Alex Trup ADT podcast cover
Episode: 34

Alex Trup - The importance of customer-first digital marketing

Posted on: 26 Aug 2021
Alex Trup ADT podcast cover

Alex Trup is the co-founder of Rolo Secure Chat, a new messaging app focused on privacy and security, with the chats being End-to-End Encrypted (E2EE) by BlackBerry.

In this episode, we discuss the importance of customer-first digital marketing and its different elements and approaches. We talk about dark UX patterns, targeted advertising and its evolution, globalization and multinational marketing, and the growing role of data. Alex also presents how Rolo is changing the game, as well as some more privacy-focused analytics platforms.


Links & mentions:


“So if you don't know your customers, how are you ever going to be customer-centric? Ideally, you are your customer. Hopefully you built a product or a service that appealed to you in the first place. Many people don't, though. And so it's very important that you're regularly talking to your customers.” 

Welcome to the Agile Digital Transformation podcast, where we explore different aspects of digital transformation and digital experience with your host, Tim Butara, content and community manager at Agiledrop. 

Tim Butara: Hello, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. I'm joined today by Alex Trup, co-founder of the Rolo Secure Chat, a new secure and private messaging app for professionals, with the chat being end-to-end encrypted by BlackBerry. In this episode, we'll be talking about how important it is for your digital marketing efforts to be focused on the customer and their pains in needs. Welcome, Alex. Thanks for joining me today. Anything you want to add before we move to the questions? 

Alex Trup: Thanks for having me, Tim. No, I think you got the intro spot on. 

Tim Butara: Okay, great. And let's begin. So what does it mean for a digital marketing strategy to be customer first? What are the key elements of customer first marketing? And in contrast, what does it not do? What should it avoid? 

Alex Trup: So customer first marketing is all about focusing on the customer wants and needs even ahead of your own organization. You have to think like the customer. What is it that brought them to your channel today? And when we say channel, we mean your website. Maybe it's your Facebook page or whatever it is. Do you have the content or the products and services which solve their issues? Usually you think somebody came perhaps through search, for example, through Google. Often they're asking a question when they go through Google, you know, I need something that solves my organization’s communications needs, for example. So what chat apps for business are there, that kind of thing? 

So they came to your website looking to solve that question. So do you have content that solves that? That doesn't mean necessarily you have to have the products and services. But by answering their question, they will have more trust in your brand that you know what you're doing. And then perhaps they will gain a greater interest in what products and services your organization actually does sell. 

So, you know, you have to think about things like the wording and imagery use, make it clear to those customers that you have those solutions. And of course, this can be taken-- if we're talking more negatively, it can be some sort of extreme negative, such as dark patterns that perhaps encourage the user to sign up to something they didn't actually want to, or perhaps some other misleading ads. There are quite a lot of examples I think perhaps in the dating world, when we talk about dating apps and websites. There are some out there that perhaps are convincing people to join a subscription when they didn't actually want to pay for it yet, or they force a subscription before they're ready to pay for it or otherwise trick them by having a larger button versus a smaller like, no, don't charge me now, that kind of thing, link underneath that. 

And then again, talking about an example of some dating apps, they might use head shots of, you know, these are sexy singles in your city. And if you actually read the terms and conditions at the bottom of the website, it says these images are for illustration purposes and may not actually be members of the website, and they may not even be in your cities. They're using scripts to recognize where the user is. So they know, for example, I'm in Taipei, Taiwan. So they’ll say, these are sexy singles in Taipei. And it's quite interesting that those images and the profiles would not be representative of the demographics of people who are in Taiwan. For example, I'm in an Asian country, 99% of people are Asian, but perhaps they're using mostly white women, for example. And so you instantly know that they're playing some sort of trick on you. And that's kind of when I was researching those kind of dark patterns, that was something that became very clear. 

Tim Butara: I'm glad we brought up dark patterns. I think those are very interesting feature of digital experiences that's becoming more and more prevalent. And, you know, it's just basically marketing from the company's perspective, taken to the extreme. You know, we want you to do this, so we'll make you do it by any means necessary, basically. 

