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The Ethical Cybersecurity Marketer

Mike Krass • Friday, November 4, 2022 • 22 minutes to listen

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Hello, everybody, and welcome to What's the problem, the podcast that explores problems, issues, considerations, and anything that's a hot topic to discuss in the world of cybersecurity.

Today, we are fortunate enough to have Clark Barron.


Mike Krass: Say hello to our listeners, sir.

Clark Barron: How are you? It is very good to be here. I've honestly been looking forward to this since our first conversation. I'm super pumped to dive in.

Mike Krass: As are we. Clark, tell our listeners why you are qualified to talk about security.

Clark Barron: I came into cybersecurity as an outsider, and I was a long term old grizzled into an agency that worked with digital marketing agencies working for small brands and big brands, and now I'm in cybersecurity and have been for a few years. I've worked with products, services, and security awareness training to threaten intelligence to appliances, and you name it. I take quite a different approach to marketing in cybersecurity as a whole, which we're certainly going to dive into. The landscape of marketing in cybersecurity is something I'm quite passionate about and looking forward to diving into.

Mike Krass: I love that breadth of experience. Everything from working on the vendor side to working on an agency or consulting side. Not that you need my validation in any way, but it's just awesome to have folks across the board, not just on one side of the fence or another but also in different security areas. So that's awesome.

I'm going to cheat here, Clark. Normally, I ask the guest what issue they'd like to discuss with our listeners, but I already know the issue you want to discuss because you and I have been talking about it. And that issue is the concept of ethical marketing in cybersecurity, otherwise explained. Can we talk about "white hat" marketing and "inverse black hat" marketing in the world of cybersecurity? Get our listeners up to speed with where you and I have been.

Clark Barron: It's interesting. After being in cybersecurity for some time and coming from the agency world, I started to realize that there are so many similarities in what we do as marketers and just actors do in the world of cybersecurity and some of the things that our buyers are trying to defend against our tactics that they're already used to trying to stave off and keep it there, and we're just using the same ones against them, like doing our research on personas where most actors are doing a recon and we're installing automation to try to retarget them and nurture that account and just completely dominate and control that relationship to where we see wherever they go. It's things like that that have made me rethink some of the. The approach to marketing and try to inject a little bit of self-awareness and empathy to some of the practices that we use. I in no way want to paint marketers as malicious hackers or black hats.

Mike Krass: Yeah, we sound like terrible people so far.

Clark Barron: I've had tons of conversations about this, and it just so happens that while some of those tactics might be similar, our intention is very different. We want to connect with our buyers, we want to provide solutions to some very serious problems going on in the world of security. But somehow, there's still a very strange relationship between vendor and buyer. I wanted to try to dig into the psychology of that and figure out why. And so I thought, "Hey, maybe there's just this innate feeling within our buyers that causes them to repel." Are we missing the mark somewhere? Once I started to see those similarities, there's got to be something here.

Mike Krass: Now, when you talk about missing the mark, or are you talking that was a kind of a high-level statement? Are you thinking of product marketing? The message and the ideal customer are in misalignment. Is it the execution? Maybe the message is great. People don't want to receive 600 phone calls daily from you as a vendor. What do you think is in misalignment there? Or is it all of the above or nothing that I've mentioned?

Clark Barron: I will say that many things are happening on the vendor side, with marketers in particular, which is awesome. There are many podcasts and pieces of content out there that are dedicated to working on the relationship between marketers and our audience. Tons of effort is going into improving old ways, and we'll get into that a little bit. But for the most part, just taking a different approach that puts our audience first, and you mentioned execution versus a couple of other things. I think that with something like messaging, there's an improvement to be made there. Take a look at this year's Black hat. How many booths? Did everyone see that? Said 100% protection. Do you think our buyers believe that it is out of touch? Are we just trying to compete with each other? And we're losing track of who we're actually trying to market and sell to? Who is our audience? Is it each other or the people that matter? And in terms of execution, you absolutely nailed it: the phone calls, emails, and whatnot.

