MarTech Interview with Josh Francia, Chief Growth Officer at Blueshift

Josh Francia, Chief Growth Officer at Blueshift chats about what is driving changes in CDP adoption and CDP trends while sharing a few of his best-martech and marketing moments through the years:

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Welcome to this MarTech Series chat Josh! Take us through your role and journey as Chief Growth Officer at Blueshift…

I first came across Blueshift in December 2016 when I was VP of Marketing at LendingTree.  I had been at LendingTree for about a month and my first project was to figure out how to increase revenue from our first-party customer data.  This led me to conduct an RFP for possible solutions.  I evaluated 30 platforms, of which Blueshift was one.  Blueshift was a clear leader in how they approached the problem and architected the solution, and won the business.  After 2.5 years of using Blueshift and seeing the incredible impact it had on our business at LendingTree, I was interested in helping other brands realize the same growth.  This led me to reaching out to Vijay Chittoor (Blueshift’s CEO & Co-Founder) to figure out how I could be part of the team.  I joined Blueshift as Chief Growth Officer (CGO) in March 2019.  As CGO, I’m responsible for marketing, strategy, solution consulting, business development, and partnerships.

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As a B2B marketer, what are some of the biggest concerns and challenges you face and that you see CMOs in the industry still struggling with?

Potential buyers have to sift through a lot of noise when evaluating solutions and that makes the buying process unnecessarily hard and making a brand stand out even harder.  It seems like anytime a new technology term is coined every B2B marketer rushes to adjust their positioning to that new term, even if the product doesn’t fully fit.  We’ve seen that with Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) over the last few years.  Many companies have repositioned themselves as CDPs even though they were previously something else.  This is very confusing for a buyer when they are trying to create a shortlist of similar vendors and looking to compare apples-to-apples.  At least with CDPs, things are starting to normalize a bit and we’re seeing two definitive sub-categories forming: “Traditional CDPs” that focus on data ingestion and routing, and “SmartHub CDPs” that focus on customer activation through 1:1 personalization. 

CDPs are becoming integral to the overall martech stack, how are you observing changes in CDP adoption trends in today’s marketplace?

There are two paths that without proper technology in place will collide and force companies to choose one or the other.  One path is that of increased privacy, which manifests itself through legislation (GDPR, CCPA, etc.) and technology adjustments (third-party cookies, iOS 15, etc.).  The other path is consumer’s increased desire for relevant and personalized experiences.  While it may seem these two things are at odds, they can co-exist, but it requires new technologies that can honor privacy, while providing relevant experiences at the same time.  That is the core of what CDPs do.  They provide a single platform to honor customer consent and to provide rich customer signals to provide a 1:1 personalized experience.  Brands that are traditionally transactional focused and didn’t invest on building out their owned channels are feeling the pressure to figure out how to capture and use first-party data or be left behind.

Can you share a few examples of how leading brands use CDPs to drive better sales-marketing unity and boost other business processes and outcomes?

Udacity, which focuses on teaching the world about technology through its massive nanodegree program, was looking to accelerate their growth through 1:1 personalized student experiences.  They used Blueshift’s SmartHub CDP to segment their students for more precise targeting, build predictive course recommendations, and connect customer journeys across all touchpoints.  This resulted in up to 41% increased engagement, up to 48% increase in purchase rates, and saved them 30 hours per week.

Discovery+, ​​a streaming service owned by Discovery, Inc., was looking for a way to offer personalized recommendations for its 100M customers across all their brands and devices.  They leveraged Blueshift’s SmartHub CDP to unify their customers and build predictive show recommendations, and present them across OTT, Mobile, and Desktop applications.  While they don’t share business results publicly, they’ve said that these advancements have significantly increased content consumption and reduced churn.

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For marketers and business heads who are looking to optimize their overall martech stack, what are some top tips and thoughts you’d share with them?

There is no shortage of solutions out there and of course everyone will tell you theirs is the best, etc.  Ultimately, business leaders want the fewest and best solutions for each part of their martech stack.  You want to be sure that each part of your stack is more complementary than it is competitive.  Identify what functionality is most important to achieving your business outcomes and then find the best solution for that.  Then you can build the rest of the stack around that.  No solution can do everything you need and you don’t really want that either.  It is good to have a balance and diversify risk across a handful of key tech partners.  If you have more than a handful (4-8) in your martech stack you likely have too many overlapping and competitive solutions, and are both paying too much and not being efficient in your go-to-market motions. There is a real cost in coordination between too many platforms, and if businesses aren’t careful they can end up creating a franken-stack that limits their ability to scale and ultimately be successful.

As martech platforms become more enhanced and intuitive, in what ways should marketing leaders and teams stay abreast of new tech changes to be able to extract full value out of their martech investments?

The martech industry changes often and vendors are adding new functionality every few months.  As such, leaders should make it a point to evaluate their martech stack every six months or so.  This helps leaders get a good overview of what technologies are currently available and provides them enough time to replace an obsolete piece or add a new solution before an upcoming renewal date.  If marketers are spending 15-20% of their time fighting with the current martech to just get campaigns out the door, it is time to look for new solutions.  Martech solutions should improve operational efficiencies and enable marketers to expand and accelerate their go-to-market ideas, not slow them down.

A few of your biggest marketing and martech moments and mistakes!

I’ll share my biggest mistake first – Many years ago, during my travel days at Priceline.com, we created a large-scale 1:1 email personalization campaign, but had an error in the execution that caused the first 10,000 recipients to receive the same email up to 1,000 times within a few hours.  

No personal data was shared, it was just the same personalized email to the same person 1,000 times.  People were pretty upset mostly because their inboxes got jammed with all the mail and it was a couple long days working through the aftermath.  The most important lesson this taught me was how to handle major mistakes with unwavering support on a clear path to resolution.  We proactively and publicly recognized the error, assured people that their personal data was safe, and provided discount coupons to those affected.  The leadership was very supportive and focused on moving forward, not looking back.

Now to my biggest martech moment –  It would have to be introducing AI into our marketing campaigns at LendingTree.  We leveraged AI that predicted who was interested in what products and when was the right time to message them.  Those helped generate triple-digit growth in revenue in roughly six months.

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

Whenever considering to add a new martech solution there is often the temptation to just build it instead.  The build vs buy debate has significant consequences, and the build camp often overlooks three considerations.  Building always takes longer than forecasted, resource requirements are always understated, and internal commitment is ephemeral. 

The good rule of thumb is to only build products that are core to your brand’s differentiation and buy everything else.  When you decide to buy software you aren’t just buying a platform, you’re buying the entire organizational structure focused around making that platform a success.  Their entire business depends on it.  They staff appropriately, think through, and build for the long-term.  Of course, there’s a price tag associated with all of this, but in a way that should improve the confidence of working with them.  The cost helps the organization to continue investing in and improving the platform.

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Blueshift - Crunchbase Company Profile & Funding

Blueshift provides a SmartHub Customer Data Platform that empowers brands to use their first-party customer data to create intelligent 1:1 personalized experiences across all customer interactions.  B2C marketers use Blueshift’s AI offerings to identify in-market customers and send them relevant content through various marketing channels including email, mobile, paid media, direct mail and more.  Blueshift works with leading brands across a variety of industries, including LendingTree, Discovery+, Houzz, Slickdeals, AmeriLife, Udacity and more.

Josh Francia is the Chief Growth Officer at Blueshift. Previously, he served as VP of Marketing at LendingTree, 
GM & CMO of Gozengo, Founder & CEO of Crowdwyse, and Director of Marketing & eCommerce Technology at Priceline. He is a graduate of Brigham Young University.

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