I am one of the company’s co-founders and have served as CEO since its inception. Prior to launching 4Cite, our management team owned and operated another marketing service company, I-Centrix. That business, also focused on retailers, built and managed marketing databases for its clients. In addition, I-Centrix also had a strong list processing offering as well. We sold I-Centrix in 2007 and exited the organization in 2010. At that point I wanted to build another organization and leverage our deep retail history. This time around we chose to concentrate on real-time digital solutions. Our team was fortunate to have decades of retail experience and saw, first hand, where retailers were struggling to evolve in the digital world. We had the experience, the connections, and the where with all to launch a business to help address these needs. Today we serve hundreds of top ecommerce retailers including such well known brands as Staples, Vera Bradley and Harry & David and non-ecommerce companies in the automotive, financial services, healthcare, not-for-profit, hospitality and travel industries.
MTS: Given the changing dynamic of online engagement with customers, how do you see Marketing Analytics platforms evolving by 2020?
It has become clear, in my opinion, that Marketing Analytics is morphing from an ‘after the fact’ process designed to measure performance into an ‘inherently actionable’ process that drives results – in real-time. Let me give you an example…let’s consider the following scenario: A marketer launches a Facebook campaign to drive site traffic. Traditionally, Marketing Analytics might be used to measure the success of that campaign via any number of KPIs. These metrics are difficult to measure with precision because of other overlapping programs. The result is muddied waters in terms of sales allocation. Don’t get me wrong, reporting and allocation is a vital role for Marketing Analytics platforms and will remain so in the future. However, that will be only one aspect of the capabilities required going forward. We are seeing a shift toward real-time harnessing of Marketing Analytics data. In the above Facebook example, we are using engagement data to build audiences and trigger messaging in real-time. Ideally, the marketer will be able to know, in real-time, when a visitor comes to their site because of that Facebook ad. Then, instantly look at that consumer’s previous engagement with the brand (i.e. Has she been to the site before? Is she engaging with emails? What products has she viewed? Has she made prior purchases?). With that data in hand, the Marketing Analytics platform should be able to make offer recommendations, product recommendations, and maybe even trigger a series of customized communications in other channels if this visit doesn’t result in a purchase. You can see from this example that Marketing Analytics data is vital to the derivation of the marketing message. Properly done, it will be used to drive sales – not just measure them.
“Have we become so confused by the digital landscape that we actually focused on devices instead of people? Sure, cookies and device IDs are important but only to the extent that they can be linked to a person.”
MTS: How should B2B marketers leverage customer data analytics to improve marketing campaigns with greater authority?
Make data a part of each marketing program and use it in real-time to drive content. Expand beyond customer segmentation and contact planning. Be sure to use it to drive offer recommendations, product recommendations, and channel execution.
MTS: How should CMOs visualize the disparate and complex data to build a unified, singular definition of a customer? Could you give us a preview of the dashboard analytics provided by Cross Link?
Establishing a unified definition of a customer is not a new concept, but the ever-changing options for consumer engagement has made it increasingly difficult. It seems funny to us that one of the latest trends is ‘People Based Marketing’. Wasn’t that always the goal? Have we become so confused by the digital landscape that we actually focused on devices instead of people? Sure, cookies and device IDs are important but only to the extent that they can be linked to a person. In the digital world, we have seen a consistent trend toward using a hashed value of the consumer’s email address as the chief identifier. If there is evidence in the offline data that a person has multiple email addresses, that data can be further aggregated.
It is important for CMOs to ensure that ALL digital identification is done deterministically. This simply means that there is a direct correlation between the engagement data being captured to the email to which it is associated. In an effort to provide ‘more data’ some providers use probabilistic identification. As the name implies this technique relies on less reliable data points and use models to indicate that the activity in question is ‘probably’ for a particular consumer. In my opinion CMOs should stay clear of using these techniques when building the customer views.
Concerning dashboards…4Cite’s services are geared towards identifying consumers and triggering real-time, relevant messaging – all within our customer’s existing vendor stack. We are not looking to replace vendor relationships that our customers have and, in almost all cases, directly feed our clients existing platforms with our data. This approach has been well received because our clients don’t have to learn how to navigate yet another set of interfaces or reports. They can harness the same tools and technologies that they are already familiar with.
