Agency Breakout Summit/2021: Delivering For Clients, Improving ROI with Enterprise WordPress

Every agency aims to meet customer goals while running a profitable and sustainable business, yet so many agencies still burn through budget paying for proprietary software. In this session, you’ll hear from the experts at Digital Yalo as they explain how you can use WordPress to deliver higher ROI for you and your clients.

Video: Delivering For Clients, Improving ROI with Enterprise WordPress

Slides from the session

In this session, Digital Yalo Founder & CEO Arnold Huffman and Strategy Director Anne Dawson discuss:

  • Shifting budgets away from commercial off-the-shelf software (COTS) and focusing instead on user experience, brand representation, and amazing content to support your website with open source.
  • Building additional features, capabilities, and customizations without the time and resources that come with complex integrations.

Working with WordPress and WP Engine, we see the same security, performance, and scalability, with the addition of being able to control the content that’s put onto your site…giving your team the power to create that content and move quickly in the changing landscape is something where WordPress has an advantage.

Digital Yalo Founder & CEO Arnold Huffman

Full text transcript

ARNOLD HUFFMAN: Hello, everyone. My name is Arnold Huffman. I’m CEO here at Digital Yalo. Joined by Anne Dawson, our Director of Strategy.

And we’re– being here at Yalo– Yalo means soul in Fiji. And our souls are rooted in our approach of using film, art, music, and sports to generate inspiration for the unique and differentiated marking we do for our clients and their brands. We’re a full-service marketing agency based in Atlanta, second office in Cleveland. And are a strategic agency partner with WP Engine, really proud to be here today.

So what we’re here to discuss with you all is the ability to choose WordPress as your DXP, and why you would make this decision, how you would come to making this decision. So music is at the center of everything we do here at Yalo. We even have a soul song exercise that’s part of our creative brief in our approach.

So for today, we decided to pick a song to be the framework of how we would have this conversation with you. And so we’ve selected the song, You Can Get With This or You Can Get With That. It’s a song from the ’80s by Black Sheep. It’s actually a rap song and was repopularized in the 2000s during the KIA car commercials. So we’ll use this as the framework to think through the decisions that you need to make on your way and through your journey to deciding to use WordPress as your DXP.

So looking through the agenda here, open source this or commercial off the shelf software that. And that’s what COTS stands for, commercial off-the-shelf software. Open source this or custom dev that. WordPress this or open source that. WordPress this or COTS that. And then we’ll wrap up with a quick discussion about what we like to call WordPress plus, which is how you expand and grow your WordPress footprint for the future.

ANNE DAWSON: Thanks, Arnold. The CMS landscape is getting increasingly complicated as we look at all the options that we have on the market now. So in the theme of this or that, we can see all of the different elements that we have to consider as we build our digital experience platform. As we’re considering WordPress and WP Engine, we look at a lot of different elements– A/B testing, optimization, analytics, SEO, and even the industries we work in. Let’s dive in.

ARNOLD HUFFMAN: So we get this question a lot. WordPress is only for small companies. And the reality is that that’s a false statement. So true, lots of small and medium business size organizations pick WordPress for a lot of reasons. Most notably it’s simple, it’s easy to use, it’s low cost, provides great capabilities, provides capabilities beyond what you might get with a Wix or Squarespace that even smaller organizations use.

But they want to represent their brand the best way possible. And that means not being cookie-cutter, not being boring, or template-driven. And thus, you want the ability to be able to customize and modify that user experience for your brand and for your website. And in order to do that and to differentiate your brand, you want something that is both structural, but also flexible to meet your needs.

You also want something that’s not terribly complicated. Because as a small or medium business or organization, you don’t have a multitude of staff to be able to support using a complicated CMS. So for all those reasons, we obviously and certainly do see SMBs using WordPress for their website choices.

Now, flip to the other side, medium to enterprise size clients. Certainly, those size organizations have bigger budgets. They have the opportunity to make other choices in their CMS. And that typically leads to the conversation around commercial off-the-shelf software or COTS as we called it.

