With the rapid advancements in technology and the growing influence of artificial intelligence in our lives, Openstream.ai has been at the forefront of revolutionizing the way we interact with machines. As Chief Marketing Officer, David Stark has played a pivotal role in shaping Openstream.ai’s marketing strategies and ensuring the company’s products and services reach the right audiences.
David Stark brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the table. Prior to his current position, he held key marketing roles in several successful technology companies, where he demonstrated his ability to navigate the dynamic landscape of the tech industry and drive impactful marketing campaigns.
Today, we have the unique opportunity to gain insights into the world of AI marketing and understand how Openstream.ai has been leveraging cutting-edge technologies to create transformative experiences for its customers.
So let’s get started!
What inspired you to pursue a career in marketing, and how did you get your start in the industry?
I graduated in ‘91 with a double major in Advertising & Marketing and a double minor in Photography & Graphic Arts so I knew I wanted to pursue a career path that would allow me to be creative. Originally I thought that would be working for an ad agency. However, when I graduated the only offer I got from an agency in NYC wouldn’t pay me enough to cover my commute or much of anything else. So with an earnest desire to move out of my parent’s home, I pivoted and landed a marketing job with a trade publication called Supermarket News that paid well enough to get me started.
It was a pretty big awakening – I went from being at the top of my game in college and ready to do anything to commuting two hours each way down to NYC to make copies, execute direct mail campaigns, and lay out ads with CorelDRAW on a PC. I knew I didn’t want to slog in the trenches forever, but it was a start.
Ultimately, the hard work I put into learning almost everything that gets done from the bottom up in marketing at that job and across the organizations I’ve served was valuable and it earned me top positions at innovative global leaders like IBM, Bounteous, and now, Openstream.ai. I still believe the best leaders understand their jobs inside out. That is what gives them the ability to stretch creatively and predictably to win. There’s no tradeoff for the experience.
What role do you see artificial intelligence play in the future of marketing, and how is Openstream.ai utilizing this technology?
AI has been hiding under the covers helping marketers for several years, particularly in Marketing Operations – think Salesforce Einstein GPT and others. It’s only more recently with the proliferation and easy access to ChatGPT and other Generative AI tools that marketers outside of operations (and their executives) are being exposed to what may be possible.
With that in mind, AI will be a tool for marketers and a catalyst for scale. Marketers should experiment and know when it makes sense to use it – and then embrace it. But use it wisely and remember AI is here to help humanity, not replace it. Nothing will replace your human intuition or creativity. In this vein, think about Generative AI as the assistant you always wish you had. But like an assistant, you need to watch what it does and recognize when it’s just stitching together ‘stuff’ but doesn’t really know what it means or what it’s for.
Within Openstream.ai, marketing is a lean team. So, we tend to use AI for things that once took time to scale beyond the initial idea due to the tediousness of tasks beyond the concept. For instance, when developing on-target blogs, once the message is defined, we use AI to generate illustrative images.
We also have fun using it to kick out short videos to support social media for conducting research and generating reports. The challenge is not so much as ‘Is there an AI that could help us with that?’. It’s in the ‘Holy cow there are 150 of those now, and most of them want money for use.’ We can’t buy them all nor should we – right now it’s the wild, wild West out there. I think over the next 18 – 24 months many of the point solutions will consolidate, get bought out, or just be replaced wholesale as basic features in many of the MarTech stack player’s platforms.
What do you think sets Openstream.ai apart from other conversational AI companies, and how do you communicate this to potential customers?
Openstream.ai is unique because we are the only multimodal, plan-based conversational artificial intelligence platform (CAI) with runtimes that can be deployed on the edge.
In layman’s terms, our platform named Eva™ (Enterprise Virtual Assistant), engages people to understand their objectives and collaborates with them to achieve their goals regardless of channel or approach. By engaging across multiple languages and modalities such as avatars, text, speech, telephony, gestures, images, and more Eva™ can engage audiences with very natural, empathetic, and human-like conversations to address our needs.
Our clients understand this and count on us to deliver on the art and science of AI because that is where the magic is. Humans are rare in our ability to feel and sense one another when engaging in dialogue. Eva™ gives our clients the ability to engage with their customers in a human way by emulating the natural feeling of a conversation that you might have with a person across the table.
