Prioritizing in a New Marketing Role, Cybersecurity Marketing, & Community Building with Gianna Whitver

Show Notes

Veteran Cybersecurity marketer and Cybersecurity Marketing Society Co-Founder Gianna Whitver joins Geordie to discuss: 

  • How to get your bearings and prioritize in a new marketing role
  • What it's like to start and manage a B2B niche community
  • The Cyber Marketing Society's upcoming Austin cybersecurity (CyberMarketingCon) marketer's conference
  • & More!


CyberMarketingCon details
The Cybersecurity Marketing Society
Gianna's Linkedin


This transcript was exported on Sep 26, 2023 – view latest version here.

Intro (00:01):
Welcome to Tech Marketer Live, helping you create and capture demand in the enterprise technology market. Now here's your host, Geordie Carswell.
Geordie Carswell (00:10):
Alright. Hey everybody. Welcome to a new episode of Tech Marketer Live, Geordie Carswell, your host here, and I'm excited to be joined today by Gianna Whitver, a co-founder of the Cybersecurity Marketing Society. We're big fans here at ActualTech of the Society and everything you're doing there, but we wanted to introduce you to our audience and our clients and maybe have you share a little bit about what you are doing now with the society, how it's gone for you from a career trajectory standpoint, and how they can think outside the box in their careers and look at the nuances of cybersecurity marketing and why this is such a great niche and all this kind of good stuff. So welcome, Gianna.
Gianna Whitver (00:55):
Thank you, Geordie. I'm so excited to be here. So honored to be on your show.
Geordie Carswell (01:00):
Yeah, we're just getting started, but it's been exciting to have different guests from widely different backgrounds come on and help us understand the nuances of tech marketing. So tell us a little bit about your background, if you could.
Gianna Whitver (01:14):
Sure. So my background is mainly in marketing and startups. Up until January of this year, I was VP of marketing at a cybersecurity company called Tiro, which is in the content disarming reconstruction space. In short, that's removing and preventing malware and files before they enter organizations. Before that, I worked at another cybersecurity company on the marketing team, a threat intelligence company. And before that I was working in marketing and being an all hands sort of person at a very small three person commercial real estate startup in Florida. And before that I had other marketing roles and I've always done freelance work as well. So I've had a variety of industries I've been exposed to and currently my entire focus is on the fun, crazy, constantly changing industry of cybersecurity.
Geordie Carswell (02:13):
Awesome. Well, you're certainly well known there and we're lucky to have you here. So what is your specialty? Is it demand generation? Is it brand? What do you sort of consider yourself a specialist in?
Gianna Whitver (02:24):
Yeah, so as you'll hear from other marketers who work in startups, I am a generalist, but my special, but if you did have to pull a specialty out of that, I would say demand generation is my bread and butter of what I've done at the cybersecurity companies.
Geordie Carswell (02:42):
And so when you have come into cybersecurity companies, where were they in their growth cycle? Usually
Gianna Whitver (02:48):
Yes. Usually series A stage is where I've been coming in, have a little funding, have a little team trying to scale up.
Geordie Carswell (03:01):
And so when you come in, how many, let's say at ro, how big would your team have been that you got to work with?
Gianna Whitver (03:09):
Oh yeah, that changed over time and the team is larger now. They have a new VP of marketing who is absolutely amazing. When I started, it was a team of two, so it was actually my previous VP of marketing. I joined as a consultant to start, I actually joined not as a full-time employee and I worked for the VP of marketing. So our team was one and a half is what you'd say it is on the marketing side.
Geordie Carswell (03:38):
Gianna Whitver (03:38):
On. And then it grew over time. It grew to about three people before I left.
Geordie Carswell (03:44):
Okay, interesting. I'm curious on this. Now there are some clients that we have that people have come into their roles or the teams were very small and they had to figure out where they were going to prioritize first. How did you approach that when you came into your new roles?
Gianna Whitver (04:02):
It starts with the assets of the company because my honest opinion is that sure, there's best practices and guidelines and things in every category of marketing for any sort of activity you want to do, but before you do anything, you have to look at the strategy and you have to look at your company's assets. So I'm saying all this to say that there is no defined playbook, there's playbooks, but there's no defined playbook. Every company has its own nuances. So to start in terms of where can you put the most effort in the best way possible and get the best bang for your buck, look at your own company and see what you have. Do you have content? Do you have people who are willing to speak to the media? Sometimes you don't. Sometimes you have founders and technical folks who hide from the camera. In that case, creating influencer marketing campaigns around your founder might be tough to do. Do you have a product? Do you have a product that is at a stage where you could show it to people? If the answer's no, then it'll be tough to do demo videos and things of that nature. So it all depends on where you start and it all depends on what your company has from that. And it's an annoying answer. I know it depends answer, but that's truly what I think.
