Mar 1, 2024
27 min
Episode 59

TOP CMO: Amanda Cole, Bloomreach - 'Marketing's AI Evolution'

Amanda Cole - Bloomreach  00:00

AI is changing so fast that the pace of innovation is really difficult to keep up with. So I think today, it's really hard to say there's a really clear way to build an AI strategy.

Ben Kaplan  00:10

This is the podcast where we go around the globe to interview marketing leaders from the world's biggest brands, fastest growing companies, and most disruptive startups, great ideas packaged a certain way want to spread, they want to be told to someone else's simple, surprising, and significant data to unlocking viral creativity is to make it rapidly scalable. This is TOP CMO with me, Ben Kaplan. today I'm chatting with Amanda Cole, CMO at Bloomreach, a pioneer in the world of AI driven marketing and customer experiences for E-commerce. Amanda brings more than 15 years of experience in SaaS marketing that software as a service, helping companies build impactful brands and grow high performing marketing teams. Her journey has seen her serve as Vice President of demand generation at BlueShift specialized in customer data activation, and Vice President of Marketing at Basware a company that provides financial automation and E invoicing solutions. She joined Bloomreach in January 2021, following the company's acquisition of Exponea, where she previously served as the company's CFO. So what does it take to lead marketing in an era where AI is reshaping consumer interactions? And how does one cultivate a brand's voice in this rapidly evolving digital ecosystem? Let's find out with Amanda. Amanda, one of the things that you've been a proponent of is taking historical data and real time data and combining them together. That's part of what Bloomreach does, but talk about for anyone listening who just says, oh, yeah, we have the purchase history of this customer, we can optimize a personalized for that, what are they missing out if they're not also focused on real time data? Yeah,

Amanda Cole - Bloomreach  01:58

so real time obviously is going to be the best indicator of where your customer is and in their journey. And so if you're not able to, to capture that data and activated on it in real time, you're going to miss out specifically thinking of things like purchase activities, I can give you an example, I bought a fossil watch. And so they would have some historical data on me because I've been a fossil customer for a very long time. So they should have some idea about my style preferences and metal preferences, and even probably store location. But I made a purchase for a fossil watch. And then I was obviously enrolled into a retargeting program. And I was being targeted with ads for the watch that I already purchased. For $50 less than I purchased it for what real time was so important because what they could have done instead is immediately switched me from an ad segment for a watch that I browsed on their website, but then ultimately purchased into products that were more closely related to the watch. And my overall purchase experience would have been tremendously better. So real time data isn't just about capturing that data, it's about activating it in real time. And when I say real time, I mean sub milliseconds. Another example that I have a challenge with real time data is if you think about wanting to create a personalized offer on your homepage, your consumer is probably on your page and an E commerce setting under a minute. Many, many companies take that much time to actually build a personalized offer to recognize who a customer is to find the record and their technology system to grab the assets and create the offer for the website. And so by the time the consumer leaves the site, the display for the promotion is finally ready, but the consumers left and we do that again in sub milliseconds, because we know that that limited precious time that you have to engage with your consumer in a personalized way is super important. And so using again, that combination of historical and real time data is the only way to engage with customers, we think

Ben Kaplan  03:50

well and of course, it's been somewhat difficult holiday season in terms of spend, we need to make more of our marketing work more for us. And the issue is, you know, in your examples, you made a purchase that of course in gifting season things for others, we do all kinds of purchases, that that may be a one off thing that we don't need to be retargeted for we might do something for someone else, something for ourselves. I have two young three year old and an almost two year old I do a lot of purchases for them. But sometimes I don't need to be inundated with retargeting of that or sometimes my wife asked me to get something for her and I do and then I get inundated with that so if we kind of have a sort of a blunt marketing instrument, how can it a CMOS listening to this and they want to fine tune it and they know that maybe budgets are shrinking, there's more uncertainty, what can they do to start incorporating that to be more precise with actually understanding someone's intent as well as their past history?

