It was part reality check, part call-to-arms, part sermon for marketers from Marketo CMO, Sarah Kennedy at last week’s Marketo Summit @ Adobe Summit keynote, where she said:

 

“You don’t have to be in sales to talk to prospects. You don't have to be in customer success to advocate for the customer. You don’t need to be a CIO to advocate for better technology."

 

Ultimately it was a mandate; step up and lead.

“Do it,” Kennedy said, “even if you’re scared.”

Kennedy stepped into the role of CMO at Marketo one year prior to its acquisition by Adobe (the largest to-date from Adobe), and just 18 months before this keynote, in which she bluntly admitted her own fear: 

“If you don’t feel ready, I hear you. I didn’t either.”

Vulnerability on a keynote stage is rare - when it happens it’s like a fleeting glimpse of humanity in an otherwise scripted, highly-produced (note: beautifully designed, Sergio) performance that audiences come to expect from a major tech keynote presented to a room holding 17,000 chairs.

Did all 17,000 attendees stay to watch this Marketing Nation Summit keynote, held on day three of the broader Adobe Summit? No.

Boy, do I wish they did. 

Maybe you opted out of the event this year as well, couldn’t make it, or found yourself elsewhere. Whichever camp you were in, hungover or hung up on other responsibilities, here’s what you missed, through my eyes.

Note: My travel and ticket were covered by Adobe, but my POV is 100% my own.

(Thank GOD she remembered the disclosure, says their PR team with a sigh of relief.)

Carrying the heavy torch of marketing to marketers

I’m of the mindset that great leaders make no secret what they believe. 

Nowhere is this practice more important than in the weird world I’ve found myself in for the last decade: marketing to marketers.

Marketo was always heralded for its ability to teach, guide, and relate to marketers. “Marketing is hard” became a simple, but effective hook back in the days of the earliest Marketo Summit. 

Simple, but damn powerful. An exceptional truth.

Starting a decade+ ago, Jon Miller (one of Marketo’s original founders) executed a content marketing strategy full of “definitive guides” and step-by-step instructions on how to navigate the changing waters of marketing in the digital age. The company educated its buyers, a move wildly appreciated by marketers just trying to figure it all out, and a fine example of what happens when you get buyers to think of their world in your terms.

It was one of many reasons Marketo succeeded in becoming a beloved brand. (Its rivals, Eloqua and, downmarket, Hubspot, saw similar success with a comparable content strategies.)

A major part of the brand’s ability to support the evolving role of marketing operations was Marketing Nation, a community of marketers helping marketers through user groups and peer-led champions.

“We get you” the brand seemed to say, in a kind of Oprah-like delivery. We see you, you’re doing okay. You’ve got this.


 

That sense of confidence instilled was as important to signing the dotted line to buy Marketo as the quality of its cloud technology. 

What will happen to Marketo?

To me, this is what made Sarah Kennedy's keynote so powerful in this particular moment in the company’s history.

Uncertainty abounded before - and during - the show, as myself and many others asked: What will come of Marketo and the Marketing Nation now that it had been scooped up by Adobe?

To be fair, it’s early yet, the acquisition only six months old.

But, at the Summit, positive signs emerged early-on from Adobe itself: CMO Ann Lewnes was asked “What excites you most about adding Marketo to the portfolio?” 

She responded, exuberantly, “Using Marketo! We are customer zero. This is the best B2B marketing solution, bar none.”



 At a broader level, the acquisition was framed within Adobe CEO, Shantanu Narayen’s opening statement “we aim to change the world through digital experiences.”

 


He explained Adobe’s creative cloud empowered people to create (with a belief that everyone has a story to tell), that their document cloud activated all digital documents, while their experience cloud (of which Marketo is now part) would “transform how businesses compete in the digital era.”

A shared vision to help companies make digital a headwind, or a tailwind.

As Steve Lucas bounded on stage with his trademark energy and “SUPER PUMPED” mantra (it’s infectious), it was comforting to realize some things would never change.



He delivered some expected lines (“with Marketo now part of the experience cloud, it unlocks new capabilities across advertising, analytics, and commerce”) and some B2B surprises like ABX - a new account-based experience that is still vague but will somehow incorporate Adobe’s capabilities with Microsoft and its Dynamics CRM and LinkedIn (owned by MSFT.)

 



The promise (to be fulfilled): “With addition of Marketo, Adobe Marketing Cloud enables you to personalize, optimize, and orchestrate cross-channel campaigns across B2B and B2C, enable end to end marketing for B2E (business to everyone.)”

B2E, clever.

This was all in line with the messaging coming out of the initial acquisition.

 

A powerful example of leadership.

But it was Kennedy who left me reeling.

Her keynote ended the morning’s talks, but it did so with a bang.