Geordie Carswell (05:28):
Yeah, no, I appreciate it. I think you could pull from that and audit, right? Audit what you have is a good first step. What do we got out there? Let's pull it all together. Let's see where the strengths and weaknesses are of the content or the assets that we have. The personalities we have. Yeah, I think that's a great place to start. And then true your point about where the product is at, if you're not in a place yet product wise, where you're ready to do lead gen, then you need to wait.
Gianna Whitver (05:59):
Do you have a sales team? Is the product, must it have a sales team and salespeople to sell it? Does it sell via credit card? There are security products. Security is sold in a lot of ways, mainly through a traditional enterprise, go to market motion with no pricing page and salespeople heavy sales activities. But there's also security companies that are popping up, especially in the DevSecOps space where you can swipe a credit card and that'll be different. So in that case, it'll be different what you do based on even how you sell your product or how you can sell your product. So do you have sales? Do you have a way to get your product into the hand of customers that also matters?
Geordie Carswell (06:42):
Yeah, no, for sure. I think when it comes to the readiness of the product to sell, part of it is sales cycle. How long were the sales cycles that you were working with, say at your last company typically, if you're able
Gianna Whitver (06:56):
To speak to that. So I have only worked at companies with, I'm not going to say this exact specifics, but it's not like you get the security products that I have worked on. It's not like you have a meeting and then you immediately have a sale, right? It's not like first touch to sell right away. It's the whole enterprise motion. Okay, first book a meeting, have that discovery call or depending on who you're talking to, skip right to an AE and an SE to show the technical product. We're selling technical products, we're not selling jam and honey, which sounds fun, honestly, maybe I should try that next. And then there's the P O C because also these companies I've worked at had enterprise customers. We were selling to the enterprise. So then when you're putting in a security product into a highly technical environment, everyone wants to make sure it doesn't break things before they buy it. So I would say a longer sales process. Longer sales cycle.
Geordie Carswell (08:05):
And so for you as a marketer, that meant that it just requires a ton of patience to see things percolate and succeed.
Gianna Whitver (08:14):
It requires a ton of patience. It requires a ton of touch points with customers. It takes a long time to get from a demo to a closed one. And in that environment you have to be patient. And sometimes it's even hard to keep. Sometimes it is hard to think of new things to do because as a marketer, you want to nurture prospects in your leads and your book demo opportunities, you want to nurture them alongside sales. So it creates more opportunity for content. But sometimes you have to dig in the well of ideas on what to do next.
Geordie Carswell (09:03):
And when you started going to market, when it was time to turn on the jets and get things going, what channels were your favorites?
Gianna Whitver (09:14):
When I was at Terro, I loved a good webinar and loved a good webinar. We did phenomenal on webinars especially, and I was there during covid, so that was a fun time too. I actually joined, I think the month, a few months before covid started taking the reins and becoming a big maelstrom, like a big thing in the us. So we had a great time doing webinars. Some of it was timing, of course, during the early days of Covid and the pandemic, there was a lot of webinar activity and webinars reviewed as like, all right, well we can't get together in person. What can we do? So some of it was timing. Everyone was looking for webinars, but then some of it was also we did had some really good content. Other channels, I don't know if this is exactly a channel, but sales enablement, making sure that your sellers are equipped with what they need in order to sell properly. And then also partner marketing and getting together with partners. Partners are a fabulous way to reach your, especially in the enterprise field, are a fabulous way to reach your buyers a little faster and be a little closer to them.
Geordie Carswell (10:34):
So in your case, did you have existing turnkey partners who were already working with the company or did you have to go and help drive that?
Gianna Whitver (10:43):
We did have existing partners, not necessarily turnkey because similar to sales enablement, you always have to enable your partners. And with partners, you're competing almost against the other vendors that work with your partners. You have to say, here's why we are going to help you sell more. Here's why we're going to help your customers. Here's how you could sell to your customers. And then if you are at a startup, you're likely not a platform in security. You're likely what's a point solution. So here's also why your solution fits with other solutions that partners are selling so that they could sell a bigger bundle, if that makes sense.
Geordie Carswell (11:32):
No, it does. What kind of assets did you have? Sales enablement assets did you find were essentials when it came to enabling partners? I'm curious upon this.
Gianna Whitver (11:43):
Okay. Salespeople love the one pager still.
Geordie Carswell (11:48):
Yeah, PDFs or days. Yeah.
Gianna Whitver (11:49):
Salespeople will love a one page P D F F. Don't make it three. They love a one page P D F. And another thing that we were working on before I left was videos. So short form videos. So it's kind of like if you've ever done a HubSpot course, they have shorter videos or an online course or even we can even line this up kind of to, or make an analogy to TikTok, shorter firm video content. It was nice for partners because they could share it on their social media and it was kind of like short form video is cool and it kind of still is cool on LinkedIn too. So short form video content
Geordie Carswell (12:42):
And one pagers.
