On today’s episode, Kunle is joined by Amanda Elam, CMO of Bloomreach, a cloud commerce experience platform offering personalized customer experience.
Working at B2B SaaS companies for over fifteen years, Amanda Elam had accumulated experience in different aspects of marketing which hurled her into being Exponea’s CMO. However, when Bloomreach acquired Exponea, there was no opportunity for a CMO at the time. She had to be mentored by Bloomreach’s CEO, Raj De Datta.
Working with around 850 global brands, Bloomreach, and with Amanda as its CMO, offers best-in-class marketing for its clients and uses zero-party data to create an incredible shopping experience that is tailored to each customer’s product search behavior. Amanda shares her insights and tips on how personalized marketing could offer value to each customer, even for big brands and companies.
This episode is insightful as you’d hear Kunle and Amanda discuss the importance of product search in identifying customer behaviors to create market segmentations and how automated marketing can be personal for each customer.
Here is a summary of some of the most important points made:
On today’s interview, Kunle and Amanda discuss:
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On this episode, we’re going to be talking about unifying customer and product data to provide valuable and personalized experiences. It’s a great episode you don’t want to miss.
Welcome to the 2X eCommerce Podcast show. The 2X eCommerce podcast is dedicated to digital commerce insights for retail and eCommerce teams. Each week, on this podcast, we interview a commerce expert, a founder of a digital-native consumer brand, or a representative from a best-in-class commerce SaaS product. We give them a tight remit to give you ideas you could test right away on your brand so you can improve commerce growth metrics such as conversions, average order value, repeat customers, audience size, and ultimately your gross merchant value or sales. We are here to help you sell more sustainably.
In this episode, I interviewed Amanda Elam who serves as the Chief Marketing Officer at Bloomreach. If you don’t know what Bloomreach is, it’s a cloud commerce experience platform that empowers and delivers personalized customer experiences. What is all that about? They were initially an AI-driven merchandise and discovery solution and then they went ahead and bought another company, Exponea. We covered this during the interview. That’s more of a CDP marketing automation platform.
What Bloomreach do is connect that product discovery element with what you know about your customers through that CDP side of things, a marketing automation solution, which delivers a personalized customer experience. That is what the jargon is all about. In this episode, we go through what Bloomreach is all about. They serve about 850 global brands including Albertsons, Bosch, Puma, Bayern Munich, and Marks & Spencers.
Amanda is a passionate marketing professional with over fifteen years of experience in helping SaaS companies build impactful brands, communicating differentiated value, and growing high-performing markets in teams. She previously served as the company’s Senior Vice President of Global Markets and joined in January 2021 for the acquisition of Exponea.
Prior to joining Exponea, she had served as Vice President of Demand Generation at Blueshift, a customer data platform. Before that, she served as Vice President of Marketing Americas and Global Programs at Basware, a financial software company. She knows her stuff. We conversed about CDP, marketing automation, what you should listen out for to take action, and how to thrive. Thriving is a rare word in today’s world. What best-in-class clients of theirs in the commerce space are deploying to find success? She gives a lot of tips on there.
I learned a thing or two about personalization not just from a Bloomreach perspective but, generally, how to think about a personalized experience, particularly when you’re scaling or if you’re starting to process 50,000 to 100,000 orders a month. You need to start to personalize many experiences. You don’t want it to be box standard. You still want to have that white glove touch and that’s what this episode is all about. Enjoy the episode. Enjoy the conversation. It was engaging and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I will catch you on the other side. Thank you. Cheers.
Amanda, it’s an absolute pleasure having you on the 2X eCommerce podcast.
Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
I probably haven’t done you sufficient justice with the introduction. You’re the CMO at Bloomreach. Bloomreach is a CDP and engagement platform that focuses on a single customer view. Before we jump into Bloomreach, I want to get your background, Amanda. Do you want to shed light on what your life or career was prior to Bloomreach and how you made it as the CMO of this quite impressive company?
