A data-driven transformation led by an “accidental CMO” unearths deep insights about IT buyers – and shifts mindsets about the business of marketing

Sara Baack calls herself an “accidental CMO,” given her background in financial services. But the marketing transformation led by Baack at her company, Equinix, is no accident.

Baack, who has served as Equinix CMO for six years, has overseen a data-driven transformation to help better understand and engage with technology buyers to raise awareness of Equinix, a 20-year-old provider of data center and interconnection platforms and services.

Baack’s marketing team has evolved through some interconnection points of its own thanks to the addition of non-marketing talent, including data scientists to extract customer insights and IT practitioners to provide first-hand expertise on IT culture and processes.

“We’re bringing technologists into the business of marketing,” she explained in a recent interview at Equinix’s global headquarters in Redwood City, CA. The diversity of backgrounds has led to a more open mindset about the practice of marketing. “Because my background is financial services, I didn’t show up with a lot of orthodoxies about how marketing is supposed to work,” Baack says. “So we’re always asking questions: Why do we do it this way? Can we be doing it differently to be more effective?”

Technology has enabled the marketing team to innovate as freely as the business as a whole, particularly in how the company identifies and targets customers. Baack’s team built a proprietary data science model that ingests dozens of diverse data sets to provide deep insights about IT buyers. One key learning: behavioral analytics correlate far more closely with buying propensity than traditional firmographics.

The analytics model has been “a powerful galvanizing force for our marketing teams to rally around,” Baack says. “It reinforces how technology can answer questions and turn over the assumptions you had about how the world works.”

Baack would like enterprise IT leaders to think differently as well about interconnection technology, which Equinix sees as a foundation of next-generation IT. That raises the bar on the company’s content marketing efforts.

“We’re making a big investment in market education,” Baack says. “The content we’re seeking to build really has to help educate and, in some sense, disrupt a buyer’s thinking about how IT works, from the infrastructure up to the application layer. We want to put a point of relevance for Equinix in their mind, with the payoff being a vision of what’s possible that they might not have thought of before.”