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8 min read

Product marketing in the cloud security space

This article is based on Kelly Anderson's appearance on the Product Marketing Life podcast. Check out this show, and our collection of other product marketing podcasts.

Hi, everyone! My name is Mark Assini, and I’m a Product Marketing Manager at Jobber. I'm joined by Kelly Anderson, Product Marketing Manager at Google.

Kelly has carved out quite the niche for herself, not only as an incredibly skilled communicator and product marketer but also as a cloud security expert. That expertise has seen her make an impact at two behemoths of tech – first at Microsoft and now at Google.

In her role, Kelly is the product marketing steward for a suite of user and business production services, including reCAPTCHA Enterprise, Web Risk, Security Command Center, and Anomaly Detection, to name just a few.

Without a doubt, Google is one of the most ubiquitous companies on the planet. In fact, Google’s offering spreads far beyond search, ads, and workplace augmentation.

The Google Cloud solution – the area that Kelly supports – helps customers build apps faster, make smarter business decisions, and connect people anywhere.

During my conversation with Kelly, we dive deep into a surprisingly dynamic yet challenging world of product marketing in the cloud security space.

We cover a variety of topics, including:

Finding your product marketing niche

Mark Assini

So far in your career, you've worked on some pretty awesome products in the security space, which in the broad landscape of B2B product marketing is relatively niche. What drew you towards cloud security as an area of focus?

Kelly Anderson

I started working in the cloud because it was uncharted territory, and it was kind of scary. We had so many different businesses saying they would never go to the cloud, and there were two different cloud realities going on.

When I first joined cloud, I went to the first reality where we were just so eager to get people to the cloud that we were trying to do lift and shift scenarios, like, “You have done this on-premises? Same thing!”

Those were the kinds of products that I was working on – backup and disaster recovery. That was not a revolutionary concept. It had been in the market for a while, but doing it in the cloud was very scary and exotic for a lot of people.

The second reality that was happening in the cloud was filled with brand new things that had never been done before.

There were security products and practices to secure your on-premises environment, and there was some lift and shift of that, but then because the cloud is a totally different environment, there were new ways that you needed to do security there.

It’s a unique challenge because security is kind of like a doctor telling you you need to eat more broccoli.

People have been told forever that they need to eat more broccoli and they need to pay attention to security, but they’re often like, “Nah, I’m good.” I was very interested in that because the cloud presented a unique opportunity to change the way people do security, while also keeping some things the same.

I did not have a security background. I did not know anything about security, except that it seemed important, but I believed in myself.

I'm smart, I'm capable, and I knew that if I put my mind to it, I could learn about it. I just went for it, and I was the first hire for the cloud security marketing team at Microsoft. As you can tell, I've been having a blast because I'm still in cloud security years later.

Mark Assini

I love that. How you've approached your career is very indicative of how all product marketers should approach their work.

If you can look for that next opportunity on the bleeding edge and you’re passionate about it, you can own product marketing for that emerging space and be seen as a thought leader. A lot of the content you're putting out speaks to your ability to do exactly that, and I commend you for it.

Kelly Anderson

Thanks, Mark. That just made my day! I think that as product marketers, one of the attributes that makes us super successful is that we are risk-takers.

We always have to walk that fine line between maintaining the status quo and leading customers to the future of where our product will be. This is really hard to do because change is hard, and a lot of it is psychological, right?

A lot of times, we think about marketing as an art rather than a science, and that has never felt more true to me as a product marketer than when I'm in these situations.

When I’m contemplating what to do next or which product I want to be marketing, I’m faced with the reality of wanting to keep the product and keep growing awareness of the value it brings now, but also want to lead customers to where we're going.

Making the technical digestible

Mark Assini

How do you approach something as technical as cloud security and make it approachable and digestible so that anyone involved in that buying process feels confident that they're making the right decision? Or that they at least know what they need to be considering when they're making those kinds of buying decisions?

Kelly Anderson

This, to me, gets to like the heart of product marketing and our biggest superpower, which is storytelling.

I think there's always tension on product teams between product marketing and technical stakeholders, but also externally with technical stakeholders and non-technical stakeholders. That tension comes from wanting to say everything that's great about the product and how it works but also balancing how we get there.

What's so crucial and critical about storytelling is that it’s the gateway to getting your customers interested in your product. That’s because storytelling is all about connecting with our target audiences at the deepest levels. It's about talking to our customers like people.

