Will the 2020s be online advertising’s holistic decade?

With less than two months left in the decade, advertising is again entering a new phase of rapid expansion with customer experience front and center.

The explosion of data and identity management, combined with technical advancements in real-time signal detection and machine learning, present new opportunities to respond to consumers, but mastering this ability enables marketers to create “magic moments” — instances of hyper-relevant content, delivered at the perfect time and place. 

We’ll see evolutions on the back end in terms of delivery and measurement — as well as on the consumer-facing end — through new creative deployments that enhance the brick-and-mortar shopping trip. Marketers will be held to a higher standard, both by clients demanding world-class performance and proof, as well as consumers who want relevancy, helpfulness and privacy from their brand relationships. 

Achieving this balance won’t be an easy task, but the most progressive marketers will succeed in driving this industry toward a more customer-centric future because they took steps to evolve before it was too late. With that in mind, here are five ways we expect advertising to become more holistic in the 2020s: 

Smart data will take priority over big data

Most marketers have heard the adage, “garbage in, garbage out.” For too long, the industry relied on sheer quantity of data with no quality metrics for making key audience assumptions. This mentality has had a detrimental effect on our industry, creating an ecosystem where people simply hate ads and brands focus on viewability over ROI.

To truly understand our audiences, we must first turn data from multi-channel interactions into smart, actionable insights. This involves not only understanding who the customer is, but what motivates them. 

Progressive marketers will continue to invest heavily in identity graphs to tie critical data and behaviors to individual profiles across channels. Using data science and machine learning, marketers will then be able to advance their knowledge about consumers to new levels, employing new messaging tactics based not only on value, but also on what inspires action. Key nuances, like distinguishing a deal-seeker from a value-seeker, will lead to more engaging personalized experiences and ultimately better ROI for advertisers.

We’ll see a flurry of investment in real-time engagement

We live in a world where our technology predicts where we are going, what we are seeking and how long it will take to get there by recognizing our patterns and everyday behaviors. The benefits in terms of convenience and knowledge are addictive. Look no further than email, social and Alexa to see how real-time awareness and time savings from these interactions impact our everyday lives.  

For marketers, capturing this lightning in a bottle has always been elusive — until now. The rise of real-time advertising, customer data platforms (CDPs), data science and machine learning have created the ability to detect purchases as well as online and real world location signals in real-time. This enables marketers to not only predict the next shopping trip, but what a consumer is likely to buy, when it matters most.

These sense-and-respond capabilities will enable progressive marketers to create experiences of enormous value at the moments that matter, such as triggering an offer of relevance upon entering a store or delivering a tailored experience at a specific time and location. The new decade will bring about massive investments into these technologies given their immediate ability to influence consumers during the actual purchase process. We’ll see budgets being specifically carved out to support real-time advertising and technologies as marketers optimize and convert users with greater effectiveness.  

For consumers, it means that the in-store experience will continue to become more interactive, with mobile devices as the connecting point between e-commerce and brick and mortar. Brands that thrive in this environment will win by delivering meaningful creative that connects both online and offline worlds in a helpful and relevant way.

Cutting-edge tech will create new ad experiences

Freshworks raises $150M Series H on $3.5B valuation

Freshworks, a company that makes a variety of business software tools, from CRM to help-desk software, announced a $150 million Series H investment today from Sequoia Capital, CapitalG (formerly Google Capital) and Accel on a hefty $3.5 billion valuation. The late-stage startup has raised almost $400 million, according to Crunchbase data.

The company has been building an enterprise SaaS platform to give customers a set of integrated business tools, but CEO and co-founder Girish Mathrubootham says they will be investing part of this money in R&D to keep building out the platform.

To that end, the company also announced today a new unified data platform called the “Customer-for-Life Cloud” that runs across all of its tools. “We are actually investing in really bringing all of this together to create the “Customer-for-Life Cloud,” which is how you take marketing, sales, support and customer success — all of the aspects of a customer across the entire life cycle journey and bring them to a common data model where a business that is using Freshworks can see the entire life cycle of the customer,” Mathrubootham explained.

While Mathrubootham was not ready to commit to an IPO, he said they are in the process of hiring a CFO and are looking ahead to one day becoming a public company. “We don’t have a definite timeline. We want to go public at the right time. We are making sure that as a company that we are ready with the right processes and teams and predictability in the business,” he said.

In addition, he says he will continue to look for good acquisition targets, and having this money in the bank will help the company fill in gaps in the product set should the right opportunity arise. “We don’t generally acquire revenue, but we are looking for good technology teams both in terms of talent, as well as technology that would help give us a jumpstart in terms of go-to-market.” It hasn’t been afraid to target small companies in the past, having acquired 12 already.

