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Meeting the needs of Marketing and Digital Experience - a conversation with Contentstack CMO Gurdeep Dhillon

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher April 2, 2024
Summary:
Contentstack’s new CMO focuses on efficient growth of the company and composable DXP category

Gurdeep Dhillon
Gurdeep Dhillon

Gurdeep Dhillon has more than a little bit of experience working in Customer and Digital Experience. He worked his way up through the ranks of SAP, ending up running all of its demand generation for the SAP Customer Experience business, then shifted to Marketo to do the same. 

When Adobe acquired Marketo, Dhillon focused on bringing together the Marketo and Magneto (also acquired by Adobe) teams. He’s spent the last four years as CMO of Zuora as SVP of Growth and then CMO, honing his experience with an IT audience. Now, Dhillon is the new CMO at Contentstack, and he's coming in with some big plans for the composable Digital Experience Platform (DXP) and the composable DXP category as a whole:

I think for me, coming to Contentstack is kind of like coming home. You know, back in the martech space, marketing to marketers, digital professionals a product that I can really rally around, so I feel really good.

What led Dhillon to decide that Contentstack was the right place for him stems back to his initial interest being the customer base. After doing his due diligence and learning more about the company, he was impressed with the brands leaning into composable and trusting Contentstack to drive their DXPs.

A solid customer base is essential today, especially considering how challenging it is for brands to acquire new customers. Dhillon said it's critical to have the loyal customers and high retention rates that Contentstack has, and part of his goal is to continue to ensure that it remains the same. 

A not-so-crowded DXP space

Some might say the DXP space is crowded at first glance, but Dhillon doesn't think that's necessarily true. He divides it into three categories: the legacy DXP platforms, the wannabes, and the true innovators, where unsurprisingly he places Contentstack.  

Contentstack’s positioning and differentiation are another reason he chose to join the company, he says: 

Contentstack sets itself apart by being the opposite of monolithic, so composable and headless, but also a platform and a true composable DXP versus just one product. So a big challenge for me going forward is how do we truly become a multi-product company from a go-to-market perspective

A big part of that is helping people understand the difference between headless and composable. Contentstack was a founding member of the MACH Alliance and Dhillon sees that relationship as key to his team's work:

Contentstack was a founding member of the MACH Alliance, and I think there was a lot of effort put into evangelism and building out of the ecosystem around the alliance. And we're like four years in now on this journey, and I think now it becomes how does the MACH Alliance orchestrate and enable customers and partners to do business with each other easier? And to be basically easier to work with, faster time to value. That's where I think the alliance can play a big role because these companies believe in the same thing, and they can work better together.

A new vision for marketing

When asked what his plans were for the marketing organization at Contentstack, Dhillon talked about two primary goals.

First, he said a lot of education and evangelism needs to happen around the composable DXP category and its evolution with prospects, customers, partners, analysts (and even journalists). 

Then, there's driving meaningful growth, what Dhillon calls his "bread and butter." For Contentstack, that requires attacking growth from multiple angles because it offers multiple products. But it also requires telling their story more cohesively. 

Dhillon shared his perspectives on the state of marketing for brands today on LinkedIn. One of the challenges he discussed was the “brand relevancy crisis":

If 95% of your ideal buyers are not “in-market” right now, and said market is completely oversaturated no matter what channel you consider, what does that mean for your business?

Well, it means that you’re likely facing irrelevance. Not because you don’t have a great brand or product, but because it’s harder than ever to engage your buyers with experiences and content that keep you relevant.

And it's compounded by the fact that the rules have changed, and "growth at all costs" has been replaced by "efficient growth." This all plays out differently in B2B and B2C, and we'll explore that more in the next post.

