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Episode 15

Brian Stavis – Amazon’s Footprint, Build vs Buy, and Marketer’s Powerful Seat at the Technology Decision Table

"Just having data is not good enough."- Brian Stavis

Brian Stavis, Global Category Lead at AWS Marketplace, speaks with Allyson and Brett about harnessing the power of data to unlock amazing customer experiences.

They discuss everything from how Stavis was instrumental in launching the advertising and marketing category at AWS, to the explosion of data and how privacy and personalization continues to evolve. Listen out for his take on growth structures, clean rooms, why we can’t grade our own homework, and his predictions for the road ahead.


Episode Transcript

Allyson Dietz: Joining us today, we have Brian Stavis, Global Category Lead Advertising and Marketing Technology for Amazon web services marketplace. Brian is responsible for launching the advertising and marketing technology category on AWS marketplace. Prior to that, he worked in partner development for the AWS partner network and was actively involved in audience and business development at a number of tech and media companies before that. Brian, welcome to the podcast.

Brian Stavis: Thank you so much.

Allyson Dietz:So Brian, before we get officially started, tell us a little bit about your background. You've always been at the intersection of business and technology in some way. Tell us a bit about your career journey and how you eventually got into AWS.

Brian Stavis: I got to admit I probably in pardon my French, but I fell ass backwards into the field of technology. I got to preface say with saying how lucky I've gotten throughout my career. So out of undergraduate, [00:01:00] I was extremely fortunate to have a great mentor who offered me a job into the growing advertising and technology field where sponsored advertising and programmatic bidding was being a fast growing area in the ad tech space.

BS: From there, I had another mentor who brought me along to help expand my knowledge of ad tech beyond programmatic advertising to learn about influencer marketing, essentially a company that helped digital creators monetize their growing presence on social media, on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, so on and so forth. And I quickly realized I chose the wrong industry and I should have become an influencer because.

AD: You are not an influencer?

BS: I should have been, but I'm certainly not creative enough for such endeavors. So I guess here's the fun part for me because I've always valued connections and the network that I've built in this large, but as I think we all can attest to the tightly knit technology community. And so I received my next two jobs from two former mentors from the first two companies I worked with to go build two respective advertising technology platforms. The first being for mobile ad platforms, helping app developers promote their apps across mobile devices. And then the second being an ad tech platform, helping influencers again, but live stream or helping them monetize their live streams on Twitch, Facebook, Twitter, and across a bunch of different social media platforms.

BS: So it was a lot of fun, but all of these experiences helped me establish some form of credibility. And so I ended up getting a job at Amazon web services to help build out our advertising and marketing technology footprint with both partners and now on AWS marketplace.

AD: Yeah, very cool. I think it sounds like you were really instrumental in launching the advertising and marketing technology category in terms of the AWS marketplace, tell us about what was really involved with that and why is it so important for end users in this space? What is the role it plays within AWS and Amazon and how you started getting things set up?

BS: So I've always looked at AWS marketplace and amazon.com as a very similar growth trajectory. Amazon.com in the late 90s focused mainly on books, but someone raised their hand and said, we should build an apparel category and sell shoes and shirts and socks and so on and so forth. Now they sell everything underneath the sun. The same thing was happening on AWS marketplace where AWS marketplace has done a phenomenal job of catering to IT decision makers. But I identified an opportunity when I was on the AWS partner network to help build a category catered to advertisers and marketers. And part of that is I realize very few CMOs wake up in the morning and think I got a call at AWS. And so having said that, we've all learned that the CMOs have a large tech budget, sometimes larger than the CTOs or CIOs. So they're spending, where else are they going to spend?

BS: So you're spot on and that was part of the thing as marketers are mostly buyers, not builders. And I wanted to help create an online catalog for marketers to procure, an end-to-end marketing technology stack on AWS marketplace.