So with those bigger budgets, you could go spend more money on one of these pieces of software, but there’s certainly some challenges with that. And what we’re starting to see with enterprise clients a lot more and more is should I spend this amount of money on commercially available software and get all of these things that come in that package? Or can I start with a more reasonable starting point, both for cost and complexity? And grow or build my way into the type of capability and functionality I would be looking for in my CMS.

So being able to not spend that money upfront allows them to shift those dollars into spending more money on things like the user experience, the brand representation, the content to support the website. And then build into additional features or capabilities you might want to see in your CMS platform. And we’ll talk some more about those here in a minute, in terms of what those capabilities are.

ANNE DAWSON: So does industry matter for choosing open source or COTS? We see a lot of variety across industries. And some that choose COTS and some that choose open source. Specifically for CPG, food and beverage, and non-eCommerce B2B, we see powerful capabilities within the WordPress platform for being able to build content and create a brand experience that informs your customers along their journey. And helps them ultimately reach the decision to work with you.

ARNOLD HUFFMAN: And this decision between open source and COTS—we’re still in this or that discussion and does industry matter? Well, the answer would be sort of. There’s definitely certain industries that would be better suited and supporting use of WordPress for your enterprise needs. So CPG is certainly one of those. F&B, which is food and beverage, is another one. And non eCommerce B2B.

So why have we singled out these three industries? For a couple of reasons—one, they’re really content-driven or brand-driven experiences that these types of industries are going for. They’re heavy in terms of content.

There might be some complexity when it comes to information architecture. But the functional and transactional needs of representing your brand or your product in these three industries outweighs or is more of a driver than e-commerce capability and transactional side of it. So when it’s more of a brand-driven or content-driven experience, like in these three industries, we typically see a good use of WordPress at the enterprise level in these industries.

And this leads us to an analogy that we like to talk to with our clients when we’re having this open source versus COTS discussion. And the way we like to describe it is using this comparative analysis or analogy. So it’s kind of like buying a car. You go and you’re looking for a car. And really what you need is a car that gets you to work, looks good—maybe good enough to get a date—but then also works well, is very reliable. That really, to us, is open source.

On the other side of this, you might end up at the showroom. Be lured by the Ferrari because it’s sleek, it’s sexy, it’s powerful, it comes with lots of bells and whistles, looks great, sounds great. And really what you need to consider then, now that you’re being lured by the power of this wonderful machine, is that– have you considered the second round of costs that come with that? So things like maintenance, and new tires, and insurance.

Buying the car, in and of itself, isn’t all that’s included in a Ferrari. There are ancillary costs. And so the total cost of ownership of that Ferrari is much higher than just the price tag of the Ferrari.

So the first big issue we see is that when folks do—if they get lured into this, I want the Ferrari versus what I need in a Ferrari, is that they’re not aware of these additional costs. Secondly, they’re not really a race car driver, per se. Don’t really understand all the bells and whistles of the car. Certainly aren’t prepared to handle the power of the car.

And so the Ferrari ends up being taken out of the garage. And driven around in first or second gear in the neighborhood. And never brought out on the highway where it really achieves its full potential. And so that challenge is what we see a lot. And that’s what we consider the analogy of COTS being is that Ferrari that gets driven around in first or second gear.

And so that’s the first wave of costs that you might see in terms of buying software and then having to hire somebody to help implement a very complicated piece of machinery, like the Ferrari in this case, the COT software. We’ll give you a cautionary tale here. A former client of ours, in the manufacturing space, global B2B client, very complicated business with multiple business units all around the world, but their sales process had zero to do with e-commerce. It was a very complicated sale.

So really, it was a brand representation content-heavy kind of website that they needed for their brand positioning. So what we talked to them about was where’s the value in your website? Well, they got lured into the conversation around the Ferrari, so to speak, in a commercial, off-the-shelf software. And ended up making that selection.

Well, now comes the ancillary costs. So they ended up hiring– having to hire a global top five system integrator to implement that system, which came with the hefty price tag of seven figures plus. Next, it came with the timeline of 18 months plus to implement the website. And really at the end of the day, what they got was a website that looked great, had lots of content, and certainly, like I said, had a complicated information architecture because of the amount of content.

