Cordial Chief Revenue Officer Rachel Bergman has spent 20+ years dedicated to growing and scaling world-class, high-growth businesses. In this candid conversation with Annex Cloud’s SVP of Revenue Erin Raese, she dives into everything you need to know about cross-channel marketing, what an omnichannel customer experience really means, how to build a more holistic marketing strategy, and how to leverage first-party data to delight customers every step of the way.
Hello, everybody. Welcome to another edition of Annex Cloud Market Movers. I'm Erin Raese, and today I'm here with Rachel Bergman, Chief Revenue Officer at Cordial. Welcome, Rachel.
Thanks so much for having me.
Thrilled you're here. To start, would you please give us a little bit of background about yourself, and Cordial, and your role there?
Yeah, absolutely. So I've been at Cordial for about six months now, but as with every startup, already feels like several years at this point, but one of the reasons for that too is because I've known some of the founders for a couple of years now, and I've been in this space for a while. So Cordial's a cross channel messaging platform. We focus primarily on email marketing, SMS, MMS, mobile push, and really bringing those channels together for marketers on one platform, but I've also been in this space for a while, very similar type platforms, although more legacy at this point, but I've been doing this for more years than probably you and I like to count at this point in our careers.
Yeah, but it is really fun because when you've been in a single industry for a long period of time, even if you've taken some breaks and moved around a little bit, it's really exciting to see the technological changes over the years. I mean I always say to people that back when we first started with all this in the late 1990s, early 2000s, things were just so much more manual. And although we could do a lot of things with a lot of brute force, now everything is so much more programmatic, so much easier to implement, the technology is just so much more agile that it's really fun working with a platform that's next gen new and where we really have the use of all the newer data technologies that are out there. So it's been really fun to find something old but also see the new in it. So really exciting times at Cordial and in the industry.
I love that. And you made me think back to a long, long time ago, when I first started in doing a one-to-one program when I worked at Hyatt Hotels, and we actually had to build bespoke technology where we were trying to capture survey information from our customers and weave it into ... it was before email, really, it was into letters, and have it come out so that it was something that felt personal, and talk about brute force. It was quite the production, but you're right, we've really come a long way. It's awesome to see.
Yeah, we have. And I think sometimes it's hard to recognize in the day when you're going about your work, but it's fun when you step back and really think about what's changed and what's possible. Yeah, so exciting times to be in technology, for sure.
Yeah, and that leads us to one of the first questions I wanted to delve into is over the last year, we've seen the organizations moving at the speed of light to address the change in everybody's behavior and the way we had to live, and it seems now people are waking up going okay, well I was running so fast, I did all these things, but what next? What are you hearing from clients and how are you coaching them through this next phase of this digital transformation?
Yeah, great question. First, there's so many things in there that are interesting. I mean you're right, this year was different. I mean we can't deny that. And I think so many companies had to accelerate their push to digital because they needed to survive. And obviously, we were all very quick to realize that people were still going to shop and still going to do things, but they were just going to be doing them online or buy online, picking up in store, whatever. I mean everybody had to rethink the way all of that worked. And of course, we saw a lot of the D2C brands really excel during that time, and some brands that just completely exploded. I mean, if you think about the alcohol delivery business and so many others businesses that had their moment during COVID.
But I do think that the interesting thing for all these companies now, and we're talking to our clients about the pseudo post COVID world, a lot of it is about the fact that they acquired a lot of new customers or different types of customers during the past year, year and a half now, and really trying to think about how to make sure they keep those customers. So I think as much as acquisition is always going to be important for companies and our clients are always thinking about that, I think a bigger part of their days is now being spent on thinking about retention and really how they can keep those customers interested as times change, and how they can make sure that they keep those relationships going. And I was actually speaking with a client last week about the fact that they said about 70% of their clients were still only one time purchasers. And as soon as they got to that number was when they really just completely buckled down from a data perspective and said, "We really need to start focusing on loyalty.
Because we're spending all this money to acquire these customers, and then we're seeing them buy once and go away." So I think the advice that we're giving people I think is mostly just to be really thoughtful about what the data is telling us and how we can use that. And I mean everybody's working hard, it's certainly not like anybody's not trying, but this is the time to step out of the comfort zone of we've always had these five channels, or we've always had these messages that we send out and they always generally look like this. I mean, this is the time to really look at your tool set and go what can we be using and what can we be doing? Because we still find, after all these years, that there's still a lot of even simple things I think that a lot of companies are not doing, again that just could make a real difference. So we're just try to get people to inch along, but also maybe think about some breakout moves this year.
