As the chief marketing and communications officer stood next to a SXSW presentation slide featuring Amazon, Facebook and Google, he laid out a sobering view for the audience Monday: “There are these things called walled gardens. We all love them; we use them all the time,” he said. “But there’s a real issue, because these walled gardens are disintermediating you from your customer.”
His point is, when it comes to data, that customer relationship structure is a critical issue. “If you’re a brand today, you could be like, ‘I’m using AI, I’m using Facebook, I’m using Google.’ Really? Who keeps that data?” he said. “How are you actually understanding your relationship with your customers? Who really owns that relationship?”
The advice hits home, particularly for fashion companies. Ignoring Amazon’s massive marketplace, for instance, isn’t easy. According to One Click Retail, 2017 apparel and footwear sales on Amazon.com broke $8 billion from first- and third-party sellers. Much of that lies in basics — think white T-shirts or socks — but the e-commerce giant has been fixated on boosting its premium and luxury fashion business.
Google’s interest in retail stretches across its search business, and likely matters for its smart home and smart speaker categories as well. Facebook, aside from running its own peer-to-peer Marketplace, remains a key platform for branding and customer outreach, not to mention the social powers of its Instagram business.
The flip side of this conundrum is having too much data, Wolfe Pereira added. “Marketers are drowning in data,” he said. “We’re getting data from everywhere. What do you do with all this data? You don’t even know what to do with what you have now, let alone this exponential increase that’s happening every month.”
The smart way for brands to approach the AI era is to reconsider their data strategy and get back to some fundamentals. Get past walled gardens and have direct relationships with your customers, he said, pointing to Warby Parker as a prime example.
“When Warby Parker came on the scene, I think that was a watershed moment,” Wolfe Pereira explained. “Warby Parker said, ‘We’re going to go direct to the consumer, and we’re going to go end-to-end on that value chain.’ We’re…going to focus on two-way relationships.” The executive credits the eyeglass company with starting a new category called digitally native vertical brands.
“It’s not e-commerce but v-commerce, or vertical commerce, where it’s truly all integrated,” he said. “They have eliminated all the friction between them and the consumer.” He pointed to Bonobos, Nike and Dollar Shave Club as more examples.
The next step is to decide on the mix between machine learning and human learning, where the first powers the latter. Essentially, his advice is to leave the grunt work to AI, freeing human beings to do what machines cannot. That’s the benefit of all those direct brands, he said. They know every single touchpoint, and can measure it. And because they can crunch data faster than any human being, it can shed light on new, previously unnoticed opportunities.
Wolfe Pereira called it the “’Eureka!’ moment,” and it leads into the final stage: Select the right growth techniques.
“Strategic thinking is what will always make human beings superior,” he added. “Let machines automate all the meaningless tasks you should not be wasting your time on.”