Interview with Andy Ramm, President and CEO, Alexa Internet
Tell us about your role at Alexa.com, and how/why you came to the company.
My role at Alexa.com includes building and developing the team, establishing the company’s culture, setting the overall direction and driving day-to-day decision making. I joined Alexa in 2013 because I have a deep affinity for data and analytics. Alexa processes billions of data points daily, and I was incredibly excited at the prospect of using that capability to create significantly more value for our customers.
How is Silicon Valley different from when Alexa first got started 20+ years ago (with most of that period as part of Amazon)?
In the mid 1990s, virtualization was barely in its infancy. Back then, hardware was always resident, so what you saw was a pretty even mix between hardware and boxed software companies operating in the valley. Today, virtualization, cloud infrastructure, and electronically delivered services are the norm – we just take this for granted. So, what you see is a heavy concentration of those service providers along with companies that build the technology and infrastructure to operate those services. It’s a wholesale change. Moreover, Silicon Valley seems much more like an idea than an actual place these days. Again, we have virtualization to thank for that. I grew up in Silicon Valley – and when I was a kid, it was mostly fruit orchards. At the time, my dad was building the first hard disk drives which were the size of washing machines. What we have today is unimaginably different!
How does Alexa fit into the MarTech stack, and why are you excited about what Alexa is doing right now?
Understanding your audience is the heart and soul of building a brand. We fill that essential need by providing marketers with data-driven insights that enable brands to find, reach, and convert their audience – and ultimately turn their audience into brand advocates. Through high-impact content marketing, they are able to address their audience’s needs and interests, building loyalty and a more meaningful dialogue.
Building tools that help marketers do their best work and being their vital source of customer insights is what gets me excited. Giving them the insights they need to be heroes in their organizations is what drives me and the entire team to continually deliver more and more value in our service.
Do you think content marketing is becoming the crux of most customer success stories? Do you think that the ROI of content marketing is difficult to measure?
We do see a trend in marketers increasing investment in content marketing. For most marketers, content is the center of their world. Regardless of their growth strategy and channel mix (e.g. email, social media, paid, SEO, etc.), they drive traffic to content with the intention of drawing visitors into and through the sales funnel. No strategy can exist without being fed by content.
With that being said, measuring their content marketing ROI is challenging for them. It’s easy to measure the basics—visits, engagement, shares, links, etc. But that is only a small piece of the picture. It’s not easy to quantify the long-term impact that their content has on the long and varied customer journey. And ultimately, marketers invest in content to build and nurture long and fruitful relationships with customers that lead to loyalty and evangelism.
What do you see as the biggest driver behind changes to marketing and sales automation strategy/techniques?
We live in a competitive world. To stand out from competitors and rise above the noise, marketers have to deliver the right message at the right time to the right people. Automation enables marketers to get the timing, messaging, and audience right. Furthermore, they can scale their engagement with customers using automation. The necessity to improve ROI while competing in a noisy world is one of the largest drivers behind the automation trend.
How do you see digital experience platforms evolving with the maturity of AI/ML and voice? What challenges do you foresee marketers will face here, and how do businesses need to prepare for a more AI-centric ecosystem?
AI and machine learning have critical roles to play even before marketing automation happens. These mechanisms are the ideal vehicle for attaining a deep understanding of and developing an affinity for the various audiences a brand is trying to attract and engage.
Unfortunately, marketers build their automated customer experiences based mostly on intuition. Using their best judgment, they define rules for what content should be sent to people based on their behavior on the website and qualities about the visitor. If all those rules are met, the automation system delivers the experience that the marketer designed.
With AI and machine learning, the marketer won’t need to define those rules. Instead, the delivery of content will be based on the reactions and behaviors of previous visitors who had similar behaviors and qualities. As more customers interact with the business, digital experience platforms driven by AI/ML will continually self-optimize to deliver the ideal content for each visitor based on their observed interests and where they are in the sales funnel.
With any significant shift in the marketing field, there is a steep learning curve. Understanding and leveraging the benefits of AI and machine learning will require them to rethink their approach to content marketing.
How do you see the technology progressing around omnichannel analytics and customer data management in the coming years?
Data security is becoming an increasing concern for consumers and a real risk for businesses. As a result, marketers will have to adapt to an increased security bar to protect customers who entrust their data to them. Marketers will find that traditional analytics and customer relationship management solutions fail to meet this higher standard for data management. That will limit the marketer’s ability to measure customer behavior across channels and create personalized experiences while respecting and protecting their customers’ data and privacy. Marketers will need the technology to evolve and address necessary security precautions while giving them the deep understanding of customers that they need to be successful.
What are some best practices for how B2B businesses can more effectively optimize customer journeys?
The B2B customer journey can be long. For that reason, content marketing can be leveraged to create a sustainable long-term growth engine that nurtures people through all stages of the customer relationship and purchase journey—to attract, engage, convert, support, retain, and create advocacy. To do this successfully, each piece of content must be designed to address customers’ concerns and interests at each stage of the funnel. And the customer experience must be designed such that it gently nudges prospects deeper into the funnel as they consume that content.
How can/should B2B marketers leverage customer data and content marketing for better audience reach and targeting?
The best marketing is based on a deep understanding of your audience. Using that knowledge, marketers should express empathy for the customers’ challenges, fears, and aspirations in all their content and interactions with the customer. Feeling understood will endear customers to the business, creating loyalty and advocacy.
Furthermore, understanding where they are online, including what sites they visit, will help marketers reach their audience. Related sites that attract the same audience, yet are not competitive, offer opportunities for content partnerships. Ad-driven sites that reach your audience are great for ad placements.
