Interview with Vice President, Digital Intelligence, Wpromote – Simon Poulton


“Ultimately, it’s not enough to simply procure marketing technology and think it will solve your challenges, we need to focus on how these tools can actually be leveraged to inform strategy.”

1. Tell us about your role in Wpromote?
I oversee the Digital Intelligence team at Wpromote. The Digital Intelligence team is made up of three core measurement pillars: Architecture & Engineering, Visualization & Analysis, and Data Science. In conjunction with our team of Digital Intelligence Analysts and Strategists, we provide clients with insights into their web analytics associated with acquisition performance and onsite behavior.

2. Can you tell us about your journey into this market?
I started building websites for my friends’ bands when I was 14 (around 2002) and slowly immersed myself in the world of digital marketing without really realizing what it was. Fast-forward eight years, and I was graduating with a degree in psychology from UCLA (where they love focusing on statistics) and decided I wanted to get into digital marketing as a career. After college, I joined Laserfiche, a software company in Long Beach, CA as a “Problem Solver” and soon went about forming my own department focused on digital marketing. From there, I eventually joined Wpromote as a Strategy Director and saw a huge need for us to focus on measurement and analytics. This led to the formation of the Digital Intelligence team and where I am today. I’ve been very fortunate to have several people take chances on my vision for what could be and allowed me to turn these concepts into reality!

3. How do you think technology is upgrading marketing Sector?
Technology has had a significant impact on the world of marketing. The tools we have at our disposal today are light years beyond solutions even 10 to 15 years ago. In general, we’ve seen MarTech provide a variety of solutions, from attribution to marketing automation and intelligent investment allocation. The challenge though often comes with the talent gap that exists in the industry. There are lots of data experts, and marketing experts, but seldom do you see people who excel equally at both, and this has created historic disconnects.

Ultimately, it’s not enough to simply procure marketing technology and think it will solve your challenges, we need to focus on how these tools can actually be leveraged to inform strategy.

Personally, I love hearing how Scott Brinker thinks about the MarTech space, and I would highly recommend your readers check out some of his recent articles on how MarTech is evolving and where we are heading. The fragmentation of tools in the space has been a big trend of late, and we keep seeing this pendulum go back and forth between consolidated solutions vs. best of breed.

4. Can you explain how your digital intelligence solution optimizes the performance of marketing teams?
Our digital intelligence team is not just one solution, but a collection of solutions deployed by our team of data enthusiasts. We very much subscribe to the idea that MarTech requires us to take an 80/20 approach, where 20% of our investment is in technology and 80% is in the people developing and leveraging these solutions. Frequently, we see organizations acquire big, fancy tools but only scratch the surface with what they can do. It is with this in mind that we look to hire marketing practitioners that love finding creative ways to use data to inform strategies. We also look to bring in data experts from multiple different fields. For example, Raghav Padmanabhan, our Director of Data Science, was previously a cancer researcher, and Pamela Nelson, our Senior Director of Data Visualization, used to work on code QA for Nuclear submarines! We stand on the shoulders of giants as marketing plays catch up to other fields where data science has been a key focus for several years already. Some of the solutions our team has developed for our clients include:
i. Wpromote Attribution – A data-driven attribution platform that leverages the Facebook User Graph (via Facebook Attribution) and the Shapley value-inspired data-driven attribution model from Google. This allows us to connect the dots across Facebook and Google at an aggregate level and truly understand performance and channel variance over time.
ii. Automated Anomaly Detection – A python-based solution that allows us to hone in on both macro and micro-KPIs.
iii. Predictive Lifetime Value Modeling – Leveraging Peter Fader’s Buy-Til-You-Die model, we provide automated pCLV outputs of our clients’ customer bases for use in future marketing campaigns, as well as lookalike creation. This has shown to be significantly more effective than simply using a list containing “all recent purchasers” as all customers are not the same.

