Interview with Ed Bussey, CEO, Quill
On Marketing Technology
MTS: Tell us about your role and how you got here? What inspired you to start a content production company?
I began my career in the Royal Navy, followed by various security and counterterrorism roles with the UK diplomatic service. When the internet became more ubiquitous in the early 2000s, I was approached by an ex-colleague who I’d set up a business with at university, about an opportunity to become part of the founding team and Global Marketing Director of online fashion retailer figleaves.com.
It was during my time at figleaves.com that I came face to face with the problem that Quill now resolves. We were beating our traditional retail competitors by offering a range of products, brands, sizes, and colours, that far surpassed theirs. However, in some categories we had so many different products that consumers became so overwhelmed with the choice that they stopped buying anything – i.e. our conversion rates in some categories began to fall.
After a lot of customer research, it became clear that, whilst we had a very sophisticated ecommerce platform, we were devoid of the content that would help consumers make a purchase decision – the online equivalent of the shop assistant. We then looked around the market but couldn’t find any service that would help us streamline the enormous amount of Primary Content (i.e. product descriptions, buying guides, category descriptions etc.) that was going to be necessary to address the needs of our customers, and ultimately drive sales.
Producing high volumes of quality, on-brand content – increasingly in different languages – is a large and growing operational challenge for all ecommerce businesses. Finding a solution to this challenge is what inspired me to launch Quill. I wanted to purpose-build a completely new business model that could produce consistently high-quality content at the speed, scale, and efficiency demanded by the internet.
MTS: How easy is it for marketers to develop audience-specific content in 2017, compared to five years ago? Help us gauge the evolution of digital content as technology becomes more ubiquitous?
Technology is fundamentally changing consumer expectations of how brands should communicate with them, and as such, winning custom is no longer just about who has the best brand or even the best products, but rather who can also deliver the most relevant and seamless start-to-finish user experience, across all devices and channels.
Whilst these new expectations have created a more challenging and complex environment for brands, marketers also have greater access to better data than ever before on their audience segments – whether that’s simple location data, device usage data or nuanced information about their behaviours, and interests. Supported by this wealth of data and creative agencies, it is, generally speaking, quite straightforward for marketers to create audience-specific, campaign-based ‘hero’ content that drives brand awareness – for example, highly targeted advertising campaigns.
However, looking further down the purchase funnel, when it comes to creating the fundamental, critical content that converts browsers into buyers, like product descriptions – which are often required on a massive scale and at high speed, while maintaining brand tone of voice and audience relevancy – this is a real operational nightmare, and as a result such content is often neglected. This, in turn, has a huge negative impact on ROI on all marketing spend further up the funnel – no matter how Cannes-worthy the advertising campaign, if consumers are faced with sub-standard content at the point of purchase, they are far less likely to buy.
The challenge of creating on-brand, audience-specific Primary Content at speed and scale is one that can’t be resolved via traditional models (i.e. manual in-house processes) – and that demands a technological solution. This is why the Quill model is built on the unique combination of a global network of skilled freelance content creators and technology that enables scale through intelligent automation.
MTS: How should CMOs drive consistent brand alignment using content marketing technologies?
Given that consumers are now interacting with brands across more channels and touch points than ever before, the issue of maintaining consistency or alignment – and providing customers with a cohesive brand experience – is also becoming increasingly important. Digital content needs to be on-brand at all levels and touch points in the buying journey, whether it comes in the form of an advert, promotional email, customer service chatbot or a product description.
We believe that talented creatives and editors are critical to the creation of on-brand content. But at the point where content volumes become significant (for example, if you need to produce thousands of consistently on-brand category descriptions), it’s essential that these creatives are supported by technology that helps them to check for inconsistencies, errors and brand compliance – otherwise it’s inevitable that mistakes will be made. That’s why we’ve invested in building automated quality control features into our Quill Cloud platform, which are designed to check for things like banned and encouraged brand vocabulary, appropriate use of keywords and spelling and grammatical errors.
By automating some of these otherwise time-consuming manual processes, you can release your creative talent to focus on areas that leverage their skills and expertise – like injecting flair into a headline or ensuring content resonates with the brand tone of voice.
MTS: What startups are you watching/keen on right now?
A personal favourite of mine is Strava – an app that I use for running and mountain climbing. It’s basically a social network for sports enthusiasts and athletes that shows you who’s done the route before you and what their times were. By automatically tracking data from its registered users, Strava brings an element of fun competition into solo sports.
MTS: What marketing tools do you offer in 2017?
We offer a content production solution that rips up the rulebook for how high volumes of content are usually produced. Our solution is based on a unique model that combines our pioneering Quill Cloud technology – a platform that automates all of the time-consuming manual processes in content production – with a global network of screened content creation specialists. It’s this unique combination of talent and technology that enables us to deliver error-free content at unparalleled speed and scale.
