Twilio Engage builds on Segment acquisition to challenge the marketing clouds

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright October 22, 2021
This week's Twilio Signal built on the acquisition of Segment to launch Twilio Engage, billed as a growth automation platform in place of traditional marketing clouds

Peter Reinhardt presents Twilio Engage - Signal screengrab
Peter Reinhardt, Twilio (Signal screengrab)

For years now, the big marketing clouds have focused on helping businesses build customer engagement from the top down, starting with campaigns. At Twilio Signal this week, the communications and data platform provider offered a new approach that it says builds personalized engagement from the bottom up, starting with real-time customer data. That data comes from Segment, which Twilio acquired last year, and whose co-founder Peter Reinhardt, now GM of Twilio Segment, told attendees:

Our marketing customers ... are hungry to personalize every customer interaction. But it's incredibly hard. Most companies are stuck with really frustrating tools that only let them personalize like this: 'Hi, first_name.' And it's brutal. When we talk to these companies, we find their legacy marketing clouds are built campaign down, rather than data up. They've got sexy whizz-bang content editors, but they all suffer from the same foundational data problems ...

At Twilio Segment, we asked ourselves a simple question. What if we reimagined digital marketing ... as a data-up growth platform, instead of a campaign-down marketing cloud? What if there was a product that allowed you to personalize every single customer interaction, and do it all in real time? This is what we call growth automation — using data to fine-tune in real time, across the entire customer journey.

Most companies, he explained, are struggling with disparate marketing silos where it takes ages to assemble the data they need to target the right customers, where there's poor or no integration across different channels, and analyzing results to see what has worked is a huge struggle. Digital giants such as Amazon and Apple, he argued, have instead built their own data infrastructure as the foundation for creating and nurturing customer relationships. Twilio Engage, built natively on both Segment and the Twilio communications platform, aims to replicate that data infrastructure as a packaged, extensible platform that businesses can adapt to their specific needs. The product is in limited-access beta now and will be generally available next quarter.

Growth automation

Segment already has many customers who provide proof points of its ability to bring together data from various sources, including marketing databases, clickstream data and customer service interactions. Consumer giant Procter and Gamble is one example, whose Global Head of Digital Strategy, Murat Genc, explained how the company had built a cloud-native microservices-based omnichannel platform, using Segment and Google Cloud, to better serve customers in over 150 different markets. Intuit's Chief Technology Officer Marianna Tessel said that using Segment to improve message targeting to TurboTax customers had improved engagement from 20% to 50% this tax season.

The essence of growth automation, Reinhardt explained, is the use of real-time data to personalize every single interaction with the customer across every channel, moving away from large-scale campaigns to micro-targeted engagement. He summarized:

We still do the flashy UI so you can map the campaign journey. But that's not the hard part. The hard part is getting the data right. And you have to have the right data architecture in place. Every time your customer engages with your business, their customer profile updates in real time. You get to know them better, you can serve them better, everything becomes instantly personal to them.

A walk-on for Bill McDermott

Several other announcements during the keynote showed off new capabilities across Twilio's other core products and its underlying messaging platform — or Customer Engagement Platform (CEP), as it now prefers to call the ensemble after the addition of Segment.

  • A new MessagingX platform combines a unified messaging API with features designed to enhance deliverability and trust, including integration to a new Twilio Trust Hub to connect to channels that support verified business messaging. Google Business Messages joins the list of supported messaging channels alongside SMS, MMS, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. Twilio messaging is also going headless with the launch of a new Content API, so that message content and templates can be shared across multiple channels.
  • ServiceNow CEO Bill McDermott made a short walk-on appearance to mark a deepening of the integration between Twilio and ServiceNow, which brings SMS and WhatsApp messaging directly into the Now platform for use as part of the employee experience. McDermott said: "You can get all of these services built in — the experience is already set, the engineering's already done, and we're ready to roll."
  • Twilio Intelligence for Voice, now in pilot, provides accurate speech transcription paired with AI and machine learning. This can learn the concepts that are important to the specific business and present them as language operators that developers can build into applications. Automated actions can then be triggered based on concepts that the machine intelligence recognizes during a conversation, rather than specific keywords.
  • Flex One, a single API for the Flex customer service platform which makes it easier to add any channel — from messaging to chat and even email — with just a few lines of code.

Agile working at Allianz Direct

Laura Malinsky, Global Head of Operations at Flex customer Allianz Direct, spoke about how the company has used the product to deliver a single platform to 700 agents across four European countries, reducing 22 screens to one for the entire customer conversation. A "handful of engineers" was able to deliver the project in 300 days. The platform has also enabled a new agile way of working that allows agents to decide on a daily basis how they want to work. Malinsky explained:

Our workers can come in when they want to come in. They can create the day for themselves. They take breaks when they need it and evaluate how the day is going and consistently shift to prioritize where they need to focus their energy ...

We're able to shift how we work in order to manage our outcomes and expectations, rather than following processes and tracking minutes.

Giving agents more autonomy in how they organize their work has seen sick leave go down from 11% to 4%, emphasizing that improving the employee experience is also improving service quality. She said:

We're not just doing transformation for transformation sake, we're doing it to truly build a human connection, and in a digital world make our agents' lives easier along the way.

My take

It's easy for an up-and-coming platform to portray incumbents as siloed and cumbersome. In truth, they're all evolving their offerings to adapt to a more digitally connected world. But having started from an API-centric design point, Twilio isn't held back by the same legacy, so to that extent it has a market advantage. I'm also impressed by the way its proposition falls in line with three themes that I'm constantly emphasizing — it makes me think they must be doing something right!

First of all I really like the positioning of Twilio Engage as growth automation instead of marketing automation. By emphasizing growth, it focuses on the outcome (revenue/customer growth) rather than the process (marketing). I'm a big fan of focusing on outcomes not process.

Secondly, centering Twilio Engage around real-time data flows is absolutely in line with my longstanding theme of Frictionless Enterprise, a more connected, agile and composable approach to business operations and customer engagement. Traditional batch processes — where data is first stored, then organized, and finally interrogated — have become obsolete in an always-on, digitally connected world, where data should be acted on in the moment to deliver immediate actions. This does require a completely different architecture and way of working.

Finally, there is Twilio's API-centric architecture, which follows a completely different model than the monolithic application stacks of old. This is an example of what I call Tierless Architecture, bringing data and functions together in a single, highly adaptable layer where developers can plug them into various applications and channels.

As I said earlier, every vendor is evolving in line with these trends, but there's a lot of ground to cover. Enterprises that have the opportunity and the desire to move fast should take a look at what Twilio has to offer.

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