Gianna Whitver (12:44):
Yeah, I got to say one-pager. Were
Geordie Carswell (12:46):
Those one pagers typically battle cards, like competitive type information or was it Sorry, go ahead.
Gianna Whitver (12:55):
I can't believe we're talking about one pagers also, it's the most I'm getting asked for just on one pagers in general. This is a market. This is true heart to heart marketing marketer talk. It's like, okay, we need another one pager for another use case because our existing one pager doesn't work because we want to say something slightly different. So sales has a request in or partner or we want to make that for partners. So then you tweak it so that it's partner facing instead of sales facing. Anyway, I'm just on a diatribe now about one pagers, and I completely lost your
Geordie Carswell (13:35):
Question. Oh no, I feel you completely lost you. Then it becomes like, are we going to put pricing on it? Can we put what link? And then, oh no, we couldn't possibly put pricing and all of these discussions that go round and round in circles and nothing can be sold until there's a one pager. I've learned that.
Gianna Whitver (13:54):
No. Yeah, and it's funny because in 2023, but people still love a thing that you attach to an email and it's funny, and maybe it's just like there's probably cool solutions out there that I don't know about that take the one pager to the next level. But really when you're selling enterprise through partner and through enterprise sales, people love a leaf behind. They love a leave behind. Your sales team will love it. You'd be like, this is the same thing as every other one except by change the title. And they're like, that's what I need. And you're like, all right, sure.
Geordie Carswell (14:28):
Whatever it takes. Yeah, no, I think every marketer listening is like, I feel that I have three one-pager requests already this week. Yeah. Oh, I hear you. Geordie.
Gianna Whitver (14:38):
Do you make a lot of one-pager? Do you have to make a lot of sales and enablement content?
Geordie Carswell (14:45):
For sure. Yeah, no, that's our team and can attest to that. And we even go so far as to write sales scripts and we write outreach scripts for cold outreach for the team, everything to try and give them every piece of help that we can to for them to go to market, because we want them to feel confident. We want them to speak intelligently about it. And also the more that we can cover with them upfront, the more that when they go to market, they're selling correctly, they're providing accurate information that doesn't lead to headaches later on and so on and so forth. But I have a bit of a founder skew on that. But yeah, I think, yeah, you can't get away from it and auditing what you have and how old it is and whether it's accurate anymore. And was it a quarterly promotions and all kinds of stuff, right? Yeah.
Gianna Whitver (15:41):
And because the thing about creating all these documents, which is like, okay, fine, it helps the process. That's great. I will do anything to support, to a certain point to support sales and what they're doing. But then you have so much material, oh my gosh, you just have 301 pagers and you're like, how do I update all of this? Like you said, God forbid there's a brand lift or a rebrand ever
Geordie Carswell (16:15):
Cold sweats start then. Yeah, no,
Gianna Whitver (16:18):
Yeah, no, I know
Geordie Carswell (16:19):
It really does. We could actually could label this episode one pagers and more Geordie and Gianna.
Gianna Whitver (16:28):
I want to buy one I wonder if it's available. I dunno what I'd do with it. But yeah,
Geordie Carswell (16:35):
They can create a swipe file of a pile of swipe files of everyone's one pagers and everybody can vote on which one looks cooler, has enough, which one has better pictures, diagrams, and so forth.
Gianna Whitver (16:49):
Which one has a better Shutterstock image?
Geordie Carswell (16:51):
Yeah, exactly. This is completely off topic, but we've started experimenting with AI created images for instead of stock using mid journey, but mid journey really struggles with hands. And so we have really cool photos with people's hands that are just a little bit off. They have two fingers and the rest are blended together, but if you don't look close, it's fine. They look really cool.
Gianna Whitver (17:17):
You just tell mid journey, put Oz in front of the person's hands, right? Let's just no, hand put it under the table, just resting on their lap. Can't
Geordie Carswell (17:30):
See it. What do I do with these hands? But yeah, anyway, so yeah, one pagers, you should do them. I think that's the key takeaway there. But alright, let's move on to something more exciting. So when you started thinking about creating the Cybersecurity Marketing Society, obviously it's a community play. Well, why don't we cover what it is, help share with us what it's
Gianna Whitver (17:56):
Sure. The Cybersecurity Marketing Society is the best place to be a cybersecurity marketer. We are community, an association, a trade org and isac. If you're in cyber, you'll probably know that term information sharing and analysis center. We're in ISAC for marketers in the industry where all cybersecurity marketers can come to help each other to co-market and to grow their skills and their careers. We've been around since March, 2020. Also, the pandemic, right at that sort of extreme point, and I'll tell you the backstory and how we came to be. So I was working at that threat intelligence company and I had met my co-founder, Maria Velazquez, who at the time was at a data diode company. Again, if you're in cyber, you might know these terms. And so our companies did not compete, but I was new to cyber and she had had experience in the industry and joining cybersecurity from another industry, I had experience in B two B Tech.
