Ep. 22: Building A Customer Insights Engine with Annabel Youens
SaaS Marketing Insights Episode 22: Annabel Youens, Appreciation Engine
It’s unlikely you have ever heard of Appreciation Engine yet 64% of the music industry use the customer insights engine to understand customers and music fans. Co-Founder and CMO Annabel Youens explains how the SaaS platform works and their plans for the gaming industry and beyond.
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Episode 22 Transcript
Paul: On today’s show, I have an interview with Annabel Youens, Co founder and CMO at Appreciation Engine. Hope you enjoy it.
I’m with Annabel Youens, Co founder and CMO at Appreciation Engine.
Annabel: It’s a mouthful, isn’t it? We like to say AE.
Paul: Very good, and you’re saying that you are rebranding AE?
Paul: Okay. So Annabelle, tell us what Appreciation Engine is.
Annabel: It’s a customer insights platform. So when we started building AE, we were noticing out there, there was a lot of fans and customers that are doing all this word of mouth marketing online. And it was very hard to capture that as a business. You know, is this Twitter person, the same person as this person on Facebook? How do you piece that all together? And how do you recognise those key fans or customers that you should be focusing your energy on. So we created an engine that allows you to get your customers to basically opt in and register. And then our engine behind the scenes goes through their profiles and picks up key information that you care about as a business, so that you can have a snapshot of your customer, that actually changes in real time.
So I like to think of it as you know, in the old days, you get an email address, and you’d stick them on a newsletter list and be like they are forever on this newsletter list until they unsubscribe. You know, we have the technology now to go ‘oh this person is actually a living breathing person whose preferences change’. And so that’s what the engine does, it can track that so that you can go Oh, actually, this person needs to be segmented into this list now. And when you think about it, from the customer’s point of view, you know, we’re tired of those emails that are the same old stuff. And it’s like, you open it, you’re like, this isn’t even… this doesn’t relate to me in any way. And as a business, you need to actually strengthen those relationships with your customers, and actually give them the information that they care about. I know it’s a big lofty goal for us to really think about that customer relationship and being so dynamic, but it is possible with today’s technology. And that’s really what we’re trying to help businesses do and brands is understand their customers, so they can deliver them better services, better marketing messages, and in return, you know, get better ROI for everything that they’re doing.
Paul: So how did it start off? So you’re one of the Co founders, whos the other?
Annabel: So the other Co founder is Jeff, who’s our CTO, he’s also my husband. And we started the business because we wanted to get into music, right? Who doesn’t want to work in the music space?
Paul: So cool, So much money haha.
Annabel: Yeah, oh, yes haha, so much money, yes. Um, but we started in music, because we wanted to work with bands and help them understand their fans better, really. So we built this engine underneath it, and we raise some seed money and actually set up offices in Santa Monica. So we were in California for five years. And when we were down there, we were literally up the road from Universal Music Group. And it was that Kismet thing where you meet the right person who was like, we’re trying to understand our fans better. And we presented what our engine could do. And leave who’s lovely was like, Well, I don’t believe you, here is some customer data, run it through your engine.
And we can actually show him that these insights. So they could say see that a customer has signed up on the Justin Bieber site. But actually, the top artists that they’re listening to is Lady Gaga at the moment. So all of a sudden, their fan insights have exploded, because they’re able to tailor and personalise. So UMG was our first enterprise customer, and we did a trial. And then that went to a global licence. So all the labels globally use our technology. And then, year and a half ago, we got Sony Music, entertainment, as well. So they use us globally with all their labels, which is so exciting. And they’re really trying to, you know… the music industry is one of those ones that kind of didn’t keep up with the times, right, the technology changes. And there’s a lot of innovative people there at these labels, who are wanting to trial different things, and, you know, really talk to fans better.
So it’s been a really amazing ride. But I never thought we would end up with this pivot and sort of the customer insights layer, I really thought we were going to be direct to consumer, and sort of build out these fan experiences. But at the end of the day, you know, like, it makes sense for business, they want to own the customer. They want to have that direct relationship with their fans or their customers. So we’re really that white label service that sits behind the scenes helping them do that work.
Paul: Right. So you started off, specifically in the music industry. Now are you saying you have a wider scope?
Annabel: Yeah. We have, you know, almost 64% of the music industry, when you look at what’s out there, what we’re missing is all sort of the independent labels, management companies. And that’s where we first started with AE, so it’s very close to my heart. So we’re actually sort of submarine testing at the moment a self service platform for those groups. Because they have said to us over the past few years, we want to use your engine, I’m like, hang on we got to plug things in for an enterprise customer, right. So we need to build you a platform. So you can do it yourself right with your Mailchimp hook in and your different hook ins that you need, you know, your Google Analytics hook in.
