Jeff Kupietzky - Driving customer acquisition and engagement
Jeff Kupietzky is the CEO of Jeeng, a privacy-first customer engagement and monetization partner for any kind of content creator.
In this episode, we discuss the importance and tactics of driving online customer acquisition and engagement, which has only grown in importance since the start of the Covid pandemic. We talk about the need to focus on both acquisition and engagement, the impact of Covid, the value AI strategies can add here and why brands should strive to own their own audience. We also emphasize the importance of privacy compliance in all of these efforts.
Links & mentions:
“So the idea of owning your audience is you want to be in a situation where the majority of your traffic comes from users that you already know, whether you have a relationship with. And until you have that, you're in a very weak position because ultimately the number of visitors to your website is determined by Facebook and Google. And let's face it, they're not interested in making your business work. They're going to make their business work.”
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. Thank you for tuning in. I'm joined today by Jeff Kopetsky, CEO of Jeeng, leading audience engagement monetization partner for content creators. Today we'll be talking about driving customer acquisition and engagement through your digital initiatives and what the key considerations are here in a world that's constantly changing. Welcome, Jeff. Thanks for being our guest today.
Jeff Kupietzky: My pleasure, Tim. It’s nice to be here. Thank you.
Tim Butara: Anything to add, or should we just jump into the questions?
Jeff Kupietzky: Oh, let's jump right in. That's always more interesting than the speaker.
Tim Butara: Yeah. Okay. That makes sense. So why has customer engagement become such an important element of business that we're talking about it today, like on the same level as customer acquisition?
Jeff Kupietzky: Well everyone knows that it costs a lot more money to acquire a new customer versus retaining your existing ones. So why would you make your life harder? Focus on the existing ones. And the best way to ensure you keep an existing customer is to make sure that they're retained by being engaged. Users that come to your website that open your emails, that kind of buy your product on a regular basis are very engaged. And the challenge for you is obviously to create a way for all your users to be that way, so they don't churn. So we tell people, focus on that engagement side of the equation, and you'll end up having to spend less than on the acquisition side.
Tim Butara: That makes a lot of sense. And it really shows how the two really go hand in hand together. Right. You can't really have one without the other. Even if, as we just said, it makes more monetary sense to focus on one of them.
Jeff Kupietzky: That's right. Then we'll talk a little bit more about this. Generally, there are signals or data that consumers will provide you. And as good as you are to read those, you'll be able to predict whether or not someone will become your customer or someone who is already a customer will stay with you or versus leaving your platform.
Tim Butara: Okay. As you said, we'll dedicate more time to this later. But first, what tools and techniques have you seen be put to the best and most effective use for driving online acquisition and engagement? And how have these techniques and tools evolved throughout the years?
Jeff Kupietzky: Great. So our view is that as close as you can get to where there's a one to one relationship between your content, whether that's media content or an offer or product, and the actual user at the time that they're interested. That's what you're trying to achieve. So in the old days, the way that worked was you would go into the garage and find everything you have. You’d bundle that up in a nice, pretty newsletter and you send that and hope somebody has some interest in that. That's a very old way of doing it.
The new way is you want to be thinking about, what do you know about that consumer? What have they shown interest in the past? What do you have that might be a match to that interest? And then how do you optimize what you send, including how you send it and what time do you send it? So we'll kind of use an example, if your audience might be soccer or call it football fans. Right. And we're finding something about a trade that somebody might be famous who's leaving one team to another. That's pretty relevant to those people who follow the sport.
But if I sent that information in the off season when it wasn't necessarily relevant to the audience, or I might have sent it to them on their work computer, so to speak, on a desktop, where the games were being played on the weekends, I would be missing that match not just of the content, but the audience and potentially the time and even the place or the channel, if you will. So what we've seen over time is people have gotten more sophisticated on how they think of that one to one matching that includes not just the content itself but also the channel. In other words, where that user’s reading the content; either what device, what kind of computer they're using, and the time which becomes very important to kind of in what mindset are they to read your content or not.
Tim Butara: Yeah. That's a very important point. And a good point about the channel. This was what I was thinking about right right now. We live in this so called omnichannel or multichannel landscape, and we've seen a huge rise in device and channel usage in the past years. And obviously this has to have some kind of impact on these topics.
