Tara DeZao of Pega – Marketing with empathy means earning the right to sell consumers something

Shaun H. Ruff


A recent report on the future of marketing commissioned by customer engagement platform provider Pegasystems found that more than half (51%) of marketing leaders felt that investment in  MarTech could increase revenues by 10% to 40% over the next five years. On the other hand, 59%. also admit that they haven’t been allocated enough budget to deliver truly effective. digital transformation.

The study was full of interesting datapoints and insights about what marketers think will be important to them being able to do their jobs going forward, and I was able to ask a few questions of my own during a recent LinkedIn Live conversation with Tara DeZao, Director of Product Marketing, AdTech and MarTech at Pega.

Tara goes over some of the main findings of the survey, and also provides her take on what the implications are as MADTech (marketing and advertising technology) itself transforms customer expectations and demands for how companies communicate with them going forward – whether that by via text, email, in the Metaverse or anything else hurtling in our direction at accelerating speeds.

Below is an edited transcript of a portion of our conversation.  Click on the embedded SoundCloud player to hear the full conversation.


Brent Leary: How has social media changed the MadTech (marketing and advertising technology) landscape and the relationship between MarTech and AdTech?

Tara DeZao: It’s interesting because social media, when it’s organic, it’s part of a brand marketing strategy. But where paid media comes into play? Paid social. That’s where ad tech kind of steps in. Because you can connect your social channels to other data sources and use it to advertise. So, essentially, it’s got two functions and those functions aren’t going anywhere.

It’s still going to remain a touchpoint. That’s really important. And I think brands are trying to find ways to utilize it in the new world without the cookie. So, we’ll see a lot of partnership. We’ll see a lot of different ways that brands are going to try to use social in the future without that functionality.

Using AI to break down data siloes

Brent Leary: What was one of the high-level findings of your recent survey?

Tara DeZao: We have had a problem in marketing in the past of having data silos and not being able to figure out how to use data to the fullest extent. And I think that artificial intelligence is a way to bridge that gap. Now, I think what’s most important to me out of all of these findings is that personalization is still going to be top of mind for marketers.

I’m not talking about what I call your grandpa’s personalization; when you get an email with your name in the in the “to” line. That’s not personalization. When I talk about personalization, I’m talking about 1 to 1 interactions where the customer really feels like the brand is speaking directly to them.   They know what your preferences are. They can read your context. You know, when is a good time to be talking to you? They know what not to talk to you about. And I think in the report we saw something like 67% of those surveyed said that personalization is a top priority for them in the next five years.

Campaigns give way to conversations?

Brent Leary: Do you feel like we’re finally going to get to the point where consumers feel like they’re not just being marketed to or blasted with messages? What about being able to actually have a conversation, or at least give the appearance that you’re not only speaking at customers, but actually listening and engaging enough in a two-way interaction? Because it really feels like that’s the thing that has been missing regardless of what kind of technology is used.

Tara DeZao: I think it’s actually critical because the way we look at it here at Pega is you actually have to earn the right to sell consumers something.  We call it marketing or engaging with empathy. When a consumer is in a bad place or a weird place, that’s a terrible time to talk to them. If they’re in a region where they’re having a natural disaster or there’s some other extenuating circumstances, you don’t want to sell them something in that moment. And silence is sometimes a treatment, and I think that’s undervalued. We don’t always need to be talking to them.

It’s really offering value to them. We don’t just come at them selling them something. We say, hey, do you need these resources? Where can you get the most out of our product to help you? Navigate whatever situation that you’re in. And I think the brands that get it right are going to take all the spoils because customers are tired of being bombarded with irrelevant information from us.

They see so many messages every single day that unless we’re offering something of value to them, you know, they’re just going to tune out and they have been tuning out. And that’s why we’re in the situation we’re in now where consumers are totally freaked out about their privacy. They’re overexposed to brands. And basically, if you don’t get it right, you’re going to be you’re going to be out.

Good content doesn’t mean relevant content

Brent Leary: Even if it’s really good content, if you’re forcing it on people who aren’t looking for it at that particular time, even good content can be annoying if it’s not delivered at the right time, or you’re not focused on what’s really the driving force right now for a customer.

Is that kind of what enhanced personalization means, not just great content, but relevant content at the right time, delivered in the right channel, all that stuff.

Tara DeZao: All of that. Yeah. And frequency. There’s nothing more obnoxious than you buying a product and then the brand coming back and emailing you every single day or trying to sell you with advertising the same product that you just bought. We’ve all been there. We bought that pair of shoes and then those shoe
s follow us around for the next six months.

Anytime I see that, I want to email the brand’s marketing team and just say, Hey, this is a really bad conflict experience. You guys need to fix this. Here’s some free consulting for you.

Brent Leary: I don’t want to keep harping on this, but it feels like as good as the technology gets, some companies rely even more so on the better technology, thinking that will solve their problem. And all great technology does is make the problem bigger, and move it faster around.

