To be successful in digital marketing you must face the challenges of today and the future. These problems are not only worth solving now, but worth investing in solving because they will still be problems in the future.

In his speech at Agency Summit, WP Engine’s CTO and founder Jason Cohen discussed how to take current problems in the digital landscape and turn them into a differentiating advantage.

Let’s take a look at some of those obstacles we see today, including how they are addressed and solved by WordPress.

Today’s Digital White Waters


There’s a technical term in whitewater rafting called a “boof”. When rafting, whitewater indicates an obstacle that can be a challenge to pass through. According to Cohen, “the human tendency when you see water rolling around is to go around it. But when you do that in a kayak, you turn over, meaning leaning away from the problem actually is the problem.”

“So the correct technique is to go right at the white water to fly over the obstacle and use it as an advantage to go fast,” Cohen explained.

This is a great metaphor for what it means to take on these challenges in digital marketing. Rather than work around the problem, turn the problem into a differentiating advantage.

According to Cohen, here are some of the “boofs” (or obstacles) digital marketing faces today that can be overcome…

the marketing it explosion



“One thing that’s obvious to me is there’s an explosion in types of marketing tools from chat to geo-targeting to lead generation forms and so on. It’s clear that in the future there will be more of these types of things, not fewer,” said Cohen.

Within each marketing category, it’s getting more specialized and complicated. So this implies that if there’s only going to be more types of ‘things’, and it’s very hard to do those things. The general conclusion is platforms are going to start offering to do everything for you… ‘we’ll do all in one’ so to say.

However, according to Cohen, being able to do everything on one platform isn’t the future of digital marketing. Ask yourself “how do I take it to the next step from basic integration to doing something custom with that integration?” For instance, taking these marketing IT tools and turning them into something unique.



From the film “Minority Report”

Personalization is a trend that’s gaining rapid momentum. But how do you persuade your clients of its importance? According to Cohen, sometimes your clients aren’t convinced to invest in something that’s highly personalized. It’s important to convey to them that conversions will go up when you’re specific and personalize content based on information you can gather about your customers (say from AdTech).

Therefore, in terms of technology, this means your website has to collect and manage data. To be personalized, there has to be a lot of data. You must be able to access the data in real-time too.

Brands As Publishers

In the 90s brands were told to get on the internet. “It’s the future,” they were told without really any other explanation. You weren’t able to say, “you need to get online because Amazon is going to happen…or Google’s going to happen..or social media is going to happen.” We didn’t know any of these things, but we knew this was the future, Cohen explained.

Today, the equivalent to getting online is giving your brand publishing agility. “Content should be the centerpiece of marketing,” said Cohen. He added, “people on Facebook share content, not home pages.”

The obstacle here is being good at publishing…many brands don’t specialize in this area, so it’s a challenge to go above and beyond to make your brand stand out from a publishing perspective.

“Those who don’t publish will not only stand still, but they’ll fall behind,” said Cohen.


When you think like an entrepreneur in the context of a bigger company, that’s called intrapreneurship. There is so much unknown and it’s hard to plan for the unknown or how things will unfold. “One of the ways you deal with this uncertainty is to act or think more like a startup that also doesn’t know anything about their customers, their products, or their market,” said Cohen.

He further explained that what you do is you run experiments. You acknowledge that you aren’t sure how to use certain technology and that you need a technology platform that is flexible and lets people move quickly when they want to.

Secondly, you need an agency that’s flexible and creative because it doesn’t matter what the technology is doing, it’s the campaigns and creative inside there that actually counts.

Thirdly, you need to be able to run tests quickly and cheaply so you can try things and learn and figure out what’s working.

“This notion of intrapreneurship is more than just nice, it’s mandatory when you’re navigating a world where it’s not exactly clear what the right answer is,” said Cohen.

To Boof or Not to Boof?

