Interview with Srivats Srinivasan of Nayamode

I sat down with Srivats Srinivasan, an associate and entrepreneur. Srivats’ company, Nayamode, just acquired a Bay-Area agency called Bluewave. Interesting to see Seattle companies buying Bay Area outfits! I was particularly interested in this because of the role Marketing plays in Digital Transformation- this acquisition was based on Nayamode rounding out its Digital Transformation services.

Some excerpts from the chat …

Marketing Darwinism: Srivats, congratulations on both Nayamode’s success and the recent acquisition of Bluewave. Tell us more about your strategy.

SS: Thanks. We felt strongly that growth and evolution – really our journey to the next phase – required deepening elements of our skill-set as it pertains to the overall rubric of Digital Transformation. In this case, we were enamored with Bluewave’s deep design and visual storytelling track-record and understood that it was a key element in this next phase for us. The strong team and delightful customer base was a wonderful addition too!

Marketing Darwinism: You mentioned Digital Transformation. In your conception, what does it mean exactly?

SS: Yes, we understand that it is a term bandied about, almost in fact too much. In our view, Digital Transformation is about using technology judiciously and in context to create products, processes, and services that enhance and accelerate the best parts of the organization and keep the worst tendencies at bay. Digital Transformation is neither a one-size fits all “thing” nor is it an overnight turn. As with most fundamental shifts, there is a journey required and technology plays only so big a role.

Marketing Darwinism: Nayamode is one of those interesting stories insofar as you’ve grown without really marketing yourself in a broad sense. As Marketers, our readers would love to understand a bit more about your strategy here.

SS: You are no doubt generally correct but we are changing! At the outset, we grew through the sales process, leveraging our connections and experience in Marketing in large organizations, mostly in technology. As we grew, we certainly evolved, but were lucky in that our customers and we created deep partnerships in which as long as we continued to do great work and listen, we remained loyal to each other. Also, we had a bit of the “Cobbler’s Children” problem in which we paid so much attention externally that at times we neglected ourselves. That has changed however. In this phase, very much the most exciting phase in our history as a company, telling our story will be an integral part of the strategy. We are humbled to be included, for instance, in this blog.

Editor’s Note: While in some cases Marketing is an afterthought, we believe that Marketing firms can lead the process of Digital Transformation because of their keen view of the customer and their expertise in pivoting quickly based on business models and customer needs. This traverses the B to B and B to C spaces. We want to hear about other cases of M&A by Marketing companies looking to complete their Digital Transformation portfolios.

7 Ways Blockchain can Transform Marketing

Here’s a great video of me and Aseem Badshah the CEO of Socedo, a social media lead generation tool, talking about 7 ways Blockchain can transform marketing! We hope you enjoy it …

Are Marketers over indexing on ROI and the return of the Marketing Mix?

Two of my very good friends, Romi Mahajan of the KKM Group and Aseem Badshah of Socedo shot a video discussing our most recent blog post on the Return of the Marketing Mix. Ultimately, marketing is a mix of channels, tactics, and bets, of which some are measurable and some are not. It’s time for marketers to reclaim their role as engagers, risk-takers, and experimenters!!

The Return of the “Marketing Mix”

Fashions change. 

This cliché doesn’t apply just to hemlines and jeans, but to business as well.  Anyone who claims that business is all about logic and data needs to get a reality-check; Marketers are perhaps the worst offenders here, much to their detriment.  Of late, Marketers have suffered from a deep alienation from the real essences of their profession and we hope that 2018 will usher in a return to sanity.

This alienation – or departure from sanity in Marketing- stems from the over-indexing on Data and Measurement.  While this sounds strange, even counterintuitive and heretical, it stands the test of logic and does not require a deep knowledge of Marketing to understand.  Data and Measurement are no doubt valuable but they can also be the refuge of scoundrels.

