Zereen Ali, Cyberforce Q’s Marketing Coordinator, brings her one-person team to the podcast today. Together, we talk about being new to cybersecurity, finding educational resources for cybersecurity marketers, and growing with Cyberforce Q from regional to national. With a variety of skills under her belt and a work history that includes automotive marketing for a tier-one supplier, Zereen has become a vital part of Cyberforce Q’s success. She hopes to take this company even further with leveraging partnerships and managing data quality.
[03:08] Transitioning from an automotive to cybersecurity marketing position
[07:07] Structuring her work calendar around her one-person digital marketing team
[12:40] Approaching Cyberforce Q’s scaling from a marketing perspective and utilizing former automotive marketing strategies
[16:15] Marketing campaigns and techniques that have worked and haven’t worked for Cyberforce Q
[20:19] Joining the cybersecurity industry during the COVID pandemic
What is it like moving from automotive to cybersecurity marketing?
After leaving the automotive industry during the pandemic, Zereen saw an opportunity in cybersecurity marketing to grow her content strategy skills, as well as learn the technical side of the cybersecurity industry. Leaving behind the more rigid and traditional world of automotive marketing, Zereen joined Cyberforce Q and immediately felt the personal impact that increased security has on their clients.
“In cyber, you can really feel that impact because you’re protecting people…We’re really protecting the end users in a lot of cases, and it feels really fulfilling.”
What marketing educational materials have been the most helpful for you?
New to cyber, Zereen found herself with a lot to learn about the ins and outs of Cyberforce Q and their competitors’ products and services as well. Focusing on researching and networking, she joined our Cyber Marketing Society and has found an incredible community willing to answer questions and provide feedback for people just like Zereen. New to cyber, or looking for fellow cyber security marketers? Check out the Cyber Marketing Society!
“[Cybersecurity Marketing Society] is such a wonderful place to start because you get an instant network…you can ask anyone any questions.”
How does being a one-person team impact your work and your schedule?
From her experience in automotive marketing, Zereen has gotten used to small marketing teams and high accountability. In her role at Cyberforce Q, Zereen is a one-person marketing team. From email campaigns to content marketing to website editing, she has a high volume of work and often collaborates with only an intern or two. To manage this workload, she keeps a tight schedule and a flexible calendar that allows for last minute changes.
“The brand touches every single piece of your organization. How I interact with clients, how our sales team interacts, and how our technical team interacts all need to have some strain of our vision within it.”
What is the next marketing strategy for Cyberforce Q?
In the transition from regional to national, Zereen has been focusing Cyberforce Q’s marketing strategy around leveraging strategic partnerships and increasing opportunities for Cyberforce Q to be seen as a subject matter expert. While partnering with other companies and organizations helps potential customers learn about Cyberforce Q, using speaking engagements and other educational opportunities to share knowledge and explain case studies builds trust in their knowledge of cybersecurity.
“[At Cyberforce Q], we are really trying to position ourselves as that subject matter expert.”
Follow Gianna on LinkedIn.
Catch up with Maria on LinkedIn.
Welcome to the Breaking Through in Cybersecurity Marketing Podcast.
Where we explore the hottest topics in cyber marketing.
And help you become a better cybersecurity marketer
Hello, and welcome to another episode of Breaking Through in Cybersecurity Marketing. I'm your cohost, Gianna Whitver.
We're both here. And we're excited to talk to Zereen Ali, the marketing manager at Cyberforce Q.
*Musical riff* I said I was gonna do that.
Yeah, so, Maria gave a little warning that she was going to do that, but I still didn't expect it. So, we're excited to have Zereen here because she is actually a newer person to cybersecurity marketing. She has a background in automotive and content development, in doing a lot of marketing at other companies outside of the cybersphere. And therefore, she brings a unique perspective. Plus, she is a one-person marketing team, which both me and Maria have known in our past, we have had that experience, too. And her company is growing like crazy, so they're expanding from just being regional to being national and she has a lot of advice for other companies that want to do that. Zereen, we're so excited to have you here.
Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited to get into it with you both and talk about all these awesome things.
All right, so let's jump right into it. So, tell us about yourself and what you do it Cyberforce Q as the single person on the marketing team.
