In this interview with Patrick Steinbrenner, Managing Director of APAC, Insider, he takes us through the digital changes which hit the APAC region in the past few years, their impact for digital marketers across business, and how artificial intelligence (AI) and integrated marketing solutions can fix the leaks in the sales funnel, changing the game for today’s savvy omnichannel customers.

Patrick, what would you say are the most significant changes you have witnessed in the region’s digital space over the past few years.

Customers today are much more fluent and comfortable navigating multiple online channels and devices. Take retailing for example: many retailers have seen increases in app revenue of over 600 per cent in the past 3 years. Depending on your industry, your app (excluding mobile web!) should (or could!) be contributing far above 50% of your revenue.

At the same time, the customer journey does not take place on a single device or platform – across the stages of customer acquisition, activation, revenue generation, and retention, multiple channels and platforms are involved.

Customers today are much more fluent and comfortable navigating multiple online channels and devices.

Few users will download your app right away without engaging with your brand on another channel first. Take the fashion industry, the average user will have engaged more than 7 times with your brand before finally converting.

This requires brands and marketers to optimize experiences across web, mobile web, app, as well as their ad channels in a coherent manner to gently accompany users through the customer lifecycle stages and prevent churn, that is not easy. And even if you figure out the ‘what’, the ‘how’ often remains a big question mark, how to make it scalable? Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning seem to be the buzzy solution but how do you actually leverage this?

Another challenge we see that is closely related to the customers’ multichannel fluency is the need to keep up with the ever-growing number of channels out there and how to orchestrate your efforts across them.
Heavily increasing advertising cost are driving up customer acquisition costs (CAC) and force everyone into the adoption and exploration of new marketing channels and the usage of advanced technologies.

Cost efficiency is key. Most seasoned marketers will agree that new channels have the biggest potential to improve efficiency: fewer companies are using the new channels (i.e. less competition for the eyeballs) and users have not fatigued (yet) (i.e. you see higher engagement rates).

There is a need to keep up with the ever-growing number of channels out there and how to orchestrate your efforts

A great example is the browser push notification channel which is available since 2015, adoption by ‘innovative’ market leaders took over 2 years. However, being a first mover on new technology is risky and could be expensive if you don’t get it right or if the channel turns out to be less efficient than expected, and you end up having spent a big investment without much return and big opportunity cost of not exploring other technologies (e.g. chatbots).

Being a late mover means you’ve missed out: everyone has adopted the channel and it becomes saturated (mobile advertising, is not there yet but getting there thanks to Google Universal App Campaigns). Identifying the right channel and being able to adopt it fast, while controlling for cost, is a difficult balance to find.

This also leads me to the last main challenge I would like to mention. To address marketers’ need to adopt new channels, the market is now overflowing with a myriad of indistinguishable technology providers that offer point solutions to make use of such new channels. But the learning curve is painful and slow. And the data you collect ends up in fragmented data silos, which leads to the disintegrated and incoherent user journey for the customers we all have experienced. We should stop showing the same pair of shoes the customer already bought a month ago and rather use this budget to acquire a new customer.

The market is now overflowing with a myriad of indistinguishable technology providers that offer point solutions to make use of such new channels.

In summary, (1) scalable user journey optimization across platforms, channels, and life cycle stages, (2) new channel experimentation and adoption, and (3) data collection and unification across channels to create coherent experiences.

How do you see those changes impact marketing strategies for online businesses? Based on your experience, could you take us through the key pain points and challenges for digital marketers in the region, as whole?

When brands have multiple digital channels, they adopt stronger and more streamlined ad strategies. With customers spread across different touchpoints, there’s a rising need for integrated acquisition optimization tools. And if the scenario wasn’t already bad enough for unprepared marketers, there’s the increasing CAC to deepen the problem. Without truly understanding the behaviour of their customers, marketers create blind-targeting strategies that fail to convert or nurture customer loyalty, due to poorly designed journeys (the infamous low LTV:CAC ratios).

With the mobile penetration the region has witnessed, comes also an urgent need for marketers and brands to create smoother and hyper-personalised digital experiences. Customers are savvy, they don’t want to be targeted on a multitude of channels with content that doesn’t match their needs.

