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InsiderInbox with Jose Cebrian

September 26, 2016  •  By: Renee Chemel

Welcome to the newest issue of Insider Inbox, where we hear from some of the biggest influencers in digital marketing about their take on the current—and future—state of the business.

Last time, we heard from Epsilon’s VP of Digital Solutions, Kara Trivunovic, about the importance of marketing in context and putting yourself in the shoes of your audience to figure out exactly what will grab their attention.

Next, it’s time for Jose Cebrian, VP and GM of digital messaging at Merkle, a global, data-driven, tech-enabled performance marketing agency. Merkle’s performance marketing solutions help companies like AARP, VISA, Kimberly-Clark, Urban Outfitters, Bristol-Myers Squibb, JetBlue, Microsoft, Google and many, many more generate ROI through a Connected CRM framework that applies quantitative communication strategies across mass, direct and digital media marketing programs.

Jose has a diverse range of progressive interactive marketing experience. He’s passionate about results—delivering yield across the entire conversion path using appropriate tools across the entire spectrum of media. With several years in the business, he’s worked in agencies, technology, and consulting services, and is a prolific author on the topics of email marketing, integrated data and digital media. Before joining Merkle, he spent nearly a decade at Acxiom in various roles including managing director of global client services for their Digital Impact business. Previously, he worked at Gartner as a marketing director in its consulting division. He earned an MBA in finance from the University of Connecticut and went to Middlebury for undergrad.

Let’s hear what advice Jose has to offer about how to succeed in digital marketing today and tomorrow

1. Why did you choose marketing, or maybe it chose you?

I think it’s more accurate to say that marketing chose me. After graduating from college (Middlebury, with a degree in International Politics & Economics), I spent about a season fly fishing in Idaho, where I had some time to think about exactly what I wanted to do. Eventually, I had to go get a real job. When I got home I got an internship at Agency.com, and was hired on full-time there. This was in the early days of interactive marketing, mostly in website building, early display advertising, etc.

It was only later at Acxiom that I discovered how much I liked the direct marketing side. One day, our contact from a national women’s retailer called and said that she thought something was wrong with an email campaign. She said they ramp-up staff at warehouses when they send out an email in anticipation of demand, but the response had been slow. I was fairly new to email and this was the first time I’d really recognized the action-reaction side of direct marketing—that if I do something, I get money back… that it’s active. That got me really interested because I had numbers—hard evidence— that I can use to predict response and make good investment decisions

2. What is your personal mission statement?

Honestly? “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” In my day-to-day work, it keeps me in generally good spirits. There are always going to be obstacles, but it helps keep you a little bit positive, in my view.

3. Tell me something about your job that inspires you to keep working at Merkle.

I like that we produce results. I like that our philosophy is to track our clients’ results, to improve and change what we’re doing based on numbers. That to me is fun. If I have a client that has a goal, we’re tracking against that goal, and we can expand, innovate and adjust to achieve those numbers. Whether we are overperforming or a little behind, we can have a fact-based discussion.

4. Offices or open work space?

I like both, but for different things. I think open spaces are great for collaboration, but I’m on the phone 90% of the time, so offices make a lot more sense. I personally prefer open office plans, but the realities of my job make an office a necessity. Plus, I pace a lot when I talk on the phone. That would definitely be distracting to everyone else in an open floor plan.

5. What is a skill that every digital marketer should have and why?

Advanced Excel/reporting software skills. Marketing has become a numbers game, so it’s imperative that a marketer be able to work with the numbers, have some facility of reporting technology, and be able to interpret those numbers to understand results.

6. What is the best part about your job?

Getting to work with lots of different clients. I love the variety. Given the fact we have so many different clients in different industries, I enjoy learning about challenges and variables of different industries, like regulations, seasonality, and others, that can be applied to other industries who might not have exactly the same problems, but can certainly benefit from those strategies or tactics.

Also, Merkle is growing rapidly. It’s also fun to see a large organization grow and continue to change as it grows. In my last job, the company was becoming kind of stagnant, so it’s great to see—and be a part of—growth.

7. If you could only use five (digital) marketing tools, what would they be? And why?

Here’s my top 5 in and around email:

• eDataSource for competitive information
• Email on Acid & Litmus for content QA and more
• Real-time content in email, like that from PowerInbox, Movable Ink, etc. to make good decisions at the moment of open • based on environment and first-party data
• An email deliverability toolset, like 250OK or Return Path
• BounceExchange, or something like it, to increase first-party data capture on owned sites
• Send-time optimization, like AudiencePoint to improve engagement

OK, I know that’s more than 5. But, it takes a lot of tools to run an effective digital marketing strategy.

8. Facebook or Twitter?

I use Facebook for personal contacts and Twitter for business. I’m just not sure I want my work colleagues to have that much access to my personal life.

9. What is the biggest digital marketing trend that will drive success for the second half of 2016? What is the biggest digital marketing challenge second half of 2016?

I think they’re one in the same. The biggest digital marketing challenge is the biggest opportunity and it is a trend we are seeing. That is mastering people-based marketing, or targeting at the individual level at scale, across all channels–display, social, TV. Being able to orchestrate that in a cohesive way to reduce overlap and be efficient is the ultimate challenge most marketers are grappling with.

We’re seeing strong momentum in the individual channels. But there are still two big problems. First, the data are not centralized in many cases. Most large companies have separate teams and agencies for email, search, social and display, and they all have different individual platforms that they use and where they store data for their own use. This creates a problem in that teams are optimizing individual channel metrics vs. outcomes across channels. For email, it might be open rates, and for social, it might be number of likes, but connecting those identities and outcomes across all channels is a challenge. We need some level of centralized data management and shared KPIs so we can see how the connections play out across the channels. This has implications beyond data, so as we orchestrate marketing across channels, part of what we need to tackle is org design and change management.

Second is the role of content and generating coordinated content in an efficient manner that is also relevant at the time and based on the latest information available in the enterprise. Content marketing continues to be a hot topic for good reason – content is what people see and read – it is the key part of the value exchange between business and customer.

10. What’s your go-to karaoke song? And why?

“Cry Me a River” by Justin Timberline because I can’t sing, and it requires some pretty high notes, so it’s a fun song.

11. What’s the one or two things you can’t live without to get the job done?

My phone and a good team. Without having people you can trust, it’s hard to accomplish anything. I’m lucky I have a great team I can trust.

Thanks so much, Jose, for joining us for the InsiderInbox!

In our next issue, when we’ll hear from David Daniels, CEO & Founder of The Relevancy Group, who leads the organization’s market research into best practices and tactics, and publishes The Marketer Quarterly.  And start making your emails people-based with DynamicMail now!


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Get the inside track on the latest AdTech & MarTech news, trends and strategies.

Blog Form

Your direct-sold ads in email that easily translates into money. How? Check out AdServer for Email.

Drive revenue in every email you send. Learn how with RevenueStripe.