Facebook CMO Gary Briggs spoke at Built In Chicago's exclusive event for Chicago's digital leaders at the end of May, imparting wisdom he gained as the social network’s first-ever marketing chief and the former marketing head at Google and eBay North America. A veteran technology executive, Briggs shared insight on company growth, mobile strategy and what it’s like to manage a top technology brand. Here are the highlights from the luncheon:
How does technology branding differ from traditional marketing?
“The product is the brand and the brand is the product, and that is true in a lot of tech. A mistake a lot of people who come out of traditional marketing and into tech make is missing that pretty significant point. What Mark realized a couple years ago, though, is we should go beyond that thought and think about more proactive marketing.”
What does the CMO at a company like Facebook do?
“My focus is, at the core, product marketing: introducing new features. When the company first started, when we introduced new features, we sometimes didn’t communicate those changes at all. We do a better job now.
Learning when to listen to users and when to not listen to users is my role. A lot of the feedback we get is extraordinary, in terms of direct data and indirect data, and understanding how people are using our products is fed into the marketing thinking and theory. Are they having the right experience, for them? How do we get them to use more features?”
What are the challenges of product marketing and what advice do you have for companies to combat them?
“There was something like 3 million users on Facebook when Newsfeed launched, and a million signed a petition to shut it down. And Newsfeed is now the core of our business – so you have an organization which has learned that the user was, in this particular case, absolutely not right. If the company were just a profile page still today, it would not be what it is.
It does help to have the founder there. Makes the feedback loop more efficient. Although [eBay] did well with connecting with sellers, it was much more formal and less fluid than what I've found at Google and Facebook. Mark is extremely nonhierarchical, which helps with the feedback loop. Any time you're finding multiple people are involved and you're not interacting directly with people using your product, you have a problem. The feedback loop needs to happen very fast.”
How does mobile factor into your strategy?
“We've crossed over to the point where more people are active on mobile on Facebook every day than they are on desktop. The majority of our revenue now comes from mobile.
Take Instagram, they're a mobile company. They don’t really have a desktop product. They built on iOS first, then worked on an Android app for about a year. WhatsApp, that business is all mobile. This is how fast the move to mobile is happening.
Mark said at a company meeting awhile back, ‘We need to make the shift to mobile.’ Soon after that, if a product manager then came in first with desktop mocks, he just kicked them out. ‘Unless you start with mobile, I don't want to see what you're working on.’ That changed the company – everybody realized you have to build everything on mobile first. We used to have a mobile department, but we folded it back into the org and made everything mobile.”
Privacy is a white-hot issue. How are you dealing with it?
“We think about it all the time. It's a big part of my job. I have a cross-functional team who vet every product to make sure it conforms with privacy standards. The mission of the company is to have the world be more open and connected. The question of how you get there, folks' readiness to do that and the nature of how info gets shared is very openly discussed inside the company.
We're at the point where you're going to see [policies] that are less global and more regional or more country specific. It's also very different country-to-country – the privacy perceptions are very different in Germany than they are in India, and very different than in Indonesia. A given country's sensibilities, culture and historical experience, their view of the modern economy, all plays into privacy and how people think of themselves relative to others.”
What has worked for companies like Facebook, eBay and Google as they scale to size? How do you maintain company culture with such rapid growth?
“Both Google and Facebook are really good at story. Both offices are like college campuses, very open environments. The power of story connects people to the core principles of what a company is all about.
What struck me most about Google – and they did this for a long time, still to a large degree – is Larry Page was involved in every hiring. They are pretty ruthless about the hiring bar. Making sure you're making really smart hiring decisions is really important. I joined Google when it was 24,000 people and Larry was still making all the hiring decisions.”
One thing Facebook does well is that a lot of our HR leadership came out of operating worlds, and so have a strong understanding of product, of what engineering deals with each day. That gives them more credibility to be involved in decisions. Lori Goler, who runs HR at Facebook, used to be in marketing at eBay; Laszlo Bock runs HR at Google, and he was a consultant at McKinsey. It makes a difference.”