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AiThority Interview with Margo Kahnrose, CMO at Skai

Please tell us about your role and the team / technology you handle at Skai. How did you arrive at Skai?

I am the Chief Marketing Officer at Skai, an intelligence and activation platform formerly known as Kenshoo that enables smarter, faster go-to-market for brands. My team spans pretty much every marketing discipline, including comms and creative, demand generation, product marketing, field, partner and event marketing, marketing research and content. It’s a wildly talented and committed group of people who operate pretty lean relative to a business of our size and breadth. We rely on strong communication, supportive collaboration, and a number of software and agency solutions to get it all done every day. I always tell the team that we are both a strategy-center and a support org; we need to lead the way by educating the market and reflecting the market back internally, but it’s equally important that make everyone else in the company successful by building a sales pipeline, shaping messaging, and giving everything that goes out a good polish.

My background is in communication design and marketing, and I’ve had a varied array of hands-on and management experience throughout my 17 years in the workforce, but only in the past four did it occur to me to pursue the CMO path. I really love technology, so after working for a few brands in the apparel, retail and ecommerce sectors, I spent several formative years leading brand and creative at Kenshoo during the company’s earlier growth spurt before leaving to join a consumer marketplace app. That experience taught me a lot about what makes a company truly values-centric in its operations and decision-making, and exposed me to the kinds of peers and leadership that inspire me to challenge myself and grow. In my time away, I expanded my leadership remit, learned a few new tricks, and stayed in touch with my mentors from Kenshoo.  When Yoav, our CEO, asked me to return to Kenshoo and helm our marketing while helping to shape the vision for Skai, it was a no-brainer and I’ll be forever grateful for having been granted the opportunity.

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What is Skai and what does your product / service offering look like?

Skai is a suite of technology solutions that work together to power better decisions and quick speed-to-market in launching and marketing consumer products. The platform is based on the most comprehensive yet relevant data foundation industry-wide, and comprises solutions for market intelligence, media execution, testing and measurement, solving problems for entire go-to-market teams—from executives to product developers to consumer and market insights to brand managers and marketers. Skai merges and marries the former Kenshoo and Signals Analytics’ capabilities to effectively unify data and help companies better understand their consumers in real-time. But what makes us different is that we also provide the tools needed to act on the insights with marketing mix modeling, customer-facing campaigns, budget optimization and real-time experiments. Insights-to-action is something a lot of companies claim but only Skai truly delivers. We are also a global company with an international footprint. Our client base includes 2000+ of some of the biggest household name brands on the planet.

Could you tell us more about the current trends in the media intelligence and analytics market?

There’s a lot happening now in the form of colliding trends that make intelligent go-to-market both an imperative and a challenge for brands, such as data deprecation and consumer privacy regulation, Big Tech dominance, a pandemic-induced e-business surge, and the resulting adoption of new distribution strategies and channels. Media intelligence in general has always favored the measurable—which is where digital channels can really shine—but suddenly, marketing analytics have gotten more opaque. So we’re starting to see wider, external data sources and broader market intelligence stepping up to the plate in helping brands keep a finger on the pulse of not only consumer behavior, but sentiment and trends—all of which change at lightning speed.

Unlike market intelligence of yore, however, artificial intelligence makes deriving insights, connecting data and sifting through consumer conversations for context a lot faster and more accurate. But where it gets really interesting is that there is a trend towards using insights from external data sources to complement and validate those derived from internal sources, and get everyone in a brand’s go-market-org using them as a single source of truth.

That’s where we at Skai have found a pressing need, especially within brands that have not historically sold direct-to-consumer, and as a result haven’t built much muscle using intelligence to listen to, understand, design for and speak to the end consumer. So we see media intelligence becoming more comprehensive—incorporating market intelligence—as well as more accessible across brand functions. And we see many brands leveraging these kinds of analytics for the very first time—and needing a lot of help.

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How has your role evolved through the pandemic crisis? How did you stay on top of your game?

Like every marketing leader I know, the pandemic forced me to revisit plans and do more with less. I’ve always believed that constraints breed creativity so that was the lens through which I tried to rally the team. I laid out the corporate strategy, how it translated into marketing goals, and what I felt my own primary role in achieving them would be—and then asked the group how they felt they could contribute. It was a lot of listening to my team’s leadership do the same calculus for themselves and their functions and simply showing as much support—and gratitude—as I could.