BH: Yep. So you hinted at the genesis story of Cloud computing of AWS in general, and I'm old enough where I remember the first, some of the very initial book sales on Amazon as an e-commerce company, they were struggling that first, I remember the first holiday season, struggling with fulfillment, and then they grow into a behemoth and as you mentioned, led by Andy Jassy, who's been quoted as saying things like, "I don't know if any of us had the audacity to predict that AWS would grow as big and as fast as it did." And it made sense along with other Cloud providers, but the operating system behind the internet.

BH: What's your take on that growth structure? And you hinted it at just a moment ago, from this e-commerce company that expanded into multiple categories to becoming 30, 35% market share for a massive industry. And I think it's 60 billion in revenue at this point.

BS: I think what's amazing at AWS is when I first started here, you realize the footprint that the company has across every single industry. And I think the COVID pandemic obviously accelerated every single brands need an ability to engage and optimize how they interact with their users, every single brand across both B2C and B2B, across every single industry with financial services and healthcare and life sciences, travel, hospitality, retail, and manufacturing, the list goes on. They've had to reinvent the way that they're engaging with individual customers in a very personalized way. And I know we can talk about personalization day to death, but that to me has been the most fascinating thing of seeing the impact on AWS on just daily consumer lives from the shows I watch on Netflix to the things that I do in the healthcare space. It's amazing how the Cloud is impacting people worldwide. And I'm just truly fascinated by it.

BH: And you think that was fueled by, not only the data driven marketing ecosystem that grew rapidly from the early 2000s on, all the way through some of the services that are provided and powered, like within healthcare as you mentioned, with data, that data has to fly through pipeshas to move across a super highway. And do you see AWS is playing that role of providing the tool system as well as the super highway for a lot of this data movement to enable some of these capabilities?

BS: What's so interesting is going back to the pandemic piece. There has been this explosion of data, as you just touched on where customers are capturing data across the entire customer journey. Just having data is not good enough. You have to identify good data versus bad data through data enrichment tools and identity solutions. And you ultimately have to leverage that data to optimize the best personalized experience and personalization. Again, to me it is just a hype word for lack of a better term. But I think what the power of data has been enabled to do for a lot of customers is unlock just better customer experiences. You no longer have to guess where to put that subscribe button or what product to show to who and when they enter your site.

BS: So I think the interesting piece to it regarding data is the amount of use cases that it can unlock. The improvements around machine learning and AI algorithms that can feed additional personalization across the entire customer value chain. So to me, it's very interesting the opportunity for data, but that also gets back into data responsibility and data privacy, and what we're seeing in this space are some of the changes that Google and Apple continue to make.

AD: Yeah. So you just touched on data privacy. That's something that we talk about a lot, obviously. And I think Cloud computing has really made possible a lot in terms of the world of advertising and analytics you're talking about being able to stitch together that full customer journey and enable that full customer journey. And data is really what powers that today. But as we know, there's a lot of news around privacy and data deprecation. So there's a lot of change that's happening in the industry today. So how does privacy technology, things like clean rooms and privacy-safe, data-driven advertising, what is the future for that and what is the Cloud's role in making that possible?

BS: I think there's two sides to this coin with respect to data privacy. And I mean, the balancing act between personalization and data privacy. On one side, I think we can all agree that personalization can reduce acquisition costs and mitigate churn while increasing overall marketing effectiveness quite significantly. However, the less exciting or sexy side of that coin is data integrity and privacy. And what you're going to continue to see is this trend of first -party data platforms becoming a necessary solution for brands as they navigate the changing data privacy landscape.

BS: One of the things that I talked about on the brave new worlds webinar was the use of data clean rooms. We're seeing this rise of the concept of data partnership, clean rooms, where you're basically putting your data into a mutually shared space where multiple vendors have access to that first -party data in a clean and responsible way. But going back to my whole logic with respects to customer data platforms, they were all the hype two years ago, even before Google and Apple made the respective changes to cookies and iOS, but now a CDP is a fundamental building block for brands as they personalized and optimize the user journey and engage with users at the "moment of intent."

