Martech Interview with the Chief Strategy Officer, PowerChord – Nikki Vegenski

In Martech Cube’s “Women in Marketing” exclusive Women History Month feature, we have Nikki Vegenski from PowerChord to put light on the use of AI in digital Marketing

Technology solutions are enhancing the marketing sector by transforming not only the customer experience but also how businesses, small and large, are managing their efforts today

1. Tell us about your current role in PowerChord?
a. I began my career at PowerChord in 2009, and have spent the last 11 years dedicated to growing professionally by helping our clients recognize how critical a local digital marketing strategy is to their overall business objectives, including customer engagement, leads, and sales. Serving now as the CSO I have the opportunity to work across the company in various capacities when it comes to strategic thought leadership for our product, our digital advertising solutions, and our company’s outward-facing identity and image. My people – which includes both my team and our customers – are my number one priority. I love what I do and have a relentless drive towards achieving success.

2. Can you tell us about your journey into this market?
a. My path into marketing actually stemmed from what I considered professional heartbreak at the time. In 2008. I was fresh out of Florida State University and had taken a job with Valpak in their Project Management Office, however a year later my first career ended with the entire department being laid off just before Christmas. Nevertheless, thanks to a great network of friends and family I was given the opportunity to interview with PowerChord and from day one I knew it was going to be a wonderful professional home for me. I jumped in with two feet forward and embraced the opportunity to do “big things”. Immediately, I was afforded the opportunity to learn how to work across clients with digital technologies and advertising; I began to read diligently, take vigorous notes any chance I had and ultimately I went back to school and pursued my Masters in Internet Marketing back in 2015. I fell in love with the ability to drive connections in the online space and in making our customers win for their customers.

3. How do you think technology solutions are upgrading the Marketing Sector?
a. Hardly breaking news, the marketing landscape is evolving swiftly. Technology is affording scalability and opportunity. Not to mention it’s changed the landscape of personalization and immersiveness – today’s technology solutions enable marketers of all kinds, with all variations of budget and diverse goals, the opportunities to meet their customers in their moments of intent. It’s no longer one size fits all with the new non-linear approaches to the customer journey.

b. Technology solutions are enhancing the marketing sector by transforming not only the customer experience but also how businesses, small and large, are managing their efforts today.

These transformations include automating age-old processes, streamlining customer acquisition or retention strategies, learning from these changes on the fly with big data, the notion of optimization and automated a/b testing, trialing of messaging, and so much more.
c. Think customization. As a marketer, technology allows you to recognize a customer’s title, location, key demographic or psychographic information to better target and reach the right audience prospects – this is a significant win for both brands and their customers. As a brand, your investments are allocated towards the right prospects, and as a customer you are receiving opportunities that could be of interest to you based on what the technology has determined of you. Some refer to this as “big brother,” but I say it’s fantastically genius. Targeted ads are going to exist as long as the Internet is around, and I for one would prefer ads relevant to me.

4. How has the data-driven approach redesigned marketing campaigns as a whole?
a. I personally believe “content is queen and data is king.” Data affords stricter and more understood decision making in an automated and meaningful way for marketing and advertising. Data-driven marketing uses customer data to predict their needs, desires and future shopping behaviors. These insights enable marketers to tailor strategies for the highest possible ROMI by determining ad placements and approaches to fit various moments of intent. It is one of the most transformative changes in digital advertising and it enables personalization throughout the marketing experience.
b. The data-driven approach is all about “learn and transform.” There are many benefits to using this approach. First, you have the ability to target the right customers and optimize messages to only be shown to your defined audience targets. Second, media buying is more efficient because you’re able to leverage machine learning and algorithms to remove the guesswork out of reaching and buying preferred target audience opportunities. Lastly, one-size-fits-all generic marketing strategies are a thing of the past, as you can now have very precise messaging and ad details in order to be relevant enough to resonate and ultimately engage your consumers.

5. Do you agree that the Omni-channel approach with local targeting methods can help in creating a perfect marketing strategy?
a. 100%.

