Balancing personalization with brand consistency: Podcast interview with Tameka Vasquez & Oliver Christie

By | 21 minute read | April 30, 2019

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Does personalization truly scale? If so, how can we balance one-to-one personalization with brand consistency?

In this episode of thinkPod, we are joined by Tameka Vasquez (marketing strategist and professor) and Oliver Christie (futurist and founder of Foxy Machine). We talk to Tameka and Oliver about creating customer experiences that resonate, the beauty of simplicity and being jargon-free, and whether or not AI will replace human creativity with marketing. We also tackle whether marketers have been tone deaf and the difficulties of hyper personalization.

Some of the questions we tackle include:

  • Is there a place for artificial intelligence in marketing?
  • How can we balance the customer experience with automation tools?
  • Does personalization truly scale?
  • Have marketers become tone deaf?
  • How much will AI replace creativity?

Some quotes from our discussion:

“Let’s just start asking better questions. Let’s just start challenging the status quo. Let’s start looking at what we’re doing across the various functions at an organization and figure out what we can do better, how we can optimize, how we can grow, how we can design a future.”-Tameka Vasquez

“I always think of AI as simply a set of tools. Some are more sophisticated than others, but really it’s what do you do with that tool? How are you going to use it? And I think we’re still quite early on in the conversation as to what we should be doing.” –Oliver Christie

“And at the end of the day, we’re really just talking about reaching customers where they want to be reached and making sure that we’re creating experiences that resonate.” –Host Amanda Thurston

“I’m a big believer in simplicity and I think the reason I’m super excited about the possibilities of data and of artificial intelligence and all of these tools and technologies is because hopefully it just gets us to a place of simplicity.” –Tameka Vasquez

“The data we’ve got and the tools, we’ve got are more sophisticated, but the questions we’re asking are not.” –Oliver Christie

About the panelists:

Tameka Vasquez is a marketing and business development strategist with nearly a decade of experience managing various growth and demand generation programs for global technology companies. Her background includes bringing products to market in industries such as banking, media, and research. She is currently the associate director of marketing at a multi-national machine learning and data science company. Tameka is also currently an assistant professor of marketing management at St. John’s University. And she serves as a strategic advisor to Opus AI, an automation platform with a proven method of increasing diversity hiring.

Oliver Christie is the founder of Foxy Machine. Oliver helps companies envision their future and leverage this technology to stay ahead of the competition. He looks at how AI can impact key aspects of the business such as acquiring and retaining customers, customizing products and services, and achieving profitability. Oliver then works with companies to develop the right solution which, at times, can fundamentally reshape how the business operates.  Oliver’s experience includes working in the Financial, Media and Transportation sectors, and using technologies such as IBM Watson, Microsoft Azure, Google Tensorflow, and Intel.

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Connect with us & the guests:

thinkLeaders @IBMthinkLeaders

Tameka  Vasquez @tameka_vasquez

Oliver Christie @OliverChristie

Full transcript below:

Amanda: Hey everybody. Welcome to thinkLeaders. I’m Amanda Thurston

Sara: And I’m Sarah Strope.

Amanda: And today we had a really interesting conversation with Oliver Christie and Tameka Vasquez. We kind of were all over the map, but under the premise of what does it mean to bring artificial intelligence into the conversation about marketing.

Sara: Yeah, and I like how they started reminding us one, that it’s a spectrum of what you can use AI and marketing. You can start really simply with automation, but you can get to the place where you’re doing personalization at scale and you’re getting into predictive marketing.

Amanda: Yeah

Sara:  And they also reminded us that sometimes it just means stick to what you know in terms of the basics of marketing. AI Doesn’t change everything.

Amanda: Yeah. It’s like we have a tendency to overcomplicate things as marketers but also as human beings. I guess. It was interesting because we started talking about personalization and how to reach people in ways that really feel engaging to them. And there was quite a bit of discussion about even with the tools that we have now, are we making the best decisions we could be as marketers and are we reaching people in ways that they want to be reached within the data sets that we already have access to them.

Sara: Right. There’s a lot about how we as marketers need to learn to ask different questions, how we have to partner with more functional areas across our business. Whether that means working with our chief data office, working with our CIO and CTO and in order to take advantage of the data that we have, but also, make sure that we always keep our clients’ best interest at heart.

Amanda: Yeah. The idea of language between those different groups and eliminating jargon so that the conversation becomes more accessible and maybe more promising.

Sara: Exactly.

Amanda: Awesome. Well we will let people get listening. So we tried something a little bit different today and I started the conversation and Sara closed us out and took us home. So I hope you enjoy,


Amanda: We are joined by Oliver Christie who is the founder of Foxy Machine and Tameka Vasquez, who is a marketing strategist and professor. Welcome.

