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Julie Knight-Ludvigson on what it takes to build a people-led brand

August 10, 2021

The CMO of Unit4 explains how she’s using culture, technology and an ambitious marketing agenda to stake out a purpose-led positioning.

There are many different ways to relaunch your brand: a high-profile ad campaign, a PR push with interviews in trade newspapers and blogs, a big conference designed to make a splash with customers and prospects. However, none of these things were the first stop on the schedule for Unit4’s CMO Julie Knight-Ludvigson. She first introduced the company’s new purpose and identity at the ‘Unleash’ HR event in Paris, in October 2019. It’s a clear signal of the priority she attaches to building a brand that’s all about people – and to marketing taking a hands-on role across all aspects of the organisation.

“There was a time when the marketing function was just the marketing function in its own silo,” says Julie. “That has changed significantly. If I look at marketing within our organisation, the role that we play spans everything. We are involved in the entire customer lifecycle, not just bringing in new customers but helping them be successful. We play an important role in corporate strategy, in partner strategy and in the employee experience. When we launched our new brand, we did a lot around what our purpose means to our employees; how it translates into our success and our people’s success.”

The marketing strategy starts with the brand

The brand launch was a strategic need that Julie had identified even before she joined Unit4. Following a string of acquisitions, the business had become a major player in the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software market. However, it lacked a compelling sense of identity.

“Unit4 felt more like a holding company than a brand,” she recalls. “When I discussed what I wanted to focus on during my interview process, building that sense of purpose and identity was really top and centre. A lot of CMOs come in and focus on demand generation and building pipe, but we realised that there were a lot of things we simply couldn’t do unless the rebrand was accomplished.”

On joining, Julie kicked off a four-month discovery process that involved interviews with customers, employees, analysts and board members, and which clarified the way forward. “Our strapline is ‘In business for people,’” she says. “It resonates very strongly with the services industries that we serve, which are often very mission and purpose-driven themselves.”

Building a people-centric brand is about far more than just finding the right positioning though. “We built the narrative and the visual identity, but that was just the start. We’ve continued to build from that ensuring we live our people-first brand promise in everything we do, from our products, to our go-to-market, and in particular, employee engagement,” says Julie. “We’ve done a lot around work-life balance, such as people taking the time that they need rather than having a set amount of vacation days. When Covid hit, we put a range of wellness programmes in place to help people when working remotely. It’s fundamental to our brand that the whole person is important, not just the work person.”

Where culture and technology meet

Unit4’s marketing strategy is built on culture. As Julie explains though, it’s also increasingly built on data and technology. “Digital transformation in all aspects of the business is vital for the people experiences that we want to create,” she says. “Our marketing before was serviceable, but it was by no means stretching the boundaries of what we could do and where the market and our customers were going. Now there’s a greater willingness to experiment and we’re seeing really good engagement as a result. I can’t overstate the importance of having a good understanding of how your tech stack works. The benefit of having worked at start-ups is that I’m used to testing and selecting tools on a day-by-day basis and having a real input into what we use.”

The most important contribution of that tech stack has been aligning sales and marketing around an approach that brings Unit4’s new brand positioning to life. “The relationship with sales has really evolved – and there are two things that have helped to bring us together,” says Julie. “Firstly, there are the shared KPIs that enable us to focus on pipeline as a currency and really understand the health of our go-to-market. Then there’s our account-based strategy. As a team, we have a list of a few thousand accounts and a collective go-to-market approach for targeting, engaging, analysing intent and seeing where customers are at.”

Technology can’t solve every alignment problem or deal with every challenge that’s thrown up in a market disrupted by the pandemic. However, a shared sense of purpose at C-suite level can go a very long way indeed.

“None of this works without a shared sense of leadership,” says Julie. “There are always going to be frustrations, whether that’s leads not being followed up or there not being enough pipeline. There isn’t a company out there that hasn’t faced challenges in the pandemic, but you have to approach it as one team. That’s marketing and sales, but also the business development organisation, customer success, professional services, the partner team. As a C-suite, we’re a close-knit group and we’ve only become closer over the past year. We’ve been able to demonstrate the value of marketing to the business and build a real sense of partnership. As a result, we feel more capable than ever of adapting to what comes next.”

Tags

CMO
Brand purpose
people first
marketing strategy
culture
Martech
leadership
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