TechBytes with Kelly Jo Sands, EVP, Marketing Technology, Ansira

Kelly Jo Sands

Kelly Jo Sands
EVP, Marketing Technology, Ansira

Data-driven, technology-enabled marketing solutions provider Ansira recently acquired Brand Protection Agency (BPA), a SaaS-based platform that provides manufacturers and brands with the ability to monitor, manage and communicate with their online reseller channels. We spoke to Kelly Jo Sands, EVP, Marketing Technology, Ansira to understand her thoughts on Digital transformation, attribution and the vast potential of AI/ML in advertising technology.

Tell us about your role at Ansira and the team/technology you handle.

Marketing Technology is a fundamental enabler at Ansira. Not only do we have proprietary solutions, primarily in the B2B/B2B2C space which help national brands enable local channel partners with customized, brand-compliant marketing, but we’re also users of leading MarTech solutions to drive customer engagement. My team is a cross-functional discipline of database development, campaign management platform and execution, email/mobile delivery, and digital services, including QA and UX – we center around solution-based services but also augment Ansira’s technology offerings.

We also have a portion of the team who are akin to consultants, called technology strategists, whereby we provide thought-leadership to our clients on what technology is needed to realize their strategic business goals, scaled 1:1 personalization, and digital transformation. What makes us unique to the classical consulting agencies is that we are practitioners and not just consultants – the team works with a wide variety of clients on a daily basis, bringing that working knowledge to each engagement and making them more effective. In addition to team management, that’s a day-to-day role that I personally play on several of our larger clients – and truly a passion of mine!

What is the current state of Digital Transformation for B2B companies?

Digital transformation is one of the most overused phrases lately, often having a “kitchen-sink” effect as a descriptor of all initiatives and a solve to all problems. While the concept is absolutely valid, and one we focus on at Ansira, it’s important to recognize the pillars that embody the movement and the application of it to solve actual business problems.

First, customers and their experiences must be put at the heart of everything as these strategies are being defined. This was of primary focus in B2C due to the concept’s roots, however, this is equally applicable to B2B as the way companies buy and the way vendors market their services still have significant human aspects. We know people are spending more time researching online, engaging with mobile, and tapping social networks for advice. Expectations of these B2B buyers are rising as they’re expecting the same levels of service they receive as consumers in their personal life. This is still a maturing concept for the B2B sector, but one where companies can win if they embrace it.

However digital transformation isn’t just about the customer journey, but also has a large change management aspect to driving organizational alignment. Efficiency is still a key benefit here for B2B, whether that’s modernizing existing IT architectures or digitizing back-office workflows, focus on process efficiencies and internal cost reductions are still staple goals of the movement. An observation here is that companies still put too much focus on the technology, without enough time spent on the strategy and requirements behind the problem they are trying to solve. In addition to technology, the people and processes needed to implement and maintain this transformation cannot be overlooked or your initiatives will fail miserably.

Finally, attribution remains a struggle across the board for B2B and B2C, mainly given the reality of increasing privacy legislation to adequately track behaviors and as the proliferation of available customer touchpoints mount. This makes truly advanced, multi-touch attribution challenging beyond basic attribution like first-touch, last-touch, etc. – whether it’s sheer coordination across multiple technologies and partners to consolidate data for the appropriate measurement, or the cost/benefit of tackling the attribution problem to that level of granularity.

How do you bring exceptional local marketing experiences for category-leading companies?

Ansira orchestrates experiences that strengthen customer relationships by delivering transparency, accountability, and relevance to our clients’ marketing efforts. We believe the winning solution is a comprehensive focus on the customer journey and the alignment needs local partners to orchestrate intelligence-driven customer experiences at every meaningful touchpoint in that journey.

Ansira is at the forefront of structuring, managing, and optimizing acquisition and relationship management for national brands at the local level. Our hyper-focused, targeted acquisition activities redefine and address local as regional, language, or cultural proximity that increases relevancy and engagement. Post-acquisition of a targeted customer, Ansira ideally guides the maturation of the customer relationship model to loyalty and advocacy through the collection and analysis of cross-touchpoint first, second, and third-party data aligned with the customer journey. These high-value customer profiles may then be used to optimize acquisition efforts at the brand level, creating a “virtuous circle” of profitable customer acquisition.

For example, Ansira provided a solution for a client that needed to protect their new branding and logo in a manner that would ensure consistency in assets and marketing materials, while improving efficiency and the speed of the review process. To support our client, we built and managed a custom website that served as a repository for branded assets and provided marketing automation of customizable materials. The site also offered Ansira support, auditing and review. The results were 390% more routings per month for brand approval, a 60% faster response for routings that required changes, and eight feedback emails into one consolidated feedback email.

How are you competing against the established customer database and engagement agencies?

We’ve historically taken a very technology-independent approach, which has been a differentiator for us against the more rigid staples of the Customer Database and Engagement Agency category. While we have processes and standard approaches to things like data models, we realize no two clients are ever the same. Force fitting them into proprietary solutions, especially in this category where MarTech tools and innovation are abundant, is often harmful to the end clients. We typically start engagements with technical discovery sessions and phased road mapping, whereby we evaluate current tools and technologies to maximize previous investments, focus on integration capabilities, and determine requirement gaps to meet their end-state vision. Too often agencies jump to new MarTech solutions before assessing what the client may actually need, and considering the change management plan to get them there organizationally.

