CMO Chats with Steve Statler, CMO of Wiliot

Ortus Chats

Steve Statler

CMO | Wiiot

Steve Statler, CMO of Wiliot, discusses the challenge of diverse messaging to different audiences with a small team and leading a new market category through thought leadership and SEO.


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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Connecting everyday objects to the internet with low-cost, battery-free computers
  • The challenge of diverse messaging to different audiences with a small team
  • Leading a new market category through thought leadership and SEO
  • Using generative AI to improve efficiency while ensuring personalised communication


What does your company do?

Wiliot is a leader in the ambient Internet of Things, which is basically connecting objects to the Internet. And up until now, the Internet of Things has really been the Internet of expensive things—things like cars, shipping containers, and appliances. The ambient Internet of Things is the 99.9% of things that haven’t been connected: the objects that go inside appliances, shipping containers, and cars; things like food, medicine, and clothing. And we do that with very low-cost computers.

This is a postage stamp-sized computer, and we designed the silicon chip that enables it. It’s an arm processor, the baby brother of the CPU that’s on your phone. Basically, it talks Bluetooth, it’s battery-free, and it will last an extremely long time because there’s no battery there. It will sense the temperature and location of everything in the supply chain, including the inventory and stores, and ultimately allow people up and down the supply chain to see exactly what’s happening. In that way, we can improve efficiency, massively reduce the carbon footprint, and enable whole new business models for the way we deliver and monetise products.

As the CMO in your company, what is currently your main marketing focus?

Well, I have four areas of focus. One is that I need to deliver leads to our small enterprise sales team, which sells mainly in the grocery sector. I also head three strategic initiatives. One is building the ambient Internet of Things category. We’re building it as part of our marketing strategy and our company’s strategy.

The second strategic initiative is around climate. When you put everything online, you can do amazing things to not just reduce the carbon footprint of supply chains but also measure it in real-time at an item level and expose that information to consumers so people can vote with their pocketbooks, purses, and wallets by buying low-carbon products.

Then, the last strategic initiative I’m heading is around food safety. If you can track and trace things without requiring expensive hardware or additional labor, you can raise the bar in terms of food safety. There’s a bunch of legislation back in the States, which is where I’m based. There’s food safety legislation, and we are taking a major role in helping to make food safer and improve the quality of food without raising the cost.

At the moment, what would you say, Steve, is one of your biggest marketing challenges?

Well, part of it is that there’s an awful lot to do with a pretty small team, and the messages and audiences that we have to address are quite diverse.

On the one hand, we’re very focused on the point of the spear in terms of what we are selling, which is Grocery, one of the largest grocery chains in the world. So that’s quite focused. But as we build the ambient Internet of Things category, I have to communicate with a really broad set of technology companies, analysts, and the press, which, combined with all the other initiatives, means that we have to communicate lots of different messages to lots of different constituencies. And so, that’s a challenging thing to do.

How does your company stay ahead of its competitors in terms of marketing?

We’re doing it by essentially starting our own parade. You know, I could be telling people about the amazing technology we’ve got and pitching us as a product company, but we spent a lot of our marketing effort on category building and essentially starting a parade that we can lead rather than being at the end of some other larger telecommunications’ companies parade.

Rather than being an author in, say, 5G advanced, we’re a leader in ambient Internet of Things. That means contributing to standards, creating thought leadership pieces, and doing a bunch of search engine optimisation so that when someone Googles ambient IoT, they find Wiliot on the first page.

In your opinion, Steve, what does the future of marketing look like?

It is hard to ignore the impact of AI, Generative AI, and so that’s something that we are trying to embrace. We’re trying to be more efficient. We’re trying to deliver a better buying experience and tune what we’re doing in terms of our outbound campaigns using generative AI.

That said, people are smart, and they can tell when a message has been created by a computer, even with the brilliant technology that comes from OpenAI and Google. So we’re trying to make sure that we stay competitive and efficient but don’t disrespect the people that we’re communicating with templated boilerplate autonomous messaging, which is a real turnoff.

In your opinion, Steve, what is the role of the head of marketing in one word, and why?

Communicating. I suspect you’ve probably had similar answers from other people in this space. But what we have to do is communicate and align the common value proposition. We have to make sure we agree on who we’re selling to, what we’re saying to them, and what our unique selling points are. That process of aligning within the company as well as within the partner ecosystem and the broader ecosystem we operate in is part of my job. Coming up with the message and trying to persuade everyone that it’s the right message—communicating is at the core of everything that we do.

“Coming up with the message and trying to persuade everyone that it’s the right message—communicating is at the core of everything that we do.”

What career advice would you like to share, would you share with other marketing leaders?

I’m not sure how useful or scalable this prescription is, but my recommendation is to write a book. I’ve written two books in my life—both of them were very enjoyable to write. It was intellectually stimulating. It was satisfying, and it was a creative experience. And if I look back on my career, the leaps that I’ve taken such that they were really because I was, people looked at that and felt like I must have something to do, to say, and that I could actually deliver something that was coherent and useful. It may sound trite, but if you can write a book, then that sort of sets you ahead, it helps you get an agenda, and it can be part of your value proposition.

What is the role of the Head of Marketing, and why?

My one word for the role of head of marketing is Windex. For those who don’t know, Windex is a window cleaner. And the reason why I say that funny analogy is because many businesses have really foggy customer experiences, siloed teams, and unfocused messaging. The role of a marketing leader is to help create a crystal clear vision and direction that helps the company see all of those things clearly, what the future looks like, and then how to get there. Yeah, just create a crystal-clear vision for the future of the company.

What career advice would you like to share with other marketing leaders?

One thing that’s been really fundamental in my career and has been essential in retaining and acquiring great marketers within my team is number one: empathy, making sure that you are an empathetic leader. As a marketer, I initially mentioned it’s all about psychology. It’s not just about being empathetic to a consumer; it’s about being empathetic to your teams as well. Marketing is probably the one department where all eyes are on you, and if there’s a mistake, everybody sees it, and there’s an immense amount of pressure on marketers to be constantly performing, doing better, and improving on their results time and time again.

The best thing that you can do as a leader is to really be empathetic to your teams and give them a space where they feel safe to have fun and challenge each other to learn from each other. Don’t be afraid to create an environment where you can break stuff. You don’t learn from things unless you try something new, and if you break something, you need to learn from it, but giving them that space to be able to play and experiment really comes down to being empathetic. Personally, I think marketers themselves need to have empathy for themselves as well. I think a lot of us are inherent people-pleasers, or we want to say yes to things, but you need to make sure that you have a safe space for yourself so that you don’t burn yourself out.

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