Interview with Jake Athey, VP Marketing, Widen

Jake Athey, Widen
Jake Athey

Tell us about your role and how you got here? What inspired you to be part of a content technology company?

I started at Widen as a marketing intern in 2004, moved into digital marketing, and now serve as VP of Marketing.

As a kid, I always wanted to build bridges. In high school, I thought about becoming a civil engineer. I also developed a passion for marketing in high school. I loved the concept of “brands” and how to communicate with people in ways that deliver value.

In 2005, I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville (traditionally known for engineering) with a business degree. The summer before, Matthew Gonnering (then Director of Sales & Marketing, now Widen CEO) offered me a marketing internship. We were a marketing department of two. He not only painted an exciting vision for our work but staked his career on a technology that would become mission-critical in marketing: Digital Asset Management.

DAM, as we call it, combined what I loved about engineering and branding. It was a ‘bridge’ for connecting people with brands in meaningful ways.

How do you see Digital Asset Management platforms evolving around omnichannel analytics experience and Customer Data Management?

Digital Asset Management (DAM) should support the bridges between marketers and consumers. Widen has had this vision since our move to the cloud in 2007. DAM supports omnichannel communications, and assets are vehicles of bi-directional data in each channel.

In the omnichannel martech stack, DAM is the ‘central source of truth.’ Sometimes we use the acronym COPE – Create Once, Publish Everywhere – to capture this idea. In simple terms, there’s 1 internet, 1 file. That’s all you need or want. DAM shares that master file with other digital experience technologies – Marketing Resource Management (MRM), Product Information Management (PIM), Web Content Management (WCM), and Content Marketing platforms.

DAMs are intended to be integrated with other marketing technologies and enterprise systems. Without integration, you have a really expensive image library with lots of fancy bells and whistles. Integration turns your “place of storage” (for some companies, it’s where assets go to die) into a living, breathing part of your digital ecosystem and marketing (or business) operation. DAM becomes a mission-critical tool.

Assets are served to downstream destinations such as web, e-commerce, email, and social channels, and valuable usage insights are served back to sellers, marketers, and creatives, who use that information to craft better experiences. Asset metadata, rights, and usage data are all valuable components that make up that asset (in addition to the content consumers see). For this reason, DAM has been an instrumental component of digital transformation projects for the last five to ten years.

What are the pain points for marketers in leveraging DAM for better personalization?

To be effective at personalization, DAMs require good data. And good data requires effort.

AI, image recognition, and auto-tagging have been adopted by DAMs to help marketers keep up with the volume and velocity of content created. If you tag content accurately, you can find it or repurpose it easily.

Human beings still do the hard work. Someone needs to create a strategy encompassing rules, processes for information governance, data structures (metadata and taxonomy), life cycle policies, rights management protocols, content selection and acquisition rules, data processing standards, and analytics.

Digital librarians are among the best-qualified professionals to work with your marketing technologist on leveraging DAM for better personalization. Librarians prioritize good data, which makes for improved and scalable personalization.

How do you see Customer Experience Management platforms evolving with the maturity of AI/ML technologies?

We have a ways to go before we see AI/ML technologies mature, but it’s fascinating to think about the future and enable the progression. Customer Experience Management platforms, coupled with AI/ML technologies, will excel at the ‘creepy cool’ side of marketing. They’ll learn everything there is to know about consumers and present them with the data, information, and content most relevant to their situation. Machines will take on the challenge of tracking and serving every digital interaction, moment by moment.

Marketers can do this now, to some extent. Machines will scale it for every customer, every experience, and every derivative digital path. Because AI/ML can find correlations that a data scientist would take weeks or months to find, we’ll probably discover some needs that marketers have missed for years. Machines don’t replace human empathy or creativity – they just uncover more precise ways to exercise both.

How do you measure your martech stack’s performance?

I love this question! In a small business of 128, with a lean and mighty marketing team of 13, martech helps us punch way above our ‘weight class.’ I tie our martech performance to our marketing performance and contribution to company goals.

A few metrics are especially telling. First, adoption. We now have dedicated administrators for our critical martech systems. The admins have raised the quality of our data and fueled adoption beyond the marketing team. The ability to have two of our 13 marketing team members dedicated to martech systems (CRM and DAM+workflow) is a feat in itself.

