In this series of articles we go backstage with a marketing rock star. We sit at their feet while they share with us what made them rockstars, what excites them and what we might learn on our journey to marketing rockstardom.
Amber Osborne is CMO at Doghead Simulations – the company behind rumii, a social-virtual reality space that enables collaboration in VR. Not from your typical marketing background, Amber sat down with Ian Truscott to discuss feeling like an imposter, destroying stereotypes in business, and the challenges of working in a nascent, disruptive and emerging market.
What would be top of your rider for your next marketing gig?
No meetings before 9am
Mandatory weekly karaoke team building exercises
We don’t use any marketing tools that you need a degree in said tool to use
Marketing should always be done while products are being developed, not just after
I don’t know how to use Snapchat, so don’t ask
Going viral is not a marketing strategy
What or who are your marketing influencers?
I didn’t think I was ever going to end up in marketing; I always feel a bit of imposter syndrome like that Talking Heads song ‘Once in a Lifetime’ – how did I get here? I’ve had a knack for meeting people and making connections all my life, but like most people who grow up in a small town, your goal is just to get out of said small town – there’s that feeling that something bigger is out there. Then I got kidnapped by Russians and taken on the road to peddle merchandise.
Well, half true. It was a band called the Red Elvises and my older sister and I started helping to market their shows and working the merch table. After that, I met some local bands in Florida which then turned into doing street team management and promotions for larger record companies. I was working a ton of big name concerts in high school and college for pretty much all the bands in the early-2000s. It was a lot like the movie Almost Famous if I had to describe the experience.
Every event was a lesson – my time backstage, in venues and on the streets trying to market other people – not only in marketing but also in how to brand yourself (as most artists/musicians do). I took it all with me after I graduated college and turned that into the ‘Miss Destructo’ brand about destroying stereotypes in business, being a six-foot-tall, blue-haired young woman. I started a blog and a Twitter account to help me promote my writings. Through networking on Twitter I found other bloggers and marketers to connect with.
I’ll never forget the first time I was invited to a big time, fancy pants marketing conference about ten years ago. I felt like such an outsider; everyone had their books, huge successes and tons of years of agency and marketing experience, and here’s some broke, lanky, weird gal from nowhere Florida who has a popular Twitter account. People like author/marketer Scott Stratten (known for his Unmarketing book series and blog) really helped break down those barriers for me, introduced me to people that are still cornerstones in my life today and supported me through some rough times.
I learn from people and experiences and have been lucky enough to have the motivation to put my social anxiety on the back burner some moments, to propel myself into life to have a lion’s share of ‘real world’ education, and happy accidents to help me build my career. I met my last co-founder through Twitter talking about cars and ended up in Seattle building and marketing an AI for social media platform. And my current job happened because my now-husband decided to drag me out of the house to go to a Halloween party where I met my current co-workers at Doghead Simulations. I thought having business meetings in VR would be a great solution for my not wanting to wear pants to work problem. You never know where you are going to end up.
If I was Spotify, what would I play for you first thing Monday morning to get you going?
I live in Seattle, so I naturally drink a lot of coffee and listen to Soundgarden.
The curtain pulls back, you step out on the stage of your new marketing gig – what do you open with?
Curse words and tons of coffee! Since I come from the world of community marketing and fan bases, it is all about finding your audience and having proper customer relationship management (not just the CRM tools we all know and loooooove so much). I am talking about that first, “Hey, welcome to our house, have a seat, make yourself at home.” The conversation that you have with new customers – all the way to getting that irate, angry customer back in your boat with a hug. As much as you might to want to use some duct tape.
The audience is dancing in the aisles, it loves that track. What keeps the house jumping?
Get to know your industry of course, but what is important is getting to know the industry you are marketing to. I think people stay in their industry bubbles too much and forget to explore the [different] worlds and connect on a human level with the people they are marketing to. We are a virtual reality company, so it is key to know industry trends and what the “new hotness” is in our industry, so we keep ourselves and our product current and competitive. But our customers are mostly in the higher education field, which has its own key players, challenges and barriers of entry – especially in technology. Knowing how to solve their pain points and speak their language is key for sustained marketing success.
You’re playing a huge stadium; how do you know the audience can hear your tune?
Most companies judge revenue and tons of customers as the biggest success indicator, however when you are marketing a product in an emerging and disruptive industry such as virtual reality, the market share is a very tiny handheld meat pie, instead of a gourmet apple pie. For us pioneering companies, it is growing steadily but it still can be challenging telling people they need to stick a box on their face and, “No trust me, it’s really cool in there and will change how you will want to educate and communicate.” But as the movie Shaun of the Dead states, “There is no I in team, but there is an ‘I’ in meat pie.”
You have to sometimes create your own performance indicators in emerging markets beyond just revenue and hordes of customers: number of downloads, happy vocal customers, return customers, monthly active users and new adopting markets are all important indicators of success. For me, if I see a new market actively talking about and using our product for uses we didn’t even think about, we are doing something right. Lethbridge College in Canada use us for an all-day conference in virtual reality (probably one of the first), using our VR meeting software rumii, and that opened up our eyes to new product uses and market opportunities.
What would you throw from your hotel window into the Rockstar CMO pool?
I don’t listen to 80% of the crap that other marketers on the internet tell me I have to do. It is great to learn and try out things, but use the processes that work best for your company.
What’s got you rocking today?
It is so exciting to be in the virtual reality industry right now. I love to see how innovative our customers at Doghead Simulations are with our VR meeting software rumii. Colleges such as Full Sail University are using rumii to teach some of their game design classes in, we’ve got people connecting remote parts of the world with educational facilities. It is crazy how communication is being changed, too. We have all of our weekly team meetings in VR and I can work from anywhere! The products in virtual reality coming out are beyond just gaming, and the things people are using virtual reality for is way beyond what I could have ever imagined. Medical, physical/mental therapy, industrial training... heck, even fitness. I lost ten pounds in a month just by using a VR game called Beat Saber. Virtual reality is becoming more affordable with standalone headsets like the Oculus Go, I can’t wait to see the future of this industry.