Pairing Technology with Marketing Strategy to "Activate" Growth

This post was written by Kate Jacoutot who is Director of Marketing for AgencySparks.



Marketers have received a lot of criticism in the news lately… and rightfully so. The profession’s reputation has often been plagued by the people who take a spammy, used-car salesmen approach to marketing. 

Good, ethical marketers do exist. They are the innovators who strive to fulfill consumers’ needs. Last week, many of the good marketers came together in Chicago at the first ever ActiveCampaign Activate Conference.

At its core, the conference was all about how to activate company growth by pairing technology with marketing strategy. In today’s cluttered, chaotic marketing landscape, the playing field is finally level. The little guys can outshine the big guys if they’re smart… and that’s an exciting prospect.

To illustrate the lessons I learned from Activate (and to tie together my key takeaways from each speaker), I’ll need to borrow an equation from Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs and author of Everybody Writes:

Data x Listening X Instinct = YASSSSSS


As each year passes, there is increasing pressure on marketers to develop technical skills. According to Accenture, 45% of CMOs want to enable marketers to leverage data without consulting IT. When it comes to accessing and deriving meaningful insights from data, most marketers don’t know where to start.

Accessing Data with Marketing Technology

The current marketing technology landscape is extremely cluttered.

Navigating marketing technology is a daunting task. During the panel, “Building Your Best Stack,” Activate attendees learned how to incorporate and implement technology to maximize efficiency from a stellar lineup of technology thought leaders:

Together, they gave attendees tips on how to navigate the martech landscape:

  • Start small - Your technology stack should not be built overnight.
  • Find the right fit - Prioritize specialized tools over ones that try to solve for every marketing problem. This will lead to fewer workarounds for the shortcomings of all-in-one tools. Getting specialized tools to work together used to be challenging, but tools like Zapier make it easier to integrate disparate tools.
  • Prioritize the right tech...not all of the tech - Periodically, ask yourself: Is this particular tool costing us more money than it’s gaining us in efficiency?
  • Evolve your tech stack over time - Ryan Bonnici shared that once each quarter, he catalogs all of his work activities for a few days then looks for technologies that could help him become more efficient.


Leveraging Data to Drive Your Strategy

All brands understand the importance of data.  Understanding the it is the real problem. Ann Handley challenged attendees to start with a simple question: What story does your data tell?

To illustrate her point, she cited an unlikely example of how marketers can leverage data to drive strategy and break the status quo: a legal firm.

  • The Data: Attorney bios are the most visited page on their website. Pricing is second.
  • The Insight Derived from the Data: People want to know who they are working with before they know how much it will cost them.
  • The Action Taken Based on the Insight: The firm brought in a video crew to interview and capture the true personality of each attorney. Then, they made the pricing page straightforward - a rarity in the legal space.
  • The Lesson: The insights you derive from data do not have to be complicated. Simple metrics can yield meaningful insights that drive real results.

Read Related - The Future of Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics in Marketing


Handley emphasized that “The source of squad is pathological empathy,” and I’d bet Andy Crestodina, author of Content Chemistry and CMO of Orbit Media Studios, would agree. During his presentation, titled “How to Future-Proof Your Search Rankings,” he highlighted that SEO is all about listening: to your audience and to the data.

Crestodina taught me a few new things about SEO:

  • Check your domain authority using a site like Moz - Your site’s domain authority should correlate with the types of words you target (i.e. If you have a low domain authority, you may want to target more specific keywords that are less competitive).
  • You’re not done publishing something new until you link to it from something old
  • Prioritize long clicks - Don’t worry about your bounce rate on a blog. Google doesn’t care if someone bounces from your blog… it cares about whether someone found your blog useful… and that is indicated by time spent and post-blog user activity.
  • Make SEO social - “An ally in creation is an ally in promotion.” Collaborate with influencers and leverage each other’s network to drive more traffic to your search optimized content.

Tweet it: "An ally in creation is an ally in promotion." @crestodina @agencysparks

Crestodina became a content marketing evangelist by listening to his audience and what works with Google. He’s not about “hacking” SEO - he’s about creating quality content that resonates, while enabling search engines to find that content more easily. 

Read Related - Being An Empathetic Marketer Takes S.O.U.L.


Amidst all of the buzz of technology and innovation tactics touted at Activate, Ann Handley brought the marketing strategy conversation back to basics in her presentation, “The Big, Bold, Brave New World of Marketing,” reminding attendees that all of the data and technology in the world means nothing if marketers lose sight of their human instincts.

Her main message? Your marketing strategy should not be about your company - it should be about your audience, or your content will be a nuisance to your customers.

Read Related - Marketers Must Provide Value, Not Just Emotional Ads

Frisbee = Your marketing message  Dog = Your customers

Frisbee = Your marketing message

Dog = Your customers

Handley argued that marketers often fall into a trap of corporate-centric marketing. When crafting a brand’s story and messaging, every marketer should consider the following questions:

  • Are you thinking about your target audience… or yourself? - Content marketers often think, “We need a piece of content for _____.” Instead, they should think, “Our customer needs _____”
  • What idea, language, or tone jives with the your brand? Who embodies your message?
  • Does your message get your target audience thinking: man, these guys get it!
  • If you put your messaging next to your competitor’s messaging and covered up the logos, would you be able to tell them apart?
  • Does your messaging explain who you are, why you do what you do, or what you’re like to deal with?
  • Are you using your voice to attract the right customer and repel the wrong customer?


This ad doesn’t make people want to adopt an animal - it just makes them feel guilty for not helping out.


Humane Society Silicon Valley’s “Mutual Rescue” campaign shifted the conversation around animal shelters from bleak and disconnected (cough, Sarah McLaughlin) to heartwarming and relatable.

Everyone who attended Activate knows that marketing can be inspiring. While there are a lot of bad apples in the marketing world, the good ones know that marketing is all about leveraging technology to help people access relevant resources. If Activate was any indicator of the future, I’m confident that the good marketers of today will be the pioneers of tomorrow.


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