With so much sameness in my daily environment, my kids trying remote learning and blurred lines between work and home, I found I needed new hobbies to explore in order to decompress and give my mind a break, so I bought a bike, took up piano with my 12-year-old and painted my house. It was fun to talk about that kind of thing with my colleagues, many of whom were also mixing it up in their personal lives. From logistics like uprooted childcare and inadequate home WiFi to complicated emotional stressors, illness and loss, there was a tacit understanding that each of us was dealing with our own myriad personal reactions to the pandemic, which I did my best to verbally reinforce now and then. But there was also the practical application of that—allowing for as much general flexibility as needed and a got-your-back spirit of coverage when someone needed to take time off. It helped to work for a company that is so laser-focused on the wellbeing of employees, and to know I was empowered to manage with a humanity-first bent as long as was needed.

The circumstances were extraordinary, but now that things are beginning to normalize I can see there were some lessons I’d be foolish not to apply ongoing. Not only did everyone from more flexibility, blind trust and human connection at work, but our work-product did too. Our marketing became more focused, more strategic, and generally more empathetic—because, as the pandemic forced us all to do —when you stop thinking about yourself 100% of the time as a human, you’re a better human. And when you stop doing the same as a business, you’re a better business.

One lesson you learned by working with technology and people during the pandemic?

Technology and people are a great pairing, but they work best together when each is played to their strengths. Technologies, like Skai, allowed businesses to adjust strategies to changing resources or market conditions, at scale, at a time when, for many brands and professionals, the need to do so successfully was nothing short of existential. But people alone respond best to the needs of people, and that connection to each other proved just as critical to businesses’ ability to retain top talent even while reducing salaries and cutting perks, as became the norm. Even putting aside the pandemic, the socio-political volatility we experienced in the same period globally, but especially in America, took a toll on many—and no software platform or AI could have softened the blows. That job fell to humans. So my biggest takeaway is letting machines do and automate whatever they can frees us up for emotional generosity and connection, and both are true business realities to be addresses.

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How would you define ‘responsible AI’ in the pandemic era through the lens of a general customer?

The way we view AI as customers ought to follow the same kinds of principles that are prevalent and influential in the rest of our consumer lives. The pandemic heightened our interest, as consumers, of spending our money more consciously. We became wary of companies that stood to gain commercially from the pain and economic loss so many were suffering in those circumstances, and we also began to examine brand values and corporate interests as a factor in our buying decisions. I think we need to hold AI to the same standard, even as we enjoy the benefits and convenience it can bring to our day-to-day.

Before adopting AI, we ask ourselves, is it there to help or exploit? Data safety and privacy protection is another layer customers suddenly gained power over during the pandemic era, with the ability to opt out, more deliberately, from being tracked, examined and marketed to. AI needs to respect those kinds of boundaries and be responsible for their outcomes—which really means that the companies producing AI-driven products need to accept responsibility. Finally, how inclusive are we engineering intelligent technologies to be, as they begin to learn and make decisions on their own? That one is tougher to unpack because it boils down to a more diverse and inclusive mix of engineers in STEM. Women and ethnic minorities are still vastly underrepresented in those fields, which means most AI isn’t going to be taught to “think” like them, although they are a big chunk of the end user base. Ultimately, responsible AI comes from companies that take measures to recognize and correct this imbalance.

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

Margo Kahnrose is the CMO of Skai and has more than 15 years of experience in marketing, branding, communications and creative across various enterprise SaaS and consumer industries. Margo previously led the development and management of Skai’s brand marketing for more than four years before doing the same for mobility app SpotHero. She rejoined Skai in 2018, where she leads demand generation, branding and communications for the company globally. Margo holds a BBA in Design Marketing and Management from Parsons School of Design.

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Skai is a go-to-market engine that powers brand decisions and execution with actionable intelligence for accuracy, speed and agility in making customer connections. Skai’s platform includes a suite of data-driven products for market intelligence, omnichannel media activation, testing and measurement, enabling product developers, consumer and market insights teams, brand managers and marketers to make predictions, plan strategies and benefit from connected omnichannel launches. Skai merges the former Kenshoo and Signals Analytics capabilities and for more than a decade, has been trusted by an impressive roster of global brands including Procter & Gamble, Nestle, Johnson & Johnson, Mars and others. With its expanded product suite, Skai is unifying data and helping companies better understand their consumers in real-time. It has seven international locations and is backed by Sequoia Capital, Arts Alliance, Tenaya Capital, and Bain Capital Ventures.

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