MarTech Interview with Mark Wilson, Chief Marketing Officer at BlackBerry 

Mark Wilson, Chief Marketing Officer at BlackBerry chats about new age B2B marketing needs and trends while throwing light on how certain marketing tactics and basics are always meant to stay the same…


Welcome to this MarTech Series chat Mark, what inspires you about being in marketing…we’d love to hear about your marketing journey through the years…

Prior to joining BlackBerry, I ran marketing for Avaya and Sybase. And before that I was in consulting at KPMG Consulting and the San Francisco Consulting Group.  I’ve always had a focus on B2B marketing and business strategies.

What inspires me about marketing is that there has never been a better time to be a marketer.  While this may sound trite, it really is the case. Marketers today are much more sophisticated in understanding things such as the value of brand equity along with how to drive brand awareness, perception, and preference. Marketers are more dialed into the buyers journey and how to drive a smart engagement program throughout that journey. Finally, marketers are way more savvy about competitors and how their brand is performing against competing brands.  

It’s gotten easier for two reasons: The digitization of marketing makes quantifying and programming things a lot simpler; and second, marketing technology platforms are finally delivering on the promises they’ve been making for the last 20+ years (i.e. a system of records that marketers can rely on).

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As CMO at BlackBerry, what does a typical day at work look like?

Although it’s probably fair to say that no two days are alike, I would say my time is typically spent: 20% planning on things that are 1 – 4 quarters out; 25% on in-quarter programs. 20% on rapid response, 15% on program results reporting/analytics/analysis; 15% on HR/recruiting; 5% on finance/budgeting. 

Functionally my day is roughly split: 30% on brand topics; 25% on engagement topics; 20% on value proposition topics, 15% on process topics; and 10% on competitive topics.

In practice, this could mean working with our events team to define the theme and content tracks for our annual BlackBerry Security Summit and then reviewing a press release from our corporate communications team highlighting the findings of our Annual Threat Report. The following day could look completely different with me working with our paid media team to determine the right mix of placements for a forthcoming brand campaign and then briefing the broader C-Suite on our quarterly results. 

The CMO is constantly wearing multiple hats and ultimately needs to be the master of three things: Understanding the market they are in, defining the positioning and messaging to serve that market, and launching programs to drive engagement around that position and message.  

As a Chief Marketing Officer, my day-to-day means that I need to have a ‘finger on the pulse’ of our industry and be able to share that internally. This means taking a holistic look at the information that is coming in from the various feeds, be it media coverage, industry analyst reports, social media, customer and partner feedback with a view to seeing and articulating trends that are shaping the market and how that affects our positioning with respect to our competitors. I then distill that information, making sure key insights are available across the organization and making decisions with respect to what the right mix of marketing tactics and programs is to amplify and drive our share of voice with a view to increasing our market share.

With today’s rapidly evolving marketing trends, how has your own marketing and martech practices evolved?

In many ways our marketing practices have changed dramatically and in many ways they have not changed at all. We are still focused on traditional marketing efforts to understand the needs of our target customer, particularly their unmet needs, how we address those needs in a unique way, and how we can engage them. I really don’t see this changing for B2B marketers. The best B2B marketers do this incredibly well.

Our martech however, has seen some profound changes in the last 20 years. Today we are much more data-driven and fact-based. Data will drive how we view topics of brand, engagement, demand generation and competitive analysis. This is something that is now available to all marketers.  As an example, 15 years ago when I did attribution analysis, it required Stanford MBA grads pouring through data, normalizing the data, and running through a statistics software package to get insights. It was laborious and time-intensive and we could only do it annually. Today, most of the marketing team is trained on attribution analysis and we can update our attribution models daily, if we wanted to. This is a significant shift. The same goes for competitive analysis.  Historically, understanding competitors was often clipping their ads or press coverage in print publications.  Today, understanding how much each competitor is driving the share of the conversations and what tactics they are deploying is something we examine at the end of each quarter.  

These are just two areas where martech is transforming the role and value of the marketer, however there are many more.  

Having said this, we are not solely data-driven. We will depend on gut to check if something seems right. The challenge for us (BlackBerry) as a security software provider and me as a marketer, is to justify our claims and to continue to differentiate ourselves from our competitors. It’s the age-old marketer’s dilemma, how do you cut through the clutter and rise above the noise? For me it always comes back to the art of storytelling and using creative, disruptive ways to evoke emotions from your target audience.

While the communication mediums and tactics for getting across a message are constantly evolving, stories and archetypes have been with us for a really long time. It’s easy to leverage how our species and civilization think of things in terms of stories. Knowing who the archetypes are – who is the hero and who is the villain and what is the journey – that’s a lot of how we think about storytelling for marketing. Story plays a huge role. If you can’t tell a story that people can identify with or relate to, you don’t have much of a brand. To that end, BlackBerry is not shy about being disruptive or pushing the boundary of storytelling. 

