88: Tamara Gruzbarg: A hybrid approach to CDPs, white box predictive modeling and AI as a human in the loop system

What’s up folks, today I have the pleasure of sitting down with Tamara Gruzbarg, VP Customer Strategy at ActionIQ – an enterprise Customer Data Platform.

Summary: The discussion centered around the nuanced relationship between AI, marketing, and customer data platforms (CDPs). Tamara highlighted the excitement and limitations of AI, emphasizing the irreplaceable role of human creativity and business context. Her insights extended to the advancements in generative AI, the flexible approach of ActionIQ in dealing with CDPs, and the importance of aligning technology with an organization’s strategy and capabilities. The conversation provided a rich exploration of the future of AI in marketing and the evolving landscape of CDPs, offering actionable insights that stress the need for human ingenuity and flexibility in today’s market.

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About Tamara

  • Tamara launched her career as a Data Analyst at Citi before spending 8 years at JP Morgan Chase – the world’s largest bank by market cap – working her way up to VP of Data Analytics 
  • She broadened her experience as Head of Digital Analytics at Experian in 2006 and later moved into retail as Senior Director of Analytics at Gilt Groupe in 2010
  • After a four-year stint in retail and fashion, she briefly joined Meredith Corp as SVP of Data
  • For the past five years, she’s been shaping customer data strategy as VP at ActionIQ, aiding enterprise brands like HP, Dell, Autodesk, Atlassian, Bloomberg bring order to the chaos of CX

AI as a “Human in the Loop” System

When asked about the recent exhilaration in the marketing world around AI, especially with the emergence of ChatGPT, and the fears and challenges that AI may replace all the functions of a marketer, Tamara expressed both excitement and a clear understanding of the boundaries. She emphasized that although AI has transformative potential, the notion of it replacing everything in marketing is far from reality.

Tamara eloquently pointed out that AI has the power to take over menial, repetitive tasks within marketing, thus automating and optimizing several functions. This transition, she noted, will require professionals to acquire new skills to effectively partner with AI, often referred to as “Gen AI.”

She further illuminated the philosophy of ActionIQ, where AI is seen as a “human in the loop” system. In other words, AI can assist with content generation, but it still needs human guidance. This insight reflects the company’s belief that AI doesn’t pull ideas out of thin air; it requires a marketer’s creativity, tone of voice, and style to guide its output. Without this human collaboration, marketing initiatives risk becoming monotonous and less effective.

Using the widely accepted phrase “we need to cut through the noise,” Tamara argued that it’s even more critical to have a human in the loop with systems like ChatGPT to ensure uniqueness and effectiveness in marketing strategies.

In her thoughtful and informed response, Tamara envisioned AI as an extension of existing tools rather than a replacement. She reinforced that building robust models for predictions such as conversion or churn rates necessitates a strong grasp of business context and data structure, something only humans can provide.

Takeaway: AI’s role in marketing is neither an all-encompassing replacement nor a threat to creative and strategic aspects. Instead, Tamara sees it as a tool for enhancing productivity by automating repetitive tasks and acting as an assistant in content creation. Its success, however, relies on human intelligence and intuition to guide it, maintaining the unique flavor and effectiveness of marketing initiatives. The human element is not only vital but irreplaceable, especially when it comes to cutting through the noise in today’s competitive landscape.

Machine Learning and Personalized Messaging

When asked about the real valuable innovations in AI for marketing applications, especially concerning machine learning and natural language processing in the realm of self-optimizing campaigns, Tamara expressed both enthusiasm and caution. 

She acknowledged the promising nature of the area, reflecting on how the journey began with email service providers (ESPs) optimizing send times to maximize email open rates. This has evolved to include subject line testing, allowing a winning version to reach a larger audience. These components, Tamara explained, are part of a more comprehensive journey towards achieving self-optimizing customer experiences.

With the advancements in generative AI, it’s now possible to couple micro-segments with the dynamic capabilities of language models. Tamara finds this intersection particularly exciting, yet she maintains a skeptical stance regarding the idea of fully self-optimized journeys. Her perspective as a “human in the loop” proponent leads her to foresee the near to medium future as one where businesses might perceive the journey as self-optimizing, but human involvement will still be essential.

