Accelerating Value
Accelerating Value

Episode · 1 year ago

Brand Monitoring: Are You Sending the Right Zignals?

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Most business leaders expect the marketing and brand management teams to accommodate the business perspective, but what would happen if we changed that?

Jennifer Granston, CCO of Zignal Labs, places the marketing cap on business leadership. It’s how she keeps things fresh, and why we’ve spoken with her about:

- Evolving function-first mentality into function-informed business mentality

- What’s holding back the evolution of PR & Comms?

- The brand story: to tell or not to tell?

- Lessons from the previous 12 months

- Zignal’s role in brand monitoring and business management

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Today, every budget approval is an investment deal. If you're a marketer, sales or business leader, you had to promise to deliver value and impact. Writing. The wave to get there is hard enough. Finding your way through the storm is even harder. If you're looking for that path forward so that you don't wipe out. You've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Hey, there everybody, this is marks douce with accelerating value, your weekly podcast about everything related to the creation, the investment in and the ultimate proof of value that the response from you guys so far has been really, really amazing. We're getting a lot of new ideas about who we want to talk to. As you know, this is horizontal. We certainly talked to a lot of people in marketing and and COMMS, but we talked to CEOS and CFOs. Just did that yesterday. We talked to sehrrows and then we go deeper into organizations and talk to people who see it maybe a little bit differently. They still understand that to be value it has to monetize in the end, but there they control a subset of the whole equation, and so it's really interesting to watch and listen to their take on it. So today I am actually so this is being recorded to Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend. If you're if you in the US, you know exactly what that is. If you're outside and the rest of the world, Memorial Day weekend is a big deal in the United States. It's where we remember all of the people who died for this country across history, enemies, foreign and domestic, and all that kind of stuff. Right, and it's not a militaristic holiday at all. It's a it's a kind of a real people have a lot of fun, but they remember kind of who got them here, right. So I am actually in Santa Monica, California, to celebrate Memorial Day with my family. So this is the Pacific Ocean right here, and it's it's, it's we're kind of looking forward to this. So you're going to hear a lot of background noise, the wind. There's some construction, I think, down the road here or somewhere, but it's it'll add a little bit of cinema verite to the whole thing. Right. So I you know, one of the people that I have been working with for a very long time. What would you say it's well, it's probably longer than either one of us really want say. Right. I was just going to say to you. Really want to time stamp on that. It's but you have...

...to remember that Jennifer and I were both prodigies, so when we met and we were working together, we were actually twelve. So you know, so we just have to get you know that that kind of helps. Framer. That's true, so both of us. You know what, I really wanted to talk to Jennifer today because her career is is similar to mine in the sense that she started out in Comms, she started to do more and more marketing. She's now a Cmo, but she's absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, somebody who is a business leader first who happens to specialize in marketing. So she she kind of brings a marketing lens to business as opposed to trying to bring a business lens to marketing, and and that is that's, I think, a very key distinction right now. We're really, you know, two thousand and twenty taught us a lot. I do think that this is one of the big things that we're already seeing play out in the marketing profession is that people are starting to say, Hey, you know what, it's time to kind of evolve this thing more systemically and and in that whole business lead her. First thing, that t shapes talent thing where you've got a lot of horizontal perspective and skills and you've got this vertical or maybe, in the case of like Jin, right, you're talking about somebody who has multiple vertical skill sets, right, that she can bring to bear against this t shaped piece of talk. So, with all that as the prelude, Hey, thanks for being here, thank you for having me. You have a much prettier view than I do today, but you are very happy to be here, very happy to be kicking off a night's Memorial Day weekend with you and very happy to be on accelerating value. Yeah, about the only thing that we're missing here, Jin, is the or cocktails. I was just going to say, yeah, pretty glass with a pretty drink. Yeah, all right. So so let's talk about like the arc of your career, right, if you're you know, given the similarities I'm going to you, and I've actually never had this specific conversation, but I'm going to presume that once upon a time you were probably a like I was a lot like every other marketing and communications person out there. You saw all of this from a function first perspective, right, and then somewhere along the way you began to have a series of epiphanies. You remember what those were? Yeah,...

