Fortinet Mounts 'Aggressive' Marketing Push Against Security Competitors

"Forti-who?" That's the question Fortinet aims to answer loudly and clearly in the coming year with its "biggest investment" in marketing.

"We are hiring the top talent and the top teams," Joe Sykora, vice president of Americas Channels, told CRN exclusively at the company's Partner Advisory Council Summit last week in Sunrise, Fla. "Now it's about spreading the good word about what we have."

Leading that investment is Fortinet's hire of former FireEye marketing executive Holly Rollo in September as its chief marketing officer, a new position at the company. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company also hired Claire Trimble from Cisco in August as vice president of marketing and Sandra Wheatley Smerdon in September as vice president of global corporate communications.

[Related: Fortinet Exec: Here's Why Our Secure Wireless Solution Is Better Than Meraki, Aerohive]

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The challenge for Fortinet, new executive Trimble said at the event, is that the vendor has stayed "humble" about its technology, while some of its competitors have loudly touted their strengths in the marketplace. The result, she said, is that the company isn't as well-known as some of its competitors, which are "glitzier" with their marketing approaches.

"We are going to get really aggressive and assertive about tooting our own horns," Trimble said. "There's an opportunity to be transformative from the marketing function."

Partners at the event were very vocal about how this push by the vendor is overdue. They said Fortinet positioned itself in the past as what they called "low-end solutions" such as Dell SonicWall and WatchGuard, instead of being seen as worthy competitors of Palo Alto Networks and Cisco.

"I think changing that perception is a huge aspect of what we need to do," said one partner executive, who was among a small group giving feedback during the marketing presentation.

The partners agreed that changing that initial perception would go a long way to smoothing the sales process as they go to market.

Trimble said Fortinet will be taking a three-step approach to changing up its marketing strategy:

First, Fortinet will focus on "elevating the conversation" and unifying the messaging across all geographies, Trimble said. That will take the form of 12-month campaigns that will home in on how Fortinet security solutions are business-relevant to CISOs and other top-level client executives. That will be a key differentiator for Fortinet's marketing strategy against its competitors, Trimble said, who mostly use "high-level air cover" messages.

"I think one of the key things that you're going to see from us is that we're unifying the marketing discipline. It's going to be very clear the direction we're heading from a marketing perspective," Trimble said.

Second, she said, Fortinet will look to transition that messaging into accelerated sales, investing in demand generation and bringing more leads to partners. Third, she said, Fortinet will continue evolving the strategy toward a solutions approach, instead of one-hit-type programs.

"We are going to get really smart in how we invest in more of a solutions message and create a journey for [partners] with us and our customers," Trimble said.

The first new campaign for the vendor under this new strategy will be launched in November, she said, with a full messaging plan and brand being unveiled at the company's January partner conference.