Nicole O’Rourke joined Aptean just a few weeks ago and took some time out of her busy schedule to join me in conversation. We talked about everything from her voracious reading habits to tracking trends to her extensive experience as a marketer in the healthcare and technology sectors.
AC: Can you tell us a bit about your background and the path that brought you to Aptean?
NO: I have been in marketing for over twenty years. I started working in classic brand management, business-to-consumer type-work with Johnson & Johnson and then shifted to doing more work with business-to-business-to-consumer companies, like Aetna.
And after about fifteen years in healthcare, I decided to make a real change in my career. I wanted to move into the technology space—still in marketing—but a big change nonetheless. And, really, I wanted to do this because even then you could start to see the impact that technology was going to have in healthcare—mobile health and wearables and algorithms in terms of how we manage our lives and our health—and in many other industries.
After having spent quite a bit of time in the health arena, I figured I knew that sector pretty well, but I didn’t have the technology aspect yet. So I went to work for a SaaS company—most recently Manhattan Associates—which develops and implements warehouse management, transportation management, and omnichannel software. While there, I was really focused on the migration from on-premise to SaaS… as a marketer. How do you think of developing that market? How do you present the value opportunities there? How do you convince people to migrate?
AC: It must have been exciting to pivot in your career.
NO: That’s exactly right because that’s how you keep learning. It’s equal parts exciting and terrifying.
AC: As a marketer now working in technology and software, you work alongside technical experts. It’s pretty essential that you speak their language. How do you stay current on technology in order to convey the value of products to their customers?
NO: I stay current by being a curious consumer in the marketplace, by absorbing articles that are written in relevant publications and by meeting industry experts at tradeshows and industry events. I’m willing and eager to try out different kinds of technologies too.
As far as the technology here at Aptean, I want to learn about the products– what is the product? What does it do? Why is it important to its customers? Who are its customers? And what is our view of the product from a business growth standpoint?
When trying to figure out how to best market these technologies, it’s usually simply thinking like a customer: watching demos, assessing the usability, trying to get a feel for what it’s like to use the product. As a marketer, it’s not my job to become a coder or a product developer, thank goodness, but it is essential to have an understanding of the technology and what makes it different from or better than the competition. Then I align that product knowledge with a strong understanding of the market and make sure both of those things are headed in the same direction.
AC: Can you tell me more about brand as it relates to Aptean?
NO: Brand is incredibly important as a decision-maker, and it also allows companies to—through a series of promises that you associate with that brand— raise value perceptions. We’re willing to pay a little more for a name brand product than one without a name, and that’s because we associate value with it. Different people value different things, but brand is certainly an aid to decision making when we’re faced with a wall of different choices.
With Aptean, we have to take the heritage of the brands and companies we’ve acquired and also develop more of a brand persona for the Aptean family, as opposed to each individual brand only having its own thing. We don’t want our product brands to lose their personas, but we want to be able to talk at a higher level in a meaningful way.
AC: One of Aptean’s strengths is that it provides products to customers across a broad number of industries. This isn’t expected to change anytime soon, in fact, it’s our goal to continue to expand and grow. Is it a challenge as a marketer to keep up with so many different industries and still maintain a connection with each customer?
NO: For sure it’s a challenge. We’re growing so rapidly. It’s nice to see, however, that we’re making focused investments in segments that are consistent across products. With food and beverage, for example, we have several products that serve the needs of that market. As we continue to grow our expertise in each industry, we can better serve our customers.
AC: As fast as the tech industry changes, how do you balance the need to deliver the products that customers say they need today with the products you know they’ll need in the future?
NO: As consumers, we only know what we know. Often, what consumers say they need is based on some frustration or struggle that they currently have. We’re not, as consumers, typically far-future visionaries.
When we start to think about what the big changes or big trends are in the future, we almost need to separate ourselves from what our customers are saying today. We need to ask ourselves where the industry is going and what the capabilities could be—whether that’s the tech industry in terms of platforming or the end industry we’re serving like with food and beverage.
As an example, a few years ago we started seeing a lot of emphasis on food safety. And in technology we saw and read so much about blockchain—you saw those things happening independently but at the same time. I’m sure it was inspiring for technologists to sit back and brainstorm about how they could better manage quality in the long term. In the short term, customers are saying they need to improve traceability, and it would be a fairly narrow need, but there could also be a suite of quality offerings that could be on the roadmap to develop at the time.
You have to address the squeaky wheels of your customers and not ignore their short term needs, but also gain an understanding of recurring issues and develop larger solutions too.
AC: In these early days, what are your initial observations about the company and the CMO role?
NO: It’s a great company, and it’s an exciting place to be because we’re growing rapidly. In terms of the CMO role, it gives me the opportunity to look at the brand portfolio over time, and to think critically about how we better stitch together some of the fabulous offerings we have, which is part of what attracted me to the role here in the first place.
It also raises the possibility of continuing to advance the organic growth of the company so we’re matching that inorganic growth that we’ve been making. It’s about what our general strategy is and then about how we’re going to bring our products to market in a specific way that’s going to drive demand.
AC: Let’s talk about culture. What kind of company is Aptean? What’s it like to work here?
NO: I’m still learning quite a bit, but I can tell you what attracted me to Aptean: the people. Everyone I’ve met and worked with up to this point has been smart, driven, bright, and also very nice. Within the marketing team, I’ve observed a team that works very hard and is really proud of the work they’re doing. They’re also incredibly open when it comes to improving their craft. I find that to be very inspiring, and when we think about that along side our fast-moving, acquisitive growth, I think it’s an exciting time to be here.
AC: Can you tell us a little bit more about you? What makes you you? What’s valuable to you? What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
NO: Spending time with my family is at the top of my list. I have a husband, Mark, to whom I’ve been married for 24 years; he’s basically a saint. He has allowed me to put my career more to the forefront and has been extraordinarily supportive and patient every step of the way. We have a daughter Audrey, who’s now fifteen years old. She’s into horseback riding and softball, and with college right around the corner, we’re starting to shift our attention to campus visits.
Personally, I’m a voracious reader. I’m generally reading six or seven different things at a time. I switch between genres just based on my mood. As far as biographies, right now I’m reading all about Charles V who was an eclectic man that ruled just about all of Western Europe at one point. And for fiction, I’m reading The Particular Sadness of Lemoncake. If I have enough free time, you could also find me ice skating or gardening, depending on the season.