Marketing trends are always changing, and it's so important to stay relevant. What are the latest trends, and how does one stay abreast of them? Is it better to be an early adopter or to see which trends stick? To address these questions, we’re asking experienced CMOs and marketing executives to share their “Top 5 Marketing Trends That Leaders Need To Know.” As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Gilbert.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! To start, can you share a bit about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for inviting me, it’s my pleasure to be here. You know, I didn’t deliberately choose this career path. I just followed my heart one step at a time. I was recruited to a music program at a college in Southern California during my sophomore year of college. I was living in the Southeast and thought California sounded exotic, so I went.
When I graduated, I’d lost interest in a musical career and leveraged my business communications minor instead. Little did I know that the tech industry was taking off. I found an entry-level job at ESRI, a GIS company behind most of the digital maps in the world today. I had a fascination with maps and geography so it seemed like a fun thing to do. I didn’t vibe with Southern California so after a couple of years, moved to the Bay Area because I always loved San Francisco, and the rest is history.
B2B technology marketing was emerging rapidly with engineering-oriented business leaders waking up to the fact that marketing was going to be fundamental to the growing industry. I got in early and what a ride it’s been. I was really privileged to work with some of the best marketers in the industry at the time, forging new ground in channel partners, what we called database marketing back then, and envisioning the future of 1:1.
I got to launch some really cool new technologies like 100 and 1000 MB Ethernet (the precursor to high-speed networking and the internet), and about 10 versions of Microsoft Office and Windows products, and lots and lots of computer hardware that are now antiques. We were focused on getting everyone in the world to use technology.
I also loved the agency world and I landed my dream job at McCann Relationship Marketing (MRM) leading a global strategy and analytics team helping Microsoft through its digital transformation of marketing. We were literally building their marketing technology stack and global operating model from the ground up. That was a career-defining role and put me on a path of leadership in digital transformation for the rest of my career.
One thing I always held dear was the notion of humans and their relationship to technology. Focusing on teams, how technology makes them stronger, and helping them build great customer relationships at scale was something I did from the very start of my career. While my peers were pursuing sexy brand jobs, I was all in on data, digital, and their potential power to shape personal experiences.
At that time I was kind of an outsider because all these technologies were in their infancy. I felt like the geek at the brand ball but it really interested me so I stayed the course. Looking back I know I made all the right bets and I’m still leading from the front lines of marketing technology innovation, which is right where I want to be.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a funny mistake from when you were first starting?
I personally believe there are no mistakes, only learning moments that may feel really embarrassing, or hopefully funny at the time, but that teach us something important that we can use to direct our course.
I guess the “funniest” mistake I ever made was in the early days of email marketing. I was working on a campaign and I didn’t actually know that you could use hyperlinks in emails to direct people to a website. So a couple of early email drops had the web address in text and not as a hyperlink. When no one responded and we wondered why, an engineer pointed out our mistake.
It was embarrassing at the time but we pivoted fast. What this reinforced to me was the importance of user experience in communications. It must be easy for people to engage and respond. Technology changes so fast that sometimes it’s the little things that can trip you up.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you’re grateful for?
Transformational leaders have really impacted me and I’ve been lucky to encounter many of them at the right times in my career. I can honestly say, and I’m not trying to flatter my current boss, that Etai Beck, the CEO of Folloze has been the one person whose vision represents the culmination of my personal journey and the perfect way for me to apply my experience.
His entire vision is founded on giving buyers and sellers the easiest and most powerful way to build digital relationships. He’s also one of the most compassionate and heart-centered leaders I’ve ever worked for, which is critical today.
I would also shout out to Michael McLaren, the head of the Microsoft business at McCann for seeing the potential in digital and helping my team really capture those early opportunities that were so career-building. He was an excellent visionary and also a great operational leader—he understood digital like no other brand leader I’d ever worked with. He went on to be CEO of Merkle, which didn’t surprise me. I knew he was “one of us” back then.
Are you able to identify a ‘tipping point’ in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different?
In my nearly 30-year career, I’ve had many successes but what’s even more rewarding, I've had the pleasure of helping others achieve success. I've gotten to help shape the discipline, lead digital transformation, and navigate the ins and outs of a constantly changing marketing and advertising industry.
I would say the tipping point for me was my job as EVP and Head of Strategy and Analytics at MRM in the early 2000s. I was so privileged to be on the front lines of the digital transformation of marketing at Microsoft, working with a global company that had the resources, and was committed to being the best. I learned more in my eight years working on that business than at any other time in my career. But there was a dark side to that success.
First, I had two little children and I was traveling the world trying to keep up with the men on the business with stay-at-home wives. There were vast pay inequalities, and I saw female and minority people with high potential passed over for jobs they should have gotten. Burnout and job dissatisfaction was high.
