On this episode, I was joined by Bree Bunzel, Head of Global Customer Marketing at Dropbox. Bree moved into customer marketing from another role at Dropbox leading APAC product marketing and learned on the job how to build customer-centric programs from scratch. We talk about what she focused on in her first year as a team of one, maturing and scaling programs in year two, and why it’s so important to emphasize diversity in the customers you feature. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Bree.
Margot Leong: Hey, Bree. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. Super excited to have you join us.
Bree Bunzel: Thank you, Margot. I’m so happy to be here. I’m really looking forward to the chat today.
Margot Leong: First question, I’m curious if we can hear a little bit about your background and your journey into the role that you are now.
Bree Bunzel: So it all started out with a lemonade stand when I was 10 years old. It was a hot summer day. And on a whim, I decided I was going to make some extra cash to afford my favorite candy of choice, Fun Dips. They have all these sugary packets, it’s cannot be good for you, but it was my favorite. So I obviously wanted to make some cash over the summer for that.
So I set up a lemonade stand outside the front of our house. And not long after my market researcher father came outside to check up on me only to realize that I hadn’t considered my audience, the time of day, the pricing and the packaging and my ROI for my lemonade stand. From then on out, I never forgot about the customer and that carried with me throughout my life and my career. I then went on to my university college days, I was part of the advertising sales team for our student run newspaper on campus so we would knock on doors and sell physical ad space, which now I can’t even believe that was during our time, but it was also a great exercise in learning more about building relationships with these customers and really working to help them build out their businesses.
From then on, I went on and started my career at a company called Intuit QuickBooks and it was a company that lived and breathed the customer. So much so that the CEO and founder would often in meetings ask, well, what did the customer say? And if you didn’t have an answer, you had to leave the meeting and go out and actually talk to customers and come back. So that was a really great grounding experience in customer centricity.
I then moved on to a role in Australia now about eight years ago and that’s where I learned the importance of localization, not just translation. Because a country can speak English, but there’s so many nuances to the culture or the humor and the marketing is no longer the same. And most recently I took on a role at Dropbox doing APAC product marketing, which then evolved into a customer marketing role and this has been a fun journey to really learn about how to build customer centric programs from the ground up and also truly understanding what’s in it for the customer, not just what’s in it for the business. So that’s a little bit about my journey.
Margot Leong: I’m super excited to dig into all of that, especially what you said about what’s in it for the customer versus, you know, what’s in it for us. It’s actually quite easy. I think for a lot of teams that don’t touch the customer to lose sight of that, like surprisingly easy, I think.
Bree Bunzel: Of course. It totally is. And I think even within customer marketing, we have to remind ourselves and be intentional with that outreach and continuing those conversations and relationships as well.
Margot Leong: Absolutely. Especially with your background, you kind of came in helping with APAC marketing over at Dropbox and then you came in basically as the first customer marketer to kind of weave everything together. But talk to me a little bit about how that even transpired
Bree Bunzel: Yeah, and I had started off in a regional PMM role. So I was covering just APAC product marketing. And in that role, probably the second year when I was in the role, we started to have the organizational need around a customer advisory board program. And APAC was one of the first locations where we are going to have that program take place. And so as a local PMM, I was a big part of that project and helping build that out with the many folks that were in HQ. Some folks in region, obviously the relationships with those customers, we learned so much during that experience, building out the program, so much so that I helped create a blueprint for how to do customer advisory boards and how they should be conducted globally and where to consider those local nuances.
So from then on, after the APAC customer advisory board, we call them CABs, I then was able to go to EMEA for a period of time in London and actually rolled that out there. And then onto AMER, which covered New York and San Francisco. And during that tour, our CMO at the time had been visiting the New York CAB just to see how they were being run. And she actually, at the end of the event, tapped me on the shoulder and said, have you ever considered a role in customer marketing? And I said, I don’t know much about the role, but I’m really interested in learning more. It was definitely one of those opportunities where you just say yes, and you figure it out as you go
Margot Leong: Your CMO is like, Hey, you. That’s pretty great. That’s pretty great.
Bree Bunzel: I know. And you just, you know, I think it’s just, just in time learning and of course you have the moments of imposter syndrome that come up as you’re going through it. But I felt like overnight I became a customer marketer and was learning as I went along and the early months were so not easy. There was so much to figure out operationally from internal alignment of like, what is customer marketing? What is our impact? Why are we here? What is our influence on the customer as well as the business? Also just roles and responsibilities and processes, which is not always the sexy stuff of marketing, but it’s so critical to the success of a customer marketing as a function.
And all with limited budget and resources. You don’t just start a function all the time and they’re like, here’s a million dollars. Go figure it out. It’s like, Hey, why don’t you prove yourself? And then we’ll decide whether we fund your work or provide you with support. So they always say innovation loves constraint. And I would say it was more just keeping all the life rafts afloat for me.
