SessionM CRO Bill Clifford: Intelligent Assistants Are Creating An ‘Invisible Storefront’

Crafting personalized messages and staying top-of-mind across devices matters more than ever for brands, Clifford argues.

Marketers want to engage customers while they’re in the moment looking to make a purchase, whether that’s in-app, online, in a store — or, today, when making a voice inquiry through what SessionM CRO Bill Clifford calls the “invisible storefront” of intelligent assistants like Amazon Alexa or Okay, Google.

“What’s interesting is that if I’m in my house and I just say, ‘Hey Google, order me a pizza,’ it’s really up to Google what they come back with,” Clifford said. “So the platforms have more and more control for operating this invisible storefront that’s driven by an algorithm. Brands need to [figure out] how they’re going to deal with that.”

Following a keynote at Brand Innovators Dallas in May, Clifford talked to GeoMarketing about handling the proliferation of data points — and why brands must do more to stay top-of-mind in the age of intelligent assistants.

GeoMarketing: Your keynote focused a lot on personalization. The problem for marketers isn’t that there’s not enough data, there’s too much — and what do we do with it, and how do we make it actionable? How are you approaching that challenge at SessionM?

Bill Clifford: The title of my presentation is “The Slow Data Dilemma,”and yes, when you think about digital transformation, everyone is trying to deal with the fact that there is more data coming from more channels than ever before — and there are new expectations from consumers that you’re going give them the right [information] and you’re going to know who they are wherever they are.

The challenge is really how do you stitch it all together to resolve this kind of identity concept and then take action on it? A lot of enterprises that we work with still have a lot of systems doing a lot of different jobs, and those systems all create partial views that leave customers siloed. And then eventually, they make their way into a big data warehouse that everyone calls “Customer 360” or “C360”, and that’s your “single view,” of the consumer, but it’s not operationalized for real-time marketing.

And so, there’s this sort of new wave of hype around the concept of a customer data platform — the CDP. We realized we’ve been doing for some time.

Essentially, [our approach] is that it’s just about the need to have a layer that sits between the data warehouse and the marketing channels to ingest it, process it, and generate insights in real time — and [marketers] can then generate the next best “X” to a consumer across all channels. And then we get feedback [on that message, and how it worked] and we run that feedback to data models that will drive the next engagement and make that even smarter.

How do you handle the attribution piece?

In terms of attribution, if you have a known customer that identifies themselves, then we’ve got, out of the box, integrations with point of sale systems [for in-store sales].

And we also have integrations with e-commerce platforms like Demandware, for example. So if we identify a customer, we see them in a channel. We deliver a personalized offer, and that offer is to be given in a closed loop offer. And so, we can identify the customer in the channel, and then see when they actually make a purchase and transact, and attribute that transaction to whatever the message [or] offer was that we delivered. So every new campaign or engagement that’s orchestrated in the platform here, you’re getting real-time attribution on that, and you’re able to take action and optimize in real-time.

In several panels today, we’ve talked about the rise of intelligent search and connected intelligence as a whole; it’s a hot topic right now. How are you thinking about this and what it means for brands trying to engage across a whole new suite of interfaces and devices?

Totally; it’s huge. I think about voice and AI and platforms like Amazon Alexa or Google Home — which I now have in my house — and it presents a pretty interesting challenge. First of all, voice is a whole medium that brands aren’t really equipped to deal with.

Secondly, you kind of need to have a real-time interaction and capability, so that you can listen, respond, listen, respond — intelligently.

It requires new technology, but what’s interesting is that if I’m in my house and I just say, “Hey Google, order me a pizza,” it’s really up to Google what they come back with. So the platforms have more and more control for operating this invisible storefront that’s driven by an algorithm. Brands need to [figure out] how they’re going to deal with that.

This is just a new storefront, and we don’t see it. So I think the point is, it becomes increasingly important and integral for a brand to create a direct relationship. It’s a lasting, ongoing engagement, so that when you do ask Google, that brand is top of mind — and you’re giving the consumer control, not the robots.

About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.