MarTech Interview with Jason McClelland, CMO at Algolia

Headless commerce systems can provide better flexibility to customer facing teams and back end developers; Jason McClelland, CMO at Algolia delves deeper in this catch-up with Martech Series:


Welcome to this MarTech Series chat Jason, we’d love to get to know you better! Tell us more about your role as CMO at Algolia and take us through some of your key B2B marketing moments from your journey so far?

I’ve always been a builder at heart. If I were to pick an operating thesis for my career journey from Developer to CMO, it would be that I always thought that “the software should sell itself, literally.” As such, I’ve spent more than 20 years building e-commerce and CMS APIs and platform platforms. I was super early into microservices (as a way to build in-product commerce when everyone was still selling boxes at physical stores) and implementing agile at scale. I spent over a decade building machine-learning systems and models for understanding customer buying behavior across Adobe, Salesforce, Heroku, and now Algolia.

I’ve had the good fortune to be in the driver’s seat behind many of the world’s most well-known SaaS, PLG, and Growth movements. At Salesforce, I was the CMO of Heroku, an acquisition. Heroku was unique in that we were one of the first DevTools/PLG companies to successfully build an “Online to Enterprise” motion at scale, spanning 100s of millions in revenue across millions of developers. At Adobe, I carried a $1B quota for the Creative Cloud business at the time I left – and started that role by helping run experiments that led the company to the Creative Cloud idea. I have also advised many well-known (and lesser known) companies, especially in the AppDev and DevOps space. 

Each of these roles helped me learn a tremendous amount about what it takes to successfully manage a major transformation, and I’m excited to apply what I’ve learned thus far in my career to lead Algolia’s ambitious growth and awareness goals.

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Algolia’s recent State of Search report had some interesting insights on retail conversions, can you take us through some of the top highlights and takeaways?

We released our State of Search Report, compiled in partnership with B2B research specialists Coleman Parkes. This second annual report reveals insights from 900 technical and business decision makers from omnichannel and digital retailers with global revenues of $100M+; exploring the current usage, investment and value of search technologies.

Currently only 13% of retailers claim to offer shoppers an advanced search experience – creating clear advantages for a select group of top companies. Four in five (79%) retailers have little or no personalization or recommendation functionality on their commerce site, and only 26% noted the use of AI to optimize search results relevance. Companies actively using personalization and AI-driven relevance are enjoying a significant return on their investment in search technology. For example, Gymshark, the fastest-growing fitness fashion brand in the UK, generates upwards of £2M in incremental sales/year using AI powered relevance; and, Decathlon increased their conversion rate by 50% using personalization. The technology is fully proven, yet retailers have been slow to adopt it.

The power of search and discovery technology also plays a key role in mitigating brand damage caused by shortages stemming from disrupted supply chains or spikes in demand. With modern search solutions, retailers can ensure they are only serving up items that are in-stock, instead of frustrating consumers by showcasing products that are unavailable. This is important as we enter a holiday season that has already been full of warnings of potential shortages. Unfortunately, retailers are still not as prepared as they should be. According to our report, two in five (39%) retailers admit they are not prepared to respond to new surges in consumer demand. Additionally, 65% of retailers feel their ability to meet last year’s Black Friday demand needed to be better handled as 47% were unable to scale to meet the demand and 25% wanted to be able to iterate and merchandise better. 

Under-investing in modern digital commerce is a critical mistake that we continue to see in the retail industry. If you can’t accurately serve online shoppers with what they want at the moment they want it, they’ll immediately move on to the next site. The State of Search focuses on how search technologies can make or break a retailer’s ability to deliver on the last mile of customer experience. 

Can you share a few thoughts on some of the most exciting online retail experiences you’ve seen leading brands formulate from around the world? 

