Hi, Steve, could you tell us about your journey so far?
My career has been a combination of consulting and entrepreneurial ventures. When I joined Zeta, I was able to bring that strategic lens/analytical rigor of consulting and the ‘make it happen’ orientation of entrepreneurship. August will mark my 13th year at Zeta, which is considered a lifetime at one company in this era. But to call Zeta ‘one company’ is an understatement – we have pivoted several times, in the best way possible, as the digital marketplace has changed dramatically in new and exciting ways.
What challenges did the COVID-19 pandemic pose for you and your team?
Our business was strengthened by the pandemic as the pace of digital transformation accelerated. However, from an operational and cultural standpoint, we were affected like everyone else. Shifting to a work-from-home environment was straightforward in certain areas (e.g., Sales) but super challenging in others.
For example, we have more than 500 individuals working in a range of mission critical, technology-intensive roles in India. India is not set up for remote work. Ensuring this group could work from home was a Herculean task that our teams in both India and the US pulled off exceptionally well. There was no customer disruption from this transition.
As for cultural challenges of a work-from-home environment: collaboration suffers. Innovation is more structured, missing the ‘lightning in a bottle’ moments that come from unstructured moments or brainstorming in the same room. Lastly, People development is more complex. Younger employees no longer have the hands-on instruction that enables some to grow at a faster rate. Rather than on the job mentorship, the situation is more akin to teacher-student: assignments and grades rather than the dynamic that comes from practical learning.
What sets Zeta Global apart from the competition?
Zeta competes with a set of formidable competitors ranging from MarTech giants (e.g., Salesforce, Adobe, and Oracle) to AdTech stalwarts (e.g., The Trade Desk). These are all terrific companies with strong technology and top talent, but there are three things that set us apart.
- Our top-rated Zeta Marketing Platform (ZMP) empowers marketers to operate across the customer lifecycle — from acquisition to growth to retention — in a single platform. This breaks down siloes within organizations and provides a 360-degree view of the consumer.
- Identity at the core. Zeta’s platform starts with an individual. It is layered with actionable intelligence about what makes the individual tick, how to reach them, and what to say. When combined with integration of owned and paid channels/touchpoints, the platform brings personalization at scale to life.
- Alignment of interest. While others talk of building journeys as more efficient workflow, we talk about creating experiences that move the sales and profit needle. As an insurgent company, we understand that we need to be measurably better than alternatives. Our customers’ problems are our problems; our success is based on our customers’ success.
How has the Digital Marketing landscape evolved and will evolve in the coming years?
The evolution of digital marketing over the last 20 years has been driven by a need for sharper targeting, more relevant messages, and more granular measurement. Disruptive winners such as Google and Facebook achieved these better than anyone. But the future is about more. Just as digital marketing ate analog, data-driven digital marketing is eating digital marketing.
Breaking through and engaging the connected consumer is getting increasingly harder. Marketers seek to be more relevant in every interaction — and that requires more actionable intelligence, which requires the right kind of data at the right time.
Unlocking the potency of intelligence across more touchpoints is driving the acceleration of digital transformation. The primacy of intelligence is changing how enterprises think about their own first party data, as reflected in the rise of CDPs.
We’re also seeing more effective use of call centers and the explosive growth of Advanced TV. Indeed, the digitalization of linear TV is probably the marketing story of the next five years and underscores the value of a converged approach as brands will want to speak with both existing and new customers through this medium.
Why, according to you, do enterprises fail at managing multiple vendors?
‘Best of breed’ looks great on a whiteboard but is hard to execute at scale. Not only do technologies not ‘talk to each other’ figuratively, but individuals at those companies don’t also talk to each other literally. Too often, enterprises look at cost of purchase and not cost of ownership, the latter includes both real and opportunity costs.
How is AI helpful in marketing, especially in decision-making and customer retention?
AI has become a bugaboo in pop culture as some try to connect dots between suggestions in an email and SkyNet. The reality is less sinister and less sexy. The AI used today is really machine-learning: machines sifting through more data, more quickly than a human could, to identify a person on a website or call center, make product recommendations, or predict inventory requirements.
“AI has become a bugaboo in pop culture as some try to connect dots between suggestions in an email and SkyNet. The reality is less sinister and less sexy.”
At Zeta, we use AI to synthesize behavioral signals to predict intent. This could be intent to purchase a product or intent to churn from a service. Both lead to more relevant messaging – knowing someone is in the market for a new electric car helps a legacy auto maker be more precise with their marketing investment by sending a message or serving an ad for a green car rather than a pick-up truck.
On the flip side, knowing that someone is about to buy a new car and is looking at new auto insurance policies is a great time to remind an existing customer of discounts on insurance when buying an electric car. AI underpins both (real life) use cases.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to those who aspire to make a career in MarTech?
In the words of Walt Whitman (popularized by Ted Lasso): “Be curious, not judgmental.”