...and I remember when, when you and I you were probably one of my epiphanies, thinking back, because I remember very vividly, when I worked at the agency and you were one of our clients, your desire to really pressure tests the traditional earned media model and really be able to understand the value out of that and and just kind of beyond just measuring and counting coverage, being able to like really understand like what did it really mean, and I remember at the time you asking very hard questions and really pushing for some models that just haven't been done before. And so that was certainly when, I think, you know, when I started to watch communications agencies and I started to watch the media ecosystem really evolving and comes functions, both at the agency side and and house not really bringing social and earned media together and owned and, you know, all of those other sources and looking at it together. That was something that was really hard for me to wrap my head around. Because I felt like, and I still feel like to some extent, there are a lot of comes functions that are just not evolving, you know, as fast as really the the ecosystem is evolving, and I think that's kind of I think that's hurt them to some extent. So that was certainly an epiphany. And then, I think being exposed to these platforms that could bring it all together and really started to get my brain around technology and analytics and the ability to look at things and not just kind of stick a finger in the wind and make decisions, but actually be able to really use data informed decisions to inform strategy, you know, to be able to, you know, better see and better see around corners. I mean that to me, that that's what what really prompted me to make a shift out of agency life and out of comes specifically, and into technology, because I wanted to be part of that leading edge of really developing the technology that could help, you know, evolve and shift that dynamic. So this is this was not actually something I was going to touch on, but your point is really super valid and so I want to kind of just do a brief one be on this. Do you have a do you have a sense of what is holding the communications and PR profession back in this area. One of the they I do. So one of the things I see is not not that they don't tend to see that the world has shifted, but they're still responsible for the same measures and metrics that they always have been and I think Gill reluctance to let go of that because they're not quite sure how to demonstrate their value. So if you have been, you know, putting Mbo's up to as a communications lead to your C suite for years and years and really talking about success being...

...numbers of stories and, you know, numbers of touches and impressions and things like that, to let go of that and to start to look at a different way to define value can be kind of scary. And so what we tend to see when we get big customers that come to us to help them with that evolution, they are very reluctant to let go of those old measures and they're they're really trying to find a way to kind of still take that box but then be able to unlock and really use that data to help inform strategies and to help them do their jobs better. But I've yet to see one that can just kind of throw it all out because they don't really know how to take it and and define success for for their functions moving forward. It's a little bit harder to do than some of their marketing folks. Yeah, you know what I think? One of the so I agree with you. I think one of the greatest ironies of this, and this was true before Covid, but it intensified very significantly over the course of two thousand and twenty, and that is that when you when you're running communications data in multi variable marketing, mixed models, right, that conclude, paid and owned and earned and shared, and a bunch of externalities around your competitors or the macro or covid or whatever is relevant. What we have consistently seen is that colms or earned right is really, really, really important. That that you know. There's been that kind of this narrative. That says well, because over the last fifteen years or so the number of outlets have collapsed relative to what it once was, that somehow you know, because we don't have as many people to pitch and thus, and you know, we can't build a lot as many hours against that as we used to that that determines the value of it, when in fact that has absolutely nothing to do with the value of it at all, and that actually, you know, you could easily, as supply and demand would show you, on almost anything, if you lessen the supply and the opportunity of something, you know it becomes more valuable, assuming that it has any value at all. And what we've just seen in time and time again last a sixteen, seventeen, eighteen months is people. People definitely want to hear what the brand has to say about itself. There's no question. So whether that's paid or owned really import portant. But in the bottom half of the funnel, particularly as the cost and the risk of the by decision goes up, or was always high, right, they begin to really triangulate for the truth and they're d risking, they're seeking to do due diligence, and so what other people are saying about your brand or your...

...product or whatever it is, becomes a lot more important at that moment, and that's where we've seen so many companies fall down right in the analytics, but also so many of them just really rock it in in two thousand and twenty. Well, I think so you're right and I think that the point that you're making where, yes, the the number of outlets and some of the you know, some of the ways that in these companies might have operated and measured success before, you know, maybe become more limited. Actually, I think it's become way less limiting and and way more of an opportunity to be able to put your message out into this very, very connected media ecosystem now, because, you know, now you have this opportunity that's not even you know, a piece of earned media coverage is to be a piece of earn media coverage, you know, and now that can take on a life of its own and find its way into all sorts of audiences through social that it never would have before. And so when, when, you know, you have companies that are still kind of looking at those old metrics of kind of listening and counting that, you know, how many stories they got in the New York Times, and they're not thinking about the amplification of those stories, of the additional added value, you know, and being able to measure that piece. And then, you know, how did that get into the right you know, how did that get into the right audiences and the right types of personas that they're really trying to attract. You can do so much now with analytics that you can do before to really understand how those stories travel and then, conversely, by really listening and being connected to these topics that your brand really wants to be prominently featured in or have a really clear voice and, you know, even things like sustainability discussions or, you know, digital divide or technology or ISG or whatever it might be, to understand those conversations broadly and be able to find places to insert your message. The date is there, and even understanding how people are talking about it and what's going to resonate with certain audiences. The date is there, and I've found that to either be a way of driving better earned media coverage, because oftentimes those social channels and those other channels are those precursors to where their own media coverage happens. So it's the brands that are starting to do that and really looking at it in that way I think are, to your point, having a lot more success and driving a lot more value. So you're now at signal right, seem, and so you're and you're kind of sitting astride both the normal cmo type role, but you're also kind of the the the industry whisperer, right because you you really understand the audience, having been one. What to what do you find on particularly, I mean I'm sure that you probably were already figuring some of this out as we move through, particularly the latter half of two thousand and twenty, but as you start to process all this,...

