From her approach to building teams (centered on human connection) to her favorite emoji—our new CMO shares what drives her, inspires her, and gets her excited about the future of our consumer experience.
Earlier today, we announced that Attentive has a new Chief Marketing Officer to lead us through our next phase of growth. Sara Varni is joining our team after having served as CMO at Twilio for four years, and over a decade at Salesforce before that.
As someone who knows a thing or two about building a category-defining brand, she’s joining Attentive to do it again.
We sat down with her to ask her what excites her about coming to our company at this stage in our growth, how she got her start in marketing and of course, who she’d invite to her late-night talk show.
You clearly love building—you’ve built high-performing organizations at both Salesforce and Twilio. What excites you about coming to Attentive at this stage in our journey (pun intended!)?
I love building marketing teams from the ground up. When I started at both Salesforce and Twilio, they were roughly in the same place as Attentive, in terms of number of employees and revenue. I love to come into companies where I see a huge opportunity to have impact–and can implement a lot of that operational foundation. I’ve never marketed to marketers before, so that’s super exciting, too.
What have you learned about keeping your team motivated and engaged in a remote work environment?
There’s no playbook that works for all employees, and certainly no one has a perfect formula. I think you really just have to meet people where they are. Some people share an apartment with 3 roommates and don’t have an office. There are those people who live alone, and the office is a big part of their social life. Then there’s someone like me, who has kids. It’s been so nice to have my kids be able to walk in and say hi throughout my workday. As a leader, you need to recognize where someone is along this spectrum, and build a diverse set of programs to address both in-office and at-home setups.
The key to me is that you have to find ways to have fun and build human connection. Identify what’s developmental and what’s just for fun. Bring people together and help them build memories. When I was at Twilio, we brought the star of Aladdin to sing holiday tunes. People brought their kids. It was such a great way to celebrate the season together, even if we did it through a screen.
What are some big bets you’d make when it comes to the future of how businesses and consumers communicate with each other?
I think consumer privacy will continue to be a big trend, and the shift toward first-party data will become more pronounced. It will be truly interesting to see what happens post-Covid, and what the mix of digital and physical will be. Obviously, there’s been a huge swing toward everything digital. For Attentive, it will be interesting to see how the digital experience will continue to support the physical experience. There’s a David v. Goliath scenario happening—brands who would have never seen the light of day before now have all these new avenues (like SMS, obviously) to reach their customers. Retail is being democratized and communication is a big part of that.
I’ve done 80-90% of my holiday shopping via Instagram Stories! I got all these interesting things—like a Pokemon bath bomb for my son—that I would have never otherwise found on my own.
How do you think about building a brand made to last?
That first branding decisions are so important. If you get it wrong and need to change later, it’s really hard. You have to find the right balance between being differentiated, without building yourself into a corner. It’s important to get to a level of specificity where you generally know what a company does and grow the brand from there. I love the name Attentive—it speaks to how we always want to be. It’s smart to build a brand that has the potential to fit a lot under it.
If you were to suggest one book to your team to read this year, what would it be and why?
I recently read Trevor Noah’s book, Born a Crime, and highly recommend it. It was eye-opening to read about his experience growing up in Apartheid South Africa—and it really showed a different side of him.
Work-wise, I am a huge fan of Atomic Habits. I’m a big list writer and goal setter, and I think creating small rituals that are constantly going to help you move the ball down the field is really key. I always write a personal and professional list of priorities at the beginning of the year to guide how I spend my time.
What is your most used emoji?
Definitely either 🔥 or 🙌
If you had your own late night talk show, who would you invite as your first guest?
I really admire Tom Brady, so would have to go with him. If you listen to him on any podcast or interview, you get a real sense for his character. He started as seventh string at Michigan, had discipline, and worked crazy hard to get to where he is today. He has gumption! I could go on…I also love Serena Williams, and Olympic skier Julia Mancusco.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I have always been drawn to advertising. I grew up in the middle of nowhere and spent a lot of time in the car going to sports practices. Between the ages of 5 and twelve, I would memorize all the jingles on my mom’s soft rock channel. I always knew I wanted to do some version of that.
Thanks for chatting with us, Sara! We’re so excited you’re here 🙌