 It gave me, someone who has grown up with the company as a customer, technology partner, sponsor, and now contractor, the confidence that this brand was still by and for the marketer. 

Kennedy chose to share three “forever truths” that guided her as CMO; revealing, as she put it, what “a little more time in the chair” taught her:

  1. The customer (in moments of doubt, lean into the voice of the customer.)

  2. The community (we’re not going through this alone. Never forget whose brand this really is.)

  3. The calling (your time to lead is now.)


She spoke to the emotional state of nearly every marketing leader in that room:

 “If you don’t feel ready, I hear you. I didn’t either. The calling is for us to jump, find that parachute on the way down, and step into that divide. Lead your companies from the front without fear, and do so with [Marketo/Adobe] as a partner. You have a passionate and powerful nation behind you.”

 

In one fell swoop, Sarah broke down that enormous barrier that exists between a speaker standing in front of a football-field-length keynote screen, and the audience they are there to connect with. 

She reminded marketers that she, like us, was in the same strange boat of digital transformation amid choppy waters. She had been asked to lead transformation when she joined just 18 months prior, rebuild a team, rearchitect their go-to-market. She was asked to lead change, doing whatever it took to guide the organization through transformation.

It was the same charter laid before any marketer at any high-growth firm, in any industry.

(All the while with the reminder of that short, average-CMO-tenure hovering overhead like a personal storm cloud.)

This was personal, powerful marketer-to-marketer messaging that I connected with stronger than any other given through the duration of the Summit. This was what I had worried would be lost in this acquisition. This is what attracted so many to the Marketo brand and why, as Narayen said in his opening talk “Marketo’s empathy for its customers” was a major factor in its acquisition.

 

Recognizing Marketo’s role as career catalyst

What her personal, vulnerable story indicated was that Marketo, with her as a brand steward, still understood its chief role for many of their strongest customer advocates, that of “career catalyst.” 50,000 individuals have "Marketo" in their profile on LinkedIn. It has accelerated and carved a path of success for many in the marketing operations field.

Later in the event, I sat down with two Marketo customers, Sydney Mulligan + Amy Connors, who each agreed Marketo changed their careers (and lives) for the better.

(I’ll update the post with videos once they’re live, for now here's a behind-the-scenes shot. Oprah for hire, here.)

 


Marketo is now part of the larger, broader, more substantial behemoth that is Adobe, which is also undergoing its own digital transformation, brilliantly led by Narayen who has pushed through major shifts to its business model (from creative software in a box to a subscription model,) expanding their focus (squarely a marketing company now with its acquisition of Magento’s eCommerce capabilities and Marketo with it’s end-to-end lead management engine), while maintaining its dedication to a community of creators and designers.

Ultimately what left me feeling super pumped (thanks Steve) was this final point that Kennedy made: the calling.

“Each of you needs to be ready to lead. To be a catalyst for growth, to take ownership over every step of your customers’ journey. Transform teams into marketing growth engines by making engagement your top priority. Make every experience epic.

It’s marketing’s time to lead. Your company, customers, and communities need you to do so.”

Here was a rallying cry for marketers amid a chaotic world of change.

Here was earnest confidence from one of our own.

Here was a stage featuring two admirable CMOs (Kennedy and Lewnes) who were both shining examples of what each marketer was not only tasked to do, but could do within our own organizations.

And there was a shiver going through my spine as I felt something sitting in that audience. Please note this was the final of seven, yes seven events I had attended this month alone (not complaining. Just putting it in context.)

That’s what a great keynote should do. That’s what a powerful leader should do. That’s what a brand must be in an age of confusion, noise, and change.

For overwhelmed buyers, clarity amid the ambiguity, confidence amid the change, a vision for the future, and honesty about the challenges faced is like cold-as-ice lemonade on a hot Vegas day. (OK, gin and tonic, let’s be real.)

I don’t envy anyone who has, like me, chosen to market to marketers. It’s a thankless job full of skeptical eyes, with buyers well aware of the moves being made (for the most part) and setting the bar sky high as a result.

Ultimately, what a brand like Marketo must do is inspire its marketing buyers to see themselves in that brand. Customers need to relate to brand leaders who serve as spokespersons for their technology, and shepherds for their flock.

How refreshing to see exactly this, last week, from Kennedy.

Forgive all the church references, Easter is coming soon and my recovering-Catholic self is feeling the optimism of springtime, but for all intents and purposes this was a beautiful example of evangelism on-stage.

We were taken back to marketing church. 

And I, for one, was converted.

 

 ----

Thank you, Adobe, for having me as one of your 65 Adobe Summit insiders from around the globe. While I will always bristle at being called an "influencer," I was grateful for the chance to be part of this year's event.

Every week I send a newsletter on marketing, business, and life. It's free and curated by me. Are you on the list?

 Related reading:

Comment