From marine biology to marketer: How Autopilot's CMO sifts through the data deluge

Autopilot’s CMO, Guy Marion reveals how to leverage data and turn interruptive marketing to a more contextual and inbound strategy

He has a PhD in marine biology and is now Autopilot’s CMO, but Guy Marion’s interest in tech began during his post-grad studies, when a chance encounter saw him propelled into the startup world.

A decade later, and Marion is leading growth strategy at Autopilot, where he says his scientific background helps hundreds of marketers sift through today's ever-complicated deluge of data.

“I’d always imagined going into the tech startup world. When I was studying in Brisbane, I was living with a guy who founded a company called CVSDude, which was at the time growing really fast in 2006,” he told CMO. “Thousands of people all over the world were using a service that was hosted literally out of a closet in Brisbane.

“I saw a big opportunity as everyone was moving into the cloud. It was clear that if people could trust their codes and their projects in the cloud, then we would have a really big shot. So I transitioned from completing the PhD into business. But at the same time, I really approach business and marketing specifically, from a scientific background.”

According to Marion, this meant analysing and leveraging data to optimise online user acquisition and conversion and increasing retention.

“It also meant being able to look at the big picture – what are the global trends, and how to walk the line and discover where are the big changes and how to make a significant impact," he said.

Marion was appointed Autopilot’s CMO in 2014 and said he was attracted to the startup's vision to create an easy-to-use visual approach to marketing automation using cloud-based software.

“I’ve been in marketing automation for a long, long time, I’ve built tech stacks using Salesforce, and built rich experiences for customers,” he explained. “When I met the Autopilot founders, I knew we could create a visual approach to marketing automation which is really easy and any marketer could understand. It’s like Lego to marketers. So I thought if we could do this, it would be the first company that cracked this 95 per cent of the blue ocean and be very successful.”

Collating data in an event-based world

According to Marion, the single biggest problem for today’s marketer is the move from a CRM-centric world to an event-based world.

“We’ve essentially moved from a ‘store all your customer’s data in a single CRM’ like a Salesforce or earlier platform, to a world where now people are going to your website, they’re filling out forms, looking at your social, and signing up for things," he said. "A lot of those events weren’t built for traditional CRMs, so the biggest struggle for marketers now is pulling together a cohesive view of their customer’s journey and engaging in ways that are personalised and contextual.

"Those who are doing so are having huge success, but a lot of companies are making things too complicated to achieve that."

That’s where Autopilot comes in, he claimed. The software is designed to make it easy to connect CRM, landing page software, website and event information into one central hub. Based on that, users can then send online messages in response to actions customers are taking.

"This has been something larger corporations have been doing for years, but we’re making it more accessible to SMBs," Marion said.

Leveraging data to grow sustainably

Marion agreed in today’s fast-paced digital environment, the key is to grow sustainably and cost effectively. While cloud companies historically focused on growing fast at all costs, he claimed the public market are now rewarding companies like Atlassian that have grown cost effectively for years.

"If you know your unit economics, how much it costs to attract and acquire a new customer, and what their average lifetime value is with you and how long they stay around, then you figure out the sales and costs from a marketing perspective to attract them – and a cost from a system and platform perspective to serve that customer, then you can determine the ratios of what is good and what is bad," he said. "If you can have a customer buy and all your costs to acquire them be covered in the first year and the rest become profit, then that’s really what you want to shoot for."

Marion stressed marketers need to deal with the data deluge in order to drive this sustainable growth.

"Data from Autopilot's 2016 State of Customer Journey Marketing report, which surveyed over 500 marketing decision-makers on where they plan to invest in 2017, found 81 per cent are using data to personalise their marketing and 54 per cent said that doing so has delivered a better customer experience, which is driving faster growth," he said. "But interestingly, the other thing we have seen is while the vast majority of marketers say they have access to all sorts of data and can gain great insights, only a small portion of them say they can actually leverage that data effectively to help further their careers."

What’s really needed is insights that drive action, Marion said, so marketers can create journeys to trigger and segment customers in real time.

"And that’s what we believe at Autopilot," he said. "You’re essentially shifting from the batch-and-blast type interruptive marketing to more inbound, contextual and success-oriented strategy."

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