Simply having a responsive website isn’t enough. Brands need to think mobile web and mobile app, they need to fully embrace technologies that will allow them to create experiences that will grab the attention of their customers in a snap, now more than ever, with customers’ attention span on a constant decrease.

Without truly understanding the behaviour of their customers, marketers create blind-targeting strategies that fail to convert or nurture customer loyalty

Despite seeing heavy traffic, engagements on mobile web are drastically below desktop web or app channels with many businesses facing the general “one-time buyer” problem.

We’ve received a lot of feedback from our partners, from a variety of industries, sharing their pain on the mobile channels so we took actions accordingly, and turned their needs into features of our platform.

Our AI-backed Category Optimizer feature and the world’s first Exit Intent technology for the mobile web are just two examples of what we created for our customers to help them address these needs.

So how did Insider respond to these massive changes? What kind of tech and cultural investments were made to address those issues?

Account management is a key factor to address those challenges, as well as robust technology, but I’ll go back to the second later on.

What I noticed over the past years, working with marketers across different industries, is that there was always a constant search for different/new (and multiple) solutions in tech. Solutions that would bring us better and quicker results, that would help us drive our metrics and optimize our budgets, but marketers often end up stuck with an increased workload so that the new tech turned out inefficient or unproductive.

Digital marketing is an industry that is developing at lightning speed and it is difficult even for innovative ecommerce players to stay abreast of everything that’s happening (recall how browser push took over 2 years to find adoption).

There are two very important components to successful technology adoption: rapid integration and accelerating the learning curve.

At Insider, we believe in providing products that are integrated within minutes instead of months. If, for example, you want to start leveraging our machine learning algorithms for your marketing channels, the integration takes less than 5 minutes if you are using a tag management solution. We believe in bringing tangible results within weeks rather than after months of integrations.

Also read: Digital marketing firm Insider opens Taiwan office to expand in Asia Pacific

But once the technology is ready to go, you still have to know how to leverage it. What I have seen is that, without hands on local account management, is very hard to unlock value from a new technology. Technology solves many problems, but having a great customer success team on the ground, with account managers that enable marketers to maximize the value of that technology is what brings real value and growth to brands.

Most brands use less than 30 percent of the capabilities that the technology providers offer. I strongly believe that marketers need access to their customer success team 24/7 and that they should be able to expect a local presence, personal face to face meetings with their account managers, and be able to speak the local language to the team that helps them succeed. If your account managers are not on the ground, they will not really understand the challenges you face or how cultural and market differences will affect the efficacy and use cases of the technology. In fact this fresh approach of Insider was one of my main motivations for joining the team.

At Insider, we have local account managers, with vertical-specific know-how and an in-depth knowledge of what really works in each market that we serve.

Digital marketing is an industry that is developing at lightning speed and it is difficult even for innovative ecommerce players to stay abreast of everything that’s happening

Next, as indicated earlier, our main goal is simple to state and hard to achieve: to help marketers deliver carefully curated and well-crafted customer experiences that help them drive their business. These must be enjoyable and mindful of customers’ desires, needs and time.

Designing such experiences from scratch is cumbersome and, in order to provide this level of highly-tailored digital experiences, we heavily invested (and will continue to invest) in artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities.

Early last year, we released our Predictive Ad Audiences (PAA) product, which allows our partners to segment their user base relying on AI-backed technology to help marketers tailor their ad budgets according to their customers’ specific behaviours indicating their lifecycle status (e.g. high churn risk), high likelihood to become a customer, discount affinity, and more.

PAA segments customers according to their online behaviours, based on real-time and historical data, that can then be targeted by personalized strategies on ad channels, for example, improving ROAS.

Predictive Ad Audiences is only one ingredient of our technology stack, which we carefully curated to create a new category of technology solution. Inspired by our partners, who experienced the above challenges, and with the know-how of our local teams, we launched our Growth Management Platform (GMP).

