SDS1 Marketing Podcast with Emiliano Giovannoni
Simon Dell: I met our guest today in 2016 while we were both consulting and working for a video startup based in Brisbane where he was the head of marketing. And as an Italian-born Australian, and there’s a few of them out there, he’s had a background in companies such as ICONZ-Webvisions in Australia, and Namesco in the UK, and now works as a consultant for major global retail brand which I’m sure we’ll find out a little bit more about. Most people will simply call him E because he’s got a long name and it’s a lot easier to say, and his surname’s hard to pronounce as well. I get Emiliano right, so Emiliano Giovannoni, is that right?
Emiliano Giovannoni: Correct, well done.
Simon Dell: Wow, good. So, welcome. I thought we’d just start off with a little bit of a background. So, just give us a little bit of your history about how you came to where you are today, just so people can understand who you are.
Emiliano Giovannoni: Thank you, Simon. I have been in online marketing for approximately 16 years now, I’d say. It all started I guess when the internet was becoming a major force in marketing in the early 2000s. In 2001, I set up an email marketing agency. This will be strange now, but email marketing was huge back in 2001. The idea was to offer a full service from HTML design, copywriting, database management. And back in those days, it would also involve using email as a new customer acquisition channel.
Simon Dell: Those days when you could just randomly email people on the internet.
Emiliano Giovannoni: You could buy lists, correct.
Simon Dell: And there were no laws for that kind of thing.
Emiliano Giovannoni: It was an unregulated market in most countries. We were at the beginning probably of the SPAM laws, and anti-SPAM, and CAN-SPAM. Different countries went in different directions, and obviously email marketing became the tool of choice for customer retention and customer base marketing rather than new customer acquisition. But in the early days, especially in B2B, it was actually an effective channel because it just simply substituted what used to be direct mail.
That venture lasted a couple of years, and from there I joined then as an online marketing manager, a large Australian ISP with international presence. I guess that’s where I began more of a what you could say corporate career, I suppose. Online marketing was very exciting back then and very different from what it is now. It was very much in its discovery phase, and if you were in online marketing, you were considered a geek. It wasn’t funky in any way. You’d be introduced to people at barbecues as the guy who works with computers.
Because the technical aspect was so less user-friendly that you really had to have a bit of a technical bend to be able to master online marketing. Nowadays as you say, I work for an international fashion brand, consulting I guess what you could define a digital transformation process where they’re trying to become more competitive online and do more in e-commerce. That’s a very competitive sector, very exciting and international at the same time, which makes things very interesting.
Simon Dell: Just on that, I guess the first question would really be, you started off back in those early-2000s doing email marketing. Email marketing, obviously in my mind, is still an important channel today. What’s the major difference? I mean, obviously aside from the SPAM laws, but what’s the major difference that you see the way things were done back in 2001 to the way they’re done in 2017 from an email marketing point of view?
Emiliano Giovannoni: The main difference I would say is the sophistication in segmenting communication. So, back in those days, email marketing was a form of mass marketing, mass communication. But now, with marketing automation tools, you’re able to track user’s response and tailor the communication to a specific user based on their interaction with your initial message.
So, if customer A opens email B and then it follows a certain path down your communication strategy. So, I think the tools have become more sophisticated and marketers have become more sophisticated in the way they use segmentation, targeting, and life cycle marketing strategies to try and make messages as personal as possible, as targeted as possible.
Simon Dell: Okay. So, moving onto the way you are currently, or it’s actually not, moving to some of the roles that you’ve done prior to the last couple of roles… It seems to me you’ve worked a lot in that space where it’s very high volume but low cost customers. There’s lots of them but they’re not contributing massive amounts, each customer. I guess the first question is, was that actually the case? And secondly, what were some of the unique challenges that you see with that kind of retail space?
Emiliano Giovannoni: Yes, very much the case. The term I’d use is probably the best term I can think of is database marketing. So, large ISPs, insurance companies, so companies with hundreds of thousands or millions of customers each contributing small amounts, but the important factor is these customers are engaged with the business on a subscription billing basis, recurring billing basis.
