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Our viewers are very looking forward to hearing from thought leaders like yourself, so it would be great if you would introduce yourself.
Joel Layton, currently the Vice President of eCommerce & Digital Marketing with ADP. A long time digital marketing in e-commerce guy. To your point, I am now in a B2B world after a very long tenure in the direct-to-consumer B2C world, across enterprises ranging from Consumer Wireless to Health and Wellness, a good solid run in Apparel Retail and Educational Supplies. It’s been a fascinating journey for sure. One fraught with peril at different moments, but it’s been a wonderful journey to get where I’m at and do what I do.
You know, the experiences you’ve had, Children’s Place, Lands End, Rue 21, and now ADP, bring home to me that as the digital and direct-to-consumer channels have grown in prominence; how do you motivate them (customers)? How do you add value to their journey?
The key ingredient in all of this, certainly digital has provided, is giving more power to the consumer. Whether you’re selling t-shirts, or you’re trying to sell payroll software or weight loss supplies, it’s incumbent upon the organization to understand who your customer is. And whether you were going through an arduous exercise, going through a database, or whether you bought a fancy CDP, it’s incumbent on you to really appreciate that the customer now has all the power.
I believe that digital and the internet have provided two things. First, it provided the single greatest testing environment for us. Whether you’re a brick-and-mortar shop or a field sales organization, you can change things on the internet as quickly as possible. You can not change a storefront to look different, to see if you can gain or get a different customer. Second, it has become the single greatest discount Bazaar ever invented. I mean, through tabular browsing you can go search for the same product and find the best price… Understanding consumer needs and what appeals to them (is far more important than ever), let’s say a price is the driver, you really need to understand who is the constituency that you are going for, and how exactly are you going to reach them. In today’s world, it’s content, content, content; and how can you engage them, understand them, market to them, reach them, and captivate them so that you can make them become customers. Their behaviors are different, their behaviors are now very digital. Their expectations are ease of use, ease of implementation, quickly being able to find you, and quickly be able to understand what you’re offering them.
You mentioned the CDP, and I wanted to understand. There are two schools of thought. A very democratized data layer that says that the data could belong to anybody, could reside anywhere, and so on. There’s another school of thought that says that companies need to implement CDPs, put all data in the same place, and so on. Where do you stand on that, and what have you seen?
I think it actually comes around and goes with the talent of the organization and what their ability is. If you are talent-rich within your org, I believe you can have complete ownership because you would have your own data science staff, you would have your database administrating staff, etc., who would really be able to help you build the efficiencies within house to pull that in. If you don’t have that luxury, probably, outsourcing modeling and keeping the data somewhere in the cloud or a cloud-based CDP is the way to go. You would have the infrastructure support, you would have, you know, the ability to lean on the consultant, etc. Leverage your consulting relationships as much as you can, but I think the tools are now available to you, that with a certain level of sophistication, bringing it in close… you do have the possibilities of really making it work for you. And then the more important piece is, you know your data or theoretically, you should know your data, having it as close as possible to you, I think, is really important.
Yeah, that makes sense. You know, we started on the data endeavor maybe a few years ago, and CDPs became more mainstream. Enterprises started thinking hard in regard to how to bring that data together and how to use it. Now, we are at the point in time, where unlocking the value of that data is superbly important. What are your thoughts on the intelligence layer if you would? How is it showing up, are CDP’s cast with the intelligence, the unlocking of intelligence?
I would argue that the need to build out and use your data has been around for the better parts of pushing a decade now. How people have activated it was totally different. For example, nearly 10 years ago, we used to call it a single view of a customer. You were doing your hard-core data mining, sometimes using Access tools on top of SQL databases, but you were going after the same ‘Shangri-la’- trying to understand who your customer is. Morph out 7-10 years, and now you have these cool things called CDPs. I think what the CDP has built-in is the efficiency to allow you to activate that data and put that intelligence in faster.
So actually, there are two parts to this question. The quality of the data, as always, is number one. If your cloud-based data system is pristine, you are in great shape. The importance lies in making sure you select the correct CDP. If you are having troubles in that data layer, you can get the smartest engineers you can find and it’s not going to do much for you because the data is corrupt. Well, a CDP is not necessarily going to solve all your problems, it could actually make them worse if your data is not in the right state.
Let’s talk a little bit about intelligence. What form that intelligence is in, and how does it help you with the experiences you’re trying to activate? A question is on AI, ML, and so on, and so forth… What truly is important when the rubber hits the road, if you would?
When we’re talking about customer data, where the AI and ML come into real consideration, (it starts with) building out the rules so that the AI and ML models can go do their thing. What I mean by that, is that you take the complexity of your customer data portfolio, whether that’s small business consumers trying to buy payroll software, whether it’s customers trying to buy t-shirts and blue jeans, or whether they buy in-store or online primarily, you take all these different disparate data points and you are going to rely on the AI and ML to read into those to make some heads or tails for recommendations engine usage, to make sure it triggers the right points or the points you’re expecting within the data…
What I mean by that is, set up the set so that it can actually learn. What I have found in my experience, as we have gone down these journeys, is that starting small in consumable bites (is essential). Let the engines and artificial intelligence learn what is going on and what this data point represents as opposed to that data point. Because if you go very complex right away, it gets tricky… They need to learn what they need to do. If you don’t provide a good baseline or set of core foundational rules to allow the algorithms to do their thing, you run into trouble rather quickly. It’s a matter of setting the foundation for AI and ML to work and then let that power take off for you.