Amanda Cole - Bloomreach  04:46

Yeah, I mean, you you absolutely need need a tool and there are a lot of great segmentation tools out there and we partner and integrate with a lot of them and then we also offer advanced levels of segmentation in our platform as well but that If you are a regular purchaser, for for your wife or your children, and we're able to build that profile over time, like we can know that you're actually a male who lives in a certain area who has product preferences with a brand, but then that there are moments that where you buy off profile type items. And we have, we actually have a customer called uncommon goods, their entire business model is around helping you find really unique gifts. And so when you think about how difficult that can be to make sure that you're surfacing products that are of interest to someone who's trying to buy a gift for someone else, I mean, that really comes down to knowing and understanding the intent of the desired outcome. So the experience that that person is trying to deliver, our CEO likes to call it the digital seeker, that ultimately you're trying, particularly in gifting, you're seeking to deliver an experience of some kind, you want to make somebody happy you it's a Mother's Day, it's or it's an apology, maybe I don't know. But there is a desired outcome. And so really like using the data that we have, in your interactions with with a site can help us deliver some of that personalization, just using intent.

Ben Kaplan  06:14

That would be amazing. If the ad targeted, you are trying to apologize to your wife, Ben, this is really going to help you accomplish this. That was like, wow, they really know my motivation here. Amazing. So Amanda, how does kind of the rise of generational AI? Obviously, people are aware of chat GPT. And the idea is that how do we sort of you know, engage with that consumer in a way that's not just like ad displays. But maybe there's a more engaging way that we can do this and have personalization and more of a conversational, let's say setting? How has generational AI changed things? Do you think for marketers, especially the E commerce setting? Yeah,

Amanda Cole - Bloomreach  06:55

I mean, I think what what opening AI has done geniusly is even if you don't understand how AI works, you now understand the impact and scale that it can offer you. And I think that's why we're seeing a lot of a lot of C suite a lot of board members who really have never understood or were talking about, we need an AI strategy now demanding like I see the value and benefit and scale that AI is going to offer me and I want to understand how we're going to leverage this new technology as a business in order to deliver better experiences, get better margins, help our employees in many cases. So I mean, AI gives us this incredible January and particularly gives us incredible opportunity to crunch large, large amounts of data and make associations between that data so that it does model and look like a conversation. And so when we're talking about this intent based shopping that example that we were saying before, where you're trying to apologize to your wife, now that can very much become a conversation where you initiate and you you're even able to express like, here's things that my wife has liked in the past, or here's, you know, some of the maybe we need to get off of this analogy, but

Ben Kaplan  07:59

you're recently married. So you're I know, you mentioned that you say you're dropping hints to, you know, to your new husband, but yes, yes. So

Amanda Cole - Bloomreach  08:05

in the same way where we would if you call and you were saying hey, I would really like some recommendations on how to buy something for somebody that you know, and let me talk you through what, what their preferences are colors that they prefer materials they like or stores or brands, you can feed that information in a now conversational way without being a survey or form. And then the journey, I can actually crunch that data, which is really, to you feels like a conversation, build the associations, and then come back with conversational product recommendations that ultimately the vision is help with better conversion and better brand loyalty for sure.


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Ben Kaplan  09:29

Amanda, what are you seeing in terms of this notion of marketing leaders or entire companies having an AI strategy? What are you seeing as like the components of what constitutes a strategy? What constitutes just like tactics? Meaning Yeah, we want to you know, use this to help us write blog posts or we want to you know, have a that's a tactic. But what is what is the strategy look like?

Amanda Cole - Bloomreach  09:52

Yeah, I think that I mean, really, I don't think anybody knows yet. I think the most analogous example is probably See the internet or maybe even like maybe beyond the internet, but really the access of like how are our how we're going to enable our, our employees with computers and connectivity, and then obviously Wi Fi and the mobile. And that sounds really old for me to say that I hate it when people were like before the internet, things were different. But I do think that what we're experiencing is a revolution similar to that where there's going to be an entirely new way of working and an entirely new set of tools and skills, and the how we do things is going to be very different. And the real, the reality is, the rate of innovation is unbelievable. So at least when it felt like we could breathe a little bit as Internet, and then cloud computing, and then mobile, there were several years of trends, AI is changing so fast that the pace of innovation is really difficult to keep up with. So I think today, it's really hard to say there's a really clear way to build an AI strategy. But I do think that if you can move beyond what's the reality of the features that are accessible today, like writing a blog, for example, but move way beyond that, and say, what's the reality of what this is going to enable for me as a business. And that's where you start building, taking this conversational example. Get on that bandwagon and start, we see a lot of companies starting with their employees in the back office, so to speak, I hate using that terminology, because we all love our employees, and they should be at the front of everything we do. But a lot of companies are trying some of these conversational capabilities internally, helping their employees find products to recommend faster or helping their employees do a better job surfacing content to respond to customer inquiries and complaints. And I would say that the fastest way that you can adopt some of this is to just start jumping in and figuring it out. Well,