That's great. And I think that we have a tendency to all want to go out, and at least, I think as strategists in the space, we think about these big pictures, and here's this big goal of where we could be and what we could be doing, and then when it comes time to implement, you have to start small and you have to try to keep it simple. And you can make really big impact keeping it simple and building up, and I think sometimes that is missed because everybody's got their eye on this great big shiny thing, and the reality is you've got to get back to basics in order to really be effective over time.
Yeah, and I think we see that a lot with clients who, we bring up a bunch of ideas in a quarterly review or whatever it might be, and you get the answer of, "Oh, well once we finish launching this program, we can start thinking about that." It's like, "Well, how long is that going to take?" And it's like, "Oh, well six months to whatever." And it's like you do realize you could start a lot of this now, you could get learnings, you could start getting some data. And I know we're going to talk a lot about that as we go on with this, but you can never start too early with collecting data.
And I think a lot of clients, just they want everything to be perfect before they get to that place, and sometimes it's better to start small, like you said, and just start the process. And then sometimes that actually helps you speed things up because if you start seeing results, and you can garner some more resources, you can put some more time into things that are working, you can test a little bit more. So yeah, absolutely. That's always what we recommend.
No, I love that. And yeah, you teed us up right where I was going to go next, and it is all about the data. And I think where I want to go dovetails to what you were saying earlier too about your customers, where they're only seeing one purchase and not necessarily that repeat purchase. We're seeing everything with the new privacy laws means that a lot of the third party data, the third party cookies are going away. Note that not all cookies are going away, first party is still there, but it's really going to be forcing organizations to really know who their customers are and collecting their data specifically. And it seems, from the conversations I'm having and podcasts I listen to, that organizations really don't know how to do that and how to do it at scale. And curious as to, I mean you guys are there, able to collect that first party data, certainly we are, how are you helping coach your ... What are your customers saying? Are they realizing that this is a challenge or that there's something they've got to address? And then how are you helping them?
It's funny, I think it's on everyone's minds, and like you said, you can't be a marketer at this time and not hear about it, read about it, everything about it. That said, I think there's sometimes a little bit of a disconnect between maybe what we're all hearing and then what we see people acting on in their day to day. But yeah, I mean a lot of what we're recommending now is ... I mean again, it's certainly always been important on your website to try to capture people's information before they leave and to try to figure out who they are. I mean so few customers, I mean depending on the site, but usually so few customers are logging into a website when they first get there before they're making a purchase.
So thankfully, like you said, I mean first party cookies are not going away, so we're still going to be able to do some tracking on actual client sites. But the collection there, making sure that you're just doing a good job of making sure that forms are available at the right time on sites, that you're only serving them up when you do actually need the information. If you already know who somebody is, don't do it again, consider things like popups on exit and things like that. But there's even more. I think the other element of this too is that for so many years we've seen clients really focus, which has been our business certainly, but really focus on collecting email address and maybe worrying about the other stuff later.
And I do think there's an opportunity now maybe to rethink some of that and say we don't want to make 20 fields mandatory when somebody is filling out a form, but if there's any other additional information that you truly would use and that you think is important, I do think that this is the time to at least try to acquire it. And then also, we've seen a shift to more and more companies asking for mobile phone number if they have any kind of SMS programs, either for marketing, or customer service, or both. And we are seeing more and more of a shift to that, and I do think that if companies hadn't already done it, I really think there's not a lot of time to waste at this point to make sure that you get that information, that you get that data so that you have different opportunities to reach the customers in the future.
Yeah, there's an example that actually somebody I speak to at Forrester often, his name's Brendan Witcher, he talks about Stitch Fix all the time and how they collect a ton of data. And said, "I think a lot of businesses are concerned that my customer is not going to give me their data," but for the right reasons, they will. And the Stitch Fix example can take you close to I guess 20 to 30 minutes to complete everything that they're looking for, but people are willing to do it because they're going to deliver things that are perfect for me, the right size, the right type of styles, the right information, and it's going to come right to my door. So it's the convenience factor and the getting it right that's going to make me willing to take that time to do that. And I think organizations need to think about what is it that they can offer their customers that's going to make their lives easier and compelling enough to give that information.
And I think a lot of companies sell themselves short that they may not have that, but they do. People are shopping with you for a reason. Understand that, and I think that that can be a really strong value proposition in and of itself. So it'll be very curious to see how organizations embrace this going forward. As part of that and collecting this data, we're hearing too that how are you delivering consistent and personalized omnichannel experiences? We've been talking about that again for years. It seems like now we're getting to a point that we really can do that, and if you're collecting the first party data, you should be able to do that. How do we get there at scale? And is there anybody that you see right now that is doing it well?