So, this is becoming actually more prevalent nowadays even with smaller companies, the whole concept of a subscription economy where you can sign up to receive your pet food on a monthly basis, or chocolate on a monthly basis. This is something that insurance companies, credit card companies, ISPs have been doing for a long time. But what it means is you’re going to an area of marketing which can be quite complex and where you have to understand your customer’s behaviour, and predict their behaviour, and communicate with a large number of customers at scale but make it feel as though you know them personally. You can only do that through sophisticated database analysis and predictive models.
Simon Dell: Just based on that then, what are the key… So, I get your point about you need these people to feel like they’re the only customer, really, when they’re perhaps out of 100,000 customers. What are some of the tricks or ways that you’ve used in the past to make people feel like that?
Emiliano Giovannoni: Well, look, because it boils down to relevancy and timing, right? The way to be relevant and timely is to map every customer’s life cycle with the business. So, you sort of have to understand that journey. So, if you’re a web services company like Names.co.uk or some of the companies I worked for, then you need to understand the process a customer goes through in setting up their presence online for maybe a small business.
So, they would register a domain name. The next thing they would do is they would probably want to set up an email account. They would probably then want to build a website and then they would want to promote that website. Eventually, they may want to protect their brand online. So, you need to map this journey and then structure your communication based on your customer’s journey and where they are in that journey in order to always be relevant and timely.
And you know, again, this is something banks have always done very well for a long time when they… Sometimes, they even show you those graphs where they can map… “One of our customers would graduate, and maybe they would have a student loan, and then they would start a job and perhaps get a mortgage for their first house, and then maybe have kids and borrow to buy a bigger car because now they’re building a family.” That concept of following your customer’s life cycle with you as a business is something that banks have always understood really well, but it’s applicable to most businesses that are in database marketing that deal with large customer databases.
Simon Dell: I guess personalization is the key factor with big organizations like that; it’s using their first names, just simple things like that.
Emiliano Giovannoni: Totally. Using their first names, making use of the data you have available. So, you may have birthdays, touch points that you can use to personalize that communication because that data may be available to you. You have to be very careful. The more you personalize your communication, the more you have to be sure that your data is clean and up to date.
When you’re dealing with millions of customers, the horror stories of emailing somebody and appending the wrong first name, or even worse. You’re opening yourself up. The more personalized the specific communication, the more you have to be confident that your data is always clean and up to date.
Simon Dell: I guess that’s probably one of the least worst things that happens, is actually emailing the wrong first name these days if you’re a company like Equifax and you’re database marketing to hundreds of thousands of people, millions of people. There’s always the danger that that database is exposed by hackers or something like that.
Emiliano Giovannoni: Correct.
Simon Dell: I think the other thing I found working with you is obviously you’re a very data-focused marketer. You like to really understand the numbers behind what you’re doing or those kind of things. And obviously, all marketers should be like that, or at least all marketers should have an element of that. How do you deal with marketing plans that sort of overly weight down with creative ideas, and people aren’t really thinking about the numbers?
Emiliano Giovannoni: That’s a big question. I think a marketing plan must have different steps, or the development of a marketing plan needs to have different steps. There’s a first step which needs to be creative, I think, which is when you develop your narrative, essentially. “What does our business stand for? What is our value proposition? What is our tone of voice?”
You make those decisions, “Why should customers choose us instead of a competitor?” You sort of clear all of those key marketing, strategic marketing points, and that is essentially a very creative step. But after that, you need to go into a more analytical phase or step where you need to be able to predict the outcome of what you’re going to do, and the only way to do it is to drill into the numbers, and forecast response, and forecast potential conversion.
A third and final step, which is when you actually deploy your marketing. And that’s creative again because having established what your positioning statement is, what your brand stands for, having established all the forecasting and analysis, then you actually have to produce marketing content and marketing campaigns. That’s creative again, but these three steps work together, and I think some companies have more of a tendency to spend more time on the creative steps and other companies, the analytical steps. I think you really need the balance which is a tricky balance to strike.