I worked at I B M, I had worked with tech companies. I wasn't, what's the cloud? I wasn't like that. But cyber was such a different industry. It was absolutely highly technical, constantly, constantly changing, heavily driven by threats and threat actors. So what was happening out in the world and current events was heavily affecting of cybersecurity companies and cybersecurity buyers. It is heavily venture backed and therefore incredibly competitive and even more competitive. There is about 3,500 plus cybersecurity companies out there in the world today. And I honestly think that's a low ball estimate. On top of that, the security buyer does not like to be sold or marketed to. It is viewed almost as a threat to get an unknown email from a random person who wants you to click on a link that's not an open the
Geordie Carswell (20:02):
One pager,
Gianna Whitver (20:03):
Open the one pager, yeah, open the one pager. It's like, no, I will not block. Right? They don't pick up phone calls, stuff like that. So it's very, very different. And I was like, whoa, because I joined and it's a threat intelligence company. I'm like, okay, I did a little Googling, but then you get into what your product does and you're like, whoa, all these new terms. And so I had met with Maria and she had already been in the industry and we started to share intelligence about the industry with each other. I started being like, Hey, what do you think of this event? She'd tell me and she'd be like, Hey, what do you think about this? And I'd tell her that and I'd be like, look at my, can you look at my automation? Is this too many emails for our persona? Things of that nature.
And in late 2019, we were just catching up and it was nice. It was like, wasn't it great that we could share things with each other? We weren't competing. We're in the same industry, a humongous industry that I was new to and you were, we were helping each other. Why don't we bring more people into this? And that's when we invited 10 friends in the industry to a Slack channel. And that Slack was the cybersecurity marketing society. And it has grown from those 10 friends and industry colleagues to over 2,400 members at around 800 cybersecurity companies around the globe.
Geordie Carswell (21:23):
Congratulations. That's fantastic. That tells you you had product market fit there.
Gianna Whitver (21:30):
That's pretty good. Yeah. Yeah. We were unquote doing community in March, 2020. Really, it was like, we want to help people. We want people. I knew this was a problem for me, and upon talking with other folks, I knew it was a problem for them. Like knowledge in the industry, a lot of cybersecurity. Again, from a marketing perspective, when you join, there's all these events, there's all these activities, you could do all sorts of things, and it's a bit of a black box as to whether or not any of them will be effective. And so by coming together and sharing and helping, there's a lot of risks right now. Layoffs, helping each other. We're helping marketers both be more successful at their jobs and also successful in their careers. So yeah, that was kind of long, but that's the story. No,
Geordie Carswell (22:18):
That's fantastic. That's fantastic. And then of course, once you have an audience, once you have a community, I guess you can start putting together some additional cool stuff for people to do to get together. Hey.
Gianna Whitver (22:31):
Yeah. We have been launching things at Members request for years now. One of the very first things we did, which was both for marketing and because we felt there was a massive gaping hole in the industry, was our conference. So at the time, there was no information about marketing and cybersecurity. Now it's kind of hot, but at the time it was like if you wanted information on anything in marketing at a cybersecurity company, there was just nothing out there. So we launched in, I think it was September. It was very soon after we first actually launched the Slack. We launched a virtual conference called Cyber Marketing Con and had speakers come and just share what they were doing at their companies. This was almost revolutionary. Nobody got to see in what other cybersecurity companies were doing. We did that again the next year. And then last year we did our in-person conference for the very first time, live in Arlington, Virginia. And then this year we're going to have our conference in Austin, Texas in December. Listeners book in your calendar, December 10th through 13th, we're going to have an in-person conference. Yeah, Geordie's going to be there. Geordie's going to be speaking, Geordie, whatcha going to be speaking about.
Geordie Carswell (23:53):
We're going to survey actual text audience of CISOs and security folks to ask them a bunch of questions about how they buy stuff, what their priorities are, what they're looking at for the next year. And then we're going to share all that with everybody. And I think it's going to be really interesting. And I think too, I love the fact that you guys have niched down like this because were you a little bit scared or did you think to yourself, I don't know if we've gone broad enough here, is there enough interest or because it started so organically it didn't matter. How did you look at it?
Gianna Whitver (24:28):
Yeah, I mean, we weren't afraid of the nicheness. I mean, honestly, we went in and the first year, I think we made a couple thousand dollars from random. Yeah, yeah. We're like, whoa, we didn't even know this was a business. Yeah, it is. It's pretty cool. So we didn't go into this thinking like, oh, is my Tam big enough? There's a lot of cybersecurity companies, many of them are startups. Many of them have 1, 2, 3, 4 or five person marketing teams. This is not Uber, this is not venture funded. We didn't go raise a round to do this. So we were not afraid at all of the size of the group. And in fact, we kind of launched it almost as an experiment, like, Hey, we know we want this, right? We're the customer here. I want this. Gianna wants this, Maria wants this. Our third co-founder, Aileen wanted this. We wanted this space for us, and it didn't matter if it was small of a space, honestly, even it turns out in community, small is pretty cool too. I will also say we always came to it from the mindset of small, now that I think about it, because we always excluded non marketers. So we didn't let salespeople in and we didn't let in people who were not in the industry from the beginning. We had a form we had to apply to join. We made sure that it was intentionally only marketers in cybersecurity.
