#539: Maximizing first-party data using AI with Tara DeZao, Pega

This episode was recorded live at PegaWorld iNspire 2024 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas where we saw some amazing things, including how AI can transform the enterprise and were able to be hands-on with demos of GenAI Blueprint and more at the Innovation Hub.

As the marketing world braces for the impact of the sunsetting of third-party cookies, innovative strategies are stepping up to redefine how businesses engage with customers. Joining us today to talk about this as well as the impact of Generative AI on enterprise marketing is Tara DeZao, Product Marketing Director, AdTech and MarTech at Pega, to explore these developments.

About Tara DeZao

Tara DeZao, Director of Product Marketing, AdTech and MarTech at Pega, is passionate about helping clients deliver better, more empathetic customer experiences backed by artificial intelligence. Over the last decade, she has cultivated a successful career in the marketing departments of both startups and Fortune 500 enterprise technology companies.

She is a subject matter expert on all things marketing and has authored articles that have appeared in AdExchanger, VentureBeat, MarTech Series and more. Tara received her bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley and an MBA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.


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Greg Kihlström:
We are here at PegaWorld Inspire 2024 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and seeing some amazing things, including how AI can transform the enterprise. And I’ve gotten a chance to be hands-on at the Innovation Hub, and we’ll talk a little bit about some of that stuff in a minute as well. As the marketing world braces for the impact of sunsetting third-party cookies, innovative strategies are stepping up to redefine how businesses engage with customers. Joining us today to talk about this, as well as the impact of generative AI on enterprise marketing, is Tara DeZao, Product Marketing Director, AdTech, and Martech at Pega, to explore these developments. Tara, welcome back to the show. Those that didn’t catch you last time you were on the show, why don’t you give a little background on yourself as well as your role at Pega?

Tara DeZao: Absolutely. So I am the Product Marketing Director at Pega for Customer Decision Hub, and I’m a subject matter expert in ad tech and martech. I’ve had a long career in ad tech in both startups and Fortune 500 companies and at Pega, you know, we’re trying to really help clients create amazing customer experiences. And I love talking about that with people like you.

Greg Kihlström: Let’s dive in then. So let’s start by talking about first party data, and certainly I think it’s something on everyone’s mind. So cookie deprecation, is it really happening? Like we’ve been talking about this for, I don’t know, two, three, two decades, but probably two or three years, right? So, you know, with this happening at some point, maybe we’ll hear that there’s another delay still, but like with this happening and, you know, kind of the impending sun setting of this, how can enterprises that are maybe a little behind the curve, you know, still pivot to maximize first party data so they can have better customer experiences?

Tara DeZao: Yeah, you know, the key in maximizing your data is being able to activate it in the places that matter for your brand, right? And a couple of the things that I tell people about data is that the closer to real time you can get, the better, right? Because, you know, when I first started in ad tech, talking about third-party cookies, a fresh cookie would be less than 30 days old. Now it’s like old within an hour. So make sure that your data is as fresh as possible, as clean as possible. And then I’ve been hearing a lot of different practitioners talking about ways to augment your first party data by getting the consumer to give you more information. So creating experiences that actually allow them to want to interact with you about behavioral data, for example. I always use the example of Brooks, who’s not a client of ours. They make running shoes. And when you go to their website, even if you’re not a customer of theirs, they ask you three or four questions about the way that you run and what sport that you do and why you’re there. And even if you don’t end up converting, they just got some behavioral data from you through your own volition. So I think that’s a way that we’re going to see different enterprises and organizations try to build out a little bit more data collection that isn’t so specifically just about purchases and things like that.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, and I mean, the example you gave, that’s a natural type of question to ask versus, you know, if a shoe company asks you what kind of refrigerator you have, that feels a little like, what are you doing with my data, right? So like, I, you know, I keep saying on this show, like, I think consumers are smart already, but they’re getting smarter. And, you know, would you say, Asking the right questions, even maybe one or two more questions than you might normally ask, as long as there’s kind of a clear rationale behind it.

