Jay Webster is senior vice president of product and engineering for Valassis.
Published Monday, Oct 7, 2019
Jay has over 20 years of experience working in just about every aspect of tech startups, and he regularly serves as a startup advisor. In this interview, he shares his thoughts on the consumer journey and how technology fits into it.
A: One of the big things I’ve learned in this business is that there’s no single consumer journey. While many people are moving to a more digital lifestyle, a large segment of the population is still on a more traditional buying path. Brands often forget that, rotating to the new without understanding their most valuable customers. This is especially true in Silicon Valley, where there’s a more skewed view of consumers and an assumption that everyone has gone mobile.
Even when it comes to a more modern path to purchase, factors influencing consumer behavior can vary widely. For the modern consumer, value, reputation, service, and influencers can all have an effect, creating segmentation issues and generally making things more complicated for marketers. Younger consumers, for example, also want their brands to provide convenience, be honest, and have cultural cachet. For these modern consumers, social media — and all the complications that come with it — play a major role in every journey.
The big wrinkle, however, isn’t in the difference between modern consumers and traditional shoppers. It’s the crossover. In general, consumers aren’t static beings. A digital-first user might frequent a farmers market every Saturday to buy produce, but that person still might go to the grocery store to buy detergent and order staples from Amazon. If a brand is trying to pigeonhole someone into a single segment, it’s ultimately going to fail to drive that buyer to action.
This is where modern technology comes in. Although it's far from being a panacea, the right technology employed properly can enable marketers to make better sense of the varied and complex segmentation in the market in order to help guide consumers on their journey.
A: Tech alone solves nothing. It’s merely an enabler. Innovations in tech help brands connect with consumers in new and interesting ways. However, advertisers still need to avail themselves of expertise in design, the user experience, and implementation.
In good hands, tech can transform how consumers interact with entire industries, removing traditional friction points. Metromile, for instance, has been disrupting the auto insurance market, offering an online-first interface that uses miles driven to determine price and placing an emphasis on data science to lower premiums and settle claims faster.
There will always be pros and cons of technology in marketing. For companies wanting to get a better handle on consumer demand, adapting to technological change is essential. The key is knowing how to properly implement it.
A: One of the reasons tech adoption can end up going poorly is that there are considerations that don't have anything to do with the consumer experience, especially with bigger brands. Choices in technology are vast, and an organization not fully committed to a comprehensive understanding can end up paying the price in the gaps. A consumer journey must be fully and thoroughly planned, tested, and executed. And we all know from experience that this is often not what happens. Failure to fully commit or adherence to traditional choices without deep diligence are among the myriad factors that can contribute to failure.
A lot of assumptions are made about the factors influencing consumer behavior. Consumers don't want ads, but advertisers like to think they're providing value. Tech is meant to facilitate a company’s connection to an individual. But here's the challenge: How can advertisers attempt to influence consumers in a way that's not actually read as advertising?
A: If you’re looking to use tech to help you understand and influence each customer’s unique journey better, there are a few things you should keep in mind. These will bring human expertise and technology together for a marketing and sales strategy that embraces the future of consumption.
1. Remain deeply involved. Third parties like Valassis can offer substantial help when it comes to marketing, but anticipating the needs of your customers is not a challenge you can simply hand off. It's up to a brand to represent itself in conversations with customers. If you try to remove yourself from this conversation, you’ll always be one step removed from the consumer journey.
2. Take the time to learn. We're living in the age of big data, but we're also living in an age when we as a society are making fewer data-driven decisions than ever. We have the ability to store and organize semistructured data, but translation of that data into insights and action remains a challenge for most organizations.
So how do you get the data in one place to see what overall consumer demand actually looks like? Take the time to investigate and invest in the tech, the partners, and the practice of data science so your organization can make data-backed decisions. The challenge for everyone, from small businesses to behemoths like Coca-Cola, is to make sense of the data collected in order to deliver plans and strategies for marketing. All of it takes time, patience, and commitment.
3. Stop, get informed, and get the real numbers. In the pursuit of this new environment, there is a temptation to want to own the process from stem to stern. In most cases, this is unrealistic. Technology and analytics models progress at a breakneck pace, which means what you own becomes obsolete in a shockingly short amount of time.
Third-party services are often the best source for marketing data expertise. In most instances, even considering big-brand portfolios, it might not be worth it to hire in-house engineers and data analysts. When evaluating whether to focus on building a brand or feature to add to your portfolio, ask yourself whether you can establish yourselves to do it well enough or enlist outside parties that are already doing it better.
A: Technology won’t solve every marketing problem, but when implemented correctly, it can make the process more efficient and effective for the marketer and more convenient, engaging, and compelling for the consumer. The consumer journey is only going to become more complex and fractured as technology continues changing marketing practices in business. Now is the time for marketers to embrace the insights that technology and expertise can deliver as consumers continue to look to more modern solutions.