Toasting 2018 Silver Apple Honorees: In Their Words

You might have heard of a big event that happened last week in the USA. No, not THAT one. I’m talking about but the presentation of the Direct Marketing Club of New York’s 2018 Silver Apples honors. Here’s more about the awards, from the Silver Apple honorees themselves.

Silver Apple Honorees ballroom
Photo Credit: Edison Ballroom via DMCNY, 2018

You might have heard of a big event that happened last week in the USA. No, not THAT one. I’m talking about but the presentation of the Direct Marketing Club of New York’s 2018 Silver Apples honors. Here’s more about the awards, from the Silver Apple honorees themselves.

The Silver Apples recognize leadership, stewardship and business success mid-career in the data, direct and digital marketing field. Each honoree has (more or less) 25 years of experience, with matching achievements to point to … and all have additional contributions to our industry, community, mentoring and giving back.

With the assistance of newly named The Drum U.S. Editor Ginger Conlon, I thought it worth amplifying a few key industry insights shared by this year’s individual honorees:

Anita Absey, Chief Revenue Officer, Voxy (New York):

Favorite Data Story: “Back in the very early days when I was at Infobase, we were doing data overlays on customer databases, which was novel at the time. While working with a large insurer, doing overlays of demographic and socioeconomic data on their database, the profile and segmentation scheme that emerged from that work actually defied some of the assumptions that they had about the characteristics for their customers’ profile. The insights we provided them helped them make subtle changes in their communications and targeting to customers, which improved the overall risk profile of their customer base. It was gratifying to see how data could affirm or deny assumptions and enable our client to make decisions that helped improve the risk profile of their business.”

Measurement: “Hope is not a strategy. Your actions have to be data-based, not hopeful. Similarly, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Unless you have data that points you to the actions and decisions that are best for the business, you’re running blind.”

Matt Blumberg, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Return Path, Inc. (New York):

On Choosing Marketing: “The thing that drew me to marketing was the Internet. I had been working as an investor at a venture capital firm that invested in software companies. Once Netscape went public and people started figuring out the short- and the long-term potential of the Internet, I got very excited about working in that field. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Internet is all about direct marketing. For the first several years of my career, I would never have described myself as a direct marketer; but in hindsight, obviously, I was.”

On Inspiration: “It’s several sentences out of a speech by Theodore Roosevelt called ‘The Man in the Arena.’
It’s incredible. It goes:

” ‘ … The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’

“I take it as the entrepreneur’s motto. It’s a beautiful passage that I have taped up everywhere.”

Pam Haas, Account Director, Experian Marketing Services (Providence, RI):

Overhyped: “Display and programmatic technologies are overhyped. It’s like the early days of email marketing: People just started sending millions of emails, hoping some would stick. The same thing is happening in display and programmatic. That part of the industry still needs to mature.”

Best Metric: “Right now, it’s the ROAS: Return on Ads Spent. I love that. For every dollar that the client is spending, we know that we are driving X number of dollars in sales.”

Career Advice: “Diversify. In marketing, there are so many different angles and specialties that you can focus your career on. Throughout my career, I’ve [been] able to gain experience in multiple facets of marketing: direct response, email technology, and in databases and modeling. Digital is so sexy right now, but the fundamentals still apply; so it’s important not to pigeonhole yourself into one area.

“While in a mentor program at Equifax, my mentor was a woman and she told me, ‘You have to be your own PR person. You have to make your accomplishments known, because nobody else is going to do that for you.’”

Keira Krausz, EVP and CMO, Nutrisystem, Inc. (Fort Washington, Penn.):

On Her Current Assignment: “I’m proud of where we are at Nutrisystem and I’m particularly proud of what we’ve built as a team. Our job is wonderful, because we get to help people live healthier and happier lives. Since 2013, we’ve nearly doubled the business, which means we’ve helped a whole lot more people get healthier and happier. Along the way, we’ve revamped nearly every aspect of our business that you can think of, and we’re just getting started.”

On Mentoring: “In my first years in marketing, I was always being asked what my goals were and how I saw myself in years to come, and I always felt flummoxed, because I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t one of those young people who had their whole life planned out when I was 25, and I often felt insecure about that. But it turns out that was OK.

“So, one thing I did that I would advise is, from early on, try to work for someone you can learn from. Somebody who you admire, who has something unique, and who can teach you something that you think you’re missing. The rest will fall together.”

