The Gooey Emotional Center

Published 2 Comments on The Gooey Emotional Center

Marketo Retrospective Part 9
As part of a series, I am doing retrospective lessons from my 9 years at Marketo.¬†This might be the last one.¬†It’s the part that very few people understand, but I think it is the reason Marketo did well.

Some people call it Product Market Fit, but to me that doesn’t do the concept justice. I call it the The Gooey Emotional Center of a product.

There is a particular thing Marketo power users say to me. They say, “Thank you for my career.” This is a big deal to me. We didn’t just build software that did a job. We created a category, created a career path for people with very few skills in the beginning.

In the first year of Marketo, we built a UI that replaced Google Adwords. It was a fancy UI improvement over the built-in Google UI. It flopped terribly. Marketo ended up deleting the feature because it wasn’t being used. However, it also had a landing page editor that worked like PowerPoint. This was a huge hit, people loved that.

I interviewed people to understand why they liked one and not the other. This is what they told me:

“Look at my resume. Google Adwords is one of the few skills I possess. How can I replace that with your little product? It’s the cornerstone of my skills bullet. However, with the landing page editor, I can add Marketo Landing Pages to the skills bullet. It’s not huge, but it’s something.”

I asked more about the landing pages and they described the following interaction to me:

A Marketer walks up to Web Developer Gunther. (Names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

  • Marketer: “Hey Gunther, can you change this sentence on the website?”
  • Gunther: “Ahh, there a problem with the domain of the CDN, so I can’t FTP the HTML and jQuery¬†to the server until the DNS gets propagated. Should be a few days.” (Gunther goes back to playing game on Linux computer)
  • Marketer:¬†(looks depressed) “I hate you, Gunther.”

At this point in the story, the Marketer doesn’t know HTML, JavaScript, Programming, Database Management, SQL queries or anything a developer knows how to do. Their job is basically project management, procurement combined with writing. Marketers didn’t¬†know how to do anything computer technical.

I saw this interaction and thought that we could solve the problem by giving the marketer drag and drop tools to achieve their vision without the help of the web developer. We made simple versions of the following:

  • Form Editor
  • Landing Page Editor
  • Email Editor
  • Workflow Engine (Smart Campaign)
  • SQL Queries (Smart List)

This is the core of Marketo¬†and¬†what makes the magic. These are the 4 components that tapped into the Gooey Emotional Center of the marketer. These 4 components meant they didn’t have to talk to Gunther anymore. They felt empowered with real skills.

Gunther is dead! Long live the Marketer!

This simple idea: Give the marketer tools to make them feel useful and skilled is what created a 1.6 billion dollar company. Talking about Product Market Fit misses the larger point about human beings and why they buy things. People buy based off emotion 90% of the time. They FEEL and then buy. Logic often has little to do with it.

The next big emotional improvement came with Sales Insight. This made the marketer look good to sales. Deep down, marketers want sales people to like them. There is a small inadequacy thing that happens to marketers talking to sales folks. A resentment mixed with a desire to look smart and talented. Sales Insight started to tap into that.

Unfortunately, that was the last time that Marketo found the marketer’s¬†product-emotional fit. All of the following failed to improve the emotional well being of the Marketer:

  • Social widgets
  • RTP
  • Programs
  • Calendar
  • Mobile
  • AdBridge

The Marketo roadmap was filled with stuff that didn’t really matter to the Marketer. Maybe this has something to do with being a public company, maybe it was poor decision making, maybe it was group think…the bottom line is that the marketers emotions became less important.

My recollection of Marketo is filled with “what-ifs” and “shoulda done this/that”. It’s a useless endeavor. You make choices along the way and hopefully learn something for next time. There were great features built like the Engagement Streams, but if they fail to connect emotionally, then they will fail to change the world.

At Engagio, I am trying to tap back into those same people and find the Gooey Emotional Center. If we can, then we may be able to create another billion dollar unicorn. Sounds like a tall order, but I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else.



  1. Very nice article Glen. Feels to me like RCA falls into the gooey emotional center category as well, and Marketo ABM might with time too. It’s all subjective I guess but I see your point. There is no question you can have lots of smart people working very hard to identify gooey center products/features but they only come along every once in a while. It always comes down to making sure you effectively extract (stress “effectively”) the customer perspective. Getting their POV is one thing, but getting it accurately, in a meaningful way, and interpreting it in ways that drive the right product direction is much harder. I think that’s where most fall down. If anyone can do it, it’s you and the team you’ve got there. Good luck with building another unicorn!

  2. I agree with most of the features listed – I might even add SEO to the list as well. I think these were less compelling for organizations with less advanced marketing maturity and/or limited resources. Some of these features had/have additional cost and/or delivered minimal functionality in areas that still required the employment of experts.

    I agree with David that at least some of RCE/RCA is compelling. Actionable analytics are important to an increasing number of marketers and CxOs that can’t justify the expense or complexity of a dedicated BI tool and requisite staff expertise. However, RCE’s UI was not as intuitive as most of MLM and I still struggle with the rules for multi-touch attribution. I think Marketo is trying to make analytics more useful as evidenced in their recent release of Email Insights, for which I provided input a couple of years ago. Also Programs (and channels) are a useful organizational tool and requisite for the function of many RCE/RCA reports.

    It’s tempting to have your product check all the boxes to boost its presence on buyer short lists. However, it’s even more important to intimately understand the needs of those that brought you to the dance, enable them to continuously improve and measure their core processes, and promote that as a core value of your company. That’s a solid foundation for an ongoing relationship and high renewal rates.

Whatya think?