79: Aliaksandra Lamachenka: The rise of data product managers and the organic evolution of AI in marketing

What’s up folks, today we’re joined by Aliaksandra Lamachenka, Marketing Technology Consultant and Nonprofit founder.

Summary: Aliaksandra takes us on a journey through the evolving AI landscape in marketing, promising a future shaped by deep human expertise and broad understanding, all areas where AI is still playing catch up. The episode is ripe with insights about the rise of hybrid, business-savvy data product managers, who are subtly revolutionizing martech by marrying marketing perspectives with innovative thinking. They are unearthing overlooked insights, much like Duolingo, which leveraged data science to redefine its target metrics and boost its DAU. Amidst the din of the composable vs packaged CDPs debate, Aliaksandra brings our attention back to the basics – the crucial need for quality, traceable data. This illuminates the pivotal role of open data hubs, which could unlock the next chapter in efficient data management and utilization. Meanwhile, vendors of composable data platforms face a crossroads: will they expand to cater to growing customer needs or hold fast to their roots? Their decision could very well shape the future of martech, steering its course towards either the democratization of data or maintenance of the status quo.

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About Aliaksandra

  • Born in Belarus, Aliaksandra got her start in gaming and SaaS startups in product marketing roles
  • In 2017 she became Head of Marketing at SplitMetrics, a team of experts building the future of mobile marketing tools
  • She then moved to the UK to lead a product marketing team at Skyscanner, the popular flight comparison site where she focused on app growth and martech
  • In 2021, she joined Depop as Marketing Technology Lead where she owned compliance management, multi-touch attribution and much more
  • Since then she’s partnered with various companies as a Marketing Technology and Growth advisor, including the popular female health app– Flo
  • In April of last year, Aliaksandra co-founded Leleka Art, an online nonprofit marketplace that allows you to buy artwork made by children from Ukraine built on top of a custom money transfer system 
  • Today, she’s scaled Leleka to a team of 30+ volunteers, +5k sellers and 15k works of art helping children and their families make over 30k

The Organic Evolution of AI in Marketing and Lessons from Architectural History

Aliaksandra takes a particularly compelling approach to understanding the potential role of AI in marketing. Drawing a unique analogy from the records of Japanese architectural history, she paints a picture of how AI’s integration could be less of a disruptive force, but rather an organic and gradual process.

Following the Second World War, a group of young Japanese architects refused to view architecture as merely a functional tool. They envisioned buildings as living organisms, an idea that later came to be known as “Japanese metabolism.” These architects designed structures with a central spine, to which they could add or subtract modular capsules as needed. At the time, their ideas were regarded as revolutionary, indicative of what the future would undoubtedly hold.

Decades later, their concepts have not been realized in their envisioned form, mainly being used for storage purposes, yet they have certainly left an indelible mark. The idea of high modularity, the foundational spine with small attachable elements, is now visible in various facets of our lives. You can observe it in modular housing, landscape-integrated buildings, and even in the functionality of platforms like Pandora, Tesla, or the App Store.

Aliaksandra sees AI’s trajectory in a similar light. Like the revolutionary architectural concepts of the past, AI’s ideas may appear bold and groundbreaking. However, their integration will likely be more gradual than anticipated, quietly shaping our future. Much like the world adapted to the concepts of modularity, so too will it adapt to AI.

Just as we accept modular buildings as a natural part of our world today, in 20 or 50 years, AI’s presence in marketing will feel just as natural and intrinsic. AI won’t displace marketers overnight but will instead weave itself into the fabric of the profession organically.

Takeaway: The progression of AI in marketing is not likely to be a sudden, disruptive force. Instead, as Aliaksandra’s rich analogy suggests, AI will bring about a natural evolution in the field, slowly but surely shaping its future.

AI and the Future of Early-Stage Marketing Careers, Depth, Breadth, and Generalism

One of Aliaksandra’s key points is the future value of professionals who can operate at the intersection of different industries or specialties. In a world where the boundaries between industries are blurring, being an expert in more than one field could be a significant advantage. For instance, understanding both engineering and marketing, or medicine and business, can provide a broader perspective and unique insights. In the future job market, the collision of different worlds could be the breeding ground for innovation.

