Stuart Matthewman on international marketing, branding and what he’d do differently

What happens when an internationally-experienced content expert, speaker and interviewer gets up close and personal with a global head of marketing communications? Gina Balarin speaks with IR’s Stuart Matthewman.

Stuart Matthewman started marketing in the mid-’90s and actually changed careers half way. After coming back to marketing a few years later, he’s now looking after a team of marketers for a global software company founded in Australia in 1988 with offices in Sydney, Denver, Washington, London, Dusseldorf and Singapore. The company, IR, produces software that helps large enterprises monitor, manage and troubleshoot their critical networks and systems. Over the five years he has been with the company, its has seen fantastic growth and its marketing revenue has tripled.

As an international marketer, Matthewman works with a team around the world who need to collaborate closely but also be able to work independently to produce marketing campaigns that make sense for their local market. I speak with Matthewman about international marketing, how he defines success and what he wishes he’d learned earlier. Unsurprisingly, as head of marcomms, a lot of his answers have to do with good communication.

Local and global markets: challenges, calendars and collaboration

Running a global content team is always a business challenge. As Matthewman puts it, “When you live and work somewhere, you understand the nuances between the people in different cities and states. Having that local knowledge gives you something intrinsic in how you approach what you’re doing. At IR, our corporate campaigns are developed here on a global level but we rely heavily on our colleagues in the regions to run those programs. You can’t craft a message in Australia that will resonate all around the world.”

Matthewman understands the pain of working for US-based companies where head office would come up with a plan, give it to the Australian team, and it just wouldn’t fly. “Yes we speak English – a kind of English – compared to the Americans. But it just didn’t work. We were forever butting heads.”

Now he does things differently. He says, “It’s important to distil your message down to something that relates back to your company’s purpose, translates across different markets and is the core of what you do, but allows the nuance to be added in specific markets.” How does he do that? Well, apart from putting a calendar in place to manage multiple public holidays happening all over the world, he knows that the answer lies in working collaboratively. “It doesn’t work when one is dictating to the other. You need to work as a team. We’ve managed to get that right. It’s one of the key reasons I really enjoy working at IR.”

Advice to other marketers looking to manage a global brand

Matthewman is philosophical about international marketing. He says, “Typically, the problems people are trying to solve are the same. How they try to learn and educate themselves about that problem is where the nuances come in. No matter where people are, regardless of whether someone’s thirsty or trying to deploy new technology, their problems are largely the same. It’s about how people in different regions like to be communicated to, learn and educate themselves that impacts marketing.”

How do you help a global marketing team manage that? He says, “The key things to me are consistency, flexibility and collaboration with your key stakeholders: that’s the rest of your marketing team around the globe as well as sales, service and people speaking to your customers and enablement.” He adds that it’s critical to listen to the people in the regions for the nuances that happen locally and to work with them to make sure the campaign is actually going to land and work.

What does success mean: personally and as a marketer?

A lot of the results Matthewman has seen at IR relate to how he defines success, both in life and in marketing. “Success for me is defined as how fulfilled I am,” he says, “the work I’m doing and the impact I’m having in my organisation. You spend a lot of your life at work. If you’re not enjoying it, it can impact not just on the work you’re doing, but also life outside of work. Being truly fulfilled in what you’re doing, and enjoying it, is important.”

He reluctantly confides that his breakup with marketing came about partly because of his dissatisfaction with the way companies were doing it at the time. “Back in the day, marketing was about positioning things so they seemed better than they really were,” says Matthewman.

“But today in the B2B space it’s more about educating people. The internet and content have had a huge part to play in this – you have to be up front about how you’re educating people and helping them with a buying decision. Then, when they decide to buy, you’re in the mix because you’ve assisted them with taking that journey.”

He believes that how marketers measure success has also shifted over the last few years, and his organisation is a great example of this. “Some organisations focus on leads or marketing qualified leads (MQLs). We do have those metrics at IR, but we largely use them as leading indicators. True success for us really is: are we delivering quality pipeline that results in revenue? We carry a pipeline and a revenue target. We’re also measured by how well we integrate and work with sales!” Matthewman believes that being in sync with your sales team, listening to them and being able to get them to engage with you is super critical.

