Interview with Director of Marketing of IBM Watson – Michael Trapani


“Anything that evokes emotion especially positive emotion is inspiring.”

1. Tell us about your role in IBM Watson Marketing?
I oversee the marketing organization for IBM Watson Marketing, which is an AI-powered marketing cloud. My responsibilities include market awareness, Go-to-Market strategy, product marketing, demand gen, events, digital marketing, content marketing, and supporting sales enablement.

Really, though, my biggest role is supporting a very talented team. We have a ton of experienced and passionate people on our team whether in product marketing, events, content marketing, and many areas that encompass our portfolio to help get the team to perform their best. It’s really exciting to watch, which is what I enjoy most about my role.

2. Can you tell us about your journey into this market?
I started my career at Apple during a lot of the formative years of the iPhone and the iPad and seeing the beginnings of the mobile revolution, which, after several years lead me to the mobile tech startup space. One of those tech startups was acquired by IBM. IBM was doing some really exciting things around artificial intelligence, and wanted to build out a really strong marketing portfolio and our mobile marketing technology was part of that. It exists in the products today as part of Watson Campaign Automation, which is our marketing automation product. So that’s how I ended up at IBM and moved through the marketing organization, and began to speak with more marketers and got a better understanding of their problems and how we could solve them with AI-powered marketing solutions.

3. How do you think technology is changing the Marketing Sector?
I don’t think there many disciplines that have been changed more from the advent of technology. Marketing used to be a very subjective discipline that was driven by opinions, experience, and monologues by executives. Think about a Don Draper monologue coming up with the perfect pitch, and that just came from a lot of late nights, and a lot of back and forth discussion. Today, marketing is driven largely by performance, by data, by results. All of that is enabled by technology. We don’t need to hang a billboard, or a print ad in a magazine and pat ourselves on the back because it made us laugh, or it made us think or inspired us in some way. We still do all that today, but now we have the opportunity to test if we were right or wrong because there are other opinions other than the folks in the board room making decisions. I think now, because of technology, we have an opportunity to test if we were right by looking at the data, and not just in the results in our campaigns, but in behavior, performance of content, and leads generated at events. So technology has fundamentally changed marketing and AI is only one of those.

4. How introduction of AI in Marketing has helped in easing the functions of Marketing?
I see AI as first and foremost automating the frustrating tasks that have consumed the days of marketers, the hours that marketers need to put into their work in order to function in a modern marketing organization. We talked about using data to make decisions is, but putting that into practice is a lot harder than it sounds. It involves analysis, it involves using new tools, it involves having a centralized view of your data, it involves hours of working through spreadsheets. And what used to be a relatively free-flowing function of marketing – a rather artistic discipline – is now moving into a manager of applications, or an analyst of data, or a spreadsheet jockey trying to better understand performance and dissect trends. Where AI comes in is it starts to automate those tasks that marketers are getting buried under and are not the things marketers want to do on a daily basis. We want to be creative. They want to come up with new ideas. We want to see insights and make decisions based on those insights rather than doing the full-blown analysis and having to do all the tedious, time consuming work that needs to be done to better understand the data. AI is here to automate some of those tasks that marketers don’t want to do so marketers can get back to marketing.

5. How do you think, Digital Marketing and Marketing Automation is benefitting Advertisement sector also?
I think the biggest potential with digital marketing and marketing automation in relation to advertising is connecting those channels. Right now, we’ve all experienced buying something, feeling really good about it, and then seeing an ad for the thing you just bought follow you around for the next 2 weeks. Or even worse, it has a discount that you didn’t get the benefit of since you’ve already purchased. These systems need to do a better job talking to each other, because while consumers see advertising and marketing as part of the same company talking to me, from a technological standpoint these are entirely different industries. The adtech industry and the martech industry really grew up in separate houses. The challenge now is bringing those industries – and they are entire industries together – and part of that is technological, connecting these things on the back end so they’re doing a better job talking to each other. That has tremendous benefit. We already see customers that we work with saving an average of 20% of their advertising media spend because they’re eliminating customer from their targeting list for advertising who have already made a purchase. And they can tell that through connecting their marketing channels and their database of record. That is the basic blocking and tackling for connecting advertising and marketing. The technological part is really important.

