By his own assessment he “started out as a young, idealistic creative” with a degree in art history. It led him down the path of B2C advertising and it all seemed fine until he stumbled into the world of B2B and was hooked.
He says he spent the next several years as a small agency partner focused on technology clients and “the redeye from San Jose to Atlanta became my new nightmare.”
But it also brought experience. The many stays in a hotel room at the Pacific Inn in Mountain View, yielded business relationships with some of the biggest names in tech: VERITAS, HP, Sun Microsystems, Lockheed Martin, Ariba, Verizon, and Sprint among others.
Our paths first crossed years ago when his firm provided web design and graphics services to a tech startup — my then employer — selling service management software to enterprise IT operations. He’s still with that firm – and reuniting of sorts – but it seems larger and has much bigger ambitions today than it did then.
He is now the chief digital officer for Solodev, which is in part, developing and commercializing its own content management system (CMS). As such he has keen insights into these platforms. As marketers, I’ve found we don’t often think about CMS until there’s a problem – and in my experience, it’s usually a pretty big problem.
I hope that this interview with Matt Garrepy will help give us all something to think about ahead of time. He’s my guest on this edition of the Off Script Q&A series.
1) How would you characterize the state of marketing infrastructure in 2018?
Well, in a word, chaotic. The marketing technology (martech) horizon is noisy and fragmented, and we’re seeing more technologies come online every day. This is breeding “fear of missing out (FOMO), creating a need to adopt or connect before we even ask why we’re connecting in the first place.
Without question, content continues to be the gravitational center of the digital marketing universe – and as it becomes a bigger cornerstone for marketing campaigns, we’re seeing the digital elements used in marketing infrastructure adapt to those needs. Compelling content that caters to a target audience and leads them further down the marketing funnel still remain the foundation for any marketing infrastructure. With more moving parts in campaigns, however, those infrastructures are accommodating for more data and new varieties of content (with video being a continuously growing trend). Martech teams want infrastructures that streamline and automate time-consuming tasks while leveraging more sophisticated and reliable technologies – and brings some relief to the tidal wave of technologies that seem to wash over us.
The other part of the marketing infrastructure story is about metrics. I think a lot of marketers are experiencing “data fatigue,” and some of the insights they’re gleaning are confusing – not clarifying – an already overloaded cache of information. Having the right tools to normalize and aggregate data into the metrics that really matter to is key, and that starts by understanding what numbers have the most significant value to a specific program. This is why tools like progressive profiling and lead scoring have become instrumental in our ability to gauge quality over quantity and leverage the right aspects of data.
In the cybersecurity world, we often equated the data overload from network devices as “drinking from a fire hose.” There’s simply too much coming at us. To survive in 2018 (and beyond), we have to focus the lens on the most critical metrics, and leverage tools that automate the collection and expression of these data points.
2) The day in the life of a marketing executive is a whirlwind. We don’t always think about the infrastructure – platforms and content management systems (CMS) – we rely on to do our jobs. Why is it important?
A whirlwind on some days. A full-blown category 5 hurricane on others. But that’s always been the day in the life of a marketing professional; it’s never the same, and it’s never boring.
This is a key point because the infrastructure we use can make our jobs exponentially easier — or significantly harder. It’s critical for marketing executives to adopt a CMS (or any software platform) that works for their entire team and eases the burden of technical minutiae. This empowers marketers to keenly focus on crafting new and exciting campaigns. A rich, highly functional and effective CMS platform can help marketers quickly craft landing pages in a streamlined manner while giving content managers the ability to develop and test copy that converts and drives leads.
There are a lot of CMS platforms out there. Some are pure-play, others are manipulations of open source, monolithic blog engines. The really exceptional CMS platforms are transparent; we don’t even think about them, because they’re getting the job done. When these solutions become an obstacle and impede the ability for teams to act (or react), they’re no longer benefiting the business goals. That should be the ultimate litmus test. Ask yourself: is this platform helping us to realize business transformation? Are we able to grow and scale? Are we realizing a true ROI on the investment in this infrastructure?
I also believe in a best-of-breed approach to the full martech stack – where CMS, CRM, and marketing automation solutions are independently chosen for their capabilities as they align to your specific business needs. I don’t think a truly effective “one-stop” solution for all layers exists (yet), at least not in a way that is extensible and scalable.
For example, if a company is platformed on Salesforce, I might recommend Pardot as the best component to leverage the full functionality across the ecosystem – and then prescribe a CMS that integrates seamlessly with both of these solutions and meets the lead management directives of the business strategy. There are other variables that can impact the decision making, including industry-specific requirements, compliance and governance, security, and of course, budget.
