In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights video, Amanda Razani speaks with Diane Keng, CEO and co-founder of Breinify, about what retailers need to do in order to attract more online shoppers and improve their customer experience.
Amanda Razani: Hello, I’m Amanda Razani, with Digital CxO. And I’m so excited to be here today with Diane Keng. She’s the CEO and co-founder of Breinify. How are you doing today?
Diane Keng: I’m doing really well. How about yourself?
Amanda Razani: Doing well, we finally got some rain here; much needed.
Diane Keng: Well, today’s probably one of the gloomiest days in San Francisco; usually it’s bright and sunny. But today, we got a little bit of cloud coverage, which is actually fairly rare.
Amanda Razani: Well, can you tell me a little bit about Breinify? And what the company does?
Diane Keng: Yeah, for sure. Well, I’m super excited to get this opportunity to kind of share a little bit of what we do and some of our methodologies and ideas around the future. So at Breinify, we really specialize in predictive personalization at scale. So what we’ve done is we’ve created a really great, lightweight platform that works with consumer brands and retailers all around the world, to really drive the best consumer experiences that they can on the digital front. So we’ve always been big believers that data science is really powerful and effective. But not every single team, within big brands will have their own data science team. And so here’s where we come into play, we help to actually apply those predictive capabilities to come up with really good suggestions around content, whether that’s recipes, or articles or products, promotions, offers, you name it, and we’re able to understand what each individual consumer will want. And then we actually will deliver those in a really cohesive and holistic experience. But that’s what we do. In a nutshell, we do work primarily with consumer packaged goods. And then specialty retailers like Bevmo and Sally Beauty and Big Five Sporting Goods.
Amanda Razani: Wonderful. So with that data, and from your experience during these challenging times post pandemic, and all the supply chain issues, what do you suggest is a way retailers can attract more online shoppers and improve the customer experience?
Diane Keng: Yeah, I mean, what we’ve seen, especially when the pandemic came about was a lot of brands that weren’t necessarily digital first were propelled into this environment where they had to really quickly adapt. And as we’re kind of going towards this kind of different ends of the spectrum for the pandemic, consumers are really interested in going out and exploring other things that can really drive relevancy and interest to their day to day. And so the way we approach the retail partners that we have is we really focus on delivering great experiences that drive retention, and the likelihood for them to return back. And this doesn’t involve lots and lots of communication, right? Sometimes you get overly spammed with the amount of communication, when you already love the brand and the products that they offer. So our goal here is actually to both educate and help execute experiences that are really actually just focused on what the person will want next, and not necessarily on quantity, but really on the quality of the communication. But at the end of the day, for every single – I think retailers when they’re really focused on keeping and attracting those online shoppers that they picked up during the pandemic, it’s really important to balance between discovery, as well as things that are likely to be repeated and be a solution that’s really flexible. I think many of us know that supply chain is is a tough area to be in right now. You know, there’s a lot of delays, and especially with products having to come from different areas, it can be really frustrating to the consumer at the end of the day when they’re looking for something they don’t get it. And so how can you make sure that you’re actually delivering other value beyond just like a product personalization, but taking it beyond and doing some lifestyle or educational pieces as well. And then leading them to products that they could find relevant, although their current one is not available. So at the end of the day, I think consumers just want transparency, like they want to know, if I can’t get this thing because you’re delayed, is there other ways you can help me? And so that’s the way we approach it when we think about having to like keep and attract all those online shoppers, but also because life just throwing lots of challenges as well on the supply chain side, like those are the ways that we’ve seen the really good businesses stand out and, and continue to deliver that relevancy for their consumers.
Amanda Razani: So what are some of the ways these businesses can best expedite this customer personalization online?