So we’re building a self service platform. But at the same time, we’re sort of moving into our next vertical, which is gaming. So the idea is that, you know, we move into gaming, we start working with enterprise customers to understand the dynamics there, what are those issues that they have, and then take those learnings and then again, tweak the self service platform to suit smaller publishing houses and gaming groups, so that then they can use the engine as well. And that’s kind of the strategy that we’ve been developing is that, you know, it’s that classic marketing things like understand your customer, and then deliver what they want. So being able to use our enterprise customers, to figure out those key points. It’s been really key for us.
Paul: And you say that very first client was just down to more luck than anything else. Right person right time?
Annabel: It’s so interesting because people are like, Oh, did you have like a cousin working there? Or how did you… and we were just like, well, we had that perfect solution, that was exactly what they were looking for. And they hadn’t been able to find it anywhere else. So they literally didn’t believe that we had done it. And then we said, Here it is. And they were like, Whoa, you did do it.
Because it’s a very, you know, it’s a very complicated algorithm that’s running underneath listening to all these social networks and streaming services in real time. And then it filters that data. So you know, UMG doesn’t care what you ate for breakfast when you Instagram, because I’m sure you do that.
Paul: Oh, yeah, you must follow me.
Annabel: Yeah haha. But they do care about what you streamed while you were having your breakfast, right. So we take everyone’s data, and then we filter it, so that it’s only the stuff your brand cares about. Yeah. And the nice thing about it is that everyone’s view is going to be different. So if you look at a traditional customer profile, and Facebook, if your Coke, you are going to see the exact same profile that Pepsi sees when they look at this customer. Whereas inside of AE, we allow you to set up all these filters so that you can really understand Oh, Paul’s really into BMX biking, right? So we want to hit him with Powerade, right. So being able to like dig deeper into that so they can be more targeted.
Paul: So this is proper one to one personalised.
Annabel: At scale. Yes, exactly.
Paul: Wow, that’s very powerful stuff.
Annabel: Yeah, it is. It’s really exciting. And I think, you know, as marketers, we’re always trying to segment and improve and precision target. But there’s so much data at the moment, right. And it’s like, Oh, another tool. And I think part of the struggle with marketing our platform is by saying, this data is actually… it’s something you can do things with, you know, you will improve your open rates on your email newsletters, you are going to spend less money on advertising, because it’s far more targeted, and precise. You’re going to get higher click throughs.
So I like to think that, you know, with our software, really the proof is in the pudding, it’s getting that social login piece installed, so that as soon as that’s in the data starts to feed into the system. And I think that, you know, with the GDPR stuff that happened, the privacy, right, and Facebook and all these things, it’s so important that as marketers, we’re really looking at getting that first party consent from your end customer, right? So that they say yes, I allow you to look at my data, but in return for that, you are going to give me better products and services and deals right. And I really think that is the future of marketing. It’s that that true digital handshake that we’re going to have.
Paul: I think that’s very insightful. And I think that so often what’s happening is that that balance hasn’t been there, the people are willing to see more personalised messages. You know, I’m prepared to give something back. But it’s got to be a fair deal.
Annabel: Totally. And I think, for a long time brands, to be honest, the big brands haven’t needed to get personalised. They’re just like, oh, we’re doing pretty well. You know, people are buying our products are clicking on our newsletters. But with all the startups happening with all the new brands with Kickstarter, with everything that’s happening, finally, the big guys have gone Oh, I guess we do need to start treating our customers the more than just an email address, right? We need to treat them as an individuals.
Paul: So you guys been honing this platform now for a few years, you started off in music started at the top and working your way down. Are you doing the same? Well, I don’t know how much you can tell me. But are you doing the same with gaming? And you know, I guess as a platform, you could use this for any number of verticals.
Annabel: Yeah, exactly. So consumer goods, travel, I think there’s huge potential in the travel market, right, so many people are active on social media around travel. It’s really limitless, because the idea of the engine was always brands who want to better understand their customers. So if you’re a business that’s like, Oh, I really want to understand and segment and see improvements in my open rates. And, you know, use a seeded list of customers that are actually actively engaging with my brand, and go out and get new customers. You know, those are the people… and I have to say, it’s probably our system is really targeted at marketers who are already doing quite sophisticated work, right? And they’re going, there just has to be a better way of doing this.
What can I further do to fine tune what I’m actively doing? So that’s really, you know, who we’re working with at the moment. And I think, you know, marketers are getting so sophisticated now, with what they’re doing. There is that piece missing of all this disparate data? How do you bring it to a centralised place where that customer profile is changing over time, so you don’t feel like you’re guessing or missing out on something anymore.
