MarTech Interview with Carl Tsukahara, CMO at Optimizely

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“AI and Machine Learning have the potential to enhance the value of the Marketing tech stack and even how we approach Traditional Marketing strategy.”

Tell us about your role and journey into technology. What inspired you to start at Optimizely?

At Optimizely, I work with a very talented team of Marketing, Sales Development, and Communications professionals to help tell the story of a startup that encourages its customers to embrace a culture of experimentation. In my 25-year career, I’ve kept a tight focus on helping technology companies of all sizes tell great stories to fuel growth.

My passion for technology goes all the way back to college, where I studied Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. I’ve always loved technology’s capacity to amplify a given product’s impact on the market. What drew me to Optimizely was the emphasis on experimentation aided by technology.

If I learned anything in my career, it’s that constant iteration is a key factor in influencing growth, and the best way to iterate is to make data-determined decisions with experimentation.

What is Optimizely and how does it fit into a modern Marketing Technology stack?

Optimizely is revolutionizing the way that enterprises manage and optimize the performance of their digital products, channels, campaigns, and commerce. We go far beyond legacy A/B testing solutions by enabling every company to take advantage of iterative experimentation through our world-class testing and personalization platform.

Through Optimizely, clients of all sizes — from startups to enterprises — have access to proven statistical methods, data management, and a “full-stack” approach that allows Marketers, Product Leaders, Engineering teams, and Digital Commerce professionals to find and deploy the most effective digital experience features for their audiences, and to deliver those new or modified experiences in the lowest-risk and highest-return method possible. With Optimizely, Technical and Marketing teams can always deploy experiences that engage and convert their customers.

One thing that sets us apart is that Optimizely is not only a critical piece of the MarTech stack but also of the product development and delivery stack. With Optimizely, developers can conduct server-side testing that, similar to customer-facing channels, roots out the best backend iterations and product milestones without disrupting agile product operations. We’re a valuable tool for Developers and Marketing teams as well as a bridge between these two historically siloed units.

By providing a platform for these teams and others within their company to experiment, we’re creating opportunities for greater cross-team collaboration and information sharing, and more data-based decision making.

How much has the web-based Customer Experience evolved in the last 2-3 years?

It’s not surprising that customer experience (CX) is a top priority for companies of all sizes. All brands are part of the digital economy and must compete based on their holistic offline and online CX. Customer experience has become increasingly focused on personalization and on the code side of the experience, in areas such as recommendations and pricing sentiment.

Anecdotally, we hear stories of long-time shopkeepers making shopping personal for customers by remembering what they bought last time and offering suggestions for other products based on purchase history. So in that sense, the past 2-3 years aren’t much different from the past 50 years.

However, one of the biggest threats to marketers today is not adopting an at scale, test-and-learn approach to CX in the digital world, but also increasingly in the converged world. Customer behavior is getting harder and harder to predict, and business risk is exacerbated when the de facto approach is to use “gut feel” and guesswork.

Millions are spent on Marketing campaigns, creative, mobile app/website evolutions, and site and digital product redesigns. Yet, even small experience changes are built and deployed without ever looking at actual customer and conversion data. The continuity of only looking in rear-view mirrors vs. knowing what will delight customers based on real testing and alignment with intent is a real threat to all brands — B2B and B2C.

Salesforce acquired Tableau; Google tapped Looker, Adobe acquired Marketo. How do you see these mega-deals shifting the ecosystem of CRM and Marketing Automation toward Data Science and CX-driven platforms?

Being successful or achieving longevity is infinitely harder to do without data to understand your audience and inform the experience you deliver. Every major player is reinforcing its platform, portfolio, and value proposition with tools that make their data actionable for the business, so it’s no surprise that these mega-deals are taking place.

At Optimizely, we expect that the increasing use of data to inform business decisions and CX strategy will also drive an increasing prioritization of experimentation. Without experimentation, companies can’t be certain their use of data will drive the intended result or business impact.

Analytics also has a profound impact on measuring the return of experience changes on both short and long-running metrics. As an example, analytics can ensure that the variations that drive short-term conversion for loan or credit card acquisition also do not increase the overall risk portfolio.

Tell us how you stay relevant to today’s personalization trends.

I meet with customers to understand where their go-to-market process and/or marketing funnel is sub-optimal and what their maturity level and experience is with experimentation and personalization. No matter the magnitude of the brand, each company varies in terms of their use of personalization.

I meet with brands in the consumer electronics segment, as well as many in high-tech, media, retail, and transportation, and find different teams are in different places. You can’t assume that because they are a global brand that they are far along using experimentation and personalization.

