Jennifer Zeszut, CEO of Beckon, discussed the importance of data and analytics for today’s marketers.
Let’s start by going over your background prior to Beckon.
I’ve been a marketer for some time. I’ve been an assistant brand manager at a CPG company, a buyer for a national retailer and a VP of marketing in the e-commerce space. I’ve also worked on the agency side, advising many of the world’s best brands on marketing strategy and analytics. I’ve always been drawn to marketing because it’s the one business discipline that expects you to be both artist and scientist, intuitive and analytical, strategic and tactical, brazen experimenter and reliable accountant.
But by 2006, I’d become fed up with the lack of great tools for helping marketers do our jobs, so I jumped from marketing to building software for marketers. Just as social media first appeared as a new potential source of marketing intelligence, I founded Scout Labs because I quickly realized marketers would need help gleaning customer insight from an ever-growing flood of social data. Scout Labs became the leading social media analytics platform and was acquired by Lithium in 2010. Now, much of my original team is together again building Beckon, including our co-founder Jochen Frey, who was also the CTO at Scout Labs.
What was your inspiration for starting Beckon?
Marketers are swimming in data (drowning in it, you might even say). Yet not one readily available marketing metric — opens, clicks, likes, views, fans, TRPs, impressions, etc.— matters to a CMO. No standalone tactical metric tells us if marketing is working.
How fascinating is that? We marketers spend all our time and money executing in channels collecting activity metrics that mean nothing to the business. What marketing leaders really want are the strategic metrics, diagnostic measures and aggregate performance trends. So, what marketers really need is a translation layer that makes all the useless metrics we’re drowning in useful — like what macroeconomics does for microeconomics. Or how we use GDP — a derived metric — to understand the economic health of a nation, but no one household actually has a “GDP.” If we could tackle the mess of siloed marketing data and normalize, standardize and categorize it — create a kind of macroeconomics for marketing — then marketers could see what’s working across channels and tell the marketing story in terms of business impact.
As soon as we conceived of the problem in this way, we knew our particular team had a great chance to solve it. With Scout Labs, we had already transformed social media “big data” into insight for marketers. We had plenty of experience categorizing, classifying, normalizing and quantifying unstructured data — for example, taking the string of text, “Dude, my N-kicks are phat!” and turning that into a positive mention for brand: Nike in category: Sneaker. Why couldn’t we tackle cross-channel marketing performance data in the same way? And in the process, we’d transform marketing from a chaotic, execution-focused mess to a strategic, analytical, and intentional discipline.
“I’ve always been drawn to marketing because it’s the one business discipline that expects you to be both artist and scientist, intuitive and analytical, strategic and tactical, brazen experimenter and reliable accountant.”
Tell us more about the importance of data in the digital age. How has it transformed the modern marketplace? Specifically, how has it transformed the role of marketing within an organization, and subsequently, the role of the CMO?
It’s a hugely exciting time. It’s like a Cambrian Period for new marketing channels — an explosion of ways to connect with consumers. The data they leave across all the channels they interact in provide wonderful clues for helping marketers to improve the customer experience — and our relationship with our customers. Our marketing efforts themselves even leave data traces everywhere that can be used in our optimization efforts.
There is a huge amount of data being generated now, and the volume will only increase. So why did the latest AMA study show senior marketing leaders actually are using data less and less to make decisions? Because data is not actionable insight. And most of the “big data” being generated right now is just a bunch of numbers without context. It’s not blended, not harmonized, and not in an actionable format. We are data rich, but insight poor.
As data becomes more digestible and actionable with systems like Beckon, CMOs will become more powerful and their marketing investments will no longer be “the black hole of marketing spend”. Instead, marketers will be able to tell the marketing story in terms of business impact. That ability alone levels the playing field and gives CMOs a true seat at the table with peers.
We like the phrase: “You know what you do matters. Now you can show it.” Being able to “show it” is a big shift for CMOs, and very important. But the next logical question becomes: Does the “art” of marketing get replaced by the “science” of marketing in this new data-driven era?
