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CXBuzz Interview with Joanna Milliken, CEO of Emarsys

Hi Joanna, tell us about yourself and your background.

I’m Joanna Milliken, newly appointed CEO of customer engagement platform Emarsys and head of CX Marketing solutions for SAP. Over the course of my career, I’ve led sales, services and support, marketing, and product organizations from inception to scale. I got a great foundation in marketing in my early career at Hallmark, followed by an amazing run as the first employee of ExactTarget, a pioneer in digital marketing that went public and sold to Salesforce for $2.5B in 2013. During my tenure at ExactTarget/Salesforce, I supported international expansion, various mergers and acquisitions, launched multiple products and solutions, and was executive sponsor to some of the world’s best brands.

Emarsys works with many of the world’s largest retailers and brands, including the likes of Puma, Gymshark, PrettyLittleThing, and hundreds more, and I’m extremely passionate about creating great experiences for these brands and breaking down the barriers that get in the way of the outcomes they need.

How did you start working in the customer experience space?

Probably like many marketers, I got into the space because I am passionate about driving growth by creating better and more personal human connections. I’ve always felt happiest when I am steering the part of the business that connects with its customers and staff. I also simply enjoyed the type of work that combines creative, technical, and operational, and allows me to work across stakeholder groups.

Marketing has become monotonous, but there is a real opportunity to make a change for the better across the industry. I have a strong interest in breaking through the MarTech landscape. When I began, there were about 150 companies on Scott Brinker’s Lumascape, now there are over 8,000. Marketers are getting jaded by the lack of differentiation and products that don’t work as promised. On top of that, every piece of tech needs and creates its own data. Far too many marketers and CX professionals are caught up in processes, buried in unactionable data, and stretched beyond their limits. With Emarsys, I want to empower marketing teams to take control of the data they need for personalization, build better experiences, and do their best work.

Can you tell us a little bit about your new role as CEO of Emarsys?

It’s the beginning of a new chapter for Emarsys. We were acquired by SAP in October 2020, and a big part of my role as CEO will be supporting and leveraging our new relationship. SAP is supercharging our growth and ability to bring the Emarsys product and service expertise to more retailers than ever.

Marketers love using our products because they work the way a marketer does – focused on outcomes and measurable results. Speed is an imperative in today’s climate, and marketers are under significant pressure to show value, fast. This is what Emarsys does best, and that creates a massive opportunity for us and our customers.

We do services differently. Our product is supported by a team of platform experts in professional services who are highly focused on helping customers to drive value by quickly adopting our technology. This team comprises of specialists from client-side, consulting, agency, and data. Our approach is to teach clients how to fish instead of giving them a fish every day.

Most marketers we work with want to do everything in record time and unlock the full capability of our platform. Our services team bridge the gap between platform functionality and each clients’ operation capability, then execute in the platform together to power their marketing journey.

How can companies better listen to and understand their customer base?

Companies know that data is the most valuable commodity for marketers, and there is a never-ending goal of bringing it together to understand your customers and deliver more relevant experiences. Brands need to continue to capture first-party data at every opportunity and make it easy for marketers to leverage this data so they can show the customer that they’re listening. Most organizations get stuck at the activation stage and customers don’t feel they’re listening, when they are actually trying very hard to do just that.

Our recent “Power to the Marketer” research project found that 85% of retail marketers see personalization as key for both revenue and customer experiences. At the same time, however, an additional quarter admitted that they can’t act on the data they have on customers. There’s a whole host of reasons for this: they have siloed teams, they can’t segment data accurately, their technology doesn’t integrate as it should.

I also encourage marketing professionals not to wait for the elusive “360 view” of your customer. Instead, use what you have, even if it’s a few fields, but use it consistently across all channels. At Emarsys, we have more native channels than any other provider, and we can help drive this continuity and show you are really listening.

What are some brands that you think are doing an excellent job at customer experience, and why?

The best part of this job is that I get to work with some incredible brands doing amazing things. Sports Direct in the UK is a great example.

They’ve been working with us on a new AI Stylist technology, which uses advanced AI visual recognition to make automated product recommendations to customers based on their individual behaviors and preferences.

Sports Direct uses this tool to autonomously analyze the properties of product images on the company’s website — looking at the size, shape, pattern, style and color of each product. The tool then evaluates each of Sports Direct’s online customers in terms of individual tastes, previous purchases, and product view data. It then promotes different products to different customers based on those individual tastes. This not only increases efficiency and lets them move faster, but it’s delivering a personalized experience that’s increasing sales. That’s the power of AI and the team at Sports Direct.

Many brands are currently undergoing digital transformation processes — what are your tips on a successful digital transformation?

Digital transformation can sound daunting, and companies often don’t know where to start. As my Sports Direct example illustrates, however, brands that are experimenting with the latest technology are flying ahead of their competitors. That’s even more true after Covid-19, with consumers now expecting and demanding digital channels by default.

At the same time though, I always think it’s important to keep an eye on the offline world. Our research has shown that, during the lockdown last year, 74% of consumers said that they missed the in-store shopping experience. Those physical, “real world” elements aren’t going away. So yes, digital transformation is an essential part of CX, but its job must be to enhance all of the channels that your customers use. A great digital transformation should mean no customers getting left behind, however they choose to shop or engage with your brand.

This is also an area where SAP brings additional horsepower to Emarsy and our customers. Business process transformation is what SAP is known for, and it’s something we are already assisting thousands of customers with worldwide. This often starts with defining one key moment, like an item back in stock, and grows from there.

Did you read any interesting books this past year that you’d like to recommend?

I read books that my highschooler was also reading and enjoyed some non-business classics like Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. After Clayton Christensen died in early 2020, I also reread all of his work, which is always inspiring for an innovator.

What is your favorite CX metric? Why is it the most useful metric for brands?

While there’s millions of great CX metrics out there, revenue is and will always be the key metric for brands. After all, isn’t that why we’re all here? Customer engagement has to tie back to the business’ bottom line, especially during sales season.

Working with Emarsys, we are committed to supporting our customers in driving revenue, growth, and profitability without deviating from our core processes. Whether it’s building loyalty, creating great customer experiences, or boosting sales my goal is to ensure that brands have the best support, tools, and technologies to meet their business goals.

About the author

Anna Burneika
Anna Burneika
Anna is a staff writer at CXBuzz. Her international background lends itself to 5 languages, a wide variety of interests, and a broad and bright approach to her work. Having accomplished her first degree - a BA in Communications and Political Science - at only 19 years old, she is currently pursuing her passion of Theatre with an MA in the UK.


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