PR’s Top Pros Talk… Pivoting Your Business Model
Joy Corso, Chief Marketing Officer, Vonage
How can a brand leverage the power of its legacy when pivoting its business model? Joy Corso, Chief Marketing Officer at Vonage, shares insights on effectively communicating the company’s transition from a B2C to a B2B brand. She also discusses how to assess your competition in the new space and identify opportunities.
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About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: JOY CORSO
DOUG: So, everyone knows Vonage, or at least they think they do, because the company has transitioned from B2C to B2B, and that presents communications challenges, and Joy, that’s your gig navigating that. So, maybe what’s the top challenge when a brand just changes from what it’s known for, to this whole new B2B environment? Maybe you can give us some context of the change itself.
JOY: Yeah, absolutely. And it is the brand marketer challenge, right? You have a company 20 years, just hit our 20th anniversary. First 15 years of that consumer, consumer, consumer, brilliant brand, last five, the pivot to B2B. So, what you have is the double-edged sword, right? You have the power of the legacy brand that folks know and have a positive affiliation with, by the way, but then to shift that, to think about you in a whole different way, it’s incredibly challenging because you do get pulled back continually, right to those roots. So, trying to take the best of the roots and pivot the thinking is the big, big challenge that we are in. As you know, brand building is a journey, right? Doesn’t happen in a month, or a year, or even two years. It is many, many years to offset the brand that you had for 15 years.
DOUG: Right. So, maybe you can tell us what is if we want to call it the newer Vonage? What are the main services that you’re offering to clients?
JOY: Yes, about five years ago, the company started to pivot, and it’s really in the business communications world. So, when you think about particularly now, right, how do you stay connected to your customers? How do you stay connected with your employees? Three big areas for us – unified communications, video calling like we’re doing now, moving your communications to the cloud, contact centers, we know that’s huge for folks, and then things called communications APIs, and this is how things like telemedicine is built with your video APIs, or SMS, or WhatsApp, that is a huge accelerant in the market because folks want to stay connected to their customers throughout their journey.
DOUG: And it’s interesting as a B2B brand, a number of the satellite media tours we’ve done have been explaining how you can access telemedicine, important for health stories, but we don’t necessarily get into how the heck are they making it work, which is really important. One of the things that I would think would be a challenge is for 15 years, the company knew who its competitors were. Suddenly, by switching, you now have a whole different group of competitors that maybe have a head start in that niche area that you’re going for. How do you sort of assess what the competitors are, and what new opportunities might be as you make that transition? And then we can get into how to communicate that.
JOY: Yeah, it’s a great question because Vonage, interestingly, we’re competing with digital natives, right? We are not a digital native, and then we actually, when you built this platform, in those three areas that I talked about, UCC, CRM, API, you have digital native competitors specifically for each one of those, right? So, not only are you taking on individuals, you’re taking on a whole industry now. The good thing about that is they’re sort of all coming where we are. And the challenge becomes, how do you articulate that exactly what you do? And one thing we did was completely change our brand approach from historical to when we first came out around this notion of Vonage does that. That is the new campaign we put into market to make it super clear, use case based, this is exactly what we do, a telemedicine solution, an SMS solution, a contact center. So, that is how we’re really trying to break through the noise in the market and go head-to-head with the competition.
DOUG: And I’m sure you’ve had to use data and analytics to see ok, which is working, which isn’t, because I’m sure if you did a general public survey, they’d still think you were a phone service offering, but clearly in your market it’s not. How do you go about measuring what’s working and what isn’t, and can you be nimble to make changes?
JOY: That’s a great question because brands are a little bit soft sometimes, right? So, multiple ways. You have your standard click-throughs of your ads, your website visits, sort of your run the business metrics, but we also do a brand study every single year. We just finished ours, and we look at it for our business decision makers and developers, that’s a really big ecosystem for us. So, not only do we look at, are we getting pickup for your standard advertising, sort of display ad, that sort of thing, but is it changing the perception of your brand? And I’m really happy to say, it hugely moved the dial when we changed our brand campaign to be very direct, very to the point, and as you know, lots of folks look for something that’s really humorous, and out there, and try to be breakthrough. I really do believe when the pandemic hit, there was such an overwhelming, it’s almost like a tsunami, right, of digital ads that came at you. I don’t think folks had the attention span to try to figure out what you do if you had something really funny. I think they wanted you to get from A to B as quickly as possible. So, when we changed up that branding to be very direct, humorous, right, and still interesting, we saw a big uptick in understanding what we do, and that was a big hurdle for us to understand what we do.
DOUG: Yeah, and that can be challenging to use humor effectively. For ourselves, like being in business for 35 years, we’ve had to reinvent, and every company goes through. What have you maybe learned from your own experience as we know so many organizations, whether it’s because of the COVID pandemic as a trigger, just how time changes have accelerated so quickly, have to think of themselves differently, have to be rebranding constantly? Any tips for them to go about that process effectively?
JOY: Well, I think it’s a fine line. I think, and you said it, you have to reinvent yourself to stay relevant, but at the same time, you’ve got to have some staying power, so folks understand who you are, right? That’s the fine balance. How long do you keep something in market? And I think as marketers, we get excited to do new stuff, but yet our market maybe really doesn’t quite get it. You’ve got to see it a thousand times, right, before folks get it. So, I think it really is the balance of having some staying power if you’re seeing some traction, because when we’re just starting to get sick of it internally, your market’s probably just starting to understand it, right?
DOUG: And that’s such a great piece. Now, another change is how CSR, which has been important, it’s almost becoming a new category. ESG, which seems to be more about impact than communicating the good stuff you’re doing. Can you maybe explain how you’re tackling that issue?
JOY: Yeah, it’s really interesting because it’s holistic for your company. Because I think folks expect public companies, big companies, I think companies of any size, to do good in some way, whatever good is for them. And by the way, I think your team members internally do, your candidates that are coming in to work with you do, your partners, your suppliers, I think this notion of doing good and being a good corporate responsible citizen, it’s table stakes now. I think years past we’ve been around a while. It was sort of, yeah, you had a handful of folks that did it and that was nice. I think it’s table stakes. So, we’ve really rethought how we’re going to do that, and what we did was we re-established our Vonage foundation, our non-profit arm, to really connect to accelerating the world’s ability to connect. And it is about supporting your mission, right? Yes, you’re a public company. Yes, you’re for profitability and shareholders and all that good stuff, but at the end of the day, you should find that way to connect it to your vision, to do good. Again, and I’ll say it whatever good is, your lens is your company.
DOUG: Thanks so much for participating.
JOY: Absolutely, such a great time. Thanks for having me.