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Digital Shop T3 Takes Aim At Long-Tail Marketing

T3’s Ben Gaddis isn’t interested in creating a one-off ad. He wants to change the way businesses advertise over the next five years.

T3's Ben Gaddis
T3’s Ben Gaddis

For Ben Gaddis, the chief innovation officer of T3, the notion of “ad avoidance” has a slightly different meaning than it does for consumers. The Austin, TX-based agency endeavors to influence major brands’ digital strategy beyond one-off ads. And as Gaddis tells it, the notion is in both his and the agency’s DNA — literally.

GeoMarketing: What is T3?

Ben Gaddis: T3 stands for “the think tank,” and it’s actually a family business. The digital innovation agency was started by Gay Gaddis 26 years ago. She was at an agency and got frustrated that every time a client came to them with a business problem, they went back with a television spot. So she put together a big plan to go out and change the business into a consultancy, where she would be more focused on business solutions. Her boss said, “That’s not really what we do, so don’t tell anybody about that plan, and just do the T.V. spots.”

She quit, rolled over a $16,000 IRA and started T3. Since then, we’ve evolved. We’re about 200 people now. We’re still independent, but we really focus today on doing one really specific thing, and that’s building useful results for brands. What that means is that we look at the brands today that are the most loved, that have the highest stock prices, that really can command attention from consumers. Those are the brands that are solving a problem, that are building a relationship, that are meeting an unmet need.

That’s what we try to do.

In a general sense, how does “usefulness” manifest itself in the work you do for clients?

It generally comes down to experiences that you touch on a day-to-day basis, whether that’s the website, the mobile app, the point-of-sale in-store. Then, the strategy wraps around all those to really make for one consistent brand experience and help [brands] continue to identify where their customers are going and where the expectations of those customers are going to be in the next two- to five years.

Most of our work centers on long-term relationships. UPS is a 10-year client of ours. While we may start with a particular project that is addressing a specific need, most of the projects that we work on quickly turns into dedicated teams who are looking at the holistic customer view in the business to try to figure out what is the long-term strategy for everything from digital presence management to the overall digital customer experience. A lot of those projects are almost never ending, in that they’re constantly evolving as new technologies come about.

T3’s clients tend to have a lot of physical locations that are widely spread out. How do you build long-term services for them, particularly when it comes to driving in-store activity?

One of our very first digital projects, which was probably about 20 years ago, was with Dell [when] we helped build their back-end systems for e-commerce, for small business, really the machine that Dell.com was built on. Ever since then, we’ve been using digital to drive business, whether that’s an online store or a physical presence.

In the case of a client like JCPenney, we built out their very first email program, which included developing audience segmentation, creating online experiences. We turned that from a zero to $4 billion business in about 10 years. Today we’re working with everyone from Staples, Michaels, BI-LO, which owns Winn-Dixie, Harveys and the BI-LO branded grocery stores.

In terms of how you use digital to drive people to a location, 7-Eleven’s a really great example.

We started with them as their digital innovation agency to rethink what the in-store experience looks like for 7-Eleven now that you have so many connected consumers and new opportunities to deliver experiences that you didn’t have before.

We built out their mobile app experience, which has been cited as really the first truly contextual mobile app. We take your time, your weather, your location, whether you’re in a store or out of a store and which direction you’re headed — all sorts of location variables — and we change the experience that you get. In New York on a cold day as you’re coming up to dinner time, you’re going to get one selection of product and coupons and offers that are going to be very different than someone out in San Francisco where it’s 65 degrees and just going on lunch right now. It would be a completely different experience, and that happens for every single user.

The way T3 applies digital- and location-based marketing all comes down to how personalized you can get. Does the company have the data to drive personalization in-house?

To your point, with personalization, you add it to experience, and people are going to start redeeming coupons or interacting with that experience 40 percent more than they typically would. You get the right message to the right person, they’re probably going to be more likely to use it, but we just haven’t seen many people actually be able to do that because of the complexity of retail, the challenges with the number of different products and offers, what’s carried in certain locations versus others.

That’s been a real challenge for the market, and I’m really proud of the team here being able to crack that nut a little bit. We built a platform called Scout, which is the back-end technology that crunches all the algorithms and makes that possible, so that’s kind of a cool little product that we have.

We do 100 percent of our development in house, here in Austin. We have about 40 engineers. We don’t outsource any of that, but at the same time, we’ll partner with ad networks.

At the same time, we have some really great partnerships with data providers like Rocket Fuel/x+1, and Bazaarvoice for ratings and reviews. Our goal is, if we come up with a concept, we want to be 100 percent certain that we can execute that concept. Our engineers sit in on the creative and strategy sessions from day one. It used to be that they were making sure that we could build what we’re saying. What it’s turned into is they actually help us push the concepts a lot further than it ever could go just because of the knowledge that they have.

Do you have any examples of how you’ve used the technology and data you have in-house on behalf of brands?

One of the things we’ve become really, really good at is combining technologies that exist already. A great example is for Allstate. We created a platform called Good Home. I don’t know if you’ve gotten a home insurance quote in a long time, but it’s extremely complicated. And if you do it online, they don’t really tell you what goes into it. Allstate’s big differentiator is that they have this agent network, and they’re great to walk their customers through and make sure they get exactly the right insurance for their home, so they don’t get left out in the cold in case something happens that the customer isn’t covered for. In an online experience, if you go in and you get a quote from State Farm and some other provider and Allstate, they may be $200 less than Allstate’s insurance quote, but there’s no explanation of what’s covered.

We partnered with Google on this to use Google Maps. When you go get a quote now, we actually detect your location and where you are at that moment. If you’re at work or you’re at your house, you can enter it in. You hit go, and we actually zoom in. We fly in through Google Earth down to your street view of your home, and then, using your address, we pull in tax roll data. We pull in weather data. We pull in Allstate’s data on the most common and costly insurance claims in that zip code. We look at your house data to tell how many bedrooms you have.

We can tell you can bring down your insurance cost by upgrading your roof. And that goes back to my point from earlier: we’re not about creating another TV spot. These are tools that are for the long-term health of a brand and their evolution in how they serve their customers.