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Instincts Still Matter in an AI Assisted World

Kerry Guard • Wednesday, February 15, 2023 • 60 minutes to listen

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Saren Sakurai

Saren Sakurai is the Senior Director of Digital Marketing at Blackberry.



Hello, I'm Kerry Guard and welcome to Tea Time with Tech Marketing Leaders.

Even if AI decided what the best ad is, you still want to edit and still want to tweak, still want to add your visual element that is unique.

This episode was so timely. Normally, I have a backlog and I would this episode to be well into like may. But given the timeliness of it, I felt like y'all need to hear it right now. Saren Sakurai, I hope I'm saying that right there.

Saren Sakurai joins me on this episode and we talked about so much. It was in line with this framework around how to go to market in front and demand gen and how we think about going to market differently given the new technology available between ChatGPT as well as the fact that cookie, a cookieless future is looming for us all.

I love the way he has reframed this in a way that we don't have to be scared of it. We're all scrambling right now to figure out what we're going to do in this new world of marketing, as it pertains to brand, and not being able to necessarily follow people who've never heard of us before around the internet, and how we need to capture users attention faster and hold them longer, and how we can use AI to help us cultivate that and curate it better. He says it so much more eloquently than me, so I'm gonna leave it to Saren.

Saren is the Senior Director of Digital Marketing at Blackberry. He runs the paid media Global websites campaign management in digital analytics for the reinvented BlackBerry security software. His team plans and executes brand marketing and demand gen programs for the corporate marketing demand gen divisions, and his marketing stack includes the trade desk, Adobe Experience Manager and Pardot unroll works. We will get into a little bit about what he's doing and how he's measuring and how analytics plays an important role. In the new world of AR cookieless feature, Saren tells the story and explains more around his experience, so I'm going to leave it to him and take you on this journey with us.

Here is my conversation with Saren.


Kerry Guard: Hello, Sarah, and thank you for joining me on Tea Time with Tech Marketing Leaders.

Saren Sakurai: Thank you for having me.

Kerry Guard: I'm excited to have you and I'm excited for this conversation because it's gonna be very practical one. I hope everybody has their notebooks out. They have their pens they're leaning in, and they're not multitasking because newsflash multitasking apparently isn't a thing. So listen, folks.

Before we get into the core of our conversation today, Saren, tell me your story. I've been on the edge of my seat waiting for this since we talked because I always hold people off. They say, “Don't tell me your story yet, because I've got to hear it live.” But I have been waiting for this one. Tell us your story, Saren. What do you do? And how did you get there?

Saren Sakurai: It's all about digital marketing and the original journey. Well, the journey that I'm on right now started right after the millennium.

I had spent a couple years in Japan, living and teaching on the JET Program. And when I came back, I started my real life and moved to Portland, Oregon, where my parents were living at the time, to get started. I had always imagined that I would try to get a job at Nike, and I actually made it to work on the Nike campus.

In that first year, I was part of the Asia-Pacific Group. And from the outside, Nike was really sexy, with lots of great marketing. But once you get inside the campus, you start to realize that a lot of the creativity is coming from outside. I was working with agencies that were servicing Nike, and AKQA was the agency that was doing a lot of the work for Asia Pacific. I asked the account director at the time, "How do I get on the agency side?" And they said, "Well, you're still green. "You probably need to go to a smaller agency and then work your way up, and then we'll call you up to the major leagues when you're ready." So I moved down to Los Angeles, just got into a smaller agency called Trigger, and started working on websites and campaigns for the movie studios. Spend about two years there. It's all very creative. Then, AKQA called me up and said, "Hey, you want to come to San Francisco?" And it was a real opportunity, because they had a really strong strategy group. I could really dig into more of the data, and this is from the early to mid-aughts. You can really win a lot on a good idea before that, but data started to grow as a really significant piece. It was a good opportunity for me. It's a little foggy and cold.

We had a two-year-old. So I transitioned down to another agency in Southern California, back where the sun is. And I worked for a company called Jackson Interactive. We did a lot of experiences for Coca Cola. I moved over to Perficient, which is more of a consultancy. I worked for Toyota and Lexus and a lot of the car companies, and they were owned, or they would install very large systems like Salesforce or Adobe Experience Manager. I got told see behind the scenes, how those those systems were installed, and then I was part of a group that did the UX, and we serve. We would start to get all the data from these new systems, and it was really about how to put that into context. I was really focused on the web, and Adobe Experience Manager is a really robust platform. And at the time, this startup named Cylance was in the cybersecurity space. They had a product that was very dependent on AI, they wanted to redo their website, and they were using Adobe Experience Manager.