We’ve also seen a lot of success in doubling-down on transparency and accountability, especially at a time in the industry where that’s primarily only been a conversation in the media sector. Why not database and CRM/Loyalty engagements also? Data is arguably a clients’ most important and valuable asset – and something that internal IT teams want ownership and control over for security and privacy reasons, among others. We have several engagements where Ansira has architected and maintains solutions within client infrastructures, whether on-premise or in the cloud, whereby in the case of a “divorce,” what we’ve built together stays with the client. This not only future-proofs their investment but starts off the partnership with a very different tone. We aim to play equally nice with other partner agencies, acknowledging turf wars never really benefit our mutual clients – today’s marketplace is too competitive if brands don’t have agency partners willing to work together towards a greater goal, they need to find new agencies.

Finally, I’d say we are very unique in having what you’d consider a Customer Database and Engagement offering plus through-channel marketing automation resources to connect and activate compliant Brand-to-Local (B2L) experiences. We firmly believe this is actually a new category of agency that has always been there as a need, but the industry hasn’t known what to call it. We are uniquely qualified to be a connector and enabler in the industry so end-customer experiences are consistent across brand interactions, regardless if they receiving an email from a tier 1 auto manufacturer or the tier 3 dealership down the road.

What does your product and solutions roadmap look like for performance-based marketing?

We have seen an increased interest in performance-based marketing, beyond just digital media which has received the most focus over the past few years. The notion of paying for customer reactions, whether that’s defined as impressions, clicks, engagement or leads, has in some ways helped the accountability argument of an industry plagued with fraud; however performance-based fees can get pretty steep and there is often still a debate over quality and measurement.

For instance, Social isn’t just about brand awareness and engagement metrics anymore; while that’s still a lens, brands are demanding more tangible performance metrics such as driving leads and sales. This is especially true with the walled garden platforms like Facebook who continuously release new features to drive results and connected to experiences outside of these platforms for broader attribution.

While Ansira provides performance-based models to our clients in the classic sense, we are also increasing focus in our product and solution roadmaps for increased transparency and connectivity through the Brand-to-Local (B2L) distribution chain. We have released turnkey media functionality in our proprietary platforms supporting channel partners like dealers, franchisees, and even local agencies, whereby compliant digital media can be placed with consolidated reporting across channels – often connected to national brand audiences and campaigns. In addition, we’re continuing to provide service solutions such as how brands can build their own trading desks to re-imagine the supply chain inefficiencies media agencies exploit even with these performance-based models.

What role would bots for marketing and sales play in making a refined Digital Transformation and better Customer experiences?

In the B2C sector, the always-on capabilities of chatbots in order to provide consumers 24/7 assistance makes total sense – they do an excellent job at automating common answers to FAQs and explaining product information while providing easy access at scale – even kickstarting service processes like returns in many cases. That said, bots aren’t a full replacement to humans – especially when more in-depth solutions and conversation is needed, which is often the case in the B2B digital transformation initiatives relative to customer experience. While B2B usage of bots is perhaps more nuanced than B2C at present, there are still several applicable functions they can serve for sales and marketing. Automating in-bound information requests, such as pricing model explanation and distribution of product marketing materials, or redirects to blogs/digital guides for solution research off-hours. Bots can also add an element of fun to tedious tasks within the buyer journey like collecting information historically captured via forms, or helping to keep the sales funnel moving by capturing interest tracking and engagement when sales support staff are offline.

What technologies in AI/Machine Learning have you deployed, or plan to deploy in the coming year? Which companies are you keenly following?

AI and Machine Learning has taken the industry by storm, with more and more companies adopting and implementing these technologies. At Ansira, we have already implemented several of these solutions for our clients. For example, we have built a Facebook Messenger chatbot using the AI based Chatbot application, Chatfuel. Ansira maintains and optimizes the Chatfuel on behalf of our client and manages all the responses, continuous learning and reporting.

We have also deployed Machine Learning (ML) based algorithms using R and Python as well as Azure Machine Learning Studio to deploy various predictive models for offer optimization, customer lapsing and “Next Best Action” models, to name a few. ML modeling has become a norm these days and we use various modeling approaches such as Linear Regression, Random Forest, K-Means Clustering and Logistic Regressions amongst others through our in-house, onshore Ansira Marketing Science team staffed with Data Scientists.

Ansira closely follows industry leaders like Google and Amazon on their offerings in this space like Tensor Flow and Amazon Sage Maker, respectively, as these solutions not only provide quick learning capabilities but also platforms to apply the models as a low-cost option. Other leading providers like ThoughtSpot are making quite a buzz lately.

Ansira also leverages MarTech platform partnership technologies like Salesforce’s Einstein for Lead Management and Adobe’s Sensei for AI/ML-based content, smart images, personalization and best subject lines for email deployment. Adobe is truly a thought-leader and a driver of innovation, whereby we are excited to continue investing in the partnership and leveraging this functionality for our clients – the power of AI/ML built into martech platforms enables even further ease and integration across execution channels.

Thanks for chatting with us, Kelly.

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