At the end of the day, technology shouldn’t be driving decisions. It has to start with the business strategy.
3) What are some long-term pitfalls you seen marketers fall into that are rooted in poor decisions about CMS, that didn’t seem obvious at the moment of selection?
Not finding a CMS that allows both marketing and dev teams to thrive. In the heat of the moment, it might be tempting to let developers drive the choice around a CMS, specifically as it relates to integration with existing systems and processes. However, that’s starting to shift, and marketers are taking a more active role in the decision making. This is due in large part to the ease of implementation and the market’s trend toward the cloud. In fact, with Solodev, we’re disrupting the way organizations can even buy CMS – allowing them to purchase a SaaS subscription that is cloud-first and on-demand.
Organizations need to view their CMS and hosting infrastructure as one cohesive ecosystem. Choosing a platform that isn’t built from the ground up for the cloud is a huge mistake; if companies aren’t already in a hybrid cloud scenario, they’re likely considering a complete move in the future – hoping to break the 3- to 5-year hardware cycle and trade CAPEX for OPEX.
With the introduction of DevOps, an advanced CMS can enable businesses and public-sector agencies to control their server capacity, load balancing, and auto-scaling capabilities in ways that were never possible – so their websites can rapidly adapt to unexpected peaks in traffic. While all of this was once the domain of IT, marketers are taking a more active role in these key functional areas, leveraging the automation and professional services of third-party companies to manage not only the content on a website but the performance as well.
The other major pitfall is around the promise of “open source” platforms. There are several large, monolithic monsters that fall into this category, WordPress being the undisputed champion. In addition to having huge market penetration, these open source platforms are supported by vast communities of developers and users – and as a user myself, I can attest to how easy it is to use and manage a WordPress website. Until the day I was hacked.
And that’s the downside: open source means open target, and while the allure of 54,000 plugins is hard to dispute, knowing that more than half of them are vulnerable to exploits is a harrowing reality. For a small business or a solopreneur, the risk might be minimal given the cost to be in a hardened, highly available and redundant CMS that’s hosted in the AWS Cloud. But for serious eCommerce businesses that require absolute uptime and data security, these open source platforms are a ticking time bomb – with huge price tags for remediating functional issues, to say nothing of the potential damage to brand value.
The real question for any business that’s considering a new CMS is around scalability. Where do you want to be in five years? Is there a potential security risk in how you’re collecting data? Are there compliance issues that must be considered as you expand into new markets? With the cloud, you can manage more of the capacity side of the equation – but the CMS journey should always start with a careful business plan that maps your technology needs to your growth needs.
4) What are some key considerations marketing should consider in choosing a CMS?
There are many, but here are some of the most critical:
a) Ease of third-party integrations, specifically with best-of-breed martech and CRM applications;
b) Secure platforms, especially if you’re storing extensive amounts of customer data;
c) Striking the right balance of automation with room for manual customization;
d) Allows for streamlined A/B testing and room for data gathering;
e) Has multi-site, multi-tenant capabilities for managing multiple websites and applications;
f) Integrates with advanced personalization capabilities; and
g) Integrates with robust reporting with customizable dashboards.
Look for a CMS platform that meets your long-term goals and not just your short-term needs. You might need a CMS that has a dynamic data feature you love, but in the long run, if your content contributors are struggling with a larger issue, then it might not be the best investment for your marketing team’s sanity.
The biggest must-have for the CMS of the future? Decoupled or “headless” capabilities.
What is this headless thing, you ask? Well, in a nutshell: some CMS solutions are purely monolithic (like WordPress), where the website theme and frontend framework are “baked in” to the CMS itself; headless CMS breaks those components away from the core. This enables greater control over what specific frontend layers can be managed – not just content on websites, but mobile applications, smartwatches, voice-activated AI systems (like Alexa), and even screen readers for the low vision or blind community.
Choosing a CMS that allows for a “hybrid headless” environment – where frontend themes can be managed alongside apps, and data can be shared seamlessly – is the best bet. It just so happens that Solodev is leading the market in this area.
See these related interviews:
The Evolution of Event Marketing; Off Script #27: Mark Granovsky
Confusion, Technology and Talent in Marketing; Off Script #26: Frank Pollock
Without Marketing You’re Just the Business…Off Script #25: Steve Olenski
5) Moving from one CMS to another can be a complex undertaking, especially for larger businesses. What are some things marketing shops should plan for along the way?
