Interview with Shafqat Islam, Co-Founder and CEO, NewsCred
Tell us about your role and journey into technology. How did you start NewsCred?
I spend most of my time managing the strategic growth of the company and learning from our customers about how our platform can help marketing organizations work better together to increase their performance. In college, I was a Computer Science major and afterwards, I went into banking at Merrill Lynch. The day I got married, I decided to quit and start NewsCred. It has evolved several times before becoming a Content Marketing Platform provider. And we are continuing to iterate by building an Integrated Marketing Edition of the NewsCred CMP that helps entire marketing teams work together to deliver a content experience across all touchpoints that define and shapes the customer journey of a brand.
What is the current state of Enterprise Content Marketing? How much has it changed since you started NewsCred?
Enterprise Content Marketing is rapidly maturing. Forget about when NewsCred started, as recently as two years ago, it wasn’t a function within a marketing organization let alone having multiple people with content marketing in their titles working in marketing. We’ve even seen the creation of Chief Content Officers in the most mature of these organizations. Most notably, however, we’ve entered the performance era of Content Marketing. While pageviews and engagement are still important metrics — this isn’t enough. Content Marketing has to drive measurable business results and like the rest of the marketing organization, contribute to the revenue engine of their companies in order to continue to justify budgets and spend.
How do you see companies like Adobe, Oracle, Google, etc. raising the bar of Content Marketing technology? How do you see yourself competing with them?
These companies’ interests in Content Marketing only help to validate its maturity and further its growth by driving quality content and measuring its performance. Adobe’s purchase of Marketo and Oracle’s continued innovation of Eloqua shows how B2B marketing has become more content-centric rather than direct-response oriented and the growing need for more personalized content. The way we’ve competed and will continue to compete is by integrating broadly with the other MarTech solutions that our customers use to ideate, distribute, and measure their content.
Could you elaborate on the challenges and opportunities in Content Marketing and analytics? Why should CMOs invest more on Content Intelligence platforms?
We’ve moved into the era of performance Content Marketing, but many brands find it challenging to tie performance to actual business outcomes, such as conversions and instead lean on measuring whether they are producing content that aligns with their stated strategies. For those that can measure the business results of content, attribution is the next hurdle. Digital Marketing is usually a first-touch or last-touch attribution. But, content exists across a buyer’s journey. Showing how content truly impacts the journey and how removing a single piece of content from that journey changes the outcome is a challenge.
Similarly, marketing organizations operating in silos are creating all kinds of content in silos. This creates two challenges. First, they are not reusing content across channels and markets. And second, their customers and prospects consume content whether it’s content marketing, a social post, or a product flyer as part of their holistic journey, not in silos. If the messaging isn’t consistent and doesn’t build on itself and logically walk them through their journey they may not purchase, or worse, purchase from a competitor.
CMOs should continue to invest because these are big issues that impact not only Content Marketing, but also marketing in general. Leaving them unsolved will negatively impact the budgets and ROI of marketing. In addition, platforms such as NewsCred are helping to solve these problems by providing content-centric performance analytics, and helping marketing organizations maintain messaging consistency and increase content utilization through better-integrated planning, increased visibility, and seamless repurposing of content.
How is the Mobile Content Marketing industry different from the website ones? How do you prepare for the mobile ecosystem?
Attention time and channels tend to be different. You need shorter content. You definitely need more video and podcasts can be a great option for certain brands. In addition, you need a separate mobile conversion strategy and anticipate that the reader will consume content across devices. Essentially, much like anything you need to experiment quickly and find what works best for your brand. At NewsCred we have a services team that is advising customers on mobile Content Marketing best practices and producing content for mobile daily. But, we try and strike a balance to ensure that our clients have the right content available at all times regardless of the device it’s being consumed on. Additionally, for clients where we host their content websites, we make sure those hubs and the content that lives there are mobile optimized.
Could you tell us about an outstanding digital campaign from your experience?
One of our customers, a century-old retail brand that has traditionally done offline marketing and in-store retailing, began an aggressive content program to compete with the busy landscape of new online competitors. The goal of the campaign was to establish the brand as the leading expert in the category, leaning heavily on its years of experience and large nationwide footprint. The initial KPIs were about reach and engagement but quickly migrated to focus on revenue generation.
As part of the shift, the campaign began leveraging a CTA strategy mapped to content pillars, utilizing social and email to drive visitors engaged with content towards a purchasing destination.
The outcome of this new strategy drove 12x ROI from content through their last touch attribution model. This only captured a fraction of the true impact of the campaign, as readers of their content were responsible for 8% of the total company revenue and had an average order value that was 12% higher.
Which marketing and sales automation tools and technologies do you currently use?
We use our fair share of technologies, but I would say we have a core stack of five or six solutions. It all starts with the NewsCred Content Marketing Platform and its sales enablement extension — NewsCred for Sales. And then we also use Marketo, Salesforce, YesWare, and have recently invested in Engagio.
