Interview with Jeff Fagel, SVP, Marketing, Epsilon and Conversant

Jeff Fagel
Jeff Fagel

“Growth comes from being the best in the business in identity, personalization and optimization through machine learning, with a clear line of sight to drive measurable outcomes.”

Tell us about your role and journey into technology. How did you arrive at Epsilon and Conversant?

I lead the Epsilon and Conversant marketing team responsible for building a clear and ownable market leadership position. My team partners work closely with our Product and Sales teams to accelerate go-to-market clarity, confidence and revenue.

I spent the majority of my career on the client-side where I’ve held multiple retail and CPG marketing leadership positions at PepsiCo, Gatorade, Frito-Lay, ConAgra and Sears Holdings.

I transitioned into startup and Technology Marketing eight years ago. I saw an opportunity to take my experience as a classically trained CPG marketer and leverage that to develop market-entry strategies ahead of market maturity across very cluttered and fast-moving categories.

How is the US tech market different today than when you first started? What are the major changes that you see today?

The market has changed. It’s radically different. There’s even more fragmentation in the ad industry today with buzzword bingo running rampant. Much of what companies are saying all sounds the same. When you dig under the surface, there is a lot of vapourware and unfulfilled promises.

Companies are all competing for a share of CMOs budget, and we see three areas — or centers of gravity — where that is occurring:

  • Services – Consultancies and traditional large-scale agencies each share a deep bias toward services and orchestration.
  • Software – Driving self-service by steering marketers toward software they can buy and orchestrate themselves. While attractive for clients, it’s not always effective and has the illusion of control without a clear line of sight for performance.
  • Consumer platforms – Massive consumer-facing platforms, such as Google and Facebook, that leverage data to service the advertising community.

The combination of software and services is the sweet spot for growth. Data is at the center, built on a foundation of truth. Growth comes from being the best in the business in identity, personalization and optimization through machine learning, with a clear line of sight to driving measurable outcomes.

Define the context of video marketing in 2018? What part of the technology thrills you the most?

In the past, brands measured the success of video using engagement metrics such as clicks, views and impressions. Marketers are now looking to measure real business outcomes, such as incremental purchases driven by a campaign.

What we’ve found in running personalized videos is that you have to think beyond the platform. Marketers must also personalize creative for their audience, the time of day, the user’s location and their current activity. It’s about much more than just the platform the viewer is on, and most brands are missing an opportunity by ending their personalization at that point.

Personalization can, and should, be a part of every video strategy because you need to personalize for the audience and platform. Today, all marketing must be channel relevant for in-market shoppers, constantly learning what combinations of creative executions and audience segments drove the most impact.

Multi-billion-dollar marketing categories like search and display were built around performance-based approaches proving ROI and sales. More and more, marketers need to prove business results. Now, with the right tools, marketers can connect video ad spend to online and offline sales.

As a CMO in MarTech, which other technologies would you be keen to invest into in 2018-2022?

CMOs seek out the best-of-breed products but don’t know what to do with them.

Technologies that solve for identity resolution have to be at the top of the list. Too often, I read stories or columns about the industry’s struggle to accurately recognize people across devices. We feel we are leading in this area, but there definitely is room for growth in the industry.

Taking a step back, there are two key considerations at play as you decide where to invest: desired outcomes and integration with your existing tech stack. When you think of outcomes, are you trying to drive online or in-store foot traffic? Build brand awareness? Maybe you want to engage loyalty members or drive sign-ups? Defining outcomes is the first step. The second piece is integration. How do these technologies integrate with my existing technologies? Digital marketing is a constant state of transformation; executives must make sure that there is a seamless brand experience no matter where they’re reaching customers, so this means their technologies must work together.

What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in video automation technologies? What do you have to say about video and live streaming content and their role in customer experience?

Video automation is simply the latest tool to leverage the power of AI and Machine Learning. Chat and now video is the natural next step to bring a personal human-to-human interaction online. The most impactful disruptions will emerge once brands can harness data to reach customers with truly personalized content. In terms of the role of video and live streaming in customer experience, it depends on the person. An individual’s preferences can vary across devices, so it’s important to be mindful of those differences and message accordingly.

What startups in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now?

Badr and Homecourt are two companies that are on my radar. Badr offers clients Big Data solutions in a few different areas. One of their more compelling offerings is Graphmented, which allows users to visualize data through augmented reality. From a pure ‘wow’ factor, Homecourt is an AI-powered tracking tool that analyzes athletes practice sessions, transforming your phone into a new AI and computer-vision shot-tracking app. It’s pretty amazing. You don’t need on-court sensors; users simply need to grab a tripod and use an iPhone’s camera to automatically record makes and misses, and to track shot location on the court.

What marketing and sales automation tools and technologies do you currently use?

As the head of marketing for a company that delivers solutions and technologies designed to deliver results for marketing leaders at the top global brands, I sit alongside a treasure trove of tools and technologies that manage identity, loyalty, digital media and email. For example, Epsilon’s industry-leading digital messaging platform, Agility Harmony, allows us to have a real conversation with customers and prospects recognizing every action or inaction, for every piece of content, across every touchpoint. Similarly, Conversant’s technology enables us to recognize and reach individuals with personalized messaging across channels and devices proving a clear return on marketing investment while respecting privacy. I look for tools that help us reach customers and prospects while driving revenue and performance.

How do you see Epsilon and other customer engagement platforms better leveraging AI and machine learning?