Recommended: Evergage Jumps into the Salesforce Economy; Bought to Improve Hyper-Personalization in Sales

How do you see new AI, ML, and Automation tools impacting digital commerce businesses in the coming months?

AI and Machine Learning are influencing every industry and sector, albeit some faster than others. I see huge advantages to using AI and ML to the benefit of digital commerce. The biggest benefit they bring is scale. Personalization can be executed more effectively, faster, and for more people thanks to AI and Machine Learning. This will be key during the holidays to ensure brands provide a great experience at scale to maximize seasonal sales.

Personalization during peak-traffic moments (like the holidays) is key to inform how future actions are optimized such as intent to purchase specific sets of SKUs, versus simply refining offer strategies for large buckets of users.

How do you see Sales teams benefiting from Marketing Analytics and Customer Intelligence?

Sales and Marketing teams are (or should be) deeply intertwined in any business; each informs the work of the other.

Because it’s the responsibility of the marketing team to deliver new leads to the sales team, the more detailed information the Marketing team gathers through Analytics and Customer Intelligence, the more precise and personalized the Sales team can get in their outreach and engagement with prospective customers.

Tell us more about Opticon19, and how it helps Sales and Marketing professionals.

Successful brands integrate experimentation throughout product development and delivery as well as the customer lifecycle to ensure they offer their best products for customers and maximize every touchpoint to drive engagement, increase advocacy, and grow their businesses. Opticon is the premier digital experience optimization conference where they learn to do just that.

Product, growth, and marketing professionals learn from experts across a range of roles, industries, and businesses how to accelerate performance and delivery as well as enhance customer experience using experimentation and personalization.

Because we highlight experimentation tips and best practices across all size organizations and budgets, Opticon attendees walk away with actionable steps to start, enhance, and scale their use of experimentation.

Tell us more about your data-driven solutions. How can CMOs optimize their digital marketing and advertising budget using your products, services, and solutions?

CMOs and their marketing programs must ensure that all opportunities to engage with target audiences are maximized to enable the sales team to be effective. Today, that’s best done using data to eliminate guesswork regarding audience preferences, what experiences are working or not, learnings to apply for future experiences, etc.

With this in mind, data-based business insight is a primary “product” that we offer CMOs, marketers, product developers, and engineers through our industry-leading experimentation and personalization platform. More than 1 million experiments have been run on our platform by the world’s greatest brands, including Gap, StubHub, IBM, The Wall Street Journal, and many more. Our data-driven solutions include:

Optimizely is the industry-leading, most powerful way to run experiments on websites. Web Experimentation is the world’s most powerful front-end A/B and multi-page experimentation product. It was built for the modern enterprise’s web assets, supporting dynamic websites, offering exclusion groups, and integrating seamlessly with web applications out-of-the-box.

– On the developer side, we offer Optimizely Full Stack. With Full Stack, product teams can prove the impact of new features, performance improvements, and backend changes before rolling out to everyone, and control feature rollouts separate from code deployment.

– We also offer Rollouts, a free feature-flagging tool that helps the product team deploy new code and product releases on a graduated basis. Doing so enables them to reduce the delivery risk as well as proactively ensure that any code or feature change works seamlessly in the development and production environment before rolling out to all users.

For all users, Optimizely products come with an easy-to-use interface, and our Stats Engine that delivers statistically relevant results in real-time so your team can make faster, data-based decisions.

How can businesses maximize their ROI from investing in your platform for Digital Personalization?

There are two ways to measure the ROI of using Optimizely’s experimentation and personalization platform:

1. The return made from better customer experiences that leads to new and recurring sales, and

2. What we call value, or the dollars saved from not making the wrong business decision, the reduction of business risk, and even the constant learnings via the platform that are integrated back into future business decisions.

Let’s start with No. 2: Experimentation enures business decisions, from e-commerce site elements to portfolio strategy, and product features, are made using data and not simply the HIPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). No business can survive today, let alone thrive, using gut “instincts” or best guesses.

In terms of No. 1, we surveyed more than 800 decision-makers at brands worldwide and discovered that companies that run more than 20 experiments per month see a 14 percent or greater revenue increase compared to companies that run fewer than 20 and “only” see 1-2 percent lift in revenue. For retail brands surveyed specifically, digital experimentation increased revenue by up to 9 percent!

The fact is that experimentation works and the more a company empowers teams to test and learn, the greater the return. The answers are at your fingertips and subjectivity and risk are removed. It’s like an open-book test and the question is, “What do your customers want?” Why wouldn’t you use the information right there in front of you?

Of course, there are best practices and processes that can improve how you experiment, share information, improve efficiency, and measure successes and failures appropriately. Our customers benefit from the best practices of all other companies experimenting on our platform, which includes a quarter of the Fortune 100.

