The Top 5 Marketing Influencers to Follow in 2017

Last updated on by Saranya Babu in Conversion Optimization

2016 was a wild year for marketing technology, branding, and seeing companies find new ways to break through the noise. Marketing personalization became more important, the share of advertising dollars spent on digital continued to increase, and innovation is growing more essential for sustainable growth and breaking through the noise to get a message to the right audience at the right time.

Although each contributor on a marketing team is essential to maintaining brand consistency and delivering the right messages to a brand’s personas, it is frequently the CMO or leader within the marketing organization that drives the strategic and creative direction for how and what to execute on for the biggest impact.

The five marketing influencers below deserve individual attention to their previous successes and the likely impact they will have on their current companies. Each of these marketing executives is doing something unique, and all of them have something to say — and they are saying it throughout both the course of their work, and as active participants and publishers in the marketing technology landscape.

Whether it’s their specific expertise about the marketing landscape, their unique perspective, or the pivots, changes, and inflection points of the companies they are working for; here are some of the most talented marketing influencers facing some of the most interesting marketing problems today.

Jonathan Mildenhall, CMO at Airbnb

As marketers, we can make a huge difference to the world if, sometimes, we put our values ahead of our sales.

It’s no surprise that the head of marketing at Airbnb is a former SVP at Coca-Cola, one of the most well-known brands in the world. That said, it’s also surprising that a marketer with the right and left brain skill set of Jonathan Mildenhall would leave.

Jonathan refers to himself as a “diagonal thinker,” meaning he is both right and left brain oriented.

Since he became CMO role at Airbnb, he’s been recognized by Adweek on multiple occasions including being recognized as the 2016 Brand Genius Winner for hospitality.

Since Jonathan joined Airbnb, Airbnb has generated many strategic partnerships including SolarCity and American Express.

Why you should follow him

While all successful businesses, from startup “unicorns” to successful Fortune 100s, have their unique struggles, Airbnb faces an especially complex set of hurdles as the world’s “first community driven superbrand.”

Although the market has accepted the sharing economy, Airbnb will continue to encounter the challenge of recruiting both hosts and guests while increasing the value proposition for both segments.

One way of doing this is generating new products that supplement the Airbnb experience including Airbnb Trips, to provide a more curated alternative to common tourist activities.

Perhaps most significantly, the growth of Airbnb involves heavily navigating government regulations and public policy similar to Uber, iCracked, and other companies in the gig economy. Balancing the growth of a company while maintaining a favorable view from the public is an ethically and morally sound way is a conscious process.

Adam Berke, CMO at AdRoll

As the CMO of AdRoll, Adam Berke runs the marketing efforts for what AdRoll calls “the retargeting and prospecting platform of choice for over 30,000 advertisers worldwide”

Before AdRoll, Adam helped launched Aptimus in some leadership roles across a number of different marketing and operations departments, eventually leading the company to a successful acquisition by the Apollo Group.

Even though he’s doing this, he is incredibly proactive and generous with his time and the expertise that he regularly shares with the greater AdTech and MarTech communities as a contributor to publications such as Mediapost and MarTech Advisor.

He’s also spoken at events and tradeshows such as South by Southwest and Dreamforce. Occasionally he’ll take his skill set to television as an expert for Bloomberg and CNBC. Direct Marketing News also featured Adam in their 40 Under 40 class of 2016.

Adtech and martech have always been an arbitrary delineation and it never really made sense to me. That segmentation always seemed to be more about business models than customer needs.

Why you should follow him

Adam describes himself as “a marketer that markets marketing technology to other marketers.” That alone is enough of a reason to pay attention to his work in 2017.

However, Adam’s perspectives and continued contributions to the growing intersection between AdTech and MarTech make him an essential figure in any conversations about retargeting moving forward.

In spring of 2016, AdRoll announced that it would apply retargeting to email as a new channel. It’s unlikely that AdRoll’s enthusiasm for embracing new ideas will change anytime soon.

Between the growth of AdRoll, the willingness it has as a marketing technology company to try new things, and Adam’s willingness to share his expertise with other marketers, 2017 should be a great year for Adam and his team at AdRoll.

Ann Lewnes, CMO at Adobe

Few companies have found product market fit in the same way as Adobe as a packaged software company. With the diversification of their product offerings over time, their already large user base is becoming increasingly more diverse with professionals and hobbyists across virtually all industries and verticals.

Between numerous acquisitions, new products and technologies, and a drastically different marketing landscape, a tremendous amount has happened at Adobe since Ann Lewnes assumed the responsibility of running Adobe’s marketing in 2006. And this is all after 21 years of marketing experience and a VP position at Intel.

Ann is among the most decorated marketers to lead marketing at a company the size of Adobe including being elected to the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Achievement in 2000. She was also named by Ad Age as one of the most creative people of the year in 2015.

Ann is incredibly passionate about content, making her an excellent fit to run the marketing organization of a company built for creativity.

