Mr. Shah: When I started I had no idea I would
end up in digital. After I completed my graduate work at Harvard, I
realized I wanted to go deeper into the intersection of rigid
ROI-focused marketing and that consumer "wow" experience. I got a
chance to join 1-800-Flowers—they offered me an interesting
role figuring out disruptive growth opportunities driven by top to
bottom innovation. Modern management in the past has been largely
art, with some science thrown in. But marketing today is in a very
magical place, where you have this enormous intersection of
currents: sociology, technology and psychology intertwined with
unprecedented data to build relationships with people and not just
Q: Tell us about a moment in your career that
Mr. Shah: When I joined 1-800-Flowers in 2010,
we were building our own display stack—one of a handful of
brands going down this path. We wanted to run our own DSP and ad
server, and develop a very robust understanding of data. Once I
started seeing the results from these data-rich campaigns, I
started appreciating the things we'd been working on in the back
room for many years, things we had been putting in spreadsheets. I
could suddenly see how data used in previously inefficient
marketing efforts can provide sustained competitive advantages.
Where we are today is because of our own fundamental belief that we
need to keep innovating, and that goes to the DNA of who we are.
Q: Where do you turn to stay on top of what's
happening in the digital world? Are there bloggers or publishers or
news sites you rely on?
Mr. Shah: I do try to skim through major blogs
and publications, but my go-to is more analog. First, I spend an
enormous amount of time talking to entrepreneurs. We get a lot of
inbound interest from entrepreneurs. I find that they have thought
about problems differently than others. I talk with them about the
ecosystem, the challenges we face and figuring out if we can test
things to solve problems.
My second go-to is having an honest dialogue with our
supporters—customers, suppliers, shipping partners. The most
meaningful technology solutions are not necessarily the flashy
things you read about in the news, but the incremental changes
being made every day that are solving real problems. More often
it's the small and incremental changes that have the true
disruptive effect on business.
Q: Your company has a reputation as an early
adopter of technologies and tools, whether Google AdWords or mobile
search. Is it critical to jump into new technologies? Does it give
you an advantage in the marketplace?
Mr. Shah: Staying on top of the newest
technologies is essential to our sense of how we carry out our
mission of delivering smiles and build shareholder value. More than
a competitive advantage, it gives us a customer advantage. I have a
poster saying that you have not succeeded if you have not failed
Q: Everyone is talking about the role
programmatic buying has assumed in marketing. How do you view the
role of programmatic buying in reaching the customers you need to
Mr. Shah: The crux of what programmatic is all
about can be conceptualized across two dimensions: One allows you
to cut out inefficiencies. We want to cut out inefficiency because
it does a disservice to the ecosystem when you have fraudulent or
bot traffic. But the second dimension of programmatic for us is
that at the end of the day we are in the relationship business.
Think about the kind of emotional load that we are privileged to
bear through our transactions.
Programmatic allows us to go a level deeper in our customer
acquisition. For instance, it's not critical for us to reach the
person who is having a birthday. It's more important for us to know
the five friends who are most likely to buy a gift for that person.
Programmatic allows us to really reach relevant customers at scale,
and it's been a very strong augmentation of our efforts.
Q: One of the strengths of the digital world is
the transparency it brings to business. But how do you handle
disappointed consumers who choose to post comments in public? Is
there an upside to conducting those discussions in a public
Mr. Shah: A lot of brands assume that we are in
a world where the command-and-control model is still in place. But
it's not, and with the consumer in charge, transparency is very
important. We made the conscious decision at the start of 2010 to
be active in new social media—that is where customers expect
us to be. Our job is to deliver sometimes in a matter of hours, and
it is hard to pull it off every time. There is nothing wrong with
people expressing their frustration with how things go wrong
sometimes. But we want customers to understand that we get a lot
right and we are a caring team obsessed with service.
Q: What's your favorite new app?
Mr. Shah: It might sound clichéd, but
two apps that have accentuated the interface of mobility and
services are Uber and Google Now. Uber's foundation is getting to
an outcome, figuring out an intermediary place where the company's
needs and the consumer's needs meet and bringing it all together in
a visually compelling manner. Google Now is an early look at how
artificial intelligence is going to impact our digital lives and is
of a lot of interest to me on multiple levels.
Q: What social network are you following?
Mr. Shah: We believe that the traditional
social networks are rapidly evolving. For example, we are closely
following the messaging networks like LINE and Snapchat to
understand and appreciate the evolving nature of networks in
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