Martech Interview with CTO and Head of Product, Zeta Global – Christian Monberg

Chris Monberg from Zeta Global puts light on how the integration of Data & AI is empowering the Martech industry in surviving the COVID-19 pandemic effectively

“Many brands have realized the immense need for a data-driven customer experience strategy anchored by better, more integrated technology—or at least they realized they had to stop dragging their feet.”

1. How has Zeta fared during the pandemic?
As well as can be expected given the circumstances. The people that work at Zeta have been remarkably resilient, and we made a lot of quick, strategic shifts at the onset of the crisis. April was tough, but since then we’ve set ourselves up not only to recover, but to build a better future for our company with innovative technology and services for our clients, new operating efficiencies as employees work from home, and a newfound “growth mindset.”

Our company has been forever changed, and we are emerging stronger as a culture and with a higher-margin operating model for our business.

2. Have you been noticing a shift in the way your clients communicate with consumers? If so, how?
It depends on the brand. The higher-end brands that rely on great customer experiences have found a new kind of patience and empathy In some cases, this has resulted in them holding back on campaigns they may have sent previously. They’re pivoting to create contextual campaigns around what may be in stock or out of stock. They’re creating waitlists where manufacturing has slowed down to let consumers know they “have their backs.” I like this agility and responsiveness. At all times, but especially during uncertain times, consumers want to be heard. They want to know brands are listening. From our end, that means we’re getting more questions about personalization as brands lean more heavily on Data and AI to support their business processes and decision making.

3. What trends have emerged in the marketing space from COVID-19? Are they here to stay?
I’m often astounded at how many companies were behind the curve on digital transformation. Many have had to play catch-up as their customers accelerate their use of digital devices and embrace alternate or emerging channels during COVID. And I think a lot of those changes are here to stay.

Many brands have realized the immense need for a data-driven customer experience strategy anchored by better, more integrated technology—or at least they realized they had to stop dragging their feet.

The urgency created by COVID has forced a lot of companies to accelerate those initiatives, and that will have a deep, lasting, and generally positive impact on the way they operate.

4. What challenges have you experienced in shifting to a more remote workforce?
Where I work, in product and technology, it’s been a mixed bag. For tasks that require a lot of heads-down focus, like say, coding a new micro service, remote work hasn’t had much impact. It may even make some tasks more efficient. Innovation, on the other hand, requires a certain degree of iterative collaboration. The water-cooler conversations that ignite new ideas are missing, and we’re trying to find new, digital analogues for those types of interactions.

5. As a global company, how have you been keeping employees better connected and motivated?
From a corporate perspective, our HR team has put a variety of social programs together, including online happy hours, fitness and meditation classes, inspirational and innovative speaker series. They’re even putting together a Zeta-authored cookbook with proceeds going to charity. Amid the pandemic and the social justice issues our country is facing, we’ve also elevated Diversity & Inclusion as a focus and talk about it weekly.

From a product and engineering perspective, we have a 30 minute “happy hour” a few times a week to catch up. Folks talk about everything except work. I’ve heard of a lot of teams doing this and it seems to be creating room for social interactions that we may be missing elsewhere in our lives.

Behind the technology, we are all human, and we need to support each other with empathy during this challenging time. Part of that means keeping an open mind to new forums for interactions and making the extra effort to stay connected.

6. What has been the biggest business lesson you learned during the pandemic?
There have been a few:
• Your peace-time leaders aren’t necessarily your war-time leaders.
• Always be spring-cleaning: Clean up the balance sheet. Streamline the organization. Get your costs in-line with revenue. Emerge stronger. You can respond to crisis better when your house is in order.
Shared sacrifices combined with transparency can create a stronger, more resilient culture. This is delicate but powerful
• Take care of individuals—employees and clients—on a human level first. We’re all in this together. With strong relationships, the rest will follow.

7. How are you turning today’s challenges into new opportunities?
Today’s challenges follow a few axes: Pandemic, Economic, and Social Injustice. The old adage ‘never waste a good crisis’ by Machiavelli applies to all three.

The pandemic has reminded us that our customers are human too. We’re all enduring changes and tough times. The economic hurdles have caused us to rethink how we’ll continue to hit our projections for the year, focus on margin, and prepare for the possibility of public markets. Social Injustices have given us room to invest in our employees through D&I.

This in turn, has created a tighter, more successful culture. And the political environment has provided ample opportunities to build new solutions and grow our vertical capabilities.

