Ben Hemphill is the Director of Digital Marketing and Analytics at Crocs, the footwear company. He directs the company’s ecommerce, digital marketing, and CRM efforts, with primary responsibility for the North America region, as well as supporting the company’s global regions. We caught up with Ben about the challenges and opportunities in ecommerce, and how Crocs uses the Signal platform for data collection, identity, and personalization.
What does your typical day look like?
I spend a little bit of my time every day just understanding what direction the business is moving, by looking at the sales results for that day’s promotion. Then I spend a bit of time supporting my team as they work through challenges in deploying marketing campaigns, coming up with new approaches to using data, and how to get more out of their marketing campaigns. And I spend a lot of my time looking at the tools we’re going to need as an in-house direct marketing agency in order to make the best use of the marketing funds we have over the next three years.
Personalization is a hot topic among retailers right now. What are some strategies that you have found to be effective?
One thing that we can do at high scale that really works is personalized marketing messages to people who’ve been browsing our site but haven’t yet completed a purchase. Today we have a point solution that just does that, and we have all our tags deployed via Signal. By gathering all the event data, we can understand the customer and make predictions about what they’re going to do next, and trigger certain marketing messages. We’re doing that at scale in real time.
Most people are not going to buy anything, ever. But using all of the data that we’ve collected and some really good algorithms you can basically cut through all the chaff and get straight to the people who care about your message. Over time, that will not just make us more efficient from a profitability standpoint, but also increase the customer’s loyalty to us and our marketing communications because we don’t tell them about stuff that they don’t care about.
How do you think about first-party data in the work you do? What are the challenges and opportunities you see?
You can buy Crocs from a lot of different places, including three different Amazon brands. Just by the fact of coming to our web site instead of buying Crocs on Amazon, that tells us something about that customer. And we can understand how they engage with our brand via our different marketing channels and the web site–that is truly proprietary information. Nobody else who sells our shoes has a better understanding of these customers. If we can’t find a way to turn that into some sort of profit by delivering a better customer experience, then we’re not doing our jobs.
As we move forward in the digital space, having a data asset that you build over time from your loyal and even not-so-loyal customers is going to be one of the differentiators of long-term profitability. If we were to focus on third-party data and buying and renting a bunch of lists, that is not the kind of cost structure that really scales for tremendous growth. We may at some point try to augment the list of people we can reach directly via third-party buys. But we already have a customer base that has subscribed to our emails or engaged with us in other ways that we can focus on serving, based on what we understand about what’s working and not working for them. And we can do a fair amount of guessing about how we might reach people who look like our most valuable and most loyal customers, entirely based on our first-party data. We don’t have to pay anybody else to use it over and over again to deliver a better customer experience.
How are you attempting to resolve identity?
We would love to be able to help customers more seamlessly from the mobile environment to the desktop environment or tablet environment and know who they are through a single customer view. We have a relatively low authentication rate. We looked into forcing sign-in, and it just doesn’t make commercial sense. We don’t want to scare off or otherwise upset people who would prefer to do business with us anonymously.
There are limitations to cookie-based marketing. We believe in the power of marketing to actual customers rather than cookies, so that’s what we’re focused on. We want to find ways to make it simpler to do business with us, no matter how you’re engaging with us.
Where does Signal fit into your technology strategy?
Signal is one of the pillars of our first-party data asset. Using Signal’s unique ID, we will be able to tie together multiple different unique IDs in our analytic system across devices and browsers using authentication events based on the Signal platform. The data that we’re collecting and distributing via Signal is not tied to any of our media buying and so it’s a truly independent, pure-play data collection in publishing service. That’s valuable because that lets us be less constrained on making decisions about where to spend our marketing dollars, which makes us more flexible over time as the landscape evolves, which it’s doing very quickly.
The Crocs Data Layer, leveraging the Signal platform, also makes our data portable and configurable to our business model. We can respond to things like the rapid development of Facebook’s capabilities in direct marketing, and we can take advantage of having an independent platform for our first-party targetable consumer identities.
How do you use Signal?
We use Signal as the single platform through which we deploy all of our third-party tracking code and a good chunk of our analytics data collection code. This year we increased our second quarter year-to-year gross in ecommerce by 30%. We think that’s a result of a lot of changes we made in people, processes, and technology, and Signal has helped us address changes in all three of those.
In terms of people, we’re much more efficient when it comes to what we can get out of development teams and our outsourcing partner. They don’t have to spend nearly as much time doing tech-based development as they previously did, so we can get more out of the same team or a smaller team.
On the process side, we’re much more streamlined on how we go to market with new marketing partners. And technology-wise, using Signal as our platform we’ve made it easier to audit control and make the data we share with our other technologically-integrated marketing partners more consistent.
What excites you about digital marketing right now?
Ecommerce can grow at the same rate it’s been growing for the last 10 years for the rest of my career and it won’t be half of all retail commerce in North America. That brings with it tons of opportunity for me, for my teams, and for the teams I’ll work with in the future. That’s pretty exciting.