Prediction Series 2019: Interview with Brad Rukstales, CEO and President, Cogensia

Brad Rukstales, CEO and President, Cogensia

Tell us about your journey in technology and how you arrived at Cogensia.

I grew up on the MAR side of MarTech, in the world of third-party data, predictive analytics, and consulting. I have worked for marketing consulting firms, list and data companies, and advertising agencies before starting Cogensia’s parent company in 2002. My focus has always been to help marketers make smarter decisions through the use of insight and data, whether that is statistical modelling, Machine Learning, segmentation, or data consolidation presented in BI systems to show trends.

This has led our company to focus on the blend of tech, analytics, data, and consulting into a process we call “Customer Intimacy.” We have five pillars or requirements to deliver on the personalized, relevant engagement with customers:  Identity Management, Analytics, Data Platform, Personalization, and Automation.

What opportunities and challenges did you and/or Cogensia identified at the start of the 2018 and have things worked as planned?

Our challenges have been to solidify our leadership in using first and third-party data together in identity resolution through our CDP buildout, and to utilize technology to address multi-channel personalization, testing, and optimization. We’ve made great progress through client use cases and are ready to expand our market presence.

As a Customer Data mapping platform, how does Cogensia build on its expertise to connect cross-channel experiences?

It’s all about data capture, both explicitly through loyalty programs and websites, but also implicitly through back-end technology. For instance, we have a product called Customer Connect, which attaches data elements to point of sales data that identify who the customer is. This gives marketers the ability to drive email, social, and digital as well as offline communications directly to customers they could not identify before. Our clients see a 5:1 return from this product alone.

What predictions do you have in the way marketing companies now apply data science (especially Location Data) to enable personalized marketing efforts?

With our focus on The Customer, we are always looking for ways to identify and connect data together. Within a company’s “Appmosphere” they have access to great information like location, engagement, and purchasing, all in one, and can usually tie this to other systems. However, outside of that, there is very little known outside of location (as an example). There are levels of personalization based on the intensity of the data available. We continue to predict that brands and marketers will push to collect more data if they see the return on that investment. While there are huge opportunities, brands must not chase every rabbit hole or shiny ball.

What was the most impactful lesson you had learned from 2018? How do you plan to implement the lesson in 2019?

The biggest learning this year is that there are leading companies in every industry that are pushing hard on building their MarTech stack and Machine Learning capabilities, but by and large below the top tier, the sophistication in capabilities or organizational evolution is not there.  As a service company as much as a technology and analytics partner, we are expanding our ability to allow companies to realize the value of the investment without having to build internally and re-align their organizations.

What are your predictions on the “Role of CMOs” and the closing gap between Sales-Marketing functions?

Fifteen years ago I made a public prediction that the time is coming soon where the CMO will be data-driven, and more than likely come from a marketing background, as opposed to a traditional advertising background. We are seeing that now, and the focus on being data-driven will continue. CMOs get a stronger seat at the table through focusing on creating value and supporting sales. MarTech connects the dots through attribution to properly assign marketing’s value to the organization.

As a CEO in MarTech, what message would you give to other MarTech leaders, especially CMOs and Data Officers?

Getting closer to your customers has never been more important. Identifying, tracking, and analyzing behaviors are critical steps in building more meaningful relationships. If you want to start quickly, bring in the experts who have experience in data management, Machine Learning, third-party data, and personalization. Once you prove the value, then bring in house.

Do you think AI-as-a-Service and Experience-as-a-Service could be the new destination for MarTech companies?

I think there will be a need for guided analysis in most applications. In the real world, consumer behavior is extremely volatile. There are so many factors at play. And, by the way, data is messy in most environments, and can change due to changes in source data, new supplier base, and additional technologies.  These problems need human guidance to solve. Once the data is clean, yes, there are opportunities for AI AAS.  We are pursuing that in the restaurant and retail space, to continually optimize personalization across customer behaviors.

Which leaders in the industry do you closely work with? How do they help you stay close to the business actions?

We have a long heritage in both B2B and B2C environments. In B2C, we work with some of the largest telcos, utilities, food service and hospitality companies, as well as retail.  In B2B, it can range from telco to shipping, and utilities.  We have a seat at the marketing leadership table to build the right integrations, Machine Learning and data sciences, and test and learn strategies. While we offer the technology piece, our value is bigger due to our understanding of the online and offline needs and challenges of marketers.

One advice to all the CEOs and leaders in your community.

The hype in technology is further along than consumer adoption in most cases. Being an early adopter may not always be in your interest. Let suppliers and vendors learn how their technology actually provides value to the ultimate customer experience and relationship.

Brad is a visionary leader who knows the transformational impact data-driven strategies can have on an organization. From a solo consultant in 2002 to accomplished business leader with over 30 technical employees, he has built Cogensia into a powerhouse marketing firm with all of the capabilities needed for companies to implement data-driven marketing. Brands such as Houlihans, Applebee’s, Red Lobster, Del Frisco’s, Morton’s, CenturyLink, and ADT have looked to Brad and Cogensia for leadership in their data-driven strategy development and 1:1 communications. Restaurants credit Cogensia with driving 3%+ revenue growth. From identity management to database, analytics, and personalization, Cogensia brings data to life for marketing and customer experience management.

Brad received his MBA from The University of Michigan and started his career as a statistician, building predictive models long before Big Data came on the scene. He also held the position of Chief Operating Officer at Infoworks, at agency analytics company.

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Cogensia is a leader in data-driven marketing, named as one of the top 20 data integrators to watch and grow with; we are dedicated to driving marketing results through insight. We deliver insight and results to our clients through marketing expertise, technical and analytic capabilities, and our relentless focus on the customer.

We partner with clients to drive lasting customer relationships and incremental brand revenue through integrated systems, online and offline CRM, real time predictive modeling, and data management.

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