Nina Church-Adams recently became Act-On’s SVP of Marketing and brought with her a wealth of experience from the nonprofit and financial services sectors.
In 2011, she helped launch the Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect University – a global learning platform preparing experts in international development to design and execute large-scale programs dedicated to unleashing the potential of 250 million adolescent girls living in poverty. Over her career, she’s held marketing management and executive roles at American Express, D+H, and most recently Finastra, where she led the field, partner, and customer engagement team that served nearly 8,000 financial institutions throughout the Americas.
Nina’s success as a marketing leader is grounded in her liberal arts education, her passion for empowering people, and a world view that values collaboration and resilience. I spoke with Nina about her new role, the challenges facing Act-On’s customers, and the future of marketing automation.
This conversation has been edited for brevity.
Marketing’s Human Element
Tony Coray: Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
Nina Church-Adams: I was born and raised in New York City, and growing up in Manhattan had a big impact on me. The city is a melting pot of humanity, and its social diversity and richness in the arts stimulated a great interest in people and culture that remains today. When I went off to college at Georgetown, I started studying languages, but after taking a couple of courses in sociology, I decided to major in that. Learning to be a sociologist was really my first step in becoming a marketer.
Tony: What was the connection?
Nina: What I loved about sociology was the study of people and organizations and cultures, and how they all come together to create human experiences. Understanding how we relate to each other and what influences us is at the heart of what I like about marketing, and it’s made me very aware of the importance of focusing on the customer.
Tony: You began your career as a Fellow for International Bridges to Justice (IBJ), a nonprofit that protects the rights of citizens of developing countries. How did you wind up in marketing?
Nina Church-Adams: Working for IBJ was very satisfying, and for a while I thought I’d become a lawyer, but when I saw that other nonprofits with great missions could be managed better and realized I had an aptitude for business, I decided to get a master’s in international management with the goal of learning how to do nonprofit work better.
When I graduated from the University of West England, I wanted to put my education into practice and work somewhere I felt I could grow not just as a professional, but as a female leader. American Express was on the list of top 50 places for women to work, so I applied to be an assistant marketing manager there.
The HR director was skeptical of my nonprofit background and my master’s degree from outside the U.S., but the hiring manager liked it. I remember in the interview she said, “Tell me about the marketing that you’ve done. You might not have called it marketing, but I know that’s what you were doing.” She believed my experience developing people-centric programs was a valuable marketing asset, so she hired me.
Arriving at Act-On
Tony: What drew you to this position with Act-On?
Nina Church-Adams: I’d been following the tech scene in Portland for years and was very impressed with Act-On’s product and the company’s success. I’m also an avid consumer of marketing content and knew Act-On was a powerful thought leader in our field, so the idea of joining forces with them was intellectually exciting.
Then I met with Kate Johnson and Bill Pierznik, the company’s CEO and COO, and was struck by the direction they were headed and their desire to centralize the company in Portland. The changes they were undertaking aren’t easy to make, but there was a strong sense of “all for one and one for all” that included their employees, their product, and their customers, and I really liked that.
And I knew I could contribute. I’ve had a wide range of professional experiences, but the common thread has been leading teams through periods of transformational change, which I really enjoy. I think that’s the sociologist in me. I appreciate the complexities of organizational effectiveness, and I like to roll up my sleeves and work side by side with my colleagues to execute a plan.
How Marketing Automation Will Help Us Succeed
Tony: What do you think is the greatest challenge today’s marketers face?
Nina Church-Adams: Probably the biggest challenge is cutting through the clutter. We’re constantly inundated with media and messaging and stimulation. Marketers need to figure out how to uniquely engage their buyers.
This is a broad undertaking that needs to happen cross-functionally. Marketers are just one thread in a fabric woven together with sales, product, and customer success. These groups have to collaborate well and be tightly aligned to the goals of the business to deliver results – that’s what makes the fabric strong and attractive.
And because the customer journey is cyclical, this is an ongoing process. Once you have a clear vision for the fabric you’re making, you have to find the buyers who need it. And then you have to continue the conversation after they purchase to ensure the fabric is meeting their needs – and so you know when and how it needs to change to remain useful and appealing.
All this requires curation and focus and prioritization. And a platform like Act-On helps you manage this process by making it easy to reach the right buyers with the right message at the right time.
Tony: Where do you think marketing automation is headed?
Nina Church-Adams: I think we’re at a real turning point. The industry started out as email service providers, and then the emphasis on metrics and ROI – along with the need to integrate with CRMs and other MarTech – meant that marketing automation had to provide the features and functionality marketers need to drive their business forward. That’s a given now for any platform, and I think Act-On does all this beautifully.
But it’s no longer enough. Today’s buyers expect even more customized experiences, and that’s where I see Act-On as the north star. Our Adaptive Journeys™ vision is leveraging machine learning and predictive technologies to really understand a customer’s behavior and what they want and need, so marketers can engage with individuals in whatever way each person uniquely wants to.
What’s remarkable is that the application of business and artificial intelligence isn’t just happening in MarTech – it’s exploding across all industries. But the sociologist in me finds the role it will play in marketing particularly interesting. Our goal as marketers is to create more meaningful engagements with people, and our growing ability to leverage data will give us endless possibilities to do that. That’s the next generation of marketing automation, and Act-On is leading the way.