How Evernote silenced the critics by embracing customer-centricity

Evernote CMO Andrew Malcolm offers hints for success after Evernote’s recent successes.

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Fifteen months ago, Business Insider called Evernote the first dead unicorn. While some might despair at such criticism, Evernote took it as a challenge.

In the last year, Evernote added its 200 millionth user, doubled the number of paying users, moved three petabytes of data to the Google Cloud Platform, redesigned its Windows app and Evernote for iPhone, delivered positive cash flow for the second half of 2016 and began winning awards again.

How did Evernote do it? By tuning out the noise and focusing on what users expect from them – a great example of a company that is really embracing customer centricity and experience.

We interviewed Andrew Malcolm, Evernote CMO, ahead of his international keynote session on marrying technical innovation with customer insight for great product vision at Corinium’s Chief Customer Officer Melbourne, 4-5 April in Melbourne.

 

What key lessons have you learned in your first 12 months as CMO of a startup in a world where customer centricity is becoming more and more important?

Andrew-Malcolm-Bio-230x230Andrew Malcolm: The only way we’ve achieved so much in such a short a period of time is by operating as a team devoted to Evernote’s success, not concerned about individual functions. As an employee, that’s your top priority.

We always have to remember that what we do is cool, but what our customers do with Evernote makes their dreams come true. From building a record store run using Evernote to research labs that store their work in Evernote, our customers’ successes are our real successes.
Marketing’s role on that team is to inject the voice of the customer – eg. understanding what our users value most (cross-platform access) in order to align our packaging strategy to customer wants – and then tell the world about the success our customers have had with our products.

 

How can organisations make sure they marry technical innovation with customer insight to create a great, customer-centric product vision?

AM: I wish there was a guaranteed way to turn great products into great businesses every time, but all you can do is increase your chances of success at every opportunity. The best way to do this is by building deep connections between marketing, product and technical teams.

When these people sit next to each other, share incentives, and work toward common goals, that’s when the magic happens of an engineer inventing a piece of a technology and a marketing person marrying it to the unarticulated need it could address. Venture Capitalists call this ‘product-market-fit’.

Of course, there are tools that marketing should bring to the table such as:

 

  • Data-driven customer segmentation – Too many segmentations use personas that are created qualitatively. This approach leads to erroneous beliefs that life events drive more decisions than daily experiences. Cluster analysis and other statistical tools can remove much of the human interpretation and identify the root causes of actions. Figuring out what to do with that information is where marketers need to get involved.
  • Competitive landscape and migration trends – As startups, we’re always looking for what we can disrupt and not often enough understanding who might come disrupt us. In 2009, Skype was debating building group video calling or two-way SMS. Had we looked at trends like the shift of speech minutes to a-sync, chunkable comms like texts, the answer should have been obvious and WhatsApp might never have gotten traction where we rightfully should have won.
  • Positioning statement – One sentence that answers who your product is for, what job it was hired to do and why it does it better than anyone else. If the product team (i.e. product manager, product marketing manager, design and engineering) can’t articulate that in a single sentence, they aren’t crystal clear on what they are building and why. As philosopher Blaise Pascal said, “I would have written a shorter letter but didn’t have the time.”
  • System economics – Products generally must give more than they take, and to do so, you must understand what your customers/users value in order to give it to them. A lot of times that’s understanding how their economics work (eg. CAPEX vs. OPEX for IT) which isn’t always obvious. This understanding can lead to pricing, packaging and promotion insights that maximise what the company and its users care about.
  • User journey mapping – Product marketing is all about getting products in the hands of the right customers, at the right time, with the right offers. To do that, you have to understand which channels users will learn about your products through and how they will be most successful. Frequently, this is not by introducing a bunch of features at once but by progressively revealing the features that are easiest to adopt to create ‘aha’ moments and then introducing others so as not to overwhelm the user.

 

C: What are the biggest challenges organisations face when it comes to using customer insight for product development?

AM: Doing what customers say can often lead companies down the wrong path, hence the old adage that a farmer in the late 19th century would have asked for a faster horse, not a car.

The truly customer-centric organisations are those that attempt to understand their customers better than customers understand themselves. Techniques like deming motion studies and empirical research let marketers realise that many times, customers don’t know why they do something. If you can figure out the underlying ‘why’, you can build products that address the root causes of pain points, not the symptoms.

 

C: Are there any lessons or key takeaways in terms of how the startup community addresses product innovation and customer experience?

AM: Embrace failure and keep trying. Giant companies like GE are hiring startup gurus like Eric Ries to inculcate these cultural norms in their organisations. In the end, whether you have 300 employees or 300,000, the key to success is amazing people with ‘refuse to lose’ attitudes. Great people and culture will make up for any mistakes leaders make as far as organisational structure and strategy.

 

C: How do you see the role of the CMO evolving in the age of the customer?

AM: CMOs are being asked to play and more active roles in the exec suite than ever before, all while the traditional tools at their disposal are being weakened by media trends like time shifting and a greater likelihood of getting struck by lightning than clicking a mobile ad.

Most companies are realising that everyone from sales to customer support has to be a brand ambassador, not just marketing. The most powerful thing a CMO can do (at least in the tech startup world) is not to tell the company story to the world, it’s to tell it to the employees.

 

As part of a special offer, Marketing readers get 20% off the price of attending Chief Customer Officer Melbourne.

 

Image copyright: Evernote Facebook page.

Partner
BY Partner ON 27 February 2017
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