The key in the above paragraph is the term “over-indexing.”  In other areas of life, the tendency to over-index is called zealotry.  In Marketing, the zealotry of measurement has created an untenable situation in which Marketing is asked to be as resilient as Physics or Mathematics; So too are Marketers, who feel forced to conform to the fashions of the day.  For the past decade or so, the fashion has been “Performance Marketing” or, in a wild conflation of strategy and channel, “Digital Marketing.” 

The genesis story here is a good one.  Marketing for a long time appeared to be a cocktail of guesses mixed with a dose of manipulation.  Organizations started to get frustrated with the lack of predictability and rising costs associated with Marketing and the ecosystem of agencies and media companies that had to be invoked when even considering bringing a product, service, or brand to market.  Theories of consumer reception abounded, but the overall logic of Marketing appeared to be something akin to “do it and it will work.”  Since no company could afford to shut off all Marketing, they continued in an inertial frame for decades.

Then came the Internet.  Almost overnight- or so it seemed- behavior patterns changed.  In addition, the almost infinite real estate and low cost of replication on the Internet, allowed for a completely different cost structure for Marketing. Completing the hat-trick was the fact that digitized Marketing can be “revved” quickly and tests of efficacy can be run in record time.  A heady mix indeed!

And for a while it seemed great.  Marketers could “go to market” quickly and bypass the usual middle-men.

Soon, however, the false “quants” took over and started writing how Marketing was both a “Science” and “Predictive.”  Tomes could be written about the false attribution that plagued the marketing scene with the eminent measurability of Digital Marketing.  We neglected Pater Semper Incertus Est

Marketers new to the profession became one-channel ponies. They only knew Digital Marketing. They also grew up under the totalitarianism of measurement.  They believed in the falsity of attribution and hewed only to the channels that provided an easy story for attribution.

Lo and behold, pundits declared the demise of “traditional” marketing.  Some said TV was dead. Others eulogized radio.  Still others print and outdoor.  Digital Marketing was ROI Marketing and ROI Marketing was King (forgive the pun!)

The zealotry created real problems for real Marketers.  First, they were subjected to Wall Street-type time-frames. What would in a sane world take a year, had to be measured in weeks or months.  Second, the need to show ROI created a channel bias in which they were forced to market in only those channels which were eminently measurable.  Third, they lost the Art which defined Marketing and chose, instead, to genuflect at the altar of a false science.  CMOs lost their jobs in 18 months because they could not prove the ROI they agreed to.  Marketing lost its way.

Fast forward to now. 

Are Marketers ready to reclaim their profession?  Are they ready to bring back that Evergreen-yet-needs-to-be-green-again concept that defined their art?  Yes, you know what we mean- The Marketing Mix. 

We predict that 2018 will be the year in which Marketers re-embrace the notion of managing a portfolio of bets, of which some are measurable and others are not.  The rush to measurement restricts the channels Marketers pick to engage with, not unlike a Chef with an infinitude of ingredients but only one ladle and one pan with which to create a gourmet meal.  

The portfolio will no doubt contain elements of Digital Marketing but will also likely concentrate on what the current and future audience really needs and could, thus, index on physical marketing, TV, Radio, Outdoor, even Print.  Who knows.  Why discount ideas and channels a priori

Ironically, the zealotry around measurability and ROI lands Marketers in an ironic soup- they restrict themselves from generating real ROI by thinking of it as an input and not as an outcome.

All fashions have their arc.  It’s high time we reclaim Marketing from the ROI zealots and re-engage with the world as it is and as it could be.

Guest post by:
Romi Mahajan, Blueprint Consulting
Steven Salta, Agilysys

Artificial Intelligence is changing Customer Service

No matter how much technology has changed our day to day lives, both at home and at work, what remains essential to running a successful business is customers—how you treat them, how they feel about your product or service, and whether they share those good (or bad) feelings.

