MARTECH Exclusive Interview with Julie Ginches, CMO at Kahuna

 1. Could you tell me a little about your background and how you came to be the CMO at Kahuna?

I’m a marketing executive who has had the great fortune of straddling both the enterprise software markets and the adtech/martech markets, with time at DataXu, JumpTap (acquired by Millennial Media), eXelate (acquired by Nielsen), and the Rubicon Project (which went public in 2014).

“I tend to move to where the market is moving, in part by working with people who know what’s coming next.”

In 2015, I got a call from the Kahuna management team and saw the opportunity to join a company that was helping to move marketing tech to the next horizon: personalized marketing everywhere, at scale leveraging the power of big data and machine learning.

2. What is the core marketing technology capability of Kahuna that you bring to a marketer? Where does your product fit in vis-a-vis the customer life cycle?

Kahuna helps value driven B2C marketers engage with their customers more effectively. In the classic B2C marketing funnel (awareness=>consideration=>activation=>engagement=>advocacy), we help ourcustomers take their customers from the middle to the end — from activation to engagement to advocacy. The core technology capability we provide is the ability to track all engagement activities performed by the end user, which then enables us to optimize segmentation and message delivery (the right message, to the right device, most importantly at the right time).

3. From a technology perspective, what are some of the biggest challenges that your marketing team faces today?

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the unique opportunity that martech professionals have: to educate and empower marketers to become more digitally savvy.

“There’s a digital learning gap in the general marketplace, and Kahuna is helping to fill that gap.”

And the Kahuna marketing team — which includes some of the best professionals on the planet, across multiple disciplines — is leading the charge.

4. What’s the one key suggestion you would give traditional marketers today to reinvent themselves and exploit MarTech to the hilt?

The most effective digital marketers today are both data-driven and tech-savy. Traditional marketers will be well served to immerse themselves in both mobile and general technology trends, so that they can engage their customers the way they prefer to be engaged. As I said, there’s a learning gap among marketers today. But with the right learning — and the right tools — traditional marketers can quickly evolve into the kind of marketers that are advancing the state of the art in this fast-changing and ever-evolving profession.

5. With marketers spending more on technology than IT managers and hiring for marketing technologists on the rise, will future marketers need to be extensively well-versed in technology rather than focus solely on marketing? Do you think future CMOs may come from tech institutes rather than business schools?

Yes, as I note above, marketers will need to immerse themselves in technology trends. But what’s key here is the approach to the job, which needs follow the so-called scientific method:  you first form an hypothesis (based on intuition), then test that hypothesis with market experiments until a proven path is validated. It’s less important that you have a CS or a Liberal Arts degree.

“What’s more important is the ability to have a clear understanding of the customer and to be able to apply structured thinking and rational analysis to all your work as a marketer.”

6. Does personalization always lead to customer delight? As someone who has headed marketing teams for more than 2 decades, have you experienced any situations where it may not have worked?

Done well, personalization of course leads to better engagement with the user. The trick is to make sure that personalization goes beyond the superficial (e.g., the user’s name and other simple attributes) to something more meaningful (e.g., device, timing of a message, and tailoring the experience based on prior use habits). At Kahuna, we did research where customers said brands understand personalization but the timing of their messages — which is critical — is usually way off the mark. But note:  this part is is as much of an art as it is a science.  If the marketer takes it to an extreme and if something appears creepy, it should be avoided.

7. Are there any new features or upcoming upgrades that you’re excited about and would like to give us a sneak peek into?

We are excited about a lot of fun, breakthrough features that we are working on. Some will help marketers innovate with advances in messaging, the core of Kahuna’s technology platform. Others will enable marketers to work more effectively with better access and insights into their data. We can’t say more than this at the moment, but we look forward to sharing more in the coming months.

8. What is your take on the massive explosion of MarTech cos across so many categories? Do you see competition, opportunities to partner and/or integrate?

We see the number of companies in various MarTech categories as both validation of the size of the market opportunity. But we also see it as an evolving ecosystem we can plug into and help to grow.

“The full scope of the B2C marketing funnel is too large for any one player to dominate, so we are constantly evaluating and talking to potential partners.”

For example, Kahuna has set up a channel on Segment to enable mutual customers to send data to us. We are exploring other relationships like this.

9. How do you weigh in on the whole ‘buying into vs building a marketing cloud’ choices that marketers have to face today?

Marketers (as well as tech vendors building products to help marketers) should focus on the competencies they can be the best at so they can build brands that are both memorable and differentiated. That said, there’s no company that can build an entire marketing cloud, and I would caution anyone from working with a company that claims it has one. Increasingly, the Cloud will be the source of many new services and applications. Pick a vendor who can help you understand the new marketing technology landscape and understand what you need to support and enhance that special thing you do.