I landed the role as one of the digital marketing leads for Cylance. I started with the web, but then over the next couple of years, I expanded into marketing automation. And then we got a new CMO about a year before they were acquired. He wanted to implement the SiriusDecisions demand generation framework. I was part of a team that started implementing that framework with really good success, like leveraging the audience data to deliver better messaging, enhance the website, enhance the marketing, automate emails, and things like that. And about a year later, they got acquired by Blackberry, and I basically applied the client craft to not only cybersecurity but also IoT and some of the other things that BlackBerry does. And so that's sort of where I am at the moment. I've started small, from the agency side to the client side, and am now open to experiences and projects that span the gamut of industries, but cybersecurity is where I have been working most recently.

Kerry Guard: Well, that's great, because that's who a lot of folks here you're talking to, and what a great space to be in and the journey in which you found yourself in cyber. I find it interesting, too. I feel like we're missing a little tiny part of your story in the beginning of how you wanted to get in, how you wanted to move back to Portland, and how you wanted to get into marketing. And you joined a smaller agency, but why marketing at all? How did you even know that that's where you wanted to be? You wanted to be at Nike, but Nike is huge. So why marketing?

Saren Sakurai: When I was in high school, my best friend's father ran a marketing organization in Baltimore. And we would hang out on the weekends, and he would take us to sports games or down to the harbor to get oysters, and in the conversation, he identified me as a talker. I have a skill for that, and I also really do enjoy the creative process. I went to school for creative writing, and marketing really had an appeal because it's very creative and focused. And over the years, it's become more and more story based. Those things were at the core of being a good talker when I was younger and studying creative writing in college, and then it provided an outlet for that kind of creativity. And at Nike, to be honest, I saw some of the greatest creative decks I think I've ever seen. The lead creative director for most of the campaigns in the Asia Pacific region was named John CJ. He was at Wyden Kennedy, and he's a legend in the field, but some of the decks that we would get from him were 50 pages of just the most incredibly creative ideas. And that was the moment when I couldn't proceed into any other field. I wanted to be where those decks were coming from or I wanted to make those decks.

Kerry Guard: I had similar feelings. I had some real fears, and it's interesting too. Because you've had this journey from the very left brain side, the very creative, the writing, the vision, the visual, and the talking are all very creative and left side, but then you found the data side, which is a similar journey that I went on. And so, how did you feel? How did you make that leap? What was that for you? How did the data speak to you in a way that tuned into your left brain and your abstract brain?

Saren Sakurai: I guess I would go back to my DNA. Again, my father was a physics professor, and my brother was the one who took the right-brain approach and also got a master's in physics. But my dad was a liberal arts thinker, and he would always counsel us to apply the patterns of mathematics to creative endeavors. I can always see the association and the industry around us as it became more and more digital; it's just that access to data became a lot better. I would have curiosities, I'd certainly had a lot of good mentors over the years, but I think that the common thread is pattern recognition. In creativity, you want to develop a pattern and make a brand out of being consistent, and math is just a way to give you more data so that you can look for patterns. And in the current age, AI is going to be helping us a lot with that pattern recognition, and maybe that will free up that whole right-brain part of the world. AI will free up the rest of us humans to live in the left brain a little bit easier. I think that's the dream.

Kerry Guard: Where we can read the data and have analysis around it without having to deep dive into it all the time. So interesting, and cheaper to be able to ask questions versus having to go find, and pull the data, and then read it in a way that you can see it and then start to being able to make those decisions faster, I imagine.

Saren Sakurai: And hopefully, give us more free time to brainstorm and collaborate.

Kerry Guard: I have a team member who's the analytics lead, which is funny enough that he's like, "We need more collaboration time; we need more time to sit with each other and look at the data and make analysis around it, and then brainstorm around what we're going to do about it." I love what you're saying about AI freeing us up to do more of that.

Saren Sakurai: In college and creative writing, it was all about the workshop, so people would bring their work, read it out loud, and then we would talk about it. AI is never going to replace that collaboration workshop.

Kerry Guard: But give us more time for it. I like that thinking. I think that'd be great. Is that how you use data today in line with the creative side of things, or do you still feel like you're able to play in that creative space? Or do you feel you've made that shift into the data and how you generally live in that data?