Yeah, that makes sense. I think, ultimately, we are going towards automation, and automation of these experienced deliveries and so on. What will you get out of getting the data together, the intelligence on top of it, and so on? How does activation look like, what are you trying to influence, and what are the experiences you are deploying?
From my perspective, you are driving to create the ultimate personalization engine. I’m a believer that customers’ expectation, even in the ebbs and flows of privacy considerations, is that they are going to be catered to. The only way that you can cater to them digitally is to know as much as possible about them. Certainly, as the generations move along, they are becoming more accepting of the fact that Google knows everything about you, Amazon knows everything about you. They are accepting of it because they want what they want. I think specifically in retail this is a seismic shift because if you figure for the first hundred years of retail merchandising, it was exactly that the merchant dictated what you would get. Didn’t matter that you wanted a blue shirt, if the merchant said you were getting a black shirt, you were getting a black shirt.
The power of the internet completely changed that paragon. Now, customers not only have choices on their own but they’re also expecting that the websites that they consume are going to tell them that this might be better. If you buy the blue shirt, you might want white pants with it… and it’s going to allow you to do that. The power has been unleashed… What I am anticipating is that the more we drive down the automation road, the higher level of personalization you are going to be able to do. I am a believer that ultimately, there will be a lot higher level of customer satisfaction, and then you have a satisfied customer, that takes care of itself.
What is your omnichannel vision? The reason I ask this question is that my vision of this has always been that it’s an Uber-like experience. It should be location-sensitive, it should be environment-sensitive, it should know what curb I’m on, what I’m picking up, and so on. In the companies that you have been at, how far have you taken that?
Unfortunately, we’ve not quite gotten there, but I believe the retailers that will win, and ultimately succeed, are the ones that will take it all the way because I am a believer in the whole omnichannel experience. If you think about it mathematically, close to 80 cents of every dollar in retail are still spent in a store. Even with this massive pandemic, an unfortunate pandemic we’re in, stores will come back in some fashion. Will they be dramatically changed? I don’t think there is a question, certainly. But, will people still want to expect an experience that was driven by digital to take itself into stores? I think, absolutely. The understanding of how your particular customer set activates both online and traditionally, or offline, is really important.
My experiences of seeing it working in retailers where we had both, it was incredible to understand the propensity models that you can come up with… One or two purchases online would translate into X amount of purchases in-store because of things like ‘buy online and pickup in store’ as you could run different promotions to entice them (customers) to go to the store. What you found is that you had a segment of online-only shoppers and you also had a segment of in-store-only shoppers, but you also had a massive swath that did both. I think as time moves forward, you’re going to continue to see trends like that.
It’s really important, as you chase down this ultimate level of personalization, that you’re piecing together all the data points from all your systems. That’s the tricky part; the store systems versus the digital systems or e-commerce systems are wildly different, and sometimes don’t talk at all. So how do you get those guys integrated so you can get what you need, because at the end of the day, the first people that are the best at that are the ones that are going to be the most successful.
Yes, and I think that the last time I saw these numbers, apparently, the folks that do both or do shop omnichannel are three times as valuable in terms of revenue generation for the brand, as either/or, so we really want to drive that omnichannel experience.
One last question for you, Joel. As you look out to the next three years, I think three years is an eternity in this business, what would you say will be important to an online experience?
I think we’ve got shopping down. We’ve got checking out, carts… You even have things as fancy as one-step checkout, all that wonderful stuff, I think we’re in good shape. What it comes down to, especially as we go into this brave new post-pandemic world, experiences online are going to really, really matter. So I can see a world envisioning how AI and ML begin to influence content.
When does the change come; when you’re going to rely on AI and ML to make those experiences highly personalized, highly curated? Those are the things that in the next 3 to 5 years will take off because I just think that the demand for people’s ability to consume and experience brands digitally is going to increase exponentially and frankly, probably more mobile.
So how can you, based on your location and what corner you’re on, be sent the precise amount of content describing exactly what you need in that exact moment, is going to be pretty crucial. That’s where the lean onto the AI models and the lean onto the intelligence of mining that data is going to be massive. And then it’s going to put some pressure on the content developers.
In the ecosystems of digital, as the data scientists are building things out, your creative shops need to rise to the occasion as well to make it all go. I think it’s that experientiality that’s going to really take off. As we crank into content curation, this probably can be the next level where it will make everything even more intense, as you try to personalize in a constant fashion.
I think your experience of having done this from inside out and your perspective on it is really helpful to our viewers. I appreciate your time, and I look forward to continuing the conversation at some point.
My pleasure, Debjani. Thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it.
– Joel Layton, Vice President of eCommerce & Digital Marketing at ADP
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