorsports or gaming. Just things like, “Hey, we can’t do that for you, but there’s one thing that we really can do.” And that has been just incredible at how that’s helped us reach those audiences, drive engagement with those audiences.

Before we started those campaigns, if I look at that specific audience, a typical click-through rate on a Twitter ad, for example, was less than 1%. Right now, it’s right up at 17-and-something percent. It’s incredible how just shifting the message and doing something different and entertaining has impact.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. As you look at this, and what I heard and we haven’t talked about but we are running out of time, the creative adjusted to the new reality of the COVID era and the pandemic, and you actually leaned into that to find the humor in it, which is cool.

[37:18] Measuring NetApp’s Success

“It's having impact. You're seeing it flow through to revenue.” @Jwhitemore @NetApp #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: What were some of the results of this program, as you look at it now, that are metrics that matter to you and to the organization?

James Whitemore: First up, I look at audience reach and our ability to actually get our message in front of the people that we are targeting. To me, over the last three months specifically, these programs have really matured in market. I look at new audiences coming into our web properties. Right now, 84% of all coming into are first-time NetApp visitors. That’s higher than it’s ever been in the past.

I look at the cost-efficiency of all the different channels, our ability to leverage social channels versus traditional paid channels. Conversion rates, our click-through rates on social are now astronomical compared to what it used to be and that shows me that these programs are working. And then, of course, at the end of the day what the business really cares about is revenue, customer acquisition—our new customer acquisition on our cloud services within these audiences we’re targeting is higher than it’s ever been.

Our cloud revenues are growing ahead of plan. I think in our last quarterly results, you show 180% plus year on year growth in cloud services. It’s having impact. You’re seeing it flow through to revenue. For me, some of the key metrics are things like days from lead to close, which in our traditional business had always been measured in 120 days plus. In our cloud business, it’s now down below five. The average touchpoints it takes to get a deal closed in that cloud business is less than four compared to hundreds in traditional business. Those types of things just illustrate the power of marketing and sales working together in new models.

Drew Neisser: What’s interesting is we spent a lot of this show talking about infrastructure I’m going to say, building up your marketing engine, and getting your playbook. But it sounds like what really helped put it over the top was an insight into the target that you were then able to leverage in terms of creative. You mentioned social media, paid social, you specifically mentioned Twitter. Have you found the same results on LinkedIn and also Facebook?

James Whitemore: LinkedIn and Twitter are probably the two primary channels for our main markets. We see the same results. To me, the big transformation that took place is my ability to convince everyone around the company, 10,000+ employees, that, “Hey, if we’re going to be successful in these markets, we’re going to show up differently.”

For an engineering group of 3,000 engineers, they expect marketing to focus on articulating the greatest, latest widgets that they develop. When you show up and show them an ad which is about cake baking, they kind of look at you and think, “Where the heck is this guy coming from?” But the results speak for themselves. They get that what you’re trying to do is connect with new people, to open a door, to start a conversation, and you’re not going to do that by telling them that our flash storage is 10% more efficient on SAP workloads than XYZ splash store. It’s just not going to happen. Results speak.

Drew Neisser: You’ve disappointed a lot of engineers in the audience.

James Whitemore: Well, it turns out many of them are interested in cake baking, too. The most rewarding thing for me as we’ve been through all of this is all of the internal people who reach out to me and say, “Hey, this is really different and this is the first time I’ve ever felt it appropriate to show NetApp ads to my kids. They thought it was really funny.” Or “I shared it with my partner.” People really buy into it because it’s relevant to them, too. They understand that these are challenges they’re dealing with.

Drew Neisser: I love it.

[42:01] James Whitemore’s Dos and Don’ts for Marking-Led Transformations

To #CMOs: “Don't back off. You cannot back off; you've got to drive the organizational change, the technology change, and the brand change.” @Jwhitemore @NetApp #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: As we bring this conversation to a close, the transformation that essentially happened, there was an organizational transformation and there was a brand transformation. They happened in a period of huge transformation in the world, as the world moved to the cloud, so timing is everything. It’s good that you were ready for the cloud transformation as far as it were, and then were able to sort of lean in.

I’m going to just trackback for a second as we think about this. There is a problem between marketing and sales in a traditional way. It can be fixed, and it has to be restructured from the ground up. It means you need a new marketing team, probably, to think about this. And it means you’ve got to get sales to rethink their drink as well.

We didn’t really talk about it, but there was a new product which allowed for a new story or frankly, required a new story. And there was a new target audience, which frankly required a new story as well. You don’t transform for transformation’s sake, you transform because you need to, and there were a lot of transformations that happened in this show. All right, I’m going to ask—we’ve got an audience of CMOs and they’re thinking about going on the journey that you just did: Give us two dos and a don’t.

James Whitemore: Two dos and a don’t. You’ve got to think about the individuals. You’ve got to understand the individuals that you’re trying to get to. You will not be successful thinking at a company level. You’ve gotta be brave, you’ve gotta be prepared to be laughed at. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into our CEO staff group and my peers around the table started sniggering when I told them that we were going to use the agency who had successfully gotten KFC out of their slump. You’ve gotta be prepared to be ridiculed a little bit because if you are absolutely sure of what you need to do, people will take a while to come along with you.

Don’t back off. You cannot back off; you’ve got to drive the organizational change, the technology change, and the brand change. Brand is not just about the advertising. It’s about the underlying messaging and corporate narratives about the corporate values. You’ve just got to look at it from an entirely big picture and do not back off.

Drew Neisser: Be brave. I love it. All right, Renegade Thinkers, there you have it. James Whitemore, CMO of NetApp, thank you for being on the show.

James Whitemore: Hey, thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure.

Drew Neisser: For the listeners, as always, if you feel like it, if you want to transform this show, do me a favor and go on your favorite channel and give us a five-star rating or share it with a friend because sharing is caring.

Show Credits

Renegade Thinkers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Hey, that’s me. Audio production is by Sam Beck. The show notes are written by Melissa Caffrey. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins. The intro voiceover is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, and learn more about quite possibly the best B2B marketing agency in New York City, visit And until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.