Act-On Software’s Marketing Roundtable: Adaptive Journeys™

Marketing Automation

It’s tough work marketing B2B products and services. Prospects need to be nurtured on longer sales cycles. Complex topics need to be explained in easy-to-understand and creative ways. And we can’t stop at just being creative; we have to tie it all back to ROI.

The list goes on.

To help you B2B marketers on your respective paths of enlightened awesomeness, we’ve added a new feature to our Rethink Podcast called the “Marketing Roundtable.” We’re pulling together a team of experts to deep dive into a B2B marketing campaign that’s catching our eye, interview the folks behind the campaign, and find out what we and other marketers can learn from their experiences on the project.

We’ve got a list of recent and not-so-recent campaigns that we feel truly rocked it, but we’d also love to hear your suggestions. You can email us at [email protected].

For the inaugural roundtable, our discussion focuses on Act-On’s recent Adaptive Journeys campaign. On this episode, we were joined by Michelle Huff, Act-On’s chief marketing officer; Paige Musto, Act-On’s senior director of corporate marketing; and Linda West, Act-On’s senior director of marketing services and operations.

[podloveaudio src=”″ duration=”28:10″ title=”Marketing Roundtable: Talking About Adaptive Journeys”]

This transcript has been edited for length. To get the full measure, listen to the podcast.

What is Adaptive Journeys™?

Nathan Isaacs: To kick off our Marketing Roundtable, we’re taking a behind-the-scenes look at the launch of Act-On’s Adaptive Journeys™. Michelle, can you tell us what is Adaptive Journeys™?

Michelle Huff: We were taking a look at customers and how, as marketers, we’re building these customer journeys about how people buy and how they end up adopting and becoming advocates for products. And you see a lot of things in the market today about how those journeys are very unique to every single person. And ultimately as marketers we’ve been building personas and tracks and really trying to put people into categories. And a lot of the things we’ve been doing as marketers are forcing people down this pre-defined path. And it makes people feel like they’re dealing with stereotypes.

What we really want to do is make sure that, out of all the things we build for marketing automation, we can allow marketers to build these journeys that can really adapt to each individual. We want to take advantage of all these technologies around machine learning and artificial intelligence to help us become much more adaptive in real time, and also fast paced.

Nathan: And this Adaptive Journeys™ for Act-On, it’s more than just a campaign, right? It’s really how the company’s going to be moving in the foreseeable future, in the next year, two years, and beyond, right?

Michelle: Exactly. For Act-On, we wanted to talk to other marketers and people who are looking into Act-On, and really make sure they understand where we think the vision of marketing is headed, where we think marketing automation is headed, and show where we are trying to take the Act-On product line.

In many ways, this is a vision launch, a product launch of things we’re building. But, also, it’s not just this single isolated campaign, but really a multi-channel campaign that really touches across all the different teams I have here at Act-On, from our brand team, demand team, our customer marketing team, as well as obviously our product marketing teams.

Early Results from the Campaign

Nathan: Paige, as head of the brand team, we recently launched this campaign. What have been some of the early results?

Paige Musto: This campaign has really been a great opportunity for us to build thought leadership around the business ‒ what we’re doing as far as innovation of the product. And we looked at the campaign and the integrated approach in a sense of: What can we do from a paid opportunity standpoint? What can we do from an earned opportunity standpoint? And then, what can we do from an owned opportunity standpoint? And some of the paid opportunities that we did here, we looked to activate the message across social media channels.

We also built thought leadership articles and worked with content sites, and ran various display ads and bylines, which then were combined with paid traffic drivers back to our Adaptive Journeys pages. Also, on the earned side we did a full media relations campaign around this. And we built out landing pages on our properties. And we did a lot of campaigns to get the message out there. Combining all these traffic drivers just in the short amount of time from launching this campaign ‒ I think it’s been a little over 30, 35 days ‒ we’ve been able to double the amount of traffic and impressions we would typically make with a standard campaign by activating these three key components of a marketing program.

And on the media relations front, we were able to double the amount of news coverage we received. And still it has afforded us the ability to speak to a broader topic around artificial intelligence, and marketing automation, and the customer experience. And so it’s a great story and narrative that we’re really building upon.

Nathan: Wow. It’s great to see 2x returns come in so quickly. Linda, can you talk about how we set these goals, what measurable goals you want for a campaign, and the importance of a multi-touch attribution?

Goal Setting For Your Campaigns

Linda West: Absolutely. This campaign was a bit unique. It was a very broad campaign. We’re trying to get this message out, not just to active prospects, but also to influencers, people who are early on in the funnel, and our customers. There’s a lot of different audiences we were trying to reach. Our goal set was a bit broader than we would normally have for a specific campaign. Usually you have a little more of a narrow focus. But in this case we were trying to build brand, drive demand, and reach into our customer base, and expand and enhance those relationships.

So when we’re doing goal setting, the first thing you have to think about is the audiences you’re trying to reach, and align those goals to the audiences and the discipline. So for us that’s brand marketing, and Paige talked about a couple of those metrics that we’re using. How are we influencing traffic? How are we influencing our coverage in the PR space? And then the next category is, are we actively influencing our prospects or our demand gen funnel? And here we look at two metrics.

First, are we getting net new people into the pipeline? Is this message and are the assets that we’re generating for this campaign actually driving net new pipeline? Are the people who land on these assets converting into leads and ultimately becoming opportunities? So we look at that … how many leads we’re generating within this campaign. And then also, is this message influencing existing opportunities? So are we generating net new and are we influencing existing opportunities? So we can see of course if there’s someone in an active opportunity, did they interact with that message? And did that impact their movement through the funnel?