We have also developed the Quill Quality Score, an industry benchmark used to assess the content experience on ecommerce sites and show companies how they can improve their content.
MTS: Would you tell us about your standout digital campaign? (Who was your target audience and how did you measure success?)
Quill helps clients to achieve better ecommerce results. For instance, after working with one fashion retailer to create inspiring catwalk-style videos and optimised product descriptions, the client saw a 60% improvement in conversion rates. Additionally, they saw a 56% increase in product page views and an impressive 133% boost in sales.
As well as driving conversions and sales on-site, we also deliver content that helps to generate organic traffic. Page one results on Google receive 95% of all search traffic, so it’s vital for brands to have search-optimised category descriptions that improve their rankings for key products or categories. After we introduced search-optimised category descriptions for our client Shop Direct, they saw a 20% increase in organic website traffic, with average rankings for target search terms increasing by 29% across their ecommerce sites, including Very.co.uk. Furthermore, 55% of their pages secured a page 1 ranking.
MTS: How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?
AI is set to be hugely transformational, but many companies aren’t sure what relevance it has to their business, and some even fear it could destroy jobs. As a technology-driven company we are already using machine intelligence as we continually strive to improve, streamline and optimise content production processes.
Businesses can use AI to speed up time-consuming but essential manual processes, ultimately improving efficiency in operations across the board. By identifying the areas where it would make the biggest impact, particularly in areas where they can use it to automate mundane tasks, companies can ensure their employees focus on the more interesting jobs that require human skills. Far from AI taking our jobs, I believe it will make people’s jobs more interesting.
The trick is to know what AI can successfully achieve and where it is limited. For example, there’s been a lot of hype around machine translation, however we recently conducted research which showed that, whilst machine translation can produce product description copy that humans can readily understand, it can’t yet generate the sentiments that are behind purchase intent or brand affinity – in this instance you need a ‘humans in the loop’ approach, whereby human editors are involved in the quality control of the machine-translated output.
This Is How I Work
MTS: One word that best describes how you work.
MTS: What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
My top business tools are probably Smartsheets and LinkedIn. I use Smartsheets to essentially manage the business, tracking progress against key objectives for the senior team and key projects. As for LinkedIn, it’s simply business critical. I meet so many people at events and meetings that it’s the only efficient way of staying in touch and tracking who’s who.
MTS: What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
We have a laser sharp focus on productivity at Quill – both in the content production solution we offer to clients, and in our internal processes. We look at every repetitive task we do, and in content production there are lots of them – from screening freelance applicants to ensuring that blacklisted words never creep into the content we produce – to see if the task can be semi or fully automated.
We see this as a Formula One approach to process optimisation, whereby we’re continually examining our internal processes and methods and making small improvements that incrementally add up, in much the same way as a Formula One team may adjust tyre pressure or the materials used to assemble a vehicle to get a competitive edge.
We’ve found that this approach results in staggering productivity gains, enabling us to produce content 75% faster and 40% cheaper than businesses can achieve in-house or via traditional agencies.
MTS: What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information?)
Futureproof: How To Get Your Business Ready For The Next Disruption
MTS: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
As an entrepreneur, it’s important to continually evaluate the opportunity cost of the time spent on your new venture or any aspect of it. For great entrepreneurs, time – not money or talent – is the commodity which is almost always in shortest supply.
MTS: Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to Read:
MTS: Thank you Ed! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
Specialties: Digital start ups, Ecommerce, Mobile, Video, Social Media, Digital technology, Digital media & content, B2B, B2C, Web development, International expansion, Product development, Brand development, PR and marketing, Online marketing, Business development, Online monetisation, Board, Non-executive & advisory, Strategic turnarounds, Entrepreneur, Fundraising & investment, Divestments & mergers, P&L and budgets, Strategy, Operations management, Team leadership, Organisational change, Targets & KPIs
Quill is redefining how digital content is created. We specialise in Primary Content: the critical pre-purchase information that converts browsers into buyers (e.g. product and category descriptions, how-to videos and destination guides), driving revenue and profit by improving SEO, conversions, basket size and product return rates. We believe our model is the future of global content production. Through our pioneering Quill Cloud technology, a global Network of screened specialists and our in-house content expertise, we’re uniquely configured to produce consistently high-quality content at unparalleled speed and scale – whether written or visual, in any language, format or topic. With over 40 languages in our Network, we are releasing our clients from the cost and resourcing challenges of scaling multi-language content production, whilst delivering a positive ROI. To date we have created over 15 million words of bespoke content – plus videos and graphics – in over 29 languages, and counting. We work with global businesses including eBay, Farfetch, Google, House of Fraser, Boden, AXA, STA Travel, Regus and Mothercare. We are backed by a strong team of digital investors, and have been named one of Britain’s most exciting and disruptive businesses as part of the Deloitte Fast 50, Santander Breakthrough50, Smarta100 and Real Business Growing Business Awards
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.