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Optimizely CEO talks roadmap plans, A/B testing and DXP

Optimizely CEO explains why the company bet big on digital marketers' perpetual need for A/B testing. Also: how content management systems morphed into experience tech.

Enterprise technology buyers may be pardoned for their confusion as content management systems disappear and suddenly reappear as "digital experience platforms." The industry-wide rebrand, though, comes with cloud capabilities, analytics and cross-channel capabilities the old CMSes never had. 

Optimizely is among the companies transitioning to digital experience. Alex Atzberger took over as CEO of after abruptly leaving SAP in late 2019. Back then, the company was named Episerver; it acquired A/B testing company Optimizely in October 2020, and took on that name in January 2021. Our Q&A with Atzberger begins with that decision.

How did you choose to take on the name Optimizely as Episerver's new identity?

Alex Atzberger: When I joined as a CEO of Episerver, I was always thinking about whether the brand was relevant in the U.S. market. Do marketers know Episerver? I'd always thought about rebranding the company at one point because we now have a different story to tell.

Alex AtzbergerAlex Atzberger

Optimizely technology really allowed us to analyze which brand would actually work better for the target market that we have. We did something called a 'digital gravity study' -- it determines how well-known your brand is, relative to search results. It was very clear from the data that the Optimizely brand was much more well-known, especially with digital leaders, CMOs and marketing people. It was also interesting that a lot of the searches were not just about A/B testing and experimentation, but even content management was a search term that came up quite a bit in the context of Optimizely.

It was a pretty emotional decision. I had over 800 employees who were familiar with name Episerver. I had 400 employees who knew the name Optimizely. Ultimately, we needed to make a change. We changed a lot more than the name -- we became an altogether new company -- but the name was really based on our understanding of the digital gravity of our brand. That was really the main driver.

Why did Optimizely have more 'gravity' in the United States?

Atzberger: The origin of companies matters. Episerver was a European brand with a long history and very, very good products -- but it was fairly new to the U.S. market.

Optimizely was a West Coast-based startup that launched during the Obama campaign. Barack Obama was the first presidential candidate who tested fundraising efforts on digital channels such as social media. He was A/B testing buttons, [things like] 'Donate Now' versus 'Invest in Hope' -- which would raise more money?

Optimizely was born from that; it was a Silicon Valley darling for a while. [The origin story] gave it cachet as a brand. Today, when I speak to CMOs of companies -- from the New York Times to any tech company -- everybody knows Optimizely. That's very powerful.

Companies such as Episerver, Acquia and Sitecore, which started out as content management systems (CMS) vendors, are now reimagining themselves as customer experience or digital experience platforms (DXPs). What's driving this, from your perspective?

Atzberger: We try to interpret experiences, rather than just content -- and infuse intelligence into content. But [overall], I think the industry needed new terminology to position itself. A lot of the companies -- Optimizely included -- positioned themselves in this market for DXP, which then was no longer just CMS but also included investments on the data side. Especially in customer data, capabilities on personalization of recommendations and, in our case, very deep experience about experimentation and testing. Ultimately, users want to create better, more targeted digital experiences, rather than just launching a website with some content.

From your point of view, what is the relevance of content management technology in 2022?

Atzberger: There's a big, big moment of change. Content management is changing in the context of what companies want to accomplish. Our biggest moment of change probably came six months ago when we acquired Welcome. Welcome looks at the 80% of the content processes that happen before it even goes into CMS: ideation and creation of content, and how teams collaborate on actually coming up with the content.

Welcome is in the top two acquisitions that I've done for a couple of reasons: one, its unbelievable team and software that is not just modern, but from a user experience is just fantastic as well; two, I have become a user of Welcome myself, so I can now see every activity that our marketing team is working on. It creates transparency and collaboration that we never had before.

I find it amazing that we talked for so long -- many years -- about content management, but we've not talked about the 80% of the processes of actually getting there. So, what really is content management? It's how you bring [content] together in creation, and then the publishing of content across multiple channels.

Are you still in the market to acquire more companies, or will Optimizely stand pat after an eventful couple of years and rumblings of economic recession?

Atzberger: I acquired businesses as part of the team at SAP. I've been involved in five acquisitions since becoming CEO at Optimizely. Looking forward, we keep looking at what assets are out there in the marketplace that might be of interest to us.

You mentioned the economy. There could be more companies looking for an exit place, or a home where they can successfully scale because they might not have the capital to invest in their own go-to-market activities. We're going to continue to look at opportunities out there.

You have integrations -- and even partnerships -- with AWS, Azure and Google. How would you describe Optimizely's cloud strategy?

Atzberger: We follow at a hybrid strategy relative to the big global infrastructure players. We ultimately want to serve our customers the best, so we decided to go to Google Cloud Platform with our experimentation solutions. Most marketers use Google for SEO, so it's a very good fit with the customers. We speak on a daily basis about experimentation. We're excited about that partnership. We're equally excited about the partnership with Azure around our DXP offering.

You came from SAP. Now, you're calling the shots. How is the experience different, now that you can build your own digital experience application stack?

Atzberger: It's a matter of agility and speed now. You have other challenges, but you have benefits when it comes to the ability to innovate and quickly move forward.

I think there's going to be a lot of marketing teams that will see pressure from their bosses around their effectiveness of spend.
Alex AtzbergerCEO, Optimizely

We like to say that we are small enough to care, but large enough to serve. That's really what we live every day. We have amazing customers, from Zoom to Shell to GE to Chewy to Saks Fifth Avenue. The constant challenge is to get our story out there and to actually ensure that enough customers know that there's an alternative to companies like Adobe in the marketplace. I did not have that challenge when I worked for SAP. We like to punch above our weight class relative to the size of the company because we think we have the capabilities today.

What can you share about Optimizely's future product roadmap?

Atzberger: We are very excited about the fall. We are launching what we call data core services [previewed last year], which is our common data layer across our solutions. When you make multiple acquisitions, you don't want them to be a pile of blocks; you want them to be a single pane of glass. And that single pane of glass vision is really coming to market in Q3 of this year.

I believe in the industry -- especially in martech -- we talk way too much about architectures and things like APIs, headless [CMS], et cetera. I think we need to talk a lot more about the business outcomes. So, we're going to talk more about use cases that actually drive real, measurable business outcomes for customers. Not just in terms of increasing revenue and conversions, but also in terms of actual cost reductions and ability to work more efficiently.

I think there's going to be a lot of marketing teams that will see pressure from their bosses around their effectiveness of spend, and the conflict in all of this is going to be how many solutions marketing teams are using and trying to integrate to drive the measurable outcomes.

This Q&A was edited for clarity and brevity.

Don Fluckinger covers enterprise content management, CRM, marketing automation, e-commerce, customer service and enabling technologies for TechTarget.

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