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Retail Marketing With Artificial Intelligence

The retail industry is under pressure, and AI-based marketing solutions can come to help. New tools offering personalization and a 360-degree view across all channels and touchpoints can make marketing outreach much more relevant for retailers. Ometria is a company offering this type of solution.

I discussed their solution with Ivan Mazour, the CEO and founder of Ometria. Born in Russia, he later studied mathematics at Cambridge University and then proceeded to be a technology investor. Through that he saw an opportunity to apply data to a large industry and build a globally-leading technology company. So after putting together the original founding team, and picking retail as the industry they would apply data to, he started Ometria and have been its CEO since inception.

Now, over to the interview!

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Ivan Mazour, CEO and founder of Ometria

What is Your Company’s Background?

Ometria was founded in 2013, with a mission to help retailers create marketing experiences their customers will love. The four co-founders of Ometria had a diverse set of backgrounds, from mathematics to computer science to design to ecommerce. What we were all passionate about was using data to help ecommerce marketers, and building a global SaaS company that utilized the latest technologies.

We spent the first year speaking with hundreds of retailers, trying to understand how we could best help them. After collating and working through all of the answers, we realized that what retail marketers were missing was something which would let them better understand their customers, and not just understand them, but actually communicate with them in a way that would make them feel special, and keep them coming back.

Since then we’ve raised $11m in venture capital funding from some of the best funds and investors in London and across the world, and have developed our customer marketing platform which is used by over a hundred retailers and powers communication with over a hundred million individual customers.  

What Problem Does Ometria Solve?

Ometria is a customer marketing platform that helps retailers better understand, and better communicate with their customers.

What Does Ometria do, and why is it Important to Your Customers?

Ometria’s customer marketing platform provides a single unified solution to everything that a retail CRM team needs. Being focused has always been important to us, so we have ensured that we have developed our platform, and only work with, one particular industry – retail. In the latest Forrester report that highlighted the best cross-channel marketing platforms, we were featured as the only one to have that focus.

In order to better communicate with your customers, you need to first understand them, and to understand them, you need to connect together every single touchpoint they’ve ever had with your business. So as a first step, Ometria plugs into the key retail and ecommerce platforms and imports and aggregates those touchpoints. We have one-click integrations with the majority of standard ecommerce platforms, and an API to integrate with custom sides, ERP systems, and other solutions.

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Through this, we tie together all transactions, both online and offline, the full product taxonomy including the category and attribute tree, and we connect it with tracked on-site behavior which is powered by our own proprietary technology. And of course, since we are the marketing platform, we also connect all marketing touchpoints, such as if people open emails, or click on ads. This data is all aggregated in a truly comprehensive single customer view, which forms the building blocks for the rest of the platform.

Our intelligence layer then runs in real-time across all of these profiles to identify their interests, as well as appropriate actions to take, and appropriate times to take these actions. This is the core of our platform, and I’ll talk about it in more detail in the next section.

Finally, our platform powers direct marketing to these customers, from personalised newsletters, to triggered emails, to ads across Facebook, Instagram, Google and even direct mail. Our visual campaign builder enables marketers to quickly and easily build and optimise cross-channel campaigns, and our visual template editor lets them create beautiful messages using highly personalised dynamic content.

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On top of all of this, since for the last five years we’ve done nothing but work with retail marketers, we’ve built a huge amount of expertise, and use it to help our customers put together the most advanced and cutting edge strategies. Our customer success team, data science team, and marketing consultancy team work together to help each of our customers improve, since we believe that AI can only do so much, and that a truly human understanding of each individual business leads to even better results when it’s combined with machine learning and automation.

Our platform has had great adoption in recent years, because retail marketers until now have been stuck having to use ESPs – email service providers – all of which claim to have the ability to use customer data, or AI algorithms, but in reality were all built a decade ago to just simply send the same email to millions of people. We are the only technology company to have truly put AI at the core of our platform, and for us the ability to send an email or another type of marketing message is just a small output, and the least complex and vital part of what the marketer wants to achieve. Truly understanding the customer, and using AI on a unified data-driven view of them, is the hard part, and that’s what we put at the centre of our platform.