Also read: Why the world’s leading brands chose this AI startup to power their digital strategy

GMP covers all stages of the sales funnel, from Acquisition to Activation, to Retention, and Revenue. We offer marketers a diverse cast of solutions, from the moment they grab their customer’s attention to bringing them back to their properties, fostering growth and loyalty. At the same time, we want to keep it simple for our clients and we are not forcing our full technology stack on our partners. We have a very API friendly product and are happy to integrate with the existing technology stack to fill and bridge gaps that a brand might be facing.

So we want to keep it simple for marketers and allow them to address the full cycle from acquisition to retention within one platform (GMP), leveraging predictive segmentation with a unified data layer fueling each stage of the funnel. This allows our partners to improve conversion rates, drive loyalty, and optimize ad spend across marketing channels, platforms, and customer lifecycle stages. This is how we are helping our customers to show the right message to the right user at the right time. In this context, customer segmentation is vital!

So, instead of offering a myriad of point solutions, a unified platform promises to target all sections of the sales funnel from one main solutions hub. Could you walk us through the advantages of using an integrated platform as opposed to multiple point solutions?

It’s a very simple equation. Many marketing companies offer a multitude of separate point solutions that address specific marketing pains in their organizations. These point solutions perform well at bringing about one singular value proposition at decent to low costs, which is the case for on-site customizations done via A/B testing, for example.

If the business can only afford a lower budget, this approach is effective and can even drive Return On Investment (ROI). But, if the brand is scaling or if it’s a complex enterprise, with several channels or parts, each point solution will generate its own reports and data hubs.

If the company has, say, 20 different point solutions, it will also have 20 different data hubs that are not connected or integrated and, in the end, becomes very difficult to make sense. This means adding on more work, personnel (marketing, BI, etc.), investment and time. Soon enough, multiple point solutions can easily become a huge data conundrum.

An integrated system, such as Insider’s GMP, offers the one stack advantage: a unified data layer. This breaks data silos as it’s aligned with integrated action layers that directly respond to the data collected through AI-backed predictive technologies. GMP offers, under the same umbrella, diverse action layers that are powered by Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning capabilities to deliver personalized experiences on web, mobile web and app, and ad channels, imbued with powerful predictive technology.

Also read: 4 strategies to upgrade your digital marketing campaign

Because most of our clients have a heavy online traffic, we’re able to yield meaningful and powerful insights as early as two weeks in. We then use such insights to create highly tailored experiences and effective marketing strategies that cover (or prevent) any leaks on the sales funnel.

In terms of work effort and time sensitivity, since we’re talking about the fast-paced tech world, GMP saves our partners from the need to set up their own data science and creates independency from IT teams. However, as it’s part of our ethos, we maintain and nurture localized offices across all 16 regions, to make sure we look after our partners in an optimal and contextual way. This is the case for the APAC region, that also hosts our headquarter.

Insider has a rich portfolio of well-known global brands, with many of them being established APAC companies. How are you guys powering these big players?

We offer our partners a wide range of products and features under the umbrella of our GMP.

That said, we tailor our offering to each partner’s specific needs. We select the module or modules of the GMP relevant to them to effectively address their pain points.

A great example of a successful partnership was the integration of our Predictive Ad Audiences (PAA) to Zalora’s online channels. The Asian fashion giant was in search for new technologies to boost their online performance. They were particularly interested in our predictive tech. We are now working with ZALORA to help them predict their users’ behaviors, in particular their propensity to buy, their likelihood to churn, discount affinities, lifetime value, and so on.

The success of our partnerships does not only come from our strong technology platform and the results we are able to achieve, but also the dedicated account management that we provide on a daily basis. We believe the key to success for each of our partnerships is the combination of a robust marketing technology together with well planned and executed strategy from the local account management team.

“At ZALORA we are trying out and reviewing a lot of new and exciting technologies but I was particularly impressed when I saw Insider’s Predictive Ad Audiences. A very simple integration which took us literally less than 5 minutes (no IT involvement), Insider was able to start running its sophisticated machine learning algorithms helping us to identify high value audiences of users with a high likelihood to convert, high likelihood to churn, or high customer lifetime value. Impressive product and great account management – 5 stars!” – Rashi Talwar, Senior Regional Manager (Marketing)

Disclosure: This article is sponsored by Insider