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Q&A with Will McInnes, CMO at Brandwatch

30-second summary:

  • Will McInnes, Brandwatch’s global CMO, brought over a decade of martech experience to Brandwatch when he joined the company in 2013.
  • Brandwatch is an industry leading digital consumer intelligence company  that helps marketers understand what millions of people are saying about products and brands, enabling organizations to be as “consumer fit” as possible.
  • The companies that best leverage Brandwatch’s technology don’t make quick tactical marketing decisions with the information. They make important long-term business decisions that propel them forward in their market.
  • McInnes believes a more open ecosystem makes sense for martech because innovation is so rapid. The best way to stay at the cutting edge of evolving tech is to plug and play rather than look to consolidated single platforms.
  • Social has become a core competency for smart professionals in every organization because modern consumers expect that if they contact a brand on social media, they will get a decent response.
  • On the future of martech, McInnes thinks we’re going to see consolidation in more mature sectors of the martech space overall and the continued explosion of new platforms and categories.

Will McInnes is CMO of digital consumer intelligence company Brandwatch. His passion is online data and how it can shape industries, policies, research and innovation. He’s also a board member of the Big Boulder Initiative, whose mission is to establish the foundation for the long-term success of the social data industry.

He authored Culture Shock, a 21st-century handbook for business with an average review of 4.5 stars on Amazon and was a TEDx speaker in 2011.

We spoke to Will about the benefits of social listening technology, current trends in martech, and how marketers can best leverage their martech investments.

Q) Can you give us a brief insight into your professional journey and how you became the CMO of Brandwatch?

I initially joined the telemarketing team at a small start-up, doing a hundred outbound cold calls a day. From that position, I migrated to marketing and attended night school, becoming a Chartered Institute of Marketing trained marketer responsible for a mobile product portfolio.

This role gave me a taste for entrepreneurialism and growth. The company was a relatively small, privately owned business in an early area of technological evolution. From there, I co-founded the first social media consultancy in Europe. We did ground-breaking work for Coca Cola, the British government, and Barclays Bank. After running this business for about 10 years, Giles Palmer, the CEO of Brandwatch, approached me about becoming their global CMO based in New York.

I moved to Brandwatch in 2013 and it’s been a wonderful adventure. I was attracted by the quality of the technology, the team, and the international ambition. Since I started at Brandwatch, we’ve grown tremendously. We work with 39% of the Fortune 100, merged with our biggest competitor, made multiple acquisitions, and raised multiple rounds of VC funding.

Q) What have been the two biggest challenges for you at Brandwatch and how did you deal with them?

The top challenges were ambiguity and possibility, though these may be two sides of the same coin. When you’re a company of 150 people with clients around the world and a technology that has momentum, there’s no playbook. You must be comfortable operating in that ambiguity. What I find so fascinating about the world we’re operating in is that it’s completely uncharted. Every individual and organization must find its own path.

Q) What advice would you give to someone who is in a similar situation as you?

I’m a great fan of marketing, business growth, sport, and life. I’m also a great fan of momentum and of picking a direction, then committing to it. Brandwatch has created fantastic momentum as an industry leader. We’ve stayed close to our clients, but I worry when the level of energy starts to drop, or there’s a sense that it’s been a while since we’ve done something really exciting. So, my approach would be to either create your own flywheel of momentum or harness other sources.

Q) Can you provide a brief introduction to Brandwatch? What are the core martech capabilities that you bring to a marketer? How do you stand out in an overly saturated martech space?

Brandwatch is a social listening tool that helps marketers understand what people are saying about products and brands, enabling organizations to be as “consumer fit” as possible. A consumer fit organization is one that is in tune with its rapidly changing customers and market.

A consequence of digital transformation and globalization is a high rate of change. The potential addressable market is vast, as is the size of your potential competition. Our products and services help brands and agencies stay in tune with what consumers are saying online in real-time. That helps our customers make better decisions based on what people are complaining about, missed opportunities, key themes, or the response to their latest advertising campaigns.

To stand out, we invest for the long term, which not many of our competitors are doing and not many small tech start-ups can do. We’ve always gone for the harder road and for the path that we think makes the most sense. That has meant that sometimes our competition launches things more quickly, but over time we’ve built up a client base of connoisseurs who know that they’re getting the best quality product.

Q) Can you give us a brief insight into social listening and how it can help brands get a one up on their competitors?

There are billions of conversations happening constantly online. And for us, social is a broad opportunity. It’s not just Facebook and Instagram, but niche forums about products like washing machines and vacuum cleaners. It’s reviews on e-commerce websites. It’s a huge petri dish of consumer opinion. Our flagship product, Brandwatch Consumer Research, can help companies begin to understand what people are saying about them.

Brandwatch helps inform decision making. The companies that are using our products best, don’t make quick tactical marketing decisions with the information. They make deep and important long-term product decisions.

Q) Can you provide some tips to someone who wants to incorporate your offerings into their tech stack?

There are a couple of common themes with our clients who get the most value from our products. One is investing in learning how to get value out of the platform. Brandwatch Consumer Research is a power tool. The higher you self-assess your expertise in the platform, the higher your satisfaction. Thus, the first step would be investing in really learning it.

Secondly, we have a fantastic API. For more mature organizations who are bringing the different pieces of their marketing stack together, Brandwatch can speak to other parts of the stack. That’s a brilliant advantage.

Q) What are your thoughts on an open marketing ecosystem? Is that the way forward or does there need to be one platform which is very open and customizable?

Buyers want the highest quality solutions with the fewest possible vendor relationships. These two things are at odds with each other. I find it hard to imagine a world where fewer vendors will be able to service large parts of what the marketing technology stack requires.

