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Alexandra Coulson | Global Head of Marketing | disguise

Alexandra Coulson: Leading with a Result-Oriented Marketing Strategy

Marketing, if executed correctly, can attract a large number of potential targeted customers to the specific element that the business wants to highlight, ranging from various products, events, TV shows, and much more. In today’s digitized world, it is essential to stay updated on the recent trends while meticulously aligning strategies with the business goals to carry out effective marketing. Analyzing these elements to ensure perfect results is Alexandra Coulson.

As the Global Head of Marketing of disguise, Alexandra leads the global marketing campaign strategy for the company that is powering some of the most spectacular live and virtual experiences in the world, ranging from film, TV and broadcast productions, to corporate and entertainment events.

disguise has built its two-decade legacy in the live event space, developing its workflow through various global concert tours, theatre shows and video installations. Last year, with the sudden halt in live events, its business focus pivoted to virtual production, as the team discovered an innovative way for the workflow to enable cancelled live productions to resume virtually. disguise has since developed into a multi-award-winning Extended Reality solution trusted by enterprise businesses, global brands, leading broadcasters, educational institutions, VFX and music artists as a number one solution to connect with their audiences.

In Insights Success’ endeavor to find “The 10 Most Inspiring Women Leaders to Follow in 2022,” we came across Alexandra. We talked with her to understand how her methodologies are changing the face of marketing within the industry.

Below are the highlights of the interview.

Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at disguise. What challenges have you had to overcome to reach where you are today?

I’ve always been passionate about how marketing and technology influences consumers in their buyer decision making.

Marketing is what I chose to study at university, and I landed an invaluable placement at talent assessment technology company SHL. That led to my first full-time marketing role at CEB when they acquired SHL, and then Gartner, when they acquired CEB.

So, in a way, I was really fortunate to experience marketing at a small, midsize, and large enterprise company all in the space of a few years.

There isn’t really any secret sauce to my path; I worked really hard to get where I am today. I was able to move from Marketing Associate to Senior Marketing Manager by the end of my Gartner career by putting in the hours and not being afraid to ask for help from talented people I could learn from. Always ask for advice or help!

During my time at CEB and Gartner, I had some very supportive mentors who encouraged me to push myself out of my comfort zone. I also helped lead the development of a close relationship with the sales team, so I got first-hand experience early on in my career around working with some larger-than-life characters. That experience taught me the value of speaking up and holding my ground.

Marketing is often misrepresented or misunderstood in a business, so you can have a lot of very strong marketing related opinions coming thick and fast. Having faith in my background, education, and grassroots marketing experience gave me the courage to find my voice and make sure it was heard when I knew that what I was saying was correct.

Everything I learned from those experiences helped propel me forward in my career. By forcing myself to stick my head above the parapet, I was constantly opening myself up to more opportunities at work and was able to quickly get a broad understanding of what the different departments of the business cared about. All of which helped improve the overall effectiveness and focus of our marketing campaigns.

Having worked within the large enterprise corporate tech space for six years, I felt I’d learned enough to gain the confidence to move on to a role with more responsibility at a scale-up organisation. The feedback speed of the work you’re implementing is so quick at a rapidly-growing company and I knew I wanted a taste of that faster pace.

I was so lucky to find disguise, which was growing exponentially while also producing truly innovative work and a marketing role that was a significant step up to really challenge me.

Unfortunately for a tech events company like disguise, the pandemic created a number of restrictions for our clients and customers. Although this was a challenging time for the company and my team, we were able to work together and pivot the business.

I had worked hard to be in the right place at the right time, and, luckily for me, an opportunity to head up the marketing team came my way.

It was a dream job come true but also, my goodness, the learning curve! The first nine months were hard work, and that was before throwing all the COVID-19 uncertainty and remote work elements into the mix.

Ultimately, the challenge I have had to overcome the most since becoming Head of Marketing is stepping back, empowering my team, and giving them the confidence and trust they need to work autonomously.

Whilst I obviously love marketing, I get my biggest kicks in work from seeing my fantastic and absurdly talented team progress, develop and grow. The business has undergone a huge central strategy pivot from live events to our new extended reality (xR) solution over the course of the pandemic, and I could not be more proud or thankful of my team for how they’ve collaborated and worked hard at every stage.

It’s a well-used phrase, but “it takes a village,” and there’s no better group I’d have wanted to go on this journey with. We’ve all got each other’s backs, and we all turn up and deliver – what more could you want from a team?

Tell us something more about your company and its mission and vision.

disguise is a platform for creative and technical professionals to imagine, create and deliver the world’s most spectacular live visual experiences. We combine leading experience production software with powerful media server hardware to empower brands, artists, and organizations to tell stories that inspire their audiences.

disguise was established in 2000 to deliver show-stopping visuals at concerts for artists like Massive Attack and U2. Today, disguise is a global operation with locations in London, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai, and New Zealand. Its technology has been sold in over 50 countries with disguise offering technical support in all regions to meet customers worldwide.

Our latest award-winning extended reality (xR) solution has powered over 400 immersive real-time productions in the past 18 months for music artists such as Katy Perry and Billie Eilish, enterprise businesses like SAP and Siemens, educational institutions like the University of Michigan, broadcast networks like ITV and Eurosport, commercial brands like Nike and Under Armour and on-set virtual productions in more than 40 countries.

Our vision is to be at the heart of every inspiring live experience in the world. We do this by constantly innovating and pushing boundaries in our software and hardware solutions to meet the future needs of productions. We are proud to be industry leaders, and our c-team are persistently looking for ways to be ahead of the curve.