Many people feel that way, I think. And it’s funny when I’ve been sharing these stories with other customer marketers, and we’ve been talking about our journeys and you hear this sigh of relief when they’re like, oh, everyone’s not perfect under the hood. Like you can be at the biggest companies and the biggest brands and still have to work through all of these different processes, so it is a nice thing to share that it’s not perfect and there are a ton of fails throughout that journey.
But it’s been a fun process of just building out these programs, seeing the impact and the joy these programs bring to our customers and the business. And I think the most rewarding part for me this past year has been growing out a team and doing my best to get out of their way and just elevate their work and let them shine. Let them develop those relationships with customers and start to be seen as the face of Dropbox in different ways, so that’s been a bit of my journey, coming from a regional role into customer marketing role.
Margot Leong: I’d be curious to learn a little bit more about coming into customer marketing, there’s a lot of on the job learning. How did you basically kind of frame to yourself what the charter or the imperative would be for that year one?
Bree Bunzel: Yeah, that’s a great question. I would say hindsight’s always 2020 and you look back and don’t realize there are a lot of things you could have done differently. I would say that I created an overall one pager, but it turned into a 20 pager of what I thought our charter was. And a lot of that came from just doing so much research as I was growing in this role and figuring out what do traditional customer marketing organizations look like? Like where do they begin? What functions do you start with? What projects do you start with? And I had this almost three-year plan that I created, which at the time, while it was the scope of what three years of customer marketing could look like, the org at the time was like, we just want to know what you can do now, you know, and looking back, and this year where the teams now focused on, which we’ll talk about a bit later around scale is critical few. Just focus on three things and nail those big rocks, and that makes all the difference. I think, you know, looking backwards, I think the team was peanut buttered thinly across a lot of different initiatives that we wanted to prove. And over time you realize that it’s not about how much you do, but the impact and the intention behind what you’re doing.
Margot Leong: What were the areas that you’re like, okay. Like, I think I have to attack these ones first.
Bree Bunzel: Yeah. And it was a build year and that was the interesting paradigm shift for myself because I’m used to output and impact and things launching and you have to be patient with the process because so much of it is building the foundation. And because we hadn’t proved ourselves out as a function, we had limited resources as I mentioned. You had to create momentum in these quick wins.
I would say the first and foremost, best thing that we did was just get close with the customers we had relationships with and also build new ones. And what we learned through that process was a lot of things like what’s actually in it for them. You know, here we are thinking their number one reason for coming to a customer advisory board is to learn about Dropbox. It’s actually not the case. Like, yeah, cool. They care about Dropbox, but they care more about networking with their peers and building their communities and not feeling alone in their journeys of their roles in various departments. And so the way that I approached it as a party of one, which I was the first year.
Margot Leong: I was going to ask you about that.
Bree Bunzel: Yeah. It was a party of one for awhile. Pretty lonely. I actually though built a network of other customer marketers. I would just reach out to folks on LinkedIn. But I would make these mini business cases. So it started with sharing like, okay, we’re doing this amount of stories or engaged with this amount of customers, but with additional headcount or resources, we could 2X or 5X that of what we’re doing now, and so it was really important first to think about how do you prove your impact with the little wins that build over time.
In terms of your question around like where to start, coincidentally, the business was going through a transformation. We were moving away from being seen as just this file storage company to a collaboration platform, including several acquisitions of several companies like HelloSign and DocSend and these were products that allowed us to be seen even more embedded into critical workflows for creatives and other verticals and customers across the world. And not just focused on the traditional ways we see Dropbox, which is just saving that end state work.
And so this new narrative needed to be told and new audiences needed to be built and then new customer feedback loops needed to be created and closed. And so customer marketing played this critical role throughout this evolution of the company. Not only from the stories, the use cases and the perception, but also building these customer relationships that can help us redefine and help us create a more pointed go to market and product strategy. One of the biggest lessons I learned was setting boundaries and prioritizing, and I laugh, you know, it’s funny how feedback at work often mirrors what you’re working on personally. And I’d like to say I’m a recovering people pleaser.
Margot Leong: So are many of us in this profession.
Bree Bunzel: Yeah. So many reasons, like don’t even have time in one podcast to get through that. But this mirrored the early days of building out a function, when you’re trying to build out customer marketing, the tendency and default can often be to just say yes to every task, to prove your worth in the organization and prove that you belong there and prove that you’re ready for more resources and support. Now over time, creating some of these mini wins and building out a team, it’s now evolved into more knowing what to prioritize and help my team set up for success in the next stage of scale and impact, which we’re now in.
Margot Leong: I can imagine actually product marketing background had some influence in terms of the way that you think about customer marketing now.