Tameka:  Thank you.

Oliver: Thank you so much.

Amanda: Thanks for being here. So we’re going to dive into a conversation around marketing, which is a little bit softer than what we’ve been talking about the past few weeks. I think in the industry right now there’s a lot of data and marketers are using data in more robust ways than they ever have before. But when we start to talk to CMOs, I don’t know that they feel fully equipped to use the term AI yet. So I’d love just initially your thoughts on is there a place for artificial intelligence in marketing? Are we there yet, and how can we start to make chief marketing officers feel more comfortable with starting to go down that road?

Tameka: Yeah, I mean I think it’s a philosophy thing because ultimately the strengths of a marketer I think is to be the source of information at a company that is weaving together the work that the CIO is doing, the work that the CTO is doing, the work that folks in product development are doing. That person, the chief marketing officer, any head of marketing, is really the source of information at companies. For the most part. They are really looking at what everybody is trying to achieve and trying to channel it through very specific campaigns and things like that. So it shouldn’t be intimidating, I think, because artificial intelligence is really a way of facilitating what you’re trying to achieve anyway. Our whole thing is really asking better questions. I think, at least the marketers that I know and respect, it’s really like, Let’s just start asking better questions. Let’s just start challenging the status quo. Let’s start looking at what we’re doing across the various functions at an organization and figure out what we can do better, how we can optimize, how we can grow, how we can design a future. You know, and tell a better story in all of those things. So AI and all of the tools that are available to us are meant to facilitate that process I think.

Amanda: Yeah, I think that’s right.

Oliver: I mean I always think of AI as simply a set of tools. Some are more sophisticated than others, but really it’s what do you do with that tool? How are you going to use it? And I think we’re still quite early on in the conversation as to what we should be doing. At the moment most people are talking about automation, you know, making something a little bit quicker, a little bit faster, a little bit cheaper, but that’s not really the best use of AI. I mean we can ask fundamentally better questions and really change how we do marketing. It should be a large shift to rather than something small.

Amanda: I think people get intimidated by discussions around information architecture and some of the language that has traditionally been within the CIO or the CTO’s department. Right. And Tameka, you brought up this idea of being cross disciplinary or cross functional around the organization. And I think that there’s a language barrier almost between the creatives and the sort of abstract idea of marketing and the way that we think about the customer within our part of the organization. And then maybe the more technologically driven or informationally driven part that comes with the legacy conception of what a CIO, CTO is responsible for. And I wonder if you know, for those of us who are the enlightened middle section of that Venn Diagram, if you have thoughts on how CMOs or even the CIO, CTO can start to forge a joint language that will make this conversation and this progression easier.

Tameka: There are so many linkages between all of these groups that I think we just take for granted because it’s just a part of the day to day conversations that happen. For example, the marketer is trying to figure out, how do I facilitate the process of getting somebody interested in this product or service, getting them to buy it as quickly as possible and then sustaining them for the long run. The folks in product, they’re trying to figure out how do we create better capabilities? You know, how do we make this easier and more fun to use, you know, folks in sales are trying to figure out, how do I reach the people where they are, where are they in the first place? And you know, how could I be able to have conversations at the level that they need to have them. Folks in IT are trying to figure out how do we maximize the efficiency of the tools that we have? Everybody is asking what sounds like very different questions, but they’re all ultimately the same question, which is about value. So I think if we just kind of stick to that, that core and utilize our ability as marketers and hopefully as future-driven marketers to really start to find those linkages and be able to figure out what are we all trying to drive? You know, when it comes to value, it becomes less intimidating because then you realize you’re actually speaking the same language. You’re just asking the question in slightly different ways.

Amanda: Yeah, for sure.

Oliver: You didn’t mention all the jargon [laughter], you didn’t mention all the jargon and the kind of process that I think people hide behind. I think it’s having a better conversation, get rid of the jargon and get rid of the historic how things are meant to be done and just say, well what are we actually trying to achieve? It’s the things you mentioned.

Amanda: I mean it’s interesting because we’re having all these conversations about shifting between automation and personalization or looking at prediction and anticipation, right? And at the end of the day, we’re really just talking about reaching customers where they want to be reached and making sure that we’re creating experiences that resonate. And I think to your point, that’s about value. Very fundamentally. We’re trying to sell something and in order to do that, we need to make people want to buy that. And I know that’s very sort of basic and yes, like we’re not all selling things all the time, but at the end of the day we kind of are, no matter what, if you’re B2B or B2C, you’re trying to reach somebody to get them to convert in some way. If we think about just the baseline, is this a customer experience that I want to have or how can I infuse data into that to make it better? It seems like all of a sudden that shift and all these words that we’ve been using doesn’t feel as complicated. Is that a fair assessment of the situation?

