Velocitize talks: Alex Price on the future of WordPress, personalisation, and AI

Author - Sasha Suzdaleva

Posted By Sasha Suzdaleva Marketing, Events & Community Manager

Date posted 7th Feb 2020

Category News

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Recently, Alex Price, Founder of 93digital was invited back to Velocitize Talks with Andy North, Director of Communications, WP Engine. They discussed all thing WordPress, the state of personalisation in marketing, and whether story telling in B2B marketing still matters. You can watch the full video here, or have a read below.

AN: Having been around WordPress for a long time, how have you seen WordPress work it’s way up into the enterprise, and what excites you about WordPress right now?

AP: When I started, WordPress was a simple blogging tool. Back then, I don’t think the idea that it would become an enterprise CMS was even on the radar. But now, at 93digital we’re taking projects with sites built on Sitecore, Kentico, Episerver. These are considered more traditional enterprise CMS’s where clients would have paid £1000’s just for the license. This is before they start on any development, strategy, or design work.

The exciting thing with WordPress is that we’re really empowering marketing teams with the flexibility they need in a more accessible way. All because WordPress is now capable of serving that enterprise end of the market. There are still things that WordPress is not perfect for, and some environments where it might not be best suited to. But now you can do personalisation, have multilingual, and create flexible CMS’s. We can do all the things that come up fairly regularly for us as pain points with the different marketing teams that we’re working with. 

AN: Are you clients more savvy about WordPress now? Is it the case that they come to you and they know that you’re a WordPress expert and want to built on WordPress, or is it more of the case that ‘It doesn’t matter what CMS, but we just want the right results’? 

AP: I think a really interesting trend for me comes from the evolution of the marketing role as they progress in their seniority. We’re working with VPs, Marketing Directors, CMO’s, who 5-10 years ago were more junior, marketing executives or digital marketing managers. In their day to day, they were inside CMS’s, and using WordPress in smaller companies. They like it, and it does what they need, so they just take WordPress with them as they grow, and evolve personally. Essentially, they become an internal champion of WordPress as a product.

AN: There’s been a lot of technology that’s come online recently, particularly with machine learning and artificial intelligence. Are there any technologies that you’re excited about, or are using with any of your clients?

AP: The ecosystem is huge now. There are so many startups. Particularly in the MarTech space, who are producing tools and platforms that promise all kind of results through the use of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and similar technologies. At 93digital, we’ve used some interesting tools that allow us to improve content recommendations. For example, generally, if you scroll to a bottom of a piece of content in a WordPress site and it says: ‘Here are 3 related posts that you may be interested in.’ Traditionally, this algorithm is very simple. It would show you posts that are in the same category, in chronological order. But aside from that, its really just a guess that you might be interested in those 3 posts.

Instead, there’s an AI tool called Bibblio that we have been integrating into some of the WordPress sites. Bibblio effectively consumes all content on the site, (even if you have 10,000 blog posts!) through natural language processing. It will then find the key themes and topics in the site and the piece of content that you’re reading. Based on this, Biblio will then make recommendations on what you you might want to read next relating to that theme.

AN: WordPress is now on about 35% of the web. Do you see it continuing to grow, given that it’s open source, or do you think it will hit the ceiling?  

AP: Good question. Inevitably there will be some kind of upper limit and ceiling that’s hit. I think a lot of it is dependant on how WordPress continues to evolve and meet the needs of its users. Gutenburg at the end of last year is a good addition to the WordPress ecosystem. The infrastructure ecosystem behind it also continues to evolve. With companies like WP Engine doing the hosting infrastructure side, in the more enterprise space. There is more of a commercial edge to the WorldPress world that continues to grow, that we haven’t seen before.

To really answer the question, you almost  have to split the market in half. With daily users, small business, and bloggers on one side, and the enterprise part of the market on the other. The enterprise side is definitely one that continuous to grow. The smaller part of the market is not one that we’re that active in but, I suspect it will also continue to grow.

AN: Personalisation seems to be the holy grail of marketers right now, are we there yet? Have we cracked that nut yet from a marketing standpoint? Are you seeing any of your clients coming to you saying that they really want personalisation?

