Interview with Joshua Neckes, Co-Founder, Simon Data

Joshua Neckes
Joshua Neckes

“Digital transformation is the act of bringing (or dragging) an “old school” marketing operation into the modern era.”

Tell us about your role and how you got here. What inspired you to co-found Simon Data?

A blend of market opportunity and passion.

On the market opportunity side, the modern marketing cloud is fundamentally broken. Customer data is the “atomic unit” of marketing; effective marketing is totally contingent upon using it well. And yet when my co-founders and I looked at the set of options for marketers, none of them treated data as a first-class citizen. There was just a fundamental mismatch between the importance of data and the level of support marketing clouds provided, so we built Simon.

On the passion front, I’m deeply committed to personal development and early-stage technology companies represent an incredible crucible for it. Regardless of your role, you are almost certainly a single point of failure. You’re forced to confront your own limitations and biases on a daily basis, and success becomes contingent on adaptation and personal growth. That’s inspiring.

How do you define “Digital Transformation” and “Digital Innovation” respectively from the current MarTech perspective?

Generally speaking, these types of broad terms tend to be a bit squishy. Personally, I view digital transformation as the act of bringing (or dragging) an “old school” marketing operation into the modern era. Over the past decade and exponentially in the past several years, customers have fundamentally changed the way they interact with brands. This paradigm shift is driven by lower barriers to market entry (and thus greater brand competition), marketing channel saturation, and the proliferation of channels/ways for brands to engage customers. Addressing these emergent market demands retraining people in those behaviors and skills (or hiring new folks), restructuring goals, and adjusting expectations around throughput and ROI. It means evolving work to be predicated upon digitally responsive styles that seek both incremental progress and transformational insights.

Digital Innovation is an equally-broad term that can apply to disruptive product development (physical or digital) or transformations in the way existing digital marketing solutions are used. Value-based segmentation for custom audiences in Facebook is a great example of a new digital product that’s innovative; strategies on how to best use that solution are equally innovative. The interplay between marketing strategy and emerging products is mutually developmental. Creative marketers push product development by hitting the limits of current product suites and providing feedback; new products provide new ways for existing marketers to work, facilitating the development of new strategies.

What are the core technological distinctions between Data Management Platforms and CDPs?

Data Management Platforms – or DMPs – are really all about helping advertisers leverage first-party data in an anonymized format for display ad targeting. They were originally conceived as a way to mitigate problematic elements of display ad buying, like bidding against yourself for the same ad unit, or passing PII to your agency. With Facebook and Google commanding two-thirds of market share for digital ads, and offering a far richer set of data and bidding tools, it’s become tough to justify the added expense for the current set of DMPs. Technologically, their underlying data model is almost identical to basically any marketing cloud, with all the associated limitations that have given rise to CDPs in the first place.

Customer Data Platforms – or CDPs – specifically those that are fundamentally built with data as a “first class” citizen – are a complete reconception of the modern marketing apparatus. This class of technology now allows for businesses to create what we call “a responsive organization” by truly listening to and responding to the preferences, requests, and actions of each customer. These platforms flexibly ingest data from any source, and orchestrate campaigns and data flows into any channel – including marketing, customer success, sales, physical, and more. They also should offer additional elements, including predictive targeting/segmentation, sophisticated funnel analysis, and advanced workflows.

What is your company roadmap to lead Simon Data into the highly disruptive Customer Experience landscape?

We are reconceiving marketing technology for the needs of the modern customer and the forward-thinking enterprise. We are the first marketing technology that truly treats data as the atomic unit. Every single consideration has been made to construct a platform that is able to accommodate data of any scale, size, source, speed, or structure. Messy data is not only tolerated but welcomed. With this foundation, we simply represent the only path for most businesses (outside of companies like, say, Google) to deliver on their mandates as truly “responsive organizations”.

Consequently, everything we offer simply works better. Our partners are able to use their data in more ways to drive a fully human “responsive” experience. We like to say that data is a form of disclosure – implicitly and explicitly, customers are constantly telling you real, personal facts and facets of their lives. This disclosure becomes data and the companies that build the best customer experiences both honor that disclosure and respond to it with personalized products, services, and messaging that resonates.

What are the major pain points for B2B marketers in the adoption of Customer Data Platforms for cross-channel marketing campaigns?

B2B marketing has the added dynamic of account-based data structures at play. Only some platforms are able to handle that type of data model. Additionally, work is often required to navigate some of the downstream dependencies of poor data hygiene coming from sales and customer success functions. If there are data gaps or poor quality data within a CRM, for instance, work needs to be done up front to accommodate those considerations.

What are the key metrics you use to measure your B2B customer success?

We have fairly strong views on campaign performance. As a marketer, it’s easy to live in blissful ignorance, focusing entirely on clicks, opens, sends, and last-click conversions. That doesn’t work in a modern marketing environment, nevermind the multi-touch complexity that’s inherent in B2B sales and renewal cycles. Blended multi-touch attribution models, downstream cohort analysis, innovative views into conversion assist, funnel velocity for leads, and qualification/close-rate assessments are just some of the categories we consider.

What are your predictions for CDPs in 2018?

The category is finally here – after a lot of hand-wringing by analysts and other folks. As with any new category, this year is going to be about separating those with legitimate products from those which are largely built on antiquated technology and false promises. There are also a lot of companies that either call themselves CDPs or try to brand themselves as such when it’s convenient. This year, the category itself will also cohere more strongly in response to that ambiguity, throw off more specific requirements, and thereafter be situated to become a predictable part of any serious enterprise technology stack.

What startups in the martech industry are you watching/keen on right now?

It’s a great time to be in MarTech. I recently had someone ask me why I’d start a company in MarTech, given how competitive it can be. To me, that’s like asking someone why they’d want to play in the NFL. Yeah, it’s competitive – but the opportunity (in this case, to add value) is just tremendous. I really like Segment (though they’re not much of a startup at this point), I like the rising class of analytics and BI tools (e.g. Heap/Amplitude/Looker) although it can be a tough space, and I think there’s some really interesting stuff happening vis-a-vis predictive.

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

We use Simon extensively (naturally), along with Outreach.io, Salesforce, SendGrid, LinkedIn Sales Navigator, and a few other automation/data aggregation tools.

Would you tell us about your standout digital campaign at Simon Data? (Who was your target audience and how did you measure success?)

One of our larger enterprise clients, TRUECar, has been automating a series of car campaigns through our product using a dizzying array of data points. By looking at the data, our platform chooses the right car to optimize the customer experience and drive downstream margin. Without disclosing numbers, I can say that the program has been a stunning success for their team.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a marketing leader? How do you leverage AI capabilities at Simon Data?

Two very different questions. Preparing for an AI-centric world should begin with skepticism and research. Don’t buy the hype. Ask for POCs. Stay away from black box algorithms that promise to drive revenue without telling you how. Make sure you understand attribution models, so you don’t buy something on faulty pretenses.

Simon is all about embracing what we call “transparent” predictive – specifically, every Simon client should know why a predictive model we deploy did whatever it does. This creates a tremendous amount of institutional value via learning and helps marketers reason about subsequent campaigns that might be valuable. We do predictive campaign optimization, segmentation, and the occasional bespoke model for our biggest customers.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology at Simon Data?

It honestly doesn’t require much. We have an incredible team of folks that are super passionate about the intersection of technology and business (extending well beyond marketing). I think we probably have more internal Slack bots than any business out there (h/t to our resident Zapier expert, Basil Al Omary).

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

Slack. Google Docs. Chrome. Keynote. Uber/Lyft/Juno. Hotel Tonight. The Delta App. I travel a lot. Oh, also REAPER

– it’s a DAW (digital audio workstation). I’m a guitarist, so, you know…gotta shred.

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

Find great people before you think you need them and actually delegate.

What are you currently reading? 

Love all the usual high-minded stuff (The Atlantic, The New Yorker, etc). Also I’m a recovering political junkie, so the standard fare there. Techmeme. Reddit. TheGearPage.net. The Grasshopper: Games, Life, and Utopia by Bernard Suits – recommended by a fellow Simon-er.

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

In a business context, find your competitive advantage and build around it. Generally speaking, have more self-compassion. We’re all terribly hard on ourselves.

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

Elon Musk. He’s the best marketer out there. Wonder how he feels about customer data platforms.

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

Joshua is a start-up executive/entrepreneur with significant experience in strategic planning, marketing, business development/strategy, user acquisition, sales, and product management.

Simon Data

Simon is a tool that transforms your data into clear insights that let you get more out of your marketing. Connect your data in minutes, create customized segments, deploy to existing channels, and discover what your customers want.

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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