But from a functional and capability standpoint, that Ferrari got driven around in first and second gear. They never were able to move to the next stage of putting that car into third and fourth gear because they had spent all their money and so much time on just getting the initial website up and the brand representation up, which easily could have been done with an open source platform.

The second thing—the second reason why they never got into third, fourth, or fifth gear with that car is because after the implementation, there’s more—another wave of costs related to costs– or sorry, costs related to content. And that content challenge is one that if you’re going to use the added features of commercially available software that they lure you with, things like personalization, optimization, A/B testing, that requires a whole lot more content to be able to deliver that. And so being able to put that together requires either hiring more resources or continuing to pay the SI to help you build out that capability. So that’s another cost.

The third cost then comes down to if you start to implement all of those features– personalization, A/B testing— that all comes with extra data. And more data is always a good—can generally be a good thing if you have the resources to actually look at that data, analyze the data, make good smart decisions with that data, and then implement that. Which then requires having an analytics team in place in order to do so. So there are waves of costs here that I don’t think a lot of large organizations have a clear perspective on when they go down the road of do I want to Ferrari or do I need a Ferrari. And really, our belief is what you need is something you can grow with and build on in the open source platform.

ANNE DAWSON: Great—in addition to that, we still see custom development as an option for a lot of clients who come our way. Still shocking that you would go the custom routes when there is COTS and open source as an option. The pro is this is a piece of code, custom development, that you own completely and you can build for what you want. But open source provides that to you as well.

So really, going down a custom path is something that’s going to limit you long-term. And it’s going to be hard to maintain and find the skill set. In addition to big commercial off the shelf, we’re looking at custom dev as something that’s hard to maintain long-term.

You need the team in place. You need the scalability. You need the performance. And you’re looking at a platform that potentially limits what you can create and what your team can create. So with custom dev, we do see hidden costs, in addition to the Ferrari that Arnold mentioned. Looking at how to make the most of this, open source is a secure platform for us to move forward on.

ARNOLD HUFFMAN: So what we see here, and we’ll give another example here, a cautionary tale of another client. And this is an example of being in CMS jail. So they previously had worked with another agency. And they had their own custom CMS platform. This is a client that had multiple brands under a parent brand.

And all of those things—well, not every brand, but a good chunk of those brands were sitting in this custom CMS that had been built by the previous agency. Then they also had a few other brands on disparate other platforms out there. So they had this hodgepodge with a centerpiece of custom dev platform.

Well, over time that became untennable for them because it didn’t allow them the flexibility to move and shift with market needs that they needed to respond to. Things like– that was inhibiting their ability to move were things like a limited number of changes per month because the agency controlled and dictated how the work would get done. So a limited number of changes per month, which again, does it really fit if you have seasonal demands on your campaign, seasonal content needs, or even, worse, immediate content needs, for example, in the food space, like a food recall that needs to hit the website immediately. So a limited number of changes.

And the second challenge was around the SLA and turnaround times to implement those changes. Those things were dictated, again, by the agency that they had a specific lead time required in order for things to make its way onto a website. And so those are really challenging situations for a business that needs to, again, move at the pace of commerce in the marketplace and stay competitive.

And then lastly, them being in this jail didn’t give anyone on their team the ability to do their job either. So everything funneled back through the agency. And even in that scenario, give the parallel version, if somebody were to build a custom platform themselves, you’re putting a lot of eggs into the basket of those developers on your team staying around forever, really to keep that engine running for you. So there is some caution and tread lightly when it comes to the custom dev side. Versus open source, you have a multitude and a wide array of people and skills out there that you can tap into to keep your engine running.

So now we’re looking at WordPress versus other open source. So you’ve made the decision, OK, I like this notion of open source versus commercially off-the-shelf software. So what are my options if I’m going to look at open source?

Well, again, what we tend to see is it depends on who’s making the decision, who’s driving the boat. Is IT in charge of the infrastructure of a company and solely in charge of that? Or does marketing have a hand in making some of those decisions?

