5 ways to drive marketing impact on a shoestring budget with Gabi Zijderveld

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Welcome to another episode of 3-Minute Marketing, where we interview the world’s top growth marketing leaders and distill their knowledge into three-minute blocks of genius for your listening pleasure.

Today’s guest is Gabi Zijderveld, CMO at Smart Eye, the global leader in human insight AI. Prior to Smart Eye, Gabi headed up marketing efforts for tech and software companies like Affectiva, IBM, Segue Software, and Centra.

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While at Affectiva, Gabi’s team was able to effectively create a category of Emotion AI and did it in a scrappy way. So my question for her is, “What are 5 ways to drive marketing impact on a shoestring budget?”.

Show notes:

  1. When Gabi joined Affectiva in 2014 they were already making cool technology using computer vision and machine learning to analyze human faces and their reaction to content, situations, and emotional states. But they were describing it in a clunky manner.
  2. Gabi and her team realized they had to take credit for the machine learning and AI-based work they were doing, which everyone else around them was doing at the time.
  3. They realized that what they did was “artificial emotional intelligence”, or “emotion AI”.
  4. They were methodical in going to market, and their budget was lean. They were a startup and a small team. They focused on, “What is this thing? Why does it exist or why should it be allowed to exist? Who cares?”.
  5. They also had to think about the ethical considerations surrounding it, with ethics around AI being a huge concern and Gabi and her team wanting to be at the forefront of how to do it right.
  6. Gabi and her small team created a boatload of content, found speaking opportunities at events, utilized social media, and built productive relationships with key analysts who started reinforcing that their product was a new technology category they were evaluating.
  7. They were consistent in their messaging and content creation and stuck to it for five years, with an aggressive PR campaign to go along with it.
  8. For Affectivia, it was all about the messaging and the content (and using that content over and over again).


– You’re listening to Three Minute Marketing, where we interview the world’s top growth marketing leaders and distill their knowledge into actionable, bite-size insights. Now here’s your host, Chris Mechanic.

– [Chris] Hello, everybody. Welcome to another episode of Three Minute Marketing. My guest today is Gabi Zijderveld, who is currently CMO at Smart Eye, which was formally Affectiva, the global leader in Human Insight AI. Prior to Smart Eye, Gabi headed up marketing efforts for tech and software products like IBM, Segue Software, Centra, and Dragonfly, which is actually a really cool dragon, naturally speaking. Which is a very cool product. Gabi, super excited to have you. Welcome to the show today.

– [Gabi] Thank you. Thanks for having me.

– [Chris] Yeah. So I want to talk to you. I know that at Affectiva, you guys pretty effectively created a category of Emotion AI.

– [Gabi] Yeah.

– [Chris] And did it in a scrappy way. Tell everybody how you went about that category creation process on a kind of shoestring budget or scrappy not crappy, as you like to say?

– [Gabi] Yeah. When I joined Affectiva in 2014, the company was already making incredibly cool technology using computer vision and machine learning to basically analyze human faces. To understand reactions, to content, and situations, emotional states. So cool stuff.

– [Chris] Very cool.

– [Gabi] We were describing it in such a clunky manner, and it was very kind of niche and geeky and not quite speaking to the imagination or setting us up to sell into many more industries where the applicability certainly was there. So we iterated and brainstormed, and we realized that we also really should take credit for the machine learning, the AI-based work that we were doing, as at that time everyone around us was. So after a brainstorming session with our CEO who was ready to deliver a keynote at an AI and data-focused conference, we realized that what we did was really artificial emotional intelligence or Emotion AI. We launched it. We plugged away at it and hashtag, Emotion AI or the category for Emotion AI was created. It was serendipitous in a way, maybe how it came about, but we were very methodical in going to market. Our budgets were lean. We’re a startup, we’re a small team. And we focused very much on figuring out what is this thing? Why does it exist, or why should it be allowed to exist? And who cares? So what. If you have to, just because you build it it doesn’t mean that it matters, right? So how does it work? Where is it being used today? Where do we see it going into the future? And also what are the ethical considerations around it all? Because ethics around AI are a huge concern. And we wanted to be at the forefront of being outspoken about how to do it right. We had a small team, resourceful, creative people. We created a boatload of content. We found the speaking opportunities at events. We plugged away at it through social media, and we built some productive relationships with key analysts that also started, at Gartner for example. Who started reinforcing that this was a new technology category they were evaluating. We were consistent in our messaging and content creation, and basically stuck to it for five years, also with a pretty aggressive PR campaign that we attached to it. So in short, lots of different things. It was all about the messaging. It was all about the content and reusing it over and over again in a cost-effective and scrappy manner.

– [Chris] Interesting. So we’ve got about 10 seconds left here. So it was all organic. It was speaking engagements and organic, social.

– [Gabi] Yeah.

– [Chris] Like no paid ads?

– [Gabi] We experimented a little bit with LinkedIn paid ads and Facebook paid ads, and saw some results there. But the budgets there were also quite lean. So we didn’t really pump a lot of money into it. It was all just done in house, trial and error, and just amplifying and redoing the things that were working well.

