Working for a start-up company can be a marketer’s dream job, but working for a start-up created from the merger of three existing companies puts an interesting twist on the challenge.
Jayne Chace understand both sides of that coin as chief marketing officer of Coriant, a global networking company built by private equity investors through the acquisitions of Nokia Siemens Networks’ optical networks business, Sycamore Networks Solutions, and Tellabs.
Chace has been in charge of the Coriant brand since its launch in 2013; her responsibilities include branding, advertising, events, demand generation, and internal communications. She spoke to CMO.com about branding start-ups, integrating acquisitions, and how to get your foot in the door when you have a new name.
CMO.com: You’re steering marketing for a relatively new company in a highly competitive marketplace. Is building brand name recognition your biggest challenge?
Chace: Externally, I think it’s building the brand. We’re just about 18 months old, so we still are very, very young.
At the same time, internally, it’s bringing three different corporate cultures together. It’s ensuring that we’re aligned, we’re all going in the same direction, and we’re integrating the portfolios. And in the more delicate areas, we’re integrating different cultures and different ways of communicating internally. You have all the different infrastructures, all the different systems for finance and HR.
It’s ensuring that as you’re changing, people aren’t feeling, “Oh, I’m losing my old way of doing something,” but they’re excited about the new. [It’s about] keeping them focused on the customer and getting people to know the value of the three companies coming together.
CMO.com: Coriant is a bit of a venture-capital rollup. Did you have some resistance held over from the legacy organizations? How did you integrate those?
Chace: With difficulty, but we’re doing it. All three companies—Tellabs, Nokia Siemens, and Sycamore—had been in existence for a long time, and people were used to doing things a certain way. And they were different ways. For example, [with] internal communications, the Tellabs people expected an email to come almost on a daily basis, telling them what they needed to know, whereas the Nokia Siemens people would routinely go to a Web site and look for updates and new things.
[The challenge has been] reconciling those intangibles and making people feel comfortable about it without saying, “You have to give up the past, and this is a new way.” I’ve been in start-ups, and, in many ways, it’s easier because you’re creating the culture from the beginning. Everybody who goes there knows and puts all their energy into saying, “What are the best-in-class ways of doing things that I know?” You don’t have to relearn ways of doing things.
CMO.com: What are some efforts you’ve made to establish the Coriant brand externally?
Chace: That’s been the most exciting part of it—first of all, launching it. I joined on Day 1. There was preparation before I joined, but perhaps not as much because they were looking at other things: working with the private equity firm, getting the deal settled, and then a lot of internal work to transition services.
When you’re doing a start-up, you’re thinking, “Who are we going to go with as a provider, blah, blah,” but when you’re taking companies and integrating them, they already have established contracts that you must take over. So you can’t necessarily end something on Day 1 and move into something new. [We had to] look at customers and get them to understand we’re a new company, and, yes, we’re proud of the heritage, we do have a lot of good things, but, on the other hand, we have a new way of looking at things.
CMO.com: You’re dealing in a highly competitive marketplace with big-name rivals. How do keep up with marketing machines, such as Alcatel-Lucent and Cisco?
Chace: Once a month I go in front of the board, and I remind them [that] we have some excellent competitors, and they have deep pockets. So they’re looking to me to do something a little bit different—obviously, to be cost-effective in what I do, but to come up with a different way of approaching things.
For example, one of the biggest trade shows for the optical transport networks is OFC in California. Last March, my directive was: This is the first time we go in there as Coriant; we really want to be the showstopper. How do you come up with this?
I have a small but outstanding team that gives me insights in what our competitors are doing, how they are positioning, and I have to keep thinking about competitive differentiation. We definitely have to look at the social media: How are they attracting people, what is the key message, and what seems to be of interest in terms of attracting people? ... We do almost daily blogs about what our competitors are doing.
CMO.com: What are some of the tools you find useful—content, events, digital media? How do you leverage those tools in your efforts?
Chace: This is the challenge, and it is a fun challenge, in a way. Our customers make a long-term investment of about 10 years, so the buying cycle usually lasts about 18 to 24 months.
They [might] see a tweet or something on social media [from us]—of course, it is important to be out there—but it will not be the thing to convince them because [our offering] is such an expensive, long-term investment. So we try to “neutralize” social media [with more personal posts] like our branding teams that are running marathons, and we tweet pictures of them.
It’s little tiny things like that, but we also do the regular kinds of marketing as well, selecting the key trade shows that will have the most impact, and then making decisions: What are we going to do there? Can we get a speaking slot? It’s really tough because everything costs money, so you have to prioritize.
CMO.com: What is next for the Coriant brand?
Chace: We have recently been transforming our Web site. This is one of the things we started with some basics, and, as time has gone on, we’ve been able to put more focus on our portfolio and the content itself. We’ve been adding different dimensions to it, making videos, and trying to be creative.
In addition, we’ve been trying to look at different ways we should be getting our message across. Should we be looking at different areas? Should we be going on some technology television shows? What can we do to get the message out? Because we’re also trying to leverage the market trends.
CMO.com: Is getting your foot in the door as Coriant the biggest challenge?
Chace: I’ve been with a number of start-ups, and I’ve been in key positions at huge companies. I was at Siemens at the end of the ’90s and in the beginning of 2000, integrating three huge divisions, 113,000 people in those three divisions. When you said Siemens, people said: “Oh, right, here’s an appointment time.”
When you are calling as Coriant, and they don’t know the company [because] you’re just starting out, a salesperson doesn’t want to spend two or three calls explaining who the company is. That is why building brand equity is so critical.