What are the answers to some of these obstacles? Let’s take a look…

Technology Can’t Replace Human Creativity


“It doesn’t matter what the technology is if the creative isn’t there,” Cohen explained. He added, “at the same time, if you have the best ideas in the world, but it costs 50 thousand dollars and two months for a test campaign, that also won’t work.”

The relationship between technology and creativity is a marriage — you have to have both the technology platform to support these activities, along with non-A.I. humans to drive the creative strategies.

What’s Needed from Technology to Exploit the Rapids to Your Benefit?

To attack these sorts of challenges, here’s what you need from technology:


A solution that already runs at scale, meaning globally. Your content should be able to be reached from all over the world and cater to different languages, etc. But also, in a technology sense, say something goes viral and you get tens of millions of hits in a day; your site should be able to handle this volume of traffic without crashing.


Agile = fast. You have to be fast to be entrepreneurial at all of these things.

Right Cost

Not everything is cheap, obviously. Yet, simple things ought to be easy and they should be cheap. Complex things are not cheap, yet they are possible.


As data sources continue to expand, being able to easily and quickly connect and access all that data is essential.

Why WordPress?

“WordPress is actually perfectly suited to take on these particular obstacles,” said Cohen.

Here’s how WordPress addresses these challenges:


WordPress powers more than a quarter of the web and 60 percent of the CMS market share. It also powers 27 percent of the top 10K websites.


Here’s an example: When Google Glass came out, by the next day there were three free WordPress plugins that you could use that would take your content and make it available in Glass. This means that you and your clients are in control of the when and how to go and apply this new technology.

“It’s the control and power to go at the rate that’s appropriate for you and your clients…that’s agility,” said Cohen.

On the other hand, a closed platform, like Adobe, took four months to declare when they’d have support for Google Glass..the answer…nine more months and then they didn’t even end up supporting it.

Right Cost

The WordPress software is free and so are many plugins and themes. “Sometimes it’s not about making the budget smaller, but rather making the value bigger,” said Cohen.

Ask yourself ‘what are you spending the money on?’ Are you spending it on software licensing fees? This doesn’t make a project more successful. Or are you spending it on making a better project or a more effective campaign which generates more value?


WordPress is open source and has 30,000-plus people working as freelancers whose primary income comes from WordPress. The fact that all this exists makes it easy to make integration points. Since it’s open, you can take whatever somebody else did and customize it to the integration you want, making it that much easier.

The Catch…


“WordPress is free like a puppy dog is free,” explained Cohen. But of course, it’s not actually free. Just like you have to give a puppy shots and keep it fed, WordPress comes with maintenance tasks too.

“This is the part where WP Engine comes in. We take an open source project and we make it an enterprise-grade platform. All of the challenges of open source goes to all of the things we want to solve,” said Cohen.

He then explained the inspiration behind WP Engine. “I wrote a blog post on a dedicated WordPress server. When it got popular, the server would crash,” said Cohen. This led to the need for a managed WordPress hosting solution, and so WP Engine was founded.

“Just because you have a pile of zipped up PHP code doesn’t mean it scales, doesn’t mean it’s secure, doesn’t mean it has high uptime or doesn’t mean it will perform well under a lot of traffic. There are all of these pieces required to actually make a website work,” said Cohen.

According to Cohen, there are three vital pieces to taking an open source project and making it an enterprise-grade platform. This includes high performance, security, and service.

With WP Engine’s enterprise WordPress hosting solution, high-performance is just one result noted. The infrastructure was built to address scalability among other performance factors.

WordPress security is also another important piece to an enterprise-grade website. “YTD we’ve blocked 1.6 billion attacks on our platform,” said Cohen. As technology evolves, security attacks will not be something that’ll lessen in the future, they’ll only get worse. That’s why it’s important to invest in an enterprise-grade solution that hardens your WordPress site against potential threats.

In addition, another component to being enterprise-grade is having access to great service. “We have 400 people in our organization and about half of them work in customer experience,” said Cohen. He added, “Because investment in humans beings the right way is how you have great service.”

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