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Meet The Marketer: Bennett Porter, VP of Marketing Communications at SurveyMonkey

“Never ask a question when you’re not prepared to change in response to the answer.” That’s one thing Bennett Porter has learnt in a distinguished digital marketing career which stretches from pioneer days in Silicon Valley to her current position as Vice President, Marketing Communications at SurveyMonkey, the cloud-based polling platform.

I spoke with her about about helping invent the digital marketing wheel, and what CMOs need to know today about technology and teams.

Growing up in Manhattan

Porter is an unabashed east coaster, and can hardly believe her current Bay Area location. “I grew up in Manhattan in the PR world, and started out in a very traditional agency space at Ogilvy working on integrated accounts.” She found a niche with tech and consumer tech accounts like Turbotax, Quickbooks, and Quicken. “Then these clients started to move onto the Internet.”

Although she “hated the west coast,” there was clearly a lot going on out there in the late nineties. In particular, there was “this company with a weird name. I mean, how can there be a company called Yahoo!?.” It was looking for someone to do what was then called “buzz marketing”–going after non-traditional earned media; a role which essentially combined marketing and PR in support of sales.

A company with a weird name: Yahoo!

Porter took the leap and started with Yahoo! in 1999. It was a matter of “starting to make the intangible tangible”: convincing people that it was safe to shop online; teaching advertisers the meaning of cost per click and cost per acquisition; trying to figure out “what parts of the old vernacular could translate to the new learning. What did we need to reinvent?” A fascinating period, she recalls.

In 2007, she took over responsibility for marketing in South East Asia, then in all Yahoo!’s emerging markets. The mission was simple–go and chase the next billion. “It was one of the most challenging and fascinating things I’d ever done. But then Yahoo! started to go through…a swirl.” It’s a familiar story, of course, of board room dissent and a parade of  half a dozen CEOs between 2007 and Marissa Mayer’s arrival in 2012.

Another weird name: SurveyMonkey

When the opportunity arose to work on a new project with the late Dave Goldberg, who Porter had known at Yahoo!, there were two reasons to hesitate. “Disdain for the west coast,” of course; and the prospect of working for a company with another weird name, SurveyMonkey. But Porter found Goldberg to be a “remarkable” person to work with, so she took the reins on marketing and communications as SurveyMonkey established the online survey space.

“Fifteen years ago, remember, people were using market research firms, email blasts, or having conversations.” There were no other tools. And for a non-profit, or a school district, or even for a department–like HR–within a larger company, there wasn’t really any cost-efficient and timely way to get feedback on performance. “SurveyMonkey filled a gap in the market rather than displaced competitors,” Porter observes. “It was an elegant tool which gave back structured data in a timely fashion.”

And who hasn’t used it, either to collect information or as a respondent? The SurveyMonkey data mountain has grown dizzylingly high over recent years, and somewhere along the way Goldberg asked: “What are you guys doing with all these data?” Porter recalls that it was assumed that the data belonged to clients, and that there was nothing to be done with it. “But can’t we help people understand it?” 

But can’t we help people understand it?

Recognizing the value of the fresh data it was gathering on a mass scale, SurveyMonkey started to offer comparison services (on an aggregated and anonymized basis). In April this year, The Hub reported on the launch of Benchmarks, a subscription service which offers quality data-driven benchmarks against which individual companies can measure performance. 

As Porter explains, survey data on its own has limited value. You can benchmark your company’s own performance against its own results over time, but how is it doing now, and against its peers? SurveyMonkey’s new services “help people frame and understand their data a little better.”

Marketing stack and marketing team

When I ask Porter what technologies she relies on in her role, the answer is immediate, and not really surprising. “We’ve become very reliant on Salesforce. It’s very helpful to us,” especially given the transition from being an on-demand service accepting credit card payments from transient subscribers to having a B2B sales team. “Salesforce,” said Bennett, “has been helpful not only on the sales side but for customer service and even for operations.” SurveyMonkey can, of course, test its own product: it does, after all, run surveys. But bringing customer satisfaction data into Salesforce “helps us manage our sales team better.” With sales, team performance, and customer satisfaction data no longer siloed, there’s transparency into sales reps’ performances.

As for social media management–“Facebook has been incredibly successful for us”–Porter’s team has used HootSuite for social listening, but has recently introduced Spredfast to the mix. “Spredfast’s analytics and tagging” has been really fantastic for us.”

You’ve still got to have a heart in the organization

Given the importance of technology tools–and data–for marketing today, does Porter look to recruit team members with a tech or data science background? “I’m looking for people who are smart, people who are curious,” she said. “They must respect data for sure, but you’ve still got to have a heart in the organization. The two things really balance each other out. There’s a finely balanced relationship between creativity and data.”

For Porter, that means “creative-informed rather than creative led.” After all, you need to be prepared to change creatively in response to what the data is telling you. Which is where we came in.

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