MarTech Interview with Robert McGovern, CEO at PreciseTarget

MarTech Interview with Robert McGovern, CEO, PreciseTarget
MarTech Interview with Robert McGovern, CEO, Precise Target

“We believe customers want personalized experiences, but they never want to be exploited.”

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

It all started with a question: Why does everyone have a unique and personal Amazon front page experience while having a generic experience with Macy’s, Nordstrom or Target? This led to a discovery journey, where I learned that none of the large retailers (except Amazon) have sufficient data to personalize the experience. Retailers refer to this as the “sparse customer data problem.” The largest merchants are selling each customer only one or two items per year. If you only buy a pair of shoes and a belt this year at Macy’s, they barely know you. Contrast that with Amazon, which has troves of data on every customer. Prime customers average 75 to 100 annual items per year, creating a dense personalization dataset.

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

PreciseTarget is a behind-the-scenes data company helping retailers, AdTech, and media companies overcome the sparse data problem. We combine the data of hundreds of major brands and retailers to create a federated multi-merchant dataset. Major brands have trusted us with over 5 billion transaction records that have enabled us to “machine learn” the product tastes of over 220 million US adults. When marketers use our data for targeting, they typically see a 50% to 100% increase in conversion.

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

Customers have learned to expect personalized experiences, so long as they aren’t creepy. Customers love that Netflix and Spotify present movies and music matching their personal tastes, but they dislike retargeted ads (which they describe as creepy or exploitative). You’re not hearing consumers objecting to regulatory initiatives like GDPR in Europe, or CCPA in California. Facebook and Google have crossed the line, making consumers sensitive to being exploited. Consumers have learned that “free” means that their personal data is now the product.

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

These acquired companies will only solve 50% of their customer’s problems. The acquired companies made analytics tools, designed to help marketers measure and analyze. The missing 50% is large-scale data.

Most major retailers don’t have Data Science departments. Why? There’s not enough data to warrant Data Science models. Most companies are data-poor when it comes to forward-looking growth, which created a market for companies like PreciseTarget. Many of our customers view us as a data augmentation service.

What is the future of Customer Intelligence? How do they improve Customer Experience?

We believe customers want personalized experiences, but they never want to be exploited. Consumers are long past believing Google and Facebook’s claims about privacy, perhaps because they’re regularly bothered by retargeted ads. The data company we’re building is designed from the bottom-up to be pro-consumer. We’ve made it impossible to identify any of the 220 million people represented in our system, and that includes our own engineers. Even our engineers could never learn the identity of a person represented in our data. We think consumers want more Netflix-like or Spotify-like experiences, which means being passionate about building a system focused on helping consumers, not exploiting them.

Tell us how you stay relevant to the Personalization trends. How do you see new mobile marketing technologies impacting digital commerce businesses in the coming months?

There are storm clouds on the horizon related to mobile data and targeting. When I was at the 2019 LiveRamp conference (RampUp), I was shocked at the number of people trying to sell me mobile data. There are hundreds of mobile data companies trying to exploit consumers at every street corner, shopping center, and fast food restaurant. The governments, platforms, and carriers are saying “that’s enough,” and I believe we’re about to see a location data backlash. Shopping will continue its migration to mobile, although I believe we’ll see less location-based targeting in the coming 12 months. I’m betting that the most valuable data companies of tomorrow will be those designed to unequivocally protect the privacy of consumers.

Tell us more about your data-driven solutions. How can CMOs optimize their Digital Marketing and Advertising budget using your products, services, and solutions?

For retailers, including their agencies and AdTech partners, we help them drive alignment with their customer’s decision process. Think of when you shop at a store or online. You like or dislike products based on many years of observing your personal taste. It sometimes shocks me that we’re the first company to learn the tastes of consumers. Our Machine Learning system has access to 5 billion transactions, with over 25 metadata items on each product purchased (e.g., brand, size, color, fabric, style, fit, etc.). This massive data set has enabled us to learn whether you like blue and gray, slim-fit dress shirts that are $65 to $75, or $100 moderate-height shoes, leather, metal buckles, with soft soles. Our data help the CMO learn the most important decision-driver of their customers. The key to serving the customer is understanding his or her taste.

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

We’re big advocates of test and learn. We have three data products that segment US consumers by product affinities, brand affinities, and retailer affinities. We also create custom data sets for our customers. We advocate customers taking a test and learn approach, narrowing in on the right data approach via iterative testing. Once the model is figured out, customers typically step on the gas with high-scale campaigns.

