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Scaling and Brand-Building Insights from CrowdStrike’s Former CMO Johanna Flower

Johan Duramy
02 Feb 2021
Scaling and Brand-Building Insights from CrowdStrike’s Former CMO Johanna Flower

At a recent CapitalG growth forum, our CMOs spent time with Johanna Flower, former CMO at CrowdStrike. Johanna played a key role in building out the marketing organization as they scaled from $12 million ARR to well over $700 million ARR and a successful IPO in 2019.

In this post you’ll get a glimpse inside the forum where Johanna, CapitalG senior operating partner Johan Duramy and our CMOs discussed growth, scaling, and what it takes to build a long-lasting brand.

Johan: When you joined CrowdStrike, there were lots of other cybersecurity companies trying to take their share of the market. As CMO, where did you start, and why?

Johanna: Education and brand-building, from day one. We knew that cloud-native security was the future, and we were challenging the traditional endpoint market, but to build awareness everyone in the company had to be clear on our mission and vision. Not just know it, but let it guide how they interacted with customers, partners, and the broader industry. Brand-building and re-shaping a category is not one campaign or six months of a certain initiative. It’s something that you really want to invest in, bring the rest of the industry along with you and get right for a long period of time, so that was a main focus right from the start.

Johan: Is that how “We Stop Breaches” came about?

Johanna: Definitely. We needed simple and strong brand promise, and eventually “We Stop Breaches” became our full branding arc. Our customers came to know us for stopping breaches and we continued building out our technology platform to stop breaches. It unified everything we did. And I’m proud to say that even today, five years later, I see new CrowdStrike hires still putting “We Stop Breaches” as their LinkedIn tagline, no matter where in the world they are.

If you ask any 10, 20 or even 100 people from your organization about your brand promise, they should all say the same thing. It becomes your ‘rally cry’.

Johan: What were some of the most important steps you took to help differentiate CrowdStrike from the competitors?

Johanna: In those early days there was a lot of trial and error but looking back there were three things that were really important for us as we started to scale.

First, focus on what you’re doing differently and how it helps your customers. What do you want to be known for? What is the story you want to tell for the next five years? Start telling that story now. When I joined CrowdStrike, there were 34 other vendors (old and new) competing in the same space. Most people couldn’t wrap their head around the idea of cloud-delivered security, but we doubled down and focused on the customers who could. You have to be willing to take a bold stance, focus on the right buyer and market segment, especially in the beginning. Sit down with your product and sales teams and get agreement on your target audience and the segment you are pursuing.

The second thing I’d say is to go big where it matters and look for ways to stand out. It is noisy out there and budgets are often tight. We knew that there were a handful of conferences that were very strategic to us, so we went all in and used them as a platform to get in front the right customers, and leveraged company executives and subject matter experts, as well as creative and iconic new ways to build meaningful and memorable customer engagements.

Third, take a customer centric approach. In cybersecurity trust is everything. I truly believe that customer satisfaction is the new brand. It is therefore critical you don’t just ‘win customers over’, you partner with them for the long-haul. Start investing in customer centric programs such as advisory boards, user groups, loyalty, communities, etc. Over time your customers become your most powerful and valuable marketing tool, your advocates.

Johan: What are some key considerations for growing startups looking to expand into new markets?

Johanna: First of all, if something is going right, keep doing it. Stay focused on where you can gain traction and build on your success over time. CrowdStrike didn’t launch into the small business segment until after our enterprise business was well-established and we didn’t expand internationally until 2016, several years after our US launch. Some markets just didn’t make sense for CrowdStrike products in the beginning because they weren’t ready to embrace cloud or certain sectors required specific certifications that we didn’t yet have. Listen and seek input from your key customers. And if you don’t have an advisory board, start one now.

Johan: What is one lesson that sticks out to you from your time as CMO, especially as you worked towards an IPO?

Johanna: Alignment is everything. You simply cannot successfully plan in isolation. Product, engineering, sales, marketing — everyone must be aligned with the same vision and idea of who the company is and where it’s going.

As for the IPO, I’ll say this: it will be the single biggest marketing opportunity you will ever have to tell your story, so start early to think about how you’ll position your message. It will also be the single biggest employee event in your customer’s history. There is no better time to build excitement and get everyone together to cherish what you’ve accomplished as a team. As a marketing leader, you get to make that time extra special for everyone. Take advantage.

About Johanna Flower

Johanna Flower served as CrowdStrike’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), leading all elements of global marketing at CrowdStrike including directing the brand, corporate communications, go-to-market strategies, and demand generation from 2014 to 2020. Johanna played a critical role in CrowdStrike’s initial public offering (IPO), largely hailed as one of the most successful cybersecurity IPOs in history.

Prior to joining CrowdStrike, Johanna held the role of SVP and Chief Marketing Officer at Websense, Inc. (now Forcepoint LLC), helping expand revenues from $30m to over $360m.

Johanna is currently serving as Independent Board Director for Freshworks and Theta Lake.

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