Salesforce’s SaaSy and Astro brand characters. Source: Salesforce

It’s been said by many that the last 20 months have presented marketers with an opportunity. That a marketer’s understanding of customers, their natural curiosity and empathy is crucial amid significant disruption for customer and company.

Reflecting on the role of marketing in any organisation in wake of the pandemic and on her first 12 months in the job, Salesforce CMO Sarah Franklin says the period has been the “most significant time for a CMO”.

“When I took on the role, it was very important the marketing team was super strategic to the business and helping us in what was then the all-digital, work anywhere world,” she says. “And a timeline. Not just our CEO, but every CEO and every company is looking to the marketers to say, how are we going to get back to growth? How are we going to connect our customers? What message are we going to have? How are we going to stay relevant in this ever-changing world? How can we keep up with that and also keep ourselves sane and be empathetic at the same time?”

It’s not just customers and company where marketers have a role, adds Franklin, but in helping employees “feel connected to your company”.

With many employees now working permanently from home or in hybrid working arrangements, the same skills of communication, empathy and understanding are required when dealing with internal customers.

Every CEO and every company is looking to the marketers to say, how are we going to get back to growth? How are we going to connect our customers?

“My employees are like our customers too. And we have to create that connection, and that is so relevant right now. You see people in droves, changing jobs, changing locations – there’s a lot of change happening. As marketers, it’s an incredible opportunity… so people feel connected to your clients and your customer, and by also bringing your employees together around your around your brand.”

Taking inspiration from B2C

There is plenty of debate in marketing about how similar or otherwise B2B marketing is to B2C. For Franklin, one thing is clear – there is plenty of inspiration to be taken from B2C counterparts.

“Salesforce from its beginning, from its birth has always been a company that has learned from the the B2C world. Marc and Parker [Benioff and Harris, Salesforce’s co-founders] started the company with a simple question: ‘Why can’t software be more like Amazon, for example?’,” she explains.

Franklin has been in role for just under 12 months, after 12 years at the company in several roles including product and developer marketing. Prior to taking on the CMO role, she led development of its Trailhead learning platform and Trailblazers, a community forum of Salesforce customers, which still sits under her remit. It’s another example of the customer-centricity that is embedded in Salesforce, but not in all B2B marketing organisations.

For Franklin, it’s about “wowing” customers, a pursuit which should be as key in B2B as anywhere else.

“Salesforce is all about how you can wow your customers in a very simple way. If you’re an Airbnb, you need to wow your guests. If you’re Metallica, you need to wow your fans. That’s what Salesforce does,” she adds.

Using brand characters

Trailblazers and Trailhead are fronted by Astro, a part racoon, part child brand character that also appears in campaigns and corporate literature.

Source: Salesforce

Brand characters have been used extensively in B2C but seldom in B2B. According to Franklin, the character plays a central role in Salesforce’s brand building.

“It’s an emotional connection that transcends all logic, it cannot be explained but it cements their loyalty to you,” she says. “And the characters do that because they bring it to life in a way that is whimsical. [It suggests] you won’t take yourself too seriously. That you can escape from the constraints that your adult brain has placed on you, that you can’t do this, you can’t do that. [Instead it takes you] into a world of cartoon where you can think outside the box.”

Transforming marketing’s role

It’s been a busy first year for Franklin. Apart from the challenge of starting the job during the pandemic, 2021 saw Salesforce execute its sponsorship of Team USA and Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics. The CRM giant also launched Salesforce+, a streaming service with live and on-demand content including live broadcasts, original series and podcasts for businesses in all sectors.

Taking inspiration from Netflix and Disney+, it’s another tool to engage and serve prospective and existing customers, as well as build equity and trust in the brand. Its launch marks a “huge transformation for the company”, according to Franklin.

“Salesforce+ is really how we transform ourselves from being a tactical, moment in time, events-oriented marketing team, to being a trusted business media channel… You go from making webinars to making original series. You go from hiring copywriters to hiring script writers. It’s a huge, huge shift,” she says. And this is an incredible opportunity to drive engagement and to build something which nobody has done.”

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