Because of the data-driven state of marketing, we have much more credibility, we’re driving the business and we can quantitatively show that. No one has more insight into what the customer looks like or cares about. All of these things have made marketing a very scientific, respectable profession.

Why you should follow her

Although the marketing challenges Adobe faces have universal impacts, the sheer size of the company and it’s numerous product offerings presents a unique undertaking for Ann and the Adobe marketing organization.

While Adobe products are frequently the industry standard for creative professionals worldwide, Adobe will have to manage the value proposition of its product suites to compete with best-in-breed solutions. Despite the advantage Adobe has with existing market share, Ann and the rest of the marketing team will have to continue defining and offering unique value propositions moving forward.

In addition to Adobe Marketing Cloud, one of their newest products is a TV ad planning platform. Adobe is, arguably, the company that spearheaded the digitalization of creative industries. This new release geared towards the television advertisers indicates a continued dedication to providing traditional industries with increasingly powerful digital solutions.

There is no doubt that Ann’s storytelling and creative abilities, in conjunction with her data-minded business acumen, will yield some fascinating decisions as Adobe continues to grow into new verticals with even more compelling creative software solutions.

Ray Elias, CMO at Hotel Tonight

Ray Elias has been working in eCommerce and internet operations since the 90s. Before taking on the role of CMO at Hotel Tonight in June 2016, Ray filled the same role at NatureBox.

However, one of the most unique highlights of Ray’s career occurred as CMO of Stubhub, when he created the Ticket Oak, a brand mascot, to move from a niche user base to mass market and ultimately an acquisition by eBay.

We wanted a single iconic creative that delivered our core message at this point, which has gone from functional — what is StubHub and where you want to sit — to the emotional aspects: access, choice, convenience, lots of selection and tickets growing on trees.

The results spoke for themselves. According to Ray, the viral videos and cult following for the Ticket Oak generated traffic growth of 40% year over year with 15 million unique views per month and a 20% increase in brand awareness.

Why you should follow him

It’s likely, and expected, that Hotel Tonight will go public in 2017, an impressive feat for a company that laid off 20% of its employees less than two years ago. As CMO, Ray will be tasked with maintaining and scaling the company’s growth through this anticipate IPO.

The greater challenge, however, will be expanding the HotelTonight beyond what Ray refers to as “an elite group of customer experiences that really only work on mobile.” That’s a problem, he says, can’t be solved by ads alone.

Additionally, the limited time frame the product relies on for booking hotel rooms at low prices generates very high intent purchasing behavior. The continued growth of the hotel and travel industry with a massive increase in last-minute mobile hotel books adds to the complexity of the situation.

Will Ray and his marketing organization find the right mascot to address these unique marketing challenges for Hotel Tonight? Whether or not there is a mascot involved, it will be exciting to see how Ray navigates the future of marketing for a unique brand in a crowded vertical.

Kira Scherer Wampler, CEO at

Any marketing executive that has to compete directly with Uber, the most highly valued VC-backed company in the world, deserves to be mentioned in this list of talented marketing professionals. To prove it, in 2013, Marketers That Matter deemed Kira the B2C Marketer of the year.

Kira Scherer Wampler is excellent at executing on playbooks that don’t exist yet such as a on-demand service to mainstream media advertising channel. Her tenure as the CMO of Lyft from 2014 through 2016 included bringing the company to television advertising. She also initiated the Undercover Lyft series featuring celebrities like Shaquille O’Neal and Demi Lovato.

I think the biggest change has been speed and the pace of change on the part of consumers and how consumers behave… That’s both good, and it means that when you can harness that speed, you can see some really exciting fast results. It also can be really challenging, particularly if you’re in a crisis communication spot. And it can also be extremely disruptive, particularly for larger companies where decision making is a little bit slower, where the cost to risk is much higher.

After years of building the Lyft brand into a household name, and driving acqusition across online and offline channels, Kira joined as CEO in November 2016. She holds a number of marketing patents, including an online reputation manager, from her time in multiple marketing leadership roles at Intuit. Prior to Intuit, she ran consumer marketing for Trulia.

Why you should follow her

Creating an online experience out of a traditionally offline commerce industry is a challenge in and of itself. However, selling art including photography, posters, and prints across a number of different categories is especially counterintuitive to the normal purchase process.

Art is a highly experiential product that requires many potential buyers to experience first hand before committing to a purchase. Instead of attempting to recreate the buying experience, has found ways to supplement it with offerings conducive to a digital environment including personalized gift giving and a digital decoration service.

With Kira leading the marketing efforts of, it will be tremendously exciting to observe her taking an offline industry into a highly recognizable brand among home decorators and art enthusiasts.

Want more marketing influencers?

These innovators represent a fraction of the many talented marketing executives that are building global brands with sustainable growth.

Each week, Instapage features a new conversation with marketing thought leaders on the Advertising Influencers podcast. New episodes are published every Wednesday.

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