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Our 2019 Cybersecurity Marketing Misses (and Some Hits)

Posted by Nathan Burke
on December 5, 2019

The end of the year usually marks the season for prediction posts for the next year and pats on the back for a year of amazing accomplishments. We thought we’d take a different approach: we’ll look at three of our marketing misses and three successes and for all, we’ll analyze what we learned.

They Can’t All Be Home Runs…..

Many companies claim to embrace the “fail quickly” mentality and aim to create a culture of experimentation. Few do it, and even fewer publicly own up to their flubs. But let’s give that a shot. Here are a few of the not-so-successful marketing campaigns that we tried at Axonius in 2019 and our thoughts on why they didn’t succeed.

Miss #1: “Hit the gas” – Our Luxury Car Experience Giveaway

The Idea

We’ve called asset management the “Toyota Camry of Cybersecurity” and the “least sexy part of cybersecurity.” But after winning the RSAC Innovation Sandbox, being named to the Forbes Cloud 100 Rising Stars, and the CNBC Upstart 100 List, we decided that maybe asset management is more exciting than we originally thought.

The Axonius “Hit the Gas” Campaign Video

We decided to move away from the “unsexy” messaging and to celebrate, we launched our “Hit the Gas” campaign and we’re giving away a dream car experience, which is a 3-year lease on a luxury car (the make/model of the car is going to be a surprise). In short, anyone that does a demo, attends a webinar, or meets us in person at an event will get an entry, and we’ll pick a winner at random in late March.

Why It Missed

So this isn’t exactly a failure, as it’s still ongoing. But it didn’t catch fire like we would have liked. We heard from a sales rep that at a recent event, attendees said, “If I won a luxury car from a vendor, I’d lose my job.”

Though “luxury experience” sweepstakes are common across industries, it seems like cybersecurity is moving away from accepting any kind of big prizes from vendors. It was a fun idea and worth a shot, but if we had a time machine, we wouldn’t have done this. For anyone that is eligible, there’s still time to enter (and you have a good chance!).

What We Learned

Though someone will win an awesome prize in March 2020, big prizes just don’t work in cybersecurity marketing. Some people can’t accept a prize this valuable and others don’t believe we’re actually going to give away a 3-year lease on a luxury sports car.

This one was my baby, and I was wrong.

Miss #2: The Unsexy Tour

The Idea

There are only so many cybersecurity events in a year. Why not plan a four-city roadshow tour and set up a group lunch meeting in cities where our prospects work? Since just about everyone eats lunch, why not pick a nice place in each city, and have a well-known speaker like Lenny Zeltser talk about how asset management can help cybersecurity?

Not a veiled product pitch, our sessions in our “Unsexy Tour” were to be informative and useful. Free lunch, good conversation, and no hard sales pressure. 

Axonius Asset Management Roadshow
Axonius’ CISO, Lenny Zeltser, discussed the importance of cybersecurity asset management at our roadshow in NYC.

Why It Missed

We had several great conversations and turnout in a few cities, while we had very little interest in the rest. Why?

  1. Without having enough brand recognition in a city, free lunch isn’t a draw.
  2. Despite assuring people it was an educational lunch, it was still a vendor paying the bill, just as a free vacation from a timeshare company is still just a timeshare pitch.
  3. Security professionals have a lot to do. A free lunch isn’t enough to leave the office for an hour.

Though I haven’t seen the idea tested, I’ve often thought that in some cities a CISO could survive on nothing but free vendor meals every weekday. These are all guesses, and we’ve talked to many people at other security vendors that have seen lunch events succeed. Maybe we were just too early. 

What We Learned

Until we have enough brand recognition in a given geography with sales reps, channel partners, and customers, roadshow events are risky. These kinds of small events definitely can work, but only when you can be reasonably confident that you can fill a room.

Miss #3: Direct Mail – Tile Giveaway

The Idea

Since Axonius can help companies identify and inventory all their assets, we thought a Tile Bluetooth tracker would be a great direct mail piece. We sent 100 of them with a personalized note to cybersecurity professionals, letting them know what we do and how they can learn more. 

The direct mail piece with the Axonius-branded Tile tracker

Why It Missed

We saw exactly zero results from this campaign. A few thoughts on why:

  1. Since it was tied to the “Hit the Gas” campaign, the messaging was confusing: here’s a free Tile tracker from a company you’ve likely not heard of, and it’s asking you to sign up to win a car. 
  2. There’s no real call to action other than to talk to a sales person.
  3. Small gifts from unknown sales reps might just be seen as “physical spam” and might just get thrown away. 

