From Product to Customers: Ascend 2018



The second of two dispatches from Episerver Ascend 2018.


The proof of the pizza

Translating content into experience is easily said, harder to do. At Ascend 2018, I spoke with two customers at different stages of their Episerver journey. Tony Ellis, VP of IT at Toppers Pizza, known for their Topperstix — and for “owning late night,” as Ellis puts it. He’s just about hit launch on Episerver commerce for the 86 restaurants in 16 states brand. 

“Toppers is making huge investments in people, systems, and technology,” he said. “We’re also a values-driven company. In fact, our core values were part of choosing Epi and our other partners.” Ellis actually comes from the partnership side, previously selling eCommerce solutions, so he had prior familiarity with the Epi offering.

While Toppers isn’t one of the “big three” pizza companies, it’s also not a small, neighborhood venture. “When I joined, it had a good website which had carried them pretty far. 36 percent of their orders were placed online. Fast forward, we needed to grow that.” They decided to deploy a new website and POS solution — simultaneously. It’s a custom-built POS, parked (like Epi) on the Azure cloud, and it generates valuable data. 

“We formed an eCommerce team, which is a mix of marketing and IT, with the common goal of selling pizza online. We’re now at 52 percent of orders placed online, and that’s just the start. What I’m excited about doing with Episerver is focusing on the personalization engine, and marketing to our customers differently. I want to market differently to a first-time customer, to a returning customer, and to time of day. The lunch-time shopper is totally different from the dinner shopper.” Open to the early hours, and especially popular in college towns, Toppers has a clear stake in the late-night demographic. “That’s our sweet spot, and we want the messaging to be edgy and kind of funky.”

Location marketing is important too. Franchisees have a lot of input on local offers and pricing. ” I want to be able to give them tools and programs, with different messaging by location and store. That’s in our original group of concepts.” A mobile app is further down the road: “I’m a firm believer in start slow and grow.” The new website is built on Epi with “mobile first” in mind, because 66 percent of visitors come from a cellphone. But moving mobile web visitors to an app doesn’t in itself grow business. For Ellis, a mobile app fits naturally with a loyalty program; that’s all for the future.  

The product thing: Justin Anovick and David Bowen

In his address to Ascend 2018, Episerver CEO Mark Duffel highlighted the success of what he called “an experience-driven approach to the customer,” citing a 150 percent growth in North American cloud subscriptions in 2017, outstripping 90 percent YOY growth worldwide.

Of course, broadbrush commentary about the importance of competing on CX, while it’s still needed (skeptics abound), doesn’t get into granular detail about how a cloud-platform like Episerver is promoting that aim. Okay, it drives online commerce solutions (websites), and empowers content management for marketers. That’s nothing new. I sat down with Justin Anovick and David Bowen to dig deeper.

Anovick, who had ditched last year’s cloud pants in favor of a shocking scarlet tuxedo, is VP worldwide product. I asked him to sketch recent developments. “At the lowest level, we’re tracking data: That’s essentially what we call the profile store. It’s been in development for a couple of years. On top of that is Episerver Insight, which is the view into that data, so that you can segment, show the customer journey, and the content details. We’re surfacing that to make it understandable to the marketer.

“The analytics suite, which includes the dashboards, is really the umbrella over those pieces. That whole thing launched in December and January, so it’s pretty new.” Previously, Episerver customers had tended to lean heavily on Google Analytics. “But there’s a lot of things we can do in tracking the individual which Google Analytics can’t do, so it’s augmenting Google Analytics.”

Importantly, added Bowen (head of product management), data from Google Analytics is anonymous, and can’t form the basis for personalizing the customer journey at an individual level. “We can track the customer; there’s an API so clients can add more data from touch points in the system. It gives them a richer analytics capability and a truer view of customer lifetime value.” The additional data can include transactional data, call center logs, CRM; anything that’s available.

“We’ve had a product recommendation piece for a while,” said Bowen, based on shopping behavior. “Insight allows you to see those product recommendation algorithms, but add other data.” Anovick explains why this creates much broader opportunities. “Product recommendations are way easier than content recommendations. There’s an explicit behavior: Somebody buys it. You can relate that to what else they buy, and the journey they took to get to that point. The content side is way more implicit. Is it based on someone being on a page for 29.6 seconds? Maybe not. If your KPI is how much time a user spends on a site, that’s not really indicative of them being happy, or finding what they need. It’s taken us a lot longer to launch the content part [Episerver Advance], because it’s way more complex.”

