In a world where skyrocketing fraud and cyberattacks have made customer identity access management (CIAM) and PAM/IAM a technological mainstay, how can a Chief Marketing Officer of an established IAM industry leader steer marketing towards the right questions about trust, leadership and inspiration?

Would you be surprised if most of the greatest tips from a serial marketing storyteller who famously helped polish the brand image of Salesforce and Google—are not even about marketing, martech or branding at all?

No, John Zissimos’ (JZ) story to all the professionals who aspire to greatness in the world of marketing, customer service, branding and creative advertising consists of simple, human-centric lessons that transcend work and play.

John Zissimos, Chief Marketing Officer at Okta

Snuff out all the noise around you, gather the lessons JZ proffers, and apply the principles to your life: hard work becomes play; team camaraderie becomes muscle memory; and the potential of any technology that supports your industry is unleashed to its fullest.

As an early investor of identity authentication technology giant Okta, JZ — now the Chief Marketing Officer of the US$15bn firm — saw how the firm had the potential to multiply its impact on the world if it could harness its success stories to better effect. After all, he had already pulled off great marcomm and branding feats at Salesforce and Google—it would indeed be a hat-trick if he could replicate that success in Okta.

So last year he cornered Founder & CEO Todd McKinnon into giving him the keys to the Okta kingdom: a mission to transcend mere marketing greatness and “be a great people leader and help build a company that people love working for.”  

Keys to the kingdom

JZ’s goal is to transform a firm with a proven product into one with a proven success story that makes the firm even more valuable to the world.

To achieve that, he interviews Okta’s many happy senior-level IT customers and turns them into testimonials for not just the firm’s identity authentication products, but for the interviewees’ own story, and everything that Okta stands for: win-win partnerships, trust and user orientation.

Having had 20 years of practice following some simple but evergreen philosophies, JZ humbly shares the following tips for marketeers and marcom professionals to assimilate and earn the proverbial ‘keys to the kingdom’ with:
    • Master the art of Deep Listening

      Great leaders have mastered the art of deep listening and connecting with humility and integrity with people to achieve win-win collaborations.

      In his younger days, JZ was focused on success, but in a self-centered way sometimes tinged with envy at others who were better at the time. While he did achieve much chasing after titles and KPIs, his inward-looking attitude also reined in the capability of the broader team. One of the things I am most proud of is my maturity today at feeling great when people achieve success, instead of feeling envious.”

    • You can never be great at work unless you’re exceptional at home

      JZ feels that what matters most is an employer that invests in enriching your personal life: “You know you have found the right job and career and boss that supports you in your personal pursuits to be a great father, daughter, wife, son and so on. When you have your personal life and priorities in check, the potential for work excellence is automatically maximized. When you are a great leader, you understand each team player’s personal agenda, and you make each person enjoy coming to work, to collaborate with similarly happy people, and together, achieve greater goals that go beyond just making a living.”

      This goes beyond just work-life balance—it is an amicable multi-party “work-life understanding.”

    • Hire and develop the best people you possibly can

      A great leader who understands the concepts of humility, deep listening, and work-life balance can build happy, confident teams that put in their best. In his C-level role overseeing 700 staff, JZ hires motivated and passionate people — and then gives them room to be the best they can be.

      “As a leader, I take care of the two extremes: the best successes and the worst problems. Everything in-between is their domain. I have to give them room to make decisions, to fail, to achieve. No micro-management, plenty of gratitude and trust, and always being there when they wish to involve me for support.”

    • Get the above human-centric priorities right…

      … and your leadership magically elicits commitment, loyalty, camaraderie and excellence in marketing or any business function.

      “My dad taught me to tell only the truth—it is the easiest thing to remember! When you have to constantly make something up, you’re selling something. The best marketing strategy in the world to tell the truth.”

      That is why JZ’s storytelling and branding has touched people beyond just spreading awareness about products. “A happy, collaborative, driven marketing and branding team in Okta delves into the human side of customer stories. The focus has to be not so much on the tech and the product (which is predictable and mechanical), but about the human elements of trust in Okta’s vision, in seeing every customer succeed, in sharing our own successes with them as well.”

      “Focusing on customer success, instead of competitors’ shortcomings (competitive advertising) is the best form of advertising,” JZ asserts.

What is trust to Okta

In his interview, JZ shared the two priorities that Okta’s simple yet powerful promise to the world, which is to enable anyone to use any technology safely and easily.
    • Prioritize the earning of maximum trust from every customer and every internal employee to establish long-lasting win-win partnerships and continual collaborations
    • When it comes to identity authentication and protection, apply zero trust principles, but in a way that aligns with Okta’s mission to:
      • Automate identity security management
      • Minimize user friction while allowing intuitive friction to maximize security
      • Optimize integration into any existing infrastructure (that means, to be ‘product neutral’ and interoperable)
      • Foster community and intelligence sharing to counter threat actors’ nefarious agendas