The Changemakers: Q&A with Jess Ellis, Senior Director of Brand Marketing, Khoros

Digital-first customer engagement platform Khoros is on a mission to revolutionise customer experiences. Formed out of a 2018 merger of two of the most powerful CX platforms around, Spredfast and Lithium, Khoros is one of America’s fastest-growing companies and regularly recognised as one of the USA’s best places to work.

Khoros’ global brand marketing director Jess Ellis steered the organisation through a hugely successful process to create the Khoros brand, and now leads a team of 12 brand marketers and creatives at the company’s Austin headquarters.

Our business director Dave Corlett caught up with Jess to discuss how she and her team have turned the challenges of the last year or so into opportunities to be bolder and more creative.

DC: How has creative thinking helped Khoros to face the challenges that the pandemic has thrown up?

JE: Like many teams in 2020, our organisation experienced several marketing plan pivots. We prioritised creative thinking over traditional methods in response to our customers/prospects who were affected by the pandemic’s push towards a holistic digital transformation of their businesses.

Our company had a Sales Kickoff days before the quarantine in March 2020, where we had aligned to focus on ‘being bold’ in our marketing and sales initiatives and increasing our brand awareness as we were only one year into our rebrand.

In the early days of the pandemic, we reorganised our messaging, budgeting and marketing plans for Q2 and Q3, and sharpened focus on a strong ‘people first’ push. We created a new cadence of assets and content for our customers during the early days of the pandemic, including: launching a real-time cumulative landing page resource centre to support customers and prospects, standing up a Q&A webinar series led by our strategy experts that focused on specific industry segments, and offering trials of products and services in the first 6 months of the pandemic.

Lastly, our traditional in-person event pivoted towards a completely virtual experience, where we aimed to have the same high level of standards for the most personalised experience possible. We managed to triple our participation levels and achieve wonderful feedback from new and previous attendees alike. 

JE: Creativity is always valued but even more so during a time where we are operating remotely from each other and our customers.

We had just ramped up our creative and content team last year and were freshly moved into a new office building with a studio space where we had planned to experiment more with our visuals. We’ve had to find ways to work better together, such as moving to digital whiteboarding, adopting breakouts and workshops in our working teams, pivoting to an agile workflow, and harnessing flexible working hours.

This may or may not be a result of the past year, but we also seem to be taking chances more, be it going after a new medium like a podcast, putting dollars into new paid media strategies or adopting tools that we are looking to utilize more for testing and user feedback… which, hopefully, will allow us more data to lean on with the creative and content choices we have made.

DC: That’s amazing! So with all that in mind, would you say the events of the past year have resulted in creativity being valued more highly at Khoros now?

DC: What emerging new trends or themes do you think B2B tech marketers and creatives need to have an eye on?

JE: One thing of note was that the influx of virtual webinars began to feel passé almost immediately. Finding unique and different ways to connect with prospects and customers, while everyone is suffering elements of exhaustion from the past year is top of mind.

We are interested in ABM, high-touch interactions and a return to direct mail, with a renewed focus on C-level executives and personalisation efforts on our website to continue to foster a bespoke connection with our prospects and customers. 

JE: As a marketing department, we lean on the Insights Color Personality profiling to best work with each other and understand everyone’s communication style on a professional level. This helps us make sure that ideas get heard from those who are introverted and extraverted, providing the team with a common vernacular to understand where everyone is coming from and build a foundation for greater inter-team empathy.

We do a lot of anonymous Google surveys too, to help gather new ideas; this might be the format for how our department meetings are held, what flexibility is needed by an individual, or even a survey on meeting-free blocks of time on the calendar. This helps everyone have a voice in how the work day and week allows them to do the best and most creative work.

Personally, one of my creative influences come from Creative Mornings, which is usually a buzzy in-person networking event but is all virtual right now. There’s a great revolving roster of creative people and shared experiences.

I also really love the Ideo and InVision websites; a trove of influential resources that can help boost design and creativity amongst teams.

DC: On a personal level, who or what is a major influence for your creative approach at work?

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