...what do you think you've learned? How the past twelve months or so? Yeah, my focus has really been on the customer, and that the end user of our product, and the end user how are they using it? What are these cases? What are the outcomes, because that's really key in technology. Technology is technology, that's products and features. If you can't really articulate, you know, how somebody is going to use it and improve their outcomes, that they're they're getting itst you know, not going to sell product. And so what I've seen happen in two thousand and twenty is actually been very good for our business in a way, because for a long time we were trying to explain to people and bring people along this journey of you know, things have changed. You can't just like backwards anymore and you know, listening can coverage you have to look at it in both, you know, real time, to understand what's happening in a connected way, to understand all these different channels of where it's happening, but then to be able to use that data to see around corners and and start to get a better sense of what is going to happen by looking at emerging narratives. And if there was nothing else that happened in two thousand and twenty, that was the biggest thing that I think everybody learned and I've seen so many brands just really caught on their back foot by not having that visibility. They were kind of caught blindsighted by, you know, first it was covid and then it was, you know, racial justice issues over the summer, and it was, you know, climate change issues and all of the fires, and it was elections, and it was then this information surrounding so many of those different things and all of these converging it ones. I think left a lot of people in both calms and marketing but more broadly within the C sweet, really struggling to kind of prepare and really struggling to make decisions around how to move their business foard in this incredibly complicated environment that we found two thousand and twenty to be. What is it meant for you personally, like, what do you what do you learn personally out of two thousand and twenty? So, I mean for me, every day is any day and you know, as a business leader, the the lesson that I really learned was how to compartmentalize and look at what's happening in the world and look at what we need to do as a business and in a way that is authentic to who we are. You to figure out how to lean into that and really help. I mean we can be great problem solvers in this when, you know, we've got access to all this incredible data that brands need to actually be able to solve some of the problems that they're up against. And that was one of my great want, of my greatest learnings, I think, in two thousand and twenty was, you know, in these things were happening and they were just so such a shock to the system. You know, to be able to take and very quickly mobilize your employees and get them focusing on how are we going to help the customer? How are we going to help the you know, press in our case, because we were doing a lot of work to put...

...our data into the hands of journalists. You know, how are we going to actually help people through this? And I actually think that probably was better coping skills for all of us to deal with it personally because, you know, to turn that into, you know, ways of trying to improve the situation. I think it's a lot more manageable than just kind of being, you know, sitting there reeling and and and processing it. So I think it's made me a better leader and, you know, it's given opportunities to have maybe help other people, you know, lead through it as well. Yeah, I you know, there's a there's a book that I read some time ago where the and the opening sentence of the book it's not about you, and I think that that was that was something that resonated with me. But clearly, in the midst of everything that has happened and the continues to happen, you know, and it proved we've had quite a few of our team members in India to either directly impacted, personally impacted by Covid in the last six weeks or so or on kind of a one removed, which isn't much of a removal right where they have lost one or more parents, you know, and and and that you just, you know, you realize in that moment that, yeah, it's really really super important right to manage a business correctly and to make sure that cash is president and you know, all that kind of stuff is happening, but all of that somehow pails and significance to those kinds of issues and the desire to help them. And and yet realizing the either the you know, the time space continuum limits or, you know, whatever limits there there are on the situation, which they're always are. Well, I think you're right and they think, you know, having the ability to I mean every one of us, I think, has learned how to live in ambiguity and how to live in the moment. I mean that's just you know, we've all learned that and if we had to learn that, we haven't been paying much attention in two thousand and twenty. But being able to do that and be making decisions with these very short time horizons, to your point, but also have that longer view and be able to kind of balance those two and talk back and forth, I think is definitely been another learning and I have to imagine you know, something that's that's been a huge value that proof has been able to do is to be able to counsel and guide customers through that as well, because, I mean, if you think about and I saw this happen with a lot of our brands, I mean they were pausing advertising campaigns, they were pausing paid they were pausing all of these things. You know, marketers, that must I mean, if anything, I think it helped the role of communications because suddenly they had a seat at the table on emerging issues. I think marketing was probably left feeling like, okay, what are we going to do, because they there...