– [Chris] Wow. Well, that’s pretty impressive. And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. How to create a category on a shoestring budget. And I do have some follow-up questions for you.

– [Gabi] Yeah.

– [Chris] But in the interest of brevity, let’s wrap the official episode here. We can continue talking you and I. If you’re liking this and you want to listen to the rest of our conversation, you should be able to find a link to either in the show notes or somewhere around this video. Or if you are on the website, it might start automatically. If you like this marketer-to-marketer, give us a thumbs up. I like it. Helps us amplify and attract more awesome folks just like yourself. Gabi, if you could, tell everybody where they can learn a little bit more about you and your company?

– [Gabi] Yeah. So LinkedIn of course. Check the company and myself are there. Affectiva, it’s affectiva.com. It got acquired by Smart Eye this past June. We finalized the acquisition. It’s a company publicly traded, headquartered in Sweden. So now we’re part of a larger, as we like to call it, Global AI Juggernaut.

– [Chris] That’s exciting. That’s very exciting.

– [Gabi] Yeah. It helped us to, yeah, just on that note, it helped us to really accelerate our go-to-market in the automotive industry where our technology was already being used to analyze driver states. So things such as driving some distraction focused on improving safety, and then also delivering better mobility and experience by understanding what’s happening with people in the car. How are they feeling? What are they doing? How are they interacting with the systems in the car, with each other, and objects to use and activities in car? So this acquisition was great for us. It’s really helping us accelerate our go-to-market in this specific area.

– [Chris] That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Well, yes. Stay on the line. We’re going to end here, but we’ll continue talking. I want to hear more about the acquisition as well as some more detail around the scrappy techniques that you were using with Affectiva. So thank you very much. Let’s call it a wrap. Let’s dig a little bit deeper into just the category creation process. And I’m curious of the various tactics that you were doing. Like you said, you noticed some things were working well and you would double down on them. What were some of the things that were working well, like either the types of content or the types of outlets that you were gaining access to?

– [Gabi] Yeah, absolutely. I would say on the content side, it was definitely our blogs and then our podcast that we started years ago. And the podcast was quite cool because it was actually, my senior marketing manager at the time who basically came to me and said, “Gabi, I’ve always wanted to do a podcast. Can I do a podcast?” And I’m like, “Well, you’re helping me manage the budget. So we know we don’t have a lot of funds for it but if you’re scrappy not crappy, right? If you’re resourceful and you can figure out how to do this on a lean budget. And if you just find some people who’ve done it before, don’t reinvent a wheel, right? Be smart about how you go about. Go for it, I’d love it. Just go do it.” And she did. She figured it out. She spoke to a bunch of folks in our ecosystem, in our network that had already done successful podcasts and went for it. And it’s still going strong to this date. She’s still added. I think she launched, drops an episode this morning. Yeah. So it’s super cool.

– [Chris] It’s amazing.

– [Gabi] But also, and I’ve seen you guys do it, what I love. And this is also a really great scrappy way of reusing your content, is when we have podcast we can turn that into a blog. If we use video, we can turn this into a YouTube episode. We’ve had great success with, the CEO at Affectiva has a crazy standing in the AI industry, really quite well known. And she has a large, large following on social media. We would do LinkedIn Lives and those make awesome podcasts as well, right? So we’re constantly reusing this content. We’re taking little segments from it, dropping that on social media as teasers. I think that was for us, a key element of what worked well in our scrappy not crappy approach, which was if we invest time doing something, for a small team that’s a big investment and we want to make the most out of it. So we were constantly reusing content in creative ways, and also realizing that some content really does have a shelf life. So pull it out of the closet again two years later, tweak the bids and reuse it again.

– [Chris] Yeah. And it sounds like another probably powerful part of your strategy was you had a celebrity executive type of thing. Like you, your CEO was well known. You were mentioning. I don’t know if that was intentional or not, but one thing that most companies can do especially when you talk about LinkedIn, ’cause you can get so much free traffic from LinkedIn. Like if you work to build out your own credibility and your own status. And I think that’s a huge arbitrage opportunity for like many executives at companies.

– [Gabi] Yeah.

– [Chris] That may not have like a single CEO that’s a celebrity in the industry, but maybe they have a few executives throughout the org that each are like little micro influencers for each have their own little audiences.

– [Gabi] Yeah, exactly. And that’s a strategy that can work really well. I would say though that our CEO was not a celebrity from the start, right? There was a lot of work and effort that went into branding her, if you will. Or even for her to realize, well, she’s an entity that can be branded, right? And we were lucky and she knows this, and I remind her even to this day, I remind her, she checks all the right boxes, right? So we’re in tech in AI, she is a scientist who got her PhD at Cambridge University, came to MIT Media Labs, spun out a company. So becomes an entrepreneur. She was Chief Scientist Officer, and after a few years became CEO of the company she found it. She’s young, she’s female. She is a Muslim-American. She grew up in Egypt. So you can see it, right? Check, check, check. All the things that we don’t see in tech often enough.

– [Chris] Yeah.