Simon Dell: What are some of the brands that you admire yourself, some of the brands that you might buy, or experience, or even if you don’t buy or experience some of it, that you admire from a distance?
Emiliano Giovannoni: As a consumer, we’ll have some brands with Myer and we sort of go back to… I think as a marketer, there are some brands I admire because I think their marketing strategy or business model shows excellence in their field. An obvious example is I think IKEA, who disrupted the industry by creating this model where consumers feel like they’re part of the production itself. And the term that’s developed in the last few years is value co-creation or co-production.
It’s not just about cost saving. If you buy from IKEA, you feel like you have the ability to customize and personalize the product much more so than if you buy from competitors. IKEA is an example that as a marketer I think really shows leadership in their field. It’s definitely a brand I admire from that point of view.
Simon Dell: What are some of the things that they do that you kind of look at and just go, “Yeah, that’s what I would inspire to inject to my current clients.”
Emiliano Giovannoni: One of the things is that they really simplify the process and they really guide their customers through the experience. So, it’s going into an IKEA store, and purchasing from IKEA is I would say a seamless experience. Of course, we deal in online marketing, and that’s right at the core of the digital economy, making user experience as easy and intuitive as possible. IKEA is a business that’s actually done it offline.
You are guaranteed to find what you’re looking for. You are guaranteed to be taken through steps and a journey, if you like, when you come out of your purchasing experience thinking that you have — that it was easy, and enjoyable, and frictionless to use an ugly word. In that respect, I think they were leaders right at the beginning of business, thinking of user experience in-store. Nowadays online, that’s critical.
Simon Dell: It’s kind of ironic that the word ‘frictionless’ is such an ugly word, really.
Emiliano Giovannoni: Isn’t it? It is.
Simon Dell: I guess for me with IKEA, I agree. I love the way that they treat the brand, the whole user experience. Obviously, there’s the classic IKEA god that you go in to buy one thing from IKEA and the IKEA god makes you buy 10 things, instead, which a lot of retailers have lusted after that ability to do that.
It’s interesting from somebody like yourself who is so focused online that IKEA has been slow to adopt online platforms in certain countries. Do you kind of have any idea why that might be or why they’re so hesitant to embrace that side?
Emiliano Giovannoni: I don’t know in IKEA’s case specifically, but I do hear from time to time, marketing leaders or business leaders in different industries pointing out reasons why e-commerce may not be the answer for them. It always surprises me not only because I work in online marketing and e-commerce, but I think also in 2017, how is it possible that in some cases, business leaders would think that e-commerce is not applicable or is not a critical channel?
There are different reasons in different sectors, and I think we should keep an open mind and not just label these companies as being laggards. Not long ago, I was talking to a marketing director for a large fashion company in Europe. He gave me a reason why e-commerce was not their biggest channel. And one of the reasons he pointed out was if you live in a European city, you get out of your house and only have to walk a couple hundred meters to walk past lots of retail outlets where you may buy a product like the product they sell.
And so, in his view, the convenience of buying online is diluted versus other geographic areas where unless you chose to buy online, you would have some products either not being accessible to you as a consumer, or the range of products would just not be great, or… This is very debatable, obviously, but it made me think that you have to look at some different geographic areas and different industry sectors to understand realistically how e-commerce can fit into their business model and how it can be developed.
At the moment, I think retail, and this is applicable, IKEA’s going through a big transformation with in-store analytics for example and that sort of offline, online experience where computers review products on their phones while they are in-store, and marketers can measure consumer behaviour in-store using mobile data and analytics. It’s catching up with them, I think.