Tara DeZao: Yes. You know, I think one of the things that we do at CDH really well is contextual data, right? And marketers have been trying to utilize context for a long time. But this is a way to get contextual data That’s accurate. So when we think about some of the other ways that consumers give up their data that aren’t necessarily like, I’m part of your bank, you have all my information. Think about survey data. It’s really inaccurate because people are just trying to get to the end for whatever incentive. So they lie. They click the wrong button. They don’t care about the results. When you’re buying a running shoe, you really want it to fit. You’re spending a lot of money. You want to make sure that you’re getting the right tool for yourself. And so it’s an incentive for the consumer to give you that, that they really want a good outcome.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, and so you mentioned CDH, and just for those that are a little less familiar with Pega and the platform, why don’t you just explain a little bit what you’re talking about there?

Tara DeZao: Oh, sure. Pega Customer Decision Hub is an AI-powered, real-time decisioning platform. So what we do is we help brands interact with their customers and prospects in real-time across all of their brand channels. We have adaptive AI models. So if you come in, you know, customer journeys, they used to be linear because we were programming them. Now a customer journey is more like an octopus tentacle. And, you know, if you’re watching TV, let’s say, but you’re also trying to research, you know, living situations for your parents, let’s just say. You’re kind of doing two things at once where you’re emitting signals in two places, right, over your connected TV perhaps, maybe on your phone, and then you might have someone on the couch sitting next to you on their iPad. So when that data input changes, when you have an adaptive modeling, you the brand is able to pivot to that next thing very quickly. So if you decide, okay, I don’t wanna move money from one account to the other. I’m actually gonna go over here and do the X, Y, and Z thing. It’s important to not continue with the interaction that you’ve terminated.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, and I think that’s, I mean, a couple things there. I mean, so that’s where like next best action really comes into play, right? So, and that’s where, that’s why we don’t want 30 day old cookies. And it’s why we want to maybe even ask a little bit more information. But, you know, what have you seen as far as getting that additional information for those that may not immediately want to, you know, want to volunteer or whatever? Like, have you seen any examples of incentives or like, how does a brand kind of get that? Like, the shoe example was great. But are there other ways to maybe, the more reluctant customers?

Tara DeZao: Yeah, you know, I think if you can sort of just demonstrate what the benefit would be, be transparent about the value exchange. I was just talking about consent management, and we’re in this sort of phase in life where every website we go to has a pop-up, you click it, you don’t know what you’re clicking, you just do it because you want to see the content. I think if there’s a path to having a more informed consent, that could be helpful, right? Because if you can say, hey, I want this from you and I’m going to give you this, that’s a value exchange and we’ve been hearing about the value exchange for a long time, but I don’t think that we’re very good at that. And content creation is really the way to engage customers and get them to give you data, right? So if you’re creating amazing, helpful content, you’re going to be better at that. I was just at the Gartner conference, and there was a session on personalization there talking about you know, the ever-existing tension between too much personalization and not enough personalization. And really what the consumer wants is for you to be respectful and helpful. They want helpful personalization. So, are you saying happy birthday to me? Don’t care. Are you helping me save money on my ATM fees? Really care.

Greg Kihlström: I’m excited to announce an exclusive offer that will enhance your listening experience of the Agile Brand with Greg Kilsfrom Podcast. You can now listen to my show, The Agile Brand, completely ad-free on your favorite listening apps like Spotify and Apple for just $4.99 a month, giving you access to all the great conversations with top thought leaders and marketing technology, CX and more, without the ads. To learn more and sign up, follow the link in the show notes to listen to The Agile Brand completely ad-free. Check it out now. One of the things, we’re going to talk about generative AI in a few different ways, but one of the things that I’m most excited about with that is, again, we’ve been talking about personalization for years, and it’s getting better and, you know, depending on what you use, how you use it, how you approach it, it can be done pretty well already. But I’m really excited about generative AI to take personalization truly one-to-one, keeping in mind the things that you’re saying, but, you know, we’re… Are we quite there yet? Are we there close to get that true content generation one-to-one? Where do you think we are?

