Interview with Richard Black, CMO, Aki Technologies

Richard Black, CMO at Aki Technologies

“GDPR, while, of course, focused in Europe, was a big wake up call for the entire industry and made many companies take stock of how they handled data.”

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Tell us about your role and journey into technology. What made you join Aki Technologies?

The CMO job is really around leading the marketing function to ensure that Aki Technologies is clearly communicating its key benefits to clients and the broader market in a consistent and compelling way. It’s about understanding our customers’ needs and building solutions that make their jobs easier. I have always been intrigued by technology and its power to improve so many facets of life.

Having lived in the Bay area for the past 6 years, I was looking for the right opportunity that married tech and marketing. When I was on the client side at Campari, the brand worked with Aki on a number of projects. I fully saw that Aki’s approach to mobile advertising, though obviously supported by technology, brings an essential level of empathy and humanity into the equation that had been missing in modern marketing. It’s the power of what they’re doing that compelled me to join.

What is the current state of digital commerce in the Mobile Advertising industry?

We are in the golden age of mobile digital commerce right now. A study from eMarketer predicts that half of US e-commerce sales will be made on a mobile device by 2021. This, along with other staggering stats show the power of mobile in the path to purchase. Taking into account the disruptive nature of mobile and knowing the opportunities are endless, it is important that companies embrace a test-and-learn mantra when approaching digital commerce.

How much has Marketing Operations changed since the arrival of Automation and BI/Analytics tools for mobile commerce? How do you leverage these tools at Aki?

It has certainly allowed for efficiencies and opportunities to dig further into the data for more compelling insights and understanding. Everything in digital today is trackable and reportable. Now with AI, it is possible to identify patterns that lead to more efficient investments in marketing, which lead to demonstrable sales lift. At Aki, we are constantly looking at how we can leverage automation to free up time to work on the more creative and strategic marketing initiatives.

How do you see companies like Adobe, Salesforce, SAP and Oracle raising the bar of Marketing and Sales in the B2B industry? Do you compete or partner with these giants in the mobile commerce industry?

These companies have scaled services and offer a full suite of products to their clients. The net effect of this is to help raise the bar in terms of Marketing and Sales for the companies, not in the tools they provide alone but in the enablement it gives the people using them. So, you still need good people with good ideas coordinating and directing implementation.

We operate in a more niche area that has specific needs and skill sets that we think we can provide better than anyone else. We, therefore, see ourselves as partners within this ecosystem providing thought leadership and a service that those companies aren’t as focused on. Another element is while they have scaled business offerings, our approach is nimble and able to work in partnership with their offerings.

Which Marketing and Sales Automation tools and technologies do you currently use?

We predominantly use Salesforce but are evaluating a number of other automation products and will always do that as the landscape is changing rapidly and we want to make sure we are using the most sophisticated and up-to-date automation tools that are right for our business. So, with this in mind, we are looking to streamline our workflows, measure our activities, enhance lead generation and build operational efficiency in a much stronger manner.

What are the core tenets of your business development model?  How does Aki Technologies add value to digital transformation journeys for businesses?

The core tenet of our business development model is always be looking to provide solutions. These solutions need to be turnkey and simple for our customers to understand. We know they are busy and have many options in front of them so if we don’t offer solutions that help facilitate their jobs or make their lives easier we are doing it wrong. In addition, we need to understand our customers’ business problems almost better than they do in order to provide the aforementioned solutions.

So, our insights into mobile need to help educate our customers and bring them along the digital transformation journey. They have so many problems to solve, from working effectively with data and navigating the complex technology landscape too, more broadly, standing out amidst the clutter of today’s marketing and understanding the constant evolution of consumer behavior… if we can go deep into the mobile space for them and make it simple and effective, they will reward us.

How often do you measure the performance of your Marketing Analytics and Sales Reporting?

We are obsessed with customer understanding and have continuous learning as a mantra within the company in order to optimize our approach. There are moments in the year for deeper reflection such as our marketing planning period, where we do wholesale holistic reviews, but for the most part, we learn and measure as we work through a project.