I’m the CMO at Bloomreach. I came through an acquisition. Bloomreach acquired Exponea, which was the CDP and marketing automation company that we now call Bloomreach Engagement. I started with Exponea in February 2020 before the pandemic hit. I got to experience working for a European company through the transition of the pandemic and all of the changes that happened there and then the eventual acquisition by Bloomreach.
Prior to Exponea, I’ve been in performance marketing, digital marketing, and product marketing, all in B2B SaaS for a little over fifteen years. My responsibilities in generating pipelines and creating demand, particularly in the US markets, are what parlayed into becoming the CMO at Exponea and eventually Bloomreach.
You were CMO at the start of a pandemic back in February 2020. Talk about great timing. What exactly did Exponea do? Why was it a target for Bloomreach?
Exponea was the technology that was the customer data platform and marketing automation all in one. We branded it as a customer data experience platform. Raj, who was the CEO of Bloomreach, has this storied and long vision of helping eCommerce companies engage in a highly personalized way in digital formats.
Bloomreach started as an SEO company helping brands understand how to optimize for organic search and moved into on-site search. As eCommerce started becoming more and more of a darling, how do you help customers find products on your own website? Raj was thinking about how you engage, inspire, merchandise, and provide content online in a way that is engaging so that it feels like a store or an association of a brand experience even though it is digital.
He took that vision further to say, “It can’t just be the on-site experience. It should be the collection of all of the channels that they engage with the brand.” In order to do that, you need the single view of the customer to start and then the activation of all the channels in one place. Brands have been talking about the right data, the right story, and the right time for a long time and it’s never been a reality. Raj wanted to make it possible.
What was, more or less, in Bloomreach’s ship? If I was going to use that terminology. What did Bloomreach have? What did Exponea augment or complement to Bloomreach at the time of the acquisition?
When Exponea was acquired, Bloomreach had a product discovery or an on-site search engine. As you begin to type into a search bar, the value of Google is the tremendous amount of data crunching that they’re able to do to help you find the page that you’re looking for. That’s difficult for brands and retailers to do on their own websites. Historically, particularly for brands and retailers on-site, either they hire big development teams or they have a poor experience for their consumers.
There isn’t an in-between because the expectations of search results have been established by Google so you either meet those expectations or completely fail them. Raj and the team, we have an amazing team of engineers, were like, “We’re going to make on-site search possible for every company in the world in a way that’s engaging for their consumers.” The other thing that they had was how you display content, merchandising, how products appear, review information, images, and what the product search listings page looks like when you’ve searched for something and stuff shows up.
Not to use the brand name Amazon but Amazon said, “Here is what that experience should look like, what product recommendations should look like, and what the consumer should expect from a company that they’re trying to buy from online.” He added that functionality. It had a headless CMS offering that would work with any commerce platform that would create engaging and inspirational experiences from a content perspective. You’ve got the search plus the content.
What he wanted to add was this customer data component on top of the product data that we already had as a result of the search offering and then the ability to take the combination of that customer and product data and activate it across all channels. Your own website, your emails, your social media, your text messaging, your chat, your internal telephone support, and every area in which you’re engaging with the customer. Even in-store, we have offline execution as well. All of those things are together in one place so that brands truly can engage with their customers on an individual basis.
I fully get the message now. Bloomreach was more of a product discovery solution and platform with a layer of personalization. Raj and the team wanted to take it a step further by having access to customer data and then making that experience even more personalized and having the ability for the brand to react to customers’ actions in almost any channel relevant to the customer. Be it SMS, email, social, and what have you, there’s that messaging element that will react to customers.
Let’s say I search through a merchant’s site for particular goods or products and then I add the item to the cart and then decide that I’m going to abandon it. You’ve got that context of what I searched for so the recommendation in the cart recovery will be relevant to my history as well as the actual product page I’ve been on. It’s a lot more holistic as a solution and consolidated, I would think.
