Home » Blog » E12: How Adobe’s Marketo Engage Maintained and Grew Their Community Through a Merger and Acquisition

How does a customer marketer at a leading multimedia software company build brand advocates, drive loyalty, retention and ongoing demand? Hear it straight from the source as we welcome Kevin Lau, former Global Head of Customer Advocacy at Adobe to episode 12 of The Advocacy Channel.

With over 12 years of experience as an industry thought leader in customer advocacy and lifecycle marketing, Kevin is a well-known expert in the customer marketing space with a wealth of knowledge, experience and tactical insights to share.

Tune in as Will Fraser and Kevin discuss his journey as a customer marketer, how he maintained and even grew the Marketo community through a merger and acquisition, as well as his top tips for marketers building advocacy programs.

Check out the full episode, or keep reading for our favorite pieces of advice from Kevin.

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How did you handle the weariness of customers during the first Marketo acquisition?

(Listen from 11:24)

When customers start to express concern over the future of a company, the strength of the user community can suffer if not tended to properly. Especially when company leadership changes during an acquisition like it did with Marketo, customers question whether you’ll continue to invest in the technology that they have embedded into their professional routines.

To help ease the doubts of customers during this transition, Kevin stood by his method of talking to the customer directly to get accurate insights into challenges and improvements to be made. He made a point of partnering with the customers to create a shared understanding that the best result will come from both sides working together.

He started by reaching out to the most passionate users of the product, Marketo Champions — aka customers that self-identified as “bleeding purple” (Marketo’s primary brand color.) By listening to and caring about what the customers had to say, Kevin noticed that they opened up and even became more receptive to change. They were willing to be candid about what wasn’t working, even getting together to send a lengthy product improvement list to the CEO!

Based on this experience, they made a point of getting feedback from customers as they made product decisions. This sparked even more exploratory conversations about how they can make customers the center of everything they do, making a customer centric culture a reality instead of just an aspiration.

“How do you make it easier for a customer to do business with you, and make it a more sticky relationship? You do that by partnering with them closely in every decision that you make.”

What prompted the creation of Marketo’s Advocate Nation?

(Listen from 17:05)

When Marketo was initially running several customer advocacy programs at once, they found themselves with a disjointed customer journey. They realized that customers weren’t sure how to join the programs, how to reach the ultimate level, and how one program compared to another.

This sparked the creation of Marketo’s Advocate Nation — a roadmap illustrated like a mountain top, with each level being a new milestone towards becoming a Marketo Champion. This sequence, originally created as an internal resource to better enable customer-facing teams, represents the journey that a customer can take post-sale.

Roadmap showing Marketo's customer advocate journey

It enabled support, sales and internal teams to rally behind the idea of an advocate nation. For example, they could say to a customer who just completed onboarding, ‘Here are some programs you can join to learn about Marketo.’ Or, ask an experienced customer to participate in a reference call, or say to a long-term customer ‘Why don’t you apply to become a champion?’

Marketo’s Advocate Nation was built on three pillars:

  1. Peer networking (ie. opportunities to meet others and connect about Marketo)
  2. Rewards and recognition (ie. ways to earn more Marketo swag)
  3. Titles and recognition (ie. being labeled a “Champion”, being part of the product’s future)

This framework became a valuable enablement resource for sales and internal teams, and also for customers to understand what their holistic journey looks like. By taking their ongoing programs and creating a solid strategy, Marketo was able to align internal and external expectations.

What did you learn from managing a customer community during an acquisition?

(Listen from 25:33)

Not every marketer has to face the task of maintaining a customer community through an acquisition (or two), but there will no doubt be lessons learned for those who do.

Kevin shares learning the importance of having cross-functional alignment when it comes to keeping customers engaged. As Kevin puts it, “Everyone needs to be very stitched in on how they approach customer relationships and campaigns. If one team is not fully bought-in to the idea, it only creates challenges and issues around customer perception.”

So how do you build that consistency across all levels of the organization from executive stakeholders down to those who interact with customers on a daily basis, especially if your internal structure is in the midst of changing?

They experimented with enablement campaigns and programs designed to get everyone on the same page and answer questions like: What viewpoint does the customer have? What does their day-to-day perception look like? What are we actually solving for them?

Setting the proper expectations on what that relationship can be, when done well, and where the gaps are that need to be filled, helped strengthen the customer community and have it be one of Marketo’s most valuable assets.

What advice would you give someone trying to maneuver their customer marketing through an acquisition?

(Listen from 34:18)

Based on his experience maintaining and growing a community through corporate changes, Kevin emphasizes the importance of always having the voice of the customer at your fingertips — something that helped them maintain a customer-centric culture through the acquisition phase.

When thinking back on some of the big decisions that had been made over the last few years, he says: “You’d be surprised how many times certain individuals would not make decisions based on customer feedback, but would use an inside-out approach that usually ends up killing innovation and the full potential of a product.” (34:55)

Especially if you already have a brand community, this is an opportunity to collect and embed direct feedback and turn to the customers at every stage of the decision-making process, even down to choosing what product colors to use.

“Having that direct feedback throughout the whole journey is critical to ensure that it becomes successful and is something that you continually want to invest in.”

Kevin adds that not only is it critical to get feedback from your customers during a transition, but translating that back to your internal teams is equally important. It can be overlooked that customer feedback offers a “goldmine of resources” for the product team. Product managers can sometimes think about the solution with a narrow view, but forget that there’s someone on the end who is going to be using the product.

The Advocacy Channel Podcast Episode 12, featuring guest Kevin Lau, Former Global Head of Customer Advocacy @ Adobe

Listen to the full episode for even more expert advice on leveling up your customer advocacy initiatives. Special thanks to Kevin for being on the show! Connect with Kevin on LinkedIn.

Got questions or feedback about the podcast? Send us an email!

More from The Advocacy Channel

E11: How to Develop Advocates from the Beginning of the Customer Journey

E10: How to Identify When a Customer is Ready to Join Your Advocacy Program with Pablo Fernandes

E9: The Importance of Authentic Customer Stories with Lauren Locke-Paddon