Q&A

Ex-Googler Matt McGowan is president of Adestra, a leading martech company boasting double digit growth for more than a decade. McGowan believes that email as a martech solution has been often overlooked for many reasons, none of which have anything to do with its efficacy and results. We spoke with him about email’s unsung talents and the results that his clients have seen.

Email is often missing when it comes to high-level discussions of marketing strategy in the media. Why is that?

It’s not flashy, and compared to other marketing channels the costs to effectively reach customers and clients are considerably low. Email is the workhorse of the digital space and has been around for as long as the internet. Yet, it’s often overlooked cause it’s “just email”. It’s changing a bit as we have more conversations on the addressability of the consumer (identification) through email addresses and the marketer’s access to data. The other reason is that email is not broken enough. Even when done poorly, it performs higher in terms of ROI than other channels. Whereas in other channels, when you do it wrong, you don’t see the ROI. We should be talking more about email. We should be focusing on the importance of the proactive communicative power of email. We should be talking more about email as a tool to power a company’s retention and loyalty programs.

How do you begin to shift the narrative, since a lot of people seem to think of “spam” when they hear the phrase “email marketing”.

Often these thoughts originate with “I get a lot of emails that don’t resonate with me”. Not much different than “I see a lot of ads that don’t resonate with me.” It’s more a commentary on relevancy. It’s associated with spam merely because it’s email that the consumer does not want until they want it. But it’s their choice to engage, it’s not the email that gets them involved. If we want to change this stereotype, then what we need to do is focus on First-Person Marketing strategies that work to recognize the individual not the audience. Individual engagement is quite powerful and there are platforms out there that facilitate this.

In terms of results, what does email offer and how does it stack up against industry averages?

The DMA, IAB, AAAA, and other associations and regulatory bodies in the industry have for years have claimed that email has the highest ROI. The low-cost, high return marketing channel. What I would rather see is investment and budget allocation that align to the ROI levels. Invest more and make more.

There’s a lot of confusion with reference to data integration and email marketing. Can you run us through a quick primer?

What the marketer wants is access to data. Data that powers better decisions on consumer engagement strategies across the digital spectrum for both retention and acquisition based marketing. This data can be used to better target and appeal to the consumer in a relevant way. Yet, the marketer needs not only the data, but also the resources to do something with the data that is available. This takes a greater focus on strategy and operations. A greater focus on tactics that can empower the data to be used dynamically within the email. With this bridge established, the data integrations that are essential to a relevant conversation can be actualized. There are best-in-class point solutions that allow this to happen because they can “speak” to each other in ways the pre-packaged stacks cannot. Anti-intuitive I know.

What does a CMO need to be aware of in developing an email marketing plan?

That like any channel, it needs to be invested in. That the mere cost of an email is not the end-point. Like any good strategy, complexity is key and email cannot be seen as just a communication medium that is “easy”. Email should be intricate, complex and involve as much effort as we take with other channels. Moreover, the email marketer should not operate in a silo, she should be part of the team, fully integrated with her colleagues. Models and propensity analysis are key to making it work. For the CMO, do the research, invite the ESP into your office, put some working sessions in the calendar. There is a lot to learn and discuss.

What kind of results have you seen with clients who began adopting a more strategic approach to email?

Oddly enough, Adestra has an amazing content library of not only campaigns that had remarkable success, but case studies that show in every vertical, when email is really invested in, the results are astounding. For example, our client NakedWines.com, one of the largest and definitely most loved global wine distributors on the planet, implemented a propensity-based email that is constructed based on the individual user’s propensity for selecting certain wines. They achieved a 40% conversion rate. That number is enough to make any CMO blush. It’s these kinds of examples, and many more, that keep us excited about the future of the industry and the power of data.

Learn more about Adestra here.

Sprinklr is the embodiment of a tech unicorn. Solution-focused, data-driven, and generating buzz consistently, Sprinklr boasts a valuation far north of $1.8 billion (at the time of this piece). We spoke with the charismatic founder and CEO, Ragy Thomas, about his company’s startup journey and why NYC was the right place to launch.

Tell us about your company’s beginnings. What did you see (or not see) in the market that led you to launch?
In 2008, I was President of Epsilon Interactive Services Group, a division of Alliance Data Systems that provided email marketing technology and interactive agency services. During this time, I saw that email was changing the way that businesses communicated with customers and realized that the same thing would happen with social media. It was clear that social would create new opportunities and new challenges for how brands communicate with customers.

