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18 Years in Marketing. One Company. Four Big Lessons.

6 minute read
Jake Athey avatar
Approaching 20 years in marketing and sales roles at the same company, there may be a few lessons learned. Here are four.

In 2004, I walked into the Widen headquarters in Madison, Wisc., as a college intern, eager to learn yet unfamiliar with the rapidly evolving marketing technology (martech) space. 2004 was right on the cusp of the SaaS boom, the rise of social media and the launch of the iPhone, so the technology ecosystem was changing, and the world felt it.

From Day 1, it was easy for me to see the exponential value of this emerging industry and how Widen’s digital asset management (DAM) solution fit in. I also quickly learned that the range of opportunities provided to me at Widen would be unmatched — just like the people.

Going Beyond Coffee and Into Martech

On my first day, I sat down with the then VP of sales & marketing, Matthew Gonnering, later Widen’s CEO and now General Manager at Acquia. He explained how Widen was no ordinary organization; it’s an established tech company and family-owned business, and this wouldn’t be a typical internship.

“You could go somewhere else and make coffee or come here and make a real difference,” said Gonnering.

I would dive deep into the marketing technology space, be challenged and dip my toes into nearly every facet of marketing. This lit a fire within me that has never burnt out. After a firm handshake, I walked out that door, unknowingly making one of the best decisions of my life. Matthew has since been my boss, mentor and friend for 18 years. 

Today, Widen is trusted by more than 800 companies and one million users worldwide. In 2021 the company was acquired by Acquia, a digital experience company that empowers thousands of the world’s most ambitious brands to create powerful customer experiences. As the vice president of marketing and sales for Widen, I have learned many lessons over the years.

Here are a few that have stuck with me:

Related Article: What Martech Buyers Need to Know About Products, Platforms and Ecosystems

Think of Marketing as Building a Bridge

As a child, I was always fascinated by the idea of building bridges. I figured becoming a civil engineer was the only route, but I later realized I could be a different type of bridge builder. I could be a bridge builder through marketing — connecting world-class brands with their target audiences to create value and build relationships. My tenure has shown me this is a crucial piece of the marketing puzzle. 

I often remind my colleagues we’re not just providing a tool or a means to manage files and metadata. We’re helping the world’s greatest communicators connect with their audiences in ways that weren’t possible 20 years ago. Marketers’ goals should be outward-looking — helping other organizations flourish. This will not only help you feel a connection beyond your job description, but it'll also help with your work-life balance, providing a mindset that allows you to feel more integrated and fulfilled.

Ensure Alignment Around Your Essential Martech Stack 

Marketing and technology are in a constant state of change. As marketing leaders, we must embrace change by being the change. I’ve learned the most successful marketing teams are the ones that not only invest in emerging technologies but also remain aligned on their martech anchor platforms. In other words, they embrace innovation but also have a common understanding of the systems they can’t live without and around which they have built integrated ecosystems, such as CRMs, CDPs, CMSes and DAMs.

While the digital transformation has brought new technology into the fold, executives must find the right balance of being focused and experimenting. Experimenting with new technologies allows you to be better prepared to pivot in times of disruption, solve problems and maintain competitiveness. But it’s important you don’t lose sight of the three to five essential tools employees rely on daily. As leaders, we must strike this balance for them and ensure they are guided and trained adequately on all technology capabilities and functions.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: 5 Insights Into the 9,932-Marketing Technology Landscape

Live By a Subscribers-Rule Mentality 

There’s no greater thrill than to be marketing martech to the world’s greatest marketers. But, "with great power comes great responsibility," and as marketers, it’s our job to uphold this. We have a responsibility to know and understand our audiences and customers, not just the personas, and we must defeat the “habits of time” in marketing.

For example, buying and blasting mass lists for lead generation. This is ineffective. We must take the time to get to know our audiences’ needs on a personal level, whether that be listening and connecting on social media or networking at events and summits. I’ve learned that connecting on a human level will help build a base who become your customers, fans, advocates, challengers, feedback givers and colleagues. 

If you’re ready to take on this mindset, there are three components you must follow. First, make sure you are serving the individual and personalizing your messaging to them. Second, honor your subscribers’ preferences whether that’s frequency of messages, channels or types of content. Third, make sure that every communication you have delivers value. If you’re a strategic partner and asset to your audiences, your company will thrive. 

There’s Nothing Bigger Than the Brand

At the end of the day, brand is the tie that binds. Your fancy collaboration tools, your expanded marketing budget and your new product feature will fall flat if your brand reputation is rocky and there’s misalignment with your audience.

Customer experience is the brand, and the brand is the customer experience. 

That's why there's nothing more fulfilling to me than having spent my career at one company where I feel deeply passionate about the mission and have developed long-lasting relationships with both customers and colleagues. I’ve had the pleasure of watching Widen and the DAM industry grow, and it feels like I’m just getting started, especially now that we are part of the Acquia family.

Remember a few things. Celebrate every win, stop to smell the roses, ring the gong, or play the Eye of the Tiger when that big deal closes. Fulfillment at work will always be key, and that’s why I’m celebrating my almost 20 years in marketing technology at Widen.

About the author

Jake Athey

Jake Athey is VP of marketing and customer experience at Widen, where he helps organizations realize their maximum marketing potential by communicating the value of Digital Asset Management (DAM) as part of core brand and marketing channel strategies. An integral member of the content strategy team, he oversees and manages all of the moving parts of content strategy, brand consistency, sales and more.

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