Bree Bunzel: Yes, definitely. I would say, they operate quite closely at a lot of organizations. In our world, customer marketing sits within product marketing and other companies, it sits outside, but there’s just so much you learn and I think, again, my experience being in region and actually building relationships with a lot of these customers face to face has changed the entire way that we think about building these programs. Because the irony of customer marketing is some folks just build programs, assuming they know what the customer wants. And they’re not even building their own customer centric programs instead of going out and actually talking to customers, like I said before, with some of the revelations of what they actually want out of the program.
And, you know, one of the things I mentioned earlier that I think was our biggest aha, like being a customer marketer, you have access to these customers and these relationships, and that is your super power in an organization. Of course, there’s folks in sales and elsewhere that also have those, but to be able to champion that voice of the customer is something that translates not only into PMM, but other parts of the org. And then I would say just like having those relationships with those customers and being able to build them out, it gives you the opportunity to create more customer centric strategies, roadmaps, programs.
And so one of the things that we talk about at Dropbox is this term that we coined over the last year, interviewing customers to find opportunities that make customers famous. And what we mean by that is many of the customers that we talked to, they’re still starting out their business. Maybe they’re an SMB, a solopreneur, an entrepreneur, they’re just getting started. And if you could imagine the impact of having a customer story or having their name in lights as a customer award winner, to in our case, for example, over 7 million in reach, that can make them famous overnight and also can make them successful overnight.
And so customer marketers have this power that we don’t even realize where we can actually change people’s lives and the trajectory of their careers if we’re doing customer marketing the right way and for customers, that’s what matters most. Of course, it’s nice to get a story told about how they’re using your platform or your tool, but the bigger thing is being seen as a thought leader, being seen as best in class with how the new ways of creative work post pandemic, or all these different topics that come up and having them be those subject matter experts and creating that platform for such has just made such a difference in the relationships we built and the impact we’ve had beyond just the product itself.
Margot Leong: Absolutely. This is actually a topic that I talked about on the first episode of my podcast with Julie Illott and it’s exactly that right is, if you’ve identified that opportunity and that interest to be more widely known, like small businesses absolutely love that kind of thing. And so I’ve worked with them before and the same types of advocacy initiatives or opportunities, they absolutely love it. And so if you can harness the power of your own team, your own company to help bring that to light, that is life-changing.
You mentioned it’s very important to really understand what customers want and you said some folks just build programs, thinking they know what customers want. I’m curious If you’ve built in any discipline when you’re thinking about new initiatives or new opportunities where you’re like, okay, I I’m pretty sure I know what customers want, but I’m going to force us to have some sort of accountability check with our customers, or we make sure that we run a lot of this stuff by customers first. Have you kind of thought about that instead of just building in that discipline?
Bree Bunzel: Yes, definitely. And I think it’s a muscle that you have to work on often in different ways and also help evangelize that for other parts of the organization. I would say one of the best places to start is your product or your company or your brand friendlies. We call them your friendlies or like the advocates, the folks that just love your product and are happy to scream from the rooftops about how excited they are to use your product or your tool and I think that’s been a good starting point for us. Although what we realized over time is that that’s often skewed because they’re just positive about every element of your product and are just like, we’re happy to be here.
And so over time, we’ve been starting to think about first strategically with where the company is heading, who our key audiences and personas are that we’re focused on. And we usually know those you know, well in advance to then think about the strategy for the year, what pipelines of those types of customers we need to build relationships with. One of the things that we’re also working on is anytime we build a program, we run it by those friendlies or those advocates early on before we even launch it. Because the last thing you want to do is put all these resources and budget into something that actually doesn’t even stick or resonate with those customers.
Another thing that we’re doing, which has been a cross-functional effort across a lot of number of teams is building out this customer feedback loop process, which at times companies maybe don’t finish the swing on where they’re going out and they’re talking the talk, let’s say on the specific customer interviews that they need to get, but then they don’t do anything with it. Or the insights don’t get shared or they don’t get any actions taken on them. And so this newer customer feedback loop process we’ve been working on in partnership with a few other teams is really built to have a framework and a prioritization for when feedback comes through or insights come through, how does that weight against tickets coming through, or bug requests or feedback from different types of personas and different types of verticals. And then how does that feed into the process for influencing our strategy, our go to market, our roadmap?
And then lastly, what I said earlier about finishing the swing is really about then how do we communicate those changes and updates back to customers? I will say one of the most impactful customer advisory boards we had was our second round in New York. So we had shared our strategy the first year, got all this feedback and then the first slide and conversation we had with folks, when we came back a year later was: we heard you, these are all the things that we’ve now built to help solve those challenges. And I think if you can just nail the closing of that loop, people love feeling heard, and they love feeling like you’re building and solving their true pains and challenges. That is all the difference in these programs and the processes you need to fulfill for them.
