June 4, 2018

B2B Storytelling: Why Marketo Embraced Storytelling Over Science

by Renegade

One might think that a conversation with Chandar Pattabhiram, chief marketing officer of Marketo, would eventually lead to the aspirational, grandiose vision of someone who believes automation is the future of marketing. While Pattabhiram certainly does feel this way, he also touts the power of a more human side of marketing, in the form of storytelling.

Recently, Pattabhiram helped Marketo rebrand — not a programmatic company, but as one bent on engagement. An automation company that makes emotional connections? Yes! And it makes complete sense. Read on to learn why.

For more insights on brand transformation from Pattabhiram, listen to my podcast with him:

A new brand for a new era

“My proudest accomplishment is rolling out this whole era of engagement marketing umbrella messaging throughout the company and letting it permeate everything we do,” Pattabhiram says. With research, focus groups and, eventually, C-suite buy-in, Pattabhiram and his team helped take Marketo from a brand focused on the science of marketing to a brand focused on the science of storytelling. “At a brand level, we’re talking about a shift from mass marketing into engagement; and at a product level, we’re shifting from talking about marketing automation to engagement platforms,” he says.

Pattabhiram acknowledges that this human-centric philosophy might seem like a mismatch for Marketo’s business, which has taken many brands’ marketing from a “soft science” to a programmatic, measurable one over the last decade. However, he says that storytelling has always been at the core of marketing. “What we’re trying to do is win the battle for the mind of the buyer, because people don’t buy products — they buy stories, they buy emotional connections,” he says. Without stories, customers won’t connect with a brand. “I’ve always believed that people buy candles from you not because they need candles, but because they need light,” he says.

What’s more, Pattabhiram foresees the discipline of marketing splitting towards two disparate needs — AI, and purely human-to-human intelligence — likely making technologists’ jobs obsolete. “Technology might change what I call ‘think jobs’ and the ‘do jobs,’ but the ‘feel jobs’ of building emotional connection and storytelling are the jobs of tomorrow that technology cannot change,” he says. “Storytelling becomes that powerful weapon for every marketer to go master and become effective at.”

Executing on ‘engagement’

How did Marketo ultimately drive home their new message? First, Pattabhiram and his team settled on a brand promise that everyone agreed on. The promise permeated down into product and sales messaging, then to paid and earned channels to create consistency. “From an execution perspective, it’s about driving really close synergies between brand and product messaging. This is where a lot of companies fail,” Pattabhiram says. “Their brand messaging is flying the plane at a very different altitude, and there’s no connection when it comes to product messaging.”

Measuring the success of a new message like Marketo’s involves finding both emotive and concrete results. “If your lifetime value, your bookings, and your revenue goes up,” Pattabhiram says. “That means there is definitely a strong correlation between the new messaging system, and ultimately a financial success.” On the emotive level, think of a game of word association where “athletic” equals Nike or “cool” equals Apple. “What I want to Marketo to own is that when a CMO thinks ‘engagement,’ they think Marketo,” he says. “Ultimately, if you were able to win that attribute in the buyer’s mind, you have won the game.”

The biggest lesson Pattabhiram learned through Marketo’s brand transformation pertains to progress –and patience. “You can’t go for the big enchilada of driving this entire brand message, product message, sales message, everything in one shot,” he says. Instead, the story has to develop in stages, as an iterative process.

You can talk to Pattabhiram about this at length after his keynote speech at the Marketing Nation Summit in San Francisco this coming weekend. “Don’t treat it as a project,” he says, “treat it as a program, [as] a continuous initiative that you have to keep working on.” In other words, the never-ending story.