If you're looking for truly insightful advice on the vital role of marketing in your go-to-market strategy, today is your lucky day. Holly Watson, Senior PMM at Amazon Web Services, picked the brain of marketing whiz Gastón Tourn on the GTM-FM podcast, and we’ve rounded up the highlights just for you.
In case you’re not familiar with Gastón, here’s the scoop: he's a master storyteller and the CMO of Curio. He's also been at the marketing helm of Appear Here, Emma, and Badoo Group (yep, the one that owns Bumble). And did we mention his time at Google?
In this chat, Gastón discusses:
- The diverse role of marketing teams in crafting go-to-market strategies
- The biggest misconceptions about marketing
- How to build your storytelling capabilities
- His vision for the future of marketing
- And his unique piece of advice for aspiring marketers
Sounds interesting, right? So, let's dive in.
The diverse role of marketing teams in crafting go-to-market strategies
Marketing is a fascinating function because it brings together such a diverse mix of skills and responsibilities. Sure, every function can say the same, but when you look at the finance team, for example, you usually find a similar profile of people. Whether you're an accountant or working in FP&A, you're generally analytical and numbers-focused.
But when it comes to marketing, it's probably the most diverse function in any business. You've got everything from highly creative folks to analytical number-crunching types, and the magic happens when these two worlds collide. That's when marketing truly drives value.
Now, this may be a bit of a stretch, but I often describe marketers as the philosophers of the tech industry. Here's why: we're the ones asking "Why?" Why does this matter, and more importantly, why does it matter to our audience, our customers?
In a tech company, you've got engineers and product managers who set the company's rhythm, building things – the app, the platform, the functionalities. However, they're not always stopping to think about why they're building it and what value it brings to our customers.
That's where we marketers step in. We need to be that voice questioning, "Why does this matter to our audience? How does this add value for our customers?"
From that starting point, which is essentially product marketing, we then move on to articulating that value in clear, simple terms. That's what the rest of the marketing functions do. For instance, demand gen articulates the value in a clear, compelling way, while brand marketing articulates it in an emotional way that connects deeply with the customer.
All these different functions work together to articulate and amplify the value that product marketing identifies and creates. And it all starts with that one fundamental question: "Why does this matter?"
Typically, engineers and product managers in tech companies don't have time to ponder this question because they're too busy building the next thing. That's why it's up to us in the marketing department to keep asking that question and finding ways to articulate the answer.
The biggest misconceptions about marketing’s role in GTM
What I’ve found consistently is that most companies misunderstand the place that marketing should have in their business strategy. Usually, when it comes to go-to-market, marketing tends to be perceived as solely a promotional tool. While promotion is critical, it's not the whole picture – far from it.
We're all familiar with the four Ps: promotion, product, pricing, and placement. Yet, a lot of companies fail to realize the full value that marketing, encompassing all four of these elements, can bring to their business.
I've also noticed that product marketing tends to be overlooked, especially in smaller organizations. As businesses grow and solidify, however, product marketing becomes one of the most important aspects of the marketing mix.
My time at Google was a prime example of this. Every marketing role there incorporated a significant portion of product marketing. We were all focused on product positioning, defining the correct messaging strategy, determining the right timing for launching new features, and the optimal packaging of different product elements. In short, product marketing had a massive influence on the company.
This approach, however, isn't as common in startups. They tend to view marketing as just the promotion team. That's my battle when it comes to working in smaller organizations: making people aware that marketing shouldn’t be an afterthought.
Marketing shouldn't be just promoting features or products built by someone else. It should be a key player right from inception, questioning whether a feature is right for customers or if a product fits their needs. In short, marketing should play a major role in a go-to-market strategy – not just in promotion, but also in influencing product, pricing, and placement.
How to build a powerful narrative for your brand
As I mentioned, one of the biggest misconceptions about marketing is that its sole function is promotion. There's so much more to it than that.
Another fallacy that I've seen consistently – and it really annoys me – is around the notion of storytelling in marketing. It’s not that it's misunderstood by others; ironically, the misunderstanding often lies within the marketing teams themselves. Let me tell you what I mean…
Once, while working for YouTube, we were tasked with building YouTube’s narrative – the story of what it is, why it matters, and the value it brings to the world. My first instinct was to lean into business storytelling frameworks that dissect the value a product like YouTube delivers to users and customers.