Geordie Carswell (25:59):
Good for you. I mean, have personally, we're a vendor in this space, so we're not allowed in, and I have no clue what goes on in there, but I hear good things. But I think that shows you Brianna's protecting your interests.
Gianna Whitver (26:10):
That's inside
Geordie Carswell (26:12):
The Slack community.
Gianna Whitver (26:14):
Our mission statement is to do right by our members and to do right by cybersecurity marketers. And what we do in the Slack Geordie is we post pictures of you.
Geordie Carswell (26:24):
I understand Geordie with deformed hands for
Gianna Whitver (26:31):
10, like 40
Geordie Carswell (26:33):
Gianna Whitver (26:37):
I don't want to do a spoiler for anybody, but have you seen the movie that came out that just won the, it came out a few months ago, but it was so hot, incredibly anything, everything all at once.
Geordie Carswell (26:55):
That one I did not, but where there are lots of fingers in it,
Gianna Whitver (26:57):
There is a fingers related thing in that. And that's all I'm going to say. I don't want to give spoilers. It was such a good movie.
Geordie Carswell (27:06):
We'll check it out. I thought you were going to say Barbie, but that's okay.
Gianna Whitver (27:11):
I don't think there was fingers related things in Barbie.
Geordie Carswell (27:17):
Probably not. Okay. But what might be scary is when you launch a conference and you're on the hook for a hotel bill and you've got to put this whole deal on. So how did that all go down?
Gianna Whitver (27:29):
Oh yeah. That part was terrifying. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I'll say that launching, going from a virtual to an in-person conference is scary. And our conference is three months away and we have more than 200 people signed up. And I still have this huge rock of a stress ball in my stomach that's just going to be there until the actual event. But when we launched last year, sorry,
Geordie Carswell (27:53):
It's going to be great. I can tell already.
Gianna Whitver (27:54):
Oh, thank you. I needed to hear that without me talking over you. So the first year we had, what did we have virtually? We had like 90, a hundred attendees. The second year we had 200 attendees virtual. I was like, that's pretty good. I don't remember how much our membership was, but it was much, much smaller than it was today than it, it's today. Then last year when we first went into originally planning our conference, we thought the same thing. We were like, okay, maybe we sat down. We were like, how many people will come to this? It was in Arlington, Virginia, so it's in a good metro area. You could get to it from New York, which is part of the reason we chose it. You get to it from New York, you can get to it from Philly, you get from dc. It's in an area where there's a lot of population.
And then we looked at the hotels. We also planned it six months in advance, which is not, it's a little tough, not anything. I don't recommend that to anyone. That was not, we did a great job, but that was not guaranteed. Yeah, imagine. Yeah. So basically what we did was we said, okay, if 80 people come, 80 people, that'll be a success. And we looked at our membership. We probably had the round 1200 people at that time, and the members can 80 people, which is a very small percentage of this, less than 8% will 80 people come. And we also asked our members, we were in constant communication, would you come to a conference? And a lot of people said, A decent amount of people said yes. And we felt okay, 80 people, we could do that. And we said, a hundred is a stretch goal.
And then we just did it. We did it. We of course mitigated our, and we ended up getting 218 people to come. So we blew it out of the water. There was not enough chairs. The hotel ran out of rooms, things like that. But when you're also planning your first event, there is some stuff you could do to mitigate costs and your risk with a hotel. So we use Helms Briscoe, if you've heard of them. We use Kamal Deja, who's actually a member of the society, and she worked with us to help broker. So resco is like a broker, but for events. So if you want to plan an event, you can work with them for free, and they get paid commission by the hotel, but for corporate events if you wanted. So she helped us negotiate with the hotel to reduce our risk. Like X amount of the thing you really have to look at is the room block X amount of rooms that you're guaranteed to pay for, even if nobody takes them. And then X amount of food and beverage minimum, which you must spend in order to get your conference rooms for free.
Geordie Carswell (30:36):
Yeah, interesting. And plus, I guess it was probably a good time because hotels are trying to get the conference business going. Again.
Gianna Whitver (30:43):
It was really good timing. The timing was great.
Geordie Carswell (30:48):
And so this year, what do you have? What's going to be different this year for the in-person?