That leads me to my next point. To do strong storytelling, we have to talk to our customers – technical or non-technical – like real human beings. This goes for security and beyond.

In security, we have so many different technical roles – we have security practitioners, security buyers, and the CSO – that our messaging can end up getting overly complicated and verbose.

But this is where great marketing comes in. We keep the language conversational, and we keep things simple and clear so that our customers understand our key messages, and therefore, they resonate, so they're motivated to go do the call to action.

I think great storytelling and great conversational language also involve strong customer empathy. This touches our market research too.

If you have done your research, you know who your customer is, you know their pain points and what's keeping them up at night, then you can talk to those problems and position your product as the solution.

It’s about tapping into your own humanness and saying, “Hey, I get you. I get your challenges. I know what you're up against. I know that this isn't making your boss happy, but I have something for you that will make your life and your business's life and your customers' lives a lot better.”

When you use these three elements – storytelling, conversational language, and empathy, whether your customers are technical or non-technical, you will be able to connect with them and lure them into the product.

Then, once they're bought in, you can start to do a deep dive into the technical details, ranging from how to set up the product to how certain specs work. But before we get more technical and robotic, we’ve got to start at a human level.

The power of customer references in technical product marketing

Mark Assini

I'm sure that works for a large portion of your target market because, obviously, the products you've been solutioning and supporting have been quite successful. If someone on the buying journey looks at that and thinks, “Well, this is just marketing fluff.

I need to know the hard facts and the technical specs,” how do you respond to that? How do you balance that need to legitimize your solution as technically sound against that need to draw people in?

Like any marketer, we often get accused of being fluffy or of keeping our feet on the ground, as it were, and that's why people love and sometimes hate marketers. I'm curious about how you balance that in your role as a product marketer?

Kelly Anderson

Oh, my gosh, this is so true. If I had a penny for every time I've heard people say that marketing is just fluff, I think we could both retire.

First and foremost, the most powerful resource I use to combat the idea that marketing is fluff is customer references.

Of course, as a marketer, it's my job to tell you all day how awesome this product is, but if I can get a customer that's in my target segment to sing my product’s praises, I’m gonna use that as much as I can.

What's also really powerful about that is it can also influence my target audience’s competitors. Let's say a big retailer like Walmart is endorsing a product.

When the other retailers see that Walmart is using this product, and by using this product, they're gonna acquire more customers, make more money, and get more brand loyalty, they're also going to go, “Hmm, maybe I should be considering this product.”

Time and time again, I’ve seen that whether you're working with a technical stakeholder or going after a really big segment in your target audience if you have a customer reference that's got a great story, is conversational, and has a lot of empathy for what for the challenges of that particular use case or user, you're golden.

Getting customers to eat their broccoli

Mark Assini

I really liked the analogy you gave about security being like a doctor telling you to eat your broccoli. It's one of those things you know you need to do, but until something bad happens, you don't really think about it.

In the last few years, there have been several instances of businesses not taking security seriously enough, which has led to some pretty significant repercussions for not just their business, but more importantly their customers.

“If you don’t do this, something bad's gonna happen,” sounds at first like a compelling way to go, but it might not necessarily be the best approach. I'm curious – as a product marketer, how do you balance that fear-based approach with the need to not scare customers or be too negative?

Kelly Anderson

I totally agree. Whether it's in security or whatever product you're marketing, the mindset we need to take is that it's about being proactive versus reactive.

In the security scenario, you're totally right. How many times do we look at the news and find out that there was a data breach in a healthcare system or it was Black Friday and bots bought up all the PS5s? That's a reality.

Instead of capitalizing on that moment and playing into fear, the way we like to market is all about putting our customers in a position of leadership and credibility and making them look like the security superstars that they are.

We know bad things can happen, and so to put you in a position of success, we encourage you to use these products. That way, instead of responding to breaches, you are using your time to do the job you signed up for.

Plus, you’ll have customers that are loyal to your brand and love using your products, and you’ll have revenue that is consistent and will continue to grow because you've built that loyalty. That’s the story we lead with.

It's all about being proactive, setting our customers up for success, and focusing on what security will do for their business rather than what a business without security could mean.

Written by:

Mark Assini

Mark Assini

Mark is the current host of the Product Marketing Life podcast and a PMM at Jobber. He holds Honors & Masters degrees in business from the Ivey Business School at Western University.

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Product marketing in the cloud security space