AD: Yeah. And I think that makes sense in terms of how do you leverage that first- party data, how do you empower that first party data. But that also assumes that first party data is the end all be all. And I think that's not necessarily true because there's, especially when you think about things like customer acquisition, second-party data needs to play a role there too. So, there's a key role that the Cloud and clean rooms can also play in terms of second-party data usage in a privacy-safe way and ensuring that you can reach those new audiences too.

BS: Yes. I think there's definitely a lot of noise around data clean rooms. The concept in its simplest form is a clean room as privacy-safe environment to facilitate second party data sharing. But going back to my comments around data partnerships and I certainly think that all partnerships help all boat rise as cliche as it sounds so much for no hype today, but in actuality, I think one major of innovation as it pertains to data clean rooms are in cross-vendor clean rooms where all first-party data and second-party data, advertising data can come together in a clean environment.

BS: These cross -vendor solutions can ultimately help with personalization campaign orchestration and measurement and attribution for a brand. And to me at the crux of it is how marketers maximize their overall effectiveness of their campaigns with individual users while we maintain user trust with best-of-breed data privacy and security solutions to allow the industry to continue to innovate for years to come. And that's why I certainly think the ecosystem play is certainly a ripe opportunity of interest for brands to collaborate with.

BH: Yeah. And it's funny, because we talk about clean rooms because we're in the business of privacy technology for sure. And you talked about the ecosystem about second-party data sharing. A lot of the use cases that you're discussing have been around for ever since the advent of digital advertising, at least programmatic in data -driven advertising as we know it. So you could do a private marketplace where you had a Sheraton on one side in a United airlines and the other combining, commingling their data or at least sharing in terms of audience targeting, so that Sheratoidan could hit up, Hilton buyer that they know is coming to Fort Myers with an advertisement for a hotel or hotels that they have within the region. So that's happened. But I think the clean room is adding that permissioned privacy layer on top, it's powering the same use case as what was available before, but doing it, I guess, a handful of different ways.

BH: One, data's not moving from point A to point B. It's not moving from outside of one contained data vault that's protected, that's got limited access. In fact, sometimes the access to that data clean room is really driven through machine learning. It's not a database on a server somewhere that gets forgotten about, and then that ends up in a data breach with 10 million emails getting thrown out of the ecosystem. Do you see clean rooms as fulfilling ? It's a technology looking for a use case in certain cases. Do you find them fulfilling existing use cases just to maintain the status quo of what we've been doing from a data driven marketing perspective over the last 10, 15 years?

BH: Or actually making more things possible beyond just those standard use cases?

BS: The latter. Absolutely. So these types of data partnerships and first-party data solutions to me can introduce a new era of personal data by building distributed platforms that accelerate data generation, facilitating data access and streamlining data analysis to extract insights. And I also think there's an area where blockchain and privacy -first technologies can enable individuals to maintain control of their data, share it securely and compensate both parties equitably. So to me, this is a big access where I think these data partnerships, these data clean rooms, and first-party data solutions are going to accelerate the pace of innovation while maintaining at the core of it is data privacy. And you're going to see more and more technology companies adopt a privacy-first approach to innovation so that we can truly establish trust with the user base while helping advance new opportunities as you alluded to Brett.

BH: So you think that by facilitating data sharing and data collaboration. It takes some of that risk that certain advertisers might think is there especially with GDPR and CCPA and a lot of privacy restrictions out of the equation which I think creates less friction in that movement or lack of movement of data. It creates less friction in the data sharing use case. Is that what you're suggesting?

BS: I certainly believe so, but I think the concept of data clean rooms while it's starting to gain traction, has been around for quite some time.

BH: Yeah.