Freshworks, which launched in 2010, has almost 2,500 employees, a number that’s sure to go up with this new investment. It has 250,00 customers worldwide, including almost 40,000 paying customers. These including Bridgestone Tires, Honda, Hugo Boss, Toshiba and Cisco.

Salesforce Ventures invested $300M in Automattic while Salesforce was building a CMS

In September, Salesforce Ventures, the venture of arm of Salesforce, announced a hefty $300 million investment in Automattic, the company behind WordPress, the ubiquitous content management system (CMS). At the same time, the company was putting the finishing touches on Salesforce CMS, an in-house project it released last week.

The question is, why did it choose to do both?

One reason could be that WordPress isn’t just well-liked; it’s also the world’s most popular content management system, running 34 percent of the world’s 10 billion websites — including this one — according to the company. With Automattic valued at $3 billion, that gives Salesforce Ventures a 10 percent stake.

Given the substantial investment, you wouldn’t have been irrational to at least consider the idea that Salesforce may have had its eye on this company as an acquisition target. In fact, at the time of the funding, Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg told TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet that there could be some partnerships and integrations with Salesforce in the future.

Now we have a Salesforce CMS, and a potential partnership with one of the world’s largest web content management (WCM) tools, and it’s possible that the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

Helping banks refine sales pitches and customer service, Minneapolis-based Total Expert raises $52 million

It’s no secret that the art of customer service in the modern era is something that banks desperately need help with.

One of the reasons why challenger banks have been able to find acceptance, new customers and — well — the ability to challenge existing banking companies is the mistreatment customers receive from their existing money holders.

That’s why tools designed to help marketing and customer engagement are a big business and why the Minneapolis-based Total Expert has been able to raise $52 million in its latest round of financing.

The new round brings the company’s total haul to $86 million thanks to capital investments from Georgian Partners, Emergence, and Rally Ventures (all veteran software as a service investors).

“We are incredibly excited about Total Expert’s approach to building trust and maximizing the long-term value of relationships between consumers and lenders,” said Simon Chong, managing partner and co-founder of Georgian Partners, in a statement. “The future of consumer finance is engaging across all product and customer needs during their financial life, and Total Expert is the category leader powering this humanized automation and compliance at scale.”

The company said it will use the money to expand on its 218 person team — especially hiring additional data scientists and designers. The company also said it would accelerate the development of new automation tools to help small banks and credit unions compete.

“The future of financial services belongs to firms that combine human interaction with technology in a way that creates higher quality and more relevant experiences throughout the entire customer journey,” said Joe Welu, Total Expert’s chief executive officer. “Every interaction a consumer has with a financial services brand either erodes trust or builds trust, and legacy technology makes it difficult to deliver on the expectations of the modern consumer. Our mission is to ensure that banks and lenders create customers for life by delivering on these expectations”

Latest Adobe tool helps marketers work directly with customer journey data

Adobe has a lot going on with Analytics and the Customer Experience Platform, a place to gather data to understand customers better. Today, it announced a new analytics tool that enables employees to work directly with customer journey data to help deliver a better customer experience.

The customer journey involves a lot of different systems from a company data lake to CRM to point of sale. This tool pulls all of that data together from across multiple systems and various channels and brings it into the data analysis workspace, announced in July.

Nate Smith, group manager for product marketing for Adobe Analytics, says the idea is to give access to this data in a standard way across the organization, whether it’s a data scientist, an analyst with SQL skills or a marketing pro simply looking for insight.

“When you think about organizations that are trying to do omni-channel analysis or trying to get that next channel of data in, they now have the platform to do that, where the data can come in and we standardize it on an academic model,” he said. They then layer this ability to continuously query the data in a visual way to get additional insight they might not have seen.

Adobe screenshot 1

Screenshot: Adobe

Adobe is trying to be as flexible as possible in every step of the process, and openness was a guiding principle here, Smith said. That means that data can come from any source, and users can visualize it using Adobe tools or an external tool like Tableau or Looker. What’s more, they can get data in or out as needed, or even use your their own models, Smith said.

“We recognize that as much as we’d love to have everyone go all in on the Adobe stack, we understand that there is existing significant investment in other tech and that integration and interoperability really needs to happen, as well,” he said.

Ultimately this is about giving marketers access to a full picture of the customer data to deliver the best experience possible based on what you know about them. “Being able to have insight and engagement points to help with the moments that matter and provide great experience is really what we’re aiming to do with this,” he said.

This product will be generally available next month.

