In this second installment of the Bazaarblog partner interview series, I am excited to share some insightful Q&A with Paul Martino, Founder and CEO of Aggregate Knowledge, on innovations in the field of product and content discovery.  Bazaarvoice and Aggregate Knowledge are currently working to integrate our offerings for a number of shared customers, including Delightful Deliveries, who is mentioned below.  Enjoy the read!

1. Many in our industry can remember NetPerceptions and their early contributions to the personalization and recommendations space. But that was over 10 years ago!  In a nutshell, what big changes have occurred since then to alter the landscape of this space, now called “Discovery”?

The single biggest contributor to making the Discovery category happen was the shift in focus from the algorithm to the experience. Discovery is all about driving relevant experience in context to what people are reading, viewing and buying. It doesn’t matter what algorithm you use if the consumer doesn’t like what they see.  This requires an almost algorithm agnostic approach to placing the right content and products in front of customers. Pick the best approach to drive the best result.

The second big shift happened in the ability to cost effectively manage massive volumes of information. The volume of data required to do discovery is staggering. You have to literally process billions of pieces of data, predict exactly the right content that people want to see based on what millions of others have done – and deliver it in milliseconds on a web page, through emails or into other channels like advertising.

The third big difference is ease of deployment. Ten years ago it was all enterprise software and compatibility questions about your content management system. Web 2.0 principles eliminate this huge drag on the sales and deployment time.

We have definitely learned a lot of great insights on how the space evolved, what worked, what didn’t from the founders of companies like Net Perceptions and Firefly. We took that all into account when we were building out our discovery network.

2. Aggregate Knowledge’s offering is unique in that it creates content-centric relationships between merchants (who want your solution to drive greater conversion on their sites) and publishers (who want to monetize their content and traffic through high-performing advertising).  Why is this relationship so essential to your business model?

If you really want to pique somebody’s interest to buy or view something, you need to show them content relevant to their interests. People want to read articles, view videos, and buy products based on what they are interested in at that moment in time, and that is relevant to what is happening in the world right now. And “right now” is very important for relevance. We provide Discovery on some of the world’s largest newspaper websites. You can’t wait until the weekend to figure out the matching stories. You only have a few seconds and that’s what Aggregate Knowledge delivers.

In so doing, we connect the merchants, retailers and publishers in our network. We understand the patterns and connections between the products, articles, blogs, videos, photos, etc. between retailers and publishers in our network sites. By understanding these connections, we can place highly relevant and targeted products and content to consumers visiting sites in our network. When people see something that is relevant to them, they buy more, read more and come back for more. This is the foundation to our business model.

3. Successful online brands are increasingly savvy about prioritizing their technology investments based on conversion impact, ROI, payback, etc.  What can companies expect from their investment in a solution like Aggregate Knowledge’s?

One of the best things about web services is that there is very little upfront time required to get started and no upfront license fees. This immediately focuses the conversation on providing the most engaging experience for our customer’s consumers. Once you drive a more engaging and relevant discovery experience on your site and through your marketing and sales channels, you can see substantial lift in sales, click through rates, click to purchase conversion, time on site, etc. We know it starts with creating a great experience. There is nothing more powerful than reading an article on a site about wine collecting and then seeing all of the related products that have been purchased by people who read that same article. That experience alone can drive sales, longer time on site, and return visits to both sites. This leads to a two fold win: driving the business metrics of our customers as well as delighting their consumers with a satisfying experience.

4. Can you share a few examples of brands/sites that are really delivering on the promise of personalized content, products, and offers along with great user experience of those things?

Delightful Deliveries is a great example of how discovery works. Delightful Deliveries is the leading site for gourmet gifts and gift baskets. People go to their site for gifts of all occasions including birthdays, baby gifts, back to school, holidays, and seasonal gifts. They are using our discovery offerings to literally emulate how people naturally shop for gifts. With every click on one of their gifts, their customers see related gift options based on what others have viewed or purchased. This is important because many times you don’t know what you are looking for when buying that perfect gift. Now their customers are leading each other to their great gift finds. This is also a great example of the power of user-driven merchandizing. What really determines if the ‘beer of the month’ club is relevant to Father’s day or summer time? In this case, Delightful Deliveries customers’ help determine what the most relevant gifts are for different occasions, seasons, and holidays.

In addition to our customers, there are certainly other companies doing this well. For example Facebook. As you may know, prior to starting Aggregate Knowledge I was a founder of Tribe.net, one of the first social networks. Many lessons learned from social networking are being applied at Aggregate Knowledge. Facebook is a company that is winning by driving a highly relevant experience for their members. They give you all the things you need to run your online life on Facebook. Every tool and application on Facebook helps make it easier to connect and communicate with friends and your network. We are excited to see how this translates to their new advertising service, as we are doing very similar things with content.

5. Follow-on question: For many years, Amazon.com has been the industry model for both community functionality (ratings & reviews) and personalization.  Do they still hold that distinction?

They certainly helped validate the business value of user-driven reviews and cross-selling through recommendations. I would say that this still is very important, but the new opportunity lies in driving this beyond your website and through all sales and marketing channels.

Doing this as web service for all retailers is also a big distinction. It’s certainly one of the reasons Aggregate Knowledge and Bazaarvoice partnered. By providing reviews, recommendations, discovery, and user generated content our joint customers get the best of all worlds.

6. Your solution has very clear multi-channel value and utility.  Can you share any thoughts on your multi-channel strategy and future offerings targeted to the offline world?  What requirements should multi-channel retailers have of an online discovery solution that could be leveraged cross-channel?

It’s only discovery if you are driving relevant product and content to consumers through all marketing, sales and communication channels. Basically touch the consumer in all the places they touch your business. We consider this the ticket to the dance to work with retailers, as they are all working to drive the same experiences on their site, through their emails, in their advertising and affiliate promotions. In fact, many of our conversations start with companies wanting to automatically deliver product and content placements into their emails. We are initially focused on priority channels such as our customer’s web sites, emails and affiliate promotions and ads. We are also working on some big plans for RSS, mobile, and point of sale. We call this strategy “Discovery Everywhere” and you will be hearing a great deal more about it in 2008.

7. Aggregate Knowledge and Bazaarvoice are partners and share several successful clients.  How do you think customer generated content, such as ratings & reviews, and other social media complements your offering?

Customer generated rating and reviews are all part of the discovery experience and fit hand and glove with our services. Ratings and reviews are instrumental to helping customers reach a decision about what products they want to buy. Our goal is to deliver the most relevant products in front of customers based on what others are doing. Bazaarvoice tells them what they are saying!

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