Marketo co-founder on plans to address digital marketing skills gaps by sharing insights

Marketing automation software provider Marketo is launching a research centre to take advantage of the wealth of data it has accumulated over seven years with more than 3300 customers in 36 countries and 20 different industries.

The Marketo Institute plans to draw data-driven insights from Marketo’s aggregate, anonymous data, publishing reports and website updates to help fill marketers’ knowledge gaps as they keep up with rapid technological developments.

The institute will regularly publish benchmarks for categories including email performance, conversion rates, pipeline usage and channel usage and ROI.

The company has access to such a large range of data that it says it will be able to look at trends across industry, company size, geography and digital maturity, and correlated against revenue growth and stock price.

The institute will also explore research hypotheses such as whether companies that keep marketing involved with leads during the sales cycle see positive or negative win rates.

The project is the brainchild of Marketo co-founder, Jon Miller, who is driven by a view that university marketing courses are failing to keep up with best practice in the fast-paced world of what he terms ‘engagement marketing’.

Miller is still finalising the details on what the institute will offer, from published reports and regular website updates to online and in-person networking, consulting services and university curriculum partnerships.

“But what I can can say is the idea is to make it generally freely available and consumable to a wide audience,” he says.

Marketing chatted to Miller about his thoughts on the industry, why he felt it was time to launch the Marketo Institute, and more about what we can expect.


Marketing: So can you start off by telling me a bit about the strategic reasoning behind the Marketo Institute?

Jon Miller: Sure. So I’m one of the co-founders of Marketo I’ve been with the company now since the beginning about eight and a half years ago. I basically ran and built our marketing department for our first five or six years of the company, then as we got bigger and the job became just about managing people more than just doing marketing, I wanted to pivot into a different role. and so the Marketo Institute is a passion of mine, something that we wanted to do from the very beginning when we founded the company, and frankly now was just finally the time when we felt like we have both the scale and the ability to let me focus on it 100%. But it is very near and near to my heart, its my personal project I’m leading here at Marketo.

So to answer your specific question around strategic reasoning, I think it comes from the core belief at Marketo: the fact that marketing’s changed more in the last five or ten years probably more than in 100 years before that, with everything from the rise of digital, the whole third platform with mobile, and social and big data and things like that, just the abundance of information, the buyer seizing control of the buying process, screening out unwanted messages, etc, I could go on… the point of all that is I don’t think that the universities and the business schools out there are teaching the techniques and strategies that marketers need to succeed in this new era of engagement marketing. It’s where marketing has to move away from campaigns and promotions and towards engaging conversation. So what you have is a whole bunch of marketers out there trying to figure this stuff out, desperate for other people to talk to, to learn about what works, what doesn’t work, and just basically trying stuff, relying on a ‘well this worked for me before’ way of trying to navigate and figure out this new world.


M: So it’s an education option for working marketers?

JM: Yeah, the whole mission of the institute is to provide fact-based research; quantitatively-built insights that really are educating marketers on how to be more successful and to empower marketing leaders in this new world. So that’s the strategic reasoning. If you want to be more Marketo-focused specifically, we believe the more marketers there are out there who are educated in how to do this kind of new marketing, that makes the market for our software bigger. So there’s certainly a benefit to Marketo for doing all this. But the mission of the institute really is to educate and empower marketers and not to sell software – that’ll just be a nice side effect if we do it properly.


M: So reading through the press release you talk about pulling together “aggregate, anonymous data from Marketo’s seven-year history with more than 3300 customers in 36 countries across 20 different industries”. I’ve just got a question around privacy issues around that. Have you had any problems with using your clients’ data, however anonymously, as part of all this?

JM: Well there are two keys to the privacy side. The first is that with the institute we don’t even have access or any data into the personally identifiable information of any of our end-customers contact information. So Marketo has that in their system but I’m not looking at that as part of the institute. And frankly the general Marketo privacy gives good protection there. More importantly for this context is that we’re only going to be analysing the aggregate anonymous results from our customers. So I can’t tell you for example that Microsoft gets a 27% open rate on their emails, and I’m just making that up; I’m not actually saying that’s what they get. But I can tell you that software companies in the United States see a 27% open rate on their emails.

Because Marketo now has 3500 customers, we are able to provide statistically significant insights at a moderately granular level. I wouldn’t say, “Extremely large software companies based in the Pacific Northwest of the United States see this kind of rate” because that would probably be too focused, and not statistically significant. But by the time you have sample sizes big enough to be statistically significant, it is completely anonymous in aggregate for the insights for any one company.


M: Ok, well it sounds like its going to be beneficial to the people you’re giving that information to.

JM: We certainly hope it’s going to be beneficial. We talk to our customers all the time about how they want the benchmarks across a bunch of different dimensions. Basic things like, ‘what kind of email open rate should i expect?’ and that’s very simple but more sophisticated things like ‘if i have 1300 people registered for my event, how many people should I expect to show up?’ or ‘what are other companies like me doing with social?’ these are questions that marketers have, and what I’m excited about is we can answer that with facts and insights. One of the things that i’m interested to look at from a geographical perspective is the relative maturity of different markets. When I’ve been to Australia I’ve heard people say repeatedly that they think that Australia is maybe two years behind the United States in digital marketing maturity. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but I think it’s going to be interesting to really look at that in a quantitative way.


M: So you might release a report comparing Australian digital marketing with the US – sounds interesting for us. A common complaint among marketers is everyone’s collecting so much data and raw information but not necessarily making the most of getting insights out of that. Is that part of what you’re all about?