It’s a rare approach, which analysts point out. Just last month, Openstream.ai was again recognized as the Only Visionary in the Gartner® 2023 Magic Quadrant™ for Enterprise Conversational AI Platforms.
Communicating this to potential customers continues to be an evolving process for us. We are evolving our web, PR, social, and analyst relationships as you read this. We are also improving our outbound communications, paid media, sales collateral, and the quality of our data to embrace not only the core messaging but to improve the clarity, fidelity, and demonstrable impact of our narrative and brand overall. Building a better mousetrap and mouse house is not unique to us, but it is critical for us as we continue to position ourselves for rapid growth.
What is your approach to creating and maintaining a strong brand identity for Openstream.ai, and how has this evolved over time?
Long term, I’d like to take a page out of the IBM playbook (I was with IBM for almost 20 years) and Jon Iwata’s approach. I believe in trying to define Openstream.ai by crafting and managing the character of our business, rather than the products we sell. Our belief system, purpose, and mission will become what defines Openstream.ai. Done well, the branding starts to take care of itself.
Saying that is admirable and a desirable end state, actually doing the work is a pretty sizable challenge for a small company like ours. Openstream.ai itself has been in business for more than 20 years. Over that time, its character hasn’t been very prominent in defining its positioning. Rather, the capabilities and the products sold and sell today tend to define who we are, reflecting tactical needs and becoming the brand we projected to the market.
We are in the process of revisiting this approach and the fidelity of Openstream.ai’s branding components to establish a foundation for growth. While doing this, we are supporting our shorter-term tactical needs and balancing those with available resources (human and financial). My goal is to not overcomplicate things.
How do you identify and target your ideal customer persona, and what methods do you use to reach and engage with them?
Although we’ve been in business for years, the approach to defining an ICP and their wants and needs throughout a buyer’s journey is something that hasn’t been a design point for our go-to-market, until somewhat recently. As I like to say “We’re going to live in this house while we renovate it.”
In my experience, ICPs are often ‘happened upon’ for smaller marketing teams and may just be something inherited. In other words, companies sell to who is buying/showing up rather than targeting an audience based on their pain points – and aligning messaging, even developing products, around those needs. Rarely do smaller marketing teams take action on buyer personas in a tangible, pragmatic sense – even if they invested a lot of money to create them. But the discipline of defining an ICP empowers a marketing team and company to make some necessary decisions about what they should/should not invest in.
Starting from scratch I’d identify an ICP based on pain points, then total addressable market (TAM), then geography, titles/roles, and other dimensions. Don’t forget to partner with your sales team as they have first-hand knowledge of what they’re encountering and can be invaluable partners. After all, if they make your life easier, you can make their lives easier and more profitable.
To reach and engage an ICP there are an almost limitless number of approaches. However, I’d encourage the use of the data closest to you as a baseline starting point. What’s your website, social media, SEO, CRM, and paid media data points revealing? Is anyone in your ICP showing up or interacting with your brand? Ranking well for something? Try not to bend the data to your ideal ICP – just look at it cold. Then take what you’ve learned and try to use off-domain intent data to see if your ICP is ‘out there’ and pinging your topics. Where are they showing up? What phrases/keywords are they looking for? What seniority level/roles/titles are seeking the topics?
You can take those insights and use them in your buyer personas, figure out how to best target them, develop/surface the messages and content they might be interested in, and experiment across paid, owned, and earned channels. I say experiment because it’s a process – you will be more wrong than right in the beginning. But do what you can to make progress against your objectives.
Also, try to leverage some of the available generative AI where it makes sense to do so – to accelerate your understanding, execute and aid with certain aspects of content creation. It can help a team to do more with less.
Can you explain the patent that Openstream.ai was recently granted and its significance for the conversational AI industry?
The patent details how human requests relayed via dialogue with virtual agents can access data sources and applications to provide more efficient and effective ways for users to interact with them, regardless of modalities of input. For enterprises looking to rely upon AI to engage with their customers, it’s important to note that robust multimodality is a requirement and not an option when trying to facilitate a conversation between a virtual agent and a human being.
Said differently, people point, frown, smile, listen, use the inflection of their voices, type, and more often in combination, to communicate with each other, accessing different points of reference to solve problems. The conversational AI industry needs to replicate this experience. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has recognized our unique approach to this issue.
How does this patent improve the efficiency of human requests relayed through virtual agents, and what impact do you think this will have on customer experience?