Alex Trup: And definitely when you are building an app or a website, as we do with Rolo, you do think about, okay, how do I encourage the user to do a certain action? And, of course, ultimately, while we are not monetized yet, eventually we will have a subscription based chat application, we do think about, okay, well, what is the step that will lead them to have a subscription? So we have to plan the designs around that. And you do think about things like size and color of buttons and positioning and what takes priority on a page. 

Or, for example, you don't want somebody to delete their account. So where do you put that delete? You know, you have to treat people fairly at the same time, don't make things perhaps as easy as they need to be. I mean, if you put everything on one single page, it can also be very messy. So you have to find the right balance, while not misleading people. I think that's the difference between a dark pattern and a positive UX experience. Is this what the user expects? 

Tim Butara: Yeah, that's true. It's basically like you're free to try to get them to do what's best for your company, but you should do it while also considering them as an individual, basically. 

Alex Trup: Definitely. I mean, if they are not achieving their needs when using your application or your website as quickly as possible, they'll likely switch to a competitor who solves that problem faster. So you have to think about that as well, in contrast to the needs of your own company and the products and services you offer. 

Tim Butara: And that's not actually a trend that's unique to just digital marketing, correct? I think that we've seen this trend of customer or user centricity in basically all fields of the digital lately. Why would you say that this is so? 

Alex Trup: So I personally love targeted ads. My background is in digital marketing. I've been doing it for about 15 years, and things cost money to make. And I think increasingly, as more and more things are digital, more services are digital, more products are digital, people don't necessarily translate that into the same value as a physical product. Some people see that maybe as being worth less. For example, say it's an online course. You might think an online course offered by universities has less value than, say, going to a University and attending that course in person with the lecturer, that you can speak to them, see them face to face, that kind of thing. 

And when we give them less value, we're kind of less likely to want to pay for them. And so because we're not willing to pay for them, but they still cost money to produce. So we have to find business models that help cover those costs. And the most common business model for that is advertising. And so I think we're seeing an increase in this because more and more products are becoming ad supported. I think we see a lot of products, even increasingly physical products. Perhaps they're digital physical products that are increasingly supported by advertising through some method. And so without that support, those products are just going to go away. And so we're going to see more of that that way. 

Tim Butara: And I'm guessing that, you know, data plays a major role in all of this and basically powers all this. And I want to ask you, how does data factor into all of this? And probably even more importantly, what does the future hold for data driven digital marketing, with more and more privacy regulations emerging, more and more updates to existing regulations? 

Alex Trup: So data is the most important part of any kind of targeted advertising, particularly in digital and even just understanding your customer. We're talking about customer centric marketing. If you don't know your customer, you don't have data points about them. How are you supposed to be customer centric? Now, you can get that data through simply asking them either face to face or through online surveys. Or, as many people do, particularly digital marketers, they use different methods of tracking, or they're buying data sets. 

For example, if I'm advertising on Facebook, I'm targeting a specific community of people, men aged 18 to 30 in London, for example, and as well, maybe having additional categories, such as they like football, and they also like rock music. So all this data has been given freely to companies like Facebook, and they then repackage that as an advertising product that digital marketers can use. 

And so data is fundamental there. But increasingly, we're seeing users don't like that use of data, and they see it perhaps as creepy. Perhaps they didn't realize that at the time they signed up. You know, many people signed up to Facebook when they were 13 years old and they didn't think of the ramifications, and now they are 20 plus. And so they're kind of reconsidering that, particularly as they move from one website to the next, and that same data is being used to then retarget them. 