It's a serious pain for Marketing teams and very hard to differentiate from the noise out there. He plans to work through strategies with his team to figure out how to overcome it. Part of that is identifying quick wins and making inroads on the education and evangelism side. But it also means understanding how Contentstack fits in and ensuring everyone understands, he argues:

The biggest [challenge] is going to be, as our portfolio evolve and we become more and more of a DXP, enabling even our internal resources in the field to help bring that to market. I think marketing is going to play a huge role in that piece, as well as the partner ecosystem. Because it just makes us more competitive, and it puts us in a position to win more business, both on the new logo side and the install base side. But that execution, you know,  that's make or break. That's where I'm going to be focused a lot.

Contentstack recently made the Forrester Wave for DXP Platforms as a strong performer, something the company is very excited about. Dhillon said they scored one of the highest marks in vision and strategy. But they are a smaller company compared to many of the DXP vendors on the list (Adobe, Optimizely, SAP, Oracle, Bloomreach, and Salesforce, to name a few), so they have much work to do on execution and growing their base. He's excited that the analysts are buying into composable DXP.

Leading in the experience era

Contentstack has made a strategic shift from supplying only the backend of a DXP and evolving from a pure headless CMS. Dhillon said this evolution and its cloud-agnostic status were strategic imperatives if they wanted to meet the needs of customers everywhere.

Riding the AI wave is next, but it will happen practically and pragmatically, applying AI to help marketing drive more efficiency, scale, and personalization (They have already started doing it). 

These things support the experience era we are living in right now. Dhillon said that companies will differentiate by providing exceptional experiences—what he calls the "Experience Edge.” He explains: 

When it comes to experience edge, they have sustainable competitive advantage over their peers and are able to provide great content, great experiences on their own property. Because you have to remember in the cookieless world that's coming, your own property is where people are going to really engage with you, and you have to nail that.

Being a CMO today

Marketing has always been challenging, Dhillon said, but it is evolving in a couple of ways:

  1. It’s about efficient growth - CMOs are being held accountable as there’s no more growth at all costs mentality.
  2. Customer centricity - Marketing has traditionally focused on new customers, but now it is being asked to engage with the customer base, helping drive advocacy, retention, and expansion.
  3. Brand relevance - Brands are facing a relevancy crisis that they need to overcome. There is so much channel saturation, and engaging audiences is harder than ever. The death of the cookie and the explosion of AI content only worsen things.

What does all this ultimately mean? CMOs must have a seat at the executive table, declares Dhillon:  

I think CMOs need to ask for that authority and and demand that seat at the table because otherwise, you're not going to be successful. And so, I'm on day three at Contentstack and I've already really inserted myself into both the field organization and the customer success organization to say, ‘We need to work together to make sure that our customers stay happy and grow with us. And Marketing is going to play a big role in that’. And they agreed, so it's good.

This may be easier when you work at a smaller company like Contentstack, but Dhillon said the fundamentals are the same no matter the company's size. Change needs to happen.

My take

Dhillon's first job with SAP was in competitive and market intelligence. However, a desire to be closer to the customer led him to marketing, starting with content marketing when content marketing was just gaining attention. He has worked through all aspects of Marketing, from campaigns to digital, operations, field marketing, and eventually all of demand generation. 

 

This wealth of experience enables him to understand how all marketing activities work together to create the best marketing strategy for a brand. Couple this experience with an understanding that marketing is about more than winning new customers; it's about the entire customer lifecycle. We don't often see this breadth of working knowledge in a CMO, and I believe it's part of the reason early-stage companies look to him as a growth advisor. 

In the press announcement about Dhillon joining Contentstack, CEO Neha Sampat said this:

Gurdeep is a great fit for our Contentstack tribe, both in expertise and values alignment.  He understands the industry, and what it takes to capitalize on opportunity, and lead category creation. He knows digital experiences are the new competitive frontline for brands. Best yet, he is well regarded for his leadership style and ability to bring teams together to do the best work of their lives.

The opportunity for Contentstack to lead the composable DXP category is great, but it will not be without its challenges. Other DXP players with composable architectures (Contentful and Bloomreach are two) exist, but there is still a lot of room for growth in this space, and education will be critical to its success.

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