Jeff Kupietzky: Yeah. So I'll use an example. We use this a lot, but I think it helps really bring it very clearly for your audience. Imagine you're standing online at a coffee store, Starbucks or whatever, and you get an email that has something that's interesting. It could be a breaking news or it could be a product that goes on sale. The use case for that person is they're snacking on content, they have 2 or 3 seconds. They're not engaging.
So you want to keep it very light, just a headline or just kind of the key information, and that person might come back to that note or be more open to it when they're in a long form format. So maybe it's at night, they're on a tablet or during the day, they're at work on a desktop. And so getting good at understanding that the context of where the user is will determine how well they engage with the content becomes critical. And we've been advising clients about thinking about that, where you want to change, then the message, even the length of the message based on the medium and the time of day.
Tim Butara: Yeah, content is king, but context is slowly overtaking its place somehow.
Jeff Kupietzky: I think you always need both.
Tim Butara: That's the best way to go about it. Definitely. And what about COVID? It's had an impact on practically all parts of our lives, in all parts of the digital. So what kind of impact has it had on the importance and also on the tactics of driving acquisition and engagement online?
Jeff Kupietzky: So we're in a very unique place in that we've been very active in the primary messaging channel of email, and we've been involved in that for many years. During COVID, we saw an amazing statistic, which is that almost every single one of our clients, our publishers saw an increase in engagement during COVID. Now you ask yourself, is that because people just started using the Internet more - that's obvious. But it was actually a channel shift away from social media, away from search and into more brands, and let's call them senders that had reputation, and they made people feel comfortable with the information they were sharing.
And I'll use an example. We have a client called Next Door, and they're in the business of providing neighborhood information. You can imagine the beginning of COVID. If you were interested in knowing what stores were locked down, what were going to be, the new requirements, what would your children have to do in terms of school and being at home or not? All that information was extremely important, and people were not trusting what they read on Facebook or on other social media platforms. They wanted authoritative, editorialized, sent to them in a channel they know they can trust.
So we saw for that client as an example, an enormous increase in the engagement of audience using email. And when we talked to end users, we learned they actually preferred the channel that was comfortable to them, the one that was familiar, the one they had high trust in. They don't really trust social media. So when it came to really important information that infected their lives, they wanted a channel that they trust from a sender that had a strong brand reputation.
We've surveyed different types of content during COVID, and what's really interesting and I can share this, is that we saw that the items that actually did very well were things that did have more to do with people's concerns. So it turns out, faith based content, where people were sending things about religion, and humor were both off the same percentage. I'll let the audience figure out what that might mean, but that's in lieu of, we saw a decline and obviously travel related content, local ecommerce decline. But it was kind of more content people were kind of searching for yearning for that we saw an increase in and that was pretty interesting.
One other fact about COVID. I actually do think now we've measured this since March 11, when the pandemic was declared, and it's been now 18 months. We have not seen a return to pre-pandemic levels of engagement, meaning we've sustained a higher level of usage on our publishers and our platforms all through the period. And that suggests to us that people have recognized the power and value of a direct connection between a sender and their end user that isn't mediated by a Google or Facebook and doesn't lend itself to the risks and concerns that social media has as relates to the content that's being distributed.
Tim Butara: Yeah. Some very good points here. And thank you for taking us through your observations into your experience. Really much more valuable insights. That it's actionable. Great. Maybe on a different note, how important would you say the innovation in artificial intelligence is in this context? Are AI strategies effective for driving customer acquisition and engagement?
Jeff Kupietzky: Absolutely. And let's just use a simple math problem. Our average publisher has over a million users, and they probably have over 100,000 pieces of content. If we go to the editors and say, okay, you figure out the best match between these million and this hundred thousand. No human being can make that connection. So what they do is they say we're not going to make the connection. We'll do the most popular. Everybody gets the same content. I don't know of any business that does well by giving everybody the same thing. The old model T, as long as it's black, that's gone away. Right now, you've got to cater to every taste in preference, and especially when it comes to content, which is so easy to kind of get wrong. Right.
