The resounding theme of this decade will be digital transformation. As companies pivoted from in-person to virtual interaction, the digital experience became absolutely necessary.
MEDIA 7: You have been associated with Epsilon for more than twenty years! How has the journey been so far?
JENNIFER BEDFORD: Twenty years at Epsilon has been a wild, exciting ride. When I started, we were similar to a small agency and definitely operated like one. Since then, I’ve seen growth, acquisition after acquisition, ownership changing multiple times, and our services and offerings expand beyond what our imagination could dream of all those years ago. Some of the most interesting observations have been the way our organization has matured and the way we operate now as a large, multi-billion-dollar corporation under Publicis Groupe versus the small agency, family-feel we had all those years ago. We have grown in our breadth and depth of services, from a small print and data processing company to providing a full suite of technology, data, strategy, analytics, digital, and media solutions to our clients.
M7: How high does Epsilon rate ‘data and analytics’ in their core marketing practices and why?
JB: Data and analytics sit at the center of everything we do, which makes its rate very high. It is fundamental in helping our clients achieve their marketing and business goals. Data is the fuel for making accurate, timely, and differentiated decisions. At the core of Epsilon’s PeopleCloud offering is data and identity management, which bridges online and offline data and provides a holistic customer view consisting of the industry’s most comprehensive consumer behavior, intent, and action data. While data is the fuel, analytics is the catalyst. Data coupled with analytics and the ability to model customer behaviors enables our clients to understand and market to their customers in an unparalleled way. Epsilon uses analytic sciences to build predictive models, gain customer insights, apply audience segment scoring, optimize machine learning, and transform our clients’ marketing strategies. These practices sit at the core of enabling our clients to differentiate their strategies and drive results.
Having a strong mobile strategy will be a key differentiator. The ability for consumers to interact when and where they want necessitates that brands can capitalize on this at the moment.
M7: What core strategies does Epsilon adopt to help clients achieve cross-channel marketing success?
JB: The key strategies when approaching cross-channel success are:
1) Understand your audience and how to reach them in the most effective way;
2) Determine your business model and approach to attribution, which naturally differs by client and industry;
3) Have a holistic strategy across your organization on how to approach messaging and content.
Understanding audience segments happens by collecting consumer behavior over time and modeling the best approaches based on what is learned. This is why analytics is so important at Epsilon. We can model customer behavior and predictively determine how various segments of customers are going to behave. From there, we are able to perform an additional test and learn scenarios to understand which channels are the most effective. This enables us to engage customers in the right channels, in the right sequence, as well as attribute ROI to those channels. Further to understanding the right channel mix, we offer strategies in each major channel type to help our clients capitalize on what serves their customers best.
For example, we have a digital experience practice that has well-established and industry best standards for how to engage customers digitally. On the reciprocating end of that spectrum, we can model anonymous behaviors and provide clients with the most effective approach to engagement and acquisition. Further to understanding your audience is the ability to analyze and attribute response behavior to the various channels. Epsilon has developed multiple attribution models over the years, which provide insights on how audience segments respond in different channels. This enables us to learn how to fractionally attribute each channel’s success to those segments and use the right channel mix and sequence when addressing those audiences. Finally, having an enterprise content and messaging strategy that brings continuity across all channels is key to success.
Historically, channels were siloed and maintained their own strategies. Typically, this would end up with varying customer experiences as well as different uses of the data known about that customer. In effect, the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing, and the customer would end up receiving communications in one channel that would be completely irrelevant because that channel lacked information from another. In today’s world, we are seeing a broader convergence across channels, but there is still a winding road ahead. Many companies are on the road to building out a Customer Data Platform that can support enterprise-wide initiatives and capitalize on data captured in otherwise siloed parts of the organization. Having this holistic view of the customer enables better decision-making across channels as well as enables consistent and relevant messaging. Further to that, having a holistic content and messaging strategy enables the organization to gain efficiencies from content reuse and modularization. All of this combined is a win-win-win.
M7: What key suggestions would you give B2B companies fighting to find engagement and acquisitions through social channels?
JB: Specific to B2B, that space can be difficult to breakthrough in social channels. The digital landscape will naturally evolve as generations mature, and the paradigm will shift as new channels come alive, but enabling B2B companies on social channels in today’s world will necessitate creative new strategies and data usage where possible. Starting with organic campaigns, get your brand out there. You never know who you might reach, and by continually building brand awareness, you are increasing your chances of reaching new potential customers. Second to that, paid campaigns can reach specific segments that have a higher propensity to engage with your brand. Using data to narrow your audience's focus on other businesses and specific attributes will increase the likelihood of conversion. Some other creative ways to engage across your business would be YouTube “how-to” and education videos.