What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in marketing operations for 2018-2020?
The average enterprise MarTech stack contains more than 90 solutions, and this comes with dozens of different analytics reports that create a fragmented story about the customer experience. What we will see in the next two years is the further expansion of a handful of marketing solutions that become Marketing Operating Systems that offer truly holistic views of the customer, their experience, and the overall view of the business. You already see Salesforce, Adobe, Oracle and few others starting to make a play. When all is said and done you might see five or six more build and acquire the necessary capabilities of bringing all the data into one space to optimize decision making and drive performance.
In addition to data silos being knocked down, marketing teams silos will crumble as traditional roles that have been established in the past decade begin to blur and everyone works within these Marketing Operating Systems.
What startups in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now?
I look a lot at what’s happening outside of the US. Some of the startups in Asia, such as Grab and GoCheck, are becoming massive and I am fascinated with how they are scaling across markets and building great businesses. In the US, I follow any of the companies owned by Vista Equity Partners because they’re incredible operators. What they’ve done with Marketo and its sale to Adobe is just one example of their extraordinary capabilities of building value in the companies they own.
How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?
Of course, you’re going to need to begin to invest in hiring data scientists on your engineering team, governing your shared data architecture and ensuring you have a company-wide metadata taxonomy cause you have to have the basic capabilities in place when you’re ready to really go all in on AI. But, first and foremost, is to not freak out and worry about being left behind when the robots take over. Instead, I strongly believe in taking a step back and look at all of the potential areas that AI might impact your business and assess the lowest hanging fruit based on ease of implementation and elimination of the most mundane tasks. So for NewsCred, it might be auto-tagging content within our platform with your metadata strategy based on titles and copy. As with entering other new markets, or launching new product features, it is about having a plan to start small tests that can then lead to bigger tests, and finally large wins.
How do you inspire your people to work with technology?
It’s not about inspiring our team to use technology, but for us to be inspired by their technology choices. If individuals and teams within NewsCred begin using a certain technology we’ll take a look and decide to roll these out more broadly. That’s how we adopted Slack and now Pendo for analytics. And use the NewsCred Content Marketing Platform for planning and content production. Our approach is all about collaboration and transparency because it aligns with our value of teamwork.
One word that best describes how you work.
Relentless. There are many ups and downs with a startup and quite a few course corrections. The only way I know how to approach the job and the changes in the market is to be relentless in my drive for success across all aspects of the business and to relentlessly meet the needs of our customers.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
Slack because it helps to drive teamwork, transparency, and collaboration. The NewsCred Content Marketing Platform for much the same reasons. I have a view into all of the activities of the company and how we are progressing. From a personal perspective, NFL Sunday Ticket and Kindle apps on my phone and iPad help me to relax during down times.
What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?
I’ve started dictating most of my messages including emails and Slacks. The technology nowadays just works.
What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information?)
I read on my phone or iPad and have started listening to Podcasts as well. Right now, I am reading two books. The first is Sapiens, which surveys the history of humankind, focusing on evolutionary biology. The reason I’m interested is that the main thesis in the book is that humans have been successful because we’re the only animal that can cooperate in large numbers. Teamwork and collaboration are big focuses of development for our platform’s development as we roll out more features that help to facilitate Integrated Marketing. The second book is Moonwalking with Einstein, which is all about improving memory. I not only find it a fascinating topic, but also something I am trying to improve.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“If you’re not being told no often enough, you’re probably not pushing yourself hard enough.”
Something you do better than others — the secret of your success?
Empathy and compassion. It has helped me be a better communicator during the ups and downs of a startup, ensuring that the company stays focused on the long-term objective. In addition, it helps me to relate to customers better and really put myself into their shoes during discussions and ultimately, help to find solutions to their biggest marketing challenges.
Tag the one person (or more) in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read.
Shantanu Narayen, the CEO of Adobe. He’s one of the most underrated CEOs in tech, today.
Thank you, Shafqat! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
“Entrepreneurship is insane perseverance in the face of complete resistance.” A product and sales guy at heart, with deep technology background. Love to manage great teams and lead organizations through/above/around wall.
NewsCred, the leading enterprise content marketing company, empowers the world’s most ambitious brands with powerful technology and a team of unrivaled experts to unlock the value of their content marketing, gain actionable insights and proven business results. Every day, the world’s leading CMOs and marketing leaders from companies including Barclays, Cox Communications, Fidelity, HPE, USAA, Virgin Media, and more rely on NewsCred to orchestrate their marketing across channels, collaborate with global teams, build brand awareness and drive measurable business outcomes. Founded in 2008, NewsCred serves hundreds of customers in over 70 countries from seven global offices. Learn more at NewsCred.com, and join our community at NewsCred Insights.
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.