Meet The Marketer: Penny Wilson, CMO of Hootsuite

“What I’m trying to do is drive customer-centricity and simplicity.” That’s how Penny Wilson, new CMO at Hootsuite (since October) describes her key mission.

Speaking from her Vancouver home, Wilson talked about her tech-driven journey to her present role. “I have a bit of an eclectic background,” she said. “I was educated in computer science and business, so I came into the tech side of marketing with a tech background.”

After more than a decade in information systems at Merrill Lynch, a series of senior and c-level operations and marketing positions followed, including CMO at Juniper Networks where she worked with Stephen Elop, who went on to be president of Microsoft and Nokia. After Juniper, she spent a couple of years “sort of semi-retired,” running her own strategic tech consultancy.

A meeting with Hootsuite founder and CEO Ryan Holmes changed things. “I loved what the company did and I loved the culture.” I asked what she particularly valued about Hootsuite’s proffer. “We do have a very strong tool,” she said, “with very strong education and thought leadership behind it.” Hootsuite, she said, wants to explain both how and why to change the ways businesses communicate.

The efforts Hootsuite puts into education include the Hootsuite University, a mix of free and paid programs leading to social media pro certification. To this, Hootsuite has added Podium, a new training platform geared to career development for social media professionals.

Hootsuite, of course, is a very familiar tool outside the business environment, thanks to its popular freemium product. This remains, Wilson says, an important way in which Hootsuite differentiates itself from the competition. “We’re freemium to premium,” she said, serving individuals, small businesses, and enterprises. “Absolutely without a doubt, we have a groundswell of knowledge of the tool that individuals can being to an enterprise.”

Another differentiator, she told me, is a best-in-breed partner strategy, “rather than trying to build everything ourselves.” She highlighted the partnership with Microsoft, and a series of integrations from Yammer in 2012 to native integrations with Dynamics CRM, Sharepoint and Office 365 announced last month.

Internally, Wilson characterizes her team as “a fairly eclectic mix of creative thinkers and data scientists and analysts.” What’s important, she said, is to have people who think differently. As for her tool-kit, she called out Salesforce, Marketo and predictive lead-scoring platform Lattice Engines as key solutions. “When I was at Juniper, we didn’t have the kind of tolls we have today. Marketing is an automated world now and we need to use the right tools to be clearly aligned with business metrics.”

For the future, “social is going to become a crucial element, not just of the marketing side of business,” she said, “but any employee- or customer-facing communications.”

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