At Marketing Trends we are discovering what drives Australia’s top marketers. Built on top of WordPress, WordPress VIP offers additional services that go beyond scaling, to directly improve the effectiveness of digital marketing programs. Dr. Tess Needham, Content Marketing Lead, is responsible for strategising and coordinating WordPress VIP’s marketing projects, and empowering her team to create innovative and unique content. Read her story here ↓
Career & professional background
Tess, how did your career in marketing start?
By accident, really!
I think about that famous Steve Jobs commencement speech all the time. You know, the one where he talks about how you have to trust that the dots will connect in your future. It resonates with me deeply, because I feel like I just kept making the choice that felt right for me at the time, and it’s only when I look back that I can see kind of a pattern.
At university, I actually studied performing arts, and went all the way up to a PhD level. I just kept choosing to do more, since the opportunity was in front of me. But I never thought much about what would happen at the end. I just enjoyed the experience of doing it.
Once I finished my PhD, I did brief stints as a research assistant and as a broadcast operator at a TV station before landing at Apple, working in an Apple Store as a Creative.
While I was there, I discovered WordPress, starting with my football club’s website, and then helping many types of small businesses to build their online presence. But I was really more of the design and technical side of that, rather than the marketing strategy. However, it exposed me to the WordPress community and to Automattic, which is the company behind WordPress.com, Tumblr, WooCommerce, and a bunch of other products including where I ended up, WordPress VIP.
When I started at WordPress VIP, I was in the customer success division, as a Technical Account Manager, but I always grabbed any opportunity to make something creative. Whether it was writing technical documentation, or helping the lone marketing person with videos, I’m just the kind of person who always puts their hand up to try something fun. And I eventually made the switch over to the marketing team full-time.
If you’d told me back in university, when I was making weird experimental plays, and performing in black box theatres, that I’d be working in corporate marketing, I probably would have been very confused. But once I actually experienced marketing first-hand, I realised how interesting, creative, and fulfilling it can be.
If you hadn’t pursued a career in marketing, in which other industry do you think you might be?
As you might have gleaned from my answer to the previous question, I’m happy doing anything creative, really! So for me it wouldn’t be about which industry, but really about what I get to do in the role itself. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been expressing myself in some way.
And back to Steve Jobs’ commencement speech, I came to a realisation pretty recently that creativity is the central thread in my life that has connected all the dots. As long as I’m doing something creative, I’m happy.
Could you tell us about your role as Content Marketing Lead at WordPress VIP?
Our marketing team is small, and my content team is quite tiny. But we’re growing fast, and we’re in this exciting period of rapid growth where anything is possible. Specifically, we create website content, blogs, videos, white papers, webinars, and more, that aim to build awareness of and trust in our platform, by helping people be smarter and better at their jobs.
As a lead, my role is to connect the dots for my team, to enable them to focus on our shared priorities and empower them to do their best work. But I’m also in there, every day with my sleeves rolled up, writing, editing, filming, and publishing.
I am also keeping my eye on what other teams across the organisation are doing, and to take their requests from our team and prioritise them. I keep my eyes out for subject matter experts who might be able to contribute to our content, as well as having conversations with customers and partners about making new content together.
Marketing & Industry Trends
What type of impact has COVID- 19 had on your industry?
Fortunately, the pandemic has only accelerated growth in our industry. That wasn’t the case early on, when there was so much uncertainty and everyone slowed down or halted buying decisions. But we just kept putting out content, ramped up our virtual events, and eventually we seemed to get over that initial hump.
One thing we have been very wary of is how to go to market in the pandemic. We felt that using the situation as a lever was not appropriate for us, and so we tried to tap into what people really needed. There was a moment for just being generous and rewarding our customers and partners, and later, there was a moment to start figuring out how we could help. So we have been in an interesting position there.
What is the most exciting trend or innovation happening in your field in terms of growth?
I’m really interested in this renewed focus of B2B marketing on customer-centricity. With new restrictions around how our content consumption habits are tracked across the internet, there’s a shift towards humanising our prospects more. We’re starting to look beyond metrics on a graph, and beyond clicks, and thinking about the holistic journeys our prospects are going on.
As a marketer, what do you believe is the biggest challenge facing your industry in the future?
The flip side of my last answer–a more personalised approach requires more inventiveness, and time. How will we scale the personal touch that customers demand? When we can’t rely on technology to track our customers’ touchpoints with our brand, how else will we do that?
Tools, recommendations & sources of inspiration
What does a typical day look like for you? How do you structure your week?
My company is fully distributed globally, but everyone on my immediate team (except me) happens to be based in the US. I lived in the US for 10 years, and actually only moved back to Australia a few months ago, so I’m still adjusting to the time shift with my colleagues. Because of our distributed culture, we are really good at working asynchronously, which is a lifesaver for me so I’m not trying to work in the middle of the night.
We try to avoid too many regular meetings, except for a once-weekly team catch-up, in favour of ad hoc meetings when we are kicking off a new campaign, or need to brainstorm about something specific. But we really value the deep work that comes with meeting-free days.
In my mornings, I might have a few meetings, and then I’m going through pings to see what people need from me. As a lead of a small team, I’m always juggling my responsibility to empower my direct reports and help them to focus on the priorities, with looking at our content analytics and strategising our content calendar. Then after those immediate items are handled, I turn my focus to deep work like writing and editing.
Having said all of that, I have two young kids, and the last 18 months of home learning has blown any semblance of a typical day out of the water!
What brands do you take inspiration from?
I really love consumer brands that are doing something visually exciting and unique. A couple that I can think of in this category are Apple and Dinosaur Designs. For both brands, I love looking at and using their products, and there is something that just feels so right about them.
In the B2B inbound marketing world that I travel in, I’m a huge fan of Ann Handley’s work, as I think she’s really relatable, funny, and she puts herself out there in a way that’s just so authentic and charming. I also think a brand like Salesforce is really inspiring. They are really tuned into their customer, and also have a great social conscience.
Software and tools recommendations: what is the one software you can’t work without and why?
I know I’m biased, but I have to say WordPress! I can’t help it; it’s just an essential tool to publish content.
We don’t just use WordPress on our marketing website. We also use it internally instead of email, via a WordPress theme called P2. We have a vast network of P2s in the company, that allow us to work effectively asynchronously. It’s so much better than email, and is completely transparent, searchable, cross-linked, and archived. In fact, everyone at our company is basically blogging, all the time. If you’d like to know more, I actually wrote a comic book about P2.
What are three resources you would recommend for anyone working in your field?
In no particular order, and in three very different categories:
- Coffee! I couldn’t stay awake without it.
- Your local museum. Or any other inspiring place that you can go to and just immerse yourself in creativity or nature. It’s so important to keep up a flow of creative inputs.
- Or, if you’re really asking for a book recommendation, you can’t go past Inbound Content. It’s pretty much essential reading for content marketers, and I refer to it often.
*Photo by In Her Image Photography