Gianna Whitver (30:55):
This year's hotel is, no offense to last year's hotel. This year's hotel is leagues above because it's like a brand new hotel. It's brand new, it's absolutely gorgeous. It's the Marriott downtown Austin Rooftop pool, not corny, tiki bar on top, like really astoundingly gorgeous venue. On top of that, we added tracks. We added tracks, and we made the rooms bigger. There was a lack of field marketing track last year. And so we added a full field channel partner, A B X marketing track into the conference. We read through all of the reviews and the feedback from our attendees. We have a new swag policy at this year's conference. No junkie swag is allowed at the event. We're going to save the environment and make everybody have awesome swag. What do I do? We're also going
Geordie Carswell (31:54):
Key chain flashlight. That's no go. I guess the key chain flashlight. The squeeze ball.
Gianna Whitver (32:00):
Well, how many hands do you have on it? Can you put a sticker or something? So if you can put, I know you're joking, but I'm maybe, or your face or something. If we could put a cool Keep Austin weird sticker on it, I think it will count. But yeah, so no junkie swag. The other thing we're doing is we're involving charity. So giving back is a huge part of, and I think that matters a lot to us. So we have partnered with Women's Society of Cyber Jitsu, and while we're doing the traditional passport to prizes in our expo hall booth, we're also doing passport to charity. So if an attendee visits and gets a stamp from every vendor in the expo hall, we're going to donate some money to the Women's Society of Cyber Jitsu so they can continue their mission of helping women and other underrepresented folks in cyber get into the industry.
Geordie Carswell (32:58):
Nice. What a great idea.
Gianna Whitver (33:01):
Yeah, we're also going to do a party bus to a barbecue place. Lemme throw that out there too.
Geordie Carswell (33:06):
All about the barbecue, that's for sure. Okay. This sounds great. So what's the biggest takeaway that people are going to have if they elect to go to Austin? You think
Gianna Whitver (33:18):
There's going to be, so we have 50 sessions. I'm pretty sure we have about or more than 50 sessions. Wow. We've got 10 workshops. So it's going to depend on the track that you choose and how you plan your day. But the biggest takeaway is that you don't need to do more with less. The theme of this year's conference is do less better. And it's all about helping marketers prioritize and execute on the activities that will have impact for them and help them get there.
Geordie Carswell (33:56):
And that's what they're hearing from above right now too, what everyone's getting. So that's going to be, I like that. Not do more with less. That sounds exhausting.
Gianna Whitver (34:05):
No, I've been in exactly, my co-founders, the members of the society. We have a huge volunteer committee helping plan this conference. We are all aligned that right now marketing is a little bit of a grind or can be with all the rifts, all the layoffs, all the economic uncertainty. And to combat that, you must prioritize and you must look at what you're doing with laser focus and we want to help you get there. So we have sessions on channel, on content, on Mangen from the best marketers in the industry. And the whole point is to get together and network, meet each other and get invigorated excited and empowered to go back to work in December or maybe in January if you take off after our conference and do an amazing job.
Geordie Carswell (35:06):
Awesome. Well, we'll put a note in the show notes for this along with a link where you can go and register for this. But while the early bird stuff is still going on, and I think I have a couple of questions for you about community, if I could.
Gianna Whitver (35:19):
Yeah, I love to talk about community.
Geordie Carswell (35:24):
So when we started actual tech media 10 years ago, community was really hot. There was lots of venture capital flowing around in the space that we specialized in at the time, which was converged infrastructure and composable infrastructure stuff and all this kind of thing. That was kind of where we started. And there was tons of VC money and there was tons of community people roles inside the organization. And then as we got closer to say, prior to Covid, and then especially when Covid hit, the community roles disappeared from a lot of our clients. And I think the thinking was that it was disposable to do user communities to do that. That role was not necessary. How do you look at it? Obviously you're in the community business, but how do you look at vendors doing their own communities and the value of it?
Gianna Whitver (36:29):
So one note about the Cybersecurity Marketing Society is that we are an independent community. We're not the cybersecurity marketing society's community is sales free and vendor free. We do not offer services. We're not an agency. The society operates as a trade org essentially. So how I view community in general, just to answer your question in kind of a backwards way, does every company need community? No. You need to resource it and it needs to be compelling and it needs to have a reason to exist. A lot of vendors are popping up communities with not enough strategy and differentiation behind them. Why would you join this one versus that one?
There's a lot of communities out there right now because community is, like you said, hot. And so for vendors starting communities, I mean, it's not that vendors can't make good communities, it's that I think they do have to work a little harder. I will also say that I do know there's of some amazing vendor communities out there. So it just depends on how you execute really. Is there an underserved need that you could create a community and fill a space and a place where your users can mix with non-users and share information, share intelligence, help each other? Can they get more familiar with your brand?
Geordie Carswell (38:14):
And I guess this is not a part, part-time job. It's not something that sits on the side of someone when they're not busy doing X, Y, and Z. They also run community. It just feels like that's never going to fly.
