Shuchi Sarkar, Global Head of Marketing-Segments of Amazon Web Services, talks to The Ortus Club’s Sab Manansala about prioritising understanding and meeting the needs of customers above all else, creating relevant and memorable experiences for customers across various channels, and adapting to the evolving landscape of decision-makers.
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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Keeping up with new trends, technologies, and consumer behaviours
- Incorporating sustainability and equity considerations into your brand strategy
- Leveraging technology to deliver messages at the right time through the right channels
- Understanding the power of creativity, storytelling, and emotional connections alongside marketing data and measurement
What does your company do?
Amazon Web Services, or AWS, is the cloud service offering from Amazon. As you know, it’s a B2B company, and we really are the pioneers in the cloud. What we offer are different products and services related to your workloads that can be moved to the cloud. From infrastructure to storage to gen AI, now to AI and ML, and the works.
Being a B2B company, we market to our customers from a segment perspective as well. We do have a team that looks after more direct marketing in the public sector. We also have a separate team that’s kind of dedicated to a few key industries. What my team does is run global marketing from a segment perspective. Specifically, how AWS engages with customers, both technical and non-technical decision makers in an enterprise—huge companies, like Netflix, who is a big customer of AWS; small and medium businesses, which is really one of our fastest-growing segments; a lot of startups that are built on the cloud; and software vendors. The last segment is digital native businesses, which are basically businesses that are built all around the cloud.
My team is responsible for working out the marketing strategies and how to engage the customer in these different segments. We are interested in coming up with a strategy, programs, and content that would deliver the MQL and sales-qualified leads that are required by the business. How do we really build the customer journey? How do you really take the customer from one step of the buying journey to the next? We are concerned from the time that you start creating awareness to the time they actually buy the product, with the messaging and all the insights. That’s what my team does.
As the CMO in your company, what is your main marketing focus currently?
I’m the Global Marketing Head for Segments, and our focus right now is how we grow and accelerate cloud adoption. Cloud is still relatively new. A large part of our job is to accelerate cloud adoption, not only with companies that are already our current customers and are engaged with us but also with greenfield customers who have either just started their cloud journey or may have some limited workloads and cloud that need assistance in accelerating their move to the cloud.
Then, of course, just like in any industry, you compete with other players—so you are constantly looking at building your brand preference, your brand image, and why the customer should choose you over others. Because this is B2B marketing, it’s very important to work closely with the sales team to make sure that you are helping them at every stage of the buying journey by creating compelling content and programs that move the customer along that journey and answer the key questions that customers have at every stage. That’s really our focus in terms of what the team is trying to do with our customer base.
Can you tell me about a particularly innovative or successful marketing campaign your team has recently executed?
In the enterprise segment, where a lot of the initial cloud development happened, we had what we called as developers and builders. They’re the actual people who develop all the codes and the actual people who create on the cloud. But as the market matures, decision-making is shifting a lot to executives. There are a lot of technical decision-makers, like your CIO, SVP, and vice presidents in the IT department, but the other people who are very involved now and are key influencers in the decision-making process could be your chief growth officer, chief product officer, or chief marketing officer because they want their workloads to move to the cloud. We were looking at how we could engage executives better because we’ve traditionally been a company that has been very strong in the developer and builder segments.
My team started a program a couple of years ago called Executive Leaders. This is where we, AWS, run a program called a summit, which is really a one- or two-day event in a country where you invite your customers and greenfield customers. There’s a lot of showcasing of our latest products, solutions, and use cases, there are a whole lot of keynotes, and there are people who help answer questions. You demonstrate with your partners, because partners are a really key part of how AWS goes to market. We have a lot of our partner solutions there as well, apart from our own native solutions.
