MarTech360 Interview With Armen Najarian, CMO at Sift

“That empathy and respect is key to building trust between businesses and consumers, and ultimately leads to higher customer satisfaction, loyalty, and growth.”

Armen, can you tell us about your professional background and your current role at Sift.

I’ve spent the last decade in cybersecurity, digital identity, and fraud prevention. These industries are crucial to the success –and trust of – the internet. It’s a space that I love, have gained expertise in, and that I’ve chosen to stay in with previous leadership roles at Outseer, Agari, and ThreatMetrix.

As someone with significant expertise in fraud and cybersecurity, what motivated you to become a part of Sift’s team?

In fraud prevention and identity protection, the “why” behind the work takes on greater importance than the “what.” We ultimately want to safeguard anyone operating a digital business and consumers from online fraud, and this mission should guide how we do it. This is what motivates me. I’ve seen the human side of fraud, having spoken directly with people who had been victimized by different types of scams and abuse.

The story of one particular victim, who had lost their life savings and had to relocate their family as a result, had a profound impact on me. We were able to identify the origin of the attack and eventually get them answers even when law enforcement couldn’t. It’s crucial for businesses to see the people they serve as individuals and not just transactions, particularly when protecting their personal information. That empathy and respect is key to building trust between businesses and consumers, and ultimately leads to higher customer satisfaction, loyalty, and growth.

What major fraud trends are impacting the ecommerce and fintech industries? Are there any specific industries or sectors that rely heavily on fraud prevention technologies?

Ecommerce and fintech are two of the industries most targeted by fraudsters. Some of the more notable trends include:

  1.  Advanced payment transaction fraud, including BNPL: As businesses offer a wider variety of payment options for their customers, fraudsters have taken notice and are targeting many of those new payment methods. Buy now pay later offerings in particular have seen waves of fraud attacks in recent years, as cybercriminals seek to exploit security gaps between merchants and BNPL providers.
  2.  Synthetic Identity fraud: This type of fraud has become more commonplace as cybercriminals piece together full, complete identities by combining (often stolen) real and fake information. Synthetic identities have a number of nefarious uses but are often used to make fraudulent transactions online, leaving merchants with lost merchandise and costly chargebacks once a consumer notices unauthorized purchases.
  3. Attacks on larger organizations originating by exploiting the supply chain: While many large organizations have robust security and fraud prevention measures in place, the businesses they contract with, like manufacturers and logistics companies, may not. Hackers often target these contractors in order to gain access to their large client companies, and then steal vast amounts of sensitive data, which they often sell on the dark web or use themselves in a number of ways.
  4.  Socially-engineered attacks like executive impersonation and Business Email Compromise: While we’re all familiar with phishing emails, executive impersonation and business email compromise attacks are a specific targeted type of email scam designed to fool email recipients into sending funds or financial information by impersonating executives at their company. The vast majority of online fraud starts with social engineering attacks, and both the frequency and sophistication of social engineering scams are getting alarmingly high.

Also Read: MarTech360 Interview With Simon Reed, CRO at Multilocal

Two industries in particular rely heavily on fraud prevention technology – “born digital” companies and traditional banking institutions. Companies that start online have a fraud problem from the moment they start accepting payments online, so fraud prevention must be baked in from Day 1.

Perhaps surprisingly, traditional banks are often highly advanced in their adoption of digital risk solutions, and not just in fraud. Despite their reputations as slow-moving behemoths, many large financial institutions have adopted digital tools to assess risk related to customer credit, privacy, fraud, and brand/reputational damage.

What are some of the common misconceptions that businesses have about fraud and how can these misconceptions be addressed to help businesses better protect themselves against fraud?

In digital commerce, many merchants simply accept that fraud is a cost of doing business. And while the idea of reaching “zero fraud” may be unrealistic for most merchants, the vast majority can be prevented with the right tools, technology, and partners in place. Machine learning has become a powerful tool to stop fraudulent transactions before they happen–and it’s becoming critical for any business that accepts payments online.

Another misconception is that fraud prevention is about stopping bad things from happening and nothing else. The truth is that fraud prevention is much more about enabling legitimate transactions for the 99% of users who simply want to make a purchase. At Sift, we employ a concept called “dynamic friction” which automatically reduces barriers like asking for users to re-enter their passwords, or confirm their identities with two-factor authentication when the risk is low. Likewise, when a transaction is deemed to be higher risk, we apply more friction to prevent a potentially fraudulent purchase from being made.

Finally, I find that people often think about fraud prevention as an obscure function tucked away into the line of business in an organization. Today, fraud touches so many parts of an organization–Customer Service, Finance, Legal, IT, and yes, Marketing–that it’s often a connection point between teams. Customer service needs to be able to escalate fraud claims to fraud analysts who then need to work with other teams to ensure a claim is handled properly. And of course, if a company lets their fraud issues go unchecked, it becomes a reputational hazard for Marketing.

How do you determine the target audience for the brand, and what strategies do you use to engage with them?

It’s critical to get a true 360 view of the market to understand buyer personas. That starts by conducting primary research, and seeking a variety of perspectives. For example, I always make sure to talk with existing customers and partners, industry analysts, and other “in the know” people in the industry in order to fully understand it.

Of course we all have our preconceived ideas about who our audiences are and how to reach them, but it’s important to seek the opinions of your buyers and the people who spend their time speaking with buyers.

What are some of the biggest and most common challenges faced by brands today and how do those challenges impact brands?

  1. Brands that stand for nothing (or even worse, stand for everything): companies that only seek to sell their products and services without connecting with their audiences’ beliefs and emotions can never build loyalty with them. Conversely, companies that try to be all things to all people water down their message and confuse their audience, and similarly can’t create customer loyalty.
  2. Focused entirely on near-term revenue while forgoing investments in long-term equity: In an economic downturn, companies often become hyper focused on short-term revenue in order to appease shareholders or other stakeholders. Brand-building cannot fall by the wayside during leaner times–it’s the most important investment a company can make in its future growth.
  3. Me-too lookalike / soundalike brands: Especially in parts of the tech industry, many companies sound or look entirely too similar. Among a field of competitors, there are typically one or two companies that manage to look/feel/sound different from the others, and they are almost always the leaders.

What advice would you give to other Marketing Leaders which helped you personally?

  1. Start with the people, not the process.  We are in a human-centric business.
  2. Know your buyer
  3. Ecosystems matter
  4. Think like a business leader first, then a CMO
  5. Learn by coaching

What is the biggest problem you or your team is solving this year?

  1. Getting comfortable with a louder and prouder voice in the market (while maintaining a sense of humility)
  2. Rethinking the GTM engine for a post-pandemic world: people / process / technology
  3. Making a few calculated, high payoff bets

Thanks, Armen Najarian!

Armen Najarian is Sift’s Chief Marketing Officer. He’s built extensive strategic experience serving as CMO at fast-growing fraud, identity, and cybersecurity firms, including Outseer, Agari, and ThreatMetrix.

Sift is the leader in Digital Trust & Safety, empowering digital disruptors to Fortune 500 companies to unlock new revenue without risk. Sift dynamically prevents fraud and abuse through industry-leading technology and expertise, an unrivaled global data network of one trillion (1T) events per year, and a commitment to long-term customer partnerships. Global brands such as DoorDash, Twitter, and Wayfair rely on Sift to gain a competitive advantage in their markets.

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