Margot Leong: We could probably spend like another hour talking about how hard it is to run CABs effectively. I have definitely been through this myself and I think that was probably one of the hardest parts is that, you know, you kind of go through the whole process of all the work it takes to logistically set things up, find the right customers, to run the event itself, to bring in all the people for like all the pretty slides and running everything by the customers. And then you’re so tired at the end of it that it’s like, oh wait, we can’t drop the ball here. We have to like follow up on all of the work that was done and make sure that they feel as though what they contributed was worth it. Maybe this is like a conversation for another time, but it’d be really interesting to understand more about not only the closing the loop on some of those insights, but also you said that sort of framework and prioritization for when those insights come through, how does that weight against everything else? I think, especially at a company the size of Dropbox, that would be really fascinating to understand how feedback gets prioritized in processes that you may not be able to control as much because a lot of this will get passed off to say product, right. So anyway, maybe a conversation for another time, but that’s really interesting.
Bree Bunzel: Yeah, definitely. And I would just add, you know, it’s an interesting one in that this is the first company I’ve worked at that’s both B2B and B2C and one of the challenges that you have to also think about is they always say, if you solve for everyone, you solve for no one. I feel like everyone uses Dropbox in my opinion, a lot of people do and they’re all diverse types of customers. And so how do you think of that weight? To be honest, we’re still working through learning and I would love to do a deep dive on that, but you know, it’s a journey and I don’t think it’s perfect, but you have to start somewhere.
Margot Leong: Absolutely. Something else I know that we wanted to talk about, right, is that you alluded a bit to building sort of the year one piece, spending some time being a customer marketer of one before then being able to build out your team. But let’s talk about maturing, scaling, achieving more impact and talk about what sort of that year two has looked like for you, let’s say maybe in terms of thinking about who you wanted to bring onto your team, what your focus would be, challenges there, but I’m super interested in this.
Bree Bunzel: Yeah. It’s really exciting when you start to move beyond a party of one and you actually have other minds and other creative ideas coming forward and I thrive and get energy off people. And so being able to then move to a world where now we have a group of us that are brainstorming ideas as we build programs, it’s such a different energy that comes through as you’re building these things out. You know, interesting as well. I always start with the company strategy and where we’re focused on.
This year we have a new set of customer audiences that we’re focused on and as a result that requires a new level of relationships that need to be built. Some of these audiences we don’t currently have, I would say, friendlies or advocates in. So that’s kind of been the first step for us is like not only building those relationships, but getting to know those customers, what they need, what’s in it for them, for that specific audience or that size or that vertical. It’s completely nuanced.
And you know, it’s one thing to do a research and insights like market research, but it’s another thing to just build relationships and start to learn more about their workflows, more about their challenges, their pain points. For example, with small businesses, you kind of have to get to the why behind the why. At my old company, Intuit, we always said, what are the five whys?
Because if you ask, by the time you get to the fifth why, you get to the real real, and the real answers so some of the things that you hear first is like, oh, this is just an easy process to do this workflow. And then you ask why, and you keep getting to the why and all of a sudden you realize it’s not that easy. And they’ve duct taped a workflow together with all these clunky tools. As you’re going through that process, you also learn some of the emotional elements that you wouldn’t normally get without building that relationship. So for example, the moments of delight and excitement when someone gets their first payments and paycheck as a small business owner or the loneliness that they feel obviously amidst the pandemic, but also the fact that they feel alone building out their business. These are the things that you start to get into and start to actually develop the core and the crux of these programs that we’ve built.
This year as well, we’ve acquired several companies and so a lot of the focus on scale has been, how do we think through the multi-product strategy in the context of customer marketing. What elements of our customer marketing programs are fixed across each of those different products, which elements are flexible and which are free, and what I love as well about the multi-product strategy that we’re now in is these smaller companies that we’ve acquired can kind of become the testing ground for a lot of ideas that we couldn’t really do at a bigger company scale. You can test and learn and fail much faster with a company of a hundred people that you’ve acquired than you can with an entire organization with all this infrastructure and tooling. So that’s been pretty exciting for us because a lot of the ideas we had on my multipage three-year strategy could not get executed obviously in year one is now getting reconsidered in the context of testing and learning. And so a lot of what we’re doing is testing tools, seeing if they work, seeing if they resonate, building it into programs and then pushing them out if not. Just working through that experience.
Another thing about scale is continuing to focus on the learning and development of my team. So as I’ve worked to hire and onboard, there’s so much around learning and development. And like I said, this just in time learning. A lot of which can happen through just developing a strong peer network of customer marketers, but also attending customer marketing conferences and events. Maybe watching a series or a course on how to do a customer journey roadmap and really thinking about then how do those programs define the success and the future of Dropbox? So in our case, in terms of your question on roles and responsibilities, because we had that company need to really evolve into this collaboration platform with multi products, we had a lot of our focus first on telling the right stories and the new stories for this new narrative we were trying to achieve in the market.
