MarTech Interview with Ashleigh Cook, CMO at RainFocus

Explore RainFocus's cutting-edge AI strategies for event marketing. From content creation to campaign optimization, see how AI enhances efficiency while preserving human-driven strategy.
MarTech Interview

Ashleigh, before we dive into the discussion, could you please share a bit about your professional background and role as CMO at RainFocus?
I started my career in marketing 15 years ago, and I’m honored to have recently been appointed chief marketing officer at RainFocus – formerly senior vice president of marketing at the company. In my new role, I’m focused on helping high-growth clients establish and scale event marketing functions into their successful global initiatives while continuing to lead the marketing team and driving sustainable growth. Prior to RainFocus, I led marketing campaigns and programs for Forrester and SiriusDecisions in the research and advisory space.

Before transitioning into the CMO role, I oversaw every aspect of the organization’s marketing efforts, including campaigns and demand, brand and communications, content, creative, product marketing, events, and marketing operations. We’ve built a top-notch team of marketing professionals here at RainFocus, and I’m excited to continue leading them as we accomplish exciting initiatives and exceed our business goals in 2024.

How does RainFocus view the role of micro-events compared to larger campaigns, and how are you kindly incorporating this strategy into your marketing approach?
We’ve found that micro-events or micro-activations can exist on their own but also work well within larger events. There’s been a shift in preference from attendees for more opportunities to connect on an intimate level, outside of, or in addition to, large-scale keynotes. While there is certainly a market for both, brand and event marketers need to be agile and adjust their strategies to meet their customers where they are.

Organizations can develop several types of micro-activations, from interactive social media campaigns to livestreams, gamified contests, and more. This enables teams to focus their budgets on executing specific activations depending on their goals. For example, at our annual flagship event, RainFocus INSIGHT, we offer tailored experiences and activations for different audiences. Current clients might have access to more in-depth training and certifications, while prospective clients have the opportunity to attend product demos or tech tours. VIPs are offered an exclusive experience including activities to connect with key members from our leadership team. There are also hybrid experiences for those that can’t attend the full INSIGHT conference, and gamification elements to encourage certain experiences while attending the event.

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Given budget constraints, how does RainFocus see strategic investments in smaller formats as a solution, and what benefits do you anticipate?
This is a topical concern as many organizations continue to face budget constraints. Micro-events are a pivotal solution, enabling organizers to become inherently strategic with their investment efforts, minimizing the potential “gray area” of budgetary discretions – and leveling the distribution across the board.

These intimate settings can unite all types of attendees, allowing serendipitous conversations between C-suite and admin levels; bringing attendees together around a niche interest or topic that increases their comfort and participation. The scale of larger event environments simply can’t replicate the spontaneous touchpoints a small event offers. Smaller events enable more organic relationship-building opportunities and more curated experiences.

As CMO at RainFocus, is there a specific project that you found especially rewarding or transformative for the company’s marketing strategies?
One of the most rewarding projects has been our groundbreaking partnership with Adobe. RainFocus has been a long-term partner with Adobe, and in early 2023, we became an Adobe Certified Platinum partner, deepening our relationship by unifying our two platforms. The partnership enables us to leverage data from both the RainFocus platform and Adobe to deliver joint clients heightened transparency into the performance of their event marketing strategies, integrating their customers’ journeys from the first to the last touchpoint. We brought our partnership to life through the release of new data-centric solutions that seamlessly connect real-time behavioral event data with Adobe’s technologies to visualize the attendee journey, measure impact, and drive ROI. Through this partnership, we’re able to offer expanded value to not only events teams, but also marketing, tech, and sales teams. Our joint efforts empower clients to extract even more value from their platform investments, enabling them to create personalized experiences at scale that drive success across omnichannel marketing and sales strategies. As a trusted partner, we are proud to play a pivotal role in guiding organizations through the dynamic landscape of customer experience and journey.

How does RainFocus create experiences that resonate, and what role do micro-event activations play in facilitating authentic and meaningful interactions?
From a technology standpoint, RainFocus is a leading event marketing platform that captures and analyzes unprecedented amounts of first-party data to support clients in elevating their events in an effort to drive demand and accelerate growth. What differentiates our approach is the data. We’re able to harness the data that is captured from multiple events to create a unique and seamless personalized experience for attendees at every touchpoint throughout the entire customer journey. The curation can then be amplified by layering in micro-event activations, which help organizers execute very niche agendas and topics and obtain a 360-view of their customers. For example, clients are able to recommend sessions to their customers based on behaviors to ensure they’re engaged and attending sessions that are relevant to them. A chief financial officer might want to attend a keynote discussing an industry’s outlook for the year, but won’t care to participate in a workshop on how to use a certain product. Our platform is able to make these distinctions based on behaviors and roles and make sound recommendations for a more targeted experience.

It’s also important to note that we’ve built an outstanding team committed to customer-centric innovation and collaboration. Our people are at the heart of our business and have significantly contributed to the high growth and success we’ve experienced over the past decade.

