MarTech Interview with Megan Sakakibara, Vice President Marketing at Unbounce

AI allows marketers to gain a competitive edge in the marketplace, but in what ways should AI platforms be optimized to further marketing interests faster? Megan Sakakibara, Vice President Marketing at Unbounce shares more:

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Welcome to this martech chat Megan, tell us more about your role at Unbounce…

Thanks for inviting me! I lead the marketing team at Unbounce and oversee the brand including content and design, all public facing communications, and many of our customer acquisition channels. 

As a company with a more accessible price point targeting small and mid-size businesses, almost all of our new customers come from our digital marketing channels and word of mouth. A lot of our energy goes into building brand awareness and optimizing our funnels to ensure our prospects have a positive experience and are able to find what they’re looking for with ease. 

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How are you seeing marketing automation platforms change the game for marketers today and what are some top features and trends that you see shaping up the future of these technologies? 

Small businesses are experiencing a surge of online competition which has only worsened as a result of more and more companies moving online during the pandemic. And in their pursuit of driving more sales, leads, and signups year over year, it’s been a struggle for SMB marketers to keep up, especially against big brands.  

Marketing automation platforms have increased efficiency and saved marketers time in operating and running those campaigns, however I believe the bigger struggle is less about automation and more about how you use your data to make your product more relevant to your customers.  Where do you start? What do you focus your time on to get the best results? How do you use the data to prioritize your time and make your campaigns better? At the end of the day, does it matter if I automated an email to trigger if I say the wrong thing and it instantly gets deleted? 

Automation alone isn’t enough if it isn’t driving better conversion rates and ROI, especially not for marketers working for SMBs.

We’re starting to see marketers adopting AI tools more rapidly to both help them produce better results but also help them learn from the AI to become better marketers in the process. At Unbounce, we’re calling this modern marketing mindset and type of software  Conversion Intelligence – a way to pair one’s marketing expertise with the power of AI. Conversion Intelligence combines your marketing know-how with data-powered AI insights to create and optimize the highest-converting campaigns possible. This combination of AI and personal expertise will help SMBs with limited marketing bandwidth scale quickly. We believe it’s the future of marketing, automating the analysis of all of that data, and providing actionable insights to help augment your work as a marketer.

Leveraging machines to show us patterns in the data is something we’ve never been able to see, analyze, and learn from before and this is changing the game for marketers. AI-powered solutions like predictive email tools sending the perfect email at the perfect time, AI-powered landing pages that send visitors to the best landing page for them, digital ads that almost feel customized to each customer, and more are popping up everyday. These new tools will help us make better choices on where to focus our energy, saving us time to do the stuff that only humans can do – being creative, innovating, and collaborating to produce better content and better campaigns. 

We’d love to hear more about your thoughts on the consolidation in martech, how do you feel this will impact the future of martech?

I believe we’re going to continue to see massive consolidation. Martech is rapidly evolving and for companies with deep pockets, often the quickest way to maintain a competitive advantage is to acquire and absorb innovation. However, it’s more important than ever to not lose sight of small business. I strongly believe they are the keys to a more resilient, diverse, and innovative future. With easy accessibility to a global market through the growth of digital spaces combined with the ease of use of no code martech tools, we will continue to see a flurry of startups throwing their hat in the ring. While these massive and consolidated platforms are fantastic for large companies with many resources, SMBs often get left behind. These platforms are inaccessible and not necessarily the right platform they need.  We are entering an age of tech accessibility that brings preference to “best for me” vs “all-in-one” and with a limited budget, SMBs are going to want to choose their tech stack and tools carefully.

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What are some best practices that you feel users of marketing automation technologies need to be keeping in mind when optimizing their marketing processes / measuring ROI?

Marketing automation tools are great resources to help marketers expand their capacities but there are a few things they should keep in mind to help earn more conversions from their best customers: 

Automation Alone Won’t Get You the Best Results Possible. While AI and machine learning have come a long way—they still need your creative influence and expertise as a marketer to reach their full potential. There have been some clear signals that AI left unchecked can be messy, biased, or even outright bigoted. Which is why you should always look for conversion intelligence tools that enable you to work together with machines—combining your creativity, humanity, and quality control with their processing power to optimize. You should play an active role in the process so the machines augment your abilities—instead of replacing them entirely.