In decades past, interacting with customers and helping to manage their problems and expectations was something that was left mostly to humans, which meant any good or bad things could also be subject to staffing or competing deadlines. But technology has helped with that in a unique way: by automating much of the customer journey through artificial intelligence, or AI.

Customers may not realize it, but a part of the process with many companies is already managed by AI. It’s helping with predictive needs, to name just one area. And its use will only continue to grow. This graphic explains what it’s doing and how business will continue to use AI.

Click To Enlarge

Rise of the Chat Bots: How A.I. Changed Customer Service

Via Salesforce

Enabling Sales for New Growth Opportunities

On April 6, 2016, the Department of Labor released a 1000-page document known as the Fiduciary Duty rule (DOL fiduciary) requiring financial advisors to always act in the best interest of the client, expanding the meaning of “investment advice fiduciary” originally defined under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 to also include retirement investment advice. Asset managers have since faced a new set of intricate regulations to comply with, tight timelines to meet, and structural/operational changes to enact within their own firms.

From the very beginning, the fiduciary rule had the weight of inevitability and the social pressure of protecting investors’ morality behind it. Assets under management in America alone nears $40 trillion, most of which is managed by the US’s largest 50 banks.

While the industry foresaw change with the DOL fiduciary rule, my marketing team saw opportunity. What if we could prepare our subject matter experts to react quickly, time our content with the news cycle, and launch an advertising campaign that could help demystify the rule for our clients and potential prospects? Better yet, what if we could be the leading consulting firm on the rule and how to implement it? We immediately got to work.

Program execution

  • Web presence: Ahead of the game In advance of the April 6th announcement, we developed a classic microsite, and built it out with thought leadership, media placements, and videos, all of which were keyword-optimized. Front-and-center, we placed a jargon-free description of what the DOL Fiduciary Duty Rule really meant and how we understood its possible effects. Also quickly available to visitors was a highlighted drop-down list describing various services related to DOL Fiduciary rule and how we could help. Throughout the first added our DOL-focused publications, webcasts and videos, as well as other related content.
  • Thought leadership: A deep-dive and first-to-surface We are never surprised by a regulation. At the time of the announcement, marketing was prepared (at 6 a.m.!) to work alongside a five-member client services team to tear apart the 1,000 page ruling; we published a paper within 48 hours. We also scheduled interviews beginning at 11 a.m. that day with two thought leaders who were media-trained.
  • Media coverage: And then some In advance, and in anticipation of the announcement, two subject area experts had been previously identified and were prepped for press interviews. We arranged for interviews on the day of the DOL announcement with The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Reuters, Reuters TV, Bloomberg, CNBC and CNBC Closing Bell.
  • Webcast(s): Ramping up and following up In February 2016, we held a webcast to present industry perspectives and impacts, discussing four major impact areas: business models, operating models, technology and data, and compliance programs. By polling our webcast participants, we also confirmed concerns that we assumed were top-of-mind for our clients. Once the rule was announced, we held a follow-up webcast within two weeks. The April webcast reviewed the regulation, compared the proposed rule to the final, discussed industry impacts and reactions, next steps and FAQs.

Over the course of 14 months, we helped PwC grow a dedicated DOL team of nearly 200 employees serving 25 clients, 120 projects, and of course we booked business. Best of all we got the call every marketer dreams of from the project team to “please turn your marketing off we have too much demand!”

Digital Transformation as an Expression of Business

In much of industry, the idea of “Digital Transformation” has taken root. At the core of this process is the need to replace antiquated and “slow” processes, products, and service offerings with agile, automated, and “smart” processes, products, and service offerings. In addition, digital transformation is about the inclusion of all potentially interested parties (employees, partners, customers, influencers) in the creation and execution of new lines of business and innovation.