I believe that viewing marketing as an “art vs. science” dichotomy is the wrong approach. Marketing must be both. Even with all the data in the world, answers don’t emerge on their own. Marketers must “read” patterns, intuit what questions matter and decide what analyses should be run. The mere act of asking a question is a huge part of the art of marketing. The deeper we go into the numbers, the more we appreciate and understand the importance of intuition. Great marketers are like scientists who say the more they learn about patterns in nature, the stronger their faith.
At the same time, people outside marketing think marketers hate measurement. They think we long for the lack of accountability of the Mad Men days. There may be some of those marketers still floating around, but not many (and I meet a lot of CMOs). Going into the CEO’s office and saying, “I want another $10 million, but I don’t know what I did with the last $10 million and I’m not sure what I’m going to deliver with this next $10 million” is not fun. In fact, it’s incredibly stressful. We marketers would love to be more accountable and data-driven. But historically, we haven’t had the tools that can keep up with the complexity of the cross-channel, modern marketing landscape. Beckon, of course, changes that.
How are the most advanced brands using data to better target customers and drive results? Can you give us some examples of how Beckon has helped brands utilize data to improve customer experience and drive brand loyalty?
Given all the ways to connect with consumers, marketing is more experiment-driven than ever before. With new channels, tools and tactics for reaching consumers appearing almost every day, there’s huge pressure to be trying new stuff, to be constantly experimenting. At the same time, we must be delivering reliably. In other words, there have never been more ways to spend marketing dollars, and never more pressure to justify and account for the decisions we make.
That’s the tension every marketer feels. And it’s not going to go away. Welcome to the new world of modern, messy marketing. If you’re a marketing leader, you must embrace this tension, learn to become a more agile marketer and make sure you have systems in place that allow you to experiment — and know if that experiment was worth the cost.
Converse, for instance, a Beckon client, has endless choices for connecting with their customers and making them even stronger brand fanatics. But in order to understand the best, most cost-effective choices for getting there, Converse needs normalized language and metrics for comparing the effectiveness of one activity to another — even across channels. Like so many marketers, the folks at Converse need to normalize their data and get a feedback loop flowing fast so they can make fast decisions. This is the new-world language that marketers need to speak: try stuff, measure stuff, watch it work (or not work) and then double down or shift resources. And we need to do it again and again. Marketing optimization is not just one thing that we need to do. It’s a million little shifts that add up to better brand experiences and better returns on our overall marketing investment.
How are CMOs using data to measure the ROI of their brand efforts? Can you share some examples with us?
ROI is a simple calculation. The amount gained or benefited over and above what was spent to do that thing. But spend — actual spend — might sit in a finance or purchasing tool. Or it might sit with an agency (actual media spend is a bit hard to come by, in fact). The benefit part of the ROI equation is also hard to come by in an omni-channel world where the same consumer that sees your billboard is also experiencing your banner ads and opening your emails and shopping online or in your store.
One of our clients ran traditional media (OOH, radio, TV) in a particular market to support a new store opening. Once Beckon lined up and harmonized all the disparate data streams for that client, there were all kinds of ah-has about the impact of that media buy. In that market, when they ran traditional media they saw digital media click-through rates jump, driving more traffic to the website and more e-commerce sales. They saw organic search traffic jump as well. People just spontaneously started looking for a local store where they could buy that brand. And, they saw their own store sales as well as those of their retail partners jump in markets where media ran. The ROI becomes clear when the data is clear. When the data is muddled, ROI will be muddled, too.
“What marketing leaders really want are the strategic metrics, diagnostic measures and aggregate performance trends. So, what marketers really need is a translation layer that makes all the useless metrics we’re drowning in useful.”
Circling back to the evolving role of the CMO over the past 5-10 years, let’s discuss how the modern CMO collaborates with other key executives. Given your own personal experience, can you tell us about the importance of the relationship between the CEO and the CMO?
The fact that customer-centric thinking has permeated the business world has been a great thing for the CMO. With increasing pressure on CEOs to create customer-centric cultures and operations, they rely on their CMOs for strategic advice on what exactly this all means and how to deliver it. In my view, the CMO is becoming a more important advisor to the CEO every day. In fact, I have seen the CMO role as a career path to the CEO, more and more.