You think people are interested in this story, but they're really not right. We send the Liverpool story to Chelsea, and suddenly now they'll never open the emails again. Right. So if you want to get to a point where you can do that matching of all that content and those users in an automated way where AI is so effective is that it augments the humans, it doesn't replace them. But it provides a basis to say, we can actually take the bulk of this matching exercise and let the computer decide. And then that enables an editor to still pick, here's the five most recent articles, the most recommended articles, here's our Editors’ pick.
There's a lot of value in the qualitative assessment, but when you have that big quantitative problem, there's no better solution than letting AI do that optimization and doing that based on an engagement metric like click through not based on an open metric or some other kind of more input it's based on, did people find value in the article? Did they read it? Did they click through? And that's what you want to use to then optimize that thought process.
Tim Butara: This was a really great showcase of how artificial intelligence strategies kind of factor into this. It’s really, as you said, they augment the human and, you know, we've heard it countless times. And by now, I think that very few people still have fears of AI overlords taking over in the near future. But it's still nice to hear such a great example of how, basically artificial intelligence, what it does is it frees up the creative people to do more creative work, because now, through automation, the content creators are actually able to focus on the kind of content that will best resonate with the audiences and with the segments that were kind of provided to them through the AI mechanisms.
Jeff Kupietzky: Yeah. I'll use another example. I think it would be interesting. We serve an old, old publisher in the United States called Farmers’ Almanac. For those who are very familiar with them, they were founded, I think, in 1840, and they talked about crops and weather and with all the climate change that's still pretty relevant, though, if you're in that business. Well, it turns out they have a long, long tail of old articles, like things that have been written over 100 years ago. So even if they get new users, they have this problem of how do they discover, how do they allow the end users to discover new content?
Again, the problem is too much content. Too many users. How do they do that? So they're using our technology. And what they've told us is it enables a way to do discovery that they wouldn't have done manually. They're exploring content areas that people have never been exposed to. And as the algorithm finds things that people are interested in, that data gets fed back to the Editors. And now they know, you know what it turns out, fruit pies in the fall are making a comeback, and people want to figure out how to get more fruit pies. Right. So let's kind of make content around that topic. And it's only through that discovery mechanism that AI enable that we’d be able to give them those insights.
Tim Butara: Yeah. It's like you can get some insights through this that you would never be able to get otherwise, because it it's not in your frame of solution solving in that time, I guess. Awesome. What about owning your own audience? What factor does this have in acquisition and engagement? And maybe, why is this something that businesses should always keep in consideration when selecting both the optimal technologies and strategies for this?
Jeff Kupietzky: Absolutely. If you ran a store and you were collecting credit cards or whatever, and I told you, okay. After every sale, delete the file of anybody who's in there, erase the memory from your sales people, who came in and tomorrow, hopefully somebody will come in again and you'll resell to them. That's kind of the situation that most publishers have to get their audience to come back. Most of the traffic comes from social media sharing, Facebook, or search, SEO that comes from Google.
And the problem is when those users come over to the site, there's no data about them. They have no way to address them. They don't know who they are. And as they interact, they don't really own that audience. They're renting it. Because if the user finds what they're looking for, great. But if not, there's no way to bring them back. The idea of owning the audience is, you want to be in the situation that when you have visitors to your site, you get them into some kind of known relationship where you can resend to them content. They looked at a product, they abandoned it. You send it out through their shopping cart. They were browsing on articles. You now know what they like. Send them content about that topic area.
If you don't have a way to address to them, an email address, a push ID, a mobile ID, you're never going to get them back. So the idea of owning your audience is you want to be in a situation where the majority of your traffic comes from users that you already know or that you have a relationship with. And until you have that, you're in a very weak position because ultimately the number of visitors to your website is determined by Facebook and Google. And let's face it, they're not interested in making your business work. They're going to make their business work. So you want to kind of be in a situation where you can control more of your own destiny and that's owning your own audience.
Tim Butara: And where do you then keep, and how do you keep this customer data unified once you decide that you need to keep it?
Jeff Kupietzky: Great, so it has to be privacy compliant. This is first-party data owned by the publishers with the consent of the end user. Our view is that if you use an email address, that's a great vehicle to both get the consent and that it's pretty sticky. People don't generally change their email address. And the other benefit is with email, no matter what device or channel you come in on, you're on your tablet, you’re on your mobile phone, you're on your desktop, you're opening up emails, it's the same user. So the publisher can now track your behavior in multiple channels with a single Identifier.
