Interview with Randy Wootton, CEO, Percolate

Randy Wootton
Randy Wootton

“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.”

Tell us about your role at Percolate and how you got here. What inspired you to join a marketing technology company?

In 1995, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers wrote a book titled, The One to One Future, and in it, they outlined the promise of 1:1 marketing — essentially getting the right message to the right person at the right time. Fast forward 25 years, and we’re still wrestling with the challenge of delivering audience-centric experiences. I’ve been grappling with making the promise of personalization real since 1999 when I started as the Customer Targeting product manager at Avenue A (one of the first all-digital agencies).

Since the beginning of my career, we’ve seen had an explosion of channels, markets and devices — all of which needed more personalized content. However, we have been limited by the cost of creative — specifically the cost to produce the content in terms of people and dollars.

That’s what brought me to Percolate. Percolate is the Content Marketing Platform, and I’m excited at the power our platform can have to solve The Content Bottleneck by helping businesses deliver on The One to One Future’s promise of personalized marketing.

What’s the most fascinating aspect of leading a content analytics team in an AI-driven era?

Over the past two years, we’ve seen advancements in applied AI in the marketing industry, with IBM pushing its Watson AI more aggressively and Salesforce launching Einstein as Marc Benioff touts an “AI-first world.” There are many things driving this, but principal among them is that “Big Data” has now become Immense Data and the challenges of collecting, processing and acting have multiplied exponentially.

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.

Predictive marketers who want to take advantage of this data, to create meaningful experiences in the moments that matter, need the computing power to augment both their ability to understand, act and respond in real-time — what we call Applied AI. To tie all the pieces together, marketers need the ability to learn from the data and improve the specificity of a campaign — getting the right creative to the right audience at the right time. With the amount of data being assembled and put to use, an amount that is beyond human scale, artificial intelligence provides the most effective way to process the data and make informed decisions.

Given the changing dynamic of user-generated content and influencers, where do you see Percolate fitting into a CMO’s tech stack?

The growing proliferation of internet-enabled devices is changing the way we work and live. We awaken to a smart device connected to a smart home, our smart cars can back themselves out of the driveway. And while as consumers we delight in these connected experiences, as business people who must meet the heightened expectations these experiences create, there is real pressure for our businesses to transform at the pace of expectation.

Going forward, content marketing will be how brands will communicate their responsiveness to changing expectations.

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.

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.

What does your ‘ideal customer’ profile look like? Which new geographies are you currently targeting?

IBM released a CMO study recently that we have been referencing quite a bit lately. They identify key archetypes within an organization and the ‘mindset’ that each exhibit.

In this report, they identify three marketing archetypes: Reinventors, Practitioners and Aspirationals. Reinventors — representing about 30% of the total — are the standouts. IBM reports that these folks outperform their peers in both revenue growth and profitability, and lead as well in innovation.

In every successful implementation of Percolate, we find there is a “reinventor” who is the executive sponsor of radical change — the person who gets the problem has defined a strategy and is confident in their ability to see what others don’t. This is our ideal customer. Beyond that, we look to specific job roles in enterprise companies who understand the need for a platform like ours: ops/IT/leadership (CMO/CIO)/ content/marketing).

What are your thoughts on the future of ‘AR/VR/video’ in full-funnel content marketing campaigns?

Much like 3D printing, AR/VR for marketing feels like a promising technology — but one that is still looking for a problem to solve. From what I can tell, AR/VR is showing up in marketing for retailers and brands who are looking for a way to survive in an Amazon world. Amazon won and will continue to win the efficiency war in terms of supply chain optimization. Today, the existential question facing all “brick and mortar” retailers is how can they win with in-store experience? The transformational opportunity for retailers is if they can convert inefficient (in terms of money spent vs. money made) retail space by creating a cool VR/AR-augmented experience to pull shoppers in

For example, I was just in the AT&T store in Union Square in San Francisco where they had launched a co-promotion with Westworld (the HBO TV show about dystopia in the not-too-distant future). From a brand-building/ROI perspective what is really interesting is that they had converted the entire second floor of some of the most expensive real estate in San Francisco into a branded Westworld museum/experience.

This type of augmented experience is the harbinger of things to come and we will see more retailers using AR/VR to lure folks into experiences rather than try and compete with Amazon’s efficiency dominance. Moreover, I think it is a brilliant “brand” building opportunity when trying to engage millennials in particular who–all the research shows are spending less on goods and more on experiences.

What startups in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now?

I tend to notice those startups that are disrupting a category or solving a specific “pain point” in a unique way through technology. At Percolate, we are relentlessly focused on how marketers unlock the potential of their teams to deliver the highest quality content to their customers. Solving the pain of the “content bottleneck” influences almost every decision we make. The companies below are also solving pain points, and changing the way people work. It will be interesting to see their journeys.

I’ve been hearing buzz around Superhuman and I think what they are trying to do is interesting. I don’t know one person who says their inbox is under control. They are trying to disrupt with their product and make managing your email more feasible. Over 50,000 people are on the waitlist to try it and experience a set of really compelling features. The key will be adoption and if people can break their current email habits.

Another startup that is interesting to watch is BetterUp. Staying with the disruption theme, they are taking 1:1 coaching and making it accessible for companies who don’t have the time or money to coach employees at scale. It’s a way for employees to have mentorship in a fast-paced world where we never have enough time to connect.

