Palo Alto Networks' CMO: Security Marketing Should Not Scare Your Customers

While information security is about protecting your customers from a wide range of threats, the chief marketing officer of Palo Alto Networks is cautioning his channel partners against marketing based on fear.

The comments by CMO Rene Bonvanie were delivered to the company's second annual Marketing Advisory Council, held at the vendor's Santa Clara, Calif.-based headquarters. About 30 key channel partners from throughout North America are gathered for the two-day event where the group is discussing strategies for successful security marketing, as well as providing feedback to Palo Alto Networks' partners on how to better help them influence customers.

"Most security branding stories are based on fear," Bonvanie told the gathering. "The world is going to hell, and you're going first. But, we've never told our story that way. Successful marketing is all about being believable, consistent, interesting and unique. It's all about what we do, how it matters and how what we do is different. It's also about the art of making it simple. Define your value proposition based not on the negative, but on the positive, enabling aspects of what you do."

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He went on to say that the messages need to be something other than how to avoid disaster. People have more positive emotional ties to your company when they are enabled towards something, as opposed to working on the defensive, he claims.

This message resonated with Vickie Hinz, a marketing specialist at AmeriNet, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based channel partner. "We need to rewrite our material to be more personal," she said. "I've been using scare tactics, but I'm going to stop. We need to talk about how we can help our customers and educate them, working together as a team. We really do well with face-to-face meetings and demos. We want to show we are full-service, an extension of their family."

Other channel partners were also in agreement.

"My first inclination is to scare the hell out of my customers," said Heather Gisin, director of marketing at Houston-based SOS Security. "But security is now seen as more important and is kind of the umbrella that sustains a lot of technologies that are running across the network. The marketplace is changing."

NEXT: Five Bad Words

Palo Alto Networks' Bonvanie also put a stake in the ground for five words that his team is forbidden to use. "Solution" is one of those words due to its overuse in the industry. "World-anything" is similarly overused. "Mission" is also forbidden because it does not necessarily have anything to do with the customer need. "Affordable" is also not allowed because it rarely gets you into a price game, he said.

But perhaps the most surprising word on this list is "customer." This is because when you're talking about your customer, you are not talking directly to those customers. "Speak in the second person to make it personal," he said. "Don't talk about what you do for customers. Talk about what the company can do for 'you.' Have a conversation with your audience. Use plain English, operate like a mom-and-pop shop, and never miss a beat."

"If you come across like a corporate façade, you've lost," he added.

Bonvanie further added that the state of information security is about dealing with high numbers of applications and literally millions of advanced threats. This leads to a trade-off between security and ease-of-use that each company needs to weigh for itself. "The choice is to be either more productive and non-secure or to have somewhat frustrated users in a secure network."

The event will also take a close look at social media and how to properly leverage this venue as a marketing resource. "People are talking about you, even if you ignore it," said Bonvanie. You don't want them creating your message. So repeat your own story, again and again, or people will tell it on your behalf."

That point touched a hot button for Eric Rodriguez, senior marketing manager for Chicago-based Nexum. "In the security space, there seems to be a lot of events," he said. "But, events don't necessarily scale, so we are aiming more towards blogs and social media. At the same time, we are always looking towards establishing more face-to-face dialogue with our customers."

NEXT: What Works? What Doesn't?

The discussion, led by Rich Rogers, Palo Alto Networks' director of worldwide field marketing, also turned to specific types of marketing campaigns, and the relative success that the company, and its partners, has had with each.

The list of initiatives that had been successful included lunch and learns, mixers, product test drives, large events and trade shows. Things that did not have a strong track record included events with multipartner participation, post-event surveys and email blasts.

"You need to radically revise your way of thinking, and we need to radically revise the way we help you," said Rogers. "We need to help you reach more people. We want to become a billion-dollar company exclusively through the channel."

Rogers also advised the gathering to develop cycles of projects to conduct on a regular basis. "The repetition helps the team to refine the process and become more efficient and effective," he said.

"Our marketing efforts have mostly been a series of events with a personal touch, specifically targeted at executives, CISOs and other groups within the customer organizations," added Gisin of SOS Security. "Some of them are educational, and others are just fun. You have to do what works and be conscious of the local culture. For example, a skeet shooting contest works fine in Texas, but I don't know that it would be quite so successful in Oregon."

"It is good to see the approaches that others are taking," commented Mike Matos, vice president of North America sales at Teneo, a Virginia-based partner. "We've run the whole gamut, including emails, lunch and learns, even telegrams and postcards. Yes, a couple of companies still deliver telegrams. They work very well because they [are] so unique. Our emphasis is on being able to educate, stimulate and then interact."

New ideas were also at the top of the list for Julie Rumsey, marketing manager at Minneapolis-based Milestone Systems. "My quest is to get new customers," she said. "I've flogged my email list to death."

The two-day Palo Alto Networks conference will be repeated in Europe in the September time frame.