A new Viant study shows that "passive commerce" can persuade customers away from CPG loyalty brands. We break open the data and go deep with Richard Kestenbaum, a Forbes Retail contributor.
Brian: [00:01:08] Welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast about cutting edge and next generation commerce. I'm Brian.
Phillip: [00:01:13] And I'm Phillip. And today we have Richard Kestenbaum from Triangle Capital, a private investment banking firm that does mergers and acquisitions and equity financing for companies in apparel and retail. And also, Richard's a contributor to Forbes talking about retail as well. So welcome to the show.
Richard: [00:01:30] Hey, thanks, guys. It's great to be here.
Phillip: [00:01:33] Great to have you. And as always, we want to encourage you to get in and give us your feedback on the show. Lend your voice to Future Commerce and help give some voice from our audience to the show. And you can do that best by leaving feedback and the Disqus comment box on our site at FutureCommerce.fm. You can also subscribe to Future Commerce on iTunes or Google Play, or you can listen with any Amazon Echo device by using the phrase, "Alexa play Future Commerce podcast." So, Brian, maybe you can make a little bit of an introduction as to how Richard's become a friend of the show and give us a little bit of background and maybe set up what we'll be talking about today.
Brian: [00:02:12] Yeah, Richard, I believe, actually met you back in January at NRF. Is that right? Was it that far back?
Richard: [00:02:21] Yeah. I think we've been talking for some time.
Brian: [00:02:23] Yeah. We've had some chats on LinkedIn talking about advertising. And it was a very interesting discussion about advertising and segmenting the market and other things like that and just got into a conversation. And you brought us the study, a very interesting study, called The Persuadables, from a company called Viant, along with Rubinson Partners. And as I read the study, I'm like, oh, this is super interesting.
Phillip: [00:02:50] Yeah.
Brian: [00:02:51] This reminds me of something we've been talking about for a while on the show, which is called Passive Commerce. But before we kind of get into the study, which I'm really excited to talk about, maybe give us a little more background on yourself. Where are you from? What's your history? How did you get into the business?
Richard: [00:03:06] Well, I've been an investment banker for over thirty five years, and I've worked at large firms. I was a partner at one of them. And the skills that you need to be a banker are being able to understand finance, understand financial statements, be able to negotiate transactions, structure them, and help clients to do what is usually the most important transactions they've ever done. And it's a fascinating business every day. But over the last several years, it has changed dramatically because we are focused on consumer related businesses at Triangle Capital, and consumer tastes have changed dramatically. And so the metrics that we've used for many years are still very important, but they're not the only thing you have to learn. You have to understand what consumers want now. And that changes what makes companies valuable today. And it means that some companies that by traditional metrics have no value are very valuable and vice versa. So it's caused us to become conscious of a lot of things in the market that led to my interest in the study from Viant that we're talking about this morning, which relates to advertising. And how do you motivate consumers?
Phillip: [00:04:24] Right. Especially in a sort of a tangential conversation, too. And how we've moved, in our services economy, we've moved away from even these products and consumer brands, which would typically sell hard or soft goods, selling completely virtual and ephemeral goods, which are more experiences than they are even physical products that you can have and touch and hold. And that's a massive departure and change over the last number of years that people have consumer confidence is being built in digital experiences, which I find fascinating as well. And it's something we talk about a lot on the show.
Richard: [00:05:04] Well, that's right. The experience that consumers have has become critically important to making a sale. But it's not just true with things like taking a vacation, a trip, or going to a restaurant. It's also true with what is the experience when you buy something in the physical world. And one of the reasons Amazon is so successful is that consumers value the experience of convenience that they deliver. And that's very important.
Phillip: [00:05:33] Absolutely.