How does RainFocus kindly leverage micro-event activations to tailor experiences for diverse audience goals within a larger event setting?
The proliferation of technology lends itself to more noise, advertisements, and activations vying for the attention of different audiences. Micro-events provide an opportunity to combat the noise by nurturing the relationships organizations have with their clients and prospects. Smaller events within a larger event can be more efficient and impactful because they’re more curated and personalized to a specific audience.

Event organizers must understand the goals of their audiences to develop strategic initiatives with their smaller attendee groups. Examples of different attendee groups that might require tailored experiences within a larger event can include VIPs, decision-makers, prospects, education-focused attendees, networking-focused attendees, etc. The data from previous events and marketing campaigns enables attendee behavior insights that help identify and develop different tracks for each attendee group.

With event marketing evolving, what innovative strategies have you personally championed at RainFocus to stay ahead of industry trends?
AI plays a prominent role in event marketing today and in the future. Content creation is one of the most striking applications of AI in event marketing. Coming out of an event, many marketing teams need help with the sheer volume of content developed during sessions – which can include Q&As from attendees, social media interactions, email metrics, and more. At RainFocus, we’ve utilized AI to understand which content to prioritize and, even further, the best optimization of it. We’re able to create summaries or transcripts that can be used for video editing and finding memorable moments, such as attendee participation, milestone recognition, or a clip from a roundtable conversation. In turn, these notable moments can be repackaged as a part of the campaign and used in social and content more efficiently than manually sorting through hours of content.

However, one caveat regarding content teams is that AI should never replace the event marketing role. Instead, it should be leveraged to evolve the role and enable the role to become even more strategic. Teams will always require the human touch in content governance and editorial structure, ensuring that the content is woven into a holistic strategy for the marketing organization.

How do you strike a balance between fostering a creative environment and ensuring strategic goals are met within RainFocus?
As an organization, we sit between a data-powered approach and the goal of bringing people together as a community – a delicate balance to maintain. This dual-pronged strategy of data and people – and where they intersect – transcends all aspects of our business. It also helps us be the most successful partner to our clients, so in a sense, fostering a creative environment is how we ensure strategic goals are met. Fostering community and enabling data-driven decisions are critical to RainFocus’ own success, but they are also two of the most impactful ingredients for a successful event, making it easy to extend our own approach to our clients and their strategies. Events are a powerful tool that touches every part of a business, and we enjoy helping to make those connections.

What challenges has RainFocus kindly faced in adopting micro-event activations, and how have you navigated them?
Marketing constantly faces challenges, but that’s also one of the best aspects – because new challenges often bring innovative ways to overcome them. One of the biggest challenges has been contending with the wide range of attendee choices: hybrid, virtual, or in-person. We’ve learned that tech consolidation is critical, despite some organizations’ preference or hesitation to embrace new learnings. Given any event mix, having a singular platform to host all events is key to capturing the contextualized data needed to connect the dots.

Understanding the nuances of attendee engagement and behaviors, and how they differ between overlapping events, is important to understanding how attendees interact with your brand. The choice is not all or nothing. For example, the event may be rooted in an in-person format, but certain elements can be repackaged as a hybrid component (if an organization has implemented the proper data-enabled foundation). To that point, however, we’ve seen that when organizations position their event as entirely hybrid, engagement is generally reduced, particularly from the virtual audience. We’ve had to make choices based on which audience is most inclined to participate in which type of content and how their time can be maximized. It’s important to remember that having these options is not an excuse for event leaders to make choices without intention.

As a seasoned professional in event marketing, what personal advice would you share with those navigating this dynamic landscape?
The marketing landscape is constantly changing and I’d recommend keeping a keen eye on industry trends and insights. It’s important not to jump on every trend immediately, but to understand which ones will have staying power and which ones will fade in time. It’s tough to predict upcoming trends, but by establishing smaller incremental benchmarks, organizations can more easily map out big industry moments in time into their campaign strategies – establishing a pattern that provides sustainable and long-term growth.

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Ashleigh Cook, CMO at RainFocus

Ashleigh is an accomplished marketing executive with deep expertise in sales, marketing, and product best practices and technology. She is driven by a passion for helping high-growth companies establish and scale marketing functions to deliver an exceptional customer experience that aligns with rapidly changing expectations and technology advancements. Before RainFocus, Ashleigh led marketing teams spanning GTM strategy, demand generation, ABM, client marketing, and operations at SiriusDecisions and Forrester. Ashleigh holds her BSBA in Marketing from the University of Richmond. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with family, golfing with her husband, being active with her dog and traveling.

About RainFocus RainFocus is the next-generation event marketing platform built to capture and analyze unprecedented amounts of first-party data for exceptional events and optimized engagement throughout the customer journey. RainFocus powers flawless experiences with secure, scalable solutions to support the entire event lifecycle. The platform integrates with sales and marketing technologies, simplifying event registration, content management, and exhibitor activation across in-person, virtual, and hybrid experiences, all from a single dashboard. Leveraging real-time data, RainFocus provides actionable insights to drive personalization, accelerate qualification and lead conversion, and close deals. LinkedIn.
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