Why Smartify’s Head of Marketing chose Census over a CDP for Data Activation | Census

Roslyn Coutinho
Roslyn Coutinho February 14, 2023

Roz doubles as a product marketing manager and brand marketing manager at Census. She's a designer turned product manager, driven by curiosity and a constant desire to learn. San Francisco, California, United States

 This interview is part of our Select Stars series, highlighting use cases of data and ops practitioners driving more impact by activating data in their business.

Martin Jefferies is the Head of Marketing at Smartify, an arts and culture app that connects hundreds of museums and galleries all around the world. Smartify allows its community of 3 million users to truly connect with art– they can scan a painting they love, book tickets to a must-see exhibition, or tune into an expert-led session. 

As the Head of Marketing, Martin is intent on finding ways to better connect with the Smartify community. In this interview, he explains how the Smartify team thinks about data, why they chose Reverse ETL over CDP, and how they use data to personalize their marketing efforts to drive product conversions.

How does the data team function at Smartify?

Smartify is very nimble as an organization, and that’s true when it comes to how we think about data, as well. We have marketing, analytics, engineering, and product teams that all work closely together. Each team needs data to perform well– for example, marketing needs it to better reach our users, while engineering needs it to support and improve our products.

Our biggest challenge is to always remain on the same page when it comes to data, meaning we are all using the same sources and queries. Keeping all of us on the same page means we’re all seeing the same unified view of our customers, which prevents confusion and allows us to all pull in the same direction.

Can you describe your data stack?

We have a straightforward data stack, with all of our data sitting in BigQuery. Today, the data in our warehouse comes from events that our users perform on the app. So every time somebody performs a certain event, whether that's an artwork being viewed or an artist being favorited or even visiting a venue, that information goes into our data warehouse so we're building up this really comprehensive picture of our users. 

Then, we use as our customer engagement platform and our marketing automation tool. Our challenge has always been populating with data from our warehouse without having to touch the source code of our apps, which requires a lot of engineering time, product team time, and user access testing.

We now use Census as a Reverse ETL solution that enables us to populate with the data we need. We’re currently exploring what other tools we can hook up to Census. For example, we see an opportunity to enrich product analytics to better understand how users use the app, possibly with a tool like Mixpanel

Our stack is small but ever-growing, and the beauty of Census is how flexible it is and how many integrations there are with frontline tools.

How did you decide between CDP and Reverse ETL?

‎When I joined Smartify at the start of 2022, I wanted to better leverage personalized marketing campaigns to reach our users. But the challenge for us was scale because we have 3M registered users in total, with hundreds of thousands of people joining the platform every year.

At first, it seemed like the best option for personalizing our campaigns was to use a Customer Data Platform (CDP). But quite quickly, it became obvious that a CDP wasn’t going to be the right approach for us. In my view, there were three reasons why:

Reason #1: It would’ve created another silo of data. If we used a CDP, we were going to be creating another silo of data. The data would've been useful inside the CDP, but it might have been difficult to use the data outside of that tool.

Reason #2: We already had the data we needed. The data we needed for our marketing efforts already existed in our data warehouse. We didn’t need to create new data, nor did we want to from a privacy perspective — we just needed a way to extract our existing data so that we could use it.

Reason #3: CDP’s implementation time was too long. As a startup, we want to get new features out to our users as quickly as possible without distracting engineering and product teams.  But the implementation time for a CDP was impractical– we estimated it was going to take 6 months while requiring lots of oversight from our busy teams.

When I found a Reverse ETL solution, it really solved our challenges. It makes the data available to all of our frontline tools, whether that's product analytics or our customer engagement platform. It also utilizes the data that we already have at our disposal so we don’t have to set up a second way of tracking events. Finally,  it didn't require any development or engineering resources, which was amazing to me. I was able to get up and running myself as a marketer with just a couple of basic SQL queries. 

Use case: Using personalized marketing to drive product conversions

‎In order to connect with our users, it’s essential that we know what they like so we can make our communications as personalized and relevant as possible. For example, we want to make sure that we’re not sending emails full of impressionist paintings to someone who likes contemporary art, as receiving an irrelevant message makes a user want to hit the unsubscribe button. 

The information in the data warehouse is key to personalizing these communications. In Census, we have a number of models set up for events that our users are performing in the app – whether that’s simply viewing artwork or actually making in-app purchases. We then sync these events with in near real-time, so that our user profiles are always fresh and up-to-date.

Based on this information, we create personalized marketing campaigns for segments of users customized to their interests. Because these messages are so relevant and personalized, we’ve been able to increase product conversions, which is a huge win for Smartify.

👉 Learn more about how Smartify uses Census here.

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