In part two of a series of interviews with marketing leaders from across B2B, ISTARI’s Head of Communications & Demand Generation Julia Hallett shares her insights.
When you think of marketing, what springs immediately to mind: customer profiles and methodologies or a creative vision? ISTARI’s Head of Communications & Demand Generation Julia Hallett believes that the best marketing sits somewhere between the two.
ISTARI is a global cybersecurity company that helps clients on their journey towards cyber resilience. It runs a lean marketing team with a start-up ethos that tests the process-driven and the visionary alike to think smart, move fast, and deliver in a crowded market space.
How has a background in communications influenced the way Julia delivers marketing today? What are the challenges — and the opportunities — that come with operating in a lean team? And how does branding fit into the equation? I caught up with Julia to get her thoughts.
Thomas Brown: What first attracted you to marketing?
Julia Hallett: Companies of all types and sizes share stories with specific audiences at purposeful times. In communications, which is my educational background, you constantly consider the end-listener and communications medium when you tell a story. With marketing, you must understand who you're speaking to and what they care about, but also recognise that half the battle is attracting an audience in the first place.
I've encountered many individuals in (traditional) client services who think of brand marketing as purely a cost-centre, operating with crayons and colour palettes. And sure, visual aesthetics are a critical component of building a brand. However, there are additional strategic elements that equally captivate me.
For one, the audience development side: What device are they using when interacting with your brand touchpoint? What culture resonates most with them, and how does that affect the message? What does their decision-making journey look like when buying something?
As a problem-solver, I find it captivating to orchestrate making these components work together successfully.
How do you approach marketing today?
I'm goal-oriented. I like to think through the funnel and delivery mechanics. But the ethos at ISTARI is very much that of a start-up. We're a lean team, so I work on both strategy and execution.
On the one hand, working this way keeps you sharp because you're in the weeds, delivering. It drives you to push the boundaries of your creativity. You're always trying new things because this is your first time doing them. We're not rigid or stuck in our ways because we're still building foundations. There are many opportunities for testing different approaches to determine what does and doesn't work.
On the other hand, because those foundations still need to be fully rolled out, there's the sense that we're always playing catch-up. And in parallel, as the business evolves, so must our plans. This means we rarely have time to reflect or double down on improvements, but I suspect this will change as we increasingly build out our marketing system.
For businesses trying to reach a bigger audience online, what do you think is important?
It is tough. People are busy, and there's so much content available already. As an industry, I question if we've reached a point where we should pare back production. Marketers are under pressure to produce, especially on the content side, but sometimes less is more. It comes back to the authenticity of the brand. Ensure your content is delivering value.
I also believe we are back to prioritising in-person experiences. There's real value to be unlocked face-to-face, especially in a people-driven service. We've seen that for our Academy programmes. As part of our residential Navigator programme, people spend three days together learning amongst 20 other peers they otherwise wouldn't have met. Though tougher to scale, it's more valuable than a webinar where a screen separates you from 50+ other attendees.
Can I ask you about your thoughts on marketing AI?
Generative AI is a powerful tool that can help enhance your productivity with various tasks, but it is important to use it responsibly and securely.
More generally, I appreciate technology for many reasons including the delivery components of messaging. For example, HubSpot's workflow capabilities make marketer's lives infinitely easier.
But looking beyond mechanics, there’s the trust side to consider in marketing. A brand equates to trust, and trust is a very arduous thing to build but easy to tear down.
Marketing is both a science and an art. Strategy has to come together with creativity and judgement, and requires unique points that generative AI probably shouldn't fully dictate.
What more can you tell me about building a brand?
Building a brand takes time, investment and creativity. It’s a very entrepreneurial aspect of marketing.
Firstly, can you answer why your customers are choosing your company? Is your service better? Is it cheaper? Do they trust you more?
And secondly, it can be uncomfortable. Some strategies are going to fail to build momentum, but you can learn from everything. Sometimes, in B2B marketing, there’s a misconception that because your buyers are business buyers, they only think about or interact with your brand during business hours. But direct-to-consumer is a huge area of growth, and B2B has a lot to learn from that. Brands operating in this space have done creative things to earn customer trust.
What does being a good marketer mean to you?
I am still learning what it requires. As a problem-solver on a lean team, I feel that we have so many more avenues to explore, so much that we must continue to improve. The potential is almost endless. I think being "good" means recognising there’s always something to iterate but also balancing the priorities.
Overall, I think a team's success depends a great deal on the company and what goals you’ve set out to meet. As we've mentioned, so much can change internally and externally. Being aware and connected to those changes is important because it should directly influence your strategy and delivery.