My team started an executive leadership program that attracted a lot of executives. This was built with a real understanding of what worries a technical decision-maker and what they are looking for. What are their challenges? What are their needs gaps as they’re evaluating the cloud across different workloads? How do you create content and engagement by not just showing the very technical part, which is what interests the actual developers, but more in terms of the business outcomes and the business challenges that you would help these customers solve if they go to the cloud? It has a slightly different information level and content than what they’re seeking at these events— plus, it’s done in a manner that is much more upscale and in a way that executives would feel that “Yes, this is something worth my while.” As we started, we were addressing a lot of technical decision-makers. But we’ve now expanded that program to involve a lot of non-executive decision-makers. It’s a very popular program that has helped us increase our engagement with decision-makers, not just the actual developers, but with the key line of businesses, which is now increasingly taking decisions on the cloud.
My startup team runs something called the Impact Accelerator, which is for founders. We just finished something called the Latino Impact Accelerator, where we invited applications from founders. Then we choose a certain number of founders for a whole program that happens where you have mentors, cohorts, and people who help them in various ways on how they can actually grow their startups. There are marketing advisors and technical advisors, and there are all kinds of ways that you really nurture them to a level where they can actually go and make their pitches to venture capitalists. We have them pitch to them. It’s really a way of building a whole ecosystem for these founders who have amazing ideas. Some of them have ideas that are unique and innovative; many of them have an aspect of saving the planet, aimed at diversity or inclusion. We work with them to really help them bring their startups to market.
What are your biggest marketing challenges at the moment?
Right now, all marketers are learning to figure out how to apply generative AI to marketing and what changes that generative AI would bring would be because there’s such a strong element of creativity and imagination that is now tied up with generative AI. That is the number one challenge for marketers today.
When you’re in B2B marketing, you also have to make sure that whatever you’re doing is optimized to actually create the right sales funnel for your sales teams. In that, you’re really helping build a strong narrative, honing in on customer insights and what the customer is looking for so that you’re improving the efficacy of your marketing messages, your content, and your programs at every stage.
The other thing that really continues to be a challenge is how to best use martech data, etc., to improve the efficacy of what you’re doing. I don’t think anybody has completely solved what the right martech stack is. How do you really measure everything in an accurate manner? Those are the demands for marketing leaders today. As marketers, we are still trying to get to the right answer. At the end of the day, marketing is a mix of art and science. It’s not just about numbers—a lot of it is about numbers—but you can’t forget the art, the passion, the storytelling, and the creativity. The challenge is keeping the numbers and making sure that you’re demonstrating the value of what marketing does and drives for the business, along with keeping the passion, creativity, imagination, and compelling stories for the customer. Because that’s very much part of marketing as well.
You have everyday challenges, like, what’s going to happen with the cookieless world? Everywhere right now, with what the world is going through, you’re expected to do a lot more with much more limited resources. All of your ingenuity as a marketing leader is questioned to make sure that you’re managing this very fine world of doing more with less while still letting happy people have the right work-life balance and creating a positive environment. I have lived in Silicon Valley for the last six or nine months, and it’s all been about layoffs; yet, as a leader, you need to maintain positivity and good energy so that you’re still motivating your team to go ahead and do what’s required. It’s a different kind of leadership that is required in today’s times than when everything was hunky dory.
How does your company stay ahead of its competitors in terms of marketing?
There are a couple of things that I personally love about AWS. The first is the total customer obsession. Unlike many other places where I’ve worked previously, we don’t obsess so much about competition; we obsess much more about customers. Everything that we do is very customer-centric. I think that’s the Amazon philosophy, which is to lead with what the customer really wants and desires. As long as you’re keeping the customer at the centre of what you’re doing, you will always create, whether it’s products and solutions, marketing, or sales, anything that is much more in line with what the customer needs, and that will always help you keep ahead.
The other really big value is innovation. Innovation is in the DNA of our company. We have something of a leadership principle called Day One, which is like every day is day one. It’s the day you started, and that spirit of being a startup, that innovation spirit of constantly coming out with new products and new services that are helping your customers do things better, whether it’s from a security perspective, from an efficiency perspective, or from a cost perspective. All of that helps us stay ahead of the product, the solutions, and what we are offering in terms of customer obsession and innovation.
