MarTech Interview with Brian Walker, Chief Strategy Officer at Bloomreach

Brian Walker, Chief Strategy Officer at Bloomreach takes the time to share a few thoughts on the growing impact of eCommerce businesses and online sales and what marketers and sales teams need to focus on to drive better personalization and data practices to boost eCommerce growth:

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Welcome to this MarTech Series chat Brian, tell us more about your journey and role at Bloomreach…

It started many years ago while I was leading technology strategy for a retailer that was aggressively embracing e-commerce and became the first retail customer of Endeca, an early innovator in search solutions later acquired by Oracle. That experience first gave me the opportunity to understand the potential to leverage customer data and product data at scale to drive personalized experiences for customers that would lead to better results for businesses. Later, experiences at Amazon and Expedia and then Forrester Research enabled me to understand the strategies and further opportunities behind that, but also the gaps and the challenges that were making what seemed simple so difficult. That is around the time I first met Raj De Datta, founder and CEO of Bloomreach, and began to have conversations that showcased Raj’s vision and drive to solve these problems. Fast forward to two years ago when I joined Bloomreach. Now I help to transform and share the vision with the market as to how clients can use our platform to leverage their data and accelerate their businesses, enhancing the experiences they deliver to customers.

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What are some top trends that you feel are influencing how online commerce is set to change (and how)?

 I think it is important to recognize that businesses can no longer treat online commerce as a secondary or tertiary channel or strategy. Businesses now need to think digital first. We were already on a steady march toward that inevitability, but certainly the pandemic accelerated that. Now consumers and B2B customers alike typically learn about new products, gain inspiration, and search for essentials online first, even if they may end up converting in other channels. And certainly the integration and blending of channels is critical, as we see with curbside or in-store pickup becoming an ever more common consumer preference.

This also means we need to focus more on creating a real customer relationship and use metrics like lifetime-value and customer retention, rather than focus so much energy and money on low profitability customer acquisition tactics that are honestly not sustainable. To achieve that, businesses need to focus on a single-view of their customers across all these interactions to drive higher degrees of relevance in their marketing and the experiences they create — ultimately driving better business results.

Can you talk about some of the top factors affecting digital experiences in today’s online buying and selling economy and what brands and marketers need to be paying more attention to?

Many businesses are still not executing well on the fundamentals. Search does not work well on many sites, and that can have a very meaningful impact on 20-50% of your customers, who will likely bail if they can’t find what they are looking for or the results are just clearly all over the place. Product information and content is poor, and that is at the heart of the whole purpose of your site, isn’t it? And the ability to look up order status as well as clear communication via text message and email are often broken or lead to customer frustration. Why does Amazon consistently score so well in customer satisfaction? They get the fundamentals right, and then work hard to personalize the experiences so it is relevant to you with easily understood and tested user experience design. These are still the fundamentals all businesses need to focus on first and foremost.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on some leading brands that boast of great online customer journeys and experiences in your view from the global marketplace?

It is really the businesses that are now making digital a central and primary way they reach customers, drive demand, execute, and cement their role in their customers’ lives that are setting the bar. Bloomreach customers like Puma and Williams-Sonoma are certainly examples of that.

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As personalization takes priority in today’s times, what are some of the top challenges you see marketers and eCommerce vendors struggle with in an online world?

To drive real personalization, businesses need to combine a deep real-time understanding of their customers and their products with the ability to execute consistently across all their channels — offering the right content at the right time in the right channel to each customer.

That is much easier said than done, especially as so many businesses have a mix of point-solutions and legacy platforms that hold them back both with the data and execution. That is the central problem Bloomreach is focused on and solving for our customers every day.

A few martech tools you feel marketers and online businesses / online selling today need to integrate into their overall tech stack and why?

Today, to drive the kind of relationships at scale that businesses need to, it certainly starts with a customer data platform (CDP) tied into great marketing and execution platforms. Those give the marketers and merchants control and the ability to drive agile, optimized campaigns across their marketing, sites, apps, and other digital channels. And, of course, great product discovery tools are also critical — search, merchandising and recommendations that help customers quickly get to the products they care about, with content on the other end of that which builds confidence and drives conversation.

Some last thoughts and takeaways for marketing and sales leaders to keep in mind through 2021?

There have been a lot of questions out there about whether customers will return to pre-pandemic behaviors and if the growth in digital commerce is long-term. I can simply say that our data clearly says – yes, and this is only accelerating.

Even categories like grocery, which saw such a pandemic-related inflection, are growing at 68% year-over-year on top of the pandemic growth. So for merchants and marketers out there, now is the time to insist your business is investing in the tools needed to sustain and capture that momentum and ensure you grow rather than lose market share in the process.

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Bloomreach is a leader in Commerce Experience™, the Bloomreach Experience Platform competes in three core categories: Engagement (CDP and marketing automation), Content (headless content and experience management), and Discovery (e-commerce search, merchandising, recommendations, and SEO).

Brian Walker serves as Chief Strategy Officer at Bloomreach, the digital experience platform purpose-built for commerce. Brian is veteran strategy and marketing leader who focuses on the transformation of digital customer engagement and commerce. Prior to joining Bloomreach, Brian was Chief Strategy Officer at Amplience, Managing Director, Global Commerce Strategy at Accenture, Chief Strategy Officer at SAP Hybris, and led commerce technology research at Forrester Research. Brian has also held leadership positions at Amazon, Expedia, and Otto Group prior to that.

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