Interview with Doug Randall, CEO, Protagonist

Doug Randall Protagonist
interviwes
Doug Randall
Doug Randall
CEO, Protagonist
Protagonist Technology

On Marketing Technology

MTS: Tell us about your role and how you got here? What inspired you to start a narrative analytics company?
When I co-founded Protagonist, I didn’t really know we were building a narrative analytics company when we first started. I had been working in a boutique consulting firm after grad school on the East Coast, but became intrigued by what was happening in the Bay area in technology, with its innovation and startup culture. In 1997, I headed to San Francisco to become a part of it.

I worked in business development at several tech companies, but also got back into strategy consulting, where I became a partner at the Monitor Group. We used our consulting and analytics experience to uncover deeply held beliefs (narratives) about our customers, and quickly realized the power of this type of data to help clients better engage and connect with their audiences. Monitor Group became Protagonist. The consultants were traded for data scientists and engineers. And here I am today.

MTS: How do narrative analytics platforms impact customer engagement and drive revenue-focused actions?
Narrative Analytics exposes the deeply held beliefs that drive consumer actions. These beliefs might be working for or against a company, and understanding them enables marketers to create messages that resonate with existing and potential customers. Think of Protagonist data as quantified empathy, or empathy at scale. We uncover what people actually believe and say across digital media and other platforms and package it up in a usable way. Then we conduct a range of analytics on those narratives so our customers can take control of the narratives impacting them.

Narrative Analytics tells marketers where their brand is at risk, where it is performing well, and where there is the opportunity to better connect with a buyer. In today’s post-fact world — where opinions and beliefs are hard to detect but incredibly powerful, it’s valuable to use data to show how to create that connection. Protagonist gives marketers powerful, data-based insights that can be used to drive more revenue. Understanding what customers care about allows marketers to build a closer relationship, and may influence or, at times, help create new systems of belief. Think about how food companies are being impacted today by narratives about sugar, manufacturing companies are connected to narratives about globalization, and just about everyone is trying to understand the motivating beliefs of millennials.

MTS: How do you bring together the benefits of data science, technology, and marketing insights into the customer journey?
For as long as marketing has existed, it’s been primarily based on intuition or limited data. Companies have either relied on polls and social media roundups that are generally unfulfilling or have created campaigns on gut instinct alone. Narrative Analytics uses data science and natural language processing to analyze millions of data points from a multitude of sources, which gives marketers hard insights that they can use to strategize. The technology behind Protagonist enables marketing to be based on real data science, not instinct and makes it clear what customers really value by delivering empathy at scale. A successful customer journey is one that makes the customer feel understood and unique for the duration of the sales process and beyond. Narrative Analytics helps marketers create that better than any solution today.

MTS: To what extent can marketers predict and influence the audience actions using narrative analytics?
Narrative Analytics is among the most powerful tools in a marketers’ arsenal when it comes to understanding and influencing audiences. Some examples: one major bank used Protagonist to identify under-addressed narratives in the industry after newer competitors took center stage. The company used those narratives to revitalize its brand, exceed revenue targets, win a major marketing award, as well as the respect of the industry. Another company–a consumer brand–used Narrative Analytics to test how different internal policies shaped its reputation as an employer. A third, a consumer products company, uncovered a narrative that resonated powerfully with its local audience and was able to tap into that narrative with a wildly successful ad campaign that achieved revenue and pipeline targets. Narrative Analytics is used to counter terrorism and to shift population beliefs on sensitive political issues ranging from educational reform to climate change. Those are just a few top-of-mind examples of what narrative analytics can do.

MTS: Using narrative strategies, is it possible to scale the existing social, traditional and media engagements for a truly refined omnichannel customer experience?
It’s absolutely possible. Marketers engage with consumers in a multitude of channels, but every engagement needs to be informed by the underlying beliefs of their audiences. Narrative Analytics provides marketers with information about how to engage with their audiences and feedback about how their efforts are altering people’s beliefs. Social and traditional media are some of the ways that they get that message across.

MTS: Do you feel that institutional barriers pose the biggest restrictions for intelligence analysts to turn into decision-making leaders?
The process of intelligence analysis is very different from decision making.  The first is about dispassionate analysis and seeks the truth. You need great data, great technology, and tradecraft. The second is about risk calculation and deciding action. You need judgment and some level of wisdom. Intelligence agencies responsible for the country’s security actually separate these two functions so that neither is clouded. In reality, though, the best analysts understand how decisions will be made with their analysis and the best decision makers understand how the analysis was done.  One thing I love about Narrative Analytics is that we analyze the issue executives care about most — narratives. Rather than providing data that needs to be interpreted and processed before making decisions, all the analysis is done about narratives. This makes it very user-friendly for senior decision makers.

