MarTech Edge Interview with Emma Robinson, SVP, Global Marketing, ThoughtSpot | Martech Edge | Best News on Marketing and Technology
MarTech Edge Interview with Emma Robinson, SVP, Global Marketing, ThoughtSpot

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MarTech Edge Interview with Emma Robinson, SVP, Global Marketing, ThoughtSpot


Published on 7th Dec, 2023

Welcome, Emma!

Can you share the key milestones and experiences that have shaped your professional journey leading up to your current role as the SVP, Global Marketing at ThoughtSpot?

I actually started my career as a systems developer, which allowed me to cut my teeth around coding early on. At that point in time, Y2K was bringing a dramatic change to the technology market as we were trying to prepare our systems for a new era. It was through this lens I found my love for technology.

From there, I joined the early ranks of Salesforce – and this was at the rise of a movement called “no-software” as a way to position the power of cloud computing. We were creating a new model for SaaS and CRM that was unheard of at the time. From a marketing perspective, it was a true category creation and education exercise that included ‘consumerizing’ the cloud. Users wanted to have the same experience at work as they did at home with the consumer tools they came to love, such as Gmail, YouTube, and Amazon. The mission of Salesforce to own cloud computing gave me an appreciation of how important community is in brand building.

This experience led me to join Google Cloud in the very early days. My job there was the inverse – making consumer applications like Gmail and Google Maps more applicable to enterprises. This was a fascinating time to be there as Google was synonymous with its ads business and it was a new monetization path for them. The challenge for me as a marketer was to enter and compete in an existing productivity tools market where incumbents like Microsoft have been the primary email service, with Outlook for over 35 years. We had to build premium features for businesses, find change agents, and convince them to move to Google Apps for Work. It was a fun time!

Looking back, I see two key threads woven through my professional journey. First, from a strategic perspective, is the importance of data and analytics. As marketers, we have to be grounded in insights derived from data to determine the next best actions to take, for example, the right time to monetize products or features and when to sunset products. Second, from a creative perspective, I’ve worked in vast, competitive landscapes where the product I have marketed is the “underdog,” and the competitive stack is strong and difficult to penetrate. This presents the best opportunity for creative and fun marketing.

That’s what brought me to ThoughtSpot – we’re a disruptor, coming in with a new point of view and way of doing analytics, ready to transform the legacy business intelligence market. Lorraine Twohill, Google’s CMO, says, “to know the product, know the magic, and connect the two.” It helps to think about that philosophy in competitive marketing. Once I understood ThoughtSpot’s product and brand experience, I ‘knew the magic’ and could not look away.

What are some significant challenges marketing professionals have faced in 2023, and how have you effectively addressed and overcome those as a marketing leader?

The first, unsurprisingly, was economic volatility. As marketers, we have to be very clear about the problem we solve for customers and quickly quantify the value of what we’re providing. This is increasingly important in today’s market, where budgets are being reduced and tools are being consolidated. Many marketers understand that data provides a competitive advantage, but those insights are typically hard to get their hands on. We are happy to help our customers keep pace with compressed modernization by giving them the ability to make decisions based on data. Not only that, but marketers need data-driven tools to convince the CFO or financial decision-makers at their company of the right campaigns and resourcing. Tools like business value assessments and calculators are especially important to drive business decisions during these economic headwinds.

In line with the economy, cost reduction challenges and reductions in force can be very disruptive and unsettling – everyone feels it, directly or indirectly. In these cases, working on team morale and change management is important. Regroup teams, foster communication and teamwork, give people a sense of purpose (for example, through employee resource communities), and build and reform so nobody is left behind. Such a big part of our business today centers around bringing people together and rallying around the new normal. It’s crucial to encourage investments in well-being, both physical and mental health.

Third, we cannot ignore the generative AI wave. It’s not only impacting how we bring new features to life in our product but also the marketing investments we’re making to help customers. It’s helping us personalize at scale and appeal to some of our buyers in different ways – whether through understanding impactful tonality in email communications or supporting SEO at scale with writing assistance.

Finally, the changing nature of customer needs is always a challenge – albeit an exciting one. It is vital to keep engagement with our customers high. Luckily, at ThoughtSpot, all of our teams are encouraged to connect with our customers, at least on a monthly basis, to help us adapt to their changing needs and anticipate what’s next. We have programs in place to really understand the voice of our customers – from inviting them to our all-hands and company kick-offs to creating our customer advisory board.

What unique attributes differentiate ThoughtSpot from other vendors in the realm of AI-powered analytics platforms?

Since our founding, ThoughtSpot has worked toward a mission of creating a more fact-driven world; in doing so, we’ve pioneered AI-powered search for data. We recognize that generative AI and foundational language models have redefined how machines and humans interact and, in the process, unleashed a new era for the world of data. However, this also means that organizations face a new challenge in ensuring this ease of interaction doesn’t sacrifice specificity or accuracy in analytics.

Companies need a unique foundational background to make generative AI and large language models work in a real-world business context. In this new era of business intelligence, legacy analytics players like Tableau are way behind the starting line because they were never built with this kind of foundational structure. Large language models promise to make interacting and conversing with data easier than ever before, but doing so in a trustworthy and actionable way will require the kind of analytics platform we’ve spent a decade building.

On its own, GPT is unable to handle the complexity of real-world business data because it works by taking input from the search bar in natural language and generating a simple SQL statement. But by harnessing large language models like GPT and building machinery around it to make it work with enterprise data and analytics, ThoughtSpot Sage allows organizations to intuitively search analytical content and create charts and visualizations based on natural language search – all without sacrificing accuracy, reliability, governance, or security in the process. 

Which sources do you rely on to stay up to date with current marketing and business trends?

