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Christoph Gerber, Talon.One: “a solution that fits a business right now will likely be out of date within six months”

In order to grow, enterprises have to constantly explore new ways how to equip their employees for success. But they have to make a tough decision – to build in-house apps or to buy already-made software solutions.

Most of the time, choosing a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution is the best choice, as it provides many useful benefits – primarily lower costs, less strain on human resources, and flexibility. With it, teams receive the power of best-of-class features, without any additional work.

To learn more about the usefulness of SaaS, promotions-as-a-service tools, and the reasoning behind adding game-like elements to the marketing industry, Cybernews team reached out to Christoph Gerber – CEO of a promotion software company called Talon.One.

Tell us about your journey throughout the years. How did the idea of Talon.One come about?

My background is as a founder and, coming from a product and marketing executive role, I understand the types of trouble that businesses face. The idea behind Talon.One is based on something I noticed while at Lieferando, the German food delivery company I co-founded. We were using a lot of promotions in our marketing, it was a big element in how we stayed at the top in a really competitive industry. At that time, we were a relative upstart, so we had to be really nimble to compete.

However, there was a big disconnect between the features marketing would request and what developers were producing. I felt that we had to develop a solution that allowed campaigns that were easier and more flexible for marketing teams.

Once we got it right, it was really effective. We had competitors wondering how we were able to produce the variety and targeting of promotions we were running, especially with the relatively low budgets we had. So after the company’s IPO, when I decided to look for a new entrepreneurial challenge, I kept coming back to this idea that there is a real measurable benefit to getting promotions right — and it’s something that more companies would benefit from. And that’s why I decided to start Talon.One back in 2015.

Can you tell us a little bit about your promotion engine? What are its key features?

Product and development teams in the current market are faced with a “build or buy” decision for a number of pain points — and are increasingly turning to software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. This gives teams the ability to have industry-leading features, without having to start from scratch.

The Talon.One Promotion Engine is a promotions-as-a-service tool. Companies integrate Talon.One into their wider tech stack, and we power their promotion, loyalty, and referral systems. At the heart of Talon.One is our Rule Engine, which uses “If This Then That” statements to build layered campaign logic, which can be used for any kind of promotional campaign that a marketing team can dream up.

This is because we can talk to any other system via our API, which means that once Talon.One is integrated and “taught” what data or events mean in our clients’ worlds, any potential customer action, attribute, or touchpoint can be turned into a hook for incentives or rewards.

We see clients using promotions for all kinds of things, such as gamifying user onboarding, incentivizing more environmentally friendly consumption choices, or powering complex loyalty systems. Something that’s increasingly popular is using rewards to incentivize behaviors that aren’t directly related to sales, such as car-sharing apps giving bonuses if you charge the vehicle. In that way, brands can use promotions to attract their ideal customers, but they can also shape their behaviors and build better communities by providing the right "nudge".

What other company processes do you think would greatly improve by implementing automation?

When thinking about automation, the most important element is freeing up people to do their best jobs. Automation is great at handling routine or logical tasks, but people have the creative ability to do ingenious things.

Any part of a company that is struggling with silos, information blockages, or communication difficulties is ripe for automation.

As companies grow and teams can grow more specialized, collaboration with other departments becomes more challenging. If a team has ownership over a tool and that tool doesn’t work together properly with the other tools the company is using, the same usually goes for the team themselves. Automation should improve communication with other departments — for both the technology and the people. As a result, life is easier for everyone.

No department truly works in isolation. That’s the mentality we’ve taken while building Talon.One, is that by improving communication and automating tasks, you free up team members to focus on what they do best. To do their jobs well, marketers need to communicate with logistics, reporting, web design, and product engineers. Empowering a promotions team is not just about creating an intuitive interface or simpler workflows, it’s about enabling a more connected way of working.

How did the recent global events affect your field of work?

Every industry is still feeling the effects of COVID-19. There was a shift in priorities for both businesses and customers. Lots of companies had to immediately switch from being heavily invested in retail or wholesale to dealing directly with consumers. This is a huge change, both in terms of mentality — but also technology. This saw a huge turn towards microservices and the entire headless ecosystem, as brands wanted a quick pivot towards direct-to-consumer (DTC). Using microservices was a no-brainer when it comes to time-to-market. There are plenty of global brands that simply wouldn’t have been able to reinvent themselves in the necessary time if the microservices ecosystem hadn’t matured around this time.

Our customer WeShare is a car-sharing app founded in 2019 which obviously was hit hard at the start of 2020.With Talon.One they were able to quickly create campaigns offering unique, experiential incentives for drivers who took trips to safe outdoor spaces. Their users actually increased despite the lockdown and their referrals increased by 53% from their old approach.

Personalization is also much more of a priority than before. Not only do many more customers expect it — after being forced to move their shopping online — but it also helps a lot in spreading demand across a product range. The benefit of personalization is that businesses get a clear idea of what appeals to each customer while getting better at suggesting alternatives if something is out of stock.

What are some of the most common issues new online business owners face nowadays?