In particular, I think from a marketing perspective, it’s all about really understanding your customers very well and keeping them at the centre of what you’re doing. Understand their challenges, their journey, and what they’re looking for. Then, come up with the right customer journey and develop compelling content that will engage them better: delivering the most world-class events, delivering the best programs, and using the latest technology to help you deliver the right message at the right time to the right customers. Using personalization and all the martech tools that are available to drive a more seamless engagement with your customers and to use your marketing mix in an efficient manner that allows you to constantly stay ahead of what others are doing.
“As long as you’re keeping the customer at the centre of what you’re doing, you will always create, whether it’s products and solutions, marketing, or sales, anything that is much more in line with what the customer needs, and that will always help you keep ahead.”
What does the future of marketing look like?
There’s so much happening in marketing right now. Generative AI is definitely going to have some impact on the way you market. As marketers, we have a lot to think about, and I don’t think we’ve solved it yet. I think we are still evolving. How, in a moral, ethical, and responsible manner, can you use generative AI in the best possible way? How can you use it to enhance creativity and imagination beyond what the human mind is already doing and thinking? That’s going to really change marketing going forward.
Data and martech are going to continue to evolve and really help marketers drive much more relevant marketing. In the old days, when I started in advertising, we would take a TV commercial or print ad and be done. But today, the complexity of your channels and the fragmentation of channels are so much more. Then there’s the power of personalization and measurement; aside from the Nielsen index, you couldn’t actually say how well your TV commercial performed. But today, you can actually see, when you’re releasing something, what are the people walking into your online store, into your brick and mortar stores, from a B2B perspective. Are you getting the right clicks, leads, and people downloading your content?
There’s so much more that data and technology have helped us enable today. And that’s going to keep evolving in the future. Things like Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and influencer marketing are going to continue to grow. Whether it’s customer advocacy or influencer marketing, using all these tools to create. When we started in marketing, it was more about telling the full story. Today, to be honest, while storytelling is still important, marketing has become about the moments you create because that’s where your customer’s attention span is, and there’s so much being thrown at them. These moments are going to become much more important as you go forward. How are you creating those memorable moments for your customers that they can really engage with, remember, and move forward in their journey with you? That’s going to continue to grow. Marketers will need to continue to become very skilled in creating those moments in storytelling for demand generation and leveraging the power of their brand to help drive demand.
People tell me, “Oh, is your superpower brand or is your superpower demand generation?” There is nothing separate today; your brand drives your demand. And you’ve got to have superpowers in both. You have to have both. To me, personally, there is nothing called B2B marketing. Today, it’s more about B2B2C. As a B2B marketing company or a facilitator, you help your customers reach their end consumers in the best possible way. You need to make sure that you’re always keeping that as your focus and lens.
More importantly, for marketers, it will be important to look at things beyond just functional attributes. We always say in marketing that you speak to the head and the heart. The heart is going to be not just about emotions, which will continue to be very important to give brands longevity, but also what it is that you’re doing to make the world a better place. I think our younger generation, especially Gen Z and the generation after them, is going to hold us accountable for what we are doing as a brand to make this world a better place. Whether it’s from a sustainability perspective, whether it’s from a fair trade perspective, or whether it’s from an equity perspective. They’re much more conscious about this than, for example, our generation or even a generation after us. All of this is going to challenge marketers to be much more in tune with where their customers are, what they are looking for, their challenges, and using amazing content in the right places through the right channels, as well as to constantly measure, optimize, and improve.
What is the role of the CMO in one word? Why?
There is only one idea that can ever describe marketing or anything else, and that is that you are the voice of the customer. It’s three words: ‘voice of the customer’ going forward. That’s what marketing is really about. Apart from that, I always say marketing is ultimately the most important; it’s the one thing in the organization that you can never do without passion. You need so much passion to be a marketer and to really think of yourself as somebody who combines art and science with that special blend of passion. Yeah, the voice of the customer is the one thing if I were to say so.
What career advice would you like to share with other marketing leaders?
First and foremost, believe in yourselves. Know who you are and what you want. That should be the centre and focus of what you do. Many times, marketers, not only as human beings but even as professionals, get caught up in going here and there. The more and more that we can centre ourselves and believe in ourselves, our customers, and what we do, the more we will always find success. Believe in yourself, know what you want, and go after it. That’s my advice to my daughter and to anyone else.