Second, we look at how martech creates efficiency and effectiveness in our marketing operations. Our work capacity, agility, responsiveness, and output have all outpaced our growth in team size over the past five years. I attribute many of the gains in individual and team productivity to our martech model. Third, we measure how our martech contributes to top-line revenue.

As inbound and content marketers, we use martech to capture increasing volumes of leads and to keep our primary marketing metrics and ratios constant or improving as our market (and position in it) grows.

For example, we have captured more leads year-after-year and improved our inbound lead-to-opportunity ratio over the last five years, while keeping our marketing and sales staff about the same. That’s martech going to work for us and freeing up time, to focus on strategy, creative execution, and relationship building.

What tools does your marketing stack currently consist of?

Our marketing team (and most of the customer experience teams) cannot live without Salesforce, HubSpot, and our own Widen Collective.

We use Salesforce for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Business Intelligence. It’s tightly integrated with HubSpot, so our sales and service teams get a complete view of all customer activity.

HubSpot is our Web CMS plus marketing automation system for email marketing, social publishing, landing pages for digital campaigns, personas, and data tracking. It bridges marketing operations and customer experience.

The Widen Collective is used for digital asset management, content analytics, and work management. It’s the foundation for the development and measurement of our marketing and creative content.

All audience interactions are tracked, and we record all the activity our Salesforce contacts have with HubSpot experiences. We can also correlate which content assets drive that activity across the customer lifecycle.

Would you tell us about your standout digital campaign? 

The Workflow Workbook is a Widen utility for creative leaders, and it was a standout campaign. We promoted this content asset across paid and organic social campaigns, pay-per-click, display and remarketing campaigns, email marketing, blog CTAs, and live events.

We measure success by the volume and quality of leads and opportunities. We find that offering informative, helpful, and actionable content delivers leads that are more engaged and ready for a meaningful conversation.

As a B2B marketing leader, how do you prepare for an AI-driven ecosystem?

Short answer: “Try it.” That’s been the Widen way since 1948.

Long answer: Get your data house in order to avoid the consequences of ‘garbage in, garbage out.’ Then, identify and score your opportunities to leverage AI.

Start small, in areas of low risk. Let AI tag metadata or dig up new insights with human oversight. Don’t let AI steer the ship (yet).

One word that best describes how you work.

Persistent

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Salesforce, HubSpot, Widen (our tool!)

What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?

Hands down, my scheduler link. Sending multiple emails to schedule a meeting is a waste of time! Block off the time you need then let other people choose when to meet with you.

What are you currently reading? 

I listen to a lot of audiobooks on Audible. I’m currently doing Digital Sense: The Common Sense Approach to Effectively Blending Social Business Strategy, Marketing Technology, and Customer Experience by my friend Travis Wright and Chris Snook.

I’m also listening to The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath and Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“You could go to Kohler and make coffee and file papers, or you could come here and do some real marketing.” Those were Matthew Gonnering’s words in May 2004, when I was deciding where to do an internship.

Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Libby Maurer, my former colleague at Widen, who is now Director of UX at HubSpot.

Thank you Jake! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Inspired digital marketer on a mission to help brands connect intelligent content strategies across the customer experience.

Helping organizations realize their maximum potential by communicating the value of digital asset management as part of core brand and marketing experiences. Through a centralized approach to marketing asset management, organizations are able to improve operational efficiency, strengthen brand consistency and increase return on marketing investments.

In part, helping marketing and IT professionals make it easier to advance marketing technology within their organizations by leveraging the Software as a Service (SaaS) model for faster time to market and quick realization of time and cost savings.

Widen

Widen is a service leader in digital asset management with cloud-based DAM solutions that help marketers plan, manage, review, publish, and analyze their marketing files so they can deliver the right content, to the right people, in the right format, at the right time. We’ve been blazing a path in support, rich media, and creative workflow since 1948 and are trusted by more than 500 influential world brands, including GE, Trek, Cornell University, Jackson Family Wines, the Atlanta Falcons, Great Clips, Johnsonville Sausage, Boston Ballet, and Yankee Candle.

The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.

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