AMA: Head of APAC Marketing @ Stripe, Jon Stona
This AMA is an abridged recap of a session from our private community.
Jon Stona leads Stripe’s marketing efforts across Asia-Pacific. Stripe helps businesses of every size – from startups to Fortune 500 companies – easily manage payments and grow their businesses online.
In his AMA, Jon shared lots of nitty gritty details on how he thinks about managing the APAC marketing team for a giant like Stripe, while sharing lessons from doing marketing for a decade at Google.
Some of the ideas you'll find in the recap below:
- How to think about regional leadership in a global company
- How to have an impact as a new marketing leader
- How to be the most influential person in any meeting
"What is the mandate of your marketing team for Stripe in APAC? How does the business judge whether you and your team are doing a good job?"
In general, I think marketing at any company has two main functions: grow the brand and grow the business.
However, one nuance is that when I say "grow the brand", I don't mean that marketing needs to do pure-play brand campaigns, i.e. we shouldn't feel obligated to run billboards or do tv ads.
By contrast, everything we do (including our performance marketing ad copy to the swag we give out at events) should be accretive to the brand.
Specifically, my team focuses on a few things here in APAC:
Delivering a meaningful and trackable contribution to Stripe’s revenue growth.
We work across multiple channels (offline and online) to deliver measurable pipeline to Sales. We boost paid media and organic efforts (SEO, content marketing, etc.) to help drive self-serve sign-ups on Stripe.com
Supporting a system of sales enablement and solution selling.
This spans everything from local insights to social proof (case studies, testimonials, etc.) to vertical narratives to collateral.
Owning regional product marketing.
Launching new products, features, and markets across APAC. For example, when we launched MY in 2019, the marketing team had a major role to play on everything from our positioning by segment to the actual launch event.
Scaled efforts to decrease onboarding time and increase customer lifetime value.
“Stripe has a huge organic machine, great reputation and word of mouth. How do you tease out the impact of your marketing programs vs what would have happened whether or not your team did something?”
- It’s important to realise that Stripe doesn't necessarily have the same reputation across all segments and markets, e.g. originally our focus was on startups, developers, and digital native companies...and while that continues to be true, we’ve now also made significant inroads into legacy enterprise businesses. That entire buying motion is different and it's an area that marketing needs to help drive via thought leadership, narrative development, sales enablement, events, etc.
- We track whatever we can to show incremental impact. For example, for webinars, we measure registrants, attendees, leads, opportunities, pipeline, all the way down to margin. For performance marketing, we also do incrementality studies to assess the true uplift of our investments.
- Despite Stripe being one of the few global players in the space, we still have lots of headroom in APAC. There are entirely new markets where brand awareness for Stripe may be low, and my team needs to come in and launch the brand from scratch and build it over time.
- Another area of focus is upselling. Many folks think about Stripe mainly in terms of core payments, but in reality the entire solution is much much more - Radar (fraud prevention), Connect (marketplaces and platforms), Terminal (offline), a variety of local payment methods (e.g. Alipay, Apple Pay, FPX, etc.), myriad optimisation features (e.g. adaptive acceptance) - my team plays a role in growing customer lifetime value and again we'll do hold-out groups and A/B tests to assess the impact of our efforts.
I could continue to speak about this for another hour since we haven't covered areas like the self-serve funnel and sales enablement.
Also, a critical reminder that "organic" doesn't mean that it's without the influence of marketing! Part of that organic growth comes from the content we put out and the validation from industry analysts (e.g. Stripe was #1 on Forrester's wave) - marketing has a major role to play here.
Overall though, we track as far into the funnel as we can for every single marketing effort, whether it's an offline event or performance marketing campaign (down to the individual keyword).
"What is the best campaign or marketing program you've done at Stripe in APAC? Feel free to define 'best' however you'd like."
I have a soft spot for the first Stripe Sessions we did here in Singapore in 2019.
For those of you less familiar with Stripe, Sessions is our flagship annual event and 2019 was the first time we brought it to APAC. It signalled Stripe's commitment and growth in the region.