Yeah, so I'm the Marketing Manager at Cyberforce Q, like you said, and I do everything, right? So, everything from content development, social media, refreshing and maintaining the website, sending out email campaigns, and I can go on and on and on. My day-to-day changes very often, but I love that, it's kind of what I'm used to. So, as you said, I'm a one-person team, but recently, I have had some interns and assistants join, not in a full marketing aspect, but somewhat as a support, so that has been nice and that has a lot of benefits and cool things to talk about. I also, in my previous, have been in marketing communications for an automotive company. It was a tier one supplier, which was wonderful. I started there in a two-person team and then got to a three-person team, so I'm usually on small teams. So, we have that, and it definitely taught me a lot. And then on the side, I am a Founding Director for a nonprofit called Break the Tide. I handle all the marketing for that and actively try to get
charities to come through and partner with us. We, in that organization, help different communities, different charities. We help fundraise for them, so they grow as well. So, lots of good things. Yeah.
That's so exciting. So, what's it been like joining the crazy cyber party? Now that you're in cyber marketing.
Yeah, it was definitely crazy. It was a huge adapting experience for me. I think as marketers, we can all relate that we have very transferable skills. So, wherever you go, there's so much you can give. So, I wasn't too concerned about changing industries and then, I did the change. I think with cyber, it's much more fast-paced. It's not as traditional as automotive, I think a lot of traditional aspects stay there, but people in tech tend to be a bit more open to new ideas, new experiences. Both of my experiences have been great in auto and cyber. And a little less on the resource side is what I've noticed as well, but that could also be because of company size, and other things like that. So, yeah, it's been wild and a lot to learn. I get very excited by grasping new concepts and understanding new things and figuring out how I can communicate that in a concise way. I'm sure you both can relate. I can see you smiling and
everything. Yeah. That was very interesting with cyber, because there's such a range of different concepts, different providers, and you can't really just know your solution. You have to know all the solutions out there, and how they're different. And yeah, it's been cool. And the other thing is that every job is fulfilling, but I do like that, in cyber, you can really feel that impact because you're protecting people. They don't get breached or their information isn't out there, and nowadays, information is everything. When that gets out there, it's so difficult and we're really protecting the end users in a lot of cases, so it feels very fulfilling.
Exactly. If you're protecting a company, you're protecting all of their customers' data and, to be selfish, all of our data to because we work with companies, we buy things, and we sign up online for things, and we all have insurance companies and everything. It affects them and also affects us, so it is very fulfilling industry.
So, Zereen, new to cyber, what have you seen, or what, in your opinion, has been the most helpful educational materials out there to help you become a better cybersecurity marketer?
Yes, so, actually, your Cybersecurity Marketing Society has helped me a lot, because it's such a wonderful place to start because you get an instant network, everyone is so welcoming and kind. With your Slack channels, you can ask any questions. I've asked a few, just to get people's ideas. As someone new to the field, I think it can be overwhelming with so many different things to learn. I'm very research-oriented, so Google has been my best friend in a lot of cases. I will just look up different concepts, look up these articles, figure out what's hot, what's happened, and just have to understand a couple of things that I've never had education in before. And then, with the Cyber Marketing Society, I think it gives a more operational perspective of people actually in the field, or you'll have events that give you insights you can't really just look up. So, that's been really nice. And just networking with peers, because I feel that everyone, especially us as marketers, we're not afraid to tell each other, "This has worked well for us, but this hasn't worked well," because we're all in it together in a sense, because
for each customer, to be honest, your solution might not be the perfect solution, someone else's might be. And it's kind of just a growing, changing type of atmosphere. So, I would say that. I think, also, talking to my internal teams has been amazing. I have such a wonderful operations manager at my company, and she is willing to give me any information at any time, kind of simplify it a little bit for me if it's too complex, and same thing with all of my technical team members. So, that has been really great.
That's a sign of a great culture, too, everybody is helping each other. It's not like, "Oh, I have to explain to the marketer this concept." No, this is where we're all working together as a team, as an organization, as a company. So, as a one-person marketing team, Zereen, how do you structure your time and your day so that you don't become overwhelmed? Because it's very easy to try and do everything, so what do you do?