In 2009, I launched Sprinklr to solve the biggest problem facing every modern enterprise in today’s social world — managing experiences across every single customer touchpoint. Today, Sprinklr provides the most complete social media and customer experience management platform for the enterprise. We help more than 1,200 of the world’s largest brands do marketing, advertising, research, care, and commerce on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and 22 other social channels globally – all on one integrated platform.

What were some of the biggest challenges that your team faced at zero stage?
In the early days of Sprinklr, we were often ridiculed for our strategy. We pursued a platform strategy as opposed to a point solutions strategy, and we were ridiculed for this. If you go back six years, the startup world was going through the notion that you must be really specialized and simple and we just didn’t believe in that. We believed that big businesses needed a comprehensive, unified platform to interact with their customers in a human, intuitive way.

We learned not to get distracted by little things, and focus on the big picture. No matter what’s going on in the market, the philosophy I’ve used to build my business has always been the same: a relentless focus on fundamentals. We’ve focused on revenue growth and creating tangible value for customers with a credible solution to an incredibly pervasive problem. Those are the things that matter, and the things that will always win in the end.

Let’s look at the science behind your product. What makes it different from other offerings in this space?
Sprinklr is the only unified customer experience management platform purpose-built for today’s social world. From the beginning, we set out to build a powerful social media management platform that integrates with an organization’s existing infrastructure and allows employees across every customer-facing department to collaborate with unified data. We provide an external API available to build applications on Sprinklr and have over 100 total connections, including CRM, marketing automation, asset management, profile and message enrichment, and analytics systems.

We pride ourselves in the ability to drive real business results for brands. In fact, the average Sprinklr customer sees a 172% return on their investment in the first year of their contract and 236% in their second year.

Another key differentiator for Sprinklr is our vast relationships with channel partners. Unlike competitors, Sprinklr has a direct relationship and access to more than 21 channel partners, including Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and more. This, along with content for over 120 countries in over 110 languages, paired with the breadth of enterprise platform applications (i.e. Salesforce, SAP, Marketo, Adobe and more) allow brands to achieve a true 360-degree view of the customer by having a presence at every user touchpoint.

Lastly, Sprinklr’s platform is proudly secure for our customers. Leading financial services companies like JPMorgan Chase, Citi, and Wells Fargo depend on Sprinklr because of our governance, compliance and security capabilities. Sprinklr has top-tier security and compliance certifications, such as SOC 1 and 2 certifications, FFIEC, and more.

How do you translate your brand’s message in a way that gets you heard above the noise?
We only have one “true north” at Sprinklr: creating value for our customers. We obsess over it. Sprinklr creates value by helping companies solve their problems, and the Fortune 500 brands we work with have a very big one on their hands: figuring how to engage with each of their customers in a meaningful way, at scale, across every social channel. We provide a unique solution to an obvious problem, and that leads to immense value for our customers.

There is a lot of noise around digital transformation and social media crises, but we don’t feed into the noise. We provide the solution to the noise. And that’s how we get heard.

Let’s talk about brand values. What means the most to your company besides industry success?
Sprinklr is unique in that its core values come directly up from the company’s employees, not down from the boardroom. Our core values are: It’s ok; Sprinkle, don’t shout; Fix it don’t complain; Never ever give up; and Passionately and genuinely care.

These are the personality traits and core values that our company runs on. They’re written on our walls, woven into emails, mentioned in board meetings. They keep us unified.

Success to me is about the people. I want my team to feel empowered, inspired and equipped to tackle any challenge. As we continue to grow and scale as a business, maintaining strong values and a positive culture is critical.

There’s always been this rivalry between Silicon Valley and NYC in tech. What are some tangible benefits to being based in NYC?
New York was an easy choice for me to build our headquarters. My life is here and it’s truly a one-of-a-kind city. The business landscape in New York is incredibly challenging, without a doubt, but it’s the right kind of challenges you need as a startup. If you can do it in New York, you can do it anywhere.

For Sprinklr, we also had a big advantage by being physically close to our prospects. We knew we wanted to target the enterprise and Fortune 500 landscape. Being one of the biggest business meccas in the world, and having a big focus on the advertising and marketing space, it was a perfect fit.

Name one place in your company’s NYC neighborhood (restaurant, cafe, etc) that you and your team just can’t live without.
Many employees in our NYC office occasionally moonlight as karaoke superstars and head to Koreatown for all the karaoke spots. Our office is also close to Bryant Park, which is our year-round destination for grabbing a breath of fresh air and our go-to outdoor spot to hang out and relax.

 

Sociomantic, part of dunnhumby, is an ad tech company that has grown in 8 years from a bootstrapped startup to reach 6 continents, 60+ markets, and employ 250+ team members. We sat down with JB Brokaw, North American President of Sociomantic Labs, to discuss the company’s incredible trajectory.