A lot of that is theoretically possible with integrations and combining a tech stack app. Having been a performance marketer and data-driven, I’m pretty tech-savvy. There are a lot of integrations available where you can cobble your tech stack together. The experience that you talked about is being able to do that in real-time within milliseconds of the behavioral attribute.
Let’s say five minutes later, you’ve enrolled this person in this win-back campaign because they added something to their cart and then they didn’t buy it. A lot of technologies can help you do that today. Let’s say that you go back five minutes later and you buy it, how do you get your segments for retargeting to update? You probably won’t in real-time. There’s a delay.
Now I’ve gone back and I’ve converted on the purchase, you have an opportunity to engage with me in a different maybe more meaningful way, maybe with some product videos about how to use the thing that I bought instead of putting me into a win-back campaign and editing those segments and those triggers and making sure that the behavioral context of that individual is fully taken into account within milliseconds of whatever that behavioral change is. It’s not possible in most technologies today because you don’t see the customer and product data coupled with the activation channels. That is the difference that Bloomreach brings.
How’s the integration going? Exponea was acquired sometime in 2021.
In M&A, integration can be a pain. What was the team size in Exponea? What was Bloomreach? How did the team grow in the new mothership?
When Exponea was acquired, we were about 220 people and Bloomreach was about 250. Similarly sized organization from a people footprint. We’re now about 1,000 people. Eighteen months later, we’ve doubled in size. Pretty much everybody feels new because you’re either part of an acquisition or part of the acquiring company and learning a whole new way or a brand new person joining the collective.
I’ve told this story before so I shouldn’t be embarrassed to tell it more publicly but when the acquisition of Exponea happened and I was the CMO, there was not an opportunity to be CMO at Bloomreach. I maybe walked into the opportunity a little bit early. Raj, our CEO, made commitments not just to me to personally mentor me and say, “We’ve got some sharp edges that we need to work on with you.” Also, with our broader teams. He made commitments to our Slovakian team, which were super important to the decision to move forward with Bloomreach as the acquiring company and as well as several other leaders in the organization.
Over time, Raj, Dave, and the executive team at Bloomreach more than delivered on those promises. As a result, we all now bleed Bloomreach and are happy to be part of this organization. The customer data engine is a reality that connects the products across search, merchandising, content, and then our marketing automation platforms. Technologically and culturally, we are integrated.
Let’s jump into CDPs, the need for CDPs, and timing. Putting CDPs aside, with Bloomreach’s current offer, from the use case you described, is there a lot of setups? Let’s say I’m a merchant looking to onboard on Bloomreach in its current form. How long does the setup of segment-triggered messages take?
There are many permutations and combinations for customers, especially the product piece. We’re talking thousands and thousands of SKUs. They all could be simplified from a category perspective. I can’t fathom the setup complexity. What does the setup look like for a typical Bloomreach customer and who is a Bloomreach customer?
First of all, to answer who is a Bloomreach customer, in simple terms, it’s anybody who wants to engage with a customer online for that engagement to ultimately result in revenue. It sounds like a big audience. The ones that we do well with are more sophisticated marketers with smaller teams. They’re typically the marketers with big ideas and big visions but not a lot of hands to execute. They’re teams that understand data incredibly well but don’t have a lot of data analytics people in the company because they’re high growth brands usually.
In the search and merchandising side, the customers do end up having large product catalogs. When you get to the point where a human being, the product data is to the point where a human can’t merchandise and can’t use their knowledge and insights in order to create those web experiences with the products that they have. They need the help of AI because a human being cannot crunch the amount of data needed in order to make merchandising recommendations on the customer side. That’s another category of customer that we have a lot of problem use cases for.