Yeah, absolutely. I am very structured, I work well under structure and discipline. I think I'm the only person in my company who does this, but my calendar is filled with slots of time for just me to do project work. So, I'll have a slot of like, "Write this article." And I'll have a slot of, "Prepare for this social media post." I build out the calendar in twofold. A, even though they all know they can schedule over it, my team members try not to, even though I haven't asked them to, so it's nice, because I make sure I have that time. It also helps me prioritize, because I'm sure you both experienced this, where your supervisor or someone on your team will just throw something at you day off, and you need to turn it around real quick. So, I already know what I had on the docket and what can be moved and what cannot. So, those kinds of things really, really do help me. And then, making sure I keep notes andonce every week, I try to take a look at the notes and ensure all my deadlines are set. But yeah, it's
been a lot, but that's good.
I love that you time block, right? You're saying, "Okay, on Wednesday from like 12 to two, I'm going to write a blog." And I give myself a lot of buffer because, of course, everything takes longer than you think it does. So, that's a really good advice to anybody who is struggling with prioritizing. If you actually put on your calendar, you'll see there's only so much you can do. So, you'll be forced to prioritize. Before we go into the growth of Cyberforce Q and marketing strategy, one more question about you and about your experience being newer to cyber: How are you integrating what you've learned in your previous roles into this one?
Yeah, so, something that's really cool about automotive is you really have to market to several different types of audiences. So, I was in communications and marketing, so I handled a lot of the internal marketing activities and external. When you're looking at internal, you obviously have your corporate level, but so much of our work and our messaging is going to the plant workers. So, people who don't necessarily have the same education levels, or same time, or want to read huge articles and things like that, and their interests vary as well. So, it helped me really understand how to group different audiences and what kind of messaging works for each of them, which is very helpful, I think, in cyber because we have had, in the last couple of years, this really big shift from explaining things in the technological sense to really business case. Now, just CISOs aren't concerned about cybersecurity, your CEOs are, your CFOs are, your CTOs are, so everyone has started to realize— Or a lot of people, I mean, we're still at work, so we're trying to get more people to understand. But a lot of people have started to understand that this can impact their business from a financial aspect, a reputational aspect.
And it helps because what I say to a CISO, is not the same thing I want to say to a CEO. And creating those personas and learning who wants to receive what is such an integral part to making that targeted messaging, so that has been really nice. And then, in automotive, kind of what I said, it's very traditional, it's very documented and compliance is super important, which it is in cyber as well. But the documentation aspect, when I came to my role, there wasn't as much. So, figuring out in marketing, how to document all the training, all the workflows, and different things of that nature, so that people in the future in my role, or in roles related to me, will have something to work off of, because I was kind of thrown into it, which is fine and I still loved it, but it's good to have that.
I love that you have this mindset, because you really do need to have this kind of mindset to be a onewoman magic show in a cybersecurity startup or company. I love that you're not afraid to be thrown into the gauntlet, you fight your way through it and figure it out and get it organized. That's the best thing.
And now, we'd like to take a moment to thank our sponsors and producers Hacker Valley Media. Chris Cochran and Ron Eddings run an amazing studio here, which produces not only the Breaking Through in Cybersecurity Marketing podcast, but a bunch of other shows that you're gonna want to listen to as well. So, all these shows plus more and then, on top of that, probably even more coming soon, are available to look at, listen to, and sponsor at HackerValley.com. Make sure you go over there and say, "Hey, Gianna, and Maria said I should come check out your website, listen to your shows, and sponsor a podcast or two."
So, Zereen, what about scaling your marketing? What's the strategy at Cyberforce Q? What do you envision you doing in the next six months or nine months?
