Fortinet and Marketing Management: Third Time’s a Charm?

E. Parizo
E. Parizo

Summary Bullets:

  • New Fortinet marketing chief Stacey Wu plans to build Fortinet’s brand by leveraging its culture of innovation, imagination, and technical breakthroughs.
  • It’s unclear whether Wu can overcome the pitfalls that recently doomed her two predecessors, namely wavering support for marketing by CEO Ken Xie.

When it comes to marketing, Fortinet has a checkered history. Historically, the company has not prioritized marketing, embracing a corporate identity that places technological innovation at the fore.

In recent years, however, the company has endeavored to increase marketing spending in order to bolster sales growth. It has also sought to create a brand and go-to-market message that matches the agility of its technology, which helps justify purchasing from a vendor that was previously unfamiliar to many IT buyers. But, these efforts have been inconsistent and uncoordinated; insiders and those close to Fortinet lay the blame on CEO Xie, noting his inability to commit to a consistent marketing strategy and his eagerness to redirect marketing funding back toward product development.

Fortinet’s marketing efforts have been further hampered by a revolving door at the top of its marketing team. Luanne Tierney was hired as VP of marketing in August 2014, but never received autonomy over global programs and was gone in less than a year. In September 2015, Fortinet hired Holly Rollo away from rival FireEye and empowered her to lead a marketing overhaul by granting her the title of Chief Marketing Officer. However, despite being handpicked by Oracle CMO and Fortinet Director Judith Sim, Rollo’s brand-centric approach failed to resonate internally; in less than six months, she was out, taking a similar role at RSA.

This time, Fortinet has tapped Stacey Wu, a former longtime product marketing executive at Symantec and Avaya, as its senior vice president for worldwide marketing.

Wu recognizes that Fortinet’s regional business units lack consistent branding, go-to-market and sales support services, and she plans to change that by fostering thought leadership and compelling resources that will resonate with stakeholders. She also ambitiously wants to leverage Fortinet’s unique identity and culture of innovation, imagination, and technical breakthroughs, referencing its renowned “wall of patents” in its Sunnyvale headquarters. That effort, in turn, will support Fortinet’s company-wide goal to win the hearts and minds of customers’ technical and executive leaders.

Can Wu succeed where her predecessors have failed? As a native of Singapore, Wu recognizes that Xie has built Fortinet to run like an Asian company, prioritizing substance over style, consistency over risk, and technical knowhow over brashness and bravado. Wu seeks not to change Fortinet’s humble culture, but to embrace it as an asset and promote it to the masses. She plans not only to use Fortinet’s technical prowess as an avenue toward metrics-driven security conversations that executive buyers can understand, but also to foster more “grassroots” evangelism among technologists by bolstering support for user groups and customer-focused events. Wu also has prioritized building a relationship with Xie, helping him understand the rationale behind key initiatives. She’s driven to prove to Xie that a long-term, sustained investment in a sound marketing strategy will further the overall business.

Yet, the challenges of Wu’s predecessors haven’t disappeared. Fortinet’s global regions have the freedom to build and run their businesses largely independently, and that isn’t likely to change. Gaining buy-in from various global stakeholders within Fortinet remains challenging. Promoting Fortinet’s humble culture of innovation is admirable, but patents aren’t the stuff eye-catching brands are built on. Wu will need a consistent (if not increased) long-term budget commitment to accomplish these goals, as well as to meet her charge of significantly augmenting Fortinet’s digital lead-generation capabilities. Yet, on the company’s Q3 2016 earnings call, CFO Drew Del Matto said Fortinet intends to reallocate its current marketing budget, not meaningfully increase it.

Wu understands that leading and advancing marketing efforts at Fortinet will be a challenge, and she seems prepared to work within Fortinet’s unique environment. Only time will tell if she can succeed where others have not.

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