Nataly Kelly is Chief Marketing Officer at consumer insights platform Zappi, which helps B2C brands with their advertising research and innovation.

We caught up with Kelly to ask about the changing nature of market research; any brand doing ad testing ad hoc “will miss out on the latest opportunities to leverage AI for consumer insights,” says the CMO.

We also ask Kelly about her favourite ads, and how her own role in SaaS marketing has evolved in the last decade.

Econsultancy: What’s your favourite ever ad?

Nataly Kelly: I have so many favourite ads that it’s hard to pick just one! But as for a recent favourite that consumers absolutely loved, I would highlight the recent ad from Mint Mobile featuring Ryan Reynolds. We found through our data that it scores in the top 10% of all US telco ads in potential to drive immediate sales and build brand equity in the long term.

Who doesn’t love Ryan Reynolds, after all? That said, it’s not just about the celebrity. Consumers loved how clear and simple the message was, and found it to be highly unique and differentiated. What I loved about this ad most is that it’s interesting without being complex, a difficult balance for a brand to strike.

The Telco industry is one where historically brands have relied on promotional advertising…

The Telco industry is one where historically brands have relied on promotional advertising to leverage ads that influence short-term behaviour change into long-term business. With Ryan Reynolds as the focal point, Mint is creating a distinctive asset that created immediate recognition for the brand in a crowded market in the long-term.

E: What are your bugbears when it comes to assumptions and tropes you see in advertising and planning?

NK: The top issue that bothers me is when brands conduct their consumer research on a project basis, testing one ad at a time, instead of taking a more holistic, human view.

When insights processes happen on an ad hoc basis, the consumer sits at the periphery instead of at the centre. When brands test ads and don’t even store their data in any platform or system, insights are obtained on a one-off basis. When that data doesn’t get integrated into a broader ecosystem, the focus is only on the point-in-time impact.

Doing ad testing on a project-by-project basis is a way of the past. In fact, any brand doing that will miss out on the latest opportunities to leverage AI for consumer insights. Leveraging AI can speed up the process of testing, analysing, and delivering insights in consumer research. We see this every day in our work with customers at Zappi. Brands cannot properly leverage technology and automation unless they first systemetize their insights function, and this is a major area of opportunity that many brands today are still overlooking.

When insights processes happen on an ad hoc basis, the consumer sits at the periphery instead of at the centre.

To put the consumer at the heart of decision-making, and to gain ongoing strategic advantage, brands need to consolidate their advertising data. Brands that connect their data and insights across projects, business units, markets and teams, can unlock meta-learning, which benefits the brand as a whole.

E: What’s different about marketing a SaaS company now, compared to 10 years ago?

NK: Everything has changed, but yet, the basics are still the same. Marketing a SaaS company today is still about getting the fundamentals right. In other words, you still have to make sure you have a crystal clear ideal customer profile, create the right messaging and positioning, and get your product in front of customers at the right time in their journey.

One major difference in recent years is how much of your focus as a CMO needs to be on supporting the entire customer journey. When I was a VP of Marketing at a SaaS company about 10 years ago, the notion of the classic “funnel” was very real, and the primary focus of marketing was to support sales and drive demand. There was a laser focus on bringing traffic to your website, converting leads, and creating opportunities for sales.

Channels were simply not as saturated as they are today.

Today, the customer journey has evolved significantly and so has its complexity. It’s no longer sufficient to just drive net new logo growth. The modern B2B SaaS marketer is expected to support all phases of the journey. This often includes things like product-led growth, in which marketers support cross-sell and upsell opportunities directly within a platform. It also includes things like customer onboarding campaigns to drive adoption up to ensure high retention rates.

A decade ago when I took my first marketing leadership role at a SaaS company, it was also far easier to compete on many channels using classic digital marketing strategies. Channels were simply not as saturated as they are today. It was far easier to rank and build up an SEO footprint, for example. You could scale lead flow hugely by allocating budget to things like Facebook ads too. Today, there are far more possibilities but also much more competition.

Traditional consumer insights techniques are ‘utterly outdated’: founder of insights platform Zappi on digitisation

Do you ‘eat your own dog food’ at Zappi? If so, what have you found about your own marketing?

We are constantly using our platform at Zappi, learning from our customers and the exciting developments they are achieving with advertising and innovation. Every day, we work with brands like PepsiCo, Clorox, Colgate-Palmolive, and many others, to help them achieve a more mature state of connected insights.

Our platform is designed primarily for large global B2C brands, and because we are a B2B SaaS company, we don’t currently use Zappi to test our own advertising. Our focus is on helping our customers’ marketing, advertising, and product innovations improve instead. So, when it comes to your product, we focus on their needs first and foremost.

That said, we are careful students of what we learn along the way, and we continually share our findings in our newsletters, on the Zappi blog, and presentations at industry events, so that we can help the entire field of advertising and marketing to evolve.

What’s your favourite B2B brand other than your own?

Canva is the B2B brand I love most right now. I’ve been a fan of Canva since their earliest days. Not only do I use them for both work and personal reasons, but I appreciate many things about the company’s culture, their commitment to truly making design accessible for everyone, and the fact that they’re a highly global company with a stated mission to make a worldwide impact.

I also am, of course, a fan of HubSpot, where I worked for nearly eight years prior to Zappi, and saw the company evolve from approximately 700 to 7000 employees. It’s very interesting to see how a brand evolves and goes through that journey, and which elements remain consistent over time. I see a lot of commonalities between Zappi and my early years at HubSpot, especially with regard to the culture and market opportunity ahead of us.

What has inspired you outside of work recently?

My two young daughters have been very active in dance in recent years. They are currently preparing for their recital performances in an array of dance types, from ballet to acro-dance, from lyrical to hip hop. It’s so much fun to see children learn and grow not only in the physicality of dance, but in their ability to convey emotions and stories through movement, aided by music, props, costumes, and even acting, in the case of musical theatre.

These performances are so much fun, and while I too love a good Broadway or West End production as much as anyone, I have to say these are my current favourites, and hugely inspiring to me. Nothing is better than seeing young people evolve and grow. I feel the same way about the marketers on my own team, and encouraging them as they evolve in their careers too. It’s incredibly rewarding.

Econsultancy offers elearning in topics such as: defining customer needs; customer journey mapping, user research; experience analytics; and voice of customer.