But what I found was that these traditional types of business narratives aren't real stories because they get bogged down in static functionalities or specific value propositions. Real stories are never static. The essence of storytelling is about change, a journey, and unfortunately, most marketing narratives overlook this.
Stories can't be captured in a diagram. Instead, they should follow a story arc, a simple framework that charts change – something more commonly associated with writers and storytellers.
However, there’s a common misunderstanding amongst marketing teams. When we say, "Let's build a narrative" or "Let's tell the story of this product," we rarely harness the frameworks that real storytellers use.
I came to this realization while doing a master's in creative writing at Oxford University, alongside my work at YouTube. In the world of creative writing, populated by screenwriters and fiction authors, the concept of a story is strikingly different from its interpretation in marketing.
We, in marketing, have fixated on the term 'storytelling' without really understanding how to craft compelling narratives. The way forward, I believe, is to learn from fiction writers and storytellers, and to move away from business sources.
In fact, I once designed a pitch deck for YouTube's leadership team, titled 'What would Hemingway say about the YouTube story?' Here, I incorporated genuine storytelling tips from Hemingway himself to improve our narrative of YouTube.
So, this is a misconception I'd love to see debunked within marketing teams. I’d urge all marketers to lean into authentic storytelling and draw insights from accomplished writers. There's so much we can learn from them.
Book recommendations for sharpening your storytelling skills
If you're looking for a book to help you up your storytelling game, I highly recommend "Ernest Hemingway On Writing." It isn't authored by Hemingway, but it includes quotes and texts he penned throughout his career, offering invaluable storytelling tips for writers. Even though it's targeted at fiction writers, it’s one of the best reads I've come across on storytelling and is packed with insights that can be applied to marketing and advertising.
One of the main takeaways from the book that I often challenge marketing teams to contemplate is Hemingway's assertion that characters must have flaws. He argues that without flaws, it's impossible for us to form an emotional connection. As humans, we connect more deeply when we recognize that things aren't going entirely right, or when someone shares their vulnerable side with us.
For example, nobody wants to keep dating Mr. or Mrs. Perfect after the first date – it gets boring very quickly. We want to see their human side, the real deal, and brands learn a lot from that. I've noticed that many marketers are petrified of showing anything less than perfection. However, being real about your flaws could actually be a powerful way to foster an emotional connection with customers.
So, give that book a read – it might just transform how you approach your marketing narratives.
What's next for marketing?
There's a burning question in the marketing world these days: Should we prioritize a product-led or customer-led approach? It seems like people often pit these two against each other; however, I would hesitate to create an artificial tension between these two approaches because they should be incredibly connected.
Some companies, particularly tech-driven ones, tend to forget an essential aspect of a product – the service. Your product isn't just what you're offering, but also how you're offering it. The level of service you deliver for that product is absolutely critical. Your product could be the best thing since sliced bread, but if your customer service sucks, no one's going to love it. Stellar service is a key component of your product, and too many companies overlook this.
So, in my opinion, it's not about being either product-led or customer-led. It's about blending both approaches and recognizing that the product doesn't end with the physical or tech component you've built. It extends to the folks who service and market that product; they play a key role in shaping how people perceive your product.
In the last five to ten years, I've noticed more and more CMOs taking charge of customer service teams. This trend will likely continue because customer service is such an important touchpoint. Often, companies obsess over the tech or the platform, treating customer service as an afterthought. But here’s the thing: that tech or platform becomes irrelevant if the customer service experience falls flat.
Look at a company like Amazon – it's killing it when it comes to customer service, and everyone recognizes it for that. It's not just about having an amazing platform; they've nailed it because whenever you run into a problem, you know it'll get sorted out. That level of service is part of the product. So, we should bear this in mind with every product we craft.
Mastering storytelling: A novel approach
Before we wrap up, I’d like to leave you with one final piece of advice. If you’re looking to enhance your storytelling skills, set aside any storytelling books that are written from a business perspective.
If you're aiming to become a proficient storyteller – which I firmly believe is a crucial skill in the world of business, and particularly within marketing – then delve into fiction. Look to the masters of storytelling. I've already mentioned Hemingway, and as someone from Latin America, I feel compelled to recommend authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his iconic work, "100 Years of Solitude".
I've found that these literary masterpieces inspire more effective marketing techniques than any business-focused books on storytelling I've read. So, if your goal is to become a formidable storyteller, my advice is to discard any business-centered books on storytelling and lean into the literary greats.