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Symantec exec wants 'better love life' for users

newsmaker Symantec Chief Marketing Officer Carine Clark explains importance of focusing on customers over products in the face of security threats.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor on
Carine Clark

newsmaker Carine Clark initially declined the offer to take up post as chief marketing officer at Symantec in July 2007 because she felt her style of marketing was different from Symantec's "traditional marketing" approach.

The offer had come three months after her company Altiris was acquired by Symantec. She eventually accepted the offer and in the two years of her tenure, has made several changes to Symantec's marketing strategy.

Speaking to ZDNet Asia during a recent trip to Singapore, Clark offered her insights on the Altiris acquisition and Symantec's competitive edge in managing customer relationships. She also discussed whether there is a silver bullet to help users deal with ongoing security threats.

Q: Altiris was acquired by Symantec in 2007. Can you tell us how you managed the acquisition?
Clark: It wasn't Altiris' desire to be acquired then, but the opportunity to be a part of Symantec was very compelling for our customers and our stockholders. It also meant that we would have a management platform that we can put inside Symantec and with all the products integrated, we could turn it into a very powerful software offering for our customers. And Symantec was in a leading position in the marketplace.

As the management team, we decided that the best for our employees was to be very clear about our value to Symantec and also to make easy for our employees to integrate into Symantec. So, on the day the deal was closed in April, we rolled a banner over the building that said: "Altiris, proud to be part of Symantec". It was a public display of affection and it also sent a message to the world and our employees that we were now part of Symantec.

It also sent out a message to the Symantec management, which later said they've never seen that kind of support from their acquisitions. Usually people are kicking and screaming that they don't want to go, but since the paper has been signed, if we minimize that kind of drama it would be better for the employees.

If you look at the market today, who would you view as a formidable marketing competitor? For instance, Microsoft just launched Microsoft Security Essentials and we all know that the company is a marketing machine. What do you think will be the key way for Symantec to compete with Microsoft, or any other competitors?
The interesting thing about Symantec is that we compete with people that we partner with. So with Microsoft, they're the No. 1 software company in the world, they have all the money and they think they have the smartest people…they're good people.

You have to figure out how to get along with Microsoft because they're not going away. You have to find a way to compete with them but also to work together with them. So we've worked with them before--we've provided migration tools because of our Altiris technology--and work very well with them, for example, the Windows 7 launch.

But, I'm also going to compete with them because they have a product that does what I do. But, it's not as good as my product. I'm going to make sure that I'm respectful of who they are but I'm also going to make sure that our customers don't get caught up with some product that's not as good as it should be.

You've asked an interesting question because I have a lot of competitors that competes with me on one product. And I'm the guy, like Microsoft, that has a deep and wide bench of products. I think what would give the advantage to Symantec is that the closer we work with our customers--and we have a lot of different customers across the segment, across the region, across vertical markets--the better chance I'll be able to make sure they can understand the value I provide to them and how I can help them stay competitive.

If I'm with General Motors, I need to understand how to help them sell more mini vans--things that they care about. So I'm spending as much time and encouraging my team--the products team, the sales team and the marketing team--to spend a day being in the life of a customer.

When we say it's important to spend in the field, what we mean is we can't create programs on our own. They'll never be very good. We listen to our partners and our customers, the struggles they have. This economy has made it so that the customers are struggling. They don't have the money to invest in IT, they have legacy systems and even though the economy has taken a hit, these problems have not gone away.

It's about making it easier for those customers to do a great job, to look like the smartest guy. My idea is: if you have a better love life, I've done my job. So it's not putting long hours at work--it means the boss is able to do what he's able to do. It means he can have less of total cost of control and that he's in charge. If they have a better love life, I've done my job.

And my competitors, they haven't figured that out yet. They talk product, product, product.

So what's that one weapon you have that you think has allowed Symantec to be closer to the customer, that others are still missing?
For me, it always comes down to one thing, which is my voice of passion for my customers. They never forget that what we do is about families protecting their kids, about bosses protecting their employees and IP (intellectual property) and it's really on a personal level. And if I have the army of Symantec employees be clear about what it's going to take to make these customers happy, then we'd have done our job. And that for me is our secret.

There's a whole list of things to do. Everybody knows that, but if you really have the spirit and passion in your company to tackle the imagination of the customer and make sure customers feel like they have a personal experience with Symantec, that would be the one thing that would make a difference.

Do you think enough is being done today by governments, in terms of regulation, that is aimed at improving security?
I don't know if we can just rely on government regulation to help us solve this problem. Symantec has a very active government relations team that's supporting the local governments to help them understand threats, what type of security is really important, and how the black market is alive and dangerous.

It'll really take all of us to address this challenge. I think some of our customers have become casual because it used to be that you hear about worms and viruses all the time. Now, customers think they are protected and there must not be so much threat out there anymore. But, the fact is that we have 50 million consumers that we take care of, and if they are not hearing about the threats it's only because we're doing a good job at blocking those threats. The threats are still very real and still out there.

If you were given a chance to build a silver bullet, what form do you think that would take?
I worry that there are so many people that don't have hope anymore, and they don't have the chance to make the right choices. So if I can get rid of all the evil in the world, if I can shoot a gun at it that would just take it out of the world. I always have hope we will be able to find the way. I never give up. And if people could just never give up, it'd be better already.

How about a silver bullet for your customers, do you think there'll ever be one in the future?
I don't think there'll ever be one, That'd be too easy if there was one: wouldn't it be great if you bought my software and you'd be protected forever? Just like taking the pill and instantly be protected forever? Then, no bad guys will get you. But, the reality is that it's a complex problem. Customers have put years and years and years of investment in their software and solutions. And I'm always wary if things are too easy.

As an employee of Symantec, since no one understands the dangers out there as well as you do, are there any safety precautions that you personally take when you shop or interact online?
I refuse to be led by fear. I know all those bad guys are out there but our system is meant to be very safe. A third of the world's e-mail messages pass through our systems and we back up half the world's connection. I refuse to let the bad guys win. I'm going to do those things I want to do and if they target me because I'm a Symantec executive, then I'll take care of that.

But, I work on very good systems and I don't do dumb things like visiting sites that don't properly secure my credit card information.

If there's one advice you can give to the younger generation to make the cyber world a safer place, what would that be?
To dream and not be afraid, because if we can dream about it, we can do it. There are so many young people who lack confidence. They have wonderful ideas, they're inspired and they have things they want to do to make the world a better place. But, they lack confidence. They're afraid they can't do it, that they'll be embarrassed. They're afraid they'll mess it up. But, who cares? My best lessons have been the mistakes I've made in my life.

What do you think we can do to try to stop the younger generation from turning into black hackers?
The kids these days are very smart. They know how to use technology better than we ever do. I think that as we raise these kids, we need to instill in them the responsibility they have to be world citizens and to give back to the world.

A lot of these bad guys, these hackers who have gone wrong, they had bad lives so they want to make everyone else's life bad. We should take care of each other and make sure these kids can see they can make a great world. There'll always be bad guys out there, so if we can make sure all of these kids become good people, then we would have done our job.

What challenges do you face along the way in trying to fulfill your duty in Symantec?
I always tell my team: if things are hard, it's just hard work. There's always going to be challenges. Bring 'em on, right? It means that if we don't have challenges, we're not doing something right. The challenges are there to help us figure out better ways to do things. That's how you know that you're growing, that's how you know the good from the bad.

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