Jami Dewolf on Why 'No' Is Sometimes the Best Answer on the Data Frontier

CMO of Alliance Data Retail Services Has Spent Years on the Client Side

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Jami Dewolf is experiencing a role-reversal. After years in multiple marketing and business roles for well-known consumer brands like Oreo and Victoria's Secret, Ms. Dewolf now heads marketing for Alliance Data, a firm she worked closely with while on the client side.

Over the past 20 years she's handled enterprise strategy and integration, new-business development, operations and customer marketing at Nabisco, PepsiCo and Victoria's Secret and L Brands. Most recently at Victoria's Secret for a 15-year stint, she got a crash course in digital data as the catalog brand moved online. Much of her time there was spent determining how to measure customer engagement, how to communicate with customers across channels, and how to foster consumer loyalty. And it just so happened that she was the point person at Victoria's Secret in its relationship with Alliance.

Now working out of the data management and consultancy's Columbus, Ohio office, it's her job to help over 130 clients decipher which are the most appropriate ways to connect with their brands' customers. Sometimes that means helping them say "no" to trendy communication channels and platforms.

"People hear the buzzwords and say, 'Oh, I should be doing that,'" said Ms. Dewolf. Sometimes, however, that's not the best idea. For instance, while a mobile loyalty card in an app might be just right for reaching 20-somethings, it's not necessarily the best offering for an older demographic, she said.

Ad Age: We often hear about brand marketers being far more data-driven than in the past. Do you think this is a reality, or are marketers still poring over the same types of reports and conducting focus groups just like before?

Ms. Dewolf: I believe the key to a successful marketing strategy is the balance between your brand marketing connected to truly knowing your customer and deep data analytics that lead to actionable insights. First and foremost, compelling product and a strong emotional brand connection will bring customers to your brand; without it there really is no base to build upon or deep relationships to cultivate. Then, of course, to engage those customers you need a deep understanding of who your customer is to inform effective data-driven marketing programs. The customer is constantly evolving and engaging in many ways, so the data analytics, reporting and research methods have evolved and changed as well.

Ad Age: In your career, you've worked with consumer packaged goods brands and retailers. What do you think CPG brands can learn from retail brands about understanding their customers? What could they do now that they might not be already doing?

Ms. Dewolf: Most CPG brands know their consumer segments well and they spend time studying how their products are consumed and impact their consumers from a day-to-day perspective. What they could potentially learn from retail brands is how to develop relationships with their consumers that allow them to anticipate their needs. Gaining a deeper knowledge of the customer by understanding how they are influenced as well as the purpose a product serves in the consumer's life can lead to swifter actions to engage a customer.

Ad Age: What is your strategy for growing the Alliance Data Retail Services brand? Where do you see the company going?

Ms. Dewolf: "Know more, sell more" is Alliance Data Retail Services' commitment to its brand partners and it remains the strategy to guide the businesses' growth. My role is to take that to a new level, continuing to deepen the value of our insights by broadening our knowledge of all our brands' customers and how they engage. This is a critical new world challenge. Customers engage and are influenced in so many ways, and knowing what actions to take to deepen a relationship and deliver that next dollar in sales is not as obvious as it once was.

This is exactly where our strengths can deliver even greater value to our partners. A key growth initiative is looking at a more holistic view of the customer -- how she engages with a brand regardless of payment type -- to deliver deeper insight into customer behavior and help brands drive even stronger, more personal customer engagement and loyalty.

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