Is there a particular customer campaign you could discuss?
We have a customer who is a start-up in the organic clothing industry, which is a mature market with well-established players. After using Alexa to guide a brand positioning exercise, they realized what they had thought instinctively about their competitors’ audience was wrong. The competitors were missing out on a segment of the market that no one was listening to. Seeing that eye-opening insight kicked off an effort to fill that gap by repositioning who they are, who they talk to, and how they talk to them.
With that foundational understanding of their audience and the gaps their competitors had left wide open, they use Alexa’s Competitor Keyword Matrix to look for keyword gaps where the competition is weak but they have a small foothold. Then they double down on those by creating content that satisfies the audience’s search intent, strengthening their share of voice in search. As a result, they increased organic traffic by 58% and direct traffic by 49%.
How does Alexa help companies guide and/or refine its customers’ marketing strategy?
We have observed over and over again that companies think they have deep knowledge of their audience and a deep real-time understanding of what that audience cares about. Yet objective, data-driven exploration using the Alexa service invariably reveals significant new insights about our customers’ customer – not only about what interests them, but what they engage with when they’re not consuming our customers’ content.
This has frequently led to substantial shifts in how a brand builds content and conducts conversations with their intended audience. If we operate under the premise that the best thing is to tailor content and services to the real needs and real interests of an audience – and I strongly believe this is the right premise – conversations become more meaningful, services improve, and the online world becomes a much better place.
What marketing and sales automation tools does Alexa use?
We typically leverage a mix of homegrown and partner-supplied tools. As a subsidiary of Amazon, we have a broad suite of tools available to us, but generally, we like to use our own solutions as much as possible. We’re also using a number of new Alexa-built tools that aren’t yet available to the general public. We’ll continue to build and refine these until they prove their worth, at which point we’ll make them available to our customers.
What’s your leadership style at Alexa?
My style tends to be highly inclusive and consultative. There are amazing people on the Alexa senior staff, so it’s natural to rely on them to make most decisions related to their area of expertise. Critical decisions are made in a collaborative manner, with my role generally oriented toward guidance and context setting in relationship to our larger objectives. Beyond that, I try to focus on ways we can raise the bar and hold ourselves to increasingly high standards. And I focus a lot of time looking at things we should deliberately not do in order to invest as heavily as possible in the few things that make the biggest difference to our customers.
What apps/software/tools could you – personally – not live without?
I didn’t really realize this until I saw the question, but it occurs to me I have something open in Excel almost 24/7. I’m a bit obsessive about the KPIs that determine our success and I pore over these looking for cause and effect constantly. It’s a bit old-school, but I’m comfortable in that medium. In my personal life, Audible would have to be my #1 go-to app, with a variety of music streaming and podcast apps always in the mix. These I definitely couldn’t live without.
What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?
I truly don’t believe in shortcuts or hacks. I do believe very strongly in focus. As I mentioned before, it’s really important to figure out what you’re not going to do so you can focus attention on the critical things that matter most. To be truly effective, you should never peanut butter your attention across too many different things. Delegate as much as you can to talented people, determine what you can live without doing altogether, and then focus relentlessly on what really matters.
What are you currently reading, and how do you consume information?
Well, I’m guilty of having read all of the usual business books everyone reads! They’re all valuable in some way, each one has a little nugget of goodness I carry around with me, I won’t bore you with the litany of books here. Beyond that, I’m extremely fascinated with astrophysics, cosmology and quantum mechanics. So the books I’ve read most recently (listened to on Audible in actuality) include A Universe From Nothing and The Greatest Story Ever Told – So Far by Lawrence Krauss, Ripples in Spacetime by Schilling and Rees, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neal deGrasse Tyson and a few others in this genre as well. Aside from that, I’ve read every book written by Barry Eisler, my absolute favorite fiction author.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
You might have the right answers. You might be absolutely right in your thinking. But to be effective, it’s more important to facilitate the entire group coming to the right conclusion together rather than just giving everyone the answer. That way, everyone has a stake in the decisions and a stake in the execution and outcomes. Commitment will be higher, the execution more purposeful and the end results will be much better.
Thank you Andrew! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
Andrew has nearly 20 years of high tech product and business leadership experience, with direct P&L ownership of more than $2.5 billion, representing tens of millions of customers in both B2B and consumer environments. He has led product management, UX, software development and market development teams across three continents and eight countries at top-tier companies such as Avid and Autodesk. His career portfolio includes driving business performance for some of the world’s most recognizable product lines, such as AutoCAD, Pro Tools and the RealD ZScreen. Andrew holds a degree in critical reasoning from Humboldt State University.
Information is power – if you have the right tools. Alexa’s suite of intuitive analytics products transforms data into meaningful insights that lead to competitive advantage for your company. At Alexa, we focus exclusively on delivering the richest and most meaningful analytics tools for our customers. Our obsession is to empower customers through compelling and actionable insights that drive measurable results for their business. At Alexa, we believe strongly in substance over style, which means you can count on getting the exact insights you need without having to navigate through extraneous content to get the information you need right now. Founded in 1996, Alexa is a global pioneer in the world of analytical insight. Our vast experience means we’ve dealt with all of the pitfalls and tripped over all of the landmines, and over time, developed the most robust and accurate web analytics service of any provider. As a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amazon.com, a career at Alexa provides an extraordinary opportunity to work in a fun and challenging environment while enjoying the stability and rewards of working for an established corporation.
The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.