However, depth of expertise remains equally critical, and this is something Aliaksandra wishes she had realized earlier in her career. She warns against the temptation of becoming a generalist too early on, of trying to learn a little bit of everything. Instead, she suggests starting by deepening expertise in one or two fields, then gradually acquiring knowledge in additional areas. This approach allows for a solid foundation of deep expertise paired with a broad understanding, a balance that she believes could be crucial for early-career success in the evolving landscape.

Lastly, she draws our attention to the inherently generalistic nature of AI language models, like ChatGPT. These models are designed to draw on a wide range of sources and generalize information, lacking the depth of expertise that humans can have. In this regard, individuals with profound expertise in their field have an advantage, as it would be challenging for a language model to compete with their specialized knowledge.

Takeaway: The future of marketing careers may lie in cultivating a blend of deep expertise, cross-industry knowledge, and a broad understanding. Above all, it’s the depth of human expertise that AI has yet to match.

The Impact of Business-Oriented Machine Learning/Data Product Managers in Martech Teams

Aliaksandra opened up about her experiences working with these dynamic professionals known as business-oriented machine learning/data product managers. Their passion for growth and marketing sets them apart as natural innovators. Interestingly, their lack of traditional marketing knowledge or business processes doesn’t limit them, but rather fuels their innovative mindset.

She explained that these professionals constantly challenge established beliefs and norms within the team. They aren’t afraid to question the reasoning behind the set processes and methodologies. This sense of inquisitiveness often leads to uncovering novel perspectives and solutions that may have been neglected due to the team’s ingrained biases.

Another area where these data product managers excel is in their effective collaboration with engineering teams. With a firm grasp of technical complexities and trade-offs, they can have meaningful exchanges with engineers, propose manageable initiatives, and break down larger projects into smaller, achievable parts. In essence, they’re the link between the marketing and engineering teams, bringing valuable perspectives to both sides.

However, these professionals often face challenges when confronted with marketing teams holding strong opinions about how tasks should be executed. Overcoming these challenges requires them to understand marketing on a deeper level so that they can provide alternative solutions and help find middle ground. Aliaksandra’s solution to this is a continuous integration of marketing expertise into their roles, leading to a balance between challenging and understanding their marketing colleagues.

Takeaway: Business-oriented machine learning/data product managers are revolutionizing martech teams with their innovative mindsets and bridge-building capabilities. By continually incorporating marketing perspectives into their roles, they can uncover valuable insights and solutions that could easily be overlooked by a traditional approach.

An Unconventional Approach to Increasing User Engagement

When asked about an instance where a data product manager disrupted long-held beliefs about marketing, Aliaksandra cited an example from a company she deeply admired but wasn’t directly involved with: Duolingo. Known for its innovative approach to user engagement, Duolingo’s strategy illustrates the transformative power of data-driven decision making.

Duolingo noticed a stagnation in their daily active user (DAU) growth. The traditional marketing efforts weren’t yielding the expected results. To counter this, they built a growth model using their data science team, dividing their entire user base into smaller segments. The segments represented different user states: new users, current users, dormant users, and users on the brink of churn.

By analyzing historical data and calculating the transition rates between these segments, Duolingo developed a unique insight. They discovered that keeping existing users engaged was more valuable than acquiring new ones or reactivating dormant ones. This challenged the conventional marketing wisdom of constantly hunting for new users.

In light of this revelation, Aliaksandra emphasized the subsequent steps Duolingo took: they reoriented their team around the task of user engagement, identified key levers to maintain this engagement, and began to experiment. This led to the decision to make the current user retention rate their new target metric. As a result, Duolingo achieved an impressive tripling of their DAU in just a few years.

What Aliaksandra particularly admires is Duolingo’s current approach to user engagement: a pool of messaging and notifications managed by machine learning algorithms, not humans. These algorithms determine the optimal message to send to each user, a perfect blend of AI and marketing strategy.