Great tech isn’t much help if it isn’t used

Tara DeZao: Scott Brinker’s landscape of AdTech and MarTech this year came out and the average number of applications in a stack is 18. And then Gartner comes through and says most brands are only using half of their stack. That’s potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars going to waste on these applications. And it’s not delivering a better customer experience, for sure.

I think the real core of the issue is that brands are not using what they have effectively. They’re not using the data that they already have effectively. It’s always about more data, more technology. And I think it’s it should be more about better technology. Better data.

Brent Leary: Customer lifetime value. I thought it was already important. But apparently it will be extremely important in the not too distant future. Could you talk about that a little bit?

Tara DeZao: I think because budgets have been determined based on channels so much in the past, marketing budgets, that we’ve kind of come up with these really squishy metrics to prove the value of certain channels, and really channel should be irrelevant. What’s most relevant is how much value a customer brings you over the lifetime of your relationship with them.

I think it’s hard to calculate that, and it’s hard to track when you have so many different applications. There’s probably someone sitting behind the controls that has to take all of that data and manually press it together to figure that out over the long term. So it’s a tricky one because it’s not the easiest thing to figure out, but it’s probably the most important predictor of sustainable value and growth for a company.

We need to shift away from things like clicks, click-throughs, impressions. Clicking is not buying.  I have an eight year old and he’s off and on my phone clicking away, so that doesn’t mean anything about what I’m going to buy or what I have bought.

Customer lifetime value becoming even more valuable

Brent Leary: As people value customer lifetime even more, there seems to be an opportunity to put some engagement metrics around that as well.

Tara DeZao: It’s interesting because the third party cookie is the way that brands have been able to connect those experiences in those channels in the past. And I think that’s why it’s more important than ever for brands to start their transformation now before they’re forced to and find ways to connect those experiences. That’s where tools like artificial intelligence come in.

Tools for automation, tools that can help you take all of the data from all of your interactions and unify them into one place so that you can have an instant, real time picture of what your customer is doing a lot of the times in legacy marketing technologies. You can connect the dots, but it’s like two weeks after the campaign has ended, the customer is gone and doesn’t care anymore.  You’re the only one that cares at that point.

SEO in a cookieless world

Brent Leary: Could you talk a little bit about the SEO ranking because you mentioned the third party cookie will eventually be going away.

Tara DeZao: That’s an interesting one. There’s going to be some laws taking effect in the UK that with SEO basically we’re trying to avoid having biased SEO. If you’re on Google or let’s say you’re an Amazon and you search your product, you can’t preference your product over other people’s products.  I think that’s why it’s going to be important, because we’re going to see a lot of space open up as these laws take effect to allow some of the things that used to be happening in a good way to happen again. So search rankings that actually are real, not inflated or bad. Yes, exactly.

That’s a good thing, right? We’re going to see a lot more innovation when we can clear some of the monopolies away.

Brent Leary: How does all this new stuff? How does this shape the future as you see it when it comes to martech and adtech?

Tara DeZao: Nike’s a great example of taking advantage of the metaverse. You’re going to see really innovative brands, retail brands that are coming up with new ways to engage in the metaverse over the next 12 months, for sure. But next 3 to 5 years, definitely. Those brands that have always been in the forefront are going to continue to do that.

I would say to marketers out there, be cautious and make sure that whatever you embark on, you can sort of prove the value. You can tie back that expenditure to revenue because what may work in one industry won’t work in another.

Difference between data privacy and ethical use of data

Brent Leary: A lot of times when people say data privacy, they seem to talk more about security and making sure the data is secure. But I want to talk about the ethical use of customer data. More digital interactions create more data, the more different devices being used creates more data, the more Web3/Metaverse kind of scenarios, creates more data.

But how do we get the ethics of how to use this data right? Be
cause it feels like the excitement of having all this data overshadows the ethical use of how you should actually use it.  This is probably a loaded question, I understand, but how do we make sure that, as you know, marketers get excited about all this digital data they have at their disposal, they make sure they don’t cross the line and start doing things with it, that it was never really meant for them to do. And also it actually starts them thinking about them benefiting more than the customer benefit.

Tara DeZao: My answer is always the same to this question, and that’s transparency. We are in this mess with consumers because we were not transparent about how we’ve been using their data for the last ten years. And I think for the most part, most brands, it’s not malicious.   It’s basically, hey, we’re using your data to help you shop better.

Instead of just telling them that, now we’ve created this situation where they’re fearful, they don’t understand what’s behind the curtain. And that’s how we ended up here. I think if we lean in with a transparency focus we’re good to go. Unfortunately there’s always those bad apples that spoil the bunch. that’s when regulation comes into play.

I would say one of the core aspects of data privacy is data portability. Where is your data going? You have companies that have multiple apps and their pushing a data flow through all of the apps to try to capture a 360-degree view of you.  Maybe you didn’t agree to that, so I think just really being transparent and saying if you’re signing up here, you’re also signing up there. If you’re giving me this data, this is what I’m going to do with it. I think it’s really as simple as having a true opt-in page.


This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.


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