“The Function of Marketing has Shifted” In Conversation with Randy Wootton, CEO of Percolate

One of the most sought after speakers and influencers in Martech, Mr. Randy Wootton was earlier the CEO at predictive marketing platform Rocket Fuel, where he was instrumental in re-positioning the company as an AI-driven SaaS platform before it was sold it to Sizmek. Before that, Mr. Wootton held senior positions at companies including Microsoft and Salesforce where he was responsible for helping achieve triple-digit revenue growth rates for the products and services he managed.

He started his career as a naval aviator, and has an MBA from Harvard, a Master of Liberal Arts from St. John’s College and a bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Naval Academy. He’s on the board of Guidant Financial in Seattle and an adviser to RallyPoint. He also serves on the advisory board for Parature Inc, Pathwise Leadership & Advising,

You mentioned in a blog post that “Percolate is in an entirely new category, which we’re still in the process of defining.” Could you elaborate more on what you mean by that? How is Percolate different from other content marketing platforms ( CMPs)? What’s its unique superpower if we may ask?

As the leader in the CMP space, we strive to create systems that transform how marketing organizations work. However, the Content Marketing “Category” is actually relatively new. For example, Gartner just released its first Magic Quadrant in Spring of 2018. More importantly, when we talk to marketers today, many don’t say explicitly that they are looking for a content marketing platform. Instead they describe a set of problems that we would say are solved by a CMP.  This is why we spent so much time when I first started in January 2018 writing an ebook about the Content Bottleneck. We wanted to help marketers better understand and articulate the problem that they all face — realizing the promise of personalization.

I have been in this business for nearly 20 years and every marketer I talk to wants to create more personalized experiences for their customers and prospects. At the same time, 90% of them say they are UNHAPPY with their ability to deliver on this promise. Since the founding of Percolate in 2011, the company has been focused on building a platform to help brands create content at scale. What we have seen is that many of the largest enterprises recognize a CMP can be an essential system for marketing operations. As a result, we are setting a new standard for CMPs to transform the way customers plan and execute their marketing in 2018 and beyond. We’re the only CMP purpose-build to help contributors, management and executives alike navigate high-complexity and high-volume initiatives across the enterprise. 

“I fundamentally think that the marketing funnel is broken – it’s not that you jump in at the top, go all the way to the bottom, and buy. You have this ‘web touch’ of experiences,” Given the increasing complexity of creating performing content (consistently) and the marketers dependence on tools like Percolate to do so, do you think the divide between bigger and smaller brands is set to get larger?

I think the challenges are less about being an SMB versus an ENT Brand and more about how they are going to market — whether they are B2B, B2C, B2B2C, or direct to consumer. For example, take a look at some of the recent phenomenal successes of direct to consumer brands, such as: Harry’s, Dollar Shaving club, Warby Parker, Glossier, Casper, Bonobos and BarkBox. All these companies started out small and are now challenging well established B2C brands (e.g., Gillette). So how did they all achieve immense successful growth? They did the following three things especially well:

  1. Creating a great digital-first experience (UI)
  1. Making seamless e-commerce transaction tied to annuity revenue (subscription) versus transaction
  1. Using content to create a narrative and tell stories.

So while a SMB may not be ready for an ENT platform such as Percolate, they still need to think differently about how they build and deploy content to support a unique narrative. 

In the context of the buzz around these terms, do you see the real value of “Content marketing” and “Storytelling” as a guiding philosophy for ALL marketing content (including sales collateral / spec sheets) or do you see it’s role as more supplemental / optional piece of the marketing puzzle?

Going forward, content marketing will be how brands communicate their responsiveness to changing expectations. And because consumers demand more involvement and choices in their decision-making, their appetite for information to inform those decisions will only continue to increase along with the growing desire and expectation for personalized experiences — and martech will play a huge role in creating these personalized experiences.  One way to create a deeper engagement with consumers is to align your brand with a mission or cause. In 2016, a study found that 76% of millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments before deciding where to work.

As marketers, we need to focus on creating meaningful and relevant brand experiences focused on a shared passion. Those marketers who understand the value of experience are 96.3x more likely to beat their direct competition. For those reasons, I think delivering exceptional customer experiences coupled with content will become the most important parts of the marketing mix. 

Even as some studies are calling content a bottleneck, others are talking about content shock or even a content trap. Now given the investment of time and resources that is required to audit, identify and repeat performing content from a statistically valid (therefore large enough) sample of historic content, do you think content marketing is viable as a default marketing strategy?

Absolutely. Gartner predicts, “By 2021, the term ‘content marketing’ will be defunct as all marketing content rises to the high-quality expectations of attention-limited audiences.” Thus the term “content marketing” will be interchangeable with “marketing.”

Percolate co-founder and CTO Noah Brier recently wrote a rebuttal around the word “content” when it comes to marketing and why it’s the best descriptor we have. He states: “Brands today produce many more pieces of communication than before, each with a shorter life span than in the past, and each distributable through many more channels than ever before.” As we’ve gotten more fine-grained control over when and where we communicate and as we have learned more about what makes marketing work, the function of marketing has shifted.