Combining modalities reduces the time needed to convey intent (think about the act of pointing, smiling, and saying out loud ‘I want that’ within one moment). Further, harnessing the traits of multimodality increases mutual disambiguation across the modalities. Simply said, the sum ends up being greater than the parts. This allows the virtual agent to infer what you are trying to accomplish from what it can infer from the conversation. Properly harnessing multimodality makes the conversations smarter while feeling more natural and provides more insights back to the organizations that embrace it.
Multimodality, therefore, is a critical catalyst to provide more personalized, contextually aware, and frictionless human-like responses and the USPTO granted us a patent for our unique approach. Delivering natural, seamless, and consistent interactions across all touchpoints improves customer experiences and satisfaction for users. On the flip side, businesses benefit by improving productivity and yield while deriving actionable intelligence at scales previously unfathomable.
What role do you see multimodality playing in the future of conversational AI, and how is Openstream.ai positioning itself to meet this need?
Organizations that need enterprise-class Conversational AI require multimodality to deliver the highest fidelity possible for relaying and interpreting interactions between virtual agents and people. We’ve been building multimodality into the DNA of our platform for more than 20 years. Multimodality can’t just be a bolt-on to support human-like interactions. It needs to be woven into the fabric of enterprise-class Conversational AI.
People want to engage with a company in a manner that’s most comfortable and convenient for them. They sense and can get frustrated with AI that is adapting to their communication approach. Anyone who’s ever used an IVR (Interactive Voice Response) platform and whammed on a ‘0’ to speak to an operator knows this plight firsthand. Openstream will continue to position EvaTM as the plan-based, multimodal, ethical conversational AI for visionary companies that seek out the most state-of-the-art CAI available for their users. If the quality of the conversation matters – then ours is the best approach.
How do you balance creativity with data-driven decision-making in your marketing strategy, and what methods do you use to ensure that both aspects are working together effectively?
Think about creativity and data as yin and yang – they flow together, are forever interrelated, and are co-dependant upon one another. You can’t have one without the other if you want to make it in marketing. Sorry to get so philosophical but it’s the best analogy, much more than a simple check and balance.
Data illuminates what you know (or should), can validate a hypothesis, and can also show you what you don’t want to know but need to see anyway. I’m a Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), so I lean into the concepts of transparency and iteration.
Use data to tell you what’s working and what’s not. Use multivariate, a/b testing, heatmapping, scroll mapping, user behavior, first-party research, focus groups, or anything you can get your hands on to validate ideas and try to drive the best performance possible with the next iteration. Share your observations with team members or managers as needed. All that said, start small and scale – you can’t change the world on a hunch or overnight. But if you use data to inform your strategy, the content you create, the channels you choose, and test what’s working and what isn’t, you’ll be well on your way.
What advice would you give to someone looking to break into the marketing industry, and what qualities do you believe are essential for success in this field?
Marketers are the heartbeat of any company – whether they believe it or not! In fact, here’s a little secret – everyone in your company works for marketing even if they don’t know it. The best products, services, salespeople, and leaders don’t get to be successful without a marketing strategy, robust marketing ecosystems, marketing technology, data, and operations underneath their wings to blaze paths forward. Companies that short-change marketing’s prowess strategically don’t thrive. That’s not to be confused with budgets or resources. That’s ensuring that you or your leaders are involved early and often in key discussions.
The other thing about marketing to note is that because marketing touches everything in a company, everyone in that company thinks they know how to do your job. For example, everyone in every company everywhere has an opinion about your website. And everyone in those same companies thinks they know how to fix it. They don’t! So it’s important as a marketer to be polite and learn how to take in opinions and observations with a grain of salt.
What you need to care about every day is the impact your work has on the company’s ability to meet or exceed business goals. Build credibility and trust by delivering results. The best marketers are versatile, curious, creative, and tenacious and use data to guide them. The most successful marketers come to the table with failures that they’ve experienced and grown from.
It’s a good idea to think about where you want to be five years from now and use that goal as guard rails for making career choices and knowing what not to do. I also recommend that at some point in your career that you take on a quota and join a sales team or at the very least support a sales team directly. There’s a ton to learn about being successful in sales that apply to marketing.
I also recommend finding a marketing or business mentor – inside or outside of your company. A great mentor has your back, listens to you, tells you when you’re wrong, and advises you on your career and if you’re lucky, in life.
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