...were months where, you know, the playbook was completely thrown out the window, and so I imagine, you know, the work that you had to do in the proof had to do to really help them figure out how to define that value and how do you kind of measure progress and that very, very rapidly changing environment must have been a quick pivot that you had to do as well. Oh yeah, no, I absolutely. You know, one of the one of the ways that that actually really manifested was so we had no surprise. We had a lot of customers who's marketing teams were, you know, got the dreaded knock at the door from finance at some point and said, you know, like forty percent people program you know, cuts stuff like this, and one of the things that was really it's one thing to say this and to talk about this, it's another thing to experience it directly right where you can say, hey, based upon the analytics historically and the and the predictive aspect of projected value into the future of different things and whatnot, this is what you're actually giving up. And over what time horizon you're giving it up. And it's not just you, well, I'm giving up, you know, reaching some sort of awareness numbers or whatever. Right, it's actually the whole thing. It's like this is how it is rippled across time and space to create sales, right. And so, Oh, you know, if you make these cuts, you know there is no free lunch. It is going to cost you something at some point. Right, that's just reality and I think that for a lot of business leaders they have they have struggled to understand the time lagged to value that marketing and commes creates. So they know that it happens, but like, how do I know that I'm spending what I need to be spending up or down on these things right ill, I don't know. And so it becomes very, very easy to cut, particularly when you are when you feel like that your business is under massive attack or, you know, in the case of codd, you know, you just have massive uncertainty and you're kind of like circling the wagons a little bit mentally. It's very easy to go there. Right in one particular case, it was so cool to watch this, where this one customer responded. The marketing team said, okay, so this is what this is going to mean and in fact we can model it for you right here and we can show you, based on the historicals into the future, right what this will mean, and then we'll, you know, we'll give you like four...

...scenarios and you decide based on that information, if that's still what you want to do. Right as a business decision. There was there were a lot collapsing, quite a few meetings here, but at in the end, instead of a really super deep, massive bordering fifty percent reduction, right, they only took fifteen percent and they said, you know, well, we'll go find the rest of it somewhere else, right, and and that was really pretty that was pretty awesome, and so I think that one of the things I really wanted to ask you about here is for people who don't know who signal is, let's talk about what it is that you do and how customers are really using this in real life to cut some ice that they haven't been able to cut any other way. Favorite question says. ZIGNAL labs. We've been around for about ten years and our start was in politics, because at the time there weren't there was an ability to kind of pull in and listen to all of these things being set, all these big conversations, and be able to react to those in real time, and so we built our platform based on the premise that, you know, brands, organizations, political candidates, you know, what have you are going to need this access to real time data and the ability to move powerfully analyze that. Yeah, and and so where we're we so that half of our businesses government, about half of our business is enterprise and we primarily work with fortune five hundred. Financial Services, tech and healthcare and FARMAC are kind of the primary focuses for us, but we do really well with these big complex companies and these big complex things where these conversations are massive and they both have to look at brand monitoring kind of what's being said about their brand. But where it's really interesting is when they start looking at these big topics and this broader environment that they're part of, and that's a big place that we're moving right now. Actually is the have the brand monitoring in a Britain. The measurement piece is going to be really critical still, but what we're finding is that all of these conversations happening online and all these conversations that we talked about in terms of that mixed, you know, interconnected media ecosystem, those are not staying online anymore and so those often times can be early indicators and we call them emerging narratives. So if you can find these emerging narratives that are going to be either threats to your brand or things that can be opportunities for your brand, and you can get an earlier jump on them, that actually can put you in a significantly better place. And that piece, what what we're really focused on, is helping to have comes and marketing make that journey, but also starting to look...

