Interview with Fayez Mohamood, Co-founder and CEO, Bluecore
Tell us about your role and how you got here? What galvanized you to start Bluecore?
I am an engineer by training through both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I started out my career in hardware and software design and simulation back in 2006. While that sounds very far from marketing technology, a lot of my training revolved around building solutions that required the need to transform and make sense of large datasets. Fast forward to 2013 when I co-founded Bluecore, a lot of the challenges around data, analytics and the ability to take action in real-time could be solved with the training and expertise I had received in engineering.
We started Bluecore based on a technical insight around a retailer’s online product catalog. I was working at a company in the loyalty space, and in working with a few retailers, I saw that many of them were pretty good at working with customer behaviors, but they were missing out on managing and driving value from their online product catalog. We had a hypothesis that if we could connect behaviors and identity to a live product catalog, it could be the core of a new type of retail marketing platform that could trigger communications in real-time and eventually make predictions to drive retail outcomes such as increased lifetime value and repeat purchases. I knew it was technically possible and it was differentiated from anything else in the market – so we started Bluecore.
How do you differentiate Bluecore from other Retail Marketing Platforms?
We’re currently working with more than 400 retailers to transform large-scale ecommerce sites into Netflix-type experiences that better connect shoppers with the products they’ll love. Like Netflix, we use hundreds of product attributes and knowledge about what products shoppers have interacted with to determine what retailers should show them next.
Our secret sauce, so to speak, is our ability to integrate with retailers’ live product sets, giving them real-time visibility and insights into every product a shopper has ever viewed, clicked, searched for, or browsed while on their sites.
Without this type of technology, that not only collects this data but combines it in an actionable manner, it is extremely difficult for retailers to understand shoppers’ interactions with specific products, beyond those they’ve put in their cart or actually purchased.
But here’s the thing: as a consumer is shopping on a retailer’s site, they usually view quite a few items and categories and explore a number of products before putting anything in their cart and/or buying. Those interactions are packed with extremely valuable information for retailers, but most don’t know anything about them, or they can’t make sense of the data to respond in time. Without this insight, retailers disproportionately prioritize consumer and behavioral data to figure out how to continue the conversation with shoppers.
What is the “State of Omnichannel Email Marketing” in 2018? How much of this state is influenced by the maturity of automation and email personalization tools?
It is kicking and thriving. Email continues to show tremendous ability to evolve with the consumer. Average open rates for email went up in 2017 compared to 2016 even with increasing volumes. Email ROI is 2X-5X higher than social or search. One part of this has to do with the fact that Microsoft, Apple, and Google continue to push the boundaries of the email experience for consumers with their email clients – whether it be intelligent filtering and categorization or investing in new interactive formats for email. On the other end, email has the scale and responsiveness that allows new automation technologies to optimize the performance even further whether it’s through triggers, predictive audiences or personalization of the content.
What types of triggered emails are retailers currently prioritizing? Are there some that retailers are not taking enough advantage of?
The triggered emails that most retailers rely on are those based on shopper behaviors rather than knowledge of shoppers’ interactions with specific products. For instance, every retailer knows when a customer has abandoned their cart or made a purchase. So, abandoned cart and post-purchase emails continue to be highly popular.
This limits the number of personalized interactions they’re able to have with the customer, however. If the customer hasn’t done one of these things, they’re stuck sending out emails that are informed by what the retailer has in stock and wants to sell, rather than what the customer wants to buy.
While cart abandonment emails are particularly high performing, there are a number of other high-value triggered emails that retailers could be sending if they had insight into individual shoppers interactions with products–things like what they viewed, which categories they browsed, their price sensitivities, and their buying and browsing patterns over time. With this knowledge, retailers can send out triggered emails based on merchandising activity, such as “A product you were looking at that was out of stock is now back in stock.” Or, “a product you were interested in just decreased in price.” There are other products that we call “replenishables,” such as paper clips or laundry detergent. Once you understand a customer’s individual buying cadence, you can time emails to remind them to re-purchase and become a valuable resource for the customer.
How does your recently announced partnership with Magento Commerce help customers to deliver personalized customer interactions?
Magento’s platform is quite robust, with a strong portfolio of online-to-offline solutions that allow merchants to integrate digital and physical shopping experiences. Bluecore complements Magento’s existing technology by giving retailers the ability to understand how individual shoppers interact with live products. The end result is new and relevant opportunities for customer engagement and a streamlined approach to driving more sales and more repeat purchases.
Why is product data such an important part of the personalization puzzle for retailers?