Tara DeZao: I think we’re in a place where I’m seeing Gen AI make personalization better and that it’s inspiring more creativity. I think as it relates to AI-generated content and personalization, I think we still need that human element involved. Just because, for example, as it relates to CDH, when you’re a client of ours, you build out a library of conversations for your next best action. That library is only going to be as good as the number of offers that you put in it and the volume, right? So if a brand is able to understand their customer and create really valuable content and a ton of offers, that’s going to be, you know, a really, they’re going to have better outcomes. As it relates to Gen AI, I think what that is going to do is it’s going to reduce the time to market that you get creatives created. It’s going to help with, we have a great customer that’s a large healthcare provider in Australia, and they actually use the Gen AI within CDH to do pre-concepting. So that when they hand over their brief to their agency, they’re further along down the path. And they only have to go four rounds instead of 10. And that saves money, it saves cycles and burnout, it saves energy and carbon footprint. So I think if you can make the creative process better, personalization will get better along with it.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, and that’s another interesting part to me. I think there’s a lot of talk about generative AI in terms of creating text images, video now, all this stuff. But the process improvements, certainly that’s something Pega is very familiar with for many years. But mixing generative AI with process improvements, I think, is really interesting and not necessarily something that marketers would have gravitated to first. But what are your thoughts there as far as, I mean, you mentioned kind of an example there, but where do we take that? Like, how can we take it further?

Tara DeZao: Yeah, you know, I mean, I think at first people were afraid that Gen AI was going to take their jobs, and now we’re understanding that that’s not really the case. I think you know, it makes our, even our individual processes better. I think, you know, as marketers, we’re always under-resourced. We’re asked to do so much. And for an industry that’s supposed to be very creative, there’s a lot of processes that just really burn you out. So as an individual contributor even, just being able to like brainstorm my outline for something is a huge, energy, brain save, it’s a way to sort of even come to a brainstorming meeting more prepared. You know, like there’s nothing worse than showing up for a three-hour brainstorming meeting and nobody has ideas because everybody’s just totally burned out in blank.

Greg Kihlström: Right, they’re worried about the minutiae of like the stuff that must get done but doesn’t really take the doesn’t require human brain power, it just is taking it regardless, right? Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. You know, the other thing, I mean, I’ve used a lot of different AI tools myself, and I write a lot of stuff and everything. What I’ve noticed is I’m a really iterative person and so sometimes you could say I wing it sometimes. Actually using prompts and doing these things has actually kind of brought me back to actually being a little more strategic and thinking a few steps ahead because you’re you’re essentially explaining what you want to do to a child, you know, for lack of, nothing against, you know, someone or something that knows nothing about anything unless, without context, right? So it’s like, it’s actually kind of forced me to, yeah, to again, think four steps ahead and then benefit from the, you know, from kind of the grunt work, so to say, that it’s able to do. But I don’t know, what impacts do you see it having on marketing teams?

Tara DeZao: Yeah, I think we’re going to see just the ability to scale. Content variation is a major tactical process that’s going to be an area that’s going to help a lot. And I think as it relates to, again, personalization and things like, if you’re a global marketing organization, you have to make this in English, French, Japanese, however many languages, and you also have to be culturally sensitive in those situations. And so creating an ad set takes a lot longer, but if you can do it based on stuff you’ve already done with Gen AI, you’re going to be able to scale that process way faster and better.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, yeah. And so another thing to kind of add on to, you know, so building on process and AI. So good marketers pay attention to analytics. They’re, you know, they’re statistics driven. Some, well, a marketer that says they don’t like math, is a little suspect to me, but I’m not, I don’t consider myself a, you know, I’m not a PhD mathematician, but you kind of have to know this stuff. But I think there’s a difference between being really good at reading the numbers and being data-driven. So being able to interpret is one thing, but then that feedback loop, I think, is what’s often missing from a lot of teams, is really taking the data, understanding it, and then having it actually drive the decisions. And certainly, at Pegaworld, we’ve been hearing a lot about data-driven decision-making in the enterprise. Just curious your thoughts on, do you think marketers are moving more towards being data-driven in decision-making? Is there still some room to move there?