– [Gabi] But we really invested in it because we developed a talk track for her that not only was the technical talk track that talked about all this Emotion AI stuff. The what, why, who, how, where stuff. We had beautiful like language that we developed around and were very consistent using this. But also she was very keen on ethics in AI and very vocal about needing to improve diversity and representation in tech. And we also basically went to market with that kind of messaging. Then she herself also invested a lot of time in improving her speaking skills, her presentation skills, really owning the narrative. So it came naturally. And then she’s just a very charismatic and well-lived person that it all kind of came together, but it was a lot of work. And so it wasn’t that, boom, you suddenly have a celebrity executive. And I do think in any future companies, actually I’m doing it now at Smart Eye. There’s ways where you as you pointed out earlier can work with your executives to apply them in the right way, if you will. Leveraging their specific domain expertise. So we have a head of automotive who is in German and is in Germany, who has deep, deep experience in the automotive industry and a lot of gravitas credibility, right? So I know exactly, if we do PR what kind of PR I bring him into. Where we kind of use him to the best effect for the company. The CEO at the Swedish company has a whole different type of charisma and credibility, and expertise as a founder of this company. So you apply him in certain ways. And the Affectiva CEO is still with Smart Eyes. So we’re continuing to build on that foundation with lead. So this is kind of fun because now we get to use different people in different ways, so.

– [Chris] That’s brilliant. And I think that’s a fantastic opportunity that almost all marketers have at their disposal. It’s like make your executives into little micro celebrities. So it sounds like it didn’t happen by accident in your case.

– [Gabi] I know. And it’s difficult too, because people don’t like to think of themselves as micro celebrities, right? Even with Rana, the CEO of Affectiva, in the beginning, it kind of became a running joke. We’re going to brand her. She was so uncomfortable with it. And I had to keep reminding her that, “No, it’s not about you and creating visibility for you. You are an asset to the company. And it’s my job as the Chief Marketing Officer to make the best use of that asset.” And now the Swedish CEO is joking. Like, “Gabi, you’re going to be branding me?” And I’m like, “Yeah, hell yeah. Well, yeah, absolutely.”

– [Chris] Yeah.

– [Gabi] Yeah, it’s a fun way to take advantage of kind of the expertise that resides within.

– [Chris] Okay. Well, here’s my last question for you, ’cause I know that we’re close to time. But how do you know once you have successfully created that category or once you’re well, on your way, what are the signs? What are the things that you seem to see that it’s like this is working?

– [Gabi] Yeah. So one of the first things. Well, it’s yeah, multiple things. So in the beginning I think it’s when you have an ecosystem, that could be your academic collaborations, your clients, your business partners, your technology partners. You go to them with this early messaging that you have and it resonates with them. They’re all nodding their head. They’re all like, “Awesome.” So that’s in the early stages when you know you’re onto something.

– [Chris] Yeah.

– [Gabi] I then at the time spent a lot of time working with this analyst at Gartner, and really in a very collaborative manner. Just really educating on what we were seeing in the market. And then when that person basically started using our language, started calling this thing Emotion AI, I was like, “Aha. Okay, stamp of approval.” But I knew that it was really sticking when we saw existing competitors copy verbatim what we were talking about, even mimicking the new style of the website we’d launched which was very human-centric, right? Human-centric AI. Pictures of people engaging in certain technical context. And then also we saw new companies pop up. People out there realized that this pie was huge and that it would behoove them to start this company focused on Emotion AI. It freaked people out though. I would constantly get these slack messages saying, “Oh my God, now this competitor is saying the exact same thing we are saying and that’s ridiculous. How can they do that?” I’m like, “Oh, it’s good. It’s good.” Let them repeat it. If they are mimicking what we’re doing it means we’re onto something. We’re doing something right.

– [Chris] That’s true.

– [Gabi] And this market is huge. So let them have the slice of the pie. We’re just going to grab a much bigger slice and do it.

– [Chris] Nice. Scrappier not crappier. I really like that. Well, I’ll tell you what, as we spoke more, the depth and kind of brilliance of the strategy started to be revealed. Like I think that you guys did a lot of things. It sounds like really intentionally and really kind of rigorously around the consistency of the messaging. The enablement and activation of your executives to step into those rules. And even methods, it sounds like you have to make them comfortable stepping into those rules. Like saying, “Hey, I think of you like you’re an asset for the company.” Or, “Hey, you’re qualified for this. Like you were at Cambridge, you spun out of company. You became the CEO.”

– [Gabi] Yeah, exactly.

– [Chris] So that’s really cool. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Gabi. If you guys are watching this and loving it, please drop us a like, a comment, a thumbs up. Smash that like button, as some of them like to say. And also make sure to go check out Gabi’s new company at Smart Eye It’s Smart Eye, right?

– [Gabi] Yeah, smarteye.ai

– [Chris] Smarteye.ai.

– [Gabi] Of course, for those folks in Sweden it’s smarteye.se. There you go.

– [Chris] There you go. Smarteye.se or smarteye.ai. Well, thank you very much for listening and we will see you next time.

– [Gabi] Cool. Thank you.

– [Chris] All right. Let’s wrap.

Gabi Zijderveld

Gabi Zijderveld CMO

Chris Mechanic

Chris MechanicCEO & Co-Founder

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