Anita Brearton

Anita Brearton understands the challenges digital marketing teams face. 

Before founding Boston-based CabinetM with co-founder Sheryl Schultz, Brearton ran an e-commerce company and watched as her own digital marketing team struggled to find, implement and manage the technology they needed to interact with customers. 

The complexity that the shift to digital created, with the concurrent explosion in marketing technology, left many companies at a loss as to how to find the technology they needed and how to manage it once in place.

Strategy Before All

Brearton and Schultz launched CabinetM to "help modern marketing teams build, manage and optimize their marketing technology suite in a rapidly transforming digital marketing environment."

A firm believer in the importance of developing strategy before tactics, Brearton advises all new marketers read the book "Marketing Warfare" by Al Ries and Jack Trout to drive that point home.

In her regular column for CMSWire, Brearton delivers insights on the current state of marketing and the many challenges businesses face with a balance of humor and empathy. 

You can hear more of Brearton's thoughts on the marketing technology landscape at CMSWire's DX Summit Nov. 14 to 16 at the Radisson Blu Aqua in Chicago, where she will take part in a round table discussion. Learn more about the agenda here.

'Marketers Need to Be Brave'

Fagan: How would you advise marketers who are using a tactical approach to using marketing software to move towards a more strategic approach? 

Brearton: It all starts with the marketing strategy. 

One of the downsides of all the available marketing tech and channels is that in many cases there are no barriers to use and before you know it you have a long list of tools and programs that don’t connect to any strategic initiative and aren’t being measured properly. Even in our environment where I’m constantly preaching strategy, strategy, strategy we’ve been guilty of initiating new programs without stopping to ask where they fit into the bigger picture and whether the time invested in leveraging and managing a tool or program is worth the result.  

I believe it's important to step back monthly (or at least quarterly) and go through the exercise of defining the top three company objectives, translating those into marketing objectives and then doing a fast review to ensure that all programs and technologies are working successfully to help accomplish those objectives.  

Marketers need to be brave about discarding programs and technologies that don’t work even if they are “something that the company has been doing for years."

Fagan: A recent survey found most marketers are failing at what should be their priority: recognizing customers across channels. Why do you think this is and what can companies do to close this knowledge gap? 

Brearton: While we are all striving to recognize customers across all channels there are some challenges in getting there. 

The first challenge is that consumers may not necessarily want to be recognized and those are actively blocking attempts to discern their identity.  

The second and bigger challenge is that for this to work properly you need to develop a holistic view of the customer and that’s only accomplished by integrating data from multiple systems. 

There are a lot of companies in the integration space but it is still a young marketing technology segment — one of the challenges for these integration companies is selecting the set of systems to target for integration. Once you get past the “name brands” e.g. Salesforce, Marketo, Eloqua, Hubspot etc, a daunting list of other systems need to be included in order to serve a broad range of customers needs. Many of the tech companies in this space are choosing to focus on a specific customer profile (S, M, L) to narrow the set of platforms they are targeting for integration.  

The final challenge is that just recognizing a customer is not enough, you need to understand how you have engaged with them in the past in order to deliver the right experience and information in the present. Companies are making progress with this and a lot of work is being done in the CRM, Marketing Automation, Data Analytics and Integration segments to deliver products and functionality that make it easier to deliver the right experience for every customer — this is the objective of Account Based Marketing.

Fagan: Many companies invest in marketing software and end up only using part of the software in question (or worse, it lies fallow). Why is this and what can they do to avoid this?  

Brearton: I think there are a number of reasons that companies don’t fully utilize the technology they acquire including:
  • Acquiring products too soon before the resources are in place to implement and manage the product
  • Acquiring products with more features than are actually needed by the organization
  • Acquiring products that don’t integrate with core systems
  • Not investing in the appropriate training for complex products

There are many instances where it makes sense to grow into a product over time. A CRM system is a perfect example where you can start by tracking contacts and then progress to managing the sales pipeline and customer engagement, financial investment in the product grows as you leverage more functionality.   

Having said that, acquiring products without the resources to implement and support them is a waste of time and money. One of the ways I’ve seen organizations address this is to set annual and quarterly goals related to product acquisition and deployment to ensure that they make most of the technology they are acquiring. 

This is particularly important for large expensive, complex platforms. I had someone tell me recently that they had acquired a marketing automation system and they felt like someone had dropped off an F-16 fighter jet and told them to go ahead and give it a spin.  

A similar problem area is in signing up for lots of free trials without the time to test drive the product — we’re probably all guilty of signing up for a 30 day trial only to realize on day 29 that you haven’t even taken the first step in evaluating the product. The same rules apply — don’t sign up for anything if you can’t spend the time to make it work.

Fagan: What would you say is the biggest roadblock holding organizations back from deliver excellent digital customer experiences?  

Brearton: Companies are starting to make great progress in this area. The technology and expertise is available to create a great digital experience on any device or channel. The challenge comes as companies look to deliver that great experience across the organization on all devices and through all channels and company touch points.  

To create a unified digital experience requires knitting together many different platforms and bringing together many internal departments to work together around common objectives. We’ll see a lot of innovation related to facilitating a unified digital experience over the next couple of years. 

Fagan: What was the first concert you ever attended?  

Brearton: Well this is probably embarrassing and definitely dates me but it was John Denver.  I take a lot of grief from my family over this. In contrast, my husband’s first concert was David Bowie.