Business Insights

Meet Elba Niño, BDG’s App Hacker Who Says, “AI is the New Black”

Chatbots, artificial intelligence, machine learning, marketing automation – these are some of the terms in our daily marketing vernacular.

Leveraging all of these new technologies can be difficult, but that’s why you surround yourself with the dynamic marketers who can leverage these technologies for better marketing.

In this Q&A, our digital and app marketing specialist, Elba Niño, explains her journey from Venezuela to a prestigious university program in the US, to her career in marketing and business, and finally to the doors of BDG.  

Q1: YOU DIDN’T ACTUALLY GROW UP HERE, RIGHT? HOW DID YOU END UP IN CANADA?

A1: Oh, wow! Well, that’s a bit of a loaded question but let’s give it a shot. So, I grew up in Barquisimeto, Venezuela and by the time I reached my senior year of high school I was given an incredible opportunity. I had been chosen, along with 98 other students in the country, to take part in a prestigious scholarship program that would send us to study in the United States. My entire senior year was spent training for this scholarship; we studied everything from calculus to English and how to write a paper… just getting ready for the American school system.

In the end, it was an immensely successful program for me at least, though many students dropped out of the program because of the overwhelming pressure of maintaining a 3.0 GPA. Not to mention, we were all 17-years-old and living alone in a new country. I had this “I’m going to make it” mentality. I know so many people say that but I really did believe it and I worked really hard to be where I am today.

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Q2: SO, WHAT HAPPENED AFTER YOU COMPLETED THE PROGRAM?

A2: Well I managed to impress the Venezuelan government and they offered to pay for my Masters program. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. Venezuela was investing their money in me, to mold me into a future leader for the country. I applied to several universities, got accepted to all of them, but, ultimately, I chose to go to Boston’s Emerson College to do their Master’s program in Integrated Marketing Communications. This is basically where I fell in love with marketing, I knew it was my calling. I constantly wanted to be around marketers and talk about marketing. I’ve actually remained in touch with many of the people from the program, all of whom are still working within the industry and all around the world.

After I completed my education, I made my way back to Venezuela where I found a job as a direct marketing analyst at Diageo. This was really the place where I discovered my niche: to always be in direct contact with the final consumer. Diageo is a massive company, and they own very powerful liquor labels like Smirnoff, Johnny Walker, Bailey’s and Guinness. I came in to help the company learn what it means to speak to the customers that actually drank their products. I had a direct channel of communication with the final consumer because I was in charge of the emails.

Q3: WHY WAS THIS COMMUNICATION ASPECT SO IMPORTANT TO YOU?

A3: Keep in mind this was around 2003-2004, so we were doing everything without Facebook – hard to believe right? While I was at Diageo I felt pretty powerful knowing that I was the only one dealing directly with consumers. I knew something the rest of the company didn’t know and I always wanted to keep that feeling, so I’ve made it my goal to maintain that line of communication throughout my career.

It was truly a fantastic first experience, I stayed there for nearly 8 years doing a lot of traveling across South America and Europe. For someone right out of university, it was the perfect fit, who wouldn’t want to spend their time traveling the world at such a young age. Plus, eventually, I was designated their CRM manager, which meant I was meeting clients in restaurants, at universities, getting to know the marketplace and trying to understand what shaped their buying habits. But the job wears you down a bit, and after a while it was time for a change of scenery.

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Q4: FACEBOOK ROLLS AROUND, EVERYTHING IS GOING DIGITAL, YOU HAVE YEARS OF EXPERIENCE IN CRM – WHERE DID YOU GO LOOKING FOR A JOB?


A4:
I was actually headhunted by a company called Beiersdorf, still based in Venezuela, they wanted me to be their marketing director. I took the opportunity mainly as a change of pace though, Diageo was amazing but I wanted to sell different products. In this case, their focus was, for example, products for women. They owned Nivea, so I got to work with products like lotions, body care, and facial care.

Also, finally at this time Facebook was introduced around the world but as revolutionary as this social platform was… I had sort of been doing this type of connecting and creating groups while working for Diageo. So when we started our brand awareness campaign at Beiersdorf, I already knew what to do – Facebook just made things a little easier for me.

I only stayed with this company for two years; by 2009 I started working for a company that made apps in Canada.


Q5: SO YOU REALLY DECIDED TO EMBRACE THE WHOLE “DIGITAL REVOLUTION,” HOW DID YOU LAND A JOB AT AN APP COMPANY? 

A5: Well it was just an interesting time! Apps were just getting popular in 2009 and the company I went to work for, MobilityGo, which doesn’t exist anymore, were the only ones really doing anything about it. If someone wanted to make an app and searched on google “how to make an app,” MobilityGo would pop up as the number one search result. The company really wanted me for the consumer side of the operation. I would gather their insights and relay it to the app creation team so that they could make apps that people really wanted.

Then I went to Tribal Nova, and at this point I can say I became somewhat of an “app hacker”. I spent a lot time with them marketing their educational online games for children, both app and web based, starting in 2012. The owners were all from Canadian media, like CBC Kids, Nickelodeon, Bayam and PBS Kids to name a few. So, for example, PBS would have a show they’d like to showcase, we would make the online educational game, package it, send it to them and they would sell the finished product.

In 2014, we were bought out by a large American company, Houghtin Mifflin Harcourt, the largest educational publishing house in the United States. I was integrated into their newly created Consumer department dealing with the final consumer. It was a great opportunity for us, and I stayed there to lead the Curious George Consumer Apps team. Eventually I ended up here at BDG!

Q6: NOW WITH YEARS SPENT HONING YOUR EXPERTISE AS A DIGITAL MARKETER AND CRM SPECIALIST, WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF APPS, AI, CHATBOTS AND AUTOMATION?

A6: You can look as far back as the original Snake game featured on Nokia phones as the first app made available for phones. But Apple truly revolutionized this field when they introduced 500 mobile apps in their app store back in 2008. The apps were a game-changer because it simplified processes, they were on mobile platforms and it started a trend in native mobile application development.

Today, the concept of immediateness can’t be overstated. We have access to millions of apps, access to any product, any brand. You can read a book, magazine or article anywhere and at any time. The next logical step, which has already begun, is to automate customer service as people become more accustomed to having things immediately available in the palm of their hand.

To that point, Chatbots were created to help and not to disrupt the app market. Chatbots are a very simple form of artificial intelligence and were developed to automate the customer service experience. The software is still developing though, and has yet to master human communication and all of its nuances. Ultimately, the urge for “immediateness” will continue to persist and it’ll either evolve through these chatbots or something new will come along.

Q7: SO WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR DIGITAL MARKETING?

A7: AI is the new black. We’re going to dive deeper into artificial intelligence as it becomes more accessible to people. This will certainly disrupt consumption habits and change shopping behavior. Not to mention the fact that chatbots will continue to grow and eventually enter into our mainstream technology. WeChat, China’s messaging app, has been using chatbots for years, but there’s still so much to learn about the technology. Then there’s video, which will always be king. As content becomes more personalized it’s going to be easier to make video more attractive to consumers. 

As a whole, digital marketing is still very much in its infancy. That being said, it’s evolving quickly, and it’s going to continue to do so, as technology seemingly evolves every few hours. What you’ll likely be seeing in the near future is growth hacking and growth hackers coming into the mainstream. It’s going to be one of the most sought after positions because at the end of the day everyone wants to grow – that’s the ultimate goal.

Want to hear more of Elba’s thoughts on the future of digital marketing? Reach out to her at elba@benjamin-david.com.

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