The strategic partnership agreement between SDL and North Plains is big news for many reasons. The companies will work together to develop joint sales and marketing initiatives but for both companies this is really about driving digital customer experiences.
Those are just the highpoints though, and we wanted to dig in much further. To do so, we talked with Eric Courville, vice president of Marketing and Corporate Development at North Plains and Lou Casal, Sr. Director, Product Marketing, SDL Content Management Technologies Division. Both of them are industry experts and were able to share some incredible insights around what this means for their companies and for the industry as a whole.
Tell about your background. How did you get involved in the industry?
Eric Courville: My background is in sales, marketing and business development in the technology industry, primarily in infrastructure and rich media; prior to North Plains, I was a co-founder and COO at Futurestate IT and VM6 Software. I had worked with CEO James Christopher before and I joined North Plains because I was excited for the opportunity to make an impact on this rapidly changing and growing market.
Lou Casal: My career spans over 17 years covering different areas of marketing ranging from Field and Direct Marketing to Product Marketing/Management (where I have spent the last 10+ years). My experience with content marketing and interactive started at Symantec and has carried forward including time spent at an HP startup, CA and SDL.
What sort of changes have you seen and how have they impacted your approach to the marketplace?
Eric Courville: There has been a tremendous change in the challenges facing marketers in the last few years. We live at the speed of now – everything we produce is distributed in near real time and it has to be that way for the content to be relevant. But speed is typically gained at the expense of control, which is critical to preserve brand consistency and loyalty.
North Plains makes it easy for our customers to realize the maximum return from their visual assets. We do so by accelerating the time to market while allowing marketers to stay in control, whether they are producing, managing or leveraging assets in marketing communications and campaigns. We remove the need for manual processes between different groups and stakeholders involved in the Creative Marketing Lifecycle, increasing efficiency and return on marketing investment. Our market-leading software portfolio spans work-in-progress creative production systems, large-scale enterprise class digital asset management infrastructure, and comprehensive marketing and brand asset management solutions.
Lou Casal: I have worked in the high-tech / software space for most of my career and have found that while the only constant is change, history often repeats itself (sort of a maturity curve type concept).
Twelve years ago we were concerned about having a way to showcase our organizations via the web. Ten years ago the concern was how to enable Marketing to help themselves with regard to web content. Seven years ago we focused on managing scope and scale as well as content reuse. Then page optimization to improve our marketing campaigns along with being able to publish in multiple channels. Three years ago we started to realize it was about engagement, customer experience and new channels like mobile. At this time organizations were trying to sort out how to publish to mobile. Then the focus was how to allow marketers to drive content to mobile.
Today, what we are seeing at SDL, especially at our global customers is the following: How do we drive optimized and contextually relevant mobile experiences. Essentially history has repeated itself – mobile evolved through the 12-year, Web maturity curve in about two years.
From an SDL perspective, having pioneered many of the content-driven experience management milestones, we have fortunately benefited from well-placed technology decisions that occurred more than a decade ago. Over this time there has been a steady push/evolution for content to be relevant and valuable in order to make the connection with the customer (e.g.: Content is King). Because human nature often wishes to envision the finished object (web page), the broader web content space has taken a “page-backwards” approach. In contrast, from the very start we have taken a unique compomnet based “content-forward” approach. This has enabled our customers, some of the best-known global brands, to easily address changes and move toward optimized customer experiences. For SDL it has always been about delivering the right content experience to the right person, in the right language correctly to any device and channel.
The strategic partnership between North Plains and SDL was recently announced. Tell us how this alliance is a win-win for both of your companies.
Eric Courville: North Plains’ solutions are only a part of the overall digital marketing landscape. Our customers want the strength of digital asset management solutions to efficiently curate, organize, tag and transform finalized content, but they also demand the rich user experience provided by Web Content Management (WCM) solutions such as SDL Tridion. With this partnership, we will provide an integrated solution with best-of-breed technology from both companies to provide marketers with a simple, yet powerful and flexible offering. While North Plains’ solutions have been primarily focusing on B2B, the joint offering will be able to also focus on B2C, offering a rich end-user experience.
Lou Casal: It is a win for our customers – the global brands we both serve. Combine SDL’s approach that content and assets live in multiple places and needs to be unleashed to the world as part of a customer’s journey with our ECL (External Content Libraries) technology that facilitates this content usage – and our relationship with North Plains becomes very clear. In addition, while we are agnostic with regard to DAM solutions, North Plains and SDL have synergies around approach, UI and the componentization of content that really adds value to the operational side of marketing.
Continuing on the customer experience path concept: Today’s visuals and video are becoming a more important part of the experience. On the surface, the partnership enables our customers an additional source of assets – but there is a whole lot more. What our partnership enables organizations to do is address, in a 360-degree fashion, the customer experience effort from the creation of assets within all their creative suite type solutions, including asset/content management to the optimized, contextually relevant delivery of these assets.
As a result, this makes the experiences that our customer deliver to their audience richer while their efforts are streamlined and accelerated. And while we recognize there are many different marketing roles as part of this process (Creative to Interactive Content Manager/editor), North Plains and SDL together seamlessly deliver across all of these functions in a very simplified but unified way. Furthermore, it does not stop upon delivery – there is a great deal of insight that is gathered from the interactions. This, in turn, can be communicated back to creative team members as a way to better understand how their materials are being used and received – thereby closing the loop.