So when we’re looking at and talking to organizations that are IT-driven, one of the things that—a lot of times that we find in an IT-driven organization is they could be .NET focused. And if they’re .NET focused, what that means is they’re probably going to pick a .NET Based platform, like an Embraco, a Kentico, or DotNetNuke to be their platform because that’s what their team skill set is built around—.NET.

God forbid, we also still see SharePoint, remarkably, still being used for websites out there. So it does make us scratch our heads. But recently, we just talked to a prospect this year that was very clear that the website was going to be built on SharePoint. So those do exist too.

But if the marketing team’s driving the decision and ownership of the platform, then we start to see a lot more of a dialogue between WordPress versus Drupal, as two different options. And they’re both great open source communities. They’re both PHP-based, so the skill set is readily available out there in the marketplace.

But we do think there are some very key differentiators for WordPress over Drupal. So one– and we’ve worked with both platforms and still do, kind of matching to a client’s very specific needs. But we give the edge to WordPress for a couple of reasons.

One, the content editor-friendly nature of WordPress is unbeatable. And for many of you who are marketers and especially those who manage and update websites for their content, you’ve probably used WordPress somewhere in your background, whether it’s for a blog or a previous client’s website. But I would say that 80% of the people that are on this session have touched and used WordPress in the past. And it’s all because of the ease of use from the content editor’s perspective.

The flip side with Drupal—Drupal can certainly be that and can do that. But, again, because we’ve worked with both platforms and have experience with it, setting up Drupal to be as content editor-friendly as WordPress takes extra work, which takes extra time, which takes extra costs. And even though they’re both open source, there’s additional work to be done to make Drupal as easy to use as WordPress.

The second reason, then, for WordPress is as we all know, there’s a multitude of templates out there and starting points that we can make use of and leverage to make website creation much more efficient. And speed to market becomes a lot more palatable. So it’s really giving WordPress the edge because it gives the power to the content marketer to do their job most effectively.

The Drupal side of it, again, is you can make it do—the beauty of Drupal is you can make it do just about anything you want. But it’s really like starting with a blank sheet of paper. So another analogy we like to use is this one.

It’s kind of like the adjusted car seats—electric adjustable car seats in today’s cars. The image on the left, you have too many options. You’ve got up, down, left, right, forward, lean forward, lean back. Well, not knowing what you’re shooting for, this gives you a million different ways to try to get to an endpoint that you’re not even sure what that is. And so this could take a very, very long time to work through and find just the right spot.

Now conversely, the image on the right is what we would consider to be more WordPress which is, OK, this has a preset, one, two, and three, which is kind of like a template. It gives me a starting point of the kind of thing I think I like. And then from there, the ability to customize and modify that to extend it to make it more unique to fit your brand and deliver the experience you want.

I’ll add another analogy here. I’ll make it a quick one. It’s kind of like ramen noodles, as well. So you can make ramen noodles from scratch. You can boil down the broth and make a wonderful dish. But the time, effort, and the complexity in doing so can be challenging, which leads to the risk of 100 things could go wrong.

On the flip side of that, you could go to your local Asian store, buy the pack of ramen, and that’s going to be simpler faster. But it’s giving you the starting point that you need to then customize from there and build whatever delicious dish you want to. So you could add onions, peppers, garlic, bok choy, and even an egg to flavor it up. And that gives you the opportunity to make it unique and make it your own. And then that minimizes the risk of anything going wrong. And also speeds your time to market, which in this case, is your time to eat. So that’s what we consider WordPress to be.

ANNE DAWSON: I like the analogy, time to eat, Arnold. I think everyone can appreciate that. In addition to thinking through what teams are comfortable with, most of you use WordPress in this room. One of the questions we get asked a lot is can I get fired for buying one of the big off-the-shelf providers? So can you get fired for buying Adobe? Maybe.

