MarTech Interview with Tod Loofbourrow, CEO at ViralGains
Hi Tod, tell us about your journey into data management technologies. What inspired you to start at ViralGains?
ViralGains is all about turning advertising into a two-way conversation and helping brands interact in authentic ways with consumers. I saw an opportunity with ViralGains to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to bring massive scale to that interaction and to find patterns in consumer preferences that help brands understand where people are in their buying journey with a brand. They can then use that understanding to bring the right advertisement to the interaction with a consumer. It’s fantastic stuff.
I fell in love with AI back in high school, where I wrote a book on Robotics at age of 16 and wrote my college admissions essay on my favorite book — Patrick Henry Winston’s Artificial Intelligence (yes, I was a nerd). Since then, I have taught AI at Harvard and MIT and contributed to seven books on the subject. All of my companies from Authoria to iRobot to ViralGains have used AI and Data Science to transform the industry.
You come from a very strong Data Science background. In the last 2-3 years, how much have Data Science applications influenced the sale/adoption of Marketing and Sales technologies?
In the early days of Amazon and music services like Napster, entrepreneur Marc Andreeson wrote a famous essay called “Software is Eating the World,” laying a notice to every industry that would be transformed by software.
Today, that essay might be called “AI is Changing the World.” At the end of the day, AI is an enabling technology for recognizing patterns and acting on those patterns. For modern marketers or advertisers, it is an essential tool in the toolkit to understand and interact with consumers. We have moved from shouting at consumers with our advertising to talking with them.
According to you, which Data Science applications are the must-have items to invest in for any modern CEO or CIO?
The key test is the following:
What data do you most need to drive success in your business? Customer insight, customer intimacy, customer communications, operations planning, and supply chain.
All of these and many more are ripe areas for DataScience innovation. In Marketing, the critical areas are real-time customer insight, customer intimacy, and customer communication — and when I use the word customer here, I don’t just mean today’s customers, but also tomorrow’s prospective customers. How do you know who will be your next 10,000, 100,000, or million customers? How do you know what solutions and features will appeal to them? These are the domain of great Data Science.
Today, we see all the Martech action happening in CRM-related Customer Data Platforms. What kind of competition do you tackle at ViralGains?
There is a major convergence happening between Martech and Adtech systems now, described by the clever moniker MadTech.
The key points of integration are:
1. Creating common data, and
2. Building an engagement strategy for creating a great customer and prospect experience — often called “customer experience management.”
On the marketing side, the journey is to get data integrated into a Customer Data Platform, all in the service of driving better customer experience. On the advertising side, the goal is prospect/customer understanding and engagement. For the most advanced CMOs, Email Marketing, CRM and SEO are all integrated with digital advertising for a consistent prospect and customer experience across channels.
For ViralGains, we mostly compete with decades-old models for advertising which focus on reach, frequency and impressions rather than customer/prospect understanding, engagement, and conversation. The difference and the results are night and day.
Which Marketing and Sales automation tools do you leverage to stay on top of your business goals?
Without endorsing specific vendors, we use tools for customer understanding, inbound marketing, customer engagement, customer communication, and customer service. The defining goal is to create a total customer experience from the first contact to daily interaction.
What are the biggest barriers to the monetization of Digital Advertising tools and techniques? What kind of training is required to overcome these challenges?
The biggest barriers are usually:
1. Imagination, and
2. Strategic/operational alignment.
On the imagination side, marketers and advertisers need to overcome old mindsets dominated by impression-based thinking at the top of the funnel, and by an overreliance on click-based performance at the bottom of the funnel. There are many reports of performance marketing rates on Facebook, for example, coming up 30% or more in the last year with lower performance. Direct to consumer brands are getting hammered. It is all the result of a poor understanding of how consumers make decisions and purchases.
On the strategic and operational alignment side, it is astonishing to me how many Heads of strategy and Heads of media work at agencies and brands, champion new generation customer engagement and customer understanding metrics — but their media planners still measure their success on metrics like cost per impression or cost per view. The lack of alignment of goals and measuring sticks is profound and very damaging to results.
Tell us more about your interaction with the Product Development team and how you leverage their feedback to improve your current Sales and Customer Services?
At MIT, where I served as the Entrepreneur in Residence, we have a phrase for this: do you make decisions using data or using HIPPOs? Too many organizations today make decisions based on HIPPOs.
HIPPOs are the “highest-paid person’s opinion.” We are big in data-based decision making, not HIPPO-based decision making, so the best data-supported ideas rise to the top, whether they come from a product development person’s knowledge of industry trends or a Sales and Customer Service person’s intimate understanding of customer needs. As Intel’s legendary CEO, Andy Grove once said, “In God we trust, everyone else bring data.”
Great data and imagination are the keys to building great products, and customer intimacy is the key to building great companies.
We’re seeing a rampant adoption of AI, Blockchain, and RPA in the SaaS and Cloud businesses. What approach should Customer Success and Support teams take in digitally transforming their functions and operations using the AI ML, and RPA techniques?
The key to any customer success operation is one thing: being human. Technology in the service of being human can be an amazing asset to customer success. Technology in the service of saving money on talking with customers only works to the degree that the defining principle is treating customers as the most important human beings to the success of your business. There are great successes here and many infuriating failures. Try to be human and the rest will follow.
This is How I work
How do you inspire your people to work with technology?
Technology is the greatest gift created by humankind in the last half-century. It is a wonder. It is empowering. It is magic. We all have to get past that little uncomfortable feeling when we approach new technology and be willing to embrace it with a beginner’s mind.
Find mentors and guides who empower you to learn new things with a child’s passion, with patience, and with understanding. Those are your guides to a new world that can transform your career. And if you’re a CMO looking for a quiet discreet guide to the future, you can find me on LinkedIn.
Which superhero character do you profoundly connect with in real life?
Aquaman explored the amazing world which makes up two-thirds of our planet, opening my childhood eyes to new wonders below the surface. The Flash moved decisively with action and speed. Black Panther broke new ground and fought for an inclusive world. Spiderman brought the human side to the superhero game, kind of like Jack Dorsey or more recently Marc Benioff. But Johnny Storm, The Human Torch, from the Fantastic Four is still my favorite. He’s fire…
When my team is cranking or a customer is transforming their world and feeling the thrill of breaking barriers, I get that Fantastic Four Johnny Storm feeling…Flame on!
Tag a person or company you would love to work with:
Jeff Bezos — because of his singular vision decades ago, his team’s ability to execute and his hundreds of thousands of dedicated delivery and warehouse workers. We can feed our older population even in the face of a pandemic. Talk about changing the world.
Thank you, Tod! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
This article originally appeared on MarTech Series.