Mike Berry of Shutterfly: "If all you are doing is solving problem after problem ... with no thought given too the big picture, you are going to end up with a Frankenstein stack"

Mike Berry has seen marketers and their tools continually evolve in response to organizations’ urgent need to reinvent and improve digital customer experience.

One instance he recalled dates back to 2004, when he worked at Apple. Then-CEO Steve Jobs told the overall leader of a project Berry was on that the pure-text purchase confirmation emails they sent out to customers were just “not Apple.” Jobs added that “we were not stupid people, and we could figure it out,” Berry said. “Two weeks of 100-hour work-weeks later, we had an in-house solution up and running to customize those emails with cross-sell products.”

Berry is currently head of marketing technology at digital photo products and services retailer Shutterfly, where he oversees a 25-person martech team and owns the company’s martech strategic roadmap and vision. He joined Shutterfly in 2011, after previous roles at Apple, BusinessObjects, eBay and PayPal.

Make Sure Your User Experience Is Coherent

Berry’s interest in technology dates back to his childhood, thanks to his father’s work developing early desktop computers and mobile phones.

“After meeting Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in the late 1970s, my dad went on to build a PC for Verizon (then called General Telephone) in 1979,” Berry said. “Of course, they never approved it, but, my house became littered with PCs, Radio Shack, Commodore 64, Apple I (yes, the first one!), Apple IIe and so on.”

However, Berry had never thought of technology as a career for himself until his colleague suggested turning the magazine they were running into a website.

“The main thing we then learned was to have a coherent user experience,” he said. “Navigation should be intuitive; flow should meet expectations (for example, a site that scrolls to the side does not work as well as those that scroll down); branding should be stable; and communications bringing people to the site should adequately prepare the user for the experience.”

Berry is a speaker at CMSWire’s DX Summit taking place Nov. 4 through 6 at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Chicago. He will be giving a session at the conference titled “AI for 1:1 Marketing — The State and Evolution of Shutterfly’s Martech Stack,” on Nov. 5.

We spoke with Berry to hear his thoughts on the ongoing evolution of martech tools; his best-practices advice for martech migration projects; and his thoughts on the use of personalization in 1:1 marketing.

Plan for Personalization Success Up-Front

CMSWire: How have you seen marketing tools evolve over the years to help organizations provide customers with better digital experiences? Where, in your opinion, will martech head next?

Berry: The very early efforts were around customizing the site to the individual. When Amazon did it in the late 1990s, it spawned an industry. I worked on some of these earlier personalized experiences and, as the websites grew larger and more complex, the personalization tools reached a bit of steady state, and other channels started getting more attention paid to them.

One personalization tool, which existed before the web did, was email. Email continues to be one of the largest sources of revenue for companies today, and its personalization continues to rapidly improve.

The future is the holy grail of orchestrated multi-channel communications, which adapt in real-time to customer behaviors, based upon predictive data models designed to improve and elevate the customer experience and value of the brand.

CMSWire: In your career, you’ve led many migration projects to adopt new marketing tools. What best-practice advice would you give other companies on how to prepare for such endeavors and help lay a foundation for success?

Berry: There are books written about change management, but I’ll try to call out a few points that have really hit home for me in my personal experience.

First, make sure you have buy-in from the hands-on users. If they are happy with the process they have today, and/or do not see the benefit of a change, you are going to have a serious challenge on your hands.

Second, make sure that this change fits into your vision of a martech stack. If all you are doing is solving problem after problem after problem, with no thought given to the big picture, you are going to end up with a Frankenstein stack, and have pieces that do not connect, are underutilized, or not used at all.

Third, ensure you are well integrated into the corporate tech vision. If your plans run afoul of, say the tech org’s cloud strategy, then you might spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours on a solution that needs to be heavily redesigned or even thrown away.

CMSWire: You’re now halfway through a three-year transformation at Shutterfly to scale communications relevancy through the use of AI technology. What’s gone well so far and why? In hindsight, what might you have done differently? What is your ultimate goal for this project?

Berry: Come see my presentation at DX Summit in November to get the scoop!

We have been very happy with our ability to personalize our email communications. We did it completely in-house. It wasn’t easy, but thanks to a lot of hard-working, smart people, it happened.

I would say that we have really benefited from having a steady team. Though it spans several groups — from strategy to analytics to creative to operations — we have had almost exactly the same team members the entire time. Team consistency has allowed us to keep a steady course, making both incremental and disruptive progress along the way.

But, we did not plan for success. So, when we did see something that showed proven improvement, it took us a long time to productionalize it. I think if we had planned up-front how to fully execute on successes, we would have reaped larger rewards earlier.

CMSWire: How would you characterize the potential benefits and challenges for organizations in adopting a 1:1 marketing approach? How should companies strike the right balance in using such personalization to respect individuals’ data preferences, while also complying with growing data privacy regulations?

Berry: There is so much that can be personalized. You don’t realize until you start getting into the weeds. In email alone, you can personalize the subject line, the send time, the send volume, the send frequency, the logic of the triggers … all this, and we haven’t even gotten to the most important part, the content.

Assuming you do not have unlimited resources, you need to balance the value of personalization with the capacity you have to execute on it, the customer experience, and the uniqueness of your brand to decide what to do.

For privacy, you must comply with the rules of CCPA and GDPR, but you should understand their spirit to guide your data usage plans accordingly. It is an undefined frontier, but one that requires careful thought about existing or future customer data acquisition and utilization.

CMSWire: Who inspires you the most in your daily working life, and why? Do you have a favorite motto or quotation which you find particularly inspiring? If so, what is it, and why does it resonate with you?

Berry: I was very lucky to have had Dr. Barry Posner as a professor when I was in business school at Santa Clara University. His leadership courses were inspirational.

Posner’s series of books, titled ‘The Leadership Challenge,’ co-authored with James Kouzes, inspired my own mentoring at Apple, PayPal and now at Shutterfly. Several of my direct reports have carried this on to the companies they worked at, after working for me.

These next few sentences come straight off the top of my head from ‘The Leadership Challenge,’ as I have them memorized and I think about them often. 

According to Posner and Kouzes, to be a great leader, engage in five practices:

  1. 'Model the Way.’ You are a role model (even if you don’t want to be). Do your best to engage in behaviors you would have others engage in as well.
  2. ‘Inspire a Shared Vision.’ I think the world 'shared' here is extremely important. Too often, leaders come up with their own idea, and then fight to get people to follow it. Allowing an idea to grow with inputs from others ensures those contributors are more likely to help that idea succeed, and it’ll probably be better than the one you came up with on your own.
  3. ‘Challenge the Process.’ This is relatively easy to do, especially if you are new to a leadership role. But, make sure you are doing it for the right reason — it is good for the company — and ensure that you take a look at your own status quo, and allow those processes and systems to change as well. Even if they are working; there is always a chance to improve.
  4. ‘Enable Others to Act.’ Often, this means ensuring that your team has the right tools and training in place to do a great job. But, it can mean other things, like finding a new path for a team member outside of your own organization. What you do needs to be tailored to the individual.
  5. ‘Encourage the Heart.’ Reward people for a job well done. Sometimes, this means a bonus; sometimes, a congratulatory email; sometimes, a call-out in a team meeting; sometimes, a celebration dinner; and occasionally a promotion. Again, tailor the reward for the job and for the person; but make sure they are given proper credit for their work.

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