AD: Yeah. Data sharing. I mean, to Brett’s point. I mean, different parties are going to have different information about the user, and we want to make sure that we can facilitate that best customer experience in a privacy safe way where information that's unnecessary isn't shared, but information that's useful that can enable a better experience is shared so that you can execute that. I want to come back to something you just mentioned, you were talking about blockchain and we've obviously been talking about two different parties, but you're inserting a third party into that, which is the consumer, and then playing a role in this data sharing experience. Do you see that as part of the future as well for the ad tech ecosystem?

BS: I'm a firm believer in web 3 training. NowI do think that there's a lot of hype again. Absolutely. But it's an area that I'm closely monitoring. What are the solutions that are getting developed in the web 3 era of data sharing insights and even new marketing tactics? There's a lot of interesting innovation happening in the web 3 space that excites me between the new ways to market and monetize digital experiences with individual users, to the ways that data can be stored in a privacy- [00:19:00] safe compliant manner on the blockchain. And I think blockchain technology is somewhat counterintuitive if it needs to be publicly disclosed, but it needs to be privacy safe. So that's one area where I'm scratching my head of like how on earth this is going to happen. But I still believe that it's early days in web 3. And I think once the froth somewhat goes away it will undoubtedly unpack some pretty groundbreaking solutions to impact future generations to come.

AD: That makes sense given your background in influencers, I mean, you've been at the forefront of it. How does...[crosstalk]

BS: You're holding me to that?

AD: It gets so fascinating, but it makes sense. These are people that have found a way to monetize their content. And it makes sense that then you might translate into a future advertising ecosystem where you can also monetize your ad impressions.

AD: You've talked a lot in the industry about the seamless customer digital experience. How exactly do you define that? What exactly does the seamless experience look like in terms of from the vantage point of the end user. So with the customer in mind and then also, what is the marketer's view of what that means?

BS: So a seamless digital experience in my mind is really how do you optimize every single point of the digital journey. From the moment that a customer enters your website or your app or even your storefront, how are you engaging with that user on a personalized basis while managing that data integrity and privacy. If a customer's struggling to check out on your site, you're going to see a huge spike ining churn and card abandonment. So a seamless journey is optimizing from the moment that you touch that storefront, the moment that you touch that website to when you're scrolling on the site, how are you optimizing that and there's literally dozens of solutions that enable brands to optimize that end-to-end customer experience and user journey. You no longer have to guess where to put your subscribe button or your buy now button. There's products that show you where to put it, who to put it in front of? When to put it in front of someone. You can use all of these third party solutions to help you personalize that end-to-end customer journey. And there's machine learning algorithms that brands can really create a seamless user experience to maximize conversion rates while, again, managing that balance of user trust and data privacy.

BH: But is that an oversimplification of reality from a brand perspective? So if you're in a captive environment, you're advertising within the Amazon ecosystem or you're advertising within the Facebook ecosystem, retail being specifically a slightly easier play because that's where the point of sale is happening. So they could be...

AD: Digital, e-commerce in particular.

BH: E-commerce in particular. Yeah. It's shop abandonment minutes, page visits, product views, all these things that you can connect the dots and you can see where a person is interacting with your brand in a mobile app, on a desktop, et cetera. But once you start leaving that ecosystem, and those consumers going, we're not digital animals, we're largely digital, but they're exposed to digital out of home, they're having in-store experiences, brick and mortar. They're exposed to multiple media types. Many of the media exposures might happen within other walled gardens. So the notion, and I'm going to challenge you on this, the notion of connecting the dots. So this is what marketing attribution is trying to do. It's trying to credit each one of these touch points in an appropriate way while taking into account all of the baseline factors that are driving that purchase.

BH: Because it's not just the media exposure, it's not just the experience on the e-commerce website. It might be seasonality or the pandemic that's driving that behavior or a certain percentage of that behavior. So how do you really do it because there is a lot of talk in the industry about customer experience and delivering the end to end seamless customer experience from first exposure to actual purchase. It sounds like from our experience, that a lot of brands really struggle with that, from a data management perspective, getting their data house in order from delivering the right type of content or product offering based on where they are in that path to purchase. And then finally being able to give credit where credit is due for the purchase. Because they oftentimes over credit one particular media like last click versus another particular media or otherwise. So I mean, how do you think about that in terms of the complexity of that?