Vendors promising self-optimization will require considerable human effort to ensure that these AI-driven journeys not only function properly but also drive the business forward. The allure of using AI to personalize messaging and orchestrating the best message at the perfect time may be strong, but Tamara’s insights suggest that we are still on a path where human insight and input are invaluable.

Takeaway: The intersection of AI and marketing is an exciting area that promises innovations in self-optimizing campaigns. However, as Tamara explains, the road to complete automation is still a work in progress, and human involvement remains crucial. The blend of AI with human insight can create powerful tools, but reliance solely on technology may not yet be the complete solution for personalized customer experiences.

The Synergy of Human Intelligence and Automation in Marketing Campaigns

Tamara’s response to a detailed example of automating campaign creation offers a compelling look into the intricate relationship between human intelligence and automation.

The process outlined from another episode with Wyatt Bales begins with humans playing an indispensable role. They’re responsible for the creative and strategic aspects, defining the campaign’s goals, identifying the ideal journey for the user, and initiating the automation process by creating a ticket in a project management tool. This triggers a generative AI tool, producing drafts that the human team reviews and refines.

Tamara highlights the value in this synergy, with the human touch being essential in understanding the nuances of the campaign and reviewing AI-generated content. She firmly believes in automating tasks such as data uploading and report distribution but maintains that the human aspect is irreplaceable in areas that require critical thinking and strategic vision.

She further relates this perspective to her own career experience, managing what she terms “human CDP’s.” Leading teams of highly skilled data professionals, she witnessed firsthand how manual handling of tasks that could be automated often limited their potential. This realization fueled her enthusiasm for the CDP space and led her to her current position.

In her view, automation in marketing shouldn’t be about completely replacing human roles but rather enhancing them. By automating mundane and repetitive tasks, skilled professionals can focus on more complex, valuable activities that machines can’t replicate. Her experience in the field reinforces the belief that the combination of automation with human insight creates a more efficient and focused approach to marketing.

Takeaway: Tamara’s insights provide a balanced view of the integration of human intelligence and automation in the marketing landscape. By embracing automation for specific tasks, human professionals can focus on strategic and creative roles, driving innovation, and maximizing efficiency. The fusion of human expertise with automation isn’t about replacement but rather collaboration, leading to more effective and personalized marketing campaigns.

The Hybrid Approach to Customer Data Platforms in ActionIQ

When asked about the debate of package versus composable in the context of Customer Data Platforms (CDP), particularly referencing ActionIQ’s unique positioning, Tamara provided an insightful look into their approach and philosophy.

ActionIQ prides itself on offering a hybrid approach to CDP, an idea that resonates deeply with Tamara and her team. From the very inception of their product, they embraced the motto of flexibility. For them, understanding client needs, aligning with those needs, and supporting them on the journey towards first-party data maturity is paramount. This understanding recognizes that data management is a continually evolving field and organizations must adapt to changes in both needs and infrastructure.

Tamara describes how they have been attuned to this fact, offering different components of their CDP solution based on where the client is and what their specific needs are. They have clients who rely on them for everything a composable CDP can offer, and others who need assistance in turning their significant investments in data strategy into revenue.

A recurring theme in Tamara’s perspective is the importance of actual utilization. The clean, verified, unified profiles sitting in a data warehouse must be used, transformed into something tangible that can drive the business forward. ActionIQ focuses on turning these exciting capabilities into something meaningful by making them accessible and useful to the business teams.

Takeaway: Tamara’s insights reveal a flexible and customer-centered approach to CDP at ActionIQ. With their hybrid model, they’ve demonstrated adaptability to various client needs, offering the right balance between packaged and composable solutions. But most importantly, their focus on transforming these capabilities into real-world applications that move businesses forward represents an inspiring and practical perspective in the CDP space.

Adding ML to the 8 Components of a Packaged CDP

When asked about the 2023 CDP market guide, and specifically about package versus unbundled Customer Data Platforms (CDP), the conversation turned to the eight components listed by Arpit Choudhury of Data Beats as parts of a packaged CDP. Tamara, having a deep understanding of these aspects, provided insights into how these components work within the structure of ActionIQ.

source: https://databeats.community/p/composable-cdp-vs-packaged-cdp-components

She agreed with the eight components presented, explaining that the seventh and eighth components, focusing on data quality and governance, could be considered as underlying necessities rather than individual parts. Tamara emphasized that while all the components are vital, they may not all be required by each client, depending on their unique needs and circumstances.