Ben Kaplan  11:48

and I think the, you know, maybe like the rise of the Internet taught us is we have to be experimenters, we have to be there's no like, Okay, I'm gonna go study the book on this. I mean, there there are books, you could buy the book, but like what time is published, it's kind of outdated. So you constantly have to be doing things and trying things to shift gears. Talk about, you know, we've talked about a little bit about what you know, Bloomreach does, but just for you as a marketer, you're trying to get other businesses sign up, you're a b2b marketer. What has the environment been like for you in the past year where you're marketing to businesses, but obviously, those businesses are tied into consumer trends, macro economic trends, often because they're related to ecommerce. Yeah,

Amanda Cole - Bloomreach  12:32

I mean, in 2023, we saw a lot of decline and slowdown and actual purchases and conversions. I think collectively across the across the space, ecommerce in particular, had had a declining year. And then we also saw a tougher holiday season, as you mentioned at the beginning for a lot of econ businesses, I think the reality is we're seeing consumer spend shift from apparel and goods and things like that, really into travel and experiences. Post COVID people were there was a lot of DIY and home investments and, and we saw the increase in comfy clothing so that you can work from home like today. Yeah, we're now seeing that reinvestment back into travel and experiences and getting out there. And so there's a shift in consumer spend, for sure. But I think we also are continuing to see just uncertainty in the economic climate overall, and that we yet again in the US have another hopefully less interesting presidential election in the last few not to get political. But the but that does cause pause and create concern for what our interest rates going to look like and how difficult is capital going to be? And that certainly makes the messaging shift from what was hyper growth for the last couple of years into how do you be efficient? How do you reduce your total cost? How do you become profitable with moderate growth? And what are the tools and things that you need to do to continue to create value for your customers and build those relationships? Even if your customers aren't spending as much as they were?

Ben Kaplan  13:57

How are you looking at your overall marketing activities, your marketing budget? Are you consolidating things are you reducing spin, the tendency tends to be like a loose spend on things that are not that trackable that you can't really correlate with a revenue outcome or a profit outcome. That's what people tend to do, because they would like to be able to see it and know it means something. Is that what you're doing? Or are you approaching things differently? Yeah,

Amanda Cole - Bloomreach  14:20

I think this is a really unique opportunity for us to you're absolutely right. I mean, most people's reactions are to let's let's consolidate spend to things that are really really trackable. And I do think that unfortunately, leads to a lot of short term visibility, but long term loss. So we're actually really investing in helping people understand who Bloomreach is and telling our story and doing it in an emotional way we preach this message of creating value for your customers don't spam. Don't push products that they're not interested in like Jen be genuine, build a relationship with your customers don't make it transactional. And we want to do the same thing. So how can we create value education? How can we tell a story how can we help one of the obviously big trends especially with Jenny is personalization. And it's, it's we've been talking about personalization for so long I hate even saying the word right time, right message, right place all of those things. But Jenny, I, it's actually possible now, because it's not only creating scale in the access to the data. But at Bloomreach, we combined customer and product data, it's also creating scale and the connectivity to the customer in the multitude of channels that they have. And so as we see this increase in your ability to create value, create loyalty within your customers. And until really great stories, that's what Bloomreach is doing, and what we're encouraging our customers to do as well. One I

Ben Kaplan  15:38

think sometimes people miss in terms of the power of, of generational AI, what the speed of it might mean, aside from just making you more productive, people can understand that like, Okay, if I need to do this slide deck, or do this presentation, or write this or write that it can save me some time, it can draft some things for me, and you know, it's not going to be perfect, but then I can like edit it, and it's going to be better. But it's interesting to think about in the application of real time. Commerce is one example. But there's many others for what you actually could deliver. That creates whole new ways of engaging with consumers or customers that wouldn't even exist. So it's not just like marketing organization or company more efficient in delivering things, which increases margins, it has that but can you do things that you could never do before? Because you would never have like, I don't know 4000? People ready to answer product questions sitting there for personalized answers you didn't even consider that was a possibility. And now, you could actually make 4000 individual recommendations at this exact moment in time through AI. Yeah,