What sort of joint sales and marketing initiatives do you foresee being developed?
Eric Courville: Currently, SDL will be reselling North Plains’ technology with SDL Tridion. We are currently finalizing our complete joint sales and marketing plan for 2014, but our first initiative is a webinar, “The Power of Context, Content and Visual Assets” scheduled for February 11, which people can register for here: http://www.sdl.com/events/wcm/Power-of-Context-Webinar.html
Lou Casal: We anticipate that a great deal of our efforts will be evangelistic and educational in nature. While the “marketing” label is used to describe everything from a logo to a strategic go-to-market plan, the reality is there are specialties and segmented teams of marketers throughout an organization. They all have different skills and objectives – and while we all hope they work together, the reality is that often the person that leverages the image or video for a landing page promotion, etc., is disconnected from the actual creative person/process, etc.
The same holds true for the reverse: The creative talent working tirelessly to get the image just right may not fully appreciate the environment, time constraints and challenges of the content editor who needs to quickly resize a visual masterpiece to fit on a smartphone screen. Often it is not just about size reduction (this is a simplistic view) – for example intelligent cropping also needs to occur, and I believe we can all see how this could drive some of the creative folks crazy, especially when they just spent two hours fixing something in the corner of an image that just got cropped out.
How do you see this impacting the industry and impacting your own developments in the future?
Eric Courville: If you look at the bigger picture, North Plains’ solutions are only a portion of the overall digital marketing landscape. They can be integrated into a broader workflow, which include solutions like Web Content Management (WCM), Marketing Resources Management (MRM), e-commerce, analytics, social media, etc. North Plains will continue to expand our global network of partners who can provide best-of-breed solutions that work well together and with our product portfolio to provide customers simpler, more integrated innovative technology that allow them to meet all their needs throughout the creative marketing lifecycle. As this Digital Marketing market is forming rapidly and marketers are pressured to do more with less, to accelerate time-to-value, and to be more relevant while controlling their brands, the industry need to collaborate to develop innovative solutions that respond to the new reality of marketers. We plan to play an active role in making this transformation happen.
Lou Casal: Along the same lines, one of the key things that continues to impact digital marketing is the fact that there are many different systems within an organization that have content and customer data that should be leveraged. As just described, this often corresponds to an equal number of marketing types/personas that have a diverse range of related skills and operational objectives that require a means to best leverage all these resources.
When looking at our long-term development, including our North Plains relationship, SDL has focused on these real-world challenges. Our efforts will continue to center on enabling our customers to seamlessly leverage all content and data components to deliver wonderfully optimized, contextually relevant experiences. SDL will best serve its customers by enabling organizations to deliver on this objective. As a result, we believe that that as customer expectations and requirements intensify, (along with our actions) gradually our industry will need to also move in this direction.
How do you see this impacting or changing future versions of the North Plains DAM solution?
Eric Courville: While we continue to improve each of our products individually and the interoperability between them, we are also investing a significant amount in new innovation, including several projects conducted in collaboration with our customers and partners. By broadening our partnership network, we’re strengthening our understanding of marketers’ challenges, their specific needs and requirements, and also expending our expertise, solution offerings and delivery capabilities. As the digital marketing ecosystem expands, North Plains plans to be at the forefront of embracing/interconnecting with other market-leading solutions.
Tell us more about SDL and about your position in the marketplace.
Lou Casal: SDL has long been recognized by Forrester, Gartner, Digital Clarity Group and others as a leader and pioneer in the area of customer experience. When you examine all that we do it becomes quite clear that we have approached the challenges in a very holistic way. Often, when it comes to interactive, the experience focus is on look and feel. And while that is a component, it is not a complete picture.
If you look at SDL by its functional parts, we deliver a range of digital marketing solutions. But together, in a unified way, we enable organizations to address globalization and localization, asset customer intent through social channels, empower customer support and documents efforts into the next century, develop advanced segmentation from an array of data sources, drive campaigns, develop complex targeting of content and deliver all of this in an optimized, contextually relevant way regardless of touch point and device.
Specifically, how does this agreement enable North Plains customers to connect with and engage their audience?
Eric Courville: Connecting and engaging with targeted end-users mean leveraging the 4 “Rs.” Reaching to the target audience via multiple channel, providing Relevant messages to a specific audience, provoking a Reaction via rich content and in-context call to action, and finally by being Responsible with your brand and controlling your messaging. With this partnership, we’re jointly providing our customers the best of both worlds – the ability to quickly leverage rich assets as part of their communication, while maintaining control via a best in class DAM system, combined with a rich, relevant, in-context customer experience provided by a leading WCM solution.
How does think this alliance help your clients deliver positive customer interactions?
Lou Casal: As I have described all along, our end objective is to empower our customers to deliver optimized, contextually relevant experiences. Our partnership with North Plains helps them to further leverage engaging visually rich assets. As a result, our customers will deliver winning experiences and in the long run drive fruitful customer engagements. In short, for SDL, it is all about the positive customer interactions – with our customers and enabling them to do the same for their customers.