8. You recently launched Opportunity Explorer. Can you give us an update on how the product is performing?
The Opportunity Explorer has quickly become our primary focus as a company. We have developed a solution that is driving key KPIs for business outcomes. The market and consumer insights that are derived from our Zeta Data Cloud of 2.4 billion global profiles are measured through revenue attribution and the number of opportunities that lead to campaign activation. It’s been very exciting and successful for our clients.

We have several new features coming out in the coming months focused on expanding that value and driving from opportunity, to forecast, to end customer engagement and measurement.

9. What other product innovations do you have in the works?
So many! Our product and engineering team ships over 100 releases every quarter.

One of the upcoming solutions within our customer data management (which is a CDP and Master Data Management together) will be our new Data Explorer. Almost 100% of our enterprise customers have some level of data management complexity. This solution will support data operating efficiencies by adding data sources, transformation, data hygiene, and enrichment—and it’s easy… like, drag-and-drop easy.

The Data Explorer removes barriers and enables marketing teams to move faster, which is a huge benefit for companies digitally transforming their business or adapting to changing customer behaviors.

10. I Know you work closely with some of the top airlines and travel companies in the world. What are you seeing in the travel sector and what should we know as the holidays approach?
According to a recent consumer survey we did, 58% of consumers (based on a sample of 44,000 people) are not planning to travel for the holiday season, up from 49% last year. This is equivalent to 31 million fewer travelers. People are generally scared to fly, and many are also facing economic uncertainty.

Now is the time for the travel & hospitality industries to invest in data-driven customer experience and loyalty programs, so that when people are ready to travel again, they can retain and grow those customers. I think we can expect the leading travel brands to look beyond just returning to the status quo.

11. What advice would you give a rising entrepreneur in the marketing space amid today’s environment?
The chaos of 2020 quickly settled into a new normal, and that opens new doors. Identify and explore new opportunities. Be specific on the vision and flexible on the details as you hone-in on your value proposition.

As far as team building goes, pay attention to what we’re learning. Some folks want to be in offices. Some folks want to work from Tahiti. Have the courage to design a new team culture. Find new collaboration tools. Build a new cadence. Be tightly aligned but loosely coupled. The best candidates will follow.

12. What’s one lesson you gained from these past challenging months that you’ll never forget?
When every interaction becomes a meeting, your time-currency becomes more valuable. It’s very easy for a meeting to be a waste of time. Invest—as a team and as an individual—in those small tweaks to behaviors that can make that same meeting very valuable. It’s hard to change ingrained habits, but it’s worth it. Spend your personal zoom dollars wisely. Communicate early and often. And don’t forget to unmute yourself.

13. What have you been doing one a personal level to maintain a work/life balance?
I’ve relocated to my home state of Maine for the summer so that my sons can spend more time barefoot outdoors. I’m still based in San Francisco, but work/life needed more grass, water, and mountains. I’m very fortunate, and based on the lack of available rentals in Maine, I don’t think I’m alone in this.

I’ve also replaced social/friend time with hobbies: song writing, wood working, dirt biking, studying for my pilot’s license, writing, and playing nonstop Monster Garage with the kiddos.

14. Even though we have experienced a tumultuous 2020 thus far, what has been your favorite part and why?
Professionally, it’s our twice-weekly design meetings. We’ve found a new gear in design, and we’re doing inspired, industry-leading work. There’s a high degree of trust, willingness to fail, and great feedback from a broad set of attendees—including clients. It’s like a design foam-pit. Everyone is throwing their biggest McTwist and hoping for the best.

On a personal note, I’m very fortunate to be able to work from Maine. I get to watch my 4-year-old from my office as he runs down to the dock, with his life vest on, jumps into a kayak, and paddles away. His eyes squint with confidence, determination, and a newfound freedom. It’s a reminder for all of us to have gratitude, grace, and courage, and to do the things that make our hearts beat faster with adventure during this unprecedented shift in our lives.

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Christian Monberg is Chief Technology Officer and Head of Product at Zeta Global. He is hyperfocused on building the team that is building the most advanced predictive personalization technology in the market. He joined Zeta via the Boomtrain acquisition, the company he co-founded.

Zeta Global is a data-powered marketing technology company that combines the industry’s third-largest data set (2.4B+ identities) with results-driven AI to unlock consumer intent, personalize experiences and drive customer acquisition, retention, and growth. The company was founded in 2007 by David A. Steinberg and John Sculley with the vision that data was going to change the way marketers engage with consumers to drive successful business outcomes. Today, Zeta Global is a 1500+ person company with 26 offices on four continents, serving over 1000+ enterprise clients such as Samsung, Toyota, and Sprint.

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