...at how we can put open source intelligence in the into the hands of risk officers, legal, government affairs, security compliance, because I think that was the other thing that two thousand and twenty showed us, is that it's not about these little online echo chambers happening anymore where these conversations are bouncing around down here. They're actually taking on these very physical world scenarios and, you know, to the point of people kind of having to rewrite the playbook. We're finding a security compliance and risk is having to really think differently about how they attack this and start to use some of the data that there comes and marketing colleagues have always had access to that they just don't have access to. You ever see not so much with brands, but with with subject matter, with topics? Do you ever see stuff that really gives you enough pause where you say, Hey, I got to go have a conversation with somebody about this? Absolutely, absolutely. I mean I used to talk thinking of gain where the sixth right, yeah, that would be one example of them. Right, that certainly one example. I mean I think one of my one of my examples that I talked about is is around G so if you remember last year when all the conspiracy theories and thoughts were spinning around coronavirus and the origins and where it came from. One of the theories that was out there was about how five g technology, because that was first to play in Lehon, was somehow connected to covid and that it was part of this massive conspiracy to deploy five g and to, you know, infect people with the virus and that that was somehow making people sicker, more susceptible to getting covid. And that narrative within a very short amount of time, you know, I think it was about three months from when we trace the origin back that narrative. By May of last year, seventy seven cell phone towers, five g towers, had been set on fire in the UK and employees of telecom companies were being physically and verbally harassed in the UK. Fast forward to the ATT building being bombed in Nashville or Christmas, and the the one of the motivations of the person that did that as five g conspiracy theories. And so I think that, you know, there's many, many examples of that, but these these narratives are definitely, definitely having a big impact. And so if you flip that and you start to think about, you know, as if I'm a company that is, you know, thinking about my risk profile, thinking about my supply chain, my operations of tection, of my executives, and I'm now thinking about this you know threat or potentially an early signal of these conversations happening. I'm going to want to know about those because they can be early indicators of, you know, something that could actually really cause pretty significant harm if it's left unchecked. So it's interesting. And conversely, you know, beyond just kind of a threat landscape, you think about I mean even for marketers, you know, one of the things that that is a very...

...common scenario for us is helping understand different types of audiences and different types of keywords and hashtags and things that might have a different impact for them when they put their message out into you know, into the end of the cloud and start to get people talking about we can really get in there and understand you know, what conversations, what keywords carry higher levels of automation, for example, or, you know, more negative sentiment and ways to phrase things and ways to talk about things that can have maybe a better impact for the message and even be able to AIB test some of those. So there's a ton that can be done by really studying that and it's pretty exciting. No, absolutely so. Last question, and and this is this is kind of started to become a little bit of a tradition, and that is, when you think about yourself and your family, your community, the causes you believe in, how do you think about your own value creation, personally, not professionally? Yeah, I mean, for me I felt like for a long time the work that I was doing was just kind of going through the motions and you know, it sounds very cheesy, you know, to think about purpose and, you know, mission in your work, but when you're doing something that you really believe in and you're doing something that you can really develop expertise on and be a thought later on, I mean that to me has been one of the most fulfilling parts of the last three years of my career, is really getting connected into that and I think, you know, thinking about how you then parlay that into this personal mission. You know, for me, a lot of the work we do is around combating this information to some information, it's been a huge issue for the last year and so for me, thinking about you know, one of the things that I'm involved in is the National Press Foundation and being an advisor to to that group, because I'm a huge from proponent of democratizing data into the hands of press that need it and people that can really report the truth. And then, you know, not every you know, press out let us as well funded as as some of the big ones out of New York, and you know, those kinds of things. I think is I've gotten more mature and my care have become more personally fulfilling to me, and to have kind of your personal mission connected with your work mission is, you know, I think the holy crayl. Yeah, I actually really agree with that. You know, it's it's kind of it's overstating the power of analytics to sit to equate it with truth, but it's kind of on the road to truth. It is and and you know, and you too, mark, like you and and what you do at prove you know what I can do with the data that we are sitting on a signal. It's about transparency, right and and if you are so open to what that data tells you and not hiding and not being defensive about...

...that, I mean what it gives you, the answers, it gives you the playbook of what to do differently, you know, and it's always interesting to me to see people that kind of fear that level of transparency in that data, because I agree. I mean the analytics and being able to use that to make better decisions is an incredibly powerful tool. All right, this has been a tremendous conversation for me. I've really enjoyed it. I hope that all of you listening have gotten something out of it that you did not expect. That's sort of one of the things that I'm after in these podcasts is giving you something that's a real something you did not anticipate. You never may be thought of, at least in this quite this way before. That will that you'll be chewing on and chewing on and chewing on as you move forward. I also I just hope that all of you guys have a great weekend. Jen, you too, hope you have an awesome weekend and I will see you guys back next week. Thanks so much. The sooner you can optimize your marketing spend, the quicker you can start delivering clear, measurable value to Your Business. That's exactly where business GPS from. Proof analytics can help. Learn more at proof analytics DOT AI. You've been listening to accelerating value, where raw conversations about the journey to business impact help you weather the storm ahead. To make sure you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. Until next time,.

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