Tara DeZao: Yeah. One of the innovations that AI has brought to us is the ability to understand if our programs are working more quickly and be able to pull insights from channels more effectively. So if you think about the old days, you might run a campaign, whoever ran it for you, or maybe you ran it internally, you get the results after. Then you can go back and say, okay, this message didn’t work over here, this message worked better over here. What we’re seeing now is the ability to, A, one, be able to simulate things and test them before you put them into production, which is huge. And then also, in the middle of a campaign, if something’s not resonated, If it’s not resonating, you can pull it down. If there’s an error, you can pull it down. There’s no reason to stop something that’s not working. There’s no reason to let something continue just because you’ve put it in motion. And I think the smart marketers understand that.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, and I know it’s not a new feature in the Pega platform, but the simulation thing that you mentioned is very cool. The first time I saw it, it was a little while ago, but the first time I saw it, it just kind of blows your mind to think that, again, we get the smartest people we can in a room and we strategize and we look at the analytics and all that kind of stuff, but this is very different than that. Can you talk a little bit about it?

Tara DeZao: Yeah, so I mean, just at the most basic granular level, if you think about a brand having to calculate how much a customer relationship is worth to them, that’s kind of like a hand tabulation, right? You’re XYZ, multiply that by whatever. With Customer Decision Hub, you can actually figure out what value that interaction is going to give you for that specific customer with the algorithm. So then you’re in a position where you can say, okay, I figured out that these 50 customers should not be given this offer because it’s not going to be profitable based on the product that they’re eligible for or in some respects that we want to sell to them. So being able to see the value so instantly on that granular level, I think, is a marketing planner’s dream scenario.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, definitely. Like I said, it’s pretty interesting. It does so much of the legwork for you and guesswork takes some of that stuff out of the way. Another thing that was announced here at PegaWorld is Gen AI Blueprint. And I know it’s not necessarily specific to marketing, but very cool feature and probably has some implications later on for other things like what we’ve been talking about. Do you mind just talking a little bit about it?

Tara DeZao: Yeah, so as it relates to CDH, we are actually working on a CDH blueprint. And the functionality there is going to be to map out your customer journeys. So I think that journey orchestration is still something that we see marketers struggling with. And we believe that the customer is really in control of the journey. We shouldn’t be pushing them in a direction or another. But this is going to be a way to see how you’re mapping it out before it goes live. And if that’s a, you know, a rational path for you and, you know, not every brand is going to be in the position to have adaptive analytics. So for the folks that are still programming out their customer journeys, that’s going to be a blueprint to have that in front of you is great.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, yeah. Well, and I think the Some of the struggles, at least that I’ve seen organizations run into, is with journey orchestration. Not only the customer, as you were saying, when you try to map out and guess what the customer needs, you’re essentially telling the customer what they need instead of listening to the customer. So it’s counterintuitive to the whole idea of customer experience when you think of it that way. But I think another hurdle that a lot of orgs run into is, The journey of the customer is one thing, but all of the supporting roles and processes that lie behind the scenes, so to speak, there’s a lot that needs to change. Is that part of the process, too?

Tara DeZao: Not every organization has all of their channels connected, right? So it’s a way to identify gaps. Like, okay, this is going to run, but this other channel is disconnected, so we need to account for that in some other way.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, yeah, definitely. Well, as we kind of wrap up here, As we’re kind of talking about, I guess we talked about a few things today. So, you know, where is Pega kind of positioning itself as this, you know, you could say it’s a convergence of, you know, there’s gen AI, there’s different types of AI, first party data, you know, what should we be looking for, you know, in the months ahead?

Tara DeZao: Yeah, you know, I think we’re getting to the place where we’re going to be an end-to-end solution with some of the partnerships and things that we’re creating, and more to come on that. But I think the thing that I have seen in my career is that there’s just really no one-size-fits-all solution. And I think that the way that Pega can work with brands and work with data connectors and partners, we’re going to be as close to that as you can possibly get.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, yeah, love it. Well, very last question. What’s the highlight for you this year at PegaWorld?

Tara DeZao: Oh my gosh, the highlight is seeing people that I don’t get to see throughout the year that I work with. Partners, to journalists, to colleagues, and just realizing how lucky that I am to be surrounded by brilliant, creative, just lovely folks. I love my job and it just reminds me that. We all get bogged down with the day-to-day grind, but then when you have an event like this, it really just fills you with energy.