Truth Online: Andy Cunningham, CMO, Yext

When someone asks a factual question about a brand on Google, Alexa, Siri, or even on the brand’s own site, they want a verified answer – that’s where Yext comes in.

Andy Cunningham
Interim Chief Marketing Officer Yext
 

What did you do before your current role and what drew you to Yext? 

Marketing and branding have always been my passion. They led me to work alongside Steve Jobs to launch the Macintosh and write my own book about brand positioning called “Get to Aha!” I have spent the last 8 years helping tech companies like Yext define, position, and build their brands through my own consulting company. Yext was one of our clients, and asked me to join the team as interim CMO to transform the company’s brand.

 

Tell us what Yext stands for; what are its values and core positioning? 

At Yext, our mission has always been to deliver perfect answers everywhere. We’ve witnessed the end of the early, innocent days of the Internet — whether it’s fake news or inaccurate brand information in search, misinformation runs rampant online today. Yext stands for restoring the truth online through verification from the source. By delivering brand verified answers through Yext, brands can take back control over the facts about themselves and provide better search experiences for consumers who are asking questions about them online.

That’s exactly what our new campaign, “The Man Without the Answers,” is all about. Brands can count on Yext to save them from uninformed people like Todd Munion – the spot’s main character and every CMO’s worst nightmare – who perpetuates false information online.

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As a Chief Marketing Officer, one of your main roles is communicating “The Next Big Thing”. What can we expect to see in the coming year? 

Verification is the next big thing in search, and we’re going to be seeing a lot more discussion from brands about taking back their truth online in the coming year – both in search engines and on their own sites. Businesses are increasingly realizing that the search feature on their websites is incredibly useless in helping people find the information they’re looking for — in many cases, brands have either given up on it or don’t even realize how bad it is at answering their customers’ questions. 

We’ll also be seeing a lot more of Todd Munion, the personification of misinformation that we introduced in our new ad campaign, as we create a sense of urgency among CMOs to take a stand and take back control of their facts from so-called “experts” online. 

 

To understand the effectiveness of brands’ responses to consumers online, Yext analyzed the results of the “People Also Ask” search results feature within Google. In the study, only answers and links to the actual brand’s website were labeled as “brand verified answers”. Could you share some key findings from this analysis?

Yext believes that the ultimate source of truth about a brand should be the brand itself. We created the concept of brand verified answers, meaning an answer that comes straight from the source, not from third parties that may not have the right information. When someone asks a factual question about a brand on Google, Alexa, Siri, or even on the brand’s own site, they want a verified answer – that’s where Yext comes in. We analyzed Fortune 500 companies to see how many answers to commonly asked questions about them were coming from the brand itself, and found that an alarming number of companies have unverified, third-party sources answering questions about them. In most industries, only 14% of the answers came directly from the brand. 

 

You helped Steve Jobs to launch Macintosh and later worked with him at NeXT and Pixar. What lessons have you learned from him that you apply to your work?

One of the most important lessons Steve taught me is just how critical attention to detail is. This extended to everything from the product itself to the physical environment in which customers and prospects would experience a product. Steve believed that atmosphere is just as important and should be given as much attention as the product itself when it comes to selling. The special, modern experience you have in an Apple Store or office is a great example, but it’s also something Yext has captured at its annual conference, ONWARD. Every year, Yext leaves no stone unturned in creating a world-class experience for leaders in tech and marketing as they stepped into the world of Yext. This year, for example, ONWARD attendees could demo the Yext platform in a special area with futuristic elements like a motion-sensing galaxy floor.

 

Tell us about the innovation in the tech industry that excites you the most right now. 

Advanced natural language processing is going to change the way all of us use technology. NLP is the foundation of Yext Answers, the new search product Yext just launched to allow businesses to understand the complex questions customers search on their sites and return intelligent answers. 

We fundamentally believe there are two types of searches: objective questions, where people look for facts about things like addresses and hours of operation that should come from the brand itself, and subjective questions like “best pizza in NYC,” for example, where they want to see reviews and blogs. At Yext, we imagine a future where customers can say “Hey McDonalds, how many calories are in a Big Mac?” directly to a search engine or voice assistant and get an answer directly from McDonalds. Powerful NLP and AI will be the key to make that a reality. 

 

Yext has been named a Best Place to Work by Fortune and a Great Place to Work®, as well as a Best Workplace for Women. Could you describe the overall culture at Yext and what makes it so unique?

Yext’s culture is vibrant, fun, and inclusive of all backgrounds. We do important and hard work at Yext, but there’s a sense of humor that starts from the top and trickles down to the rest of the organization, fostering a lighthearted work atmosphere. 

 

How do you as a successful woman plan to inspire the next generation?

I love working with young people and surrounding myself with their fresh perspectives, ideas, and desire to change the world — it’s just part of why I enjoy working with Yext so much. I’m writing a sequel to my first book to teach leaders, including those of the next generation, how to take their innovative ideas and activate them. It’s one thing to have a good idea and another to actually make it happen, and I hope sharing the lessons I’ve learned will help people turn their ideas into reality.