What We Learned

Direct mail can work, but only when there’s a clear call-to-action that is measurable, and that call-to-action should be a lot less of a commitment than setting up a call with a sales rep. Like roadshow events, we’ve seen many cybersecurity companies use direct mail effectively. File this under “we can do better here”.

Certified Hits

Enough about what didn’t work. Let’s take a look at some of what worked this year.

Hit #1: RSAC 2019

The Idea

The RSA Conference is the biggest annual cybersecurity event, and the RSA Conference Innovation Sandbox is the biggest cybersecurity startup competition. If we could just get selected as one of the top 10 most innovative startups of 2019, it would raise our profile and put Axonius on the map and make our presence at the conference unbelievable.

Why It Worked

Due to a combination of luck and having a great product, Axonius was selected to be one of the 10 cybersecurity startups to compete for the title of Most Innovative Startup of 2019. When we were named the winner, the coverage and attention we received immediately turned into trials and customers. 

What We Learned

We learned that you can never underestimate the difference the RSAC Innovation Sandbox can make for a cybersecurity startup. We can directly attribute Fortune 500 customers that would never have taken a call from us if not for winning the Sandbox. If only there were similar competitions like this every year!

Hit #2: Life as a CISO

The Idea

We do a lot of webinars, but we wanted to create useful content that isn’t just a thinly veiled commercial for Axonius. I’d much rather gain the reputation as a company that provides value to the community than being the cybersecurity company that just flogs our product all day. 

Since we recently named Lenny Zeltser our CISO, we thought it would be interesting to chronicle his move to the role by interviewing other CISOs and security professionals to learn from their experiences. 

Why It Worked

First, Lenny is a great presenter and interviewer. He is genuinely interested in the people he talks to, and as a SANS instructor, he has a passion for both teaching and learning. Second, creating content that is truly interesting and useful – even if it doesn’t map to your product – creates goodwill and helps build a reputation as a company that cares. 

What We Learned

We need more of this kind of content and stay tuned for more Life as a CISO webinars. Watch the first installment of our Life as a CISO webinar series on-demand now, featuring our own Lenny Zeltser and Sam Curry, CSO at Cybereason

Hit #3: Demo Before the Demo

The Idea

Some people that visit our site really want to learn more about the product, but aren’t quite ready to get on a call for a full demo. What if we could create a 5-minute “demo before the demo” of Axonius that provides a high-level overview and acts as a trailer to the movie? 

Why It Worked

The 5-minute demo before the demo let people answer the basics before getting on a call to dive into details:

  1. What exactly does the product do?
  2. Will it work for me?
  3. Is it worth my time to learn more?
  4. Is this real, or just marketing fluff?

What We Learned

Anything we can do to let people experience the product before committing to a 45-minute call is valuable, and we’re already working on new ways to make it easier for 2020.

Our Bet for the Next Hit in 2020: The “Let’s Do Good Together” Charity Initiative

The Idea

Cybersecurity is a really crowded space with vendors vying for the time and attention of security professionals. Because of that, there’s a lot of noise, and we often try to use swag and giveaways (like a car) to get people to try our products. But what if instead of spending big dollars on gifts, we spent that on doing good

A few months back, our CEO met with Steph Curry and learned about the Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation, which is committed to unlocking the amazing potential of every child by fighting to end childhood hunger and ensuring children have access to nutritious food, a quality education, and the resources to succeed, and providing opportunities and safe places for all children to play and be active.

Anyone who requests an Axonius demo can choose from a list of 100 charities, and we’ll make two donations on their behalf:

  • $25 to the charity of their choice
  • $25 to the Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation

Why We Think It Will Work

Since the campaign is only visible after someone already has submitted a demo request, this is a no-brainer: simply choose a charity that you care about, and we’ll donate $25 on your behalf to that charity, and $25 to the Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation. 

Additionally, people love giving back. We all have organizations that we care about, and if we can donate just by doing something we were doing anyway, how can that fail?

What We Learned (or What We Will Learn)

People care more about giving back than sports cars and swag. They want to try products that can make their lives easier, and if they can do good while solving real problems, that’s a win. 

Thanks to the Best Marketing Team in Cybersecurity

Finally, I want to thank the Axonius Marketing team (Meg, Eileen, Anna and Bryana), who I believe to be the best marketing team in cybersecurity. I have no way to measure this claim, but what they’ve been able to accomplish in such a short time is ridiculous. Thank you for continuing to try new things, not resorting to FUD, and always looking for new ways to help add value to people that are rightfully skeptical about cybersecurity vendors. As a wise Disney Princess once said: “Keep doing the next right thing.”

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