Mews grabs $33M Series B to modernize hotel administration

If you think about the traditional hotel business, there hasn’t been a ton of innovation. You mostly still stand in a line to check in, and sometimes even to check out. You let the staff know about your desire for privacy with a sign on the door. Mews believes it’s time to rethink how hotels work in a more modern digital context, especially on the administrative side, and today it announced a $33 million Series B led by Battery Ventures.

When Mews Founder Richard Valtr started his own hotel in Prague in 2012, he wanted to change how hotels have operated traditionally. “I really wanted to change the way that hotel systems are built to make sure that it’s more about the experience that the guest is actually having, rather than facilitating the kind of processes that hotels have built over the last hundred years,” Valtr told TechCrunch.

He said most of the innovation in this space has been in the B2C area, using Airbnb as a prime example. He wants to bring that kind of change to the way hotels operate. “That’s essentially what Mews is trying to do. [We want to shift the focus to] the fundamental things about why we love to travel and why people actually love to stay in hotels, experience hotels, and be cared for by professional staff. We are trying to do that in a way that that actually delivers a really meaningful experience and personalized experience to that one particular customer,” he explained.

For starters, Mews is a cloud-based system that automates a lot of the manual tasks like room assignments that hotel staff at many hotels often still have to handle as part of their jobs. Valtr believes by freeing the staff from these kinds of tedious activities, it enables them to concentrate more on the guests.

It also offers ways for guests and hotels to customize their stays to get the best experience possible. Valtr says this approach brings a new level of flexibility that allows hotels to create new revenue opportunities, while letting guests choose the kind of stay they want.

From a guest perspective, they could by-pass the check-in process altogether, sharing all of their registration details ahead of time, and then getting a pass code sent to their phone to get into the room. The system integrates with third-parting hotel book sites like Booking.com and Expedia, as well as other services, through its open hospitality API, which offers lots of opportunities for properties to partner with local businesses.

The company is currently operating at 1000 properties across 47 countries, but it lacks a presence in the US and wants to use this round to open an office in NYC and expand into this market.”We really want to attack the US market because that’s essentially where most of the decision makers for all of the major chains are. And we’re not going to change the industry if we don’t actually change the thinking of the biggest brands,” Valtr said.

Today, the company has 270 employees spread across 10 offices around the world. Headquarters are in Prague and London, but the company is in the process of opening that NYC office, and the number of employees will expand when that happens.

Customer success isn’t an add-on – Start early to win later

What comes first: Sales or Customer Success? Many growing startups pressure themselves to start selling as soon as there’s a viable product to sell. “Set up Customer Success functions” goes on the to-do list. After all, we don’t have to worry for another year, right?

Using the proprietary Scale Studio dataset of hundreds of SaaS startups, we’ll look at the metrics that venture investors use to link your company’s valuation to success in Customer Success — then dive into the tactics for adapting your CS program to your company’s high-touch or low-touch sales model

A year passes, and the company’s first renewals come due. Everyone from the CEO on down scrambles to do whatever it takes to make those charter customers happy and win contract extensions. After all, those customers aren’t just any customers — they’re the company’s first references, critical to landing new business and raising funds from investors. Every effort goes into making them happy.

The problem is, of course, that bringing in the CEO and CTO and VP of Sales on every renewal isn’t exactly a scalable process. Nor the basis for a long-term Customer Success strategy. 

Customer Success — a formal, process-driven, value-creating operational activity — needs to be structured to scale. And it needs to be top-of-mind from day one. Here is a look at the data and strategic rationale for launching CS early in a startup’s growth to avoid inefficiency and mistakes down the line. 

The case for customer success: Valuation

To venture investors, a well-run CS operation at an early-in-revenue startup communicates that your company has a sophisticated go-to-market strategy with a customer-centric foundation. This can translate into a valuation boost along two paths: accelerated revenue growth and increased predictability. And growth is a key driver for valuation with venture investors

Simon Data hauls in $30M Series C to continue building customer data platform

As businesses use an increasing variety of marketing software solutions, the goal around collecting all of that data is to improve customer experience. Simon Data announced a $30 million Series C round today to help.

The round was led by Polaris Partners . Previous investors .406 Ventures and F-Prime Capital also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $59 million, according to the company.

Jason Davis, co-founder and CEO, says his company is trying to pull together a lot of complex data from a variety of sources, while driving actions to improve customer experience. “It’s about taking the data, and then building complex triggers that target the right customer at the right time,” Davis told TechCrunch. He added, “This can be in the context of any sort of customer transaction, or any sort of interaction with the business.”

Companies tend to use a variety of marketing tools, and Simon Data takes on the job of understanding the data and activities going on in each one. Then based on certain actions — such as, say, an abandoned shopping cart — it delivers a consistent message to the customer, regardless of the source of the data that triggered the action.

