Embracing Customers Through Data (and Other Digital Tips)

Sponsor Post: Digital Trailblazers Series - The Land of Nod

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The Land of Nod, a subsidiary of Crate & Barrel, is a leading retailer of children's bedding, furniture and accessories. For The Land of Nod, understanding the customer life cycle is a constant focus and challenge as customers move in and out of the market and adapt to the challenges of parenthood.

Matt Ebbert and Ashley Jones
Matt Ebbert and Ashley Jones

The company has proved a nimble and forward-thinking marketer in its use of Big Data, its use of new attribution approaches to analyze the bottom-line impact of marketing activities and its savvy approach to analyzing digital marketing activities as a way to make future marketing decisions.

The Land of Nod's data-driven approach to learning more about its customers—embracing new technology and the spirit of experimentation to make smarter marketing decisions to grow business—is a sign of a true Digital Trailblazer.

Matt Ebbert leads the company's digital marketing programs as customer analytics manager and is working to make the children's furniture retailer a household name. Beginning his career in offline direct marketing, Mr. Ebbert learned how to grow a business by the numbers and witnessed the power that a data-driven approach could bring to an organization.

For the last six years Ashley Jones, The Land of Nod's marketing specialist, has embraced the changing online landscape to help introduce customers to the next book, artisanal roasted coffee and, now, quality children's furniture and decor at The Land of Nod.

Mr. Ebbert and Mrs. Jones recently took time to talk about all things digital.

Q: As a Digital Trailblazer, you're doing outstanding work to further digital marketing. Why have you chosen digital as the focus of your career?

Mr. Ebbert: I have always been very interested in the Internet and technology in my personal life; I am very much a numbers guy. Everyone picks on me because I am so in love with the data. So for me, digital advertising and marketing is a great blend of the two.

Mrs. Jones: I fell into digital marketing by accident. I received my degree in English and wanted to work in book publishing. But I knew I didn't want to be an editor, so I ended up on the marketing side. I taught myself Web design, blogging and other digital platforms to help market my books to a wider audience and, weirdly, found out that I was good at it.

Q: Tell us about a moment in your career that was pivotal and why it affected you so strongly.

Mrs. Jones: For me that moment was being laid off in 2009. I was living in Seattle and everyone was laid off at the same time—people from Microsoft, Starbucks, Boeing and Adobe—and I and thousands of people in Seattle found ourselves trying to figure out what to do next. It made us take stock of what we were doing. I ended up going to work for a very small coffee-roasting company and developing a marketing team from the ground up. It helped me rebuild my confidence and to remind me this was what I wanted to do all along.

Mr. Ebbert: I went to school as a finance major and found myself incredibly bored. I gravitated toward working with numbers, but I did not want to calculate interest rates for the rest of my life. I had a professor who joked that creative people should not be in finance. I realized I did not want to pigeonhole myself. That is what got me into marketing. I started at the Bradford Exchange, a traditional direct marketing company. I didn't know how I was going to combine finance and marketing, and stumbling into Bradford completely changed my career.

Q: Marketers often ask what they need to know to do a better job in digital. What are some of your must-haves or must-dos for approaching digital strategy?

Mr. Ebbert: Data. Being on top of your numbers is incredibly important. Really keeping a tight handle on marketing attribution is incredibly important—getting a better handle on that led to our success last year. We are a private company, and there were several years where we just weren't achieving what we knew was possible from a growth standpoint. We made some big and bold course corrections in digital and offline, and had some really great growth last year while also reducing our marketing spending at the same time. That almost never happens, and I'm incredibly proud of that.

Mrs. Jones: I believe one of the biggest factors is agility. If a company can't do that, the digital landscape changes so quickly that it will be left behind. One of the unofficial mottos at The Land of Nod is to not be afraid to fail, as long as you fail fast.

Q: How important is proper attribution in digital marketing? Does using a split funnel attribution approach help you better understand your marketing activities and the effectiveness of all your partners?

Mr. Ebbert: We feel it's really important because there are so many channels out there and so many companies to work with—after a while that next money you are going to spend is not going to produce bottom-line results. We were spending a lot of money, but there was a lot of waste and misallocation of budget. We tried to look at where partners were overlapping and which partners were driving the sales instead of taking credit for the sales. We tried to divide up our funnel, split it in the middle. And ultimately, we put the customer at the center of everything.

With split funnel, from a display end, we are trying now to put the focus on that first site visit and finding new customers. What we're really doing is working with companies, like Quantcast, that can focus on bringing us new customers, those who have never been to the site. This has also led to much greater brand awareness and recognition.

Q: To stay on top of the rapidly changing digital arena, do you have any daily or weekly habits or practices that keep you in the know?

Mrs. Jones: Everything I have learned about building websites and digital marketing I have learned through webinars, blogs and newsletters. I subscribe to top blogs and newsletters across the industry. Whether or not I have the time to read them all each day, the thoughts and ideas live in your brain and, when applicable, that knowledge will trickle out.

My mom sometimes asks me when I'm going to get my master's in marketing. I always tell her those people in classrooms don't understand marketing today. I am learning it on the job. It's a homegrown, guerrilla world now, and I believe you can't learn about it in a book that was published 10 years ago.

Mr. Ebbert: This space is always changing. It's one of those deals where you are always going to be learning. I learn a programming language every year just so I understand the basics.

Q: What hobbies do you still prefer doing the old-fashioned, nondigital way?

Mrs. Jones: You know what I am going to say: I still buy paper books. I love my paper books, although I do have a Kindle and use it if I am flying because it is so convenient for traveling. But I still think the paper book is the best thing that was ever invented. A collection of books on a shelf says more about you than a Kindle on your bookshelf.

Mr. Ebbert: I'm an outdoors guy. I love being outside, whether it's camping, hiking or boating. I grew up near the Appalachian Mountains and [am now] living in Illinois—which is so flat—I really miss the hills.

Q: What apps are staples on your home screen?

Mr. Ebbert: Every day I use Evernote and Flipboard. I use the image snipping tool every 15 minutes.

Mrs. Jones: I taught Matt about the snipping tool! One of my staples is Jawbone. And I would die without my Podcast app on my commute to work. I subscribe to NPR News, TED Radio, comedy sketches—it makes the time fly. I am crazy for the Goodreads app; I review every book I read. Also Feedly, which replaced the Google Reader—it keeps my news all in one place for me.

About the Sponsor

Today's trendsetters are also today's digital leaders. The Digital Trailblazers Series profiles some of the industry's most visionary digital executives—those pushing the boundaries in digital marketing. For more on this series, including intelligence and insights from Quantcast, visit the Digital Trailblazers Hub.

Quantcast is a technology company specialized in real-time advertising and audience measurement. As the pioneer of direct audience measurement in 2006, Quantcast has an in-depth understanding of digital audiences across the Web, allowing marketers and publishers to make the smartest choices as they buy and sell the most effective targeted advertising on the market. More than 1,000 brands rely on Quantcast for real-time advertising. More information is available at www.quantcast.com.

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