MarTech Interview with Thomas Zawacki, Chief Digital Officer, Infogroup

Thomas Zawacki, CDO, Infogroup

“We prepare for an AI-centric world by embracing the best parts of the technology, with a healthy dose of reality about the potential issues with privacy and security.”

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Tell us about your role and journey into technology. What galvanized you to join Infogroup?

My role is to deliver a ROI for our clients via industry-leading products, and to drive profitable revenue growth for the company. I have found that building valuable products and programs for clients comes from a combination of understanding consumer behavior, business challenges, and technology disruption. Infogroup is in a unique position to lead consumer intelligence and marketing innovation for the next generation of sales/marketing clients.

How do you prepare for the highly disruptive DaaS ecosystem?

Infogroup has been a DaaS leader for the past 10 years with a commitment to real-time data collection, optimization and delivery. This claim is supported by our recent ranking by Forrester as the #1 data provider in the industry. We prepare for disruption in three ways:

  • Customer insights – Tightly aligning our product roadmap to our clients’ business requirements.
  • Beyond compliance – We pride ourselves on being out in front of consumer privacy, industry security, and reliability standards.
  • Innovation with a purpose – We focus our R&D and technology development efforts on driving incremental economic ROI and competitive advantages for our clients.

What do you think about the recent IBM-RedHat and SAP-Qualtrics deals? How would it impact the whole MarTech and Cloud Computing industry?

These two deals are interesting and consistent with the trend toward industry consolidation — bringing formerly disparate systems together in order to enhance the overall customer journey.

Regarding the IBMRedHat deal, the cloud market will continue to evolve and transform as a result. As the leading hybrid cloud provider, IBM is one of the only vendors to offer an open-cloud solution, allowing for faster creation of cloud-native applications, portability and security.

Meanwhile, SAP’s acquisition of Qualtrics highlights the need for comprehensive solutions for nurturing and delivering customer-centric experiences with data-rich insights. Marketers are working tirelessly to connect the dots between consumer behavior, preferences and feedback and translate it into actionable insights. By marrying operational and experience data, this acquisition will arm marketers with a more comprehensive set of tools and potentially a more unified view of the customer.

With this said, the key to success for these acquisitions and others focused on customer journey optimizations will be the ability to utilize and integrate data with high levels of accuracy, consumer intelligence, and real-time data feeds. This is where Infogroup partners with companies such as IBM, SAP and others.

How do you collaborate with your CEO, CMO and CPO? What impact does your expertise have on the marketing budgets at Infogroup?

We have a fully integrated executive team. We work on strategy, finance, operations and human resources planning together. Our marketing budgets are based on prioritizing initiatives with the greatest revenue and EBITDA ROI, as well as growth of the Infogroup brand. We have a tightly coordinate corporate, product development, sales and marketing approach.

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

We use a variety of Sales Automation tools and technologies with Apache Kafka and NIFI projects being the two we use most often.

We also use Hadoop YARN with HBASE/HDFS for our persistence layer and Apache Zeppelin, Spark/Spark Streaming, Storm, SciKit-Learn and Elasticsearch for data processing, predictive modeling, analytics and deep learning projects.

To round out our stack, we leverage other best-in-class commercial licensed tools that include Talend, Pentaho and Tableau.

What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in Marketing Operations for 2019-2020?

We are tracking many consumer trends and technology innovations this year including but not limited to AI, blockchain, voice-activated interfaces, AR, and many more. Specifically, for Marketing Operations, there are three key areas for our clients’ success:

  • Cord-Cutters – The term “cord-cutting” was originally applied to those consumers moving away from analog cable to streaming video. Similarly, consumers and B2B audiences are managing their lives and businesses via mobile devices. Therefore, we are working with our customers to achieve cross-channel identity resolution, ideal consumer profiles, and marketing optimization.
  • Predictive World – Artificial Intelligence is woven throughout our lives more and more. AI enables predictive breaking in autos, auto-optimizes the temperature in our homes via connected thermostats, finishes our sentences before we type them in our text messages. Therefore, consumer and business customer expectations have changed to expect experiences that are not only personalized, but that predict what they need.
  • B2B2C Life – We live in a world in which we blend our work and personal lives. The concept of dayparting or a 9am-5pm job do not apply anymore as we check our work e-mail in the morning before we leave the house, shop via e-commerce at our desks during the day, and work from home after the kids are in bed. Therefore, marketers must have the ability to connect B2C and B2B audience profiles and behaviors in order to get a complete picture of their needs, as well as achieve accurate and effective targeting.