A product has a mix of countless different attributes. For instance, a white shirt is more than a white shirt; it’s cotton, it’s made in America, it’s a certain size, it has short sleeves versus long-sleeves, it has a scoop neck rather than a v-neck, and so on. These details give retailers very specific information about what a shopper is interested in, and over time and through product interactions, they can tell a story about what a shopper is interested in and is likely to be interested in next.
Ultimately, retail is about connecting people with products they’ll love, which means product data is essential to getting personalization right. When retailers understand how and why different products relate to each other, they stand a greater chance of showing customers more of what they love.
Which startups in martech and adtech industries are you keenly following?
Leanplum in the mobile automation space is a great company. Segment is another. Looker for analytics and reporting. I also watch many players in the Customer Data Platform space because they are all trying to fill a major gap in the major marketing clouds.
How do customer data and analytics today differ today from when you first started in the industry?
When we first started Bluecore, some of the technologies that make it possible to store large streams of data and run real-time analytics and activation were not available to most retailers. Even the most advanced of retailers were using an analytics system, like Omniture, that had a 24-hour delay between a data-warehouse that then had another multi-day loop if you needed a human in the middle to do some analysis. When we brought Bluecore to market with a unified view of the product catalog, along with real-time analytics and activation, many people didn’t believe that it was possible – in fact, we had to expose the internal workings of the system to non-technical marketers to be able to convince them that this was real. Today it’s much easier to have that conversation since we house 125 million products, 400 million email ids, and the market understanding of what is possible with data and analytics has changed significantly since then.
Can you elaborate on a successful customer case study? How did you measure performance among your customers?
Teleflora, one of the largest flower delivery services in the US, is an example of a specialty retailer whose customers typically buy in very predictable cycles, often annually when purchasing gifts. Teleflora came to Bluecore looking to increase order volume and sales, and update their entire email marketing strategy by improving performance on existing triggered emails, implementing new triggers and personalizing all triggers by tapping into shopper behaviors, purchase histories and browsing patterns.
Once they began to analyze their product data over our platform, Teleflora’s marketing team identified a ‘hidden gem’ within their inventory – an item with a high conversion rate but low visibility among customers. Ahead of Valentine’s Day, we worked with Teleflora to cross-reference this ‘hidden gem’ product with identity and interaction data to identify micro-audiences with the highest affinity to the bouquet. Teleflora saw its repeat purchase rate grow by 25% and its average order value increase by 4%.
Analyzing their customer data through their platform, Teleflora also noticed they were sending discounts to customers who were willing to pay full price but were naturally using the discount they received. Once they learned this, they changed their promotions to target these customers willing to pay full price, without the discount. As a retailer that sells products of local florists and not their own, Teleflora’s margins are pretty tight – every penny counts. Understanding their customer base and, as a result, updating their email marketing strategy helped them to increase their margins significantly.
How do you prepare for an AI-centric ecosystem as a business leader?
AI-centric tools have the ability to unleash a level of productivity over current workflow based on enterprise software. When this transition happens, the role of a user inside the business will need to evolve from being task-oriented towards being goal-oriented. As a business leader, this means that you have to empower the majority of your organization with context on the business and business outcomes so that they can drive towards those goals. This is very different from what happens today where a majority of the organization is focused on tasks while a few have context and control over business outcomes. This shift will be tremendous and positive for employees and businesses but will require training and development.
How do you inspire your people to work with technology at Bluecore?
Most of the time, technology alone doesn’t change things and is a means to a bigger goal. Technology is most powerful when it becomes a vehicle to change an existing business process or behavior. I encourage folks to first understand and appreciate the objective of the technology they are using or propose using, try to live it a little bit first. Does it make sense? Does it make them more productive or collaborative? If so, great, if not, find out the underlying reason for why something is or isn’t working before resorting to tech.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
Google Spreadsheet, Docs and Trello
What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
45-minute meetings. It gives me the 15 minutes to prep for the next one and most people are running on 30 or 60 minute increments during the day.
What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information?)
Mindset by Carol Dweck. 70% is business or technology related, 30% is fiction. I use Kindle on all platforms, Audible when I’m on the go and physical books when I am reading something academic.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Learn something positive from every single person you spend time with no matter who it is or whether you look up to them or not, and apply it to make a better version of yourself.
Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
Thank you Fayez! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
Fayez is co-founder and CEO of Bluecore, a high-growth marketing technology company based in New York City.
Bluecore is a retail marketing company whose AI-driven platform brings together website, customer and live product insights to match customers with the products they love. By activating dynamic product data for the first time, Bluecore’s email marketing solution solves the missing piece of the performance puzzle: the ability to respond to customer behaviors with triggered and individualized communication. Hundreds of brands and retailers, including Teleflora, Vineyard Vines, Staples and Best Buy Canada, use Bluecore to drive increased revenue with less effort.
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.