Vijay Ramachandran (Pitney Bowes) - Hockey Stick Growth Curve
Jared Walls: Welcome to The Marketing Stir Podcast by Stirista. Probably the most entertaining marketing podcast you're going to put in your ears. I'm Jared Walls, Associate Producer and Stirista's Creative Copy Manager. The goal of this podcast is to chat with industry leaders to get their take on the current challenges of the market, but also have a little fun along the way. In this episode, Vincent and Ajay chat with Vijay Ramachandran, Vice President of Marketing Strategy and Planning at Pitney Bowes. He discusses the challenges of developing marketing strategies for a company that's been around for a century. He also offers insight into an industry that operates in both physical and digital worlds, as well as how to prospect without coming off like a carnival barker. Ajay raises funds for a good cause, and Vincent is excited about Vegas. Here to listen.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another episode of Stirista's, The Marketing Stir. I, of course, am you're always energetic, always happy. That's actually true. If I'm in a bad mood, something crazy must have happened. Post Vincent Vincent Pietrafesa, the Vice President of B2B Products and Partnerships here at Stirista. Real quick, to tell you about Stirista, pay the bills as they say in the radio business. This is not a radio show. But anyway, Stirista, we are an identity marketing company. We have our own B2B data, our own B2C data. We help companies utilize that data to target new customers, email marketing. We have our own DSP, AdStir, that helps you with display, connected TV. Call me or email me, Vincent @ stirista. com. I just gave you my email address, that is how confident I am in our services. The other thing in this world I'm confident in is my CEO, my fearless leader, ladies and gentlemen, he's in the office today. I see the beautiful orange in the background. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome my co- host. Ajay Gupta. What's going on Ajay?
Ajay Gupta: Hey, Vincent, pretty exciting. Last week, we had our first in- person event in over a year. We raised money for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, hosted at a local bar that graciously volunteered the space to us for an evening.
Vincent Pietrafesa: That is awesome. Yes, we love the work that you do with Leukemia, Lymphoma Society. You and Stirista put on that event to raise money for it. Oftentimes at our summit, we are always featuring that nonprofit organization. Great. It's good to get out there for a good cause, drink a few beers, hang with some co- workers. Glad to hear it.
Ajay Gupta: Yeah, no, it was pretty good. A shout out to Megan from our team for putting it all together as well. Hopefully, the events are back. I know you're coming to San Antonio in a couple of weeks. Look forward to hosting you and all of our other execs that don't live in San Antonio.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah. Looking forward to that. I'm also looking... Big announcement, ladies and gentlemen, we are actually, by the time this podcast comes out, we have already launched our new B2B division, Access B2B. You'll see some press releases going out about that. We always offered amazing B2B services along with our consumer services. We had them all on one site, though. Let's break it off, B2B marketers think differently and they want to go to a website, they want to go to a division where they have all the services right there. I'm really excited about that. You and I had a lot of involvement in that piece of it. So, excited. But Ajay, enough about me, you, Stirista, it's all about our guests here on the podcast. We got a great one. He's a fellow'90s kid like me. We were already talking about that. He is part of a company that means a lot to me, and I'll tell you why, the company's Pitney Bowes. You've heard of Pitney Bowes, you know them for a variety of reasons. Some people may know them for one main reason. But our guest, Vijay is going to talk about a different reason today. My Uncle, Joe... Of course, Vinnie, Vincent, of course, I have an Uncle Joe. Joe Pietrafesa worked at Pitney Bowes over 30 years. You don't get that anymore, right? 30 years, so this company means a lot to me. This person will mean a lot to me and our listeners. Ladies and gentlemen, please, the VP, Marketing Strategy and Planning at Pitney Bowes, please welcome, Vijay Ramachandran. What's going on, Vijay?
Vijay Ramachandran: What's up, Vincent, how are you? Good to be on the show. Thanks for having me.
Vincent Pietrafesa: We love having you. I'm great. I'm in one of those moods, like I said before, my allergies are acting up a little bit. But hey, that never stops me from the-
Vijay Ramachandran: That little rasp to your voice.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah, like a smokers voice. I've never smoked a cigarette in my entire life. But I have that. Thank you. That just adds to the mystique of the podcast. But yeah, it's great to see you again. Great to hear from you. Vijay, I want to get right into it with you, my fellow'90s kid there. Great music, that's all podcast we can do about that. Ajay is not a'90s kid. You're a little younger than us, Ajay. But you appreciate good music, and it seems like you do as well, Vijay, with the guitars in the background there I see. Tell me about that, first, before I get into my two questions I want to hit you with right off the bat.