Rethink Your Idea of Personalization to Make Relevance a Reality. There has been a lot of talk over the years about “personalization” of marketing campaigns but it hasn’t resulted in much more than having your name show up in a promotional email. Now with AI, marketers have the opportunity to make relevance a reality instead where you can serve visitors unique marketing experiences that match their needs, preferences, and expectations using behavioral and predictive data. Adding AI to your marketing toolkit allows marketers to get a competitive advantage by anticipating what visitors want and need next rather than just a simple name change.   

Use AI Insights to Optimize Before You Publish – For years, marketers have had to build and publish something before they could even attempt to optimize it. Not anymore. With AI insights, you can bake optimization into your workflow as you build so you know what is likely to convert before you hit publish, and you can start testing new variants right from the start.

Learn From Each Campaign as You Automate – If you’re simply hitting a button to “Optimize” with machine learning or automation, you’ll inevitably hit a wall in terms of campaign performance. To keep getting better results, you need to also learn what’s working best for your audience and why. Look for conversion intelligence tools that don’t simply automate the optimization process—but also automate the learning process so they serve you insights you can use to get better results on the next campaign. (And the next. And the next.)

A few marketing highlights from your time in marketing and top martech tools that have helped drive initiatives for you through the years?

There have been so many highlights from my time in marketing even just within the past few years as martech tools and solutions continue to grow. Here are some of my most memorable:

Back in 2010 when we first implemented Marketo to set up our first nurture campaign felt like a game changer. We had never tried anything like it before to reach our target audience and it just felt so exciting to start automating a process we used to do manually. Prior to Marketo, we were manually following up with prospects and then all our new leads would just fall to our sales team, never to be heard from again. They weren’t necessarily strong leads either and we were sending long lists of potential customers to our sales team to sift through. When we implemented Marketo, we started lead scoring and optimizing our targeting strategies to send more qualified prospects to the sales team with the data to back it up. Not only did it make the marketing team look good but it supported and helped the sales team reach their goals too. 

We recently launched Unbounce’s Smart Traffic, a feature that uses AI-powered optimization to analyze a visitor’s attributes to send them to the landing page most likely to get a conversion. We tested it on ourselves first and saw an average lift of 20% in our PPC conversion rates. It was so exciting to see how AI could enhance our creative ideas and with the flip of a switch.

In terms of tools, Drift is an amazing solution that has allowed us to better engage and interact with our prospects as they navigate through our website. We’ve only really scratched the surface here but I see lots of opportunity to continue creating exceptional brand experiences with this technology.

With our teams a little more spread out now, Miro has been pivotal in helping our team with remote collaboration. We can still connect and be creative without huddling around a physical whiteboard now or fear of someone erasing ideas too early. We’ve used this every day.

Hotjar is another favourite that has allowed us to collect some really insightful data into visitor behaviour that we have been able to leverage to influence page length, CTAs, UX, etc and polling to help us monitor if we are on the right track with messaging, branding, and more. These insights support our team to continue driving our growth strategies forward. 

A few takeaways for marketing leaders and CMOs/CEOs in 2021: top factors they should keep in mind as they plan for the rest of the year, innovate and expand their teams?

The past year has been tough on a lot of us but I’m hopeful and excited to see all the new innovation that has come from adapting to this digital-first space. 

What I believe marketing leaders should keep top of mine for the remainder of 2021: 

AI can be a game changer, but don’t take all its claims at face value. It’s easy to assume that everything just has AI built-in these days, but there’s still a lot of smoke and mirrors out there that you may be paying top dollar for and getting no value out of. Do your homework and ask questions before assuming you’ve marked off the AI checkbox in your techstack.

Ruthlessly prioritize all of your marketing efforts so if something needs to give, you know exactly what to deprioritize. The best approach to prioritizing for an upcoming quarter or year is to sift through and analyze your data, and/or invest in tools that don’t only give you data, but provide strong insights that you can act on in the future.. From there, select a handful of effective channels and revenue streams that you know you can trust to deliver results and experiment with the rest. 

There is no such thing as done when it comes to your evergreen campaigns. You should always be optimizing, testing new things, learning from the results, and iterating on new variants to avoid diminishing returns. If you launch it and leave it, you are letting your competitors skim off your results month over month and losing opportunities to attract new visitors and leads.

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Unbounce started in 2009 when “landing pages” were little more than a buzzword. Today they’re the world’s leading landing page platform with a workplace of over 195 people and over 10 very good office dogs! Unbounce has powered over 1 Billion conversions to date and serves more than 15,000 customers worldwide.

Megan Sakakibara is the Vice President of Marketing at Unbounce

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