I've been in a position to where, and this is where empathy and self-awareness come into place. I've been in a position where being between me signing an offer letter. The moment I got my login credentials for my new company email account, I had over 20 emails from vendors already waiting in my inbox, without knowing who I was and what I would be doing in terms of the full scope of my role. It felt like ambulance chasing, and from there, it became relentless. We go through that all the time as marketers with more tech vendors. How does it make us feel when they do that to us? Why would we turn around and use the same tactics toward our buyers?

Mike Krass: That's a great example of self-awareness of placing yourself in someone else's shoes.This is the play that you could spin up and that you can run that play having been run on you. How would you react? That's a great information nugget or an action nugget for the listeners. You mentioned the ways of old. We quickly talked about having 20 emails way in your inbox before you can start it. So they might further that one of the examples of the old ways that are not empathetic and not self-aware are to effectively not personalize or even know what the person is going through or what they're trying to achieve in the role when you're reaching out to them. Is that an example of one old way? And if so, what are some other old ways?

Clark Barron: Yeah, that is a primary example of that. We have to focus on building personal relationships; sales do that, and they know they're improving every day. Things on their side are getting a lot better, but in terms of marketing, we control a lot of things that sales doesn't have a hand in. And some of that is messaging or depending on your role, positioning, or what the brand is. And so the fact that we're throwing we're just carpet bombing information and outright reach out there before we even have vague information about our actual buyers. Whether you're doing a vertical approach or an ABM approach, you've got to do that research before just carpet bombing would be the word. And I honestly think a lot of that has to do with alignment in goals and KPIs. If you're looking for MQLs, and that's it, and you don't have a well laid out definition of what that means if you're trying to collect information or what there. Then, sure, that might be a way to do it, but as a marketer, I don't like to go off of just a blonde MQL or something like that.

I take a lot of pride in what I do, and the teams that I work with do as well. And so we want to contribute. We want to provide additional lift and hold the hands of our buyers a little bit further down the funnel. We want revenue, and we want actual growth. If we focus more on the long-term growth of the organization that we're at, then everybody will thrive in our tenure at these companies and will be fruitful for us and everyone involved.

Mike Krass: Yeah. I've got an example I wanted to share with the listeners, and this is a phrase. I always think it comes across as a little bit of callus, and it's just super direct. And you can attribute that to my German heritage, half German, so that's what my German people did. They're very direct. I always say when you can pay me in clicks and MQLs, I will worry about clicks and MQLs as the primary motivator and metric we're going after. But as far as I'm concerned, there's no altcoin called Google Ads clicks that exist that pays me, that I can turn around and pay my mortgage with. So ultimately, well, I need traffic. Clicks are essential. If they're not getting there, then they can't convert into anything down the line. But that being said, it's the beginning of that relationship. So I always use that phrase and click on MQLs like, what are we doing here? It doesn't seem to be the metric that everyone will rally around in this organization.

Before we transition to our last question of the show, I just asked you a little bit of the ways of old kind of painting that picture, and naming some of those ways give a very vivid image of the concept of carpet bombing, and I can feel being carpet bombed by a bunch of vendors. I've been there, and I will also admit that with our own marketing, we've probably made somebody feel comfortable bonded at one point. It wasn't essential, but it's what we did.

Clark Barron: We've all done it.

Mike Krass: So let's end on a high note, not on this visual carpet bombing people. What are a few ways of news that you would recommend to the listeners?

Clark Barron: Provide value and ask for nothing. Give them something that is not only what they want but what they need. As a vendor, look at your product and see what problem it solves. Triple down on it, and don't claim to do anything that it doesn't. Like 100% protection or something like that.

I was watching another podcast recently where CISA was saying, if you go to something like Black Hat, just come to help. And as a marketer, in terms of the kind of content we're putting out there, there's some debate on, well, I'll say a lot of debate right now on gating versus ungating content, etc. That's the entire rabbit hole. But put yourself in the shoes of someone that wants to help. They have problems. That is one of the most stressful industries on the entire planet to be in. We have to provide lift for them without asking for anything in return until we've earned a relationship with them. If you keep that top of mind and focus on value, you will win. You have to let them know that there's no game going on. You're not trying just to bait and switch anyone, nothing shady is going on. You legitimately genuinely want to help them. And you can do that just to provide as much value as humanly possible and ask for nothing. Because the more you do that, when they are in marketing when their budget comes around, you have been in touch with them this entire time, and they're going to remember that when they needed X, you were the one there, and you didn't ask for a thing.