Yeah, so, when I started here, we didn't have a marketing strategy. So, that was really big for me to kind of get my feet wet, understand the ecosphere and our environment, and then make a marketing strategy. So, we've made one very recently. The first part of that, for anyone who's starting off and like a similar situation, I think, was understanding what was already implemented. I did a bunch of client interviews, which turned out amazing because I got to see what really draws people in and makes them loyal to our organization and where we could possibly do more work. Then, for the marketing strategy, I kind of talked to the extended team. So, the sales team, something I'll talk about is how we're really trying to integrate sales and marketing and that's our big push for this next six months to a year, which I'm lucky that all my sales team members are wonderful and very collaborative, so that's good. And
they gave me some input on what they would like to see and kind of tabulated all those responses. I also reached out to our operations manager to get that technical side because I think with marketing, I feel like we can all relate to this, is that the brand touches every single department, every single piece of your organization, because how I interact with clients, how the sales team members interact with clients, how our technical team members interact, they all need to have some strain of our brand and our vision in it, and a consistent messaging across the board. So, I definitely wanted them to feel involved and they were involved in what we planned to do. So, in this year, for the strategy, we've really started to clean up our data in our CRM. I think it's so important and I keep on getting this encouragement that that's the way to go, of making sure your data is up-to-date, it's correct, and it's as targeted as you can get it to be. So, going from people's interests or their backgrounds to what their company is going through, that's something we're lacking right now and we're trying to build that out so our segmentation improves a lot more. We're also playing around with email campaigns. We've done it in the past, but we're trying out new techniques, and I've learned don't be afraid to try something new, but also learn from it if you make a mistake. So, it's been trial and error, but nothing too crazy, nothing too bad, which is good. But we're learning, we're learning how to improve, so that's been big and really amping up speaking opportunities have been awesome. So, we're leveraging our partnerships. We have several partnerships with hospital associations, for example, and we're leveraging those in order to help build that footprint and help build out where we want to be, what we want to do, so we're getting speaking opportunities in that way and building up these partnerships that are mutually beneficial. So, I
know I packed a lot into that, but that's kind of what we're working on right now.
I love that. That sounds very focused and it sounds reasonable and doable, right? And I love that you're tackling data first. That is definitely something that's very important to me as well and I think you're doing it right. If you want to get targeted, you need clean data and that's awesome. Kudos to you.
So, Zereen, you just said that you have to try things, right? Email, you're experimenting with email marketing, going national means trying things that you haven't tried before. What are some things that have worked? And what are some things that haven't worked for you so far?
Yeah. So, we'll start with things that have worked. I mentioned partnerships. Leveraging partnerships is so wonderful, because you both are helping out each other. So, it's kind of a very honest and like, encouraging situation. And we've been in situations where our partners will bring us wonderful opportunities, and we'll do the same for them and also help them with giving cybersecurity advice. So, that's been wonderful and it's really helped, especially when you're breaking into new markets, because when you're going national, it is difficult since no one's ever heard your name. So, no one's heard your name, there's no trust, right? We've seen it tons of times, especially if you're a vendor out there. And I mean, we even have vendors reaching out to us, if you've never heard their name, it's kind of like, "Bye, I can't deal with this right now." So, the wonderful thing about going to these different regions and making those strong partnerships is they already have some name value, and they trust you because all of our relationships, we build it on trust and we do that with our clients too, of making sure we're
being honest, making sure it makes sense to partner, and then they'll make those connections for you. So, it's a lot more of a warmer lead, a warm connection. As I mentioned before, we've done that with hospital associations, which have been really nice to get into that space and they're tougher, I think sometimes, because healthcare organizations don't have their information out there as much as like, a school or government. They have a huge need for cybersecurity, but you have to go to where your clients are versus, "Hey, here's my product," kind of the networking aspect. So, that's worked out very well, speaking opportunities have worked out very well. We are really trying to position ourselves as that subject matter expert. I think that's the most important thing, is giving valuable information and content that people can use and trust. So, off the bat, we're starting to never say, "Hey, can we talk about sales and our product? We're just trying to say, "Hey, here's some information. This is some stuff
about cyber you might not have known. Here's a case study." And that's about it, we just leave it at that. If they engage with it really heavily, we'll reach out again and work on it that way. What hasn't worked is we found that going to events and just having a booth for us doesn't make a whole lot of sense because we're resource-strapped sometimes, and, especially when you're growing nationally and so many different levels, you can't give as much as you would be able to in your own region, because all of that expenditure is now being spread across nationally between five different or four different regions. So, we have done the booth and it's hard for us to make a splash because everyone else has bigger displays and things like that. So, we've pulled back from just doing exhibiting. Other things that haven't worked is the "try everything" methodology. When I first came here, it was so ad hoc, it was very much like, "Let's try this and let's try this." There was too many cooks in the kitchen and you need
to really focus on structure so you can try things out correctly. If you're going to do email campaign, it's so important to try A B testing and do all the right things to see, "Oh, this is our good strategy for right now. This makes sense." So, we tried to do several things at once, we didn't have any outcome, versus now we have three or four things, which is turning out better.