Tameka: Yeah, I mean I always tend to think words and jargon like Oliver’s suggested tend to just become very noisy. I’m a big believer in simplicity and I think the reason I’m super excited about the possibilities of data and of artificial intelligence and all of these tools and technologies is because hopefully it just gets us to a place of simplicity.

Oliver: The data we’ve got and the tools, we’ve got are more sophisticated, but the questions we’re asking are not. So we tested something a while ago, which was we created new adverts based on someone’s profile photo. We changed it out to better match your profile, what you look like. A little bit of image recognition meant we knew your gender, how old you are, your skin color and your hair color. And we started off these new adverts, say for makeup. The typical thing you’ve seen, attractive woman in her, a in her twenties white skin, long blonde hair. And obviously that’s for a female audience, 322 million people in the US as of the last census in 2015. So you’ve now knocked down from 322 to an audience of 164. You then go into an age range of say 25 to 29 which was the age of the person. You’re not down to 11 million. You put in the fact that she’s white, 7.4 million and that she’s blonde, which is 19% of the population. You get to an audience size of about 1.4 million or more 0.4% of the US population, so it’s strange that we’re saying we want to be personal and yet we’re not there.

Amanda: Yeah. I guess the flip side of that is what we talk about when we’re thinking through one to one addressability. I think this has been that Unicorn that marketers have been chasing for a long time, is how do we get to the point where we’re able to market to an audience of one, which is kind of the opposite of what you’re talking about, which is how do we encompass a much larger population with the messaging that we put out? Do we feel like one to one addressability at any point is possible that we can get to that level of personalization and do it at scale?

Tameka: I think we could get to the point of one to one eventually if we just start getting to the point of segmenting more accurately, because I think this concept of, of one-to-one sounds as if, well, I want to define myself as a company that serves x and creates profiles around this and sort of serves these types of people and we come up with these very stereotypical segments. Oftentimes, more often than not, even in the B2B side of the equation. And I think we could just do a better job of just figuring out, well, what are the nuances and what are the complexities in these segments that we can then serve? If you get to the point of doing that and just understanding that we can’t be data rich and like insight’s poor, right? We can’t just have all this information available to us and not look at the complexities and nuances and the possibilities through a good light. You know, it’s the things that can come out of that. It becomes much, much harder to then say, well, how do I serve you? The individual?

Amanda: Yeah.

Oliver:  IBM Watson has a very interesting tool we’ve actually been using.

Amanda: Thanks for the plug, we appreciate it. [Laughing]

Oliver:  But the thing is it works. The personal anti insight, it takes a sample of your written data and it understands you as one of 20 different personality types. So it’s a kind coin analysis using the personality insight. I can now talk to you as an individual, as a marketer, or write your, you know, I have divided up the audience into one of 20 but it’s based on how you’re write and how you talk and how you some of how you think and act. So we’ve got the tools, we just aren’t using them yet.

Amanda: Do you think that there’s fatigue from the consumers are around, you brought up the idea of being data rich, but insights poor, that we’ve already seen, or we assume that brands have a ton of information about us. I mean, every site you land on, they tell you that they’re tracking your cookies and that they’re going to stalk you and to perpetuity. And we’ve all acknowledged that that is a reality. But then oftentimes that doesn’t translate into an understanding of where I am in my buy cycle. Right. We all have that story about being retargeted even after we’ve bought the product. Do you think that that over time we’re sort of positioning ourselves poorly as marketers to be able to get to the point of one to one addressability because in the interim we’re doing things that are tone deaf or blind because we’re not accurately using the information that we do have and using the tools that we do have access to? I mean, to your point, thinking about ways that we can bring in new technology or even just using the existing technology that we have within our stack to better inform the way that we’re going to market.

Tameka: I do a lot of work around messaging and developing value propositions. You know, working with very complex technology and trying to make it sound simple for someone who want to buy it and in that journey to develop messaging, more often than not, we just kind of default back to just things that are just outdated and things that are just kind of largely…

Amanda: Sara and I don’t know anything about that. [Laughing] That’s not something we do at IBM.

Tameka: But it’s unfortunate because I just think that people just know better. And especially for looking at things based on generation. You have millennials, you have generation z that are just very privy to the fact that tokenization is a thing. And the more that you try to tokenize people, places, things as something just to make yourself as a company seem like something else. without actually being authentic and without actually practicing what you preach without actually embedding it into the culture that you have as an organization and the culture that you have as an industry. People are becoming, you know, a bit more aware of that. And I think it’s going to bite some of us.

Amanda: Amen to that.

Oliver:  And it should, too.