And then I think the second from there was then how do we start to establish stronger relationships with these customers so that they’re willing to be advocates and participate in webinars and panels and in-person events if we ever get to those. And also just having the chance to make them successful and famous. Anytime we share a project that we’re going to launch and getting buy-in internally, there’s two columns, there’s the goals of the customer and what’s in it for them. And there’s the goals of the business and what’s in it for us, and we always start first with the customer. We actually have one of our values at Dropbox called “they win, we win.” And we really think about that in the context of these programs, like if we’re not making them successful or famous in the ways that they want to engage with us, then they’re not going to be willing in four months time after you’ve over tapped them for stories and testimonials to then be speaking on stage when you have an event. Those types of things are things that we think about as we’re scaling.
But again, going back to what you just said in summary, it’s really focusing on these new audiences, these new relationships, feeding that back into product and go to market. And also just working on how we scale with these multi product companies and test and learn along the way.
Margot Leong: Got it. And so with all of that in mind, how did you think about hiring for your team to address some of these things?
Bree Bunzel: Yeah. So, as I mentioned, because stories were first, the first customer marketer we brought on was really focused on scaling our customer stories. One of the things that we did with this first hire was figure out what are the best pipelines that we need to identify and create so that we are getting the right customers for these different customer marketing initiatives. And this included a lot of tests and learning what the sales team and other around spiffs and programs to increase the number of customer references signed and when is the right time. So for example, when a customer signs up for Dropbox for the first time, they’re not going to really be an advocate because they haven’t even used the tool to be confident enough to say, Hey, I love the product. It’s changed my life.
So then it’s a matter of understanding the customer journey and what touch points and what parts of the journey make most sense to engage with them, to then become an advocate and be part of these programs. Our first hire was very much focused around scaling. I was really proud to see that she and the team really worked to improve the number of customer references 67% year over year and that really created this amazing pipeline of customers we could hand select for different opportunities throughout the year.
Our second hire was a lot more focused on the operational side of things. It’s not always the sexiest, but if it’s not nailed, the rest of customer marketing can not stay afloat. Those are things like how do you manage tools that you’re working with for CRM and referenceability and what are the processes internally where the company engages with customers? I’ll give you another example of this. I think at the time when we were starting out customer marketing, everyone engaged with the customer in a different way. And so let’s say there was a webinar happening next week and a company all hands where we need a customer to speak a month later, there were five different Dropboxers reaching out often to the same customer to have different opportunities, whether it’s getting interviewed for an event, a press release, what have you.
And so the customer was getting this disjointed experience and they could see our silos externally, which is not what we want. So creating SLAs and different engagement processes where there’s a certain way that we engage with customers and how we approach them and by no means, do we want to be a gatekeeper. We just don’t have the scale with the amount of customers we have at Dropbox.
But it’s really about thinking through those processes, those tools, also things like even request forms, intake forms, everyone across the company is like, hey, we want to talk to a customer. We want to do this with the customer, and we’re trying to evolve an d automate some of those processes so that we can actually spend less time doing the vetting and sourcing of customers and more time building out the programs.
And then our third, most recent customer marketer has been really focused on this multi-product approach. She’s representing one of the recent products that we acquired and she’s starting to think through how do we adopt some of the blueprints that we have for customer marketing into the organizations that she’s running, but also what things are flexible and what things can we test in that environment? I think there’s just so much, you’re going to learn in those small testing beds that we have with those smaller teams and smaller companies that we’ve acquired. And so we’re really keen to build that out, but there’s no perfect formula. And I would say, to be honest, we all still wear a lot of hats. It’s not perfectly clean on what each of those roles are and many times a few of us are helping with one project just to get it out the door and make sure that’s successful. And I think the key for us has been really just building strong internal relationships and ensuring that people feel like they have the right tools to be successful in educating customers and engaging with customers, moving us away from just almost like a service organization into more of a strategic function.
Margot Leong: Yes, absolutely. I think in that vein, we talked about these three hires that you’ve brought onto your team. You know, now that you’ve moved from right, a customer marketer of one to now having three people on your team to help out, where have you sort of transitioned yourself? What percentage of your time is spent doing maybe managing versus projects that you personally want to own versus strategy? Like how are you thinking now about how you spend your time in the best way for your team?