I’m an avid podcast listener, and my favorite is Marketing Against the Grain, hosted by HubSpot CMO Kipp Bodnar and Zapier CMO Kieran Flanagan. It’s a weekly podcast that covers everything from AI to cloud to market innovation to trends and what growth levers you can pull as a marketer to differentiate and stand out.

I’d be remiss not to mention The Data Chief, another pod on my download list hosted by Cindi Howson, ThoughtSpot’s chief data strategy officer. There, she interviews modern leaders and change agents from organizations such as Netflix and Mastercard. Her 30-minute interviews delve into all sorts of topics related to using data and analytics to solve business challenges and drive business results.

And generally, to stay ahead of trends as a marketer, we have to be culturally savvy and in tune with the latest zeitgeist. Being a curious consumer of content, especially on social media, allows me to have a finger on the pulse of the current market and be aware of trends we could tie into our marketing campaigns. Despite being a B2B brand, there are valuable lessons to learn from the consumer world on showing up as a brand in a fun and unexpected way. 

How does ThoughtSpot Sage harness the full potential of business data with its advanced search-driven analytics?

Too often, companies struggle to equip their workforce with data insights, leaving powerful decision-making tools siloed within analytics and IT teams. Companies have copious amounts of data, and while storing it has become more affordable in the cloud, allowing non-data experts to make use of that data continues to prove difficult. ThoughtSpot’s mission has been to democratize data so that anyone can ask their business questions and get answers from data like they would from a Google search.

Every kind of user – business user, data professional, or product builder – can use ThoughtSpot. We help get the right facts to the right people through AI-powered analytics via natural language search. Search enables users to formulate their data queries in plain language and immediately get insights they can take action on. Whereas it would have traditionally taken hours, days, or even weeks for data analyst teams to examine vast amounts of data and share actionable answers, it can now take minutes. At the same time, this reduces the burden on data teams and frees them up to drive more strategic business initiatives.

What’s more, ThoughtSpot delivers a complete platform spanning the entire spectrum of business intelligence needs, from ad hoc novel analysis with a code-first approach to code-free self-service exploration and AI-driven monitoring powered by natural language. With ThoughtSpot’s low-code developer-friendly platform, ThoughtSpot Everywhere, customers can embed AI-Powered Analytics into their products and services, monetizing their data and engaging users to keep them coming back for more.

Thanks to AI-driven search analytics, ThoughtSpot enables businesses to tap into the value of their data and deliver customized experiences for customers, optimize operations, and drive revenue, which is key in this economic climate.

How do you adapt your marketing strategies based on varied market needs and conditions of different countries and regions while maintaining a consistent brand message?

As we’ve grown our global presence, we’ve been cognizant of the complexities of establishing ourselves in a new market. My philosophy is - Think global and act local. 70% of your content investments and strategy can be applicable on a global stage, but 30% must be adapted to the local market. Having boots on the ground in new markets makes a big difference, and we’ve had a valuable opportunity to hire locally, which gives us firsthand knowledge of nuances. Even if we don’t have employees or a sales team on the ground, we make sure to work with partners in each local market to provide counsel and review creative work. As a growing business, we cannot translate everything, so the key assets we can create are critical to be able to show up locally and resonate in new markets in Asia Pacific & Japan, and EMEA.

As an example, we recently held a ThoughtSpot Beyond event in Japan. For that, we went beyond translation to create a truly localized event. Our product managers ensured that our AI-powered analytics product, ThoughtSpot Sage, was built out in Japanese (despite the LLM being trained in English), to show the adaptability of this product in different markets. And the local audience really appreciated that – our Japanese business thrived because of that extra mile despite lacking a sales team on the ground. It’s a great instance of product and marketing teams coming together to land an audience and make an impact.

How will the acquisition of Mode Analytics by ThoughtSpot usher in a new era in the field of Business Intelligence?

The joining of ThoughtSpot and Mode boils down to what our customers have been asking us for a while: bridging the gap between data teams and business users – giving data analysts a tool they can write their own queries on and perform ad-hoc analysis while also serving the needs of the business with the ability to build their own reporting by using natural language search. And we’re doing so in a unified, dependable, governed, and safe analytics platform that is built for the modern data stack. This allows us to put reliable, meaningful insights into the hands of all users through natural language search, generative AI, or using a code-first approach with languages like Python.

For any acquisition, you have to have patience – not everything can happen overnight. So many systems and processes need to come together in addition to the people and culture of the two companies. Beyond that, it’s about aligning the two unique values that ThoughtSpot and Mode bring to the market. It’s an important exercise to understand both audiences and bring them together.

What is exciting about Mode’s product is that it sits on the opposite end of the spectrum with data analysts. That brings a nice synergy, message, and value proposition for our data, product, and business teams as we look to define our joint customer voice. Together, ThoughtSpot and Mode offer a comprehensive solution that empowers both data analysts and business users to extract maximum value from their data. This union allows ThoughtSpot to provide increased value to new and existing customers while expanding its market reach and capabilities for data teams as they look to adopt AI-first analytics.

What do you anticipate will be the next significant breakthrough in marketing analytics?

Marketers generally want easy-to-use, frictionless ways to extract value and show impact on investments. Every part of the B2B customer journey is changing dramatically and growing more complex – from brand awareness and selling to the continued relationship with the customer. Finding the right attribution for marketing given the challenges we are seeing with channel diversification and ad platform consolidation, predictive analytics will be crucial to plan and test user journey mapping and performance. I am sure we will see use cases like customer churn prediction and lead scoring increase in importance here, too.

As a result, marketers need web and mobile tools that allow them to look across data sources to spot pattern abnormalities and conduct a multi-channel ‘what-if analysis.’ It’s not just about making informed decisions on the data you have access to within your company’s walled garden but about bringing datasets together from different sources to make more reliable predictions.