Saren Sakurai: The better the tools, the better, and the less you have to worry about the data. One thing that we've been using most recently that's very helpful is the intent data that you would get from a tool like Six Cents or DemandBase-Bombora. They would be excellent tools for that. They allow you to sort of track the intent of a search. So in cybersecurity, people are looking for a new XDR solution. That's a non-branded term. It's very general, and in a current way that a Google search result will produce results, they're looking for answers. Now, behind the scenes, there's an algorithm, but from our perspective, it is how we creatively craft the first impression that we'll be giving to someone who's doing a non-branded search. If they're looking for XDR, how can I, as BlackBerry silence, or how can I, as any cybersecurity vendor, put forth a message that captures their attention really quickly and gives us a sense of the story that is about to be told when you click on it?

Data is all behind the scene. But the creativity is really being able to test a lot of different messages that you can put out rather quickly. Data will allow you to selectively choose which thread most people are responding to, and if you can set up a system where you can follow the customer journey, not only from that first, but into the website, what pages they look at, and then what emails they subscribe to and which emails they open, you've really put together a journey that has multiple touch points, each of which has a data point that allows you to optimize the experience. So even from the point of view of the email, we should produce 40 different emails and see which one works. But then, over time, you let the data figure out which is the most popular, and then you can whittle it down to just two or three, and then you've got your nurtured path optimized. So it's a balance; there's not as much big picture data going on; it's more discrete, small, touchpoint data. You're still going to find a pattern, and you'll still be able to optimize your program. If you keep your buyer's journey at the foreground of what you're thinking about and have a content strategy that puts the messaging to those points, the impaired paired with the data and the creative, you can really get to a place where someone's experience within that first, like seven minutes of interaction with you as a brand, can be optimized, and it will make their experience a lot better and your performance, you know, business-wise, also a lot better. We're in an era where I think those pairings can really be well-formed.

Kerry Guard: You make it sound so easy, but as somebody who's been trying it and doing it, I can attest that it is easy. The tools certainly help. I have a creative background and a writing background, which I do not have because I'm more of a visual person. I also have a photography background, which is very different from a writing background; they are not the same thing. I find writing to be very tricky when you're trying to be concise, thoughtful, short, and sweet. As you can see, I'm not blabbering on right now to not sum things up in a very short and sweet way. So I find that very tricky. There is this marrying of the data with that creative side that I think you seem to have very well down. And before I pull all of that apart, do I have questions? You may have given away the game and what we're going to talk about today. So spoiler alert, y'all. This is what we're going to dig into in a second. But before we get there, I have one quick question for you. Because I do think it's important as we get to know you as a person, Saren. What's one challenge you're currently facing? Is it in line with this? Are you having a very different experience now that you've figured everything out and are facing very different challenges? What's the challenge you're currently facing?

Saren Sakurai: Well, going back to the practical, as a marketing leader, you do need to have a vision of what you want to create and number. Many of us can speak idealistically about what that vision should look like. I'm trying to describe that vision and the practical challenges of adapting the team to iterate at a pace that can adapt to how fast data works and how fast AI is coming in, is working. A lot of companies, particularly larger companies. The larger and older you become, the more conservative you become. And that's not on pace with the way in which marketing is working now and heading towards. The challenge is, essentially, is you have to set up the system, platform, or program to work in an ideal way. But a lot of coaching is involved in getting the creative teams, the designers, or the agencies you're working with to be on the same page. And then, because they're generally used to trying to, I'll give you three options. We'll pick one, we'll iterate on that one, and that will be the perfect thing to do in the new world. It's more along the lines of, like, you have to come up with like 20 ideas and then test 10 of them to get to the two or three that you think are really good. It's a little bit more spitball; it started with the spitball world and the volume play, and it's the data sorted out where intuitively, I think there was a long era of marketing where we could all sort of agree. That's the best idea. I don't know that the data world or the AI world is necessarily going to let us decide on our own with the best ideas. We have to adapt to the way in which the patterns are being recognized and produce them at a higher volume and at a faster pace. I guess the second part of the challenge is, "Can we optimize the team to work at a pace that allows for a lot more real-time organization?" And that's part of the point about when I was suggesting that the cookieless world is also a player in all this. It used to be when there were multiple cookies, and you could cookie everyone and follow them all over the internet. They provide you with more answers about who your audiences were in a more private era. When you start to remove the third-party cookies, and then maybe the second-party cookies start to go away, and you're really left with your first-person cookies, I think what's going to distinguish you from your competitors who are still trying to figure it out is a sense that, like that first impression, the experience that you give them on a website has to be in real-time. You only get one chance at capturing their attention, convincing them that you're the solution, and then having them register, and that might take within a seven-minute period. The implications of a cookieless world are that you only have your own cookie. So you've got to get them to your website, and then give them something that they really like. Y'all sign up for that. All in one go in seven minutes.