Sara: I was curious to jump back a moment and talking about flipping the story from instead of what our intent is in terms of trying to say what we’re selling, what our value prop is, instead, what is our customer’s intent, what are the challenges to actually understanding a customer’s intent and how could the different tools and the AI tool belt help us understand the customer’s intent and ask some of those better questions.

Tameka: If we want it to like drill into one tool in particular. I think of the possibilities around chatbots for example. It’s a bit of a trend, but also it’s a data mine. It’s really interesting to kind of look at the ways that people are very open and vocal about what it is they want. It’s literally there to listen and a respond and I think to the extent that we can adopt that sort of listen and then respond mechanism, I think we’ll see a lot of benefit from that. And that’s, I’m using chatbots as an example, but there are so many other tools that would allow us to kind of just dig into the things that people are asking for. What are the patterns, you know, what are the frustrations that keep coming up and be able to use that and bring it back into some of the strategies that we’re developing.

Sara: If you take what marketers probably already know from traditional marketing tactics like in brick and mortar stores, how there’s often a greeter, right? And the greeters job is to find out what are you here for today? Anything I can help you with? If a chatbot could do that in a digital world, maybe that would help us learn and listen a little bit more. I like that idea of listening. When we think about listening and what we’ve talked about with personalization, how much will AI replace creativity? How will personalization and creativity start to impact marketing?

Tameka:  I think the true creativity of marketers is really, you are really the information sponge in the room. You know things that oftentimes people take for granted or don’t think is actionable. And you’re the one that’s really able to fuel that through a strategy and to try different things to filter out different campaigns and you know, just be able to reach people in different spaces and really be able to foster a culture of that. And I just think that’s very special. A lot of disruption that happens, I think, happens because marketers tell a great story around why you’re adopting this new technology why you’re adopting this new way of doing something that’s the true creativity. So you can’t replace that. All you can do is augment that. And I have very high hopes with the ability for artificial intelligence to augment that sort of process. So that’s kind of where I see not a replacement of, you know, the creativity, at least as far as how I define it, but the augmentation and the facilitation of it.

Sara: As we like to say, Man and Machine.

Oliver: I’m going to disagree because I think we can all think of advertising or marketing, which has been fantastically creative. It makes us laugh. It makes us cry. It’s either emotional or it’s something unique and clever. But most advertising isn’t that. It’s fairly prescriptive. Frankly, it’s fairly boring. We’ve seen it before which I think is why we don’t respond to it. This can be automated. I mean this can be entirely built by AI because it’s not smart enough, the content isn’t quite good enough.

Sara: In that case, would you say that AI could actually create more room for more creativity? You can automate the very standard parts of marketing and then that would actually unleash opportunity for more creativity?

Oliver: It depends if the advertising company or the client actually wants something more creative. Really good AI is never going to be as creative as people.

Sara: Talking a little bit about some of the examples you shared with how AI could start to lead to more one to one personalization and thinking about all the different ways one consumer of a product could be buying at different points in their journey. How do you maintain brand consistency and you know is personalization and automation sometimes at odds with having a consistent message and value prop?

Tameka: I think ultimately if the value proposition is based on points of connection, there are ways to connect with me as part of a larger group and there are ways to connect with me individually and those two things might not necessarily have to conflict. So I don’t think we should look at it as a point of conflict. I don’t think we should look at it as anything sort of confusing in that respect. You can have a message that is very clear in terms of what you’re trying to provide, who you are as a business and things like that, while at the same time appealing to people who are very, very different. Embracing that sort of diversity and being able to still sell the same product or service.

Sara: Right. And if we as marketers are taking advantage of all of the data sets we have, we’re learning to ask better questions. We’re learning to work across the multifunctional areas that you mentioned earlier today and then deploy new types of marketing, AI-driven marketing. We’ll get to some of those insights about our audience will reach more audiences more quickly. That’s kind of the holy grail.

Tameka: Yeah.

Oliver:  I think it is the holy grail, but I think we’ve got to be really careful. I think there’s a trust element at the moment where firstly, if you’re getting bad advertising, you don’t trust how you’re being advertised to. So you put on your Ad Block or if it’s something that it’s not useful, you get frustrated at the platform you’re own. I think trust is going to be the big thing. If you don’t trust a company, you are not going to share your data. If you don’t share your data, guess what? You can personalize.

Sara: So it’s being transparent and building that trust.

Oliver: I think so.

Tameka: Yeah, I’d say so. Oliver and Tameka, thank you so much for joining us today. It was great to have you and a fantastic discussion around how we can infuse AI into marketing and continue to reach more of our customers where they’re at.

Amanda: Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed this, you can find more by searching for thinkLeaders online.

Sara: Please like, subscribe, and rate us.