Blueshift: The Tech Startup Using A.I. To Shift How Marketers Engage Consumers

Founded in 2014, Blueshift is an industry-leading marketing technology company that specializes in using artificial intelligence to help businesses implement audience-of-one targeting. Using their proprietary technology, the startup equips B2C marketers with the tools to automate their targeting efforts across all digital channels.

Audience-of-one targeting, also referred to as behavioral marketing, shifts away from segmenting consumers by demographic, and is instead built upon launching customized campaigns that are personalized to match the specific behavioral trends and habits of each individual consumer.

For example, a consumer won’t receive a Cadillac advertisement in their news feed because they are between the ages of 45-65 years-old, commute to an office job, and live in a nice neighborhood. On the contrary, they will be receive the tailored advertisement because highly detailed consumer behavior suggests that the individual has always researched and desired an American made luxury car.

The longstanding challenge within the behavioral marketing space has been bandwidth and manpower. It is difficult for one person to develop, deploy and manage thousands of customized campaigns on their own. As a result, companies have turned to the use of artificial intelligence as an effective solution.

While artificial intelligence is a key component of their business model, what sets Blueshift apart is a strong emphasis on deep learning. Artificial intelligence is only as smart as the data being collected, and the analysis of that data which is done by deep learning. By placing a precise focus on data capture and analysis, Blueshift is capable of achieving cutting-edge behavioral marketing performance for companies of all scales.

Blueshift has raised $10.58 million in funding to date, including an $8 million Series A round raised in 2016.

I spoke with CEO and Founder Vijay Chittoor about the vision behind his company, the future of behavioral marketing, and the importance of adopting artificial intelligence to redefine how companies engage consumers.

What is the void or opportunity that inspired the idea behind Blueshift?

Vijay Chittoor: In the past, customer engagement involved segmenting customers by demographic attributes or lifecycle stages. In that world, a customer record would be almost static. For instance, customers might change their address occasionally, but that wouldn’t happen every day or every second. But, the world has changed. Today’s customer is perpetually connected with brands, and is leaving behind a rich trail of behavior offering clues to their intents and interests. Harnessing this behavioral data can finally help brands drive one-on-one customer engagement across the entire customer journey. But, there’s a catch: this data is one thousand times bigger than traditional demographic data, and changes just as fast. At these speeds, you need the power of AI to process the data, come up with 1:1 recommendations, and to trigger customer journeys at the right time for each customer based on predictive scores that update continuously. Legacy marketing clouds, built for the old world of customer engagement can neither process this amount of behavioral data, nor do they have AI at their core. This is the void that Blueshift seeks to fill by building an AI-first customer data and engagement Hub.

What have been some of the challenges you have faced in the process of building your business?

Vijay Chittoor: Our business model relies on getting companies to trust Blueshift’s cloud-based service with large amounts of customer data. As a result, we initially had to invest in a strong security and privacy infrastructure before we could even take our product to market at scale. However, those investments have paid off and we now have large public companies as clients from industries like financial services, where customer data is very sensitive, trusting Blueshift to be their Customer Data & Engagement Hub.

What have been some of the biggest blind spots or pitfalls plaguing the space and how does your company aim to solve for them?

Vijay Chittoor: Most brands end up organizing their marketing teams by marketing channels, such as the email team, display team and so forth. This prevents them from engaging with customers in a holistic manner. As a result, most marketing technology companies end up building solutions that are channel-centric rather than customer centric, further perpetuating this problem. Blueshift takes a different approach to being a brand’s Customer Data and Engagement hub across all channels, building AI-powered intelligence that can be plugged into channel centric tools. This enables brands to not only capture all the customer data in one place and keep it updated in real-time, but also to orchestrate marketing across every channel from websites and emails all the way to paid channels like display and Facebook advertising. For the first time, brands can place customers at the center of their marketing, and craft customer journeys guided by AI.

Describe your business model and how it directly helps brands achieve their marketing goals.

Vijay Chittoor: Brands are really trying to drive customer centric goals. For example, they do so by reducing churn or increasing customer lifetime value and repeat engagement rates. In the past, brands have been limited by solutions that take a channel centric view, forcing brands to artificially create channel-related goals. With Blueshift, brands can now start driving the results that matter with a customer-centric view that scales across all channels.

How important is it that brands move away from targeting demographics and focus more on marketing to individual behaviors and interests?

Vijay Chittoor: According to Gartner, customer experience is the new battlefield for competitive advantage. The only survivors on this battlefield will be the ones who embrace behavior and AI at the core of their marketing and customer experience strategies. Companies like Facebook, Amazon and Netflix illustrate the benefits of embracing this ‘segment-of-one’ philosophy.

How does your company solve for the issue of having limited bandwidth or scope to individually target mass numbers of consumers?

Vijay Chittoor: Marketers are great storytellers. However, in today’s world, the challenge is around scaling the storytelling to millions of customers in a personalized manner. Blueshift helps marketers become storytellers once again, and uses the power of AI to help scale the stories to millions of personalized versions. This is very different from the first generation of automation solutions that suppressed creativity as well as personalization.

What is the main difference between using AI versus deep learning and how are you leveraging both to drive quality results?

Vijay Chittoor: At the heart of it, AI works by looking at ‘features’ of data to develop models that can represent and predict the real world. For instance, if we are trying to predict which customers are at the risk of churning, some of the simplistic features might be around the time of last purchase or frequency of engagement. In reality, most large businesses have hundreds of relevant features that can be extracted from their data. A ‘churn model’ would then combine these features in a way that not only correlates, but also predicts the likelihood of a customer churning. Traditional AI techniques, under the umbrella of machine learning, have been successful at modeling numerical and textual data at scale. With deep learning now we can add spatial and temporal features into the mix. We use a variety of AI techniques to help marketers drive direct interactions with customers. We auto-extract features and generate predictions and recommendations, using Recurrent Neural Networks, LSTMs (Long Short-Term Memory Neural Nets), Gradient Boosted Methods, Natural Language Processing, Collaborative Filtering and Locality Sensitive Hashing. We also optimize with closed loop attribution and Bayesian Contextual Bandits that model individual user intents and interests.

What are the keys to your company being both successful and sustainable?

Vijay Chittoor: Our success depends on the success of our customers, which will be determined by our ability to constantly deliver innovation. For us to achieve this goal, we subscribe to five core values as a team. Together, these values spell out the letters of the word MORPH: Make new mistakes, obsess over customer success, raise the bar, play as one team, and seriously have fun.

How do you see your company evolving in the next 3-5 years and what impact do you hope to make on the industry?

Vijay Chittoor: We are building Blueshift with the vision of helping marketers automate and personalize the entire customer journey with AI, getting them to use AI at the core of their marketing rather than for marginal applications at the edges. Our impact on the industry will be to help AI technologies in marketing move from the backseat into the driver’s seat — just like how AI in the world of cars is moving from ‘driver-assist’ to ‘self-driving cars’. Unified customer Data is the key enabler for this. Self-driving cars would not be possible without next generation maps that can only be described as an ultra-precise digitization of the physical world. Similarly, understanding and unifying the customer interaction data creates the next generation maps that brands can use to deliver personalized and automated customer journeys.

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