So based on my Facebook profile, I like these certain things. And now I'm looking at some news website, and they're targeting me with the same ads that I would otherwise see on Facebook. That is a bit creepy. As I mentioned before, I personally love targeted ads because I understand that things cost money and need to be ad supported. And I'd rather see targeted ads than irrelevant ads. I'd rather see-- I often see, based on my preferences. I see these new Kickstarter projects that, you know, cool gadgets and things like that, because they know I'm going to spend my money on that. And once or twice I've been suckered into an Instagram campaign or similar to join a Kickstart or an Indiegogo for a product that isn't yet ready. But I enjoy that. But I know that some people don't. And so we have to be sensitive to that. 

There are increasing amounts of government regulations such as the GDPR for Europe. There's also, like the California privacy laws, Singapore have theirs, an increasing number of countries have theirs. And so we need to think about what that means. And so the basic level, for example, for GDPR in Europe, that's all mostly about, like cookie tracking, where you store the data when somebody agrees to be marketed to. Is it as easy for them to unsubscribe to that marketing and things like that. 

What we're doing at Rolo is Privacy is core to our offering. And so I've had to think about this originally on our website. We did have cookie tracking because I was thinking, well, it's not just about advertising. For example, Google Analytics, which is basically on almost, I don't know, every website in the world. They're using Google Analytics to track who the users are, where they are, how long they spent on their website, that uses cookies at the moment. But as I sort of started to think about that, well, Google Analytics is owned by Google, and they perhaps use that data in other ways as well for targeting purposes. They know the trail of websites you visit, and that builds a profile about who you are. And those are data points that can be used for advertising. 

That's not data I'm comfortable giving Google about our users or even our potential users. They don't have to have signed up to Rolo to potentially have had a cookie dropped on their computer unwillingly. So I found an alternative analytics platform. I don't mind plugging them. They're called Plausible, and they don't use cookies for analytics. There are a few others out there, but for our needs, they seem to be, like, the best one. And now we can still get some of that data, we can't get as much as we could have through Google Analytics. But that's okay. It's enough data for us to understand who are the people visiting our website. 

So we also need to think about-- we need to think about this through the experience of our app as well, like which data are people having to give us? And is it truly necessary that we have it? Of course, we have to think about how we protect the data so that it never gets into the wrong hands. But is this data that we even need to have? And I think increasingly the conversation is heading that way. So more and more companies are going to be considering that. 

Tim Butara: Yeah. It's interesting that you brought up and that you mentioned specifically that at the moment, Google Analytics is still using cookies, because if I understand it correctly, this is primed to change soon. And the platform that you mentioned, so Plausible, it seems to me like this is really well positioned for the future, where third party cookies aren't used for tracking any longer, basically a decision that’s spurred on by Google now. 

Alex Trup: Yeah, Google were supposed to actually get rid of cookies I think around this month, the time that we're recording this, they've just put a two year extension on that. So cookies are here to stay for another two years, basically. Everyone was seeing this as old cookies are going to go away. Google was coming up with alternatives to cookies to allow for more privacy, particularly in marketing. And we also see that in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store, they now have a requirement for app developers to list their privacy details to how you are using your users’ data. So that was introduced just a couple of months prior to the recording of this. So we're definitely moving in that direction, I think. But clearly, if Google's not going to do it right now, nobody’s going to follow for another couple of years, I think. 

Tim Butara: Yeah. I didn't know that it got postponed. I was still kind of living under the assumption that it's supposed to happen by the end of this year. So I was like, okay. Yeah. You know, phasing out of third party cookies. This is supposed to happen soon. We should be prepared for it. But obviously we still have a few years, and I suspect that companies will make great use or really take advantage of this extra time that they have. 

Alex Trup: Definitely. 

Tim Butara: And I think that globalization is another factor which is contributing to this trend of catering to your customers and users as much as possible and meeting them wherever they basically interact with the digital. And I'm wondering if you maybe have any experience with multinational or localized digital marketing? 

Alex Trup: Right. So my whole digital marketing career has been based in Asia, and I spent several years working on regional campaigns. So we always had to think multilingual, multi ethnic, multinational, and the impacts that that has on the campaign. Not everyone speaks English, is the starting point. I think the majority of companies, particularly when you look at those in the Western world, will start the website in English, and then often they don't translate for any other target communities who perhaps have billions more people than the English speaking world until it's perhaps maybe too late, and local competitors will have already sprung up. 

