Matthaus Bognar on personalization, AI and the data-driven approach in eCommerce

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This time we met with Matthaus Bognar to talk about the growing role of personalization in building trust and engagement of buyers. Along with our host, Marcos Bravo C., we ask him about connecting different types of data and using AI-powered tools to understand users’ needs and deliver them personalized communication.

Matthaus is Head of Global Enterprise and Business Development at Nosto, one of the leading providers of personalization solutions. Based in Finland, the company moved its focus from European to global markets in the past years. Matthaus observed with fascination the diverse behaviors of users in Europe and the U.S., and matches them with different approaches of companies using personalization. 

Is personalization a magic button that will answer the needs of your clients? How do brands in the U.S. and Europe approach omnichannel and personalization? How do they use data and AI to adjust solutions to various user behaviors? How to start using personalization in the business without investing millions? What is the right way of working with behavioral data and transaction data? And what is the role of experiments, on-site recommendations and A/B testing in creating a unique and personalized user experience?

You will find the answers to the above questions, and tips on how to implement tools for personalization in your eCommerce in this episode of eCommerce Talks. 

eCommerce Talks – video:

eCommerce Talks – podcast:

eCommerce Talks – transcription:

Marcos Bravo C.: Well thank you guys for coming back. We are with one of our friends Matthaus Bognar from Nosto. Thank you for being with us today Matthaus. First, I will ask you what I asked most of our guests. If you can introduce yourself and give us a little background of how you ended up being now head of global marketing in Nosto. 

Matthaus Bognar: Yeah, well, thanks again for the invitation and thanks for being able to take part. So my name is Matthaus, I’m the head of enterprise global and business development international for Nosto. Nosto is one of the leading personalization providers from Finland, with right now over 3,000 retailers in over 100 countries and well, how did I end up in there? So I guess, for the last couple of years I’ve always been in the personalization industry, working for two other major players, DACH orientated and UK orientated. And I think with the experience and the network and also the campaigns, what we have achieved with those retailers, that helped basically getting myself into this role. And also stepping up now looking after the whole enterprise approach for Nosto, which is very interesting…

– …really, really excited, you are… 

– …definitely. It’s like, it’s so interesting that for the last couple of years, like, the focus for the ecosystems were, like, Europe focused and now it’s global and it’s, like, very interesting to see how the different eCommerce markets are set up, how they’re operated, what kind of players are out there, what kind of new technologies are getting developed right now. And there’s a lot of movement around eCommerce and anything related to omnichannel and yeah, it’s very interesting. 

– I mean, it’s very interesting what you guys are doing … I mean, it’s this concept of the personalization of the experience for the customer. It obviously has to effect, when you, say, personalize something for a U.S. customer versus a European customer – it is a completely different animal. 

– It is, but then again, sometimes you do have similarities, so for example like a fashion retailer in the USA will have more or less similar challenges and problems, let’s say to a fashion retailer from Italy or Poland or Germany, but then you always have to look on an individual level, because customer/client ideas are different. They serve a little bit different around: people in Germany may have a different anticipation on how to use, let’s say internet versus people in America. There it’s more open, there is more free, people don’t really think about the consequences of sharing their data anywhere, where it’s like in Germany everybody is quite paranoid with the GDPR and so it’s quite interesting to see the different mentalities and also like what people are trying to accomplish with eCommerce. 

– Now I mean a lot of people watched our series, they’re CTOs, people who are very well trained in the tech world, but for the ones that are not understanding very well how you personalize a customer journey, it’s not that you’re, I mean this is an internal joke, but it’s not that your phone is actually listening to you, trying to, like, learn more from you, but at the same time it is somehow.

– Well so the thing is we’re not the CIA, but what we’re doing is we have built a personalization platform, which the goal has or the goal is to empower retailers to do personalization more easily. And when you look at Amazon, when you look at Netflix, when you look at Google, like, for the last couple of years, there has been more and more personalization invested and ongoing and this is what the users are more and more expecting from retailers as well. But the thing is you don’t want to invest millions of dollars in building something yourself and then you’re not maintaining it and it’s not your core business. I mean it’s not as easy as a lot of people think, that by building a recommendation the topic of personalization is done. 

So what we’re doing is we have invested quite a lot into our AI and what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to connect different data siloses together and actually make retailers use the data from customers they already have to do better personalization. And the way how we do it is basically that our AI analyzes the behavioral data and the transactional data, puts it together, enriches segments and customer life cycles and gives those informations back to every CTO or even CMO, to say “Look your first buying customer life cycles or clients have a totally different interaction on the website versus returning customers or VIP customers”. And a lot of times these kind of insights are not known and you’re, like, experimenting around and you think like “In that area that’s where we should be focusing on”, but when you really start looking at the correlations between products related to each other or customer life cycles or brand affinities, like somebody who loves Nike doesn’t necessarily want to see Adidas products and, like, has a totally different spirit about life and you know how they see themselves, and so navigating in an online shop. That’s what we’re really trying to accomplish with the AI, to really visualize this data and then use those segments and use those data on an automated way to do content personalization, to do on-site recommendations, to do A/B testing, to do category personalization and so on. And that’s actually quite successful.

– I mean, as a marketer, that’s amazing. You’ll be saving me tons of time, because one of the wrong concepts that people have right now, is that well as a marketing team, as a CMO, as a whatever involved in marketing, we’ll have to try everything until you find what sticks, right? 