While the concept of Digital Transformation has been around in the entire Internet Age, necessary elements have indeed been missing. First, not always were the underlying technologies ready for “prime-time.” What works in manicured and controlled environments doesn’t always work at scale or in fast-moving, instant-decision environments. Second, the culture of transformation has not always been present with many forces internally and externally being focused on the power of the status quo. Third, Digital Transformation requires the foregrounding of certain parts of the organization at the perceived expense of others parts. With these constraints, the prevailing scenario for transformation has been characterized by the gap between intention and execution.

Of the organizational barriers that impede the progress for Digital Transformation, the schism between IT and Business is perhaps the most profound. Business users in organizations are governed by entirely different imperatives than IT teams are. While business changes, roles and cultures do not always keep up with the dynamism of business models and the directives that come out of the C-suite.

Business users are defined by the “Power of NOW!” while IT is chartered with issues of security, governance, compliance (and at times control) that if applied in the canonical methodology, are antagonistic to the time-based agility that has come to define modern business.

This happens even when IT teams and Business teams are friendly and believe in the same overall set of goals. This is the result of technology configurations that were not flexible or adaptive, two defining characteristics of true Digital Transformation.

When IT and Business are in Harmony, agility is possible in a way that does not run afoul of the core mandates of IT. When IT and Business are in structural harmony, all of the manic energies of the organization can be trained on the same end goal.

Running IT like a Business and running Business in an IT-native world are keys to Digital Transformation. At stake here is the ability of organizations to navigate the shoals of modernity and complexity, in which every expanding pools of data and ever-growing avenues of expansion characterize business.

As such, Digital Transformation is the ultimate expression of IT-Business Harmony and IT-Business Harmony is the starting point of real Digital Transformation.

Guest post by:
Romi Mahajan, KKM Group
Srini Venugopal, Epicor Software

Getting Towards a Mature Data Infrastructure

Data is the watchword in organizations large and small. In fact, how an organization frames data is the single most important determination of future success or failure. As some put it, Data is the new “oil,” the commodity of most value in the modern age.

Many business leaders understand this intuitively. As business-users in the organization are forced to make larger number of critical decisions with larger “payloads” on a more frequent basis, the idea that these decisions must be data-driven is at the fore. Gut instinct is fine but gut instinct inflected with timely, contextual, and comprehensive knowledge of relevant data is a winning strategy.

While the idea of being “data-driven” is fundamental and powerful, most organizations fall short. Intentions are necessary but not sufficient. For most organizations, the technology and operational infrastructure that defines their “data” is predicated on notions that made sense in an earlier era in which there were simply less sources of data and less change to existing sources. The “size” of the data question makes for a complexity that is not pre-defined and therefore the solution to the data problem has to be flexible and adaptive. Data infrastructure maturity is necessary in today’s business environment and has 4 basic qualities: Governance, Security, Agility, and Automation.

Without these 4 qualifiers, 2 core facets of the solution are absent- democratizing access to data and liberating IT from the backlog and fatigue associated with constantly-changing business needs. Business-users work in the “NOW” timeframe while IT has its own rhythms. In order to truly be data-driven in a way that scales, organizations must empower business-users while simultaneously freeing IT to innovate. While there are cultural hurdles to this state, the biggest blockers are infrastructural.

Until very recently, good enough was, alas, good enough. The internecine conflict between Business and IT was considered just a fact of life, a “cost of doing business.” With automation technology, business users’ data needs can be managed on the fly and without the need for reactive hand-coding, conferring agility to the business teams and handing time back to the IT teams to innovate and more resources from lower value tasks to higher value tasks. This structural win-win is available today and harmonizes the needs of Business and IT.

If data is the new oil then an infrastructure to capitalize on it is necessary- an infrastructure that is mature and “Hub”-like. While all organizations are different, they are similar in their data needs and the data platforms that win will accommodate diversity and change inherently.