So I've always advocated for starting your multilingual approach to marketing as early as possible. It does take time and a lot of effort to manage, but if you do it right, you never know where your next group of customers could be. You never know how much money you're potentially leaving on the table or at the end of the day, when a competitor springs up in those local markets that-- it could have been you. And so I think it's a missed opportunity for lots of people. 

So I think it all starts out getting organized with your translations. When people are thinking about their marketing messages they’re perhaps not as organized as they should be. And it can start with simply making a spreadsheet. These are all the phrases, the language we're using, the slogans, the name of the product, the product details. And you can simply get that translated by people into another language, and you can keep it quite well organized that way. You need to have an organized process for that. You can start simply with students doing that, and it can be relatively low cost if you can't afford professional translators. 

You can use a tool like Google Translate or Bing Translate to do that. Although typically most people would say that those translations are not so accurate, but it's perhaps better than nothing. Then you also need to think about, okay, well, which platform am I going to use for actually using this content? Say it's my website or my ecommerce store. Does this platform actually support multilingual? And shockingly, until maybe a year or two, most of them didn't. Most of them were single language, or you had to maybe have some very complex setup or use an external JavaScript plugin that would sync your languages. But I think things are getting better. More and more of these platforms are understanding that need. 

But I think it starts early on when you're first planning your business. Is this the right web platform for a multilingual approach? Otherwise you're going to find yourself in one or two years time thinking, oh, I should have chosen a different platform, whether or not you do that straight away. It's best to think as big as you can for your business. And then once you actually get down to targeting those audiences for your marketing, you have to think about, okay, well, which of these platforms is actually good for that? Can I target my target users by language, and then am I providing them with banner ads or whatever the marketing method is, social posts in their target language? And then are the links from those then heading to the correctly multilingual website or end point at which they'll make their purchase? 

So it's a complex process. But I would say many more companies need to think about that from the very beginning, even if they're not going to do it straight away. Investing those couple of days to actually plan it out and figure out which platforms are right for them for the long term is going to save them months of work later on when they have to switch. 

Tim Butara: And, I mean, I know that this wasn't what we were talking about. But when you say platforms, I'm thinking, alongside the website and the main platform of the company. I'm also thinking of platforms such as which search engine they'll be reaching their customers through, because obviously, if you want to succeed in a huge market such as China or Russia, for example, you probably will have to readjust your strategies as to, you know, where potential users or customers will find you, which search engine platform they'll use, which social media platforms they'll use, stuff like that. So there's a lot of moving pieces and a lot to consider because you want to do it right. You want to maximize the ROI that you get out of entering new markets, becoming a multilingual or a globalized, localized company, so just multiple layers to consider.

Alex Trup: That's totally correct. 

Tim Butara: Maybe, do you have any predictions about how this trend of customer centricity will continue to evolve in the field of digital marketing, maybe both from the perspective of the technology and the creative aspects? 

Alex Trup: So I think this user data based targeting isn't going away. As I mentioned before, there is going to be increasing attention paid by consumers to this, and more and more companies and platforms are going to restrict the ways in which data is used. Better anonymization of that data, perhaps certain filters on who you can actually target, because there have been some examples in the past of when all this data was anonymized, researchers were able to still identify based on this woman’s search results. It is this woman. She lives in this small town, and, you know, we found her. There'll be more attention paid to that kind of thing. There will, of course, be an increasing number of, I think, fines coming from, like the EU and other government organizations on companies who perhaps misuse data. 

But I think we're still going to see more and more of this targeted advertising, because I think as the consumers get more smart about it, they're going to make the educated decision. I think part of the problem so far has been a lot of people were not educated in the fact that their data was being used in this way. But if I, as a student, simply don't have enough money to pay for something like Netflix or some kind of content platform that I just don't have money for, then I'm probably willing to sell my data essentially for advertising purposes or give up my data that is then sold in exchange for that monetary value of viewing that content. 

So I think we're going to see increasing use of data, although I think it will be more, perhaps morally obtained or say. And as more and more of this technology is integrated into our lives, such as through wearables or similar will have even more hyper focus about stops you pass on the street. So we'll see more small businesses and medium sized businesses jumping into this as those advertising products become easier. So you'll pass by a shop or perhaps be 100 meters from them. And it'll say, hey, it's tea time. Come in for a tea, for example, or we've got a special coupon for you. I think we'll see more of that. 

It's been sold to us as digital markers for the past five or ten years through use of Bluetooth beacons and things like that, but it's not become a reality as such, I think. But I think we're going to see more of that through the use of things like wearables and stuff like that. I think we're also going to see more advertising on platforms that we're not seeing so much of at the moment that’s more targeted. So it's very common when you listen to a podcast to have ads for Blue Apron or Casper Mattress or some kind of blanket company that appeals to everyone or, let's say, a broad swath of the audience. But I think we're going to see more targeting, for example, on the podcasting channels, and it will be more based on, because this is your device, they know who you are, and they will switch out the ads based on who you are. And so I think we'll see more of that kind of thing. 

And going back to wearables, we may even see ads happening on our wearables or coming through our ear pods, even just listening to music or, you know, walking past the shop on the street. Maybe it's not even the app we're using that advertises to us, but maybe it's the phone’s OS or just the device itself that somehow subsidies through advertising. 

Tim Butara: Yeah. Advertising is basically such a huge part of the digital that it only makes sense that it will start to move into all areas of the digital that haven't been leveraged that much before. So stuff like wearables, stuff like the multiplicity of different devices that we use on a daily basis because we've gotten more used to the digital, so stuff like that are precipitating kind of the ubiquity of advertising to put it like that. 

Alex Trup: Yes, I totally agree. 

Tim Butara: So before we wrap up the call, do you have any words of advice for business or marketing leaders who are looking to implement a more customer focused marketing strategy? 

Alex Trup: It all really starts with focus and understanding on your customers. So if you don't know your customers, how are you ever going to be customer centric, ideally, you are your customer. Hopefully you built a product or a service that appealed to you in the first place. Many people don't, though. And so it's very important that you're regularly talking to your customers, and that can either be face to face or increasingly, because of the Covid situation out there. You know, you can do something as simple as create a form or survey and email that out to everyone you know, and use that data to your advantage. Understand which channels they're using, understand which products and services they're using, even if it's not your own. Understand what they like about your product and your messaging. 

And you can always test your new messages, your new marketing materials before you release them publicly because marketing is expensive. And so why not ask 10, 20 people what they think before you use it? 

Tim Butara: I mean, that's how it should be done, right? That's basically it's kind of one of the main rules of creating great customer and user experiences is to actually talk to the customers and users that you're targeting, get their actual feedback, not kind of biased feedback, and then build with all of that top of mind. 

Alex Trup: Certainly. 

Tim Butara: And as you said, I really like the point about you having to be your own customer. You know, it's something that maybe we often miss or we just don't think about it, but it's actually the most basic approach for doing it right. You should create experiences and create marketing experiences that you yourself would be delighted by and wouldn't be bothered by. 

Alex Trup: Definitely. 

Tim Butara: Okay. This has been great, Alex, thank you for joining me today. Before we finish, if our listeners want to reach out to you or if they want to learn more about you, how can they reach you? 

Alex Trup: So they can visit our website, which is or they can email me, Alex at Rolo Chat. Otherwise, find me on LinkedIn and we can start a conversation. 

Tim Butara: Awesome. I'll include all the relevant links in the show notes. Thanks again, Alex. This has been great. 

Alex Trup: Thank you, Tim. 

Tim Butara: And to our listeners. That's all for this episode. Have a great day, everyone, and stay safe. 

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