For every business, one of the first questions developers, product managers, or founders are asking themselves is “to buy or to build”? This is a question we’re seeing constantly from firms that reach out to us. That’s because there are companies in the start-up phase, heavily investing in customer acquisition campaigns, that are using tech stacks that are almost entirely off-the-shelf — perhaps with some bespoke code to make things play nice with one another.

And on the other side of these disruptive newcomers, big enterprise brands want to add an element of that flexibility to their operations. For these big global firms, scalability and flexibility are key.This is because a solution that fits a business’ requirements right now will likely be totally out of date within six months. The strategy will have moved on, even if technical requirements have not. There needs to be constant, involved communication between developers and other departments — not to just implement new features but to provide support and training.

That initial distraction from the core product never really goes away. Teams can get bogged down in “mission creep” where they are always trying to fix or upgrade functions that aren’t core competencies. With the best third-party service, you’re using something created by a team entirely focused on that process. They’ve already solved the problems that you don’t even know you’re going to encounter yet. I think we’ll continue to see more investment in the SaaS space as more firms realize this.

What other marketing tools do you believe can greatly enhance one’s operations?

It’s less about individual tools and more about a change of mindset. Talon.One is designed to be API-first, allowing easy communication between systems. And we’re investing heavily in building partnerships with other companies in the ecosystem, through initiatives such as the MACH alliance, which stands for Microservice-based, API-first, Cloud-native, and Headless.

By combining best-in-class microservices, we think that tech teams can build holistically rather than getting locked into the “monolithic” approach that used to dominate enterprise. It’s a different mentality, for us, on the selling side and for our clients on the buying side. It’s working together with companies instead of seeing everyone as a competitor. At the end of the day, if the clients are getting excellent tools and seeing great results, it’s a win-win for everyone.

And when we’re working with our clients, we see ourselves as a sparring partners, where we can help to guide their promotion strategy and also help them find the tools to get the most out of their systems.

For instance, our customer Jüsto is the leading online-only supermarket in Latin America. They needed to quickly build a lot of personalized promotions and easily communicate them to their customers. To do this, they used our integration with Braze, a customer engagement platform focused on multi-channel marketing. This project allowed them to both create a huge amount of ultra-specific rewards for their customers while communicating these rewards at just the right time in their customer journey, combining what both services do best to realize their vision.

Talking about cybersecurity, what would you consider to be the best practices organizations should follow nowadays?

In terms of taking care of cybersecurity, not storing customer data that’s not needed is key. You should keep the information about each user to the absolute minimum you require for your business ends. At Talon.One we don’t require personally-identifying information to function, and in fact, we tell clients to avoid doing this. That’s a good rule of thumb when dealing with any third party.In terms of internal security, making sure each user has the correct permissions and user privileges to do their job is very important. If you don’t have these safeguards in place and every user has access to everything, your security is only as good as the least careful person on staff. You should always make sure that any third party you are considering has detailed roles and permissions functions built-in.

Another key concern is logging, especially when you’re dealing with SaaS tools. Always check that any tool you’re considering has full audit logs, so you can be sure that — in the unfortunate event that something goes wrong — you have full visibility into what happened.

How do you think the marketing industry is going to evolve in the next few years?

Customers are increasingly demanding, in terms of personalization and user experience. There's so much competition in every industry, especially online. Brands need to look at how they distinguish themselves. With personalization, it's a massive incentive for customers to keep coming back if they know their experience will improve every time. Every brand is going to be fighting to create a sense of shared history with a customer and personalization is the way to do it.

Gamification is another great way to create a more engaging experience. Adding game-like elements to your brand, like earning loyalty points for certain activities, encourages customers to stick around by keeping their attention and adding a return on their investment.

We’re seeing brands in industries that wouldn’t traditionally have used gamification, such as fintech companies, starting to implement these tactics. For investment and banking apps, Know Your Customer is such a key part of the onboarding process — but it’s also a huge source of drop-off. As your company grows, you need to explore ways to equip your tech stack with best-practice software solutions in order to embrace all aspects of customer experience in a growingly digital market.

Almost every tech-related decision of your firm starts with a build vs. buy dilemma, making you decide to build custom applications in-house or buy software from vendors that have already developed the solution you need.

Flying the onboarding process, and adding fun loyalty elements, brands are improving their onboarding process and ending up with more engaged customers. We’ve seen great impacts in the buy now, pay later industry in particular.

And finally, what’s next for Talon.One?

Our focus is on helping other businesses develop a more holistic approach to how they do promotions. Brands with separate and disconnected strategies for customer acquisition, activation, and retention aren't getting a clear picture of their customer’s journeys — and what their motivations might be. There's a lot of missed potential when these processes are siloed. Customers feel it too.

A promotion strategy should be built for the full journey a customer has taken with the brand, not just where they are right now. Brands need to embrace continuity and consistency through campaigns and channels. This way, they can build a complete picture of their customers while making their connection to those customers much stronger.

To get brands on board with this, tools need to work together while being straightforward to use. That's why we're also putting a lot of focus on our partnerships right now. It's crucial for Talon.One to be part of an ecosystem of powerful microservices that actually integrate smoothly. Brands really realize the potential of Talon.One when they're seeing how powerful we are when used with other services.

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