How To Avoid Burnout & Thrive In Marketing with Carol Carpenter of VMware & Kage Spatz

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Carol Carpenter Marketing Expert

I encourage everyone to take the time that they need for self-care. Make your list of what you need to do to remain energized and recharged. It’s not easy! Whether it’s turning off your camera during meetings more frequently, or mixing it up and getting outside to take a walk — whatever it takes to energize yourself, you have to make it a priority.

As a part of my Marketing Strategy Series, I’m talking with fellow marketing pros at the top of their game to give entrepreneurs and marketers an inside look at proven strategies you might also be able to leverage to grow your business or career. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Carol Carpenter.

Carol Carpenter joined VMware in June 2020 as Chief Marketing Officer. As CMO, Carpenter is responsible for leading all aspects of the Global Marketing organization, which includes Brand, Partner, Solutions, and Field Marketing.

Carpenter has more than 25 years of technology sector experience. As the former VP of Product Marketing at Google Cloud, she led the transformation of Google Cloud from its early stage to its leadership position in cloud — building the team, crafting the brand positioning and campaign playbooks, enabling sales and the shift from products to solutions in its go-to-market.

Prior to Google Cloud, Carpenter was the CEO of ElasticBox (acquired by CenturyLink) and has held leadership and marketing roles in technology at Trend Micro, Keynote Systems, and Apple.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting and what lesson you learned from that?

So many! I started out my career at Apple. I was a liberal arts major and I’d gone to business school, but I knew so little about hardware, software and how technology is created and built. I remember when I was new to Apple and joined my first meeting with one of the hardware teams. They were talking about chips and networking and using many acronyms — it was all so far above my head.

I thought one of the acronyms, LIFO, was an accounting term, Last In, First Out, but it actually referred to the way that chips process data. So, I used it during the meeting in the wrong context and the whole room burst out laughing. It was embarrassing, but it was valuable in that I learned if you don’t know something, you should just ask. It’s always better to ask questions upfront.

It may be difficult to ask such questions due to imposter syndrome, which is particularly common to feel when we first take on new jobs or are new in a new domain. This was a big lesson for me in how to overcome the embarrassment and find the lesson from these moments. When you realize you don’t know everything, knowing when to ask for help can actually be empowering.

When I was at Apple, I ended up asking a friend for weekly tutorials where he helped me better understand technology — how circuits work, how the software works, how the software and hardware work together, and why it matters. I owe a lot of that early knowledge to him.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

I was at Trend Micro and I had been brought in as a VP of global marketing. One of the general managers for the SMB and consumer business left the company and left some big shoes to fill. The CEO, Eva Chen, called me and asked how I’d feel about becoming the new GM. Initially, I was unsure of myself in filling this role, but she thought I was the right person, and that I was ready to fly. It was Eva’s confidence in me that gave me my own confidence.

After that conversation, I took a workshop called True North. It was all about figuring out what your true motivations and passions are. One of the questions we explored was, how do you go from “me” to “we”? That was such an eye-opener for me. I realized the success of my team was far more important than my personal success, and that the success of the team would reflect upon me as a leader. I would be judged more on that than on anything I did as an individual. That was a seminal moment for me.

Part of the learning was realizing I couldn’t do everything; I couldn’t be in every meeting. So, I focused on hiring the very best people that I could and getting the right framework in place so that the right decisions could be made. That general manager experience made me a more pragmatic marketer, because when you have a P&L, you have to commit and get laser-focused, and think about what will move the needle for your organization in a practical way.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

I’ve been fortunate to have a few mentors and guiding folks in my life. At Apple, I worked for a woman named Barbara Cardillo, who was the VP of product management. She was a petite person with incredible command, control, and influence. She just knew how to influence and drive outcomes. I learned so much from her because she taught me you can use humor. She helped me understand that power and influence come in many shapes and sizes and how to wield it with thoughtfulness.

I have great respect for Eva Chen, the CEO of Trend Micro, whom I mentioned earlier. She took a chance on me and is one of the few female CEOs in tech. She is so smart and human; that combination is rare. Another woman is Sue Barsamian, who was an executive at HP, and is now retired and on many boards. She has been a strong sounding board throughout my career.

The other thing I’ve done at different times is create what I call my kitchen cabinet. When I was CEO of ElasticBox, I had never been in this position before. I asked friends, acquaintances, and other first-time CEOs to meet with me, and I bought them dinner in exchange for picking their brain for insights. I had never done this role before and I wanted to be able to ask a safe, impartial group for advice.