Kerry Guard: When I was in fact, I was like a long time.

Saren Sakurai: You could do it, and much less. But when I was at the agency in Los Angeles, working for the movie industry, essentially, the goal was to give them a seven-minute experience. And if you could immerse them and engage them for about seven minutes, they were going to go see the movie. The rest of marketing caught up to that. They will make decisions in seven seconds as to whether they want to stay on your website. But if they do, that's one thing you have to win. But the second thing is, if you want to be able to be the mentor to whoever comes to your website, let me teach you about how I can solve your problems, and you can't assume that you can do that in a minute or two. So you start with some headlines that capture their attention, but you need the content to be of depth and quality that makes them want to learn more. You should have seven, two, or three minutes, but let's give them such good content that they're like, "Oh, I want more." "I want a third page and a fourth page." "I'm going to watch that video."

Kerry Guard: That would be fantastic. If we could keep somebody on a website for seven minutes, on a good day, the average is three, if you really haven't. Podcasting is that, twit podcasting. So great, because you can capture somebody, whether they're reading a transcript or listening to an episode, and they're technically on your website for that amount of time, even though it might be running in the background or whatever. That really raises the bar for what you have to be doing. I love what you're saying about coaching and being a mentor, and I want to dig into that because I have so many questions around the lines of giving them what they need. What point is it? Do you feel you're giving away proprietary data? And I think that's tricky, depending on what kind of light of service you are. If you're SAS, it's a little bit easier because the product does most of it. But if you're more of a service base, that becomes really tricky. Before we get there, though, I have a question to set up this conversation. Something you mentioned early on, and I'm curious if you still use it: do you still use the series demands framework?

Saren Sakurai: So serious decisions. We're efficient. They were bought by Forrester two years ago, maybe. But that's not to say that the platform has changed. It's just the brand. They have some core principles that are evergreen. And essentially, it starts with something like you have an ICP-like ideal customer profile, and then you sit down and figure out what the user journey would be. And then you have a content strategy that organizes your messaging per stop along the journey. And then you have dashboards that tell you what data you want to track. That's not actually going to change. They can rebrand the process all they want. I don't think I'm going to get off of that as a framework anytime soon.

Kerry Guard: It sounds like you're trying to move faster through that user journey, though, in terms of what you're talking about and how AI comes into play.

Saren Sakurai: The third-party cookies were how we were going to track you across the website or the web in general, and that was going to play out over a much longer period of time. Facebook was sort of tracking every website you went to and then using that information to build an audience like that. We're not really going to do that anymore. That all condenses the time down significantly, and ChatGPT will come in and make it even more condensed because you can get an answer really quickly. So you want to model yourself more on a very condensed time, a three-step model, as opposed to a 12-step journey. So maybe it's less of a journey and more of a sprint. But you're still going.

Kerry Guard: What are those three milestones that you want them to get to? And what are then the actions that need to be happening to, for each milestone to succeed? When you're talking about the sprint, that's how almost like you're passing a baton between the three.

Saren Sakurai: In its simplest form, people are still going to start with a search. They're either going to get an organic result or a paid result. They're going to click on it, which self-selects them into your audience. That's step one. Step two is for them to arrive wherever you've taken them. It's a landing page or a website; like, what's that experience? And then, either way, there's a scroll. What are the little chapters from the top of the page down? And ideally, there's a call to action to register for something like a webinar or subscribe to our newsletter. That would be step three. And then what's the message that comes next? There's a new expectation, like relative to ChatGPT. I'm not going to give you something immediate, necessarily. But that next email ought to come pretty quickly and advance you to whatever the next click would be. So that little sprint is super important. It does give you the first-person cookie when they come to the website, and then it gives you an email address when they subscribe to your newsletter. Those are the data points that you're going to use to extend the timeout by sending them more emails or using that cookie to retarget them.

Kerry Guard: It's really interesting. I just recommended a similar pathway for our client around paid search and SEO. And then, once we got enough cookie data to then retarget. We're in a cookieless world that's still relevant; that pathway isn't going away because it's not dependent on display marketing, following people around, and creating that overarching brand awareness, which is interesting because I just listened to Christopher Penn's podcast. He's an AI specialist, and he has a podcast around marketing, and he just read it. He has this really great newsletter that he puts out. In the newsletter, he talks about ChatGPT and how it's about to totally change the SEO landscape. And so his message around that was brand. You've got to build your brand because when people come to search for you, they're not going to get you; they're going to get a universal answer that's been scooped from the web in a way that then delivers something that doesn't necessarily mean somebody's got to click to go to a website, which then talks about this cookie-less world and display becoming a bit trickier and less targeted because you don't necessarily have that first-party cookie. It makes for an interesting dichotomy.