Tell us about your company’s beginnings. What did you see (or not see) in the market that led you to launch?

Sociomantic got its start in Berlin at a time when online advertising was just taking off. The founders recognized the opportunity to help advertisers cut through the noise and increase engagement with their audiences, and by 2010 Sociomantic made waves as the first European demand-side platform to develop real-time bidding for e-commerce advertisers. The company name is a combination of sociology (study of people) and semantics (study of meaning in language), and represents our ability to help advertisers reach individuals across the globe by delivering personalized, meaningful messaging that inspires action.

Five years in, we were acquired by dunnhumby, a leading customer science company that harnesses consumer data to drive loyalty for retailers. This partnership has offered even more opportunities to provide relevant, personalized advertising at scale.

What were some of the biggest challenges that your team faced at zero stage?

When we launched in the US, the market was already quite saturated. We definitely experienced the “small fish in a big pond” syndrome and had to prove ourselves amidst competitors that were much larger than us in terms of headcount and marketing budget. It was daunting at first, but we soon saw that we can hold our own against the competition, and today the US is our largest market.

We also struggled with having fewer people on the ground here in the beginning; initially our creative service team was based out of Berlin, which posed some challenges as were are often under strict design deadlines from clients. Fortunately, as we’ve grown over the years we’ve built out a strong team here in NYC, including some very talented in-house designers.

Let’s look at the science behind your product. What makes it different from other offerings in this space?

The real-time bidding aspect of programmatic advertising is quite complex and it’s often criticized for its lack of transparency relating to where and how ad exchanges and supply-side partners place ads and spend advertisers’ dollars. One thing that truly sets us apart from our competitors is the Supply Quality Index (SQX), our proprietary bidding algorithm that allows us to grade the programmatic inventory suppliers we work with based on their levels of transparency, performance and inventory quality. Simply put, if they don’t measure up to our high standards, we refuse to work with them.

Another key differentiator is the complete customization of our dynamic creative, an area where we continue to receive rave reviews. Unlike other companies that only provide templates for their banner ads, our creative services team works closely with each client to build custom display ads that are aligned with its brand image. Our designers are constantly experimenting with new types of formats as well, and our portfolio of creative offerings continues to evolve each day.

How do you translate your brand’s message in a way that gets you heard above the noise?

In this industry, there are a hundred different companies all touting that their platform is the best, and when you examine the nuts and bolts, the features all seem rather similar. I’m confident that our technology works and is superior to many of our competitors — after all, we were 100% bootstrapped up until our acquisition, and we would not have survived if our technology was not legit. However, we don’t lead our messaging based off the strength of our technology alone, but on a joint stage with our excellent level of service.

Our commitment to service means that we operate more like an agency, and deliberately assign a select few clients to each of our account managers to ensure that every account is getting the full attention it needs. Programmatic advertising is often mistaken to be synonymous with automation, but it’s the human aspect of the business — analyzing the daily reporting, making data-fueled recommendations on optimizations, and knowing when to pull back spending to avoid unnecessary waste of ad dollars — that is the most important. We find that by leading with service, we keep our clients’ happy and we also get new prospects through valuable word-of-mouth marketing, too.

Let’s talk about brand values. What means the most to your company besides industry success?

I’ve seen a lot of changes at Sociomantic during the four years I’ve been on board, but the company’s continued focus on integrity has remained consistent throughout and has shaped our business model. Maintaining integrity in what we do means being as honest and transparent as possible about our technology, which is why we’ve made it a priority to unveil features on our platform that you wouldn’t see from our competitors. On the other hand, it could also mean turning down potential business that we do not feel would have long-term success for the brand. As a trusted industry partner, we strive to be upfront at all times, even if it means referring brands to other parties that would be better suited for their needs.

There’s always been this rivalry between Silicon Valley and NYC in tech. What are some tangible benefits to being based in NYC?

Silicon Valley may be the tech hub, but New York City has been the advertising capital of the country from the start! We work with advertisers across the country and have team members all over — from Miami to Dallas to San Francisco — but it’s important for us to be here to keep a pulse on what’s going on. Plus, we are an international team, and being on the east coast means we’re only a short flight away from our Berlin headquarters for our annual global department summits.

Name one place in your company’s NYC neighborhood that you and your team just can’t live without.

We just recently moved offices from Flatiron to near the Empire State Building, but one place that we still frequent is the Shake Shack at Madison Square Park. Nothing beats sitting in the park with their burgers and shakes on a sunny afternoon, and we’ve gotten the timing down to avoid the crazy lines.

Learn more about Sociomantic here.

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