Today’s customer journeys are only successful when they are seamlessly integrated with one another – you have to recognize the customer journey stages from exposure (awareness) to exploration to evaluation to purchase and ultimately experience.

I believe Alistair Rennie said it well in this recent article published by Google (July 2020): “Although the messy middle might seem a complicated place, it’s important to remember that to consumers it just feels like normal shopping. “ Today’s customers have high expectations and they won’t stand for anything less than a clear and concise conversion path to their desired intent. A localized, omni-channel approach ensures that each stage of the customer journey is thought out and defined for the most optimal path to purchase.

6. According to you, what features of your Multi-Location CMS Solution contributed in making PowerChord one of the leading CMS solution providers in the market?
a. The PowerChord Platform connects brands to their local customers. First, we offer lead capture and distribution for a brand’s local dealer/partner network. Second, we have the ability to rapidly deploy website creation and management capabilities with syndication allowing content to be managed at the brand level and showcased across hundreds or thousands of dealer/partner website experiences. Third, our platform has the ability to showcase data and insights within our Command Center for these local leads generated which brands never had previously. This enables brands to support in follow through to ensure their dealer network is quickly responding to new lead opportunities generated. The PowerChord Platform offers lead to revenue management (L2RM) capabilities with embedded analytics to demonstrate local site performance and revenue opportunities.

7. With AI and ML coming in, what are your predictions about the future of Digital Marketing?
a. Much of the marketing world is still dependent on human ingenuity. While there will and should always be a place for that, AI and ML will continue to streamline marketing efforts, while not fully replacing humans or the insights they bring to complement data learnings
b. Where I see AI and ML making the most impact is in the creative side. I believe major advancements will be made here in understanding how various elements, CTA’s, colors, and tones resonate based on audience, placement, ad type and much more. Today, creative data typically gives us a retroactive look into success or failure, however, in the future I see more of this analysis being done on the fly, in real time, while having the ability to adjust ad creative variances. You will no longer have to set campaigns and learn from insights. Instead, the creative will adjust based on the real time needs of engagement results/learnings.
c. I also believe content relevance will be impacted by AI and ML. It’s nearly impossible to manage every single instance of your brand online, and a brand will almost always have an outdated piece of content or product content lingering somewhere. I believe AI models will be able to identify discontinued content and provide an alert system for updating. In the very near future I can see this becoming a non-issue due to appropriate tagging and archiving of content elements which will help to ensure a brand remains current and relevant through the digital exosphere, and in a scalable manner.
d. Next, I see tremendous potential in the evolution of advertisement types. Most advertisers currently rely on the standard paid search, display, video or email advertisement. In the future, I see visual and voice-engaged adverts making a strong introduction. Visual, voice and text engagements are being trialed now and the ability to converse directly with an ad unit via facial expressions is rounding third. This type of augmented processing will allow even more swift pivots when it comes to capitalizing on the engagement of a customer – ads will be programmed to respond to a variety of facial expressions or narrative to ensure the brand is giving them a tailored and unique experience. This will help generate lifetime value understandings and to really understand where customers are at in their decision making journey so that appropriate follow up can continue to be had until they become a customer.
e. Lastly and one of the things I’m most excited about, is leveraging technology innovation to drive stronger user journeys across the customer path to purchase. Take chatbots and AI-powered virtual assistants, for example. These automated tools enable precise programming to engage with customers in real-time while striving to expedite personalized responses to their needs. In turn, this eliminates unnecessary steps of friction in their journey and ultimately provides a quicker and more meaningful online experience.

