View from the C-Suite: Ecobee gets aspirational

CMO Jackie Poriadjian-Asch says the smart home company has positioned itself around data sharing and control of the home.

1_1 Square_Jackie Poriadjian-Asch

Ecobee is creating new buzz after years of hovering a little under the radar.

The Toronto-based smart home company, launched in 2007, has earned a reputation among tech users and reviewers, having been the first-to-market with a smart thermostat and achieving 100% year-over-year growth in 2018.

In May that year, it secured an additional $47 million in funding, bringing the total investment in the company up to over $200 million and enabling it to hire Jackie Poriadjian-Asch as its first CMO and chief revenue officer (as well as Scott Cleaver as chief operations officer).

Poriadjian-Asch has been leading all aspects of sales and marketing including Ecobee’s end-to-end go-to-market strategy. Before landing at Ecobee, she was CMO at Canada Goose, following nearly a decade at the UFC, where she held several roles from leading international distribution to overseeing global brand marketing.

With the company on track to reach its goal of $1 billion in sales by 2020, Poriadjian-Asch spoke to strategy about how Ecobee’s been carving out a spot in the competitive tech space.

Ecobee-office

You just recently launched your first big marketing campaign. What’s behind this first real push? 

The team has spent two years developing both the [new] SmartThermostat with voice control and smart sensors, so we thought it deserved its proper “coming out party.” In many ways, we are introducing Ecobee for the first time to a new audience. [Our brand] has around 30% market share, but it still feels in many ways like a best-kept-secret. We still spend most of our time, heads down, hard at work, focusing on delivering this great experience for customers, and maybe we haven’t been quite as loud and in-front of it from a brand perspective. So we really felt like this was the right moment to step out.

As Ecobee’s first CMO and chief revenue officer, what have you been focused on over the last year? 

What we’ve been able to do over the last year is get very specific about who the customer is that we want to target, understanding what their pain points are and how to truly add value as opposed to more gadgets. The reality is no one is looking for more devices and, frankly, no one’s looking for more control over those devices, either. What they’re really looking for is control over their everyday life. How do we deliver that in the most seamless way possible and how do we create aspiration as a brand around things that can at times feel overwhelming, overly technical and complicated and kind of take the pressure off? The empathy and understanding of who our audience is means being surgically focused on who we’re targeting and making sure we have an ownable position in the market.

Ecobee launched the Donate Your Data program in 2016, allowing customers to voluntarily contribute their home data to advance energy efficiency research. What role does data and privacy play in building differentiation for your brand? 

It’s a true brand pillar that Ecobee stands for. It’s been part of our origin story from day one. One day Stuart [Lombard, Ecobee's founder, president and CEO] came home to a freezing house after a weekend away and just about had it. He couldn’t wrap his head around why you’d have to spend an entire weekend heating your home just so you wouldn’t have to come home to a freezing home. This idea of not compromising and the ability to have it all has been there; this planet-positive kind of ethos, has been very important to him.

Most companies can’t wait to tell you all the 52 ways they’re not sharing data. We’re actually quite proud to give our consumers the opportunity to share their data and by doing that we’ve been able to have a significant impact. I’ll give you one example. [More than a year ago], the state of Indiana was facing an energy crisis. They were challenged from an energy efficiency perspective and they were looking at ways to reduce the investment needed to keep up with their growing infrastructure needs. Hundreds of members of that community were willing to give researchers anonymized data [through Donate Your Data] around how they were using their HVAC in the home. They were then able to do research that [could help the state save] between $448 million to $2.3 billion.

On the flip side, when it comes to introducing your brand to consumers for the first time, the question of privacy must remain a barrier for many people. Do consumers’ privacy concerns continue to pose a challenge in this space? 

Absolutely. Of those who reject upgraded consumer technology, well over 50% point to privacy concerns, either eavesdropping, unintended recording or broader concerns that data retrieved from their presence and use at home will be used for unauthorized purposes – without their knowledge. This can be heightened given that some of the brands offering smart home products and services today aren’t founded in the space and by extension servicing and protecting the homeowner has not been prominent in their brand promise. They’re valid concerns, and that’s why I think the companies that you trust to deliver those services, the brands that stand for protection of those basic rights and take it seriously, I think end up winning in this space.

This interview is part of a series for Strategy C-Suite, a weekly email briefing on how Canada’s brand leaders are responding to market challenges and acting on new opportunities. Sign-up for the newsletter here to receive the latest stories directly to your inbox every Tuesday.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.