December 17, 2020

Drawing the Owl with Sara Varni, CMO of Twilio


In a year of connection, Twilio has leaned into communications.

Twilio’s digital engagement channels power 1 trillion interactions a year. That’s a lot of connectivity.

In November, they acquired Segment, a market-leading customer data program, to “tear down silos” of data that maintain a boundary between customers and companies. Together, they plan to deliver end-to-end customer engagement or, as Twilio describes it, “the business holy grail—a single view of the customer journey.”

Sara Varni, Twilio’s CMO, told us at a recent RG Group Lunch and Learn that when she first joined, she noticed used shoes displayed in the office. “We would give our customers a pair of Twilio Chuck Taylors in exchange for their shoes,” she said. “It was emblematic of us really trying to get into their head and figure out what means the most to them—to wear the customer’s shoes.”

Varni came to the fast-growing communications company from another brand that’s expanding rapidly—Salesforce.

She used the classic Draw The Owl exercise to help motivate her team to pivot during the pandemic.

“How do you draw the owl? You draw two circles and a beak and figure the rest out. Just figure it out,” said Varni. “COVID has been a perfect time to draw the owl. I couldn’t pull up my COVID playbook from Salesforce, and say, ‘let’s just run this from last year; let me pull up my pandemic notes.’”

So the team got clever, with virtual happy hours featuring celeb chefs and family-friendly Zooms. When travel for in-person engagement events by category became impossible, they focused on remote events organized by region.

“We weren’t just lifting and shifting,” she said, “but reinventing our programming in this new world where we are kind of unfettered from some of the traditional challenges of face-to-face.”

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