8. Do you have any advice for startups interested in getting started with marketing efforts?
a. I encourage emerging startups to think about the “customer journey” first and foremost. What is it that you first and foremost want your customers to do when they engage with you? Recognize that not every customer is ready to buy or engage so you need to think through the stages of the buyer’s journey – awareness, consideration, decision while recognizing a potential customer may bounce around within these stages and not immediately convert. Next, be personalized in your messaging and don’t overdo it – think and test through your presented advertising journeys and make sure to avoid any unnecessary friction points. Lastly, don’t be afraid to partner with an agency. It can take a great deal of time and effort to run your own digital marketing and do it right therefore I encourage you to leverage external talent where digital marketing is their number one priority.
b. Lastly, be patient with yourself. Digital marketing isn’t learned overnight and the opportunities for exploring are near endless. First, prioritize your immediate needs and goals while accommodating those with defined tactics and a budget that is comfortable for you. Next, once you figure out what drives immediate impact, start looking for what is next to start experimenting – never grow stagnant in how you strive to meet your customers online. Third, don’t be afraid to fail but do so with a predetermined budget that you can comfortably swallow, don’t overextend yourself. You can achieve much success adhering to a 70-20-10 investment framework; 70% on tried and true tactics, 20% on exploring and trying new initiatives and 10% on activities that you have no idea if they will work but you are comfortable giving it a go regardless of the final outcome.

9. What work-related hack do you follow to enjoy maximum productivity?
a. I’ve got two for you. The first I learned from Elon Musk and that is to always set two deadlines, one is for me and the other is for my boss, customers or clients. I strive for success and being late on a deliverable just isn’t an option for me so I needed to find a way to mitigate the chances of that ever happening. Second, I have a 45-minute window blocked on my calendar each day that is dedicated to thought leadership. Everyone can get lost in the grind of the day-to-day work needs and this approach affords me time to keep my finger on the pulse on the latest marketing and technology trends.

10. Can you tell us about your team and how it supports you?
a. My team is my most favorite part of my professional life. The talent they possess, their dedication to growth and success, and their willingness to support one another makes me very proud. The team members I have the privilege of leading support me in many ways including their passion and drive, commitment to excellence, thorough attention to detail and also important, their kindness. They all strive for wanting more professionally and that in itself is invaluable to me because it enables me to always be pushing them towards “what’s next.”

11. What movie inspires you the most?
a. One movie that really inspired me was Sully, a film about the emergency landing of a US Airways flight on the Hudson River where all passengers and crew members survived due to the heroic efforts of their pilot. This movie really made me ponder about life and how many people could show such prudence when responding to a crisis or the ability to think rationally when everything is going wrong. Think about the world we live in today with COVID, if it’d be easier to let fear drive our thoughts to an irrational and apprehensive place. Instead, we must focus on the facts, remain diligent, and work through this together. These same simple notions ring true in business when the going gets tough.

12. 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?
a. Culture is of the utmost important to us here at PowerChord. We love what we do and we love our people even more. I hope these images showcase a glimpse into the fun we have at PowerChord, both in office and during our current remote workforce. (Photos below)

13. Can you give us a glance of the applications you use on your phone?
a. Some of my favorite apps include Spotify (because who can work without good music in the background), Google Photos (because I love a good memory and archiving life’s best moments), Ring (because we want to keep our family safe), Amazon (because my day wouldn’t be complete without at least 3 deliveries), and Nanit (because I’m a first time Mama to an almost 2-year old and I wake up at least ten times a night to check her video monitor and make sure she is okay).

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Nikki Vegenski has spent the last 11 years helping her client’s brand-to-local digital marketing strategies come to life. As PowerChord’s Chief Strategy Officer, she understands her client’s long-term vision, her firm’s ambitions, and helps to ensure both sides are in sync. She strives for success in providing thought leadership and strategic guidance across current and future customer adoptions of PowerChord’s SaaS and digital advertising solutions. She is an agent for change within the organization as it relates to product evolution, digital advertising, and cross-department leadership, and employee mentorship.

A leading SaaS company that offers digital solutions for multi-location brands. PowerChord's advanced technology works with global businesses to provide localized landing pages and website experiences that preserve brand integrity within their local retail networks. Their platform helps enterprise brands protect brand standards, engage customers, and grow local revenue - while giving independent stores the ability to compete against large, online retailers. The PowerChord Platform also includes hyper-local Digital Marketing strategies that scale national campaigns into personalized local campaigns, and flexible Digital Services to win online searches and drive local sales.

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