Behind B2B #12: Isobel Sita-Lumsden
For the twelfth instalment of Behind B2B, our series exploring the brightest minds in the industry, we meet TikTok’s European Head of B2B Marketing, Isobel Sita-Lumsden.
When we say ‘TikTok’, ‘B2B marketing’ probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But that’s exactly the remit of Isobel Sita-Lumsden – a creative and strategic marketing leader whose career has seen her stay one step ahead of some of the biggest transformations in digital content.
So – how do you go from print publishing to digital news, to spearheading B2B at 2020’s most downloaded app? We sat down with Isobel to find out.
Isobel, tell us – what was your journey to Head of B2B Marketing at TikTok? And (considering TikTok was only launched in 2016!) what did you really want to be as a kid?
It’s funny – my dad’s a scientist, mum’s a lawyer, sister’s a doctor. All very academic. But I struggled a bit at school because I didn’t know what I was good at. I eventually fell in love with art – I wanted to be a ceramicist at one point – but that’s a pretty hard thing to make a living from. The desire to do something creative eventually led me to marketing.
I spoke to a couple of career counsellors, did some work experience, and then went on to study it for my degree. And I just loved it – I’ve been in marketing ever since. I spent a few years at Procter & Gamble, and then moved into publishing and subscriptions marketing, eventually landing at Marie Claire.
But the world was changing – so you made the leap to digital content?
Yes, I could see that the future was digital – so I made the move to AOL. Print circulation figures were declining, and I wanted to focus my attention on where the consumers were going: online.
I think people thought it was a bit odd – you know, why are you leaving this big sexy brand to go work at some sort of CD-ROM internet business? But the content opportunities were cool, and I wanted to focus on digital-only content brands.
Eventually, I was given the opportunity to launch the Huffington Post in the UK, which was a real career highlight. We did an ad campaign that went on to win 10 industry awards – including a Cannes Lion.
My time at AOL was really interesting, and taught me so much. While I was there, we were acquired by Verizon, we acquired Millennial Media, we merged with Microsoft’s advertising business, Verizon bought Yahoo and merged that too… It gave me loads of merger and acquisition experience, and it meant my role kept changing. And one of those changes was a bigger focus on B2B.
What interested you about B2B at the time?
It seemed like there was more budget, more investment. I loved being at the heart of the business. I think that’s probably why I fell in love with B2B, because I just felt I had such a good seat at the table. I had a valuable voice, and I could really demonstrate direct revenue correlation to the marketing I was doing.
Basically, B2B just felt so much more valuable, and so much more satisfying. And it still gave me huge scope for the creativity I’d enjoyed in the B2C world.
Speaking of creativity: how did you then make the leap over to TikTok? Were you nervous about heading up B2B at what many would think of as a very consumer brand?
It was like the Marie Claire situation all over again. I saw the opportunity, and I just felt that certainty: I need to move forward, I need to jump on this train. I felt in my bones it was the right thing to do.
And I’ve been so grateful to get that opportunity. It’s been a dream role, a dream company. Being able to build B2B at TikTok from the ground up has been incredible. How many times, as a marketer, do you get the chance to do that? To hire a brand new team, to create a strategy from scratch, to really thoughtfully lay the foundations of what we need to do from a marketing capacity?
That’s a once in a career opportunity. To do it in a company like TikTok – which is, you know, the world’s biggest startup at the forefront of media technology – is incredible. I’ve never worked so hard, but it’s unbelievably rewarding, and I’m surrounded by amazingly talented, passionate people. I’m doing new things, I’m learning, I’m growing. Everything we do is shaped by our core values which creates a great working environment. So, it’s a dream come true.
How has your experience in the B2C world helped you manage TikTok’s B2B marketing effectively?
I think having B2C experience in a B2B role is super valuable, because you always have that mindset of the marketer – and as a B2B marketer at TikTok, my target audience is marketers! So I’m familiar with their challenges and goals, I understand how they’re thinking, I can come at it from the customer’s point of view.
What’s been your proudest achievement during your time at TikTok?
To launch TikTok for business to the world, we created this campaign with the agency TBWA: Don’t make ads, make TikToks.
It was a huge, bold, awareness driving, educational campaign that made it clear: we aren’t just an app with kids posting dance videos, we’re a huge content platform with a diverse, engaged audience, and you can advertise here with tons of different ad formats.
That point about the engagement can’t be understated, by the way. TikTok is like no other platform, because when you’re on TikTok, you’re only on TikTok. It’s a full-screen, primary screen, sound-on environment. You’re not engaging with another screen at the same time. And that’s so valuable for businesses.
Anyway – as I was saying, we had to educate businesses about what TikTok is, and then educate them about the actual proposition. That is, all the ways you can advertise, all the content creators you can work with, and all the ways to reach your audience.
Fortunately, the story we told landed really well. And it was also great timing, because just at that moment, everyone was waking up to TikTok. We had this meteoric rise in users because of the pandemic. So all of sudden, everyone – and every marketer – was saying hey, I need to know about this.
Yeah, that was a great sweet spot of a very piqued interested market – and then having a great story to tell them. We’re so proud of that campaign. And the big thing is, Don’t make ads, make TikToks is a creative message – but it’s also a North Star guidance for a new way of doing business.
Final question – what are some of the best examples you’ve seen of brands using TikTok?
That’s a hard question – there’s a lot! Ocean Spray did great work off the back of that viral clip of the guy cruising to work on his longboard, lip-syncing to ‘Dreams’ and gulping their juice. They capitalised on that moment, and revitalised their brand as a result.
Another success story is Little Moons – they saw 1,300% increase in sales after using TikTok to build brand excitement organically. I love seeing classic brands find success on the platform, too. Old Spice has done this great series where they get famous TikTok creators to remake their iconic ads.
But it’s not just consumer brands; Sage worked with TikTok to launch its first ever B2B ad campaign, ‘Boss It’, where they asked people to share clips of themselves bossing 2021. It’s democratic – for every marketer in every industry. And that’s an exciting place to be.