On the other side of the coin, CEOs today are demanding more justification from their CMOs for their strategy and budget decisions. CEOs are used to getting really good data and straight answers from all their other departments like finance, human resources, and business operations. And they know, now, that marketing data exists, too — a lot of it. So the old song and dance, smoke and mirrors (“Let’s role the latest 0:30 spot!”) aren’t cutting it any more. Marketers need to bring data to the table — have data-driven rationales for their decisions. The expectations are higher than ever before.
The relationship between the CMO & the CIO is a particularly hot topic in the marketing world. Can you share your insights and any best practices here?
Much has been said about the shift in technology decision-making and spend from IT to marketing. The CIO is an important ally to the CMO. They are tuned to worry about things like security and stability and scalability. All things that marketing should be worried about too, but don’t have the chops to assess.
Marketing has to partner with IT and the CIO, but it’s important that marketing buy and deploy expert systems optimized for marketing. We need to stop relying on IT (who knows nothing about marketing) and generic tool kits (generic dashboarding, generic BI, generic data exploration, etc.) to solve our marketing problems. It takes too long and simply does not get the job done. Finance doesn’t ask IT to build them a financial planning tool. They use financial software. Sales doesn’t ask IT to build them an Access database to hold all Accounts and Contact records, they deploy a CRM system. For so many reasons (deployment speed, problem solving ability, usability, and more), expert systems are the way to go.
Beckon is a solution built by marketers and for marketers, so it starts answering critical marketing questions almost right out of the box. That’s something home-grown IT solutions (which take years to develop and millions to deploy) can never compete with. And they shouldn’t. There are plenty of other hard problems for IT to focus on. Marketers need to stop thinking that IT will save them. It won’t. Marketing must become the storytellers of its own success.
How do you see the marketplace evolving over the next couple years, and how will this change the playing field for marketers? What is Beckon planning in the way of solutions to keep up with these changes?
Marketing is just starting to actually measure and manage its performance using data. It’s a nascent space, and like all emerging disciplines, we must first crawl, then walk, then run. To start crawling, we need to stop logging in to 20 systems or checking 30 reports just to get a sense of what might be working across it all. Crawling means automating spend and performance across all channels into one single normalized system of record—blended, harmonized data and smart analytics. That’s what we help our clients do today.
After crawling, a marketing organization will have a common set of integrated marketing analytics and strong performance baselines. Now that it can trust the data, it can start using it to be proactive and plan — set goals and targets, track against them and do whatever it takes to meet or exceed them. This kind of marketing starts to look a lot more like finance—using data to set targets and then doing what it takes to hit those targets reliably. Beckon has a robust set of planning features so teams can set goals, align tactics with objectives, and monitor performance against those goals.
Finally, we see organizations with years of good historical data being able to confidently and accurately start to predict future business outcomes based on marketing activity. Data will become increasingly critical to the marketing function, but everyone must start with crawling before they walk. It’s important to know at what level of maturity your organization sits and grow it from there. Beckon can help at all stages and be your guide as you grow and strengthen your new data muscles.
Jennifer Zeszut is the CEO of Beckon, a marketing analytics company that helps the world’s best brands understand and beautifully communicate the business impact of everything marketing does. Beckon is her second venture, as Jennifer founded Scout Labs, the leading SAAS platform to help customer-obsessed teams monitor, manage and glean insight from social media. Scout Labs’ intuitive user interface and powerful, real-time analytics revolutionized the category and became the platform of choice for hundreds of the world’s best brands. Jennifer led Scout Labs as CEO from its inception to May 2010, when Lithium Technologies acquired the company.
Jennifer and Scout Labs have been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, FastCompany and TechCrunch. Jennifer was recognized as “Top Technology Innovator of 2010” by Astia. Jennifer has spoken all over the world on the topics of marketing, branding, social media, customer analytics and entrepreneurship. Recently, Jennifer was invited to the White House to speak about entrepreneurship and to advise the Office of the President on the Startup America initiative.
Prior to founding Scout Labs, Jennifer was Vice President of Marketing at Leverage Software, acting Director of Marketing for Stores at eBay and Director of Marketing Strategy and Analytics at Avenue A | Razorfish. Her early career was spent learning the fundamentals of marketing at Procter & Gamble.
Jennifer graduated Phi Beta Kappa from UC Berkeley and received her MBA from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.