Six questions for our new CMO, Shafqat Islam
Alex Atzberger: Now that you've stepped into the CMO role, what are you looking forward to when it comes to growing Optimizely's marketing presence in the world?
Shafqat Islam: I think it's a privilege to be a CMO at a category creator and leader. We are the leader in almost every category (for example, DXP) that we play. But more interestingly, we also invented and built some of the most important categories in the marketing world - from Experimentation to Content Marketing Platforms. I know from personal experience how category creation is both challenging but also rewarding.
There's a lot to look forward to - we have an exceptional team of young marketing leaders and practitioners. They are fiercely intelligent, optimistic, and care deeply. We also have an exceptional brand, so my focus is to turn that brand power into consistent, repeatable demand. I'm also excited about reinventing how marketing is done. For example, I'm encouraging the team to do zero-based budgeting, experiment continuously, embrace failure, take risks, use tools (like our CMP) in novel ways, etc.
Alex Atzberger: What makes Optimizely unique?
Shafqat Islam: The list is long, But we are category creators in experimentation and CMP. We are market leaders in seven analyst reports. With the combination of our CMS + CMP + DAM, we can power the entire content lifecycle. With our capabilities in personalization, experimentation and AI, we can combine the art + science of marketing like no other company in the world. Our financial metrics are arguably some of the best in the SaaS world. The 1500 people who work here are incredible. How much time do you have Alex? I can keep going.
Alex Atzberger: Being a CMO talking to other CMOs and marketing leaders is an advantage. You know the customer. But you’ve also built tech products. How does that affect your work now?
Shafqat Islam: I've spent the majority of my adult life building products for marketers. So I've been lucky to spend so much time talking to CMOs and marketers in almost every type of company all over the world. As the founder/CEO of Welcome, my approach was to always solve marketer challenges by building products. But now as CMO, I get to use the products we build. We're practitioners of all of our own solutions, so I've developed a lot of empathy for marketers. As a product builder, I knew that we need to always speak to business outcomes. But as CMO, I realize it can't just be talking - we need to walk the walk. I'm accountable for delivering pipeline and bookings.
Because I was an entrepreneur for so long, I also bring another unique view - which is my ability (and desire!) to take on risk. I love to try things, even if they are sometimes surprising or shocking. I truly believe that when it comes to experimentation, there are no failures, only learnings.
Alex Atzberger: What are the biggest challenges you’re hearing from our customers, current and potential?
Shafqat Islam: Let's be real - the biggest challenge is delivering enough pipeline, bookings or sales despite all the economic headwinds. And marketers need to do this with lower marketing budgets, which means we have less CAC to play with. The math just becomes hard, so squeezing out every ounce of efficiency matters. With that said, in tough times, I think the strongest brands cannot just survive but also thrive. I also think when others are fearful, that may be the time to invest aggressively.
There are other challenges as well. One that comes to mind is the ever-expanding amount of customer touchpoints. This is simultaneously a huge challenge for marketers and an exciting opportunity. More data means more effective storytelling – if you can use it right.
Another challenge that comes to mind is how high the bar is for a good buying experience. Customer expectations come from everywhere at once, and they are always escalating. If Amazon provides a great experience, a customer will take those expectations with them to their next purchase, wherever it is. To keep up, everybody needs the ability to uncover customer insights and create high-performing experiences in the blink of an eye.
That's why marketers need a shared space for collaboration, not just within companies but in the whole industry. The role of the marketer is expansive, and it’s only getting more so. There's no way we can keep up with all that's going on unless we build a community where we can share knowledge. That's what the reinvention of marketing looks like.
Alex Atzberger: What is next for digital? What will marketers be talking about six months from now?
Shafqat Islam: Looking around now, it’s clear that 2023 will be the year that AI-generated content will enter the marketing mainstream. Across the landscape, there’s already buzz about ChatGPT and its capabilities, and platforms are already making space to integrate AI functionality into their offerings. It could be an exciting way for users to become better equipped to create and share high-quality content faster than ever. But there are also going to be adjustments in how the industry thinks and works. It will be interesting to see if this trend fizzles out or sticks around.
Customers are also tougher to understand than ever before. Every screen they see daily is personalized, whether it’s their Netflix account or social feeds, or even their banking app. So, when I see a site that isn’t personalized, I kind of scratch my head and wonder, why? With personalization now the norm, expectations for digital creators are sky-high.
But the biggest trend on my mind is experimentation. Every day, we see teams using it to a greater and greater extent, and watching them succeed is encouraging. Next up for marketers and digital leaders is creating a culture of experimentation to be a foundation for that success. That means creating a space where people feel free to experiment and think of it as something they should always do. Making data-informed decisions, testing and learning, and having an agile mindset should be a part of every company process.
Alex Atzberger: What do you think is next for marketers?
Shafqat Islam: Marketers need to think about ROI. They need to ask themselves how much they are getting back from the investments they make in the tools they use and the time they spend using them.
In this context, reducing "work about work" can make a meaningful difference. Embracing better workflows doesn't just mean a better day-to-day experience for the marketer, it is also a way to reduce costs without cutting into your ability to grow as a business. It is the next phase in a much larger project of reinventing how marketing, product, and engineering work together to drive better outcomes for their companies.
For me, this ties back to Optimizely's mission. The more companies we reach and the more teams we help, the more we can empower better work by marketers across all the industries we serve.