Ekaterina Walter Success Is a Team Sport

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The most influential Renaissance man in digital marketing is quite likely a woman.

Ekaterina Walter not only has an attention-getting title — global evangelist at Sprinklr — but is also a passionate marketer, bestselling author and highly regarded international speaker.

She's also proud of her roles as a wife and mother, enjoys dancing, camping and seeing the world, and "tweets with a European accent."

After spending more than 10 years as an integrated marketer and social media leader at Intel and Accenture, she went on to become the co-founder and CMO of Branderati, which was acquired by Sprinklr earlier this year. Somewhere along the way, she found time to write two books, "Think Like Zuck" and "The Power of Visual Storytelling" and also gained recognition for her innovative thinking.

Spreading the Marketing Gospel


Walters was named Thoroughly Modern Marketer of the Year in the 2013 SoMe Awards competition, which honor the best social media campaigns in the United States, ranked third on The Forbes 2014 World Top 40 Social Marketing Talent and was included in Fortune magazine's list of the most impactful business people on social media in June.

She's been featured in Forbes and BusinessReviewUSA, and her opinion has been highlighted on CNBC, ABC, NBC, Fox News, First Business Chicago, TechCrunch and the Wall Street Journal, to name a few. She also sits on the Board of Directors of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) and holds a Master’s degree in International Management. 

We're fortunate that she made time to sit down with CMSWire and share some of her thoughts.

Sobel: You grew up in Russia, then left for the US in your early twenties. You have worked on a corporate side with companies such as Intel, Accenture and Wells Fargo and also helped shape and lead a startup, Branderati. In addition, you've written two books, earned a Master's degree and become an international speaker. What a journey! Tell us more.

Walter: I tell people I’m living my own version of the American dream. I actually did a TEDx talk on the topic a few years ago. I was blessed to have had amazing opportunities along the way and to be surrounded by people who supported me.

I was also fortunate to find the professional path about which I'm passionate. Though, to be fair, it was more of a combination of luck and following my passion, mixed in with a heavy dose of hard work. I’m convinced that nothing is possible without passion. I somewhat compare my life’s journey with that of an entrepreneur. The entrepreneur has a clear purpose, which serves as his or her guiding star, and they possess a lot of passion, which is necessary to overcome major challenges along the way. That passion also brings remarkable people into your life.

I’ve always been a builder. I’ve helped build new capabilities within the corporate structure in the past. And now I have a chance to help build a business that is transforming the way brands think about marketing, business success and customer-centricity. That, to me, is exciting! Working alongside our founder and CEO Ragy Thomas and the talented team at Sprinklr gives me the opportunity to not only fully utilize my past experience, but to also have fun doing what I do best -- painting the blank canvas, building social bridges, and pushing the envelope of innovative thinking and technology.

Sobel: In your bio you note, “I'm an avid evangelist of holistic consumer experience management.” Can you explain?

Walter: When people ask me, “How did you achieve this level of success?” my answer is always, “I didn’t do it alone.” Yes, a lot of your success is a combination of factors such as background, hard work and attitude. But, mostly, it comes down to relationships.

It doesn’t matter what job, business or market you are in. Relationship capital is the only currency that matters. Success is a team sport. For building anything, we rely on our business partners, investors, vendors and even our family. But the most important relationship a business has is with its consumers. That is what ultimately drives the bottom line. 

And that relationship shouldn’t be any different than a relationship you have with a friend. Your customers, especially the ones that love your brand and regularly buy your products, should feel a connection to your brand and should feel valued and appreciated. And the only way they can feel that way is if the company provides remarkable experiences for them at every touchpoint. To do that well, you need to create a customer-centric organizational culture and have the technology that enables a holistic 360-degree view of the customer in every area of the company.

That means that no matter where the customer comes from -- the website, mobile, phone, in-store -- and no matter who that customers talks to within the company -- sales, PR, marketing, customer service -- he or she should get the best support possible based on the information that the company has on that customer.

But in the digital era of the empowered citizen, this task becomes more difficult. The traditional sales funnel doesn’t exist anymore. People access information from five or more screens and on more than 30 channels, and user-generated content is powerful enough to damage companies. And for that reason, businesses need to strive to become more connected -- internally and externally -- and focus on building relationship capital for long-term survival.

By creating memorable experiences for people, brands will be able to build stronger relationships that ultimately lead to customer loyalty and brand advocacy. That is why I am not only an avid supporter of the customer-centric philosophy, but a huge fan of Sprinklr and what the company is doing to make this transformation happen by reimagining the front office for today’s C-suite reality.

Sobel: In your WSJ bestselling book “Think Like Zuck,” you examine the five “P’s” behind Facebook’s success: Passion, Purpose, People, Product and Partnerships. Can you elaborate on those? 