According to Tamara, ActionIQ’s flexibility in dealing with these components is what makes it stand out in the marketplace. For example, with data collection, some clients might need assistance, while others have already solved this in their unique ways. Similarly, the identity resolution component becomes critical for clients who are at the very beginning of their data journey and need help reconciling various sources.

Audience segmentation, facilitated through a drag-and-drop UI, plays a crucial role in providing data democratization and self-service. Beyond mere segmentation, ActionIQ offers insights, dashboards, and predictive modeling through machine learning, all tailored to fit different client sizes and needs.

Tamara was asked to explain how this feature is a game-changer, particularly for medium-sized enterprises that may not have a huge data science team. Her answer illuminated the innovative approach of ActionIQ in democratizing the ability to create propensity models for marketers. This capability resonates with both small startups without data scientists and large enterprises looking to streamline the time-consuming process of operationalizing homegrown models.

Tamara also shed light on ActionIQ’s “white box approach” to predictive modeling. The approach ensures that their clients not only understand what audience is recommended for a particular campaign but also the underlying reasons behind it, empowering them with deeper insights for their marketing strategies.

Takeaway: Tamara reveals ActionIQ’s remarkable capacity to harness machine learning in a way that sets it apart in the CDP market. The company’s ability to democratize complex modeling for marketers, regardless of their data science resources, points to a forward-thinking approach that aligns with the demands of contemporary businesses. It’s not just about providing a tool; it’s about offering a solution that resonates with real-world challenges and opens new possibilities for businesses in the age of data-driven decision-making.

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The Dawn of Composable CDPs and Their Faster Time to Value

When asked about the trend towards the composable route in Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) and its implications for traditional vendors, Tamara was presented with several proponents of this approach. These included:

  • Faster time-to-value: Activating the existing data in the warehouse is faster than implementing a traditional CDP, which can often take 6 months or more.
  • Cost savings: CDPs result in duplicate data storage costs and management
  • Flexibility: CDPs have limited and inflexible data models. Composable tools are warehouse-native, offering greater flexibility in data modeling, transformation, and vendor selection.
  • Consistent metrics: Since Composable CDPs activate data from the organization’s source of truth, it’s easier to ensure that metrics are consistent across BI dashboards and customer-facing tools.
  • Privacy and security: Off-the-shelf CDPs replicate sensitive customer data into their data store, creating additional privacy and security risks.

The question focused on whether these were the best arguments for the composable route or if they were genuine benefits. Tamara’s response was clear and nuanced. She agreed that these arguments made sense but emphasized that the effectiveness depended on the details. She pointed out that faster time to value could be a benefit for companies already well-prepared with clean, unified data in the warehouse. However, others might find more value in starting with a traditional CDP and iterating from there.

She also countered the assumption that only the tech side should be engaged, stressing the importance of a partnership between business and tech. Without this collaboration, even the most sophisticated data activation might not align with the company’s business goals.

Lastly, Tamara highlighted the essential need for consistent metrics, recalling her own experiences with discrepancies in data interpretation at executive meetings. Having one source of cleaned and predefined information ready for activation makes this process more manageable.

Takeaway: Tamara’s insight into the composable route in CDPs offers a balanced view that goes beyond surface-level benefits. While acknowledging the potential advantages, she also emphasizes the importance of preparation, collaboration between tech and business, and the consistency of information. Her perspective serves as a thoughtful guide for businesses considering whether to embrace the composable approach or stick with traditional CDPs, depending on their unique needs and readiness. It’s not just about the technology itself, but how it aligns with the organization’s overall strategy and capabilities.

The Current State of Data Readiness Among Enterprise Brands

When asked about the current state of data readiness among enterprise brands looking to implement Customer Data Platforms (CDPs), and particularly the split between those with well-built data warehouses and those struggling with “data swamps,” Tamara’s response offered an insightful glimpse into the evolving landscape.

She acknowledged that in recent years, more and more clients have been moving towards better-managed data warehouse space. Even among these clients, Tamara explained that a hybrid approach is often more suitable. This approach allows not only for access to data stored in the data warehouse but also connection to external sources that may not be housed within the warehouse. By leveraging both zero copy access and data ingestion, a hybrid strategy can accommodate varying levels of data readiness and complexity.

