Held at the Hilton Hotel in Sydney, this year’s ad:tech conference brought together an avalanche of the world’s leading technology providers, brands and speakers.
He’s also very interested in taking people offline. Strange fodder for a keynote speaker and conference facilitator at one of Australia’s leading digital technology conferences.
I had to get in touch so that John could elaborate more on the reasons why.
Catching up after his presentation, we talked about taking digital insight and service wisdom offline, voice recognition technology, and the kind of data that’s connecting dots like never before.
Here’s how it all went down.
Zoë: So John, tell us a little bit about your background to kick things off. How did you come to be in this kind of space?
John: I’ve been in digital for about twenty years. When I graduated from college in the late nineties, there were thousands of start-ups focused on digital. I was interested in getting a paycheck and so I joined one.
Zoë: A pixelated paycheck?
John: Yeah, a pixelated paycheck. The company was focussed on stock charting for individual investors and it was a small company. Three people – I was number four – and I was responsible for everything from PR to customer service, to the website. It was a great introduction into the wild world of the internet and I’ve been doing that ever since.
Zoë: Fast-forward a few years now to Marchex. What does Marchex do and what’s your role there?
John: Marchex is an advertising analytics company. We believe that marketers have this pain point that should be solved. Everything online is measurable. Whether it’s visiting a website or buying something through a shopping cart. We can measure this stuff with cookies. But most of what consumers purchase actually occurs in-store or over the phone.
Marketers spend this money to advertise, to get people to buy something offline, but they can’t connect those dots.
“Our company is all about connecting those dots for advertisers. I find that really fascinating: answering questions that couldn’t be answered before.”
Zoë: In your presentation at ad:tech, you talked specifically about getting people ‘offline’, which is a bit of reverse thinking for those of us in online marketing. We’ve always wanted to keep people online, because it’s easier to measure behaviour. What has driven this shift to get people ‘offline’?
John: I think consumers have been driving the shift. It’s all about responding to what consumers want. Consumers love to do research online: checking what their friends say about a company on Yelp or just searching on Google. But when we actually want to purchase something we might want to go try a product or talk to somebody in person to get their opinion before we make a purchase.
Consumers are just naturally going offline. We believe that for those interactions, we should still be able to provide information [about them] for marketers.
Zoë: So you think it’s definitely the consumers, rather than just the organisations wanting to increase conversions and trying to come up with more ways to do this?
John: Well, I think organisations are realising if they want to improve their businesses they need to satisfy this online-to-offline use case. Who would have predicted that Amazon would open a physical bookstore fifteen years after they went for the physical bookstores and said there’s a better way online…?
“More and more businesses are realising that consumers want to spend in multiple places. If you want to win in a category, you’ve got to satisfy all of those.”
Zoë: Can you explain how you go about it? Is it unique, what you offer as an organisation?
John: Yes, it is unique. At a high level we offer call-tracking and many businesses – many analytics businesses – do that. You just put a special trackable phone number on an ad. When somebody calls that ad, the software company will tell you where the call came from. But we found that businesses need more than that to really connect the dots.
Just as not every visit to a website is created equal, not every phone call is created equal. What’s really special about our technology is we tell you where the call came from, we tell you what happened on the call securely and safely, so that enterprises can measure calls just like clicks.
Zoë: So how does it actually work?
John: We own, maybe, two million phone numbers in the U.S., in Europe, in Australia, and a business will effectively license or rent those phone numbers. When a consumer calls, they’re not calling us, Marchex, they’re calling the business. The phone number is simply a pass through. Our technology – think of it like a call server – measures and monitors the call as it goes from consumer to business.
Is the phone the new frontier?
Zoë: You mentioned using keywords and the like, to identify the content of the call – can you drill down into that a little bit?
John: Sure. That type of technology is called conversational analytics or conversation analytics. We can pick up words that a consumer is speaking or an agent is speaking to help precisely identify if the call was good or bad.
Zoë: Do you then have a look at the detail of a call and offer solutions around training and improvement once you’ve got that information?
John: That’s exactly right. We think there are two opportunities for improvement with a business. One is just media efficiency. If I know where my calls [come] from and which convert into sales, I can better spend my advertising dollars. But then there is this question: if we provided a better experience over the phone, could we make every inbound lead more valuable or more likely to convert?