Walter: To me, “Think Like Zuck” is an analogy of a leader who follows his/her passion, leads with purpose, builds great teams, strives for continued product excellence, and partners wisely. It is a mentality that drives great leaders of our time to build successful business and the approach they use to do so. In short:

  • Passion: Keep your energy and commitment fully charged at all times by pursuing something you believe in
  • Purpose: Don’t just create a great product: drive a meaningful movement
  • People: Build powerful teams that can execute your vision
  • Product: Create a product/service that is innovative, that breaks the rules and that changes the expected
  • Partnerships: Build powerful partnerships with people who fuel imagination and energize execution

Sobel: In your recent book, “The Power of Visual Storytelling,” you write "although our wonderful brains translate marks and squiggles into words, it doesn't come as naturally to the mind as processing images." You also note, "Research indicates that consumer interest in visual content isn't necessarily just a preference; it's actually easier and faster for humans to process." So "the right picture can go further than just telling your story visually; it can make you feel emotions, evoke memories, and even make you act differently."

Walter: Well, language existed for about 5,000 years, but people drew to communicate with each other for centuries. And the reason is because thinking in pictures is in our nature. Our verbal mind doesn’t work without our visual mind; the human brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text, and 90 percent of information transmitted to our brain is visual. 

In the age of “infobesity,” where we are bombarded with messages, visual storytelling has emerged as a powerful strategy to help marketers stand above the noise and grow a vibrant and engaged community. Consumers are faced with more messages and calls to action than ever before. With the adult attention span shrinking every year -- now just two to eight seconds -- to cut through the clutter, marketers need to focus on creating and curating the best quality content that offers value to their consumers and brings them into the conversation. Leveraging visual storytelling will allow marketers to not only get noticed, but to truly connect with their audiences on a deeper emotional level.

Sobel: Your team at Sprinklr recently used its software to put together a ranking of the “Boom and Bust Brands of 2014.” The data is pulled from Sprinklr's Social Index and tracks brands with the most/least improved social performance from the year. Brands like Jockey, Snapchat and AMC Networks made it on the list. Can you share a bit of the data?

Walter: The Sprinklr Social Index is a piece of social analytics technology that tracks 35,000 of the world’s biggest brands from 26 industries, around 70 different metrics, and across multiple social networking platforms. The Index captures all accounts, content, and activity associated with a brand’s social presence, as well as what consumers do in response. The Index aggregates the data from these metrics, which include sentiment, engagement, brand responsiveness and reach, to determine different scores that approximate the health of a brand. 

Forrester reported that a “reliance on analytics will continue to spread within and across organizations, and spending on analytics will increase by at least 10 percent in 2015… Marketing teams will take the lead to seek data fueled improvements in customer engagement.” Sprinklr’s Social Index provides this type of data publicly and more comprehensively to (our brand) customers, empowering them to make data-driven, strategic decisions. 

For this particular study, we included data from Jan. 1 to Dec. 1, 2014 to determine which brands were engaging with fans, creating share-worthy content and reaching the most eyeballs this year. The system compiled metrics from the first quarter of 2014 and compared them with how well the brands did in the fourth quarter of 2014. The "boom" brands had the biggest increases, while the "bust" brands had biggest decreases. Social metrics were then analyzed alongside business activity to provide context for these increases and decreases.

When using the Social Index for studies like this, it’s interesting for us to look at how social can serve as a mirror for real-world business decisions. For example, Fiat ranked number one in our “boom” list, which means that they saw the highest increase of social activity, responsiveness, and engagement, among other metrics, of any brand included in our study of almost 10,000 brands. In 2014, Fiat invested heavily in a major global expansion, which included a new digital and social presence, and this was reflected in their strong performance in our study. 

Sobel: In your recent article “Good to Great: Creating a Tropical Storm of Customer Satisfaction” on your awesome blog, Building Social Bridges you wrote, “The only way your company will build lasting relationships with your customers is if you provide amazing experiences at every touchpoint with that customer. And the only way to ensure that is to employ people who are passionate about what they do and about serving their customers. Only passion will prompt them to go the extra mile when the customer needs it most.” Can you tell us more? 

Walter: Your company is only as extraordinary as your people. It’s as simple as that.

One of my favorite quotes about business culture is by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos. He said, “Your company’s culture and your company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin. Your culture is your brand.” The brands that understand this fundamental principle empower their employees and trust their employees to be their best spokespeople… to be the voice of the company.

Have you noticed that the most inspiring brand stories told by the customers always have a hero, an employee that cares deeply about delivering the best experience to others and representing that brand the way it should be represented? As leaders, we should all realize that our companies, as well as our reputations, are only as good as the people we employ.