On the implementation, the great thing about where we are with technology is that a lot of companies like Shopify, Bigcommerce, and Magento created a baseline of what commerce data, to a certain extent, looks like. When we connect with a Shopify platform, for example, it takes us a couple of hours to ingest data and be able to give you insights. The other thing that’s unique is that we offer insights and analytics so we can help you build your segments so we can make recommendations on your highly likely to churn customers or this is a segment of one-time buyers.
Do you have predefined segments based on behavioral data? Some platforms already seem to have their pre-predefined segments. Do you leave it to the marketers and make the suggestions and nudge those segments to marketers?
Because we focus on commerce, we have a set of best-in-class segments. I was with a customer a couple in Germany. It was fascinating to see how many customers we’d had come in by once. We were over-reliant on acquisition. We weren’t focused enough on continuing to build the lifecycle of the customers who purchase once. How do we encourage them to come back and buy more?
She was able to see that insight within a short period of time of implementing our platform and use that data to go back to her CEO and her team to say, “We’ve got to focus on the lifecycle. We’ve got to focus on engaging these customers more.” We do have a set of segments that come with the platform that we recommend as a good starting place but then we have other customers. For example, we have a sporting goods company and they want to understand road bikers versus mountain bikers. That’s going to be a segment that’s custom to them and we help them engineer those as well.
From a revenue and maturity standpoint, how many orders should a merchant be processing per month for Bloomreach to make sense to the merchant?
It’s not as much about the orders as it is about the sophistication of the team and what you’re trying to do with your customer. At some point, if you started on Shopify, you probably added things like Klaviyo, Attentive, and some of those things that come inside of the Shopify marketplace. At some point, you’re going to say, “I need more advanced segmentation. I need more scale. I need data to be able to be processed faster.”
What they do an incredible job of is getting you up and running and getting you started and then you’re going to say, “I’m more advanced as a company. I need a more advanced solution.” That’s when we start to become a good fit all the way up to the big companies. Boohoo and Pandora are some of our larger customers in Europe.
By the way, Klaviyo is a sponsor of this podcast. I do get what you mean. At some point, you may want to consolidate all of that. Rather than having an ESP on the one hand and then having an SMS marketing platform on the other or messaging app or a notification app, you want to consolidate it with a platform like Bloomreach.
For what it’s worth, Klaviyo is an awesome brand. I have many friends who are users of Klaviyo and love Klaviyo. They’re fantastic. They have a clear ICP that they’re going after that is a smaller target than what Bloomreach usually goes after.
Do you have any insights from a search perspective? Product discovery is pretty huge. A lot of sophisticated marketers want to get their shoppers or customers as quickly as possible to what they’re looking for. Do you have any insights given the fact that Bloomreach’s basis was product discovery, recommendations, and search? What insights do you have in product search? Some merchants might be using third-party product search, which is fine. How important is search in the experience?
Search is incredibly important. What we find is that though a large number of people do not typically begin and search when they’re going on a website, search still represents 45% of conversions when you’re on a site. As far as a revenue-generating channel, if you want to consider it a channel, search is hugely important.
If somebody goes to a website, especially an eCommerce site, they want to find the product that they’re looking for and buy it, particularly if they’re engaging with the search engine because they already have an idea of what it is that they’re looking for. We know that people search for things differently and the words that they use and the context in which they use them.
A lot of search engines, particularly the ones that come with commerce platforms, are built for fairly simple search patterns. Their primary product is not search. They’re not investing in a lot of AI. They’re not investing in a lot of prompts or additional features that help you leverage search. Additionally, they’re not helping train a search engine specifically for your brand. They may have some advancements in their search engine related to broad AI algorithms but they’re not working to train like a Williams-Sonoma or Gap and the difference that you would see between cookware and clothing.
That is where Bloomreach has been vastly different. We’ve been doing this for over a decade. The billions of elements of product data that we’ve been using to train our algorithms are second only to Amazon. We’ve processed more search data than anybody else in the world and we’re using that to help other brands do a better job delivering search results on their websites.