Marketers are struggling with the fragmentation of time and attention for both customers and connecting with these customers to drive them to buy. The ‘how to do it’— piecing together 10, sometimes 20 different platforms — and with whom as your partner amongst the crowded field of tech companies is extremely confusing

You can’t expect to connect with customers and achieve peak performance if your platform uses poor data. With the right data, machines can help marketers make predictions not only around customer value, propensity to purchase and the right offer, but also provide a feedback loop for continuous measurement and optimization. Customer engagement platforms that leverage data and machines will help marketers make decisions more quickly based on what’s working and what’s not to drive return on marketing investment and reach measurable outcomes.  

How often do you measure the performance of your marketing analytics and sales reporting?

Depending on the purpose, measurement can range from daily to weekly, quarterly or annually. The key is to optimize the campaign strategy to improve reach and engagement in real time and facilitate alignment and follow-up between Sales and Marketing. Personalization promotes a better user experience, higher conversion rate and an increased influence on our revenue pipeline. Ongoing measurement helps us understand our customers’ needs and enables better planning and approach for marketing content, programs and events in the year to come.

Could you tell us about an outstanding digital campaign? (Who was your target audience and how did you measure success?)

The president of our email practice, Oded Benyo, shared some insights regarding an email initiative for the luxury brand, Coach. In the post, which is a broader look at the power of email, he writes that Coach was “able to create highly dynamic and personalized emails that drive customers to their nearest Coach store through messages and imagery that were live and clickable.” Building and maintaining personalized customer relationships through email requires technology, data and service to all come together. Many email marketers still aren’t measuring the effectiveness of the email channel, they may benchmark engagement metrics but in a large part, email is perceived as ‘free’ due to increasing pressure that is decreasing CPM rates. This mindset is antiquated.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a marketing leader?

Instead of focusing on a standalone technology, marketers should focus on the business at hand and select the best end-to-end solution that drives the greatest efficiency. When it comes to marketing, each online action and interaction from a customer generates billions of new data points every second. Machine Learning and AI make it possible to observe these inputs, learn from them, and optimize marketing in real time.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

With distributed staff across the world, tools such as Skype and Slack help with connectivity and efficiency and build bridges to create necessary face time. Also, pushing the boundaries on new tools that can help with Marketing Automation, account-based marketing and seeing the impact of using Conversant’s CRM technology we offer clients is essential.

One word that best describes how you work.

Purposeful

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Headspace is best for delivering peace and mindfulness. Circle monitors my kids’ internet usage. Concur simplifies expense reports and does away with paper receipts. Spotify allows me to discover new music and Waze helps me navigate the best route around traffic.

What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?

I’m constantly on the move, traveling and commuting, so Peak Design’s Everyday Backpack has been a lifesaver. It’s both designed to take daily abuse and sophisticated enough for client meetings or big events.

What are you currently reading? (What do you read and how do you consume information?)

To keep up to date, Twitter is my go-to. Axios gives me insight into what’s going on in politics and the world. Fast Company is the lone magazine I still get monthly; it continues to push the boundaries around forward-thinking people and companies.

On the book front, I’m re-reading Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln.

It is by far one the most useful books I’ve ever read, primarily because it walks the reader through a summary of history’s greatest public speakers, but then magically translates simple lessons anyone can apply.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Two pieces of advice have guided my career.  First, your career is a marathon and not a sprint and second, it is human nature to need a map. If you are brave enough to draw one, others will follow. I’m big on drawing maps.

Something you do better than others — the secret of your success?

Apply and adapt. I’m a big believer that skillsets and ideas transfer, whether it be in hiring talent or applying marketing ideas across industries.

Tag the one person (or more) in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Mary Dillon, Greg Lyons and Tony Matta are all brilliant marketers and former colleagues of mine at PepsiCo.

Thank you, Jeff ! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

A seasoned CMO, Fagel has built award-winning digital marketing programs, leading the teams and partners that power them. Fagel has more than 20 years of brand, digital and startup marketing experience, including leadership roles at PepsiCo, Frito-Lay, Gatorade and Sears.
As Head of Marketing for Epsilon and Conversant, he is responsible for building a clear leadership position across the data-driven marketing, technology and digital media space.

Prior to joining Epsilon and Conversant Fagel was Chief Marketing Officer of Eyeview, where he helped position Eyeview as the leader in outcome-based video marketing. Prior to Eyeview, Fagel was CMO for multiple brands acquired by Gannett Digital Ventures Group, the advertising technology services arm of Gannett (parent company of USA Today).

Fagel is a frequent industry speaker and published contributor across influential marketing, digital and technology press including Fast Company, Ad Age, TechCrunch and Entrepreneur.

Epsilon

Epsilon is an all-encompassing global marketing innovator. We provide unrivaled data intelligence and customer insights, world-class technology including loyalty, email and CRM platforms and data-driven creative, activation and execution. Epsilon’s digital media arm, Conversant, is a leader in personalized digital advertising and insights through its proprietary technology and trove of consumer marketing data, delivering digital marketing with unprecedented scale, accuracy and reach through personalized media programs and through CJ Affiliate, one of the world’s largest affiliate marketing networks. Together, we bring personalized marketing to consumers across offline and online channels, at moments of interest, that help drive business growth for brands. Epsilon employs over 8,000 associates in 70 offices worldwide. Epsilon is an Alliance Data company.

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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