Interview with Michael Ni, CMO, RichRelevance
Tell us about your role and how you got here. What inspired you to be part of RichRelevance?
I’m the CMO of RichRelevance, a global personalization provider for more than 200 B2B and B2C leaders, from brands like L’Oreal, Burberry, and HP through retailers like Tesco, Office Depot, and Barney’s New York. I’m responsible for all things marketing: strategy, brand, demand gen, community, and new markets, as well as partner and ecosystem development.
I came up through product, so I’m invested in technology innovation, understanding the customer and their problems, and marketing strategy. I’ve been in CRM, marketing automation, and analytics for two decades, working for both startups and big tech like Peoplesoft and Oracle. The industry spoke about 1:1 engagement when I first started my career, but the promise notoriously fell short because the technology simply wasn’t there.
I joined RichRelevance because technology has finally advanced to the point where brands and retailers can now deliver truly individualized experiences. RichRelevance and its clients have been driving this change for the better part of a decade. With broadening market adoption of RichRelevance across all retail sub-verticals and other industries, I jumped at the chance to help brands worldwide leverage Personalization AI and ML to design innovative customer experiences that are truly individualized – all at a scale that was unimaginable when I first joined this industry.
How is RichRelevance different from other companies that offer personalization technology?
RichRelevance stands out for our intense focus on experience personalization to bridge the growing gap between marketing and commerce with the most advanced Personalization AI.
Today’s standard marketing approach (probabilistic segments, declarative journey maps, channel tools across email, website, and mobile) focuses on outbound, one-way push communication with sporadic personalization in an attempt to engage and re-engage customers. On the other side, omnichannel commerce focuses on transactional efficiencies and often mistakes convenience for an engaging experience. Neither of these approaches provides a real-time, interactive experience that is contextually relevant to the customer.
RichRelevance is the only company that solves this experience gap comprehensively throughout the entire customer lifecycle. The RichRelevance Personalization AI supports all the different ways that customers want to engage today at any stage in their journey. So every experience is individualized, contextualized, and real time.
How can lead-gen companies leverage experience personalization technology in a better way across devices?
Ultimately, experience personalization enables the real-time capture of digital signals, recognition of meaningful events, and the channel-specific orchestration of the next best interaction to hit your business objectives.
As we all know, consumers interact with your brand, and not just with a channel or device. So any digital touchpoint where signals are not effectively captured and recognized has become a point of failure.
Today’s challenge is that the concept of multi-channel marketing is inherently siloed. Rather than mobile app, web, and email being separated, each touchpoint needs to both share and leverage purchase intent to reflect the latest customer signals. Imagine the simple case where a digital marketer sends a targeted email but, before it is opened, the customer shows new buying signals on their device for a higher value category. How would you adjust the email content at open time? How about what to show on an app as the customer moves about your beacon-enabled store?
The new mindset places the customer at the center, and experience personalization allows every interaction to be contextual, individual, real-time, and self-learning across more than just channels and devices.
How do you see multi-channel marketing and sales automation platforms integrating with Omnichannel personalization platforms?
Marketing is becoming an untenably large set of rules, segments, offers, and programs. This is all exacerbated by multiplying channels and touchpoints. Unfortunately, marketers aren’t meeting the needs of customers who want to be treated as individuals that can do a variety of things at any given point in time: shop, compare, be entertained, be inspired, and learn new things.
Ultimately, a new technology stack is required to engage customers, guide the journey, and move relationships forward. RichRelevance’s experience personalization platform allows brands to treat customers like individuals in any context by taking the segments, offers, content, and offline data; couple it with real-time digital signals; and craft individual treatments that optimize for the goals you give it across revenue, conversion, engagement, and retention.
Any touchpoint, including sales, needs to be available to be orchestrated by the personalization services. This can be an intelligent “complete the look” to increase cross sales, or to help guide sales between category expansion, automated bundling, or even replenishment based upon mid-term margin contribution.
Individualization isn’t just pushing expertly targeted messages to segments. It’s much more interactive. The end game is consistent, memorable interactions – in real time, in context and individualized.
What startups in the martech/ sales intelligence industry are you watching / keen on right now?