5. How has the acquisition of Growth Pilots benefitted your customers?
The Growth Pilots team excels at paid search and social media management for high-growth, VC-backed companies. The lessons they’ve learned in this industry and successful tactics are being shared with the entire Wpromote team with the best strategies applied to client campaigns. In particular, Soso Sazesh is someone in the industry that I’ve admired from afar for some time so getting to work with him and his team has been wonderful, and I can’t wait to see where we go together in the future!

6. What tips would you like to give to our audience that can help them in making an efficient marketing strategy?
I think the biggest issue with modern marketing strategies comes down to the inherent complexities, whether that be tracking across platforms, sequential messaging or some other technical nuance. I’m a believer in simplicity when possible. The best marketing strategies are coupled with a clear path to measurement, and unfortunately, this is frequently an afterthought rather than part of the development process. Of course, all marketing strategies are designed around a particular goal, but it may not be possible to associate success across all aspects of your marketing, so clearly defining your macro and micro KPIs at the outset of any strategy is key.

7. What features of your digital marketing solution, makes it a leader in the market?
Our digital intelligence solutions are created by marketers for marketers. It is with this scope in mind that we are developing solutions that will support marketing performance measurement and influence strategy. While we are a team of data enthusiasts, we’re also a team of data skeptics, and just because the data tells a nice, clean story, doesn’t mean it’s right. We agonize over data validity and our architecture and engineering team led by Mike Ulrich is constantly looking for ways to refine our data collection methodologies to ensure we’re always looking at an accurate picture and able to have confidence in our analysis.

8. What advice would you like to give to the technology Start Ups?
Two big things: always keep your end-user in mind, and think about solutions that will be useful years from now, even if the marketing tides change. Keeping your end-user in mind is obvious, but it’s easy to go into a bunker and build a tool that no one asked for and has limited practical applications. Sure, there are lots of interesting solutions, but how are you actually going to help me hit my goals and improve my bottom line? With regards to market forces, these are going to be outside of the control of founders, but if tomorrow Facebook suddenly decided to make a small change to their API, would your company survive? If the answer is no, then focusing on more diversified functions is key. One more thing: think about accessibility, it can be somewhat cliche to say “develop for everyone” but this is such a key tenant of innovation. I’m particularly inspired by the way Purna Virji from Microsoft thinks about developing solutions for everyone, and highly recommend you seek her out at a conference—she is a rockstar and probably the most prolific speaking in the MarTech space right now!

9. What is the Digital innovation in sales technology according to you that will mark 2019?
Sales technology specifically is a hard one to pin down, but tangentially related, I would say the rise of customer data platforms (CDPs) will be noted as one of the biggest innovations of 2019. Of course, these types of solutions have been around for longer, but we are seeing a lot of chatter and our clients have been asking us about solutions in this space recently. Many of the platforms in this space are still trying to determine what they are, but the idea of marketing-first CRM is key to the future of data-driven audience-centric marketing initiatives. We work with several partners in this space, including a platform called Lexer that we are big fans of because of their ability to ingest, enrich, model and output.

10. How do you prepare for an AI-Centric world?
Artificial intelligence has a significant amount of hype around it, and I think it’s important we step back to face the facts of what is currently possible and what isn’t. I have no doubt that the future will bring all kinds of new and exciting ways that AI influences marketing, but we are certainly going through growing pains currently. To prepare for the future, we need to focus on education and ensure people understand the limitations and the false feedback loops that can be created by AI. The role of digital marketers will inevitably change and evolve into one more focused on strategy, but we’ve been going through rapid change since the birth of the internet, so I believe we are ready to embrace whatever the future throws at us. As we prepare, we are certainly looking to continue investing in growing our data science team and looking at how and why certain decisions are made. While rudimentary, creating human feedback loops with ML is key to humans being involved in the process and understanding the immense power of AI, and the potential impact it will have on our industry, both positively and negatively.