It’s almost inevitable that a company outgrows its CMS, especially if it invests very little at the start (AKA picks the “free” option). The lack of scalability and integration is almost always the greatest motivator for making a move to an entirely new platform.
Marketing shops should plan for the worst – just like any other disaster recovery strategy. Always remember to store duplicates of marketing assets so nothing gets lost in the transfer.
Or… you can offset those fears by finding a new CMS partner who has a proven track record in successfully migrating your old website onto a new CMS platform. For example, Solodev has a history of migrating thousands of WordPress pages onto our platform. We’ve perfected the migration process, having moved tens of thousands of pages successfully for our clients. This has been a combination of manual human management and automated (and ingenious, if I might add) script development, allowing us to crawl and “scrape” pages for a specific data structure. Not many CMS companies have that kind of track record, and it’s a point of pride for us.
I think the key thing is to not fear the unknown or allow it to limit your move. Talk to CMS providers about your perceived goals and challenges. How many pages do you plan to move? Are you developing new content? The more complete your plan is, the more attainable a migration strategy will be.
6) Bloggers (76%) overwhelmingly prefer WordPress as the CMS of choice. I’m a huge advocate of WordPress. I believe WordPress has an ecosystem that no other platform does. Where am I going wrong?
I get it. It’s hard to argue with the ubiquity, accessibility, and overall market penetration of WordPress. It’s actually the best platform on the planet for some applications, specifically blogs. Let’s try to explore the pros and cons.
With regard to the overwhelming number of bloggers using WordPress, I’d like to ask, “Which WordPress?” WordPress.org – the open-source CMS platform? Or WordPress.com – the WYSIWYG blogging builder? In either scenario, the biggest attraction for many users boils down to one word: “free.” That said, there’s no such thing as a “free lunch.”
Let’s assume you’re a freelance writer or blogger using WordPress.org – the free, open source version beloved by so many businesses big and small. If you happen to have an understanding of basic code, you can make a plain, simple, functional website. But what if your blogging career suddenly takes off and you want to import a third-party resource like MailChimp? That’ll cost you. Additional plugins? Add that to your costs. And if you’re a newbie who doesn’t understand the platform, expect to hire a development team to talk you through issues – because WordPress doesn’t actually offer customer support of its own. Those are just a few of the cosmetic issues stemming from single-user WordPress sites. Maybe you can roll with them, but they become more exponentially more painful and less manageable for the enterprise, where scalability is the key to accelerating growth.
Along the same scalability argument, WordPress is hampered in its ability to customize around the user experience. In most cases, the built-in themes and off-the-shelf templates that are native to WordPress may seem attractive, but in accepting what’s given, are we really pursuing the best UI/UX – or simply compromising around what’s available? Ten years ago, designers and developers were free to pursue the best experience possible; with WordPress, we see a “sea of sameness,” where website after website is drowning in the same predictable morass. For brands that care about customizing their user experiences, WordPress is simply not an option.
Cost doesn’t even include the price incurred by faulty security – thanks to WordPress’s “there’s a plugin for that” culture. Here’s a staggering face: the top 50 WordPress plugins are all susceptible to SQL intrusions. And guess what? In order to patch the holes in your plugin security, you have to download yet another plugin.
If your company doesn’t have a dedicated DevOps team, expect your WordPress website to have issues. Of the nearly 4,000 WordPress security vulnerabilities, over 50% come from WordPress plugins. If you’re a small online business who consistently deals with sensitive user data, you cannot afford to have a faulty plugin or theme fail your customers.
Updates – those critical elements of any healthy website – are also an issue with plugins, and often go to the wayside for a majority of plugin-laden websites. Web managers fear losing everything because it’s happened time and time again. At Solodev, we’re currently migrating an ecosystem of 3,000 websites from WordPress; in this instance, the client had been haunted by frequent problems with upgrades due to their customized environment. So instead, they stopped their auto updates altogether. How can you scale when your software isn’t up to date?
7) Just for fun; fill in the blank:
- One company with marketing you admire is…Dollar Shave Club.
- Your favorite marketing campaign of all time is…the “I am a Princess” campaign by Disney.
- One marketing tool you can’t live without is…Ahrefs.
- One person you recommend following on Twitter is…Elon Musk.
- One publication or blog you read regularly is…Solodev on Medium (just kidding); HubSpot’s blog.
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You can find more from Matt on Twitter and LinkedIn. Thanks, Matt!
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Photo credit: Pixabay