Partners in Digital Experience: Grey Midwest on Borderless Technology

Todd Barker, Senior Director of Technology for Grey Midwest, discusses eliminating data silos and improving communication with customers.

Consumers now expect brand experiences to feel as harmonious and convenient as every other experience in their day-to-day lives, and the way for brands to do this right is by understanding consumer data. We recently sat down with Todd Barker, Senior Director of Technology for Grey Midwest, to discuss the importance of data in context and establishing a globally connected brand presence. Grey is a full-service agency that serves one-fifth of the FORTUNE 500, handling everything from creative strategy, design, systems architecture, web and application development, research and data analytics. Grey has spent more than a century creating stories for some of the world’s leading brands, including Procter & Gamble, Essilor and Volvo. Todd and his team of developers in Grey’s Cincinnati office focus on extending the reach of their end-to-end marketing capabilities and continue breaking new ground in terms of brand experience. 

Connecting the Customer Journey

With a heritage in using creativity to solve business problems, Grey Midwest has been the center of excellence within Grey's global network for performance marketing, digital and commerce marketing. Every day the team uses data at the center of everything they do.

todd barker
Todd Barker, Senior Director of Technology at Grey Midwest

This is especially evident when looking at some of Grey Midwest’s main verticals like CPG, food and beverage and hospitality, which have had to adapt the in-person customer service feeling of a brick-and-mortar store to the web. “The growth of online shopping puts enormous pressure on advertisers to win shoppers across their digital journey, even when they may not have exhibited specific purchase intent. It is our job as marketers to capture these behavioral signals and use technology to develop a 360-degree view of our consumers in order to make a product or service buyable at any moment, across any digital touchpoint,” said Todd. 

Beyond just being available across different channels, Grey Midwest believes that brands should be using data to offer consumers more personalized and robust brand experiences. Everyone involved in a step of the customer journey (whether that’s marketers, customer support or business reps) needs to understand the full context of a customer’s entire history with the company. Connected data allows someone to understand the sentiment behind a specific purchase or action and then personalize messaging to reflect these sentiments. “No one has done this better than Amazon,” Todd said. “Consumers expect Amazon-like experiences everywhere they shop and the best way to do that is to orchestrate the consumer journey by using the correct martech tools and technologies.” After purchase, consumers expect to receive a confirmation via email and order status notifications via SMS. If they have a problem with an order, they expect to be able to connect with a customer service representative who has the full context and history of their past behaviors. Businesses need to communicate with customers every step of the way and ensure their communications are consistent with all the messages they’ve sent previously.

Less Maintenance Leads to More Innovation 

Working with major multi-brand, multinational enterprises requires Grey to understand how to quickly and efficiently launch digital experiences at scale. Grey Midwest depends on technology that offers powerful digital governance, such as Acquia Site Factory, for more efficient, effective multisite management.

“We’ve had clients come to us with projects where all of their different brands and websites are built on different platforms and there was no sense of consistency or connection between the different teams,” said Todd. The Grey team partnered with Acquia and used Site Factory to replatform over 75 distinct brand websites onto a single, unified platform. “We were really impressed with Site Factory. It helped us build out an application layer that we could then scale out and apply to hundreds of sites.” The open infrastructure and governance capabilities in Acquia Site Factory cut down the amount of time their web team spent maintaining each website. “Maintenance became a fraction of what it was before, which has allowed us to focus on building new features,” he said. “I also cannot say enough about Acquia’s incredible ops team, which has built a best-in-class hosting infrastructure. Regardless of whether a client has one brand or 100 brands, Acquia provides the same level of support across the board.”

Borderless Technology at Scale 

Despite access to greater amounts of customer behavior data than ever before, marketers still struggle with connecting all of this information into one cohesive, central narrative. “The digital ecosystem has become enormously complex, and one of the biggest hurdles I’ve seen our customers face is that much of their consumer data is siloed in different systems,” said Todd. “Breaking down these data silos in order to build a holistic view for each individual consumer can feel overwhelming, but the result of doing so can have a profound effect and dramatically improve both consumer satisfaction and business results.”

Organizations need to eliminate these data barriers if they’re ever going to get an accurate view of their consumers’ intent and desires in real time. Todd explained, “Right now, many companies are using completely separate systems to store data, whether that’s their analytics platform, sales tools or a customer support system.” Relying on so many different reports and metrics means that data can often be contradictory or confusing, and brands need a single source of truth into the minds of their buyers. Todd believes that in the coming years, we’ll see more organizations implement connected first-party data solutions like customer data platforms (CDPs.) 

In addition to breaking down the barriers around consumer data, Grey has a “borderless” way of working internally as well. They promote a united, strategic approach to technology and brand that utilizes technology to transcend geographic constraints and empower seamless collaboration between teams. To remain effective and scale their growth across the globe, the agency uses technology to connect its international workforce everywhere from Cincinnati to London to Japan. They do this by identifying key talent, building out centers of expertise in different regions and using communication platforms that allow employees to spread their knowledge across an organization-wide network. “At Grey, we focus on truly open, global collaboration. Just like we’re trying to be transparent and centralize our customer data, it’s about building an internal infrastructure without traditional borders and limits.”

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