It was fulfilling to see the ecosystem get behind us for the event and we had a great mix of financial partners, startups, enterprises, agencies, etc. all jamming on where the payments ecosystem was headed.
This year (2021), we've made our Sessions conference virtual and distributed across June 16–30. You’ll get the latest from Stripe (including product updates, demos, and workshops) and hear new perspectives on the digital economy from a variety of global leaders. Check out the agenda and register for free:
A close second would be the first major physical event sponsorship we did in APAC: Money20/20 a few years ago. Our installation was so different from everyone else's and we ended up giving out hundreds of Stripe press books - it just helped elevate the brand and cut above the noise.
Some exhibitors were handing out pens and branded power banks (the standard trade show fare), whereas we were engaging attendees with books on social and economic progress!
"When you joined Stripe as a marketing leader after a long stint at Google, there must have been high expectations. How did you think about showing impact and generating results after you started at Stripe?"
Nikesh Arora (Google's former CBO), used to say "revenue solves all problems" and there's some merit in that.
Early on, I wanted to start showing some degree of revenue contribution (e.g. by step-changing our performance marketing efforts), which could then buy me more time to keep building other marketing channels.
I think you can have a lot of impact just by really listening and solving real problems. I tried to spend the first quarter speaking to every sales person individually and understanding what was really holding them back. Not only did it demonstrate that I cared and was a partner, but it also helped me uncover where marketing could add the most value.
Before I joined, one common complaint from sales was that they needed more leads. However, after a number of conversations, I realised that there was already an influx of leads, but the challenges were more around lead enrichment and qualification. Those are very different problems to solve, so within the first quarter I onboarded a partner who could help qualify and enrich several hundred leads in 2 days … something that would have previously taken an individual salesperson 3 weeks to do.
The main point is, find the real pain points and areas to add value by asking lots of questions and listening intently. Don't just settle for surface responses or take every statement as truth. Keep probing.
On top of that, one of Stripe's core beliefs is "we haven't won yet" and in many ways I also feel that personally. We've just scratched the surface with marketing in the region, and there's lots more in store.
A few areas I think about:
Building for the long term. I think for new leaders it can be tempting at times to want to rush into things and show immediate impact. Although it's good to get quick wins, my general belief is that those shouldn't come at the expense of a longer term strategy (build companies for years and decades, not for quarters and months). Along those lines, early on I wanted to make investments that would yield long-term growth for the team and remove friction, e.g. establishing the right agency partnerships for media and events, onboarding freelancers, making sure we improved our analytical rigor, etc. Unless you have a solid foundation, your house will crumble once you pick up the pace.
Attracting the right team. I've been (and Stripe overall) has been obsessive about keeping the hiring bar high. I remember having a role open in Australia for over a year, mainly because we didn't find the right person. Great people attract other great people, so it's critical that you staff your early team with talented, hard working, and positive individuals. Not just people who are functional experts at what they do, but also genuine, honest, and caring people.
"How do you see the role of marketing and PR specifically changing between your stints at B2C roles vs B2B at Stripe? What activities and measures are the same, what are unique to each?"
In many ways, I don't see much difference as long as one follows marketing first principles.
At the end of the day, marketing is about:
- Getting solid user and market insights,
- Determining an appropriate segmentation and target customer,
- Taking insights and crafting a compelling story,
- Distributing that compelling story via a variety of channels/media,
- Measuring success and improving.
I don't see that much difference outright between B2B and B2C. Staying true to marketing first principles will be what determines the difference in your overall strategy.
“Stripe and Google are US-based companies, and you've been the regional marketing leader in SEA. What can you share about what you've learned about smartly dividing what the 'domestic' teams owns versus what the 'international/regional' teams own?”
Great question! Before answering, I'd encourage folks in this slack channel (especially if you're more junior in your career) to try to get experience across a variety of roles. I started my career in a global role, then moved to a regional role, then tried a local market role … then realised regional roles were the ones where I was most happy and could probably contribute the most.
