IBM is changing the narrative on digital marketing.
“Data has this human element that makes it so appealing. It’s not just about solving an algorithmic problem. It’s about using data to tell a story that can translate into the real world.”
Vice President of Global Experience Engine, IBM
Discovering the language of data
Ari Sheinkin has always been a storyteller. In his early career making independent films, he was fascinated by how technology was changing the creative process. Films were starting to be edited, distributed and advertised digitally more frequently. This shift in the film industry intrigued him and he wondered what other kinds of opportunities technology might bring.
Shortly after, Sheinkin joined IBM. Twenty-three years later, he’s now vice president of global experience engine and continues to look for stories, though maybe in less traditional places. “I've always thought about it when people say I went from film to analytics, from storytelling to data,” said Sheinkin. “I say not at all. I continued this journey of storytelling using a different language.”
Though IBM has helped pioneer information technology for nearly 100 years, Sheinkin wanted to strengthen data as its storytelling language. The company had massive amounts of data to work with, but it was being held back by disparate legacy systems that didn’t talk to each other. IBM was comfortable using data from a technical perspective, but it wasn’t telling complete narratives that a marketing or creative role could shape into compelling customer experiences.
“If you want to know if you’re customer-centric, go look at your data,” said Sheinkin. “If you can't understand your customer in your own data systems, it's really hard to lay claim to being customer-centric. That was our case. We didn't understand the customer, so that was at the core of the Adobe partnership.”
Organising on the right platforms
Sheinkin started with consolidation. His vision was to unify all of IBM’s marketing technology onto five platforms — Audience Manager, Experience Manager Sites and Assets, Marketo Engage, and Adobe Target, with the IBM instance of Salesforce CRM. But that wasn’t all. As Sheinkin said about this vision, “Having five great products is not the same thing as having an integrated suite.”
At its core, IBM needed to unify its digital assets. Previously, over 40 digital asset management repositories each had countless box folders and desktops, all adding up to thousands of content locations that housed over 171,000 assets. “The big opportunity was our best content wasn't getting in front of our customers,” said Sheinkin. Working with its own consulting organisation in addition to Adobe Consulting, IBM now manages all of its content within Adobe Experience Manager Assets, allowing marketers to locate the right content quickly using automated identifiers on its assets.
To make use of its unified assets, Sheinkin and his team also had to rethink the way IBM built web pages. On its legacy content management platform Drupal, marketers across the business all had access to creating pages. As a result, IBM had a staggering 10,500 templates. “It felt really empowering to marketers — except think about how bad that is for the customer,” said Sheinkin. “IBM wasn't coming across as one entity. We came across as hundreds.” After moving to Experience Manager Sites, Sheinkin and his team developed a handful of reusable templates to unify IBM’s messaging across the company.
While IBM’s web page templates now tell a unified story, they’re also more efficient for marketers to create. “Marketers who thought this change was going to be incredibly constraining to their creative process suddenly realised how it’s unbelievably freeing,” Sheinkin said. “They don't have to worry about design and can stay consistent with the IBM brand.” Pages that used to take marketers 3 days to create now take them 45 minutes.
Still, building web pages is only part of curating exceptional online experiences. While standardised templates now delivered the IBM brand across new pages, Sheinkin and his team still needed to unify the customer journey on existing ones. Across the company, IBM had grown to over 40 million web pages. “The reason we got there is because we built it based on our internal organisation,” said Sheinkin. “Now we’re building the site for customers.” In rebuilding its website, IBM is focusing on simpler navigation and cleaner, more consistent pages that provide a better customer journey across roughly 6,700 pages.
Those journeys serve customers spanning the 175 countries where IBM operates. And now, with its integrated platforms, IBM is better able to localise web content for its customers globally in seven languages. “Having our sites show up brilliantly localised in the geographies makes an enormous difference,” said Sheinkin. “We have to do our translation and localisation processes in parallel, but that starts with a standard template that can have flexibility built into it, so the local team has control over elements of the page without having to rebuild everything.”
The work has paid off. Once a page is published in English, it’s automatically pushed into the platform’s globalisation process. Translation that used to take 14 days now happens in 3 to 5 days. Better yet, IBM has saved 72% of the costs on these efforts to bring experiences on a global scale.
From 40 different digital asset management repositories to 1
From 10,500 unique templates to a handful of easy, reusable templates
Translation that used to take 14 days now happens in 3 to 5 days
Communicating through stories
Email had always been a main channel for IBM to reach its customers. But as Sheinkin describes, the experience they historically delivered customers was less than ideal.
“We did all this brilliant modelling with the best of IBM data science to understand our email engagement,” Sheinkin said. “Then out pops the finding that on average, when IBM sent an email, it made customers less likely to engage with us.” IBM had been using its own legacy technology Unica to send email content to large swaths of its database. The more the company tried to connect with customers, the more they opted out of their email preferences altogether.
