Back in the summer of 2018, for The Straight Outta Compton Issue, we went backstage with Tom Wentworth, then CMO of Rapid Miner and in this interview, we catch up with this technologist turned marketer.
Recently described by a Scott Brinker (the Chief Martech and author of that infamous martech vendor super-graphic) as “a pioneering engineer-turned-CMO in the marketing technology space”, after we chatted to Tom in 2018 he returned to these product engineering roots leading product marketing at digital experience vendor Acquia. Today Tom is now back in the CMO hot seat having recently taken the marketing reins at security intelligence vendor Recorded Future.
Hi Tom, congratulations on your new role and welcome back! I know you have a passion for technology and product leadership, what lured you back to a CMO role?
Thanks! I had a great time during my second stint at Acquia. We acquired three companies— Mautic, Cohesion, and most recently Agilone. And of course in November, Vista Equity Partners acquired a majority stake in Acquia. I am grateful to have had the chance to work for Dries Buytaert, whom I believe to be one of the most important founders in tech. Leaving Acquia marked the end of a nearly 20-year journey in Web Content Management, and I’ll enjoy watching Acquia’s ascent into leading the Digital Experience Platforms market from the sideline.
But joining Recorded Future was a can’t miss opportunity. We have the three attributes it takes to become a legendary company: a great team in a massive market with a fantastic product. I’m excited about the chance to lead and grow an awesome marketing team and be a part of a company that’s bringing a new approach to the security market. But don’t worry, I’m furiously working to learn the product and I’m dangerously close to being able to give a product demo.
Speaking of that tech background, and I was delighted to discover that we have a shared development genesis in the wonderful TI-99/4a and BASIC, what do you think are the skills you developed then that you apply to marketing now?
Learning to program in BASIC or any other programming language teaches you the principles of problem-solving and logic, both are critical skills for marketing or really any other function in business.
In practical terms, being able to code is directly relevant to lots of things in marketing. For example, segmentation rules in tools like Marketo and Hubspot are just BASIC IF/THEN/ELSE statements. And with a little programming knowledge, you can do amazing things with low code automation tools like Zapier.
I think it’s become a given that all marketers need to have a grasp of tech, do you agree and to what extent do you think marketers need to understand their technology?
Absolutely not. Great marketing starts with storytelling and the creation and curation of the brand. David Ogilvy is turning in his grave at the very notion of marketing having to rely on technology. I think we’ve swung the pendulum too far and it’s time to bring marketing back to its roots.
But it is very important that there are strong technology and analytics skills on a marketing team, and that’s why I’m a huge fan of marketing operations pros.
Talking of marketing tech, when we chatted last year, you were excited by conversational marketing, since then Drift (for whom you were an advisor) has become a massive hit and are everywhere – what’s been your experience since we last spoke?
I love Drift and conversational marketing. Conversational marketing is really just a back-to-basics approach to the way we’ve sold products for centuries: by talking to each other. Drift just makes it easier to filter out the noise and get into meaningful interaction with a customer or prospect as quickly as possible. I’ve got a hypothesis that someday smart chatbots like what Drift offers are going to replace big chunks of the traditional website. But I’ll save that for another day.
Also back to the topic of being a programmer-turned-CMO, one of the first things I did to learn Recorded Future was build a proof-of-concept application that uses the Recorded Future API to bring threat intelligence data directly into a Drift chat.
With your new role, you’ve traded marketing technology for security intelligence with Recorded Future – that’s quite a shift between categories. I see from LinkedIn you’ve needed to make some adjustments (bringing fewer screens into meetings for one – which made me laugh as I just had a gig with a client with a strict paperless office and I was lost without my notepad!).
I know you are only in your few months month, but any advice for marketers making a similar change?
I think it’s important for me to be present, and I’m trying really hard to break myself of the horrible multitasking habit I’ve developed over the years. I’ve disrespected way too many of my colleagues and for that, I’m sorry.
Here’s my approach: I’m going notebook-only in important meetings like 1-1s with my team or our weekly exec team meeting. I’ll sometimes take my phone with me in other meetings, but I’ll leave the laptop behind unless I’m presenting.
And as for this new category, security intelligence, is this something CMO’s should be worrying about, or is it something for the geeks in IT?
Everyone should be worried about security. At the end of the day, there are really only three levers that move a business: making more money, saving more money, and reducing risk. The CMO usually owns revenue, the CIO owns cost savings, and for most companies the CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) owns risk. But poorly managed risk in the form of something like a security breach can destroy a brand overnight. So yeah, a CMO should be worried about security 🙂
For example, one of the most common uses for Recorded Future is brand monitoring. We aggregate data from a lot of data sources, including domain registration data, social media profiles, and web pages with malicious content. Companies can create real-time alerts to find things like leaked customer credentials, typosquat domains, bank identification numbers, social media accounts meant to impersonate an employee, code leaks, or talk of a brand on dark web markets — and we can help companies take them down.
Finally, are you still chucking technology in the Rockstar CMO swimming pool, or is there something new from our industry that you’d like to see chucked into our portal to marketing hell?
It’s time to chuck third-party data straight into the portal to marketing hell. GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act serve as great sticks, but I think the real opportunity and the carrot for marketers is the chance to build a relationship with their customers based on authentic trust. Haven’t we learned our lesson yet?
Splendid, thank you Tom!