Saren Sakurai: I would agree with him. Your brand is how you will stand out right in. ChatGPT will give you the generalized answer. We've got data from 75 different sources, which gives us this general answer: brand is essentially trust, and trust is essentially time plus consistency. You have to build your brand over a period of time to get people to remember you. So, that's part of this sprint. You can't necessarily build the sprint within that seven minute period, but you can over 24 hours or 48 hours a month. There's such a thing as a learning curve; certain things take a little longer to learn. The companion to that, which is a forgetting curve, is that if you are given new information, you're probably going to forget it within 48 hours. So that speaks a little bit to the sprint. The first impression may stay with them for 48 hours, but what you really want to do is sort of remind them about you as soon as they're about to forget you. In those seven minutes, there's a little bit of a cadence to it. You have to do something to initiate this, but after seven minutes, you need to be reminded. And then after 12 hours, you should get reminded, and then after 48 hours, you get reminded, and there are tactics that are on this timeline. Now, the open question that we don't know the answer to is: how will we as brands get into a ChatGPT or Bing if they're giving just people who are doing these non-branded searches for high-level answers? Okay, that's fine. But at some point, they're still going to transition to, "Who can actually solve my problem?" "Are we going to be paying Bing to be the first to answer, or is he being questioned?" "Your Yahoo has the most web traffic website to be the first answer. We don't know those things, so that's the next frontier we all have to figure out in the next couple of years.

Kerry Guard: The way that we capture those initial users in SEO is that high level. What is content? So around definitions, we are defining something or talking about a framework of how this thing generally works. Google and Bing are going to scoop those up and deliver them as a collective answer because it isn't branded in any way or proprietary. But to your point, where we come in, is that that higher intent? Okay, now they're looking for this versus that. So what are the companies that do this thing? And then there's going to be a list and then they're going to start going to that list directly. So won't necessarily come in through that. I do think you can ask Bing or ChatGPT for listening links so you could be clicking through. It's not going to go away. We are going to have to switch up our strategy a bit in that sense and become more proprietary in the data, the information we're providing, the content we're providing, and those seven minutes on the website. That's a ton of resources. How well can guys compete with all that?

Saren Sakurai: Well, maybe AI is an answer to, "Oh, it's up and a solution to the problem like that." AI, essentially, would hopefully take away a lot of the mundane tasks. So we should be using it to produce 50 AdWords copies. We should use mid-journey to produce 50 different iterations of this banner ad, or they can come up and give us the starting points for a volume of messaging that we can then feed back into the board and see what resonates. I guess that's the optimistic view. You're still going to need a lot of humans, or at least, you're going to need a lot of people thinking really deeply about how to construct content that wins the first impression but is deep enough that it will let people immerse themselves in it for long enough that they pick up on the brand and sort of remember it because they will ask for that list. And at that point, you need them to recognize you as a brand and say, "Oh, I do want to know more about brand X."

Kerry Guard: So let's talk about this in terms of the cybersecurity audience because they're tricky, too tricksters in terms of their trust for branded brand affinity, or, frankly, they don't care. They just want the best solution. So in terms of having content and being really authentic for them, because they're going to see right through. If you would just have ChatGPT produce 50 ads and you try and push about, I imagine that you still need to make your point as a bit of that human. It might produce those 50 ideas, but you still need that human element because you're going to know your audience and what they're going to respond to and they're going to be able to see through things that don't feel right.

Saren Sakurai: We're always going to need humans to curate and collaborate. The cybersecurity audience is unique. They were well ahead of turning off all cookies and going into hidden mode. The team at Silence was thinking ahead about the sprint, as opposed to the longer durations, we assumed that they were just turning all their cookies out. But now, being authentic is always going to be a challenge. Now they are, and my interpretation of them is that they're more on the right brain of it, where surfacing key data points early on, in the first impression, is really important. In my experience, the reports that are developed by the different vendors in terms of what the threat landscape looks like, whether it's an annual report or trying to do it more rapidly, are, generally speaking, 40-page PDFs that we get to download. Right. And, and I think the first impression is a summary or, like, identifying the key point, AI might be able to help a little bit with that and give us some options, but with human to human interaction. So we have to curate what we think are the most salient points and then provide them upfront, because then we can guarantee their authenticity because we've curated them.

