October 8, 2020

Why strategy matters that much? Strategic Marketing DVZN interview

We've talked to the DVZN Agency [dɪˈvɪʒ(ə)n]. It's a high-end marketing company that provides "CMO as a Service" conception. They help founders and CEOs to implement strategic marketing approach into their digital businesses.

Make it in Ukraine: Our country is well known abroad for its developers and bustling IT industry. But what about marketers? Do we have buzz-worthy marketing talent?

Victoria Zosim, DVZN Co-Founder: Yes, there may be some. But you know, marketing in Ukraine is not a hot topic for discussions. If we take branding and advertising as a part of marketing, there are some players’ve received international recognition. Banda, for instance, that took the Red Dot award, or BBDO that won gold at Young Lions in 2019

But back to strategic marketing: I think our top specialists just don't like to bring much light on their wins. A strategy is a hidden mechanism that works "beneath the surface." The surface usually gets recognition. We're like movie directors — always behind the camera. 

And, of course, I kinda hope we’ll become one buzz-worthy digital marketing team soon.

Make it in Ukraine: Speaking about strategic marketing. How does it work? I mean, what steps are involved in creating a strategy for a company? What’s the outcome?


If we're speaking about digital marketing strategy, it's developed based on thorough marketing research, as in traditional marketing. Despite some opinions, digital marketing is based on the same principles. A digital “add-on” is just a tool that you should know how to use. 

Without understanding the market, knowing the environment, you cannot weigh your opportunities and decide where to go and why. 

The outcome is a documented strategy aligned with marketing opportunities, a strategic view scoped in one document that outlines defined goals and tells where the company should go and why. 

Make it in Ukraine: Like treasure mapping where you put all your goals, dreams, and aspirations?


Almost. Except you comprehend the reality and are backed up by hard data. 

Make it in Ukraine: And what’s the next step after developing a strategy?


Planning. A strategy is originally a war term. Once you've decided what your target is, it's time to map out all the activities that will bring you there. 

Make it in Ukraine: That’s interesting. How do you know what activities will help you reach your destination? What if you “turn off the road”?


You cannot know that for sure. There are always risks, and those who guarantee victory are just living in La-La land, or not playing fair. But you can minimize those risks and think about the “way out” in case something goes wrong or you depart from the plan. The better you know the market’s needs, the lower the risks.

Make it in Ukraine: What processes are involved in creating a strategic roadmap for a client? I saw your offering of this service on your website and wonder how it looks?


A marketing roadmap is called a roadmap because it’s something where all your future initiatives are mapped out. It usually takes the form of a dashboard where you put all your planned initiatives together to start implementing them step-by-step.

If you want to create a picture in your head, think about how a typical house is built. 

You have your construction project with its breakdown structure of works to be executed. If you don’t follow the plan, you’ll end up sitting on a road with no house or even foundation in sight. 

The same applies here: going on step-by-step without deviation is going to lead you to your goals. Otherwise, it will be extremely difficult for you to stay on your feet, especially with different distractions that may come in the way. 

Make it in Ukraine: So, we can conclude that without a proper strategy and plan there is no way you can enter the market?


Without proper research and strategy, there are fewer chances you’ll thrive. There are some cases when startups built their businesses intuitively, hands down, but those cases are rare. The truth is, the startup cemetery is growing wide, and 34 % of new startups fail due to the poor product-market fit.

We can always admire successful practices, but there are many failures too, that no one usually likes to talk about. In the USA, for instance, if you blew, went bankrupt, couldn’t find an appropriate equation for your unit economics — it’s treated like something completely normal. You fall, stand up, and move on. Things are a bit different in post-Soviet countries: we’re less prone to accept our failures and see them as a part of the process. Acknowledging that the market doesn’t show interest in your product when you’ve been working on it for, like, a year, investing your time, money, efforts — are quite difficult for every entrepreneur.

DVZN Agency Interview

Make it in Ukraine: Let’s talk about product marketing. Where is Ukraine in terms of digital product marketing? Are we behind Europe, or leading a breakthrough wave of innovation?


I think, as a country that is extremely rich for talents, we’re naturally undergoing some intensive development. Today you probably won’t meet a world-renown product that has Ukrainian roots without a powerful marketing strategy behind it. 

From this point of view, I think we’re not behind, but keeping pace with our European colleagues. Take Reface, Preply, Grammarly, for instance, that are well-known far beyond Europe and are fairly innovative products. 

Make it in Ukraine: Ok. Tell me a bit about your company. What services do you provide and for whom?


We have 3 Chief Marketing Officers with a wealth of experience in various fields, who can support CEOs/founders, working on strategy, budgeting, and fixing those gaps that don’t let the company grow. It works perfectly well for businesses that need temporary marketing guidance, or cannot afford an in-house full-time CMO. We cooperate with founders/CEOs to reveal the problem and give it a quick fix. In some cases, the whole strategy doesn’t work anymore, so we have to adjust it according to the market needs. 

Such a format of cooperation is called “fractional” CMO services, or “part-time CMO”. 

