Top Insights from Twilio CMO Sara Varni
Five Tips on Marketing and Life
When Sara Varni was a girl, she discovered something fascinating.
She found that words, slogans, and sentences could influence the world around her.
It all started when she and her sister were creating phrases to put on custom made t-shirts. From there, she started to see how she could use words to convey ideas and messages. After that, she became fascinated by using words (and all forms of media) to present and sell ideas.
Now Sara Varni has worked for more than a decade in marketing, and (among other accomplishments!) has risen to become the Chief Marketing Officer of a publicly traded company, Twilio.
“I think I was destined to get into this space,” Varni said.
Although she took an unusual path to her current role as Chief Marketing Officer at Twilio — she was an equities trader at NASDAQ for a number of years, and then worked in mobile strategy for E! Networks — she has always had a love for marketing. At first, she was skeptical going into the world of software marketing, but she’s found that it can be just as fulfilling, if not more, as any other type of brand.
“I think what makes a great role in marketing is always having something new to market,” she says. “And there’s no shortage of high tech and software, and I think that’s what’s kept my job really exciting.”
Where people consume content is just as important as the content itself
Whether at the gym, in the car, on your couch, or in the beauty salon, you are constantly consuming content, and the right messaging takes all those factors into account. Creating a podcast is different than producing an enticing print ad, but both mediums present different ways to speak to the audience.
“People need to be thinking about how they’re going to get the right message to the right person at the right time and then how they’re going to be able to consume it,” Varni says. “To build the ultimate customer experience you have to think about all the different channels your customers are interacting on.”
For example, at Twilio, Varni says that her customers are much more willing to solve a problem over text than on the phone with someone, so catering to those needs and creating content based on that principle is going to get you farther than anything else.
Create your own roadmap
People can become slaves to their inbox and they lose sight of what’s important to them. Priorities easily shift when you’re not in control.
“Sometimes people manage their day so much by their inbox,” Varni said. “If you let that happen, you’re really letting other people dictate what your day looks like and what you actually accomplish.”
Varni suggests having a list of what you personally need to get done, and then mark them by priority level. She also recommends looking at the impact of what it is you’re trying to accomplish. If you can drive a bigger impact from a smaller, seemingly less important task, make that one a priority.
“If you don’t build your own roadmap you’ll become part of someone else’s,” she says.
Conferences should be about forming connections
Varni has attended and helped plan numerous conferences, including Dreamforce, from her early days at Salesforce. In her experience, conferences are all about fostering meaningful relationships.
“One of the best measures of success at conferences is getting customers to talk to other customers or prospects,” Varni said. “If you can build an experience where you can get people to connect with each other and with your product that they might not otherwise have access to, you’re going to have a successful event.”
Varni will also be at Twilio’s SIGNAL customer and developer conference this October! SIGNAL will be packed with product announcements, amazing performances, inspiring stories, and insights from industry-leading visionaries.
Having long-term strategies allows you to stick around
So often content marketers will look for ways to affect the bottom line as quickly as possible. Sometimes that’s necessary, but more often than not, having a long-term strategy will yield more interest and dollars if you’re willing to be patient and invest in big ideas.
“If you’re not thinking about the long term strategy or vision, your going to be one of those people who doesn’t last,” Varni explains. “Sure you have to have some quick wins and show that you have your act together and know which way is up. But if you’re constantly chasing quick things here and there, you’re absolutely going to have nothing to show for it after 18 months.”
Varni explains that you can have a big bang theory and pitch something big, expensive, and risky and see if your company will go for it, but she suggests positioning ideas as pilots — content plans that you’re just going to try out, invest in strategically, and grow with patience.
This strategy can work for direct marketing, and it can work for demand generation, which she believes too many people look at through a short, immediate lens. Demand generation is metrics-driven, so analytics are important. But it’s crucial to not get bogged down in the numbers that will only allow you to see a short-term equation. Doing that often leads to an over-reliance on things you know work rather than risk-taking that could have a greater impact.
“Sometimes the most analytical people are not always the best people at seeing demand gen so broadly,” Varni says. “The best demand gen people are always tuned into their audience and think about how to create the best content or channels. That takes a mix of being analytical but also having the vision of seeing it might not pay off on the spreadsheet tomorrow, but in a year or a year and a half you’ll look up and say, ‘Wow.’”
Plan, plan, plan
“People waste money when they don’t plan,” Varni says. “A failure to plan can create this death by 1,000 cuts scenario, where it might not feel that bad in the moment, but over the course of a campaign it can really add up and you see ways you could have been more efficient.”
When thinking about a campaign, it’s best to lay out every aspect of what you want to accomplish and formulate a plan to execute every detail.
But keep in mind that you don’t want to make things too formal or cookie-cutter. As much as possible, Varni says, customize your content to your customer. And be aware of the language you’re using. Write like you talk, she says. For example, if you’d never say “furthermore” (which, let’s be honest, no one says “furthermore”) why would you write that in any of your content marketing or say it during a presentation?
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