How Does Ometria use AI?

We use a number of AI technologies to work out what customers are interested in, and to ensure that they’re communicated with in a way that’s always relevant. I won’t go into the details of the unsupervised machine learning algorithms, the Bayesian inference models, or the classifiers which we use, but instead will focus on explaining some outcomes that these drive, and how they improve the experience both for the marketers, and for their customers.

One example of our use of AI is in predicting when a customer may be at risk of never buying again. Typically in retail, this is done on a rules basis – if they haven’t shopped in 12 months, they’re at risk. We have the ability to do this as well, since some retailers aren’t yet ready to trust AI, however our main models calculated a predictive at-risk score, on an individual basis, for each customer, based on all of their interactions – buying, visiting the website, and so on. This improves relevancy and accuracy, and of course, through that, the marketing ROI.

Another example is category and brand affinity. Being retail focused, each customer’s interests are calculated across the specific product taxonomy of that retailer. They will have categories and attributes, such as for example brand, colour or type. Ometria has full access and understanding of this, and based on the profile built up for each customer, will predict which category they are most likely to be interested in purchasing next, and will engage with the best. This is then used to ensure that any dynamic content used in our platform shows them specifically what is most likely to get them to come back and buy.

These are just a couple of examples of what is possible in the Ometria platform using our AI, and there are many others.

In Your Mind, What is the Future of AI in Business and Marketing?

When we started out in 2013, the term AI was practically unheard-of, other than in movies. We talked about predictive analytics, or modelling customer behaviour. Over the last few years, AI has become one of the largest trends, and this has educated the market and made businesses and marketers out there much more comfortable trusting machines to do at least some of their work for them.

The future of AI in marketing lies in the further development of that trust. As the years go by, more and more responsibility will be passed over to algorithms, and more and more marketers will move away from the complex manual work they’ve been used to doing, and towards higher-level tasks. As companies like ours, and our most advanced customers, lead the way in this transition, and produce case studies demonstrating the benefits of it, the rest of the market will follow.

We are still just at the start of this journey. The AI technologies available now, while impressive, are still basic compared to what is theoretically possible. And only a few companies are truly using even those technologies available now. We at the beginning of a trend that will span decades, and I’m proud to be part of this journey.

Do You Think Marketers Will be Replaced by AI Robots?

Absolutely not – certainly not within our very focused area which is retail. There’s always talk of cybernetic revolts, of mass unemployment, and of general fear that robots will take our jobs, but while that may be true in some industries, it simply isn’t true in retail marketing.

Now sure, machines are able to process information much quicker than human beings. And repetitive tasks can be carried much more efficiently. But for ecommerce marketers, we believe that AI will simply change and improve their workflow, and not replace them.

We do predict that marketers are going to spend much less time on having to check and report on campaign performance, or making small tweaks, or manually setting up and updating A/B tests. Content, send-time, incentives and other details of campaigns will be mapped out and optimised through an automated feedback loop. The number of messages someone receives, and the channel they receive them through will be managed by AI.

But the above will just free up time for the marketer, so that they can focus on the creative and strategic aspects of marketing. Marketing is no longer about cold hard numbers. It’s about creating an experience for the customer. And that’s going to become even more true in the years to come. So the marketers will have much more time to focus on creating those experiences, and on improving the overall customer journey.

We see AI as an integral part of Ometria, and have done so since writing the first line of code in 2013. But we’ve always seen that AI as an assistant to the marketer, not a replacement.

In this interview, Ivan Mazour provided insights into how artificial intelligence can be used to improve retail marketing now and in the future. It is interesting to see AI-based tools for marketing now becoming optimized for specific market segments as well. I think we will see much more of that in the future!

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I am an author, speaker and consultant in marketing automation and artificial intelligence.

Do you need help with marketing automation or AI-based solutions? Contact me and let’s discuss how I can help you!