We see—these are expensive implementations that take up to two years or longer with some client scenarios. And by the time you get your off-the-shelf software in place, sometimes it’s time to refresh for a brand reason, or for a change in the business, or for looking at the teams that are really working within that software. So there’s definitely merit to COTS. And when it’s implemented and used correctly, we see it being very powerful.

But working with WordPress and WP Engine, we see the same security, performance, and scalability, with the addition of being able to control the content that’s put onto your site. So blogging, landing pages, creating campaigns, looking at getting to market faster, and giving your team the power to create that content. So really content control and being able to move quickly in the changing landscape is something where WordPress has an advantage, where our COTS see long implementation cycles.

WordPress also has a variety of options where we can add on. So when we’re thinking about how we target, or personalization, or how we grow our traffic and our pages, this is really something that we see value in being able to do this quickly.

A few examples of building a digital experience platform. A few of our favorites over here on the side—HubSpot we use for marketing automation. You can use HubSpot to build email campaigns, but so much more than that with blogs and landing pages. It gives you one place to really control your data and also look at a dashboard all in one, to show the progress that we’re making and the traffic that you’re driving.

Full story, for those of you who haven’t checked this tool out, is a UI UX implementation tool that gives you everything from recordings to dashboards to funnel creations. So you really get to know your customers and how they’re interacting across your site. It’s definitely a cool tool to check out.

In addition to that, Dynamic Yield is an A/B testing personalization platform that gives you the possibility of testing out is that gut theory correct. Or should I be looking at a different angle? We love testing because you can always evolve and learn from your data. And use that to make decisions for your site in the future, whether you need an additional tool, or a new platform, or new site if you’re building a community too. We see that across industries.

And finally, Qualified. This is a sales conversion, but it’s marketing real-time conversations. So being able to serve your customers where they’re at. And also thinking through how do I connect to them faster.

We know that they’re doing their research online ahead of time, but they’re eager for information. So wherever they can find it, you want to make sure that your team is there to support your customers across industries at that point in time. And Qualified is definitely a cool tool to check out as well.

ARNOLD HUFFMAN: So all of these platforms are bolt-ons that can be added to any WordPress implementation, expanding the scope, and capability, and power of your WordPress CMS and DXP. So this is where we see the WordPress plus scenario coming into play. And it allows you to grow and become more sophisticated over time. It allows you to be more successful over time. And then really ties it to the ROI is as you’re becoming more successful, you continue to add these other capabilities and features along with that growth in your investment, rather than, again, this heavy upfront costs with COTS implementation.

So from there, they also have the opportunity to consider headless. That’s a fancy term. I make this joke here, where am I, in Sleepy Hollow? No, you’re not in Halloween lands.

But really, what does it mean? So it’s a fancy tech term, from my perspective, to mean decoupled. And the reason this has come about is that the reality is that users have become very impatient. If something doesn’t load quick enough, we’re dissatisfied and we move on. So decoupled creates this—or headless, in a decoupled manner, creates this situation where you now have lightning speed on your website. And speed may be more of a technical term, but the reality is, there’s value intrinsically built into that for the user and for you as a marketer.

First off, you’re getting higher visitor engagement. And you’re getting increased conversions because people are getting to the content, to the information, to the CTA you want them to faster. They’re not leaving because they’re getting the information they want. And so it makes them sticky and staying on your site.

Third is, you get a nice little bump from SEO performance. Google likes you more if your website is highly performant and serving those pages up quick. So there’s a lot of good possibilities and upside in terms of value of moving to a headless implementation. And we’re starting to see more of that and belief in that going forward.

Now, if you say headless to a small-medium business, whether it’s the owner or the single marketing person, it might fly right over their head. And in some cases, even an enterprise owner. So we like to talk about it in a more simplistic nature.

But the reality is that the power of moving to a headless and providing all the speed is that the back end doesn’t get sacrificed for the content marketer. Content marketer still is able to edit and modify content the same way they always have in their lovely WordPress backend as they’ve had in the past. You’ve just now changed the front-end experience for the user that’s visiting your site. So you can basically have your cake and eat it too.

So with that, my name is Arnold Huffman. That was Anne Dawson. We’re from Yalo. You could reach us at

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