I think the second part is cultural – remnants of industries that grew up separately. Even things like terminology is so different. If you talk about marketing automation it means something entirely different in advertising than it does in marketing tech. If you talk about a campaigns an in-house marketer might think of that as an email campaign, but an advertiser at an agency might think of it as a media campaign. We have to stop thinking about these things in silos and we have to think about campaigns as an overall form of customer engagement regardless of which channel you execute through.

6. What marketing automation technologies do your marketing teams use?
We use many of our own products from the Watson Marketing platform of course. Watson Marketing is an AI-powered marketing platform, which the strongest component to it is our marketing automation tools. We use a number of those in-house, we also use a lot of our analytics tools as well. The reason why I think it’s important, the closer a marketing team can be to their own products the better they understand their customers. We have the luxury of ‘marketing marketing to marketers.’ So I think it’s useful for us to understand the tools we sell and we don’t have to work that hard to do it, we just do our jobs and we start thinking like our customers.

Our hero product for marketing automation is Watson Campaign Automation, which is our multi-channel, digital marketing execution engine. The other major product we use for analytics is called Tealeaf, which is a behavioral analytics application that does everything from heat maps to session replay, to AI-powered struggle detection, and AI-powered anomaly detection all while preserving user privacy. We also use in various places our content management system called Watson Content Hub, which has AI-powered content tagging to help marketers save time doing the work of a content marketing manager or a digital marketer. We are also looking into implementing some of our newest products like Real-Time Personalization, which is our personalization engine for digital marketing, which uses AI to recommend personalization rules for marketers like, ‘you should show this image to this audience segment, and there’s a 90% confidence that it will convert at 20%. We’re also testing our new advertising demand-side platform called Media Optimizer, which we have built in partnership with MediaMath to connect martech and adtech in ways we’ve just discussed.

7. Can you share with us your best digital transformation campaign up to now
When I came into this team the first we noticed was we had too many campaigns running different products. We had a campaign for Watson Campaign Automation. We had a campaign promoting Tealeaf. We had a campaign promoting Watson Content Hub. As a result there were too many messages, there was too much investment spread across too thin a marketing effort. So the first thing we did was consolidate all those into a single campaign. That was a huge undertaking. We had to sunset a lot of old campaigns that were just running. So that was a massive transformation that we had to do. It involved creating and sunsetting a number of pages on our website, we had to totally redesign our website, we created an entirely new campaign with all new content, videos, white papers, social channels. We also had to create entirely new outbound automated programs with new logic maps. Really all the things you need to do to build out a campaign. Some of the biggest challenges were non-digital actually, and that was working with the product marketing team to design a world-class market message. A lot of planning needs to go into that and we’re really happy with how that turned out.

8. What advice would you like to give to startups in how they can best incorporate AI into their martech stack, and/or general advice we would give to any marketer/business type with regards to how an AI-powered martech stack can help them outperform their peers?
I think most businesses are learning from startups in that when a startup is developing a product you don’t just build something and walk away. You build something and test, and test more, make changes, and test some more. It’s a constant test. Marketing today is no different. The days of creating campaigns and walking away and being happy with what you’ve done are over. Your marketing is a product.

Modern products are developed with a minimally viable product (MVP), and they’re tested in market and you need to be able to respond to those tests with changes and improvements. Where AI comes in to help is better supporting those tests. Better understanding the results of those tests. Any startup or any business for that matter needs to understand how their tests are performing in market. The entire point of AI is to better understand large amounts of data and make sense and understand patterns from that data and present it a user in an approachable and understandable way. That would be the advice I would give is to find ways for AI to help support you. And last but not least, understand AI is not a bunch of code you can just use. A lot of work goes into pre-training and pre-building this AI into the tools you already use today. For example, in Watson Campaign Automation we have programmed Anomaly Detection, which allows a marketer to be alerted by the AI when it detects an anomaly in campaign performance, like maybe you’re getting a spike in open rates. A marketer needs to know about that and understand why. Or maybe you’re getting a drop in your performance metrics against your goals. A marketer needs to know that and understand why. The AI’s job is to find those things as they’re happening and present them to a marketer with conclusion based on its understanding of marketing and your goals, and all of that has been pre-trained so I think people can be intimidated by using AI sometimes, but we need to get out of the view that AI as a piece of code or something a data scientist does or uses and just start thinking of it as software or a tool. The best AI is the AI that disappears and just looks like the tools you use every day.