With data as the new oil, I’m following the rise in DMPs (Data Management Platform) and CDPs (Customer Data Platform), and tracking who will rise to help brands and retailers effectively gain from the benefits of shared data while not actually sharing the data. AI, of course, only gets better with more data.
At the same time, I’m also watching the explosion of application-specific AI startups – including visual search, the new generation of Natural Language Processing (NLP), and proprietary deep data set-based learning (e.g., clothing fit). While many of these specific AI approaches won’t generically perform well, a multi-algorithm engine can optimize for each context to select the right algorithm boosting business results.
What martech and ad tech tools do you use for marketing and sales at RichRelevance?
In addition to our own platform, the marketing team uses Marketo (marketing automation), Datanyze and Lead Genius (research and list generation), a variety of online marketing tools (e.g., Google Analytics, Optimizely, SEOQuake, SEMRush, HootSuite, etc.), WordPress (CMS), and Asana (collaboration). The sales and marketing team use a variety of tools spanning Salesforce (CRM), Outreach (Sales Engagement Platform), and Sales Navigator, Ghostery, and Datanyze (list building & research).
How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?
With AI all the rage right now, I find the only way to prepare is to ensure my teams are aware of AI as a building block and not focus too much on the technology itself. AI is an incredible, exciting technology that can be used in all sorts of applications, but it can also be anything.
I tend to view the world of AI through the lens of organizational preparedness, not necessarily technology. For example, we consciously choose to execute small AI projects before we introduce them to the broader population. This allows teams and individuals to get comfortable with AI as a business tool that augments their role – and comfortable with giving up some control to a machine.
As soon as people start to see specific, concrete value from AI, they get excited. They start to rely on AI to help do their job better – and really start to see AI as a complement to their own skills and talents. The result is that AI usage grows and other people and teams become interested in how they could benefit from machine learning.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
With my team, the tools I use everyday focus around collaboration. These span Skype, Asana, Hipchat, Google Docs, Google Voice, and hate to say it, Mac Mail and Calendar synced across all my devices.
At the same time, personally, I can be constantly found on Evernote, Penultimate (using my iPad Pro to brainmap meetings, content ideation, or just draw a picture), 1Password, iTunes, Audible, Stitcher, and Feedly. The first set to dump things out of my brain and the second set to put cool things in.
What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
Given the vast array of information coming at me continuously, I have two ways of simplifying and increasing productivity. First, I am a fanatical user of Evernote to capture whole projects and/or concept areas in rich, formatted text that allows me to compile key thoughts, documents, and links in context. Second, I found the Get Things Done (GTD) approach of using email like a workflow system and creating folders for each day of the month to quickly file messages for future action and follow up, or to just act and close emails.
What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information?)
I’m currently reading a mixture of interesting and sales related books … and by “read,” I mean books on tape whenever I am in the car, working out, doing dishes.
- Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari
- The Medium Is The Massage, Marshall McLuhan
- The Sales Acceleration Formula, Mark Roberge
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
Rishad Tobaccowala, Chief Growth Officer, Publicis Groupe
Thank you Michael! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
As CMO of RichRelevance, Mike oversees marketing, strategy, and partner & ecosystem development with responsibility to building brand, driving demand, and expanding to new markets. Mike brings over 20 years of experience leading marketing and strategy for some of the world’s most successful enterprise technology companies spanning software, consumer packaged goods, digital media, and eCommerce industries. Prior to RichRelevance, Mike served as CMO of Avangate, a digital commerce platform provider, which under his leadership tripled its customer base and was named one of the top 3 global Digital Goods Affiliate Networks. Previous roles include leadership positions at PeopleSoft, OnePage (acquired by Sybase), Amdocs, and Oracle.
RichRelevance is the global leader in AI-driven omnichannel personalization and is used by more than 230 multinational companies to deliver the most relevant and innovative customer experiences across web, mobile and in store. RichRelevance drives more than one billion decisions every day, and has generated over $20 billion in sales for its clients, which include Office Depot, Petit Bateau, and Marks & Spencer. Headquartered in San Francisco, RichRelevance serves clients in 42 countries from 9 offices around the globe.
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.