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

We deliver data to customers to either provide a complete data solution or to augment the customer’s data contained within their CRM or CDP platforms. In the complete data solution example, a customer might ask us to deliver a targeted audience for the desired customer set. We’ll create the data set, work with the customer’s DSP (Demand Side Platform), and ensure the data is staged for the campaign. Alternatively, in the augmentation example, the customer may wish to have a complete taste profile on each of their customers. Essentially, they want an off-the-shelf CRM file on every customer. In this model, we’ll work with a trusted match intermediary, like Equifax or LiveRamp, and we’ll pass the requested data through the trusted intermediary. We essentially fill up the customer’s CRM system with valuable data, without ever knowing the identities of any of the consumers.

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

We use Copper and PersistIQ.

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

I’m a big fan of Spotify because they’ve built a data-driven solution that doesn’t exploit consumers. I wish there were more companies like Spotify and PreciseTarget, with a protect-the-consumer center of gravity. I’m honestly sick of talking to gleeful entrepreneurs wishing to monetize ill-begotten data or to see Mark Zuckerberg shucking and jiving before Congress. When I downloaded the data file that Facebook collected on me (before I shut down my account), I was shocked at the data they had captured about me. If you think they only have your Facebook postings and friends lists, you are sadly mistaken. We’re hoping to set a new standard for start-ups where protecting the consumer’s privacy is a fundamental construct of the system’s design.

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

My company has built a powerful AI-based platform. At cocktail parties, people will often ask me whether AI will take away all of our jobs. Are we doomed? You may have heard of IBM’s Deep Blue – the computer that defeated Gary Kasparov, the world’s chess champion. Deep Blue won that match in six sets. So, Deep Blue is the world chess champion, right? Well, not exactly. If you form a team made up of an accomplished chess player and Deep Blue, that team will beat Deep Blue acting alone. The future is about combining our efforts with computers. That computer between your ears is a long way from reaching obsolescence. I advise my customers to think of AI as a way of augmenting the capabilities of their people rather than replacing them.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

Honestly, I do the opposite. I encourage people to be more present, and more mindful. One of my rules is no computers in my meetings. Human interaction still matters, and I’ve yet to meet someone who can truly multitask. If their computer is open, their mind is closed.

One word that best describes how you work.

Introspective. I spend a lot of time thinking about my customer’s business problems and potential ways to solve them.

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

Online travel tools, Linkedin, and Email. On the personal side, I’m a big fan of Strava which I use to measure and track my 6,000 miles of annual cycling. (Strava is designed for privacy and allows its users to register using a faux persona. I’m Clark Kent if you want to track my miles!)

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

I’m a super early-bird. Out of bed at 3:30 am, commuting on my bike at 4:30 am, in the gym at 5:00, at work before 6:30. Those first couple of hours are hugely productive.

What are you currently reading?

I’m an avid reader, always on a Kindle. I like historical non-fiction, like A Woman of No Importance (Purnell), or Capital in the 21st Century (Piketty). I’m also a physicist without a license and recently read How to Teach Quantum Physics to your Dog (Orzel). Physics has always seemed like the intersection of science and philosophy. (Note that Einstein once called a part of quantum theory “spooky action at a distance.”)

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

Dust off your pants and get back in there. My German grandmother played a big role in my growing up years. She wasn’t big on ‘Woe is me,’ perhaps agreeing with Thomas Edison’s quote that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. She taught me an essential skill of entrepreneurism: resilience. Everything looks impossible in the idea-stage.

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

Focusing on the problem the customer needs to solve. Technologists often want to build cool technology rather than solving tough problems. I honestly don’t care how the problem is solved. You shouldn’t even think about potential technology solutions until you’ve first defined the problem.

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

Jeff Bezos

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

Rob McGovern is a Serial entrepreneur who founded and Cobrain. He took initially took CareerBuilder public then was part of a group that took it private for $250 million in 2000. While at, McGovern lead efforts for two major acquisitions and built the company to 400 employees.

After he found Jobfox. He has recently been named as CEO and part of the team of founders of Cobrain, a company that promises to “change the world by leveraging the world’s distributed intelligence.” Cobrain is currently in stealth mode. Rob McGovern has also authored two books and served on the board of many public and private companies.

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PreciseTarget is partnered with over 300 major retailers to deliver targeted product offers to consumers. Our offers are featured at coupon sites, major publishers, and popular shopping destinations. Our focus is delivering offers that drive higher customer engagement, and greater purchase conversions.

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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