Kerry Guard: I love that word. That's such an important word, curate, as it relates to AI. I am a photographer who used to film way back when I was dating myself. I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age, and I think part of that was because I found that a lot of photographers were just spraying and praying, so to speak. That's a terrible phrase, but it's just this idea of love. Even this happens today with digital and on your phone. How many photos do you take of the same thing that then just fill up your folder and your library that you have to curate to get down to those, but who really curates you? So how many duplicates do you have in that folder?

When you don't have digital being able to do so much of that for you, because now we're being served out these lovely, I don't know if you get it on your phone, but like, I'll get albums of my kids doing certain things. And it'll be one photo, sort of the 15th; I probably actually took it as being a bit curated for me, which is helpful. But before that curation happened, it was really daunting. I was all about film and being really thoughtful and intentional about every single image. And then digital exploded, and that became overwhelming. And so it feels, for me, like that's happening. We could have 50 ads created. To curate those is a process, and then to get them in the marketplace and have AI figure out which ones are essentially the best ones that are working seems to be the system. You still need to curate them to a degree, you still need to pick out the best ones, make sure the language is in line, make sure that it makes sense, and you're reading them all. And then getting them out to the marketplace as quickly as possible so that AI can learn and figure out the right ones seems to be more driven by a little less gut instinct, and a little more system is in process. Now. If you want to move faster and get to that sprint, am I on something?

Saren Sakurai: I think that's right. The brand aspect is tricky because an AI will only tell you what it thinks performs best, and that doesn't necessarily convey the brand. But you don't ever want a human being buying your service or your software. You can't go fully into the AI world and expect that we don't even need a marketing department anymore. At a minimum, winning the brand means building that consistency over time to be authentic. Even if I decide what the best ad is, you'd still want to edit it and tweak it. So want to add a visual element that is unique to you.

Kerry Guard: Yes.

Saren Sakurai: I think that's the same in photography; you don't really want to develop hundreds of things in the darkroom. It's a little bit cheaper to do the digital, but even if you were to, there's a point where you say, "This is the best version, and I'm still going to need to improve it to get it into frame before it goes into the frame." The basic thing is that you can't avoid it; you really want human beings to be craft because you know that the audience is still human.

Kerry Guard: I just hope that we're cured. That's so important. We were talking about the sprint and wanted to just pull this apart a bit more. So the elements of the sprint are taking somebody from never hearing of you taking an action on your website, just from point A to point B, being very literal. There are multiple ways to do that. We mentioned a couple of them, from display ads to remarketing to search, ideally in reverse order if you're trying to build up from scratch. In terms of the messaging, you mentioned that you're trying to move your team a bit faster and get more AB testing out there. And that comes down to systems and processes. So could you talk us through how you're trying to coach your team and the challenges there? But in a perfect world scenario, how would you envision the system and process of these two things working nicely together to get the messaging out there to get the ITA thinking to learn what's working and what's not working and then iterating on that?

Saren Sakurai: Thank you. We need to envision marketing as a whole and as a team. A lot of the time, there are multiple departments or different leads to different pieces, but the best way to express the full team is to collaborate amongst them. The primary example in cybersecurity is that there's always a new threat coming, or there's a threat that happened overnight, and we will hear about it through a new source or through a cohort and want to know more about it. And as brands, we need to be on the case of figuring out what did happen overnight and accelerating the ability to take that net new thread and put it into the messaging. So in reality, social media or monitoring social channels may be where you find the most recent threats that have been developing. Now, we need to facilitate that recognition by going over to the marketing group that is doing Google ads. If social picks up on something that just happened, get it over to the Google Ad people and have them build out 50 messages about it, and then put it into the system and test it as quickly as possible. Because those people who are waking up that morning and hearing about it. People are conducting searches on much more specific things. So figure out how to tighten the circle collaboratively, share learnings and insights, and activate messaging outward, based on quick turnaround discoveries. So that's a little bit tricky. It's a pace that you're not necessarily used to. But you have to tighten that circle in order to adapt to the sprint.

Kerry Guard: If you have a template of messages that forked from the past and this new threat, then you should be able to do an A plus B methodology of like threat A happened, outcome B happened, and we do see about it, then the turnarounds should be a bit tighter because you're just dropping in elements versus trying to rewrite the ad from scratch every single time.

Saren Sakurai: At its peak, silence could get this process down to four hours. Now it was all hands on deck, and it was a significant breach. We need to know: does the product actually protect from it or protect our customers from it? So you involve the development team or the research team, and they say yes or no, and if they say yes, we can make the blog post and put it out on social media. moving that many people in concert with one another. It's not an easy thing, but four hours is way better than four weeks.