I began to realize that technological advancement was useless if it wasn’t in service to elevate people’s experiences, opportunities, and quality of life. I reached a point where I thought more and more about the role of culture, and human experience in relation to the technology business and our application of technology.
As I began to understand that the industry wasn’t fair and for the most part, not a great experience for a lot of people, I began to think about how I, as a leader, needed to do things differently. I woke up to an industry where bias and discrimination was entrenched in the working environment and businesses were not necessarily wielding their tremendous power for anything other than growing shareholder value.
I realized that things weren't going to change overnight; and that if I wanted to eliminate bias and discrimination, I’d have to learn to stand strong in these environments and lead from my values. I developed my values filter to focus on purpose-driven teams, a product that's making an impact on real-world problems and a leadership orientation to diversity and culture.
When you see problems in your job or your industry, I encourage you to look at the values most important to you and focus on how to leverage them to create incremental change in your career and eventually industry and world at large.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
In April 2022, I was introduced to Folloze and was asked to take on a challenging interim CMO assignment. It became a mission to transform B2B marketing and I decided to accept a long-term assignment and join the team as CMO.
Today, given the market conditions, I really feel like this was an inspired move. Our business is helping companies thrive through dynamic and challenging market conditions. We’re transforming the way B2B marketers and sellers interact with buyers in highly personalized and relevant ways. We’re helping marketing teams do way more with less and be super agile to roll with whatever comes their way.
The Folloze Platform makes it easy for all marketers, across all digital touchpoints, to create impactful, personalized journeys, and deliver unprecedented results. The unique combination of powerful no-code design tools, real-time insights, and AI-powered content recommendations helps teams transcend old siloed ways of working and come together as a unit to orchestrate the best experience for buyers, customers, and partners.
One story that stands out is our work with financial research and analytics firm, Celent. Like so many other companies, Celent needed a way to better engage their customers. As a nimble team of 50, efficiency is key to engage and maintain relationships with more than 20K users in more than 70 countries.
They transformed their entire engagement model using the Folloze B2B Buyer Experience Platform, and leveraged Folloze Account-Based Marketing to more precisely focus on key accounts, orchestrate more effective campaigns and successfully pivot their digital events strategy to thrive in a changing financial services landscape. By leveraging the Folloze platform, Celent embraced new ways of work and now benefit with the ability to quickly engage key audiences at every phase of the customer lifecycle.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? Tell us about it!
As part of the Folloze executive team, I get to help other marketing leaders easily solve the problems I’ve been trying to solve for years and participate in the paradigm shift to make it easy for frontline marketers and sellers to meet buyers in the moment with a compelling experience. For me, there is no better way to be on the front lines of one of the most exciting revolutions in marketing since digital—the B2B Buyer Revolution.
One of the things we’ve been working on is how to deliver value for marketers in this volatile environment. Working with CMOs and their teams to help them define their strategy, build programs to do more with less, and justify the performance of their programs is really exciting. To help marketers see that performance is still possible in this environment is so invigorating. I feel like we’re rejuvenating an industry and that makes me happy.
In addition, we’re working on releasing a really cool purpose-built AI product this year. It’s something I’ve always wanted and now it’s coming. I can’t wait to introduce it to our customers.
Being at the forefront of the marketing space and leading diverse teams, what resources or tools do you use to stay abreast of the ever-changing landscape?
Folloze has always had a really close relationship with our customers. These are innovative marketers from some of the best B2B brands in the market. Our platform is built with them to solve the problems they have now and the ones they’re anticipating. There’s nothing like working with a customer to solve a strategic problem. It’s the most inspiring and important thing we can do.
Obviously we also lean very heavily on our partnership relationships with brands like 6Sense, DemandBase, and others. They’re serving similar customers and seeing similar problems through a different lens. We always learn something from them and teach them things as well.
Finally, I would say our relationships with Gartner and Forrester are incredibly valuable in helping us shape our narrative and products in a way that stands out in a very crowded Martech space. They’re talking to the same customers we’re talking to, plus our partners and competitors too so we get a very clear picture of what we need to do to stay relevant.
In your experience, is it possible to forecast upcoming trends?
It is absolutely possible to forecast upcoming trends. We live in a world where we have so much access to information about what people are thinking, doing, and what’s working that if you look at the data through the lens of experience, you can easily forecast a trend.
I called the death of traditional demand generation five years ago. I was working closely with clients standing up true ABM operations. The fact that you could target media and campaigns based on true intent signals, and follow them all the way through their journey made so much sense. But companies were only doing ABM in discrete pockets in their organizations.
