Lots of money, hype and questions are swirling around the startup. Brenda Freeman wants to tell a new story.
How do you market a company that says it has a mind-blowing, world-changing product — that it can’t show you?
Freeman started at Magic Leap this fall, replacing Samsung veteran Brian Wallace, who the company says was “terminated without cause” in September; Wallace is now working at a startup run by former Android boss Andy Rubin.
Since then other members of the Magic Leap marketing and comms team have departed: PR boss Andy Fouche left earlier this month and is now working with Wallace; this week, Tannen Campbell, Magic Leap’s VP of strategic marketing, and Melissa McNutt, its head of brand experience, both left.
In the midst of the shuffle, a widely read story from The Information reported that Magic Leap was struggling to turn its technology — which lets users import animated characters into their field of vision — into a consumer product, in the form of glasses or goggles. That report has heightened industry skepticism that Magic Leap can deliver on sky-high claims and ambitions.
Freeman’s job is to turn that story around. The marketing veteran comes to Magic Leap from National Geographic Channel and has a long history working for media companies like Turner, Viacom and ABC.
I talked to her this week about the challenges she’s facing. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation:
Peter Kafka: It seems like being a chief marketing officer at a company that has a lot of attention focused on it, but doesn’t have a product it can show off or really talk about in much detail, is a real challenge.
Brenda Freeman: I don’t think it’s a challenge as much as it forces the marketing strategy to perhaps pivot, until you actually have a product to experience. There’s marketing to the promise of what it is, and the fact that those who actually have experienced it, basically are amazed by it. But what we do in terms of creating early awareness and interest and intrigue is based on the promise of what it can do.
So the efforts in the beginning are more about educating that audience that we think is going to be actually interested in buying the product.
You mentioned a pivot. What are you pivoting from? It seems like you’re talking about what Magic Leap has been doing for more than a year: Showing a relatively small group of people the product who say that’s it’s amazing, but can’t go into details because they’ve signed NDAs.
I’d say the team has got a great start. The first thing you have to do is establish the brand. And I think the team did a really great job of creating a brand voice that’s unique in the marketplace.