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AiThority Interview with Pete Stein, President at Merkle Americas

Pete Stein, President at Merkle Americas

You’ve been with Merkle since 2020. What attracted you to the company? What has kept you with them?

I’m incredibly excited about this next evolution of the Merkle brand and organization — to focus on customer experience transformation – which aligns well with my past experience & personal passions. I believe that Merkle’s heritage as a data leader is the best possible DNA for experience transformation leadership. From a personal perspective, I have tons of respect for people like Craig Dempster, Michael Komasinski, Wendy Clark and Jacki Kelley — just great people and a great culture.

Can you explain in more detail the responsibilities of your new role?

I have overall business leadership and accountability for the Merkle Americas P&L.  I have responsibility for the people and clients in the Americas and partner with our leadership team to ensure that we have the best solutions and talent to guide our clients to accelerate and their CX investments. We believe that clients must put customer experience at the heart of their business strategy. I am a champion for innovation and integration across all our service offerings, including organic and inorganic growth strategy, and ongoing M&A.

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What are your plans for Merkle Americas? What are you most looking forward to?

It’s a large, geographically dispersed business and my tenure to date has overlapped with pandemic so I am really looking forward to continuing to get out there even more to meet our employees and clients.  I am also excited for the future customer experience and the intersection of data and design – and the customer-centric transformation of business more generally – and all the innovation efforts underway within Merkle to position us as a leader in that field.  I’m excited to continue helping clients along their own transformation journeys. The cool thing about our business is that we get to participate in such a diverse array of industries and get to meet the great leaders steering our clients’ futures.

How will the learnings you’ve gathered during your time with the Experience and Commerce team lend itself to your new role?

Experience & Commerce is a relatively new offering within Merkle, but obviously key to our success as strategic partners for CX transformation to F1000.  Our big opportunity now is to integrate the capabilities of Experience & Commerce with all the other strengths of Merkle: data management, analytics, digital messaging, loyalty performance media & creative, etc. – to provide truly integrated solutions for our clients where the total value is much more than the sum of the parts. We’re in a great position to do that, and very few competitors have that breadth of capability and depth of knowledge.

Where do you see Merkle’s greatest opportunity for growth this year? 

Our greatest opportunity is our ability to provide clients with integrated solutions that incorporate multiple complementary capabilities, very few companies can combine data and AI with design and technology innovation like we can.  Beyond that, the market demand for what we do is high, and we are particularly excited about the explosive growth of commerce services (not just ecommerce but also reinvention of physical retail), the transformation of data infrastructures brought on by the race for first-party data and the transition to the cloud, and the huge opportunity to innovate and create new experiences that combine sophisticated AI with human-centric design thinking and creativity.  As algorithms become more sophisticated and pervasive, we see an important emerging market need around ethical AI – the need to ensure we’re deploying these new technologies in a way that is not just compliant in a narrow legal sense, but positive, inclusive, and without bias for all stakeholders.

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What will be the company’s biggest challenge this year?

Our biggest challenge is keeping our clients focused on both short and long-term success.  The macros are very dynamic right now and this has the risk of distracting our clients from their long-term agenda.

How is Merkle setting itself apart from other companies in the customer experience space? Why is this important?

We have a unique ability to combine data and technology expertise with creativity and human insights. This is a powerful combination for experience innovation that no one else can really match (and arguably, in this era, data is every company’s single most important strategic asset).  We’re proud of our deep business expertise within specific industry verticals (retail, financial services, high tech, healthcare, etc.) and we view this as a key strength, rather than a source of conflict.  We also have incredible top-to-top partnerships with the technology companies shaping the future of business — Salesforce, Adobe, AWS, MSFT, etc. — for example we are the #1 global agency partner for Salesforce, and the #1 partner for SFCC – and we use that expertise to deliver client solutions faster, more effectively, and with greater ability to scale.  Lastly, like all of dentsu, our philosophy is “B2B2s.” We believe that in partnership with our clients, we can and must be champions for meaningful progress in a way that generates value for society as a whole. We are always looking for ways to empower customers and deliver positive social outcomes through our work.

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What are some customer experience and commerce trends you’re watching this year?

  • The growing realization that “all brands are DTC” and must have a direct relationship with end customers.  
  • The consensus that shopping is now ubiquitous and always-on, and the race to create commerce experiences that are fast, frictionless, fun – and connected across touchpoints.  
  • The great reopening (we hope, finally!) and reinvention of physical retail, and its convergence with digital commerce capabilities.  
  • The convergence of content, commerce, and community to create new kinds of social shopping experiences
  • The increasing importance of a loyalty mindset (and toolkit) as a way to directly drive customer LTV and enterprise value
  • The ongoing shift to cloud-based data architectures and solutions
  • The increasing pervasiveness of AI technologies, even in businesses that have not been historically tech-driven, and the need to ensure that this tech is used responsibly as well as effectively
  • A fundamental rethinking of customer service, and its repositioning as a driver of revenue and brand value rather than just cost
  • The rapid adoption and evolution of retail media networks, which creates huge opportunities (as well as some risk) for both retailers and product manufacturers
  • The evolution of the discussion around personalization into something bigger than just real-time targeting; it’s now about deploying automation that recognizes customers, anticipates their needs, and dynamically empowers them with useful experiences that remove friction and create delight; this is what we mean by “intelligent experiences” that strengthen emotional connections

Thank you, Pete! That was fun and we hope to see you back on soon.

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Pete Stein is President of Merkle Americas and leader of the dentsu Customer Experience Management (CXM) Service Line in the Americas. He oversees all aspects of Merkle’s Americas regional operation, including sales, account management, solutions, services, and marketing. He is responsible for driving the P&L for Merkle Americas, representing more than 70% of the company’s global revenue and employee base.

Merkle Logo

Merkle, a dentsu company, is a leading data-driven customer experience management (CXM) company that specializes in the delivery of unique, personalized customer experiences across platforms and devices. For more than 30 years, Fortune 1000 companies and leading nonprofit organizations have partnered with Merkle to maximize the value of their customer portfolios.

The company’s heritage in data, technology, and analytics forms the foundation for its unmatched skills in understanding consumer insights that drive hyper-personalized marketing strategies. Its combined strengths in performance media, customer experience, customer relationship management, loyalty, and enterprise marketing technology drive improved marketing results and competitive advantage.

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