What we then add on top of that is, how do we make this search experience better for your brand? If someone’s searching for a silver bowl on Williams-Sonoma versus silver bowl earrings on Gap, the search engine takes that into context and is able to deliver great results in understanding the customer. We’ve seen crazy search patterns over time.
We do things like automatically adding terms to your search engine. We saw COVID, we saw masks, and we saw all of these different things. Had you gone to Ulta Beauty and searched for a mask pre-COVID, that’s a different result from the search for a mask post-COVID. Those learnings and the ability to update and understand the context of human behavior that is searching and the context of the product catalog data and deliver results that take both things into context, that’s the difference of Bloomreach product discovery.
By the way, is Ulta Beauty a customer of Bloomreach?
They are not. I should have said Benefit Cosmetics because they are a customer. I’m a customer of Ulta.
Fair enough. You spoke about search. It makes a ton of sense, particularly with query rewriting, query suggestions, extensions, and all of that stuff. What about personalization? What is an optimal personalized web experience, particularly when people are browsing cross-device? They might start a journey on a mobile phone and then end on a desktop. That’s becoming less and less so. Most people are starting and ending their journeys on mobile devices now. How would you define a great personalized experience?
As a consumer, I would define a great personalized experience as the brand using all of the data they have about me to make my experience with them better. For me, as a consumer, that would mean don’t send me ads. I had this exact thing happen to me. I love Fossil. I bought a watch on Fossil’s website. I started getting retargeting ads for the Fossil watch a few days later after I’d already purchased it for $50 less than I bought it for.
I was super excited about my watch. I then got not excited about it because five days later, I could have gotten it for $50 less. That’s a brand that I love and that I’ve made a purchase from that made me at least not love a digital experience with them because I felt like I didn’t end up getting a good deal. Whereas had I purchased that watch and a few days later, they sent me a bunch of images with a woman wearing that watch with a bag that was like, “This watch and this bag look great together.”
“Here’s an offer to give your friends to help them buy this watch for $50 off and you can take the credit for it,” or something like that. Something in which they’re using clearly the transactional data, the product data, and the information they have about me to engage with me in a different way to make recommendations and to help me enjoy shopping with them more. That is what a great personalized experience is.
If you and I are meeting for the first time and you’re telling me about your podcasts and your events and I learned all about who you are and how you influence and then I completely forget the next time we meet and it’s almost like we’re starting over again, that would feel disingenuous. Similarly, if I’m meeting you for the first time and I know everything about you and I’m throwing that all on your face, you’d be like, “This lady is creepy. I don’t want to engage with her anymore.” Because brands are digital, it doesn’t mean that how they engage in relationships should be different.
There’s a fine balance to strike without going over personalized and, at the same time, without not caring or generalizing. Your Fossil experience, that’s a bit of a downer, to be honest. This takes me to omnichannel experiences. There is a massive trend with customer acquisition costs going up. A lot of commerce brands or digital-native commerce brands are embracing retail bricks and mortar. You did mention that Bloomreach has an omnichannel offering. I want to know how far this goes and how you collect data. Is this data with distribution partners and retail partners? Is this in-store data where it’s DTC in-store?
This is consumer-provided data. We believe strongly in zero-party data. We believe that brands should be open and honest about the data that they’re collecting, why, and how they’re going to use it. Consumers, for the most part, continue to show that if the company is going to take care of their data, they’re going to keep it secure and they’re going to use it to improve the relationship with the consumer. Broadly, the consumer is okay with their data being used. The bar is high to do that.
Let’s say we have a customer who sells baby products and they initiated a campaign where they said, “We’d like to understand where you’re at in your parenthood journey. When are you due?” the information about your children, in particular, is always sensitive. We’ve seen that example enough times from Disney being in the news.
What they were able to do and say is, “If you provide us the information related to your child, if you want to provide sex, name, due date, or any of those things, we’ll use that data to send you tips and information about where you are in the journey and various things that can help you in the stage of pregnancy that you’re in.” They had a fantastic response to that campaign. They used the data responsibly. They provided value. They weren’t just pushing products but they were providing education and other elements.
