MarTech Interview with Khalid El Khatib, Chief Marketing Officer at Stack Overflow

There are a lot of fundamentals that marketers and advertisers need to keep in mind to drive an effective contextual ad campaign; Khalid El Khatib, Chief Marketing Officer at Stack Overflow weighs in with some best practices:


Welcome to this MarTech Series chat, Khalid, what inspires you about B2B marketing today? We’d love to hear more about being CMO at Stack Overflow…

Over the last few years in particular we have experienced a shift where marketers are being recognized for their contributions to the business beyond the evolution of a company’s brand. The COVID-19 pandemic was an accelerator in this regard as remote work increased and cold calling and in-person events became less effective. Sales teams need marketing to continue to deliver leads through new channels and creative campaigns, but also to educate potential buyers.

It seems that every year the number of touches before a lead is qualified and closes increases – well over 20 for most SaaS businesses. The pandemic also made customer interactions more infrequent and complex and hiring more challenging.

This means that today’s CMO (and their teams) gets to partner directly across nearly every function in order to propel the business forward. They must be in lockstep with a CRO in order to drive revenue and partner with the CFO in order to do it responsibly. They need to work with a CPO and CTO in order to articulate a product’s value proposition and relay analyst and customer feedback in order to make those products better. And they even need to work with CHROs in order to position companies as compelling places to work.

When it comes to marketing to developers, what do you feel brands should keep in mind to boost engagement? A few thoughts on how the team at Stack Overflow achieves this?

I often speak about what brands can do to better market to developers, a big one is authenticity. Developers, more than any persona I’ve marketed to, can see through marketing BS. When articulating your value proposition ensure you’re solving a real problem that developers have and that your product does what you say it does. Also make sure the design of your ad is as clear as your messaging. We see our own banner ads perform best when they’re stripped of fancy graphics and proprietary fonts, and motion graphics in ads are a big mistake.

Tell us more about Stack Overflow and how it’s helping brands achieve their ad goals?

Stack Overflow is one of the most popular websites in the world, with over 100 million monthly visitors. Through our own survey of over 70,000 developers, we found that 53% of developers visit Stack Overflow every day and four out of five developers visit us every week. Advertisers trying to reach developers work with us because it’s where developers spend a lot of their time.

The fact that there’s over 50 million questions and answers on our site also allows for a lot of opportunities for contextual advertising, whether that’s surfacing cloud-specific content to backend engineers or promoting a Web3 conference to someone building on the blockchain.

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When it comes to driving contextual marketing, what are some of the misses you often see in B2B?

The biggest miss when it comes to contextual advertising may seem intuitive but it happens all the time — it’s when marketers promote content that’s not relevant. This happens especially often with developer-focused ads for a couple of reasons.

First, there are incredible differences and nuances amongst developers. Different types of developers work with different technologies and may have different styles of working. For example, a data scientist may code with R and have very different needs than a site reliability engineer coding with Python. There are even a lot of geographical differences among devs, like in India where mobile developers are much more common than in the US.

Another reason marketers sometimes surface irrelevant content in contextual ads is that in periods of economic uncertainty (like we’re in today) there’s often a trend towards cutting back content and creative budgets and repurposing content.

This may be fine for social campaigns, but it’s a losing strategy when it comes to contextual advertising. Not only will it waste any money you’ve saved on content creation, your brand may take a hit. We’ve all seen a dread screenshot of a bad ad get tweeted only to get more likes than the ad got clicks by something like 100x.

How can B2B marketers work closely with their counterparts (product/sales teams) to drive better customer journeys and experiences?

The marketing team is uniquely positioned to collect and deliver external perspective. We try to add value to our conversations with product and sales leaders by relaying what we’re hearing from the market, whether that’s from analysts, competitors, customers, members of the press, or peers.

The trick is delivering this feedback in a way that’s actionable and isn’t overwhelming. Which Gartner reports are most applicable to our products and best address our customer needs? Which competitors have evolved their pricing strategy, for example, in a way that may most affect us? Once you set some parameters for what you want to share, it’s important to be clear and transparent about how you’ll share it — what’s the communications cadence and forum?

For example, we send relevant press clips every other day, a weekly marketing recap that includes market perspective, and I have a biweekly discussion with our CPO, CRO, and CTO to discuss these trends.

Some last thoughts on the future of martech and B2B marketing?

I’ve touched on everything from prioritizing cross-functional collaboration to ensuring your ads resonate with your audience. One topic I haven’t mentioned that I believe is so critical to a marketing org’s success is hiring great people. As marketing becomes more and more specialized, ensure you have great leaders for each function, from marketing operations to product marketing. If a candidate purports that they can do it all, they probably can’t do any of it well.

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Stack Overflow’s public platform serves 100 million people every month, making it one of the 50 most popular websites in the world. Founded in 2008, Stack Overflow’s public platform is used by nearly everyone who codes to learn, share their knowledge, collaborate, and build their careers.

Khalid El Khatib is the Chief Marketing Officer at Stack Overflow and is responsible for marketing, communications, and advertising initiatives. Throughout his career he’s elevated and transformed the awareness and perception of global brands, most recently at GLG where he was Vice President of Marketing and Communications. Before GLG he worked as a senior director at Group SJR, a WPP agency, where he led a diverse portfolio that included General Electric, Goldman Sachs, TED, and Xerox. He began his career working in communications at Teach For America which fostered a passion for social impact; he continues to volunteer in NYC schools and fundraises for numerous refugee relief organizations today. Khalid graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a degree in political science and creative writing. In his free time he contributes to VICE, them., and PAPER where he writes about art, culture, and LGBTQ issues.

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