Yeah, it's one of the best questions for people in this industry, because again, it's all possible now. Again, I think it's a little bit of the scary part of today is that I think a lot of marketers are sitting there going I know this is possible, I'm seeing Target, and I'm seeing Sephora, and the brands that we all adore doing these amazing things, and using this data, and stitching together partners in a way that's really making their programs sing. And it is truly possible. It's not easy. I don't think it would be fair to say to a client, "Come on, this is easy to do." That said, I do think that it is truly possible and I do think that, like you said, clients are selling themselves short if they think that it's not at this point.
I mean look, there are brands where they have limited skews, or gifting. There's certainly types of companies where look, the dataset is more limited, the types of things, the types of purchases that people make, but every company really needs to think about their customer's journey or different types of journeys with them, and really completely map that out and figure out how to make that as effective as they can. And again, it's not that it's easy, but if you work with the right partners, I mean I know obviously both of us are coming from vendor partner side, and a lot of it is about finding the right partners to work with. It's not necessarily about just having one that can do everything. Sometimes it is, consolidation's awesome if you find the right partner, but sometimes it's about stitching those things together, putting the onus on yourself as a client that you have to bring these technologists together, but also asking your partners to work together and to make sure that their data can stitch together for their benefit.
But it's hard. I mean we have a couple of clients who are making amazing strides and super valiant efforts. Revolve Clothing is certainly one of the clients that we talk about. It's our crown jewel case study client that we talk about all the time, because they really have spent years, not yesterday, but years. They've never had physical stores, they always had to do this well online, they had to think about things differently from the beginning, but they really do. And they really do look at the cross channel journey, and not necessarily communicating the same exactly across every channel, but thinking about how it's actually different with every channel, and how the customer reacts differently to that media, and not just necessarily plastering the exact same image across every place that they go. So I do think it's fair for us at this point to look at companies that you and I buy from, that we partner with, whatever and say you know what? Not saying it's easy, but it's possible.
And your customer, if they're not already demanding that from you, they're going to be demanding it soon, and certainly if you start requesting additional data from them, you better have a reason to do that. And I think oftentimes, loyalty programs are a good way to go with that because oftentimes you can get a customer to give you additional data if they really understand the give and the take of what they're providing and what it's going to provide back, whether it's discounts or more personalized experience, like with Stitch Fix as the example that you gave. So I do think that it's fine, and again, we've been talking about this for years, but it's time. The partners are there, the technology is there, the customers are demanding it. I think the next few years are going to be really, really interesting.
Yeah. And you make a great point too, made a of great points, but two that I really like, one is if you're going to collect the data, make sure you're going to use it. And then the other piece is omnichannel and having consistent experiences across each channel doesn't mean it's the same image in every juncture, but it's the same consistent messaging, consistent type of personalization, and knowing me and what I would perhaps prefer by channel, if you have the data to understand that, which leads me to, and you brought it up a little bit earlier, and this could potentially take us down a little bit of a tactical rabbit hole, but I'm really curious about it is the whole SMS thing. I think it's a really great tool when used at the right place. I suspect though that people are still hesitant or organizations are as to how to or what are some of the best practices, and how are my customers going to respond to it? And really curious as to what you're seeing and what advice you are giving to brands as they're looking to add this channel to their communications mix.
Look, I mean you have to be thoughtful about it to the point of if you're going to collect the data, you need to use it. It's tricky because you can't really just go oh, I'm going to collect numbers for six months and let them sit on the shelf. It's absolutely not a best practice, and the carriers don't like that, and nobody likes it. So you do need to have a plan, but to our point earlier, it doesn't need to be the most perfect, ideal plan that you've ever had in your life. It could be close. So what we're seeing from clients is definitely an uptick, I would say even just in the past six months. A lot of renewed interest. Again, this has been around for a long time as a channel, and it's gone through, I think, some fits and starts, mostly because I think a lot of companies got excited about it at one point, and then trailed off, and whatever. And you can't. Once you start, you do have to keep up with it, but there's some really cool things that you can do.
I mean besides just, again, look, it's your phone, I mean it's with us all the time, it's something that you check, but I think MMS, the ability to have imagery within these messages has been huge for our clients, having the image of the desk or whatever. I was just getting my MMS from one of our clients, Jerome's Furniture, and they had a really nice, just very simple animated GIF of different types of desks with a link to purchase and whatever. So I think that stuff can be really effective. It doesn't have to be that crazy thought out. There's so much that you can do with customer service with the channel. I mean triggers, somebody abandons a cart, they browse a certain product. I mean you can truly do that type of messaging now, where again, I think in the past it was a bit more static. It was a little more here's my list, and I'm going to send a message to everyone, but the technology now is such that it can be personalized.