What was the most disruptive and impactful moment/event for you in the marketing space in 2018?

GDPR, while of course focused in Europe, was a big wake up call for the entire industry and made many companies take stock of how they handled data. There is a “data race” with companies collecting more and more information on consumers and trying to intricately understand them, so this disruptive moment in the year definitely allowed companies to reflect how they are doing this and what they need to do to ensure privacy concerns are front and center. I think companies opened their eyes to how sensitive a matter this can be and how carefully we need to proceed as we move forward in our quest to better understand and target consumers.

What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in Marketing Operations for 2019-2020?

AI has been and will continue to be a buzzword. It is clearly a disruptive force. As this is fine-tuned and implemented in more effective ways, there will be a broader and broader impact. I would like to see outputs from AI be in the spotlight as opposed to AI for AI’s sake. What can AI do to make consumers’ lives easier? How can it introduce greater efficiencies in Marketing Operations? What can it do to ensure that information is more meaningful and relevant to audiences? These are questions we ask ourselves every day at Aki.

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

Numerous companies are doing interesting work, so it is difficult to call out specific companies. Generally, I am inspired by companies that are harnessing insights to provide better solutions for their customers — whoever those customers may be. After years of wistful chatter about “big data,” it’s exciting to see real data-driven innovation across so many categories.

Could you tell us about an outstanding digital campaign?

We are proud of several but, my personal bias is shining through here, the dynamic creative by moment campaign we did with the Campari Group on Espolon tequila is one of my favorites. Espolon tequila really harnessed the power of Aki’s technology to deliver tailored advertising according to the consumer’s mobile moment they were experiencing and this led to extremely positive results across a broad range of metrics including digital commerce, which is, of course, extremely rewarding when you see the full conversion through the funnel.

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

You embrace it, you use it and you learn from it. You cannot put blinders on, it is coming (or here) and if you aren’t prepared you will be left behind. Marketers, generally, are attuned to this, but they don’t necessarily have a path forward. That’s where Aki comes in — we’re working at the forefront of AI to truly deliver incredible results for our clients. We see AI as an incredible enabler in understanding the receptivity of marketing messages on mobile devices, with the receptivity of messaging in a more cluttered world being the holy grail for many marketers.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

If you have to inspire people to work with the future, you have a problem. At our company that is certainly not a problem; everyone is engaged and fully embracing technology. That said I do understand the fear of the unknown so I encourage testing and learning in rapid cycles. You couldn’t do that with other mediums as easily as you can with technology. So, if you aren’t putting at least a portion of your marketing budget into testing new technologies you are going to fall behind, simple as that.

One word that best describes how you work.


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

Email, Slack, Jira, Salesforce, Smartsheet, Dropbox, Zoho, Podcasts

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

Ensure people know the purpose and subject matter of a meeting before it happens so the meeting itself can be action oriented. There needs to be a clear agenda, with the items that ladder to the purpose. And responsibility for follow-ups needs to be clearly designated and ownership understood.

What are you currently reading?

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari. I read his other popular books Sapiens and Homo Deus, which I couldn’t put down and recommend to everyone.

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

Don’t rely on the status quo.

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


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

Megan Smith

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

Richard Black is the Chief Marketing Officer of Aki Technologies. Black most recently served as VP Marketing for the Campari Group, the 6th ranked global spirits company with more than 50 premium brands sold across 190 countries, where, during a 12-year career, he held roles on three continents in sales & marketing. In his new role, Black will be responsible for driving greater visibility and demand for Aki Technologies’ AI-powered moment marketing solution.

Aki TechnologiesAki Technologies revolutionizes how marketers engage mobile consumers. Through Katana, an industry-leading, AI-powered moment marketing science platform, Aki offers unparalleled audience intelligence, interpreting every mobile data signal—including Aki’s proprietary audience data—to predict when and how a consumer is most likely to respond to a marketing message. Leading brands, including Amazon, Johnson & Johnson, Target, Toyota and Taco Bell, use Aki Katana’s insights, mobile ad targeting and optimization to dramatically improve impact on awareness, engagement and in-store traffic.

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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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