11. What are the major developments you are planning, in recent time?
We’ve got a few irons in the fire, but right now, our big focus is on intelligent automation. Not just automating things because humans have always done things a certain way, but really looking at the needs of marketers. This includes:
i. Multi-Dimensional Variance Analysis – I think to call this the Fantasy “Footballification” of reporting, basically the idea that we can create semantic analysis of performance and provide insights as to why something may have happened. There are over 100,000 dimensions and metric permutations in Google Analytics and it’s near impossible for one person to even handle reviewing all this data, let alone focusing on the metrics that matter and being able to disseminate this to an audience to inform strategy.
ii. Predictive Image Analysis – I can’t say too much about this right now, but we are looking to develop solutions that are complementary to Google and Facebook—rather than competing with them directly—to enable our paid media teams to work more efficiently and to produce strong results for our clients.

12. Can you tell us about your team and how it supports you?
I am fortunate to be surrounded by a team of data nerds. I use that term with the utmost reverence as I consider myself to be one as well. We’ve been fortunate to find a wide, diverse group of individuals from all different backgrounds that all align on their shared love of data and awareness that the data will tell you whatever you want if you torture it enough. Across our three core pillars–Architecture & Engineering, Visualization & Analysis, and Data Science–and our account management team led by Remi Silva, we have a fantastic culture and everyone is always willing to help out and ideate new solutions. I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve just stayed in the office late on a Friday dreaming up ideas—we could go home, but no one wants to because we’re having so much fun! It might sound crazy to some, but when your job is your hobby and you get paid to do it, you never want to leave.

13. What movie inspires you the most?
Funny you should ask! I just presented on a vision for the future of data as it relates to digital at the annual Wpromote Challenger Summit on one of my favorite movies—Back To The Future…. Part 2—you know, the one where they actually go to the future. Growing up, I loved the idea that we could somehow predict and influence the future. Even if we can’t travel through time to see it, we can look at all the variables in play and get a sense of what is likely to happen, and more importantly, how we may be able to influence future outcomes. Personally, I think the problem with most folks is that they aren’t thinking fourth dimensionally! (Per Dr. Emmett Brown – Inventor of the Flux Capacitor)

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?
a. Google Opinion Rewards – I don’t use it for the financial rewards (although those are a nice bonus) but, rather, to see how strong Google is at picking up location signals about where I’ve been or what I’ve been doing. I’m somewhat of a method marketer so I enjoy the idea of tracking the way my own data is being collected and then used by other marketers to advertise to me.
b. Slack – We’ve programmed our anomaly detection system to route via Slack channels to disseminate information so I get those alerts whenever we see variance which helps me sleep soundly at night.
c. Google Analytics – Not great for deep analysis, but a great way to keep tabs on general performance from anywhere, especially when I get an anomaly alert and want to get a pulse on the situation.
d. TikTok – Of course, I’m active on other, mainstream social platforms, but TikTok is definitely the one to watch right now, and understanding how users use the platform early will be key to our long-term ability to leverage it for marketing.

With the vision of making data both accessible, and useful for driving business decisions, Simon leads the Digital Intelligence practice at Wpromote - A digital marketing agency headquartered in El Segundo, CA with 9 offices across the US and over 500 employees. Wpromote was recently named the number 1 agency for Performance Marketing in the United States by Forrester Research Group.
In his role as the Vice President of Digital Intelligence, he oversees the Analytics Development & Architecture, Data Analysis and Data Science teams, as well as the team of Data Strategists that work directly with clients to uncover their big business questions, and develop solutions to find answers with data.
In addition to leading the Digital Intelligence team, Simon is a nationally recognized speaker on topics relating to Attribution & Analytics (Recently speaking at SMX Advanced & the Utah DMC) and frequently contributes to major industry publications including Search Engine Land & Moz. Simon also sits on the Facebook Attribution Product Council advising on product features.

Wpromote is more than a digital marketing agency, we're a partner for rapid growth. Our mission is to deliver exciting, measurable growth for our clients and create a culture of fun, respect, and passion for our talented team.
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