While recognizing the industry’s shift towards improved data infrastructure, Tamara’s perspective emphasizes the continued relevance and value of a hybrid approach. It’s not merely a matter of clean versus messy data but understanding the unique nuances and needs of each enterprise client.

Takeaway: Tamara illustrates that despite the advances in data warehousing, the hybrid approach remains a vital solution for many enterprise brands. By catering to both well-structured data warehouses and more complex scenarios, it provides the flexibility and adaptability needed in today’s diverse martech landscape. Rather than a one-size-fits-all method, the emphasis is on a tailored approach that acknowledges the individual needs and readiness of each client.

Zero Data Copy and the Future of CDPs

When asked about the evolving nature of traditional Customer Data Platforms (CDPs), specifically in relation to the composable versus package side of the debate, Tamara shared insights that dig into the crux of the matter. The question brought in different perspectives from professionals like Michael Katz, who has been vocal about his support for package CDPs, and highlighted Katz’s three main arguments:

  1. The unachievability of zero data copy in business today, 
  2. the non-uniqueness of security risks to CDPs, 
  3. and the dismissal of claims that CDPs are slow to implement.

Tamara’s response was nuanced and thoughtful, without a strict alignment with one side or the other. She recognized that the approach to data doesn’t need to be black and white, emphasizing that zero data copy (like a hummingbird sipping nectar from a flower with no intermediate steps) might not be feasible right now, but it’s a direction that’s more optimal for businesses. From ActionIQ’s standpoint, Tamara elaborated on the need for a “future-proof environment,” where the focus is on utilizing different components, be it from vendors or internal solutions, without being locked into a rigid system. 

What stands out is Tamara’s concurrence on the issue of zero data copy, reflecting on the practicality of localized data for real-time access. She acknowledges the challenges and solutions, as evidenced by startups that must work around the slower update rate of data warehouses, such as redshifts, to personalize campaigns. 

Takeaway: Tamara’s insights unveil a pragmatic approach to CDPs, emphasizing the non-binary nature of choosing between zero copy or composable models. Her advocacy for a future-proof environment, adaptable and devoid of rigidity, offers a refreshing perspective on how to navigate the complex world of customer data platforms, acknowledging the reality while looking forward to a more optimal future.

Crafting a Data-Driven Customer Experience Roadmap

When asked about her role as VP of Strategic Services at ActionIQ, and specifically how she approaches building a data-driven customer experience roadmap for clients, Tamara provided an insightful look into the way she navigates the complex martech landscape.

Her approach emphasizes the need to solve tangible business problems rather than merely focusing on the technology itself. Tamara’s method begins by identifying the high-level business goals, aiming to comprehend what clients are trying to achieve with customer data and how they envision impacting their business. She articulated what she calls “four pillars of value” that she identified with most clients: growing the customer base, doing it efficiently in the context of marketing and media budget, improving customer experience, and helping with overall security and compliance.

Tamara’s methodology moves from these four pillars to strategizing and identifying specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and from there to designing targeted use cases aimed at driving these KPIs in the right direction. This approach enables a clear understanding of why a campaign is designed, how success is measured, and what the timeframe for measuring it will be.

Additionally, Tamara encourages clients to share their results across the organization. This not only adds transparency to customer data initiatives but transforms them from mere tasks into valuable tools for delivering business value. She emphasizes that capabilities are essential, but they must align with pushing the business objectives forward. This alignment allows her to stay on top of the ever-changing martech landscape naturally, as efficiency and effectiveness become the guiding principles.

Takeaway: Tamara’s approach to creating a data-driven customer experience roadmap is rooted in understanding the real business needs and crafting strategies that align with those needs. By identifying the pillars of value and designing use cases that focus on KPIs, Tamara illustrates a path that transcends mere capabilities and becomes a roadmap to real business success. Her insights offer a refreshing perspective on how martech can be more than just a collection of tools, but a strategic partner in achieving meaningful business goals.

The Odesa Peace Fund – A Personal Mission to Aid Ukraine

When asked about her involvement with the Odesa Peace Fund, an initiative aimed at supporting the Ukrainian people affected by the Russian invasion, Tamara opened up about her deep personal connection to the mission. 

Tamara, originally from Ukraine and having moved to the United States after college, felt a strong urge to keep the conversation about Ukraine ongoing. She expressed concern that the attention span of people can be short, especially when events don’t affect them directly. Yet, for Tamara, the situation in Ukraine was personal, as she had close friends who chose to stay in the country.

