eTail East 2019 – Transform SEARCH Summit Recap, Speaker’s Insights, and Take-Aways

First of all, what a great collection of smart and change-oriented eCommerce and digital marketing leaders. eTail Boston calls itself “The Event For eCommerce & Omni-Channel Innovators” and it didn’t disappoint. From commercial trucking and agricultural parts providers to non-profits and fast-growing mattress-in-a-box brands, the Transform SEARCH event brought an open-minded and thought-leading digital marketing community together with a shared objective of transforming search. We didn’t solve every marketing challenge we collectively face, but we definitely cultivated a shared dialogue that gave us all plenty of best practices to take home to our teams.

Though intertwined throughout the day’s agenda, there were two distinct parts to the eTail East 2019 Transform SEARCH Summit in Boston:

In traditional conference fashion, there was a chance to learn from some of the best in the world as they generously shared their professional insights and hard-fought learnings:

  • Arnaud Mangasaryan from Vistaprint gave an extremely informative overview of how search engine bots work and why you should invest in being well optimized for search crawlers.
  • Sara Resnick from 1-800-FLOWERS.com gave an insightful overview of SEO best practices for now and the future.
  • Duncan Blair from Article challenged that “ROAS is Garbage” and that we should all hold vendors, marketing channels, marketers, and really, everybody, accountable to more accurate means of measuring marketing campaign performance.
  • Sapna Parikh from Clarins shared how SEO and SEM really can complement each other.
  • Jennifer Wasik from Occassion Brands and Keenan Davis from SVSound joined Duncan Blair from Article to share ideas on influencer marketing and how creating or sourcing the right content to deliver via the right marketing medium can differentiate your brand.

The other half of the Transform SEARCH summit was comprised of interactive focus-group themed roundtable discussions that happened in groups of 10-12 marketing executives. I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours moderating five of these discussions amongst a collection of eCommerce and Retail industry leaders, all largely being brought together for the first time. Our time was short, so that meant no ice-breakers and it was time for brass tacks.  

If you’re not already familiar with QuanticMind, simply put, we enable performance marketers to achieve superior results. That’s a broad statement and while being an Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning company that typically wins the “biggest data science nerds in the room” award, our lead-in questions were intended to be familiar enough that all participants would be able to relate to them, while also relevant enough that QuanticMind has a strong point of view of best practices for each of the search marketing and related topics. I introduced the three topics to each table and then allowed the table to decide which topic(s) they’d care to discuss and in which order.

1) Google, Amazon and Facebook. Friends, Foes or Frenemies? How do you think about data accessibility and portability in an era of walled gardens where the walls seem to be getting higher? Further, how do you build a relationship with your customers when using these Search and Social marketing platforms? And can you optimize toward life-time-value (LTV) using these marketing channels and platforms?

Spoiler alert – this was the most popular and thought-provoking. Marketing executives at all tables started with this topic and at three of the five, we didn’t get beyond it.

Key Themes:

While all of the retailers I spoke with said they were advertising on Google, a sizeable minority said they weren’t using Amazon. A few had non-SKU based products, so that made sense. But not an insignificant share intentionally decline to participate on Amazon as a conscious business decision. Phrases I heard were, “not enough transparency,” and, “why am I going to help Amazon build their business off of my products and customer data?”, and “what’s the point?  Amazon will use my data to begin developing products that will compete with me” Perhaps most interesting was the mention of the Amazon Effect and what can largely be defined as the un-DTCing of eCommerce. Put another way, brands are weighing the tradeoffs between enabling Amazon to slowly kill their direct access to consumers with the fear of missing out on the massive revenue opportunity Amazon affords.

Google was a distant second in the conversation and Facebook only came up once or twice.

The QuanticMind Perspective:

Every time you buy an Amazon or Google search ad click or pay for a customer engagement, you’re paying for two things: a) a chance at a conversion or sale, and b) the data about the click or engagement you just paid for. Make no mistake, the chance at revenue is great, but the data may be even more important if you have a long-term horizon. If you don’t capture and retain all the data that’s made available at the point the engagement happens, much of it is gone forever and can never be recovered. If you’re looking to build a sustainable performance marketing campaign, you might as well take a sizeable share of your ad budget and light it on fire – no joke.