Vijay Ramachandran: Part of this is to remind me of a time before I had kids back here.
Vincent Pietrafesa: I know. It's on the wall so they can't get at it, first of all, I know.
Vijay Ramachandran: They're getting up there. They're getting up there. One of these guitars disappears every once in a while, for sure.
Vincent Pietrafesa: One of the strings is broken, I know. Oh man, before kids, the good old days. But, it's fun, now, it's fun, now. But Vijay, let's get into it, because Pitney Bowes, huge company, been around for a long time. Tell people first about Pitney Bowes and what in particular you're doing there, your division and your role within the company?
Vijay Ramachandran: Yeah, sure. Pitney Bowes, Vincent, if you ask 10 people, what do you know about Pitney Bowes? Seven out of 10 are going to tell you, they're the mail meter company. They're the guys that do, over in Europe, they call it the franking machine. They put the postage on mail. The other three will go, " Pitney who?" That's our challenge today. We're 100 year old company. Actually, most of our business today comes from the eCommerce space. It's not necessarily in mail meters, it's in eCommerce logistics, doing logistics services. What is that? It is fulfillment. Once someone clicks Buy on an eCommerce website, that is the pick, pack and ship operation, we do the delivery. We're the fourth largest private parcel carrier for eCommerce in the US, a lot of folks don't know that. Then we do returns. Returns, which is incredibly complex, and tricky and costly. We help conquer a lot of those problems for retailers, and eCommerce companies. That's the majority of our revenue as a company today comes from eCommerce. What do I do? I lead up our marketing, positioning, messaging, go- to- market strategy in the eCommerce division. My team looks at the market, we understand what the trends are, we provide that trend analysis as a service to our clients. We help position where our solutions sit in the market, how do we set ourselves apart from our competitors? All of the things that a product marketer might do when you combine it with market intelligence, competitive intelligence, that sort of thing, as well as, what's our customer experience? How do we make sure our customer experience is better than everyone else's? That's a lot of what we are.
Vincent Pietrafesa: You're right because I know, even me, knowing Pitney Bowes, I know, there's some software that you have as well, that revolves around shipping, and the mail machines, right? You know that, been at several companies that have them. They're awesome, they're convenient. But you're right, I didn't really realize that the whole eCommerce piece as well. That is awesome. Vijay, we always like to ask this people on our podcast, because it's The Marketing Stir. Sometimes it's not always a direct correlation, but how did you get involved in marketing? What did you study? What was your path here?
Vijay Ramachandran: It was a winding path, just like practically every other marketer. I started business, international business out of college, did not have a marketing focus. But what I did have was a long work history in the creative space. Out of college, I started up a small creative agency. Hauled in some designers, some writers, put an agency together, ran that for several years. What I found is a couple of things. When you're running a business, you don't have much time when it's a very small business, to market that business, to go sell that business, and do the creative work that is required from a creative business. It's very tough wearing those multiple hats. I went into the consulting world, from there. I wanted to learn more about how to run a business well, how to grow a business. What are the strategic imperatives, and what are the insights you can draw from observation? I did consulting for quite a while. From consulting, I came back into marketing, went into product marketing. Combined the strategy and consulting work with the creative background, was able to pull those together, and I haven't looked back since. Today, I own both the messaging and positioning strategy, as well as a lot of the creative that we do.
Ajay Gupta: What was it like going from owning your own startup to working at a very, very large company?
Vijay Ramachandran: I would love to say that it was the man took me hostage, and I was locked up in the bureaucracy. But I got to be honest, there was a level, at least at that age, pretty young, right out of college, started a business, it was kind of a relief. You have so much that you take for granted when you work for a larger company, in terms of whether it's legal, and finance, and HR, sales, all the administrative work, that you don't really have to think about, you've got a matrixed organization that is already well mature enough to handle those. They've got the ability, the wherewithal to go have enterprise software that automates a lot of these things. You don't have to... You've only got so much attention span as a human being. The more your attention is spread across multiple topics, the more it drags down your ability to innovate and think outside the box. The more you're able to focus, the more you can actually break out of norms. What I found was that it's very hard when you own a very small business, to be able to take a step back, and really innovate in specific areas. I found it as a relief. There is a level of creative freedom that you have to think of as a trade off. But the amount of focus you gain as a result of that, more than makes up for it, especially when you're just starting out and you don't really know how to run a business as a young entrepreneur.
Ajay Gupta: As we're growing, we're seeing a lot of fit ourselves as we bring in executives from other companies. They always ask, who's the contract guy? Who's the legal guy? We're staring at them like, hey, it's you.
Vijay Ramachandran: Look in the mirror, buddy.
Ajay Gupta: Yeah. Vijay, I know, with the pandemic, a lot of businesses have been affected. How has that affected Pitney Bowes?
Vijay Ramachandran: It's a great question. The pandemic, for sure, has changed every aspect of our business. I think that's not abnormal for most companies. It's affected all of our lives. It's, in many cases, accelerated trends that were already happening by two to three or more years. Our industry and our space is a little bit different. Let me dial back to, as I said, we're in the eCommerce logistics industry, right? People are shopping online now more than ever before, because the start of the pandemic felt like shopping in store was a health concern, it was a safety risk. So, people shopped online. There was a 40% increase in online shopping over the early, early days of the pandemic. That did not decrease significantly last year. Even now, online shopping is significantly higher. It's probably taken a two to three year jump, in terms of eCommerce penetration than it did before. Now, here's the interesting story behind this, 100 years ago, when Pitney Bowes was founded. We're a 101 year old company founded in 1920. 100 years ago, there was another pandemic, it was the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 to 1920. One of the things that people don't remember because who remembers the 1920s, right? One of the things that people don't remember is, at the time, one, mail, was the backbone of commerce. It wasn't the internet. I would say it was mail. It was the primary way you sent bills, you got paid, you transacted business. Licking stamps was the only way you could get something in the mail. Licking stamps was considered a major means of transmitting the virus at the time. People stopped using mail, which was the only way you could transact beyond just local commerce, at the time. Pitney Bowes comes out, Pitney, there's two men; Pitney and Bowes, they come out with the postage meter in 1920, partly to address this very issue, the health concern of the Spanish flu pandemic, and to remove the need of licking postage stamps, to spreading germs. That was one of the driving factors. 100 years later, here we are, we're an eCommerce, which is again, a solution to health concerns in transacting long distance commerce. We've come back around 100 years later, it's so fascinating. Today, what has happened is this influx of people shopping online. There were people shopping online more than ever before, as I said, 40%, higher last year, still tremendously higher than normal. In fact, 49% of consumers say they are now shopping online more often than they were before the pandemic. 49% of consumers, which is just flabbergasting. Before the pandemic, it was already pretty high. If you exclude gas and convenience store type of product purchases, it was about 30% of transactions were happening online before the pandemic. Now, 49% of consumers say that they shop online more than ever before. It's a tremendous time to be in this industry. That comes with some challenges. As I like to think about it, we, in the eCommerce logistics industry, sit at this intersection between bits and atoms. Bits being infinitely scalable, there's no marginal cost in dealing with online transactions. You look at Netflix, it costs them essentially nothing to add an additional customer, because they're an entirely online business. Same with Facebook, it doesn't cost them anything to add a single customer, because there's no significant cost to add a new customer, because it's all digital. In the physical world, the world of atoms, there is a real cost. Every additional box, or shipment or truck of boxes that we have to ship, there's gas, there's the labor of putting the trucks on the box, the labor of driving the truck, the work revolving around quality assurance and tracking and all of the inventory management and returns, there's an actual cost that increases with every additional box. We're sitting here in a world where 50% of the work happens online, or the experience happens online when you're shopping online, and you could scale infinitely there. You can go from zero customers to a million customers in your online store, if you're running on a good technology stack, it's not a problem. You might have a marginal increase in subscription costs, but it's not a big deal, you can scale. You can't, as a physical business, scale that fast. You've got to move atoms, which has cost. What we came up against and others in our industry as well is we had the demand going up exponentially, because it was digital, the world of bits and the world of atoms not being able to catch up because there were real world costs and scalability challenges with atoms. We come in, and we're faced with more demand for our services than we have capacity for, and same with everybody else. It's a good time to be in the industry, but it is a very complex time to be in this industry, because you can let people down very easily, just by being overwhelmed, not by executing poorly, by simply by being overwhelmed. That is something that all of us in this industry are working on is, eCommerce not slowing down. It may take a small plateau over the summer as people get back out into stores. But as soon as peak season comes again, the holiday, we're going to see eCommerce skyrocket once more. Usually during peak, sales go up by 40%. We're going to see this again. We've got a responsibility in this industry, logistics to be prepared. The pandemic was something that you couldn't forecast, this peak is. That's the challenge we have is being prepared for the next big wave, because it is still, even now, a tremendous amount of demand.
Vincent Pietrafesa: I love the way you describe that, Vijay, I love the metaphor there. I also love that Spanish Flu story. I'm sure, at that time people didn't like this, but the way that Pitney Bowes was like, " Oh, wait here, we're going to solve a problem." It's a business that's here 100 years. I would love to also see the prototype of that first machine. That's interesting.
Vijay Ramachandran: It was a beast. We've got one of the very first machines on display at our headquarters. It's about the size of a small car.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Wow, that's crazy. Now, they could fit. It's the size, almost, of a laptop, right?
Vijay Ramachandran: It could fit on one arm.
Vincent Pietrafesa: That's crazy. I love that story. Let's talk about storytelling before... We were talking about it before. Because Ajay was making fun of me about my standup comedy, I'm always telling stories. I know, in partnerships and sales, but in marketing, we hear from a lot of marketers, a lot of it about their job is storytelling. Can you comment on that? How does storytelling fit into your role, and what's the importance of it?
Vijay Ramachandran: I would say storytelling is the role. There is nothing but the story for someone in my role. I'll tell you the reason why, Vincent, it's a great question. We're in an industry, eCommerce logistics, let's just talk about some of the big drivers is delivery speed. Amazon has set the bar here, two day delivery, being the norm with Amazon Prime. Speed is critically important. But the other thing that a lot of folks that are consumers don't really think about is free shipping is also the norm. It's fast shipping and free shipping. Well, how can it be both? Because fast shipping is expensive. It really costs a lot of money, if you need to get a box from California to New York, it costs a lot of money. You got to do that in a short amount of time, and move millions of boxes, or billions of boxes. It costs a lot of money to move fast. You might have to have more product located in different places, as to the Amazon strategy, put warehouses all over the country. But you've got to be able to plan all that inventory, you got to figure out how much you need. Now, the challenge is that if you're a fashion retailer, you don't sell that many types of products. If you're a growing business, you can't buy enough inventory to locate it everywhere. Having your inventory, or your product everywhere in the country is very difficult. Speed becomes extra expensive, you actually are shipping across the country. At the same time, consumers don't want to pay for shipping. Free shipping is the norm. In fact, more than 85% of consumers will jump off of a website, will abandon the site, if free shipping is not offered. 86% of consumers. The challenge you face is you're being forced as an online retailer to spend more and more on shipping, but you can't pass that cost on to your consumer ever, maybe you can get away with it if you're selling a really high value good, consumers will be willing to pay a little bit. But most retailers can't get away with at least one free shipping offer on their site. Here's the challenge as a provider, the clients that we work with care about some of those same two things; it's speed and it's cost. They want faster, and at the same time they want cheaper. What you're grappling with are two opposite ends of the spectrum. You can't be both the fastest and the cheapest. It's impossible with the laws of physics. Unless you are huge, and you can work out the economies of scale, there's only one or two players that are that size. You got Amazon, you got Walmart, you got Target, there's a few players that are that size. But for everybody else, you've got to play a balance between speed and cost. When you're a marketer, in this industry, and only two things matter, speed and cost. It's a very difficult challenge at the outset, because, aside from physics and economies of scale, what can you do? It's either you go faster, or more expensive or slower and less expensive, unless you can show value. That's the difference. If you can somehow deliver value to a client, beyond the commodity of speed versus cost. If you look at it, this is not that dissimilar from other industries where basically the products are commodities. You look at soap, for example, where has soap changed in the last 20, 25 years? Well, it hasn't... Once you're killing 99.9% of bacteria, you can't get much more antibacterial than that. The efficacy of the soap, not going to change. You have real cost in making soap, so you can't necessarily make it that much cheaper. It's effectiveness of the soap versus the cost of the soap. Where do great marketers go? They go into consumer packaged goods. Why? Because in commodity industries, the storyteller is king. In industries where the product is evaluated on very commodity attributes, you actually can create value by being the marketer, the storyteller. That's what brought me to this industry in logistics, because the thing that people take for granted, they don't really realize is that commodity industries provide the greatest opportunity for marketers like us, because you can go tell stories, and that is how the company differentiates. You can't come out with features, when the audience is thinking about things in commodity terms; speed versus cost. Features don't drive it, because features could still ladder up to is, does that feature help me lower cost, or does that feature help me move faster? But if you can tell a great story, it actually sets you apart.
Vincent Pietrafesa: I agree. Something you were saying there too, Vijay, it's that old model where, okay, you want something really cheap and really fast? Well, there's sometimes a sacrifice in quality, right? If you're not offering that value, vis a vis quality. Value, you lose something there.
Vijay Ramachandran: That's right. In a commodity industry quality is relatively a constant. The quality of the product is constant. Unless what you're talking about is something more emotional. Are you delivering on an emotional need? Are you providing confidence? Are you giving support, expertise? These soft skills deliver value, more so than the traditional ways of quality, which is, is it a better service? Is it a better product? In a mature industry, all the providers have roughly the same amount of quality.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah, no, I agree. Also Amazon, it's not free, you're still paying about 100 and something dollars a year for the service. But anyway, Vijay, let's talk about, there's a lot of listeners out there who are in eCommerce. What's an ideal customer for you?
Vijay Ramachandran: Yeah, that's a great question. We work predominantly with direct- to- consumer DTC brands, or otherwise known as digitally native vertical brands. The reason we focus in that area is because, if you're a mid- market brand, what you're trying to do is to figure out what your brand needs. You're at a size, where you don't have the novelty of a small startup, and you're just entering the market, you've got a hockey stick growth curve. That's very important to have initially, but at some point, you reach a stage where acquiring the next customer, whether it's advertising on Facebook, or Instagram, or Google or wherever, it becomes really expensive. You've got to figure out that next stage of growth without diluting your brand. So many of these companies come up, there's companies like Dollar Shave Club and Auberge Shoes. These are companies that come in through a single product category; shoes, razors. They come to the market, and build their brand narrative on a single product category. They hit a certain point, and they're like, well, there's only so many people buying razors, what can we sell to achieve the next layer of growth inside of razors? Then you start to diversify. Once you start to diversify your product portfolio, your brand narrative changes, and the things that drove your business before, don't drive your business still. At that juncture, you're looking for a partner to work with, to figure out, well, what are the trade offs? Is Option A going to cost more than Option B? Is there a way that we can anticipate what our customers are going to think, if we roll out Option C? You're starting to try to make decisions about your product portfolio and where the value propositions are. Once you get really broad, bigger than... The type of client we usually work with, although we work with the biggest marketplaces, some of the biggest retailers, we've got experienced there, a lot of the customers we're adding these days is in this mid market, digitally native space. Because at that large size, you're really only competing on convenience. If you're someone like an Amazon or a Walmart, it's how much product do I have? How many different types of things, if you search for, does it show up in the search results, in my product list? Can I have it tomorrow? Can I have it in two days? You're competing not on the product itself, the quality of the product, and the story behind the product, or the brand, your brand is about convenience, when you get really big. But when you're a mid- market brand, you still want your story to be about your product. All these other things on convenience, they're a bunch of trade offs. You're not just focused on convenience, you're trying to figure out, is this source of convenience worth the trade off of cost and reducing the amount of money I can put into product? Because it's all a margin trade off. That's why we focus on these mid- market brands, because they're at this very interesting stage of growth, where they've achieved this initial growth spurt, but then they have to make these decisions on trade offs. We come in with this balancing question of, do you want to focus on convenience? Do you want to focus on brand narrative? Or what are the other options you have? It's not just all convenience or no convenience, there are different levers you can pull and how can we explore those different levers with you?
Ajay Gupta: Vijay, is a follow up to what Vincent asked, what are some of the channels you're using to reach out to these digital native brands? Then the follow up to that is, what does your marketing stack look like? Is there a particular software or automation tools that you prefer or others?
Vijay Ramachandran: It's a great question. Channel wise, here's the interesting thing about the eCommerce market. I mentioned mid- market brands, digitally native brands. If you look at the market, and we define that roughly as, anywhere from a million in annual online revenue, all the way up to a quarter of a billion is roughly the mid- market. That sounds like a really big range; 1 million to$ 250 million. But there's really only about 15, 000 companies out there in the US, in that range, only about 15, 000. If you segment that further, we do really well, with companies that ship packages that are somewhat lighter weight. Somewhere between half a pound to about five, six pounds, just because of the nature of our network, the type of automation we have in our warehouses, robotics, they handle those types of packages better. Then you're into a narrower band. From 14, 000 companies, the companies you focus on that are mainly dealing with packages of that size, are generally your apparel, footwear, like shoes, cosmetics, beauty, toys, hobbies, those types of categories of retailers. You've gone from 14, 000, you actually shrink that down to maybe somewhere between 6, 000 and 8, 000 companies. 6, 000 and 8, 000 companies in the US that we can go after, that is the sweet spot of the market for us. That's not a lot. If you hire enough salespeople, you can give them all sandwich boards, and they can go walk in front of offices and probably get the same amount of marketing conversion rate that you would by spending gobs of money on Facebook and Instagram, and LinkedIn. There is this aspect of, we're in B2B; B2B marketing, B2B sales, even though we're selling a B2B product or service, we can reach these 6, 000 to 8,000 companies through direct selling, or we can go with very targeted digital. But for 6,000 to 8, 000 companies, it really doesn't make sense to do out of home, it doesn't make sense to do print, unless it's a very targeted print run. It doesn't make sense to do direct mail, especially in the pandemic, you can't get people's home addresses for B2B. It doesn't make sense to do anything but something highly targeted, because there aren't enough companies that we're going after. It's a combination of direct selling through our Salesforce, and targeted account- based strategies. Ajay, you asked about the stack. What's interesting here is, I would say there's no platform out there that is perfectly suited for this dynamic, I just talked about. What I mean by this, there's plenty of ABM platforms. ABM is a wildly popular domain. But when we're looking at what we want to say to those 6, 000 to 8, 000 companies, eCommerce becomes really, really, really interesting. Because unlike any other industry, every eCommerce retailer is an open book. You can go to their website, you can buy their product, you can experience what it's like to go through their logistics flow, see the order being shipped out, track it being delivered, have it delivered, open the box, experience the product yourself, and then you can return it. You can experience everything about their customers journey yourself without a whole lot of money spent. If we're in apparel and footwear and accessories, we can go and shop all of our clients sites and we do. Now, how do you do that at scale, through an ABM platform? Well, to do that we've had to invest in our own tools, we've built proprietary tools to go and benchmark customer experience, to go and benchmark consumer sentiment. We've built custom tools, because there is this unique opportunity in eCommerce where you can go observe your clients, your customers, your prospect's pain points, their performance, their customers' opinions. You can go observe those things today, online, and then report back and use that as a means to deliver value, not just a sales message, but actual value, analysis and insight. We've been able to build proprietary tools, we have a whole platform of tools that we use for insights across the entire client journey, to benchmark all of these things, and then deliver those in a very personalized, highly segmented and targeted way. There's no platform, I would say out there. We use tools like data warehousing, with snowflake. We use a lot of front- end tools, some no code tools to help us iterate here, but it's all built in- house. All of the actual value, I would say is built in- house because we've got this unique opportunity in this market; we're highly targeted, and we can go observe our customers. It's a once in a lifetime thing.
Ajay Gupta: Sounds like, Vijay, it's a collaboration between your direct sales team and custom tools. Is that a fair way to put it?
Vijay Ramachandran: Yeah, it's a collaboration between... The sales team has to adopt the tools, for sure. They have to be willing participants because they are the vehicle through which these value messages and insights are delivered. They have to become experts in the tools themselves. They have to become experts in account- based selling, using these tools. Then our engineering teams have to dedicate time. It's really rare, in a B2B organization, to see engineering resources being leveraged to build marketing tools, marketing and sales tools. Really, usually your engineering teams are building products. But we don't sell the marketing tools. These are just value adds that we give all of our clients, insights and analytics. These aren't things that we go and sell. We've taken an interesting turn, and we've dedicated engineering resources to build out tools to help marketing and sales. That, I think, is driving a lot of difference in the way our clients work with us, our client retention, our client satisfaction.
Ajay Gupta: Vijay, more of a personal question, I'm sure based on your title and where you work, you get a lot of LinkedIn messages and unsolicited emails. What are some things that gets your attention, that you respond to, and what are some messages that really drives you crazy?
Vijay Ramachandran: Let me start with the driving crazy, because there's a lot, there's a lot of those. " Hey, we share some contacts I thought we should connect," Is the worst entree.
Vincent Pietrafesa: And there's like one contact, that's it.
Vijay Ramachandran: Or none, possibly. Put some effort behind, we were just talking about account- based, put some effort behind why I should connect with you when you're prospecting. Give me something of value to show that you've done your homework. I've received some emails that say, look, we've gone to your website, we've noticed these things. Here's what we'd like to talk to you about. That gets my attention. But the, " Hey, I thought we should connect, we're in the same industry, blah, blah, blah." Is not at all appealing. It's, to some degree, lazy. The other thing I would say on LinkedIn that I think drives me up the wall is using LinkedIn as a platform for soap boxing. That's what Facebook and to some degree Twitter are for. These are the values of a great employee. Then using LinkedIn as a platform to just shill your own product, but there's no intrinsic value there of what knowledge are you sharing? What market insight are you sharing? If you're using LinkedIn to just say, hey, you should come talk to me about improving your ROI on blah, blah, blah, that again, is a lazy approach because any social media dynamic is going to accrue followers towards people who actually share value, share something of interest on these platforms like LinkedIn, or Facebook or Twitter, you're going to follow people who say something interesting. But if all you're out there doing is going, " Hey, you should come talk to me about our services." That doesn't actually impart any value on anyone. It feels like... If you guys have been to Vegas, if you walk down the strip, there's those guys that stand on the sides of the road smacking pamphlets in your face. You know what I'm talking about?
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah.
Vijay Ramachandran: It feels like that.
Vincent Pietrafesa: I'll be in Vegas in two weeks.
Vijay Ramachandran: You seem like a Vegas guy. That's what it feels like. It feels like a carnival, when you're constantly just prospected to. By prospecting, I don't mean something intelligent, I mean, smacking a pamphlet in your face. That's not actually appealing, that's distracting.
Vincent Pietrafesa: That is the best way I have heard that described, Vijay. They're so annoying. Those fliers usually aren't for a buffet.
Vijay Ramachandran: In some ways, it's like a$ 1. 99 type.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah, right? Don't take those pamphlets from people in Las Vegas. That's a great way to describe it. Vijay, I want to get back just to touch upon the eCommerce trends a little bit. You mentioned some. You said ebbs and flows, maybe the summer. But what are some patterns in eCommerce that you've noticed, over the last year or so, and what do you think is here to stay?
Vijay Ramachandran: Yeah, that's a great question. What we've done, one of the sources of insights in the platform we've built is, a lot of companies in our industry do annual consumer research. They'll do a study once a year, and then that'll pump through their marketing editorial calendar all year. They'll just keep atomizing that content. When the pandemic hit, we decided that, that approach was just not going to fly, because things are changing so fast right now, and they have been for the past year. One year ago, we didn't expect a pandemic to hit and suddenly we were in lockdown, in quarantine, and our behaviors changed. Halfway through the summer, people were getting cabin fever, and behaviors changed again. Then it was the holidays, and people shifted their behaviors yet again, and here we are, with vaccines, roughly at about 50% of eligible Americans receiving a vaccine, their behaviors are changing yet again. Things are changing much too fast for us to be able to get by, by gauging customer sentiment or consumer sentiment once a year. We've gone to a weekly poll. Every single week, we put out, two, three, four questions in the market, and ask different panels of 2,000, 3, 000 consumers, what they think about these topics. We call it box poll. Some of the insights we found are pretty compelling. We started this during the pandemic, and we're now into like, 300 or 400 different questions we've asked in the field, 300 or 400, just in the last few months. Whereas before, we would ask maybe 30 questions a year. Some of the new things that are on tap right now with eCommerce impact are this idea of dispersion, physical dispersion. When the remote work practice hit the pandemic, that was, at first viewed as a temporary thing. But when it were on for a year, it opened people's eyes to going, do we really need to be back in the office? If we need to be back in the office, we need to be back in the office all the time? Some of these telecommuting tools are not so bad for certain lines of work. In many cases, the value of not having a commute outweighs the need to pay a tremendous amount for office space as a company owner. As a company operator office space is expensive. If you're seeing in many cases with information workers where productivity gain from remote work, you're thinking to yourself, do I really need to pay for this office space? It's a bunch of overhead that I may not need. I can bring that the employees in on a quarterly basis, and we could do fly in intensive collaboration sessions on a periodic basis. But do we need everybody in the office every single day? Because that is incredibly expensive and our productivity is sinking in many cases. As remote work becomes... I don't want to champion remote work, it's not for everybody. But as remote work becomes the norm for a lot of information workers, those workers, almost 40% of US workers fall in this category of, they can work remotely and not much changes. Think customer service, think accounting, think human resources, you don't need to be in the office every single day, because it's not a highly collaborative line of work. Even programming, you don't have... They start thinking, well, if I'm not commuting to the office, I can live anywhere. The reason I live here is because the commute's not so bad. But if the commute goes away, I can live anywhere. What we found is that more than 30% of Americans, as of just a month ago, still have moving on the table. They're still thinking about moving. That's not even including the 25% of Americans who have already moved home. Buying market, historic high, interest rates at a historic low, the rental market in metro areas, historic lows, rental prices in middle America have gone through the roof. Why is this? Because people are moving out of the big cities where they had to be there for the work, to go to the office, and they're moving into secondary cities, secondary metros. They're moving into the suburbs. There's an article from the Wall Street Journal and one from the New York Times, just a couple of weeks ago, we're looking at Postal Service, change of address data, and people are moving into the suburbs, out of New York, out of San Francisco, out of LA in droves. What does this mean for eCommerce? Well, it means that your store, your local store is not as close, and it means you probably have a porch that deliveries can be left on, instead of a mail room, or a stoop, on an apartment, or in front of a brownstone where a package can get stolen. You actually have more convenience with home delivery than you did ever before, because you're not living in an urban environment. In an urban environment, it's much more difficult to have residential delivery. Now, the problem is for companies doing delivery and eCommerce companies selling those consumers, shipping becomes more expensive, because you have to drive further away from your warehouse to reach those consumers. The free shipping offer that you have today, it costs one thing today, I guarantee you six months, 12 months from now, it's going to be more expensive, because more of your consumers are going to be further away, living further away from warehouses, which is going to cost more to deliver to them. The cost of free shipping is going to fundamentally increase. Not just that, but it's going to change... This whole dispersion, people moving changes electoral politics, it changes school systems, it changes traffic patterns, it changes what types of products people buy, and there's more home goodness purchases now because people are moving into larger spaces that need to be furnished. The types of products being purchased are fundamentally changing. They're changing faster than incomes, which means that there is a trade off, you're not buying as many clothes, you're buying more home goods because you've got to furnish your house. But you're not leaving that house, so you don't have to get dressed. You can stay in sweats, but you want to have a nice couch. Those sorts of things are happening at an accelerated pace, and for eCommerce companies, we've got to stay ahead of that. The higher shipping costs, the change in the type of products being purchased. What convenience means before was I could go pick it up at the local parcel walker down the corner, because I don't want the package left on my stoop, or in the mail room where it gets stolen. Well, if that parcel walker is now 20 minutes away, because I moved to the suburbs, that's no longer a convenient option. It's fundamentally changing what eCommerce logistics has to do. That would be the biggest... That is just driving everything, from returns to What does packaging look like? How much waste is there in packaging? Because you now see it piling up, instead of going to a dumpster behind the building. You now see the packaging waste piling up at your driveway. It's a fundamental shift in the way consumers view eCommerce and retail, overall.
Vincent Pietrafesa: I love that take on that, Vijay. It echoes some of the take that some of our previous guests who are in the DTC eCommerce business like Lovesac and Shinesty who've been on, they've mimicked what you said there. I love that perspective, and I know as a native New Yorker in New York City, people are moving out in droves, and our costs are going down, as far as rents, and if you want to buy in New York City, but you want to go out on the outskirts there are properties selling for$ 100,000 more. It is that time. Last question, Vijay, tell me more about yourself. How do you spend your free time? Maybe playing the guitar there, I'm sure it's mostly with family, but some of your interests before we wrap up here.
Vijay Ramachandran: It's mostly about kids these days. I got kids who are getting ready to be teenagers.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Wow.
Vijay Ramachandran: There's only so much time you have left with them. It's mostly about the kids. There's a little bit of guitar, but kids come first. The main thing I enjoy doing is building. Whether it's building projects around the house, but building solutions, problem solving. I like doing that, both personal life and work. Some of the stuff we've built around insights platforms and research and the types of consultative help expertise that we're trying to deliver to clients, that's, I think an outcropping of a desire to build. I think, consumers overall are spending more time at home, they spend more time with families, but they want to build at home as well. Build a home that they can spend more time in, and that's exactly what I'm doing.
Vincent Pietrafesa: I like that. Vijay, this has been a pleasure. We loved having you on The Marketing Stir. We hope you enjoyed yourself. Ladies and gentlemen, that is Vijay Ramachandran. He is the Vice President, Marketing Strategy and Planning at Pitney Bowes. I'm Vincent Pietrafesa, that's Ajay Gupta. This has been another episode of The Marketing Stir. Thank you so much for listening, and we'll talk to you soon.
Jared Walls: Thanks for listening to The Marketing Stir Podcast by Stirista. Please like, rate and subscribe. If you're interested in being a guest on the podcast, email us at themarketingstir @ stirista. com. Thanks for listening.
Vijay Ramachandran, Vice President of Marketing Strategy and Planning at Pitney Bowes, discusses the challenges of developing marketing strategies for a company that’s been around for a century. He offers insight into an industry that operates in both the physical and digital worlds, as well as how to prospect without coming off like a carnival barker. Ajay raises funds for a good cause, and Vincent is excited about Vegas.