Amanda Cole - Bloomreach  16:42

and it's even beyond beyond just recommendations. I mean, I think ecommerce professionals and merchandisers for sure have gotten really, really good at product recommendations and merchandisers, even digital merchandisers. They just have this unbelievable inherent capability of understanding like really what customers are going to want. I mean, we saw people start to build these sets and like you would go onto a page and be like, here's other things that go with this product that you might be interested in. That's all the genius of merchandisers that are that are being deployed. But the reason why consumers, we still only see about 15% of spend happen online after all of this technology, and all COVID and all these things 15% of retail spend happening online is crazy, especially because I love shopping online. But the reason is, people want to go touch feels see a product, they want to talk to a product expert, they want to ask questions they want to be be made more comfortable with the thing that they're purchasing. And that is not has not been able to be replicated in an online experience until now. And exactly as you said, you have this product expert that you can scale to 1000s of people all at the same time. And that's just a huge win for brands and customers, I think.

Tom Cain  17:53

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Ben Kaplan  18:46

Amanda, to shift gears a little bit. I mean, I know that because of the type of platform that Bloomreach is you spend time thinking about tick tock, you've spent time thinking about ways to sort of embed commerce in in platforms that were not originally designed for commerce, but they're becoming more open to it more within the platform. So what do you see in terms of trends? Where are we headed in just trying to kind of get commerce in more places, in formats that people want to engage with? Yeah,

Amanda Cole - Bloomreach  19:19

I mean, as marketers we've done for a very long time that the closer you can get to the conversion point. Without creating additional steps, the better your conversion rates are going to be. And so we see we certainly see the platforms like meta with Instagram and Tik Tok, recognizing that there's a big revenue opportunity for them if they can do more than just ads, they can also create that conversion opportunity inside of the application itself. So the consumer is not incentivized to buy and then they go to a landing page and they get disincentivized and they end up not not purchasing and then these platforms also have some rev share components. And I think what this does for consumers, it makes it a lot easier to buy you can you can check out anywhere on the platform I'm in the experience that you're already in without having to be redirected. And who knows if if where you're being redirected as a safe, safe site or not. But for the brands, this means that the checkout is happening not on their platform. So they're getting the, they're getting the purchase data, but they're not necessarily getting all of the interactions from from the consumer. And so making sure that you're deeply connected into these platforms and their experiences, and you're able to understand who your customer is, obviously, with the, with the acceptance of your customer to do that, but that you can understand who your customer is. And regardless of whether they buy on your site, or on one of these other experiences, that you have a better informed view of your customer, they have a great experience because they're buying where they want to. And and we're all growing as a result. Well, and

Ben Kaplan  20:46

and what is your advice for someone listening and a CMO? Who is dealing with like, do I chase either this shiny platform? Or do I chase some kind of new functionality within it like, oh, there's a new way that we can sell things now or capture leads or do this? And it's sort of unproven? What is your advice for like, how much do you sort of chase the cutting edge, bleeding edge, but it can wait time, energy, were also in the area of an era of a bit of consolidation. So it could just be a waste, or everyone's looking to be like, Oh, the golden era of Facebook or Instagram where you could like run ads, and it was like, hugely scalable, and hugely profitable, and not that competitive. Everyone wants that, too. So how do you balance those two things of being the first mover and getting some unfair advantage, or just like wasting time with things that aren't really going to drive results that matter to you?

Amanda Cole - Bloomreach  21:39

I mean, I think this may not be a popular answer, but I think that's why the first movers win because they take that but they take that risk and yes, a lot of things are gonna fail. I think marketers are really good at failing I know my my marketing

Ben Kaplan  21:53

shop out there or CMO who was like the master of vine marketing, right? Because like Vine we own this we're gonna take this all the way and it's like oh, shoot where did where did find

Amanda Cole - Bloomreach  22:05

the very flash pan success of that, but I think that marketers out there it is in our DNA to try and fail. And it's really exciting when we get those those really clear. Maybe you think it's worth it? Absolutely. Every time.