Kerry Guard: That's really fast.

Saren Sakurai: Yes. And in our day and age, that means cyber threat actors are depending on the vendors not being that reactive. AI is developing threats as fast as it is.

Kerry Guard: So true. Quick question about this, because I know it's a hot topic, as I have conversations throughout my podcast, and this is an interesting one. I had a great conversation with Matt Ziegler, whose show was before this one; people should go check it out, where we talk about messaging, and then the marriage and the balance between wanting to use data and being really intentional and thoughtful about bringing data to messaging, but also being wary to use fear, uncertainty, and doubt. You don't want to scare people into using your product. I don't feel that's what this is doing. It's a fine line. But I wanted to just have a small conversation about that. So people feel the same way about it. I'm reading it not out of fear of uncertainty; I'm reading it very factually: this thing happened, here's the outcome of it, and here's what our project could do about it. It's not like hurry up and get this thing before this thing happens to you and you have to get it like there's a different level of urgency and how you message that I think you're walking very thoughtfully.

Saren Sakurai: This does marry a number of themes from a few of the last podcasts you've had. Factual is good, but factual still can result in fear here, but my theory on it is that there's a framework called the message map, which comes out of the emergency response community, where if a hurricane is coming at you and somebody needs to go on TV to explain what's going on, you can't have like a rambling, get around to the point conversation; you really have to be very specific about it. One of the counterbalances to fear is just being much more clear. You want to state facts, but let's present the outcome in a very clear and concise way, and the Messenger app is really nicely designed. It's one headline, three key points, and then for each key point, you want three data points that support that key point. There's a 32nd version of that, a three-minute version of that, and then a seven-minute version of that, but we want to go in order because, like the headline says, we have an outcome that can help you prevent this from happening to you. And that is not a message of fear. That's an optimistic message. And, as long as you sort of organize the message and have them know how you deliver it, you can sort of not get people all worked up about the bad things that could go on and turn their attention right to the outcome. You add a little bit of emotion to that. The outcome will also lead to positive emotions. At Science, we always like to say that we want to give nights and weekends back to our customers. Let's reduce the number of alerts; they get false flagged. Let's let them go home at five, and have time with their family because they're not getting these alerts all the time, or if we can do our job effectively. They don't have to rebuild computers all weekend, and speaking from an outcome perspective, it does let them accept us as a solution and as an outcome, as opposed to, "Oh, God, I need something now."

Kerry Guard: Tonality matters. So I love what you're saying to have that positive spin of how you help them in a giving way, in a helpful way. If you don't do this, then you're going to get breached, and your business is going to implode. There's a way to present those things, and it's the same data. It's just a different presentation that's more intentional, thoughtful, and optimistic.

Saren Sakurai: Well, it goes back to an earlier point where, as part of your storytelling, the user needs to be the main character, and then you as the brand need to be the mentor. You can tell them about the outcome at the beginning, but you really do need to provide them as part of your content strategy as to what the plan would be. You can do these three things so that your outcome is more guaranteed. And then the follow-up to that, which extends the time a little bit, is just to help them avoid failure like I'm going to give you a plan, but I'm also going to help you go through the planning and take you from step to step to setting up the solution to following up on the tweaking of the solution to upgrading the solution over time. You just have to build that into the story, and it gives you the ability to be a brand; it's a mentor.

Kerry Guard: I love the story brand framework, which is exactly what you just walked us through and what I had a great conversation with another guest on before. The story brand framework gets misconstrued as well, where people flip it to feel like they have to show the greatest of grim outcomes. If you don't buy this thing, it will be the end of the world. and I don't think that's what the writer intended. It's a shame that it's been so poorly misconstrued, because it is a beautiful idea and an impactful and powerful one when you can stop talking about yourself as a brand. I put your customer first, which is what you've been saying, and really figure out what that journey is and that initial sprint to get that first impression. So especially in a cookieless world, and then bring them on that journey through data and intentionality and beautiful optimistic outcomes of what your product is getting that, I want to call it a vacation, so to speak, because that's when somebody's trying to make you book a vacation back in the day. It was really trying to paint that picture of the beach with my tie in the waves, and we're not going to talk about TSA and how they get from point A to point B; we're just going to talk about the vacation and that beautiful outcome. We all need to get back there as opposed to creating this grim reaper mentality, and I just love it. Yes, the message map, is so helpful.

Saren Sakurai: I don't think GPT could have summarized our conversation any better than that.

