Interview with Ryan Phelan, Vice President, Marketing Insights, Adestra
On Marketing Technology
MTS: Tell us about your role and how you got here. What inspired you to be a part of a MarTech innovation company?
I’ve been in the email space for 18 years, and I’ve worked for a lot of different email companies on both the client and vendor sides. I’ve seen this industry mature over that time. What inspires me are the smart companies operating on the edge of innovation, leading the way with a clear vision of the future.
After working for a previous employer, I looked around and saw Adestra, which had been developing a very good story while working under the radar. I fell in love with the company’s mission and vision. I’m always looking for a career, not just a job, and that’s what I got with Adestra. I get to have fun, enjoy the people I work with and be at the forefront of innovation with a company that cares about its workers as well as its clients.
MTS: Given the changing dynamic of engagement with online customers, how do you see email-driven technologies impacting the ROI for CMOs?
ROI for email has always been high. Every study I’ve ever seen has email at the top of the chart for ROI. What we need to work on is how to take advantages of email’s capacity for engaging with customers, not just promoting to them.
Most emails are focused on promotions, not engagement. Engagement is not “What offer can I persuade you to act on today?” It’s using email to build individual relationships with our customers, using data to drive personalized messages, to include products in messages that resonate with that customer and content that reflects past activity.
The goal for the CMO is to adopt strategies to drive higher ROI with engagement as the basis for messaging, not just promotion.
MTS: How should intelligent data platforms extend the benefits of audience engagement and conversion analytics to email marketers?
They can make it as easy as possible for marketers to use customer data for segmentation, targeting and other tactics that create highly personalized messaging. The data have always been there for marketers to use. But they need a platform that enables them to use every signal the customer produces.
An intelligent data platform needs intelligent operators. Many marketers lack the sophistication and training to set up the kinds of complicated integrations that hyper-personalization often requires. The platform should make it as intuitive as possible to help users succeed, not just to set up integrations but also to gain insight from them.
MTS: What are the benefits of deploying data monetization and programmatic capabilities into email marketing platforms?
I can understand the appeal of having one dashboard to manage instead of five or six – one platform to rule them all, so to speak. I use a brand-name platform myself for lead management and nurturing. Other platforms incorporate SEO, text messaging, analytics and other functions. But I stick with a separate email platform because the module that comes with my all-in-one doesn’t have the deliverability management, reporting and intuitive user interface that I need.
Many marketers seek out single-platform providers because they want to work with one set of integrated tools. However, many all-in-one platforms still have integration issues, especially when working with legacy or in-house databases. So, you still end up performing some functions manually.
An all-in-one platform takes away your choice of vendors. You end up making your decisions based on the technology the platform provides instead of surrounding yourself with best-of-breed technologies. Although omnichannel marketing has broken down the old silos among communication channels, we still do our work in a siloed environment. The tools you need for email marketing are different those for mobile marketing, social, SMS/texting and the web.
When you’re evaluating vendors, the buying decision should rest not on the suite as a whole but on the quality of the individual tools that make up the suite.
Your marketing landscape is not a straight line with applications scattered all along it. It is a circle with your company in the middle. If you can’t execute a necessary function, look for a new provider. Look for the right partnerships outside of the marketing suite. The focus is on integration timelines and scalability. If you can conquer that, you have a winning solution.
MTS: What’s the biggest challenge that CMOs need to tackle to make their customer data analytics work effectively and accurately for email performance reporting?
CMOs must stop relying on only aggregate reporting and begin reporting by segment. We are used to looking at holistic numbers by channel. The dynamics of email cry out for tracking different customer segments that will show the success or failure of offers and efforts. CMOs need to tackle the diversity in their customers bases and reflect that in their reporting.
MTS: What startups in MarTech and AI are you watching/keen on right now?
I’m keenly aware of many AI companies in various stages of development. What I’m curious about is what their definition of “artificial intelligence” is. It’s a buzzword-laden industry with a lot of confusion about what all these different technologies do and how they actually help marketers.
For example, many say they do “AI,” but it’s really just propensity-based modeling. I watch to see if any companies have created an “easy” button, making decisions for marketers based on the degree of input, which is an optimized use of AI.
MTS: What tools does your marketing stack consist of in 2017?
We use a wide range of channels to get our content and messages out to our clients and to marketers across the industry and even beyond it. We have long believed that making marketers smarter is beneficial for the entire industry. So, we try to put out content where people will read it, whether as podcasts, articles, in earned and owned media, whatever we can utilize to get our messages out where the marketers are.
MTS: Could you tell us about a standout digital campaign?
