Five Minutes With: Charles Whiteman, SVP of Client Services at MotionPoint

What are your biggest opportunities and challenges for the next 12-24 months?

We’re in a space that’s rapidly evolving—something we call “the intersection of digital and global.” Both spaces are evolving independently, and are bringing dramaticchanges to the way companies do business. People around the world are increasingly engaging with companies online. They’re learning, self-serving, transacting and talking to each other about a company’s products and services—all digitally. In some markets, this activity is very mature, but in emerging international markets, it’s growing rapidly.

We believe companies can achieve growth in three main ways. The first is to win market share in current markets. The second is to invent something new. The third is to expand into new markets. We’re all about option three. The Internet has made expansion more feasible than ever, because it’s far less expensive than in years past. These days, you don’t necessarily need to build or staff physical locations in global markets. You can service customers from afar. The Internet is fueling the “internationalization” of companies.

Online user behavior is also evolving, and it’s generating lots of questions: How do consumers in different countries interact with companies online? What devices are they using? What applications? What search engines and shopping portals? Consumer tastes change rapidly, and they’re often quite different, depending on the market.

We’re tasked with helping digital marketers figure out what customers want and need in each market. We tap into big data to model what’s most relevant and resonant for these global consumers. That has been, and will remain, our biggest challenge. 

What keeps your clients up at night?

The thing that’s most frustrating to clients is also the reason there’s such great opportunity. Clients are accustomed to operating in specific markets—markets where they’ve achieved success. This is familiar territory geographically, culturally and linguistically. However, new markets bring anxiety. Things are different. You can’t rely on your experience or intuition to give you the answer. Uncovering preferences in unfamiliar markets is the riddle that keeps our clients up at night. The primary concern for clients isn’t “Am I going to succeed?” It’s “What does success even look like in this market?” There are many logistical challenges: you can’t speak the local language; you don’t know the local holidays; you don’t know the local search engines, or which shipping carriers deliver there, or local payment types. These are questions marketers don’t find themselves asking in their home market where it’s all second nature.

What’s the hardest thing to educate a client about?

Our platform knits a bunch of very different things together—it combines IT infrastructure, process workflow, language translation, online traffic generation, creative design and testing, dynamic user experience optimization and more. It’s often challenging to help experts in each of these disciplines appreciate how important the other elements are to the final outcome. For example, IT experts may fail to appreciate the importance of how translation is done—is it done by a translator translating a spreadsheet full of text, or is it done within the context of the web page on which that text will appear? Linguists, on the other hand, often see linguistic perfection as their only goal and fail to appreciate the importance of ROI. The reality is that even perfect translation can underperform when it comes to driving online consumer behavior. This is the reason that copy testing is so important for high visibility content and calls-to-action.

Digital marketing experts suffer from the sheer volume of knowledge in their domain and the speed with which that knowledge evolves. There’s so much to know that these people are sometimes oblivious to the implications of consumers using different search engines and social media platforms, considering different competitors, having different needs, observing different holidays, and just flat-out behaving differently in each market around the world. It’s difficult for any single person to house all of that expertise—particularly since it’s constantly evolving.

What are some unmet needs in the marketing technology landscape?

There’s been a lot of activity in the area of “digital personalization”—basically using data to dynamically alter the user experience to better serve that visitor’s predicted needs. I was recently speaking with the Gartner analyst that covers this space, and she told me that while this is a very active area, there are very few companies thinking about how personalization works across different international markets. 

It’s interesting; companies’ digital marketing infrastructures don’t cross borders as well as you might think. We work with hundreds of the largest companies in the world, and all have limitations and challenges from a technical architecture standpoint. Due to market-specific differences, compromises and expensive customizations are common. These customizations create fixed cost and complexity that add up—so much, in fact, that the costs of evolving the platform and expanding into new markets becomes unprofitable. Our approach is to empower companies to leverage the same infrastructure across many markets. We don’t replace their platform—we try to enhance it to overcome whatever is difficult or expensive to do within their platform to efficiently support their international growth. 

What social network do you anticipate accelerating growth in the next year? 

From our benchmarks, we’ve found that—speaking broadly—Facebook is where the action is. It’s the primary driver of social traffic to U.S. Hispanic websites, in Spanish. It’s also the number one driver of social traffic to the sites we operate in France, Germany, Mexico, Spain, Canada, Italy, the UK, and Japan.

Three other networks to keep an eye on are VK (formally VKontakte), QQ and Weibo. VK is a great social-traffic driver in the Russian Federation and Ukraine—both are thriving emerging markets for key industries. QQ and Weibo are very popular networks in China. For one of our clients, Weibo brings in nearly 10% of all Chinese site traffic to its Chinese site, and generates nearly 5% of the Chinese site’s revenue. Weibo users’ page-per-visit consumption is about the same as visitors coming to the site via direct traffic. These are great numbers, considering the client is still in the early days of connecting with the Chinese market.

–Charles Whiteman is senior vice president of client services at MotionPoint Corporation

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