Bree Bunzel: Yeah. It’s been an interesting journey in the last two years of building, I guess, growing as an individual, but also growing as a manager. I think I told you this before we hit record, but New York Times came out with an article that talked about what is your word of the year. So instead of having all these crazy big goals for 2022 that never all get achieved because you went too hard in the paint in the first month, what are the actual things that you want to focus on in one word? And so my word of the year is “surrender,” which is just letting go and letting go of the things that you cannot control and working harder on things you can control.
And so the biggest exercise for me, has been, how do I surrender in a lot of the work that I used to do as like more individual contributor work and moving more into a strategic role where you’re looking much broader than just the team itself, but where’s the company heading, where’s customer marketing heading as a function? What are the trends that we’re seeing, who are the right people to bring in? It’s been really great because with the learning and development has also included that coaching element and some of the coaching doesn’t have to just be yourself. I self admit, I’m not an expert of customer marketing. I’m still learning every day and because it’s an up and coming function, that’s becoming this hot thing, it doesn’t mean that anyone’s been doing it for their entire career. I think a lot of people are learning as they go.
And so one of the things that we’ve also done is we’ve scaled is we bring in coffee chats with different external guests. So back when Dropbox was in the office, we had a cafeteria called the tuck shop and every day at 4:00 PM, they would ring this bell and like cattle, we would all run up and get these snacks. I know, it was ridiculous. And we were very spoiled and we know that now I’m working and living remote, but I think one of the things that we loved about that is when you’re in line waiting for your fresh cookie, there is this concept called casual collisions that happen where you bump into someone you wouldn’t normally think about that could be interesting to influence the work that you’re doing or could be an interesting person to speak to. And because of the fact that we don’t have these casual collisions, because we’re at home at our desks, we have forced them into our organization, specifically with customer marketing of bringing in guest speakers, either internally or externally, So instead of these casual collisions, I’d say we’ve evolved to like intentional collisions with different experts, so people who’ve built customer marketing, people maybe that are five years ahead of us and they’re part of the organization with customer marketing.
Most recently we brought in Danny Gilroy, who’s our internal head of diversity, equity and inclusion, and that’s been its own journey, which I’ll share more in a minute, but just having this very interesting folks that can completely change the strategy of your company, your team, and the impact that you create.
I think a lot of this year has been focused on, from my role, evolving into a strategic lens, really focused on what is the vision for the year? What are the key goals? How do we want to solve them bit by bit each quarter? And where do we want to feel proud of as a team leaving the end of the year. And then from there, it’s also creating the right challenges for each of the team members, inspiration to keep them excited and engaged and also the right learning and development.
Another thing is, you know, I’ve empowered each of the teammates to have a question asked of what is your “yes and?” So when you’re doing an end of year review, it’s often not just, oh, they did their three projects really well. There’s always a “yes and.” And that often tips you over the edge between someone who gets promoted and not. And so for each of them, we’re also working on what other “yes and” activities, so things like running learning, and development for the team or being a diversity, equity and inclusion lead for the company or being a volunteer lead for the AMER region, whatever the case may be. Just having these opportunities for them to grow as individuals that also impact the work itself.
So I would say mentoring, coaching, strategy is a lot of it. And also just making sure their mental health and their wellness is in check. I think some of the things that you realize over time and my favorite leads early on in the pandemic just asked, how are you today? How was your mental health? We do this thing every week now. It’s called the burnout meter, which is where do you feel in terms of red, yellow, green on your level of burnout? Like, are you feeling stressed? Where can we help support you? And just being able to share that openly with the team is one part of it. And the second is just being able to also check on each other and care for each other.
We’re also now adding a boundaries check, which is obviously started by myself, but also something we all need to work on, which is are you guys getting enough time in your day to be in flow and complete your tasks and work on those projects? Are you doing a good job of setting boundaries or do you feel like people are creeping up on those and how can we help support you?
So I think a lot of different roles that you play as a manager, and I find so much fulfillment from it, just to see even the improvement in someone’s confidence in six months presenting to a leadership team, like that just makes my week. You know, there’s good weeks and bad weeks, you know, there’s weeks where people are having a tough time personally, and you’ve got to manage that and hold space for them and be empathetic and put your manager hat aside and be like, we will cover your work. Like, are you okay? And so that’s often not really talked about, but it does take up a lot of mental and emotional strength and energy to support and hold space for the team in that way.
Margot Leong: So many great things here, but when you talk about the coaching element, it actually reminded me of that two column thing you talked about with customers, right? You’re basically taking care of your people in that same vein as you’re taking care of your customers. So you’ve got what’s their wins versus the business wins. And how do those overlap? How do those run in parallel? I think that is fantastic. And the burnout level meter and the boundaries check, I’m like a hundred percent gonna use that for my own team now, I love that. So thank you. I really learned something here for that. That’s a good tip.