Guest post by:
Romi Mahajan
Chief Commercial Officer, TimeXtender

Chatbots: The future of conversational commerce and marketing

It’s no secret that the rise of computer apps is transforming both the marketing and customer experience. One of the most intriguing developments in app development is in the area of chatbots that not only can send communications to customers but also respond “intelligently” to conversations.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Christian Brucculeri, the CEO at mobile messaging company Snaps, a developer of chatbots and other marketing technology products for companies. Brucculeri explained some of the background of how chatbots came to be, as well as their usefulness as a marketing tool.

“Typically chatbots represent a conversational interface between a consumer and a machine,” Brucculeri said. “They’re applications that have linguistic structure. It might allow you to ask a question and try to find an answer. They enable one-to-one communication between brands and consumers at scale, and they leverage technology in order to do that.”

Certainly chatbots have close technological relatives we’re already used to, like Apple’s Siri, Google Home and Amazon Alexa. You might call automated phone systems—the kind people love to hate—as a chatbot’s second cousin. But so far these are far from able to use artificial intelligence to understand language, and respond appropriately.

And while the technology can be used for entertainment purposes—think Snapchat or Facebook Messenger, for example—its greatest impact is potentially coming in marketing, Brucculeri told me.

Creating conversations, not messaging

“We work with brands across several industry verticals, including tourism, hospitality, entertainment, media, CPG, retail, quick-serve restaurants and more,” he said. “For example one apparel brand delivers a 30-day workout experience using basic Facebook Messenger. For some hospitality brands, they’re trying to manage their ongoing relationship with consumers and help them manage their rewards accounts.”

In many ways, this sounds similar to most apps we’re used to. So, what makes chatbots a different kind of app?

“Where chatbots get really interesting is in personalizing media and responses,” Brucculeri suggested. “Here, you can really do one-to-one marketing at scale.” Brucculeri said Snaps has developed such chatbots for sports teams, where a fan might receive notices of games, results and highlight videos. In the stadium, a chatbot might help a fan find restrooms and snack counters, based on physical location.

Brucculeri said Snaps is developing chatbots that function on a variety of existing platforms. Facebook Messenger, which launched a chatbot in 2016, may be most appropriate in accessing consumers, he said, but there’s also Kik, WeChat, Slack and many others, each of which may be experience-specific.

Chatbots also can be connected to customer relationship management platforms, such as Salesforce, to deliver notifications at the right time to the right person, Brucculeri said.

“We do CRM integration and user matching to log in and do account management,” he said. The result might enable companies to find new customers, engage with existing customers in a fun way, getting customers to take some form of action, or managing the relationship in other ways.

Improving the customer experience

Customer service, driven by artificial intelligence, also can be aided powerfully by such matching, Brucculeri said. Instead of hitting a bunch of digits to get routed to the right person, the artificial intelligence capabilities of chatbots—the two-way ability to listen and respond appropriately—can improve this experience immensely.

“A chatbot can do this in ways that are more convenient, simple, fast, and better for the customer and probably less expensive for the customer-service function,” he said.

The future of chatbots is an intriguing one, as technology evolves and as the bots themselves get “smarter” and more humanlike in their analyses and responses.

“We’re long on the idea that conversational interfaces will continue to evolve. Whether consumers are texting with or talking to them, automated systems like bots are almost certainly going to have a role in our future lives” Brucculeri said. “We see conversational media becoming the next wave and being potentially bigger than application media itself. I think in three years, people might be talking to bots more than they’re typing in bots.

“But the main idea remains the same,” he said. “Might I one day launch a chatbot on Alexa, Amazon’s voice control system? How about getting some type of visual element to go along with that, such as HoloLens, Microsoft’s holographic headset? Can these things become really rich experiences, far better than just staring at our phones and typing?

“I think some of the form factors are going to change, but I think the fundamental elements are going to be the same, which is conversational commerce. People increasingly will be talking to their computers, and they’re going to get a lot done by doing it.”

Agile Marketing in B2B

itsma-award-2016

Agile marketing increasingly is being recognized as a powerful key to content effectiveness. Buyer interest and trends can change in the blink of an eye, in particular as social and other media drive the news. Breaking news creates windows of opportunities, but only if marketers are quick and smart enough to take advantage of them.

