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    Alicia Arnold: Spotlight on the expert

    Alicia Arnold: Spotlight on the expert
    Alicia Arnold

    Alicia Arnold is the founder of a consulting company, AK Arnold, and draws on 20 years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies to help them transform digitally. She is also a valued contributor to MarTech and a speaker at The MarTech Conference. We discussed the importance of being able to translate technology and break down silos in organizations, all while never losing sight of the customer. (Interview edited for length and clarity.)

    Q: How did you first get into marketing and technology? How did this lead you to customer experience?

    A: Oh boy, I started out in direct marketing. When I first graduated, I decided I wanted to focus on marketing and got a job in direct marketing. I was really drawn to new things, so the whole idea of websites, and online ecommerce was really starting to brew. I got pretty quickly into the world of digital marketing. And in that space, I realized I have an ability to “speak technology” — I can translate very technical things to people who aren’t technical. And that led me to moving into the build side of digital marketing, building ecommerce platforms globally. From there, with the background in marketing and digital, I started thinking about how all of it starts to come together. And really all the pieces of a business come together to serve the customer better. So that’s where I moved into customer experience.

    I fell into it by searching for things that were new and always learning. What’s interesting is that the proliferation of technology and the marketing side is just crazy — you can’t see all of the logos in the martech graphic without a magnifying glass! I think this really speaks to how the industry has grown.

    I think back when colleges were beginning to teach marketing, they were focused on the four Ps — product, price, place, promotion. As technology has advanced, it’s become embedded, and it’s a part of marketing you can’t untie.

    Q: Direct marketing is sometimes associated with direct mail, an old-school traditional medium. But data has always also been a part of it — through mailing lists and reaching specific customer segments. It’s kind of old-school and new-school. Did you find that to be the case?

    A: I think that’s a great point. All of the skill sets that you may have picked up in direct mail and direct marketing apply today. And maybe even more so because now it’s not just creating a testing matrix and putting it out there. Now, you’re testing in real-time, so the things you’ve learned come together even more quickly.

    It’s a lot more complex now, but the whole idea of understanding behavior, segmentation, making sure you’re developing creative that reaches the right people at the right time, personalization — none of that is new! These are things that people in marketing have been talking about since the beginning of time.

    Q: In finding your talent to translate technology, who were the people who needed it translated?

    A: I remember a conversation where we were talking to the marketing department at a very large sports apparel company. They were putting out their first ecommerce platform and they had to make a decision about the type of technology they would use for their website. And their tech folks hadn’t been brought into the process yet, so I was talking to their marketing and business folks. And our tech folks at the agency were trying to get them to figure out the approach. They asked if they wanted to use the MVC approach — model-view-controller. And I could see the look in the eyes of the client and that we were dealing with words they couldn’t understand. It wasn’t English to them. So I simplified it and told them about the benefit of using the approach, and a light went on. The marketers said of course they wanted that. It would make it easier for their team to manage the products on their ecommerce platform.

    Q: How do you go about translating technology for non-specialized marketers and business leaders?

    A: It’s really about breaking down those technical requirements into easy-to-understand bits and pieces. But beyond that, what does the technology allow you, as an organization, to do? You need to discuss what the pros and cons are and prioritize those different pieces of technology and what skill sets those marketers are going to need once the technology is in place. There’s a lot of change management that goes along with implementing new technology.

    Q: Change is fearful for a lot of people when they have a job to do. What are the fears or other barriers that factor into these changes?

    A: For a lot of organizations, changing to a new technology isn’t something they do very often, otherwise it would be an old hat and they’d just push the button and get it done. When you bring in a new technology it’s important to bring the right people into the meetings. Finding the people who work cross-functionally on multiple teams and getting those people to talk to one another tends to make things easier than just talking to the business leaders who are going to own that technology moving forward.

    Dig deeper: 5 simple ways to improve customer experience

    Q: Where does an understanding of the customer come into this process?

    A: When you’re trying to bridge a conversation about what path to take as an organization, there are sometimes silos within the business, all these departments. I would take these conversations from the outside in and suggest that they look at it through the customer’s lens. You’re looking to do technology A, B or C. What does that help your customers do, and is that a pain point when they work with you or buy something from you? And that becomes one of the ways you can start a conversation where everyone comes together on a common ground within the organization. It’s not really about what I might want, or what the person next to me wants. It’s about how you are going to improve the experience for customers, and by doing that, improve your business overall.

    Q: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in customers or customer behavior over your time in marketing?

    A: Wanting transparency. Wanting to understand the ins and outs of the decisions that companies are making and the why. I think that’s very important and you see it a lot in financial services products and healthcare. It used to be that employers gave employees healthcare. When I say “gave,” I mean they offered the plan and paid for it as an employer. But what’s happening now is that there’s much more direct-to-consumer going on in these complex areas. So consumers have to get smarter about what they’re purchasing. And they don’t always know as well as someone who’s in the industry the different terminologies and what the tradeoffs are. So if you’re able to create a digital experience where they learn, understand and, with transparency, get a sense of what it really means to them, it is very helpful for all of these different types of complex experiences.

    Q: Do you think chatbots play a role in the future of providing these experiences, translating complex knowledge for consumers?

    A: I think it’s already happening. When you look at ChatGPT, Perplexity, all of the different chat search engines out there, the population out there is actually asking questions that they maybe feel intimidated to ask a human. Or they feel like if they ask this to a person on the phone the agent will think they really don’t know what they’re talking about. So they can dive a little deeper with that experience in AI.

    It’s interesting because it means that these models need to get up the curve and be smart enough to give the right information and to be able to interpret what people are saying in natural language. The customer might not be using those very technical keywords that your bot is being trained off of, so you’re going to have to make sure it’s learning and you’re teaching the models about your business.

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    The post Alicia Arnold: Spotlight on the expert appeared first on MarTech.

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