Simon Dell: It’s interesting. I think that retail space, obviously with people like Amazon, but also with Apple retail and things like that, that’s undergone a massive shift and I think it’s still undergoing a massive shift. There’s a lot of people who would argue that it’s about to go under an even bigger evolution. I think Toys ‘R Us went into bankruptcy protection last week or this week in the US, which is a massive brand struggling out there. But I think the technology the retailers have at their fingertips now, it can protect them to a certain degree from the Amazons of this world. Do you agree with that?
Emiliano Giovannoni: Yes, I do. And I think retailers will need to think more of their stores as an experience for customers rather than just a sales outlet. And many are doing that already. The concept for instance, as you’ve seen for years now, that some bookstores have a coffee shop inside the bookstore. So, it’s not just about the transaction, the sales transaction, it’s the experience, it’s something that a consumer would want to go to a store not just for the sake of purchasing a product but to experience the store itself. I think the example of a coffee shop in the bookstore is a perfect one.
Simon Dell: It’s interesting. That brings you right back to IKEA, because if you go to IKEA on a Sunday morning and see the amount of people there that have gone to IKEA for breakfast before they decide to wander around… There’s people that go to IKEA just for breakfast and don’t actually go to shop which amazes me, although I’ve eaten a fair few IKEA hotdogs in my time as well.
Taking it back down to the other end of business, if you were starting a business today yourself, and obviously there’s a lot of people hopefully out there that will listen to this that are in this kind of position that they’re thinking of starting a business, what would your top three pieces of advice be from a marketing… Maybe not just a marketing point of view, but a marketing and business point of view? What would you say to them they obviously have to do?
Emiliano Giovannoni: I would say, to begin with, don’t think of sales but think of customer acquisition. I know you’ve probably heard me say this because it’s one of my favorite topics. Don’t just think of your cost of sales, your transaction value, but think of building a customer base, think of when you are budgeting for your marketing, or you’re doing a P&L, think of the cost of acquiring a customer instead of cost of sale and what is the lifetime value of this customer.
I think many business, sometimes they sort of forget to look at lifetime value and cost of acquiring a customer and focus on the transactional aspect for sales. I’d say map your customers journey over the lifetime of your product or service. Like we said before, that’s the second point I would give, especially to your marketing managers. And again, for marketing managers, try to operate across the full marketing mix. Don’t just rely on one channel whether it be pay-per-click advertising, or social media, or your SEO. Try and diversify across the full marketing mix. These would be my tips.
Simon Dell: They’re all fantastic suggestions. I like the first one about understanding the actual value of a customer. I think a lot of people fail to take that into account, the lifetime value of somebody. You can almost spend as much on them as they might spend in the first month actually capturing them if you think they’re going to be with you for the next two or three years. It’s a lot easier to nurture. It’s a lot easier and cheaper to nurture existing customers than it is to find new customers.
Emiliano Giovannoni: Yeah. So, build that into your plan, and forecast it, and budget it. So, it doesn’t really matter what type of business you’re in. It doesn’t have to be a subscription business where you know customers are going to be there in a certain period of time which you can measure and predict. It can be anything. It can be trades. It’s as simple as if you’re going to… If you visit a customer to do some building work, it’s as simple as asking them for a visit again for some maintenance, a few months down the line or after some period of time, and that is your customer lifetime value essentially.
So, if you can predict that, if you can build it into your business model and forecast it, that’s the way you build profitability into your marketing ROI.
Simon Dell: Those are your three tips to start off in marketing. What frustrates you? When you go into a business, what frustrates you? And I can probably think of at least a dozen things that frustrate you, knowing you, but what’s the one thing that you just kind of gets you back up when you see from a marketing perspective?
Emiliano Giovannoni: One of the things that frustrates me is there is a lot of noise in marketing. Marketing managers, business managers, bombarded with new buzzwords, new ideas, and pulled in all sorts of different directions. I think a key skill of a good marketing manager is to separate an opportunity from just distraction and focus on executing the core channels to the best degree that the company is able to execute those channels.
It does frustrate me that there is so much going on in the online marketing world, and new trends, and new software, and new ideas that sometimes marketing managers just simply dilute what they’re doing across lots of different things that do not execute any of them as accurately as they could.