They see this ability to pull together data as a customer data platform (CDP). In fact, part of its job is to aggregate data and use it as the basis of other activities. In this case, it involves activating actions you define based on what you know about the customer at any given moment in the process.

As the company collects this data, it also sees an opportunity to use machine learning to create more automated and complex types of interactions. “There are a tremendous number of super complex problems we have to solve. Those include core platform or infrastructure, and we also have a tremendous opportunity in front of us on the predictive and data science side as well,” Davis said. He said that is one of the areas where they will put today’s money to work.

The company, which launched in 2014, is based in NYC. The company currently has 87 employees in total, and that number is expected to grow with today’s announcement. Customers include Equinox, Venmo and WeWork. The company’s most recent funding round was a $20 million in July 2018.

Beynd gets $2M seed to improve customer experience with better onboarding

Customer experience is a term that gets bandied about quite a bit these days. If you can improve the customer experience, you can win more customers. Beynd, a Utah startup, wants to help by providing a better, more automated onboarding workflow. Today, it announced a $2 million seed round.

The round was led by Peak Ventures with participation from Prelude Ventures. The investors seem to be making a good bet. CEO and founder Peter Ord says the company has had a product for just 10 months, but already boasts 121 paying customers with 6800 users on the platform.

Ord says the company’s genesis began, like so many startup ideas, out of frustration he experienced at his previous job. Getting people started on the company’s software was too hard. He thought there had to be a better way, so he built it, and Beynd (pronounced Beyond) was born.

“They say the best companies start with the founders biggest frustration. One of my biggest frustrations at my previous job was that in my everyday life, I could order a pizza and know exactly when that pizza was ready. But when our customers bought our software, we had no thoughtful or meaningful way to help our customers understand when we were going to deliver that,” Ord told TechCrunch.

The customer starts by creating an onboarding workflow template. Each client has its own unique requirements. The first interactions are by email (or communication channel of choice) giving instructions on how to proceed. If the customer gets stuck, there is a button to email the project manager that there is a problem.

The solution includes tools for projected launch dates, so that customers can understand when a product will be ready (or service completed). It also includes an analytics tool, so that customers can understand which processes are most likely to stall.

The company actually uses its own software to onboard its customers. “We drink our own champagne, We use our own products. And so we’re extremely efficient in the way we onboard our customers because they get an immediate sense of how they use the tool through us using our tool to onboard them,” Ord explained.

The company had bootstrapped the business to this point. He says that his goal is to continue to run it as a real business, but the funding will help him expand his vision and improve the experience. He just doesn’t want to get too caught up in the funding culture. “There’s an interesting culture in the VC space where it’s all about raise as much as you can, as fast as you can, and I actually have kind of the opposite opinion, he said.

For now, he has $2 million to try and scale the business further, and he’ll get more only if he feels he needs it. “Let’s continue to prove out the model with this money, then let’s raise more if we have to,” he said.

Segment CEO Peter Reinhardt is coming to TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise to discuss customer experience management

There are few topics as hot right now in the enterprise as customer experience management, that ability to collect detailed data about your customers, then deliver customized experiences based on what you have learned about them. To help understand the challenges companies face building this kind of experience, we are bringing Segment CEO Peter Reinhardt to TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise on September 5 in San Francisco (p.s. early-bird sales end this Friday, August 9).

At the root of customer experience management is data — tons and tons of data. It may come from the customer journey through a website or app, basic information you know about the customer or the customer’s transaction history. It’s hundreds of signals and collecting that data in order to build the experience where Reinhardt’s company comes in.

Segment wants to provide the infrastructure to collect and understand all of that data. Once you have that in place, you can build data models and then develop applications that make use of the data to drive a better experience.

Reinhardt, and a panel that includes Qualtrics’ Julie Larson-Green and Adobe’s Amit Ahuja, will discuss with TechCrunch editors the difficulties companies face collecting all of that data to build a picture of the customer, then using it to deliver more meaningful experiences for them. See the full agenda here.

Segment was born in the proverbial dorm room at MIT when Reinhardt and his co-founders were students there. They have raised more than $280 million since inception. Customers include Atlassian, Bonobos, Instacart, Levis and Intuit .

Early-bird tickets to see Peter and our lineup of enterprise influencers at TC Sessions: Enterprise are on sale for just $249 when you book here; but hurry, prices go up by $100 after this Friday!

Are you an early-stage startup in the enterprise-tech space? Book a demo table for $2,000 and get in front of TechCrunch editors and future customers/investors. Each demo table comes with four tickets to enjoy the show.