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Can Cybersecurity Companies Still Tell Stories?

By Katie Creaser | On April 17, 2019

Last week I presented at SecureWorld Philadelphia about data breach communications and best practices for orchestrating incident response across an organization.  Before my session, I had an opportunity to speak on camera about my background and the key points I was planning to address. When I mentioned to my interviewer that I had more than a decade of experience helping cybersecurity solutions providers with marketing and public relations – he asked a timely question that made me take pause.

“Do you think that cybersecurity vendors can be storytellers? Is there still opportunity for that – or is it all just jargon and marketing?”

This year at RSA’s Annual Conference, there were 700 exhibitors  – if you’ve attended, you know that the show floor is absolutely crazy as vendors try to outshine and out-market their competition. Additionally, the cybersecurity media cycle has reached a fever pitch – new hacks and exploits are breaking everyday and journalists are absolutely inundated with pitches from PR agencies, “experts”, brands and vendors. And the market couldn’t be more competitive – you’re up against your direct competitors, plus the folks that overlap with your products and services PLUS the companies who have absolutely nothing to do with you but SAY they do (ahem…threat intelligence and AI vendors – I’m looking at you). Let’s face it, it’s a less-than-ideal environment for traditional storytelling. And it’s getting crazier every year…..

This frantic pace and competitive atmosphere has caused some vendors to lose control of their comms strategy. Today, the cybersecurity industry is known for an overwhelming level of content marketing, a micro-dissection of target audiences (and subsequent messaging) and jargon-driven narratives. I get it, in a market that’s so loud – it’s only natural to try and be louder or to at least keep pace.

So, can vendors tell stories? The short answer from me is, yes – IF they keep their customer at the heart of the narrative. Here are a few ways to do that: 

1. Remember Your Customer: The IT buyer is discerning – they don’t need the hype machine (in fact, they hate it) – they want to understand the facts. What do you sell? Who do you sell it to? How is it different? How much does it cost and can it save me money? Do my friends use it? Can it make my job easier? From a thought leadership perspective – they want to read about the problems that they face everyday, with clear technical solutions on how to solve them. They want insight they can’t get anywhere else. 
The executive buyer is more likely to be interested in trends  – but you don’t need to name-drop what’s “hot” simply to get their attention. Executives are plugged into their respective industries – if you’re going to talk about trends, think about vertical positioning, strong opinions and showcasing unique insight. Customer stories and use cases work well here – they answer the question of, “who else do you work with?”

2. Market What You Sell: You can’t be everything to everyone – it’s confusing and takes you off message. If you try to position your product around every emerging threat – reporters will stop taking your calls and prospects won’t open your email campaigns. Find your lane and stay in it – doubling down on topics where you can provide commentary that no one else can. Create content that’s centered around the actual capabilities of your product today, with an expert eye on the future. Remember, “we can do it too” is not a marketing strategy. 

3. Get Creative (But Don’t Lose Your Mind): Creativity will help you to stand out in a crowded market – but it’s totally irrelevant when you take it too far. Sure, the make-your-own pina colada bar drove lots of foot traffic to your booth – but did your sales team have meaningful conversations? Will anyone remember what you do when they walk away? Did they watch the demo to get swag or because they actually wanted to see the product? Was your booth staffed with people who understand the product or did you just collect a bunch of unqualified emails? Creativity takes many forms – from engaging customers for storytelling, to proprietary data to sponsored content, multimedia and meaningful marketing campaigns. Keeping your customer and their needs at the heart of your creativity will make sure you can track real ROI against your efforts. 

4. Value-Based Thought Leadership: Thought leadership for spokespeople and executives is so critical – they lead your company, they should be leading the conversation. However, there’s a fine line between marketing messaging and true thought leadership. Marketers must challenge executives to have an opinion, put a stake in the ground and add value to high-profile conversations. The next time you write a piece of thought leadership content – challenge yourself to step away from it and ask – is this actually interesting to read? Will my audience learn something from this? Will my audience read this and find meaning in it? If the answer is no – take it back to the drawing board. 

How you tell a story is just as important as where you tell it. Cybersecurity marketers need to figure out where their audience is most likely to listen – it might be at a tradeshow, it might be through the press, it might be in a one-on-one meeting. Vendors in the space should rethink the vehicles that they use for storytelling – choosing the ones that are most likely to lead to their audience. 

This topic is so near and dear to my heart that I could talk about it all day – if you could too – reach out and let’s talk shop. I’m at kcreaser@affect.com

Katie Creaser

Katie is a senior vice president at Affect, where she provides counsel to clients that are looking to bring PR and social media into their communications program as part of a thoughtful, holistic strategy. Katie works closely with Affect’s technology and healthcare clients to ensure that their value resonates with customers by creating compelling content for every medium. Prior to joining Affect, Katie served as assistant program manager for the Capital Roundtable, an event production company for the private equity, investment banking, venture capital, legal, hedge fund and professional advisory communities in New York City.