Allocadia CMO Julia Stead on Spending During COVID, Important Data, Customer-Retention Superpowers and Caring for Kiddos While WFH

Editor’s note: This interview is part of Mission North’s “Marketing Risks Worth Taking” series, an ongoing forum with marketing leaders who are sharing their perspectives about adapting to a new reality. 

Over the past decade, Allocadia CMO Julia Stead has not only honed her digital marketing skills with various tech companies, but has also become a notable thought leader, weighing in on trends, best practices and what pro basketball champions can teach us about emotional intelligence. 

After spending seven years running marketing at conversational data platform Invoca, Julia decided to get closer to her Canadian roots to lead Allocadia, a Vancouver, B.C.-based company with a solution used by 14,000 marketers to run agile, aligned and high-yielding growth strategies. The platform is all about tracking and optimizing marketing spend; therefore, the insights she can offer for what her customers are doing is incredibly valuable. 

With those concepts in mind, Julia was an excellent candidate for Dispatch’s ongoing conversational series with the best and brightest in marketing. Our Q&A, below, has been edited for length.

Are there a few key things marketers are doing differently in the last several weeks? 

We’re in the process of aggregating spend data trends pre- and post-COVID-19, and we’re excited to be publishing that official report in June, showcasing what the biggest trends have been, for both B2B and B2C marketers, and where forward-looking investment strategies are focused. That being said, some key trends I’ve already noted include:

  • Savings. For example, where event budgets have been recouped, rather than immediately reinvesting them in virtual events, marketers are playing more of a wait-and-see approach and saving more money to invest in Q3 and Q4 when markets and buying patterns start to stabilize.
  • They are maintaining a certain level of brand spend, to keep awareness in a thoughtful, non-aggressive manner with customers.
  • There are bigger investments in customer marketing.
  • Marketers have saved significantly on T&E (travel and expenses), which hasn’t been by choice. Yet, unlike other economic recessions, this development has been a forced savings that many marketing teams are setting aside for future quarters—not necessarily to spend on T&E for when things reopen but to use for other new growth strategies.

What’s the most interesting thing that’s changed in marketing since this crisis began? 

Ha ha ha. Seriously, everything. People realizing they don’t need to spend massive amounts on in-person events and travel. Marketers realizing their product positioning and sales/e-commerce enablement tools are very critical if your sales are now digital-only. People putting actual dollars and time behind a customer-first mindset, rather than just saying it.

People are putting actual dollars and time behind a consumer-first mindset, rather than just saying it.

As a CMO, what kind of external data are you most frequently consulting? 

I’m doing this a lot more than I used to. Before, our revenue funnel was somewhat predictable, so I’d let my teams kind of run their own show without digging in too much. But every step of the buying journey is wacky these days—mostly bad wacky, not good wacky—so I’m seeking more information, more frequently than ever before. There are two big sources I’m now consulting:

  • Keyword search volume. I am looking at trends such as A) are consumers/tech buyers even still searching and “shopping” right now? And B) how have their research and needs changed? 
  • Conversations with peers and customers. I’ve dedicated a lot more time in the past two months joining peer discussions and chatting one-on-one with fellow CMOs and marketing leaders. Mainly, I look to validate what we’re seeing in our marketing and sales cycles, but I also look to share ideas and understand how everyone is thinking about planning for recovery, and when.

What are the customer retention superpowers you are observing during this crisis?

Focusing on delivering tangible value. Not reaching out for the sake of it, but thinking through what our customers need most, whether it’s tactical ideas, help getting the most out of our reporting, connecting with peers, etc and doing our best to deliver. We’re also investing a lot of time at the executive level to meet one-on-one with customers and hear firsthand how they’re doing, how we can help, etc.

Are there any B2B brands you admire for their COVID-19 response?

I’ll give props to [account-based marketing platform] Terminus, as they’ve organized some very useful customer educational sessions and have been consulting with my team to see how we can optimize our strategies for the new normal. They are truly being helpful.

Lastly, from this agency’s work with your former employer, Invoca, I know you have a one-year-old child. And I think we all know people who are in media or marketing who either just had a child or are about to. Any advice for working from home as a professional with a baby for folks who are about to embark on having to do so?

Excellent memory! Yes, I’ve now got one-year-old and three-year old boys at home with me, and it’s a bit of a nuthouse these days. Working from home with little ones is hard, and the situation depends so much on whether you have any kind of childcare support. If you’re working full time from home with babies or toddlers (who need lots of attention) and zero childcare or a partner to help, I quite frankly just don’t see how that’s possible. If you have a partner like I do but didn’t have childcare, we did split the day in half, so each of us would get a full, four-to-five-hour stretch uninterrupted. Here are a few other tips:

  • Set specific schedules for yourself and create as isolated a workspace as possible (I currently work from my garage because it’s more soundproof than my bedroom). You want to mimic as much of an office workday as possible to be productive.
  • Block off your calendar and make it very clear to your colleagues when you’re unavailable, and why. I recommend a transparent, proactive approach. For example, my colleagues know that I’m not online until 8:30am, because I’m doing kiddo things. And that I’m offline every day by 5pm for the same reason—so don’t schedule meetings or expect responses from me then.
  • If you’re juggling childcare and work without any kind of childcare, I’d recommend scheduling your day in one-to-two-hour chunks as best you can around your child’s schedule or naps. When you’re off, you’re “off,” and when you’re on, go find that hideout to concentrate.
  • Embrace and appreciate the little extra moments you get with your kids, like a snuggle at lunch or a quick hug during a bathroom break. It’s ultimately just work, after all, and I think it’s too easy to get caught up in believing that work is so desperately important.