Bree Bunzel: Yeah, it’s been great. And I think the beauty of it is not really the status itself. It’s just being able to confide in each other, share with each other, support each other, and just feel like there’s this community behind you. And I think one of the things that I guess I learned specifically through the pandemic is let’s say you get off a tough call or a tough meeting. You can then go to your colleague at their desk and be like, Hey, let’s go for a walk and let’s talk about it or let’s grab coffee and let’s just hash it out. And a problem shared is a problem halved.
But the challenge with remote work is you get off a tough meeting and you close down Zoom and you just still feel like not great. And so these are the moments where we have an actual opportunity to like share these things. And by no means, is it a venting session, it’s just holding space in the way that you can share those challenges with each other and actually support each other through them.
Margot Leong: So I wanted to wrap up with another topic that I know is super near and dear to your heart. And I wanted to make sure that we get to but that’s essentially the importance of diversity, specifically when it comes to thinking about the customers that you feature. And this is actually a topic that I haven’t yet talked about with any guests but is something that when I reflect is very easy, I think to overlook. So I’d love for you to speak a bit more to how you define that and how you’re thinking about that.
Bree Bunzel: Yeah. And it’s been an interesting few years with everything happening in the world with Black Lives Matter and the Asian hate movement. And it’s required me first and foremost, personally, to reflect on my journey, my experience, checking myself on what things I need to learn more about and be educated on and to become more aware of, but also what my responsibility and my platform is becoming and what I can do to actually help support. Because I think when a lot of that stuff was happening, many people felt helpless. Like, of course, you can be vocal in different ways and some people weren’t because they didn’t even know where to begin.
But I think I started to really internalize, like what that means for my role and being a Korean American living in Australia, diversity is something that’s so close to my heart and it’s really not discussed in the realm of customer marketing that often. So I’m really glad we’re having a chance to talk about it today.
Customer markers, we have this platform, we represent a wide array of diverse customers around the world. Oftentimes we have the power to change a person or a business’s life as I mentioned. A customer story can have 7 million in reach and the case for Dropbox, and so we have a duty to ensure that these diverse people, these voices, these stories are represented.
An example of this came up when we kicked off our first customer awards program. Last year, we were in the midst of our nomination process and when we started to see the early nominations come through, we saw this homogenous majority for the early nominations. If you think about the end state of something like an awards program, there’s this big launch, there’s this webpage, there’s all these assets, and can you imagine if every face of a customer that you featured look the same. I would feel so mortified and like I did a disservice to the brand and the true representation of our customers, and in the case for us with these early nominations that were quite similar in age and gender and ethnicity, this small subset represented only a sliver of the diverse tapestry of our customers.
You know, we brought in our head of diversity to have some guidance and just be like, hey, we’re struggling with this. This is the kind of nominations we’re getting with this program. How can we be thinking about it differently? And he had some amazing suggestions. I think first and foremost, moving forward for every program, we’re actually going to be looping in our diversity, equity and inclusion team in the strategic process as partners walking side by side. We started to actually take his advice around exploring new pipelines for nominations for these customer awards. We have a massive diversity, equity, inclusion team and program and we also have employee resource groups (ERGs).
So we have several different ethnicities and minorities, and even accessibility is an example of another form of diversity represented. And so having these groups actually be partners in figuring out and building those pipelines for those customer awards was instrumental in adding this level of diversity to the program. And then we also now moving forward intentionally have criteria in the types of customers that we’re looking for from the get-go that really makes sure we do select a diverse representation of our customers.
And we’re proud to say that the final launch of the program end of last year, like I said, you kind of look at the vision of all these assets going live and there was this diverse group of ages and ethnicities and cultures and genders and more, and we’ve realized this is only the beginning of what we can do for our customers. Not only for them, but their communities and even younger aspiring entrepreneurs. As I mentioned earlier, being Asian-American, there weren’t many represented business leaders at the time that were Asian-American and now being able to see someone who looks like you achieving something you’d like to achieve one day can change an entire person’s career and their journey.
Margot Leong: It’s really interesting what you mentioned on the customer marketing side, having that platform and taking that power very seriously, because I think it’s not something that people really think. that much about sometimes where it’s like, okay, we are working hard to get to the point where we get the customer up there and then you think about that stuff maybe in hindsight. And so I love the fact that you underlined that the platform that you can have is in and of itself pretty far reaching and especially obviously for a company like Dropbox, but even for companies with smaller reach, anything that you do in this regard, it all adds up. It all helps. If you start to see more diversity represented amongst the customer stories that you tell and the faces that you put, all of it makes a difference. So I think this is great.
And I think another thing that’s really interesting is DEI, you mostly think about it in the context of recruiting and HR. And so I’m curious if like, were you the first marketing team to kind of bring them in and like, think about it in this way as it applies to customers? Or was that already a very built out way of thinking about it?
