We recently caught up with Kirsten Allegri Williams, CMO of Episerver, to find out more about her role and how Covid-19 has impacted her day-to-day working life.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
As CMO of Episerver, I lead global marketing and communication strategy, which includes four marketing pillars working cross-functionality: corporate and executive communications, product and audience marketing, demand generation and field marketing, and brand and digital.
Newly appointed to this position and having spent nearly two decades at SAP, I’ve been on a listening and learning tour to identify areas of marketing excellence, including any gaps that may exist, and to get a keen sense of how marketing does and should work with our colleagues in other areas of the business to execute towards the goal of helping our customers compete digitally.
We’ve been moving quickly, though. Soon after my onboarding, the marketing leadership team mobilised for a departmental roadmap, which included the brand consolidations of Idio and Insite – both Q4 2019 acquisitions – into Episerver. Prior to that, on the day we announced my hiring, we launched Episerver Intelligence Cloud which brings together Idio’s analytics and personalisation capabilities with Episerver’s existing intelligence offerings. It’s been incredibly inspiring to see the work already in progress and to strategise for the next phase of growth.
How has your typical day been impacted by the pandemic?
There’s more communication involved in our day-to-day than ever. Since we can’t rely on catching up at the next in-person meeting or networking event, we must reach out to each other proactively to ensure members of our global community have someone to share an idea with or gather best practices from.
I feel very fortunate to have used this period as an opportunity to expand my global network of CMOs who are incredibly generous with their time, including Episerver customers who have shown tremendous agility adapting to this digital-first world. The digital thread that now weaves us together empowers professionals to have those critical discussions with peers and learn from each other as we all navigate a changing market, day in and day out.
What are your favourite tools and techniques to help you get your work done at the moment?
Being impact obsessed, I’m currently super impressed and inspired by Episerver Content Intelligence. It shows our customers and our own teams what is being searched for on their sites/our sites, what content is truly resonating and which content they/we should be producing to get closer to our customers’ needs. Additionally, marketers receive real-time content audits, insights on how to improve their content strategy, and how to prove the ROI of their content at a granular level by topic keywords — it’s content gold.
Which companies have impressed you during the pandemic?
Innovative brands are changing the definition of what it means to connect, create and collaborate in light of Covid-19 making it difficult, if not impossible, to be in the same room together safely. Milan Fashion Week, for example, brought the real-world experience of being at a show online – while guests could social distance from a front-row seat on their screen of choice. We’d all love to share the physical energy of an incredible show, but Milan Fashion Week is an excellent example of how this pandemic is a change agent for digital and content-led experiences that can mirror in-person interactions – and that’s super impressive to me.
Other companies that are super impressive to me are the ones showing incredible digital agility. Canadian supermarket Mayrand, for example, went from launching a website with the objective of serving its business partners (B2B) to one serving its communities for food delivery (B2C) nearly overnight. Mayrand has told us its more at-risk customers like senior citizens tearfully thank them because they’ve regained their independence by being able to easily order their food shopping online during the pandemic. Empathy served digitally will always be impressive.
What changes are you making to help your company connect with how people are feeling and experiencing the pandemic?
Proactive communication and empathy-led conversations are always vital, but the pandemic requires an even greater need to check in on employees through open-communication channels. We’ve made a variety of changes to connect with our teams, including frequent “voice of Epi” employee surveys to monitor changes over time with how team members are feeling about the current situation (stormy to sunny), their thoughts on topics like returning to the office, and their general work life situation – since it’s so vastly different for everyone.
Additionally, other internal communication efforts have adapted to the times like our internal “Episodes” webinars, which quickly pivoted from company-related topics to work-from-home topics — including home schooling and exercise, and fun escapes such as an employee game show and entertainment show.
More seriously, we want our employees to know we are hyper-empathetic to the cultural sensitivity of today’s times – launching and investing more in our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts through a newly formed Council. The Council organises company-wide events like the observation of International Nelson Mandela Day, when we held multiple educational settings throughout the day to honour Mandela’s inspiring work and use it as teachable moments for us all about social injustice, and what actions we can take as a company and as individuals. We must treat employees as their whole selves and that means continuously adapting to the health and social changes of today.
What trends have you seen in the last few weeks in your sector?
We see companies digitising their businesses and going on a digital transformation process that once took years and is now happening in months – and believe it or not, sometimes weeks. For the foreseeable future, a company’s digital presence will be the entirety of how it can reach customers. This is particularly true in commerce scenarios where companies may have relied on partner-selling channels or brick-and-mortar sales to transact, but now those channels are strained.
We all know the value of retailers being able to sell online, but industries like manufacturing, distribution, commercial services and other B2B-focused organisations, also tell us that the number one opportunity for them currently is selling direct to customers online. And importantly, customers expect it. The need to add ecommerce must be done with incredible speed and scale. Companies need to add ecommerce quickly and know they can add more robust functionality as they grow and as they see the revenue coming in from their initial investments.
What advice would you give a marketer right now?
In two words: digital agility. It has traditionally been a challenge to balance marketing investments between traditional and digital spend, but in the span of just six to eight weeks, many of us became completely digital. Since we are all competing digitally, differentiating your brand experience and being relevant with the content you are providing is critical to standout.
Marketers need to decode the world and seed new strategies because there is growth in new unexpected areas. The job of the marketer is to get in front of those opportunities and create an impactful digital strategy. As CMO of Episerver, I believe we need to help growing companies analyse fast and adapt quicker.
Take Carestream Dental as an example – when dentists were forced to close their doors due to COVID-19 concerns, Carestream Dental (one of Episerver’s clients) pivoted from using their website as a marketing and sales driver to one providing customer guidance through a new content strategy. Marketers need the ability to launch new campaigns and new content quickly like Carestream was able to do. The alternative is delivering messaging that is tone deaf to the times because a marketer can’t make changes to their own site or, worse, not being able to launch content campaigns at all without developer help.
What does long term planning and strategy look like now at your company?
While it’s always a goal to think more proactive than reactive, Q2 2020 was unique in that a plan and strategy that made sense a week prior just didn’t resonate with the times a week later.
In Q2, Episerver very much took a daily and weekly approach to planning – any long-term plans were tabled in place of immediate customer needs. Knowing our customers could act agilely to serve their own customers, we then could expand our marketing roadmap further. We’ve planned through H2 in a digital-first, highly empathetic manner and are learning a lot from our customers along the way.