Local boutique data services company SPEAKDATA has paddled out to catch the next big MarTech wave, quickly positioning itself as a leader in Customer Data Platforms (CDPs). Managing Director, Paul Hickey, explains how the pandemic gave the company the space required to pivot the business towards the future and emerge stronger than ever.
Back in 2013 when SpeakData was founded, marketing automation was the new exciting thing in the MarTech space and marketers in New Zealand and all over the world were soon clamouring to get into it.
Over the next five years, the SpeakData team became highly skilled in this field, supported by expertise in data management, integration, business intelligence and analytics. Between 2017 and 2019, SpeakData dominated the NZ Direct Marketing Awards with 32 awards, including 15 Golds, two Supreme Nexus and one Grand Prix Award for its data-driven marketing work with various clients.
By mid-2019 the company was peaking. It had a solid reputation, good clients and was very proficient in Marketo, a very popular marketing automation software. It had even been approached by several larger organisations interested in buying the business.
Yet, despite being in this fortunate position, winning new business seemed to be getting harder and slower. Why?
It was a hard pill to swallow, but marketing automation was no longer the sexy new thing it had been. So Paul and his co-founder, Frane Karaman, decided it was time for the business to pivot into a new direction.
“The thing about new MarTech trends is that they come in waves and like a surfer you try to catch them. But plainly that particular wave had now crashed,” Paul says.
That wasn’t the only problem. Client IT teams were cracking down on allowing external firms to handle their customer data.
“Catastrophic data breaches were becoming daily news around the world. A lot of big New Zealand companies, even government departments were being hacked. To deliver value, we’d always needed clients to give us access to their customer data so that we could put it to work in new ways. But now their IT people were requiring demonstrable proof of information security that we just couldn’t provide.”
The team had also become aware of a new category of emerging software called Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) that was becoming popular in the US, Europe and Australia.
“Hardly anybody in New Zealand was using a CDP but … it seemed inevitable to us that it would come here,” he says. Were Kiwi firms ready for a whole new MarTech wave?
The 2019 Mood of Marketing Report showed that New Zealand marketers’ biggest challenges were “using customer data to provide more relevant experiences” and “creating a single unified view of the customer across the organisation”. Their biggest barrier was “siloed data”. It seemed the elusive Single Customer View was still out of reach to most marketers.
SpeakData recognised early that CDPs offer a privacy-compliant solution to these challenges. They combine all siloed customer data, both anonymous and identified, across an organisation into single shareable and actionable profiles in real time.
With poor quality data costing companies an average of $15 million annually worldwide, this is game changing for businesses operating in a market that demands more personalisation as well as more privacy and security, all while facing the demise of the third-party cookie.
It soon became clear that CDPs could potentially put SpeakData out of business and so it was a case of “if you can’t beat them, join them” Paul says. CDPs were obviously coming, but clients would need a lot of help to implement them and extract value from the change.
Paul and Frane saw the opportunity to build on their existing people and skills to catch this next software wave, if only they had the time and headspace to do so. By the end of 2019 they had a plan to make three important changes for the following year.
These were to (a) become a specialist in implementing CDPs, (b) get an international certification for information security and (c) invest further in data science capability.
“We reasoned that if we specialised into CDPs and got our information security certification, then clients should see the value in us to accessing, enriching and activating their customer data. Plus the CDP would give us access to great real time data for business intelligence and AI predictions. All of a sudden it was all starting to click together.”
And then Covid hit.
“Like a lot of businesses, our client project work dried up and finances got tight,” says Paul. “But on the plus side, we suddenly had the time and space to execute our big pivot!”
So instead of laying off staff, hunkering down and waiting for things to return to normal, the SpeakData crew got busy.
Frane took half the team and set to work on getting the global ISO 27001 information security certification, with the goal of becoming more attractive to IT departments and government entities in particular.
“We invested $100K and nearly 10,000 hours to completely reengineer all our processes and policies, orienting everything around information security.”
By October 2020 they had achieved the certification, a feat virtually unheard of for such a small firm. “It was an exhausting but amazing effort,” Paul says.
Paul and the other half of the team were tasked with learning everything they could about CDPs. Along the way they decided partner with one of the world’s top CDP vendors, Tealium, due to some great existing relationships and because its broad suitability for a wide range of clients and situations.
Things started to look up in early 2021 when an existing client, Education NZ, decided to accept SpeakData’s proposal to implement Tealium CDP.
“That’s what broke it open for us,” Paul says. “Up until then we had been talking about CDPs but now we were doing it. In the meantime several of our staff had become certified Tealium consultants. We’ve now had seven people certified by Tealium.”
Not long after, the team won e-commerce supplements company MitoQ and the Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand, both keen to implement Tealium CDP.
“Working with SpeakData has been amazing – they’ve helped us understand the amazing capabilities of the CDP, and continue to come up with innovative use-cases that are having a huge impact on our ability to find new customers and engage existing ones so much more effectively,” says Shaun Price, MitoQ Head of Customer Acquisition.
And then the big one. In early 2022 SpeakData won a competitive pitch to implement Tealium CDP across Te Pūkenga – New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology, the government’s merger of 24 polytechnics and industry training organisations into one combined nationwide entity.
Once complete, this two year project will be New Zealand’s biggest ever CDP implementation and will build a single customer view from an estimated 130 different data feeds from 25 newly integrated business divisions.
“It’s a big deal and really important to New Zealand because Te Pūkenga is determined to help the underserved members of society into tertiary education and job training, helping to build a better workforce and make our country more productive. The idea of doing good for our country is really exciting to our staff,” Paul says.
“CDP work has also stretched us to deliver value in new areas. For instance, a few years ago, we only worked with identified customer data. Now we love anonymous data too because it’s high volume and reveals the crucial early steps in a customer journey. We’ve acquired new skills and new staff who are specialists in that area.”
SpeakData aren’t standing still in marketing automation either. The company recently signed a partnership agreement with Braze, another hot new omnichannel platform that integrates particularly well with Tealium.
Clearly, SpeakData’s big pivot is starting to pay dividends. “We are probably the most experienced implementer of CDPs in New Zealand right now,” Paul says.
With its team of certified Tealium consultants supported by marketing automation, engineering, analytics, data science and strategy teams, SpeakData has emerged from the pandemic as Tealium’s only New Zealand-based partner fully certified to implement its CDP software. With their global information security credentials on top, SpeakData have a very credible and competitive proposition for organisations with customer data problems.
“We made a very brave leap of faith in 2019 to re-engineer our business to catch a
MarTech wave that hadn’t even arrived yet. Three years later, our selection for the massive Te Pūkenga project has validated that decision. We’re back!”
This article was originally published in the September/October 2022 issue of NZ Marketing.