In today’s MarTech conversation, we speak with Jonathan Wuurman, the VP of marketing at Actito, a Belgian marketing automation platform that aims to help brands understand the power of data activation.
Jonathan discusses his personal journey from customer success and sales to marketing leadership, his approach to team leadership as a sport, and how he’s working toward making Actito a European leader.
Tell us about Actito
Actito is a Belgium-based company that was founded in 2000 by Benoit De Nayer, Kenya Rose, and Pierre De Nayer. We operate in marketing automation. We aim to help brands understand the value that is in the data because we believe they have more data than they think. By activating data, you build relationships, you acquire customers, and you make LTV.
We serve probably 80% more in B2C; we are a pure multi-channel platform that combines email, SMS, push notifications, and even print. With COVID, we’ve actually seen print coming back and the idea is to leverage that data, personalize that messaging, and build that top-of-mind messaging between brands and consumers.
What do you do in your day-to-day work as VP of marketing?
I’ve been at the company for 12 years and I’m 38 years old—that’s pretty rare, but as long as I can keep learning and growing, why should I leave?
I come from a background in marketing and sales management. My first year in the active world of work was focused on selling. By the time I landed at Actito, I was getting fed up with it. It’s mentally draining, the American performance culture can make you lose what is essential in life—money shouldn’t be your driving force.
My manager at the time, who is now our VP of Product, pushed me to be curious; that was the game changer for me. What I did is I arrived every morning at 7:30 because I knew the IT guys started early and left at 3:00 p.m. I just listened to them and took notes., Google is your best friend. And that’s how I basically started learning the job. I always say I’m not a techie, but I understand the capabilities of tech.
I became the VP of marketing after we acquired one of our big competitors and gained customers in France, the UK, and Spain. As we were expanding so rapidly, the idea was to create a more unified brand with a distinctive culture and value set. Our core DNA is “We deliver 50% technology with 50% human support.” Agility is what defines us as a company and defending European tech is our mission. My role was created to shape the messaging and positioning around that.
At Actito, we really put sales and marketing into one bucket. We used to do field marketing, and I realized this was the wrong approach. Our new approach is “We win with the group,” so we grow together. We made everything centralized.
During COVID, our marketing team encountered some hurdles with three people leaving the team to embrace new opportunities. We went from eight to just five people within six weeks. We have Isa, who deals mainly with our content strategy and growth. Then there’s Véro, who does corporate marketing and makes sure all the countries are on the same page with things like product pages and blog articles. And we have Bryan, who is the geek of the team and is in charge of product marketing. I’m also in charge of building an ecosystem of partners. Our idea is to have 50–60 tech partners who will feed the value proposition of Actito and empower Actito’s capabilities.
I compare management to sports. I think of myself as the captain of the team. I try to help orchestrate the team and get the friction out and assign certain levels of power to different team members.
For me, you can be on the A team if you're really good. If you're not good enough, that’s no problem—there is a B team where you can still learn and train. And if you're not working out even in B, you can go to the gym for training. Those are the three phases and I will switch people around based on how they’re doing. The young generation starts in the gym and then moves up. I see myself as their coach—and I don’t mind getting my hands dirty and helping them out.
Now that we’re remote, I really encourage people to connect on a call. I tell them, “Don’t write it down; just share a screen and chat” because that’s what we would do in the office.
We have just one KPI in marketing, which is MQLs—generating demo requests. A single KPI makes your life so easy. At the beginning of the year, I sat down with the marketing team and I said, “Okay, this is the sales target. How much do we want to be accountable for?” And from that, we can set our lead generation goal.
This means we can simply ask ourselves, “Did we reach our target—yes or no?” And this gives us the space to focus less on quantities and more on quality.
What are some of your goals at Actito?
Category building is definitely what we aim to do as a company. We really want to become that leader in Europe in activation marketing because marketing automation is now too blurry a category. We want to be able to compete with the volume of customers our competitors can have.
The Americans are always saying Belgium is a pain in the ass. We only have 11 million people, with three governments and three languages, so they think there is no money to be made here. And it's probably true in a way, but it's also the best lab that you can have to test those things.
And I think that is the beauty of being a small Belgian player. Our mid goal is to expand into Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and out into the Nordics. We really want to be the activation platform in Europe.
What are some of your challenges at Actito?
Something which is very complex is the multi-language approach to content. When you try to be that pan-European player, you need to speak the language of your customers, as this is the first step in personalization. That's really a challenge because translating is not the same as writing in the language.
The other big challenge is just everything related to growth. When you see growth today, it's all about hacks and tips and tricks, but at the end of the day, I cannot do a quick hack and increase my demo request by 300% in a month—that’s impossible or just unpayable. It doesn't work that way.
So understanding the game of SEO, understanding the game of advertising, understanding the game of partnering, and having business exchange reviews and everything is definitely a challenge.
And there’s so much noise today about companies that have grown by, say, 4000% and risen by 362 demo requests in one day and so on. I think that’s blurring the message to top management because they don’t get it.
We aim for sustainable growth based on experimenting and playbooks—not quick hacks.
What new initiatives are you considering?
I think the big slogans work less well than before. I think that marketing needs to be much closer to authenticity and culture than before. I think probably that one of the big challenges for marketers today is to make brands more human, more responsible, more real.
And more than that, marketing needs to be able to build communities today.
How does content marketing fit into your strategy?
I think that content is the longtail. Google is the way that people do look for stuff, so content is the fuel of the machine.
I’ve actually started to see content very differently since we did an SEO journey with a partner of ours. Everybody was always talking about education and awareness. Stuff like “9 hacks to . . .” or “8 tips for . . .” And I’m not saying that approach is wrong, but our ideal customer profile already knows that. They need to understand what’s next.
So, I need to focus my content on people who are fed up with their email service provider and are looking to invest in activation marketing. Yes, you need to bring your culture and your value proposition, but you also need to narrow your strategy to focus on the right ICP.