That’s why he’s about to unveil a brand evolution – a project which received a standing ovation from the sales team at their internal/soft launch.

Underestimating the importance of brand

When I asked Matthewman what he would do differently in marketing if he could do things over again, the answer lay in not underestimating the importance of branding, a failing he has been working to rectify over the last six to eight months. But, rather than putting a flash new design out there, Matthewman’s brand refresh has taken the form of spending a lot of time with people in his organisation talking about what the IR brand means to them.

Matthewman says, “It’s important for people to understand that the brand isn’t a logo or PowerPoint template that’s meant to stifle your creativity – but the brand is who we are intrinsically. It’s the people in the company – when we’re at an event, talking on the phone, sending emails – it’s everything!” So, in his brand evolution he has focused on two key things:

  1. Introducing flexibility from people on how they use the brand. He knows that if it’s easier for them to use it and understand it, the brand gets used properly more often, and
  2. re-igniting people’s passion, internally, for the brand, and the role employees play in making sure that the brand values are presented outwardly and consistently.

“We are custodians of the brand, many of us won’t be here for our entire career,” says Matthewman. “Hopefully the organisation outlives all of us; but when we’re here, we’re the people that live and breathe the brand and we need to project those brand values collectively out to our people and the rest of the world.”

The new brand is easier to use but, more importantly, employees believe in it. How did he do it? “I spoke to various people in the organisation who use the brand: people in the UX team, people in the culture team, solutions engineers who have to build technical documentation using our branding, salespeople who have to deal with PowerPoint slides and finding things on the internet, the product group… I spoke to people far and wide, had workshops with people globally: got input from all parts of the world – it has gone through many iterations to get to where we got to.”

Matthewman is tentatively optimistic about the brand update because it has passed the pub test (a concept that the Americans he works with find very amusing), but one thing is clear: his is no ordinary approach to marketing – it’s an evolutionary approach. Matthewman practices the principles of collaboration, engagement and education as much as he preaches them.

As Matthewman says, “If you’re looking at truly business-changing programs – not just focused on lead gen but on enabling the business – that’s truly a successful marketing team”.

It’s hardly surprising that Matthewman was instrumental in setting up the first IR webinars that attracted 400 to 500 delegates: webinars that were so successful that Microsoft asked to join and co-present with IR. Neither is it surprising that he has helped turn the organisation around from being inward-focused to being an enabler of people – by producing marketing that helps prospects solve their problems – or that their revenue has tripled in the last five years. But there is, perhaps, one last surprise that Matthewman left with me: the lesson he wishes he’d learned earlier.

Fail fast and fix problems

Matthewman reflects that as a young marketer he was very afraid of making a mistake or a campaign not working. He says, “That often led to people fudging results or trying to put gloss on campaigns where they probably could have taken learnings out of things where they didn’t work or try to understand why they didn’t work, instead.”

He and I both agree that back in the day marketers saw each other as competitors. Matthewman reflects that although nobody wanted to be the person who runs out the dud campaign, this often manifested itself as “competition with everyone you were working with”. But he believes that his bosses back then would have been supportive of the lessons that working for a software company has taught him now: to fail fast and fix problems, if only he’d been more open to making mistakes and learning from them. 

He says that ‘fail fast and fix problems’ doesn’t mean “be loose and make careless errors, but be empowered to try things: understand what success looks like and if it doesn’t work, move on, and try something different.” As a result, his advice to other marketers is this: “Don’t be afraid. Not everything will be perfect. Not everything is going to work.”

He uses this approach with his team. “If someone tries to say, ‘It wasn’t my fault’, call that out. Just own it. It doesn’t matter. You won’t be sacked. You won’t be in trouble. And if more people take responsibility the blame game goes away.”

Finally, he recommends open and honest communication. “You don’t have all the answers.

“Even your organisation doesn’t. Try to find people who help you. Today, I might look after demand gen but it doesn’t mean that the person looking after content, social, digital marketing don’t have input. Nobody knows all the answers. The more input you get from smart people, the more success you’ll have.”

And that’s partly why Stuart and I gathered these insights, and are sharing them with you, readers: because we believe that success comes from learning and sharing.

Gina Balarin is founder and director of Verballistics

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Image credit:Joshua Rawson-Harris