How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?
Data and analytics are at the heart of Merkle’s mission. Our customer experience and tech practice are the core of our total customer experience proposition. Beyond simply providing an understanding of audiences, data helps us manage interactions across all channels, from service to sales, allowing us to optimise marketing and drive better brand engagement and commercial performance.
Our data analytics include digital and customer management and performance. While there is a lot to measure, our mantra is always to measure what matters – beyond topline growth, we can and want to benchmark business outcomes – both marketing and organisational - as they impact on driving sales through marketing channels.
2020 was a year like no other - how did it impact on your planned activities and what unplanned ones did you have to introduce?
In 2020, coronavirus made rapid transformation an urgent necessity for almost every brand in every category. Customer-centric marketing, while always at the heart of what we do for our clients, became even more important when the only opportunity to connect was virtual.
Swift growth in digital commerce and fundamental shifts in consumer behaviour required extraordinary change for brands to keep connected to consumers and drive sales. The entire industry effectively accelerated into the future, where unified data drives brand marketing and the focal point for marketing shifts from awareness to experience to ecommerce.
We recently launched Merkle 5.0, realigning our business around customer experience management (CXM), enabling brands to unify every consumer touchpoint across adtech, martech, sales tech and service tech. While always on our roadmap, we accelerated our new vision as a result of the changes fuelled by the pandemic.
CXM empowers a brand to co-ordinate what it says, offers or does for people across all controllable touchpoints. We call it the customer experience transformation, enabling brands to find, win, keep and grow their relationships with the right customers. It is a critical aspect of effective digital transformation and will become even more so as the consumer expectation economy develops.
We shifted focus from fuelling our clients’ strategic growth towards innovation to support their digital operations by activating rapid responses to cope with quickly evolving needs, supporting their plans, and helping them to manage unprecedented demand for their products – for some clients in a new B2C platform.
Our CXM capability meant we were able to provide fast, powerful, coordinated solutions to the challenges Covid posed and the opportunities 2021 will create.
Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?
I’m incredibly bullish about 2021. The capabilities that we have from a data and analytics perspective, coupled with our enablement through tech, put us in such a fantastic spot to help our clients grow and realise ambitions that they didn’t know they had until 2020 hit.
Put simply, Merkle’s ability to help clients to get closer to customers and transform the experiences that they are equipped to deliver put data and analytics in the spotlight like never before. That’s what gets us so excited about the role of data as we go into 2021, it’s more critical than ever to drive business outcomes in a new sales dynamic.
Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?
Social impact is a growing concern for consumers as they continue to pivot on their definition of value. We use data internally to measure what is important in our diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. This helps us to gain a better understanding of how we become a more diverse and inclusive company. In addition to this, we have our own social impact services such as “Dentsu good”. This initiative helps companies to become more environmentally efficient in the way that they conduct business, leveraging data to measure and optimise opportunities for sustainability.
What has been your path to power?
My career philosophy has been to always look not only for opportunities for growth, but for opportunities to learn. I have moved through service delivery roles to account management, sales to corporate development – and am now CEO of the EMEA region. While I came up through a more traditional direct marketing and CRM background, my move to Merkle was all about deepening my data understanding and getting under the skin of digital platforms. Merkle was (and remains) ahead of the curve in this area, which continues to be hugely exciting to me.
I’m also always hunting for opportunities that make me better able to contribute and drive success for clients. For Merkle, that meant building out our scale and practices in the region. Bottom line, it’s about joining growth companies, whatever that means to you. For me personally, if I’m not learning, growing and challenged - yes, all three - then it’s time to start looking. I’m a long way from being worried about that at Merkle.
What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?
Building Merkle’s European sales and marketing platforms from scratch. It wasn’t something I’d done before. I joined Merkle when we were 12 people in EMEA, and we are now 3,500. Knowing and trusting the sales platform I was constructing was vital to our growth. I was fortunate enough to have a strong platform coming out of the Americas to build on, but it was a task unlike anything I’d previously experienced – requiring all the nuance necessary to the complex region EMEA represents.
Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?
For me, it’s about evangelising the real definition of customer experience. Customer experience goes all the way from an unknown customer that you’re trying to acquire through to the engagement that you need to deliver creatively (via the tech platforms that we build) to create long-term, loyal customer advocates.
I aim to make brands’ customer experience management ambitions a through the line discussion, encompassing media, marketing, service, commerce through the integrated lens of delivery, IT, finance, risk management and more. CXM must go far beyond its traditional data and tech remit, permeating the entire organisation to succeed.
How closely aligned to the business are data and analytics both within your own organisation and at an industry level? What helps to bring the two closer together?
They are inextricably linked for us. Yes, we build databases, and we have a fantastic analytics capability. While representing potentially different scopes, for Merkle they will always inform and/or be built to deliver for each other.
Now, more than ever, brands are determined to bring together that sought-after, cohesive, 360-degree view of the customer. But the sands are always shifting. And market forces, such as privacy regulations, the death of third-party cookies, the shakeout of the martech space, the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning, and the emergence of cloud platforms like Google and Amazon Web Services (AWS), are causing a shift in the way marketers approach customer centricity. These forces are driving a movement away from reliance on third-party data and towards the predominance of first-party data and identity.
Therein lies the greatest opportunity. Going forward, organisations will need to maximise their first-party data through more productive interactions with their customers and prospects. They will also need to leverage strategic partnerships to deliver second-party data. This will require a design for data and analytics maximisation, which will include new customer experiences, incentives, and a strong infrastructure founded on an enterprise-level identity management capability.
What is your view on how to develop a data culture in an organisation, building out data literacy and creating a data-first mindset?
If you believe in customer longevity (not just retention) - you have to embrace data. The vital first step is not concentrating on how little data you have. Most companies have more than they need. The key is access and connectivity. Assess and use the data you have; then enhance. But don’t wait (or hope) for perfection.
So yes, to data first, but it’s not all just about first-party data (which is harder and harder to collect and harness in EMEA anyway). Once you accept that, your universe immediately expands into greater possibilities – into what you actually do know about your customer.
Ironically, and in a bit of reversal, second-party data is really the key. The demise of the third-party cookie and the growth of walled gardens means that data innovation at the ID-match level has never been more important – it’s a new puzzle to be solved. That’s exciting. But you have to stay current and stay involved in your company’s data strategy.