Tim Suther, SVP and General Manager, Data Solutions, Change Healthcare (Lombard, Ill.):

On Career Choice: “I’ve always been technology-oriented, from learning to code when I was 17 to graduating college with a finance degree. With that background, naturally, I was suspicious of marketing. A lot of marketing felt inauthentic and superficial to me. But I had this one moment where I actually saw a dynamic gains curve for the first time and I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is one of the most interesting things I’ve ever seen.’ It was the intersection of the art of marketing and the science of data that really drew me in; and boy, did I get lucky on that one, because that’s what it’s all about today.”

On Being Data-Driven: “This might surprise you a little bit, but it annoys me when marketers say that they’re data-driven, because that’s like saying, ‘OK, it’s time to turn off my brain and just let the data drive the story.’

“I think marketers are far better off when they are data-informed, where they’re combining what the data is telling them with their own business judgment to make the right decision. Human behavior is still too complicated to purely reduce to what an algorithm tells you to do; it has to be a combination of what the data is saying, creative savvy and business judgment.”

This year, DMCNY added two special awards not tied to mid-career, but recognizing two huge drivers in our business today: advocacy and disruption. The inaugural Apples of Excellence 2018 honorees include:


Stu Ingis, Chairman, Venable LLP (Washington, D.C.):

On Policy-Making: “The whole privacy concern is overhyped. What’s not getting its fair recognition, in the policy world, is all of the innovation that the marketing community brings to society. For instance, they’re bringing real-time targeted marketing to television and delivering marketing communications that consumers are interested in on a personalized basis.”

On Careers: “Take the long view. Work really hard; don’t worry about the compensation or the glory, and then persevere. Stay with it. Don’t switch jobs all the time thinking that something else is always better. If you develop your skills, the good work will come to you. You don’t have to go to it.

“I’d been representing the DMA for about two years, and I had an opportunity to leave the law firm and go out in the early Internet age at Yahoo!

“Yahoo! stock was going up. I would have made millions of dollars a day. I went to Ron Plesser and said, ‘I like working for you; I like the clients; I like the work I’m doing. But I could go get really rich working for this company.’ He said, ‘Why do you want to do that? It’ll ruin your life.’ For whatever reason, I actually believed him and agreed with him. And I stayed at my job. It was probably the best decision I ever made. I don’t regret it for a second.”

Disruptor Award, Presented by Alliant:

Bonin Bough, Founder and Chief Growth Officer, Bonin Ventures (New York):

About Bonin: “His unique approach of applying innovative technology to create breakthrough campaigns helped to reinvigorate traditional marketing brands, such as Gatorade, Honey Maid, Oreo and Pepsi.

“But his influence doesn’t stop there. Bonin believes in supporting young talent and savvy entrepreneurs. While at Mondelēz International, for example, he created internal programs to mentor young talent and launched a startup innovation program, Mobile Futures, to provide a platform for marketing-tech and agency start-ups to work with the CPG giant.

“Stephanie Agresta, global director of enterprise growth at Qnary, describes him best in her recommendation on LinkedIn: ‘Bonin is a force of nature … A true rockstar from Cleveland to Cannes, Bonin has been [at] the forefront of the digital revolution from the beginning. Smart, successful, and connected, Bonin has the pulse on what’s next. Those that know Bonin well can also attest to his generosity, commitment to mentorship and a deep belief that anything is possible.’”

Since I had the privilege of interacting with Bonin at DMA &Then18 recently, I can attest the walls fall away when you converse with him. Disrupted, indeed.

All of these honorees as well as corporate recipient Winterberry Group have many things to teach us. That’s why it’s important we continue to recognize these business leaders, as marketing today, as Matt Blumberg says, is a 100 different things. It’s the business outcomes that matter.

Updating Your Marketing Database

It’s amazing how quickly things go obsolete these days. For those of us in the business of customer data, times and technologies have changed along with the times. Some has to do with the advent of new technologies; some of it has to do with changing expectations. Let’s take a look at how the landscape has changed and what it means for marketers.

It’s amazing how quickly things go obsolete these days. For those of us in the business of customer data, times and technologies have changed along with the times. Some has to do with the advent of new technologies; some of it has to do with changing expectations. Let’s take a look at how the landscape has changed and what it means for marketers.

For marketing departments, maintaining updating customer data has always been a major headache. One way to update data is by relying on sales team members to make the updates themselves as they go about their jobs. For lack of a better term, let’s call this method internal crowd-sourcing, and there are two reasons why it has its limitations.

The first reason is technology. Typically, customer data is stored in a data hub or data warehouse, which is usually a home-grown and oftentimes proprietary database built using one of many popular database architectures. Customer databases tend to be proprietary because each organization sells different products and services, to different types of firms, and consequently collects different data points. Additionally, customer databases are usually grown organically over many years, and as a result tend to contain disparate information, often collected from different sources during different timeframes, of varying degrees of accuracy.