I mean not just based on a journey, but also based on somebody's personal information that you've, again, gathered all this data collection that we're talking about. So there's new things that you can do, and I think it is incumbent on clients, and certainly partners, but to really educate themselves on what those possibilities are and about how the channels can be connected together to make an impact. I mean obviously SMS, MMS, I mean these are not cheap channels, I mean they're more expensive, so you really want to be thoughtful. The volume is going to be less. So hopefully it's not going to break the bank, but the impact that these messages can have is oftentimes several times what you could see potentially from an email campaign. So there is definitely a reason to test and a reason to try.
And that's really what we're encouraging clients to do is absolutely have a plan, you absolutely need to do your research. Your partners should be helping you with that. But that getting going with it is not really that complicated, and then you can build on the programs over time. And then, web push, and mobile inbox, and if a client has an app. I mean again, it just gives you a whole other way to communicate and it's still not something that's as pervasive, so I think some of our clients are seeing some pretty nice success with that right now because it's still in little bit of its infancy, just a few years since people really started using it. So there's still a long way to go, there's still a lot of potential, and we really are urging clients to start with it soon if they haven't already, and really just start testing into the channel and making sure that they're there for their customers.
Yeah, great point. And I like the testing and learning perspective, and just get out there, and give it a shot, and see. And you're right, I think from a consumer perspective, scared, I don't want my text stream, if you will, or whatever it's called, to blow up like my inbox has, but when it's the right messages, it's perfect because I can see it, I know it's there, utilizing it for when I take my car in for service. They're sending me the text to let me know it's there. They also send me the survey and how my experience was, and I only have to click a button. So it's a lot easier, it gets done. They're getting a much higher response than if they were to have emailed those things to me. And if they emailed me that my car was ready, I probably wouldn't have seen it until the next day. So those things I think, the immediacy of it, I don't hope we don't lose that in the process.
I agree. And I was just thinking too, I mean there's some cool stuff out there now too. I mean I think again, there's always a new vendor and there's always a new something out there, but there's a lot of cool things that are coming out with one click to buy and things like that where it makes more sense of the channel. I mean again, you want to make sure if somebody is clicking through on an SMS, if they're clicking through to a mobile site that has a good experience and things like that, but you want to make that purchase pretty swift, certainly if you're sending something more triggered. So again, I do think clients need to be thoughtful.
And again, I'm certainly not saying any of this is going to take half of a junior resource to figure out or something like that, but I just think the reward is too great at this point for companies to not be putting in the effort and really putting your resources behind it. And again, if you work with the right partners, they're going to help you. The clients are not in this alone. There are so many good companies to work with out there that can really help them along these journeys. So anymore to go to to learn from each other, but there's still a lot.
Right, and you see it with so many ... You have so many clients and they're all feeling the same way, so you're able to learn from that and to share those experiences with your clients too, and even bringing them together to help them learn from each other, which is great. So we've covered a lot of ground and we've talked a lot about what we've been talking about for years, and being able to deliver these really personalized omnichannel experiences, so to ask this question, I'm curious, where do you see this headed? Are we finally going to get there or is the future state going to look different than what we've been expecting? And now that came out of my mouth, and we're expecting that somebody is going to know me at every touch point, and is that really going to happen? Is that really what we need? What are your thoughts?
I actually enjoy the gig about these types of things. I'm sure you do too. I mean it's kind of fun to think about what could happen. And you're right, it's almost like when you think about the changes with privacy laws and everything, I mean are we almost going backwards in some ways in terms of how we can allow this identification to take place. I mean we're used to picking up our phones, and looking at Facebook, and seeing ads for things that we talked about in the next room. We're getting to the point where that's-
It's true, as creepy as that is.
As creepy as that is, but we're getting to the point where we're expecting that level of personalization and touch. I don't know. I do think it's ... I do think that there are ... I do think that brands need to really think about what it means for their customer. I think there are times where the completely personalized experience is appreciated and necessary, and then there's plenty of other times where you want to be seeing things that are not exactly like what you purchased last time or whatever, and modeling, of course, continues to get better, AI, ML, whatever, but there's something to be said too for just awesome experiences that are more showing you other possibilities and other things that are out there, or even just being funny, or whatever.
So I think you really got to be true to your brand at that point and really understand what the customer wants from you, but if your customer wants that type of personalized experience, and if you're truly capable as a brand of getting the data that would bring that, then I think it's your responsibility almost to do that for the customer. And the technology is there today. Again, there's still a decent amount of effort to stitching it all together and making it all work. I do think that's going to continue to get easier, and maybe that is a big piece of this too is just that marketers are the busiest unsung heroes. I mean they're always overworked and always understaffed no matter what.