MTS: With the recent changes in data privacy policies, how do you see advanced visitor identification and tracking platforms delivering personalization?
Privacy is always a concern but keep in mind that most marketers are using data collection as a way to better communicate with their customers, not to offend them. Consumers have expectations, too. They have come to expect to be communicated with in a way that is timely and relevant to them. They tend to respond better to marketing efforts that appeal to their wants and needs. Similarly, they are quick to opt out of campaigns that are generic and repetitive in nature.
From a data collection perspective, we advise staying away from intrusive technologies and make sure that consumers can opt out at any time. Privacy policies should also be clear and transparent. We advise against long and hard to understand policies and favor clearly worded, easy to understand policies. The privacy landscape, as we see it today, favors marketers that respect the relationship they have with their customers. They tend to operate in a permission-based mindset and make opting out a readily available option.
MTS: What startups are you watching/keen on right now?
We tend to watch new trends and potential channel opportunities more than we do individual startups. We are currently exploring Amazon’s latest Advertiser Audience announcement. We are also watching LiveIntent and their ability to deliver ads is unique in the industry. We feel that both companies provide meaningful ways to deliver relevant, personalized messages.
MTS: What tools does your marketing stack consist of in 2017?
We believe our marketing stack provides our clients with a competitive advantage that is not available from other marketing service providers. We are the only solutions provider that combines advanced customer identification services with multi-channel real-time message deployment. In addition, we do all of this without requiring our clients to change their existing vendor stack.
To help shed more light on these differences, let’s start with our customer identification service – CrossLinkTM. CrossLinkTM leverages the data network we have built across our retail client base. This is significant market differentiator for a few reasons.
- First, there is massive scale. The network – branded The 4Cite Data NetworkTM – monitors over 1.3 billion email sends and over 800 million retail page views per month. Our approach is different than others in the space because we focus on traffic that is purchase oriented. The visits and linkages we collect are not only substantial from a scale perspective but they also represent consumers that are showing shopping behavior.
- Second, CrossLinkTM uses Deterministic techniques to identify visitors. That means that there is an extraordinarily high confidence level that the linkages we create are correct. Many of the other identity service companies use Probabilistic techniques. They are by definition less accurate and although they may prove satisfactory for banner ad programs, they should not be used for CRM initiatives.
Identification is hugely important but by itself does not generate ROI. In order to be of value, once a consumer is identified they need to be communicated with in a relevant and timely manner. We find it interesting that most companies that offer Identification services don’t also provide services that enable their clients to generate revenue.
This is our other main point of distinction in the marketplace. Our Consumer Insights and Interaction HubTM is seamlessly integrated into CrossLinkTM and can trigger real-time campaigns in a number of outlets (email, light boxes, Facebook audiences, On-demand post cards, etc.). We can even use it to generate product recommendations, offer recommendations and drive other dialogues via our LiveContentTM service.
When combined, our technologies have been a game changer in influencing purchasing activity. The potential use cases are almost endless and we have helped our clients in managing their acquisition, retention, and reactivation campaigns. We consistently hear from our clients that we increase their campaign revenues 20% after the first 30 days of implementation and more as the program continues.
Another unique aspect of our stack is that our services are really easy to implement. We have developed API integrations with the leading ESPs and our services use a variety of technologies that integrate with a host of other marketing providers for website customization, real-time marketing database updates, and social advertising. We even make identification and engagement data available to the browser so it can be leveraged by our client’s website development team as well as third party tools.
We see ourselves as an extension of our clients’ marketing stack and, in the end, we are partner agnostic. Our goal is to provide identity and engagement data to our clients to use however they see fit. Whether we trigger campaigns on their behalf or simply provide data for them to execute themselves, our goal is to simply add value.
MTS: Could you tell us about a standout digital campaign? (Who was your target audience and how did you measure success?)
