Will McInnes | CMO Brandwatch
September 5, 2020

InterviewsWill McInnes | CMO Brandwatch

Meet Will - the CMO of Brandwatch, the world's leading social intelligence company. We talk about bridging the gap between media and tech, the skills the CMO of tomorrow needs and morning routines.

Will At Work

How do you bridge the gap between Brandwatch being at the intersection of digital media and being a tech company? As a long time user I’ve seen Brandwatch as synonymous to online media, yet ultimately you provide a tech based product/service.

You put your finger on perhaps the most interesting part of what Brandwatch is about. We are a tech company, we sell software products, but the domain we work in is just so current, so rooted in the ‘now’ that – by virtue of the billions of public digital signals that are shared globally every day – we have the opportunity to reflect back how the world is responding to events, how people feel about a political issue, a new flavor of milkshake, a natural disaster. We live in the middle of all of that. I suppose the way we bridge the two is that we built a brand that promises readers and journalists the data to quantify and better understand the cultural zeitgeist, in the hope that by operating as a media service we also demonstrate the practical value of this kind of digital consumer intelligence.

What skills do you think the future generation of CMOs require? And how do you think we/they can hone these skills?

Through peers I have personally seen a ton of breadth in who and how you can be as a CMO, which I think is exciting as it opens up the playing field. There’s no magic formula or narrowly-defined ladder. Added to that, it’s a uniquely broad role probably second only to the CEO role in width rather than depth. So rather than dig into specific tactics I’m gonna go for a few elements that are at the core of being a CMO:

  • Can you empathize with the people your marketing needs to reach?
  • Can you distil a complex world into a succinct brief, strategy or set of priorities?
  • Can you catalyze a group of people to get behind that distillation?
  • Can you get shit done?
  • Can you create a culture of constant learning and improvement?

Honestly, if you can do those things, you can be your flavor of a CMO. And in there can be storytelling or spreadsheets, digital or out-of-home, extroverted product evangelist or introverted team builder. And what’s beautiful about thinking about it this way is most of us can practice getting better at that stuff wherever we are in our careers and whatever we’re working on right now.

If you could give startups 3 rules of thumb to use for their marketing strategy, what would they be?

Experiment to find what works, do more of what works.

Zig when others zag.

Start building for the long-term today.

What are you most proud of achieving in your tenure as CMO at Brandwatch? Can you share your top 3 things?

Team. Our marketing team is truly world-class. Our alumni have amazing jobs in amazing companies. We have genuinely gathered together and developed the most fantastically talented group of humans. 

Long term mindset. Our CEO Giles Palmer has promoted a culture of building for the long-term. And we have done that in the marketing team as well as in the development of the whole company. Our content marketing, our search rankings, our design DNA and brand – they pay the bills every day and have been years in the making. We don’t rent our success, we own it and we built it brick by brick.

Scale. With luck, good decisions, effort and whatever else, however you look at it, from an HQ in Brighton, we’ve together created a significant organization with thousands of customers, a culture we care about, and it’s quite remarkable. There’s always more to do and so much further to go, but we’ve achieved the scale that I wanted us to when I joined nearly 7 years ago.

What are your ambitions for Here Right Now?

Kind of you to ask! I know it’s a cliché for a tech bro to start a podcast in the pandemic, and yet here I am. On some bodily level I think I realized that I needed a creative outlet that was all mine. And yet again I’ve been reminded that side projects are amazing for motivating and enriching the people in our teams, because I’ve loved creating it and learned stuff I never would have otherwise, all of which help me be better at the day job. For ambitions, I like to aim high so in secret (please don’t tell anyone) I’m hoping it becomes a household name for sharing unbelievable insights into how the modern world is changing before our very eyes. 

You can listen to Will’s podcast here on Substack

Will After Hours

Can you take us through your morning routine? How do you make sure you start off your days and weeks right?

Ha! Well, my best mornings include exercise before work, ideally outside – so a run or a bike ride, or Zwift if it’s miserable outside – and have an unforced pace that isn’t too hectic. Cuppa tea with the missus in bed prior to that, and oatmeal with pb and coffee after exercise. That’s me ready for the day! Starting the week right is a lovely area to consider, too. Earlier in my working life I realized that I do my best head down, flow work in the hours of 5 am (if absolutely necessary!) to 1 pm. And that afternoons are better for conversations and co-ordination. So I take a block of time on Monday morning to get a personal view of the week, be clear about what I want to accomplish, what needs planning for or adding to the schedule, and then through the rest of that Monday I  get together with a few key groups in my team to do the same. That starts the week really well. 

What are your tips for showing up as your best self?

Love this question, particularly because – thanks to consistent 360 feedback for over a decade – I know that peoples’ experience of me on a good day can be drastically different to me on a bad day… I show up as my best self when I’ve slept well, when dramas or distractions are properly attended to and so not brought into the room, when I remind myself that peoples’ intentions are almost always good, when I’m not hungry. So it’s the boring but important stuff – sleep, meditation if I’m feeling cloudy, slowing down with rationality to calm my emotional self, taking breaks between back to back Zoom calls. It’s a lifelong work in progress, and I think the pandemic has provided an extra challenge for us all. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Not exactly advice but I love what Michelle Obama says about being in the most elite conferences, discussions and board rooms around the world and realizing that the people there are ‘not that smart’. As much as that’s a worrying thought, that doesn’t surprise me and I actually believe it’s freeing and helpful to treat people who are apparently ‘senior’ or ‘important’ as normal people. My experience is that it’s levelling and reduces the anxiety in a situation, and that too often we can unwittingly diminish our own power and value. So I guess an empowering angle on ‘treat others as you’d like to be treated’. 

Most of us are travelling a lot less due to the global pandemic right now. Where is your dream travel destination?

Oh, Japan! My 15 year old son is convinced he’s going to live there and I’d love to go on a reconnaissance mission and drink in the total culture shock, the wild futuristic cityscapes and incredible food, and then slow down through rural Japan, somehow spanning seasons between some lush snowboarding and before finally reveling in the fabled cherry blossom season in Spring. 

What are your biggest motivations and inspirations?

Entrepreneurs inspire me. Particularly those that create initiatives that truly make the world better, that address the unique challenges of our time – to me, there’s nothing more exciting than creating something from nothing, from changing part of the world, improving it. And as motivation, it’s the same source – I can do more in this world, I’ve got a deep yearning and energy in me to make more of an impact. This world needs so much more. 

Will McInnes hosting Now You Know Brandwatch conference by Owen Billcliffe
Brandwatch Now You Know 2019 | Photo by Owen Billcliffe Photography | http://owenbillcliffe.co.uk

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