Bree Bunzel: That’s a good question. I actually don’t know the answer to that. Like, I don’t know what other teams really have done with bringing DEI in from a program standpoint, but I do know that it happens in different pockets. For example, our brand marketing team, who’s doing all of the advertising campaigns in the out-of-home is very conscious of diversity and representation. They even have a research study they do every year to show the number of diversity shown in a specific ad or a specific asset and how that representation percentage-wise of what is the percentage of Asians represented or blacks represented or other underrepresented minorities. And so there’s definitely pockets in which I see folks getting influenced by that, but I do think it should be more deeply owned and accountability for marketers as well as DEI leaders to be part of that strategic level.
One example that I’m really proud of for Dropbox as a whole is we have a really big accessibility team and most recently they’ve launched some amazing changes in the product where all different levels of being colorblind or blindness, being able to still use the product. And it sounds so minor as in you don’t really hear about it. And it’s not something that you probably take for granted, especially if you don’t have a disability, but then I will tell you, we have this reply all culture internally for when something launches, the accessibility emails get the most amount of plus ones, woo-hoos, go teams because it’s just such a life impacting transformation to really solve pain points, people who are still trying to live their day to day and use Dropbox, but maybe have some sort of disability and being able to solve for that in a way where it doesn’t feel any different to someone who doesn’t have a disability as someone who does. It’s just a huge win.
And I think there’s always more we can be doing. I don’t think there’s set processes. I don’t know enough about how their companies are operating in that way. It’s something I want to lean into more this year. But I can only imagine where we can head where this shouldn’t be eventually, hopefully a topic of conversation because it’s just so normalized. But until then we need advocates and we need voices and we need people stepping up and standing up for these different types of representation, especially for me, especially in the context of customer marketing.
Margot Leong: I think that’s amazing. And it’s a really good thing to start thinking about different influences, right? And this is something that I am personally very passionate about is, look at the type of work that we do and you look at some of the guests that I’ve spoken to, like a lot of people have such different backgrounds and have not done customer marketing their whole lives.
A lot of people have come in, like PMM or, you know, they worked in sales or success or maybe they were a small business entrepreneur for a while. But as you said earlier, right, the sort of the through line is the customer. And I do think that because the role is so customer focused, but also, so cross-functional focused, the more that you can do to get in those different perspectives and to lean on teams internally for that help is incredible. So the fact that you were thinking about how to approach this, and you’re like, oh, actually, like I have a resource in my own company that can already start to help and think about these things, even if they don’t necessarily live in marketing to sort of switch that lens and to be open to that is really valuable.
And that’s really like the combination of the influences that allows you to take your programs to like a whole new level in a way that a lot of companies just haven’t really thought about before. It’s the combination of your experience, your team experience, and then all the different inspiration sources that can really do incredible things for your program.
Bree Bunzel: Yeah, absolutely. And I would say more than ever this past year, I’ve learned the importance of diverse hiring. Two of the women on my team are underrepresented minorities, first-generation college and the types of perspectives and the grit and the resilience, and even the connections they have to these communities in different ways have changed our programs. And just having those voices in the room when you’re creating a program from the get-go where you’re actually representing this diverse tapestry I mentioned earlier in the way that your team is organized, also creates representation in the way the programs are approached and accessible to others.
And I think this is only the beginning and that’s something that I had a paradigm shift over the last few years. It’s not just looking at a team and seeing a bunch of diverse faces or genders or whatnot, there’s so much more in terms of perspective and mindset. Maybe things that you don’t see on the surface, that diversity of thought, I have someone on my team who is introverted, someone who’s extroverted and being able to understand how to use those superpowers to create good within the world.
Margot Leong: I think this is a great point to sort of wrap up on, but the last question, Bree, is where can people connect with you if they’d like to pick your brain or just find out more about what you’re working on?
Bree Bunzel: Yeah. So I’m not on social media. I’ve not been on it for the last year and a half now. Oh my goodness. Yeah, that could be its own podcast. But you can find me on LinkedIn. I’d like to caveat, I don’t accept blank connection requests. So as you can tell from the podcast, I’m pretty. Intentional with my life and folks, if they’re reaching out, just send a personalized note why you’re wanting to be connected and just want to make sure we’re building meaningful relationships in this world, but yeah, that would be great.
Margot Leong: Fantastic. Well, Bree, this was an amazing conversation. Thank you so much for coming on. I really enjoyed it.
Bree Bunzel: Thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity, Margot.
Thanks for tuning into this episode of Beating The Drum. For more interviews with advocacy leaders and tips on creating customers that will sing your praises, head on over to our website, beatingthedrum.com. If you enjoyed today’s show, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to rate and review us. If you know someone that would be a great fit for the show, I would love to hear about it. You can reach out at beatingthedrum.com. Take care, everybody.