Mary Ellen Dugan WP Engine Interview

Mary Ellen Dugan WP Engine Interview

WP Engine, is a WordPress Digital Experience Platform

Mary Ellen Dugan is an accomplished senior marketing executive with 20 years' of experience in strategic marketing, brand building, business development and advertising.

As a female leader in a technology company, Mary Ellen understands that diversity in her industry is hard to come by. WP Engine have an executive team that includes 67% of women. 35% of their total workforce do not have university educations and 30% are underrepresented minorities.

WP Engine, is a WordPress Digital Experience platform that goes beyond managed WordPress hosting and equips businesses with a suite of agility, performance, intelligence, and integration solutions, so they can build and deploy a range of online experiences.

Interview with Mary Ellen Dugan, WP Engine's CMO

Question: Can you tell us about your role?

Mary Ellen Dugan: I have been Chief Marketing Officer at WP Engine for just over two and a half years now. In my time here, I have been lucky enough to see the business grow immensely - our customer base has grown 65%, we've passed $100 million in annual recurring revenue, we've secured funding from Silver Lake, the global leader in technology investing and we've doubled the size of our marketing team. Some of my daily responsibilities include content marketing, product marketing, public relations, internal communications, partner enablement, demand generation, brand building, advertising and integrated marketing.

Question: What's a typical day like for you at WP Engine?

Mary Ellen Dugan: My morning starts with a daily executive team standup, as we meet each day to ensure we are aligned on strategic issues. We spend one of those days every week as a deep dive to help drive company-wide initiatives quickly and cut down on cross-functional executive meetings. Throughout the week, I generally have a few standing meetings, but I also block out open hours for marketers to stop by my office. This time is dedicated to them - it may be to discuss a new idea, career mentoring or discuss a project.

Question: How important is it, to you, to have diversity in your workplace?

Mary Ellen Dugan: It is crucial for brands to encourage diversity within their companies. As an executive at a technology company, I realize that there's always work to be done. At WP Engine, we are proud to have a C-Suite made up of 67% of women. 33% of our workforce do not have university educations and 30% are underrepresented minorities. For us, diversity is in our DNA and as a result, we're able to bring a variety of different skill sets and point of views to the WP Engine table. We strongly believe that having a workforce that mirrors our global customer base makes us a stronger, more competitive company. This is very important for us with over 85,000 customers in 135 countries around the world. And once you start down that path and are intentional about diversity – it builds momentum.

Question: What advice do you have for other women who want to achieve their business goals?

Mary Ellen Dugan: Leadership in business is a balance of providing a clear point of view and guidance versus prescribing every action; a thin line that divides directing and being direct, being a manager or a leader.

Being direct is earned, it's derived from listening and understanding. There are often misconceptions around being direct, especially for women, as it can seem counter to personalities that are positive or friendly. The key to success is showing how being direct is the opposite of being indifferent. The art of being direct but not directing allows others to come to the conclusion on their own and breeds clarity. It sets everyone up for success, while never sacrificing the ability to be kind, sincere and authentic.

The best business leaders know when to be direct and when to be directing. You need both skills as you navigate fellow executive peers and motivate your own teams to drive results.

Question: How important is digital marketing on the current business world?

Mary Ellen Dugan: The digital footprint is now paramount to business of all sizes and is a huge business lever in driving the brand, a direct line to reaching customers and the ability to attribute revenue impact. Since the digital ecosphere is typically owned by Marketing, but impacts the larger business, it requires the CMO to forge tight relationships with the CEO, CFO and even the Chief Revenue Officer. With CMOs increasingly responsible for driving specific revenue goals for the company, they are relying on their digital marketing strategies to reach those goals across the areas of owned, earned and paid media.

Marketers need to think about both earned and paid media as driving traffic back to their owned sites. Put simply, paid media is a great great way to promote content in order to generate more earned media, generate awareness and importantly drive traffic directly to your owned media properties. Earned media is an important vehicle that drives awareness, traffic, engagement and sentiment around a brand. But owned must be the linchpin of the strategy - it's where you can capture and convert your leads, understand visitors' interests and behaviors completely and provide a great brand experience for your customers. Thanks to all of the advances in the martech stack, with nearly 7,000 tools and companies at last count and more coming online daily, it's easier than ever to track, gather and analyze data that can be used to build a great digital experience and also to advance your business goal.

Question: What are your top digital marketing options?

Mary Ellen Dugan: I have two top tips for digital marketers, firstly, be authentic, and secondly, be actionable. From an authenticity point of view, we live in a world where people are spending more time online and consuming more content than ever before, whether news articles or entertainment videos. With such an incredible bombardment of content online every day, brands need to think of a way to cut through the clutter and remain relevant.

We're seeing a lot of challengers emerge and capture the attention that once belonged to larger brands simply because they're better at talking to their audience. And how do they do it? By being authentic and honest; having a point of view and standing out from the crowd. Businesses must stand for something and stand by it.

My second point is to be actionable at every touchpoint. Instead of the old funnel view of first awareness, interest, consideration and purchase, with really only the last two steps driving a strong action, you need to shift your thinking that a direct customer action can happen anytime. You need to shorten the customer buying cycle, while elongating the overall experience through digital marketing.

This means driving actionable engagement in your marketing approach, which is essential in winning online. Today, we have access to an immense library of data analytics programs, which give brands the opportunity to understand customers like never before and be considered in the way they target them. Not taking advantage of this will seriously hinder a business and marketing strategy.

Question: How is this growth in digital experience changing the way businesses should be built?

Mary Ellen Dugan: Digital experiences are at the center of everything we do. For people building a business today, this is something that needs to be considered from the very beginning. It's at the heart of most all marketing initiatives and remains a source for business growth. The power of digital experiences is not lost on younger generations. In fact, in a recent study of generations that WP Engine did found that 64% of people founding a business today will launch online first.

So while they have the potential to reach anywhere in the world, they have to compete globally as well. This has important implications for those of us building digital experiences - we need to engage, we need to entertain and inform from the start, we need to think globally, the design needs to be highly visual, and we need to provide visitors with authentic and valuable content. The consequences are considerable - you'll lose traction quickly and your competitors will smother you. Increasingly, another digital experience consideration is not just a businesses designed and built from a 'mobile-first' perspective, but from a 'mobile-only' perspective. This highlights the shifting technology trends and reinforces the need for digital marketers to adapt consistently.

Question: What's next for WP Engine?

Mary Ellen Dugan: I'm excited about our future because we are creating compelling new ways for agencies and brands to grow their business via incredible digital experiences. Given that digital experiences are only growing in importance, we're thrilled to be the platform enabling phenomenal digital growth in the markets we serve. We're singularly focused on being THE WordPress digital experience platform that enables our customers to attain their vision and reach their goals.

In 2018 we added StudioPress, creators of the Genesis Framework, the world's most popular theme framework for the millions of WordPress sites that comprise 33 percent of the Web, to our suite of digital solutions. We also launched Global Edge Security, the world's first enterprise-class advanced security solution built from Cloudflare's Internet performance and security solutions. I fully expect you will see continued growth, both from the business and our customer base, and we'll continue our core focus on growing our global team with purposeful diversity.

Interview by Brooke Hunter 
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash