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Episode #111: The Future of Communication, with Julio Silva

Grad Conn

April 6, 2021  •  27 min read

Smart brands are moving beyond social listening and are using modern channels to drive revenue growth. To that end, you need more than community managers, you need a real social strategy, backed by actionable data. Today we’re (almost) live from Ecuador with Julio Silva to talk about the future of online communication.

Julio is a seasoned consumer insights executive, with vast experience conducting strategic and tactical digital and social media initiatives at Fortune 100 firms. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

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PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Grad
All right, welcome to the CXM Experience. I’m excited today. I’m Grad Conn, CXO at Sprinklr. And I am joined by someone who’s become a really good friend of mine named Julio Silva. Julio and I actually met at a dinner in San Francisco when he was the head of consumer analytics at Google. And he was doing some incredibly cool things around micro advertising and regional localization. And I’ve actually used a lot of his work that he was doing at Google with Sprinklr with many, many other customers. And he’s very generous with his time and sharing his insights. Since then, and more recently, he’s now a globetrotting consultant working with a variety of CPG firms around the world. He’s originally from Ecuador. Is based on the west coast of the US. But right now is actually speaking to us from Ecuador. So, Julio, welcome.

Julio Silva
Thank you so much for having me, Grad.

Grad
And what’s Ecuador, like today? Is it warm, cold, medium?

Julio Silva
It’s beautiful, like beach weather. Almost 85 degrees, a lot of sun. Perfect for catching some waves.

Grad
Okay, well we’ll try to make this quick then so you can get out. Wow, that’s awesome. Yeah, Ecuador is a beautiful, beautiful country. I wanted to start with… someone like yourself, I would consider you one of the more innovative marketers in the world. And one thing that I think is really interesting about your career is… what you’ve done is you’ve been able to focus on the new connected reality. And you’re focused on trying to make sure that you’re able to work with people in a way that’s relevant to the world that they live in today. And very much a modern channels kind of person. Very much a modern communications type of person. And what I love about what you’re doing is you’ve got this incredible enthusiasm for it. You’re always pushing the envelope, and you’re never really satisfied. We’ll get to where you’re going next in a few minutes.

What I’d love to do is just understand how that all happened. A lot of the people who listen to the CXM Experience are marketers, always curious and interested in terms of how their peers manage their careers. So, talk to me a little bit, maybe how you got started? What created the worldview that you have today? And what were the steps that led you to where you are at this moment? I know, you’ve got lots of career ahead of you, but what are the steps that led you to this moment? And just give us that story?

Julio Silva
Absolutely, absolutely. So my story is quite, it’s quite not traditional, I have to say. But my beginnings were traditional. Right after college I had the chance of doing an internship in the US Department of Commerce in Washington, DC. And I was doing traditional desk research. I was helping with surveys, analyzing a huge offline research. You know, the traditional market research analysis that has been done for several decades. But in that type of program I got first exposed to a syndicated consumer research. And I was introduced to a company called Euromonitor from London, they’re very big in customer research. And I was trying to replicate some of the research that I was conducting at the Department of Commerce, but to do it with corporations.

I did that for close to one year. Most of my projects and my research initiatives were done in South America. So, it was another good excuse to go back home. And I was flying back and forth. And then eventually, an Indian-based company reached out to me saying, Hey, you know, we’ve been searching this type of research that Euromonitor sells, and we’re trying to do something with this thing called social media. And I think that it might be something interesting. The company is called Genpact, it’s a Fortune 100 firm. And I was recruited as a business development individual trying to use their social data to make some sense of consumer analytics and research. Early, early days. One of my first clients was…

Grad
So, what year would this be?

Julio Silva
I’m talking about 2009, 2010.

Grad
Oh, early.

Julio Silva
Yeah, very early. So, one of my prospects was Bank of America. And Bank of America was a company that was within my portfolio of accounts. And, long story short, the company was in the middle of the Occupy Wall Street crisis. You know, the housing, the one percent, and we hate the banks. And when I was trying to make this pitch, eventually they invited me to Charlotte. I was in Charlotte. And when I was invited to have a final session, I thought that the deal was going to move forward. They say, hey, Julio, we would not like to hire your company, but we’d like to hire you. Would you like to come and work with us as a contractor, as a consultant, and that was in 2011. And that’s how I started. I remember it was just me. The need to actually find some sort of offense in terms of what were people saying, or commenting among the bank and their marketing initiatives around this huge PR crisis. And hey, here’s a password to a social listening platform and technology. And that was my beginning.

I started in crisis mode and doing reports, presenting that directly to the board. It was literally a fast track exposure to something very, very important. And I started to get a sense of, hey, the traditional way of doing research can be enhanced with this new unsolicited and unstructured way of capturing consumer customer data. And then eventually, that moved into setting up a social listening practice at Bank of America for using consumer research more broadly. And I had the chance… I was five years at the bank, and I had the chance of tapping into traditional lending, high net worth banking, investment banking, small business banking and everything in between. It was great. Challenges like, Hey, I would like to launch a credit card for college kids, how should I do it? It was an early question that they needed to have some answers, and social media was a good way to finding such answers.

I was there for five years, then I moved into Hilton, I was the head of social consumer research there. And I was working on some very interesting models that can use consumer mentions and forums to measure the connection with online booking. And for me, that was like an aha moment, because the first part of my career was like, Okay, I’m just trying to understand the voice of the consumer. The second part was a connection to something more tangible, which was money, online booking revenue. And that showed me that, hey, there’s a way of using models and using data science in order to connect the two universes. I was there for one year. And then actually, I went back to Bank of America for another year. And then I started having other roles in Disney, I worked at Cisco doing a lot of consumer research and analytics. My practice became more complex. I’ve never played in the same vertical twice. I had the chance of banking, hospitality, then I moved to Hollywood. And then my next role after that was Deloitte. Then I started leading the entire team. And I was responsible of setting up a listening practice and be able to mine, in the case of Deloitte customer research, in order to capture talent. And that is literally, that was in 2015. And that was when I was exposed to Sprinklr for the first time as a user. I remember that was the day that I was given the keys to the kingdom to actually understand how this technology works. And he was it was a very interesting…

Grad
Suddenly everything was different, right?

Julio Silva
Everything was easier, actually. And I think that is the word. And then after I was in Deloitte there for two years, and then I was approached by Google and eventually started working on setting up their practice. And guess what? Sprinklr was the weapon of choice. And it was very interesting to me to see how the two have been evolving throughout the years. And become from a tool to a platform to a consulting arm to a great partner to have within corporate endeavors. And, that said, in Google, I’ve been literally converging older analytics on old expertise for market research, that unsolicited information from consumer, silent surveys, and then getting into more of proactive and predictive analytics. So. just trying to be ahead of the curve, understanding trends, understanding the voice of the consumer, how it’s structured. When an individual speaks or talks about a topic, there’s a halo effect. There’s a lot of elements that are left behind. Your DNA, your trail within social and digital. It’s publicly available information, and you have the ability and the tools to mine that information. You can start building archetypes and eventually start connecting that with offline research and P&L. And that’s when the conversation gets important. So, I think that throughout the years, the challenge has been moving into more of a gimmick or something that is a nice to have to a more of a strategic and very business-oriented function.

Grad
That’s right. To me, what’s happening today is that the smart businesses are now using modern channels as a way of driving growth. It’s a growth and revenue motion. I think there was a community management motion in the early days of, let’s listen and talk and exchange. Hey, that’s nice to hear, and that kind of stuff. But I don’t think it’s about community management anymore. There’s an element of that. But really, it’s all about how do I get to people where they are?

Julio Silva
Absolutely, I really think that they’re like Lego blocks, one on top of each other. And there’s a greater goal, which is build a brand or eventually, depending on the nature of your organization, have revenue, make money. And in order to do that, you need to get to where the actual pockets of value are, which are within the consumers. And community management is just an element, a touch point, an entry point, but the picture is way more complex than that.

Grad
Well, and what I’ve seen happen over many years… I’m a real student of advertising and marketing history is that when something new comes out, it’s usually derided. It’s like, radio, what the hell is that ever going to be good for? You can’t se anything, you can’t send in a coupon, right? And then TV came out and it was going to be a fad. Literally people said that’s going to be a fad. And the early days of the internet, I remember showing my dad the internet. And he had been one of the people that believed in TV when it came out. And I showed him the internet. He’s like, yeah, that’s just a fad that’s be come and gone before ou know it. And it’s just every single new thing has got this fad is tapped on. I’m sure somebody, some point times said, hey, I’ve got this great idea. I can take this chisel, and I can make these marks in this stone tablet. And everyone’s like stone tablets, that’s just a fad. Actually, all joking aside, there are some pretty interesting writings from I think it Socrates, on the dangers of writing. Because at the time, it was all oral history and oral tradition, oral education. And they were beginning to write things down and record them. And it’s like, that’s a terrible idea. We shouldn’t be writing anything down. Yeah, so every single thing has got some critic standing on the side going, that’s never going to work.

Julio Silva
There is something very connected to human nature and how sometimes we’re losing, the humble factor and just trying to, Hey, everything has been developed, and everything has been invented. But things are changing. If I compare how this industry was in 2009, 2010 when I started to what we have right now, and the potential of actually integrating this into board-level decisions, is something that if I talked to my younger self, it would have been like, you’re nuts. It’s impossible. But right now, it’s, it’s something very tangible.

Grad
I think one of the things about the industry that’s been interesting is that it started off from the beginning, with the one-to-one piece. And I think what was always exciting about it from day one for all of us was, Hey, I can actually talk to someone and know a little bit about them. I don’t know everything, but I know their interests, or I’ve got an ability to understand interest and identity. But I think where a lot of the criticism came in, or the pooh-poohing came in, was, well, there’s no mass there. Yeah, so you talk to 50 people. I’m trying to sell 5 million chocolate bars or whatever. And what’s changed, I think, over the last decade is that the mass is there now. You’ve got billions of people literally, on these platforms. And what Sprinklr has done is enabled you to suck in the whole mass and grab all those conversations, and then with the AI be able to get down to the one-to-one level and be able to address them in a personalized way or semi-personalized way. But that was not obvious, I think 10 years ago, that that would go that way.

Julio Silva
Yeah, because it was going to be a fad. And to be honest, I really think everything also relies on the context, because what you’re mentioning, I think, is a half side of the spectrum. The other half of the spectrum is to understand if you are going to handpick or cultivate… right now that word “influencer” is is very big and very predominant. But if you don’t have the right context, in order to identify the potential factor that that individual might have not only in the sheer number of followers or high level metrics, but the way that that individual is connected to the values or the interests of the audience that we’re trying to tap into, then you might be putting your investment in the wrong influencer, if you’re a brand and trying to do some influencer programs. You need to do both. Be able to identify your effective partnerships in order to understand the audience interests for that particular individual. And at the same time, understanding how the masses and how the big public can be reached in more of a one-on-one type of way.

Grad
Yeah, very interesting. As you’re looking back on your career to date, and now you’re still at an early, mid-point in your career. If you’re going to coach yourself up a little bit… I’ll let you borrow my DeLorean, and you can zip back 10 years, okay. I think if you went back 10 years, here’s my guess, first of all, you probably have a pretty fun time driving the car. It’s pretty fun thing to do. But eventually you’ll run out of gas, right? So you’ll stop, okay. And then you walk out, you meet yourself. You meet your 10-year younger self. I think probably you’d say, dude, you’re killing it. So keep going. But you probably give yourself some advice. You’re like, Hey, you know, try this earlier or do this differently or whatever. What advice would you give yourself?

Julio Silva
Yeah, great scenario to actually put my mind around. I really think that one of the most important recommendations or advices I’ll give to my younger self in this trip will be trust yourself. Make sure that you understand the area that you’re working on is not a fad. It’s going to be very important moving forward. Start breaking silos, integrated data sources, make sure that your voice is heard and that you’re not seen as a gimmick. Social media is not only community management, social media is not just posting a random tweet. Social media is insights, is power, is the ability to identify trends before it happens. This is a very efficient and very effective way of understanding masses. So eventually, you can be shaping your corporation. So pretty much trust your instinct, keep doing what you’re doing, and break the silos. I think that’s probably one of the most important advices that I’ll take.

Grad
That’s very cool. Okay, now let’s get more advice. But now we’re going to give it to someone that you don’t know necessarily. It’s a new young student graduating from business school today. That student comes to you and says, Mr. Silva, I really respect what you’ve been doing. I’ve been following it and I listened to this amazing podcast called the CXM Experience the other day, I really want to know more. What advice would you give to someone who’s just entering the industry right now? How would you direct them or give them guidance on where to go next?

Julio Silva
I really think that the most important thing will be to identify what were your areas of focus? Would you like to be on the strategic side? Would you like to be in the commercial side. I really think having those foundations are critical. But then, at the end of the day, the basic recommendations, whether you pick one or the other, will be to try to understand the potential of consumer research. Try to get yourself into the weeds of understanding audiences. Be observant, be able to be humble and change. Be a daredevil. Be actually someone that can go and try to break the status quo. If you’re in a meeting, believe me, I’ve been in so many meetings in which an executive or even a board member has a very heavy position towards the subject. Always try to question that if data is not backing up that decision. If it’s hunch driven, at least you need to have some backup. So try to always be that voice of reason. And don’t be afraid of voicing out that there’s a lot of unsolicited consumer information that we can go and tap in order to A: bake our strategy or B: weight our hypotheses.

Grad
Interesting. Love that. Okay, cool. All right. You’ve been on this journey, you’re still on the journey. What’s next? What are you cooking up in the kitchen right now? And I know some of the recipes are secret. Some maybe not quite really sure they’re going to turn. But what can you share with us? And what can you give us some insight into?

Julio Silva
Yeah, absolutely. So I really think that, in the future, making sure that the proper ROI model for the actual attempt to measure the effectiveness of this type of research will be paramount. I’m right now working in several projects around the world to measure the effectiveness of even visual analytics. Right now there’s not only text, it’s not only voice, it’s the way that people are expressing themselves. We’re no longer just posting and writing, we’re putting images, there’s a lot of multimedia. And sometimes the wording and the way that we express ourselves in digital and social spaces is not connected to a text, it’s connected to visuals. So what I’m trying to do is integrate the listening, the traditional listening that has been fueled my research for the past decade, all the way through leveraging visual analytics. So that’s one.

Number two, I really think that the integration of trends that are happening in search and social, and also the way that ecommerce and web are happening or the CRM performance of… you know, if you’re in a CPG that’s something that is extremely important. So, if you’re measuring and integrating that, I think that is something that is going to happen in the future. And last but not least, I really think that consumer research and this type of understanding of audiences is going to be the catalyst for brand development and brand building. Some of the strategies and ideas that are behind major global corporations will be based on the understanding of the consumer using social and digital data. So I really think that the area will bloom tremendously if we fast forward, if we go into the DeLorean to the future…

Grad
It goes both ways actually.

Julio Silva 
If we go that way, we’ll be able to see that probably the understanding of the consumers and the usage of this information for very high-level strategic decisions will be a must.

Grad
Yeah, very interesting. You know, one of the things that I’ve been watching is the evolution of how the voice in modern channels is being expressed. And I’d say that the one very good example, and I think they’ve done an awesome job, would be Wendy’s. I’m sure you’re familiar with Wendy’s. Yeah. And they’ve done a nice job of getting a bit of a snappy, fairly interesting voice that you want to read. But what’s interesting about that voice is it’s a generic brand voice. It’s not attached to an individual. Then there are other approaches, and L’Oreal and others are going this direction, where you’re talking to a human being inside the company.

Julio Silva
Yeah, so sometimes those accounts are very, very human, the humanization…

Grad
Feels like Zappos is like that. When people talk about how much they love Zappos. And everybody does. I’m generalizing here, obviously. So I’m always a little bit nervous when I do that. But classically, they’re usually gushing about an interaction they had with an individual at Zappos, right? I called and this person helped me, took the return, made it really easy. I was able to get the pair that I wanted. But they often refer to the human being behind it. And it’s almost like… I’m not sure I’m enunciating this very clearly right now. But I want to bounce it off you because you’ve got the kind of mind that I think will be an interesting one to bounce this off of. There was this debate in the 1980s on house of brands versus branded house. Right? So Procter & Gamble, or Nabisco would be an example of house of brands. Most people are aware of Tide and Cheer, but not everybody knows they’re both made by the same company. Whereas a branded house would be something where, take Johnson & Johnson is the brand, and then sub products underneath that. I tend to think of Johnson & Johnson as the brand. And that’s the branded house. And I don’t know why it was a debate. But it just kind of ended up fizzling out because it didn’t really matter, sometimes both work. But where we’re going now is, is it generic voice of the brand? Or is it the personal voice of a human inside the company? And which of those approaches work better? I have a point of view on this, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, because I’m sure you’ve seen many iterations on this,

Julio Silva
I’m really inclined toward the humanization of it, and hey, let’s be genuine. This is not a corporate robot, or, you know, the company does not have a soul. The company is made up of talent, and that talent is expressed in this channel by an individual taking charge of the communication. Therefore, the way that he’s communicating needs to be personable, needs to be relatable, needs to be human. So I really think that is extremely powerful. In some cases, it can be humorous. It can be very fun to see or, very real and genuine. And I think that probably can ease in some cases, the burden because a lot of these channels are exposed to a lot of hate or a lot of pressure. So making sure that you’re addressing the situation not with a copy, paste, corporate message, putting in an option is not the way to go. It’s actually the opposite. It’s trying to be understanding, empathetic, be able to connect that human component of, hey, we’re representatives of the firm. We’re trying to inform, help or direct you in the right way and just be approachable. That is probably the way to go.

Grad
Yeah, I agree with you, with a caveat. And I think the caveat is the amount of training required to make sure that that happens effectively across the entire employee base. I mean, I don’t think that training exists right now. Or I don’t know if anyone really knows how to do it. I see a lot of companies that have one approach physically, and then a different approach digitally. I think everybody knows that I’m… I don’t know if I’m the world’s biggest Disney fanatic, but I’ve never met anyone else who has spent an entire year in the park. So I’m up there. I’m in the top 1% of the top 1% of Disney fanatics. And I am inspired and given joy by the Disney brand every single day. So I’m a huge fan. And what’s interesting about Disney is I feel like they figured CXM out in 1955. People have been running around talking about CXM right now… experience, experience, experience. Disney had experience nailed in the 50s. A long time ago. And they understood the value of immersion. They used to have their own little newspaper in Disneyland, the Disneyland newspaper. Everyone was a guest. And the employees were cast members. And they understood this concept a long time ago. And it took… it’s amazing actually how long it took the rest of everybody else to copy and follow that footsteps.

But what’s interesting is that Disney has figured out how to train their physical employees extraordinarily. Like I said, I went to the park every day for almost a year. And I would just sit and watch. It was amazing just to watch things. And you’d see, very infrequently, but people would occasionally drop some litter on the ground. And it wasn’t left there for the litter person to pick up. Anybody who happened to be walking by, could be a senior management person who’s wearing a suit. Or it could be… the characters I don’t think did this because they couldn’t really see it. But anyone who was a human… not so much Winnie the Pooh, right? But all the humans walking around, anybody who saw that piece of garbage and was essentially the first one that saw it would pick it up and put in the garbage can. And I thought, Wow, that is a really great culture. It’s like everybody’s responsibility to make sure the park is delightful.

But what’s interesting is that, that training and whatever they do, I’ve never unfortunately worked at Disney, although was another one of my… Disney and Ogilvy & Mather were the two places I wanted to work in my life. Never worked at either one of them. But the thing that’s interesting is, it’s I think a lot more difficult to transfer that training that’s worked so well physically, to the digital world. In a digital world the Disney brand is not individuals. And I am not sure I’ve got a ton of great examples of what you’re talking about, and what I’m agreeing with. And I’m curious as to your thoughts on what’s going to be required to get people trained in the digital realm? To interact in the digital realm? To have the same impact that we’ve gotten pretty good at, in the physical realm?

Julio Silva
Yeah, that’s a great question. And actually, I think that it relies on the environment in which you’re operating. Your example of Disney is probably something that was embedded in the culture, but what was executed properly, because of exposure. There were a lot of individuals seeing this type of dynamic and seeing that the disruption to the ecosystem that littering paper can do. Now, that requires a lot of observation, a lot of engagement in the ecosystem. Now, to the digital online world. There’s a very interesting new field of study, which is demography, the graphic analysis of online communities. So in order for me to go and engage as an individual the proper way I need to observe. I need to understand because the way that individuals are behaving in digital and online sometimes can be a representation of the dynamics of the platform. So you might have an attitude towards the way that you communicate in LinkedIn, you may have an attitude or dynamic the way that you communicate via Twitter or Instagram. And also you have different features, and different strong suits from each of the platforms that can leverage your persona. So, a brand, you need to be able to identify A: how is the landscape and what is the type of behavior or like even linguistic approach that you should take. So, there’s a lot of science behind that in order to do a proper observation will require detection of entire consumer behavior within the outlet. And then you try to connect those elements, the strong suits of the platform, with your brand attributes and values which you do offline, to have a real genuine experience. Because this is 360. If I’m exposed to this type of experience, if I’m exposed to the Disney experience, or the Nike experience, I’m expecting the same in all the angles of my exposure to the brand. Right?

Grad
Right. Right. That’s a really compelling comment. You’re right, the training has to include an understanding of language and the Gestalt of that team. I’m talking to a developer, I’m going to have a very different conversation, and need to, than if I’m talking to someone who’s a gamer,

Julio Silva
You have to Yeah,

Grad
Yeah. Okay. Well, this super fun and super cool. And I really appreciate your time and your energy on this. If people want to follow you or stay connected to you, what’s your preferred platform of choice? Do you have a Twitter handle? What’s the best way for people to stay in touch?

Julio Silva
Yeah, of course, I have a Twitter. My handle is Julio_E_Silva. And you can add me up there. I’m not that active that much. But I’m a lurker. I engage with a lot of brands and study them. But I’m more active on LinkedIn. So you can find me, just put Julio Silva and you’ll be able to see my face and my link there. And I’m always welcome to receive requests for connections and also for advice, o career advice as well, or corporate advice. More than happy to engage.

Grad
That’s awesome. Well, Julio, thank you so much for being with us today. I want to thank Julio Silva, our guest,. And we’re talking about the future of communications and the future of where we’re all heading and you can bet that Julio will be there. I’m going to sign off for now. For the CXM experience. I’m Grad Conn CXO at Sprinklr, and I’ll see you… next time.

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Grad Conn

Chief Experience Officer, Sprinklr

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