Now I have a CMO network where I reach out to other CMOs, whether it’s for quick questions or longer conversations around trends, what other folks are seeing, or bouncing around ideas.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

That’s such a great question, especially over the past year during the pandemic. I think we all experienced some degree of burnout during these difficult times, myself included.

First, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, so hang in there! Second, I think we all must practice self-care. As much as your manager or company can share guidance, it’s equally important to make sure you take the initiative to exercise, eat well, and rest. At the end of the day, we are in our homes more than ever.

I encourage everyone to take the time that they need for self-care. Make your list of what you need to do to remain energized and recharged. It’s not easy! Whether it’s turning off your camera during meetings more frequently, or mixing it up and getting outside to take a walk — whatever it takes to energize yourself, you have to make it a priority.

We recently had a team event spanning two days. We made sure to build in wellness breaks throughout — including a yoga break, a talk from a wellness expert, and a Bollywood dance class. The focus on wellness was important to us.

Consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. In your industry, where do you see the future of marketing going?

I’ll speak to B2B marketing, which has been the primary focus of my career. There are two trends that will be positive for the industry. One is the consumerization of B2B marketing. We all want everything to be easy when it comes to the buying experience. That doesn’t just apply to consumer products. It applies to enterprise and business products too. That expectation has been a challenge for most marketers, and it can be inspiring. It helps us raise our game to be better marketers. It makes us question, what is marketing? How do we convey our brand promise? How do we help customers understand value more quickly? I think we have an opportunity to make things easier and simpler for our customers.

The second big change is an obvious one — marketing is a data-driven field now. If you do not have data and insights as a critical part of your team, it is hard to be successful. I tell the team we have to eat data for breakfast. Qualitative insights from customers help us tune our messaging, our placement, how we think about the positioning. It’s so much easier now to actually get the data. The harder part is wading through it all to actually find the insights that will move the needle for your brand.

What 5 things do you wish someone told you before you started?

There are so many things I would tell myself at the beginning of my career.

  1. The number one thing is to nurture and treat your network with great care. There was a patch of time before LinkedIn emerged where I did not stay in touch with my network. On a personal level, my network is filled with awesome people that I love talking to whenever I get a chance. As I look back on my career over time, I’ve worked with so many amazing people that I’m grateful to have met, as they taught me so much along the way. So, nurture, treasure, and treat your network with care.
  2. Number two, find your sponsors and mentors early. We didn’t have these conversations when I was starting out my career. In fact, when I was at Harvard Business School, women were 28% of the class and very few were going into tech. I was fortunate to find mentors during my career, but I would have been more specific and thoughtful about building mentorship and sponsorship relationships earlier on. Now I’m trying to give back and mentor as many people as I can in a thoughtful way and I encourage everyone to do that.
  3. Number three, when you are put into new situations, find a kitchen cabinet or build your own. Don’t wait for someone else to offer you opportunities. Reach out and tap your network.
  4. Number four comes back to family and priorities. I have a spouse who has been super supportive. There have been times when his career has been busier than mine, and times where mine has been busier. Juggling everything can be very difficult without a partner or support system to help you. Someone once said to me, some of the balls you’re juggling are glass — you cannot drop them. It’s important to identify them and find a balance amongst priorities.
  5. Lastly, focus on hiring and working with really great people, people who are smarter than you that can teach and help you. The right team makes everything else easier.

What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?

I once told Barbara Cardillo at Apple that I don’t really watch TV. She said you’re never going to be a great marketer unless you start watching it. What she meant is you need to know the popular themes in order to tap into what people are feeling and thinking about. It’s important to be able to tap into emotions and needs.

Also, reading popular media and being aware of what is happening politically and in society is really important. I read widely — including marketing blogs, business press, fiction, and nonfiction.

I also try to talk and meet with people from different areas. Our group of friends is a pretty diverse group. Most do not work in tech. I find that useful because I can test out ideas and they’ll give me an objective perspective.

One more before we go: If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Broadly, I care a lot about equity, equality, and inclusion.

I grew up in a small town where I was always the “other.” I was one of the very few Asians in the town. I think when you grow up as the outsider always looking in, it instills an opinion and outlook on why equity and inclusion are so important.

I’m also involved with a few women’s groups and am the executive sponsor of [email protected], one of our Power of Difference communities that enhance our inclusive culture and promote the power of human difference.

I think we have a long way to go as an industry and country to help ensure we treat each and every person with fairness and inclusion. As part of our 2030 Agenda announced last year, VMware committed to achieving goals over the next 10 years to build a better future that is accessible, unbiased, and inclusive for all people.

I’m proud to work for a company whose values align with my own, and one that has made diversity, equity, and inclusion a part of its core business strategy.

Thank you for sharing your story and so many valuable insights with us today!

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