Brian: [00:05:34] Absolutely. As we kind of dive into this study, let's maybe just do a quick summary. This category called Persuadables is essentially a category where someone's about in the buying cycle where they're ready to purchase. They've either got to a point where they may feel like they need something or they want something enough where they're going to make a buying decision. So essentially, the study found that targeting these consumers can increase return on ad spend by 16X, which is kind of groundbreaking. I think this is, and I can't say this with complete authority, but this is fairly new information, and this particular study is something that people should be paying attention to because you can find a way to actually increase your adspend by 16X. That's significant. This study essentially took three CPG brands in different categories and sort of ran them through what it looked like to advertise to them with just normal ad campaigns where you're advertising to them on a consistent basis. And then it also took that data and analyzed how the ads performed when consumers were at a point in the buying cycle where they were about to purchase. And the results were pretty stunning.
Richard: [00:06:59] It's fascinating. What the Viant people found is that if it's a repeatable item and you as a consumer can be persuaded to use a different product, for example, based on price, that if you're advertised to near the point of your purchase, you are much more likely to be influenced to repeat purchase the product you've purchased before. And if you can figure out what the purchase cycle is and identify the consumer, which you can do, you can go to that consumer in the right moment and have much more effective return on ad spend than you can at any other time. And what it's also saying is if you're an advertiser for repeat purchase consumer product, harbor your resources until the moment when each consumer is at that particular point and advertise to them only then, and you'll have much more effective advertising. And that's a real insight.
Brian: [00:07:58] Yeah. Essentially, at that point, brand starts to fade away. It's much more about the advertisement itself and hitting them with the right offer. Being able to sort of sway them away from where they were previously purchasing before. And so I think we talk about brand loyalty all the time. But this is actually some evidence that if you do advertise in the right way at the right time, that brand is not even necessarily taken into account, or at least somebody could be persuaded away from their existing loyalty.
Richard: [00:08:35] Yeah, I think it depends. What they're saying is, it depends on this being a product where you might switch brand. If you're locked into a brand, this advertising is not going to have that kind of return. But if you're a consumer who can be persuaded to switch brands by things like special offers or price or coupons, advertising to that consumer at the right point in the purchase cycle is highly effective.
Brian: [00:09:03] Right. So Phillip and I have been talking about an idea called Passive Commerce on the show for a while. You know, this isn't a exact one to one relation, but it is kind of interesting to see this data in light of the idea of Passive Commerce, which is sort of finding the right point to advertise to someone and being at the right place in the right time such that they make a buying decision. And so if you connect these two ideas where there are a group of people out there that are willing to switch brands, and if you advertise to them when they need something, they're going to make a purchasing decision. And combine that with this idea of people who are influenced by price and who are sort of browsing and shopping. And it's someone who is actively looking for something or a good deal. And then that deal presents itself at the right time. They're going to make a purchasing decision. And I think when we talked about Passive Commerce before, we didn't really have any very strong data to sort of represent this idea and how to direct your advertising dollars. But with this study, I think we can really say those types of advertising campaigns, finding a way to get on to Slick Deals or Deal News or other places where people are looking for price comparison shopping... Google shopping feed or some other type of shopping feed. And you hit them at the right time using first party data, you can be a lo more effective.
Phillip: [00:12:09] One thing I would like to kind of step back and say is that Passive Commerce is a great idea. And I was first exposed to the idea of Passive Commerce by Jason L. Baptiste.
Brian: [00:12:22] Who we had on the show.
Phillip: [00:12:23] Who we had on the show some time ago, and he detailed it a little more in depth. I think passive commerce is this general idea, this overarching idea of being there for the consumer when they're ready to make a purchase. Now, what I think is interesting is that there's two ways of doing that. There's having sort of ubiquity in your ad spend throughout the entirety of the customer journey and purchase journey, which I think is talked about in detail in this Persuadables study. Or you can do what they're suggesting in the study is the thing that is the 16X return on ad spend driver, which is shifting your spend strategy from the early purchase cycle to the late purchase cycle to what would be like the last mile of the purchase cycle, as somebody is ready to make the decision. And the key there and what's really difficult in this business in targeting them is predicting who they are and predicting when they're ready to buy. And it's no wonder that Viant is the kind of company that would do this sort of study because Viant has the content delivery and ad platform to be able to do it.