BS: You're giving me PTSD about last click having to fight for attribution. So I think one of the interesting things that we're talking about with regards to that seamless experience is you no longer have to build everything in house. You no longer have to build solutions to capture data across the entire customer value chain. We do live in the real world, but all of us are digital creatures. If you see the statistics out there of how much time people are spending on mobile devices and digital devices, it's pretty profound. And I think COVID certainly accelerated that all of us were indoors. All of us were on our computers, on our devices, on our mobile devices looking at or I mean, whether or not it is B2C with interacting with brands. I mean, you talked about digital commerce, but travel and hospitality have completely reinvented themselves. You no longer have to go through a travel agent and call them up and book a hotel room or book a flight.

BS: Now you just go on to the app and book something. Same thing is happening in healthcare. You no longer have to call the doctor's office to make an appointment. You can go to the specific app or the website and book an appointment or do things digitally and do remote or virtual appointments. So I certainly think, yes, B2C brands had a head start, but you're seeing this shift with B2B brands starting to embrace digital- first strategies to engage with their users. Going back to my first point though with respect to not having to build every solution in house, the stat that you see out there is like there's over 8,400 marketing technology solutions in the space today.

AD: Can you say that sounds like a LUMAscape.

BS: It's my favorite. It's a chief MarTech diagram from Scott Brinker. I always point to it as customers can choose a digital stack that is right for their customers and right for their business. You can take advantage of the billions of dollars that these companies are putting into R&D to build a tool set that provides a strategic advantage against your competitors. You don't have to build it all in house is I guess the point that I'm trying to make there.

BH: Yeah. So the tools of the technology are there to and make a lot of this connective tissue between channels, between media exposures, between purchase behaviors, a lot more possible than it ever has been. And to your point, because partly because of the pandemic, our lives have, it's only accelerated, the hackneyed term of digital transformation to the point where a large percentage of our lives are spent in digital environments.

AD: So Brian, you were just talking about this build versus buy idea. And I think we've talked a little bit about privacy. We've talked about data management, what should marketers be mindful of? What should they be thinking about? What are the watchouts that they should be thinking about when they're building their own customized solution for best in class data management analytics versus buying it?

BS: My two cents on that build versus buy always comes down to a balance of cost and speed to market. Will building a solution force you away from your core competency and impact the existing customer experience? Or is building a solution in house really cheaper when it comes down to the development and engineering hours that are taken away from your core products to build a new data and analytic solution. Buying typically helps with speed to market, and oftentimes the learning curve of building and operating, maintaining, and innovating a homegrown customer data solution or analytics solution. It's probably more time consuming than buying a ready- made and interoperable solution off the shelf. That to me is where that ecosystem play comes really at the forefront, and specifically on AWS marketplace, we do want to make that buying experience for software and professional services as easy as it is to buy batteries on amazon.com.

AD: Yeah. And I think you're right about innovation. We bump into the same thing in analytics where there's a lot of brands who have to build massive teams that are trying to just maintain the skills and the specialization that a lot of companies already have in place. And so why not take advantage of that specialization and that experience and that innovation to your point in terms of engineering resources, these are resources that you could use elsewhere and in other ways.

BS: Yep.

BH: So speaking of the tools, you may mentioned having a seamless experience with vendor partnerships on AWS, where, a CMO, a CTO, a CIO, whoever might be can obviously leverage the pipes, but they can also associate themselves with vendors that are providing particular services on top of that. And you mentioned that you don't really have to build this anymore, but what would you take beyond, the most important people within an organization, especially when you're dealing with data-driven analytics, marketing behind the scenes that you have the necessary components to making this process successful. I mean, who from a team perspective do you think an organization should think about having on staff to be able to select the right types of vendors to work with and then actually make all this stuff work considering they might be using more than one tool?