Diane Keng: Yeah, I think there’s definitely lots of variations and flavors of personalization that you can get online. I think the big one comes down to if you are an enterprise, it’s really common that you have to spend like six to nine months implementing before you can try something that’s actually relevant and test it out and say, “Is this the right approach for my business?” And so one of the things we really pride ourselves in is this ability to do crawl, walk and run. So this approach allows a big brand that is unsure around the type of personalization that will be really relevant for their brands and effective, they should start off with something that’s a little bit more lightweight, test it out, see if it’s able – then get it to that next stage where you can actually walk, right? So maybe taking a banner that you have on your site and making it dynamic. So you don’t need engineers to actually get new promos onto the site; let’s start by crawling and then do the walking. Now can we actually be smarter and say, Diane typically is a person that, I don’t know, is a planner, so I always use shipping, because I’m not in a hurry to get a case of wine today, right? So I’m okay if I wait a few days before it gets here. And so being able to resolve that and saying Diane is actually going to be really really, you know, interested in maybe like a shipping promotion versus a 30 minute delivery promotion, and then leveraging that. Then the running is now can you combine different types of content together. So promotion plus the product plus discovery. And when you blend all these things together, then it’s a no brainer, why the consumer wouldn’t actually convert with you. Right? So for us, when we actually work with our business today, we think about how we can expedite, expedite all the implementation process and get actually more towards the finish line. We’ll always say like, crawl, walk, run is super important. Work internally with your team to really zone in on what those business goals are. And how you want personalization to come into play. We always joke like split testing a box and deciding if the button is red or green. That’s not personalization, personalization has to do with behavior. And given your browsing behavior in this moment, we know that you’re interested in this. So let’s get you what you need in the shortest amount of time possible. And then the third one, of course, you know, not to toot our own horn, right, but partnering with the right vendor to actually expedite some of the processes. And so they’re not just like standalone tools that you’re building in-house or like a hodgepodge of different tools that you’re putting together, that like you’re kind of hacking together to make work, or really finding a partner that understands your current marketing tech stack. And fitting into that ecosystem was the connector between them all; I think is really important. So those are kind of my three, I would say, tips for at least businesses that really want to increase the speed of getting their personalization efforts up.
Amanda Razani: So first, really understanding the customer needs, and then taking it slowly, one piece of the puzzle at a time, and then good collaboration. What do you think is one of the biggest challenges that businesses face today when it comes to overall digital transformation initiatives?
Diane Keng: Let’s say the three that we probably see the most across all of our retail partners is, one, their teams are big. And there’s lots of different departments and teams. And so you could imagine there’s like an e-commerce team. There’s a CRM team, one site manages the website, the other one manages email. And so how can you get them to essentially collaborate on projects that have to cover both – like omni channel. And so when you have that many departments all working on different initiatives, the communication between them, as well as the ownership around who kind of owns that experience, can be a little bit muddled. And so we find that that’s usually the first place that can be kind of a challenge for many brands, when they want to think about digital transformation, and then I think the next part is probably that there’s a lot of tools that are already put into the system, right? So usually you have your own commerce tool, and then like an ESP email service provider, and they don’t necessarily talk to each other. So how can you make the technology really kind of overlap so that they can leverage the data across these different insights? I think that’s a tough one as well, especially if you’re a brand that doesn’t sell software, right? Like I get it, if you’re like Google or Amazon – awesome, you have amazing smart engineers. But if you’re a retailer that sells, I don’t know, alcohol, for example – like it’s really hard to bring on engineers that will take over and architect the whole data structure for everything. So I think that usually the next part is a technology barrier. Then the third one, I would say, is usually there’s a mismatch of expectations between what leadership wants to achieve and the sense of personalization. And what are the executional steps to define that the personalization is working? Sometimes initiatives come from board mandates and they’re like, we got to get personalization up and in the moment, because they’re so in the weeds building it up. Got that the purpose of personalization is all about consumer first. And how do you know it’s actually relevant metrics? And so a lot of times a lot of brands get so excited to build, build, build. And then two months later, they realize, oh, how do we actually decide that this was better? Because, naturally, businesses over time, seasonally there are cycles, right? So how do you attribute that the success of new revenue came from this initiative versus maybe because a pandemic was coming? Right? Like how do you decide which one it was? And so our third area, I think, where a lot of the personalization, kind of, I think barriers and challenges are deciding how do you extract that this was the value and not be stuck in the weeds of trying to build all this and then finding the right people to actually build it? I think those are kind of the three main areas we usually see for why digital transformation could be hard.
Amanda Razani: That’s understandable. What do you think about some of the new technology coming down, like the metaverse and blockchain and cryptocurrency? Do you think retailers can utilize these technologies?
Diane Keng: Um, I’ll say yes and no; I think if you’re extremely advanced in your technology adoption as a brand, then you may be very, very interested to see how you can fit into the metaverse and leverage VR, and some ways that you can try out different products, maybe even utilizing crypto in some way to think about payment opportunities and options. But I think at the end of the day, whether you’re a business – kind of what we’re seeing; you have the early adopters and then you kind of have that big end of the bell curve, which is like the majority of retailers, right? Right now, I don’t think those type of channels are as well built out yet. And so if you want to try them out, it could be very, very time sensitive, and it could be using a lot of energy, as well as finances in order to come up with something that could work for you. So it’s a fairly high risk play. But there are some brands I know that are very interested in it. They’re also exploring things like NF T’s. And there’s a lot of consumer goods out there that have started to explore it. I think it’s still early stages. So you have to be very cognizant around how you want to be at the forefront of these technological advancements and make your own decision on if it actually applies to your brand, or if a lot of your potential customers are sitting in those different channels. And I think, as businesses are starting to look into how to shift into the metaverse, they have to think about whether that adds value in their customers lives. And immersive environments, I think, looking from the outside in are amazing, right? You could think about how they could digitally see and experience art and life at the same time. But to actually invest your time to build like a really credible experience in there – that’s not clunky and hard to work with, but also being able to make sure that your customers are truly your potential customers, and are going to be on there as well. You know, maybe, before you invest in that, leverage the crawl, walk, run method. Start slow, and see if it’s a move that your customers will be interested in. Or does it actually harm your brand as a whole? And if you are an enterprise brand that is ready to take that leap and explore the emerging world of virtual and digital, then it might be worth it to maybe consider some of the marketing strategies that I shared earlier, really making sure that you have clear goals around what you want to achieve, and understanding the metrics and creating those hypotheses beforehand of saying it will be considered successful if blank occurs at y percent; something that’s measurable. So once you actually go live and try something maybe smaller, you can look back and ask, “Did it achieve what I want it to? Or did it fail, and did it fail badly?” And that will give you a sense of whether or not you should really invest more heavily into it. But I find that if you don’t create those hypotheses beforehand, sometimes what happens is you kind of justify the success and you say, well, it was pretty good. And so it’s hard to make those decisions of whether or not you should invest more of your time and effort into it. But I would say it might be a little bit of time before brands really start to really consider the metaverse opportunities. I would say don’t wipe it completely from your emerging trends radar, but keep that in the back of your mind. I mean, for a lot of brands, digital personalization the last few years has just boomed, right? So when is that time for adoption? Then you could decide as a brand if you’re going to try something small, and track it; see if it makes sense? Or are you going to be a brand that is going all in at the beginning? And make that decision on your own.
Amanda Razani: So the technology is there, and it can definitely be harnessed. But it really depends. Are you doing it because the customer really wants that and can see benefits from it? Or are you just doing it for no reason, but it’s there? So it all depends on the customer. If you’re in a position to jump in and try it, go for it. If not, it’s a little ways out.
Diane Keng: Exactly. Don’t just follow the trend because it’s cool; follow it and put some data behind it and say, “Does that make sense?”
Amanda Razani: Most definitely. Thank you so much, Diane for coming on here today and sharing your insights. I hope to speak to you again soon.
Diane Keng: Perfect. Thank you so much for inviting me on the show.