For instance, a couple of years ago, to illustrate how even the smartest and most capable employees can make accidental mistakes that put sensitive information at risk, we hired a bunch of improv actors to translate the technical side of security to something that everyone could relate to, as part of our Human Nature-Proof campaign. The goal was to make cybersecurity more ‘Human’ and evoke emotion into something that can be at times a very dry topic. Again, going back to the art of the story and looking for creative ways to break through a sea of sameness with something that’s both evolutionary and provocative that strikes a chord with the audience.

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We’d love to hear about BlackBerry’s basic marketing fundamentals and the martech that helps drive all of this!

Over the last several years my mandate has been to pivot BlackBerry’s brand from a smartphone manufacturer to a cybersecurity and embedded software leader. BlackBerry is an iconic brand that invented the modern-day smartphone, and the ability to work from anywhere, so pivoting the brand was no small task. 

When I joined, it was a very different company. Alicia Keys was our creative director, the Black Eyed Peas was our corporate band and Obama and the Kardashians were showing off their phones. So it’s been a big pivot, going from hardware to software and from a consumer play into an enterprise play. It was really a double pivot, and it’s been an incredible transformation for the company.

Today, I continue to focus on driving BlackBerry’s reputation in cybersecurity and IoT software.  Today our software is embedded into over 500 million connected endpoints, including over 195 million cars, far more than we ever produced from a device standpoint. My priority is to demonstrate how our advanced AI- and safety-certified technology is addressing our customers most pressing problems.

To do this I have responsibility for the company’s brand reputation – delivered across seven areas: brand strategy, thought leadership, media channels (paid, earned, owned), digital marketing, influencer relations, and corporate events.

As a seasoned marketer, how do you feel marketing needs to evolve to meet future dynamics and industry trends?

As the adage goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  At their core, marketers must deeply understand the needs of their customer, how to uniquely address those needs, and how to effectively get a compelling message in front of their customers.  Marketers then need to ‘outmarket’ their competitors to get their message to stick. 

Where marketing needs to evolve is being much more crisp when talking about marketing outcomes. As I mentioned earlier, 15 years ago attribution analysis was hard, and now it’s much easier.  Marketers are better off for this. Marketing will evolve to being very fluent in quantifying the value of brand equity as well as in planning and measuring the ROI of end-to-end marketing campaigns. I anticipate all marketers, their agency partners, and their technology providers will get more aligned and focused to delivering these outcomes.  

Some last thoughts, takeaways, before we wrap up!

BlackBerry’s successful pivot from pioneering handset manufacturer (and creator of the mobile workforce) to AI cybersecurity software leader is a narrative that I still don’t believe is as widely known as it could be or has been given it’s fair due. And that’s a big part of my job and my current remit. 

When John Chen was appointed executive chairman of the board and CEO of BlackBerry in November 2013, he identified a need and opportunity to apply BlackBerry’s technology and expertise in security to more than just handheld devices. After a series of acquisitions and product innovations, BlackBerry has grown its software portfolio to spans the entire spectrum – from the kernel-to-the-edge. 

The past couple of years has seen BlackBerry turn the corner of an historic comeback. The BlackBerry brand has firmly established itself as an AI cybersecurity leader.

We continue to see strong demand for our security-focused products and customers, partners and industry analysts alike recognize our technology innovation and market leadership. This gives us confidence that we can capitalize on the significant market opportunities available today as well as in the future.

While you may not always realize it, you likely come across BlackBerry software at many points throughout your day. It could be powering your car’s infotainment system or the trucks trundling by you on your daily commute, many of which are outfitted with our IoT based asset-tracking technology, BlackBerry Radar. Or it could be in the mobility apps that enhance your productivity at work or the file sharing solution that enables you to securely access, share and collaborate with your teammates on a document. Your government or your bank likely uses BlackBerry to safeguard your most sensitive data. Your doctor might use BlackBerry software to securely communicate with you and remotely monitor a potential condition. Your business might deploy our industry-leading critical event management software – BlackBerry AtHoc – to ensure that you and the rest of your colleagues are safe during a crisis.

In short, BlackBerry is trusted by many of the world’s largest and most important organizations, for cybersecurity software and services to help safeguard their people, data, assets and communication. 

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BlackBerry provides intelligent security software and services to enterprises and governments around the world. The company secures more than 500M endpoints including 195M+ cars on the road today. Based in Waterloo, Ontario, the company leverages AI and machine learning to deliver innovative solutions in the areas of cybersecurity, safety and data privacy solutions, and is a leader in the areas of endpoint security, endpoint management, encryption, and embedded systems. BlackBerry’s vision is clear – to secure a connected future you can trust.

As Chief Marketing Officer, Mark Wilson is responsible for delivering the BlackBerry message through thought leadership and other opportunities that promote the brand. He also leads communications and corporate events.

Before joining BlackBerry, he was Chief Marketing Officer for Avaya, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Sybase, an SAP Company, leader of the strategy practice at KPMG Consulting’s Information, Communication and Entertainment Group, and a Marketing Manager for AT&T.  Mark was named by BtoB Magazine as one of the Best Marketers from 2009-2011 and 2013. He was also named to the 2013 FierceCMO list of CMOs to watch.

Mark holds an MBA and an MA in public policy studies from The University of Chicago. He received his BA from University of California at Santa Barbara.

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