The most transformational change in digital advertising industry that has ever occurred is data driven marketing. The strategy of using customer information for optimal and targeted media buying and creative messaging is considered as data-driven marketing. Epsilon is one such all-encompassing global marketing innovator that deals in transforming data-driven marketing into long-lasting relationships. The company provides unparalleled data intelligence and customer insights, high-end technology including loyalty, email and CRM platforms and data-driven creative, activation and execution. Analytics Insight spoke to Amit Deshpande, Senior Vice President of Epsilon’s Strategy & Insight Group to attain deep understanding of how ML/AI (Machine Learning-Artificial Intelligence) and Big Data are tapping in with the company’s strategy and how these technologies are influencing roles of leaders such as CMOs, CIOs, COOs, CDOs and CAOs within the industry.
Analytics Insight: Kindly brief us about your role at Epsilon & your journey in this highly promising sector?
Amit: As senior vice president of Epsilon’s Strategy & Insights group, Amit explains his job simply as helping clients grow the customer base & revenue profitably. Not so simple is how he & his team go about achieving it. “We look to gain insight through segmentation, predictive modeling, machine learning, profiling exercises, test & learn approaches, & proper measurement including cross-channel attribution,” he says. With ~20 years of experience & expertise in B2B & B2C analytics, Amit also shares his knowledge through thought-leadership speaking engagements at client & industry events. Prior to Epsilon, Amit directed marketing analytics at FedEx, where he helped move the company to an integrated multi-channel marketing approach.
In his role, Amit guides clients on how best to leverage machine learning (ML) & artificial intelligence (AI) to progress along the analytic maturity path for superior business outcomes. He & his team partner with clients to identify & deliver on quick win opportunities & innovative use cases enabled by ML / AI & provide end-to-end analytic services.
Analytics Insight: How is Big Data/AI/Robotics evolving today in the marketing industry as a whole? What are the most important trends that you see emerging across the globe?
Amit: First of all, let’s start with how customer expectations are changing. Today’s customers seek out interactions that make their lives easier, better. They want to be treated like human beings, not like pixels or segments. They want to be seen, understood & respected by the brands they love (or they won’t love them anymore). Today’s customers personify brands. Because they see brands as people, they hold them accountable. Brands need to live up to this expectation. Helping customers is far greater & more important than hyping technology. Marketers’ battles are being won or lost at the interaction level. They need to make each interaction personal & purposeful—be it via email, loyalty programs or digital media.
At Epsilon, we are empowering marketers to make every interaction count, & transform ordinary customer experiences into meaningful, human experiences that matter. Among other capabilities, we are tapping into the Big Data & ML/AI evolution that is leading to rapid strides in:
• Improved identification of consumers & businesses, within & across offline & digital, owned & paid channels through persistent yet privacy compliant, unique identifiers.
• Richer customer data, both structured & unstructured, spanning demographics, financials, lifestyle, interests & hobbies, transactional & interaction behavior data across brands & industries, & more.
• Actionable insights enabled by advanced machine learning algorithms, democratization of data science via open source tools, & rapid advancement across descriptive, diagnostic, predictive, prescriptive, & cognitive analytics.
• Transformative strategic planning encompassing people, process, technology, & change management components for improved customer experience & differentiating capabilities relative to competition.
• Better technology platforms & tools in which self-learning & decision-making is automated for both batch & real-time orchestration of customer experiences across inbound & outbound channels.
• Unified measurement solutions comprising of control groups, multi-variate tests, media mix modeling, & fractional attribution for continuous improvement.
History has proven that businesses often do not move at the speed recommended by pundits to take full advantage of these capabilities & opportunities. As organizations adopt Big Data & ML/AI, there will be many challenges. This is where businesses rely on partners like Epsilon to evolve along the digital transformation & analytic maturity path providing significant lift versus an internal only approach. The path forward is exciting & one that will result in superior customer experience as well as strong financial performance when done right!
Analytics Insight: How is analytics shaping IT/Big Data/Robotics industry today? How is it changing the role of CIOs & leaders?
Amit: As a recent Forrester & Burtch Works study identified, Analytics has gone main-stream, with increasing sophistication, but also accompanied by significant challenges such as data management & organizational issues e.g. challenges with business stakeholder buy-in & hiring top talent. Realizing the benefits & tackling challenges require transformative leadership & cross-functional collaboration across the enterprise. Furthermore, we are moving beyond information age into the ‘machine-to-human’ age where billions of real-time decisions would be made by self-learning machines orchestrated by advanced algorithms, to make every customer interaction count, & transform ordinary customer experiences into meaningful, human experiences that matter.
In this world, we are increasingly seeing a confluence of leaders such as CMOs, CIOs, COOs, CDOs & formation of new roles such as Chief Analytic Officer (CAO), when it comes to leveraging big data & analytics within the enterprise. Often times, the conversation may begin with the key business stakeholder (e.g. CMO) who has a critical business issue e.g. Customer attrition or Digital Transformation. This business stakeholder partners with CIO & other leaders to solve the business issue. CIOs are now thinking beyond traditional data & technology & where they are a key driver in leveraging analytics to drive business outcomes e.g. embedding analytics, self-learning capabilities, & real-time decision making in technology platforms & tools. Solid data & analytics foundation or robust understanding of analytics-enabled business transformation possibilities are becoming differentiators for elevation into C-level roles.