There is this belief in the exchange of data but it is owned by the customer at the end of the day. I own the data about me. If a brand can incentivize me to share that data and then use it in a way to create a better and more engaging experience with me and that brand, we’re all about designing experiences that way.
Brands are working with retail partners. You cannot get data from retail partners. They probably give you reports. They typically give you reports. How do you bridge that gap? If you’re distributing through Target, Boots, or what have you, how do you bridge the gap as a marketer? How do you get more customer data from distributors or retail partners?
That is always going to be tricky because, a lot of time, the brand and the customer’s mind is the retailer that they’re buying from. A lot of times, that is product, data, and aggregate. As the product provider, there probably are things that we can help you identify like trends, associated products, recommended products that are purchased alongside, and things like that.
When the relationship with the consumer is with a retail brand and not with your brand directly, it does make the collection of that data a lot more difficult. This is why we have seen direct-to-consumer take a huge step forward particularly in COVID where brands were saying, “I don’t necessarily need to go through the retailer and store anymore. I want to go directly to the consumer. It’s becoming more possible for me to do that because the digital landscape is becoming more and more of a level playing field.”
We are seeing customer acquisition costs increase. That is primarily because these brands are all trying to reach similar consumers. That’s where understanding and knowing who your customer is at an individual level gives you a unique advantage over everybody else trying to grab the attention of your customer.
DTC is certainly the way. It’s important for marketing leaders and product leaders to see how they could re-loop from product experience that direct relationship even if through packaging and comps to getting and encouraging customers to buy directly from them. Even utilizing third-party data to let them know they exist.
On a final note in this conversation, I’d like you to please give advice to up-and-coming CMOs of consumer brands, particularly digital native consumer brands as we face headwinds at the moment. There’s a lot of inflation. The Consumer Price Index is constantly rising. It’s cooling off in the States at the minute. How do we continue to deliver expected results and also make our customers happy and optimize CX despite the constraints that are coming up against us?
The CMO of Loop & Tie said this some time ago at an event that I was at and it stuck in my head. They said, “Marketing is the only C-suite that is a verb. It’s an action.” What I’ve been balancing is that marketing is the problem. The fact that we’re taking the business strategy, which is growth, and saying, “I’m going to achieve growth at all costs because I’m good at marketing. I understand data in the aggregate. I understand how to move something from a 2% conversion rate to a 2.4% conversion rate and deliver a lift in revenue.”
What we do is when we are looking at things in aggregate, and I do this all the time because I also love data and love technology, we lose sight of the individual. We lose sight of the human being that we’re engaging with on the other side. The more that we require ourselves to disconnect from the strategy being handed to us and become part of that conversation and say, “Yes, I understand that we want to grow but how do we grow our relationships?”
“How do we grow engagement with our customers? How do we grow brand advocacy? How do we grow the community? How do we grow and influence sustainably using sustainable materials in the development of our products? How do we grow a positive future for our employees, our coworkers, and our children?”
It’s expecting more of ourselves and expecting to have a bigger voice in the strategy and the direction of the company and what we stand for and then taking that strategy and saying, “How do I engage at an individual level and not get caught up in moving things in aggregate? How do I build a program that wins at an individual level for a majority of our customers?”
This circles back to the single customer view premise, which is being human, one-to-one again. Amanda, we could go on and on. I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation. For those people who want to communicate with you, are you active on LinkedIn? Can they connect with you there?
Absolutely, they can. You don’t even have to put my email address and you can connect with me. You can also email me at Amanda.Elam@Bloomreach.com.
A pleasure to have you. For people who want to find out more about Bloomreach, it’s Bloomreach.com. Amanda, thank you for shedding some more light on the single customer view and Bloomreach. It was quite an interesting conversation.
Thank you so much. Have a good one.