BS: I think what's interesting is marketing has gone away from just purely being a branding or awareness or even just like demand gen. The marketers because of the stat that I pointed to in the brave new worlds one was marketers are going to spend $122 billion on technology and services by the end of next year. So marketers certainly have a seat at the table when it comes to technology decisions. And I start seeing this blended role of the digital technologists, a marketing or business focused role that is technology savvy.

BS: So the idea of marketing waiting for IT is even less realistic because marketing is influencing or influencing technology decisions. So there's people in products that are focused on marketing. There's people on the data side that are extracting insights in analytics that are certainly facilitating those technology decisions for the marketing team. So I think that there's this trend of these blended marketing/technology roles that are running across the entire organization from both marketing and IT.

AD: Yeah, and I think you're right about that. I think there's this need for a team, almost of what you're describing as a team of individuals who can support the marketing's digital function and ensure that they have what they need, for insights, for analytics, as well as for execution and for campaign management. There's more than just, I know this audience and I want to target this audience. There are other things that you can glean, other use cases that you can take out of that data as well. And I think you described a couple of those.

So what's the road ahead look like, Brian, I know we've been talking a lot about some of these trends, the changes from the pandemic, and there's so much that you've brought up already in this episode, but what would your top three predictions be for the road ahead?

BS: I think we talked about the less so exciting stuff with data, I mean, privacy first and privacy safe solutions. You're going to continue to see that as probably the biggest talking point in the industry as the deprecation of third party cookies goes away and every brand needs to focus on a first -party data strategy. The second trend that we've talked about is the impact on web 3 and what are the different use cases and marketing strategies and tactics that brands are going to use both in terms of data hygiene, data insights, data extraction, but also just the new concepts that brands can start interacting in engaging with their users in a more meaningful way, in a very personalized way.

BS: So excited about those, and then the last piece that I personally am extremely excited about and have a lot of faith in is the continued evolution of the channel as brands are less focused on acquisitions of just say solutions in a box, but they're more focused on the integration of their entire ecosystem of technology and professional services solutions. To break down data silos, you're going to continue to see the importance of connectivity, for example how many data integrations or partners does your solution connect to, since that's ultimately going to impact both the downstream and upstream impact of the data and the data quality that you're using to power your business. The channel is going to be a critical focus for marketers to optimize end-to-end user journey at every single turn. And so I'm extremely bullish on the channel and the ecosystem as it pertains to marketers and the insights that brands are working with.

BH: Yeah. And I think that last point you made is that necessity is the mother of invention.

BS: As data becomes either deprecated or more siloed behind the growing number of Walled gardens, whether they're retail media networks, whether they're social media networks, whether they're television, publisher, giants like the Hulus of the world. You've got to have a way to partner with all of these key media partners and channel partners to your point to gather insights about what the hell your customers are doing. And your prospects are doing, how are they going from one to the other being exposed to advertising content or otherwise to your point about the tracking of the customer journey. If you haven't built that ecosystem and done it in a clean room, privacy- protected way, where you do have visibility, because you can't trust everybody grading their own homework.

It goes back to this concept of necessities, the mother of invention, it's almost like we're solving for and I think a big theme of this episode is we've seen this massive digital transformation.

BS: I think one point that you made is you can't grade your own homework, but you can lean on a partner that has already finished his homework and got graded or his or her homework and gone graded. And so that's where partners can share those insights, share what a successful path looks like with a specific industry or a specific customer. And that to me is super important as it pertains to that channel or ecosystem strategy that marketers are going to employ in the years to come.

BH: Yeah. That partner's like a referee. It's a third party credibility.

BS: Yep.

BH: So you're not trusting the person that maybe owns the media, but you're trusting a third party that is validated, and verified.

BS: Absolutely.

BH: Very cool. Well, good talking to you, Brian.

BS: I appreciate the time.

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