Our core values are linked to the motto of ‘Create Together.’ With this, we hope to empower our users to use our technology to bring some of the world’s most amazing experiences to life.

Enlighten us on how you have made an impact in the IT niche through your expertise in the market?

With help from all teams at disguise, we were able to launch our extended reality solution to market five months before schedule. We were able to do this by engaging with our community of users and understanding their needs. When the pandemic hit, many of our users needed a way to keep on creating visual experiences, albeit virtually. We listened to their needs and adapted our message and targeting accordingly. We were also able to explore and appeal to new markets that we had not worked with before.

This paid off! We were able to help the company achieve record growth with support from our partners and these new users and markets. disguise is currently recognized in the 22nd annual Sunday Times BDO Profit Track 100 as one of Britain’s private companies with the fastest-growing profits over the last three years.

Describe in detail the values and the work culture that drives your organization.

disguise is driven by three key pillars, and that is innovation, community, and partnerships. We innovate to create revolutionary technology, which we then release to our partners and community early for feedback through various Insider Programs. This helps creators get access to tools that empower their productions whilst allowing us to access feedback and improve the quality and capabilities of our technology. We launched a dedicated Community platform to connect with our users as well as an eLearning portal providing complimentary courses and certifications. As a business we opened our software to users for free during and after the pandemic to ensure anyone, anywhere in the world had the opportunity to learn the disguise workflow.

At disguise, we’re all driven by the following set of values: we are fearless, resilient, honest, and evolutionary, meaning we are not afraid of going where nobody has dared to go before.

We are open and transparent in everything we do and maintain a strong sense of community with our end-users. Most importantly, belonging is a huge part of our core values at disguise. We want to make sure that everyone feels welcome and belongs here, and we are always striving to make disguise the most inclusive place to work. When I joined disguise, I immediately felt at home, and I hope others do too.

Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?

Our solutions combine reliable, high-performance hardware with software and training to empower our users to achieve their creative vision. When Star Wars: The Mandalorian was released, disguise undertook research and development to provide the tools to enable a new field known as virtual production or extended reality. Extended reality allows for real-time graphics content to be rendered on LED panels. It is a step beyond green screen or blue screen workflows as it allows for real-time changes to be made on set instead of doing everything in post-production. It also allowed for live broadcasts, livestreams, and even virtual corporate conferences and brand launches to take place.

Even though our history and main customer base were in live events, we were able to pivot and develop cutting-edge, award-winning technology to allow for films, broadcasts, and many other virtual events and experiences to happen in the middle of a pandemic.

Currently, the innovation is still underway. Our extended reality platform is being used and constantly developed to empower experiences on the Metaverse – which is tipped to be the new internet.

If given a chance, what change would you like to bring in the Marketing industry?

I would make two changes:

Whilst this isn’t marketing specific, the first change I’d like to bring is women supporting each other more.

From my own career and also the careers of friends, I often hear horror stories of women not supporting each other to try and get ahead. There seems to be this misconception that in order for one woman to get ahead, all others must fail. It’s simply not the case, and when one does get ahead in that style, they will quickly be found out. They will find themselves without a strong support network. It is far better to champion and support other women, even if it doesn’t directly benefit you at the moment.

I’m a big believer in “what goes around, comes around,” and people won’t forget your support and encouragement. In the end, it’s better for everyone to see more women getting ahead! All the more so if they’re being propelled by other women.

The second change I’d like to make is marketing specific. Generally speaking, I believe the impact of B2B marketing is chronically undervalued by a worryingly large number of business leaders.

Fortunately, that’s not been anywhere close to my experience at disguise.

The change I’d like to bring is seeing marketers (from junior roles all the way to CMOs) champion and really understand the revenue contribution and value they are driving and be able to communicate it effectively. One of the most important ways to do this is to leverage data and fully track the end-to-end buyer journey, from a lead generated right through to booked business by sales teams.

This also means tailoring what you’re saying to each stakeholder, depending on what they care about. For example, do you know what sales care about vs. Finance vs. HR vs. the Board? This should be a priority for every level of marketer.

That all sounds incredibly basic, but I would argue that clearly communicating the impact your function is having on bottom-line revenue is the most fundamental foundation of a high-performing marketing team.

Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run, and what are your future goals for disguise?

disguise is on a very exciting journey – it is a place where you have to work smart and fast, and I’m really enjoying that challenge. For me, this is just the start of an exciting chapter! As disguise teams continue to deliver award-winning technology solutions, our marketing team needs to be at the forefront of delivering it in a way that truly resonates and excites our customers and partners and cuts through the noise of other offerings.

I see the marketing function expanding exponentially and globally into key markets across the APAC region and the Americas. This will enable us to localize our activities and deliver more targeted services and solutions to each individual key market in our shared mission to democratize xR and open up possibilities on the Metaverse.

That adrenaline and the open collaboration with the senior leadership team compel me to keep pushing boundaries for the marketing function. But, more importantly, for every individual in my team. I want the disguise marketing function to carry the baton for what all marketing teams should be aiming for.

What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the marketing sector?

  1. Practice fearlessness. Don’t wait to be asked for a seat at the table. Take it and own it, backed by your own knowledge and experience.
  2. Always seek mentors, and these don’t have to be in marketing. Speaking to other leaders about overcoming challenges in your role will help guide you and reassure you everyone is learning and no one has all the answers.
  3. Always be learning, marketing and the technology sector are constantly advancing and it’s important to always be reading around the discipline to ensure you’re at the forefront of the latest advancements or trends.
  4. Don’t take negative feedback personally. Review it dispassionately, see what you can learn from it. Go and learn those things, and then move onwards and upwards. It’s from this feedback that you will probably learn the most.