When I saw how much money companies were saving and the pipeline impact they were driving by highly focused, multi-constituent, full-journey campaigns vs. what I call the “spray and pray” model, the lightbulb went on. If you ran this strategy as a primary demand generation strategy you could save companies millions of dollars a year and improve results. Fast-forward five years and it’s one of the trends we’re already seeing start to take off.
In marketing, would you say it’s better to be an early adopter of trends or wait to see if they stick before allocating resources?
It really depends on your strategy and your appetite for risk. For instance, I’m seeing quite a few people jump onto ChatGPT and some of them are already seeing efficiency gains in using it as a way to get a lot of first drafts out there.
The teams that are seeing the value, however, are making sure to have a live writer craft the narrative in their brand voice and bring it to life. I’d say that others are seeing it as a replacement for a writer and risk a decrease in brand engagement if they’re not enriching and refining the final product with real human insight.
With the trend towards an ABM / DemandGeneration merger, if you’re not ready to invest in an ABM platform and change management across your organization, then you should probably wait to jump on the trend because you won’t get the results you are looking for. ABM is a mindset, organizational process, and set of tools that spans an entire GTM team so you have to have your CRO onboard with you.
What are some of the past trends that you embraced, and what results did you see?
At Folloze we are an ABM-first marketing team and we drive incredible results with a very small team. We saw our pipeline grow by 100% year over year and drove a 55% increase in new customers in a very tough market with retention rates that are unheard of by industry standards. That’s all because we’re committed to buyer centricity which is key to winning in this market.
Another trend is AI. We use it everyday to stay at the top of our game. From analyzing sales calls to keep our sales teams on top of their game, to leveraging it to optimize our BDR email sequences, it’s integral to our day-to-day life. On my team we love to say, “Don’t fear the AI. Put it to work to our advantage.”
Can you share a time when a strategy didn’t deliver the results you expected and what you learned from the experience?
I have to say that it relates back to that old traditional “spray and pray” model. I remember when I thought it took a lot of money to generate a lot of leads. Generally, that’s true. But I was looking for the wrong result. So, there were a few demand generation campaigns I was involved in that didn’t work the way I’d hoped despite having a lot of resources.
When I finally changed my perspective and realized that it’s not leads I’m looking for but really quality engagement with high value accounts and predictable pipeline, that’s when I got serious about changing my strategy.
What factors should leaders consider before jumping on a trend?
This is the way I think about trends for my business. First, do I understand this trend and will it positively impact my business? If the answer is yes, great, then you can probably build a solid strategy and business case around that trend so it might be worth exploring.
Secondly, is my team prepared to adopt this trend or will it be a distraction from our current path? If it’s a distraction, it may not be a good time. If your team doesn’t have the bandwidth and the business value isn’t quite there, it could hinder your performance. If your team is all in and can see how it fits and is willing to do the work to leverage the opportunity, then go for it.
Finally, do I trust that this trend is here to stay and / or the start of something that will be around for a long time? Take AI for instance, it’s a trend and it’s here to stay. Just because all the tools aren’t totally mature doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start exploring it. But make sure that the AI tools you’re using are enhancing what you do today. That you have a clear understanding of how they work and where the pitfalls may be.
Based on your experience and success, what are the top five marketing trends leaders should know about in 2023?
- The digital-first buyer journey is here. 90% of the data in the world has been created over the past two years. Companies who win are leveraging that data to win over the competition.
- Purpose-built AI will be adopted at scale. Not to replace marketers, but to make them more agile and enhance their ability to deliver personalization at scale. Learn how to apply it now.
- Traditional demand generation is over. Progressive B2B companies are transitioning their teams to an ABM-oriented approach. They’re seeing new levels of focus, efficiency, and faster growth.
- Reality TV meets B2B. If you’re not thinking about your brand as a media company, you’re going to lose your audience. Snackable, authentic, useful content will win over overthought, laborious traditional content.
- The death of Martech 1.0. Out will be things like generic website personalization, discrete A/B testing tools, and data tools that just do 1 or 2 things. It will be integrated tools that bring a holistic view of account and individual behaviors and provide the resources to act on critical moments.
Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?
If I could inspire a movement, it would be for marketers to work with the flow much like the teachings of the Tao. This literally translates as ‘the way,’ or an all-encompassing philosophy that offers a path to understanding the interconnected relationship between all living things.
It helps one navigate life with more flow, and it’s the perfect organizing principle to help forge productive relationships in today’s highly fragmented, chaotic business environment. The approach provides a human-oriented framework from which to view marketers’ roles in a more purposeful and meaningful way. It becomes humans engaging with humans.
Following the teachings of the Tao creates an environment that supports healthy, natural, and systematic growth rather than the old grind, grind, grind way of working that no longer serves marketers or their customers. This represents an entirely new way to work, but the path will be a productive one that rewards marketers, companies, and customers with a more fulfilling experience. And never has that been more important.
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