Sheinkin and his team worked alongside IBM and Adobe’s consulting organisations to implement Marketo Engage in just 28 days, this time building the technology around IBM’s customers and their experiences. “Marketo Engage became a business transformation and a tool for driving process change,” said Sheinkin. “What we're building with Marketo Engage is an entire process with governance and organisational change. This is about bringing great communication to people who want to engage with IBM.”
The team is now focused on five major stories — security, modernisation, transformation, prediction and automation — that will shape the IBM brand moving forward. Sheinkin and his team also created standards on how they deliver those stories to customers. They’ve consolidated the 2,800 campaigns that IBM used to run down to a core 100 campaigns highlighting these 5 stories.
Using Marketo Engage together with Adobe Target, they test their new messaging in everything from content and headlines to customer journey and nurture campaigns. From there, Marketo Engage and Audience Manager bring the right experiences to just the right customers, across every channel.
“Marketo Engage is such a foundational element of the change we're driving,” Sheinkin said. “We just couldn't wait for this and Adobe Consulting, together with our consulting organisation, did an amazing job standing up in 28 days. It's the beginning of a new culture and one of my proudest moments last year.”
Customers are already better engaged with these new experiences. In the few months since Marketo Engage launched, IBM’s click rate response rate on emails has increased by 112%. To keep the engagement going, IBM has also reduced its time to follow up with a customer’s interaction from one or more days down to two hours.
“Adobe Marketo Engage is such a foundational element of the change we're driving. We just couldn't wait for this, and Adobe, together with our consulting organisation, did an amazing job standing up in 28 days. It's the beginning of a new culture and one of my proudest moments last year.”
Vice President of Global Experience Engine, IBM
Understanding accounts through interactions
Sheinkin is carrying the culture of digital transformation into a new digital strategy. While implementing its Adobe technology, IBM was also transitioning its customer relationship management (CRM) platform to Salesforce. Ready to make use of its fully integrated technology stack, Sheinkin saw the opportunity to change the way IBM was targeting customers.
IBM’s legacy platforms lacked the power the company needed to bring compelling storytelling to its B2B customers. Marketers typically found potential customers through event registrations and attendance, trial downloads and demo engagement. While these tactics amounted to 5 million leads a year, IBM had over 150 million interactions with customers in the same timeframe. Also, the engagement that IBM targeted came at an individual level, so sellers couldn’t harness the full story of which experiences would resonate best with entire accounts.
Since integrating, IBM has been able to build highly personalised experiences through account-based marketing (ABM). The strategy — which Sheinkin and his team have named “ABM Plus Plus” — focuses on two goals. They’re aiming to target specific roles and to harness their ability to capture demand wherever it shows up. The integration between Marketo Engage and Salesforce CRM — paired with IBM Marketing proprietary data science & analytics — now allows IBM to package up those millions of interactions into account intelligence packages. When 3 people from an account go to an event or 17 from another download a white paper, the platform now signals to sellers to follow up with the entire business with relevant experiences. As a result, IBM has seen seven times the value of the leads when sellers are open to interaction alerts on the account level.
“What's ironic is that marketing has had those 150 million interactions for years,” said Sheinkin. “Adobe helps us make better quality interactions, but they were always there. They were just locked away and now they're going to sales every day.”
With IBM’s data now telling a more complete, account-based story, sellers are experiencing a cultural shift. Soon, an enablement programme will teach sellers how to interpret behaviours within an account to better serve businesses looking to transform with IBM.
“There are all these new questions that our sales and marketing team are learning together,” said Sheinkin. “We wouldn't have known enough about the accounts with the way our data used to be organised and we would not have been able to push the information to sales. This is now one of the most powerful things we're doing.”
The real innovation starts now
Sheinkin said from the beginning, “This is not a technology project. This is a business transformation.” To make the transformation a success, Arvind Krishna, chief executive officer at IBM, gave him two goals. The platform had to be up and running within a year and it had to be cost-neutral. This first was achieved through a strong collaboration of Adobe and IBM teams. As for the second, Sheinkin and his team are well on their way. Since the platform launched, IBM has been able to take over $120 million out of the cost of the project by organising, simplifying and automating IBM’s marketing processes.
“Now it's less about maintaining big data centres and more about transforming to become a digital business,” Sheinkin said. “That’s why our IBM consulting team worked with Adobe Consulting on automation and intelligent workflows. They helped us through this transformation for marketing.”
Building IBM’s new technology platform was just the “beautiful basics,” according to Sheinkin. His focus now is on building upon that foundation. Sheinkin’s team will soon be able to work more seamlessly together by implementing Workfront. “People are so excited about the other platforms because the work is better and the user experience is better,” he said. “But Workfront has such a human dimension to it. I do think that in adding it next, people’s lives are going to be better.”
Some of what’s to come is bringing innovation to IBM’s own technology story. Currently, IBM data scientists are exploring the full capabilities of Marketo Engage and how it can interact with IBM Watson and quantum computing.
“We're starting to layer real innovation on top of the basics that I just don't think the world has seen before,” said Sheinkin. “The partnership between Adobe and IBM is one of the only places in the world that this could happen.”