That is information you can always tell them to don't track. You can always opt out. But once you've opted in, the benefit is you get a lot more relevancy on the information that's pushed to you and even that's shown to you. And so the benefit again to the end user is a lot more, if you will, closer to what you're interested in, what you're searching for. And then obviously for the publisher, they're now getting a user that's more engaged.
Tim Butara: What about from the perspective of the company, I'm thinking of scenarios when there are maybe multiple teams that have to work with this customer data. And how do you make sure that they're working with the same data and that they don't get target customers that have already been targeted or treat them as if they know nothing about them, even though the customer knows they do?
Again, email address is a great example, because you can hash that, you can make it de-identified, but it's very unique, no matter where you see that user. And then if it turns out that you add other data to it, an address, a physical address or cookie, you can then link that to the same user profile, and then it has integrity, and therefore you can use it across the whole company. So there has to be a discussion. There has to be, obviously, coordination. Companies like ours obviously help publishers provide that type of technology, but that would be the way that you can leverage all the benefits of these user signals or the information about them. But in a privacy compliant and in a very effective way that allows everybody across the organization to share that information.
Tim Butara: Yeah. I really think that privacy compliant data usage will be one of the most important factors of a digital business going forward. Basically, it's already happening now. Okay. Do you have any predictions for the future developments in customer acquisition and engagement, either near future or if you have predictions for, I don't know, a year or two years from now, go ahead.
Jeff Kupietzky: Well, there's the obvious ones. I mean, I think the idea of automation will continue to move forward. That's progress. And I think everybody sees the benefit in that. I think the strength of privacy and the importance of that there'll be a much more explicit trade off for a user. If I give a user choice and say, it's $10 a month for this content, or you can agree to have some of your profile shared with relevant suppliers. I think people get that trade off.
Either it's worth me to spend $10 and not have my data shared, or I'll get free content, and I'll see advertising and I think that that trend where that's more explicit and clear to the user, I don't think will reduce free content. I think it'll just reinforce the trade off, which is you're getting this for free because our advertisers are getting information or the people who are targeting you are getting that. And as long as you can control that, I do believe that people will evolve towards a world where that's more prevalent
In terms of predictions. I think that the challenge that Google has created in the industry where cookies are not defendable now because third party cookies are not going to be used on websites, according to Chrome, I think that will create more uncertainty, less clarity. And I don't think there'll be a standard yet, so that might be counter intuitive. People are working on standards. There's something called FLoC, there's others. My own opinion is we’ll muddle through and certain publishers will figure out their own solution and they will be successful. But the average publisher will not. And I think that will affect progress. Until we kind of, I think demonstrate there's a better way to do this, we might have to muddle through a bit because of these changes.
Tim Butara: Do you maybe have any tips on how to start, how to begin this process?
Jeff Kupietzky: Absolutely. For sure. You should be asking for email no matter what website you run, no matter what product you're in. If you're not asking everybody to give you that small kind of commitment, which is their email address in exchange for offers, discounts, more content, exclusive, breaking, anything you can do to make that worthwhile that's number one, you have to do that.
Once you have that, you're welcome to talk to organizations like ours, but not only us. How do you make that relevant? How do you make that personalized? How do you make that automated? And that's a lot that we can talk about it. But ultimately you want to do less work for more benefit and leveraging what's now available through AI is one way to kind of do that. But even if you're not going to use a vendor, I would say focus on building out your direct controlled audience, and that's what you should focus on because that's where all the value is.
Tim Butara: That's a great tip and a great note to finish on, Jeff. This has been a great conversation. Thanks so much for joining me today. Just before we finish, if our listeners wanted to reach out to you or learn more about Jeeng, where can they reach you?
Jeff Kupietzky: Sure. I'll give out my email address and my company's URL. We're jeeng.com, very easy, J-E-E-N-G. All the information is on there. And if somebody wants to talk to me directly, it's very simple. I'm jeff@jeeng. I look forward to hearing from anybody.
Tim Butara: Awesome. Thanks again, Jeff. This has been great. And to our listeners, that's all for this episode, have a great day, everyone, and stay safe.
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