And then on the customer side, it’s a little bit different because we’re not necessarily trying to get conversions out of existing customers. In that case, we want to impact renewal rates, upsell opportunities, and general engagement and health of our customer base. If we have a pool of at-risk customers that we’re targeting with this specific message, we would want to see an uptick in renewals for that group. For this particular campaign, because it was so broad, we had to go across those three areas and establish metrics for each distinct point in the buyer’s journey.

And that’s a little bit easier for us because we actually do have teams oriented around those three disciplines. We have a brand marketing team, we have a demand generation team, and we have a customer marketing team. So we have a set of goals for each of those teams at each of those functions. And for this campaign it would reach across all of those teams and we had goals aligned to each one of those things.

Nathan: Michelle, what do you consider when we pick a launch date for a campaign?

Michelle: You have to factor in a lot of different things. I think there are common ones that you think through, like, ‘OK, what are your goals?’ So part of this is I want to make sure I have an impact on sales and I have an impact in renewals. Then there’s an immediacy ‒ the sooner the better, because you can impact those more quickly. But then you may start to think through how long it takes to actually produce everything. Also … Is there any of that we can tie it to? Is there something we can do to make more noise? Obviously, that’s related to products. It’s the actual product cycle.

We’re a little unique here at Act-On because some places release something maybe once a year, three times a year. We actually release every two weeks. So it’s a very fast iterative process. We have to think about: How do we bundle up things into themes and how do we time when we make these announcements? And you want to factor in a lot of different things. And then sometimes you just look at the calendar because you’re trying to make sure that you have a consistent drumbeat of news. And sometimes you just look at days on the calendar and you just pick one and go for it.

Nathan: That’s what we always think you’re doing anyways, throwing a dart on a board.

Paige: I think another point, too, is with certain campaigns like this that are high visibility where you really want to make sure you’re activating your influencer and your media community, you also want to put in or buffer in extra time that it’s going to take to do the media relations and the pre-briefings. Working back from the date you want the launch to go, but also factoring in the fact that you need to go out and pitch, and scheduling press briefings, and get those lined up prior to the launch date.

Campaign Planning & Execution  

Nathan: Linda, you talked earlier about how many people this touched as we were launching the campaign. Can you talk about all the tactical stuff that happens when you’re launching a campaign?

Linda: Absolutely. I think some teams might struggle with this, especially as they grow, getting the science of a launch or a big campaign down. Because the reality is no two campaigns or launches are exactly the same. So building some type of consistent framework that takes into account all those little differences and all the unique challenges that come with every individual launch is sometimes difficult. And it’s easier when you’re on a smaller team because you can coordinate really quickly between different people. But as your teams grow and your objectives grow, it’s important to have sort of a framework for how you get things done.

I’ll walk through what we do here at Act-On. And this is constantly evolving. We’re constantly changing how we do things and adjusting as we learn, as we grow, as we try out new things. So first of all, we absolutely follow some of the SiriusDecisions guidelines in terms of how to structure campaigns, and how they should relate to each other. If we have a big launch or a program we’re trying to deploy, we always know it needs to map back to an overarching theme. That’s the first step that we take. How is this mapping into this overarching company theme or an overarching objective that we have as a company?

And then from there it’s: What audiences are we trying to tackle, what audiences are we trying to reach? Is it influencers, customers, prospects, etc.? And then from there you can drill down into specific tactics. Are we doing bylines, press briefings, blog posts, eBooks, new product pages on the website? You name it. We have a list of probably 100 odd tactics that we could potentially deploy for any given campaign. So we have this long list of potential tactics. And every time we have one of these launches, we go into that list – and this long list was actually developed in one of our marketing all-hands meetings. As a group, we sit and review all the possible things that we could be doing in association with the launch to get the word out and to activate different audiences.

And that becomes our to-do list. That becomes our compass as we work through the launch.

And we also have weekly meetings where the entire marketing team gets on the phone, and we go through and look at the status of each of the tactics for this week. It’s not a true scrum meeting, but it’s our marketing version of a scrum meeting. We do it weekly, and we go through and look at the week’s tasks, and make sure everything is aligned. And it’s important, especially as your team grows or your objectives get bigger, to make sure that not only do you have that framework and understanding of how you’re going to get things done, but also that the communication between the different internal teams is really tight.

So you have communication channels, not just formal ones in meetings ‒ those weekly scrums are a good one for us ‒ but also just informally, where you make sure that each of the individual teams and team members know who’s doing what, know who to go to for what, and feel comfortable reaching out and communicating and tackling issues. Because as much as we want to plan in advance, the reality is nothing ever goes 100 percent as planned. So enabling everybody on the team to feel empowered and feel like they can raise their hand if something is going wrong is really important in this process.

And in this launch particularly we didn’t have a ton of time. We were on a condensed timeline to get this out the door. So that’s when it becomes even more important ‒ when there’s an issue that pops up, or when someone has a concern. There were moments where we had little impromptu phone calls at 6 p.m. with a couple of people saying, ‘Hey, I’m concerned with this ‒ what do we do?’ And then we made an adjustment. And it’s important to make sure that people are comfortable doing that outside of the formal channels so that you can tackle those types of issues.

So that’s what we do. And in this particular launch, like I said, we were on a shorter timeline, so we did have a bunch of those little things that came up. And those are all equally important to tackle. Those little things can trip you up sometimes more than that overarching framework.

Nathan: Excellent. Everyone, I really appreciate your time this afternoon. Thank you very much.