Mike Krass: I am going to turn myself into where I said that would be my last question before we transition to the end. Because I just love this concept of earning their attention, trust, and relationship with them. Can you tell us about a time when you earned the trust and a relationship with somebody at some point in your career?

Clark Barron: Sure. At a previous position, we were doing security awareness training, and there are some big players in that space, and we had a prospect that was having an issue with a different vendor, and they came to us. It was actually cold outreach. And we had provided some research to them, and they called us and said, hey, I've got an issue with this. Do you know anything about this? They were talking about our competitor's platform and running phishing simulations for employees. And so, without being a customer, nobody had written us a check at all. We provided data to them, not necessarily as a sales or marketing tactic on our side, but to validate their own data.

We acted as a consultant for a company that wasn't paying us a dime. Sometimes you got to take that pro bono work, honestly. It's not going to be any amount of time that will set us back in any way and say, we've got a couple of hours. Let's jam on this because there's value there for us, competitive intel, but that's what we're there to do. We're there to help. And so, how can we help?

Mike Krass: I love that line. How can we help? And that's the perfect transition to our final question. Clark, we ask this of all of our guests, so we always talk about at the very end of each show. We ask the guest to tell us about a terrible haircut they've had at some point in their life. So, Clark, tell us about your terrible haircut.

Clark Barron: So if you look at any of my pictures online, they're fairly casual and pretty recent. In most of them, you'll notice I'm wearing a hat. So the worst haircut I've ever had is the one I have right now. And I'll tell you why.

My twelve-year-old daughter, I'll give you one guess as to what she wanted from me for her birthday. In addition to a new longboard, she loves to skate. She got to cut my hair. I've had pretty long hair and a giant beard for quite some time. I cleaned up the beard, and my partner, my wife. I can either shave it off or let it grow out, but, for the time being, we're just going to roll with a myriad of different hats, caps, headdresses, whatever's lying around or turning off the camera on, zoom, you name it. I'm going to say right now, but the look on her face when I told her she could do it and handed her a pair of scissors was all worth it.

Mike Krass: I love it. Clark, this has been a real pleasure, my friend. I appreciate you making time to be on the show.

Many of our listeners often say that Clark said some things that I could get down with, and I'd like to talk to him a little bit further professionally. For folks who want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that?

Clark Barron: Yes, absolutely, LinkedIn. I've got it open in a tab or on my phone all day. If you go to my profile, you'll see a couple of featured pieces of content where I've had some conversations with folks, and this will also be there discussing this exact topic. And I welcome all conversations because the ultimate goal is for all of us to rise together. And I think that the way that we do that is maybe taking a different look. And some of those conversations can be tough in terms of, like you said at the very beginning, can make us sound like terrible people. We all know we're not. We all know that we just want to help. And so let's figure out a better way to do that and be more effective and connect.

I think one of the ways that we can do what I mentioned earlier about earning that relationship is to start with us and just jam on topics like this, just like we are, and put out some sensitive topic that nobody's talked about in a while or wants to, and see how we can improve. I would welcome any conversations and anything I can do for the listeners. I'm looking to provide value. If I can provide value for you in any way, reach out. Let's do it.

Mike Krass: There you go. That's the invitation you all have been waiting for, listeners. Clark said to reach out and talk to him.


I wanted to thank the listeners and follow Clark's lead.

At MKG, we are turning our different content into distribution, planning, and production workflows into assignment templates. Workflows that we can share with you. If anybody wants the workflows we are using to help our clients, we are happy to share those with you. All you do is go to MKG Marketing, hit us up on the contact page, and we'll make sure to copy those links over into your Asana so that you, too, can have some workflows you can mess around with.

Thank you for listening to What's the Problem, the show that explores problems, situation scenarios, and issues in the world of security.

Until next time.

Clark Barron

I'm Clark Barron, a full-stack demand gen & product marketer who thinks like a red teamer. If I can bring value to your team in any way, please reach out. Check out the site below, where you can find out more about my cybersecurity marketing philosophy, skills, and experience.

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