Gianna Whitver (38:27):
Yeah, I mean, I think Reddit does that, but that's not a community. It's its own little beast, right? People think of community and they think of Reddit. Most of the subreddits in there are moderated by volunteers. But to run a true full fledged community, I mean, we did it part-time, myself, Maria, Aileen, we did it. We had full-time jobs and we were not able to dedicate a full-time resource to it until January of this year. But we worked nights and weekends and three of you little cracks of the day. And there was three of us. Exactly. There was three of us. Great point. And to say to a busy marketer, Hey, okay, you do content, but now you're also going to part-time do community. I don't see how that is successful or can be successful with the amount of demands a community has. Communities once they're successful have more demands than ever because people want to be part of the growth of the community and they have ideas and they want things to happen, and they want to do meetups and they want to do content, and they have all these ideas. And then you have to be there to support all that. And if you're also tasked with creating demand gen campaigns, how the hell are you supposed to do that? It's a lot of work.
Geordie Carswell (39:56):
Yeah, no, it is. I mean, I've seen companies that have done it well. I'm not sure where it's at these days with all the ups and downs that have gone on. But with SolarWinds, I always thought they did a good job with their WAC community that they had back in the day. May still be active, I'm not sure, but they resourced the daylight side of it. They did a really good job back in the day. VMware did a really good job with theirs, with the V expert program and doing all community events, but they built ambassadors into the community program. And that I think goes back to what you said about the Reddit piece, which is you can't do this alone. It requires an army of help and people are trying to do it or have tried to do it by themselves. And I think they probably didn't get very far.
Gianna Whitver (40:46):
Exactly. And those user communities, I kind of view community broadly as including user communities and also not user communities. I mean, user communities are great. They don't even have to be huge. So maybe that's something that CSS can kind of try to run with helping hands of marketing. But like you said, the ones that you saw that were very successful were heavily resourced. I mean, think about it, if you wanted to even just do a user event that would cost a ton of your eyebrows, went up a ton of resources, funds, time, even a virtual one, funds time, and then trying to get to the most valuable resource of all, which is your user's time, your people's time.
Geordie Carswell (41:38):
And I think this sort of leads into my next question, which was how do you keep it positive? Because I've seen so many communities, especially in the tech world, they just become toxic and they become not a very, I don't think people really are going to dedicate time to toxic spaces anymore. They just don't have, there's enough of it everywhere that they're not going to seek it out. How do you guys handle that in keeping a positive tone in your community?
Gianna Whitver (42:13):
We put into place, so having, I'll back up. Having been on Reddit, I got the birthday reminder recently, and it's like, you've been on Reddit for 12 years. And I was like, Ew. Oh my God. Having been on Reddit and having been on Twitter slash x, I think there's a lot of negativity that comes out of being anonymous. So one of our requirements of our community is that you must tell us who you are and what company you work with, and you must tell everyone else who you are and the company you work with. So this is a lot of manual effort because it's in Slack and we're on the free Slack, and there's no admin tools in Slack, really. No community admin tools.
We require every one of our members to put their first and last name and then the company they work for in their display name. So we have to follow up sometimes and remind people and share how to do it for those who are not aware. But that helps reduce negativity because everyone can tie what you say back to you. And we're a professional community, so you're also on LinkedIn and we're in a community of your peers who all can see each other. And the industry is small. So if you're, it is okay to be negative when you lost your job and something like that, but if you're just a negative person or mean or saying uncooked things, one, it's tied back to you as a person and people will know that and it'll reflect on your personal reputation. Two, we also moderate, we don't have to moderate things very often. Our community, again, as a professional community happens to be pretty professional. We have lots of fun. I know who would've thought, but we will also moderate things that are incorrect or rude. We will message people directly if they're breaking any of our rules. And then we've had to boot a few people, not for being negative, for being salesy, but
Geordie Carswell (44:32):
I was trying to think of what you'd be trying to sell to your peers, but I guess there's always something,
Gianna Whitver (44:37):
Right? Yeah. It's sometimes the marketer turned founder of an agency marketer turned, oh, I launched an AI tool that helps you, whatever. And we have to say, don't do that. Or sometimes marketer who has an event of their own or a podcast and wants sponsorships, it's like, can't do that here. We do have a self-promotion channel now, but you're still not allowed to sell services or products in there sales free. Good for
Geordie Carswell (45:07):
You. Good for you. How do you look at your podcasts when lots of our clients are starting podcasts and realize how important it is? What was the thinking behind yours?
Gianna Whitver (45:22):
Well, it was again, well, we were scouted to start our podcast by Hacker Valley Media, so, which is Chris Cochran and Ron ings, and we owe them a big gracious thank you for launching our show and being the ones who say, Hey, you guys should have a podcast. And we'd be like, what? Okay. So we were scouted, but we did fill a gap. So there is a gap again, of content geared towards marketers in cyber. I said previously that there really wasn't any three years ago, and now there's some, there's still not a lot of really good content. A lot of the content comes out of agencies and people selling to marketers in cyber, and we want it to be an independent voice. And we also wanted to highlight and celebrate our members. A podcast lets us shine the light on the other members of the community, not just us, but it lets us share and showcase the brilliant people that we have in the cybersecurity marketing society.
Geordie Carswell (46:30):
Yeah, that's a good point. We've just recently gotten started with ours series at Actual Tech, but one of the things that I love about, it's you get to talk to smart people about things that interest you. I know. And that, isn't
Gianna Whitver (46:42):
It fun?
Geordie Carswell (46:43):
It's so great. Yeah, today.
Gianna Whitver (46:47):
Oh, that's sweet. You learned about a movie that you're going to go put on your Netflix list
Geordie Carswell (46:54):
Gianna Whitver (46:55):
For. Yeah. It's like we'll talk that it's getting a little class every time. It's like, oh, wow, I learned something from, it's like going to school. It's like, oh, I have an hour of being told by a brilliant person about something they know deeply about. Where else do I get to do this?
Geordie Carswell (47:20):
No, I know. And two, everybody's, the cost of doing it has come down a lot, and I think it's a lot more accessible for people to talk to other interesting people and create some great content. But so here, as we wrap up, one of the questions I always to ask people is, what should we ask you that nobody usually asks you when you're on podcasts and you're being interviewed, what should they, what's something that you wish people would ask? Because it's important.
Gianna Whitver (47:49):
Oh, I don't have an
Geordie Carswell (47:51):
Answer to that for Loop Prep. You on this at all.
Gianna Whitver (47:54):
I know. That's okay. We threw you for a loop on our show. So I think that's the fun of going on podcasts is at the end, either they're going to ask you about a book that you haven't read, so you have to make one up really fast.
Geordie Carswell (48:10):
It goes to Amazon checks, notes
Gianna Whitver (48:13):
Like How to Win Friends and Influence With People. You just pick one like a, what's that one? Nudge? I don't know. You pick a hot business trending book and you make of some Bull. Bull about why it's what you're reading.
Geordie Carswell (48:28):
Gianna Whitver (48:32):
I don't know. Geordie, what would you say if I asked you that question? And I'm going to riff off of that,
Geordie Carswell (48:40):
Flip it around. I didn't expect that. I think one of the things that people don't ask enough of is what is the one thing that you would double down on in what you've learned in the last four or five years? So for me, the one thing that I would double down on is what we're doing right now is podcasts. I wish that we had started sooner. I wish that we had had more of these conversations in years gone by, especially as we were getting actual tech media started. I think it would've helped a lot. So that's something. What about you? What would you double down on that you've learned over the last few years?
Gianna Whitver (49:25):
Shipping, shipping, launching shipping, incessant, constant shipping. I mean, that's kind of how the society started and how we kind of do everything, not everything there's thought into what we do. There's a lot of thought into what we do. Let me not say, oh, we just randomly do a bunch of garbage. No, no, no. There's a lot of thought. But the society launched in one week, a full community. I built a website in, I think it took 30 hours. I just did it in a week. And I think that shipping quickly and doing is the answer to a lot of problems, and it's what I wish I could do more of, and I'm bumping up against that. There's so many hours in a day thing, but that's what I would always down on that. If I could double down on this any more than I have, which I'm working on through, we're hiring contractors and trying to use more automation to make things that can be automateable, automatable in the operation side of the house. If I could ship more, that's, if I could double what I put into the world from the society, that would be the best thing that we could do.
Geordie Carswell (50:53):
That's really cool. I think that's why you guys have been so successful is because you have a bias towards action. You get stuff done. And when you look at what the volume of content and promotion and all that kind of thing that is coming out of your little organization, it's amazing. So kudos to you. And I think that we can see that, that shipping I was shipping like containers or No.
Gianna Whitver (51:19):
Oh, features. Shipping containers. Yeah. I love the shipping and logistics industry. Just an aside, I think it's so cool. Remember the Suez Canal and how that one boat got stuck and it ruined the global economy for a small amount of time.
Geordie Carswell (51:37):
Yeah, that was a bad week for me. I packed it in sideways and didn't go well,
Gianna Whitver (51:46):
You need that. There's a feature on cars now where you press a button and it'll parallel park for you, right? Is that a thing?
Geordie Carswell (51:53):
Yeah. I imagine they have that for ships too, I would hope.
Gianna Whitver (51:56):
Yeah. Didn't work.
Geordie Carswell (51:57):
No, but no. But yeah, no shipping, getting things done. I think it's impressive what you guys have done, and I would highly recommend for everybody, if you get a chance, if you can make an investment in your career and yourself, come out to Austin, see us in Austin, and enjoy the program at the Cyber Marketing Conference. It'll be well worth your while. So thank you so much, Gianna. We appreciate your time today and we'll look forward to talking to you soon. That's it for Tech Marketer Live. Bye everybody.
Gianna Whitver (52:28):

TML Podcast S01E07_FINAL (Completed 09/26/23)
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