Adestra worked with NakedWines.com, an online wine subscription service that delivers customized wine selections from exclusive suppliers at wholesale prices. The company uses its customers’ previous purchases and wine ratings to create highly personalized recommendations and came to Adestra to provide this experience at scale in their email campaigns.
Adestra helped NakedWines.com add personalized product recommendations to its email messages by working with its development team to add relevant code to its messages, set up automated campaigns and test/QA the emails.
We were pleased to help NakedWines.com realize an increase in email engagement, with the company enjoying a 40% conversion rate on the emails, a 5.2% increase in site conversion with customers who clicked through the email, and a 7.9% increase in gross profit per customer, or 8.5% uplift in contribution per customer.
MTS: How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a marketing leader?
I want to make sure my data is clean, correct and organized so it’s easy to retrieve. This might sound like a simple task, but, for years, we as an industry have acquired customers and converted them haphazardly without source-reporting and segmentation. This breeds sloppiness in data.
We have to normalize our data so it can relate to every other piece of data. Then, I look at my marketing stack and ensure I’m using best-of-breed software at every point. This helps me know I’m taking full advantage of my vendors and channels.
I’m also reading everything I can find about AI and what’s next. But, I don’t ignore what came before AI, from big data to propensity to third-party data. We can’t look to AI as the next big thing and forget about these past developments because they build on each other. You need expertise on all of these big buzzwords to understand what their places are in the data ecosystem. If you don’t understand, you might not realize that what some are passing off as AI is really propensity modeling. Being able to recognize that is key to being a CMO in an AI world.
This Is How I Work
MTS: One word that best describes how you work.
MTS: What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
I rely on TripIt, because I travel so much, and it keeps all my travel schedules, meetings, conferences, and hotels organized. I also use ScheduleOnce, an online calendar, to schedule time with reporters, analysts, marketers and team members. I indicate where I have time in my calendar, and they can pick the time that works best for them.
MTS: What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
I block out up to 20% of my work week on my calendar to avoid overscheduling myself. This gives me breaks throughout the day between meetings so I can catch up on other things.
MTS: What are you currently reading?
I make a point to read industry publications every day, but I also read for relaxation. I travel a ton, and when I’m on the plane I read to relax. For business reading, I’m currently recommending Taking Down Goliath: Digital Strategies for Taking Down Business Competitors with 100 Times Your Spending Power. It’s by Kevin Ryan, whom I met earlier this year at Cannes, and Rob “Spider” Graham. For relaxation reading, I’m deep into submarine books right now, such as Michael Dimercurio’s Threat Vector.
MTS: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Two things: “Fail fast.” Also, “Sometimes, email just doesn’t work. Pick up the phone.”
MTS: Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read.
John Caldwell, President, Red Pill Email
MTS: Thank you Ryan! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
With over 15 years of online marketing experience, Ryan has focused on driving strategy and high growth SaaS software companies and advancing winning digital strategies. In working for companies like Acxiom, Responsys, Sears & Kmart, BlueHornet and infoUSA, Ryan’s experience and history in the industry are unequaled in his focus on both the client and agency side. This experience is unique and has driven a fundamentally different view of the industry and the companies Ryan has worked with.
Ryan is also a nationally known speaker at conferences and industry events on subjects relating to digital media. In 2013, Ryan was named one of the top 30 digital strategists in the United States by the Online Marketing Institute and keynote speaker at EEC12 & EEC14. He is also the former Chairman of the Email Experience Council Advisory Board through the DMA, Advisory Board Member for Direct Marketing News (DMNews) and am on the board of directors for the EPSC. Ryan currently lives in Dallas, Texas and has a degree in Psychology.
Adestra is a trusted provider of First-Person Marketing solutions for global and growing brands.
The company’s industry-leading email platform provides a powerful infrastructure for one-to-one, contextual messaging and marketing automation, helping marketers communicate more effectively with their customers and subscribers. Robust reporting features allow marketers to efficiently evaluate and optimize their campaign results. The flexible structure and open integration architecture allow businesses to connect disparate technology platforms to create a seamless customer journey.
Along with a best-of-breed platform that drives customer engagement and boosts ROI, Adestra was founded on the principle that marketing success takes more than technology, which is why customer service is at the heart of its business. Adestra was a winner of the 2014 and 2017 Customer Focus Award from the Customer Service Institute. It also won Bronze for Customer Service Department of the Year at the 2017 Stevie Awards for Customer Service, as well as being presented with the 2017 Supplier of the Year Award from one of its longest-standing clients, UBM.
Adestra continues to maintain one of the highest customer retention rates in the industry. It is trusted by top companies including UBM, Condé Nast Digital Limited, and Tile, among others.
Established in 2004, Adestra has offices throughout the UK, USA, Canada and Australia.
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.