There’s a fascinating piece of data we released last month that showed if someone at a call centre answers the phone with a warm greeting – just politely, essentially – a consumer was significantly more likely to purchase their product. I mean it’s obvious…
Zoë: It seems like common sense…
John: It does, but it’s not like a little bit. It’s more like 20-30% just by answering the phone nicely. It’s similar to the web world: if the page loads really slowly, you’re thinking ‘enough of this, I’m moving onto someone else’.
Zoë: It’s all about first impressions, right?
John: It’s totally [about] first impressions. We are exploring things in the call world that have been explored digitally for the last ten or fifteen years.
Zoë: So do you also offer training solutions around improving the entire call experience, or the entire journey, because I’m very conscious that the call is one point and we’re talking about being able to ‘connect the dots’. How far can you connect the dots through to other solutions?
John: We provide data on the customer journey and we provide advice and counsel on best practises, but we’re not a training company. For those companies we work with, if we found out something about hold time or their mannerisms on the phone, we would educate them on what those were, but leave the training and business process improvements to themselves.
Zoë: How do you overcome any privacy concerns? Because customers are increasingly becoming quite protective of their information. How does that impact on what you guys do?
John: Safe guarding consumer privacy and consumer information is not only important to us, but important to our partners and our clients. First of all, if a call is going to be recorded – for example, there is going to be an audio file created on a call – the consumer must be notified in advance of the conversation taking place. There is a specific legal obligation there that the consumer always knows.
In addition to that, our technology recognises when a consumer is speaking a credit card number and we physically stop the recording so that when an audio file is saved – and it’s always encrypted – the credit card number is replaced by a series of beeps. No-one’s exposed to that data. It’s not saved anywhere.
Many companies prefer not to record calls at all. In that case we have technology referred to as ‘call DNA’. It models the tone and frequency of a caller and an agent and will predict whether the call was a conversation, a voicemail, hold time. Marketers can still get a lot of good data, but not record anything on a call. We provide lots of different options depending on what a client wants to do.
Zoë: It sounds like there’s quite a lot of advancement in technology going on there. In terms of future things that you’re working towards, can you share anything that you’re working on or improving?
John: Sure. I think what I’m most excited about, beyond some of the conversation analytics, are the advances we’re making in attribution. A lot of what’s been done in call tracking is what I would call ‘direct attribution’. I click on a phone number to make a call and I know the ad where the call came from, but many calls don’t happen that way. You look at an ad, you view an ad, and that ad influences a future phone call. A lot of what we’re doing is linking the influence of a display ad on a future phone call.
We’ve actually launched this product in the U.S. It’s not yet available in Australia, but we hope it will be next year.
We have a first party data set that links anonymous cookies with hashed or encrypted phone numbers. When a consumer is exposed to a display ad, if we can get data from a business’s call centre, we can link up the influence of that display ad or the exposure of that display ad to calls. It’s really cool work we’re trialing in the U.S.
Zoë: Are there any other future trends in this space that you’re also keeping an eye on? Is there something coming that you think will change things even further?
John: I think the idea of linking online and offline in this true way is special and we’re totally focussed on that. We see a lot of companies now, instead of having a digital team and a traditional team, they’re merging because the customer journey is merging.
The speech before mine [at ad:tech] was from Jae Edison, the Head of B2B at Woolworths, who was talking about the importance of the human connection. They realised that creating a digital experience was important, but allowing a business to talk to people was the thing that really transformed what they were doing online. We see a lot of businesses coming to this realisation.
There’s going to be a return; an emphasis on creating conversations with customers that are authentic, personal and human.
Zoë: In terms of a personal idea, how do you keep your eyes open to new discoveries?
John: For me, I love looking at the data and the consumer insights team, which we call the ‘Marchex Institute‘. They have access to all this new data.
Zoë: Isn’t it great we can all wear our data nerd hats with pride. I just like looking at the data, and now I can say it loud and proud.
John: Yeah, everybody who joins the team gets a mug that says Analytics Geek. We really embrace that.
“Most of our discoveries come from looking at the data, so that’s always why I’m excited about coming to work. What new things can we learn? What can the data tell me?”
Zoë: I feel like that’s something we should all always be thinking about as digital marketers and service providers – what can we learn? What is the data saying?
Were you at ad:tech 2016? Is offline tracking the new frontier, or is there something else in the works to transform the way we think about data? We’d love to hear your thoughts!
N.B. – Marchex is a sponsor of ad:tech. They did not sponsor this article.