I love that. Taking the time to really test email campaigns is just so refreshing because I think a lot of times, we're excited about an email program, we launch it and set it and forget it, and we look at it six months later, it turns out it really hasn't been too much. So, that's awesome that you're doing that.
So, why don't we shift a little bit and ask you about what it's been like the last, I guess, maybe you've only been in cyber for one year of the pandemic, not both years. You joined Cyberforce Q during a pandemic. So, tell us a little bit about that experience.
Yeah, I think tech and cyber are very ahead of the game where they're just like, "Yeah, you can work from home, that's fine. Not a big deal." So, we've had hybrid for the longest time. And we kind of all make our schedule, but we try to be in the office on similar days and times for collaboration, which is nice. The pandemic was hard, I think, for marketers specifically, because marketing, a lot of organizations kind of take that as the lowest priority sometimes. And so, I went through a huge change making the decision to go from automotive to cyber, which was very difficult to make because I've been blessed throughout my career to have amazing mentors, amazing teams. Hopefully, that never changes. So, making the decision was hard, but I think with COVID, it is kind of a new era, we're never going back to normal, it's always the new normal. So, it felt like a good time to do a shift and look at what's out there and see what makes the most sense for me. And I'm the type of person who continuously wants to learn. If I'm not growing somewhere, to me, it becomes unfulfilling. So, it was good and I mean, it's been very welcoming, very welcoming community.
So, Zereen, we're now going to go into the game section of our podcasts. At the end of every podcast, we ask our guests what they would be doing— Actually, sometimes we ask, and sometimes we play this game. At the end of every podcast, we play this game where we guess what our podcast guests would be doing if they were not in cybersecurity marketing. And it can't be also their past career. So, we can't say automotive marketing, either. So, this is a tough one. What would Zereen be doing? Well, and she also has a nonprofit, so we can't say that because I would actually kind of default to that too, I think, for you.
I was just going to cheat and do that, but it's been taken off the board.
I actually have two in my head that it's so funny you bring this up because I've talked about like, "In another life, I would." So, of the two, I would accept either.
I think you'd be a writer. I think that'd be like, an author. Okay, Maria, your turn?
Would you be some kind of teacher? Like, I'm seeing what you're doing with your nonprofit and I'm thinking you could be like, a traveling teacher around the world. I don't know, spending few weeks at a refugee camp and teaching kids something and then moving on to the next. I don't know.
Oh, specific. No, I love both those answers. It's so funny because when I was a kid, my dream was to be a writer and I never pursued that. So, I would say you're pretty close. Most recently, I think I would be a therapist, if I could go back in time and if I wanted to try something else, because I love getting to know people and understanding what they're going through. And then, the traveling thing is funny because I have none of the requirements or skills for it, but I feel like I would love to be a wildlife photographer. So, I think Gianna was the closest there.
You keep winning at this game. Like, I need to do something.
That's right, Maria. Step it up. Step it up right now.
Well, Zereen, if you want to practice being a therapist, I think plenty of us cybersecurity marketers have a lot of PTSD being in this industry, so you can start practicing on us.
I'm always here for us all. I know I do my own fair share of venting and anyone can vent to me at any time. I never hold it against them.
Zereen, where do people contact you, if you're open to being contacted?
Yeah, absolutely. LinkedIn is the best way to get to me. You can always email me at
email@example.com If you want to reach out about the nonprofit, please do, or anything else. just to chat. I'm around, yeah. Oh, and the Cyber Marketing Society, you can find me there, too.
We'll put those links in the show notes. Awesome.
Thank you so much, Zereen. This was such an amazing chat.
All right. We'll see you next time on Breaking Through in Cybersecurity Marketing. Everybody listening, if you want to be on the podcast, send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also like, subscribe, share this podcast with your friends, with your family, with your neighbors, your grandma, your enemies, everybody you can get your hands on. And we'll see you next time, next Wednesday. Thank you. Bye!