Had I not experimented with a variety of structures, I probably wouldn't have had enough clarity to know where to focus.
To answer the question specifically, I'm very explicit with my team and the global team that we're not supposed to be "order takers" from HQ.
It shouldn't be a situation where everything is run centrally and we just localise a bunch of material. You don't need a team of hungry, talented, and motivated people to do that. If that's the case, a better use of resources is to simply outsource that.
By contrast, I want the team to see ourselves as directly controlling the strategy and execution within the region (while making sure it aligns globally), and also being a source of innovation for the global team. We're in a fascinating region and we have the benefit of being able to be nimble and experiment in ways that the HQ team can't. Use that risk appetite to our advantage.
In general, I try to take direct ownership of anything that I'm held accountable for. As an example, if I know that 80% of my budget is on digital marketing, then I'm going to do everything I can to bring that within the region, but still stay completely aligned with HQ.
More broadly, I also need to look at whether the increased efficiency of global centralisation outweighs any increase in performance if a function were to be decentralised. Every company and team may be different, however for us, I find that a function like analytics makes sense to be global at the start (we need consistent metrics across regions, central dashboards, etc.). There isn’t much incremental return I get from having someone in-region.
Whereas for something like performance marketing, the benefits (especially in markets like CN and JP) of having a regional expert obsessing about optimisation and localisation, far outweigh the efficiency gains of running it from HQ.
“Can you please tell us about some big mistakes or painful lessons you've learned in your career?”
Several jump to mind:
Early in my career, I think I used to wait too long to ask for help from others. It can be tempting to want to prove yourself and keep hustling, however, a sign of maturity is to know when to step back and ask for help from your manager or broader team.
Being too lax on performance of team members. Having tough conversations is ... well, TOUGH ... and it can be uncomfortable for both parties. However, shying away from the topic is a disservice to your team members and in some ways selfish. Establish trusted relationships with others so they know your feedback is coming from a good place and that you care. Also, don't just deliver constructive feedback and drop the mic. Instead, offer to help and see how you can partner with someone to help them grow their career. It'll go a long way in establishing life-long relationships.
Strive to be the most prepared person in meetings. Oftentimes in a debate or discussion, the most influential person will emerge as the one who seems most equipped with facts and figures. Be that person. Don't just show up thinking that you can influence decisions based on your opinion or reputation.
Empower the team, but still remain objective. There have been times where I've wanted to trust my team so much to make a call that I didn't do enough "devil's advocate" work or interrogate on the quality of the strategy or decision. Yes, it's good to be a cheerleader for others, but don’t sacrifice sound business acumen and thorough process.
Look outside your comfort zone. After nearly ten years at Google, when I joined Stripe, I was shocked at just how much the marketing world had changed. It felt as though I had been living in a bit of a bubble and had lost pace with all the cool new services and martech out there. Big learning is to not be myopic and insular. Talk to other marketers, attend webinars, learn from the broader industry.
"How do you stay on top of what’s going on in marketing?"
I don't think I do a good job at this, but I'll say three things:
- I'm a big believer in marketing fundamentals and first principles. You can have the latest tech in the world, but if your fundamentals aren't sound then your strategy will fall apart. Humans in general are psychologically wired in certain ways. So I'd recommend grounding oneself in behavioural economics. I like books like "Nudge" and earlier in the year I read Jonah Lehrer's "How We Decide".
- I'm biased, but I have a soft spot for Think With Google - I like that it covers a variety of topics and verticals. Periodically, I also used to check Adweek's ad of the day, just to see what the latest creative thinking is.
- I'm a fan of meeting people 1:1 and establishing meaningful connections. As an example, Piyush Varanjani was one of the first people I met in this APAC Marketer's Roundtable community and we're now fortunate to have him on the Stripe Marketing team.
Jon is originally from Kingston, Jamaica and holds an M.B.A. from Stanford University and a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Harvard University. In Jon’s spare time, there’s a good chance he’s trying to prevent his young daughter from jumping off various pieces of furniture, while also reading mixed martial arts (MMA) news. Connect with Jon here.
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