Paul: So all those examples you gave were really good, really strong B2C markets? Do you think it could work in B2B?
Annabel: That’s a good question. You know,
Paul: Maybe the sources of information are a bit different. Maybe it’s LinkedIn feed or whatever.
Annabel: Yes, well we can definitely pick up LinkedIn, definitely, it certainly could work in that area, we haven’t really experimented with that. But I don’t see why not the engine is really built… that’s another thing about our engine is that, you know, we’ll pull in customer data from wherever, whether it’s a social network, whether it’s Google Analytics, whether it’s your own internal serum system you have or your…
Paul: There just data feeds to you.
Annabel: Exactly and so anything can come into the engine, then we filter process and produce these insights. So then we can push that data anywhere you needed to go, whether it’s Salesforce, where it’s MailChimp, whether it’s to your ad serving platform, whatever it is. And you know, for us, it’s really future proofing as well, right? Because I mean, we remember before there was Facebook, right? And one day, there will no longer be a Facebook, right? So all those other things that are going to happen, just making sure that our engine can consume all those pieces of information.
Paul: Yeah future proofing, do you have a MySpace feed?
Annabel: Yeah haha, totally. Yep. For what was his name? The first Myspace person… Tom, good old Tom, remember, he’d be your first friend on Myspace? Yeah, but I think it’s important thing for marketers to really think about right is that all these platforms are there. And quite often, you’re literally giving your customers to Facebook, when you’re using Facebook login, right, or vice versa, they get access to all of that data. And then they’re just giving you a tiny slice of when they want to show you. And that is one of the things that I want marketers to be able to do is to take their customer data back and say, You know what, we’re going to use your tool, Facebook, and we’re going to give you money, and you’re going to make us happy. That’s good. But I want to own my customers, right? I want to have a centralised database so that I can decide what I want to do with all my data.
Paul: So in terms of, you know, creating an Appreciation Engine, it sounds amazing. So how many people are involved in the business?
Annabel: That’s a really good question. So we have a core team, six at the moment here. And then we have support partners who are actually based in the UK, and they help us with our 24/7 support, because, you know, those are labels all over the world. We also have a couple of people down in California that also support us. But you know, we moved back to Victoria two years ago. And it was probably one of the best decisions we’ve made. Because I I really believe that if you are happy with your personal life, and what’s happened… there was an election going on down in the States.
Paul: Haha, I might of heard about that.
Annabel: Yeah. And we feel like Should we leave… we’re?w on TN visas. Right? So coming back here has been amazing, because, you know, it’s been 15 years since I’ve lived in Victoria. And, you know, the tech scene has just really exploded here. And it’s been so welcoming in the tech community. Because, you know, we were right there at Silicon beach, as it’s called. Right. And people are very aggressive, and not very collaborative. Whereas Canadians, not to a fault. I think it’s just how we are but we’re far more collaborative, and want to help other companies succeed. And we just didn’t get that sense of community in Santa Monica. Right. Even though we were right in the WeWork offices.
Paul: It’s just a lot more dog eat dog down there.
Annabel: Oh yeah. They’re literally like… it is like it is in the movies. They’re raising money on a napkin. Right? And then we’d have guys working next to us. And I’m like, did they do any work in that office? Like, all they’re doing is like playing video games and drinking beer. So it’s been so different to come back here and yeah, so amazing.
Paul: That’s not to say that people don’t play video game games and drink beer here.
Annabel: Yeah, but we do it after Friday at four o’clock. Right? Not like Monday morning at 10.
Paul: I think you’re right, I mean, I can’t vouch for anywhere else in Canada, I haven’t worked in any other tech community. But what I think Victoria has, you know, just interacting with companies here is it seems to be kind of right size, Goldilocks size. You know, it’s it’s not so big that people fly off all different angles, wherever it’s just the right size to people feel that they can talk to each other and collaborate and ask someone’s opinion because they just around the corner or whatever. So yeah, I think that’s that’s one of the really neat things about being here. Whether it’s the same and say, Vancouver or Toronto or Montreal or whatever. I have no idea. So in terms of sort of marketing insights. The marketing insight… my big takeaway at the moment is just go straight to the top.
Annabel: Haha, gotcha. That’s the easy way. It’ll only take you four years. But yeah.
Paul: But did you guys gain any insights? You know, in terms of, did you do any marketing, other than just by the sounds of it? Some very fortunate networking?
Annabel: Yeah, you know, I was really thinking about this. And the thing I kind of realised is that when we signed with Universal, we were like, awesome, we’re in the enterprise space. Now we’re going to play in the big with the big boys. And, you know, we modelled our brand, and our website, after our competitors in the space, and our competitors are crazy, well funded, they’re huge organisations.