Richard: [00:13:48] I had a conversation with Rick Bruner, who's the VP of Research and Analytics at Viant, and he explained that they have anonymous information, but they can target consumers right down to the individual electronically and advertise to them digitally. And that's where the power of this report comes in, because if they can identify the consumer and go to them in the right moment, they'll get that return, that 16 times return, from their advertising.
Phillip: [00:14:18] Right. So it's spending smart, right? You can spend a lot. And I think there's a lot to be said about brand awareness and how hard it is to quantify the presence of a brand everywhere you go. And I think we've learned this over time. It used to be we saw 16X on lead back campaigns, you know, seven, eight years ago. But we don't see those things anymore. I think people have become sort of immune to seeing things follow them around on the Internet.
Brian: [00:14:41] Absolutely.
Phillip: [00:14:41] So rather than things living throughout the customer journey, it's targeting your spend. Also those things become much more expensive as more people are doing them. So this is an intriguing thing, and I think it proves out the financial viability of a theory like Passive Commerce. I find it incredibly interesting that consumer brands, and especially the three examples given here in the Persuadables study. We highly recommend that you go and download this study. We'll have the link up on the podcast for you to get that. The three examples that they used were ready to serve soup, packaged meat, and dessert snacks, which have pretty decent household reach. Twenty four million. Thirty five million. Thirty four million, respectively. And some of it wasn't even just display ads only. A couple of them were video as well. What I find really interesting is that these are the types of brands and the sorts of goods that I'm not in the category purchaser target market. And I'm also not the sort of person to buy that sort of food or that sort of brand online. I'm not the kind of person who's persuaded here. So for those of you like me who tend to question these sorts things, you know, we're not talking to you as the purchaser, but we're talking to you as a brand, as an advertiser, online advertiser, there are market segments who are actually looking, who have brand affinity already, who are persuadable. And that's the segment that we found. This is a phenomenal study, and I highly suggest taking a look at it.
Brian: [00:16:15] It's great. Yeah. I think there was another thing here that really caught my eye. What is interesting about this as well, I've never thought about Passive Commerce in terms of CPG products before. I think maybe that's what you're referring to.
Phillip: [00:16:28] Right.
Brian: [00:16:29] I always thought of it in terms of something that was maybe not a repeatable purchase.
Phillip: [00:16:33] Which was the canonical example.
Brian: [00:16:35] Or like it was a much, much longer cycle.
Phillip: [00:16:38] Correct. It was a very long purchase cycle. The example that Jason L. Baptiste uses in his Medium think piece from three or four years ago was purchasing a mountain bike, or a high end mountain bike.
Brian: [00:16:51] Right.
Phillip: [00:16:51] And it's that sort of thing that you research that for months. Right? And you put a lot of effort into making the decision. And that's the kind of thing. But, you know, these repeatable products absolutely lend themselves to that same sort of cycle.
Brian: [00:17:08] Right. I wonder if we applied the same sort of study to those types of products, if the same data would actually surface. That would be really interesting. I'd love to see some research around that.
Phillip: [00:17:18] And I think as the ad spend market becomes more competitive, we'll see further investment into trying to maximize on these types of segments. I'm sure everybody wants to try to target people only when they're ready to buy. It's sort of a an obvious thing to say. But, Richard, what are some of your takeaways and just the evolution of these consumer brands and how they're trying to win the battle for eyeballs online? I know that at Triangle Capital you're probably very interested in how retail brands are trying to stand out from the crowd.