Kerry Guard: Well, I'll see if I can try. I'm so grateful. Do you have any last words of wisdom as people try and think through their sprint and help capture that first impression in the first seven minutes?

Saren Sakurai: No, I just think it's mostly about following your instincts. You are the expert on your brand, or you've at least been learning as much as you can about it for as long as you've been on the job. Don't think that AI is going to provide all the answers; your gut instinct based on your life experience as a human being is still very valuable. Because the people who are buying your software or your service are human beings, they're not out there to buy from AI, yet they still want to buy it from another person. So instincts don't matter.

Kerry Guard: Especially in B2B, it is human interaction; it is an emotional buy. It is human-to-human. I wish I could leave it at that, but I have to follow up because I truly believe that we are humans and you are more than a marketer, Saren, even though you've been a marketer since the start of your career, which is awesome and sometimes unheard of. And so in terms of getting to know you more beyond being a market, I have three quick questions for you if you have time. The first one is, have you picked up any new hobbies in the last few years, given the changes in the world?

Saren Sakurai: I have a son who's now 14, and he is really into action sports. So I spend a lot more time in skate parks and on the beach watching surfing than I would otherwise. But in terms of the day-to-day, I actually do really like playing with mid-journey. As photographers, we have to talk it through and make it better. But I do like playing with vision, AI-generated images, and see if I can turn a prompt into a brief. Maybe prompting is the new brief. That's my current obsession.

Kerry Guard: I use ChatGPT because I find it very hard to write. So for people who aren't used to creating visuals, I imagine things like my journey are very helpful. So while I might not use my journey because it goes against my craft, I would never fault anybody else for wanting to pick it up and give it a whirl. So that's awesome. Maybe you can share some of your prompts. Give us some of your pictures that we can share. That's awesome. And so in line with a real quick, funny story. My husband's a developer, and he's got friends who are developers, so they always look at him funny because they're like, "You're one of the only developers I know who develops in their free time for fun." This reminds me of that. AI is part of your job and what you do every day, but you also do it in your spare time in ways that are fun. You just love your job and I think that's amazing. I love that. Second question for you. If you could travel anywhere in the world without long lines and expensive tickets, and now that the world is open again, where would you go and why?

Saren Sakurai: I love Japan; I go there all the time. I'm half-Japanese. My dad was Japanese, and my mom was from Ohio. I've heard that there's a very large Japanese expat population in Brazil. I know a lot about the Japanese and half-Japanese in America. I'm curious about the ones in Brazil; the second half is all Latino, and the cultural mix down there would be completely unique. I would love to go there.

Kerry Guard: Well, if you go and have an Instagram that I can follow, that will be awesome. Last question for you, Saren. If you could be with your team in person, maybe you are. Maybe you guys get together once in a while. Maybe you'll fly out to see each other, or maybe you don't. If you were together, what song would you want to play to set the vibe of your group?

Saren Sakurai: Ah, that's a good one. As a liberal arts major, I like when there's a remix of a lot of different styles into something brand new. I particularly like early hip hop because everything was brand new and they were inventing it as they went along. And in the late 80s and early 90s, every record was super unique. I don't know my favorite group is Tribe Called Quest. There's a song in this scenario that is like seven different rappers, all with their own special style, and one song is really good. I think that's my go-to jam, scenario by Tribe Called Quest.

Kerry Guard: Awesome. I'm going to look it up. It's happening. And then I'm going to put a link in this so people can look it up too, because we are always out to find new music. And what better way to do that than through our community? excellent and amazing. Saren, thank you so much. This is what we need right now. We needed this conversation, and I hope everybody feels inspired to change it up. We've got to think differently in this new era, and how to connect with our audience with incredible intentionality is going to take a lot of brain power that isn't AI.

Saren Sakurai: My first name is Saren, and if you look me up on any of the social media channels, it usually ends up with me, so if anyone has questions or thoughts, I'd love to have the conversation.


That was my conversation with Saren Sakurai. If you would like to learn more about the sprint, and how to get your audience never hearing of you to engage on your website for seven minutes, please contact Saren, and as he said he'd love to get in touch.

Thank you, Saren. What an amazing conversation is, such a timely one. I'm so grateful.

Thank you to our listeners.

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This episode is brought to you by MKG Marketing the digital marketing agency that helps complex tech companies like cybersecurity, grow their businesses and fuel their mission through SEO, digital ads, and analytics.

Hosted by Kerry Guard, CEO co-founder MKG Marketing. Music Mix and mastering done by Austin Ellis.

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