What we do know, as that the demand for content will only continue to increase. We argue that this demand is exponential and, as such, has already greatly outstripped the capacity of marketing teams’ budgets and resources to keep up as there has, historically, been relatively little or linear growth in these investments.

In this world, the perceived value of compelling content could become marketing’s biggest and safest opportunity. But if your content marketing solution is not designed to anticipate future demand, you may be forced to sacrifice quality and accuracy in the interest of speed and simplicity. This is the crux of the content bottleneck that we talk about in the e-book. Gartner states that 90% of brands will practice at least one form of marketing personalization, but content, not data, will be the bottleneck and primary cause of failure. If we take as the starting point, that the only content that counts, is the content that works, we find that most content marketers suffer their content bottleneck in one of three forms:

  1. Quantity: “We need more content.”
  2. Quality: “We need better content.”
  3. Coordination: “We need to take better advantage of the content we already have.”

Percolate has the only system that is purpose-built to address these problems and is now the only company recognized as a leader in the CMP category by the top three analysts: Gartner, Forrester and SiriusDecisions.

When reading one of your interviews on personalization and goal of 1:1 marketing, I was reminded of the time when Target used a “pregnancy prediction score” to identify and target pregnant women. Now with the kind of advances being made possible in personalized marketing through AI, what do you see as the ethical boundaries in a future where advertisers are able to use demographics, past behaviors, motivations to elevate what was so far persuasion into what could be a form of behavior control? I mean would you say should be the guidelines for balancing privacy and personalization?

I love that story because of what ended up happening — specifically the following outcomes:

  1. There was a father who complained to Target about sending materials to his teenage daughter and felt they were encouraging her to get pregnant. However, he ended up apologizing because his daughter was, in fact, pregnant — just never told him.
  2. As a result of negative backlash, Target changed the direct marketing aspect of the campaign to also include other household goods so it did not seem as if they were solely targeting pregnant women.
  3. They found their sales continued to rise without the rage from consumers because they were able to subtly target people on items they probably needed without an overly invasive message.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about the ethical responsibilities of the internet. Just as in many other industries, we’re settling into a market where a handful of large players dominate — for better or worse. Major platforms and channels are under the microscope as consumers and lawmakers become more sensitive to individual privacy, while the rest of the MarTech/AdTech industry casts an anti-trustful eye at their market dominance. However, from the consumer’s perspective, there are some good reasons to have a smaller, more accountable cast of characters in the world of advertising.

Consumers are increasingly demanding more privacy and better experiences online, and advertisers won’t stop demanding accountability, brand safety and more value for their dollar.  While it remains to be seen whether GDPR-like legislation will be adopted globally, the threat of greater regulation will undoubtedly create stronger incentives for the ad tech ecosystem to reckon with its complexity, its impact on the consumer experience, its value to publishers, and its use of tracking and personal data in targeting.

But in the bigger picture, where advertising is just one part of the broader marketing mix – the opportunities are actually growing. Most of the new frontiers for marketing — from AI chatbots to the Internet of Things — lie well outside the blast radius of targeted online ads.

In particular, content marketing is ascendant as a way for marketers to reach customers directly and build a relationship based not on interruption, but instead on the power of ideas and conversations. Even the best ads don’t make it past the ad blocker, but great content is welcomed, savored and shared. You can use content to reach customers in that last mile, in those moments where you can forge a lasting connection — and in doing so, respect their time and intellect. 

In one of your interviews, you mentioned that you maintained what you referred to as a “leadership” notebook – Are there any examples that you could share with our readers?

When I was a young Ensign in the Navy, I had an Admiral tell me to keep a “leadership notebook” and to jot down examples of leaders’ behavior that I admired and wanted to aspire to AND examples of leaders’ behaviors I found off putting and would want to avoid. Throughout my career I have continued to watch and learn from both the positive and negative examples as I have continued to develop my own leadership muscle.  One example would be called the classic “praise in public and criticize in private”. Most people get this intuitively, but I find it fascinating to see how leaders are able to respond to surprises or unfortunate news under stress. If they are able to manage their cool and provide the appropriate correction in a private office, it shows the entire team that a leader is able to lead when it matters — under stress. 

Is there any question about upcoming campaigns / launches / other that we should have asked and missed? Please share.

As we previously discussed, the “Content Bottleneck” is projected to be one of marketing’s biggest challenges by 2020 — it is also one of the drivers behind a renaissance of the discipline of Marketing Operations in recent years. We would suggest that ALL companies need to take a broader systems view of the challenges they are facing and, as such, develop an org strategy that includes a formal marketing operations and leader.  Appointing someone who sits between IT and marketing can result in a 15-25% improvement in marketing effectiveness, and 42% of CMOs intend to expand their marketing operations team in the near term.

We recently released a marketing operations white paper that reveals where and how marketing operations fits into management of the full lifecycle of your marketing technology. Download it here

You can follow Mr. Wootton on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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