Richard: [00:17:48] Well, I think the impact of this is massive and reverberates in a number of ways. First of all, if you're a consumer product business, you have to rethink how you're going to spend your advertising online. But more than that, the fact that you can use data to make your advertising more effective is just another illustration of how important it is to consider digital marketing in every part of your business. Because what we're seeing from this study is that digital marketing affects what products people pull off of shelves in physical stores. And what that means is we have to pay more attention to what people are doing in stores and how to motivate them to do the things that they will think are helpful to them. That means monitoring flow in stores, monitoring where things are on shelves and how it's presented. And all of that is well-known and well established. But now we've entered a time when there's data about those things that's collectible and understandable, what the world is calling big data. What I think of really is as small data. It's monitoring the most minute things to see where can you get an edge, where can you make a difference? And those things have become, they've always been important, but now they're quantifiable. And it's so important for retailers to understand those quantities and do something with them.
Brian: [00:19:19] Yeah. I think the other thing this is emphasizing is having a holistic view of your customer is actually... There is a real ROI on it. And I think that's one thing that, you know, I've talked with a lot of brands and they struggle with this idea of investing in that kind of data, gathering that kind of data, because I think they've had very little data about how having that data would actually help their business. But now it's really clear. You need to have a realistic view of your customer.
Phillip: [00:19:51] I think for omni channel brands as well, especially those who have like a wholesale first business.
Brian: [00:19:56] Yes.
Phillip: [00:19:57] I'm still waiting for the branded Kraft store in New York City. I'd love to just go and just buy all Kraft products would be great, but it doesn't really exist. Right? We have that in other vertically integrated brands, but we don't have that in some of these stalwart consumer brands that I think we're talking about here. And so having that view of your customer, which is very reliant on your partnerships and the data gathering mechanisms that are coming out of the in-store, it becomes the duty of the big box stores and the grocers to be the data collecting mechanisms that make the brand campaigns being run by the larger brands effective. I think that gets beyond omni channel. I don't even know what the superlative of omni channel would be, but it's beyond omni channel, and it's beyond big data. It's having a singular view of a customer journey that transcends one brand's engagement and that is many brand engagements.
Brian: [00:20:47] Beyond on omni channel. That's a good show title.
Phillip: [00:20:52] Richard, we have five minutes. I'd love to give you some opportunity to have some final thoughts, final words here.
Richard: [00:20:57] Well, I would pick up on what you said about going beyond omni channel. I think that's right. I think that thinking of stores and online, mobile and tablet as channels is obsolete thinking because consumers use them all simultaneously. They use them all at different times in what's convenient. And the message has to be consistent. And it's true that that is the underpinning of omni channel. But it's more than that. It's that we have to stop thinking about each of these things as different channels. There is a consumer. There is a retailer. There's a brand. There's a product. And communicating to the consumer. You know, we all use email. We all use phone. And now we are talking on a podcast. When you communicate with someone, a friend or someone in in business or work, your communication is the same. You don't distinguish how you present to the person, whether it's by email or by phone. Retailers need to think of it that way as well. It doesn't matter whether you're on their mobile or in a store, your message to them has to be the same. And it has to be presented in the same way. Having separate teams for digital and physical is not going to work because it's all one.
Brian: [00:22:14] That's a great place to end the show. Thank you so much, Richard.
Richard: [00:22:18] Well, thank you, guys. It's great to be with you.
Phillip: [00:22:20] We appreciate it. We would like to be able to point people to you. I know that you write for Forbes. Where can people find you online to hear more of your thoughts and contributions?
Richard: [00:22:29] Well, our web site is TriangleCapitalLLC.com. And you can read my blog on Forbes.com. You just type in my name. Richard Kestenbaum. That's K E S T E N B A U M at Forbes.com.
Phillip: [00:22:44] Wonderful. Thank you again for joining us on the show and thank you for listening to Future Commerce.
Richard: [00:22:49] Thank you. And if I may add, I love getting comments on the blog. So please, if your listeners would like to make smart comments, we'd love to hear from them.
Phillip: [00:22:58] Absolutely.
Brian: [00:22:58] Awesome.
Phillip: [00:22:59] Thank you so much.
Richard: [00:23:00] Thank you guys.
Phillip: [00:23:00] And until next time, keep looking toward the future.