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

  • Arundo Analytics – Machine Learning and deep insights for the IoT world.
  • Narrative Science – Narrative Science creates AI-enabled software that writes stories from enterprise data to drive understanding and results.
  • Civic – Blockchain company that uses biometrics to verify the user’s digital identity.

Could you tell us about an outstanding digital campaign?

 West Marine came to one of our subsidiary companies, Yes Marketing, looking for a partner who could assist them with the strategy and analytics to leverage their marketing database and customer data to increase relevant and personalized engagements to its core audience of boaters via email.

Utilizing Yes Marketing’s multichannel marketing communications platform, Yesmail360i, and its vendor’s database and analytics platform, Marketzone, West Marine has seen exponential growth. Since using the database and analytics platform, West Marine has seen an 18 percent increase in the number of online boating shoppers. More notable results include a 34 percent year-over-year increase in email engagement — the result of delivering more relevant data that was specific to customers’ needs. The relationship has since expanded to include social and programmatic display execution, again leveraging the same robust database assets that serve as the foundation for the Yes Marketing/West Marine relationship.

This digital campaign truly highlights the role comprehensive data plays in strategic and successful marketing efforts. As a result, West Marine was able to engage boaters at every stage of the lifecycle and translate their data into actionable insights — delivering an exceptional cross-channel customer experience.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a technology leader?

Out of my 25 years of marketing and digital innovation experience, I am lucky enough to have over 8 years working with AI. I have spent almost the past decade working with teams to apply data and AI to solve client marketing challenges. What we have found is the key to maximize data accuracy, consumer intelligence and marketing ROI is the combination of AI + human intelligence, or augmented intelligence. We prepare for an AI-centric world by embracing the best parts of the technology, with a healthy dose of reality about the potential issues with privacy and security.

And, the old saying “garbage in, garbage out” is truer than ever with AI as Machine Learning enables us to consume a higher volume and velocity of data than ever. However, if the data is not accurate (garbage), then any Machine Learning will be flawed. Part of our preparation for a predictive world means spending a ton of time on the details and integrity of the foundation of that learning to avoid issues down the line.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

We are working on ways to improve peoples’ lives. We want to save people time by making them more productive, deliver experiences that make them laugh a bit more, and eliminate irrelevant and sometimes annoying experiences. We listen, live and play. Listen to consumers and business customers. Immerse ourselves into and live with the technology in our own lives. Play with new technologies and new ideas.

One word that best describes how you work.


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

8 ½ x 11” notebook and a pencil with a good eraser.

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

I dedicate a ton of time to educating all AI’s in my life (e.g., Siri, NEST, etc.) Machine Learning effectiveness depends on the quality and quantity of the data in, the speed of data ingestion, and the total duration of time of learning. If you dedicate yourself to AI education, each device in your life will save you countless hours and make life much more enjoyable.

What are you currently reading?

MIT Technology Review is my go-to during free time. And, the New York Post every day. Mobile app is the only way to go.

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

The sooner in your life you learn to say “no”, the happier you’ll be.

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


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

GM O’Connell.

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

Thomas Zawacki is Chief Digital Officer, Strategy and Innovation at Infogroup — a big data, analytics and marketing services provider that delivers best in class data-driven customer-centric technology solutions.

Infogroup Logo

Infogroup is a big data, analytics and marketing services provider that delivers best in class data-driven customer-centric technology solutions. Their data and software-as-a-service (DaaS & SaaS) offerings help clients of all sizes, from small companies to FORTUNE 100TM enterprises, increase their sales and customer loyalty. Infogroup provides both digital and traditional marketing channel expertise that is enhanced by access to our proprietary data on 245MM individuals and 25MM businesses, which is distributed real-time to our clients.

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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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