Simon Dell: I think that’s one of the things that I’ve certainly seen a lot of, is that a piece of data that might arrive at 9:00 one night, or something might happen at a website, or whatever it might be, is that people sometimes panic. They panic and they shift focus, or they shift budgets, or they change something and that they don’t faithfully execute those core plans that they started with in the first place. I think that to me is also a massive frustration.
Emiliano Giovannoni: I like that word because I think you have to believe. That’s when your planning is so important, because if you have planned everything carefully, then you know you can trust your plan. And when it comes to executing your marketing plan, you are able to resist the temptation to change direction and trying new things because you believe in your plan, your scopings and detail, you know where you’re going to get once you’ve executed your plans. It’s discipline, isn’t it?
Simon Dell: Absolutely. I guess there’s always space for adjusting and tweaking what you’re doing, but it’s when that adjustment, all that tweaking then compromises the rest of the plan that it can be mentally frustrating, I guess.
Emiliano Giovannoni: Yeah, and there’s a lot of pressure. So, of course, everyone’s trying to do more with less and everybody operates in a very competitive space. It’s understandable.
Simon Dell: Yeah. So, last question for you today. Obviously, I mentioned earlier on, you’re a very data-driven or data-focused marketer. What are some of the tools that you like? If somebody out there is starting out at marketing or they’re starting their own business, I think on my website, I’ve quoted that there’s 5,000 different marketing tech tools. What are some of the ones that you sort of go to in order to sort of take insights out of?
Emiliano Giovannoni: I think sometimes I spend too much time trying new tools. It’s very tempting to see all these new shiny applications that are released with a 30 days trial. I use the Google Adwords’ keyword suggestion tool a lot not just for pay-per-click advertising but to gauge consumer demand in a certain country for a specific term or product. I think it’s such a fantastic tool. I definitely recommend most digital marketing managers use it and I’m sure many do.
I use an SEO management platform at the moment called SEMrush that I like because it’s able to track Google ranking and SEO performance across all countries. So, internationally and not just US, UK, and a few others. I’ve tried a few SEO management tools and not many have the ability to track performance across non-English speaking markets. And in my current role, that’s very important. I like SEMrush because of that. Yeah, so these are two that I would recommend if they are relevant to any of the listeners.
Simon Dell: What about the in-use platforms? Obviously, there’s been a proliferation of in-use platforms and marketing automation platforms. What have you seen that stands out to you?
Emiliano Giovannoni: Look, marketing automation… I mean, I remember seeking HubSpot’s demo years ago, and the capability that it had at the time was fairly basic. And seeing what HubSpot is able to do now, I think these tools become relevant for medium and large-size organizations. But I think for maybe a small business nowadays, bulk email platforms allow some really good automation settings like MailChimp, or Campaign Monitor, Autopilot. They sort of started out as bulk email applications for newsletters but now they have built in also the capability to set some rules for marketing automation and some smarts, I guess, for segmenting email campaigns or integration with, let’s say, exit intent applications that provide smarts that you can apply on your website.
So, MailChimp, great tool I would say in that respect and Campaign Monitor as well for email, not just email newsletters, email marketing in general with I guess entry-level automation.
Simon Dell: Wonderful. I mean, I’ve used most of those as well. I’m sort of very aware of SEMrush, but MailChimp I think is the go-to mail program for most people out there. So, thank you for that. That’s been very enlightening, very engaging and very informative. If anybody wants to get in contact with you, what’s the easiest way? On LinkedIn, or Twitter, or..?
Emiliano Giovannoni: LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the easiest way.
Simon Dell: We’ll provide a link in the show notes to that. I just want to say thank you for your time today. Thankfully, the postman didn’t knock and the dogs didn’t bark.
Emiliano Giovannoni: Excellent. Thank you, Simon.
Simon Dell: Thank you very much.
Emiliano Giovannoni: It’s been a pleasure.
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