Why You Need to Know Ryan Bonifacino

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The digitally savvy, data-centric CMO is a model for the future of marketing leadership.

I've seen the future of marketing leadership, and it's Ryan Bonifacino

It's true that different types of companies need chief marketers with differing skill sets. But it's also true that there are core assets (skills and traits) that will best serve marketing leaders who want to continue to excel in an increasingly digital and omnichannel marketplace.

Bonifacino, who was VP of digital for Alex and Ani when he was named a Direct Marketing News 2014 40 Under 40 winner, is now the jewelry and accessory company's CMO and SVP of digital. The reasons I consider Bonifacino “one to watch”—despite his oddly repetitive title (the CMO role typically includes oversight of all marketing)—are his inclusive approach to marketing and his intense focus on analytics.

When he and I spoke at Salesforce Connections 2015, Bonifacino emphasized that marketers can't play favorites with channels. “There's no competition between traditional and digital for us,” he said. “It's, ‘what's driving traffic? Did we create incremental lift?'”

Similarly, instead of pitting e-commerce and physical stores against one another—yes, this still happens among many retailers—Alex and Ani uses each to enhance the other, creating a virtuous cycle of engagement and sales. “Multichannel shoppers are five to seven times more profitable than single-channel shoppers,” Bonifacino pointed out, adding that for Alex and Ani “digital sits in between everything.” For example, he and his team use digital channels to drive traffic to the retailer's physical stores, and vice versa.

But Bonifacino and his team don't just cross their fingers and hope it all works. They test and measure. In the case of beacons, the retailer tracks how many customers are in the area of a store versus walking by it. “We aren't getting 100% visibility yet [because the beacons only track iOS devices], but it helps us see where mobile ads work at a local level,” Bonifacino said, adding that, “it's more about visits than sales; that's another set of metrics.”

One measurement challenge Bonifacino is planning to tackle is to better track how traditional media helps the retailers drive traffic in-store. He intends to meet that challenge—and transform traditional channels such as direct mail in the process. “How do we insert digital into direct mail?” he asked. His aspiration: Give a print shop online behavior data, not just purchase information, that they can use to personalize mail. “Real-time printing that's not cheesy; that's merchandised based on customer data,” he said.  

Bonifacino solves many of his metrics issues by testing. “A testing culture is very important to us,” he said.

Another solution is finding ways to connect on- and offline channels. “Our brand has powerful first-party data, particularly at the store level where we capture about 90% of email addresses for all receipts,” he told DMN previously. "Our e-commerce system and digital marketing platforms are all updated in real time. In addition, the moment we get an e-receipt, we pixel the device to get that device information to bridge the gap between the stores and our digital efforts.” 

Bonifacino also plans to more closely integrate online and retail locations by enhancing Alex and Ani's use of technology. This includes extending beacons into the store using its app, as well as adding elements such as a configurator to the app. One planned use of the beacons is to help shoppers easily locate a coveted item in the store without the help of a sales associate. The updated app will help the retailer's customers build and view as it would look on their wrist a stack of Alex and Ani's signature bangle bracelets—in part, using inspiration from other fans' social posts (e.g., images posted on Instagram) that the app will make available. “We want to accommodate the way people want to shop,” he said. “And we want the experience to be natural, with tons of personalization baked in.”

So, what does a marketing leader need to succeed today—and the next several tomorrows? The Bonifacino Blueprint suggests:

  • A customer-centric bent that ensures a seat for customers at the strategy table
  • A holistic approach to marketing that embraces the channels customers prefer 
  • An addiction to data for such activities and analytics and personalization
  • A commitment to continuous improvement; i.e., test, measure, optimize, repeat
  • A creative take on using data to link channels for a more complete view of customer activity
  • An itch to keep moving forward and experimenting with new approaches and technologies

If it seems like I'm angling to be hired as Bonifacino's agent, I'm not. I'm here to point out—by way of clear example—the fact that company-centric, siloed thinking among marketing leaders is outdated. The future of marketing, and of those who run it, is customer-centric and connected: connected channels, data, teams. And, as Bonifacino so aptly put it, “analytics is the glue.”

This is a 40 Under 40 Profile. Click here to see all profiles as well as previous year's winners.

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