9. What is the Digital innovation in Marketing Automation according to you that will mark 2019?
The biggest innovation I think is not in the technology sector, it’s a response to the technology sector. As more new marketers are raised and taught in the school of web development and software development, as these things are becoming a lot more common place the talent that you bring in to support your team is becoming much more technical. I think that’s a great thing because the more builders you have on your team the more things you can do, the more things you can build. It gives you more flexibility to not have to work with exactly what a vendor is giving you. So we see the rise of a new marketer that is part marketer, part digital marketer in the traditional sense, but also part developer or engineer; someone who can build some of the marketing stack that you’re looking for or use capabilities from the technical side versus the interface side. For example, using microservices from a vendor that a vendor might provide instead of their user interface that a traditional marketer might use to send campaigns.

10. What is the vision you and IBM Watson Marketing are working towards?
Marketers are really smart, but the tools they use are not always as smart as they are. Right now marketers are form fitting their workflow to the tools they use like CRM, or a traditional email service provider. We think that should be reversed – that tools should form fit themselves to the way marketers want to work. For example, rather than clicking 10 different buttons to understand how their campaigns are performing, running a report, reading and digesting it; how would a marketer ask another marketer to do that? They would just ask. And so we built the capability designed for a marketer to just ask an AI-powered assistant a question about their marketing campaign. An AI-powered assistant can answer those questions either in natural voice, or through typing the way you would type a message to a colleague with an answer instantly. So we see the next generation of martech being much more natural for a marketer to use every day and not only help their results, but also improve their daily work.

11. What are the major developments you are planning in the near and long term?
We just announced a new AI-powered on-site search product called Personalized Search. AI-powered search is here to solve the very challenging problem of searching for something on a website. Search engines are very good at finding what you need. You can find almost anything you want. And it’s what makes it all the more painful to experience searching for something on an actual website. For example, if you’re searching for a way to fix a broken sink in your house, you might go to a home improvement store and search for how to fix it. The results you’ll get will be just a list of new sinks and products they’re trying to sell to you, which just gives you the worst case scenario of replacing an entire sink. But what if search on that website could produce not just product pages using keywords, but using AI to understand the intent of a search; what do I really mean when I’m searching for something, what phase of a buying process am I in, am I trying to buy anything at all? And once we start to answer those questions you can see results that better resemble that of a search engine, something like “how to” videos on how to fix a sink from a YouTube channel, or support articles that are posted by a user community, and maybe parts you might need to buy to help you fix the sink. Then all the way at the bottom of the page would be offers for a brand new sink, because that’s not what I searched for since I want to fix the sink that I already have. So that capability is being rolled out into our Real-Time Personalization product and will be available this year and we’re really excited for marketers to get their hands on it.

12. Can you tell us about your team and how it supports you?
I actually think it’s a manager’s job to support their team, not the other way around. It’s true, managers work for their teams. I think the best thing a manager can do is unlock the potential of an individual on their team, and clear any roadblocks in their way. Of course, strategy and direction are really important for managers to set, but your overall strategy should come with input from the team as well. I always like to think that being a leader is like having super powers, because I am not a producer of amazing content, but our editor in chief is. I am not someone who can build a web page from scratch within three hours that has all the features and capabilities I’d want, but other members of my team can do that. I am not nearly as good at creating project trackers and monitoring them to completion than our diamond team lead assigned to this. But because all of these people are on the amazing Watson Marketing team and all working together and synchronized, it’s all driven by the folks on the team producing it. My job is to provide any direction that the team needs, and to get out of the way and to help get things out of the way for them that are barriers to success.

13. Which Movie inspires you the most?
I like movies with a lot dialog because I think writing is really hard, and if you can write smart dialog that makes you laugh that inspires me.

Anything that evokes emotion especially positive emotion is inspiring.

I look at film makers like the Cohen brothers; Big Lebowski is one of my favorite comedies. Film makers like Wes Anderson who can create these incredibly tight, almost flawless films both visually and through dialog like Grand Budapest Hotel, I would consider a perfect film. And people who write incredible dialog like Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese who are incredible screenwriters are really inspiring to me.

14. We have heard that you have a very joyful work culture, so can you share with us some of the fun pictures of your workplace?

15. Can you give us a glance of the applications you use on your phone?
Twitter. Slack. I play a lot of real-time strategy games while commuting on the train, and listen to a ton of podcasts too.

Michael is a marketer, designer, and public speaker. He currently leads the Product Marketing team for IBM Watson Marketing – a cognitive marketing automation platform. Michael has worked within tech for the past decade at Apple, Xtify, and most recently, IBM.

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