JM: Well yeah, I think that’s a general problem that’s an issue for marketers across all sorts of different categories as big data happens: there’s an awful lot of data, not a lot of insights. I’m not worried about that specifically in the context of the Marketo Institute because the whole point of what we’re doing is to educate and empower with insights. I mean, I am personally looking at a lot of data – a billion different contact records and a quarter trillion activity records, but the whole point of what I’m trying to do with the institute is to synthesise that into insights that people can use. I totally agree with the complaint that you raised in general, that marketers are collecting an awful amount of stuff without any real strategy of what they’re going to do.


M: So if we’re going in a direction where we’re looking at data in the digital realm, how does traditional market research fit in?

JM: market research can mean a lot of different things. So again, specifically to the context of the institute, there are other surveys out there that are trying to track what’s working; what people are doing in marketing. There are two problems with those surveys: the first is that their sample size is usually in the low 100s of companies, so they don’t have the same ability to get statistical significance across different sectors. Then the other problem with research-based insights, similar to what we’re trying to do, is that it’s all self-reported data as opposed to actual data, and therefore it has all sorts of traditional problems of inaccuracy and bias. Whereas with the institute, we’re looking at thousands and thousands of companies based upon actual real-world results, so we’re going to get much more valid and accurate information.

So that’s specifically in the context of the institute. That isn’t to say market research isn’t valuable across different dimensions. I think if I were building a new product, especially in a category where there aren’t as many existing products, you have to go do market research to understand who’s out there and what are the motivations of your personas and so on.


M: You mentioned at the start that schools and universities are not necessarily keeping up with being able to help marketers with their jobs specifically. What do you think universities need to do?

JM: I think if you look at the marketing classes at most universities or business schools, they’re teaching things like the four Ps and pricing strategy and other kinds of marketing techniques. I’m not saying those marketing techniques are bad – they’re necessary but not sufficient for understanding this new era of engagement marketing. I think there are very few universities that are teaching things today like content marketing or marketing automation or even certain aspects of digital marketing, trends and best practices. So you have both a graduated workforce, people in the market like me and you, who never learned that stuff in school because it didn’t exist five years ago, and you have a whole stream of new graduates who aren’t really learning it either. That’s why one of the things we wanted to do with the institute, besides just publishing information and working with marketers today, is we also want to collaborate with the universities to help create curriculum to train the next generation of marketers.

I think this is where the brand and the position of the Marketo Institute becomes really important, because I think if it’s Marketo curriculum people might say that it’s biased or self-serving; even though we have a pretty trusted brand, it still may not be as trusted. That’s why I’m working really hard with the Marketo Institute to build a brand that is around education empowerment, so that if it is Marketo Institute research people know that its fact-based and quantitative, not serving the needs of promoting a particular software company.


M: That will be an interesting challenge. So the other thing is you’re organising networking for CMOs as part of the Marketo Institute as well? How important is it for CMOs to feel connected to a wider community?

JM: It comes back to what I was saying at the very beginning, because marketers haven’t got anything like a playbook. Marketing today isn’t like accounting, where you can just go and get certified by the accounting board and you therefore know how to do it. Marketers are figuring this stuff out as we go and that’s just the nature of the beast because it’s changing so fast. In that dynamic market it makes it so incredibly important to have trusted forums where marketers can talk to each other and share their experiences, share what works for them and share their lessons learned. It’s less that CMOs feel isolated but it’s more just that there’s so much value to providing a forum, a facts-based, research-oriented forum where they can collaborate with each other.


M: So is it mostly online networking rather than in-person?

JM: No, I think there’s a really important in-person component. Online obviously gives you a scale that you can’t get from in-person, but I think in-person events are still hugely important in today’s world. I always think of, for example, the Apple store. Apple didn’t create stores to sell iPhones and iPads, although they do sell a lot of them. They created the stores to have a physical place where people can go and see employees and talk to people. I think that in-person events are sort of playing that role in a world that is otherwise much too much online.


M: And just finally, Marketo’s been going since 2007 and digital marketing’s obviously changed a fair bit. I wanted to ask if you had any reflections on how things have changed and how you’ve responded to those changes. You said you had the idea for the Marketo Institute early on…

JM: Certainly when we started Marketo, Twitter didn’t exist and Facebook was still for college students. The iPhone didn’t exist yet – smartphones were still things like palm pilots. So I alluded to the third platform of mobile, social, big data. Those are all new things that are changing marketing again, and Marketo is focusing a lot of our energy in continuing what we’re really good at which is understanding the buyer, understanding the customer, and building engaging relationships with them over time. Three, five years ago that was primarily done over email and on your website. Increasingly going forward that’s going to be done over email and website but also on social media and mobile devices and so on. So I think the core idea of engagement marketing doesn’t change but the channels and tactics evolve.


M: Has there been anything that has surprised, impressed or disappointed you in terms of how organisations have adapted with changing technology over your time?

JM: I’m not surprised by anything. The biggest thing that maybe we didn’t account for as well as we should’ve at the beginning is just the incredible demand for skilled talent to be able to do this kind of marketing. I think there is a dearth of marketers who can bring both the content skills, the analytical and process skills and the creative skills to bear, to be really, really successful in this world. That’s all the more reason why everything that we can do at the institute to educate and empower is going to be so important to help build that skills gap.


M: So that skills gap you see as more significant than you expected?

JM: Um, I think that’s fair. We knew about it, it’s bigger than I thought – I think that’s a good way to describe it.


M: Interesting. Well, thanks for your time, Jon.

JM: Thank you.

Michelle Herbison
BY Michelle Herbison ON 25 November 2014
Assistant editor, Marketing Magazine.