Make it in Ukraine: When you were hiring for your company, how did you find the talent that could pull off what you needed?


It’s very similar to how a marketing funnel works: you have to acquire as many “leads” as possible at the top of the funnel, then test candidates’ hard and soft skills, then run pre-employment testing. 

That’s how I see it. But what do I know, we just have a nice recruiter who supplies us with top-notch specialists wherever needed. 

Make it in Ukraine: So you won’t tell me where to look for marketing minds in Ukraine?

Try LinkedIn, Facebook groups, Telegram job channels. But frankly, networking rules. As well as your best friend’s recommendations. Combining both is the best strategy. 

Make it in Ukraine: How do you find clients, Victoria? 


I’m going to disappoint you here. We’re not really looking for clients. We’re just leveraging word of mouth, that’s all. 

It works very simply. If you’re doing your work with passion & dedication (here comes a motivational part), if you’re 100% sure you’re where you meant to be, how on Earth could it be possible that the results of your work won’t reach the farthest corners of your not-so-big-city, and even go far beyond?

Make it in Ukraine: So, you’re telling me that you’re not sending out emails, making cold calls?


No. It’s 2020 :)

Honestly, we believe in the power of partnership. That’s why we’re partnering with design, brand and pr-agencies to help their clients with strategic marketing.

Make it in Ukraine: What if you run out of contracts? There is a possibility it may happen, right?


Of course, everything can happen. But how my worries can influence the future? I prefer to focus on doing my job spotlessly, the things I can control.

 Besides, we don’t aim to grow our agency to 100+ people and serve 100+ clients; we love a “boutique approach” that allows us to focus on fascinating projects. It means you have fewer clients, but they can be sure there won’t be a “talking head” (or another account-manager), who doesn’t understand a squat about marketing, answering their questions. 

Make it in Ukraine: I know you have foreign clients as well. What’s great and not so great about those collaborations?


Foreign clients are more willing to experiment and aren't afraid to be different. Thankfully, the mentality of Eastern Europe is gradually changing. From this point of view, it’s always easier to work with tech-companies, as their culture is most open to experimentation.

But foreign clients are also looking for a magic pill capable of solving all their marketing problems at once. It’s ok. However, the drive and willingness to experiment turns a client into a gold client. 

As to the weak points … Difference in time zones? I love my coffee at 8 AM, not at 6 AM as it usually happens when you have to show up to your “late evening” meetings with LA partners. 

Make it in Ukraine: Is promoting projects on EU/US markets different from doing that in Ukraine?


If you’re planning on promoting a product on US/EU markets, you have to worry about distribution channels and cultural differences. Many prefer to expand to the US market rather than Europe because in the case of the US you have just one country. With its distinct values of each state, but still. You don’t have to localize your activities for each new country, making translations, adjusting pricing strategy, etc. Each European nation, on the contrary, has its own culture, so you have to go to great length to play catch-up.

Emotional elements are crucial: what provokes emotion in one culture, may miss the mark with another. In Ukraine, it’s much easier to make a concept resonate with a local audience because we are that audience.

However, here I break the rule of marketers: don’t judge your audience based on your thoughts & preferences.

Make it in Ukraine: And what are the latest common marketing challenges that you can name?


We work with digital businesses here and abroad, and for the most part, it’s the same problem everywhere. Quarantine shifted gears from strategic thinking to tactical planning, thus, brought a scrap of chaos to the work processes. While some cut budgets, others fired people or engaged contractors. 

But I wouldn’t address it as “the latest” challenge. It’s generally a common situation, especially when your business is changing and you have to adopt it. In this case, you may be trapped in the ad hoc tactics thinking. 

On the other hand, many companies started seeing sense in planning for 1-2 years instead of 5-10 years as it was before. Developing a strategy for 10 years ahead nowadays is just a delusion.

Make it in Ukraine: How has performance marketing changed in the past few years? Any new approaches/strategies?


More companies started putting teams in the first place. When you tailor each project to a small team, it works out well for tech products. For example, businesses with recurring models: you can have a separate team for acquisition, activation, and retention. Although it does sound like growth teams there, I’m glad today the whole buzz around “growth hacking” ran down. Because at one moment it got this negative connotation when everyone suddenly turned into growth hackers. 

Also, on the whole, more companies started measuring marketing. Finally. You can measure everything today, so why not add it as some kind of healthy ritual into your processes? During the quarantine, some companies increased their budgets, which tells people started tracking the causal link and making decisions based on statistics. Now “cutting marketing first” is not always the rule in crises.

Make it in Ukraine: My last question is going to be about you. I know that you have an IT background. You’ve been a CEO for like 8 years. How come you became a marketer after? Isn’t it a change of direction?


Having an IT background doesn't limit you here, vice versa, you don't have to learn basic digital concepts from scratch. Besides, I was CEO/CMO. It helps me now solving our clients' pain when a founder is sitting on two chairs, tearing apart, having no one around to play a "ping-pong" with (marketing-wise), because you don't have an experienced executive in your team.

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