Nordstrom's Evan Barocas On Targeting The Post-Channel Customer

Evan Barocas, Senior Online Advertising Specialist, Nordstrom talks with Steve Smith, VP, Editorial Director, Events, MediaPost.

Evan explains how digital media supports the customer life cycle. “The customer is at the center of our advertising, not brand building or awareness or direct response, it’s our customers. We aligned media to our customer life cycle. A good example is acquisition. We’re trying to acquire new customers in key DMAs with a mix of video, social, programmatic, display, search. Some more traditional branding tactics, performance tactic ... each channel approaches it a little bit differently. Not having a single, unifying view of our customer across all channels is really challenging.

“We found we had an agency managing our branding and bigger initiatatives andwe were spamming our best customers, we were in the process of providing our best customers with a poor experience. So the impetus for bringing it in-house was in providing a more relevant experience. There was an efficiency expectation, of course, but it is centered around providing a better customer experience.

“It’s hard to build an in-house programmatic team, it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s hard to find people with the right mentality to see across all the pieces that fit together. We found corporate people ... from both technology, agency. Both perspectives really matter. It’s too broad of a stroke to hire just from tech, agency, other brands. You put yourself on an island. The more eyes you can get on that, the better.

“The hardest part is the bubble. You want to build relationships with other retailers you‘re not competitive with, with telcos, see what Google is telling you, what Facebook is telling you in terms of capabilities, limitations. 

“We own the media piece so we have a little authority over that but [over] creative and data we don’t. As we scale this model, we have created a lot of great collaboration. I talk about the 4Ds: debate, decide, declare, deliver. We found that when creative aligned to what our larger vision was, our creative was on brand. 

What about ROI?

“It’s all estimates, fuzzy math. The way this gets justified, it’s not cheap, not easy. There’s an enormous amount of work, the second you get into media, you need a team dedicated to it. To justify it and make it sustainable is to focus on the customer. ‘This is what it takes to provide the best experience for the customer.’

“We found the part of bringing media in-house is you get the data that comes with it. On the media side, our media and our programmatic platforms were already [in place]. The conversion rate is higher the closer people are to our stores. We saw real, heavy trends that the closer the customer is to our store, the more often they shop with us and make higher purchases. They want to shop on their terms.

“One of our major objectives is to acquire customers online. We took this data, and geo is an important part of this. Creative was not optimizing around geo. Tech was unintentionally abandoning people closest to the store. But the numbers can go wrong. We had data-informed decision-making, not data-driven decision-making. That can lead you in the exact oppposite direction. We needed to be more relevant to customers 70 miles away. We took first party data, loyalty and non loyalty, .com, previous engagment and onboarded into an integrative platform. Then we took third-party data like weather and onboarded that. Then we split that into the known and unknown. 

“If we have enough first-party data on you, you are now a customer. We’re building forecast models on how that impacts shopping. 

How about optimizing for people far away from Nordstrom stores? 

“Someone in Minnesota in November is not shopping for the same product as someone in South Florida. We can be relevant only to one set.

“Getting our design team to think in a personalized way was a huge chalenge for us. Building on the media side to get feedback to see how different elements of the ads got a creativity lift. It is harder to build engaging dynamic ads than to build a banner ad. We took them along to show best practices and designed for testing. How do we personalize the design to be more relevant. 

So, you can get creative hooked on data?

“I knew I had them when they kept asking for the week’s report.”

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