Mozilla has adopted a new marketing approach inspired by ‘agile’ methodology – most commonly used in software development as a collaborative way to find solutions – as it looks to make better use of its team and their time.
Speaking to Marketing Week, Mozilla’s CMO Jascha Kaykas-Wolff describes every organisation as a “giant gravity well” that ideas and projects gets stuck in – in marketing in particular- because the right processes and systems aren’t in place. He compares this to product or engineering teams, where new ideas instead get put in a queue and then dealt with in a systematic way.
While the analogy may sound like the opposite of what a creative industry like marketing would want, Kaykas-Wolff says that by adopting agile approaches, Mozilla has found it easier to get work done and to recruit.
“In marketing, because the gravity well is quite unformed, there are not a lot of systems so you end up with a mash of ideas that work to what that particular organisation is trying to solve or work on, that you have to hire around,” he explains. “It makes it unbelievably difficult to recruit. You can’t go out to the same pools of talent to bring people into the organisation, you have to really scope to whatever the problem you are trying to solve right now is.
“And if you leave that organisation and go to another you’ll probably have to do something completely different. [In that respect] the marketing industry has completely failed itself because it hasn’t developed a consistent set of processes. In the role I am in, if I ever leave Mozilla and go somewhere else, the expectation from the CEO and the board of what I would do as a CMO is going to be different. The definition of marketing changes everywhere. Yet if you hire a CFO, that’s consistent.”
Kaykas-Wolff did not take a typical route into marketing, and in fact never intended to be a CMO. He did a degree in psychology before getting a job in product management and then project management. He accidentally came to marketing during his time at Microsoft, when he and two colleagues were tasked with build an incubation team that became Microsoft Stores.
Because he was the least technical of the three, he was tasked with doing the marketing and business development. He readily admits to “not really knowing what marketing was supposed to do” at the time, and so he “naively” applied product techniques to the marketing team.
“We started using lean practices, agile practices in the marketing team and that grew into, ‘ok this works, let’s build up a bigger system for it’ and it ended up landing me at the early stages of starting to develop teams that run fully in lean systems,” he adds.
If I ever leave Mozilla and go somewhere else, the expectation from the CEO and the board of what I would do as a CMO is going to be different. The definition of marketing changes everywhere.
Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, Mozilla
At Mozilla, the entire 105-strong marketing team now runs completely in an agile way, although he admits it has taken three years to get there. The opportunity, he believes, is that everyone in the marketing team is cross-trained in different skills, meaning their individual contribution is more valued and that they are more marketable when they leave.
“For the last 15 years it has been the core operating thesis I have, that marketing can find a system that can help it be predictable – that’s predictable in its contributions into the business, how we’re going to grow. If we’re on the same team, I don’t want to have someone say next week, ‘I want this done two weeks from now go do it’. I’d like us to have some predictability so that over the next two weeks here’s what I know we’re going to contribute.
“The system that agile provides for the team allows us to individually have a lot more control over our sanity because we can control our schedules better. It’s the same way that if you talk to product or engineering people and you ask them how long it’s going to take to get something done they can say ‘six person hours’. In marketing we don’t generally do that but when you use an agile system you can.”
While Mozilla is the latest firm Kaykas-Wolff has introduced to this way of working, it is not the first. He has also led the shift at previous companies where he has worked including BitTorrent, MindJet and Involver. These are all digital businesses, but Kaykas-Wolff believes the same principles can be applied whatever the business.
“I have not yet found an organisation where this [doesn’t work]. My personal opinion is there isn’t going to be a marketing organisation anywhere in the world in the next decade that doesn’t use this as part of their core operating system,” he predicts. “It’s just a smarter way to run your business.
“It’s just the idea of time constraints and predictability to try and solve business problems and how to structure teams. If you play around with those three concepts every organisation in marketing can be more effective.”
Mozilla’s shifting marketing strategy
That change in ways of working has also led to a shift in marketing strategy. When Kaykas-Wolff joined in 2015, Mozilla presented itself as a peer to Google and Microsoft, focusing on the Firefox browser it is most famous for. He admits that while that might seem logical, the way the organisation works and the size of its team (just 1,100 people compared to the hundreds of thousands that work at Google and Microsoft) mean it couldn’t compete head to head.
So instead, Mozilla looked how it could create its own growth model, focusing on its advantages.
“It seems so intuitive now. It’s like going to the dinner table and being starving and staring around the table and everyone else is eating; we just never looked down. But it was right in front of us,” he acknowledges.
The company undertook a brand study that told it two things. Firstly, that Firefox as a product and brand was “unbelievably well known” with 95% unaided awareness in the tech sector. But under that there was very little distinction. In fact, more people thought Chrome (built by Google) was run by a not-for-profit than Firefox.
Secondly, Mozilla wasn’t very well known. Barely a third of the people that knew about Firefox had heard of Mozilla. And even fewer knew that Mozilla built Firefox. That led to a shift in marketing strategy to focus on improving the understanding and awareness of Mozilla and shifting perceptions on what Firefox does differently.
“That combination of Mozilla plus Firefox puts us at parity, and sometimes even in a better place from a favourability perspective, than all our competitors,” he claims.
That led to Mozilla coining the phrase ‘internet health’ as a means to talk about the work Mozilla does on policy, web literacy and internet advocacy. Marketing programmes then showed up underneath that – for example it opened a pop-up tech store in London designed to help consumers take control of their lives online.
Facebook has done a very good job of building an ad platform that is effective. If you’re given the option to continue in a channel that operates well, for the most part that’s where inertia is going to be.
Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, Mozilla
Kaykas-Wolff believes the internet is not particularly healthy right now, with just a handful of companies owning access to content and “unfair treatment” of people and their data. He suggests there has been a “promise that a business can get big by collecting data”, meaning the purpose of the business hasn’t always been clear to the people using it.
“Tech companies, generally speaking, treat people like they are these weird hybrids of robot lawyers. They expect you and I to be able to show up at a website or an app, understand what it does, read through tens of thousands of words on hundreds of pages to understand exactly what is going to happen when we go onto that product and how they are going to use our data, and click accept and go, and that’s just not right,” he says.
Mozilla was one of the few brands to pull ads from Facebook following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Kaykas-Wolff admits that while it had to pull ads because of its brand purpose, it “wasn’t an insignificant decision” because it had to switch spending while still trying to get the same efficacy. It now spends more on direct-to-publisher relationships and offline events.
Yet he isn’t surprised more brands didn’t pull ads. “Facebook has done a very good job of building an ad platform that is effective. If you’re given the option to continue in a channel that operates well, for the most part that’s where inertia is going to be. As an organisation we can take a principled stance because of who we are, how we operate, what our financial systems are that support our organisation.”