By offering up free advice and relevant content, you engage other businesses and draw them into your brand. A hot trend for consideration is the Twitch streaming service offered by Amazon. At first, this might sound irrelevant, but this channel would be focused on younger business owners, and a majority of millennials are involved in B2B purchase decisions. It’s worth making note of newer and up-and-coming social channels to remain relevant.
The digital landscape will naturally evolve as generations mature, and the paradigm will shift as new channels come alive, but enabling B2B companies on social channels in today’s world will necessitate creative new strategies and data usage where possible.
M7: What do you believe are the top three marketing challenges that have arisen in the post COVID-19 era?
JB: The resounding theme of this decade will be digital transformation. We were already heading down this path, but COVID-19 accelerated the journey tenfold. As companies pivoted from in-person to virtual interaction, the digital experience became absolutely necessary. Now that companies have made bold leaps in the digital realm, this pattern will continue. Marketing challenges related to digital transformation will include: 1) how to best reach customers in a digitally saturated space, 2) adopting practices around privacy and data protection, and 3) real-time personalization & decisioning.
In a digitally saturated space, both reaching customers in a compelling way as well as finding innovative ways to replicate the in-store experience virtually will be critical. We’ve seen some creative ideas emerge, such as virtual dressing rooms, virtual “try before you buy”, and enhanced app experiences. These types of differentiators will continue to set the pace as consumers are increasingly more empowered and expect this level of interaction. Reaching customers and breaking through the digital noise can be achieved with the correct use of data. Knowing your customer’s behaviors and communicating with them in a relevant way is key.
Further, having a strong mobile strategy will be a key differentiator. The ability for consumers to interact when and where they want necessitates that brands can capitalize on this at the moment. Having a well-developed app with a seamless experience that incorporates a single view of the customer as well as relevant messaging, offers, and virtual in-store functionality will help brands prevail. Further, streamlining ordering logistics as well as payment options within the app - and other online experiences - will influence customer advocacy of brands. A final interesting twist on the evolution of digital is how the Boomers and Silent generation that previously didn’t have to engage digitally were forced to because of COVID-19. The strategy to reach these audiences should be considered and speaking to these segments differently and purposefully will build their trust as they acclimate to the digital world.
Further, we are seeing a continued emphasis on privacy and data protection. Companies have already pivoted for GDPR and CCPA, and they are now preparing themselves for third-party cookie deprecation. Google recently acknowledged there are multiple paths to a cookieless future and underscored the critical role of first-party data. At Epsilon, we see Google’s announcement as further evidence that our privacy-first identity strategy is future-proofed. We have spent years developing 5000+ direct relationships with publishers as well as creating an identity graph of over 200MM people.
Ultimately, the ability to personalize the customer experience in real-time will enable the relationship and loyalty with the customer to grow. This theme keeps repeating itself, but the ability to see the customer holistically through a single view will be critical. Having a succinct data strategy that amalgamates consumer behavior across the enterprise will enable the types of personalization and decisioning needed to differentiate your brand. As mobile usage will only increase, the ability to speak in a relevant manner to your customer in real-time will be the expectation and norm.
M7: Could you please tell us about some of the most interesting projects that you have worked on till date?
JB: There are so many interesting projects, I could go on forever! One of my favorite projects early in my career was a preference center for a travel client before preference centers were all the rage. We enabled our client’s customers to choose preferences based on the type of communication, the channels they preferred, and enabled customers to give us insights as to the types of destinations and locations they favored.
Another great project was building out a customer 360 view for our client. We pulled in data from across their enterprise, and at the center of it all was Epsilon’s identity management solution. This was a decade ago before CIAM was such a hot topic. I’ve watched Epsilon���s identity solution evolve in amazing ways over the past decade, including bridging PII and the anonymous world as well as building out a comprehensive set of data and models to accompany it.
I’ve also enjoyed my role in organizational maturity and change management. Our team helped develop an engagement model as well as best practices used across the top accounts in our organization. Our strategies and tactics are organized across our practice in a streamlined manner, and processes have been built to provide consistent review and executive involvement in all of our top accounts.
The latest project I’ve been involved with is our Epsilon Digital Factory. The Factory enables low-cost, efficient digital production as well as reuse and modularization of content for faster speed to market. The Factory is designed to optimally handle production execution so the business can focus on strategy and value-add endeavors.
M7: The best piece of advice you have ever received?
JB: There are several great pieces of advice I’ve received over the years, but a wise mentor once told me, “You have all the responsibility but no authority.” Being fairly young at the time, I wasn’t sure what he was saying to me; I just knew I needed to execute well. Fast forward years-of-experience later, I realized he was indirectly telling me to use my inherent leadership skills to make things happen. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing the only ones that can make decisions or institute change are the ones with authority. However, we know that isn’t true. True leadership crosses boundaries and generations, and honing those skills to artfully lead, guide, inspire, and influence those around you is a priceless asset. This was some of the best advice I didn’t even know I was receiving at the time.