Ben Kaplan  22:20

What is something that you think we sometimes do on the show? Kind of underrated overrated? What do you think is like what's underrated right now, obviously, the rise of generationally we can talk about that that's overrated or not sounds like you don't think it is. But other things are the underrated What are underrated in the marketing stack? What are things that we should be doing that we just like? We don't focus on we should do more of

Amanda Cole - Bloomreach  22:44

I do think email is underrated. I think it has definitely become one of those things where it's like, we got to do it and let's play the volume game and just not be really good at it. So I think really good really smart. Email is underrated. And, and overrated. I mean, mine is a good one. But I do think the the I love what's happening with content creation, and I particularly love what's happening with micro influencers. And so I'd love to say what's overrated are just a really big name, huge celebrities that that we've historically relied on because now there's this whole micro influencer community coming up that I hope means a lot more authenticity and connectedness to community rather than just fame and glory. But I could be wrong. Okay. Well,

Ben Kaplan  23:30

if you had one, you know, a magic wand to be like your that your made the I don't know, the president of Mark, the governor of Mark, the mayor of marketing of St. Louis. And you can you can sort of like inundate your team, and other teams with one kind of best practice they don't have now no one's gonna challenge you. No one has to prove no one can veto your want. What would it be?

Amanda Cole - Bloomreach  23:52

Oh, man, I think at this point, we're probably really good connections, probably. And that's, that sounds like a terrible, stupid answer. But I think we're just like, we've lost I think, I don't know if it's COVID. Or it's the way that events, event marketing has been done. But I think we've kind of lost this community angle of coming together spending time with each other, being resources for each other in a in a room where we're building genuine relationships. And the the I'm heard of an association in which I do have this as an opportunity, there's a couple good friends CMOS that I've made, who I can call on a bat phone at anytime and be like, Oh, my gosh, this happened with my CEO today, does this happen to you? And it's just refreshing. And I think we've lost a lot of that. So I'd love I'd love to see some kind of community element in person come back in a big way. And I would do that with a magic wand.

Ben Kaplan  24:38

And what are you emphasizing to your team? Now, in this environment? What is the what are their key messages? You're trying to say that you're trying to to get other people on your marketing team? What are what are those messages?

Amanda Cole - Bloomreach  24:49

Yeah, I think that there is an exhaustion with with innovation. And so the team feels like we're constantly trying, we're constantly being innovative and that my message is like that's what we have to do. And so we We'll look at a piece of technology that we've been investing in for a year and a half, two years. And it's finally to a place where it's working. But it's been completely replaced by new technologies. And there's some desire to hang on to it, because we put so much time and effort and investment into it rather than shift to something new. But then that means we're just going to be another year and a half, two years behind the next trend. And so there is a bit of this, like, expect constant innovation to be part of part of your role, and be always looking for those opportunities to be agile and switch. But that's hard, because sometimes you just want to come into the office and know exactly what you're doing that day. That's true.

Ben Kaplan  25:37

And I think it's interesting to have this moment of great change, maybe powered by generational AI and things that are similar, but also in a consolidation type period. Because, you know, everyone sort of has this intrinsic feeling like, hey, there's gonna be winners of people who adopt this, we have to invest yet we have to, are you playing for to use your example earlier? The short term or the long term? And how do you sort of play for both? And to do that you just have to be, you have to be smart. And in some ways, if you can get the short term, I think working well like, revenue profit, it's the fuel that lets you do everything else. So it seems I don't know if you agree or disagree, but that's what I feel about it

Amanda Cole - Bloomreach  26:23

now. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I can talk about long term all that I want. But ultimately, if we don't generate revenue there, the long term won't, won't be there. So there certainly has to be balanced with short and long term. But if you're foundationally, doing the things that you need to do for swish for short term, but investing appropriately in the scale, I mean, the scale absolutely comes from long term investments from brand from storytelling, from building great relationships with customers. They're just not quick and super easy to measure. So the really good balance of both of those things is is absolutely important.

Ben Kaplan  26:54

Thank you so much. Amanda Cole, CMO, Bloomreach interesting industry you're in interesting tool and interesting time. So thank you so much for joining us on TOP CMO.

Amanda Cole - Bloomreach  27:05



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