Takeaway: Aliaksandra’s example underscores the value that data-driven, business-oriented product managers can bring to marketing teams. By challenging traditional marketing beliefs and leveraging data science, Duolingo was able to redefine their target metrics and successfully increase their DAU. As marketing is increasingly blended with data and technology, teams that can embrace this interdisciplinary approach have the potential to uncover innovative solutions and drive substantial growth.

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Composable Martech and the Drive for Democratization

We delved into the complex dynamics of the evolving martech industry, focusing particularly on the emergence of warehouse-native applications. These platforms have the unique advantage of operating directly atop data warehouses, removing the necessity to duplicate data and enabling real-time data processing.

The discussion circled around the increasing adoption of warehouse-native tools across the martech landscape. Kubit, an intriguing player in this space, came up for its similarities to robust business intelligence (BI) platforms like Tableau and Looker. However, Kubit advertises itself by significantly cutting down the need for resource-heavy investments, an accessible analytics solution for smaller companies. Aliaksandra emphasized how such platforms are gradually democratizing data analytics, making sophisticated solutions accessible for businesses that may not have the resources or budget to engage with more complex platforms, but this all might be easier said than done. 

Aliaksandra then posed an important dilemma facing the growing class of composable martech vendors. Typically they represent one niche component of a typical packaged solution. As their customer base matures and their needs become more sophisticated, these vendors will be confronted with a choice—either to enhance and expand their functionalities to retain customers or to remain true to their foundational principles and continue offering lightweight, composable solutions.

In highlighting this crossroad, Aliaksandra opened up a wider dialogue about the direction of the martech industry. As new players emerge and established companies evolve, the industry will likely see an increased focus on accessible, democratized solutions that empower even smaller businesses to make data-driven decisions. However, the trajectory these platforms follow—whether expanding their offering or adhering to their original vision—could determine the future shape of the martech landscape.

Takeaway: Aliaksandra’s insights highlight a crucial inflection point in the martech industry’s evolution. The choice that vendors of composable data platforms make in response to growing customer needs—whether to expand their functionalities or stick to their original vision—will greatly impact the democratization of data within the industry. This decision will set the course for the future of martech, shaping how companies of all sizes harness the power of their data.

Decoding the Battle Between Composable and Packaged CDPs

The evolving debate of composable and packaged customer data platforms (CDPs) is something that strikes a few chords with Aliaksandra. While industry leaders like the reverse ETL platform founders may disagree on the future of the data industry, the success of these platforms lies in their ability to adapt to customer needs. From the provocative stance of ‘Friends don’t let friends buy CDPs,’ to the commitment to flexibility and composable CDP routes, both players are carving out their niches in the field.

She pointed out the real battle is often not between composable and packaged CDPs but rather resolving fundamental data quality and disparity issues. Despite heated industry discussions, many businesses still struggle with basic issues like poor UTM tag setups, untraceable data points, or mismatching data across platforms. While we like to think of our data as neat lakes, the reality is often that we have a messy swamp of data to deal with.

In Aliaksandra’s view, the real game-changers in this space would be “open data hubs” that force ownership and documentation by design, allowing users to trace and understand their data better. This, she suggests, is the crucial groundwork that needs to be laid before businesses can truly leverage the power of any CDP, be it composable or packaged.

Takeaway: While the industry debates between composable and packaged CDPs, the more pressing challenge lies in improving the base data layer. Only with quality, traceable data can businesses fully exploit the potential of any data platform. In this context, the rise of open data hubs may hold the key to a new chapter in data management and utilization.

A Heart for Philanthropy and The Story Behind Leleka Art

Aliaksandra’s entrepreneurial journey is not confined to the data landscape. She has been passionately driving a nonprofit initiative, Leleka Art, alongside a team of volunteers. Founded amid the turmoil of war, Leleka has served as a beacon of hope for children deeply affected by the crisis in Ukraine.

Aliaksandra and her team identified children as the most vulnerable group in the war-stricken situation. Adults could donate, volunteer, reflect, and understand the events, but children watched their world shatter. Many lost their homes, living in fear and uncertainty as the echoes of warfare surrounded them. This reality sparked the idea for Leleka. The team aimed to reassure these children that they were not invisible, that the world was not indifferent to their suffering.