And we thought to play in that space, we had to look and sound like those guys. And when we moved back to Victoria, my gut the whole time had been telling me this is not right for us and…
Paul: You’re living a lie.
Annabel: Yeah, totally, it felt like that, right? Because you’re always like, live your brand and your values, and you need to be authentic. And we rebranded about a year and a half ago, we totally changed our site. And as one of my team said to me, our competitors look like a corporate bank. And they do, right, but that’s what it’s like, in the enterprise space. It’s all about, you know, your case studies, super serious fill in this like 20 page lead form thing, to get your document.
We really decided that, that’s not, that’s not who we are, how we wanted to run our business. That’s not, you know, we’re so different when we go into an enterprise company, they’re like, Oh, you know, there aren’t like 20 layers of people. And yes, we have processes… and that, to me, has been my biggest learning about marketing our business, it is just be yourself. And it’s kinda imposter syndrome. You think you have to be just like these other people. And in fact, what we always say it’s like, you need to stand out from them. You just need to describe your process, describe your business clearly and be real about it. And people will respond to that. And, you know, we signed another enterprise deal after we do that, right. So I think it makes a huge difference.
Paul: So your big thing with Universal was they said, Can you do this? And you said, Well, we don’t know. And they said, well, we’ll give you some data and try. So some real honesty there, we’ve got this thing and don’t know what it can do.
Annabel: Yeah, totally. Yeah, we were like, We can take your data, and we can create all these profiles for you. And they were like, Oh, can you? We’re like, yes… they are like… Hmmmm, because, these guys are being pitched companies literally every day, right? It’s a very difficult position to be in. And it’s hard to get in there. But I really think if you’re getting into the enterprise space, you know, the proof is in the pudding, you actually need to develop that relationship, they will give you a tiny bit of whatever you need to actually show the value of your system. And that is really what we do now is by, you know, offering trials, paid trials with all our enterprise customers, but they want to see, right, because there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in our profession. A lot. And I think that’s an actual real detriment for all sort of SaaS products. But um you have to cut through that. And that’s, you know, showing, what you can actually do.
Paul: That’s great. So here’s a thing I was just thinking about that, i’m curious about. So working with your husband, your better half?
Paul: Building this business together. That sounds quite stressful.
Paul: How do you guys manage it so that you just not talking about the business 24/7 Or maybe you are? What do you do to make sure that at the end of the day, you still have a relationship that is not about the business?
Annabel: Yes I get this question a lot. And so Jeff, and I have worked together for 15 years. And I would say for the first seven years, when we stepped in the door, or when we used to work out of our house, right? When it was like 7pm, I’m like the work day is over. And I would say that’s it, we’re not allowed to talk about work anymore. Right? I need a separation from work and home. And that did not work. In fact, a probably cause more problems. Because Jeff is always germinating something right?
Paul: Yeah, his subconscious just ticking away.
Annabel: It is. He wants to be able to talk about those things. And so once I lifted my ban it made a huge difference. And, you know, to be honest, sometimes I’ll be like, it’s Sunday at three o’clock. Could we not talk about this right now? Can we talk about it tomorrow morning, but I am a lot more open about that. It’s a huge part of our lives, and you can’t really separate it from what we do so…
Paul: But it’s much harder to get that work life balance then anyone in a normal situation, not that you’re in an abnormal situation. It’s a very common situation. But in such situations which is a situation I’ve been in as well, so…
Annabel: so you know.
Paul: I know exactly what it’s like and everybody manages it differently.
Annabel: Yeah, I think the other thing that I’ve really realised is that we had a startup, and then we had a kid, and we still have a startup and a kid. And I didn’t realise, of course, right, it was going to have a huge impact on your life, but it’s really made me realise that there’s more important things some days than the business, right? It does give you that perspective. And I didn’t really expect that to happen with the business side, right? And it really has allowed me to sometimes just step back and be like, Whoa, we need to chill out about whatever we’re discussing, because there’s other stuff we need to be doing right. There’s more important things. So that’s actually been a huge, you know… they say kids teach you lessons. Well there was my first one, like right away, right? It’s like, we’re not saving lives at our technology, but we are helping people do their work more efficiently.
Paul: That sounds great. Thank you very much. I really enjoyed talking to you.
Annabel: Yeah, you too Paul. Thank you.
Paul: I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Annabel. For more info on Appreciation Engine please visit get.theappreciationengine.com for more info about this show. And to get our links to iTunes, Google Play SoundCloud, Stitcher and YouTube, check out www.pwlms.com And if you have any SaaS marketing insights that you’d like to share on the show, please get in touch. Until next time.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai