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In this Leadership Insights Series video, Amanda Razani speaks with Joan Smith, the managing director and head of digital at Protiviti, about how marketers need to adapt to the age of digital transformation and how they can harness new technologies.



Amanda Razani: Hello, I’m Amanda Razani, with Digital CxO. And I’m excited to be here today with Joan Smith. She is the managing director and head of digital at Protiviti. How are you doing today?

Joan Smith: Great, Amanda, how are you?

Amanda Razani: Good. It’s a beautiful day here.

Joan Smith: Wonderful. It’s likewise where I am. I’m out in southern Arizona.

Amanda Razani: Great. Texas here. So we’re pretty close. So tell me a little bit about Protiviti. What services do you provide?

Joan Smith: So Protiviti is a professional services company; we cover the spectrum of services that our clients may may need and businesses may worry about; everything from your compliance and audit, and technology through business process and operations. And then I lead our digital function, where we focus more on the revenue driving and products market customer side of our clients’ organizations.

Amanda Razani: All right, great. So, what are some of the key concerns and challenges that are faced by marketers in today’s environment?

Joan Smith: Today really the world keeps getting more and more complex. And I think if we’ve learned anything in the past few years, it’s been that uncertainty is now our new norm. And we will be living in that for a while. And so how do you operate in a world that constantly adapts, and you need to adapt to it? So one of the biggest things I think marketers need to be thinking about, or are thinking about right now, is how do they keep their customers? And how do they find them? Because the channels and places and spaces where we all are every day is more complex and complicated. And our share of mind that we can give to any one brand is is more and more fractured?

Amanda Razani: What do you suggest are some of the solutions to this?

Joan Smith: Yeah, so I mean, you know, if I get tactical about what marketers are worried about – I have to deal with the cookies, I have to find first party data. I need to think about what is happening in the AI and in the generative AI world, which is all-in-all, I’ll say all the Twitter, I don’t mean Twitter the platform, but it’s all everybody’s talking about. So things like CDP’s, first party data strategies, contextualized targeting so that they’re relevant in the right place, where they’re wherever they intersect with their audiences.

Amanda Razani: So what’s some of the impacts in the shift from physical to digital? I know in this day and age, everything is shifting. How is that impacting consumer behavior? And how can marketers adapt to this?

Joan Smith: Yeah, and our behaviors have changed a lot, right? We can all just look inside ourselves and say, the way we shop, buy, use services, even get educated has changed since just a year ago. That’s how fast we’re moving. And so our expectations for convenience, have only gone up. And what’s interesting about that, as as you know, economic things happen, world things happen, life happens. That doesn’t slow down our desire for as a consumer to have things be easy. We still can hit a button and a car comes to get us right? If we use the Uber example. So our expectations continue to go up. We expect things to arrive at our doorstep fast. We want engagement, we’re willing to share our data for it. But we want that to be relevant. And we want to understand that no one’s doing anything we shouldn’t be thinking is not good with our data, right? So those are all things that marketers have to worry about. Now the complexity is there. And so transparency, authenticity are paramount, and being able to navigate many, many channels and be relevant in them and kind of know, and be able to adapt where your customers or audiences are. And when I say customers, I’m always thinking of its customers in the B2C kind of world, but it’s also our B2B. It’s also our citizens, our patients or members, depending upon whatever industry you’re in.

Amanda Razani: Absolutely. So you’ve brought up data a lot. So I want to talk about data, because it seems many companies have a struggle when it comes to harnessing all the data that they have. So why do you think that is and what is the solution?

Joan Smith: And that is a very complicated question. And we could probably spend several hours just on that one topic in terms of – data comes in all forms and signals, right? We’re listening to signals everywhere. And some of its structured, its financial data or payment – things they bought and transactions. And some of it is very unstructured. And it comes from your social media and things you say, things you’re listened to, things that post that interest you, all of those things, and those are signals that are softer. And capturing all of that, from all those places has so many implications, not only in gathering it, but how do you store it? Where do you identify what’s meaningful, and what’s just noise, right? Or it really doesn’t have any correlate of indicator to a signal of what’s important to your audiences. I think as what marketers need to be doing and our digital leaders is you really need a digital experience platform; you need some technology to help you. It’s too hard to do all of it – ain’t no human can do all of that. That said, that within that platform, leveraging machine learning, leveraging the AI that we’re all talking – to help pull through some of those patterns and make it easier to sort and identify. But I also never want to lose the human side of these things as well. Governance and transparency in anything you’re collecting. And in using it, your audiences need to trust that you’re not doing something that feels, I don’t know, creepy, with things they may have put on social media or whatever. And then training your teams; marketers roles are different now. I think marketers that started you know, 10-15 years ago, and even our brand new ones, the way the role is shaping up is far more interested in and has to be thoughtful about what’s happening with data and where it resides, where you store it, how long you need it all. All the things, like I said, we could probably talk for a whole day on that topic.

Amanda Razani: That’s true. Let’s go into the technologies. And you did bring some of those up. It seems like there is just a huge eye on artificial intelligence, especially generative AI this year, especially. And then we’ve got metaverse, blockchain, virtual reality, augmented reality, these are all things we’re hearing a lot about. So how should marketers be looking at this technology and harnessing it?

Joan Smith: Now I’ve had, you know, this is a hot topic. We talk with our clients about this all the time. And the questions range anywhere from do I need to worry about it? Do I need to do anything with the metaverse? Or how do I do something with metaverse? I need to be in it, right? Or I need to be in virtual reality. And I think the way we tend to approach it is marketers need to be looking at all the channels and all the means to connect with their audiences. Not everyone’s audiences are the same, depending upon your industry, or what kind of product or service you’re bringing into the market. And so you need to be able to look at it. So one of the things we talked about in our session at the Adobe Summit was this idea of having some sort of a center of excellence or an emerging technology SWAT team that is looking at, quickly, at a technology and does it apply to the products and services we bring to market? Let me test something with it and quickly, quickly decide does it work or not work. And if it works, start exploring it more and think about it. If it doesn’t work, put it off to the side, maybe don’t throw it away, but put it off to the side, because it’s not relevant for you right now, as we have a tendency to chase the shiny ball. We love the new things. As marketers, we’ve been waiting for years to have our holy grail of being able to know what our customers want at any minute and being able to serve that need. And that’s a lot. And it’s really easy to get distracted. So it’s this balance of being aware of what’s out there, trying it, being able to harness it, but also knowing that maybe it doesn’t apply. And then if it doesn’t, don’t spend your time and energy on it; spend your time and energy on the things that are helping you reach your clients and customers.

Amanda Razani: So focusing on the artificial intelligence specifically, as marketers are looking to be more efficient and for automation, how do you see the future unraveling as far as how marketers can utilize artificial intelligence for this purpose?

Joan Smith: Yeah, and AI is the fastest growing area and segment and it’s showing up in a lot of interesting use cases. And some of them are ones that are really forefront into how our marketers and our digital folks within companies do their roles such as what Adobe talked about at Summit around the AI – around photography and visual assets and starting to make that more intelligent and helping marketers be able to quickly put the right assets into communications that they’re putting out. And some of it is more from a bank perspective of automating some of those activities that we all do that might be, I like to call them the swivel chairs, the I do something in one system, and I have to move and type something manually into another system. And sometimes that automation is also key in that it frees up our team’s mindshare and time to be able to focus on the more strategic things. We’re seeing AI take off in a lot of cases; it is very much focused on improving roles, or making roles more efficient. And taking out some of the manual complexity. I don’t think we’re anywhere near a time when AI is taking over from a human. Because we all know the challenges that happen around training the bots and those kinds of things – you still need human ingenuity and human ideas. But the point of how AI can fill in certain use cases to make something quicker, easier and more expedited, especially in the world where we’re dealing with lots of data is huge. And as marketers, if we think about what we’ve come through, AI is just the new version, or the more expedited version of some of the things we’ve been doing. For years, we think about dynamic emails, where we’ve been using logic to put in the right kind of content into communications we put out that are relevant to our audience. We haven’t called that AI but that was early pre-AI, perhaps. But the technology is now caught up to make that much more efficient.

Amanda Razani: So really, at this time, there’s no worry about losing jobs. In fact, it seems like there’s going to be more jobs created with the advent of this technology. And then it’s going to just be more efficient.

Joan Smith: Yeah, I think it, you know, as with anything, we’re going to see some roles change. And more if, you know, we’ve had a lot of good conversations amongst our own teams, as we’re thinking about serving our client’s needs around. What is the impact of ChatGPT and some of those kinds of AI technologies? Do they remove marketers roles? And I think we all keep coming to the answer of – No, they don’t. They might change some roles, right? Maybe you don’t have to write every piece of everything from scratch all the time. But there are pieces you will want to; there are pieces you may not want to. And there’s always going to be a human need for the new idea, the new way of connecting things. Technology can learn off of what technology knows, but it needs new ideas infused into it. And so I think, like with anything, roles change, if we look back, just one fun example, we look back to the earlier part of oh, goodness, I can’t remember the 40s, somewhere in the 50s, when ATMs came out in banking, there was a huge rise of tellers worrying that they were going to be put out of the job because there were ATMs. And there were automated ways to get cash out of a bank. And I’m gonna say it was probably the 60s, the others are probably was too early. But what happened to the tellers? Jobs didn’t go away. They changed. They just didn’t always have to be giving you cash. They’re doing more complex tasks. Same kind of an idea.

Amanda Razani: Great example. So you mentioned the Adobe Summit, I was there as well; great event. The first in four years, I believe. What were some of the themes that you were really noticing that stood out to you? What were some of the issues and topics that really caught your interest there?

Joan Smith: Yeah, you know, probably the biggest theme we ran into at Summit was just connection – humans connecting. What fascinated me were there were folks who have been working together for the past couple of years, but they’ve never met in person. And so there was a lot of folks who had been colleagues or solving problems together. But they hadn’t physically been in a room together. So it was a giant meeting, as well as reunion for folks who’ve worked together for years, had maybe been together, but that hadn’t happened in a long time. And what we found spurred out of that was that, that spark of ingenuity that happens, and we used to call it the watercooler, right? Where you’d have a conversation in the booths and as you walk in, somebody would just run over to another booth or somebody walked by and pulled them into the conversation. It was very spontaneous. Topics of conversation were very big around, obviously, the AI and Firefly, the AEM changes that Adobe is looking to bring out which will really solve some critical use cases that we’re very, very excited about for a lot of clients around the ability to manage their websites in a much more seamless way. Data and analytics still remains a top topic and how to manage in a world where it’s just increasingly complex.

Amanda Razani: So, last question, five years from now, what does the future of Protivity hold in store?

Joan Smith: Oh, goodness. You know, I hope that in five years from now we are, you know, we’ve grown like any business and our business is thriving, but we’re only thriving because we’re serving our clients and customers. And so what I hope is that we are serving our clients in a much more, you know, continuing to adapt in the way that they need, providing them practical – we’re a very practical group in the digital side. Strategies are wonderful, and we are very strategic, but strategies don’t help if they aren’t able to be actioned on and applied. So I hope that we are really serving our clients. I expect to see us doing, really taking our automation capabilities, where we’re serving them there, and the AI sides in our digital experience platforms, and really helping clients figure out how to connect that and really thrive to be more relevant.

Amanda Razani: Wonderful. The future is certainly looking bright. All this technology. It’s just so exciting, exciting times and everybody’s out and about being able to socialize together and not all just digitally anymore, which is great. I really appreciate you coming on and sharing your insights Joan, and I look forward to speaking with you again.

Joan Smith: Thanks so much, Amanda. Appreciate it.