Because there's always more we can do.
There's always more to do. There's always more to do, which is cool, but scary and distressing all at the same time. But I think that the technology will continue to allow companies to do more with less and we'll just continue to find ways to make this easier. And that's a lot, if you think about it, I'm sure you're thinking about too is just not only how we can build the next thing that's going to make a difference to our clients and their customers, but also how to make it easier to do. So not watering it down so that the functionality isn't there, but making it so that you truly can execute these types of customer journeys without taking out your whole team to do it. So I think that's on us, and I think that that's going to be a big part of this is continuing to make it more turnkey for the marketer. Do you guys think about that too on your side?
Oh yeah. We're built that way, in a sense. We are, as you know, very partner focused. We have over a hundred predefined integrations with various tech partners for the sole reason to be able to be that backbone for a client's tech stack. So be able to take this first party data in and then be able to push it out into all these different places to hopefully deliver on that omnichannel experience in a more personalized way. And so yeah, we think about it a lot. How do we make it easier? How can we include more? People think about loyalty and I think they think about e-comm or POS, and we extend into the whole social area. So if you want to manage your influencers, you can do that with our platform. We're constantly thinking of how we can get into and connect with their customer at all their touch points. So 100%.
And I'm not sure I've heard it put that way, but I really like it, it's really on us as the technology partners to be thinking that way to make it easier for our customers. And I think that's really key. I really liked that. I'm going to steal it and use it. All right, well thank you so much for your time today. As a wrap-up question, I always love to pay it forward, so wanted to ask you what advice would you give to those who are looking to navigate today and into the future based on the experiences you've had so far?
Sure. I think if we wrap up a lot of what we just talked about. I mean I think it's thinking about the customer journey, keeping it simple yet also upping that game of bet, I think, all the time, and really thinking about what's possible. And again, I think looking for the partners that are going to help you get there. There's so many different options out there. There's so many different ways that you can go. Again, we think it's our job, you think it's your job to make it easier for them, to help them on that journey, to put them together with like clients, to be constantly thinking about things that are going to make their days easier but their customers' lives better. So I really just urge clients to work hard and to really think about what they can do with their programs.
There's pretty much always something more you could do. I mean when have we gone into a meeting with a client and been like you've done it all? I mean I've seen clients come close, but there is always something more, and I do think it's about prioritizing, really thinking about what's going to be most important, but constantly moving that bar, and really testing into things, and learning about the customer journey and really what makes a difference, and then putting your effort there and doing more with it. So I just encourage clients to really understand what's out there and what they can do, and then prioritize well and test into what's going to make the biggest difference for their customer, because there are so many choices out there for customers. It's very rare that you have a monopoly as a company in terms of your customer's attention, so you got to put in the work. But I do think that if you find the right partners, the right solutions, the right team, that it can make all the difference.
We're in this together.
We are. we sure are. Everybody. Yep, definitely.
Find the partners that you can relate to that way and are there to watch out for you, for sure. I love it. Great, well anything else that you'd like to tell the audience or share?
This was great. I think hopefully people can find a nugget in there somewhere, but I really appreciate it. This was fun.
Yeah, I think so too. Thank you so much. Thank you.
SVP of Marketing and Partnerships
Chief Revenue Officer, Cordial
Since 2010, Annex Cloud has provided industry leading loyalty solutions to more than 250 leading brands and retailers, including Jenni Kayne, Hewlett-Packard, Bed Bath & Beyond, e.l.f. Cosmetics, Olympus, Sugarfina, Mizuno, MacKenzie-Childs, VF Corp., with the ability to engage tens of millions of their customers one-to-one at scale.
The Annex Cloud platform provides fully integrated Customer Loyalty, Referral Marketing, and User Generated Content (UGC) solutions that seamlessly work together to optimize the customer journey and deliver a unified customer experience that is designed to accelerate revenue growth, retain valuable customers, increase average order values (AOV) and drive repeat order frequency.
Founded in 2014, Cordial is the intelligent cross-channel marketing platform. Brands use Cordial to collect all their unstructured customer and business data from wherever it lives in the tech stack, and use that data to build audience segments, discover trends and insights, and automate hyper-personalized customer experiences at enterprise scale. Cordial partners with brands like Backcountry, Revolve, Eddie Bauer, and 1-800 Contacts to help drive revenue growth through higher revenue per message and customer lifetime value.
To learn more about Cordial, visit cordial.com