For me, the idea of a more open ecosystem makes sense because innovation is so rapid. The best way to stay at the cutting edge of evolving technology is to plug and play rather than look to consolidated single platforms.

Q) In your opinion, how has social media and social media marketing changed over time?

In the early days, social media was an edgy and subversive technology. It was very ad hoc, under resourced, unstructured and misunderstood. As it started maturing, businesses and organizations realized that this was a fantastically intimate, lower cost customer care conduit. We also saw that, for a while, it was a low cost, high reach marketing channel.

Now social has become a core competency for smart professionals in every organization because the modern consumer expects to get a decent response when they reach out to a brand on social media. This is social starting to fulfill its promise. It presents a huge opportunity for organizations to better understand what’s really happening by providing a rich tapestry of digital intelligence that is extremely valuable.

Q) Where does social analytics fit in the customer journey? What other kinds of data sets do you see marketers using to help them interpret what they are seeing on social media?

We’ve seen clients use digital consumer intelligence to understand the whole customer lifecycle. For example, one of the biggest auto companies in the world is using social to understand the different phases of the customer journey. What do people care about and talk about? What are the themes and topics that they consider when they’re pre-purchase? What are the common experiences that they have in the purchasing process when they go to a dealership? How are they treated? What are the common snags? What are the friction points, post purchase, in the servicing process? What is the brand like from a customer experience point of view?

Brandwatch is charting a course into digital consumer intelligence, which is a broader opportunity to modernize market research. Social is just one part of the toolkit. Last year we acquired an exciting mobile survey company called Qriously, which successfully predicted the recent UK election results. Their ability to harness an audience of up to 2 billion people through mobile devices means that some of the brands that work with us can instantly reach people and ask them questions.

When we start to think about social intelligence not in isolation, but by adding mobile surveys, review data and potentially customer call center data, we can begin to achieve a varied and rich 360 degree perspective on what matters to the customers that we want to help.

Q) How do brands thrive in this post privacy regulation era? What tips do you have for solving the trust issue that exists right now?

There are no easy answers to the question of privacy. Transparency is key for any brand now and as we move forward, it’s important to tell people what and why. My experience as a consumer is that I’m happy to provide my data when I feel there’s a good value exchange. Am I getting value from providing my data as well as the brand or whoever else is involved?

Trust is fundamental to that. We all know what it feels like when a brand crosses the line. Avoiding creepiness is fundamental to how we work at Brandwatch. We have a data privacy architecture and working group to make sure that we stay on the right side of that line.

Q) What are your predictions for the martech space in 2020?

I think we’re going to see more of the same two forces that we’ve seen so far—consolidation in more mature sectors of the martech tech space overall and the continued explosion of new platforms and categories.

Specifically, much more is going to happen in video which is the de facto standard now for consumers, whether it’s B2B or B2C. As humans, we’re hardwired to take information through our eyes, so video is still an untapped opportunity.

Integrated technologies are still very immature and my sense is that the western developed markets are naive about their place in the global innovation race. When you look at some of the innovation coming out of China we would do well to observe and learn from that market.

Q) Looking ahead, what are your plans for Brandwatch going forward?

Brandwatch is at an exciting phase in its development. We’ve recently defined a whole new market category in digital consumer intelligence, and have reached $107m in revenue. In the next two to three years, we’re aiming to reach a $1B valuation, which sets us up to be Brighton’s first unicorn.

We’re now beginning to innovate and disrupt in market research, which is 20 times bigger than the market that we came from. It’s like bursting through the clouds when you’re on a flight. There’s a whole new skyscape for us. I’m very excited about this new level of scale as we look to innovate further.

Q) You mentioned that one of the biggest challenges for your team was the education behind the tech. Has that improved? What have you done to tackle that?

Keeping staff up to date on how to maximize the value they get from technology is a job that will never go away. We’ve recently hired an experienced VP of Operations and her ambition is to provide a rolling program of enablement and education for people internally to keep on top of how to get the best value out of their technology.

A good question to ask is, what percentage of effort or money should we be spending on getting value out of the investments that we’ve already made? Buying technology is easy but implementing it and extracting value from it is where the magic happens.

Our team gets the most from our technology by appointing a champion who acts as the sponsor of that technology. When a new technology is proposed, we appoint the champion as the person to educate whoever needs to know about it. It’s relatively informal, but we expect them to run workshops and training sessions and to stay up to date themselves. We’ve found lunch and learn sessions to be incredibly useful. People get excited because they see the benefit and they can put the work in context.

Q) Can you give us an example that best shows how Brandwatch benefits its clients?

One of our clients makes one of the most popular ice cream brands in the world. They had a popular belief that people bought the ice cream when the weather was good and in order to sell ice cream at those times, what they had to do was put it in front of people. They gave bigger discounts to their supermarket partners to get the ice cream on the end of aisles so the product would be in front of consumers at those times.

Social intelligence, weather data, and sales information told quite a different story. The client saw no correlation between the weather and sales. In fact, bad weather was often a driver of sales. They saw, through social, that consumers were saying, “I’m having a terrible week. The weather’s crap. I can’t wait to get on the sofa this weekend, binge, watch Netflix, and destroy a tub of ice cream.”

That insight saved them hundreds of thousands of dollars and enabled them to understand what was really going on for their consumers. We have examples of our airline clients understanding when a baggage carousel was broken more quickly through social than through their own internal processes. There are many other examples, but I love the ice cream one because it’s about turning logic on its head and understanding what was going on for real people.

Q) Can you tell us one tool you cannot do without in your martech stack?

We can’t do our jobs in the Brandwatch marketing team without Marketo and They might not be the most exciting vendors, but our business depends on them.

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