One of the great joys of working in the tech industry comes from seeing how colleagues you've known over the years progress in their careers. One such is Sameer Patel, who in a previous role contributed to diginomica on a few occasions but who I first met as a consultant way back when. Today, he heads up Kahuna, a vendor in the business to consumer marketing automation space.
While it is only a few months since Patel's appointment, I wanted to catch up and understand what his company brings to the table in a market that is both crowded and intensely competitive. This is a precis of that conversation, which I also published on Soundcloud.
Patel says that Kahuna is focused use cases such as commerce and retail where immediacy is critical to provide consumers like you and I the right information at the right time in such a way that it is not an annoying recommendation but something that is relevant to our activity history.
Businesses have customers who are observing things, browsing things, almost bought, left it in the shopping cart, and so based on your gestures on the phone, your location, your preferences, we help that customer make the right choice by providing the right information.
We've seen a lot of this the last few years so what makes Kahuna different?
We are across channels so can send out an offer via email, via SMS, via mobile, via whatever have you. But mobile created a quantum leap I think in the availability of insight because the meta data the phone collects tells me so much more than an unopened email does. You're location is available on your phone. Your preferences of how you consume content are available. Now we've got new channels coming outside of mobile. You've got bots now and as consumers we expect them to get smarter. We tap all of that, delivering to the right format at the time it matters to you.
So exactly what can Kahuna tell a retailer? According to Patel, the system builds up a picture of how individuals behave based upon a variety of parameters that include device usage e.g laptop and email, mobile phone and SMS etc. Based upon what it learns, Kahuna can then send offers in the most appropriate manner. But how do you overcome the hurdle of speed to understanding?
This is hard and especially when you're looking at technology that's 10-15 years and older. In the case of many of the older email delivery systems, it takes over a day sometimes, as much as a week, for the system to update your profile. Let alone learning what you are doing and so it's going to add a good day's worth of latency. By that time you're gone. It's over. In this case, it takes us 30 seconds to update your profile in Kahuna after a single gesture is made. There is learning but learning at that pace is happening every ten minutes or so. We capture all of that.
Patel then talked about the use case of a person who has a morning routine that starts with them leaving the house and walking to their favorite coffee shop for their morning brew.
What can they learn in the 5-6 minutes it takes me to get to the shop such that they can make me an alternative offer? This distance between starting to really learn who you are is shrinking but you know it's very popular in the world to talk about real time as in within seconds. You and I have talked about this forever. It's right time. Those six or so minutes are the right time interval we need to accommodate.
Patel wants the company to focus upon solving for what he terms 'perishable' goods and services. An example might be an airline seat. Once the cabin door is closed, an empty seat has zero value. Another example might be a hotel room. Again, unless the room is booked, the value is zero. The same goes for a variety of goods and service that are either perishable in those terms or expensive to maintain as inventory.
If you're in retail and in seven days you're going to have to offload inventory to an overstock company for pennies on the dollar, I'm sorry that's perishable to me. Marketeers have never really been able to look at all inventory through the perishable lens. How do I let any marketeer consider all their inventory as perishable and then adjust for that way of thinking? We believe Kahuna helps with that shift.
Another area Patel wants to tackle is automation. In his world, 'automation' is passé because it is predicated upon the idea of running campaigns that have a process and efficiency feel to them, rather than tackling problems of immediacy. He thinks that with more CEOs becoming fact driven, the relationship with marketers has to change:
It has been very hard for marketers to tell which of their efforts produced good outcomes. We can achieve results through personalization and have those outcomes measured. I am absolutely blown away as to how quant driven CEOs of B2C companies are. To date, marketers have tried to throw soft marketing at them versus what the CEO is doing which is running the business by the numbers. We're at a place now where the technology can start to inform where the dollars go.
As we closed out the conversation, I couldn't help but be struck by the fact Patel is at Kahuna as a B2C outsider. He believes that gives him an advantage:
I can ask the kinds of question that go something like this: What would I as a consumer want to see and can you deliver that?
That in turn helps the company frame its market response with both the retailer and consumer in mind. It just leaves us with one question. Customers? The company currently has some of the well known new retailer names such as GoPro and Dollar Shave Club, which recently hit that jackpot when it was acquired by Unilever. How it fares with the Wlalmarts of the world is a question for the future.
One to follow...