It’s one thing having data stored in a data warehouse somewhere. It’s quite another altogether to give salespeople access to a portal where the edits can be made—that’s been the real challenge. The database essentially needs to be integrated with or housed in some kind of tool, such as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software or customer relationship management (CRM) software that gives sales teams some capability to update customer records on the fly with front-end read/write/edit capabilities.

Cloud-based CRM technology (such as has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years to fill this gap. Unlike purpose-built customer databases, however, out-of-the-box cloud-based CRM tools are developed for a mass market, and without customizations contain only a limited set of standard data fields plus a finite set of “custom fields.” Without heavy customizations, in other words, data stored in a cloud-based CRM solution only contains a subset of a company’s customer data file, and is typically only used by salespeople and customer service reps. Moreover, data in the CRM is usually not connected to that of other business units like marketing or finance divisions who require a more complete data set to do their job.

The second challenge to internal crowd-sourcing has more to do with the very nature of salespeople themselves. Anyone who has worked in marketing knows firsthand that it’s a monumental challenge to get salespeople to update contact records on a regular basis—or do anything else, for that matter, that doesn’t involve generating revenue or commissions.

Not surprisingly, this gives marketers fits. Good luck sending our effective (and hopefully highly personalized) CRM campaigns if customer records are either out of date or flat out wrong. Anyone who has used has seen that “Stay in Touch” function, which gives salespeople an easy and relatively painless method for scrubbing contact data by sending out an email to contacts in the database inviting them to “update” their contact details. The main problem with this tool is that it necessitates a correct email address in the first place.

Assuming your salespeople are diligently updating data in the CRM, another issue with this approach is it essentially limits your data updates to whatever the sales team happens to know or glean from each customer. It assumes, in other words, that your people are asking the right questions in the first place. If your salesperson does not ask a customer how many employees they have globally or at a particular location, it won’t get entered into the CRM. Nor, for that matter, will data on recent mergers and acquisitions or financial statements—unless your sales team is extremely inquisitive and is speaking with the right people in your customers’ organizations.

The other way to update customer data is to rely on a third-party data provider to do it for you—to cleanse, correct, append and replace the data on a regular basis. This process usually involves taking the entire database, uploading it to an FTP site somewhere. The database is then grabbed by the third party, who then works their magic on the file—comparing it against a central database that is presumably updated quite regularly—and then returning the file so it can be resubmitted and merged back into the database on the data hub or residing in the CRM.

Because this process involves technology, has a lot of moving parts and involves several steps, it’s generally set up as an automated process and allowed to run on a schedule. Moreover, because the process involves overwriting an entire database (even though it is automated) it requires having IT staff around to supervise the process in a best-case scenario, or jump in if something goes wrong and it blows up completely. Not surprisingly, because we’re dealing with large files, multiple stakeholders and room for technology meltdowns, most marketers tend to shy away from running a batch update more than once per month. Some even run them quarterly. Needless to say, given the current pace of change many feel that’s not frequent enough.

It’s interesting to note that not very long ago, sending database updates quarterly via FTP file dump was seen as state-of-the-art. Not any longer, you see, FTP is soooo 2005. What’s replaced FTP is what we call a “transactional” database update system. Unlike an FTP set-up, which requires physically transferring a file from one server and onto another, transactional data updates rely on an Application Programming Interface, or API, to get the data from one system to another.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, an API is a pre-established set of rules that different software programs can use to communicate with each other. An apt analogy might be the way a User Interface (UI) facilitates interaction between humans and computers. Using an API, data can be updated in real time, either on a record-by-record basis or in bulk. If a Company A wants to update a record in their CRM with fresh data from Company B, for instance, all they need to do is transmit a unique identifier for the record in question over to Company B, who will then return the updated information to Company A using the API.

Perhaps the best part of the transactional update architecture is that it can be set up to connect with the data pretty much anywhere it resides—in a cloud-based CRM solution or on a purpose built data warehouse sitting in your data center. For those using a cloud-based solution, a huge advantage of this architecture is that once a data provider builds hooks into popular CRM solutions, there are usually no additional costs for integration and transactional updates can be initiated in bulk by the CRM administrator, or on a transaction-by-transaction basis by salespeople themselves. It’s quite literally plug and play.

For those with an on-site data hub, integrating with the transactional data provider is usually pretty straightforward as well, because most APIs not only rely on standard Web technology, but also come equipped with easy-to-follow API keys and instructions. Setting the integration, in other words, can usually be implemented by a small team in a short timeframe and for a surprisingly small budget. And once it’s set up, it will pretty much run on its own. Problem solved.