We had a retailer that was experiencing declining performance with their bulk email campaigns. As the number of their mobile email opens grew, sales fell at almost the same rate. The client made a significant effort to improve the mobile experience but that had very little effect. This client came to 4Cite in hopes to find a solution. Before we get into the solution, I’d like to share some perspectives with regard to marketing on mobile devices. It is clear that almost every potential shopper has one. It is also clear that they spend a lot of time using these devices. That might lead you to conclude that emails read on a mobile device would perform well. The truth is, that is not really the case. Think about all of the times you check email on your phone. Do you check it while waiting to pick you your son or daughter from soccer practice? At the airport while waiting to board a flight? Maybe even while walking to your next meeting? Now ask yourself if you actually had any shopping intent at those times. Probably not.
That’s why 4Cite created the Shopping Elsewhere™ Email Trigger. This is a service that looks for your customers as they are exhibiting shopping behavior and triggers an email (in real-time) while he or she is in shopping mode. We accomplish this through The 4Cite Data Network™ (Keep in mind that our tags are in 1,300,000,000 emails per month and are fired more than 800,000,000 page views per month on retail websites). The result, we see double digit increases in performance. Also, since we have API integration with the leading ESPs, we trigger that email on our client’s existing email platform. There is no need to warm up other IPs or worry about establishing another email sending reputation. We have a number of clients that are using this technology with great success.
MTS: How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?
AI or Machine Learning is an area of opportunity for marketers. As we discussed earlier, relevant and timely messaging is not only a good practice, it is becoming a consumer expectation. AI can assist with improving this type of personalization. That said, AI is 100% dependent on the accuracy and timeliness of the data that feeds it. In preparing for an AI-centric world, my advice would be to start today and evaluate all of your data collection processes. Start with customer identification and then move on to engagement details. If you aren’t properly identifying your customers, the data you associate with them is meaningless and worse yet, any AI generated messaging may actually perform worse than ‘unintelligent’ messaging. Data is king – focus on getting that right first.
This Is How I Work
MTS: One word that best describes how you work.
Organized. Like most executives today, time is in high demand and is in short supply. I like to set aside time to tackle big picture items in my mind and am diligent in making that happen. It is important to me to take time to reflect and contemplate on our business.
MTS: What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
In addition to the Microsoft suite, which I can’t see anyone living without, I am somewhat partial to an app called Wunderlist. It is a basic but effective task management application.
MTS: What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
I always end the day with the same final task…ensuring that I lay out my work plan for the next day. That way I can go to sleep at the end of the night knowing exactly where to begin in the morning. The day may not go as planned, but I take solace in having a plan of attack before the actual work day starts.
MTS: What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information?)
I tend to do most of my reading online. I can’t say I am an avid book reader, instead, I search for opinion pieces on various ‘topics of the day’. As you can imagine, almost anything related to digital marketing always peaks my interest.
MTS: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received—your secret sauce?
Always keep your eye on the prize…providing services that your customers actually want and need. All too often I see companies that build great technology but it doesn’t completely resonate with the customer’s immediate needs. One of the best feelings is when a customer says “Finally, that is exactly what I was looking for. Why isn’t anyone else offering this?”
MTS: Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?
Echoing the sentiments above, I think we do a great job putting ourselves in our customer’s shoes when developing our capabilities. We have a long history servicing retailers and continually work with them to understand their needs and challenges. Although those discussions may not prompt an immediate thought for future product development, they have indeed been the inspiration for every success we have had.
MTS: Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
MTS: Thank you Bob! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
With over 25 years of experience in servicing the direct marketing community, Bob is intimately familiar with the increasing challenges faced by today’s marketers. In early 2000, Bob set out to build a better solution to meet these challenges and founded I-Centrix, which was purchased by Haggin Marketing in 2007. In 2010, Bob helped found 4Cite Marketing, a multi-channel marketing service provider. Under his leadership, the company has shown continued growth and is recognized as a truly innovative marketing organization. Bob remains focused on ensuring that the company continues to develop solutions that directly impact its clients’ bottom lines. Prior to founding I-Centrix and 4Cite, Bob spent eight years with Experian.