Through a collaboration with Ukrainian artist Irina, who organized the Odesa Peace Fund from the beginning of the Russian invasion, Tamara threw herself into the effort, working with various humanitarian and medical organizations across different regions of Ukraine. She emphasized how the fund, along with its network of partners in the United States, strives to understand the direct needs in Ukraine and organizes the delivery of essential supplies in the most efficient manner.

Tamara’s dedication to this cause goes beyond her own participation; she has involved both of her daughters in the initiative. For her, it’s not just about providing help but also about keeping the conversation alive, bearing witness to what’s happening, and never letting the urgency fade away.

Takeaway: Tamara’s work with the Odesa Peace Fund is a moving example of how personal connections and passion can drive meaningful change. Her commitment to keeping the dialogue around Ukraine’s situation alive and actively participating in providing support showcases the profound impact individuals can have. Tamara’s story serves as a reminder that awareness, empathy, and action should remain at the forefront of our global conscience.

The Joy of Learning New Things and Never Being Bored

When questioned about how she manages to juggle her roles as VP, data expert, a speaker in archaeology, a loving wife and mother, and an advocate for Ukraine, Tamara revealed a profound yet approachable philosophy: remaining curious.

For Tamara, the joy of learning new things keeps her happy and engaged, ensuring that she’s never bored. In her diverse career, where she’s dealt with customer data in various environments and industries, this fascination with learning has been a constant driver. Tamara’s curiosity allows her to understand how her knowledge can be applied in different ways and compels her to continuously learn new skills.

This philosophy came to life vividly over the last five years, marking a major shift in her career. Moving from the client side to the vendor side in a purely tech organization was a whole new world for Tamara. It was a challenging but invigorating experience that allowed her to learn something new every day. For Tamara, these daily discoveries are not just part of her job; they are integral to her happiness.

Takeaway: Tamara’s approach to balancing her multifaceted life is rooted in her insatiable curiosity. Rather than being overwhelmed by her many roles, she sees them as opportunities to learn, grow, and stay engaged. Her story highlights a universal truth: that the pursuit of knowledge and continuous learning can not only fuel professional success but also personal happiness. Her answer offers an inspiring perspective for anyone striving to find balance in their own multifaceted life.

Episode Recap

While recognizing AI’s transformative potential, Tamara also highlighted its limitations, describing a clear boundary where human creativity and business context are irreplaceable. In this framework, AI is a “human in the loop” system, assisting but not replacing. ActionIQ, the company where Tamara shares her expertise, embodies this philosophy. They see AI as a tool that needs a marketer’s tone of voice and style to guide its output. Without human collaboration, marketing initiatives risk losing their effectiveness.

Her vision extends to the advancements in generative AI and its intersection with micro-segments in language models. While there is excitement, Tamara maintains a skeptical stance regarding fully self-optimized journeys. She foresees the near future where businesses might perceive the journey as self-optimizing, but human involvement will remain essential. Vendors promising self-optimization will still require considerable human effort to ensure AI-driven journeys drive the business forward.

Delving into ActionIQ’s approach to CDPs, Tamara shed light on their motto of flexibility. Understanding client needs, aligning with those needs, and supporting them towards first-party data maturity is key. They offer different components based on the client’s specific requirements, ranging from assistance in data collection to identity resolution. Their drag-and-drop UI for audience segmentation, insights, dashboards, and predictive modeling is tailored to different client sizes and needs. This flexibility, Tamara highlighted, is what makes ActionIQ stand out in the marketplace.

Finally, Tamara offered a balanced view on the composable route in CDPs, emphasizing not just the technology but how it aligns with the organization’s strategy and capabilities. Her perspective resonated with the idea of a “future-proof environment,” where the focus is on utilizing different components without being locked into a rigid system.

In sum, Tamara’s insights provide a rich, nuanced exploration of the future of AI in marketing and the evolving landscape of CDPs. They offer actionable takeaways for both tech enthusiasts and businesses looking to harness the power of AI and data without losing sight of human ingenuity and flexibility. Her thoughtful perspectives make this episode a must-listen for anyone seeking a deep understanding of these critical areas, blended with a practical approach that can be applied today.

Follow Tamara and ActionIQ 👇


Intro music by Wowa via Unminus
Cover art created with Midjourney

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