Leleka allows children to express their experiences and emotions through art. These artworks are then sold globally for seven pounds each. To date, the children’s creativity has generated an impressive 30,000k in sales. The initiative has received widespread media coverage and support from reputable platforms like BBC, The Independent, and Voice of America.

In reflecting on this journey, Aliaksandra sees it as a way to cope with the war’s emotional toll, a therapeutic channel to mitigate despair and depression. She is deeply connected to the conflict, and helping others provides a way not only to respond to a dire situation but also to preserve her sanity.

Takeaway: Aliaksandra’s experience in spearheading Leleka underscores the transformative power of entrepreneurial thinking, even in the non-profit world. The project serves as a poignant reminder that while we grapple with issues in our professional realms, there are broader human challenges that can benefit from the same level of innovative problem-solving and passion. Despite the war’s bleak circumstances, Aliaksandra and her team have created a space for affected children to express themselves and feel seen by the world.

The Power of Giving, Aliaksandra’s Key to Happiness and Success

Navigating the complex interplay of career, personal life, and philanthropy, Aliaksandra has certainly worn many hats – an activist, entrepreneur, philanthropist, writer, speaker, and wife. Amidst the bustling milieu of these responsibilities, the one question that often resonates is: how does she manage to stay balanced and happy while juggling these various roles? 

Aliaksandra attributes her happiness and success to a single, potent concept: giving back. For her, the act of giving, whether it be sharing knowledge, mentoring others, or contributing to initiatives like Leleka, engenders a sense of genuine happiness that far surpasses personal gains. 

The smile on a mentee’s face when they navigate a career challenge, every piece of knowledge shared that empowers someone, and each artwork sold on Leleka, fuels her sense of accomplishment and joy. This act of giving back doesn’t merely contribute to her personal happiness but also serves as a motivating force that powers her through all aspects of life. 

Takeaway: The essence of Aliaksandra’s success lies not in personal accomplishments, but in the joy derived from giving back. By leveraging her knowledge, experiences, and resources to benefit others, she has found a powerful formula for happiness and balance amidst her busy life.

Championing Martech Exploration

As she wound up the conversation, Aliaksandra didn’t miss the chance to plug in her belief in the potential of marketing technology and to give a hearty endorsement to the Humans of Martech podcast.

Emphasizing the unexplored opportunities in the ‘martech’ space, she urged for more marketing professionals to delve into this domain and pioneer innovative strategies. She believes that the growth of marketing technology heavily relies on human interaction and creative innovation.

Expressing her faith in the podcast, Aliaksandra highlighted it as a critical resource in kindling excitement and spreading knowledge about marketing technology. This endorsement resonates with her unwavering commitment to advancing the martech landscape and nurturing a culture of curiosity and innovation in the field.

Episode Recap

In this enlightening episode with Aliaksandra, we navigate the subtle yet powerful currents of AI’s potentially slow-motion revolution in marketing. Its transformative force might not be totally explosive over time, but gently evolutionary, promising a future where the field is molded by a symbiosis of deep expertise, industry-spanning knowledge, and a panoramic understanding, all aspects where AI still has room to grow. 

Introducing business-savvy data product managers, the martech evolution continues as these hybrid roles intertwine marketing perspectives with innovative thinking to uncover overlooked yet critical insights. The inspirational success story of Duolingo, reshaping its target metrics and driving up DAU, stands as a testament to this approach, advocating for a blend of marketing, data, and tech in the race for growth.

As we delve into the turning point of the martech industry, Aliaksandra raises a fascinating query: How will vendors of composable data platforms respond to customer demands? Will they expand their scope or staunchly adhere to their roots? Their choice holds the power to democratize data or maintain status quo, mapping the industry’s trajectory.

Amid the clamor of composable versus packaged CDPs, Aliaksandra casts a spotlight on the pressing issue at hand: data quality. In the quest for harnessing any data platform, the starting point remains clear, precise, and traceable data. Open data hubs, stepping onto this stage, may well be our guide to a fresh era of efficient data management and usage.

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Follow Aliaksandra and Leleka Art 👇


Intro music by Wowa via Unminus
Art created with Midjourney

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