In terms of how to think about Google, Facebook and Amazon, let’s be real.  Even though Amazon joined hundreds of the world’s leading brands today in agreeing to put customer value first and ethically treat suppliers, the equation doesn’t really hold up in the world of online advertising. Customers are you and I – the consumers ordering products and services from Amazon, while suppliers will include vendors whose products are sold through Amazon and private-label manufacturers whose products become AmazonBasics. But where is the commitment to the advertiser who is competing with dozens or even hundreds of other advertisers for an unbiased chance to expose their products to Amazon searchers in a marketplace setting? Google and Facebook weren’t part of the Business Roundtable who published this pledge, but the same math applies. 

Long story short, if you want to look out for your company’s best interests, don’t look to the walled gardens who will put you last in the pecking order (if at all) of shareholders, users, employees and advertisers to do it for you. You need to equip yourself with your most valuable assets: your customer and engagement data, as well as a differentiated customer experience. Done properly, you can continue building for the long-term while also carefully choosing how and where to pay-to-play on Amazon and Google without mortgaging your company’s growth prospects or the sustainability of your digital marketing program.

Ultimately, you need to be in the driver’s seat, rather than be a passenger with no control of a car on the edge of a cliff. You can still make the data the walled gardens offer work to achieve your goals and not the other way around. Looking to the rosier side, QuanticMind can empower the data from these walled gardens to create a beautifully landscaped backyard that you call your own.

2) For your performance marketing campaigns, how do you manage the trade-off between growth, scale, and efficiency? How easy is it to change?

Key Themes:

None. Interestingly enough, this was not a popular topic.

The QuanticMind Perspective:

A large share of this group leverages agencies and partners to execute their digital marketing campaigns, so it makes sense that this isn’t a topic that would be top of mind for a group that rightfully can say, “that’s what I pay my agency to figure out.” However, you should evaluate if your agency’s incentives and goals are aligned with your growth goals. If your partner has earned it, you can employ a “trust, but verify” approach.

Though less common the more mature the company and marketing program, many emerging brands who leverage QuanticMind via in-house practitioner teams appreciate how fast QM can react to changing business goals and immediately execute the steps necessary to steer toward these new goals.

3) Talent and Resources – they matter to all of us. Whether you’ve built a team in-house and need to ensure you retain your best, or whether you’ve elected to work with an agency and need to ensure the team that won your business stays on your account, we all have to think about talent. What’s your secret?

Key Themes:

A number of folks had either recently transitioned from largely partnering with agencies to in-house teams or were in the midst of the transition. One participant specifically said, “I’d rather have 100% of one person’s time than 10% of 10 people’s time.”

Another large segment of folks seemed to still be looking for the right agency partner.

For the folks who manage in-house, an eye-opener for me was that the employer competition for talent in markets like, Charleston, SC or Youngtown, OH, for example, is substantially less pronounced than it is in San Francisco, Silicon Valley or New York. So, retention isn’t as big a concern for them.

The QuanticMind Perspective:

If you can find top-talent to manage your program in-house rather than using an agency, do it now. Don’t wait. Challenge your in-house team to leverage the best available technology to deliver superior results.

Regardless of whether you use an in-house team, outsource to an agency or use a combination of both, focus on the right business metrics from your funnel to define goals and assess results. In fact, if you’re ready to embrace Duncan’s thesis that ROAS is Garbage, then challenge your team and partners to prove results to you using incrementality testing.

~

Yesterday was a great kickoff to what will surely be a compelling conference here at eTail East 2019.  Thanks again to all the participants in the Transform SEARCH Summit and also a special thanks to Rahmon Coupe from YourAnswer for his gracious job as Master of Ceremonies.

QuanticMind is in the Expo Hall at booth #528, right next to the retailers lounge. So stop by, say hello and let’s continue the conversation. Cheers!.

Brian Bird

A proud Stanford graduate, Brian Bird is the COO and co-founder of QuanticMind. He has built, managed and grown partnerships with digital marketers worldwide, and previously served in leadership roles at NexTag in sales, business development, customer success and product management.