We’ve seen some incredible results from Mercari, a selling app with more than 50 million downloads in the U.S. They have been able to maintain a 200-millisecond or less average search results time for its users and an overall, end-to-end search latency of half a second. The company has also been able to improve search personalization, and now only a small internal team works on the search and discovery engine, freeing up valuable resources for other projects. With Algolia’s help, Mercari now offers guided listings that respond to keyword inputs and offer suggestions as keywords are being typed. Moving forward, Mercari is working to make its search and discovery engine even faster and more personalized. This will mean even bigger per-query results and a richer discovery experience for their users.

As headless architecture becomes a norm in this market; what in your view should brands be keeping in mind when implementing and setting up new systems?

With traditional ecommerce platforms, every change to the user interface requires updating both the front end and the back end. Even small changes to the front end can require major overhauls to the back end, turning minor updates into complex and time-consuming whole-site revamps. For designers and developers, headless commerce means powerful flexibility and the agility to present experiences and test new strategies without disrupting back-end infrastructure while maintaining a modern API-first approach. Sites adopting headless commerce enjoy significant benefits inherent in the architecture. Retailers are realizing this.

Forty-nine percent (49%) of retailers recognize that headless architecture allows for time saving and 42% recognize that it creates a faster time to market, according to our State of Search Report. Ninety percent (90%) of retailers think that the fit of their search technology to a headless architecture is critical or somewhat important, however, only 23% of retailers think that the fit of their search solution in a headless architecture is ideal. This data shows that retailers understand the value of search and headless architecture. Now, retailers’ future investments in search technology need to focus on solutions that are compatible with headless architectures.  

Some last thoughts and marketing / martech takeaways and predictions for 2022 before we wrap up?

Marketing has evolved, and what makes a good marketer is harder to define than ever before. With the proliferation of marketing tools and channels, the bar is set much higher than it has ever been when it comes to your marketing efforts rising above the noise.  

As we look ahead to 2022, there are two things top of mind for me. First, Search will become essential for retailers to accurately display supply. Retailers cannot risk directing consumers to out-of-stock products. Supply chain disruptions will inevitably continue, but retailers have viable options to accurately display supply and redirect potential buyers to relevant in-stock products – all helping to avoid frustration.  

Building on this concept, hyper localization will also be viewed as a key differentiator for many retailers. The ability to accurately direct consumers shopping online to the nearest location where they can pick up their item (even if it isn’t their normal store), is another way to navigate supply chain disruption. It also provides a competitive edge over Amazon’s lightning-fast delivery. If consumers want an item, and want it now, they will be willing to go get it in the moment. As mentioned though, accuracy is key. There’s no margin for error here. If a retailer is directing shoppers to stores that don’t have the product they want, they’ll damage the relationship with the shopper. Retailers that can get this right every time can differentiate themselves based on reliability. 

Lastly, organizations won’t be able to ignore marketing automation and its role in personalization. “AI” has become quite a buzzword as companies across industries and verticals seek to jump on the trend. True AI is great to solve very specific problems. There’s a fear that AI will take away jobs, but there will always be a need for the human touch. Ultimately, those who smartly leverage AI for personalizing content to consumers will see strong ROI – and those who befriend the robots will succeed. 

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algolia logoAlgolia is a leading Search and Discovery Platform that enables organizations to predict intent and deliver results. As CMO, Jason leads the company’s ambitious growth and awareness goals. He brings more than 15 years of experience in marketing and sales leadership experience from Salesforce, Adobe, and other startups. McClelland most recently served as CMO of Enterprise MLOps platform Domino Data Lab, where he helped up-level their go-to-market and brand to Enterprise and Partner sales. Prior to that he served as CMO of the world’s first AppDev PaaS platform, Heroku (acquired by Salesforce).

Jason McClelland is the Chief Marketing Officer at Algolia. As CMO, Jason leads the company’s ambitious growth and awareness goals. He brings more than 15 years of experience in marketing and sales leadership experience from Salesforce, Adobe, and other startups. McClelland most recently served as CMO of Enterprise MLOps platform Domino Data Lab, where he helped up-level their go-to-market and brand to Enterprise and Partner sales. Prior to that he served as CMO of the world’s first AppDev PaaS platform, Heroku (acquired by Salesforce).

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