The last company is Gusto. I really like their mission and vision for one of the hardest pieces to build in a startup. Being able to spin up a solid HR function is not easy and this product might help companies like ours be more efficient.

What marketing and sales automation tools and technologies do you currently use?

Over the last two years, Percolate has moved from a high volume, point solution GTM motion focused on the mid-market to one that focuses on selling a platform solution to the marketing decision makers at the world’s largest enterprise companies. We have evolved our marketing model to be more of an account-based marketing motion as part of this shift in strategy. As many of your readers will know, embracing an ABM motion is a huge commitment and requires a deliberate strategy supported by specific technology. You won’t be surprised to learn we actually use Percolate to plan and run our omnichannel marketing. We have built integrations with the usual suspects including: Marketo, Salesforce, GoToWebinar, Pendo, LinkedIn to enable us to close the loop on what campaigns-and content — is working for which personas in our target list. We are actually in the throes of evaluating several vendors to deliver more capabilities in line with the strategy outlined above so check back with me in 6 months for where we ended up.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?

All business leaders are overwhelmed by optionality — i.e., there are infinite problems to consider and options to choose from. The key is understanding what broader trends and/or threats are ones that you need to prepare for today, next year or in the next 5 years. To paraphrase Andy Grove — the long-time CEO of Intel: “Market share is often gained in moments of transition.” And I think we are in the middle of one of those epic moments of transition. It was the reason I left Salesforce to join RocketFuel. I thought the volume and velocity of data had outstripped our ability to process it and the only way forward was in an AI-augmented world. I think the first step in preparing for an AI-centric world is understanding the reality of AI. AI today, for marketers, sits in three areas: natural language processing (for chatbots), deep learning (analytics) for insights, and real-time interaction.

The second step with regards to preparing for an AI world is to think deeply about what processes should be automated and which could be augmented by AI — i.e., which ones could benefit from applying machine learning to massive data sets. There will certainly be some manual tasks — and by extension entire jobs (e.g., pulling data and creating excel reports) — that will be replaced by AI-powered processes.  But some companies, like Salesforce, use AI to turn employees into superheroes, instead of replacing them.

The third step requires creating clean training data. Large companies today have lots and lots of data stored in many — siloed databases, but if it’s not structured in specific ways it may not be useful for certain machine learning approaches. Marketers can make tremendous steps forward by creating a coordinated tech strategy & data taxonomy such that you create access to enough features to enable AI-powered algorithms to learn.

Finally, you have to hire data scientists who have the time and capacity to dedicate to looking for insights and helping to teach the AI v/s just generating reports. Unfortunately, everyone is looking to hire data scientists and they are really expensive. In this case, you may want to look for a consultancy to help you get your AI program up and running. Once you build the model, the idea is that machines will learn over time.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

I have been working in the technology industry — specifically the internet tech space — for almost 20 years. And while I continue to be amazed by the potential of tech to change our lives, I — as a business leader — am most interested in how technology can make teams and organizations more effective. I encourage my teams to work with technology by providing them with resources that help them organize and work more efficiently.

What is one word that best describes how you work?

Engaged — fully.

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

I’m probably pretty boring in that most of my must-have applications are the standard work/life productivity tools (email, calendar, maps). I do really like having an app for my car that helps me find it in the parking lot and turn on the climate control before I show up on hot days. It will be better when the car does this on its own — i.e., it knows when I have landed and sends me a map to my car and turns on the climate control to get it to my preferred temp.

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

I have become a convert to GDocs. I find the ability to develop content and comment on presentations and documents asynchronously extremely valuable. I tend to get up very early in the morning so I am able to consume, process and provide feedback on a lot of information before most people are up and before I lose myself to a day full  of meetings

What are you currently reading?

I just finished re-reading Play Bigger; the idea of creating a category is directly relevant to Percolate as we continue our pivot out of Social Media Monitoring and into Content Marketing. I would say that is often how I determine what I will read for business. Define what is the problem I am wrestling with, find the one or two best books on the topic and then explore the bibliography for other materials. I also read Harvard Business Review every month and consume an inordinate amount of analyst reports from Forrester and Gartner in particular. Our industry is changing so fast, it is almost too fast for book publishers to keep up.

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

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.

What is something you do better than others – the secret of your success?

I am still working that out. But what I do know is I am inherently curious and passionate about all facets of the business and am always operating at the edge of my own ignorance. To me, to be a successful CEO, you have to fall in love with all functions of an organization and grow beyond your individual superpower. And the best part of being a CEO is the opportunity to learn about all facets of a business and a category.

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

Elon Musk

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

Randy began his career helping Microsoft and Salesforce achieve triple-digit revenue growth rates by focusing on our customers’ thorniest problems. He has brought this same approach to RocketFuel & now Percolate where he continue to focus on strategies that will help make marketing more meaningful for both consumers and brands.

Percolate
Percolate’s complete web and mobile software platform helps the world’s leading brands and agencies deliver unified, inspired customer experiences across all marketing channels. By automating repetitive work, improving team collaboration and delivering unique brand insights, Percolate is The System of Record for Marketing that helps businesses reduce marketing costs and capture widespread efficiency gains.

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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