Marketing in Silicon Valley: From Apple to Avaya

Image courtesy of Avaya

Andy Cunningham is one of the best-known public relations and marketing professionals in Silicon Valley — one of the few to have her own Wikipedia entry, and one of the very few to be portrayed in the upcoming Steve Jobs biopic.

After moving to Silicon Valley in 1983, she collaborated with Steve Jobs on the launch of the Apple Macintosh computer. She continued to work with him closely on Apple, and under the auspices of the newly-founded Cunningham Communication, Inc, she also worked with Jobs on public relations for NeXT and Pixar — two groundbreaking companies that have had tremendous influence on the technology and entertainment world.

In 2012 she launched a marketing consultancy called SeriesC, and today she is the interim Chief Marketing Officer at Avaya. Enterprise Innovation sat down with her to gain an insight into what it has been like for her to be at the forefront of the technology marketing space, what are some of the lessons she has learned along the way — and, of course, what it's like to work closely with Steve Jobs.

You've set up SeriesC with a somewhat unique business model. Could you talk more about that?

It's a marketing consultancy and we do a lot of different things — we do project work as it relates to marketing; we help small companies bring their innovations to market, and we help large companies get traction for their stuff. Occasionally, we also take on interim Chief Marketing Officer roles. I've known [Avaya CEO] Kevin Kennedy for a long time and he asked me if I would do it for him for two years, and so I completed the first year just about a couple weeks ago and he asked if I would do it a third year and I said I would. That means I have two more years to go, which would put me double the amount of time compared to a normal CMO — the normal tenure is 18 months. I'm the 8th CMO there in 7 years. It's tough. It's not just Avaya.

It's a culture thing I suppose?

Yes, it's that technology companies really don't understand how to choose marketing people. They don't understand how to do it and they typically choose the wrong one at the wrong time and it doesn't last very long. My personal expertise is brand but I have a team with other expertise so I bring them in — whether it's a product marketing issue or a lead generation or analytics issue.

What do you think is missing in the marketing aspect outside of Silicon Valley that you would recommend people do better? Why is Silicon Valley more successful at marketing, in spite of its engineering slant? 

The practice of public relations has been the primary leading marketing function in Silicon Valley and we have a press corps in the US that is very open to that. They want to write about technology; there have been tech reporters since the late 60s, early 70s, so our entire press corps system has been set up to pay attention to technology companies in a big way. I'm not sure that's true in the rest of the world, so I don't know if it's so much what our companies are doing, but more of what our press corps has done.

And I think for companies, PR has been a very big deal for them for 40 years, so we do a lot of PR — it becomes a very big piece of the technology marketing equation, and that's important because education is such a critical thing when you have technology companies. You have to educate people. Back in the early days [the question was] what is a semiconductor, what is a computer, a disk drive — what are these things? And now while everybody knows what those things are, technology development happens so fast that we still have to educate people about what that technology means. America has spent a lot of time and energy and resources on the PR piece of the equation. And I don't know about Singapore but in other parts of Asia, the press just doesn't operate the same way at all. Singapore is perhaps more like the US, but if you look at China or Japan or some other places, the press is not at all like it is in the United States.

About the convergence between team communication and contact center engagement — can you provide specific examples of how that convergence can take place in organizations, and what are the barriers you've seen in the companies that still try to grapple with it? 

I think in the past the two things have been considered separate products. You have a unified communications product line, and you have a contact center product line. Oddly enough they use the same products, so when you put them together you can actually measure how productive a team is with their unified communications in engaging with the customers through the contact center. So when it's one system — because they're the same product anyway — and one set of analytics, you can measure productivity better, understand how much you're getting out of the entire solution. 

What are some of the challenges to make that happen for organizations? 

I would say it is profitability that is driving all these decisions. People are beginning to see and measure how profitable they are, what's the loyalty rate, the total lifetime value of a customer, what's the repeatability — all of those things are now measurable. So if it takes someone three days to get back to a customer, it's very obvious on the metrics dashboard. Analytics have become a huge part of business in general but of marketing in particular. We now know things we didn't know before and it's causing behaviour to change.