MTS: What startups are you watching/keen on right now?
We watch everything in natural language processing, machine learning, and AI to understand where to partner and what ideas we can borrow from others.  We also keep our eye on everyone in analytics — particularly marketing analytics.  But, we spend more of our time asking the customer what they wish they had so we can create it for them.

MTS: What tools does your marketing stack consist of in 2017?
At Protagonist our marketing tech stack consists of SFDC for our CRM, Pardot for marketing automation, we use Slack internally for communication, Trello for project management, Zapier to facilitate some integrations, Google Analytics, Google and Adroll for retargeting and other display. Of course we also use the Protagonist platform to generate insights for our content like the blog.

MTS: Would you tell us about your standout digital campaign? (Who was your target audience and how did you measure success?)
We’ve had a lot of success with promotion of our Building the Modern Market Research Stack ebook, targeting marketing and communications executives at large enterprise companies and leading foundations. This provides helpful guidance on how to assess the pros and cons of the market research tools we have available today and then build a market research stack that fits the needs of your business. We measure campaigns based on MQL & pipeline creation and ROI metrics like pipe to spend.

MTS: How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a leader in marketing intelligence industry?
There’s a lot of noise in the tech world about artificial intelligence, but the reality is that AI means many different things. AI is used to refer to automation, to chatbots, and to intelligent data processing like narrative analytics. As a marketing leader, the best thing that you can do is take a step back and decide how to use AI to make yourself more efficient and better able to meet organizational and customer needs. In spite of some of the arguments out there, marketers aren’t at risk of becoming obsolete, just the opposite in fact.

The creative aspect of marketing can’t be replicated by a machine and humans will always be part of utilizing the data that AI delivers. However, there are types of AI that can make marketers more powerful by doing work that otherwise would require much more time and processing power. Using narrative analytics is essentially equivalent to reading, retaining, and analyzing every single piece of content, data and conversations that your audience is exposed to. If marketers want to understand how to use AI today, they should ask themselves, “what would I do given unlimited time and resources? Is there a program that can do that for me?” As consumer tolerance for irrelevant marketing plummets, the pressure on marketers to deliver empathy-based messages that really resonate has gotten intense. Strategically used AI is a good way to alleviate that pressure and combine the best of both worlds..

This is How I Work

MTS: One word that best describes how you work.
Mindful (aspiring)

MTS: What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
I’m a fan of Slack because it keeps me connected to the rest of the team. Salesforce is always open on my laptop to stay close to customers. Spotify: I love listening to good music while working.

MTS: What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
I separate personal and business email and access the work ones when I’m working and personal ones when I’m not. This keeps me focused on the task at hand.

MTS: What are you currently reading? 
I am currently reading Simon Sinek’s book, Leaders Eat Last. I love the simplicity and depth of his thinking.

MTS: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
One of my mentors told me to always make sure the next person you hire is better than the last one. This means you need to always be upping the game and striving for success. Focus on great talent to accomplish this. And make sure you’re never the smartest guy in the room (which isn’t hard given the talent at Protagonist).

MTS: Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
Brad Jefferson, Animoto.

MTS: Thank you Doug! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Doug is Founder & CEO of Protagonist which is a high growth Narrative Analytics company. Protagonist mines beliefs in order to energize brands, win narrative battles, and understand target audiences.

Protagonist uses natural language processing, machine learning, and deep human expertise to identify, measure, and shape narratives. The Protagonist platform was built on 10 years of narrative science that was initially developed to improve the American brand around the world for the US Government. Today, it’s used by dozens of the world’s leading CMOs, business leaders, and foundations.

Doug has lectured on a number of topics at the Wharton School, Stanford University, and National Defense University; his articles on future technology trends have appeared in the Financial Times, Wired, and Business 2.0. He was previously a partner at Monitor, founder of Monitor 360 and co-head of the consulting practice at Global Business Network (GBN). Before that, he was a Vice President at Snapfish, a senior consultant at Decision Strategies, Inc., and a senior research fellow at the Wharton School.

Doug received his BA from the University of Pennsylvania and his MBA from the Wharton School. He is on the board of the Kitchen SF, a member of Young Presidents’ Organization, and has a daily Ashtanga / Vinyasa Flow and meditation practice.

Protagonist
Protagonist is Narrative Analytics company. We uncover deeply held beliefs (narratives) in order to energize brands, win competitive battles, and better engage and understand target audiences. Protagonist uses natural language processing, machine learning, and deep human expertise to gather and analyze billions of pieces relevant data to give customers the insights they need for marketing, product development, and communications strategies. The Protagonist platform was built on 10 years of narrative science that was initially developed to improve the American brand around the world for the US Government. Today, it’s used by dozens of the world’s leading CMOs, business leaders, and foundations.

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.

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