On topic of agile marketing is what some have called newsjacking, which means responding quickly to news items of the day. More than just quickness for its own sake, the increased focus on what customers are interested in greatly improves content relevance.

And did I forget to say it can produce stupendous ROI results? It can produce stupendous ROI results!

I’m proud to say my latest efforts in this area on behalf of PwC have been recognized by ITSMA with its highest honor, the diamond award in its 2016 Marketing Excellence Awards global competition. Below, I’ll explain some of the elements of the winning program.

The quick or the dead

Keeping up to the minute with who’s buying what, matched with what you’re selling, and how you’re connecting and delivering for your customers is a dynamic and fluid challenge. As Financial Services and U.S. Brexit Marketing Leader at PwC here in New York I have a particular interest in rapid-response content creation, in particular how it can benefit our customers in their day-to-day decision making.

But professional service firms often impose inherent drags on marketing response. Internal reviews and multiple approvals have to be adhered to, and design and layout of messages, and distribution via Web, e-mail and social media, consume big chunks time.

That’s a shame, because firms like PwC are well-positioned to offer keen, insightful analysis of breaking financial news—analysis that’s effective only if it’s quick out the door. Think of it as a client calling a very knowledgeable friend to get “their take” on the news. Marketing best practices demand it, but more importantly so do current and prospective clients who have to make rapid decisions based on sometimes complex new regulations often rendered in government speak.

Knowing how the content game is played

We already distribute thoughtful briefs on new regulations, as well as deeper analysis. What we needed was a quick-response campaign platform tied to newsworthy events that we already knew were on the horizon, and that our customers also anticipated.

Consider the U.K.’s June 2016 referendum to eventually leave the European Union. It seemed that Brexit follow-up was always catching people flat-footed, with how-come and what-if analysis that was too uncertain and too late.

But the calendar revealed key dates that would produce news and content opportunities. We knew, for example, the Bank of England would hold a policy meeting on a certain day. We knew the particular date that the UK’s GDP numbers would be released, that the Economic and Financial Affairs Council was meeting in Brussels, and more. From these and other events, we were able to prepare preliminary analysis based on expected news, and get it out the door in two days or less—unheard of in most professional services firms.

The key is not responding to events, but rather anticipating them with compelling marketing content your customers want and need. I’ll give you a single example that turned out great for us, and impressed the ITSMA judges.

A combination of hard work and opportunity

  • Market trigger: We knew that the U.S. Department of Labor planned to release details of a new trading law on April 6, 2016. It was a complex revision of previous regulations that changed how broker-dealers, investment advisers, insurance agents and consultants are compensated when dealing with investment and retirement accounts. A big yawn? Nope … it was and is of keen interest to an immense financial services community.
  • SEM: We launched Google search ads two days prior to the DOL announcement, scheduled to run for two full months. We wanted to own this conversation.
  • Scrum prep: We threw together a five-member client services team with the sole task of tearing apart the anticipated 1,000-page DOL ruling to fully understand what was in it.
  • Thought leadership: Two PwC subject area experts were identified and prepped for press interviews.
  • Media opportunities: In advance, and in anticipation of the announcement, we arranged for interviews on the day of the DOL announcement with The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Reuters, Reuters TV, Bloomberg, CNBC and CNBC Closing Bell. (Not bad for a day’s work!)

And the payoff? Our keyword buy results were among the strongest ever recorded for any PwC paid-search campaign, with the highest ever click-through rates and the lowest bounce rates. And we booked business in the first week of the campaign.

If all this seems daunting, don’t worry. Pick your spots, develop content in advance and think like the folks who are going to consume it. Agile marketing works; moreover, in many industries it can be the rule breaker that makes for outsized competitive success. So roll up your sleeves and make it happen!