Analytics Insight: The industry is seeing a rising importance of business & technology enablers like virtualization, convergence & cloud. How do you see these emerging technologies impact your business sector?
Amit: We see many of our clients either moving or evaluating moving to cloud-based technology and analytics infrastructure with a greater adoption of open-source tools. Over the last few years, virtualization, convergence, & cloud have been increasing considerations and components of the Epsilon product and service roadmap and now are a key option within our solutions. At the same time, there are a significant number of clients, particularly large enterprise clients, that prefer hosted infrastructure and tools. At Epsilon, we recognize the potential of emerging technologies, understand that there are pros and cons associated with the approaches, and different industries and enterprises have unique needs. While we do have our preferences and recommendations, our solutions are driven by business objectives, organizational culture, existing technology stack, and other client-specific considerations. Example: for analytics we are equally comfortable with tools such SAS or R or Python or databases such as Oracle or Netezza or AWS Cloud or Google Cloud solutions. Such capabilities and flexibility have enabled robust growth for our clients & Epsilon.
Analytics Insight: Where do you see growth coming in for the data marketing space?
Amit: We see growth for companies such as Epsilon coming from five major areas.
• Improved customer identification solutions that work across offline & digital channels & devices through persistent yet privacy compliant, unique identifiers.
• Richer customer data: while data such as demographics & financials are widely available, increasingly growth is being driven by customer data enabling understanding of choices customers make in their day-to-day life while shopping, eating out, traveling or within entertainment options, where do they spend their discretionary income, with which merchants, to what extent, through which channels.
• Ability to provide insights by being an extension of our clients’ internal analytic team to deliver segmentation, predictive modeling, advanced machine learning algorithms, optimization, unified measurement solutions such as fractional attribution.
• Transformative strategic consulting solutions encompassing people, process, technology, & change management components for improved customer experience & differentiating capabilities relative to our clients’ competition.
• Loyalty, CRM, Digital Technology platforms & tools in which self-learning & decision-making is automated for both batch & real-time orchestration of customer experiences across inbound & outbound channels.
Analytics Insight: Which industry verticals are you currently focusing on? & what is your go to market strategy for the same?
Amit: At Epsilon, we have flagship clients across both B2C and B2B industry verticals including Automotive, Communications, CPG, Financial Services, Fitness, Healthcare, Home Services, Insurance, Media / Entertainment, Non-profit, Restaurants, Retail, Technology, Energy, & Travel/Hospitality.
At Epsilon, we believe that Tech for tech’s sake doesn’t work. It’s time to place humans at the center of marketing. Technology can make brand experiences personal and purposeful. It can awe, attract and inspire—but only when it’s done right. The heart of our approach begins with our mission to empower marketers to make every interaction count, and transform ordinary customer experiences into meaningful, human experiences that matter. Epsilon begins each engagement with a clear understanding of our clients’ business, their marketplace, and their objectives. We then provide the best solution(s) to achieve those objectives. On many occasions, our initial engagements may leverage our Data, Analytics, and Strategy Consulting solutions, leading to subsequent technology solutions for experience orchestration such as Loyalty, CRM, Digital Media platforms.
Analytics Insight: Do you also feel that the right kind of talent is a challenge in the industry?
Amit: In today’s business environment, there is a significant demand-supply gap for analytics / data science talent. This is driven by the increasing adoption of analytics by businesses and the need for the rare combination of skills such as business acumen, quantitative skills, technical skills, communication skills, etc. Our clients hire Epsilon as an extension of their internal analytics team because of internal capacity and skills gaps and the need for faster progress along the analytic maturity path.
The industry leading and innovative solutions being developed at Epsilon have allowed us to attract and retain top talent resulting in a strong analytics, data science, and ML / AI team. At Epsilon, we have a high bar for recruiting the top talent from the global market place. We do a combination of hiring for specific positions from external market & also training up our internal associates.
Analytics Insight: What would you advice to aspiring big data & analytics candidates?
Amit: Five pieces of advice:
1. Learn the fundamentals: You cannot skip the basics (maths, stats, & programming). Learn it thoroughly. Start with the solid foundation.
2. Do not shy away from the grunt work: A lot of smart people want to do machine learning in 6 months from starting in an analytics position. Be prepared that a good portion of time in a machine learning project can be spent in identifying, acquiring & preparing the data. Understand the business problem & see if simple and effective solutions can be applied. Machine learning is not a hammer looking for a nail.
3. Metronomic not episodic learning: Continuous learning is key. Start with basics & continuously improve. Example: if you have started with a reporting project, can the report be automated fully with a click of a button. Next, obsess over improving efficiency of insight generation.
4. Learning by doing it: Learn theory & look for real-world cases for application. Learn on the job. Take a side project on machine learning with the given data. Show your results to peers & be very open for feedb
5. Holistic development: Take charge of your development, make high impact contributions, and career growth will follow. Develop holistically and develop capabilities along multiple dimensions:
- Analytic depth: reporting/BI, descriptive, diagnostic, predictive, prescriptive, ML/AI
- Analytic breadth: determining right analytic approach for a given business problem, storytelling based on analysis results, developing analytic roadmaps, developing industry expertise
- Don’t forget Core Competencies: being action oriented, nimble in learning, situational adaptability, courage, driving results, resourcefulness, interpersonal savvy, etc.