AP: I definitely don’t think that we have cracked it by any means, and I think were a long way away. I don’t think I have come across any organisation or client yet that can say that ‘they’re truly there’. Because personalisation is driven by data, it’s constantly being optimised. As a result, you can never really say ‘we’ve done it’. It’s also important to define personalisation. There are basic use cases of personalisation. For example you can install a piece of software on your website, and the second time someone comes back to your site, there will be a personal message saying ‘welcome back’. That’s a very simple use case that isn’t technically that difficult to implement.

Personalisation is about having strong foundations. There’s so much that needs to be in place before you can say that you’re ready to do it on any kind of scale. It relies on really good data, the correct tools and technology, CRM, people and processes, as much as it relies on technology. I think there’s a long way to go before anyone can say that were truly there with personalisation. But everyone is heading that way.

AN: There has been a big rise in content marketing. What is some of the more innovative content that you have seen with your clients that has really worked for them?

AP: For our clients being able to use much more data driven content is really interesting. Leading content marketing strategies with large pieces of research or data. This will allow you to turn the data into all kinds of different assets.

For example, you can build a one page microsite that has lots of digital infographics. The visitor can roll over the infographic, and explore data. You can then turn it into a whitepaper that can be a piece of gated content on the website. You also have 20 blog posts off the back of it, and lots of statistics to use for social media. By investing more into data and research you can generate interesting insights that you can feed into your content. This will not only position you as a thought leader at the centre of your industry, but will allow you to create content that resonates with people. This achieves a level of engagement that your ‘Top 10 things to do in this location’ blog post is probably not going to do any more.

AN: Do you think that authentic story telling is still possible in this age, with such short, limited attention spans?

AP: I’m a massive believer in the power of story telling. Particularly as a B2B marketer that likes performance and numbers that prove ROI. I really try to level that out with the belief that there’s an emotional side to marketing. This comes through the power of story telling that a lot of B2B businesses miss out on. It’s too easy to get strapped to your seat and get distracted by short term, data driven goals.  ‘How did this campaign perform in the last 30 days?’ ‘What’s our cost per click on Linkedin for this campaign?’ But how can you measure the power of your brand in 5 years not 5 months? What’s your net promoter score in 3 years from working with someone versus 2 months time?

I think its difficult, and I sympathise with a lot of marketers. As often, they’re in environments where they have to go back to their business and report on their success, and put forward ideas. I think theres a balance between brand marketing and performance marketing that’s hard to find.

AN: Are there any technology challenges, issues, or marketing concerns that keep you awake at night?

AP: Even I struggle to figure out how I have been retargeted by a certain business or product on Facebook or Instagram. Often after a search on a laptop or a different devise with no connection to the sites. Or you hear stories of people saying ‘oh, we’ve been talking about dog food’ next to our Alexa. Two days later they have a dog food advertisement on their computer. There are all these stories that we hear, and there is no real transparency. I know a lot of the big tech companies are trying to at least make it look like they’re working on this. But even for people deep in the industry, it can be hard to connect the dots.

AN: Do you see brands leading more with their values and purpose now?

AP: It relates to the story telling point. I think we’re in a world now where, whether its trying to attract talent to work for you, to sell more, or to have a mission statement that resonates, you have to lead with values and purpose to achieve all of those things. Even though marketing is changing so fast, those kinds of things are the pillars and the foundations of marketing. If you read a brand or marketing book from 50 years ago, long before digital marketing existed, those would still be the things in the book… Right? And if you read that book now, a lot of that now would still resonate, and still would be true. For me they are the foundational pillars of marketing and a brand.

AN: Is there a book, blog, or a podcast that you would like to recommend to our viewers?

AP: Favourite podcast at the moment is the Masters of Scale, by Reid Hoffman, who is the founder of Linkedin. We also run our own podcast called FINITE here too. FINITE is a community for B2B marketers in the technology and SaaS space, where we frequently talk to marketing VPs, Directors and CMOs about their challenges and interests.

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