Content analytics, to be actionable, must happen fast? “It’s in real-time,” said Bowen. “You get intent signals from where they land. Where they go in the early click path directs the machine to present the next content or product sequence.” The machine models are automatically re-built and re-tuned in response to user behavior (yes, AI). “We do have a rules-based element,” said Anovick, “which allows a marketer to input ‘if-then’ statements, but we also have this black box of machine learning. What we’re working on is converging the two. With Microsoft, we’re working on displaying the decisions the machine made, so that the individual can change those decision-points.”

But is that a simple thing to do?  “We’re keeping it simple enough,” Anovick affirmed, “that the user doesn’t have to know anything except their business.”


Giving back by helping others to give

Unlike Toppers Pizza, Golden Clover, the fund-raising maximizer, emerged from a long tail of involvement in the Episerver eco-system. Patricia Anderson is founder, CEO, and CTO of the lean, Chicago-based operation. A tech veteran, she describes Golden Clover as a SaaS fund-raising platform. In other words, it’s a cloud-based solution for nonprofits (or their supporters) to run campaigns, raffles, giveaways, and events. It’s monetized on a share of the proceeds. The percentage basis makes the service more accessible to smaller nonprofits. 

Golden Clover uses Episerver Commerce, customized to host different templates for the marketing of different kinds of fund-raising products (fixed price, raffles, auctions, donations, and so on). “We assign those products to a category, set up the marketing campaign, attach it to banners on the home-page or to private [by invitation] sub-domains.”

Anderson had been involved in an Episerver implementation for a previous project with Rewards Network which didn’t come to fruition. At that stage, there had been a vendor selection process. “We compared Sitecore to Episerver, so I was familiar them. I had also used Ektron [acquired by Episerver] when I was at Apartments.com.”

In addition to Episerver, Golden Clover also uses Desk.com from Salesforce for customer service, all with a team of about six or seven to build the stack out. Again, like Episerver, Golden Clover sits entirely on the Microsoft Azure cloud, which makes its solution highly scalable. “We really want to make a difference from other fund-raising platforms by our digital capabilities and marketing capabilities,” Anderson told me. 

While Golden Clover might seem based on a simple idea, the structure of the concept is actually quite complex. It’s B2B when selling its services to nonprofits; B2C when personalizing the donation experience for users; but B2B again when encouraging employers to engage employees in fund-raising exercises (an especially good fit for tech companies with millennial workforces), or when inviting businesses to donate gifts for raffles and auctions.

But the motivation is easy to understand. After years using her CTO skills in business, Anderson has found a way to use those same skills to help give back.

The B2B thing: Joakim Holmquist

As should be evident from this week’s coverage, and earlier stories, Episerver’s sweet spot is commerce and retail (or eCommerce and eRetail, if you prefer). But as a vendor, it has to concern itself with B2B, using some its own tools in the process. We last caught up with senior director of marketing Joakim Holmquist when he relocated to the States to drive Episerver’s north american marketing. He’s back in Stockholm now, taking a global overview. And he’s getting very interested in intent.

“The golden nugget in B2B marketing, if you sell products or service that go through the cadence of three to five years before you buy something new — like an eCommerce platform — is to figure out who would be a good fit; because they’re poking about now, they have a pain point. If you know who those targets are, it’s fairly easy to do marketing towards those companies.”

Some publishers in the technology space, of course, do attract visitors with a pain point, who are evaluating possible purchases. “It’s really valuable for me to get that type of data, and a lot of publishers are not monetizing that opportunity to the extent they could. What are the best mechanisms for deciphering intent online. If you put into a search engine ‘I’m looking for the best eCommerce platform,’ pretty clear intent, right? If you go to a review site, that’s strong intent. For online publications, if you can tailor your content to attracting those who are evaluating, B2B companies will give you money right away.” 

Holmquist acknowledges that in North America, Episerver is still not the brand people think of right away. “We have to find ways of identifying those targets that didn’t come to us initially, who we can then market to.” Holmquist is building an intent engine to identify the most likely accounts. It’s a form of ABM, of course. “We’re trying to do ABM only where we see signals of intent, not in general. We’re pretty forward-leaning in trying to interpret online signals, and then marketing to those companies.

It’s not about creating, for example, the perfect webinar (or white paper, or newsletter). “It’s about getting the people who would actually be perfect to attend this thing. The value of an email address or leads, in B2B, is grossly overvalued, because if you get people with intent, and you know who they are, then to me that’s what’s important.”


Episerver covered DMN’s expenses to attend Ascend 2018.

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