Tell us about your technology integrations with other Technology platforms such as Website Analytics, Video, Contacts, Contracts, Email and Customer Service.

We’re passionate about creating a culture of experimentation, so we purposely built Optimizely as an open-platform solution. We offer an open framework, allowing us to work with partners and customers to build their own custom integrations onto the platform. Optimizely also integrates with best-of-breed technology platforms, including Amplitude, Atlassian, AWS, BlueKai, Full Story, and New Relic, among others.

For example, at Dreamforce 19 we announced the new Optimizely for Salesforce Data and Attribution application on the Salesforce AppExchange that extends the reach of experimentation as a process and business strategy best practice to joint Salesforce customers. The new integration connects data between the Salesforce and Optimizely platforms for a more seamless and complete understanding of offline and online customer engagement, measurement, and attribution.

For example, it will improve how teams use data to more holistically and accurately track and maximize leads, and help measure the quality of leads they produce online by enabling measurements of down-funnel conversions.

In addition, we were recently part of Contentful’s announcement of their Optimizely application, allowing for experimentation within Contentful across branding, messaging, and user experience. Contentful’s development follows our announcements of both Jira and Slack integrations, and most recently, our work with Cloudflare has enabled Optimizely to be the fastest experimentation platform on the market.

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

Optimizely continues to evaluate what is the best product in the market, and we have had great success with Marketing and Sales Automation tools.

Primarily, our Go-to-Market teams use Atlassian, Contentful, Demandbase, Marketo, Salesforce, Segment, Slack, and Tealium, among others. We also actually eat our own dogfood and use our own platform to test ideas for our website, for how to bring in leads, and to optimize our customers’ and prospects’ experiences.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a Business Leader?

The best preparation for an AI-centric world as a business leader is to take it upon yourself to understand which facets or applications of AI might be most useful — and those that are least useful or even potentially risky — to your customers and business. Armed with that knowledge, you can play the role of advocate and champion for smart use of AI that will set your business up for long-term growth.

This is particularly true as a CMO. AI and Machine Learning have the potential to enhance the value of the Marketing tech stack and even how we approach Traditional Marketing strategy.

The Marketing function has greatly benefited from the ability to use ML to crunch calculations that can uncover new customer segments and key recommendations, as well as to better understand how to meet customer intent and deliver customer engagement.

That said, while it’s today’s shiny object, we should all pump the brakes to make sure the promise of AI isn’t at the detriment of our customers’ trust and experience.

This Is How I Work

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

We really don’t have to motivate our team to use technology; it’s inherent in our culture. We live and breathe data and insights, so our analytics tools are especially critical to our team.

Sharing insights about customer impact is part of our day-to-day, and we use technology to make sure we share this information with our entire team quickly so everyone is aligned and remains deeply focused on our customers.

One word that best describes how you work.


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

Slack and analytics software like Tableau, and our CRM. I like to work collaboratively and am a data nerd — no surprises there!

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

I think it’s key in today’s fast-paced, collaborative work environment to be really smart using Cloud-based tools. They allow my team to be more productive by being more transparent and efficient sharing feedback.

We can move more quickly, stay aligned, and all have opportunities to contribute.

What are you currently reading?

I consistently read periodicals like the Wall Street Journal and newsletters from Harvard Business Review.

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

At Oracle, when I was much younger in my career, I received a lot of great advice that I still draw on as CMO at Optimizely. Leland Putterman, who later became the CMO at BMC, told me to always think about the business value to customers when thinking about messaging.

Zack Nelson, who went on to become the CEO of Netsuite, also taught me about brand messaging. Jerry Held, from my Oracle days as well, taught me how to navigate a large organization.

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

I always think about the entirety of the business. We have to make sure we’re doing right by customers and thinking holistically about their interactions with our brand.

I always keep the customer and the overall Optimizely interaction with our customers — whether that is via sales, service, product, or customer success —  in mind when thinking about the experience that we deliver upstream as well as downstream.

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

Carl Tsukahara is Chief Marketing Officer at Optimizely and is responsible for all global marketing strategy and execution. A 25+ year veteran of Silicon Valley, Carl was most recently Chief Marketing Officer for Birst, a category leader in delivering enterprise business analytics to major global corporations.

optimizely logo

Optimizely is the world’s leader in Progressive Delivery and Experimentation. Its platform includes technologies for modern software development, such as feature flags, A/B testing at scale, AI-powered personalization, and streaming analytics.

Over 1 million experiments and feature flags have been run on our platform to launch what works – and what doesn’t – eliminating guesswork. The world’s greatest companies choose Optimizely to power their product development and experimentation teams, including Visa, H&M, StubHub, IBM, Atlassian, BBC, and many more.

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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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