– I mean the thing is personalization is not a magic button, which you activate and then you go on holidays and everything is gonna run smoothly, right? 

– “I made a million of dollars!”

– So yeah, I mean that would really be amazing, but the thing is personalization is like SEO. You have to constantly experiment, you have to constantly try things out. And I wouldn’t actually recommend, like, personalizing the whole web traffic hundred-percent, you should be doing clever on segments where you see that there’s possibilities of improvements, where you have a lot, a high bounce rate, where you have a basket abandonment rate, where you see that people, you know, are still undecided about what they want to do. And the thing is that with the technology from us and also with the other retailers in the same industry, what we all are trying to accomplish is that we want to empower the online marketing manager, the CTO’s also to focus on their projects, but have it have on the other hand a very flexible and easy to use tool and partner who challenges you on a daily basis to say. Does that really make sense, what you’re right now doing with your customer data and with your customer experiences? Or would it not be better to maybe have two customer experiences, Adidas versus Nike and then you have a third one which is neutral traffic. And without having to invest resources for the next coming sprints, but actually to be quite independent and test and try a lot of things out with us and then maybe to build it after, in-house with your own development, once we know that it has been proven. 

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– Actually, I was gonna go there, because one of the things that we talked about a lot on the show, is externalizing your own services or trying to build your own team. As a founder of a big company, I can just call you guys, call Nosto, and ask for help with personalizing these products or figure out how to sell this better, but if one of our CTOs are watching right now and it’s a two people or three people company, where should he or she start looking?

 – With personalization in general?

– Exactly! What kind of human talent should they be looking for to join them?

– Well, so again, personalization is a very big topic like SEO, sort of different areas where you should be focusing on. I think as general advice, what you should be doing is to implement as a very first step recommendation and to find a partner or technology who is not just limited on one logic, but has a lot of logic behind it. Like fallback logics to say “Okay we detect based on the user behavior”, this is a new customer , this is a returning customer, should we for example promote best sellers or let’s say stuff like products on stock or on sale, maybe products with a certain margin, maybe products connected to colors or size. And in terms of going forward, then once you have, like, more brand managers who really look after like product categories or brands, that’s when it starts making sense to also think about content personalization, to really start building custom experiences around, let’s say Nike or Adidas, right? 

So that you have the people and the emotions in the actual online journey of the customer and really connect them to a brand, with user-generated content, with other impulses, which help the customers to make the decision on do I want to buy this or not and there are really cool fantastic companies out there. And then in terms of the ideal candidates, I think people who are on one side really into marketing, but also a little bit data-driven, because you do have to look at the data or one extent, you don’t have to be a google analytics Pro, I would say, but you know as long as you have a good understanding on what data consumption means and you have the marketing spirit and I think that’s the right kind of candidates what you should be looking for personalization. 

– I completely agree and sometimes marketing professionals, they forget that people will not buy, if they don’t trust your brand. So the personalization is something that it finds the right way to touch the emotional buttons of our customer and then trying to hook them up with a product. 

– I think one of the biggest mistakes what we see is, a lot of times… and this is not really department specific, this can come from marketing, this can come from the tech teams, is that you build a lot of things which you think is the right approach. But it’s not necessarily what your customers are expecting and you’re not using the data which you already have on the side, and then you make decisions, where you say “Well I wouldn’t build it like this because I wouldn’t use it”, but then in reality if you would look at the data, it actually tells a totally different story. 

– I mean, you might not be your customer target, right?

– Exactly! So this is something where we see a lot of mistakes getting done or happening, but you know, if you compare eCommerce ten years ago to today, there has been so many changes – it’s amazing what’s happening, this is also why I love being in this industry and yeah it’s challenging and interesting.

– That’s crazy. Before we go, I always try to ask our guests to recommend something for the people who’re watching right now. So, for example, I would love to ask you… you’ve been in most conferences in Europe, for our CTOs and people who are in Europe right now, they plan to come to Europe. What should be the three top conferences they should attend, relating to eCommerce?

– So, again, this is I think ecosystem specific. If we talk about the DACH area, then my – I would say three top… threes which I definitely would recommend is the “Online marketing rockstars” in Hamburg. That’s quite a fresh, unique approach, there’s a lot about networking, a lot about discussing business, but then actually not discussing business there, but really just making sure the networking goals, with a lot of partying. Then the K5 in Berlin, that’s more the elite group I would say, more the… when it really comes down to business and networking, but it’s a little bit more stricter, I would say, and it’s really about the actual topics what you’re trying to fix. And e DMEXCO, because DMEXCO it’s been there on the market for years, it’s the dinosaur, it’s – everybody who’s looking up to it, you have to be there. 

– It’s a tradition. 

– Even if you don’t want to be, it’s the tradition and definitely the DMEXCO, which is not just that focus but also international focus. And then you have other events like in Spain and in the UK, so it really depends on what market to focus on, but definitely DMEXCO, I would say, for Europe and then if you look at the DACH focus as an example, Online Marketing and K5 for sure. But  then there are many other fantastic events as well. And there would be a very long list to go for every single one.

– Well, Matthaus, thank you so much for coming to sit down with us for a bit.

– Yeah, no worries.

– I hope we can have you again and thank your everybody for watching.

– Thanks.

Events and conferences recommended by Matthaus Bognar:

Online Marketing Rockstars in Hamburg –   

K5 in Berlin – 

DMEXCO in Cologne –


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Published September 1, 2019